Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I'm back in America now! Home sweet home. I started slacking a little towards the end with keeping up to date on everything I did... May slipped by faster than I realized. Since Morocco, I also went to Paris for 3 days (incredible, minus the stomach virus I caught on the way home), Segovia and La Granja for the day, and Toledo. I had a great time in all of these places and I especially loved Toledo. It was breathtakingly beautiful and was full of rich Spanish history that you could almost feel just by walking down the street.

Our final weekend in Alcala was probably the best weekend of my life so far. Once finals were over, we had nothing to do but spend time with each other and the place we had grown to love. Some highlights from the final weekend:

Thursday - CrusaCrawl
Each room made a special drink to share with everyone and then the whole group went from room to room. The final stop, once we took the 2p to the Plaza (singing obnoxious American anthems the whole way), was haircuts hosted by the homestays. We chose the Don Quijote statue as the ideal spot because of its great significance as a mainstay in countless drunken photos. There was a fair amount of chaos involving uprooting a tree at a World Heritage site, but nothing our group wasn't used to. Then we made our way to Cancan where they had shirts honoring our final night there.

Friday - Closing Ceremony, dinner in Madrid with MJ and our professors, JOY
Our closing ceremony at CIFF marked the official end of our academics in Spain. Matt and John gave a little speech (stand up routine?) that was hilarious. Audrey made a great slideshow of pictures and videos that summed up our semester wonderfully! Afterwards, we hung around, had some tapas and drinks and relished the beautiful weather. Later that night we all met in Madrid for a final dinner with Maria Jose, Ivan, Tanguy, and Lindsey. I'm definitely going to miss paid-for-by-Loyola dinners! We convinced them all (except Lindsey) to come out with us after to Joy, one of our favorite places on Fridays. We all had a blast and Tanguy was especially hilarious with his dancing! I never had him since I wasn't in the marketing class but he was so entertaining at Joy that I almost wish I took that class to see what he's like on a regular basis.

Since we weren't able to make the annual spring Craigsfest, we decided to have our own Spanish version. The day was beautiful so we were able to hang out on the balcony of the boys' room. Everyone tye-dyed shirts and wore them around. Even though we just hung out, played games, and danced I had a blast! It was definitely 10x more fun than Craigsfest has ever been and I couldn't imagine a better way to end the semester.

If you couldn't tell already, I miss Spain so much! The people I went abroad with were so fantastic and I can't imagine what my experience would have been like if they weren't all there. I made so many great friends, had the time of my life, got to explore new cultures and people. This is an experience I will never forget and I am so glad I took the opportunity to spend the past 4.5 months learning about myself and others in Spain! Ya echo de menos, España. Hasta luego, porque no puedo decir adiós.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


That would be Arabic for Morocco! (or Maroc, or Marruecos, depending on where you’re from). Which is in AFRICA, in case you didn’t know. I’ve now been to 3 different continents! Exciting. Although I realized that Morocco is much more Middle Eastern than African in terms of culture, architecture, language, etc. We arrived in Tangier in the early afternoon on Friday, a quick flight despite the 2 hour time difference. The owner of the house we were renting sent for a big van to pick up all 14 of us from the airport (which could hardly be considered an airport – it was much more like a single hanger.) Our driver’s name was Chergy, which was absolutely hilarious. Anyone else think of Fergie? Hence his new nickname, Chergalicious. We were driven to Assilah, our town along the coast. Our house was located inside the Medina, which is the old part of town, walled off from the rest of the stores and restaurants. I couldn’t even contain my excitement when we got to our house. The view from Caitlin and I's room: It was absolutely incredible. Three floors with ocean views and a rooftop terrace where we watched the sun set over the water every night. I know I’ve said this after every trip we’ve taken, we this has been incredible!! The weather was perfect – hot but not scorching and sunny every day. We had two women that cook and clean for us. We got breakfast, which consisted of strawberries, jam, these thin crepe-type pancakes, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee, and dinner! The first night we had cous-cous, the second night fish, the third beef and the last night chicken. It was all SO delicious.

Every day consisted of roughly the same thing – we wake up, eat our great breakfast, and then either tan on the terrace or shop in the Medina (pictured below), eat an incredible dinner and then hang out for the rest of the night and play cards. The group has been so much fun. There was 8 of us in our house and then 6 more in the house around the corner. Our house was bigger so we would mostly hang out there. One day we decided to venture out of our routine and go into town to find someone to take us to Paradise Beach, a beautiful private beach we heard about. Instead of taking a taxi, we got these horses pulling flat, wooden carts to take us. We didn’t realize how far the beach was and it was so rocky we kept thinking we were going to fall off! It was such a funny adventure though. The beach was so beautiful, which made the whole trip worth it. There was only one other group on the beach – a bunch of older Spanish women. Our drivers stayed and hung out with us, playing hacky sack and stuff. The water was great and so refreshing. The whole day was amazing. I was pretty bummed to have to leave.

In many ways, Morocco was exactly how I expected it to be but it’s different to expect something and then experience it for yourself. This was my first time in a predominantly Muslim Arab country and it made me realize how little I understand about their culture. We obviously stood out since we’re light-skinned and none of us girls have been covering ourselves like women in their culture do. It’s very rare to see a woman in town, much less one with her shoulders, hair, and knees exposed. They definitely understand that we’re tourists but it doesn’t stop them from staring and making comments.

It was great to get a relaxing trip where we weren’t rushing around trying to see everything we possibly could in a short amount time. This was exactly what I needed before getting bogged down with final exams and papers approaching!

Viaje a Galicia, El Escorial, y Madrid con Papá

Dad arrived Thursday morning while I was still in class and managed to make to Alcala fine, following my directions! We had planned a trip that night for Galicia, which is the northwestern most providence of Spain, right above Portugal. We were set to fly out of Madrid that night. After I got out of class, I met him in the plaza and we stopped back at my apartment to drop his luggage off and introduce him to Eleu! We got some tapas in town before walking around Alcala. I showed him all the important stuff, which didn’t take too long! We got to go into Cervantes’ house and museum and inside the University of Alcala, which is beautiful. Then we headed into Madrid to catch our plane to Santiago. During this time, we heard about the volcano in Iceland that had erupted and was causing issues in Northern Europe in terms of travel. The airport was a madhouse, with people waiting everywhere. Luckily, our flight wasn’t impacted but it was such a process waiting in line for our passport checks and then getting on the flight itself. It took off about an hour after it was scheduled to, but given the trouble in the rest of Europe, that wasn’t bad. The airport was chaotic and Dad was exhausted from his previous red-eye flight the night before so we were both relieved to finally be on our way.

The weather forecast wasn’t too great for A Coruña, which is located where the sea meets the Atlantic Ocean at the northwestern most part of Spain. It turns out that we had a great day and the weather was perfect! Sunny and warm. We walked around the coast and the city all day, just enjoying everything. The view of the water, especially from our hotel and the Torre do Hercules, was so blue. I’ve never seen the Atlantic look so beautiful! Spending the day here was a great idea. We went to the Torre do Hercules, the oldest still working Roman lighthouse from the 2nd Century, and climbed to the top. We also saw the Town Hall building in the Plaza de Maria Pita (pictured below) and countless churches and convents which were so old and beautiful. There were so many scattered around the modern city. We struggled a little to find a new restaurant for dinner since there were tons of bars and cafes but no nice, sit-down restaurants. We ended up at a tapas place which was good because we got to try pulpo, which is octopus, a Galician specialty. It was actually very good.

