The Final Days of Siesta

August 13, 2012

I can’t believe my study abroad experience has already been over for 3 days now! I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged in such a long time. I plan on this just being a short summary of my final days in Madrid.

On Saturday, my friends and I met up for lunch at Mercado San Anton. The first floor of the market has produce and deli style cheese, meats, and seafood along with bread and pastries, then the second floor has food vendors to buy cooked food from. It was probably my favorite eatery in Spain, but the best thing I got was the Gouda Pesto cheese. For realz. Then we went shopping at Tribunal. I didn’t get anything 😦 Then we went to the old post office, which is actually the Cibeles Cultural Center that my friends always study at. There’s an observatory at the top that we went to for free. We could see the entire city! It was beautiful! Then, I went home for dinner. After that, I went back out to go to an outdoor concert. It was .. strange. Then we ended the night at a Rock and Roll club.

On Sunday, I went to Spanish mass with Christina! It was my first Catholic mass and it was interesting 🙂 I was even able to understand part of the Scripture reading to be part of John 6! It was cool. Then we went to Lavepies with Katie and Jamie to eat Indian food. It wasn’t awesome but it was enough to satisfy my craving til I get back to Berkeley. Then Christina and I went to tan, study, and sleep in Retiro park. Billy joined us later. Then, it started raining -__- Worst tanning session ever, but we still had fun!

On Monday, after school, we went to Toledo. It wasn’t that interesting of a town but I did so much shopping there! The jewelry is so beautiful! I got 2 pairs of earrings for myself 🙂

On Tuesday, after class, I went with Christina and Helen to this really good pasta place. Then we met up with Marissa and Kendra and  attempted to go to 2 different museums that were both closed. Instead, we went to eat gelato! I went home afterwards, but soon went back out to go to an Ice Bar. The guy took a free photoshoot for us! It was really cool. I thought I was crazy for doing this since I hadn’t studied for my final yet, but it was totally worth it.

On Wednesday, after taking my final, we went to Mercado San Miguel for lunch. I had paella and ice cream 🙂 Then I went shopping by myself. It was pretty successful. Then I went home to start packing. After dinner, I went back out to meet up with Winnie! It was nice to  be able to meet up with a friend from Berkeley. Then I ran into some friends from the program, and we went out for a night of more fun.

On Thursday, we went to school just to get our finals back. I got a 100% on my final! I was so happy! I really accomplished what I set out to do in Spain- raise my GPA (among other things). We went out for a final lunch at Mercado San Anton. Then I dragged Shawn to come shopping with me as we waited for our last class to start. We went to another market called Mercado San Miguel for our last class, then we went to meet up with Katie, Christina, Natalie, and Billy at the Madrid Rio park. It was really hot, so I decided to run through the fountains while I was wearing a dress.. LOL. Then Christina and I decided to go get water or soda, but instead, we found this bar in the middle of the park and decided to share a jar of sangria. It was delicious! When we got back to the rest of the group, we hung out for a bit, before we saw a news crew! They ended up taping my friends and I saying “hace calor” and they asked us what sounds remind us of summer. Then, I went home to finish the rest of my packing. At dinner, I was able to watch myself on the news 🙂 That night, we just celebrated our last time being together.

I left at 8 am and took all my things with me on the metro. I felt pretty good for being able to do that, and not go over the weight limit on my luggage. I hung out with Marissa, Helen, and Ashanti. Marissa and I ended up buying drinks for the very last time til we turn 21. We got on the plane to Philadelphia, and I finally watched Hunger Games! When we landed, Zach picked us up and took us to get philly cheese steaks. Finally, we went home.

What an amazing summer this has been! I plan on making one more post before I stop blogging here for good. Til then, I’m going to enjoy the few days I have in SoCal.

On light and algae

August 4, 2012

So I was flying over London, yeah? And once you get past the massive box of light that is the Olympic stadium, in the heart of all the other lines of yellow and white, in the center of everything that is population and English and city, it gets out in the surrounding ‘burbs.

