Spring Break Número 3

For anyone keeping count, my previous spring breaks were spent in Portugal & England (which I still have to write about). This third one was May 1st-5th and the Spanish call it el Puente. I feel pretty safe saying that it was the best third spring break I’ve ever had.

Diana and I (I’m starting to feel like my blog documents Diana’s life in Spain as much as it does my own) spent the puente in Almería and Málaga, only leaving the beach to eat, sleep, and socialize a little bit. We started out in Almería, a beach city in Andalucía, where the only thing we did was lay out on the beach and occasionally scavenge for food. I mean “scavenge” almost literally because May 1st is el Día del Trabajador (Labor Day) in Spain and we had to walk around for awhile to find something that was even borderline edible.

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On Friday morning we took a bus from Almería to Málaga, another Andalusian beach city, and the five-hour bus route was stunning. For about an hour and a half we drove on a coastal cliff road with gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea and all of the beach towns along the way. We also drove past expansive olive groves and through hilly and mountainous areas.

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One of my sorority sisters has spent the year studying abroad in Málaga so that evening she walked us around the harbor and the beach and took us out for fantastic sangria and tapas. She also introduced us to a few of her Spanish friends and we spent the night out dancing with them.

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The next day we hiked up to the Alcazaba of Málaga for some beautiful views of the city and the coast, which was about the only touristy thing we did during the entire trip. The rest of the day was spent (surprise!) on the beach, soaking up the sun and splashing around in the Mediterranean. We returned home to Madrid Sunday afternoon, relatively better rested and decidedly more tan than when we left.

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Dear Mom, I Punched a Pickpocket

(Again, for the sake of honesty, it wasn’t technically a punch.. but I have a thing for alliteration)

On Saturday night Diana, Jennifer and I took the metro around 11 o’clock to our friend Molly’s apartment to meet up with a bunch of people before a night out. We had to change lines so at the station where we needed to switch trains, we were walking from one line to another and I was just a few steps behind them when I noticed something over my shoulder and there’s a guy with his hand in my purse! And you know that reaction a lot of people have to a bug flying at their face or around their head where you just swat at it with your hand? Well I screamed and did that to this guy’s face.

Nothing was missing from my purse (I usually have a pair of flats or sandals in  my bag when I go out in heels and I keep my wallet and camera underneath them) and he didn’t attack me or anything but I was really shaken. So many people I know have had things stolen from their bags and pockets throughout this semester and I just feel so lucky that I don’t have to count myself among them (knock on wood).

Other than that though, my night was a lot of fun! I guess it’s just part of the Madrid experience.

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Barcelona, We Meet Again

Last weekend I returned to Barcelona, almost exactly 4 years after my first Catalunian adventure. During my junior year of high school, I spent a few days in Barcelona on a field trip with my Spanish class. I loved it then and I’m so glad I got to relive some of the magic this semester. The weather was really nice, if not a little colder than we’d hoped, and we spent the weekend visiting a few of the must-see touristy spots but mostly just relaxing and enjoying a weekend away.

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Our first stop was the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (or the Boqueria, as it’s more popularly referred to) which was one of my favorite parts of my first trip. Diana and I loaded up on fresh fruit and then wandered around the market for an hour or two trying little things here and there. Afterwards we walked down La Rambla to the Port Vell and sat on the harbor in the sun while we planned out visits to our must-see destinations. That evening we also took a walk to explore a little and see the Arc de Triomf.

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On Saturday we woke up early and Diana, Kat, and I returned to the Boqueria to put together a fantastic picnic for ourselves (which included fresh pomegranate seeds, a strawberry & lemon smoothie, and a spinach and feta empanada) and took the metro to the famous Parc Güell. Parc Güell is one of my favorite places in the world and definitely my biggest motivation to revisit Barcelona this semester. We walked around the park for a few hours, picnicked in the sun, watched flamenco street (park?) performers and took loads of pictures. I also finally got my picture with the Gaudi dragon lizard statue! (Coming soon because Kat hasn’t given me her pictures yet).

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After the park we took a bus to la Sagrada Familia, where people were preparing for a festival. According to Diana, it was the Sant Jordi festival, which is kind of like Catalunia’s Valentine’s day combined with a celebration of literature. Traditionally, men will give their women roses and women will give their men books. Outside of the Sagrada Familia people were also setting up giant figures of lords and ladies that they carry while they dance in the festival. From there, we made our way back down to La Rambla, stopping to see La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, and Casa Calvet along the way as well as walking down Barcelona’s version of Rodeo Drive: Passeig de Gràcia.

