Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Classes in España

So I’ve finished my AND second days of school in Spain and I have to say it’s not that much different than school in the US.  Given the fact that there is no English spoken here, although I’m very accustomed to classes completely in Spanish, the same basic atmosphere lingers and as usual the first days aren’t that important.  We just went over the syllabus and expectations of the class room.  So far my class schedule is the following…

Monday/ Wednesday
1:00-3:00         Phonetics and Phonology of Spanish
7:00-9:00         Culture and Society in Present Day Spain

Tuesday/ Thursday
11:00-1:00       Spanish Syntax
1:00-3:00         Spanish-American Literature

Not a bad schedule I’d say!  Only two classes each day, no class on Friday, and my earliest class isn’t till 11:00!  I’m likin the “start school late” policy here. :)  I do have one late class that doesn’t start til 7 at night, but honestly here 7:00pm is early as hell!!  By the time class is over and I walk home, I’ll be just in time for dinner!  If not a little early for it!  I really enjoy the concept of time over here.  I wish more places had a schedule like this.

Now what do these classes entail you ask?  Well let me enlighten you…

First class, Phonetics and Phonology.  Basically this class is all about why Spanish sounds the way it does and why words are created the way they are.  It’s all about pronunciation, why some vowels are stressed or unstressed, occlusive, fricative or deleted consonants, the way you hear certain things depending on what language you grow up with, and the ways in which one has to overcome certain barriers to really know a language; barriers such as the development of certain muscles used in the mouth to pronounce certain words.  A hard concept to explain to those who don’t major in a language, but none the less it’s way cool.  Think about it.  You can totally tell if someone isn’t a native English speaker.  They have a particular difficulty pronouncing certain sounds in a word. AHHH! I love this stuff.  I’m just a nerd though.  Language=Love. 

Second class, Culture and Society in Spain.  This class is more of an anthropology class than anything.  It deals with the idealisms of ethnocentrism and relativism, which are the ways in which a society views itself against the world.  In this class we should learn why Spaniards do the things they do and why their customs are way different than the US or anywhere in the world for that matter.  For example, when you greet someone here you give them two kisses on the cheek.  Doesn’t matter if you are meeting them for the first time and they are a complete stranger to them.  You kiss no matter what.  However if someone were to do this in the US one, you’d probably get smacked, and two people might think you want more than just a business relationship.  I’m excited for this one too.  Should explain some of the oddities I find myself surrounded by every day.  :)

Two down, two to go…Third class, Spanish Syntax. :)))))  This class made me feel a lot better about not knowing my way around because even the teacher came in late and said he couldn’t find the classroom.  :)  Ok, so my nerd self is gonna come out here.  This class is pretty much all grammar based.  Another semi complicated concept to explain to non-language majors, but I’ll do my best.  So syntax explains why a sentence is created the way it is.  Why the subject goes here, the direct object there, the adverbial phrase here, attributes, and so forth.  It also explains the flexibility or rigidness of a certain language.  For example, Spanish is sooooooooo much more flexible than English.  English can be a very “blunt” language, if I may, simple because of the direct way things are done.  Sentence example!

                        I gave him the book.

Simple right?  Can’t really say it any other way..

            Him I gave the book.   Book I gave him.  Ehh…you can get it, but it sounds funny.

Now for Spanish.     Very literal English translation…(taken word for word) then actual sentence
Le di el libro.                           Him I gave the book.  AKA:  I gave him the book
Lo di a él.                                Book I gave it to him.   AKA: I gave it to him
Se lo di.                      Him it I gave.  AKA: I gave it to him. (lo replaces libro, se replaces him)
Se lo di el libro.                       Him it I gave the book.    AKA: I gave him the book  
Se lo di el libro a él.               Him it I gave the book to him.     AKA: I gave the book to him.

Hopefully after all my hard work we can see that a Spanish sentence has a lot more options on where to place, in this case, direct and indirect objects.  However, in English the sentence remains the same basic format.  Spanish has this nice little trick of being able to repeat objects without sounding weird.  English not so much.  I probably didn’t make much sense there, but my nerd inside made me give an example.  I love grammar. :)  

AND FINALLY…Fourth class, Spanish-American Literature.  For once this class title pretty much explains itself.  Literature from the Spanish, in America.  So pretty much everything that was written after 1492 when Christopher Columbus crisscrossed the ocean blue.  *Real name= Cristóbol Colón.  I really don’t know why all the English history books insist on changing someone’s name to make it more American or whatnot.  It’s not like we meet someone named Margarita and start calling her Daisy.  It’s just not done.  But this poor guy wasn’t allowed the same fate.  A bit annoying to me, so from now on I will forever refer to him as Colón.*  ANYWAYS. (focus)  Fortunately this class doesn’t go all the way back to 1492, but instead focuses on 1880 til the present.  Authors such as José Martí, Rubén Darío, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez are just a few of the famous artists we will be seeing this semester.               

I can’t wait to actually start learning about all these subjects.  I have a basic understanding of how the school system is run here in Spain, but I’m sure I’ll find out more as time goes along.  It’s weird to think that all my friends back home in the States are getting ready for midterms when I just finished my second official day, but that’s just another reason to love Spain even more.   

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Corrida de Toros

Yes..I went to a corrida de toros, otherwise known as a bullfight. Was it fun?...ehh…Was it interesting?..ehhh…Would I do it again?...ehhh…Was it hard to watch?..mehh…Was it bloody?...meehhhhhh…Did I like it?...eh. These simple yes or no questions just can’t be answered with a one word response. I definitely realized today that there is more to this cultural event than I could have imagined. I had so many misconceptions as I’m sure the world does too, and some of these were correct and some seemed more like a myth after the fight was over.

