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!