Alcalá de Henares

Alcalá de Henares

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.

End of Semana Santa or until my computer runs out of battery...

I would go with the latter on that.  So I've officially become the worst blogger.  Lies, I know some of my other friends have only blogged 4 or 5 times during their whole time in Spain.  But the thing with blogging is that it is time consuming and it's always hard to describe my experiences abroad but at least it's an attempt.  So Semana Santa continued...

Day 5: Aberdeen
Today was definitely the most chill day of Semana Santa.  No getting up at insanely early hours of the morning to catch a bus.  No 8 hour bus rides.  No airplanes.  Just a very relaxing day.  Mary made us a wonderful pancake breakfast, delicious pancakes.  Then we took a walk through the one and only, Seaton Park.  I got to see where Mary and Kelsey go to school, which is kind of like Hogwarts I guess.  We caught the bus downtown and went shopping at Primark (best store with the cheapest/cutest clothes, deadly combination), H&M, Top Shop, and a few other stores.  For lunch I ate 4 cookies, real cookies none of those Spanish wannabe's.  It was a successful lunch.  Mary wanted to take us to get macaroni pies but the place was closed on Sundays, but I was more than pleased with my cookies: 2 Semi-sweet chocolate chip and 2 white chocolate and raspberries.  Delicious all wrapped up in a tiny to go box.  We spent all afternoon downtown shopping in Aberdeen, and I apologize to Kelsey and Mary for making you wait in Primark for an ungodly amount of time.  I also found a Laura Ashley store in a mall and of course had to get a picture by it!  I caved and bought a Starbucks because I figured, why not, I'm on vacation (as if these 4 months aren't just an extended vacation haha).  I'm not going to lie, my backpack was quite a bit fuller after leaving Aberdeen from this afternoon.  But where there's a will there's a way, and I definitely fit all my purchases back into the trusty backpack so no worries.

After the trip downtown, we dropped our stuff off at Mary's flat and headed to the North Sea.  It reminded me a little of Ludington up in Northern Michigan because of the way the river goes out into the sea.  Ludington only Scottish version I guess.  I even ventured into going into the sea but not very far because it was absolutely frigid.  Frigid.  After our lovely adventures, we headed back to Mary's apartment and got ready for our last night in Aberdeen.

We headed out to a Scottish pub called Slain's Castle, which is Mary and Kelsey's favorite pub.  If they like it it has to be good right?  Just trusting the locals.  Spot on.  They have a menu of the "7 Deadly Sins" and each cocktail is supposed to represent one of the sins.  What a fun idea!  I got "Envy" because I'm a fan of Creme de Menthe.  It didn't disappoint.  Very fun evening  with friends, both old and new.

Very successful day and probably one of my favorite, scratch that, favorite day during Semana Santa.  Great friends, great shopping, great adventures.  Does life get any better?  Many thanks to Mary Cantor and Kelsey Hawkins for being the best tour guides Aberdeen has ever known.  For real.  And once again, apologies for Primark haha.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gracias a Señor Volcán de islandia...

Yes, thank you Mr. Volcano of Iceland for putting lots of ash into the air and canceling my flight to Ireland.  As the Spaniards say, "No pasa nada" which means something like "No big deal."

I found out at 12:00 P.M. during my break between classes that all the airports in the United Kingdom had been shut down due to a volcano eruption in Iceland.  So I frantically searched my flight and found that indeed it had been "delayed."  The website was unclear as to what to do, so my friend Nicole and I headed off to the airport to try to figure out what was going on and if we would be able to leave sometime this weekend/how we were going to get a refund on our tickets.

When we got to the airport, there was an extremely long line of people waiting to change/refund their flights.  Probably around 300 people and only 2 people working in the office.  Wonderful.  We waited in line for 3 and a half hours, and then a man said that we would be able to do it all on-line.  However, we were probably only 20 more minutes from being at the front of the line, so I looked at him and said that we had been waiting for almost 4 hours, and that 20 more minutes was nothing to me.  He looked a little shocked that I was speaking Spanish, but hey may as well practice while in Spain?  I think he was a little angry that we decided to stay, but honestly after 3 and a half hours of waiting, this was going to get done right.  So after 4 hours of waiting in line, we finally got to talk to the lady (in Spanish again) and we were refunded our money.  We were also refunded our hostels and bus tickets, which was huge relief.  But then again, "No pasa nada."