Let’s start at the beginning…

For the past two weeks the ISA group has been talking about going to a bullfight in Spain. This is like one of the few places I the world where you can see an event like this. At first I didn’t want to go. Who in their right mind wants to see a torture like this? What the hell are these people thinking? I was surprised, however, by the amount of kids that actually wanted to go. Even the girls! For a while I contemplated disassociating myself with these barbarians, but I needed a better reason to leave other than judging based on an opinion. The last bullfight in Sevilla for the 2010 season was Sunday September 26th. Everyone was getting tickets to go and I decided not to pass up an opportunity to get to know the group better and experience something I might never have the chance to do again. Fine world. You win. I’ll do it.

My roommate and I went yesterday to the Plaza de Toros to buy the tickets for Sunday. As we approached the bull ring we realized there were hundreds of people walking towards the arena as well. It looked like a sporting event! They were selling water on the sidewalks, snacks, pillows to sit on, programs, and little trinkets one could buy to remember this event. We walked into the arena, looked at a seating chart, and got in line to buy our tickets for Sunday. Well when we get to the ticket window the guy says that the fight on Sunday is almost sold out and there are no seats next to each other in the whole arena. I may be brave enough to attend a corrida, but there is no way in god’s green earth I am sitting by myself to watch/not watch the event. He then continues to tell us that there are a lot of seats together for the corrida today and that we should buy tickets today instead. With a line of people behind us we didn’t have time to talk about our options and what we wanted to do. Almost impulsively we just handed him the cash. It was like a magnet. I don’t think I even remember making a decision in my mind. It was like someone made the decision for me and compelled me to just get the fricken ticket. With the tickets in our hands we walked to the portal and up the stairs to our seats. As skittish as I was at first at just the thought of a bullfight, Jesse and I looked like kids on Christmas as we climbed the stairs. I had a smile on my face, butterflies in my stomach, and trembling hands holding my red ticket of death. Was I actually excited? No way right? I know. Weird.

We find our seats and admire the bullring. It was huge! A dirt ring in the middle and hundreds of spectators all waiting for the show. Everything was very elegant, except for the seats of course. Fricken hard concrete with little numbers painted on them. I suddenly realized what the little pillows on sale outside were for. About 5 minutes later the matadors, picadors, toreros, horses, and other persons of importance entered the ring. They walk around to get the crowd going then the fight begins. Little did I know however that there are many people involved in the fight with the bull and not just the matador. The corrida works like this…

There are about 5 or 6 people called “toreros” who are like wanna be matadors. They are almost like matadors in training. Their job is to tire the bull out a little bit before the actual matador comes out. They have colorful cloth cape things they wave at the bull and obviously the bull runs at them.

Then we have the “picador.” These are two guys mounted on two different horses who have a long metal stick in their hand. Their job, stab the bull with the sharp stick then pull it out. Honestly they probably have the hardest job. They have to control their horse, (which is blindfolded so it won’t run from the bull) maneuver this long piece of metal, and try not to get their legs stabbed by the horns of the bull. I felt bad for the horses too. They have no idea what the heck is goin’ on!! They have armor on but they are blind folded!! A giant bull comes running at them and they just have to stand there. I applaud those brave horses.

Next come the craziest people ever. I believe they might be called “picadores” as well because they also stick the bull with metal objects, yet in a very different way. They have to run AT the bull with shorter metal sticks covered in feathers or something and stab the bull in the back. Their goal is to get the metal objects to stay in the bull, not just poke it and run away. Nope. They gotta like jam those things in there nice and good so they don’t come out. I’m not sure if those people are literally crazy for running at a pissed off bull with metal objects, or extremely brave. Either way, it’s part of the show.

Finally after the bull is super pissed off the matador comes out. His task, kill the bull. Simple enough, but he’s gotta do it in a big flashy way with lots of turns and twirls and other fancy footwork skills. He “dances” with the bull until it’s too tired to run anymore. He then sticks a sword in the bull and the bull dies either from loss of blood or exhaustion.

I must go on one small tangent here just to express the differences between Spain and America. Here at the bullring the bravest person in the room is the matador. He is the pinnacle of everything. He risks his life daily for the love of a sport. Yet for being such a brave person the costumes they wear are intense. They have sequences all over their clothes, pink high socks, high pants, and shoes comparable to those of a ballet. And the way they walk is also very interesting. Very tall and straight with precise movements. If someone walked around like this in the States, he would immediately get laughed at. Made fun of for his clothing despite the sport. However I know for a fact that those laughing at him wouldn’t have enough guts to do his job. I would love to see those people in a ring with a raging bull.

Now that we all know who does what, flashback to when we find our seats and the show begins. The 5 or 6 toreros enter the ring to be followed a minute later by a running bull. They run around and play with the bull and then the men on horses come to join them. They stab the bull like two times then the crazy running metal stick men follow. They do their thing and stick the bull with their colorful sticks. From where we were sitting in the arena, we couldn’t really see too much blood. Obviously it was there, but it wasn’t dripping or spewing out all over the place, which is exactly the image I had in my head of what was to happen. Every now and then the sun would shine on the bull just right and we could catch a glimpse of red on the bull. Another good indicator of the amount of blood there actually was, were the metal sticks sticking out of the bull with the feathers on them. They started out being yellow, green, and white then slowly turned to a solid dark color.

Enter matador. Everyone leaves the ring and a hush comes over the audience as the bull and matador stare at each other. Then they dance to the death. Not gonna lie the matadors have some pretty fancy moves. I thought every move was pretty impressive, but apparently I just can’t tell them apart. Whenever the “regulars” who actually know what to look for during a bull fight saw something they liked from the matador, everyone shouted OLÉ! I’m still not sure when an “ole” is needed for a move or not, but they only did it for certain moves..and the whole arena did it in unison too which makes me want to know even more now what the heck was so different between the cool move and the one he just did like a minute ago!