And then the towns look like glowing bits of floating yellow algae in a sea of dark and land. Like little oases of warmth and life in the expanse of nighttime abandonment. Now, you can say that nothing man-made will ever come close to what is naturally shaped; but I think we’re natural too, no? And sometimes we do okay.

— K.

P.S. Apologies for going AWOL. I’m starting my stack of catch-up drafts!

Unlike my fellow sister Kylie, I am not spontaneous. I may like to do risky things every once in a while, but I absolutely hate not having plans and just “going with the flow of things”. However, this weekend I decided to let loose a little. A combination of wanting to see more of Spain, having a bad week, and it being my last weekend made me decide that I wanted to get out of Madrid for a bit. To do what or go where? I had no idea. I narrowed down my choices to Granada, Valencia, and San Sebastian. Most of my friends were either spending the whole weekend in Granada or staying in Madrid. Neither appealed to me, so when I heard that my friend Billy was going to Valencia for a day, I decided to jump on the opportunity last minute.

We got to the Madrid bus station at 7 am. I’m pretty sure both of slept for almost the entire ride because I don’t remember much of it.. except for arriving at 11. We were met by Billy’s aunt’s sister-in-law and her husband. They took us to their car and drove us to their apartment. We rested for a short bit and figured out what to do for the day.

We left at around 12 and they took us on a driving tour of the city. It honestly isn’t the most exciting city, so it was wonderful being able to see all the main touristy things in a air-conditioned car. We finished at almost 1 and went to the beach to find a place for lunch. We ended up at a restaurant called La Marcelina. We had this bread with garlic and olive oil to start, then a platter of fried calamari, cuttlefish, and this one other fish to share. The seafood was so fresh! Then we got to what I had been waiting for- PAELLA. Paella was originated in Valencia, so I was excited to be able to try it. I hadn’t been anywhere with extremely exceptional paella, which was a disappointment, so I had really high expectations coming here. We each had half a plate of seafood paella and half a plate of paella Valenciana, which is basically vegetables and chicken. After one bite, I was about to die and go to heaven. This paella makes me feel disgusted by all the crappy paella I had eaten thus far.. no other paella can even compare to this. It was probably the best thing I’ve eaten in Spain thus far, especially the seafood paella! For dessert, I had a glass of lemon sorbet to clean my pallet.

After lunch, Billy’s aunt’s sister-in-law and husband drove us to the Oceanografico. This was probably one of the main reasons I wanted go to Valencia. I heard they had a penguin exhibit and for 3 euros, you could feed the penguins at a certain time. I was disappointed to find out when I got there that there was a limit to how many people could feed the penguins and it was already sold out for the day. That was simply a minor setback because this was by far the best aquarium I had ever been to! The area was large and there were many different animals to see. A few of my favorites were the sharks, sun fish, beluga whales, and walrus. Then of course, my absolute favorite- PENGUINS. There were 3 species: 1 outdoor, which I suspect to have been Magellanic penguins and were malting their feathers, and 2 indoor penguins, which were the Gentoo and King variety. I flipped out. They were so cute! After that, we went to the dolphin show (yeah.. AT THE AQUARIUM). The English translation of the show was terrible, but luckily I enough Spanish to still enjoy the show. The dolphins and trainers were spectacular!

For 2 euros more than the original price of entering the Oceanografico, we could enter the science museum. That was a blast too! I think my favorite exhibit was one about sports and health. I was finally able to weigh myself and I found out that I have lost almost 10 pounds since coming to Spain! That was exciting! I also found out my vertical leap is 35 cm! I was quite impressed with myself since I haven’t been working out or playing basketball in a long time. The other important thing was that I beat/matched Billy’s score 😉 hahaha. One other interesting exhibit we saw was about memory and the way our brain works. It was very interesting to see how our brains reacted to the experiments. The other exhibit we enjoyed was one about Marvel superheroes and the science behind their abilities. Unfortunately, we were about to leave soon so we didn’t spend too much time there.