So while I am really disappointed that I'm not going to Ireland, I'm trying to make the best of the situation.  I'm going to Salamanca tomorrow for a day trip and my family is having another get together on Sunday.  And I have a bunch of homework that I really should be working on, so I'll be keeping busy.  But once again, "No pasa nada" (this phrase is probably said at least 10 times a day by any Spaniard).  And of course this weekend means more blogging to catch up on!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Day 4: Edinburgh

Today we got up super early to catch our bus to go to Edinburgh for a day trip.  According to Lonely Planet, Edinburgh is one of the top cities in Europe to visit, so when in Scotland, why not?

When we got to Edinburgh, we weren't really sure what we wanted to see/do.  Mary let us borrow her Lonely Planet of Scotland, which was extremely helpful.  After about 3 minutes, we stumbled upon a park with some amazing animal photography and of course, we had to reenact what was happening in the pictures.  Mine were all with penguins, duh.  I'll only post one because they are a little ridiculous, but that's kind of how my friends and I act at times, like dumb tourists.  After the photoshoot which lasted longer than necessary, we headed towards the Royal Mile to check it out.  It was rather impressive.  Lots of plaid, kilts, and other things extremely Scottish.  Probably more plaid than should be allowed on one street, but I'll let it slide because it's Scotland.  We encountered a scary viking/warrior like man, but I was too afraid to go near him to get a picture with him.  He was shouting and was obviously enjoying his job a little too much, but he was fun to watch from afar.  We continued walking up the Royal Mile toward the big castle but opted not to go in it.

We explored a bit more and got a little lost trying to find the statue of Greyfriar's Bobby, but we ended up finally finding it and we even ate at the Greyfriar's Bobby restaurant!  It was sooo good.  Finally a steak that's not 2 mm thick like the "filetes" in Spain.  I definitely enjoyed my lunch and left rather stuffed and content.

On our walk back towards the Royal Mile, we stumbled upon another historic site.  We saw a couple getting a picture taken in front of a building with their baby, and we thought it was a little weird until we got closer and saw what the building was.  It was the cafe where J.K. Rowling began the Harry Potter books!  Amazing!  So of course we had to copy and get photos as well of this historic landmark.  Then we headed back towards the Royal Mile, where a plaid scarf was purchased (it had to be done) as well as other small Scottish gifts.

At the end of the mile, we found the Queen's residence when she comes to visit Edinburgh.  Not bad not bad.  We also creeped on a couple getting their wedding pictures taken.  They will have the best wedding pictures ever.  Who wouldn't want wedding pics at the Queen's house in Edinburgh, Scotland?

After walking around some more, it was time to head back towards the bus station.  It was a rather exhausting day, walking around everywhere but I got a good nap in on the bus.

Once we got back to Aberdeen, we headed out to go get drinks at the Bobben, a cute little Scottish pub, but we were informed that we needed our passports to actually order drinks.  Seeing as none of us had our passports on us, we headed back to Mary's flat to come up with Plan B, which consisted of going to the bar on campus.  When we got there, it was also closed.  On to Plan C?  We decided to just go back to Mary's and use a bit of her Bailey's and mix it with ice cream.  Wonderful combination.  I'm sure you've already discovered this Peggy.  If not you must indulge because it is extremely "yummy" as you would say.

Well that's it for today.  Hopefully I'll get another two days done tomorrow, but I have a big presentation and also have to pack for IRELAND so we'll see.  I'm going to Ireland from Thursday until Monday, and it's going to be sweet!  Can't wait but before then, I have to do some school stuff.  Who knew that study abroad actually included studying and school and not just traveling?  Shocking.

Slowly but surely...

This week has been super busy with classes, but it's time to begin blogging again about Semana Santa.  So here it goes:

Day 3:
Today we had to get up early to leave for Scotland.  We left our hostel and took a double decker bus to the train station/bus station.  Ride double decker bus, complete.  So off we went and got to the bus station with no problems.  Then back to the airport that was an hour away to catch our plane.

