Thursday, March 31, 2011

Barcelona - Day 2

Saturday morning we had to get up early enough to check out of our room by 10 am, even though our flight home wasn’t until Sunday.  However, since our flight was at 6 am on Sunday we had decided not to pay for a room and just store our bags in the storage room at the hostel, go out Saturday night, and pick them up on our way to the airport at 3 or 4 am.  After breakfast at the hostel we headed down to the Gothic Quarter again and also walked around the port area.  Lunch turned into a major fail when two of us decided to order what the menu labeled a “traditional Spanish dish” that none of us recognized and it turned out to be cow intestines/stomach (which had no flavor but had a texture like pieces of fat or blubber) in an oily sauce.

Port in Barcelona

Gross lunch...never again.

We stopped at a supermarket to supplement our lunch that went mostly uneaten and then I split off to meet two other friends in the API Sevilla program also in Barcelona to visit Camp Nou, the FC Barcelona stadium.  Our ticket into the museum and stadium included the visiting teams locker room, the chapel, the pressroom, and a walk along the field.   I was in soccer heaven!  

Me in Camp Nou!

I met back up with the group from my hostel in Parc Montjuic where we saw the Olympic Stadium (unfortunately we couldn’t go in) and hiked around until we just decided to call it a day for sight seeing.  We were all so exhausted and after dinner some people even decided to go straight to the airport and sleep there before the flight.  The rest of us went to the other super touristy bar in Barcelona, Dow Jones.  It is a stock market bar and the drink prices go up and down depending on what people are buying and about every half hour the market “crashes” and the prices drop.

Me and the 1992 Olympic Stadium
That night I slept a little here and there (in the taxi, on the airport floor, on the plane) and when we got home at 9 am we slept until our host mom woke us up for lunch at 3:30.

Barcelona - Day 1

Last Thursday a large group of API students headed off to Barcelona for the weekend.  The first group left Sevilla around 11 am however I flew out with the last group of the day that night since that flight was cheaper when I booked it.  Our flight was scheduled for 8:25 pm however our plane didn’t get to the gate until 8:30 and we didn’t leave for another 45 minutes.  Once we got to Barcelona we barely made the last train/metro from the airport to the center of the city and then took a taxi to our hostel.  That night we decided to head down to the night club district on the beach and thanks to some friends we made in line for one of them we got in for free!!  It was much bigger than the clubs I’ve been to so far in Sevilla and had more entertainment besides a DJ like dancers, live rappers, and even an electric violin player.

The next morning we slept through breakfast at the hostel and bought brunch from a supermarket before heading out to the tourist sites.  Our first stop was Parc Guell, which was by far my favorite Gaudi masterpiece we saw the entire weekend…it was like walking into a fairy tale or Candyland.  Next, we walked to the Sagrada Familia cathedral (which was a very close second do Parc Guell).  Only two of us decided we wanted to pay to go inside and I’m so glad we did because it is like no other cathedral I’ve seen.  Instead of being dark and gloomy there was a lot of natural light used to brighten the white pillars and walls even more.  The amount of detail on the outside of the church was amazing and the unusual curves of the pillars, stairs, and walls inside were fascinating.

Entrance to Parc Guell

Outside the Sagrada Familia.

Inside the Sagrada Familia.

After the Sagrada Familia, we continued our Gaudi tour of Barcelona while walking down Passeig de Gràcia, one of the main streets leading into the center of Barcelona.  We saw Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera) and Casa Batlló, both of which are Gaudi houses, in addition to a ton of other interesting architecture.  We then veered off onto Las Ramblas, a street dedicated to shops, street carts, and people dressed up in many different costumes acting like statures and ready to pose for a picture (for a tip of course).   While on Las Ramblas we also had to stop by the Mercat Boqueria.  This market was the most colorful place I’ve ever been…even more colorful than the markets in Marrakesh.  Most stands were specific to a certain category of food like fruit, vegetables, seafood, other meat, eggs, candy, etc.  Almost every fruit stand also sold fresh juices of various flavors and combinations.  

Casa Mila.

