Alcalá de Henares

Alcalá de Henares

Thursday, February 11, 2010

El Carnaval in Cadiz

It's finally the weekend!  Not that the week days are long here, and I love not having classes on Friday because it makes the week go by so so fast.  I'm leaving tonight and taking an 8 hour bus ride to Cadiz with my friend Nina.  I will get to Cadiz at 5:30 tomorrow morning, but we get to check in to our hotel when we get there so we can rest before going out.  Two of my friends from Albion are going as well, but they will be getting in at a more normal time because they are taking a later bus.  The weather forecast for the weekend shows rain for the whole weekend, which I hope is not the case.  But in case of rain, I have my rain coat and my umbrella, so I'm good to go even if it pours!

In other news, today was significant for two reasons.  One, I've been here for an entire month and cannot believe it!  Time has gone by so fast but at the same time, I feel like I've been here for a long time.  It's a little bizarre and I've done so much in a month, and the great thing is I have three more months to go!  Number two on the list of significant things about today is that I received my first grade in Spanish.  They do grading a little different here and everything is on a number scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.  I got a 10 on my LA Lit. paper that I stayed up really late writing, and I was really pleased because getting a perfect grade here is so much more difficult than at home.

Overall, I'm enjoying my classes.  In my Lit class we are talking about Sor Juana, which luckily I have read some of her stuff before so it's a little bit of review.  In my Spain and the U.S. class we discussed the differences between the Spanish Civil War and the American Civil War, and I'm starting to realize just how little I know about the world and it's history.  I'm also realizing that my American history is a little rusty as well.  Grammar is grammar, no matter what part of the world you are in.  But I have to finish packing my backpack for the weekend.  All my love to everyone back home in the snow storms!  Have good weekends wherever you may be!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Los Calamaris y Zucchini

I started out today a little rough because I was up waaay too late last night trying to finish my paper for Latin American Lit.  The important thing is that it got done and my professor received it (which is a miracle since I have a Mac and it dislikes Word).  Last night's festivities included the LA paper, Sor Juana reading, Grammar composition, and Spain and the US reading exercises.  Most homework since I've been here.  But on a positive note, I got my first letter yesterday from Nate so that was exciting!  ¡Muchas gracias! (Yes I figured out how to do the upside down question mark finally)

Needless to say, I was not pleased when my alarm went off this morning.  And since I have to get up earlier on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my grammar class, I was in an extra good mood when I walked to class.  I didn't understand why when I got to my class finally, there was no one there.  Weird.  Class starts at 9:00 A.M. and after 10 minutes it's considered an absence (which is silly since Spaniards are usually not on time, but my prof is psycho about being punctual).  Most of my classmates get there right at 9, so I sat by myself for 10 minutes until I realized that something was wrong.

Yup, I definitely missed the memo that class was cancelled because my director/professor sent out a text message at 6:30 in the morning to inform us that class was cancelled because she was sick.  I never check my phone in the morning because I never get texts here and it was on silent (because my director will sometimes send us texts during class and I don't want to be the idiot scrambling to turn my phone off in my large bag during class), but I will for sure be checking my phone more often in hopes of discovering something sweet like this on Tuesdays and Thursdays!  It will probably never happen again, but I can dream big every once in awhile.

So I just chilled and did homework for an hour and a half until my next class, so it really wasn't too bad.  The crappy part is that she is requiring us to make up the class by having a tutoring session on our own time.  Fail.  That's the last thing I want to do during my free time, so tomorrow I have to come back to school at night to make up today's class.  Boo.

Today I took a 3 hour nap because siestas have been absent from my life lately.  The most interesting part of my day was definitely dinner or "La Cena."  The food for dinner today consisted of yup, you guessed it Calamari and Zucchini?

I thought I smelled fish from my room and I had to remind myself about having an open mind for whatever awaited me downstairs.  When I got into the kitchen, I saw the calamari on the stove.  I was hoping that it wouldn't appear on a plate before me.  No such luck.  I had a plate of it brought to me within 5 seconds of thinking that, and I explained how I've never had calamari before but I was willing to try it.  I knew I would like the zucchini because it was like what my mom makes at home, so no problems there.  It was an odd combination yes, but I have to say that I really did like it more than I thought I would and would eat it again.