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The next day was definitely my favorite. Diana, Kat and I decided we wanted to do the Telefèric de Montjuïc, which are cable cars that bring you from the bottom of the Parc de Montjuïc all the way up to the Montjuïc castle and fortress with a gorgeous view of the city and the harbors. I’m pretty sure it was also my first time in a cable car, so that was cool.

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The rest of our Sunday afternoon was spent on the beach and in the sun while we killed time before our flight back to Madrid. It was the perfect relaxing weekend and I can happily report that this makes my second trip to Barcelona without being mugged! (Any time I mentioned to anybody that I was traveling to Barcelona I was immediately warned about robbers and pickpockets… all the while, pickpocketing has become an epidemic in Madrid).

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Some Fun in the Sun (& Out of the City)

In celebration of the beautiful 80 degree weather and the long-awaited arrival of Spring in Madrid, I spent most of my weekend outdoors in the sun. On Saturday roughly half of the students in my program and I spent nearly 8 hours in the Retiro Park, taking in as much sun as we could and enjoying the fact that jackets and scarves are no longer necessary for outdoor activities.

Diana and I decided the weather was perfect to finally tackle one of the hikes we’ve been talking about doing for months so Sunday we took a train to Cercedilla with our friends Rachel, Victor, and Jordan. Getting to the hiking information center was a 30 minute hike in itself and from there we embarked on a 10 km trail up into the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range.

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The hike took us about 4 hours (including the half hour we took for lunch at the top) and I would definitely recommend being in decent shape for it. If you come to Madrid and you have a day to explore the outdoors, I highly encourage you to make a trip to Cercedilla. There are several other trails that range from 30 minutes to 5 hours and there are a lot of open areas for picnics and just laying out in the sun. The whole area is gorgeous and the views we got from the hike were stunning – the pictures really don’t do them justice.

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Things I learned on my hike:

  • If you squish an ant, others will smell it and swarm for revenge.
  • Hill cows really do exist.
  • Color-blind people probably shouldn’t lead your color-marked trail hike.
  • Some of the best people on the planet are in my study abroad program.

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Sunday in Segovia!

After more than a month of making the weekly decision to plan a day trip to Segovia (and then never actually going), Diana and I finally woke up early and committed to busing it to the beautiful city in Castilla y Leon with our friend Molly. Segovia is a small city about an hour and a half northwest of Madrid by bus and everywhere you look you can see Roman and Gothic architecture like the Aqueduct, the Alcazar de Segovia, and the Segovia Cathedral (which, incidentally, was the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain). It only took a couple hours to walk around the city and after seeing the highlights and exploring the castle, we decided to hike down to the river and take the scenic route back to the bus station.

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The weather was perfect for the trip and spending the day with Diana & Molly was a great way to end the weekend!

P.S. The semi-awkward picture that looks like Diana & I are gesturing at barred door is actually an action shot of us throwing pennies into what “may be” the building’s medieval foundation and (not) making wishes (because we were concentrating too hard on the picture).

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Where Has the Time Gone?

With less than 6 weeks of this magical semester left, I’m finally getting around to finishing my laundry list of tourist destinations within Madrid. Before the Semana Santa (the Spanish version of Spring Break), Madrid had a few sporadic days of beautiful weather which we took full advantage of by spending a lot of time picnicking and exploring in El Parque de Buen Retiro. Retiro is the huge park near the center of Madrid, right behind the Museo del Prado. It has a lot of grassy area to lay out, picnic, or play soccer and when the weather’s nice there are loads of Spaniards and tourists alike who run, roller-skate, and take walks along the paths. My favorite part of the park is the lake in center where you can rent a little boat and paddle around, surrounded by beautiful monuments like the Alfonso XII Mausoleum. I love Retiro and I definitely think it’s one of the most relaxing and beautiful places in Madrid. I can’t wait for the weather to get warmer so we can go more often!

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I was also able to cross the Museo de Reina Sofia off my list after exploring it Thursday evening with my friend Andrew. I’m so glad I finally got around to going to see Guernica because it’s been on my list of things to see since day 1. I knew it was big, but seeing it in person was just so much more than I’d expected. Andrew and I only thought to go an hour or two before closing, so I definitely plan on going back and spending some more time taking it all in.