Fruit stand in Mercat Boqueria.
Next we headed into the Gothic Quarter to see the cathedral and walk the narrow, winding streets.  On our way to the fountain/light show at Font Monjuic we stopped back in the market to buy a freshly made crepe for dinner (that was absolutely delicious).  The light show at Font Montjuic was very entertaining, however, after a full day of walking and sight seeing and considering it was a lot colder at night in Barcelona than Sevilla, I was ready for a nap.  We all went back to the hostel after the light show to shower and take a siesta before going out.  That night we ended up at a bar that is really more of a tourist attraction, but was very fun.  The name of the bar was Chupitos (translation: Shots) and they had more than 500 different shots…all of which were listed on the wall without any description and if you asked the bartender what was in it they would tell you it’s a secret recipe.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Back in Sevilla


I have never been happier to be back “home” as I have been this week, however it is also very bittersweet since my time in Sevilla is half way done.  This morning Amy and I were looking at our calendars and realized that we only have two or three full weekends in Sevilla since we will be traveling for the rest of them (which I guess I can’t complain about either).  This Friday we will be going with API to Jerez de La Frontera and Cadiz for the day and then have the rest of the weekend in Sevilla, however we have midterms next week so I will actually have to do some homework and studying.

Yesterday I met with my intercambio again and we each brought a friend or two so we could all meet more Spaniards/Americans.  It was also the first day of no rain in over a week here and even though it isn’t super warm yet I have noticed that even the Spaniards are starting to wear less layers, open their windows more, and actually use their patios.

Its finally sunny in here come the midterms.

This weekend it finally warmed up and we had clear skies here in Sevilla, however I was unfortunately admiring the nice weather from my room since I was sick.  Last Thursday night I came home with a fever and even though my temperature had dropped back down to normal by Friday night/Saturday morning, I had to miss the excursion to Cádiz and wasn’t feeling up to leaving the apartment until Sunday afternoon.

Today I was informed that my midterm count for this coming Wednesday was raised from two to three.  Surprisingly, the midterms for my Arab Influence on Spanish Literature and Cervantes & Don Quijote classes are going to be much easier than my Flamenco class.  I initially thought that this class would be more history and culture of flamenco but the class has actually been more of a music theory of flamenco.  At the beginning of the semester we were told that our midterm and final for the Flamenco class would be in an essay format, which at first didn’t sound that bad, and even after the professor told us a few days ago that it would be an open ended essay in which we had to write about everything we’ve learned in the class thus far, I wasn’t too concerned.  Today, however, his expectations were clarified further and he expects not just a general summary of the class (like we all thought) but rather something more along the lines of a detailed account of everything he has said in class.  I am usually not one to complain about professors, class work, and exams, but considering that we have covered about 5 styles of flamenco each with a half a dozen or more different sub-forms and he is asking for all the information about each sub-form and then some, it’s a little overwhelming, especially for a group of students with no musical background and complete novices to flamenco.

On a lighter note however, I will be traveling to Barcelona this weekend with a group of fellow API students….which has pretty much turned into an unofficial API excursion, considering that the majority of us will be there this weekend!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Morocco - Day 4

Since we had to be ready to go in the hotel lobby at 11:30 this morning and there wasn’t enough time to go to the market, we slept in and spent over an hour at breakfast.  We got to the airport with plenty of time, especially since our plane didn’t wasn’t there until ten minutes before we were supposed to take off (which might just be something typical of Ryanair).  Surprisingly the entire plane was boarded and ready for took off only fifteen late, not surprisingly the ride was extremely bumpy and terrifying again.

Overall, I had a good time in Morocco and even though the weather was mostly rainy (it even hailed one afternoon) we had nice weather when it mattered the most (the camel ride and hike in the mountains).  Right now, however, I am not sure if I would ever want to visit Morocco again.  It was an amazing cultural experience that I am glad I had, but it was also a very stressful experience.  Just walking the streets and having to deal with annoyingly persistent street venders was mentally draining.  Also, the lack of enforced driving laws makes adds to the constant chaos and makes it necessary to be constantly paying attention to a number of things all at the same time.  The amount of poverty we saw was also hard to deal with for some members of our group.  However, at the few households we stopped at for tea we were always amazed at how happy the people were even though they had almost nothing compared to our American lifestyles. 

Morocco - Day 3

This morning after breakfast in the hotel we started our trip to the Atlas Mountains, about an hour outside of Marrakesh, which were still snow capped and are the major source of water for the Marrakesh region.  At the foothills of the mountains we stopped at a Berber (native North African) household to learn how to make the Moroccan tea and have a Berber breakfast that consisted of tea and bread with butter, honey, or oil (all locally or home made…it was delicious).  As we were walking to and from the house, there were at least a dozen men following us and trying to sell jewelry, miniature camels, etc.  While my strategy of not making eye contact and ignoring any comments from the ever-present hagglers in Morocco, I couldn’t help but smile at one of them who tried to sell me a dagger using the line: “You want to buy a dagger to kill your boyfriend?”

Tea pots and mint.

Berber breakfast.