Our next day consisted mainly of traveling since we were flying back out of Santiago, a 45 minute train ride away from A Coruña. Our flight was in the afternoon, so we had just enough time to stop by the Cathedral in Santiago, which is magnificent. St. James is actually buried there and it is the destination of one of the most popular pilgrimages in the world – the Way of St. James, through Spain. It would have been nice to go inside, but we didn’t know what awaited us at the airport so we didn’t want to be late! Everything worked out fine and we were back in Alcala in time for dinner.

That Sunday was one of Maria Jose’s trips to El Escorial, which is right outside of Madrid. El Monasterio de El Escorial is one of the richest historical locations in Spain because of the period that it represents. During the reign of Felipe II in the 16th Century, the Spanish Empire was the most powerful in the world. In many ways, El Escorial is a symbol of not only its creator, Felipe II, but of Spain. At his time in the history of Spain, the king wielded the most power. As the Spanish Empire grew in the Americas, King Felipe II wanted to build a monument to the incredible power of Spain in the world and give due credit to God, who enabled it. The theme that was reiterated many times by our tour guide was the Felipe’s intentions in building the Monastery was so that ‘kings would live like monks, and monks would live like kings.’ This was very evident in the décor of the palace section. Felipe’s rooms were surprisingly small and unadorned. Everything was very plain and he appeared to live very simply. It was interesting to compare this to the current Royal Palace in Madrid which I have been inside. It is the exact opposite of the palace in El Escorial. Although we were not able to see it, the actual monastery is much more ornate and decorative than the king’s quarters.

One of the important parts of the Monastery is the Basilica, which is the focal point of El Escorial. It was modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome and has the same layout and structure, but on a smaller scale. The Basilica was beautiful and the altar piece was especially impressive. The frescos on the ceiling show the different styles of painting used over the time the monastery was built. It is very clear that the main motivation behind the monastery was religious and Felipe II put a lot of effort into making sure that was apparent. The whole building is dedicated to San Lorenzo, who helped the Spaniards to win an important battle. Therefore, the monastery is a tribute to him. What I found interesting was that even the structure and shape of the outside pays homage to the way San Lorenzo was executed – on a grill. The altar of the Basilica is actually the handle of the grill and 11 meters below is the Royal Mausoleum.

The mausoleum under the monastery houses most of the royal families of the past, with a special chamber for the kings and queens, beginning with Carlos all the way through the current royal family. Juan Carlos and Sofia are the only ones that will not be buried there due to lack of space. The design of the room is much more elaborate and does not fix with the rest of the interior of the monastery. This is because Felipe II’s father, Carlos, was actually the one who requested this type of room be created before his death. It was incredible to be in the room with all of the past monarchs of Spain since the 16th Century. The other big section of the monastery is the library, which contains many of the forbidden books of the Spanish Inquisition. At the time, anything written that challenged the Catholic Church was banned, but Felipe II kept a portion of the books in the library in El Escorial. Another interesting fact about the library is that the ceiling was painted to look like the Sistine Chapel, except it also served a practical function as a system of dividing the library into sections by subject such as philosophy, theology, mathematics, etc. It contains many very old texts, protected by the way they are shelved, which is different from usual. Instead of having the spines face outward, they are faced inward, against the wood where the leather protects against the moisture from the walls and thus preserves them longer. It was a great learning experience for me, especially after studying the architecture of the monastery in my Spanish Art History Class.

Monday we went in to Madrid for the day and I gave Dad my own walking tour, starting in Plaza Mayor and working our way to the Royal Palace. After that, we went to Retiro Park and walked around for a while. It turned out to be another beautiful day so it was nice to be outside. That night we went to this great sushi place that Mike had found before and taken us to. It was delicious! The next day we went back into Madrid after an adventure trying to find a new way to get to Dad’s hotel which led us through the town of Coslada searching for a taxi. We eventually got back in to Madrid, grabbed a bite to eat at VIPS and headed to the Prado Museum. After that, we went to Ventas, where the Plaza del Toro is but unfortunately tours for the day were already over so we could only see it from the outside. We definitely crammed a lot into the six days that he was here visiting but it worked out really well! It was incredible to see Dad since I miss him and my family so much! If only Dusty could have came…

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Póg mo thóin!

