Sunday, February 27, 2011

Random Weekend - Day 1

On our first day of class one of our professors told us that he didn’t mind if we made plans to travel that may conflict with his class since it is cheaper to geta round Europe now that we are on the continent.  He also mentioned that it was possible to go to the airport at 6 am with a bag packed for any kind of weather and ask for the cheapest flight.  Two other girls and I couldn’t believe that this was actually possible, so we thought we would try it out…..

Our alarms went off at 4 am last Friday and as we made our way through the streets of Sevilla around 5 am with our backpack stuffed to the brim, we realized that everyone else on the streets were heading home after a night out on the town.  When we got on to the bus that connects the center of town to the airport my travel companions, Kelly and Kelsey (who are roommates), decided to get out the bocadillos (sandwiches) that their host mom had made for them….only to find that they had accidently grabbed some raw, frozen fish and lard that had been wrapped similarly to their usual bocadillos!  When we got to the airport and started asking around at all the airlines (Ryanair, Iberia, Vueling, etc.) we were disappointed to learn that due to the long weekend (this Monday was a holiday in Andalucia) the cheapest flight (one way) was 145 euro to Barcelona.  After debating on what we could do so we wouldn’t feel like we completely failed for the weekend, we decided to head back into town and do the same thing at the bus station.

We knew of some people that had made plans to go to Lisbon for the weekend and thought we would try to go there if possible, however by the time we got to the bus station (about 8:30 am) we had missed the morning bus and would have had to wait until 5 pm.  Finally, we just asked for a beach destination and 13 euro and an hour and a half later we were in the “center” of Matalascañas.  The city of Matalascañas itself is nothing special, however it is right next to Doñana National Park and many nature reserves….and the beach is gorgeous!  After walking around looking for a cheap hostel we decided to ask a man driving a vehicle that looked like a train that should be in Disney Land for any suggestions.  Seeing that we were tourists and complete strangers to the town he insisted on driving us in his tourist train back to the “center” of town free of charge and pointed out a few hostels before suggesting a house that rents out rooms a couple blocks from the “downtown” area.  In the end we opted for the house up the street from the main “center.”  I have been using the quotation marks around center/downtown, because in reality there was almost nothing there that was open….it looked like a ghost town.  During our entire time in Matalascañas we were surprised at the large number of senior citizens and lack of a younger crowd.

We spent the majority of the afternoon on the beach and even though the water was still freezing it was nice to be in the sun and smelling the salty air in February!  Before going back to the house-hostel we stopped at a cute little market and bought fresh fruit, veggies, bread, and snacks for breakfast and lunch the next few days.  When we got back to the house we realized that even though it was February, sun block might still be a good idea for non-Spanish skin.  Too exhausted (and fried) to change, our lounging around and watching Spanish TV quickly turned into a hardcore siesta and when we woke up at 10 pm we were worried that even though we were in Spain, the few open restaurants would all be closed already.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a couple open restaurants that would satisfy our hunger before calling it an ‘early’ night and returning back to bed.

My friend Kelly on the beach in Matalascañas.

Beach at Matalascañas.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

¡Sevillista seré hasta la muerte!

As of this past Sunday evening, my life is complete….and I have now attended a Sevilla FC soccer game!  While I have not played soccer competitively since my freshman year of high school, I grew up surrounded by the sport and to this day it remains one of my favorite past times.  This past summer I was cheering for Spain in the World Cup from the very beginning and ever since I knew I would be studying in Sevilla I have been following the soccer team here through and other websites.  When my friends and I got to the stadium we still hadn’t bought tickets and were slightly tempted to buy some front and center seats from a scalper for 50 euro (normally 70 or 80 euro), but decided to go with the “cheap” seats behind the goal that were 30 euro.  Not only was this a good economical decision, but we had also unknowingly just bought seats in the “super-fan” section!  Everyone around us was up on their feet, singing, waving flags, and cheering the entire time while the rest of the stadium remained seated for the majority of the game.

Although I was completely geeking out the entire time, it was a very different experience from the last sporting event I attended in the U.S. before coming to Spain….the Bulldog-Badger hockey game.  Compared to the brand new Ams Oil Arena in Duluth, the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla is extremely run-down and has the bare necessities.  The plastic chairs were quite wobbly (probably because everyone stands on their seats during the game) and the ground was covered in peanut and sunflower seed shells.  The concrete stadium had no decorations except for graffiti and the concession stands pretty much consisted of a couple vending machines behind a counter.   However, the most surprising aspect about the concessions was that the only beer sold in the stadium is non-alcoholic.  Considering that in the U.S. beer is available at little league games, I was somewhat shocked to find out that in a much more liberal society (with respect to alcohol) that there wasn’t alcoholic beer at their professional soccer games.