After about 10 min of dancing the matador decides to give the final blow. He aims his sword at the charging bull and jabs the WHOLE thing into the bull. Then as if on cue the toreros run out and tease the bull again with their capes. The bull then too tired to live, falls to the ground and dies. The crowd stands and applauds the matador. Then 3 very decorated horses come out into the arena followed by some people who look like janitors. They attach the dead bull the 3 horses and then drag the bull out of the arena.

Everyone takes a 2 minute break and the whole thing starts over again. 6 times. Yep. Didn’t know they killed 6 bulls. I thought it was only one! But I suppose only 20 minutes of entertainment isn’t that much.

To be honest the bull fight wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It wasn’t a gory blood-bath. The bulls aren’t tortured before the fight. And towards the end sometimes you’re not really sure who to root for..the matador or the bull. The meat of the bulls goes to markets and orphanages so it’s not like it’s wasted. I suppose my opinion has changed. Maybe this really is something cultural that most people don’t get. There are so many people opposed to this tradition, however most of the people who don’t like it aren’t even from Spain. I was the same way, but I now realize that it’s not my place to really say if it’s right or wrong. I’m not from Spain, even though I would love to be, so I don’t feel it’s fair for me to judge this event as an outsider. This isn’t my country and therefore I should have no say in what they can and cannot like. I hate when people judge without understanding. I’ll admit I’m guilty of judging without understanding one more than one occasion, but something about this bull fight opened my eyes today. I still may not be comfortable with the idea of death and pain, but somehow I’m not as cynical as I once was.

Spain, you continue to change me in ways I never thought possible. I grow in character and as an intellectual. I find myself questioning all the things I knew before I came here. Will I be the same person I was when I come back? Absolutely not. :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

School..almost..Still haven't quite started..

Today many things happened, and the day isn’t even over. Yet I feel like I have to write down everything that I do/see otherwise I forget them. This whole slow paced life style has affected my brain way too much. If I do more than like 3 things in one day I feel like I’ve been so busy! It’s just not the same culture as America. I don’t know if I’ll be able to adjust back to the demanding lifestyle of America. I feel like Americans live in a world of the here and now. Of instant access to everything with a touch of a button. I haven’t watched any news since I’ve been here. I haven’t read a newspaper. I really haven’t heard anything relating to any part of the world. Disconnected much? Yes I think so. But everything can be done/accomplished “mañana”. That 4th thing I had on my list of things to do…eh..mañana. Sometimes I feel better not knowing everything going on in the world. Most the time it’s not good anyways…

Aside from my random tangent…(I’m becoming more and more like the Spanish every day. Talking about random things for long amounts of time, ANYWAYS)…Aside from my random tangent I had my first orientation at the Universidad de Sevilla today. Surprisingly it was just as boring as every single orientation I’ve had in the United States. Why I thought it was gonna be more interesting, I have no idea. It was however, very different.

Our ISA group met at 9 in the morning (very early Spanish time) at a very nice Starbucks location in a main plaza next to the school. Our small group of Universidad de Sevilla students formed a small group as we waited for our ISA directors, semi-late as usual (in Spain no one is on time). From afar we see our ISA directors walking with another group of students coming towards us. The OTHER Sevilla group. (The study abroad program offered by the ISA group has two sessions. One had a two week intensive crash course before the Universidad de Sevilla started, aka the one I took, and the second session had no intensive class and those students just go straight to the Universidad de Sevilla for school. I think they got to Sevilla on Thursday..newbs lol…) We have been so used to our small little group of 15 that seeing these “intruders” was a bit weird. All of us stood there watching as the other group approached. I’m not gonna lie it was a weird feeling seeing all the “newbies” walking towards us. It was like the senior class getting their first look at the new freshman, all wide eyed and in awe of the city surrounding them. We felt like pros. :) We were all introduced, yet inside we were still two different groups. We walked in our separate groups to the University and up to the room where the orientation was to be held.

We enter this room to find it filled with another 70 or so American students. Needless to say there weren’t enough seats and we sat on the floor. Not horrible, but uncomfortable yes. I also felt like I was back in pre-school or something! I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to sit on the floor to listen to someone speak! The orientation was carried out in Spanish which was fine, but the material covered in the orientation was a bit unnecessary. We went over how to use a library, how to find books, how to take notes, and how it’s ok to ask for directions if you get lost in the school (which is actually very easy to do, more explanation to come). I know we are from America, but we do have libraries there!! I know how to use a freakin library! We also have notebooks, pencils, and brains as well. I’m not sure if they assume we’ve forgotten how to do everything since we’ve been here, but I certainly haven’t!

I feel like the dumbed it down a bit for the American kids. I felt bad for the people giving the orientation too. None of us was paying much attention, but what were we supposed to learn?? How to judge what kind of book it is by its cover? (haha) Sometimes I don’t like being from America because everyone here has this image of a loud, English speaking, lazy person. Not everyone from the States is like that, but even after just spending a few days here in Spain I can see how they have that image. You can always tell the stereotypical American kids apart from everyone else. And they are always 1. Loud 2. Drunk 3. Lost. It’s these people that give Spaniards a distorted image of the American lifestyle. Can’t say I blame them for having that image after what I’ve seen, but I will make it my goal not to be an “American” while I’m here. I think I’m doin pretty well too!! Someone asked me for directions the other day in Spanish to some street or another. Not that I knew where it was, but I feel proud that at least I blend in! :)

Sorry…tangent..back to the orientation…

After the very lame orientation it was time to explore the university and find the classes! Simple right? WRONG. The numbers here don’t go in order. Most schools will have classes that go something like, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45 etc…Here, although there are only two floors all the numbers are mixed up. Instead the rooms here go something like 115, 114, 113, 24, 209, 12, 116, 117, 38, 207..all in a row..not cool.. Just because you have a class that starts with a 2 definitely does not mean it’s on the second floor. It COULD be on the second floor, but I wouldn’t count on it. AWESOME. However, there is a bit of a rhyme/reason for the odd numbering of the classrooms. The university is really old, like from the 16th century and so over the years, they have added new classes and had to split the rooms. Obviously in the 16th century there wasn’t too much one could study. Now a days, however, it seems like an infinite number of subjects. When they make one classroom into 5 it creates a numbering issue. I kinda like it. :) Something different from the all too easy navigation of the American school.

