Alcalá de Henares

Alcalá de Henares

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Semana Santa

So tomorrow at 6:00 P.M., I officially begin my Semana Santa aka Spanish Spring Break.  Whoo!  I can't believe it's already time for Spring Break.  All the planning and preparing and finally it is here!  So a little run down of my plans is in order:

March 24:  Done with class at 2.  Get to train station at 3.  I told my host mom that I could "andar rápido" (walk fast) from my house to the train station but she said she would drive me.  So kind of her.  Depart from Madrid Airport in at approximately 5:00 P.M. and get to London well sometime I don't know when.  It's not on the boarding pass I printed out.

March 25:  Only full day in London, so lots of sight seeing and walking around and exploring.  I believe we are doing the London Eye that day, which I'm excited about.  Probably some telephone booth pics, as well as annoying the British guards.  Must dos.

March 26:  Depart from London to Glasgow.  Spend a few hours in Glasgow.  Get bus to Aberdeen and arrive in Aberdeen at approximately 8:00 P.M. to find Mary Cantor and Kelsey Hawkins.  Good day good day.

March 27:  Wake up and catch bus at 7:00 A.M. to Edinburgh to see the city for the day.  Head back to Aberdeen and get into Scottish shennanigans with my Scottish loves.

March 28:  Hang around Aberdeen.  Explore North Sea/Mary and Kelsey's new home.  Get into more Scottish shennanigans.

March 29:  Depart Aberdeen super early via bus and head back to Glasgow.  Go from Glasgow back to London.  Spend late afternoon/evening in the city.

March 30:  Spend the morning in London and then fly out of London and head off to Barcelona.  From here, we don't really have any set plans haha.  Chill in Barcelona?

April 3: Leave Barcelona and fly back into Madrid.  Home sweet home.

Well that is Semana Santa in a very brief nutshell.  Hopefully travel goes smoothly.  I will inform everyone if it when I return.  Lots of pics I'm sure.

Also today was a big day because I had an intercambio for 2 hours!  2 hours of conversation, one in Spanish and the other in English.  Today I finally realized that yes, my time in Spain has helped my conversation skills which was my only real goal for studying abroad in Spain.  The conversation went smoothly, I didn't fumble for words as often as I used to, and I understand Ana's spanish the entire time.  What a relief to know that after 2 months, I'm finally coming around.  Still waiting for my first Spanish dream (I've been told that once that happens, you know you're good.  Or something like that), so hopefully before I leave.  If not, I will just have to face the fact that I will never have one.  Shoot.

Well it is waaay past my bedtime.  I had two papers to write and a book to read, as well as packing my suitcase/backpack.  2 hours of conversation.  Tutoring session to try to help my grammar grade.  Stamp buying.  E-mail writing.  Walking back home because I forgot my passport.  Printing bunches of boarding passes.  Among other things.  Very stressful busy day.  But tomorrow see you later Spain and landing in London.  Perfect way to celebrate the end of a busy week.  All my love to everyone back home!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Change of Plans

Exactly what is says above.  Change of plans.

This weekend I was planning on going on my trip to Valencia for Las Fallas.  I got up on Friday morning, feeling not so great but alive, so I headed off to the train station to meet my friends.  Upon arriving to the train station at about 7 in the morning, I started to feel super sick.  But I figured it would pass.  Took the train into Madrid and then the metro to the bus stop and was seriously questioning whether I would be in good enough form to spend all night out without sleep.  Needless to say, 15 minutes before my bus left, I looked at my friend Nina and informed her that I would not be able to make the journey.  I was super sad.  I have a bag of candy and a bunch of train tickets as souvenirs of my trip to Valencia (the bag of candy is because I needed something smaller than 20€ to give the machine to get home, and I was feeling a little sorry for myself).  Yes I am a fat kid at heart.

So I returned home, crawled back into bed, and started figuring out how I was going to tell my host parents that I didn't feel good.  They had plans to go to Salamanca and I didn't want to mess up their plans, so I stayed in my room pretty much all day and slept.  I woke up feeling fine, actually better than fine, so I guess it was just a 8 hour thing?  Weird.

So I finally ventured out of my room, and my host parents had already left.  Phew.  I know they probably wouldn't have stayed home, but I didn't want to be an inconvenience and risk the chance of ruining their weekend plans.  I talked with my host sister Laura because we were home alone this weekend, my other sister went to Granada, and she said that she was having friends over if I wanted to join her tonight.  Guess that it's the same in Spain as in the U.S.: "Parents go away, children invite their friends over for a house party" (cough Tom cough).  So I got to meet some of Laura's friends and it was great to actually meet people my age.  We ate dinner together, pizza and tortillas, so a little mixture of American food as well as Spanish food.  They talked a lot of politics and it got pretty heated at times, and luckily they didn't ask me for my opinion.  Some of the hot topics were child support, banning bull fighting, and a few other Spain-related topics.  Needless to say, it was a good night of practicing my listening because they spoke super fast but I enjoyed myself.

I slept in on Saturday, and I had already planned this so as to avoid the morning.  I have had too many morning mishaps, and I was determined to finally break the spell.  So I avoided the morning all together.  Good solution.  Maybe not.  But I ensured myself no morning mishap, so hopefully it will be smooth sailing from here on out.   I hung out at home all day and successfully wrote about 24 postcards.  Ok lies.  I had some of them written from before but I found most of the addresses that I needed and put the stamps on them and wrote probably 15 of them.  They will be sent tomorrow and I hope they all reach their destinations safely.  I really wanted to go to the mall on Saturday, but decided that that probably wasn't the best idea seeing as I'm going on vacation in a few days which will be costly.  So post card writing it was.