At the airport, I got stopped in security because my small can of hairspray was outside of the 1 quart zip lock bag.  My bad.  So the kind British lady proceeded to take out all of the contents of my backpack.  Poor her because I had a lot of stuff in my backpack.  When she took out some of the touristy things that I had bought, my head sunk with shame.  Of course I had to buy little trinkets from London like the telephone booth pencil sharpener and the double decker bus!  They were a must.  She just laughed and continued to pull out all of the contents of my bag.  She reached my "food" section and out came the cookies and other delicious goods that I had with me.  So while my friends and I were waiting for her to get done searching my bag, we opened the bag of cookies and began to eat them.  Another airport security man came over and asked in his lovely British accent, "Does someone have biscuits over here?"  I said that I did, and he asked if he could have one.  I thought he was joking, but I said sure and he did indeed take one!  Friendliest airport security experience ever.  

Made it into Glasgow and it was very cold and rainy.  As the picture shows, very rainy indeed.  We found the place where the bus comes to pick people up, however we had no idea which bus we needed to take.  We asked a redhaired Scottish lady if she knew which bus would take us to the Glasgow bus station and she was very helpful in telling us which bus we needed to take.  Made it to the Glasgow bus station and then began our journey to Aberdeen to finally be reunited with Kelsey and Mary!

On the ride, I was able to view a bit of the Scottish countryside.  It is by far one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen.  Little sheep dotted the lush green pastures, quaint little houses, broken wooden fences. Very beautiful indeed.  The bus ride went super fast, and before I knew it we were getting into Aberdeen.  I gathered all of my things and hoped that finding Mary and Kelsey wouldn't be too difficult.  Once getting off the bus, I could see through the glass door my two beautiful friends.  What a joyous reunion.  Until I tried to push the door when it was pull.  Oh well, I was just happy to finally see some familiar faces on this side of the globe!

We decided to walk to Mary's flat from downtown which proved to be an interesting adventure.  We went to a supermarket and I finally reconnected with some missed foods from home, like Cool Ranch Dorito's and a few other unhealthy goods.  Walked around a bit more with our trusty Scottish locals, finally made it to Mary's flat and got settled in.  We spent the night talking a bit and then getting situated to fit 4 people into a room that was built for one.  Mary was a very gracious host though and we were very grateful to have a warm room to sleep in.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Semana Santa: The Beginning...

Since I can't sleep right now, I will be productive and begin my blog about my Semana Santa.  A few general reactions: Incredible, Unbelievable, I must go back.  I am in love with England.  In love.  Maybe it's the English accent, or just the English over Spanish, the quaint little homes, the brightly colored pounds, the red telephone booths, the double decker buses, the food that tastes like home, the wonderful land of Scotland, who knows.  Trip of a lifetime for sure.  So how to break it all down into this blog.  The easiest way to tackle this blog I believe is to take it day by day.  So sorry if this gets rather lengthy or if I don't complete all of it in one sitting.  My apologies.

Day 1:  Departure
Due to my inability to read military time correctly, I confused the flight times and discovered it the night before.  Our flight left an hour earlier than I had thought, so I had to skip my last class on Wednesday so we could catch our flight out of Madrid.  I met up with my friends at the train station, my mom drove me and she is such a sweetheart, then took the Renfe into Madrid, then the metro to the airport.  First comment: I hate the Madrid airport.  It just brings back bad memories of running around trying to find where I was supposed to meet my director on the first day, and it's a large confusing airport.  Confusion is not a feeling that I like prior to flying.  Once at the airport, we had to get our boarding passes stamped, which was fairly easy given that I am a little better at Spanish this time around, and proceeded to security.  Took off from the airport and landed in London on time.

Once in London, we had to go through customs and I got my passport stamped!  Yes I've been to the UK.  We also changed over some money, seeing as we were now on the pound, not the Euro.  Finally got to the bus stop, and bought our bus tickets to the city, since our flight (Ryanair) landed an hour out of London.  Thus began the journey with public buses.  Got into downtown London and found the metro.  Since we're used to using the metro in Madrid, it was fairly easy to figure out.  Especially when everything is in English!  So took the metro to St. Paul's Cathedral where our first hostel was.  Our first hostel was in a great location and was nice.  Not as nice as the Yes! Hostel in Lisboa, but we've come to learn that that was an exceptional hostel, not the norm for hostel living.