Eleanora and I had our first trip without most of the normal group and it was wildly successful! (She gets the credit, since I took a backseat in planning this, and most of our other trips…) But we both agreed that Dublin was one of our favorite places we visited and we’re SO glad we choose to go there instead of Amsterdam with the rest of the group. We arrived in Dublin around 7:30 and grabbed the shuttle to our hostel, which was right along the Liffey River in South Dublin. Our first encounter with the Irish people who were so friendly and helpful was the bus driver who stopped right at our hostel even though it wasn’t on his route! Everywhere we went, I was surprised by the friendliness of all the Irish we met. I instantly felt comfortable in the city. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and checked in before heading to Mom and Aunt Nancy’s hotel. Since it was just the two of us, we decided to go for the cheapest room which was with 4 other random people. Definitely a true hostel experience! But more about that later. We went to their hotel and Mom went out to dinner with us. Since they had been there for 2 days before we got there, she already had a favorite fish and chips place which was perfect for what we were looking for. It was sad saying goodbye after dinner but I know it’s not too much longer now before I go home and I had a great time while they were here!
The next morning we got up early for breakfast (toast and coffee) before heading to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour. I really enjoyed the tour and we got a pint of Guinness at the end, which was good after hearing how it was made. I think I appreciated it more. We also got a nice view of Dublin from the top of the storehouse. Before heading to our next stop, Kilmainham Gaol, we stopped at a little family run pub for lunch. It had a great authentic feel to it and I’m sure we stuck out obnoxiously with our big Guinness Store bags. We headed to the Jail (Gaol) after lunch. I knew it was a famous jail and a must-see in Dublin, but I didn’t know a whole lot about Irish history going into it. Our tour guide was really interesting and told us about the prisoners that were held there, especially during the Irish Civil War and during the Easter risings of 1916. Many were political prisoners that were held and executed there. It’s also been the set of over 80 films and I thought the east wing looked vaguely familiar. Lots of interesting history that I didn’t know about previously. After the jail we tried to go to the Jameson factory but we realized we’d get there too late so we headed back to the hostel to freshen up before getting dinner. For dinner we went to a highly rated Japanese restaurant (I know, but we had 4 whole days to eat Irish food, right?) because we were both craving sushi so bad! This was the night we went all out – drinks, multiple courses, desserts, the whole nine yards. All of it was delicious. After dinner we didn’t really know what to do. We were full and tired but didn’t want to miss out on the night scene. On the way back to the hostel we saw the one pub, Fitzgerald’s, playing live music so we decided to stop in for a pint. The duo singing was a riot! They played some Irish songs mixed with pop tunes. Pink Floyd and Britney Spears mashup? Amazing. Eleanora and I each had a pint of Bulmers, an Irish cider, so good. After leaving the bar we talked the whole way home about how we could see ourselves living here. I seriously loved Ireland and it would be great to move back after college! Not sure how feasible it is, but I’m keeping the possibility open.
The next morning we woke up and went on a walking tour that hit most of the main stuff in the city: Dublin Castle, St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, Christ King Church, Temple Bar, etc. It was such a good tour and it helped me to understand and appreciate Irish history even more. After the tour we took the train to Houth, a fishing village on the coast. They had a great farmer’s market where I got the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. It was so huge but I had to get dessert too because they looked amazing, obviously. We sat on the rocks for a while and looked out at the ocean. It was so beautiful. Later, still stuffed, we decided to go to the movies instead of dinner. It was great to go to a theater and know the movies would be in their original format! Read: English. We saw Remember Me – really good, but a little sad! Before heading home we stopped at a place in Temple Bar for a pint.
Our third full day in Ireland was great because we got to see the actual countryside. We took a day tour to Wicklow and Glendalough in the south of Ireland, near the coast. The views were incredible – the coastline, the mountains, the green farmlands, the lakes, waterfalls, etc. were fantastic examples of nature’s raw beauty. Many of the places we stopped were the scenes of movies such as Braveheart, P.S. I Love You, Excalibur, and Reign of Fire, just to name a few. We also saw Bono’s huge mansion on the coast, still under construction, and Van Morrison’s house as well. We stopped for lunch in a little town called Larough where I ate Beef and Guinness Stew – delicious! Our tour guide was a little old Irish man who tooks all through these towns and St. Kevin’s Monastery where, of course, I took tons of pictures for Dad. It made me really interested in my family history since I know my great-grandparents were from Ireland. We got back from the tour in perfect time to catch the last tour of the day at the Jameson distillery. Free whiskey tasting at the end and a free glass of whiskey… can’t beat it! We got to taste the difference between Jameson, Jack Daniels, and a premium Scotch. All very strong but I could definitely taste the differences. For dinner that night we went to the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin. Really great atmosphere at the place and we ended up hanging around for a while after dinner. Later we went to Temple Bar and watched song live music before calling it a night.
I mentioned earlier the ‘true hostel experience’ that we had and there’s no other way to say it! When we first went to our room, no one was there but there was bags and stuff on the beds/in the bathroom and the first thing we noticed was that there was all male products. Later that night when we got back from dinner, two of our roommates were already asleep in the first two beds. One was bald and heavily tattooed; the other was gray-haired and rather large. We climbed up to bed and went to sleep anyway. The next morning when we woke up, all of our roommates were already gone so we took our time getting ready. When we were almost ready to leave, a guy around our age came in and introduced himself. He was from Germany but spoke great English. Another girl came in while we were talking and got right in the shower so we didn’t really get to meet her. Those two and Grandpa (our affectionate nickname for the large gray-haired Irishman) were only there that first night, but Jared, tattooed, bald guy who we later found out lives in Barcelona and enjoys yoga and meditation, was there all 4 nights that we were. The next day we got another round of randoms that we never met. Our last night there, Ramon, moved in. He was a Spaniard from the Basque Country, but he had lived in France for a while and was currently moving to England to get his International MBA. He was really nice so I forgave him for the awful snoring… All-in-all quite a different experience for us, but an enjoyable one! It was great to meet so many different characters.

Please look at my pictures! http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2039684&id=1091100120&l=d8f4a18a51

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Semana Santa y Pascua con mi familia

Holidays here are a little weird because they don't feel like holidays at home because I'm so far away but Easter this year was incredible. Having Mom and Auntie Nan here with me for it was truly a blessing. We to Mass in the Cathedral Magistral in Alcala after the procession of Jesus and Mary floats. We had great seats up front and I was able to understand most of it. After Mass, we went to Cafe Hemispherio for drinks and tapas and I forced Mom and Aunt Nan to try chorizo and tortilla. I showed them around Alcala the rest of the day. Luckily the weather was beautiful so everything looked that much better. We finished the day with drinks at Burrito, a favorite spots of those of us studying here.

Monday morning we went in to Madrid and I showed them Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and the Cathedral. We took a tour of the Royal Palace, which was incredible because we only saw 22 of the 2800 rooms but they were so amazingly decorated in a beautiful Baroque style. For lunch we went to Mercado San Miguel, a market that's been in that spot since the Middle Ages and has all different kinds of foods to eat. I had them try torrijas, a Semana Santa specialty dessert, and churros y chocolate. We finished the day walking through Retiro Park, one of my favorite spots to relax and enjoy the weather on a nice day.

Tuesday they came to Alcala to have lunch with Eleu. She had ham, cheese, and salmon and cream cheese as appetizers and she even got out wine for the special occasion of having guests. The main course was a seafood paella, which was delicious! Mom and Aunt Nan didn't stop complimenting the food the whole time. For dessert we had strawberries and cream. It was such a great lunch and I'm so glad they got to meet each other! After, I headed back to Madrid with them since we were going to see a Flamenco Show that night. Mom wanted to go to the Prado Museum so we were able to do that before dinner. I gave her the cliffnotes tour of the masterpieces in the Museum and my favorites. We got back to the hotel and dressed for the show. We got some dinner in Plaza Santa Ana before the show, which was incredible! We had a great table right near the stage so we had a great view. All of the dancers and musicians were fantastic and all 3 of us really enjoyed it.

The next morning they left to spend the last few days of their trip in Ireland, where I met up with Mom for dinner one last time in Dublin before they had to head home.

Barcelona - Gaudi, Mi familia, y un noche de bailando

Well suffice it to say I was exhausted coming into Barcelona after gallivanting around Italy for a week. But I heard Barcelona was a great city so I was excited to visit. Not to mention Mom and Aunt Nan were meeting me there!

We met Maria Jose at the train station in Madrid Thursday morning and I somehow managed to get there on time despite forgetting to change my clock for daylight savings. We took the AVE train, which is the high speed train, which was so nice. We got to our hotel and guess who was right next door to me and Eleanora?? Mom and Aunt Nan! How absurd? Obviously it was amazing to see them! We spent the rest of the day together getting food and walking around the city. That night we planned to go to the Ice Bar so of course, Mom came with. She had a blast there so we went to the club afterwards with a bunch of people and danced the rest of the night away! We all had a really good time and I'm glad she came out with us.

We got up early Friday for a guided bus/walking tour of the city, but mainly the architect Gaudi's buildings. I love his Art Noveau style so I really enjoyed seeing the buildings he designed, especially Guell Park (first picture below) and the Sagrada Familia church (second picture below) which is still under construction and not expected to be done until 2030.
Friday we also went to lunch at Els Quatre Gats, the famous hangout for Picasso and other intellectuals and artists of the period. Saturday we went to the Picasso Museum which was pretty neat. I liked seeing the progression of his paintings. After, Connor, Eleanora, Caitlin and I went to the Olympic Village where the 1992 Summer Olympics were held. Barcelona was an incredible city but I couldn't wait to get home to show Mom and Auntie Nan around Alcala and Madrid!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ciao bella!