Then last night, Laura had friends over once again only this time there were more people.  This time they just came over for drinks though.  The guys made a huge pot of mojitos, and another first, I tried my first mojito and I actually enjoyed it.  It makes me think of Tom because I know you drank those on the cruise whenever we went.  Don't lie, you did.  We also played Trivial Pursuit, of course in Spanish, and it was rather difficult and I didn't know any of the answer but I was in charge of rolling the dice and making sure the guys didn't cheat.  It was a pretty agreeable job.  Even though I didn't know the answers, it was still fun to be a part of it.

After Trivial Pursuit, we headed out.  Given this was at about 1:30/2:00 A.M.ish.  We went to a small bar in a little neighborhood that I have not been to.  Luckily my friend Claire came with her sister so I had someone familiar with me all night.  The first bar was a little small and crowded but it was fun because it was mainly local Spaniards, not all the drunk American students that I usually see.  The picture to the left is of us at the first club.  Pilar, Claire, me obviously, Sarah (Claire's sister), and then my sister Laura.  Around 3:00ish we headed off to "La Garena" which is near where my hotel was the first night, and is the huge party zone.  It has a plaza of a bunch of clubs and I can't remember the name of the clubs that we went to, maybe Glass Café and Kabboi but I'm not sure.  After finally deciding to head home, Laura's friends said they wanted "hamburgesas" (hamburgers in case that one threw you for a loop), and we drove to the McDonald's near our house.  Too bad it was a super long line and we decided to forego the fast food and just eat at home.  So at 6:30ish Laura, myself, and her two guy friends were eating sandwiches and cereal around the kitchen table, looking extremely tired.  Successful end to a great evening.  I have to say that I was nervous to go out with Laura and her friends but it was so much more fun than I thought it would be, and I would definitely go again if she invited me.  Her friends were very understanding of the fact that my Spanish wasn't great, and they were very helpful.  Overall a very fun weekend, probably one of the funniest that I've had since I've been abroad.  

Today I spent a lot of my day sleeping and doing homework.  I have to read a book for my grammar class and decided against the book that my professor recommended me, mainly because it was super long (335 pages).  My host sister Cristina gave me a different book, much shorter, only 135 pages and I think that's more realistic for me.  So today was pretty relaxing, ate dinner at Claire's house again, and hung around the house.  Very good weekend.  So even though I thought my plans had fallen through, this was probably an even better alternative than going to Fallas.

A little bit of this week's schedule.  I leave on Wednesday for England, specifically London first and then on Friday I leave from London to go to Scotland to finally be reunited with my loves, Mary Cantor and Kelsey Hawkins.  I can't wait!  From Scotland, it's back to London and then off to Barcelona for a few days and then back to Madrid.  It's weird but flights are always cheaper to go to Barcelona first and then to Madrid.  But I'm excited beyond words to finally see some familiar Hope faces, and there is a possibility of running into another friend in Barcelona because she's staying at the same hostel as my friends and I.  I guess, "It's a Small World After All" (for you Norm since you're in Disney).  This week will be super busy, but I'll try to write another post on Tuesday once I have a few more details to my week.  Hope everyone enjoyed the good weather at home, I hear it's snowing now, but Spring is right around the corner, and it is definitely here to stay in Spain.  Hooray!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

8:06 A.M., class starts at 8:30 A.M., 35/40 minute do the math...

So quick little blurp about yesterday morning.  Morning number 2 of epic fails.  I woke up at 8:06, and because we have to make up class, we had class at 8:30 instead of 9:00.  Great.  So I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth, put in my contacts, washed my face, and ran out the door.  I felt bad because my host mom asked if I wanted food, but I didn't have time.

In short, I ended up running to class.  Boo.  I bet I looked pretty funny running to class, but it was quite the painful experience (literally I have a bruise on my hip from my purse hitting my side over and over again that's probably about 3 inches long).  Lesson learned.

When I showed up to class, I was only 5 minutes late.  Still technically on time since I have 10 minutes before it counts as an absence.  We also got our test back a few minutes after walking in the door.  Definitely did not do well.  At all.  Worst test of my life I believe?  Oh well, guess I need to have some more tutorías with Fausto.  Shoot.

But today I'm taking the train into Madrid to catch a bus to go to Valencia.  Valencia is about 5 hours away, and there's a huge festival going on in Valencia this weekend called "Las Fallas."  Pretty much, from what I've heard is that it's a lot of fun, and people light stuff on fire?  I'm game.  My friends and I are staying up all night and then taking the bus back at 6:00 A.M. to Madrid.  Should make for an interesting night.  Well I need to get going because I have to leave in about 30 minutes, but I'll be back tomorrow sometime and will let you know how everything goes.  ¡Adios!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bit of a "salty" start to my day and my walk to school...