Yesterday I also played tourist with my friend Jordan when we decided to try a restaurant in the La Latina district that neither of us had ever tried before. Neither of us could decide what we wanted to so we ordered a few different things from the daily specials menu and split it all. It was all fantastic and I really want to go back another day and try some of their other dishes. After that, I accompanied Jordan to get his hair cut while we waited for Diana and our other friend named Jordan to meet up with us so we could go see the Palacio Real de Madrid. The royal palace was gorgeous and throughout the tour, all we could talk about was how soon we could move in. Everything was in a Neoclassical or Rococo style and lavishly and elaborately decorated with gold and velvet and damask. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but I strongly recommend going in and seeing it for yourself if you’re ever in Madrid. The throne room was by far my favorite and the ceiling frescoes were amazing.

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We also spent some time walking around the Jardines de Sabatini, which are right behind the royal palace. I’m beginning to draw the conclusion that the majority of parks and gardens in Europe are beautiful and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking my endlessly repetitive commentary tedious.. so here are some pictures:

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Tomorrow we’re off on a day trip to Segovia and hopefully I’ll finish the post about my Semana Santa in England pretty soon!

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Shortcuts Through Portugal

Alternative titles for this post:

  • DO NOT Take Shortcuts Through Portugal
  • Getting Lost in Portugal
  • I Better Have the Cutest Butt After All These Stairs
  • Where Did I Get All These Maps?
  • Where Are We & How Do We Get Back on the Map?
  • All I Want to do is Eat

What was supposed to be a nice, easy, relaxing few days in Portugal turned out to be really anything but. There’s a sign at the bus stop beside my apartment that advertises “24 Hour Bus Service to the Airport” and silly me assumed that the 106 bus to Barajas was the advertised direct bus to Madrid Barajas Airport – wrong. So, an hour before the check-in for our flight was due to close, Diana and I found ourselves in front of an elementary school in the middle of nowhere which was apparently the end of the bus’ route. Refusing to panic (I was panicking a little, thank God for Diana’s unwavering composure), we asked for directions to the nearest metro stop and prayed for a taxi to accidentally wander past the oddly located school. After walking a mile or two with our luggage, we finally found a taxi and paid an unreasonable amount for the 5 minutes ride to the airport. But we made it, with minutes to spare, and navigating Madrid’s international airport and finding the gate was painless in comparison. Also, I’m pretty sure we were the only two people going through security who took our shoes off and I think the security people laughed at us.

We flew into the Lisbon Airport and from there to the metro to the city center, where we switched over to a train that would take us to Sintra, which is a beautiful small town northwest of Lisbon. In Sintra, Diana and I met up with her friend from back home in California, Yadira and one of Yadira’s friends from her study abroad program in France. While in Sintra we visited Cabo da Roca, which is the westernmost point of the European continent and hiked the cliffs a little bit and enjoyed the sunny, if not altogether warm, Portuguese coastal weather. The Portuguese coast is absolutely beautiful and I wish I could go back in the summer when it’s warmer.

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After our adventure to the beach, Yadira and her friend Grayson were tired so Diana and I decided to go explore the nearby Quinta de Regaleira, which is probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. The estate is huge (it covers like 4 or 5 hectares) and Diana and I spent several hours exploring (I use “exploring” as a euphemism for “getting hopelessly lost in”) the mansion, chapel, and gorgeous extensive gardens. We alternated between comparing the property to a fairyland and the perfect setting for a slasher/horror movie. A heads up to anyone planning on visiting the Quinta de Regaleira: bring a flashlight! The whole place is connected by underground tunnels that I unfortunately did not get to experience because my vision is less than useful in the dark. Also, you may not want to discuss horror movies too thoroughly beforehand because the tunnels see much more sinister when you walk past them and think “this is where the murderer could hide” or “this would be the perfect place to hack up bodies” or “this is the part where I’d die.”

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Afterwards we ate at this super authentic Portuguese diner restaurant, which was owned by an older couple who spoke absolutely no English or Spanish. Diana and I ended up splitting an entire chicken which was incredibly delicious and called Frango de Churrasco. It was SO COLD at night in Sintra, so we went back to the hostel where Diana and I had awkwardly online-booked a private double room (which we were led to believe was a private room with two beds, but was, in fact, equipped with one double bed). As luck would have it, however, because the hostel didn’t have any sort of heating system, snuggling with my roommate definitely saved us both from hypothermia.

The next day we visited the Palacio da Pena with Yadira and Grayson. For those of you planning on visiting it, TAKE THE BUS. If you try to walk/hike it, it’ll either take you the whole day or you’ll be so tired that you won’t want to see the actual palace. Also, prepare to feel a little queasy after the bus ride up. The Palacio was one of the most interesting castles I’ve ever seen and I felt like it was very Portuguese in that it was several different colors and styles all mixed together to form a very unique piece of architecture. It also boasts a gorgeous view of Sintra and the surrounding area and I definitely recommend taking the walk around the castles walls.