‘Vamos a Italia, a mi me gusta pizza’
My long awaited trip to Italy has come and gone! Six days, four cities, lots of friends and sights to see. Almost all of our Spain group decided to take this trip so there was about 35 of us flying out of Madrid Thursday afternoon right after Literature class. Our flight was delayed a while but we landed in Rome around 8:30/9. After taking the train to Roma Termini, the main station, we were able to walk to our hostel near Barbarini. Adam was waiting for us when we got to our hostel, Ciao Bella, so we checked in and freshened up a little before heading to the Spanish Steps to meet the rest of our friends studying in Rome and head to some of their usual bar spots. We passed the Pantheon on the way… no big deal? So crazy! It was so much fun to see my friends though! The next day we got up early to go to Vatican City where we went to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. Being able to see Michelangelo’s most famous work in person was incredible. It’s so big and detailed! We weren’t able to take pictures, but even if we could have, it wouldn’t do it justice. It was such a prayerful place – obviously, I got shushed by the guards more than once. Afterwards, we met up with Laura, Camille, and some of the people we came with for a little and then went to lunch with Adam and his friend. They took us to their favorite restaurant and I got amazing Spinach Ravioli. We then walked around the Castillo San Angelo and wandered the streets for a while; of course stopping for gelato near the school the Rome kids go to. We then took the metro to the Trevi Fountain and I threw a euro penny in! I finally got to see the real one after so many years of seeing the fake one at the Italian Festival, haha. Then we headed to the Spanish Steps and climbed to the top before grabbed dinner at a piazza for dinner. The food was definitely one of my favorite parts of Italy (as my wallet can attest to…) so of course I got pizza. So delicious. That night the Rome kids found a pub crawl for us to do which was a lot of fun. It was great to hang out with other Loyola kids abroad. Saturday morning, Caitlin, Eleanora, and I woke up early to get in line to see St. Peter’s Basilica. The line was really long but it moved fast so we were able to get in. I immediately got chills walking into St. Peter’s. This is the physical center of Catholicism and my faith. Words cannot describe how incredible it was to just be in this holy place. We went into a side chapel where Benediction was held and I said prayers for everyone I could think of! I could have spent hours in there. After leaving the Basilica, we went underneath to the tombs of Popes. The most meaningful to me was definitely John Paul II’s tomb. We stopped and said a prayer and I still cannot believe we were so close to someone I look up to as a religious hero. After the tombs, we climbed the dome of the Basilica (only 515 stairs…) and saw all of Rome from the top. It was cool trying to point out historical monuments. After leaving Vatican City, we went to the Roman Forum, which is one of the oldest places in Rome where the city actually originated. We saw the remains of Caesar’s tomb, the Senate building, the Temple of Saturn and a bunch of other meeting places. Palatine Hill, where Rome is said to be founded by Romulus, was also there. Next we headed to the Coliseum. It amazes me how old everything is! I finally was able to see all these places I’ve learned about in history for so many years. The Coliseum was amazing. I could actually picture the ancient Romans sitting around the stadium and watching games with gladiators and animals. Unbelievable. Since we still had a few hours before needing to catch our train to Florence, we met up with some of the Rome kids for gelato at the Trevi Fountain. Although I was excited to go to Florence, Rome was so amazing that I didn’t want to leave!
Saturday night we took the train to Florence to continue our Tour di Italia! We got in around 9:30 and headed to our hostel before meeting up with our friends studying there. They took us to a few different places and we all had a lot of fun catching up and just hanging out. The next day we got up leisurely and decided to spend the day relaxing a little and just enjoying being in Florence and walking around the city without having a specific plan in mind. We had pizza for lunch, and the gelato and waffle for desert. We walked through the San Lorenzo market which had tons of beautiful leather items. I went back the next day and got a leather side-strap purse. Since it was Palm Sunday, we went to Mass at the Duomo, which is the big Cathedral in Florence. Even though the Mass was in Italian and we couldn’t really understand it, it was a neat experience. We then went out to dinner and I had the best meal in all the time I spent it Italy. Connor, Tara, Caitlin and I met up with Connor’s cousin at the restaurant and we all spent a few hours enjoying a three course Italian dinner. I got salad with pears and prosciutto and a sweet Italian dressing, then gnocchi in a rose sauce, then strawberries in custard. Such an amazing meal! I’m definitely going to miss Italian food back in Spain (nothing against Eleu’s cooking!). The next day we got up and planned to see actual sights in Florence! First we stopped at a great sandwich place and ate lunch on the steps of the Duomo before climbing the Bell Tower to the top. After that, we walked towards the Pontevecchio which is a really old bridge, stopping on the way to see one of the two fake David statues in Florence (the real one is by Michelangelo). Then we crossed over the Arno River and went to Piazza Michelangelo which has one of the best views of Florence. That’s also where the other fake David was. We walked back over via the Pontevecchio and stopped at the San Lorenzo market where I got a purse, and Caitlin and Tara both got beautiful leather jackets. We went to a buffet for dinner since our wallets were starting to hurt a little at this point and we needed an all-you-can-eat. The next morning we got up super early to get to the Accademia to see the real David by Michelangelo. After waiting in line for an hour we finally got in and it was amazing! So much larger than I originally imagined. Around 11 we headed to the train station to catch our train from Florence to Venice.
We arrived in Venice in the early afternoon and went to our hotel to freshen up and then took the bus over to the actual island of Venice. Even though it was cloudy out, I was struck by the immediate beauty of Venice. So many little allies and bridges and canals it was adorable. Everything just seemed so quaint and much smaller than I imagined. We took our time and got lost in the streets, stopping in little shops with their famous Venetian glass, we got a slice of pizza and chocolate truffles at a specialty shop. Eventually we made it to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Square, one of the main attractions in Venice. The Basilica was there but we weren’t able to go in because it was too late. The outside was beautiful though and the piazza was right on the water where there were gondolas waiting. It would have been a little too expensive to take a gondola ride but it was cool to see them all around the island. For dinner we found a little alley-way restaurant that was good – I had seafood pasta with mussels, clams, calamari, and shrimp. So good! Enough about the food? When we came out it was raining really hard so we were running through the labyrinth of small streets that didn’t seem to have any kind of pattern to them but it was still incredible. I can’t describe how much I loved just wandering around in Venice! We eventually made it back to the hotel exhausted and soaking wet but happy. The next day, unfortunately, was full of traveling. We took the train from Venice to Milan and then got lunch in Milan before heading to the airport to catch our flight back to Madrid. Of course it was delayed so I didn’t get home until after midnight.
Overall it was such an incredible trip. It went by so fast but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! It was great to see my friends that I missed and experience a new culture that I feel I’ve heard so much about but have never known firsthand. I even tried to imagine Gramps growing up somewhere like this. I loved seeing so many famous historical sights and getting to see these beautiful cities. They were all so different but amazing in their own ways. I really hope to go back some day without being so rushed!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Graduación, Mi Dedo, Sevilla, y Córdoba