And as luck would have it I along with some other people have one class in a classroom that my friends and I seriously couldn’t find for like an hour. Classroom 24. Not next to classes 22, 23, 25, or 26. Nope. Its got its own special location tucked away in a wing with 2 different corridors. Take one wrong turn and you’ll never find it. Lord help me. We even ASKED people from the school where it was and they had no idea!! Even a janitor!! I figured he might now since maybe he cleans the room..nope. wrong again. This infamous class must be like a Bermuda triangle or something. Once you go in you never come out. That’s why no one knows where it is! It leaves no survivors!!

After all that fun, we went home and ate lunch. Yes that’s like I’ll I’ve done today, but like I said…more than 3 events and it’s an overload. And I still had things I wanted to do today! Let’s take a look..

1. Meet group at Starbucks
2. Get introduced to Newbs
3. Walk to University and have orientation
4. Find classes
5. Go to market at Parque Maria Luisa
6. Shop
7. Write more postcards
8. Meet up with group later

Damn…that’s like 2 days right there..I think I have to shopping though. I’m addicted.

Wish me luck!! School starts Monday!! Hopefully I can find all my classes! Hopefully I can figure out this schedule too. Miss you all! Only 3 months left! Time goes soooo fast..So much to do with so little time left..I almost don’t wanna leave. :( almost.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Portugal (Lisbon to be specific)

WARNING: VERY LONG BLOG!! MAKE SURE YOU HAVE TIME TO READ IT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO! lol I would of course like everyone to read it, I just don't wanna get yelled at for having an insanely long blog without first warning people. I hope you enjoy Portugal through my experiences just as I experienced it with my own eyes. :)

Portugal. Wow. I don’t know if there is any way to put into words my experiences of Portugal. At first I fell in love with Spain and all its beauty and city life, but then I came to Portugal. I think Portugal stole my heart from Spain. :) They are two adjoining countries, but their differences are immense. Everything from the food, music, people and the historical sites all have their own unique character. I also learned that Lisbon is a fairly new city when it comes to Europe because the original Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake in like 1775. Whole city. Gone. But like any good European country, they got back up and rebuilt the whole city all over again, but with the stly of the 18th century. Hence it’s a bit more modern than Spain. Another little tid bit about Lisbon. IT’S SLIPPERY! They have little ceramic tiles for sidewalks over there instead of asphalt so it’s very smooth and one wrong move will send you flying. I almost ate it like 20 times. AND those lil itty bitty tiles were all laid BY HAND! One by one..talk about a sucky job. But it’s amazing because they are all perfectly lined and centered. Just one more thing to love about Lisbon.

Let’s start now with food. Omg. A. MA. ZING. They have this one famous dish called “bacalao.” It’s salted cod fish in general but there is just something about it that makes it so much different from any other cod fish I’ve had. Maybe it’s in the way they prepare it or the oil they cook it in but it is sooooooo good!! Another really good dish I had was called “arroz com marisco.” It’s very similar to the Spanish “paella” dish, (PS if any of you reading have no idea what paella or arroz com marisco is…go look online. I’m sure they have lovely pictures. :D ) but with more water. It’s like a paella soup if you will. It took me a while to get pver the fact that they actually put WHOLE shrimp in the rice dish, meaning you have to cut the lil head off while it’s bulging eyeballs are looking at you, but hunger will do funny things to people. Last thing about the food I want to mention are the desserts. Another OMG moment in my life. Their pastries are to die for..I’m not sure how many I ate while we were there, but I’m sure a scale would tell me. Most desserts are croissant like, but then have different fillings and most importantly, CHOCOLATE. So many different chocolates, so little time. That just gives me another reason to come back to this amazing city. :)

The people there are amazing. So nice and very willing to help any way they can. It was weird for me being in a country where I didn’t really know the language too well. Portuguese and Spanish are very very close in the spelling of the language, but the pronunciation is so different. The letters look French, they speak like German’s, yet have an Italian sound. If you ever can’t figure out what language someone is speaking in Europe, it’s probably Portuguese. Many people in Lisbon speak English which is helpful, but very broken and with weird accents. But more than once people where more than willing to SHOW us where something was, rather than just give directions. Portugal, I love you for that.
I’d like to dedicate these next few paragraphs to all my memories of Portugal. If you wanna read go for it. :) I wanna be able to remember everything that happened in Portugal for the rest of my life, so here it goes…

Day 1:
We leave from Sevilla at 8:00 in the morning. Two charter buses are waiting to take all the kids to Lisbon. Little did I know that Lisbon is like 5½ -6 hours away from Sevilla..there go my geography skills..When we get into Portugal we entered in of a bridge called the “25th of April” bridge. Weird name for a bridge, but apparently on that day in a revolution occurred and the people overthrew their dictator. In honor of that day they renamed the bridge of the dictator, to the day of the year. It seriously looks like a smaller version of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco! It’s got that golden/orange color and same ability to sway back and forth in case of an earthquake. After we got semi settled in at the hotel, the group went for a walking tour of the city and one site in particular, El Castillo de San Jorge. To get to the castle however we had to walk up at least 20 hills. Not huge hills, but big enough. It’s weird how Lisbon and San Francisco have so much in common. The castle was amazing. It was like taking another amazing step back into time. You could feel the presence of all the kings and queens/ other important people of back in the day. Once again everything was just as it was 400 years ago. The views were also amazing. From the top you could see all of Lisbon. When I looked down I could imagine not only the painful fall one would endure if one slipped, but also what it must have been like defending this grand fortress. I was actually brave enough to climb to the top of one of the lookout towers and must say, I’m glad I didn’t have that job.

