Thursday, April 28, 2011

Semana Santa

            I know - you are all shocked at the recent frequency of all these entries. I hope they are entertaining…and they may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I have been in Alicante for the week with just my host parents and rainy weather.  (I have a lot of time to write.)
            So yes its true, I am in Alicante and have been to the beach once, for about 2 hours. It’s been cold and rainy here…so much for spending Semana Santa at the beach. Not happy about this. We drove out here on Tuesday after Mom left. Of course there was tons of traffic, because naturally Wednesday was the final of the Copa del Rey (Real Madrid v. Barcelona) in Valencia – which is conveniently located north of Alicante and uses the same highway to get from Madrid to Valencia. Lovely start to the “relaxing beach vacation” we were going to have. The Spanish are also up in arms because the speed limit was recently lowered from 120kph to 110kph (that’s 68mph). According to my host dad, “Its murderously boring to drive this slow…” Imagine the joy I got to experience hearing about that the entire 5-hour drive.
            Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a big deal here. There is no Easter bunny and dying Easter eggs like back home, at least at my house. It’s very serious, and in my opinion everything seems pretty depressing. There are processionals every day of the week, leaving from different churches all around cities. They are “parades” with people in scary “costumes” (very KKK like), marching bands, and gigantic “floats” that take about 50 men to carry them. It was very, interesting. Take a look at the photos below from some of the processionals. 
If that doesn't say Happy Easter, then I don't know what does.
            This week has given me time and reason to do some of the things I love to do but always seem to find a reason in Madrid to go and do something else. Like reading - I have now started and finished one book, and am halfway through my second. I have also had time to organize my life…which was desperately needed. Although, and I didn’t want to admit it – living without Internet for a week is really hard. Not that I miss things like Facebook, but I feel so disconnected. Especially since Skype is my only real means of communication with everyone back home. There are also the things that I needed to get done, like online homework and apartment hunting, which are now just piling up for when I get home. Lucky me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mom Comes to Spain

            This past week my Mom came to visit!  We had a really great time together, although it went way to fast. Unfortunately Dad wasn’t able to come, he wants to wait until July so it will be nice and hot.
            Mom’s visit began with a few small roadblocks, but soon turned around and was great. We were staying in a really nice neighborhood of Madrid, close to the Park Retiro, which was great to walk around in the mornings. Luckily the weather was really nice in Madrid, a very nice change from April in Wisconsin. Most of our time was spent with me showing her my favorite parts of the city. The first night we went for tapas at Mercado de San Miguel, which is one of my favorite tapas “bars”. It has a great atmosphere, and because it’s a market there is a huge selection, allowing you to try a bit of everything – perfect for first timers. ;) 