I need to get better at updating more often! The past few weeks have been really crazy for me but I have a little respite now, for at least the next three days which i am greatly looking forward to. This past Wednesday was our "graduation" from Alcalingua, the language school we have been attending since our first week here. These were where we had all of our Spanish language and culture classes. Since they were much more intensive than usual, meaning they were every day for at least an hour, we finished our hour requirements after just two and a half months of class. As a Spanish minor, I was taking three classes at Alcalingua - Culture (art, history, food, literature, and film), Grammar, and Literature. Although I absolutely loved these classes and feel much stronger with my Spanish because of them, I was in class about 3.5 hours every day (not including my other two English classes). Graduation was really sweet and they called everyone up to the stage to receive our diplomas. Along with Loyola students, there's a few other American universities that have abroad programs with Alcalingua, and TONS of Asians, mainly Chinese, that also study with us. My Grammar class was split evenly with seven Americanos and seven Chinos. At first it was awkward, but by the end, we LOVED the chinos in our class! They even went out with us to Media Pinta Tuesday night. Susana, our Grammar teacher, even cried when she was giving us our diplomas! So touching. The graduation was actually held in the historical part of the University of Alcala which is beautiful. It has such a rich history too so it was pretty cool to "graduate" in there. I'm really going to miss those classes even though it'll be great to only have class twice a week. With these classes over, the only ones I have left are Literature and Theology - both in English. Theology is from 3-6 PM on Wednesdays, and Literature is 10:30-1:30 on Thursdays... which leaves five other days to travel, which I am taking full advantage of!

This past weekend we had our first trip with Maria Jose to Córdoba and Sevilla, in the autonomous community of Andalusia in the south of Spain. We left early Friday morning and took the bus first to Córdoba, which was about five hours away. We stopped in La Mancha for a restroom/coffee break, which was the setting of Don Quijote, which was pretty neat. When we got to Córdoba, we grabbed lunch on our own and walked around the old Jewish quarters of the town. The weather was absolutely beautiful and the town was incredible. Tons of little shops and tapas places. After lunch, we met back up to go to the main attraction in Córdoba - the Mosque, or "Mezquita." This is the largest remaining mosque in Europe and was built in the 8th Century when the Moors conquered Spain. Previously there had also been a Roman temple built on that spot. When the Christians reconquered Spain they ordered a Catholic Cathedral to be built where the Mosque is. It's incredible to see because of the mixture of Arab and Christian elements in one place. The inside is stunningly beautiful and the architecture and craftsmanship is so intricate. This picture shows the mix of Muslim architecture style on the right with the semi-circle red and white arches and the Christian on the left.

We got back on the bus and drove the rest of the way to Seville, about another hour and a half. We arrived around 8:30 and checked into our hotel, ABBA Triana. It was SO NICE to stay in a hotel! Eleanora and I had our own room which amazing beds, beautiful bathroom, and a GREAT breakfast buffet every morning. Quite a change from the usual hostels we stay at. We had the rest of the night to ourselves so we grabbed dinner at a little Cafeteria where we had to try a Sevilla specialty - Ox's Tail. I was a little unsure about this but it tasted phenomenal! The sauce was almost like a chili sauce and the ox's tail was really meaty and delicious. Maria Jose was so excited that we actually tried it! We went out to some of the bars along the river, which was fun and then headed back to the hotel.

The next day we got up bright and early to do a mini-bus tour of the city before going to the Alcazar Real and the Cathedral. The Alcazar was the Royal Palace where the King still vacations twice a year, build originally by the Moors so the architecture style is very Arabic. We spent over two hours walking around the rooms and the grounds. It was so beautiful and peaceful and I can see exactly why the Royal family still comes there. We did the audio guide tour which was so helpful and I learned a lot about the alcazar. Next, we went to the Cathedal. The Cathedral in Seville is the third largest in the world - only to St. Peter's in Rome, and St. Paul's in London. We climbed up all 34 flights to see the view from the tower. What was even better than the view at the top, was being able to look down on the cathedral from the top. The architecture was incredible and it was almost too much to appreciate from standing next to it. We were also able to see the tomb of (most of) Christopher Columbus. About 90% of his body was buried there in Sevilla, with the other 10% in La Havana, Cuba.

After the Cathedral, we had a group lunch on the water and had the rest of the afternoon to just hang out. That night, we went to Buddha, a big club that was made to look like an Arabic building, which was a lot of fun. Sunday we got up early again and went to the Plaza de Espana and the gardens there. We rented bike-carts and rode around the gardens which were really beautifully landscaped. Then, we went to the old Jewish quarter of Seville and walked around there for a while before loading back on the bus to go home! After about six/seven hours on the bus, we made it back to Alcala.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Necisito Puntos de Sutura?!

Quite a bit to update. Well, first things first, Thursday night I had a little accident involving a web floor and me being a klutz. I was dancing with one of my friends and I slipped on the wet floor and instinctively put my hand out of catch myself. Unfortunately I was holding a glass bottle in that hand, which smashed on the floor and cut my thumb pretty badly. I tried to wash it out and clean it but it was bleeding pretty badly so I had to go to the hospital. They gave me a few stitches and wrapped it up. The hardest thing is trying to figure out the Spanish health care system. I have health care here but I didn’t have the paper with me so I’m sure what I have to do… I have to go tomorrow to a health center around here and get it cleaned out until Monday when the stitches can come out. Looks like I’ll have a great scar to remember Spain by!

On a happier note, this weekend was so much fun! Some of my friends studying abroad in Rome came to visit! It was so great to see them, especially Laura, who I’m used to seeing and talking to every day at school. There were a lot of visitors here so it was a little crazy but I hope they had a good time. Two of my friends from home, Julie and Anna, are also visiting! They arrived Saturday. Saturday afternoon and evening I gave them a little tour of Alcala, making sure to stop for tapas, sangria, and postres. We were able to go into Cervantes’ House and Museum which was cool to see. I also took them to La Media Pinta so they could see where we hang out, especially on Tuesday nights. Then Saturday night we went out to the Chupiteria and Can-Can. Sunday morning we headed into Madrid to go to El Rastro, the big flea market in Madrid held every Sunday. We got some scarves and earrings and such. Then we went to Restaurante Botin, which is the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guiness Book of World Records. We got the suckling pig and lamb, which are their specialties. Afterwards, we went to the Prado Museum and got to see paintings by Velazquez, Goya, Ribera, Maino, Raphael, Caravaggio, El Greco, etc. It was incredible! It’s so big that we didn’t have time to do it all though so we’ll have to go back another time.