After tea we headed into the mountains and stopped to hike part way up a small valley/gorge and back down.  During the hike we had to cross a couple extremely rickety bridges and pretty much climbed the side of the mountain it was so steep in some places…but overall it was very fun and absolutely gorgeous.  I had a chance to talk with our guide for the day, Abdul, and learned that pretty much all houses in Morocco have a television since the King provides five free channels so all citizens can stay up to date on current events even in the mountains or desert.  I also found out that King Mohammed VI is very well liked in Morocco and a few days earlier had given a speech about some reforms that would be occurring (like in almost all Arab countries right now) and that in a few months there would be public elections for the Prime Minister, which has previously been a position appointed by the King.  For lunch we stopped at a quaint little restaurant and even though it was a little chilly we opted to eat outside to have a great view of the Atlas Mountains.  Our meal started off with a salad and bread, followed by chicken tajine and couscous with lamb, and for dessert we had orange slices with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top.

Climbing the mountain.

Delicious lunch.
I took a short nap when we got back to the hotel and then headed out to the market with two other girls to find some authentic Moroccan cuisine.  We ended up at a tent-restaurant in the market where they sat you down at long tables, one group next to another in order to fit as many people in as possible.  As we sat down the group next to us was just leaving and saw that we were completely confused by the menu and told us that the kebabs were especially good, so Amy and I shared an order of kebabs and lamb tajine with almonds and prunes.  We also got an order of olives and our friend got a dish with spinach.  After a little while, two Moroccan students from Rabat were seated next to us and offered us a bit of their food to try.  At first it sounded like they were saying “brie” and it was white so we went for it…and just as we were about to eat it we realized they were saying “brain” – sheep’s brain to be exact.  Since we already had it on our bread we decided we might as well just try it and since they were eating it, it might not agree with our stomach but it wouldn’t kill us.  We ended up talking with them for a while after we were done eating and discussed topics from politics to religion in Morocco.  When we asked if Moroccans like Americans they said yes and told us that during the Cold War, Morocco was the only Arab country to side with the U.S. versus the U.S.S.R.  We also asked how to say some phrases in Arabic, but based on their laughter whenever we repeated them we are pretty sure they taught us swear words or something dirty instead.  Before we got up to leave they asked to take a picture with us and one even gave us his red and green knit hat that resembles the Moroccan flag.

Tajine with prunes and almonds.

Amy eating kebabs.
Before heading back to the hotel (and after we had decided that the shopping area of the market was too sketchy for three American girls on a Sunday night), we washed down dinner with a glass of freshly squeezed orange, grapefruit, and lemon juice before finding a taxi.  It didn’t take long to find an open cab (it actually found us) and after confirming the price we jumped in and didn’t make it 20 meters before the driver pulled over and another man got in the front seat and even though the driver said this was his friend, we were a little creeped out.  The driver’s friend didn’t speak any English or Spanish, but we understood his Italian and he could make out our Spanish.  At first he just asked where we were from but when were a block away from the hotel he began to ask how old we were, if we liked music, etc. and we were so relived when the taxi stopped and we got out and paid as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Morocco Day 2 - Camel Ride!!!

After the walking tour of Marrakesh we were once again let loose in the market for a couple hours to shop and find lunch.  By bartering skills had definitely improved from yesterday and as we left the market to find some lunch on our way back to the hotel it once again began to downpour.  We had already bought some bread (each loaf for only 10 Durham – about 1 Euro) and then jumped into the nearest store to escape the torrential rain…that happened to be selling dried fruits and nuts, so we completed our lunch with those.  When the rain let up a little we braved the walk back to the hotel and were just in time for our CAMEL RIDE!!!