After we checked in, we decided to take an evening stroll around London.  Probably one of my favorite memories from Spring Break was this first night.  We walked across the Millenium Bridge (Harry Potter anyone?), and saw the London Bridge as well as the London Eye.  We headed in the direction of the London Eye because we wanted to see Big Ben as well.  It wasn't a long walk, but I made the comment like, "I'm sure we'll just look up and Big Ben will be right there."  And sure enough, no more than 15 seconds later, we got our first view of Big Ben.  And I now have a new obsession with Big Ben.  Maybe because it's because I've seen so many movies that reference Big Ben, but it is my favorite part of London.  Very touristy yes, but very cool at the same time.  So we walked by Big Ben and said hello and then headed back to our hostel.  On the way we found a telephone booth, so of course we had to take pictures in it!  We also found a little supermarket that was open, and I bought cereal (well I thought it was cereal, but it ended up being granaola), Dorito's (they don't have Cool Ranch in Spain), Coca-Cola, water, and a few other small items that I've craved for awhile.  We got back to the hostel pretty tired and we snacked for awhile and then went to bed.  Good day.

Day 2: Exploring London
This was our only full day in London, so we wanted to make the most of it and see everything.  Well I now it's impossible to see everything, but we wanted to hit most of the main sights of London.  We got up early and got ready to leave.  I brought a mini-hair dryer that I bought in Spain and was assured in Spanish by the seller, that it would work in England.  Haha good one.  It broke the first day.  Should have known better than to take his word on that.  But it really wasn't a big deal because I was just happy to be in London!

After leaving the hostel, we headed off in the same direction as the night before and saw once again the London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster, and a few other cool things.  From there we made our way to Picadilly Circle (kind of like Times Square), Buckingham Palace where we saw the changing of the guard, Oxford Street, Burlington Arcade (very ritzy shopping center), H&M of course, and other souvenir shops in search for touristy things.  We also went to the British Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian art, Greek sculptures, and other old things.  I thought it was interesting but seeing as I don't know much about ancient world history, I opted to go to a café to get some coffee since I was getting a little tired and we still had so much left to do and see!

After the British Museum, we started to head back towards the London Eye because we had an appointment to take a ride on it at 7.  On our way, we found a London guard not the really cool ones at Buckingham (they were no where to be found), but a guard nonetheless.  We came up from behind and were super excited to get the most obnoxious and ridiculous London guard photos until we realized that he was just, well, depressing looking?  The photo will explain perfectly.  We felt so bad taking pictures with him and it was just awkward.  Epic fail.        

Finally got to the London Eye, which is the world's biggest ferris wheel if I remember, and got to go when it was just getting dark out.  It lasted about half an hour, and the view was incredible.  I have fallen in love with London and it is one of my favorite cities.  It's modern, but has an old English feel to it as well.  Very interesting.  It is also a relatively clean city and despite the rain off and on, I really enjoyed exploring London for the day.

After the London Eye, we headed back to the hostel to drop off our stuff and then headed out again.  We wanted to try the famous Fish and Chips, and went to a restaurant called The Anchor (yes Hope College references are necessary) only to find out that they had the chips, but ran out of the fish.  However, we managed to get free french fries out of the deal because I think the lady felt bad for us.  So we ate french fries and were content enough with those.  After The Anchor, we tried another place only to be informed that the kitchen was closed.  Shoot.  We are used to Spain where most places will still serve food past midnight, but I guess in England kitchens close around 10:00/11:00.  So we walked around some more, saw the London Bridge and the Tower of London, and called it a day.  
What an amazing day it was.  We saw practically all the "big" sights in London in a single day.  And we walked the whole thing!  We were pretty worn out by the time we finally got back to the hostel, but it was certainly worth it.  I can't wait to go back to London because there are some things that I would still like to do/see, so I guess that just means another trip to London sometime.  I'm more than ok with that.

As for me, I am tired now and have to still pack to go to León tomorrow so this is it for tonight.  I was conflicted, because I could either write a super short blog, skimming and leaving out details, or go a little more in depth and do it in sections.  I have opted for the second option.  So for today, London blog complete.  Still to come: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, London part II, Barcelona, and Girona.  So much more to come.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Back to school, back to school..