After the castle we were given free time in Lisbon. My friend Mitzi and I walked around and of course went shopping. :) I must say Portugal has got some style too. We walked from store to store and had the most amazing food. A pre-dinner dessert of waffle, mint ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, and then a dinner to die for. We ate at this restaurant called “Cervejaria Trindade.” Best recommendation I’ve ever received. Although it took us a while to find the restaurant, we climbed a few hills, asked about a dozen people, and finally made it to our destination with very little help from a map. Go us. :) There we tried the “arroz com mariscos” and absolutely loved it. We had great time and even got some great quotes out of the evening such as, “I wanna cut his eyeball” and “I don’t even know how to use this knife right now.” All said with love from yours truly. Not sure why I always have to be the one to say random retarded stuff, but I guess that’s just what makes me special. :)

We walked the streets for a little while longer and then decided to call it an early night with plenty of time to explore Lisbon’s night life the next day.

Day 2
The next day the group visited “El Monasterio de Los Jerónimos” and “La Torre de Belém.” The monastery was absolutely gorgeous. Way smaller than the cathedral in Sevilla, but still the same breath taking moments. The best thing about the monastery was the court yard patio within the monastery. I really don’t understand how they built these things without the use of cranes and heavy power tools. I’m not really sure humans could make these buildings anymore. It seems we’ve lost our creative side and always go for the cheap and fast way to put up a building. It took these people YEARS, DECADES, CENTURIES to build this stuff and it certainly shows that time and good ol fashion elbow grease pay off.

After the monastery we went to an fortress in the middle of the ocean, “La Torre de Belém.” It’s not quite in the middle of the ocean, but when the tide is high there is water all around it. Not quite as fascinating as the monastery, but still a sight to be seen. It had some cannon’s and military stuff, but that’s about it.

Next on the agenda was free time again. :) We spilt off into our own separate groups and all did our own thing. I went with a group of 5 other people to another castle called “Palacio de Pena” in a little city called Sintra. I know you’re all thinking why the heck would you go to another castle? Didn’t you just come from one? Well yes..yes we just saw a castle the other day, but this one was even more beautiful than the one before. I am honestly glad I went to see another castle because this one was too good to miss.

To get to Sintra and the castle, however, was a bit difficult. Not impossible just difficult. We took a train from Lisbon to Sintra, then a very slow bus to the top of this HUGE mountain to where the castle was. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so scared on a bus ride before. I’m not sure how the bus driver got around the winding streets of the mountain, but I give him huge props. I definitely thought there wasn’t enough room for a car on these roads much less a bus, but somehow he knew all the tricks to get that gigantic bus to the top of that hill. But as luck would have it the bus only takes you to the semi top of this hill. You can pay another 2 euro to ride a different bus to the actual castle on the actual top hill. As poor studying abroad college students we decided to nix the extra 2 euro ride and give our legs a nice workout…I almost died. Maybe it was the shoes I was wearing or the fact that I really haven’t exercised since I’ve been here, but that hill kicked my ass. And it was only like a 7 minute walk. “Hello uneven cobble stone road leading up to ginormous castle, meet my fat ass.”

We FINALLY make it to the top and yet again must pay to get in. I suppose the economy has hit more countries than just the United States. We walk into the castle and are blown away by the beauty of it all. There are so many rooms just on the outside terrace that I lost count how many we visited. Although we were all very excited about the outside of the castle, little did we know about the amazing room with a view that lay ahead. We walk onto a patio and instantly get an amazing view of Portugal. None of us could say anything for a solid 2 minutes. The view was literally, “breath taking.” I’m never sure if I’ll be able to describe the feeling that I felt in those two minutes, but it had to be one of complete happiness. I have never felt so content in my entire life. The brisk cool air, sound of silence, the green rolling hills in the background, and the soft howl of the wind brought tears to my eyes. I have never cried from just looking at a view before, but this one would bring any hardened person to his knees. For two minutes nothing mattered. It didn’t matter that I was afraid of heights. It didn’t matter that I was thousands of miles away from home. It didn’t matter that I was cold and tired. All that mattered to me in that instant was the feeling of overwhelming joy and satisfaction in a way that I never thought possible.

After a long moment of silence and personal thinking time, we got back into a group and took some amazing pictures as well. I tried to capture the images I saw with my eyes through the lens of my camera, but I’m not sure any photograph will ever compare to the real thing. Deciding we must see the rest of the castle, we walked through the inside and looked at all the royal rooms. Once again no pictures allowed. The pictures in my mind will stay there forever until the day they finally do allow photos of the inside of the castle.

As we were trying to find our way out of the castle when we were done walking inside we managed to semi crash a wedding reception! We couldn’t find the stairs to go down so instead of asking, we decided to open the random closed door of the castle. It did have stairs which was a good thing, but when we got to the door at the bottom of the stair case we opened it to find the beginning stages of a wedding reception taking place. Oops. Needless to say we walk right back up and asked some one for help. :)

Now if you remember way back when in this blog when I explained the long trip up to the top of the castle, getting back down was even harder. We walk down to where the first bus dropped us off and saw a huge line of people. Not a problem since the last bus wasn’t until 8 and it was only around 6:30 or 7:00. Well apparently there was a problem. No bus had been up the hill for about an hour and people had been standing in line since then! Apparently there was some festival going on down below and they had closed the one and only road up to the castle. Awesome. Some people were determined to stay and wait til the festival was over and some started walking down the hill since none of the people working at the castle had any idea when the festival was to be over. Just as we were debating on what to do, wait in line or walk for an hour down a windy road, two buses come around the corner which filled everyone with a “Hallelujah I’ve been saved!” feeling. But only two buses for at least 60 people did not look promising.