I woke up this morning and the sun was shining and I knew it was bound to be a good day!  I got all my stuff together to bring to the bathroom and turned the water on to make sure the water would be hot (sometimes it's not and I have to tell my host mom and she runs downstairs and does something magical because then there is hot water about 2 minutes later).  So I got in the shower and the first 20 seconds were pretty warm.  As I was putting the shampoo in my hair, the water turned icy cold.  Shoot.  So for the next 30 seconds, I took the fastest shower ever, trying to rinse all the soap out of my hair.  I figured I was already in the shower, and my host mom wasn't home, so I may as well make the best of the situation.  I laughed when I got out because I was super awake!  Maybe cold showers from now on before grammar class?  Maybe then I'll be awake for that class because apparently we are "bellezas durmientes" aka Sleeping Beauties according to the professor.  At least we're beautiful I guess?

After the shower, I finished getting ready and went downstairs for breakfast.  I normally eat a yogurt and a piece of fruit, so I went to get a yogurt.  It said "natural" which means it tastes kind of sour and not sweet like the normal kind, so I thought it would be a good idea to put some sugar in.  I poured quite a bit in because I've seen my host sister Laura doing this, and stirred it all around.  Took a big bite because I was pretty hungry.  Sooo disgusting!  I put salt in.  Fail número dos.  So now my mouth has been watering all day.  Spain keeps things interesting.

After those two incidents, nothing else exciting happened.  Went to school.  Came home.  Ate lunch.  Went back to school for my tutor session for grammar.  Before the tutoring session, I took some pics of Alcalá so I can show you a little bit of my walk to school everyday.  I also took some more pics of the main plaza because it was too tempting (I already have lots but whatevs).  I also got some pics of the cigüeñas (storks), because Alcalá is famous for them.  Apparently they're endangered but there's a bunch of them in Alcalá!  Apologies if already said this in a previous post.  But my walk to school is pretty sweet if I do say so myself, or at least the last 5 of the 40 minutes is sweet.  Not quite the Pine Grove at Hope College but it's a good alternative for the next two months.

After the tutoría, I walked around Calle Mayor or as my host dad calls it "Main Street" and people watched.  The street was so much busier than normal.  Probably because the weather is so great here now!  60s and sunny.  Lovin' it.  But I saw my host mom's sister, Pilar, in a store and it was nice to see a familiar face and to have a conversation.  It made me feel like Alcalá is becoming a little more like a home because people actually recognize me and know my name!  Before leaving, I bought myself some candy from a candy store to eat on the way home as a treat for signing up for the tutoría because I hate going, but they are good for me in the long run because they are helping me improve me Spanish.  I also bought some flowers for my host mom as a 'thank you' for bringing me to the train station at 4:30 in the morning.  They were greatly appreciated.  Well that's it for today.  I have to get up half an hour earlier tomorrow because our professor missed a class and is making it up by adding half an hour onto 3 classes, which means grammar at 8:30 for two hours.  What joy.  ¡Hasta luego!

My lame attempt at showing you my walk to school, I guess I could videotape it but no one has the time or the patience to watch such a boring thing...

My street...

Fountain on the way to school, 1/3 of the way there, still about 25 minutes to go...

Long stretch in between the next two pictures.  During this time I will find a few car lots selling the tiny European cars, laundry hanging out of apartment balconies, the grocery store, tempting little fruit store that I always want to stop in but know that I should probably avoid, multiple shoe stores to be avoided, Lacoste store that is fun to window shop in but also to be avoided, (pretty much anything shopping related is to be avoided or maybe a better way of putting it is that I can walk by it every day but must forbid myself entrance because a few Euros might be "missing" after I venture inside), and other small wonders...

Gettin' closer...

This is part of my University, but I don't take classes here because it's for native Spanish students. Shoot.

What I see when I round the corner for the final stretch of my walk...

Made it!  35/40 minutes later. This is my school.  I spend more time here than I would like, but I guess that is why I came.  It used to be a church, but I guess it was converted to a school?  Either way, it's a pretty cool place to learn.

¡Hola cigüeñas!

More of the beautiful Plaza de Cervantes. Spring is here!

Trying to be artistic. The trees here are so cool though and I hope they start to bloom some, but I've been told that I'll be gone before they do.  Bummer.  I can still hope though :)

Necessary to add.  No.  But in this bag contains the wonders of gummy cherries, watermelons, and strawberries.  Any one who knows me, knows that I love sour gummy things and this little store has the best kinds!  MMMM...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lisboa, Portugal

As stated in the previous post, I spent this weekend in Lisbon (Lisboa I believe is the Spanish/Portuguese version), Portugal.  It was a fun trip so let me begin at well, the beginning.

I told my host mom on Thursday night that I would be walking to the train station at 4:00 A.M. in the morning.  I don't think she was thrilled with this idea because she offered to drive me.  After going back multiple times, I finally gave in and accepted the ride.  The train station is about 5 minutes away by car but about a 25 minute walk, so I felt a twinge of guilt making her get up so early, but I was also relieved to have the ride.  After repeating to me multiple times that we would be leaving at "Cinco menos veinte" (5 minus 20 aka 4:40 A.M.) I headed to bed with a slightly unpacked suitcase.  However, my alarm went off and I must have turned it off multiple times and woke up at 4:30 instead of 4:00.  Fail.  I shoved the rest of my stuff in my backpack and quick brushed my teeth and threw on some clothes and called it good.  I decided to leave my rain jacket at home, which was a bit of a gamble but I was hoping for the best...

We got to the train station a little early, and it was obviously still dark out.  After thanking my host mom multiple times, I got out and found some friends from Albion that were taking the first train into Madrid to go to Barcelona.  At the train station, there is a memorial for the terrorist attacks that occurred in 2004.  The anniversary, I guess you could call it that, was March 11, so there was a bunch of candles and flowers.  In my Spain and the US class, we learned more about why the terrorist attacks occurred, but it's kind of a long story, so another post, another time.

I met up with the rest of my group, Nina, Alexa, Nicole, and Colin (poor Colin was the only boy in the group) and we headed off to Madrid.  The train was free, which is odd, but I'm not complaining because it saved me 2.70 Euros!  So got into Madrid, switched from the RENFE to the metro and headed off to the airport.  I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to airports, and I like to get there super early, but we were kind of cutting it close.  Public transportation is cheap, but it's not the most direct or the most convenient but it was the preferred method of transportation for our trip to the airport...

Upon getting to the airport finally, I was reminded of the "terribleness" that is the Madrid airport (back in January).  We finally figured out after asking someone how to get our tickets out of the machine.  Everyone except Alexa.  Her machine ran out of paper and then she was told she had to wait in the line with the checked baggage people.  Seeing as it was getting semi-close to when boarding would start, Nina, Nicole, and I went through security and crossed our fingers that Alexa would get through in time to make the flight.  Colin decided to wait to make sure Alexa could get through, good friend good friend.  As our flight was beginning to board, no signs of Alexa and Colin.  Shoot.  But with about 5 minutes left, all of us being super anxious and stressed, we saw them running up and I think we all breathed a sigh of huge sigh of relief.

I was honestly so tired at this point, I fell asleep before we took off and don't even remember taking off.  Impressive I know.  The flight was only an hour, but I got a good power nap in before then.  We arrived in Lisbon and caught a taxi to our hostel, which was called the "Yes Hostel."  Why, I'm not sure exactly.

About the hostel.  It was super super nice!  Probably best hostel ever (but as it was the first hostel I've been to, I guess that might be unfair to say, but I'm putting it down as best hostel ever for now)).  It was located downtown, close to a lot of cool little shops and a great walk along the river.  We were informed that we couldn't get into our rooms, but we could eat breakfast so that made us all happy.  The staff was very accomadating and helpful and spoke English, which was a huge plus.  For breakfast there were delicious rolls, toast, cereal, and a few other breakfasty type of things.  Our room was made for 5 people and had two bunk beds and a single bed.  We shared a common bathroom and also a private bathroom with a few other rooms, but I hardly ever saw anyone else on our floor.  It was pretty clean and the linens were included, which was great!  I had to rent a towel for $5 Euro but I ended up getting it back in the end.  We also received cool little bracelets that let us into the hostel, our room, and also our personal lockers.  Pretty nice.

After breakfast, we decided to explore a bit since we couldn't get into our rooms.  We walked around by the river a bit.  From a little scenic area, we got to see a sweet bridge that looks very similar to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.   Colin informed us that they modeled their bridge after the Golden Gate, so who knows?  We also saw a drowned rat washed up on the little beach, so that was the end of the beach for me.  From there we decided to try to take the trolleys to part of the downtownish area.  The trolley was an interesting experience because it appeared that we had to pay to use it, but no one was monitoring it, so we didn't?  It still confuses me thinking about it.  But off we went and we got off near a big church and headed off to see some of the monuments of the city.

The first thing on our list to see was the Belem Tower.  It's kind of like the Eiffel Tower to Paris or Big Ben to London I was told.  I honestly don't think it was that impressive, but I guess the Portuguese are proud of it.  We didn't go in but we got some pictures outside of it, so I was happy with that.  We continued walking along the river and came to another monument about the Portuguese exploration into the "New World" way back in the day (back when Portugal actually meant something on a map).  We went up this one because it only cost 1.50 Euros for students, and it was about 400 some stairs all the way up.  The view was worth it though!  We could see most of Lisboa, the bridge, Belem, and a few other cool things.  I've noticed a trend in my travels.  Climb to a high point and then take an excessive amount of pictures.  Oh well, I enjoy it, so I will keep looking for tall things to climb!

From there, we had lunch at a small restaurant where the menu was all in Portuguese.  Made things interesting.  We were given green olives and bread to start, which we would be charged for regardless, so I tried the olives and they tasted pretty good! I ordered spaghetti, not very adventurous I know, but it's the first time I've had spaghetti here and it was wonderful!  The sauce was a little different, but I enjoyed it regardless.  After lunch, we went to a small pastelelería that is famous for it's pastries because only three people in the world know the recipe for this specific recipe.  Legit.  I tried it and I have to say it wasn't my favorite, but it was still good.  I guess my taste buds prefer Funfetti cake and brownies over these pastries.  The American side of me still wins.

From there, we hung out in a park and enjoyed the sunshine and people watching.  I've always loved people watching, and it's especially fun when it's in another country.  I noticed a lot of couples in the park, and my friends and I creeped on them for awhile.  I also have a habit of trying to catch birds, and my friend Nicole got an action shot of me trying to catch one.  I will post it when she puts it on Facebook because it is rather funny.  It's an activity that will never get old.  One of these days, I will catch one.  Won't know what to do with it when I get it, but it's another thing to cross of my list of things to do.  After the park, we came back to the hotel to check in and rest a bit.  The rest of the day was pretty chill, we hung out at the hostel and took a night walk around the neighborhood that our hostel was in.  The city is beautiful but a little abandoned or "dejada" as my host sister Cristina says.  It was still beautiful to see the lights at night and the bridge, and I'm glad we went on the walk.

The next day we got up and ate breakfast and decided to walk around a bit before heading off to the huge market.  Who knew getting to the huge flea market would be such an adventure!  We decided to take the trolley again because it would be a 2 hour walk uphill according to Alexa's guidebook, so we went to find a trolley.  After about 40 minutes of looking for 28 E., we finally found a spot that it stopped but every time it came around it was super crowded.  We decided it might be better to take the 28 E. that was going in the opposite direction and then eventually it would turn around and come back.  So we happily got on the next 28 E. and headed off in the opposite direction.  It was still super crowded but as people got off we took their seats and were able to see out the windows to get a better view of Lisboa.  Lisboa is a beautiful city with lots of little plazas and brightly colored houses.  It reminds me of pictures I've seen of San Francisco because of the steep hills and the trolleys.  The ride was going well until the trolley stopped.  And we had to get off near a church.  We had no idea where we were on the map, so my friend Colin decided to go in the church to find someone that could point out on the map where we were.  Mission failed.  The whole Portuguese vs. English vs. Spanish things must not have worked because he came back out laughing.  We waited for another trolley to take us back to the market and sure enough, another one appeared and all was well once again.

Once at the market, I wandered around looking at all the stuff.  It was HUGE!  A lot of it was sheer junk, but there were some treasures among all the junk.  The weirdest items were dolls that were missing appendages, weird appliances, underwear, and other miscellaneous items that I would never buy from a flea market.  I did end up buying a painting because it was hand painted by the lady and it was pretty cheap.  It shows the Lisboa harbor, and it's fairly small so I shouldn't have a problem getting it home.  My Grandma Andrews has really cool paintings of Venice in her house, and I've always wanted something like it.  Mine is not as cool as hers, but it's a start.

After the market we headed back to the hotel to take a nap and make lunch.  We stopped at a market and bought stuff to make spaghetti because we were allowed to use the huge kitchen at the hostel.  It was funny because Colin poured in the noodles when the water was still cold, and I usually wait until it boils but I stood there and watched him do it.  It turned out fine though, so that was a relief.  First dinner that I've made in Spain and it was a success!  We all took a nap for a few hours because we were tired from walking around and wanted to be rested up for the nighttime festivities.

We signed up to eat dinner at the hostel, which was a great decision!  For the low price of 8 Euros, we got 3 drinks, a salad, the main entree, and a dessert.  I used my drinks on Coca-Cola, boring yes but it's what I crave here.  The main entree was a ham rolled filled with cheese in a delicious sauce.  I couldn't figure out what it was exactly but it was really good.  For the dessert, there was mixed fruit, which was a little bit of a letdown since the day before there was brownies and strawberries.  As we were finishing up dinner, the lady working at the hostel informed all of us that they would be having karaoke tonight?  No need to go out when the fun comes to you!  I didn't sing any songs, but my friends sang "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga.  Other popular songs were "Love Song" by Sara Barilles and some older songs like "Wanna Dance with Somebody" by Whitney Houston.  It was funny listening to people from other countries sing the songs with their accents and it was a fun night.  After the karaoke we took another walk and found the elevator that Colin wanted to go up.  Sadly it was closed but we decided that we could come back in the morning before our flight left.

We got up at 6:30 to watch the sunrise from the elevator.  It was worth it!  The sun was just coming over the hills of Lisbon and it was impressive.  The pictures, as always, don't do much justice but it's my best attempt.  I would say that Lisboa is one of my favorite cities because of it's old buildings and winding hills.  It seems like a quiet little town, and it doesn't have as many tourists as other places that I have been, so that was also refreshing.  There's something about watching the sunrise.  The feeling is always the same, something of awe and wonder.  This sunrise didn't beat Little Devil's Tower on Summer Science but I still felt that feeling of curiosity and amazement for the great God that we serve.  I love sunrises!  We spent probably half an hour up the elevator and waited for the lady to come back up to get us.  However, she never showed up?  So we found a back way out, and discovered that we probably could have got in free?  Oh well.  Maybe next time?

After the elevator it was time to head to the airport to get our flight.  There was a miscommunication with the front desk guy and we only got one taxi when we needed two, so we had to split up to get to the airport.  It ended up working out fine and we all got to the airport and headed home to Madrid.  I found a nice little surprise in my purse from the day before.  I "borrowed" some bread from our hostel, and I found it when I was going through my purse in the Lisbon airport.  Classy, not really but still delicious!  The plane ride home was really short but something interesting happened.  As we were preparing to take off the intercom came on, and they begin their speech about the seat belts and the life jackets under the seat.  Except it was in Spanish and I could understand it!  I remember my first flight from London to Madrid, I had no idea what I was hearing, so I guess this is a good indicator that I am actually learning something!  Yay for improving Spanish skills!  I always forget that Madrid isn't the end of the journey.  So a run down of the transportation on my way home:  Taxi to Lisbon airport, hour plane ride to Madrid, take Metro to Nuevos Ministerios, take Renfe to Alcalá, walk 25 minutes home.  Busy busy day.

However, when I walked in the door, literally walked in the door, my host dad said we would be going to my friend Claire's house for la comida.  Shoot.  So I threw my stuff in my room, changed clothes, and headed off to Claire's for the family get together.  It was fun, even though I was exhausted.  We played badmitten, and I got to talk with Claire a bit.  The food was good because I guess my host mom's brother works in a restaurant, so he made some dish with beans and mussels?  It was pretty good, but not as good as the apple pastry that followed!  Also, I had a small, extremely small, glass of wine at dinner because I wanted to try the wine from "La Rioja" a distinct region of Spain, known for it's wine.  It was good, a little dry, but good.  I also tried a bit of a "chupito" which is like a shot.  It was kind of mint flavored, but very strong and I didn't like it very much and didn't drink much.  Now I can say I tried both!

Sorry this post is long, I probably lost your attention ages ago.  If you made it this far, pat yourself on the back and be thankful that I don't post as often as I used to!  Peace!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First venture out of Spain...

Tomorrow/Today I guess, the 12th of March, I am venturing out of Spain for the first time since I have been abroad.  ¡Adios España, y hola Portugal!  I am going to Lisboa, Portugal with a couple of my friends and we're super excited.  My host mom is driving me to the train station (at 4:30 A.M. bless her heart), then we're taking the train to Madrid, and then the Metro to the airport.  From there we travel to Lisboa!

I looked up the city on Google images and it looks absolutely beautiful!  I believe the Spanish would call it "Una ciudad muy preciosa."  It looks like there's some cathedrals and cool museums to visit, and our hostel is super close to the beach.  Also, I checked the weather on (although this site is prone to lying to me) and it looks like clear skies and 60s!  I'm banking on it since I'm not planning on bringing my yellow coat, but maybe the realist/pessimist in me will win and I'll throw it on on my way out the door.  

My only concern is the language since Portuguese isn't exactly my specialty, so it could make for quite the adventure.  Spanish is slightly similar to Portuguese though sí?  I will let you know upon my return on Sunday how everything goes.  First time in a hostel.  I'm sure there will be lots to write about...until Sunday!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


So today was the first fútbol game for my team.  Did I mention that I joined a soccer team while abroad (even though I've never played).

Let's just say it was an interesting experience.  I didn't bring any work out clothes because I figure I don't work out at Hope, so why bother trying to do it here?  That just left more room in my suitcase for other important things like jeans and shoes.  However.  Now I'm in a bind because I need clothes to work out in.  Luckily H&M had some cute, and really cheap!, work out clothes, so I'm set for now.

I was running a smidge late, and decided that I would run to the soccer field from my house.  Bad idea.  The wind was blowing directly at me, which I'm sure made me look funny to all the walkers.  Whatevs.  But I finally arrived at the soccer field after a 15 minute run (I haven't run since last March, but it actually felt good to run so I'm hoping to continue this for awhile), and what a surprise.  There were legit soccer people.  Excuse me, men/boys, no girls except my team.  Jokes on us.  The other teams had matching uniforms, cleats, shin guards, tall socks, all the soccer crapt that my team was lacking haha.  We just decided to sign up for fun but these guys looked legit.  Boo.

So after kicking the ball around for awhile and trying to decide which team would slaughter us, we finally stepped onto the field.  Only to be told that we weren't going to be playing on this field.  So we walked to where our next field was.  It was a tennis court turned into soccer field?  What is this Spain?  Really?  And there were also more intense soccerish things going on here, so I think my team decided to call it quitsies since it looked like they had already started?  It was just very weird and awkward to stand around in the cold, but it sounded like a good idea at the time.  I think the miscommunication occurred with the professor that was supposed to set up a schedule for us.  Apparently he forgot since no one wanted to play us?  Or maybe no one wanted to play us.  Who knows.  Guess we need to hablar con Carlos tomorrow.  Shoot.  Funny day, funny day.

But in the meantime, I enjoyed my little run today and am looking forward to running a bit more once the weather gets a bit nicer.  It's been sunny pretty much all this week but windy and cold, so it hasn't been that great.  I hear Michigan has better weather.  What is this?  Spain.  You were supposed to be warm in February.  Get a move on it!  Please and thanks.  Sincerely, Laura.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Córdoba y Sevilla

This past weekend was spent traveling to southern Spain to the wonderful cities of Córdoba and Sevilla with my program CIEE.  Of course, the rain followed me to southern Spain so all of my pictures include the yellow rain jacket (one of the best investments of my life).

We had to catch the bus at about 8:15 A.M. on Friday morning, a little early for my liking.  But once on the bus, I fell asleep for practically the entire 4/5 hour ride to Córdoba.  I will include a picture of the food that my host mom sent with me because I had so much food for the weekend.  We were giving $40 Euro for food, but I don't think I spent much of that money on actual food (I don't consider helado food).

We arrived in Córdoba and it was rainy off and on, but at least it was a little bit warmer than in Alcalá.  We had to cross a bridge to get into the city, and the river was so flooded and brown.  Not a pretty river.  We walked around some of the different neighborhoods and I got some pictures of the cool little courtyards that Córdoba is known for.  The main attraction in Sevilla the mosque/La Mezquita.  To be honest, I don't remember much of what Fausto (the tour guide for our trips) said about the mosque because I was too busy taking pictures.  I brought my nice camera, and I am so glad that I did!  My pictures turned out sooo much better and it made time pass faster because I was busy playing with it the whole time.  In Córdoba, we mainly visited the Mezquita and I treated myself to some Carmel helado afterwards, and then we headed off to Sevilla later in the afternoon.

Arrived in Sevilla when it was dark and it was surprise surprise, rainy.  Like really rainy.  But our hotel was super nice and warm, so I was glad for that.  For nighttime festivities, my friends and I went to a Flamenco bar.  It was interesting and I'm glad to say that I've seen a Flamenco show but I don't think I would have to go again?  I also got a helado for a night time snack because it was Philadelphia Cream Cheese cheesecake with strawberries and graham crackers aka the closest to getting something like Coldstone.  Gotta take these opportunities when they arise!

When we woke up the following morning, it was still rainy, but I had my trusty umbrella and raincoat, so I guess I don't mind too much.  We walked around the Jewish neighborhood a bit and learned about some of the history.  Then we went to the Alcazar Real, where the royal family stays when they come to visit Sevilla.  The actual castle was not that cool, not going to lie, but the gardens outside were stunning.  Sooo many orange trees!  I asked my professor if we could eat the oranges and she just kind of looked at me like I was crazy.  What a waste of fruit.  She said that animals don't even eat them.  Regardless, they give off that wonderful orange aroma and they are so tempting to eat (but I must remind myself that not even animals want to eat them.  Darn).  After the cathedral, we had a little bit of free time in between, and my friends and I explored a bit and went to get something to eat.  I also found a little market and bought a few rings and scarfs because the scarfs were beautiful and the rings were a good deal too.
Ok I will admit I finally broke down.  I went to Starbucks for the first time since I've been in Spain.  My amazing friend, Sarah Lokers/Wixson, informed me that when visiting Sevilla, I should go to the Starbucks near the Cathedral because it is a good place to people watch.  Of course, I couldn't resist this temptation!  Sooo worth it!  Thanks for the good advice Sarah!

After our free time, we went to the Cathedral, which is the third largest in the world (#1 in Rome and #2 in England).  It was impressive!  I can't believe that these places are churches!  They are enormous, huge, gargantuam, monstrous, any other adjectives that describe the simple word "big."  I took so many pictures but a lot of them turned out blurry because we can't take pictures with flash.  Highlights of the visit:  1.  Maybe seeing where Christopher Columbus is buried (I say maybe because they're not sure if part of him is in there or not.  They think there is 100 grams worth of him here.  Or maybe I got lost in translation on this one because that's just weird if that's true)  2.  Climbing up the tower to see the city of Sevilla  3.  All of the cool architecture  4.  The shiny things  5.  The bathroom because I drank my grande Starbucks in about a 5 minute time period.  Never a good idea.

So after the Cathedral, we walked around a bit more with the group and then we had the rest of the time for free time.  Wonderful.  I went shoe shopping, thanks again Sarah, with friends and sadly did not find any good shoes.  That's probably a good thing.  After that I went back to the hotel and took a short little nap before going out to tapas.  A weird thing happened at tapas though.  The waitress asked for our ids!  What is this?! None of us had our ids on us, but I planned on ordering a coke anyway but still, it was a little weird.  Guess we know for next time?  The night was pretty relaxing because we were all super tired, and we went to bed a little early which I was fine with.

The next morning we had yet another walking tour, in the rain, around Sevilla.  We visited some fancy building, I don't remember the name, but Stars War 2 or something was filmed there?  Or something?  Since I don't follow Star Wars, I wouldn't know.  I forgot to mention that my friends and I are obsessed with jumping pictures.  I included only one of many taken this weekend, mainly because I look ridiculous in this one because I'm the only one still on the ground.  Props to Nina for getting the highest.  After our walking tour, we headed back to the hotel to get on the bus.  It was a looong ride home and it's funny how I can refer to my Spanish house as my "home."  Guess I kind of view it that way since it's the place to return to after a long weekend of travels.  Well that's all for now!  Sorry for the super long blog!  Hasta luego!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"W" Curve and Midterms

This week officially marked the half way point of my time abroad.  I have to say, when people told me that the time would go by fast, I didn't realize just exactly what that meant.  Looking back on the past two months, I have no idea where the time went!  Probably in all those class trips that I went on!

I have to say, studying abroad has had it's ups and downs.  We were told before leaving that we would experience the "W" curve.  The curve starts with you being super excited to start and super ready to jump right into the newness of everything.  Then once the newness wears off, you start to feel a little homesick.  But the homesickness fades with time, at least for most, and life is good once again.

Sometimes I feel like my life is lived by this "W" curve, or at least in waves.  Everyday has it's ups and downs, and I'll be the first to admit that I do tend to get homesick from time to time.  But when I'm feeling down sometimes, there's nothing better than a great group of friends to let you know that everything that you are feeling is normal.  Honestly, I love my friends here and they are like family because we do everything together.  Sometimes the best times are just chatting with my friends, sharing everything that is going on in life.  It's refreshing to know that I'm not the only one that struggles with simple everyday things like getting hot water for the shower, not understanding most of my families conversations, and just small things that I would never think about at home.

But I think I'm out of the bottom and back on top because Spain is proving to be beyond anything I could have imagined once again.  Maybe it's all this constant rain that's affecting my mood, but now it's sunny skies once again, at least I hope.  I am so fascinated by the culture, the people, the history, the sights, everything here stimulates me and makes me want to learn more and more (a definite sign that I am doing just fine here in the land of Spain).