Well that's it for today, life is rather dull with all this school stuff but it's still a lighter work load than at Hope so I'm not complaining.  The routine is getting set and I'm still loving being here, even though it's hard being away from all the comforts of home.  But I will be heading to Cadiz in a couple days and mid-60s awaits me and I couldn't be happier to be in a place with such awesome weather in February!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Yesterday I traveled to Segovia, not without a few problems with public transportation.  We left Alcalá and headed to one of Madrid's main train stations, Chamartin.  From Chamartin we took another train to Segovia.  I fell asleep on the train and luckily my friend Sarah woke me up when we got there.  From the train station, we took a bus (we didn't know which bus to take so we watched everybody else got on bus 11 and decided that was a good choice) and made it to downtown Segovia.  Luckily.  Segovia, like Toledo, is known for a couple different attractions: A castle, a cathedral, and the aqueduct.

My friends and I headed to the castle first since we wanted to see that most.  I was told that the castle in either Sleeping Beauty or Snow White is based off of this castle.  We got a tour of the castle, and I'm not sure if I could handle living there mainly because it was colder inside than it was outside!  We also paid the extra 2 Euro to go up to the top of the castle and get the scenic view of Segovia and the surrounding countryside.  It was worth it.  The pictures won't really do it justice but it was beautiful!

After the castle we headed back in to town.  We didn't go in the Cathedral because we were told that we couldn't take pictures inside the cathedral but it was enormous.  You could see it pretty much anywhere in town, and it was a good marking point.  Next we went to the aqueduct, and it is over 2,000 years old and was built by the Romans.  It was pretty impressive and in impeccable condition.  We were able to see the aqueduct during both the daylight and during the night and I'm not sure which one was better.  I also tried the signature dessert of Segovia, "Ponche," and it was ok.  I think I'm just partial to Funfetti cake though.  Then it was back on the bus, to get on a train, to get on another train, to get on a bus, to walk home.

And just when I thought I was mastering the public transportation, I got on the wrong bus to get home.  Epic fail.  But I knew where I was and just caught the next bus home.  Just goes to show that sometimes a 7 looks like a 2, and you wind up in "Ensanche" and not "Hipica."  In all, a successful weekend of traveling.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Toledo, not the one in Ohio...

Toledo is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever visited.  Period.  I went with my Civilization and Spanish Culture class, and I can tell why the professor decided to take the class to this particular city because it was absolutely amazing.  It reminded me of the pictures I've seen of Italy.  Plus, the weather was perfect, a little on the cold side but with puffy white clouds and a big blue sky.  It felt like a perfect fall day in October and I couldn't have been happier.

Toledo is known for a couple of different things: Mazapan, tight little streets, and the winding river surrounding the city.  First, I had Mazapan and have decided that I do not need to indulge again.  I went to a Café during my free time with my friends and ordered a strawberry milkshake and a mazapan cake because I was told by my professor that I must try it in Toledo because it is the city's signature dessert.  It was decent but nothing I need to buy again.  I also tried a small mazapan candy thinking that it would be better, but it wasn't.  Disappointment.  Anyone who visits Toledo will probably comment on the streets.  The streets in Toledo are so small and tight!  It's amazing that cars can make it down the street.  We were in a group of about 50 students and I could tell that the drivers were getting angry at us for taking up the whole street.  Sorry.  The last part of our day consisted of going to a scenic area to get some pictures of the city, since the spot where the best panoramic view of the city was closed.  But I got some good pics regardless and I hope you enjoy looking at them.

During our visit to Toledo, the class also went to a cathedral which was pretty cool on the inside.  It had a little area for growing orange trees, and there was no ceiling so the trees were directly in the sun.  It had an upper level, and when you looked up it felt like you were so close to heaven.  It was one of the coolest feelings.  We also went to an art gallery and a school, but the best excursion was by far the cathedral.