The first bus fills up fast takes off with still many more people in the street all hoping to get on this one last bus. Since we had just arrived at the stop, we were second to last in line. Our chances of getting on that bus were slim to none. But before we knew it we were getting closer and closer to the door of the bus. Now whether the bus driver was super nice or crazy to have let this many people on a bus will never be known, he managed to fit all of the people on that one bus. We were packed like sardines. “Keep going, keep going,” people would say outside encouraging the lucky people already on the bus to move further and further back. It was a sight to be seen. Now of course the way down was even worse than the way up just because of the shear over capacity of this vehicle. I was convinced one wrong turn and the bus would tumble down the hill. But this was obviously not the first time this bus driver had had to make this trip before. He was marvelous. He got us down all safely and even managed to pick up 2 more people on the way. We got some pictures of the over crowded bus, available for your enjoyment on facebook.com

As if the day couldn’t get any more fun/comical it definitely did. After arriving once again to Lisbon we went out to dinner, went back to the hotel and decided to explore Lisbon at night. Now however, it was not just our small group of 6 to the castle but more like 13. We went to a somewhat touristy part of town, but it was still so fun. We went into a discoteca, which for all you American people is not a Disco nor do they dance Disco there. It’s a mix between a dance club and just a social gathering spot where most people in Europe meet on the weekends. We literally danced the night away and had an amazing time. It was the most fun I’ve had this whole time in Europe. The mix of people, energy, and happiness I was feeling that day all came together for these last few night hours in Lisbon.

Although I was only able to visit Lisbon for two short days, I have fallen in love. Not with anyone in particular, but with the city and vibe of Portugal. I would recommend this town to anyone and hope to visit it again very soon. Maybe even another weekend while I’m her studying in Spain. Hopefully the studying part won’t get in the way of my love for Portugal. Sorry Spain, but Portugal captured my heart this weekend. I can’t escape the obsession I have with Portugal now. Only time will tell if Spain can win my heart back

In the words of my dear friend Enrique Ingesias…
“Aunque corras, te escondas, No puedes escapar.."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Interesting Things

So I’ve decided to continue with the Interesting things I’ve noticed about Spain. I’ll keep it at a nice round nine facts per session. Carry on the odd number tradition since I couldn’t think of a 10th one for the first fact thing I wrote. :) Hope ya’ll like.

10. The printer paper is a different size.
Oddly enough paper is not the same size. Found that out when I tried to print out a paper for my class. I would like to know the paper sizes before I arrive, therefore I can change all the settings on my computer. Paper in the US is 8½ X 11, here it’s like 8½ X 14. Way longer. It looks weird to me. Needless to say my 2 page essay ended up being a page and a half. Good thing there wasn’t a page limit on this assignment! Gotta remember that when I actually do have to write a paper based on a page limit. :(

11. Spain’s national anthem has no words.
Um…well then what do they sing then? The answer… “lo lo lo lo lo loooo lo lo looo” NO JOKE! My host mom told me! I guess the reason for the lack of words has to do with Spain’s history. Apparently there were words to the anthem, but that was during the reign of Franco. To forget about the dictator and do away with the old ways they gave up the words to the anthem. And apparently no one really even remembers them that well at all! It’s been so long that there are barely any records of the words at all. Interesting huh?

12. Spanish people don’t drink sangria.
Sorry guys. All this time we thought sangria was a popular Spanish drink. And it is in a way…but for tourists. If you order sangria in a restaurant, bar, club, wherever you automatically have a huge sign above your head with blinking red lights that say “Look at me! ME NOT SPANISH!” The drink of the Spaniards is Tinto de Verano. No fruit, well maybe a lemon, red wine, and lemon juice. None of this pear, apple, and strawberry stuff. Sangria is saved for big occasions where there are a lot of people and no one cares what they drink. However sangria is perfect for the stereotypical tourist. I knew there was a reason I didn’t care for it too much. I feel so Spanish now. :)

13. McDonalds has no dollar menu, no breakfast, and doesn’t open til 11.
Worst thing ever when you want a fast breakfast because you’re running late for something!! And forget the cheap/fast food aspect! With no dollar menu you pay like 8 bucks for a hamburger. Maybe that’s why people are so skinny here..and the fact that they actually use physical activity to get places and not cars!

14. Toilet paper is sacred.
Once again I find myself in a predicament. I use the bathroom like 10 times a day. And NO. I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM. Just a small bladder. Even my host mom commented on my frequent bathroom usages! “Katy, ¿vas al baño much no? ¿Qué onda chica?” That was an awkward convo..anyways. She told me and Jesse that we can’t use a lot of toilet paper because we kill too many trees. In my honest opinion however, I don’t waste the paper. And I feel they are so used to having only 2 people in their house all the time that they forget what it’s like to have FOUR people in a house! Stuff goes twice as fast when you have twice as many people!!!

15. Cross walks don’t mean anything and sidewalks are for Vespa’s.
I can see how even in the US you have to be careful in a cross walk because some people just don’t look, but here it’s a completely different story. I was walking back from class the other day, light turned green for the pedestrians so people started walking. All of a sudden 3 cars just decided they would like to turn right in front of all these people! And then they honked at us for having the right of way! It’s like they were mad we were actually following the street signs! (which is something very rare here).

