Last weekend I met up with my good friend Annabelle (from home) in Munich, Germany. She is studying in London for the semester, and Munich was neutral territory. We met at our very clean, nice hostel on Saturday afternoon. After a quick coffee and look at a map, we set out to explore the city. The buildings were beautiful and holiday decorations were abundant. (There is no buffer holiday like Thanksgiving, so there’s really no guidelines as to the appropriate time to start decorating.) It was a little chilly, and I was definitely happy to arrive back in 50 degree Madrid weather by the end, but we were prepared with many layers.
First, let’s take a minute to admire the adorable and impressive seasonal display in the airport. It was one of the nicest I have ever been in, practically like being in an upscale shopping mall. There was even a small, outdoor winter market between two of the terminals.
Royal Bavarian Palace:
On Sunday, we took a two hour train ride to a town called Fussen. There we toured the Neuschwanstein Castle and took in gorgeous views of the Alps. Everything I had read about the castle being a giant tourist trap was mostly true. The tour was quick and they do sort of herd the group through, but what we did get to see was pretty cool. he fresh air and stunning views made the trip well worth the effort! (The story of the King Ludwig II is quite a tale in itself. He only lived in the castle for 171 days total.)
Annabelle & I on our way up to the Castle (a 20+ minute walk, uphill)
(If you’d like to see more photos, check out my November album.)
This past weekend I had an excellent time in Madrid. I checked out two new library cafes. Both had a unique, local vibe and were filled with too many great books to a point of distraction. As much fun as it is to sip coffee and observe the locals, it’s not a very productive. On Friday morning I went to the Museum of Decorative Arts. It’s literally one block from my house, and it might be one of my favorite museums I’ve been to in Madrid. Pepa (my host mom) has been telling me I should go for a while now, and she knew what she was talking about. There was surprisingly a lot to see. I actually didn’t get to see it all because I was too hungry and had to go home for lunch. The best part was an awesome graphic art exhibit, which featured old advertisements from the 20th and 21 centuries. On Friday night I went to an Irish pub with a few friends. I pass The James Joyce everyday and was excited to finally check it out. The best part was the giant hamburger I ordered. (Sometime I think I miss meat a little too much.)
Kitchen on display…one of Pepa’s favorites.
Saturday I spent the morning weaving my way in and out of shoe stores in our of Madrid’s most popular fashion districts. For someone who generally doesn’t like shoe shopping, the abundance of choices was overwhelming to say the least. I also stopped into an indoor market, where I had the most delicious salmon quiche. (There I go again with the meat cravings.)
That night, my host family invited me to attend a flamenco show of sorts. The whole situation was really vague and I didn’t get too much information beforehand. All I knew was that there was no official door price, there would be food, it was in the twins’ apartment and I was allowed to bring a friend. A few hours later, my friend Jessica and I pile into the back of the car. When we arrived, what we discovered was a converted apartment in an old factory building, complete with a dark room and two padded music rooms. When I asked how many other people live with the twins, Pepa replied that she didn’t want to know the answer. She also commented that the elevator looked like it could be in a horror movie. Everyone I talked to about the apartment said it felt very much like something they would find in New York City. It didn’t seem to out of the ordinary for me (felt very much like East Works building) but I guess the concept isn’t so common in Spain. After eating some homemade pizza, the flamenco show started. There were two guitarists, one singer and one dancer. The show was fantastic, even better than the touristy one I had seen before. The best part was when Pepa go on the “stage” and did a little improve dancing of her own. She is just the coolest.
The next afternoon I met up with Jessica again, this time to check out a fundraiser holiday market of mostly handmade crafts and jewelry. It was hosted by some international women’s organization, so there were many people speaking English and American products being sold. I bought a pack of mint Milano cookies (you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone) and a used Nicolas Sparks book because a) I need an easy read for traveling and b) I’m curious how he will play with my heart this time. We met a woman from Texas who met her husband when she was studying abroad in Spain like 30 years ago. She was encouraging us, promising that it can happen…! Anyway, the event was hosted in a super fancy hotel. I realized its level of fanciness when I tried to get soap from what was actually a perfume dispenser. Who knew they had those in bathrooms?