Now a note on my midterms week.  I have to say that this week was particularly stressful due to them.  They are so much worse when in Spanish.  My Civilization exam went decent, not great, not terrible.  My Geography exam went splendidly if I do say so myself.  Best midterm grade ever possibly?  I am waiting for the results for my grammar class.  Let's just say I think that that class is necessary, yet not at the same time.  My professor/director made a list of "Typical American Errors" that we are supposed to know.  Things like the difference between por que, porque, por qué, and porqué.  Sure they might all look the same, but trust me they are not.  I had to write a composition describing a photo, and if she found one "American error" in my composition, I would receive 0/40 points on this section of the test.  Not cool.  I'm just praying that I didn't make a mistake on this part because at best I would get a D.  Ridiculous.  And it doesn't help that my host sister disagrees with the Professor half the time, which sometimes leads to confusion.  But I'm hoping for the best with this class since it might be my worse subject (which is surprising seeing as I always did well in Spanish classes at Hope, hmmm maybe it's the professor?  Just a thought haha).  For my Comparing Spain and the US class, I had a composition and I wrote about Spain's empire and how after the Spanish-American War, specifically with the event of the USS Maine, the empire collapsed.  It was a decisive moment on history because this was when America became a major player on the international level, and Spain began to decline as a world superpower.  I liked the topic.  We also had a test today, and I am waiting for the results of that as well.  Hoping for the best here too.

But after a weekend of crazy stressfulness, it's off to more adventures in the cities of Córdoba and Sevilla.  I haven't really looked at the itinerary for the trip, all I know is that I need to be at the University's dorm like place at 8:15 tomorrow.  Or they leave without me.  So I best be getting to bed soon.  I won't have internet access this weekend, but I'll try to post a short blurp about my trip on Sunday.  Until Sunday!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

¡Gracias!/Shout Outs

Yes if you send me a letter or something in the mail, I will personally give you a shout out on my blog.  Feel honored.

Listed in order of said item being received:
1.  Mary Cantor - Thank you for the wonderful little note.  You always find the best quotes, I'm still jealous of your Frederick Buechner quote on your blog.  But your note made my day, so muchas gracias!  Also travel buddies soon?  K great, can't wait to see you and Kelsey Freya Hawkins!
2.  Mrs. Bult - Thank you for the Valentine's day card.  I knew it was from you, 1. Because you had a return sticker on it but 2. Because your handwriting is so distinct (a different distinct than Nate's though).  I laughed when I saw that it was a penguin, you know me too well.
3.  Norm - Thanks for the letter.  And now you have e-mail and even g-chat!  Look at you go!  Communicating machine you are!  Hope to talk to you again soon, maybe when mid-terms are done?
4.  Nate Bult - Thank you for the letter and also for the box of chocolates.  They came at the perfect time (before midterms).  I am trying my hardest to only eat one a day, but this is proving to be a more difficult task than I had anticipated.  The shiny little gold box is just so tempting.  Thanks love!
5.  Grandma Phyliss - Thank you for the cute little card!  I will have so many stories/pictures to show you when I get home.  Also, thanks for the picture of me and Nate.  The funny thing I don't remember even doing that, but it's a cute picture because it pretty much sums up our relationship well haha.  Thanks again!

I think that's it for now, but please keep it coming because it always makes my day when I see "Laura Grimm" sitting in the bin of mail/I check everyday at 2:00 in hopes of finding something for me.  I feel so blessed to have such a great family and also such great friends.  Love you all!

Castillos = Castles

Last post that needs to be caught up on.  Thank goodness.  I forgot to mention that it is mid-terms week, which means any form of procrastination is welcome.  Like blogging.  You know that it's bad when you'd rather blog about your past two weeks, than study for tests.

But this past weekend, instead of studying on Friday, I had a class trip for my Civilization class to Segovia (been there before but oh well), and also to another castle.  We took the bus to Segovia and I got to see the wonderful castle once again.
Only this time, I had a tour guide and some of the stuff actually made sense.  Also, I found out that I had missed a couple of rooms with all the weapons in them, you know boy stuff.  However, I was informed that the castle burned in the 1800s, and this is just a replica of what the castle was like.  Shoot.  They sure got me.  It's fun to dream though.  I would say this visit to Segovia was still a worthwhile venture because I found a sweet little café and got a pastry and hot chocolate.  Wonders.  Also, it wasn't rainy that day so I actually got some good pictures of the aqueduct with blue skies!

But the next castle that we went too was awesome, much better than the Segovia castle (once I found out that that one was kind of like a knock-off).  It is called the Castillo de Manzanares El Real or something like that.  The difference between a Castillo (Segovia) and an Alcazar is that a Castillo is more for royalty, like Felipe the third or fourth or people important like that.  This part of the tour got a little sketchy with my Spanish.  An Alcazar is a residence for nobles and people not as important as kings pretty much.  Who knows.  Still cool though. The views of the mountains were awesome as well.

Other activities this weekend included going to Burrito's, one of my favorite restaurants in Alcalá.  It is a Mexican restaurant, surprising yes I know, but I go there mainly for the fantastic guacamole and chips.  The sangria there is also good.  Every so often, if you're lucky, a mariachi band will appear and play typical mariachi music.  I just so happened to be lucky and they did come last Friday.

I also let myself out of the house to go to the mall with friends, and it is sad that the rebajas are ending.  But it is also good at the same time because now I don't feel the need to go wander around the mall.  On Sunday I had a family dinner on my mom's side because it was her birthday and also because her sisters like to get together every so often with their families.  My friend Claire was also at the dinner, so it was nice to have someone familiar there.  Well I think I'm caught up for the most part, minus a few things but I will slowly make my way into getting those in here as well.