Vespa’s….I’m starting not to like them. Sidewalks so not mean you can use them to cut in front of traffic!! I swear anywhere you walk here you see your life flash in front of you at least 3 times a day.

16. Many buildings are not handicap accessible.
It’s not that they have a problem with handicap people/survival of the fittest thing, it’s just the buildings here are so old they don’t have room to put elevators in! With no ramps I suppose it’s another form of exercise.

17. I can’t watch any of my favorite shows over here.
I seriously think I’ve been having some Jersey Shore withdraw lately. I have no idea what American TV is even up to anymore!! Much less Snooki and the gang! I’ve looked all over to find just one episode..I went to the MTV website too, but they don’t offer their videos to people in other countries!! I AM AN AMERICAN HERE! I deserve to have my Jersey Shore. :(((((( Not to mention other random shows that I kept up with over the summer. They have no idea how badly my heart has been crushed.

18. They eat bread all the time 24/7.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner…bread, bread, bread. And it’s not like sandwich bread, it’s like the two foot loaves you buy at a bakery! I usually only eat like that when I go out to dinner in the states. But here it’s mandatory. Toast in the morning is fine, but bread all the time? That can’t be healthy. My host family swears by it, but I’m not sold. They say it’s healthy for you..and yes it is, but I would also like to have some semi clean arteries by the time I get back! Not to mention I don’t want to come back a cow either.

I wonder if Spain will ever cease to amaze me. Probably not. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

All I want for September...

Really?? It’s only September 12?? Seriously?! It seems like I’ve been here for 2 months not two weeks..It’s time to say “Adios” to September and “Hola” to October. :)

September for me is one of those months that just needs to go. No one really likes September anyways. School usually starts then, it’s still too hot to be called fall, a big national tragedy for the United States occurred on a September day, and there are no cool holidays to celebrate during this month. LAME.

Even Spain the country with the most national holidays has nothing good to say about September. There are so many bank holidays here it’s a little ridiculous. Every month has like 2 or 3 bank days where the banks close and so does school. How cool is that?! Not cool if you need money, but a day without school? I can definitely live with that. And best of all they have some days called “el Puente” or bridge days. What’s a bridge day? Well let me enlighten you…let’s say a bank holiday falls on a Monday and another on a Wednesday. Tuesday becomes a “bridge” day and they give you that day off too. :) Just another Spanish way of leaving everything for “manaña”.

I know I said school usually starts in September, but I guess that’s a rule only for the US. The University of Sevilla doesn’t even start classes until the 24th of September! And it’s on a Friday so I’m not even sure they do much on that day. How much can you really teach the day before a weekend? Soooo technically my real first day of Spanish school will start the 27th of September. THAT’S ALMOST OCTOBER. Once school finally starts and I actually have something to do in the middle of the day instead of wasting away my brain on facebook, I’m almost 100% positive my life will finally start to pick back up at a normal pace.

As a personal fan of the holiday in October, the weather, and the overall vibe of this month I would like to grant it permission to arrive in Spain anytime it wants. And the world for that matter. Not sure if anyone agrees with me on this subject, but it’s been on my mind a lot. I’m at that point in my life again where I want time to speed up and get me out of this month. I think I’m having déjà vu from June…

Everyone wish for October! Ready? 1….2….3!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

School In Spain

Come to find out school here in Spain really isn’t that much different than the school at home in America. I’ve found many parallels between my life overseas and my life in AZ. I guess some things never change.
1. You get lost the first day. (and even the ones after)

2. I’m always late. (It STARTS at 9 so I have to leave at like 8:30, which means I’m up by 7:45. Not very good with the Spanish life style here of stay out til 1:30 am.)

3. It’s hard to stay awake during a grammar lesson.

4. You still have to write papers.

We haven’t gotten out schedule for the actual “university” classes yet, but hopefully soon as we start the university schooling in about a week and a half. The course I’m in now is a 3 ½ hour class where they teach you grammar and speaking skills. It’s called an intensive course I’m assuming bc of its long hours, but it’s nothing I haven’t learned before. It feels a bit like high school again, with the exception that it’s in another country. :) Hopefully the college courses will be better.

Later today we get to go out and meet actual Spanish ppl! :o It’s called “Salir con Españoles.” They are gonna take us to the non-touristy parts of Spain where all the locals go to actually enjoy their country. Should be interesting. Hopefully I’ll find a lot of cool places so that when ya’ll come out to visit me I’ll know exactly where to go. :)

It’s weird to think I still have such a long time out here, but they say time flies. In some regards I hope their right, but I still want this experience to last a while. Wish my friends and family could be here!!!!

Cadiz on the weekend?? And next week to Lisbon!! Look out Portugal! Here I come!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Interesting/weird/random things I’ve noticed about Spain…