As Sunday night approached, my artsy weekend wasn’t quite ready to settle down. I was off with my host parents and their friends to see their youngest daughter, Macarena, in her first professional theater play. The play, called Munchausen, was written by an alumnus of her acting school. It was really dark and sad and I probably wouldn’t have seen it on my own, but Macarena was so good! It was awesome to see the final product after listening to her describe various scenes and characters for months. After the show we all went out to this bar called “El Fin del Mundo” (the end of the world) to celebrate. I was starving and the tapas were nuts but hey, can’t get everything in life. And so ended another fabulous weekend in Spain.
The sign for Munchausen outside the theater
Also, I should add that this past Wednesday was a Fiesta and so my program took a field trip to El Escorial. It’s a historical resident of the king of Spain, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It’s about 30 minutes outside of Madrid. On the drive there we passed the giant cross that marks Franco’s tomb. (Usually the program stops there but it’s closed to the public now apparently.) Within El Escorial there is a monastery, a royal palace, a museum and a school. We took a pretty brief tour of the museum and went into the library and the basilica. The tour was pretty rushed but our tour guide, Mario, was enthusiastic and upbeat as always. (He just appears out of nowhere on these outings, kind of like a Spanish leprechaun.) We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so you’ll just have to look at the ones I managed to take while no one was looking.
Painted ceiling in the Hall of Battles, El Escorial
Go HERE to see more pictures!
Yesterday I was in bed all day with a fever. I’m slowly getting better with the help of napping and homemade soup. All this “down time” means I can update my blog. And since I’m going to be in Munich this Saturday, I need to knock some blog posts out of the way.
The first weekend of November I traveled to Barcelona with my friend Sara (she’s appeared in this blog before.) Her friend Monique came along, too. I took a plane, as it was the cheapest last-minute option. I arrived Friday afternoon and was on my own until Sara and Monique arrived at about 9:30 p.m. After checking into the hostel I set out for the Picasso Museum. The woman at the front desk assured me it wasn’t too far away, but I had to stop and ask at least three different people for directions. Everyone was super friendly, drawing me maps and writing out directions. All day it had been pouring rain. It was not fun hopping in and out of stores with my broken umbrella. When I finally found the museum, I had to wait the ticket line for about 25 minutes. I imagined the museum to have a bigger collection. I actually asked a docent in the final room if there were more to the museum that I was missing. (There wasn’t.) I learned that Picasso was into ceramics, and I really liked his style. He also did a huge study on the painting Las Meninas by Velazquez which was especially interesting since I had seen the actual painting in the Prado. I wrote some postcards in a coffee shop waiting for the rain to stop. Later that night I met up with Sara and Monique, we went out to dinner, etc.
Saturday morning we walked along La Rambla, a famous street with shops that heads down to the port of Barcelona. After getting some much needed coffee down by the water, we went to fulfill Sara’s dreams of riding a moped.
Unlike the clouds, I am happy. (Port of Barcelona)
Turns out you need an international license so bicycles were the next best thing. We spent the afternoon biking around the city, stopping at famous Antoni Gaudí sites like La Sagrada Família and Park Güell. The sun was setting as we reached the park so we didn’t get to explore too much. The view riding to the top, however, was beautiful. The clouds never ceased to look threatening but thankfully it never rained more than a few drops. We ate dinner at an adorable and delicious focaccia bread restaurant. Despite the pouring rain (sadly it has returned) we went out to an Irish pub. There was a guy playing live music who was actually really good. And there were real Irish people there. (There were real Spanish people too, don’t worry. The whole “I’m in Spain” thing wasn’t completely lost on me.)
Inside La Sagrada Família
The next morning we had some time before our planes/trains left, so we visited yet another Gaudí site, Casa Battló. Admission cost a small fortune, but visit was totally worth the price. The architecture and the ideas behind it are so interesting and different from anything I’ve ever seen. I went back and forth between thinking “this guy was whack” and “this guy was a genius”. (I didn’t bring my camera because it was raining. Sara took pictures though, so bug her to put them on Facebook if you’re curious.) Before we left, we ate lunch at a tasty vegetarian falafel place. The sun was finally starting to peak out of the clouds as I headed to the airport. I even saw a rainbow from the airplane!
I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to Barcelona, but I’m really glad I got to go. (And it look like I’ll probably be going back with Michael.) There is so much to do - a weekend was definitely not enough. Like other trips I’ve taken so far, and as much as I liked Barcelona, I was reassured that Madrid is the place I would most like to be for a semester. I’m always happy to return to the city I’ve come to know and love.
P.S. Check out more pictures HERE.