Back to school it is.  Classes and everything.  Yesterday was a super busy day with my 3 classes.  Right after classes, I had my 2 hour conversation period (intercambio) with a lady named Ana.  She took me through a park in Alcalá and we walked and talked.  One hour in English.  One hour in Spanish.  It was really nice out, except I had a huge bag plus my purse and all of my books.  Not exactly ideal for walking, but I really liked seeing the more "natural" part of Alcalá.  After my intercambio, I had what was supposed to be a half hour tutoring session to go over some material we have covered in my grammar class that I need a little more clarification on.  Well half hour turned in to an hour.  I'm just glad for the extra help though.  Hopefully it will boost my next exam grade and all this hard work will pay off.  After the tutoría, I was able to go home finally but when I got home, I had another intercambio with my host dad.  It lasted only 45 minutes because he had to go pick up my host sister, but I really like my intercambio with my host dad because I know he appreciates it, and it's fun to learn more about him (and I love hearing people speak English with different accents).

As for this weekend, I'm off to León with my program.  I believe we are going to a "bodega" aka vineyard, so that should be fun.  My director informed us that we get one glass of red, and one glass of white.  And that is all.  I am more than okay with just a few sips of each and calling it good.  I think we are also going to a cave?  I will let you know on Sunday I guess how it all goes.  

Also, I would like to say that my Spring Break blog is coming tomorrow.  With all of my tutoring sessions, homework, and intercambios it makes for a really short day.  But hopefully tomorrow I can sit down and write up the blog about my travels and add the pictures.  So until tomorrow.  All my love to everyone back home!

Monday, April 5, 2010


I vowed to myself that I would do my Semana Santa experiences the day that I got back.  Epic fail.  I wrote down on a piece of paper most of what I did, but I can't bring myself to write the entire blog yet.  Sooo many amazing experiences with amazing friends both new and old.  I promise that I will write about it later this week as well as upload pics, but for now a little note about the theme of time since it has been on my mind lately.

It's funny how fast time passes.  I know I wrote about it before, or at least I think I did, but time has really gone by super fast.  I feel like this whole experience has been surreal at times.  Everywhere in Europe is literally a click away from my finger tips, and I believe that my many adventures have made my time here go by super fast.  I was talking with my host parents today, and they mentioned that I have about a month left.  I looked at the date on my computer and sure enough it says April 6.  In exactly one month, my parents and Nate will be in Alcalá de Henares, and I couldn't be happier knowing that they will be on their way soon enough.

But as I begin to think about their arrival, it is also highly bittersweet to think about the end of this time of my life.  I had to register for classes today, making it all so much more real that next semester is fast approaching.  Back to normal classes and back to Hope College.  I lucked out and have a pretty decent semester, really good hours for class, and am guaranteed a spot in a really cool class for the following Spring.  So it was a successful registration, by far most successful in my life, which is a proud accomplishment seeing as I'm half a world away (many thanks to Nate for helping sort out my classes for me as well).

But in terms of time, it also makes me realize how I will soon be moving on from my other home, my home at Hope.  I will be graduating in almost a year from now, and this is both an exciting and terrifying thought.  The real world.  Dun dun dun.  As much as I like to fool myself, I am not in the real world as a college student, and my time abroad has definitely proven this because I get to travel when I want, have my clothes washed for me, and have 5 meals, más o menos, a day prepared for me.  Definitely not the "real world."

It's hard to believe that in a little over a year, after about 18 years or so of being a student, I will finally put down my label as student and hopefully will be entering the world as a young professional or at least be able to obtain some sort of job.  It seems like just yesterday I was in elementary school, and it's fun to reminisce at times and it all goes back to what I said before: Time goes by so fast.  I'd like to end on this note.  Although my time here is almost done, there are so many more things that I want to do with this final month.  I want to be able to look back on my time in Spain and know that I did everything that I wanted to do and more.  I know that there is a reason why I am in Spain, and I can assure you that with each day I am learning and growing and becoming exactly the person that I am meant to be.  Some say that time changes everything.  However I ran across a Spanish phrase that I find appropriate: "El tiempo da buen consejo."  It means time gives good advice.  I know that with the passing of time, comes growth and for this, I am content in knowing that I am where I am supposed to be, and as I look down at the calendar on my computer, I can rest assure that the passing of time is a good thing.  A very good thing indeed.