A side comment about day trips and packing lunches.  My host mother felt the need to pack an excessive lunch for me today.  I had two sandwiches, one regular square sandwich and another footlong sandwich on a baguette.  She bought the baguette bread in kind of a dough form, and then baked it in the oven this morning so I could use it for my sandwich.  Oh my, it was so delicious!  I also had a tray of Chips A'hoy Chocolate Chip Cookies, a bag of pretzels (all my friends were jealous of my pretzels), a mandarin orange, two juice boxes, and a strawberry chocolate bar.  Everything tasted so wonderful and I'm so glad that my host family feeds me so well!

Well I'm off to Segovia tomorrow and am still trying to catch up on sleep from El Kapital, so that's all for today.  And yes, I did wear that red beret all day.  I'm not sure if I wore it correctly, but I wore it nonetheless.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

¿El Correo o El Estanco?

The biggest problem I faced today was where to buy stamps for sending letters/post cards home.  I was told to go to the "Estanco" (tobacco store) because that's where my friend Kelsey bought some stamps.  Simple.  Rephrase, should have been simple.  Go there and tell the lady I need stamps for mail going to the U.S.  I believe the lady said that they didn't have any or something like that.  So I asked her where I could find such wonderful stamps since they didn't have any, and she said "El Correo" (post office).  Off to the post office I go, where I asked the same question.  The lady there said the "Estanco." Well which is it you impossible Spaniards?

I am bound and determined to find these stamps, and I'm positive the lady at the post office didn't understand my question.  I told my host mom what happened, and she called her friend who works at the post office and her friend said that you can get it taken care of at the post office.  I knew it!  Why would you not have stamps at the post office?

I've come to find that Spaniards, apart from my family and professors, are not entirely helpful.  Especially if you're American. I've gotten eyes rolled at me more times in the past month than in the past 10 years I think.  Oh well, just part of the experience I guess.

But back to the issue at hand, I guess the place to get stamps is the same place you get cigars, cigarettes, and bus passes.  I may never understand Spanish culture, but I'm learning and loving the process.  But tomorrow I'm off to Toledo with my class and I hear it's a beautiful city and I can't wait.  Another update on travel plans:  Booked my bus ticket to Cadiz for next weekend and also a plane ticket to Portugal for March.  And Segovia this Saturday!  Life couldn't be any better! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Sabor a Chocolate"

After much internal conflict, I have joined the dreaded book club.  I need the extra credit.  The book that we read was called "Sabor a Chocolate" by José Carlos Carmona.  I bought the book on Tuesday night (fun fact: the book is 100% water resistant, so I can spill water on it all I want I guess), and was supposed to have it read by Wednesday at 4:00.  So, I began to read the book today (Wednesday) at 2:00.  The book was a fairly easy read, and I finished almost 100 pages in an hour and a half.  I can't say I'm exactly sure what the message of the book is, but I'm enjoying it and want to finish it.  It is a story about two people and how they were lovers, and how they ended up drifting apart, but how their worlds collided again?  At least that's what I got out of it.  My favorite part about the book is that it references many important historical dates, and shows how life continues to go on even amidst a times of war.  The author also carefully weaves in multiple stories, that create kind of a web with the center being the original two lovers.  After I'm done reading it I will look it up on Google just to see what the book is actually about because I could be all wrong.  I feel like I got most of the details, but then again it is in another language, so it's difficult to know all the time.