Who knew keeping up with blogging would be so stressful?I tried to update last week but was discouraged when half of my blog post got deleted…anyway, I’ll share what I salvaged before speedily continuing.
As you may or may not know, my mom came to visit me for one week during the last week of October. There was a national holiday on a Tuesday and my school gave us Monday off so we took advantage of the long weekend to travel south. My mom arrived mid-week which meant that I still had one day of my internship and half a day of classes to attend. However, this proved not to be a problem because a) she enjoyed the extra down time for sleeping on account of jet lag and b) she is fully capable of navigating her way around the city on her own. After unloading all the goodies she brought for me (sweatpants, long underwear (it’s freezing in my house!), luna bars and enough floss for an entire elementary school for a year), we packed up and left early Friday morning.
First stop: Granada. The views on train ride were beautiful. My mom was especially mesmerized by the pattern made by the rows and rows of olive trees. “Look at those olive trees!” Our taxi driver was super friendly, going on and on about why Granada is 10 times better than Madrid. The Bob Marley CD he popped in was a nice touch. After finding our hostel (very nice owners, very small bed to share), we set out to explore the city. The frozen yogurt beckoned as we pealed off our layers of clothing from the chilly morning air. Our topping of choice? Pomegranate seeds, of course! (Granada means pomegranate in Spanish.) We wound our way through steep, narrow streets to a look out called Mirador San Nicolas Alto.
Madre and I at the lookout with the Alhambra in the background.
We got ourselves most of the way there with a map, but we ultimately lingered in the back of an Italian tour group that we guessed was going to the same place (they were). Lunch, dinner, more strolling and admiring the quaint city.
We woke up super early Saturday morning to stand in line for tickets to the Alhambra. Turns out there are machines around the back of the gift shop where you can buy tickets with your credit card. And just like that we were out of line and inside the grounds of the Alhambra! The plus side to being awake so early is that we got to see the sunrise over the city. There are not enough words to describe the place - everything was unbelievably beautiful.
After about five hours of exploring the grounds, we left to go find the caves. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but we were feeling adventurous. Turns out the caves are mostly residences or restaurants with flamenco shows. We did, however, walk far enough on a back country road to see snow on top of the Sierra Nevadas! On our way back into town we stopped by the cave museum, which featured caves set up as they would have been many years ago. As it was our last night in Granada, we obviously had to get some of that delicious frozen yogurt again. But my mom also wanted to try the typical Spanish churros with chocolate. What’s a girl to do? Eat both, of course!
(And now I’m transitioning into highlight mode, sorry.)
Next stop: Sevilla. On Sunday we visited the Royal Alcazar. Not as well known as the Alhambra, but I’d say equally as breathtaking. Those royals really knew how to enjoy themselves. We had lunch and walked around in the barrio of Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter. Then we headed over to Plaza de España. Very beautiful, tons of people, little plaques for every city in Spain. On our way back we stumbled up an international festival with food and gifts from all over the world. (My banana and chocolate crepe from the France pavilion was amazing, in case you were wondering.)
On Sunday, we took a tour of the bull ring. It’s true that I didn’t really enjoy myself at the last bull-related event I went to, but this was different. We took a quick tour of the ring and were then guided through the museum. The history and pride behind bullfighting is interesting, and my mom got a chance to see something truly Spanish. After the tour we walked along the Gualdalquivir River.
We saw the Tower of Gold on our way to the Old Tobacco Factory. Now the site of the University of Sevilla, we grabbed a cheap and surprisingly yummy lunch in the student cafeteria. After a little shopping it was time to catch our train back to Madrid…
…only to wake up the next morning and take a quick bus ride to Toledo. I was happy to be able to go with my mom because I had missed my program’s trip to the city a few weeks earlier. (Prague just gets in the way sometimes, you know how it is.) In half a day we managed to see two synagogues and a museum. First up, the Santa María La Blanca Synagogue. (The oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe.)
Santa María La Blanca Synagogue
Next, we visited the Sephardic Museum and the Synagogue Transito. Lastly, we visited the Greco Museum. I didn’t know much about the painted before hand, but now his work and works influenced by him seem to be popping up everywhere. Unfortunately we had to rush home so that I could register for classes for next semester and send in a paper for one of my classes here.
All in all, it was so great to see my mom. It was also nice that she got to meet my host family. They got along really well despite the fact that there wasn’t really a common language. She got to eat Evelio’s amazing cooking and see first hand that I am well cared for here. It was definitely sad saying goodbye, but I was grateful for her visit. It was also easier knowing that I would be returning to the airport in about 6 weeks to pick up my older brother, Michael. (We’re traveling for two weeks at the end of December!)