Now that's some ham.
            The next day, unfortunately I had to go to class, leaving Mom to walk around the city a bit alone and attempt to go to the Reina Sofia museum. When I got back from class walked around the city more and went out for Mom’s first real Spanish Paella – and of course more sangria. 
She really liked these trees.
            We decided to take the tourist bus to see the rest of the city. It sounds cheesy but it’s actually really fun. You can get on and off as many times as you want, and get to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. We saw my favorite streets, plazas, buildings, and parks in the city. It was great to be able to show my Mom where I have been living for the past 8 months, a big change from a city of 5,000 to 3 million.
            On our last day in Madrid, I took Mom to Villa to show her my university, and introduce her to my host family. I had class in the morning, and then we walked around the university and the city a bit before “the introduction/visit”. It was…interesting. Difficult for me, because I am the only person who can translate, and when they are all wanting me to tell someone else something…its gets really confusing. They definitely pulled out all the stops for making my Mom lunch - it was quite the ordeal. My host mom made a bit of all of my favorite Spanish foods, and they were not wearing PJ's!  After lunch I packed my things and we were off to Barcelona.
My host mom made Paella - yumm! 
            The next morning we took the train to Barcelona for an exciting weekend in one of my favorite cities in the world. Barcelona is one of those cities that you just have to see to realize its incredible beauty. I have never been to a city quite like it; beaches, mountains, and crazy architecture – very cool. It was great to get a chance to go back to Barcelona – it was the first trip I took back in September when I arrived here in Spain. Seeing things twice – and things I never got to see last time was really fun. When we arrived we made our way to our hotel and then set out for some quick sightseeing and lunch. We had tickets to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s cathedral, which is by far the most amazing church I have ever been into. It literally takes your breath away when you enter. It is still under construction, and has been for the past 128 years, and was cool to see the changes since the last time I was there. We spent a good 2 hours in there, and then made our way back to the hotel, which what just 1 block away, to meet Chris who came in from London to spend the weekend with us!
that is one impressive church.
            When Chris arrived we decided that we would go again to the Sagrada Familia with her so that she could see it and not have to go alone. It was still impressive. That night we wanted to go for Paella. We had a recommendation for a restaurant on the beach with, “the best Paella in all of Cataluña” – it did not disappoint. After a walk along the beach with some ice cream, we were ready to head back to the hotel in preparation for the next day.
you gunna eat all that Chris?
            We spent the next day walking around the city, down the famous streets, shopping at street markets and shops, and visiting Park Güell. It was great weather, although cooler than Madrid…so not great beach weather. :/
            That night we attempted to go to the light show at the Magic Fountain. Apparently the show only goes until 9pm…we arrived at 9:10. Oh well, now we have something to go back for!  We also discovered the terrace at our hotel that night. We went up there and holy man!  The view was AMAZING!!!   The Sagrada Familia was literally right in front of us!  We decided it would be the perfect place for breakfast the next morning.
that view does not suck - the breakfast didn't either ;)
            To make good on our morning plan, I ran to the bakery to pick up some breakfast – and we took it to the rooftop terrace for some amazing morning views and coffee. After spending a couple hours on the rooftop we decided that we should probably get out and enjoy our last day in Barcelona. We decided to spend our last day at the beach and exploring the old fisherman’s wharf. We walked along the extremely windy beach, put our feet in the freezing cold water, and ate what else – but seafood!  It was good food, although we had what has to be the world’s rudest waiter. I was shocked at how we were treated by him – we almost skipped lunch and just left with our drinks.  Although I am glad we stayed because we tried black rice, which is NOT paella, as the waiter so kindly told us, but for those of us who are not Spanish – its basically paella dyed black with squid ink.  Very fishy – but fitting for our last night in Barcelona.  That evening Chris went back to London and left my mom and I for one last night together before we parted ways until August.
            I had a really good time with Mom and loved being able to show her around where I have been living and what I have been doing since September. (I think) She had a great time as well, but as my Dad says, “Is there anywhere in Europe she doesn’t like?”  I guess we will have to travel more to find out. ;) 
            Now it is Holy Week…doesn’t sound quite as fun as Spring Break does it?  I am off to Alicante with my host parents to spend the week in their “beach” house…and its supposed to rain the entire time. Oh boy. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Hello everyone!  

Lately I have been a traveling fool and leaving every weekend!  It’s been great – but also very tiring.  First I was in Granada, which is located in southern Spain.  It was a great trip and definitely ranks as one of my favorite cities in Spain.  It has a very cool mix of cultures, Arab, Jewish, and Catholics all lived in the city, making it truly diverse.  The Alhambra is located there, which was a fortress/palace thing built above the city in the “mountains”.  Its one of the most beautiful palaces I have ever been to.  We visited the Alhambra twice, first at night and then again the next morning.  I recommend to everyone who goes to Granada, the nighttime visit.  There are less people at night, and the moonlight makes it especially beautiful.  We spent a lot of time wandering around the small winding streets of the old Jewish ghetto, and Arab neighborhoods.  We had tea at a cool old Arab teahouse and wandered around the street vendors selling tea of all flavors.  I bought one because it smelled glorious, but haven’t bought tea bags yet…so I will keep you posted on how it tastes.  (Hopefully as good as it smells!)
            We took a bus to get to Granada…5 hours on a bus.  When we got to the bus station to get back to Madrid the bus was over 30 minutes late to arrive at the station.  Normally public transportation in Spain I have found to be extremely reliable and on time, surprisingly.  However, it is still Spain and the bus arriving 30 minutes late seemed to bother only us…all the Spanish were just waiting.  Nobody was telling us what was going on, or even where to wait for the bus.  Now, after living here for 6 months I have calmed down a lot over things like this (for those of you who know me, dad, should be very proud/thankful for this).  But I was traveling with my friend from Korea, and in Korea buses arrive 30 minutes early, and leave exactly on time.  She was slightly more annoyed than I was.  But the bus arrived, finally, and we were on our way back to Madrid.  