After, we walked around the park a little bit. I jumped in this pond/fountain just for fun! Then, we got picked up to go to the bus station and went home. We slept most of the way home, but woke up because the movie playing was Air Bud.. hahaha.

Overall, it was a splendid day. I am pleasantly satisfied with my decision to spontaneous for once. Maybe this is something I should try more often. I hope to more unexpected surprises throughout my last week in Madrid!

-A.

The Final Stretch

August 2, 2012

For my last weekend in Ireland, we didn’t hold back. Three day tours back to back to back in fact– Friday through Sunday. Friday we went to Wicklow, although I don’t remember too much of it. I was going off of zero hours of sleep because of this final paper due that same morning, so I mainly slept my way through the bus tour. However, I do remember something about a chicken that had escaped its pen, about sheep wool and colourful blankets, and did I pretend to be nymph? I must have pictures of this trip somewhere….Image

Saturday, bright ‘n early, we headed for Cork and the Blarney Castle. We took many a stop through picturesque seaside towns like Kilsale and Cobh, but the highlight was definitely kissing the Blarney Stone. So to kiss this magic stone you have to lie on your back and extend your neck off of the top floor of the castle, which sounds pretty risky, but you don’t really KNOW how crazy scary it is unless you try it. You not only have to lie down and extend over the ledge, you have to LEAN DOWNWARD! And if you’re tiny like me, half your body goes off the side of the castle! Luckily there are iron bars you must hold on to to ensure that you don’t slip to your death, and there’s a man who “holds” your legs. But with a quick little smooch you’re on your way, enchanted with “the gift of the gab.” 🙂 The Poisonous Garden on the grounds was interesting too.

And if Saturday wasn’t action-packed enough, on Sunday we embarked for the Ring of Kerry. Another very long bus trip, more rushed sight seeing of little towns, but if you ask me, it was all worth it. The landscape in the Southern coast of Ireland is amazing. I’ve been in Ireland for almost two months and the green hills, the rocks, the cliffs, the woodlands, the water, the ruins still take my breath away.

It was a nice way to end my stay in this lovely land.

–S.

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BarTHelona

July 29, 2012

Just in case you don’t understand the title of this post, in Spain, they pronounce any ‘seh’ or ‘zeh’ sounds as ‘th’. It was a little odd to adjust to at first when I arrived in Madrid, but I got used to it. Unfortunately, Barcelona’s language is even more complex. Most Spanish speakers speak the dialect of Castallano, but in Barcelona, they speak Catalan. It isn’t too different, but still a bit difficult to understand. Unfortunately, that may have been one of the least complicated portions of our trip.

I found out that one of the metros near my homestay takes me directly to the airport. So I hopped on it and was lucky enough to meet Katie on it a few stops later. We got to the airport, went through the most lax and chill airport security ever, then headed to our boarding gate. We were definitely ready for a fun weekend in Barcelona! I went to get coffee and when I came back, Katie informed me that our plane was going to be delayed an hour. It was 11 pm at this point. It was a minor setback but not much of a problem. We patiently waited, but when we saw no sign of a plane, I decided to ask the lady at the boarding desk what was going on. She basically told me that the plane that’s flying us to Barcelona was still in Barcelona and they didn’t know when it would leave. Katie and I basically spent the next 4 hours walking around, napping in uncomfortable places, and eating at McDonald’s. We finally landed in Barcelona at around 6 am and got to our hostel at 7 am.

We woke up at noon to go exploring. First, we went to the Olympic Stadium. It was beautiful! I had so much fun relishing in all the history that had taken place there, especially the thought of the 1992 Dream Team being there. I was gushing. We also saw Palau Sant Jordi, the communication tower, the Olympic museum, the Olympic pool, and the palace at Montujic. I was also geeking out about the fact that the current USA basketball team was there at those places only a few days ago. Then we went to Las Ramblas, which is a street with lots of stores and this really cool market. Then we walked along the pier/beach and all the way back to our hostel. My feet were killing me! We rested for a bit, then went to go find this bar that Katie found that we speculated would broadcast the Olympics opening ceremony and it received great reviews for their burgers. We got off the metro at the correct station at 9:30 pm and walked around looking for the bar for about 45 min. We had pretty much given up, but then we found it! It was so exciting that we forgot to take pictures of our delicious burgers and mojitos. We were only 15 min late for the opening ceremony and were able to watch it on a large screen and it was on the BBC channel (yay English!). We left after the Columbian flag bearer and got back to the hostel to watch the rest of it in our room right as Lithuania came on. We finished watching the ceremony then went to sleep.