Back in Madrid (In front of Puerta de Alcalá)
P.S. Click HERE to view my Facebook photo album!
Time for another (quick) update! Two weekends ago, my friend Sara spent the weekend in Madrid with me. My next door neighbor freshman year at UVM, Sara is studying in Murcia for the semester. I also saw her when I went to Valencia in September. I feel like I see her more in Spain than at home.
The highlight of her visit was our day trip to Ávila, a city about an hour North of Madrid. I picked it because a) my guidebook told me to go and b) my host family recommended it. I would say both were correct, although Sara and I had a little trouble spending an entire day there. We ended up taking an earlier bus home. (We didn’t however, go into every museum, cathedral or basilica there was to see.)
The semi-rundown bus station was dead when we arrived. A few short minutes walking, though, and we knew we had arrived to the romanesque medieval walled city. We wandered around and looked in some cute stores. Then we headed for the walls. For a small price you can walk around the entire wall, stopping to climb up lookouts and see if the view has changed since the last one (usually, it hasn’t). I think the walls are prettier to look at than anything you see when you’re up there, minus a few mountain ranges in the distance.
We decided to climb down from the wall walkway and check out “Los Cuatro Postes”, or the Four Posts. The woman sitting behind us on the bus was raving about the site to someone else. When we asked a security guard for directions, she said it would be at least a 20 minute walk. It probably took us 10 minutes. We enjoyed the view looking back at the city, and even relaxed in a grassy field for a while before we left. When we asked the same security guard a different question on the way back, she was so shocked that we had made it back so quickly. I’m not sure if she’s ever tried to make the “hike” herself.
Sara and I had a lovely lunch in a popular square. The square itself, however, wasn’t too populated. Maybe the chilly weather had already driven the tourists away (Ávila is the highest provincial capital in Spain). Or maybe it was the people dressed like creepy witches scattered throughout the town. (I wish I had a picture of them, seriously so disturbing).
On our way back to the bus station, we made sure to stop in a bakery and grab some “Yemas de Ávila”. The local delicacy is egg yokes sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sara and I each had two before realizing what exactly we were eating. I’m not a huge fun - they don’t really taste like anything. My host sister, Macarena, loves them and was very excited to see the box we had brought for my host family.
First I’ll start by getting my mini freak out over with…it’s already November?! Oct. 28th marked my official half way point - I will be home in less than two months. My apologizes for the lack of blog posts. The last few weeks have been filled with mid-terms, visitors and traveling. Today is time in a while that I’ve had some down time, and tomorrow I’m heading off to Barcelona for the weekend!
Now I’ll rack my brain for memories of the Czech Republic and Austria. Prague and Vienna were absolutely amazing! I traveled with my friend Anjali who is also studying in Madrid this semester. She is friends with my friend Natalya at Tufts. We stayed with their friend Bruce who is living in Prague this fall.
We left Madrid Thursday morning and arrived that night. We went to a very cool movie theater to see Eyes Wide Shut. (Such a weird movie. Bruce had to see it for his film class.) The next morning Anjali and I woke up extremely early to catch a bus to Vienna. I slept most of the five hour trip. The bus was extremely nice, equip with personal tvs and free beverages (AND a bathroom!). After some minor confusion we found our hostel, stored our luggage and headed out for the day. We walked through a market and bought falafel for lunch before taking a tour of the Schonbrunn Palace. It’s huge and beautiful, although I like the Royal Palace in Madrid better.
After, we headed into the city center to go to the Albertina Museum. We saw an exhibit titled “From Monet to Picasso”. It was a very nice museum, as well as a nice break from the cold temperatures outside. Then we walked around and enjoyed the many things downtown Vienna has to offer: St. Stephen’s Cathedral, numerous Mozart-related stores, The Opera Building, etc. For dinner we decided to find a restaurant that was recommended by our map. We finally found the place after about an hour of squinting to read street signs and asking for directions. The food and the warmth were totally worth the effort! That night, we made some new German friends in our hostel. I learned a lot from them about the differences between Austria and Germany. The next morning (aka 4 hours later) we rolled out of bed to take an early bus back to Prague.