Today I showed them around Alcala a little more. We were able to go into the historical part of the University and I showed them where I go to class and all. They had to try tortilla at some point so we went to lunch right near the plaza and they got tortilla (Spanish omelet). They’re going to spend the rest of the week in Madrid – with 2 day trips to Salamanca and Toledo so there’s still much more to do!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lisboa, Portugal

This past weekend I traveled to Lisboa with Eleanora, Caitlin, Jen, Connor, and Tara. Despite the near consistent rain, I had an incredible time! Portugal is absolutely beautiful. We had another crack-of-dawn flight on Saturday morning at 7 AM but it wasn't too bad because we got to Lisbon early. We headed to our hostel - the Traveler's House which was probably the best hostel I've stayed in so far. It's set up like a row house and has a really great communal feeling. A bunch of other people from our Spain group went a few weeks ago so they were a big help in planning what we should do.

The first day we took the tram uphill to the Church of Grasa, which is an area of Lisbon. The view was incredible, you could see the entire city, the ocean, and everything. It was beautiful. We were so thankful that the sun came out so we could fully enjoy it. After, we walked to St. Vincent's Monastery and went through a flea market being held there. Next we went to the Se Cathedral before heading to St. George's Castle. Again, there was an incredible view and it was so cool to be inside a castle build in the 13-14 centuries. You could almost imagine how they defended the city hundreds of years ago.

By this time we were able to check into our hostel and shower. After all six of us were ready, we asked the reception for a good place to get inexpensive Portuguese food. I had a grilled sea bass, obviously with the head and tail still on - always a little bit of a shock even though I expect it. It was delicious though. We got dessert and headed back to the hostel for the night. We took it easy the rest of the night but had a great time. On Sunday we really wanted to do a tour of Sintra and some other places sponsored by the hostel but there were only 4 spots left for the 6 of us so Caitlin, Eleanora, Jen, and I found another tour that left in the afternoon for a cheaper price. It actually worked out perfectly because we wanted to go to Belem to see the tower and monastery over there in the morning.

We got up early Sunday morning and caught the bus to the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem. It was so beautiful. We even got to go inside the church during Mass and see Vasco de Gama's tomb which was pretty neat. We saw the Discovery Monument on the way to the Belem Tower as well. The weather cleared up just enough for us to see the Tower in all its glory. We climbed to the top and enjoyed the view. Afterwards, we went to the Pasteleis de Belem where we ate the famous pastel de Belem, a custard like pastry which was delicious. Obviously, I got two!

Next we went back to the Plaza near our hostel and caught the bus to Sintra - about 30 minutes outside of Lisbon. It's a cute town in the mountains home to the National Royal Palace. It's also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is pretty neat. The kings of Portugal used to live there. The tour guide spoke to us in Portuguese and Spanish and we were so excited that we were able to understand everything perfectly. We got some more pastries that Sintra is know for (an almond custard filled pastry and a cheescake) and headed to the Atlantic Coast. We saw the beautiful beaches and rock formations such as the Boca del Inferno (Hell's Mouth). We went to the western most point of Europe. We also stopped in Cascais, a beach town right on the water home to the biggest casino in Europe (the world?). We headed back to Lisbon and our hostel after. Overall, I had two incredible days in Portugal and I saw everything I wanted to see which makes me very happy!

Check out my pictures! http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2035686&id=1091100120&l=72395fc2bb

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mi Japonesa

Well, as promised, my Japanese "sister" moved in Tuesday! Her name is Eye, or I, or most likely spelled a very different way but that's how it sounds. Anyway, she arrived late Tuesday night and will be living with us for the next month. She seems very nice, but she speaks absolutely no Spanish OR English. The first night she was here, Eleu (my host mom) asked her, "Quieres cenar?" which means "Do you want dinner?" - a relatively simple question, but she didn't understand her so Eleu dragged her to my room and told me to ask her in English, so I did, and she still didn't understand at all. It was pretty funny because we started to mime eating motions and finally she got it. Our interactions are hilarious, I really wish someone was here to appreciate it! It's hard to imagine, but she actually makes me feel like my Spanish is pretty good. At dinner tonight I asked her if she had class today and she didn't understand so I just gave up. But she did smile a lot, so I know she's nice! It must be so hard to not understand anything. I really wish I was able to communicate with her somehow because it must be so hard having just gotten here and not understand anything. I'm sure she'll pick a little bit up from just being here, but still.

So yesterday was Ash Wednesday and I attended Mass for the first time in the Cathedral. I usually go to the Church right near my apartment but a bunch of my friends from school wanted to go and we figured this would be a great time to see the Cathedral. The Bishop had the Mass and it was pretty crowded, especially considering how large the Cathedral is. They do Ash Wednesday a little different over here, which was interesting. Instead of making the sign of the cross on your forehead with the ashes, they sprinkle them on top of your head. When I saw this, I realized why I didn't see anyone walking around with ashes during the day. It was definitely different and I felt kind of dirty afterwards with ashes in my hair. Muy interesante.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Another great weekend trip! This past Saturday and Sunday I traveled with six of my friends to Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. Valencia has a very rich history and is the third most populous city in Spain. It's right on the Mediterranean and the beach is beautiful. The have their own dialect of Spanish there so it was a little difficult to navigate but we made do!

Saturday morning I got up around 4 AM to catch a taxi to the airport for a 6:40 AM flight. We arrived in Valencia just as it was starting to get light out so we really had the full day ahead of us, which was great. It rained the whole day, which put a damper on things a little. You never realize how much the weather affects your mood until you're wondering around a foreign city in the freezing rain... The first thing we did after dropping our stuff off at the hostel was go to the Falles museum. The Falles is a Valencian tradition where every March artists from around Spain create these gigantuc cartoonish looking figures and there's a huge festival and parade around the city. At night, they light them all on fire. It's incredible to see in pictures so I can only imagine what it would be like to see it in person! I wish we could go back but we have a trip to Sevilla y Cordoba planned with Maria Jose on March 19th.

Afterward, we went to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) which has the largest aquarium in Europe. It was the perfect rainy day activity. After a little adventure on the bus, we went back to our hostel to freshen up before dinner. Since Valencia is where paella originated, we had to get that. We found a place near the Plaza de la Virgen and I shared a amazing seafood paella with Eleanora, Greg, and John. So delicious.

Sunday morning we woke up to sunshine, which was a huge relief. While the guys went to check out the soccer stadium, Callie, Caitlin, Jen, Eleanora, and I found a little coffee and tea place for breakfast. Our hostel advertised a free walking tour in English so we decided to do that. It was such a great idea. Our guide knew so much about the city's history and all the buildings she showed us were incredible. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the city now. After the tour we tried to go back to the Seu (the Cathedral) and climb the bell tower but it was closed. Huge bummer. We decided to go to the beach instead. First, though, we stopped at a Horchataria to taste Horchata, which is the official drink of Valencia made from tiger nuts. It tasted a little like sweet soy milk or something. It was good though!