1.  They don’t believe in washcloths. 
                       So far every single hotel we’ve stayed in they have bath towels, hand towels, and even a bath mat but never a wash cloth.  As a strict user of the wash cloth I was quite disappointed in this.  Good thing I packed my own set of towels!!
2.  The toilets never flush with handles, but with small buttons either on the top of the toilet or even sometimes on the wall.
                        Not sure who thought of this idea, but it’s interesting.  It’s not something that bothers me, but I did have trouble figuring it out the first time I saw one. 
3.  If taking a tour bus or any other kind of bus that does long haul rides from one city to another, the bus driver has to take a 45 min break every 4 hours.
                        No joke!  When we went from Madrid to Sevilla our ISA directors informed us of this.  We had a 7 ½ hour bus ride from Madrid to Sevilla which meant a 45 min stop during our trip.  Apparently the buses here have little timers on them so the drivers know how long they have been driving and it also records your hours so it knows if they went over the 4 hour limit.  If you do it reports you somehow and just ends up being a big hassle.  I know in the states there is some law like this too, but this one just seemed really intense. 
4.  Spanish food has less fat than American food.
                        Even though everything here is cooked in some kind of oil, it’s actual olive oil and not some cheap stuff they use at a mcdonalds.  Not to mention that even if it was fattening you would probably burn off all those calories just by walking!  They walk everywhere.  (See fact 6 for more info.)
5.  It is impossible to find an actual meal for dinner.
                        They have really big lunches here and late ones too, around 2-3, which probably contributes to the not so big dinners.  They eat “tapas” which are like small plates with about as much food as an appetizer.  That’s all fine and dandy for them, but I always end up hungry again even after I eat dinner!!! So I’ve started to order more than one “tapa” for dinner and end up looking like a fat kid with all the food in front of me.  But then again since we know from reading fact 4 that Spanish food has less fat it’s also less filling and therefore, doesn’t stay in your stomach as long.  Hence the reason I’m always hungry. 
6.  They never stop walking.
                        Everything to them is “muy cerca, muy cerca”  (very close), but in reality it’s like a 40 min walk.  I like walking, but 40 min is not close.  Not for me.  Walking across ASU is a far walk and that’s only like 25 min! 
7.  Water is not free.
                        If you go to a restaurant and order a water they bring you a bottled water and charge like 1,40 euros.  They don’t give you water out of the tap.  It’s just not done.  Everyone drinks bottled water, and pays for it too.
8.  Milk is not refrigerated.
                        Yep…..gonna have to tell my host mom that I don’t really like it..it’s all warm and….bleh…hope she’s not offended!!
9.  There is no peanut butter here.
                        My host mom was telling me about this one student she had that brought her peanut butter and how it was the best thing ever.  I asked her if they had it out here and she said no!  Idk if my dad would be able to survive out here..no refrigerated milk and no peanut butter..

I’ll keep you all updated on the interesting things I find in Spain.  :)  I’m sure there will be more to come.        

Friday, September 3, 2010


Wow. Toledo is amazing.  It’s such an old city! We took a walking tour today and saw some pretty amazing sights.  Toledo is more than 3000 years old and had a fairly large history even in the B.C. days!!  We walked in a cathedral “San Juan de los Reyes” built by Fernando and Isabel in like 1470 something, and then walked into a synagogue built by the Arabic’s in like the 1300s, saw Greco’s master piece, and walked up and down cobblestone roads barely wide enough for people!  The architecture here is phenomenal.  I’m just amazed at the fact that they were even able to build stuff like that way back then!! It’s not like they had cranes or automatic machinery that would make the job any easier..it’s just unreal.  Every time we visit an attraction it literally feels like I’m going back in time.  These sites are just the same as they were 700 years ago.  Nothing about these buildings has been replaced, maybe a few paint jobs here and there, but the foundation, walls, statues, carvings, everything else is still the original piece!! Now a days we can’t even get our cell phones to stay intact!  These monuments have with stood time and weather like it’s no big deal!  Hopefully they will last for a long time to come.

Oh! Note about the phone, to actually get connected to call my cell phone you have to dial…

And last but not least, for those of you who don’t have a facebook and want to see pictures of my spain trip I've decided to create a photo bucket account so that you can see as well. :)  You'll have to give me a couple days tho.  Be patient.  I move on Spanish time now :) Hope all is well!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

El Grupo ISA

El Grupo ISA
Finally got to meet the ISA group yesterday.  There’s a big mix of people from jocks to bros, nerds to preps.  It’s an interesting crowd about 40 strong.  And that’s not even all of us yet!  The people that are here now are here bc they are taking an intensive Spanish class to get them ready for the classes at the university.  We look like complete tourists when we go out since our large group of loudly speaking English kids draws a lot of attention.  Although I tried so hard to blend in it’s a dead give away when we all grab for our cameras when we see a cool building.  Surprisingly not many kids in this program speak much or any Spanish at all! I KNOW RIGHT.  Most kids know four words really well…
1. Cerveza
2. Baño
3. Hola
4. Gracias
  I definitely thought that there would be a lot of kids here who knew Spanish well and were gonna go take their classes in Spanish.  Apparently, that’s not the case. 
There are three universities here, Pablo de Olavide, Universidad Internacional Menendez-Pelayo, and La Universidad de Sevilla.  Most of the people I’ve meet so far are going to Pablo de Olavide. L  Not too many people are actually going to the Universidad de Sevilla even tho all the schools are in the city.  Pablo and Menendez-Pelayo are schools for “extranjeros” or foreigners whereas the Universidad de Sevilla is more for those who know Spanish well and want classes in Spanish (AKA. Me.)  Oh well, maybe I’ll be able to meet some Spaniards!  It just kinda sucks bc the friends that I’ve made here so far I won’t have any classes with. 
Although shocked by the number of kids that don’t speak any spanish it gave me more confidence in mine when me and maybe 2 other kids would translate for someone.  At least I’m better off than them!  Only down side to always having to translate for the ISA kids is that they only speak English.  Haven’t been able to practice much Spanish with them, but when we get to Sevilla I know I’ll be speaking it all the time at home. Yay!
On Thursday we saw the Prado Museum and El Palacio Real (ROYAL palace..not REAL palace).  They we so amazing.  Unfortunately Spain doesn’t like to share its secrets with the world so I have no pictures to show of these two trips.  Not pictures were allowed.  I’m sure you could google these names however and see some amazing pics.  This country continues to amaze me with all of its sights and sounds.  Can’t wait for Toledo tomorrow!!

PS. GOT A PHONE.  Call me. :)  Not sure what it costs you but here’s the number.  It’s prolly best to use a calling card somehow.  I get free incoming calls from around the world so this will be the cheapest way to talk if ya’ll call me.  Can’t wait to see you all again!