Bruce was still in class when we arrived on Friday, so we took the opportunity to explore the Old Town. The area is breathtaking. There is something about the combination of beautiful old buildings, cobblestone streets and red roofs that makes me want to live there. We checked out the astronomical clock on the old town hall. I still don’t really understand how it works at all, but it is pretty.
We went to the top of the town hall which has amazing views of the city. We ate lunch at a traditional Czech restaurant. Their fried cheese is my favorite. It’s like a giant, flattened mozzarella stick. I also tried some bread dumplings, which were kind of tasteless but not terrible. That night Bruce took us on a walking tour by the water. The city is even more beautiful lit up.
On Saturday we went to a super interesting photo exhibit that highlighted controversial photographs throughout history. Each photo had a little explanation you could collect and bind a book together at the end of the exhibit. Not so environmentally friendly, but a nice souvenir nonetheless. Next we walked to the Prague Castle. There, we saw the St.Vitus Cathedral and other areas inside the Castle walls, like a recreated street with shops and the Castle’s prison. The Castle itself was the least decorated that I’ve seen, but it definitely felt like a Castle with huge ceilings and stone walls. After taking in the gorgeous views one last time, we walked back down into the city center to find the Jewish Quarter. We didn’t have time to really check anything out, but we did find two synagogues. That night we cooked dinner for ourselves in Bruce’s warm apartment. Sunday morning we woke up early (a theme of our trip that I wasn’t too fond of) to head back to the airport.
Overall, it was an amazing trip. I didn’t really know what to expect before I went. Prague and Vienna certainly weren’t on radar until Anjali suggested we go. But the people were friendly, the food was delicious, everything was cheap (slash Madrid is just generally expensive) and I even learned to ignore the cold weather.
P.S. If you haven’t already, check out my October photo album on Facebook for more pictures.
P.P.S. I was especially thrilled when I met a couple from Vienna this past weekend, and I was able to discuss the differences between Prague and Vienna.
This past weekend was dominated by a combination of Yom Kippur and homework. Friday morning I met my friends at Casa de Campo, a huge park to the west of Madrid. We couldn’t take the sky ride because it was closed that day, so we quickly made back up plans to check out the lake instead (conveniently located at the metro stop named “Lago”). We took a small row boat out on the water. It wasn’t quite as scenic as the lake in Retiro, but it was much less crowded. We had the whole lake to ourselves (minus a few scullers)! With 45 minutes to kill and not that much energy to row, we decided to take our lunch break on the water. Afterwards we continued to walk around the park, check out the information building (aka bathroom break) and just enjoyed the warm weather while it lasts.
Then we split up and Cecilia and I toured the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). The Palace is sort of like Spain’s version of the White House, except it’s only used for special occasions and important visitors. With the guided audio tour, it took about two hours to walk through the palace and visit the rooms that are open to the public. Every room was decorated slightly differently, but each was over the top and extremely fancy.
By the time I got home I had to quickly turn around and go to services. Afterwards, I met up with my friends again in search of this Chinese restaurant Cecilia had heard about. All she knew was that it was in Plaza de España, under a fountain and next to a parking garage. When we finally found the place there was a huge line but we decided to wait anyway. The food was good, the service was lightening quick and I definitely didn’t feel like a tourist. (The restaurant was in this sketchy underground hallway.)
Saturday I stayed in services until mid afternoon. I knew the one thing I needed to get through fasting all day was a nap. I was also distracted by the multiple television episodes I had saved up to watch. Finally, after what seems like forever, I walked the short distance to my favorite bakery and treated myself to a huge chocolate chip cookie to break the fast. I tried to take a walk in Retiro but I was still exhausted so I retreated back to my lovely purple room. That night I went out for Indian food with some different friends. We had walked into a few other restaurants that were reservation only, but I’m glad we were turned away because this restaurant was amazing! Or maybe I was just really hungry. Probably both. As much as I’m loving the Spanish food here, it was nice for a small change of diet.
Sunday morning I met my friend Melanie in Retiro do to homework and eat lunch. Turns out it’s difficult to concentrate on contemporary Spanish politics when you know there is garlic pasta with tomato and basil sitting in the bag next to you. The rest of the day consisted of me attempting to do homework but getting distracted by travel plans, my host family’s friends in the house and laundry.
And so another (very short) week begins. I had to my internship today, I have three classes tomorrow and I leave for Prague on Wednesday afternoon! I also went to my first flamenco class today taught my host mom, Pepa. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a dance studio, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. She even has high heels and flamenco skirts you can borrow for the class, which made it extra fun.