Inside the stadium....with graffiti, but its a BULLDOG!!!

Right after the game....Sevilla won 1-0 over Hercules.  Note the security personnel already on the field!

Front of the stadium.

Monday, February 21, 2011

El Torcal & Granada Excursion

This past weekend we had our first excursion outside of Sevilla.  On Friday morning our entire API group traveled by bus to Granada with a stop in El Torcal Nacional Park for a short hike.  This was the first time we have spent a significant amount of time at a location that was not a historically significant, man made attraction and it was so nice to be outside, enjoying nature again.  We only hiked for about a mile, but we got to see so many cool rock formations and gorgeous panoramas.  Throughout the three hour drive to Granada, I was surprised at how hilly Spain is in some places and even more surprised to learn that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe....after Switzerland.  Granada is situated at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains (appropriately named, when translated it means Snowy Mountains) and even though there is no snow it the city I was so excited to see the white capped mountains in the background. 

Granada was the last city to be taken back by the Catholic Kings of Spain from the Arabs in 1492, and for this reason the city has a very strong Middle Eastern feel.  An Moorish tradition that has been modernized but still practiced today in southern Spain (especially in Granada) are the Arab baths also known as 'hammams.'  A group of us decided to relax and experience an Arab bath that included three different pools (cold, temperate, and hot) and a steam room that was ten times better than any sauna I've ever been in!

Friday night we walked to the old gypsy caves to see a flamenco show that was amazing!!  Everyone was sitting along the walls with the dancers in the middle, but it was so narrow that one of the girls in our group got kicked by one of the dancers!  However, the amount of energy and passion in the dancers and musicians was even more intense being that close to the action!

On Saturday morning we took a walking tour of the city and saw the burial location of Queen Isabel of Castilla and King Fernando of Aragon, the Catholic Kings who took back Granada.  Lastly, we visited the Alhambra, or Red Palace.  It was the royal palace for the Arab kings in southern Spain and Carlos V built a palace on the same sight.  The Alhambra is on a hill that overlooks the entire city of Granada, and in addition to the palaces, fortresses, and other buildings, the gardens are spectacular as well.  It is a must see for anyone who enjoys Arabic architecture and is easily one of the most beautiful places I've seen.

Fortress at Alhambra with the city of Granada in the background.

Half of our group at the Alhambra.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

La lluvia en Sevilla no es una maravilla....

In the movie My Fair Lady, there is a classic rhyme that says "the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain."  However, when literally translated into Spanish this phrase no longer rhymes, so they changed it to "la lluvia en Sevilla es una pura maravilla" (which means the rain in Seville is marvelous).  After two days of rain here (and more coming tomorrow), I beg to differ with this quote....there is nothing marvelous about the rain in Sevilla, especially when walking is the main form of transportation.

Before coming to Spain, I knew that everyone walked everywhere and even though I'm a runner and enjoy exercising this was something I was a little unsure about.  In Stevens Point I couldn't imagine walking from my house to school everyday (about 5 miles each way) and by living in the dorms or on campus in Duluth I really haven't had to worry about getting to class.  And even more important than getting to class, what about grocery shopping??  I don't think it would be possible to walk from any of my previous residencies to a grocery store and back with all the food I needed or in a reasonable amount of time.  In Spain, however, the most you'll every have to walk to get to supermarket is 2-3 blocks.  These are not huge grocery stores with a billion different brands of every item on the shelves, but they've got everything one could need.  Similarly to the grocery stores, pretty much all stores and shops here are smaller but have more locations dispersed throughout the city.  While there are a few shopping malls, many streets have been designated as shopping districts and no cars are allowed.

While walking is the main form of getting around Sevilla (and personally my favorite way to experience the city), it is also a city of about 700,000 and there is a lot of vehicle traffic as well.  The first rule about driving in Spain is that if your vehicle can's a road (which is probably why there are so many mopeds).  As for actual traffic rules, I am still not sure if I understand them.  I have yet to see a stop sign and even though there are traffic lights everywhere they have an interesting flashing yellow light feature that, from what I've observed, is like a red light you can go through if there are no pedestrians, bikes, oncoming traffic, etc.  Also, for pedestrians, there is no button to press to "inform" the stop lights someone is waiting to cross the is pretty much implied that there will always be people waiting to walk across the intersection.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Is this the real life??

Well, after two weeks in Spain and ten days in Sevilla it still hasn't set in that I'm really here.  Since classes have started I have become more comfortable walking around the city, but around every corner there is another crazy building or church or majestic view and I feel so lucky to be in such a wonderful city.  A couple days ago on my morning run I was crossing a bridge of the Guadalquivir (a huge river that runs right through the middle of Sevilla) as the sun was barely peaking of the buildings and the view of the silhouette of the city with the pink sky and mist on the river was so breathtaking, words or pictures cannot do it justice.