The Alhambra

View of Granada
  The next weekend I went to Venice with Sooyoung.  We left on Saturday evening and arrived in Venice late that night.  When we arrived at the airport we had to make our way to the hostel, which was made slightly more difficult when the tourist information desk at the airport was already closed…there went our free city map.  We found where the bus left from, and they told us that we had missed the last bus.  So we were quite worried, but soon realized that the bus hadn’t actually left yet.  We made it onto the bus and were on our way into Venice.  They dropped us off at the bus station, and without a map we had to find our hostel, quite a task in Venice when suddenly the street ends and its just water.  We started walking and after a few wrong turns found our hostel, no problem.  The hostel was located right on the Grand Canal, but because we arrived late at night, we couldn’t actually see anything.  We decided to get to bed right away so that we could get started early in the morning. 
            When we left our hostel in the morning, we had a slight girly freak out over how beautiful it was during the day.  We had a plan to take the “water bus” after a girl in the hostel gave us a tip that it was a great way to see the city.  We got on and planned to make our way to St. Marks Square.  We spent the morning there, walking around the super touristy area.  We ate lots of great food, and had our fill of gelato!  (But what else would you go to Italy for??)  The next day we decided to go to Murano, an island close to Venice that is famous for glass.  We found where the free factory tour was, and had a nice morning there.  We then went to the Jewish part of Venice, which is less touristy, and therefore has cheaper food.  We had a nice lunch; pizza and wine of course, and then decided we wanted to go to Burano, another island famous for lace.  This was probably my favorite place we went to during the trip.  There were not a lot of people there, and it was extremely beautiful.  The houses are all different colors, and it has the “Leaning Tower of Burano!”  (Or at least that is the name Sooyoung and I gave it.)
            It was a great trip to Venice and we had a really good time!  We were picture crazy, and took over 1,700 photos during the trip!  It took me about 3 hours to go through all the photos and get it down to about 700…yikes!
St. Marks Square



            This weekend I was here in Madrid, finally!, to enjoy the AMAZING weather here.  It’s been about 80F/28C!  I have been spending lots of time in the parks around Madrid with friends, and struggling to go to classes…who wants to sit inside when its 80 and sunny?!?  Looking forward to next week because MOM COMES!!! :D

Saturday, April 2, 2011

English anyone?


Two weekends ago I was in London visiting some friends - I had an absolute BLAST with everyone! Also, I was stoked to be in an English speaking country for the first time since I left the US in September!  (I really like the word "stoked" really portrays the emotion well.  According to Urban Dictionary (which is obviously 100% correct - every time) ""stoked" - adjective - to be "stoked" is to be completely and intensely enthusiastic, exhilarated, or excited about something. Those who are stoked all of the time know this; being stoked is the epitome of all being. When one is stoked, there is no limit to what one can do.")  That word - stoked - sums up my weekend in London.  There was no limiting the amount of fun we had.

The trip started the customs line at the airport.  Now, when I first came to Spain, they barely even looked at my passport...I don't even think they opened it up to the picture page before letting me pass.  But going to London for a weekend, now that's completely different.  I arrived at the customs line and read the signs (in English!) UK passports, EU passports..."others".  I got in the "others" line and watched as everyone else walked right through...2 planes went through before I did!  Finally I got up to the counter they asked what I was doing in London.  I replied "visiting friends".  His response - "who?"  Are you really that popular that you know everyone in London?  "Matt and Chris."  "What is their address?"  I don't know...I have never been to their house, I don't even know my address in Spain!  Told him that...I don't think he liked that answer very much, but honestly what was he expecting?  Then he asked me when I was going back to the US.  "August".  Well that is not what he wanted to then I explained the whole study abroad thing and finally he let me pass.  Good thing because Chris was waiting and starting to worry...and Matt was stressing about the £1 fee for parking.  Let the fun begin!

After making it back to Matt and Chris’s house, driving on the wrong side of the road, and the wrong way around roundabouts, I got settled in and we went out to dinner at the local pub for a true UK welcome.  That night we celebrated with our good friends Will Ferrell and Steve Carell in Anchorman – as to provide us with some obnoxious quotes for the weekend. :)
The next morning we drove into London to spend the weekend at their flat in the city.  The flat was in a really cool neighborhood; kind of boho-chic meets yuppie up-and-comers – I could definitely get used to the great farmers market and bakery they have.  We got on the tube and headed into downtown London.  The first stop was the Tower of London.  It was pretty sweet although we did not go inside because it was around £20 to we just walked around the outside and took some fun pictures.  We walked over to Tower Bridge, commonly mistaken for London Bridge – which is just a little ways down the river and a lot less impressive.  We made our way across Tower Bridge and to the Borough Market.  This was quite possibly the coolest outdoor food market I have ever been to, even rivaling Madison’s Farmers Market.  It is set under the railway viaducts near the foot of Tower Bridge.  We spent a bit of time wandering around the market and then made our way back to the river walk towards Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and The London Eye.  We walked across the Millennium Footbridge (also known as the bridge from Harry Potter) and tried/failed to go to the oldest wine bar in London.  (next time!)  

Tower of London
Happy Hands caught in the beginning stages:)

Borough Market

yay sunshine!

Globe Theater

Harry Potter bridge

"Thumbs up for the London eye and Big Ben!"
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunny day in London.  We started out the day in Piccadilly Circus, which is not actually a circus but more of a city square (personally I think circus tents would add a nice touch).  From Piccadilly we walked to Trafalgar Square and spent a bit of time taking fun pictures and watching the Olympic countdown clock.  (Only 529 days!!!)  After all the excitement from the Olympic countdown clock we need a bit of a break, so we walked past number 10 Downing Street which is really quite depressing.  The street itself is not very appealing and the giant fence and guards with machine guns don’t really help the curb appeal.  I would not want to live there.  Just down the street is Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey (which is where the Royal Wedding is going to be).  We decided we wanted to rent bikes with the bike share program in London and ride around the city a bit.  We rode past Buckingham Palace, through some parks, and towards Soho.  We walked through Liberty, which I am told is the Harrods for Londoners.  Then around Soho for a bit looking at all the great shops and having coffee at the best Italian coffee shop outside of Italy.  Bar Italia – definitely recommended.

Piccadilly circus

Trafalgar square

ummm yeah...

best photo of the weekend? 

yummm!  (Also my dad has never been there.  I have.)

My favorite alley

That was my last night in London, as we headed back to Matt and Chris’s house the next day.  But not before exploring the best farmers market ever, and spending the day sitting in the park enjoying another beautiful day in London!  That evening we had plans to go out to dinner for curry – because one cannot visit London without having curry.  The curry was great and thanks to Carol and Helen, it was one of the funniest dinners I have ever experienced.  Unfortunately it was my last night in London and I had to head back to Madrid the next morning.  I had a GREAT time in London and can’t wait to go back!  (Maybe graduate school??)  Thanks Matt and Chris for everything!