Next time I write I’ll be one country closer to my desired status as a world traveler!
Time is flying! Tomorrow will mark one month since I got on the plane to Spain. This week especially has just flown by. (Although the individual days are long and exhausting.)
Last weekend my program took a trip to the city of Córdoba. The trip takes about six hours by bus, but the high-speed train got us there in under two! When we got there we had a few hours of free time to explore, eat, etc. We stayed with in the old Jewish part of city for most of the trip. Then we started our draining, multi-hour, multi-cultural tour of the old city.
First we saw the Mezquita-Catedral (Cathedral-Mosque). It became a Roman Catholic church once again after the Spanish Reconquista. Later, a cathedral was added into the center of the huge building. The architecture is really unique but hard to explain. (Read more here.)
An example of the blended architecture inside the Mezquita.
Next, we winded our way through extremely narrows streets to La Sinagoga (the synagogue). Built in 1315, it’s the only remaining synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Córdoba. Wikipedia tells me that the building was used as a nursery school and a chapel for shoemakers, among other things, after the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Looking up at the balcony where the women sat.
We ended the tour with a visit to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs). Alcázar gets it’s name from the Arabic word Al-Qasr, meaning “the Palace”. Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon used to live in the castle back in the day. There were pretty gardens and towers that we climbed to get a better view of the city.
That night the entire program went to a flamenco show. I always see people practicing in the studio but it was the first time I had seen a real performance. The dancer’s outfits were bright and colorful. Everyone was super talented! There was also live music and singing throughout the performance.
After breakfast at the hotel Saturday morning (I had cereal for the first time in weeks!), we walked about 30 minutes to an old “palace”. It was some rich family’s residence…I may have stopped listening to the guide and started taking pictures. There were many rooms, courtyards, gardens etc. It was basically just a huge photo-op for the group. We probably spent more time taking pictures with our friends than learning about the site.
Then we walked through some more narrow streets to see some more historical/interesting plazas and monuments. Unfortunately, my feet hurt and the sun was brutal so I tried to hide in the shade as much as possible, which meant not listening to the guide. One forced group photo later and we were once again unleashed into the city. My friends and I checked out a museum about the three cultures that used to occupy the city. The museum is in an old tower at the end of a huge bridge. We climbed to the top and saw some pretty amazing views.
Looking back at the old city from the museum tower. (The Mosque is the big building on the right.)
On Sunday I went to the Naval Museum, which is 2 minutes from my house. If you like building/looking/anything about model ships, this museum is for you. The place is filled with replicas of different ships from all periods of the Spanish navy. Also on display are old navigation tools, weapons, maps, giant figureheads and two replicas of important rooms aboard ships. They also have every single painting of every single battle fought that you could ever want to see.
My personal favorite of the bunch.
To top off my extremely cultural weekend, I spent a few hours at the Prado Museum after lunch. The museum is huge and overwhelming. I decided to make myself a little scavenger hunt. For the next 1.5 hours I was on a mission to locate and listen to what the nice man inside my audio guide had to say about the Goya art deemed “masterpieces” by my museum pamphlet. Quite the task, especially considering the hoards of people I had to weave through to get anywhere.
If you like what you see, I put up a September photo album on Facebook. Take a look!
Shana Tova! Happy New Year! Here’s a quick recap of the past week:
This morning I went to services with three people on my program. It was through a synagogue but the services were held in a hotel. I thought this was for overflow purposes but there were definitely less than 100 people there. The service was somewhere between reform and conservative. I didn’t recognize too many of the melodies, but it was still easy to follow. My favorite was the electric piano that accompanied many of the psalms and silent prayer times. It was cool to experience a ritual I know so well like a prayer service in a different country and language (although, of course, much of it was in hebrew like at home). When I tried to explain to my host family where I was going and what holiday it is, all I really got out of them was a list of other Jewish people they know. But I did get a “happy new year” hug from my host mom. And when I got excited about the gazpacho my host dad made for lunch, he said “happy new year”!
Tonight I went with some friends to see a contemporary circus show. It was a combination of modern dance, acrobatics and theater packed neatly into 70 amazing minutes. Kind of like a smaller, less professional “cirque du soleil”. My host family recommended it after some of them went for Macarena’s birthday last week. There was this guy sitting in the row across the aisle from us who kept clapping every five seconds. Everything deserved an applause, but after a while people got tired of clapping and it would be only him. At one point in the show one of the performers came up the aisle and sat in the empty seat in front of me. I was terrified that he was going to interact with me. One of my worst fears is being picked from the audience or anything like that during a show. (Side note: I think this fear developed when I saw my first Broadway show, Cats. We were warned that the cats roam the aisles during the show and I’m pretty sure I made someone switch seats with me.)