I've always been the type of person that has a billion things going on at the same time and the easy going, relaxed lifestyle here is something a little strange for me....but I'm loving it!  On Mondays and Wednesdays I have a night class (flamenco) and a couple of us in the same class have already made it a habit and decided to meet up, walk around, get lost in Sevilla, and find a bar with a Spanish only menu to enjoy a drink and tapas.

When I decided to study abroad my parents' only rule was that I had to come home.....right now I foresee it being very difficult to get on a plane in June to come back to the U.S.


Spanish food is probably one of the tops reasons to visit Spain and definitely one of my favorite aspects of Spanish culture. As I’ve mentioned before, the meals here are served much later than in the U.S. (lunch being around 2:30 and dinner around 9:30 or even 10).  I have also been fortunate enough to have been placed with a wonderful host mom who is amazing in the kitchen….even if she says she doesn’t like to cook. 

If you have a sweet tooth, breakfast is the meal of the day for you!  Every morning we wake up to a smorgesbord of bread/toast with nutella or jam, fruit, cereal, and cookies.  Yes, cookies…..and three different kinds to be exact!  One morning I walked into the kitchen and my two roommates were already eating and I noticed a new type of cookie on the table and asked if it was good and they’re response was that its was delicious with nutella.  Nutella on cookies for breakfast….is that allowed?? I’ve found myself asking this same question many times over the last week and I am constantly suprised at what one is allowed to do here.  However, when eating breakfast at a restaurant cookies usually aren’t on the menu but some popular items are tortilla española (a potato and egg dish) or toast with olive oil (which sounds odd, but is delicious).

Moving on to lunch.  After a long morning of classes (if 11-3 still counts as the morning) I usually go back to my apartment  for lunch.  Traditionaly the largest meal of the day, lunch usually includes some sort of meat, a vegetable or salad, bread, and fruit for dessert.  So far we have never eaten the same thing twice (something I’ve been pleasantly surprised about) and this dishes have ranged from potato and/or bean salads, soups, a variety of meat fillets, and rice or pasta dishes such as the famous Spanish paella...a seafood lovers delight!!  Occasionally if we wont’t be returning home in time for lunch, my host mom will make us a bocadillo (sandwich) that normally consists of bread and only one topping (some type of meat or cheese).

Dinner in the home is very similar to lunch with the number types of dishes served and sometimos we’ll eat the leftovers from lunch as well.  When eating out for dinner however, the tradition of tapas is still alive and well in Spain.  Tapas bars are everywhere  and serve small rations of a variety of foods (usually finger food) for dinner.  The philosophy behind the tapas is that you don’t need to eat a lot of food at night since you will be going to bed soon…..however I’m puzzeled at how this thought process came about since people in Spain frequently stay out all night rather than going to bed after dinner.

One of my personal favorites so far is the coffee.  I am a huge espresso fan and when you ask for 'un café solo' here that is what they give you!  Café con leche (espresso with a latte), café americano (watered down espresso), and even café cubano (espresso, cream, and rum...yes, the Starbucks here serve alcoholic beverages) are also popular items here.

Unfortunately the internet is too slow right now to upload pictures but I will add some when I have a better connection.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

First Week of Classes

Where to begin?!?!  My immediate thoughts right now are that I have been in Sevilla for a full week yet it feels like forever, that my head hurts from four hours of class in rapid Spanish, and that I could really use a siesta right about now.  Anyways, I apologize for not having written in awhile but my host family does not have internet in their apartment and it is hard to find time to go to a cafe and put everything I want to say into words.

I guess I'll start with my classes.  I am taking five classes this semester and each class here is two hours long but the professors usually give you a 5-10 minute break half way through the period.  I have three classes on Monday and Wednesday and two classes on Tuesday and Thursday (Fridays off!).  I am taking two literature classes: 'Cervantes and the Study of Don Quijote' and 'The Arab Influence on Spanish Literature.'  I am also taking 'Actual Spain and International Relations,' 'The Historical Projection of Three Cultures (Christians, Jews, and Moors) in Medieval Spain,' and 'Flamenco as a Communicative Process.'  So far I've enjoyed all of them, but especially the flamenco class since my professor just sat and played guitar for almost the entire period!!

A major difference between UMD and the Universidad de Sevilla is that the buildings in Sevilla are scattered all around the city while Duluth's are all connected.  While all of the classes for international students are in the same building (which happens to be the old tobacco factory), there is no rhyme or reason for the numbering system used for the rooms and I probably spent over a half hour trying to find each one.

The old tobacco factory, now one of the University of Sevilla buildings.