After a 20-30 minute drive outside of Marrakesh (which we all felt very lucky to survive considering the lines on the road seem to be just guidelines and we nearly had two head on collisions) we arrived at the stables.  Luckily it had stopped raining for our adventure on the camels and we were all happy that our group leader (Kepa) bartered the price down to 200 Durham (it had initially been 270 Durham).  As the camels were walked out of the stables I was shocked at how big they actually were in person and even more surprised that they could carry so much weight with such skinny legs.  After the initial excitement of riding a camel in Africa had subsided, I realized how uncomfortable the camel actually was and the thought of being on the camel for two hours was not exciting.  In addition to our caravan of camels there was a five-month-old baby camel whose mom was in the group and tagged along the whole way!  I also got to practice some of my remedial French skills with our guide who spoke five different languages (however English or Spanish was not one of them).  I learned that there is a town close to Marrakesh where many historical movies are filmed (like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven) and our guide was a stunt double that rode the horses in the movies if the actor couldn’t.  We rode for about an hour to a house to have tea and bread and on the way passed through a small village where children were running around along with chickens, cats, and dogs.  It was a very uncomfortable experience riding high up on the camels and having everyone in the town looking up at you with envy (I’m not sure if envy is the right word, but I felt I had been put up on a pedestal that I didn’t want to be on).  At the teahouse we had the traditional Moroccan minty green tea along with bread, oil, and olives while sitting on embroidered floor cushions.  During the ride back our guide jumped up onto one of the vacant camels from the ground (very impressive considering the camel towered over him) and when the last camel in our caravan became detached he did a back flip to dismount the camel.  When we got off the camels (probably the scariest part since they kneel down with there front legs first and then the back legs rather than all at once), we were all super sore and could barely walk to the vans and as we drove back to the hotel we were informed that we technically hadn’t ridden camels, they had been dromedaries (same family, but I guess camels have two humps and dromedaries have one).

5 month old baby camel.

Me on my camel.

House where we stopped for tea.

Pouring tea.

Morocco Day 2 - Walking Tour of Marrakesh

This morning after breakfast in the hotel we took a walking tour of the old part Marrakesh.  Our guide’s name in Arabic translated to ‘gazelle’ in English and she was a somewhat intimidating, no-bullshit type of person with a great sense of humor as well…not your typical stereotype of a Muslim woman.  On our way to the Saadi Tombs we quickly learned when it was acceptable to take pictures and when you should refrain from getting your camera out.  Some girls tried to take a picture of a large, fancy doors with military guards outside who ended up yelling at them for taking a picture and our guide explained that political/military buildings are off limits for pictures and that you can capture the atmosphere, but not specific people…unless you tip them.  The Saadi Tombs were not discovered until the beginning of the 20th century and are the final resting place of many member of the Saadi family dynasty.  The family members are located in various rooms and buildings around a gorgeous courtyard depending on gender, age, and title.  Our second stop on the tour was the Bahia Palace that was the residence of an important minister who had 4 wives and 26 concubines (something completely normal in Islam for that time period).  An interesting fact about the private quarters of the minister is that the only servants, musicians, etc. that were allowed in were either blind or eunuchs in order to keep his women just to himself.

Saadi Tombs

Bahia Palace

While walking around Marrakesh we couldn’t help but notice an insane number of Moroccan flags being flown as well as deliberate holes in the walls and many drawings or metal decorations of a single hand on or near most doors.  When we asked our guide about these she told us that the flags were all still up from the Kings resent visit to Marrakesh and that the partial holes in the walls were a way to ventilate the buildings since the walls are solid rock.  The hands all over the city are call the Hand of Fatima (the prophet Mohammed’s daughter) and in addition to representing the Five Pillars of Islam (which dictate the basics of what a good Muslim should do) it is also a symbol of good luck and worn by many Muslims like the cross is worn by Christians.  Our walk also took us through the old Jewish Quarter where we learned that the word ‘salary’ is related to the world ‘sal’ in Spanish, which mean salt since salt used to be such an important part of life that people would be paid in salt.  

One of the many people who live off of tips from pictures.

We passed through many typical markets that were public health nightmares, especially the meat stores that had full cows (skinned and all) hanging in the front, meat sitting out on the counters (unrefrigerated), and live chickens in the back (at least you know your meat is fresh??).  The last stop on the tour was a Pharmacy, which in Morocco is pretty much a store that sells spices and all natural remedies.   We had a private demonstration of some of these non-Western medicines that had many applications.  There was a black powder that was wrapped in cloth and when smelled once or twice daily was said to relieve migraines, clear sinuses, and stop snoring.  In addition to “medical” supplies there were also many cosmetic oils, creams, and makeup….and even an all-natural Viagra.  

Pharmacy demonstration.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MOROCCO!! (Day 1)


Today Amy and I got up, ate breakfast, and hurried off to the bus stop to go to the airport and fly to Marrakesh, Morocco!!  It was my first flight with Ryanair (an airline company that has cheap flights all around Europe) and it was probably the sketchiest plane ride of my life.  The plane was shaking the entire time (I’m not sure if it was normal turbulence or the older aircraft) and the cabin crew came around selling lottery tickets (maybe as a way to take everyone’s mind off the shaking plane?) and when we successfully landed a trumpet fanfare sounded of the PA system.  The security and customs in Sevilla and Marrakesh were also very lax compared to the U.S.  Unfortunately when we arrived in Marrakesh one of our fellow API students was sent back to Sevilla due to a Visa issue…since he is Chinese he needed a special Visa to enter Morocco, which the travel agency failed to inform API about.  All of us were shocked to see him escorted back onto the plane and it really put a damper on everyone’s spirits especially since he had been so excited to go to Africa and had been singing songs like ‘Waka Waka’ all week.

Kara and I safely on the ground in AFRICA!!!

It did not take long for the culture shock to set in as we drove from the airport to our hotel.  It felt very strange seeing signs only in Arabic and some French and not having any clue as to what they said.  When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted with the traditional minty green Moroccan tea and cookies in the lobby as we waited for our room assignments.  We also had to exchange our Euros since it is illegal to take large amounts of Durham (the Moroccan currency) out of Morocco.  The exchange rate was around 11 Durham for 1 Euro and with all of us trying to exchange money before heading to the market the hotel ran out of Durham to exchange.

Tea in the lobby.

If it hadn’t been obvious that we were in a completely different world yet, the walk to the market and afternoon of attempted bartering definitely jerked me into the reality of being in a third world country.  Not being able to understand the billboards along the road is a relatively small inconvenience compared to not being able to understand a word of what is being said around you or to you.  While my two years of high school French was somewhat helpful, I had to really rack my brain to understand and remember things like shopping vocabulary and larger numbers.  Our first stop in the market was a dried fruit and nut stand where we got a mixture of almonds, peanuts, figs, apricots, etc. and to my surprise it was acceptable (or probably the norm) to barter for food even.  The first major bartering experience was pretty much a major fail for all of us and we quickly learned how to start lower than what you want to pay so you can raise your price as the salesman lowers theirs (rather than starting at your absolute maximum price) and timing when to walk away (which will usually lead to them selling it to you at your last price).

Kara and I in the market!

The entire afternoon in the market it rained and rained….something we were not expecting in Morocco.  That evening we had an “early” dinner (at 8:00) in the hotel and even though everything was delicious, I was expecting more of a kick to the Moroccan spices.  While waiting in line for the buffet I met an older couple from Holland and when I told them I was from Wisconsin the man commented “Oh, that’s where the revolution is going on, right?”  I was surprised that news of all this political craziness had reached Europe and even more surprised that when I told him I went to school in Duluth, MN, he had been there before on business trips!

Holy Hostels!


This week was characterized by the continual search for cheap hostels for some of our upcoming trips, the first of which will be to Barcelona at the end of March.  A large number of API participants are all going to the capital of Cataluña, however some of us will be leaving Thursday night and others Friday morning.  Since one of the guys in our program has a friend studying in Barcelona this semester, he pretty much took care of the arrangements for the weekend.  The difficult task for the week, however, was booking hostels for our group of seven girls who will traveling together during Semana Santa to Amsterdam, Prague, and Paris!  We bought the airplane tickets a couple weeks ago and since we were still getting used to life in Sevilla, we figured it would be all right to wait and book the hostels later.  Bad idea.  In order to find a place that had room for seven people, was close to the center of the cities, and a reasonable price took forever.

Today I was glad to have my second class of the day canceled (after watching an intense movie on the Spanish Civil War in my first class) and even got to fit in a run before lunch.  After lunch I packed my bag for our API excursion to MOROCCO tomorrow before hitting up El Corte Ingles (a huge department store that has everything you could ever need) to get some necessities, like peanut butter and jamón flavored chips.  On our way back from El Corte Ingles we were walking down a narrow street and passed a tiny bar where a group of people were having a flamenco jam session.  We decided we had to stop and get a drink just to watch and experience this impromptu, improve show. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Running through Sevilla

Since I’ve been in Sevilla for over a month now, I have settled into a flexible schedule (somewhat of an oxymoron, but to live in Spain means to live without a set schedule).  During the week I don’t have class until 11, so I usually get up around 8 to go for a run.  There are lots of parks in Sevilla to run through, however they are usually pretty small and require a lot of laps around the park in order to get in a sufficient distance so I usually play connect the dots and hit up a couple parks on each run.  Also, all of the paths through the parks are paved and there are no dirt or gravel trails, and even though Sevilla is completely flat I’m surprised I haven’t had any shin splint problems from only running on concrete.  There is also a great bike path along the river that leads to a larger park (Parque Alamillo) but since it is about a 30 minute run just to get to the park I usually don’t get to run in the park except for when I have more time on the weekends.

Coming from a snowy and cold Wisconsin/Minnesota to Sevilla was like a major heat wave and I was shocked that to see runners here in full body spandex, running jackets, hats, and gloves when it was 50-60 degrees.  Now that it is March, shorts and t-shirts are more acceptable but I definitely felt like I stood out my first few weeks here.  Shorts and t-shirts, however, bring about another issue about running in Spain…for girls at least.  Spanish boys (of all ages - including 80 year old men) and their catcalls and whistling are heard walking down the street in normal clothes, so wearing running shorts seems to only provoke them more.  By running in the morning I can usually avoid this since not many people are out then, but I can’t think of a run I’ve had since being in Sevilla without this sort of attention.

House Hunting in Huelva


This morning my roommate Amy and I woke up bright and early to meet Amy’s “friends” who invited us to join them for a day trip to Huelva.  I put ‘friends’ in quotations because technically Amy had never met them before today, but through a chain of people was put in contact with this couple, Emil and Clarabelle.  Amy’s grandmother in Colorado regularly attends church with another older woman whose grandson (Emil) has been living in Sevilla with his Spanish girlfriend for about a year and a half…so about 4 degrees of separation for me.   They were both extremely nice people and were excited to have us along and help us improve our Spanish.

After an hour drive we were in the beach town of Nuevo Portil and stopped to see the first house of the day.  It was small house in a private neighborhood with a community pool and tennis courts and about a mile from the beach.  Amy and I were shocked to find that the monthly rent for this 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home was only €550 (which would be equivalent to $765/month) and if split between 3 people the rent per person would be €183, or $255.  Considering my house in Duluth this coming year will cost $2100/month ($350 per person), I am wondering why I shouldn’t just pack up and come live on the beach in Spain?  However, according to Emil and Clarabelle, the utilities in Spain are much more expensive than in the U.S. and would probably make up for the difference in the cost of rent.

Next we drove to Rompido to see another house and eat lunch.  Even though this second house was nearly right on the beach, the owner had not made any effort to clean the place up and as soon as he admitted that there had been cockroach problems in the past, Clarabelle was set against living there.  Another interesting aspect of the two houses (and most rental properties in Spain) was that they were completely furnish, including plates & silverware, cooking pots & pans, appliances, and even linens.  For lunch we ate at a small bar/restaurant on the beach whose menu was mostly seafood.  Unfortunately it was raining and we had to sit inside, but it was a still a delicious meal of gambas (shrimp), calamari, polpo (octopus), etc.  We learned a lot about endangered species and environmental practices in Spain since Clarabelle is a veterinarian, Emil is a field biologist, and both work in a rehabilitation center for wild animals.

On our way back to Sevilla, right before we started to head inland, the rain stopped and the sun came out so we decided to pull over and take a quick look at the beach.  We had also seen a couple Guardia Civil (similar to a national police force) cars ahead forming a ‘check-point,’ but thought nothing of it at the time.  However, before we could even get out of the car four officers asking for identification from Clarabelle and Emil had surrounded us.  Amy and I we so confused, sitting in the back seat and we were also asked to get out of the car and present identification.  Two officers returned to their cars with everyone’s IDs and the other two explained that they had seen our car stop, back up, and park and they were suspicious that we had something to hide or wanted to avoid their check-point for some reason.  In the end everything was fine and we were allowed to continue our walk along the beach, but it was definitely an exciting end to the day!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Only in Spain...

Over the past month I have been compiling a list of things that I’ve found odd or uniquely Spanish.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but I’ll start another list for the next month or just update this one as time goes on.

·      Women here are serious about their knee-high boots and I’m amazed at how they can walk on cobblestone with super skinny high heels.
·      People are extremely season oriented….even though it may be 70 or 75 outside, if the calendar still says February you better be wearing boots, a sweater, jacket, and scarf.
·      Dogs are never walked on leashes, free to poop wherever they like, and the owners aren’t responsible for picking it up…even if it’s in the middle of the sidewalk.
·      Going out before 11 or midnight is a faux pas, as well as returning before the sun comes up.
·      Botellón = best idea ever.
·      Daily siestas are encouraged.
·      People mop the sidewalk in front of their door.
·      Openly staring at people is socially acceptable.
·      Olive oil is on everything.
·      Tourists walk through your university.
·      An excessive amount of PDA is completely normal amongst all ages.
·      Kids are allowed to run around in restaurants and public places like crazy.
·      The kids are 10 times cuter than American kids, are usually dressed better than most adult Americans, and dressed in the exact same outfit as their siblings.
·      Beach attire: speedos for men, tops optional for women.
·      Everyone smokes.
·      The TV is always on (something I was really shocked about).
·      Alcohol consumption is appropriate at any time of day.
·      Wifi (pronounced weefee) is not common in homes.
·      A typical diet consists of carbs, seafood, jamón (ham), and more carbs.
·      No salt on fries….but copious amounts on everything else.
·      Cookies for breakfast are legit.
·      Dessert is usually a fruit – orange, apple, pear, nectarine, peach, etc.
·      When you buy a drink at a bar, it comes with a small plate of olives.
·      Stray cats are everywhere.
·      There are vendors selling items on every street or at every stop light…kleenex seem to be the item of choice for the man on the bridge I cross on my way to school.
·      People selling junk (such as oversized plastic sunglasses, glow sticks, etc.) are allowed in bars and restaurants.
·      There are lottery ticket kiosks on every corner.
·      Reggaeton is everywhere….even during a 5 am drive to work.
·      There are stands with magazines, snacks, postcards, newspapers, etc. on every street.
·      All bikes have a bell (just like the ones when you were little) that are used to tell people who are in your way to MOVE!!
·      Sidewalks double as parking spaces for mopeds and cars….or even an extra driving lane if you can fit.
·      Some alcohol (mainly low quality or cooking wine) is cheaper than bottled water.
·      McDonalds only serves two purposes: free bathrooms and free wifi.
·      I can never tell if people talking on the street are arguing or just having a conversation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Intercambios, classes, and more FUTBOL!!


New plan for the blog.  Since I don't have internet in my apartment and whenever I can get to a place with wifi I always have tons of stuff to do online, I will now be writing blog entries in a Word document and then post a bunch whenever I have wifi (and I'll date them in case I upload them in a non-chronological order accidentally).

Well, in all my excitement about our weekend adventures I forgot to write about my intercambio!  The University of Sevilla has a program where you get matched up with a Spanish student who wants to practice their English and help you with Spanish, and last week I finally got to meet mine!  Her name is Carmen, she is 18 years old and from a small town about an hour north of Sevilla.  We spent about and hour and a half walking around Parque María Luisa and talking in a solid Spanglish.  She is studying marketing and is very sweet.  Also, there is a café chain here in Sevilla called MASCARPONE with some of the best gelato ever....and her dad is somehow involved in the process of making their ice cream!!

My roommate Amy also had her first meeting with her intercambio last night, an 18 year old boy named Daniel.  They decided to each bring some friends and meet at a bar so the first meeting would be less awkward and more casual, so I went along with her.  It was really nice to meet some more Spaniards (something that I've felt has been lacking in my experience here since there are only Americans in my classes), and they were hilarious!  We spent a large portion of the time learning "key" Spanish phrases from them....most of which were inappropriate insults I will refrain from posting.

Now that I have been in classes for almost a month, the two hour class periods are not so bad as at the beginning...but some days it is still a challenge to concentrate the last half hour or so.  I have also come to the realization that I have chosen the right major (Biochemistry) because I don't think I could survive another semester of strictly history, literature, etc....even though it is all very interesting, I definitely miss my science classes and lab time.  Also, I find it interested how the professors here can lecture for two hours straight, most with out visual aids (however I have one younger professor who uses Power Point) except for writing a few words on the board every ten minutes or so.

Last night I also went to another Sevilla FC match with six other Americans.  Once again we were in the standing section (which I would equate to a student section in the U.S.) and Sevilla won 3-0 over Real Sporting Gijón.  The game didn't start until 10 PM and even though it was less crowded than the last game I went to, it was ten times more fun!!  Most soccer teams here have a team song or hymn and I found it interesting that at the beginning of the game the team hymn was sung by all the fans but the Spanish national anthem was never played.  While many of the cheers and songs sung by the "biris" (the name for the fans in the standing section) were incomprehensible for us, some of the Americans I was with were surprised by the negativity and brutality of some of the cheers....however, I just had to laugh because they were nothing compared to some of the cheers you can hear at Bulldog hockey games ;)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Random Weekend - Day 2

After a lazy breakfast on the patio we meandered our way down to the beach again (with a stop at a convenient store to get sunscreen) and we were shocked to see that the number of people had more than tripled from the day before.  We also learned that we had been extremely lucky in coming to Matalascañas this when we did because this weekend was opening weekend…so if we had been here a week earlier absolutely nothing (hostels, restaurants, etc.) would have been open.  For lunch we had a delicious picnic on the beach that consisted of bocadillos with chorizo, cheese, and fresh avocado, fresh fruit and carrots, and Spanish peanuts.

In our room there had been a sign for horseback riding on the beach so we decided to call and see if could make a reservation for that afternoon.  It was very easy to communicate to the man on the other end of the phone that we wanted to make a reservation, however the majority of the conversation was him trying to give me directions to their business location….in a town that didn’t have street names.  After about 10 minutes of trying to understand his thick Andalusian accent (which is comparable to a southern accent in the U.S.) I told him that I understood and decided to just leave a little early to consult a map or person on the streets.

We arrived at the stables around 3:40 and by 4:00 we were out on the trails!  The beginning of the ride was relatively flat but before long we started to climb the dunes.  When we reached the top of the dunes, the view was breathtaking!  To our right was Doñana National Park and to our left the beach and ocean.  As we descended down to the beach my horse decided it would be a good idea to start galloping down hill on the sandy path…not my idea of fun, but it was exciting!  Once on the beach my horse was determined to run free, which I was fine with, however Kelly’s horse was not going to allow it.  Every time my horse tried to gallop past her, her horse would cut us off.  So mine eventually decided to walk super slow and then gallop to catch up to the group.  The entire time we were on trails with plants on either side, Kelsey’s horse would stop at every other flowering plant to have a snack and when we got back to the stables his mouth was literally stained green!

Kelsey coming down the dunes to the beach.

Kelly riding on the beach.
Getting off the horse was probably the hardest thing I’ve done in a while.  We were all so sore from being in the same position for two hours and my quads and knees did not want to walk at all!  As we made our sore walk back to the house we were passing the bus stop and I thought ‘Oh, that girl waiting for the bus looks like Erin (a girl in our program in Sevilla), but it couldn’t be her.’  But as we passed the line we realized it was her and a whole group of our friends from API!  We were all equally shocked to see each other…they thought we had flown to some random city and since we had never heard of this beach city we were surprised that they had found it too.

Once back in our room, we decided that to prevent any repeats of the previous night we would shower and go out immediately for dinner.  Unfortunately all of the restaurants on the beach had already closed again, but we easily found a place in the town center and had delicious seafood.  We started off with mini-clams and bread, then a delicious ‘revuelto’ that had shrimp, ham, asparagus, and mushrooms cooked with scrambled eggs, and finally tiramisu for dessert.  After dinner we decided to walk around to try and find some form of nightlife and our suspicions of no functioning discotecas was quickly confirmed.  We decided to call it an early night again and explored the world of Spanish television, which never ceases to amaze me at what content is acceptable for public television (i.e.: an IKEA commercial that would have been rated R if it were a movie in the U.S.).

Día de Andalucía

Today is Día de Andalucía, which means that it is a holiday for the entire autonomous region of Andalucía (of which, Sevilla is the capital)….and more importantly for me, NO CLASSES!!!  When I was first told about Día de Andalucía I was under the impression that everything would be closed, and considering that everything shuts down for siesta and that hardly anything is open on Sundays I wasn’t expecting anything to be open.  However, this holiday really only applied to businesses, offices, schools, shops, etc. and the majority of the restaurants, bars, and cafes remained open.

After a nice long run to Parque Alamillo this morning, one of my roommates and I headed to Parque Maria Luisa to sit in the sun and do our homework (which has pretty much been a foreign concept for me the past few weeks).  In the park there was a trumpet/brass band playing in honor of Día de Andalucía and like every non-work day, the park was full of people relaxing and walking around.  Later, we met up with some more API students for some delicious gelato (ice cream…but ten times better) and walked around ‘el centro’ (the downtown-shopping area).  While getting lost in the winding streets we came across a crazy construction site where a building that looks like a tree-mushroom is being built.  Overall, it was a nice relaxing holiday…and like all long weekends, it has ended too soon.

Random Weekend - Day 3

For our last day in Matalascañas, we really wanted to rent some bikes and explore the town and more of the beach area; however, since it was Sunday the bike rental shop was closed.  We strolled around the beach area for an hour or so while waiting for our bus that was scheduled to come at 3 pm.  Between seeing the long line our friends had been standing in the night before and a lack of anything else to do in the city we got to the bus stop early. While waiting we met another group of Americans that had come so spend Saturday at the beach, and ended up spending the night since the bus driver had told them the wrong place to catch the bus.  Around 3:15 the bus finally pulled into Matalascañas (yep, even public transportation runs on tiempo español) and we were a little surprised at how excited we were to return to Sevilla, as if we were returning home.  Contrary to driving directly to Sevilla (like the bus from Sevilla to Matalascañas), our bus home stopped in every small town between the two cities.  Even though this doubled the travel time on the way home, it was really nice to see these small Spanish villages and get a feel of what a more traditional Spanish setting would be.

While we only made it as far as Matalascañas, we were all in agreement that the weekend was an overall success!