The big debate at the book club was how translators, even native speakers, do not know all of the grammar rules.  My director was explaining how as she was reading the book, it bothered her that some of the grammar was wrong.  However, I not being the native speaker, did not catch on to these mistakes and found the book quite interesting.  Which then sparked the discussion of what is more important, grammar free writing or the content of the book?  I'm going with content, although I do appreciate grammatically correct books.  My friends and I think Cristina is just being stylistic, as did some of the other professors.  I'm a little hesitant about the next book because it looks more challenging, but I figure it's a good way of practicing Spanish, so I'll probably go ahead and start reading it so I can actually have it finished by next Wednesday.  It was fascinating to hear Spaniards debating and discussing a book (and I actually could understand them), and as much as I thought I would hate it, I actually enjoyed myself.  Surprise surprise.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No more Usted form and Cadiz = Successful Day

Today was a big big day for me.  This may sound nerdy, but it has some significance for me.  I was told by my host mother that I don't have to use the Usted form with my host parents!  Yay!  For those of you who have never studied the Spanish language, the Usted form is like saying "you," only it is a more formal way of talking.  It is usually used for people who are older than you, thus I have used the Usted form with my host parents.  Today my mother corrected me and said that I could switch to the tú form (more personal).  I think she didn't realize that I had been using this formal way of talking with her until today because she laughed at me when I said Usted to her.  What a relief.  I can conjugate verbs better in the tü form, so this makes me very happy.  It's funny how the little things like changing a verb tense can make me happy.  Too much Spanish on the mind.

Also, I booked my first trip today!  On Feb. 11, I am taking an 8 hour bus ride through the night to Jerez de la Frontera for the weekend.  Jerez de la Frontera is not significant however the town of Cadiz is.  My friend Nina informed me that the city is having "La Carnaval," which according to Wikipedia (yes I did reference Wikipedia, don't judge me) is "one of the best known carnivals in the world."  And I get to go!  My host mom said that Cadiz is similar to Hawaii in the United States.  I'm not sure about that, but I'm very very excited to start traveling!  Originally, I wanted to go all over Europe, but now I'm thinking that I'd rather stay in Spain.  For this trip, I'm sharing a hostel with Nina and it was rated as being very clean, so I guess that's all that's important.  My two friends from Albion are also staying in Jerez in another hotel close to ours, so it will be nice to do things together.  I think it takes half an hour to get to Cadiz, but all the hotels in Cadiz have been booked for months, so this was really the best we could do.  It is a pretty good find I must say and I'm so glad Nina told me about the trip!  I have that to look forward to, and we're still in the process of making Portugal arrangements.  Life is so so good!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another Mall?! My host sister has been holding out on me...

Yesterday I told my host sister that I wanted a small black purse that zips for day trips and going out to bars.  My clutch bulges when I jam my camera, my cell phone, house keys, bus pass, and money into it, so this really is a necessity.  So she told me that on Monday we would go to another mall because there is "something like Wal-Mart and it only has clothes" in the words of Christina.  And bonus, everything is super cheap!

Once again, I was reminded of how brutally honest Spanish people are and also how much Christina does not approve of my clothing choices.  We went to a store called "Blanco" and I found a dress that I really liked.  I tried it on and it fit perfectly, and I decided that I wanted to buy it.  When I showed her, I could tell that she didn't really like it.  Haha.  We also went to H&M and I showed her some of the flower hair accessories that I liked.  She tried to explain to me in English how people in Spain take their appearances very seriously, and only snotty people put flowers in their hair.  Needless to say, I will not be wearing my flower in my hair when I go out anymore.  Shoot.  I think the only thing that Christina approved of that I liked was the pair of flowered tights that I bought.

We also had an interesting drive to and from the mall because she drives a stick shift and doesn't like to drive on the highway.  My family has two cars, which I guess is uncommon in Spain because most families have only one car if that.  She was super scared as we drove to the mall and all the cars were passing us on the highway.  She was maybe going 40 mph?  But at least she is cautious.  It was funny to hear her saying some of the English slang as she drove, and I want her to teach me some phrases in Spanish so I can be cool like that too.

But all in all, it was a very fun trip because shopping for girls is universal.  I have to say that I don't really like Spanish fashion that much, but my host family seems to think so since I go to the mall all the time to look around.  I tried to explain that I do the same thing in the States, but they just think I'm obsessed with Spanish fashion?  But the "Rebajas" are ending soon, and homework is starting to pile up, so I guess my mall venturing is coming to a close.