We then took the metro down to the beach and it was beautiful! I only wish it had been a little warmer. I got to touch the Mediterranean though which was exciting. The boys wanted more paella so while they did that, the rest of us found a little restaurant bar near the beach and tasted Valencia's other famous drink, Agua de Valencia, which is a mixture of orange juice and lots of different alcohol. Also delicious. Next stop was to catch the bus back to Madrid!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Granada y La Alhambra

Where to begin? This weekend was definitely my favorite in Spain thus far. A group of 13 of us decided pretty last minute to go to Granada for the weekend. It's a 5 hour bus ride away, not too bad, and La Alhambra is one of the must-see attractions in Spain. Granada is located in Andalusia in the south of Spain where there is a lot of Muslim influence dating back centuries. La Alhambra is the Muslim palace/fortress that overlooks the entire city of Granada.

A group of us caught the bus from Madrid on Friday night and got into Granada around midnight. We checked into our hostel, El Granado, which was very nice and clean. The receptionist was so nice despite us getting in so late! We dropped our stuff off in the rooms and decided to go out for a little. We grabbed some food on the street and found a nice bar to hang out at. We made friends with the bartenders and had a nice, low-key night. Saturday morning we woke up decently early to walk around the Muslim part of town. It was all uphill since it's partially built into the mountains, but the view we had at the top was phenomenal.
You could see the back of the Alhambra. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch and booked it to get to the entrance of the Alhambra by 2 - our ticket time. We had to sprint up a giant hill and we just made it. We took our time walking around up to the palace and apparently we missed the entrance time and had to walk all the way back to the entrance and buy a new ticket. It was pretty frustrating but once we got into the palace, it was worth it. The view was incredible. You could see the entire city and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was so amazing.
Afterwards, we found a little Arabic tea shop and we got the best tea I've ever had and crepes! So delicious, and it felt great to see down for a while.
Saturday night, a group of us went to a tapas bar which Granada is famous for. Whenever you order a drink, they automatically bring you a tapa. Great system. Then we went up to the rooftop terrace of the other group's hostel and just relaxed for a while. Once it got late enough, we went to a big discoteca. It was a lot of fun!

Sunday morning we woke up and went to Mass at the Cathedral at 12. It was beautiful and the cathedral is enormous! After, we went to see the Reyes Catolicos (Catholic Kings) that are buried in the Cathedral. We got to see the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabel, as well as Felipe II and Juana. Incredible. Next, we walked to Sacremonte, another part of town where the gypsies live. Every year on the feast of San Cecilio they have a festival. There was lots of food and drinks and dancers! We couldn't stay too long but it was great to see. Overall, it was an amazing weekend and I couldn't be happier that I decided to go!

Monday, January 25, 2010


Yesterday we spent the entire day in Madrid. The weather held out for us and it turned out to be a beautiful day! We took the train in and met Maria Jose at 11 AM. We walked around for a few hours and enjoyed the beautiful architecture and attractions.

The original post office of Madrid.

The Cathedral of Madrid.

Afterwards, we found a cute Spanish restaurante with a "menu del dia" with 3 courses for only 15 euros! The first course was paella, which was amazing. It's basically just rice and saffron with all kinds of meat and seafood thrown in. The one we got had meat, chicken, clams, crawfish, fish, and some vegetables. I ate everything but the crawfish! We couldn't figure out how to open it... The next course was pescado, fish. I was fully prepared for it to come out whole but it was still a little unnerving to have your food stare at you while you eat it.

After lunch, we walked around a while and managed to successfully navigate the metro. It is so much easier than I expected and it's super clean too. We got to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu a few hours between the Real Madrid v. Malaga game which gave us the chance to see the stadium and explore the area around it before the game.

The game was a lot of fun and Real Madrid won 2-0! At one point, the fans went nuts because of a call made by the referee. It was so loud that I couldn't even hear my friends right next to me! All-in-all, it was a great day and I'm loving Spain more and more every day!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cuchillos, ladrones, y chupitos

Well last night was very dramatic... Since the majority of our group lives in the dorms, they were all in the boys' room getting ready to go into town last night. Most of this is heresay so I don't know the whole story, but apparently some spaniards knocked on the door looking for ice and they invited them in to hang out for a little. After a while, they left to catch the bus into town and when they were on their way, people started to realize they were missing things so they went back to the room. The spaniards were still there and when the guys confronted them, one pulled out a knife. They called the police and the cops came. Apparently, they arrested 6 of the guys but then let them go... During this process, one of the girls' swipes was taken so everyone living in that room decided to sleep in another apartment for the night. While all of this was going on, me and a few others were already in town and they decided to go back and make sure everyone was okay. Since I don't live in the residencias, I just went home. Thank God everyone was fine! A little shaken up, but no one was hurt. This has definitely taught us all to be more cautious around people we don't know, especially as foreigners in another country even though most of the people we've met have been nice.

In other news, Eleu's family came over for Saturday lunch and there was a lot of them this time! I believe she has 3 daughters and 1 son, plus their spouses and kids. It was nice to be around everyone even though I can't understand them very well. They tend to talk very fast, as I know we do as well in English. In some ways, they remind me of my family - one of the women even looks like Aunt Michele! I think Eleu told me the other night at dinner that there's going to be a japonese student coming in February and staying with us for the month, so that should be interesting! Hopefully she speaks a little Spanish or English so we can communicate.

Tomorrow Maria Jose is taking us into Madrid for the day for a tour like we were supposed to do the first weekend but couldn't because of the snow. She's going to take us to a lot of the tourist attractions as well as show us how to use the metro and buses which will definitely come in handy. Afterwards, a bunch of us bought tickets for a Real Madrid game against Malaga! They weren't too expensive and Loyola should reimburse us for a portion of the price. It should be a lot of fun to see a futbol game live!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vale, vale, vale

Our trip into Madrid was very exciting! We got on the train in Alcala and arrived in Madrid about 30-45 minutes later. Coming out of the train station in Madrid was like arriving in any new city, like Philadelphia or New York, for the first time. It is much more modern than Alcala. It is easy to forget you're in Spain besides the architecture! We walked through a lot of the city on our way to Teatros de Canal where the flamenco show was held. We saw some familiar places, such as Starbucks, which was funny! The show we saw was a modern flamenco entitled "Fedra," which is actually based on a Greek tragedy play. It was really exciting and not too difficult to follow because of the acting and dancing. Afterwards, the group had to split up for dinner so Grace, Audrey, Greg, John, Kelly, and I found a little Irish pub that was showing the Barcelona v. Sevilla futbol (soccer) game. I've always enjoyed watching futbol so we ordered some croquets and beer and just enjoyed the game. Barcelona's team is really good this year so that's exciting to watch. After a while, we figured we should head back to Alcala and since the trains stop running at 11:45, we had to take the bus. With the help of some Spaniards, and taxis, we managed to get to the bus station just in time to make the bus. It was very exciting to be in Madrid and we're definitely planning on going again soon! Especially now that we understand the transportation system.

In other news, I going to the bank today to pick up my Real Madrid tickets for this Sunday! They're playing Malaga and we'll already be in Madrid for the day so we figured this would be a good time to go. The group wasn't able to get tickets all together but hopefully we'll be close! Loyola actuall subsidizes a portion of the ticket price, which is also great.