We woke up at 9 the next morning and went out for a day of checking out Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. We started with the Sagrada Familia. It was beautiful! Apparently, Gaudi wasn’t appreciated during his time, and I could definitely see why. His work was very untraditional. There were many bright colors and odd shapes. Later, when we went to an exhibit right outside the cathedral, we found out he drew his inspiration from nature. Many of the so-called odd shapes were actually designed after plants or animals. It was very interesting. Then we went to Park Guell. Everyone else who had went said it was their favorite thing, so I had high expectations for it, which were not met. I expected the park to be more like Retiro’s, but instead it was very hot and humid and the park had lots of sand. It was also almost all uphill walking, which I absolutely hate, so we only went to see the necessary things, then left. It was also just very crowded. I wasn’t a huge fan of it. Then we went to see some houses that Gaudi built. After that, we went to lunch. We tried to find this place that Katie found for good sandwiches, but Trip Adviser led us astray again -__- We ended up at this small restaurant near the metro station. Then, we went back to the hostel to get our bikinis on to go to the beach! It was so relaxing. The sand was so soft and I took an hour nap. It was wonderful. It was just very crowded. Then we went home, showered, and went back to Montujic to watch the magic fountain show in front of the palace. It was really pretty and fun to watch, but again, there were just too many people and we couldn’t tell when the show was starting or ending. We stayed for about 20ish minutes, then we went to a restaurant that Katie found. They served gourmet Catalan “pizza”. It may have been the best meal that I’ve had in Spain so far! I had a “pizza” with gorgonzola, mushrooms, and walnuts. Katie and I also shared a salmon and guacamole salad. After that, we went to get gelato at place recommended to me by Winnie. The biscotti gelato was probably the best gelato I’ve ever had. I wanted seconds! Then we went home and went to sleep.

On Sunday, we got up at around 8 to begin exploring the gothic region of Barcelona. Honestly, we didn’t see anything too exciting, but we did buy a few souvenirs. Then we rested at the hostel a bit before getting to the airport early. We wanted to see if we could fly back to Madrid early, and we could, so we did!

It was a very long weekend. Although I had a lot of fun, we were tired most of the time. I think  the lack of sleep from the 5 hour plane delay just wasn’t a good start. I also feel like Barcelona is way too tourist-y for me. It is definitely a place worth checking out, but I would’ve been find stay one night instead of three. If I had stayed longer, I would’ve gone to the chocolate museum and I would’ve stayed at the beach longer, but I was just so pooped by the end of the weekend that I wanted to be back in Madrid. It was also really humid. If I had to pick between really high temperatures in a dry place or normal temperatures in a humid place, I’d pick the dry place. I just absolutely hate humidity.

I’d also just like to give a big shoutout to Katie. I usually really enjoy planning trips and being the person to guide the way, but it was a nice change of pace to be able to just follow for once. Katie kept us on task so that we could see so many attractions in so little time and I almost had to do no thinking as to where we were going or what we were doing. I’ve never been really good at following and not taking control, but maybe I won’t mind doing that more often 😛

Overall, it was a good weekend, but I’m happy to be back in Madrid. I can’t believe that in about 12 days, I will be on a plane again, except this time, I will be going home.

-A.

Pictures of my weekend can be found here.