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Afterwards, we parted ways with Yadira and Grayson and took a train back to Lisbon. While trying to find the way to our hostel (which involved a lot of map reading and getting lost – have you noticed a theme?), I quite literally bumped into my roommate from Arizona. She’s currently studying abroad in France and it turned out that she was spending her Spring Break in Portugal with some of her friends from France. It was probably the craziest coincidence that has happened to either of us and I still can’t really believe it. We decided to meet up later that evening for dinner and drinks and Diana and I finally found our way to the hostel (which took an hour and a half longer than it should have) and met up with the rest of our group from Madrid. Have I mentioned yet that Portugal (Lisbon, in particular) is probably the hardest place to navigate? There are so many stairs and steep uphill climbs and never before have I been such a fan of gridded city planning. Around 8 o’clock we left to meet Natalie and her friends in the center, armed with three different maps so we could find our way back to the hostel later. We hopped around from place to place for dinner, trying Portuguese tapas and sangria and ending up in Bairro Alto which is apparently the district in Lisbon known especially for it’s nightlife. We were told that drinking and socializing in the streets rather than in bars or clubs is very typical for the Portuguese nightlife and I loved it! It was a lot of fun meeting locals and hanging out with my old roomie.

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The next day, our whole Madrid crew decided to go to Belém and one of the beaches that was recommended to us by people at the hostel. A tram and a couple trains later, we’d had lunch, the best pastéis de Belém, and saw the sunset at Pedro do Sal beach. It was a really nice, relaxing day and I definitely realize why Portugal is so well known for its pastries.

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Saturday at the Prado

First of all, I’m so sorry it’s been a few weeks since my last post! I’ve been super busy with school and traveling but I promise a couple of lengthy posts about my trips to Granada, Seville and Toledo very soon!

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Diana and I have had a pretty productive weekend so far (which may or may not have started on Wednesday…) But Saturday we finally decided to play tourist in Madrid and go to the Museo del Prado! For anyone that’s been, I think you’ll understand when I say it’s overwhelming. Firstly, it’s MASSIVE. We spent 4 or 5 hours there and we only got through the first floor (I think Diana may have gotten a little irritated at how much time I spent in each room…). I definitely recommend renting one of the audio guides, by the way; they were only 5 euros each and they make it a lot easier and much more enjoyable to take your time and take it all in at your own pace.

I’m minoring in Art History, so there were several pieces that I was really excited to see like Velazquez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s The Third of May 1808, but the Prado is home to so many other pieces that I’d studied and had not anticipated seeing at all. I don’t know if shocked is the right word, but it comes pretty close to how I felt (maybe shocked+pleasantly surprised is a better description) seeing Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath or Rubens’ The Three Graces (which was HUGE). I also fell in love with Madrazo as a result of visiting the Prado. I had never heard of or studied him before but now I’m really interesting in looking into him. The Prado has a few beautiful portraits he’s done of women and they’re all so strikingly different, I loved it.  I don’t really know what else to say for fear of sounding even more like a snob than I already have, except that I LOVED it and I can’t wait to go back and see the rest. Next on my list is the Reina Sofia, the Contemporary Art museum that Madrid is equally as famous for.487939_10152585249035220_1199959738_n

P.S. Photography was “strictly prohibited” so the pictures aren’t all that nice because they were taken on my ipod from underneath my coat..

P.P.S. In a few hours I’m off to Portugal, wish me luck!

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Metamorphosing into a Madrileña

First of all, I just googled “What are people from Madrid called?” and I’m loving the word! I’m in such a great mood today and I’m finally beginning to feel really at home in this giant, crazy city and I think I’m a much less conspicuous foreigner (I hope). Here are some facets of my new Madrileña lifestyle:

  • I walk or take the Metro literally EVERYWHERE and today I even gave someone instructions/directions to get to where they were trying to go! Madrid undoubtedly has one of the best metro systems in the world and you can get almost anywhere you want inside the city in under 30 minutes. Also, if you’re like me and often get lost when you go it on foot, there are metro stops on almost every other street or corner and even if you’ve never heard of the stop before, all of the lines intersect and it’s simple enough to find your way.
  • I’ve started reading the (local?) newspaper during my morning commute to school. Well “reading” might be kind of a stretch, as my Spanish isn’t yet wonderful, but I can usually understand the gist of at least several of the articles. Plus, (I think) it makes me look sophisticated and (hopefully) helps me blend in with the Spaniards.
  • I’ve become almost comfortable with the way people here stare. Originally, I thought I was getting strange (and often intense) looks from people because I unwittingly exuded a foreigner vibe – but it turns out people here stare at everyone, and they’re not ashamed about it. I’ve even started making eye contact and staring back to see how people react. Most of them don’t (react, that is). I haven’t quite mastered the blatant staring yet, although today I got some good practice when this beautiful man stood across from me on the metro and I really couldn’t help but stare (I did have enough restraint to keep from drooling, but only just).
  • I’ve basically stopped saying sorry or excuse me to strangers in public. Most of the time, I’d like to think of myself as the picture of politeness (my parents raised me right), and for the past two weeks every time I’d knocked into someone or gotten in someone’s way I’d assume an apologetic expression and mutter “lo siento” or “perdona”. However, that just earned me more strange looks (because NO ONE apologizes here) so I’ve started to feign ignorance to the people who are inconvenienced by my clumsiness, etc.
  • I’ve developed an almost complete disregard for the walk/don’t walk traffic signals. Two weeks ago, I would stand on the curb until the little green man told me it was safe, or I would wait for someone else to begin the flow of jay-walkers. Now, if I know I can make it across the street before a car can reach the crosswalk, I lead the jay-walking troupe. I’m Queen of the Jay-walkers!

Some things I’m still trying to get a grasp on to progress in the metamorphosis are: beer or sangria with lunch (I keep ordering water with my meals like a neophyte), stop asking “¿Que?” whenever someone unexpectedly talks to me, and extend my nightlife experiences to include Wednesdays.

In other news, Margo and I just finished buying our bus tickets to Granada and Sevilla for this weekend so it finally feels real and I could not be more excited! Additionally, I’m pretty sure there are wolves raising children in the apartment above me.

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Officially the (First!) Weekend

On Saturday I woke up at 3pm, what? In my defense, it was almost 7am when I’d finally crawled into bed so don’t judge too harshly… I was still mortified that I’d slept until 3 and immediately checked all the clocks in the apartment to find the real time. It turned out the real time was, in fact, 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I’d wasted half of my Saturday in bed. I woke Diana up and we showered and got ready and decided that we should probably venture out into the world and finally buy some groceries because we were starving. We’re really lucky because our grocery store is a minute’s walk from our apartment and there’s an ATM right across the street.

Excited because we finally had food to cook, we invited Margo over for dinner and we made hashbrowns and hot dogs and Margo brought what turned out to be a really nice bottle of wine. Margo and I wanted to go out again so we went to her apartment to get ready and then headed to a bar in the Malasaña area called Freeway to meet up with Rachel, Pete and Scott who are other USAC students. Freeway was pretty cool – the top floor was a bar with a pretty relaxed vibe even though it was packed. There was also a basement underneath that functioned as a small dance area. We had a round of drinks (PS, drinks here are like three quarters alcohol topped off with a little bit of soda) and then danced downstairs to 70s music for a little while. Afterwards we wandered around for a bit and the guys stopped for kebab and pizza (which they so graciously shared with us) and by around 2 or 3 we were all so exhausted from the night before that we called it a night. I didn’t want to take the night bus home by myself so Margo let me crash on her couch.

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We had planned on going to this giant flea market in the city center, called el Rastro, on Sunday morning so I forced myself to wake up at 9 and take the metro home to shower and get dressed to go shopping. Diana, Jennifer and I took the metro back to Margo’s where we met up with her, Rachel and Pete and we spent the next few hours wandering around and checking out all of the different stalls. There were more than 10 stalls dedicated solely to selling scarves and Diana and I were in heaven. We each ended up buying a scarf for €6 – mine’s maroon and hers is beige. Eventually we ended up in the Plaza Mayor and we were all starving so we ate lunch in this cute little café (which served AMAZING hummus and Rachel had a traumatizing encounter with a big chunk of brie).

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After lunch Margo wanted to go explore the famous Mercado de San Miguel, which seemed like such an interesting place but Diana, Jennifer, Pete and I were so cold that we ended up just hanging out under one of the heaters while Rachel and Margo explored the Mercado. We were all exhausted and cold and a siesta sounded so nice after filling up on lunch so that was the end of our Sunday shopping trip.

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El Mercado de San Miguel

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In front of the Mercado.. at first glance I thought they were real people.

All in all, my first weekend in Madrid was wonderful. I absolutely love it here and I got really lucky getting Diana and Jennifer as flat mates and the more USAC students I meet, the more I love the program. Margo and Rachel are hilarious and I think the four of us (including Diana and me) will end up doing most of our traveling together.

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