Well, I truly do apologize for such a short post, especially when there is so much to say, but right now my brain is completely fried and Spanish is really the only thing that is making sense (but I suppose that's a good thing)!  I hope to be writing more soon about food, transportation, and daily life happenings (hopefully with pictures as well), but if there is some aspect of Spanish culture anyone is particularly interested in let me know and I'll put that at the top of my list!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

El Alcázar

Today we visited the Alcázar which is the old royal palace in Sevilla and has a huge garden that is gorgeous!  This is by far my favorite place I have seen yet and pictures cannot do it justice....but I'll post some anyways!  The Arabic architecture and palm trees give it such an exotic feel and since the entrance is free to students I will definitely be visiting a lot this semester.

Me in the gardens at the Alcázar.

Front of the palace.

My dream house!
We also had an orientation/welcome meeting to the Universidad de Sevilla and will be starting classes on Monday.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sevilla, Por Fin!

Well, after one day of traveling from Stevens Point to Spain, three days in Madrid, and another day traveling from Madrid to here, I am finally in Sevilla!!! We arrived around 8:30 last night and met our host families.  I am staying with a 54 year old Spanish woman named Amada and her 81 year old mother, Dolores.  I also have two roommates from the U.S., Amy from Colorado and Tayler from Washington D.C.

Amy, me, and Tayler in Toledo.

Today we toured the Universidad de Sevilla where we all will be taking classes and then walked through the old part of Sevilla known as Barrio Santa Cruz.  This area is the best known part of Sevilla with narrow, winding roads too small for cars and with white washed buildings.  We also toured the cathedral here and climbed the tower known as La Giralda, which provided a beautiful view of the city.  After lunch and a short siesta we hit the town on bikes and got to see a large portion of Sevilla included the riverfront, Plaza de España (where a scene in Star Wars Episode 2 was filmed), and many parks.

Catedral y La Giralda (the tower)

Tomb of Christopher Columbus.

View of Sevilla from La Giralda.

Plaza de España.

Now I am in a cute little coffee/ice cream shop with WiFi (here it is pronounced WeeFee) since our apartment doesn't have any and will be returning shortly for dinner.  The two immediate biggest differences between living in Spain and the U.S. I have noticed is the eating schedule and transportation.  Breakfast is definitely smaller than in the U.S. and around the same time, however lunch is the biggest meal of the day around 2:30 in the afternoon and dinner is smaller (usually tapas or leftovers from lunch) and not eaten until around 9:30 or even 10 at night.  Everything here is also super close so cars are rarely used and people walk everywhere.

El Prado, Parque Retiro, y Toledo

On Tuesday after we returned from El Escorial and took a nice siesta we had the opportunity to visit the Prado Museum which houses the masterpieces of the best Spanish artists such as Velazquez, El Greco, Murillo, and Goya.  The Black Paintings by Goya are definitely my favorite since there is such a contrast between his previous works and the ones he painted later in life.  Afterward, a small group of us took a walk through Parque Retiro, which is similar to Central Park in NYC. 

Pond in Parque Retiro

Base of a fountain dedicated to the devil....
Yesterday we drove from Madrid to Sevilla (6 hours by bus), but made a stop in Toledo to see the old capital city of Spain.  Toledo is gorgeous, but in a very different way than Madrid.  The old part of the city of Toledo is situated on a hill and surrounded by a bend in the river Tajo, which forms a natural barrier for the city.  Toledo is also known as the city of the three religions, Christians, Jews, and Moors.   And for those with a sweet tooth Toledo is also famous for its marzipan, which is delicious!

Panorama of the city of Toledo.

Cathedral in Toledo.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Madrid Architecture

 Today I fell in love with architecture.  I admit that I was definitely most excited for Spanish cuisine, but the only thing better than enjoying good food is being able to savor it in a gorgeous environment.  Over the past few days we have seen many different styles of buildings and palaces but nothing can match the old neighborhoods of Madrid.  These colonial style buildings are so close together that they create canyons out of the streets and have so many intricate details that make it easy for one to trip on the cobble stone as they admire the buildings rather than the street.

This morning we visited the Monastery of San Lorenzo in El Escorial, a short drive into the foot hills of the mountains outside of Madrid.  This plain and simple looking building is a definite contrast to the luxurious colonial style of Madrid.  The building itself is in the shape of a grill which is a symbol of Saint Lorenzo who was 'grilled' by the Romans for practicing Christianity.

For me, the history represented in the architecture here makes it even more intriguing.  Everything here is so much older than anything in the U.S. and the philosophy of using the buildings already built rather than tearing them down makes walking down the street feel like a walk back in time or through a museum.

Here are a few of my favorites so far....
A typical street in old Madrid.

Fun colonial architecture

El Escorial.

Courtyard in El Escorial

Plaza de Cibeles
.....also if you would like to see more pictures feel free to check out my Picasa Web Album: