Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ten random facts about Spain/Granada

Three weeks. I have THREE weeks left here. Where did the time go!? I definitely have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I know that this has been an incredible experience and I'll be lucky if I ever get to be here again anytime soon, so I'm trying to make the most of these last few weeks. On the other hand, I am so excited to go home and see my family and live in my own house and speak my own language. It's definitely going to be a bittersweet goodbye.

I've learned a lot living in a foreign country for a whole semester, and I've compiled a small list of random facts I have picked up over the past few months:

  1. If you smile at someone in the street it means you're making fun of them (if they're the same gender as you) or that you want to have sex with them (if they're the opposite gender). I didn't learn this until a few weeks after I arrived and hadn't shaken off my Minnesota Nice habits. Whoops.
  2. If you are crossing the street and a car is coming, even if they are about twenty feet away, they will honk incessantly and SPEED UP as if you were a target in Grand Theft Auto.
  3. Even though they're supposed to, people never clean up after their dogs. There are also a lot of strays, and obviously there is no one to clean up after them, so you really have to watch your step.
  4. Bars here close at four A.M. Clubs close at seven A.M. I am going to have serious problems adjusting my weekend schedule when I get home.
  5. It is now illegal to perform music in the streets (at least in Granada; I don't know if it applies to the rest of Spain) but people still do it anyway, which I love. Nothing makes your day a little brighter than an adorable Spanish guy playing violin.
  6. They greet each other here by a kiss on each cheek. The first person to greet me this way was my gorgeous host brother. WIN.
  7. Schedules here are pretty relaxed. From classes to meal times to meeting friends, "on time" generally means "ten minutes after we agreed to meet." It's nice in the sense that you're rarely ever late, but if you're a spaz like I am and have to be on time for everything, it takes some getting used to.
  8. The Spanish pronunciation of Laura and "la hora" ("the time/hour") sound very similar, which often results in me looking around, confused, and then feeling like an idiot.
  9. People here are loud. It's difficult to tell if people are fighting or just having a very animated conversation.
  10. Swear words here are called "tacos." This will never fail to make me giggle.
Hopefully this was enlightening for all of you. Clearly, the really important aspects of the culture have stuck with me.

I'll probably only update this a couple more times before I go home. There are still quite a few things I want to do and see before I leave, and with those on top of finals looming around the corner I probably won't have much time to write here. I promise at least two more posts before I leave.

OH, unrelated to Spain, but last week I was voted president of Sigma Delta Pi (national Spanish honor society) and found out that something I wrote is going to be published in Satori, WSU's annual literary arts magazine. I'm really excited about both pieces of awesome news from home so I felt like sharing it here. :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I can sleep through an earthquake

Apparently, I did. There was one in Granada early Monday morning, but I guess it was about six hundred kilometers deep and didn't make much of an impact; no injuries or deaths, no major destruction. It's still cool to say that I survived an earthquake, even if I wasn't aware of it when it happened.

Nerja was absolutely beautiful. I bought a ridiculously overpriced disposable camera and took some pictures while I was there, so I can't wait to get them developed. It was pretty windy but otherwise warm. I got something resembling a tan. Awesome.

I registered for classes back in Winona for fall semester. ALL English courses. I'm really excited, and I'm psyched all the classes I needed were available, but it's going to be so weird not taking a Spanish class for the first time in about fifteen years. Oh, well. I'm still in two Spanish clubs at school, and I've got my tutoring job, so hopefully I can keep practicing that way.

There's nothing else really exciting to report. I just felt like I should update. Five more weeks here. CRAZY.

Friday, April 9, 2010

I finally went to a discoteca last night-Camborio. It's up in the Sacromonte and the view is absolutely breathtaking; you can see the Alhambra all lit up. It was SO cool. The club itself was actually pretty nice too; not exactly my scene, but if I had to go to one night club while I was here, I'm happy it was that one. It wasn't that big or crowded, which definitely appealed to my slightly antisocial tendencies, because I didn't feel too overwhelmed. It was ladies' night, which meant free entrance, free champagne, and free cocktails (basically the only way to get me on the dance floor). I ended up leaving around 3:30 (early by standards here; my roommates left around 5:30, I think). It was fun, but considering how my stomach feels this morning, I think it's an experience I don't necessarily have to repeat.

We're going to the beach in Nerja tomorrow, and I'm pretty excited. I've heard it's a bit of a tourist-y area but it's supposed to be gorgeous, and I've never actually been to the ocean, so this will be a fun first for me too. I love that it's nice enough to go to the beach. The weather has been amazing since mid-March; it's just been non-stop sun and seventy+ degree weather. I'm actually getting something resembling a tan, which never happens (my mom has said before that I go from looking like a corpse to flesh-colored in the summer, but that's normally as far as it goes), so hopefully by the time I get back to Minnesota I will be noticeably browner.

I can't believe I only have a little over a month left here. I'm kind of excited- I love it here, but I'll be happy to see my family and friends and pets and enjoy the comforts of home- but there's so much I want to do before I go! I'm hoping I can make a day trip to Sevilla-the school's not planning one this month so I might just have to go on my own (well, with friends, but not with a guide or tour group or anything), I still need to see a flamenco show, check out the Capilla Real where los Reyes Catolicos are buried, the Parque de Ciencias (I'm getting annoyed of spellcheck underlining all of these Spanish words as I'm typing), and a few other things that I can't remember. Holly, Kristen and I made a list of things we want to do before we go home so I'll have to check that.

Anyway, I'm off to do a little souvenir shopping. Hasta luego!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rome: day 7

This morning started out eventfully. Kristen and Karl almost got arrested. Apparently any store in Italy has to provide you with a receipt, but we've been using these vouchers our hostel gave us to get breakfast at a bar nearby, so we haven't gotten any. A cop saw them drinking a bottle of water, and when they couldn't show him a receipt he asked to see their passports. He didn't speak English either, but luckily a nearby customer was able to translate for them. Once everything was explained, neither of them were in trouble, but the hostel and the bar might be. Yikes.

Our first stop was the Cripta di Capuccini, this crypt decorated entirely with human bones. The patterns on the ceilings, the holders for the torches and lamps, the few small pieces of furniture-all bones. There were skeletons of all these monks displayed, still in robes, either lying down or posed with crucifixes. Some of them weren't even skeletons yet; a couple corpses still had something resembling skin (sorry, I'm sure I'm grossing a few of you out, but it was fascinating). It's creepy and old and unbelieveably cool. It definitely appealed to my horror addiction.

After that we went to a park, where Holly and Karl rented this bike-cart hybrid thing while the rest of us sat in the sun and ate. A flower vendor tried to hassle us, but I told him I was allergic and pretended (very poorly) to sneeze when he shoved the flowers in my face, so he left me alone.

Once Holly and Karl were done, we went to a gelato shop that has the reputation for having the best gelato in the world. I got rum and chocolate and I can honestly say they lived up to their reputation. After that we wandered around a little longer-Holly wanted to buy postcards and Kristen wanted to get some pizza-then took the train back to our hostel, grabbed our stuff, and headed to the airport. Now we have a two hour flight to Madrid and sleeping on a cold marble airport floor until our 6 AM flight to Granada to look forward to. Yippee. Oh, well. This entire week was worth a little discomfort at the end of it. I'm so happy I got the chance to see Italy again, and even if I don't have my camera, I know I don't need it, because I'll never forget this trip. Maybe I should make this a tradition and go back in another five years...on my high school teacher's salary...hey, it could happen.

Rome: day 6

We arrived in St. Peter's Square around 10 AM. It was absolutely packed towards the front. Why? BECAUSE THE POPE WAS THERE!!!!!! That's right. We saw the POPE. Well, we saw him from a distance. He drove around the main crowd where the chairs were (we were toward the back of the square) in his Pope-mobile, then he said an Easter blessing in English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian. Apparently he does this every Wednesday, so we really lucked out being in Rome for this half of the trip. I mean, I'm not exactly religious, but seeing the Pope in person, even if it wasn't close-up, was insanely cool regardless.

After the Pope left, we went into the Basilica. I had forgotten how gorgeous it was. I saw the part where we had our first concert during the EHS choir trip, so I had fun reminiscing about that. After we were done looking around, we went outside and got in line to climb to the top of the Cupola. We met a couple Austrian boys who were standing behind us; they were eavesdropping for a while (I could hear them repeating things we said in between their German) and then they asked where we were from. "We thought you were from some rich country that spoke English," one explained when I told him. We didn't get much of a chance to chat more once we started climbing the FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-ONE STEPS up to the top. It was spiraling too, and the walls turned inward and were closer together as it got higher, adding serious vertigo and claustrophobia to my exhaustion. It was completely worth it, though. The view was breathtaking; we could see all of Rome from up there. It was a beautiful day for it, too, sunny and clear and breezy. We ran into the Austrian guys on the way down and they asked if they could take a group picture with us. It was cute how excited they were about getting their picture taken with us, although my friends claimed they asked us just so one of them could get a picture with me, because he went to stand next to me right a way. I definitely didn't get that vibe, but they did high-five when they walked away, so if my friends were right I guess I should feel pretty flattered; he was kind of cute. Maybe Austrian guys find sweaty, winded, dorky American girls incredibly sexy. Lucky me!

After the Basilica, Kristen, Holly, Jake and Mike went into the Vatican Museum, but Karl and I were feeling a little strapped for cash (Visa is being stupid AGAIN so I'm not sure if I can take out more money while I'm here) so we ended up sitting by the river, listening to music on Karl's iPoid. It felt good to rest, and now I have a lot of new music I need to add to my collection when I get home.

Once the others had finished around 5:30, we sat in St. Peter's Square again, because we had to meet Lindsey at 7 for dinner. Weirdly enough, we saw a group of other CLM students while we were waiting. What a random place to run into someone. We chatted for a few minutes and then we left. OH. We saw a seagull attack a pigeon! It just divebombed the pigeon and grabbed it by the neck with its beak and almost flew off with it. It was terrifying. Poor birdie.

Lindsey ended up taking us to this great restaurant a couple blocks from her apartment. It was called Il Fate (the fairy) and we got the best bruschetta I've ever had, fettucini (made fresh that morning) in a creamy tomato sauce, this kind of soft biscotti covered in this coffee-flavored custard cream and really tasty white wine for just ten euro per person. They have a student menu, so you don't get to pick what you get, but everything was delicious and unbelieveably cheap. We hall headed back to our hostel full, tired, sunburned, and happy.

I can't believe tomorrow is our last day. I'm not really sure what we're going to do, because our flight doesn't leave until almost 9 PM. Probably more sightseeing...which would be a lot more fun if I had a camera. Grr. Oh, well. I'll have to enjoy being here while I can.

Rome and L'Aquila: days 4-5

We spent most of Monday travelling. The train ride was about four hours, and the hostel we're staying at is right across the street from the Ciampino train station. I like that our hostel is just outside of Rome so once we get tourist-ed out we can come back here and chill. Once we checked in and had lunch, we took the train into Rome and literally walked across the city. Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain, and I was grinning so hard I thought my face would fall off; I was so happy to see it again. We meandered for a while, stopped at the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, where I got some of the most amazing straciatella gelato I've ever eaten (sorry, Ring Mountain), walked along the Tevre and got to St. Peter's Basilica by the time it was dark.

This morning, while my friends went to tour the Colloseum and the Roman Forum, I met up with Lindsey and we took a bus to L'Aquila. I wasn't sure what to expect, since it was hit pretty hard by the earthquake last year. There was a lot of construction, but surprisingly most of the historic center was still intact. It's a really pretty town, super green and surrounded by mountains. According to an article I read, the state arcive building was destroyed in the earthquake, so I couldn't really do any research about my great-grandparents, but it was still so much fun being in a city that no one in my family-well, no one in my immediate family-has been since they left over a hundred years ago. Unfortunately, there's a good chance that the tons of pictures I took documenting the trip are gone-along with my entire camera. Once we were off the bus and were heading back to the train station I realized I didn't have it with me. I had left it on my seat. We ran back to the bus station but didn't have any luck. Lindsey's going to check back tomorrow and see if anyone turned it in, and I'd really like to believe that anyone who finds it would be nice enough to do that, but I'm not holding my breath. I started crying on the way back to the train statin (and felt even worse; I hate crying in public). I know it's not the end of the world; Lindsey took quite a few pictures on her camera, but I was still so disappointed. The part of this trip I was most excited about was sharing my pictures with my parents and aunts and uncles so they could experience it through my eyes, but unless I get really lucky that probably won't happen.

I need to stop bumming myself out, so I'll wrap this up. Vatican tomorrow.

On our way out to the common room, Karl stopped me in the hall and asked if I was okay. God, I hate when people ask me that when I'm not, because I can't say no. The waterworks just turn on automatically, as much as I try to bite it back. I managed to say something along the lines of "'s just...uh..." before dissolving into tears again, humiliated, and shuffled back to our room. He was so nice about it, though. He followed me into the room, gave me a hug, and tried to comfort me, saying maybe Lindsey would find my camera, and that he could make a CD with the photo's he'd taken here. I felt like such an ass, crying over something as stupid as a camera-although the only thing I'm really upset about losing is my L'Aquila photos, although I was crying too much to explain that adequately- but he was really nice about it. I'm lucky to have such good friends here. I felt a lot better after that (and even better after a little wine; God, when did I become such a lightweight!?). Anyway, things are good now. I'm happy I can end this entry on a positive note.

Florence: day 3

I started out my morning pleasantly enough-by tumbling down the stairs. Okay, I'm exaggerating. It was only the last few. The staircase here is really dark, so it's impossible to see the bottom steps. I banged my arm against the corner of the wall and twisted my ankle a bit, but otherwise I was okay.

We arrived at the Accademia around 9 AM and surprisingly didn't have to wait in line at all. Most of the art got repetetive after a while (baby Jesus and Mary, baby Jesus and Mary, baby Jesus and Mary, oh, look, baby Jesus and Mary and a creepy looking angel!). It was cool seeing the David again, though. I don't think I appreciated how impressive it is when I saw it in high school- I mean, when you're sixteen and you see a massive statue of a naked man, your attention probably isn't focused on the artistic details. It's an amazing sculpture; right down to the veins in his arm, the David is unbelieveably lifelike (besides twenty-foot height and all-over marble complexion). There was also a musical instrument exhibit that I really enjoyed; it was a nice break from the practically identical biblical paintings, anyway.

After the Accademia we planned on going into the Duomo, but all of it besides the tower was closed, and entrance to that cost six euro. We decided not to waste our money on getting winded climbing four hundred something stairs, opting instead to climb the ones to the lookout from the day before to have lunch there again. Most of the group decided to take the train to Pisa a little after lunch, but I passed. I had a bit of a headache, and anyway, I'd already seen the leaning tower before; there's not much worth seeing in Pisa besides that. Kristen chose not to go either, so we napped back at the hostel instead. Now I'm going to shower, relax a bit more, and then the two of us will grab dinner later (pasta tonight-YES!).

I just got back from dinner. Bruschetta Fiorentina, ravioli and mushrooms in truffle sauce (which I'd never had before but had heard about on cooking shows and I was curious), and a canoli with candied orange rind and chocolate lining the inside of the pastry. I am going to gain back every pound I have lost, drag our plane back to Spain crashing down under my ungodly amount of Italian food-induced weight, and I will die happy.

Florence: days 1-2

First of all, I'm surprised we made it to Italy alive. This is not an exaggeration; the turbulence during the descent into Bologna was a nightmare. It felt like we were on a roller coaster, the way it was dropping so fast and tilting from side to side. One girl actually had a panic attack. Kristen and I were grabbing our armrests, staring at each other, terrified, thinking we might actually die. Once we landed on the ground (and I resisted the urge to drop to my knees, sobbing, and kiss the grimy airport floor), we took a bus to the Bologna train station, took a train to Porto, ran like crazy to catch the connecting train to Florence, and finally reached our hostel around 7:30. It's pretty nice; small, but comfortable, and the Romanian girl who works at the front desk is really sweet.