*Side note: The longer I’ve been in Spain, speaking and learning Spanish, the worse my English has become. I apologize for any grammatical errors and choppiness in my writing, but I kind of don’t care enough to fix them .. hehehe*

It has been an interesting last 2 weeks. At some points, I was really tired and homesick, so I just stayed in. But then, I realized that I’m in Madrid, Spain and there is no time to waste on such petty things! I need to go out and live! And so that is what I did. There have been some strange things that have happened- from going to the pool and realizing the women have zero problem going topless (*puke*), to getting hit on by a drunk, not-so-attractive British guy (*even more puke*), to actually going to a museums and enjoying learning (what?!). It seems like I should have blogged some time sooner because there may be too much to say for the amount of time I have to write this.

One exciting thing I finally did was go swing dancing! I finally was able to go to 3 events and meet many Spaniards. Many of them dance very well too, but the conversations were definitely the highlight of the experience. I made friends with many people, some who speak English and some who do not. It was a good opportunity to practice my Spanish and truly experience more of the culture.

I also went to go see Batman! In Madrid, there are theatres that play movies in their original versions, but with Spanish subtitles. This meant that I could watch Batman in English, and still learn a little bit of Spanish as I watched.

I’ve been to quite a few museums/exhibitions in the past couple of weeks. I don’t remember the names of most of them, but the one that stood out the most to me was the Museo del Prado. It is one of the most important art museums in all of Europe. We went for a class trip and I was extremely impressed with the history and workmanship of Velasquez’s Las Maninas.

One random night, I met up with my new apartment mate from Berkeley, Jolie. We went to a Hawaiian bar and got a drink that was in a volcano! That was very delicious and it was fun to be able to meet and bond while in Madrid before we got back to Berkeley in school mode.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I went with a few girls to Chinchon. It is a city an hour away from Madrid. Honestly, there wasn’t much to see. We went to the Plaza Mayor that had a bull ring, so we took pictures. Then we climbed a hill to see the outside of a church, where we took more pictures. I think the point was that we bonded and were able to get to know each other better.

This afternoon, I went to the convent. Basically, these nuns sketchily sell cookies and other sweets. You buzz a door and they let you in. You follow the signs to this little turn wheel. You never see their faces. They just talk to you and do the exchange of sweets and money via this little lazy susan. I bought a bag of cookies. They weren’t that great, but it was fun to say I bought the sketchy nun cookies!

I’ve certainly enjoyed getting to spend time with the people I’ve met here too. I’ve gone on multiple lunch dates with my girlfriends, I’ve explored in groups, I said goodbye to a friend from France while meeting a new English friend, and I just had to say goodbye to the two Arkansas boys that have been living with me. It’s crazy to think that I only have 2 weeks left in my program. I miss home and I can’t wait to be back in Berkeley, but til that day comes, I’m going to make the most of my time in Spain.

This weekend, I’m going to Barcelona. I will not be bringing my laptop (WHAT?!). I hope that I will have many stories to tell when I return. Til then, hasta luego!

-A.

Mid Summer Slum

July 19, 2012

So maybe this post is a little overdue, since it’s now two weeks past the midpoint of my stay abroad. But in the last week or so I’ve been feeling slow, drained, stuck in a slum.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed and am still enjoying my time in Ireland (and have a lot of pictures to show for it), but there’s something in the air that’s been getting to all of us in the program–and it’s not just the pollen. As much as we all like our internships, work is still…work, and the novelty of the workplace and the accents have worn off. Half of us have also seemed to have caught a cold of some sort. Shucks! I was really hoping to escape Ireland’s summer rains without getting sick. But it’s really hard to keep up with the ever-changing weather here! To quote one of my co-workers, “At one point yesterday I thought I was going to get sunburnt and all of a sudden it was like, well now I’m caught in a monsoon.” You get the idea.

And I’m really feeling the pressure when it comes to school work too. I have the final project for my online class to get underway, I have a 3000-word paper due next week for my Irish literature class, plus weekend trips, and cramming in more Dublin sight-seeing….

*Screeeeeeeeeech* Sometimes I want to just slam on the breaks and give myself a moment to breathe.

Something about these summer slums that seem to stifle one’s summer fun. 😉

–S.