Now that we've been here for over a week, the planning of other places to travel has begun. Since Jen, Caitlin, Eleanora, and I have the same schedule, we've been planning everything together. Most of the places we're scheduling at the same time as other people in our group, too. We officially booked flights to Portugal (Lisbon) Feb. 20-22 and Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan) March 25-31. It's hard to believe this is actually happening! There's a lot of other places I really want to see but it's surprisingly hard to find time for everything! And I kind of forgot to account for schoolwork when planning all of this, which is a teensy bit of a problem...

Yesterday was one of the best days here yet! I'm not even sure why, because it just consisted of class and dinner with some friends but it was great. I think it had everything to do with the fact that the weather was absolutely beautiful. Low 50s and Sunny! Perfect. I even had the greatest playlist on my iPod which made it even better (John Mayer's Battle Studies album). Eleanora, Jen, Caitlin, Tara, and I went out for tapas around 9 and hung out for a few hours just talking. We found a great little candy shop in the plaza which was amazing too. All-in-all, just a geat day.

Also, "vale" means "okay" in Spanish. So it's my response to just about everything Eleu says to me :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Un poco dificil...

After one full week in Alcala it simultaneously feels like we just left and have been here for months! I'm really getting to the know the city better, and I'm starting to feel at home here. Someone even asked me for directions! I couldn't help him, but at least I looked enough like I belong here that they thought they could ask! There's still a lot to get used to though. Eleanora and I went on a mission to find the cheapest gym in the area... unsucessfully. Apparently mid-afternoon Saturday is when all gyms are closed? Questionable. But at least we found the locations of a few so we can go back another day. With all this food I'm being fed, finding a gym is very necessary, haha. Speaking of food, I'm beginning to get used to it now. I've come to accept that I will always find bones in my fish, and if they tell me it's chicken, I will eat it despite being a bit skeptical. I still often don't know what I'm eating, but as long as it tastes good, I'm probably better off not asking.

I've finally got my classes figured out as well. Everyone in my program was having difficulty figuring out how the classes we chose at Loyola relate to the ones we're supposed to be taking in Spain. Luckily, Andre Colombat, the director of International Programs is here now and he was able to work out our schedules for us. I have my spanish classes every afternoon from about 2 to 6:30, which is really a long day when I have my english classes in the morning on thursday and friday! It will all be worth it though when the spanish classes end in mid-march.

Tonight the group is going into Madrid to see a flamenco opera which should be a lot of fun! Because of the snow, this is our first outing to Madrid so we'll probably want to stay in the city after the show and explore a little bit. We're also going back next weekend for Maria Jose's (our director here) walking tour of Madrid.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Necesitamos ir a clase?!

If you couldn't tell by the title, or can't read spanish, we realized that as great as just hanging out all day and drinking sangria is, we actually need to go to class at some point. That point was today. We have our spanish classes everyday, beginning today through mid-march. After lots (LOTS!) of confusion about what classes we were supposed to take, we all ended up where we were supposed to be. (We think...) I didn't do very well on the placement test and got placed in very low spanish classes. After a lot of stress and confusion, I was put in the correct class - culture of cinema, art, history, and literature. The first 2 weeks we'll spend learning about spanish movies and it looks exciting! I really like the teacher and it looks like it will be a good class. Next, we had grammar class and afterwards, conversation. We didn't know which ones we were supposed to take so all of us left after the grammar class. We're meeting the our director, Maria Jose, tomorrow and the head of international programs at Loyola who is in Spain for a few days so hopefully we'll be able to get everything straightened out.

On another note, yesterday was a great day! Because there was about .25 inches of snow, the university cancelled class. Instead, our professors from CIFF, which is where we take our english/business classes, took us out for tapas and drinks. It was quite an experience to have your professor, who you have to call by first name, take your drink order...They were all so nice and welcoming though and I can tell I'm going to enjoy my classes! Afterwards, we went to La Media Pinta which is an Irish style pub that serves as a bar, cafe, and student hang out anytime of day or night. I talked to the owner for most of the time there and he helped me out with my spanish! He also taught me some valuable information about different spanish customs, such as the double kiss. FYI, shaking hands is VERY formal but the older person has to initiate the double kiss, otherwise it's rude. That will come in handy I'm sure.

Later on, all of us met down at the residencias to celebrate on the guys in our groups' birthday. All 38 of us (I believe) are really getting along well. I'm lucky to be with such a great group of people!

Mom - this is for you. There is a church right in front of my building so a few of us went to Mass Sunday night and got to witness a baptism! This little boy, Felipe, was adorable. The church was very small because there are so many around town but it was nice to have a some-what familiar custom! I even knew 2 of the songs by heart from learning them in high school.

Dancing with a spaniard!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

La segunda dia

I'm about halfway through my second full day here! Today we had a brief orientation to Alcala. The town is absolutely beautiful! We were shown where our classes would be held - they're both near the Plaza de Cervantes, which is the main part of the town. Pictured below!

Cervantes is the author of the book, Don Quixote, and probably the most famous person to come out of Alcala! St. Ignatius also studied at the Unverisdad de Alcala. We were supposed to go to Madrid tomorrow to have orientation there too, but there's a threat of snow so we're not going to. I've learned that snow is a HUGE deal here because it happens so infrequently. It's about 6 PM here (so noon at home) but since we don't eat dinner until much later, I may go down to the dorms and see what they're like since that's where most of my friends are staying. Later on I think we're going to go out to a local bar or something? The nightlife is very different here - they don't go out until about 1 or 2 AM so this should be very interesting... hopefully I'm not too tired tomorrow! Maybe I'll even catch a bit of the playoffs, alhtough that seems pretty unlikely.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Llego a Espana!

Well, I'm here! After a 6.5 hour flight and just about the same amount of time in the airport, I have arrived in Alcala (via Madrid), Spain! I'm currently sitting on my new bed, in my new apartment, with my new host mom and her grandson, Juan (age 7ish). It's 1:30 PM here, so 7:30 at home. And I still haven't slept! Whew. The plane ride wasn't bad - we had personal TVs which definitely helped to pass the time... I watched Love Happens and Fame, along with 2 episodes of the Office and 30 Rock. I was able to close my eyes for about 30 minutes but it's a little difficult to sleep in those seats!

When we arrived, Maria Jose was there to pick us up from the aiport (about an hour late, but hey, it's Europe!) We got dropped off at one of the major plazas...can't remember which one...where the seven of us doing homestay met our families! Eleuteria and I were able to walk to her apartment lugging my 3 suitcases about 6 blocks. She lives right in the center of the city and it's absolutely beautiful! You can see the universidad from the balcony. My host mom doesn't speak any english which has already been tough even after only being here for an hour! I can understand her for the most part, except when she talks real fast...haha. The apartment is layed out so differently from the ones I'm used to but it's relatively big - there's 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms! Which is great, because I get my own bathroom with lots of racks for all my stuff. :)

I've unpacked everything into the wardrobe in my room and I'm getting ready to meet up with the rest of the group for lunch in half an hour. Tomorrow begins 2 full days of orienation in Alcala and Madrid! I should get lots of sleep tonight except, of course, everyone wants to go out on the town so I'll probably do that. I can sleep when I'm dead, right?

Vive Espana! :)