Once we had settled in, we headed out to find somewhere for dinner (pizza, of course). The place the receptionist recommended to us was packed, and we stood there for an hour, squashed against the walls by masses of rushed, loud Italians (not exactly helpful considering my combination of agoraphobia and jet lag). It was well-worth the wait, though. Holly and I split a prosciutto and mushroom pizza. I had forgotten how incredible authentic Italian pizza was until last night. It will take every ounce of my self-control not to eat it for every meal this week. After dinner, we returned to the hostel and crashed.

We woke up about an hour after Holly's alarm went off on Saturday. I would have loved to sleep in until noon, but we had a lot of sightseeing to do as we're only in Florence for two full days. We stopped at a grocery store for breakfast (pastries and fruit) and made our way to the Santa Maria del Fiori Duomo. Just seeing it brought memories flooding back; standing between the Duomo and the Battistero, it didn't feel like five years had passed. After pausing for some photos, we continued walking toward the Arno. I don't remember going to Ponte Vecchio during the high school trip; at least, I hadn't heard "O, Mio Babbino Caro" (which was stuck in my head for most of the day-EVOC's version, of course) so the name wouldn't have rung any bells at that point. It was pretty sunny, and the Arno was beautiful, deep and green and glittering; nothing like the muddy trickle running through Granada.

After a little more exploring and sightseeing we went up to this lookout (the stairs reminded me of how disgustingly out of shape I am) where we had lunch. After that, we went to the Galleria degli Uffizi, which is enormous. It made me regret not paying better attention in western civ in high school, because I recognized a lot of names but couldn't remember much about them. After that we explored a little more, tried to buy tickets for the Accademia (but the office was closed), then finally returned to our hostel to rest before dinner. We ended up getting pizza again (well, five of us did). I have no regrets in my decision making regarding food...OH! I got NON-CHOCOLATE gelato today! When I was here last time all I got was chocolate, so I decided I'd fight my addiction and branch out a bit this time. I chose mixed berry and it was amazing. I might have to go back to my usual tomorrow, though.

When we got back to the hostel, most of the group went upstairs to hang out/drink, but I gave in to my not-so-inner nerd and stayed in the room and read. I started my book yesterday on the plane, and now I only have three chapters left. I'm not trying to brag. Honestly, it's a bad habit, because I don't enjoy the book as much as I should and I run out of reading material too quickly.

Anyway, I'm falling asleep on my notebook and we're getting up at 7:30 so I will wrap this up. Buona sera (or is it notte? I forget)!


Ciao, tutti! I just got back from Italy around 8:30 this morning. One week is not enough. I love Spain, and I know that I haven't done much travelling otherwise, so saying this might sound silly, but Italy is my favorite country. There is so much history there; it's like stepping back in time just walking around it. I was mistaken as being Italian at least three times, which was pretty cool. People singled me out of my group of friends to ask me questions, so I felt pretty special, although I felt bad that I couldn't answer; my Italian vocabulary is limited to "hello," "goodbye," "please," "thank you," "you're welcome," "Don't touch me," "Go away," and a couple more colorful words. Being in Rome and Florence brought back great memories from the EHS choir trip, and I made some great new memories with my new friends here. I kept a journal while I was there, so I'll copy the entries here.

Oh, and there is no way I can smoothly transition into this, and there's nowhere else that this fits, but it played a big part in our travels, so it has to be mentioned one way or another. Jake and Mike, two of the guys I was travelling with, decided to say "Eet's-ah-ME! MA-rio!" or "Eet's-ah-ME! LuIgi!" (respectively) about five hundred times a day EVERY day we were in Italy. They probably pissed off so many Italians with their horrible, obnoxious imitations, but it still made me laugh every time I heard it, because apparently I have the sense of humor of a twelve-year-old boy. Seriously, Mario Brothers became the theme of our trip and I loved it.

Alright. Moving onto the journal entries. Enjoy!