I took the bus to school for the first time on Tuesday. I always knew the bus was faster, but the metro was easier to figure out initially so I just stuck with it. During breakfast, my host family explained to me which number bus to take, where to catch the bus, where to get off, etc. It was all very clear at the time…but I somehow managed to go about 10 minutes past my stop. I had to get off the bus, cross the street and get back on the same bus going in the opposite direction. Overall harmless mistake minus showing up 20 minutes late for class and getting the “you’re crazy” look from the bus driver when I asked for a stop we were long past.
On that same Tuesday I set off to pick up a package from my mom at the post office. It was originally delivered to the school, but I wasn’t there to pay the hefty custom fee so it couldn’t be dropped off. After a 20 minute walk in the beating sun, I was so excited that I had actually found the post office. Only it wasn’t the place I needed to be. I took a number and waited about 10 minutes only to learn that the place to pick up packages was two doors down the street. Two doors later I’m waiting again in an even longer line, this time with no assigned ticket. When it’s finally my turn, it took the guy at least five minutes to locate my package in the office. I got a wee bit lost on my walk back to school, but it was nothing a few minutes looking at a large map of madrid on the street couldn’t fix. The problem is that I only know the names of main streets. I could be very close to where I need to be but I wouldn’t know I am in relation to anything. Anyway, getting lost isn’t something that happens to me often (thankfully) so I actually kind of enjoyed the experience (mostly because it ended well and I was never too far from the school). P.S. The package contained gifts for my host family: White Chocolate Peanut Butter and Maple Cream. They love both!
That’s all for now, I think. Tomorrow my program is taking a trip to Córdoba for two days. I need to get up bright and early to catch the train. More soon!
If I had to title my weekend, it would be called “Because My Guide Book Said So”. Since my last class on Thursday ended at 12 p.m., I’ve been on the go visiting museums, shopping in markets and just exploring everything Madrid has to offer.
On Thursday afternoon I went to The Thyssen-Bornemisa Museum. The museum is one of the three that makes up the “Golden Triangle of Art”, which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia galleries. Most of the museum consists of some dead guy’s collection that he left to his wife. It’s too complicated to remember but it’s worth googling if you’re interested. That night I met with some of my friends at a famous chocolate and churros place. The churros are a little bit different than the ones for $1 at costco, but equally delicious!
There is a giant statue of a baby head outside the museum. (Apparently there’s also one in front of the MFA in Boston…sadly I haven’t been in a while.)
I slept in on Friday morning which was both awesome and necessary. Then I headed to el Estadio Santiago Bernabeu with my friend to take a tour of where the Real Madrid team plays. (Fun fact: “Real” means “Royal”) The stadium is huge! I’m not even that big of a fútbol fan, but the number of trophies this team has in certainly impressive. We paid a little extra for a guided tour, although the tour guide wasn’t super knowledgeable and we probably would have done just as well on our own. These things are hit or miss, really.
Cecilia and I test out the Real Madrid bench. So comfy!
Saturday I got myself up and out early-ish and walked the short distance to theNational Library. (My host family lives in such a great location.) There’s a small museum in the basement all about the origins of the written words and books. It was semi-interesting, and free! The building itself is beautiful. After winding down random little streets and poking my head into cute shops, I stumbled upon the Caixa Forum. I still don’t really understand what it is, but there are also different exhibitions to see (and it’s free!). I saw a photography exhibit that focuses on the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. The most interesting thing about the museum is that the building itself was renovated and there’s no basement, so it appears to be floating. There’s also a hanging garden on the wall of a building next to the museum.
The Vertical Garden
Saturday night I went with Cecilia and Catherine to a Real Madrid game. They played against another team from Madrid. Real Madrid won 6-2 so we got to see a lot of goals, and even a few penalty kicks. The fans were so into the entire game which made it really fun to watch. My favorite thing was that our seats were in the cheapest (aka highest) place possible, and there is a huge sign that says “vomitorium”. You can read about it here, it doesn’t mean what it sounds like. But I think it’s hilarious.
Hooray for friends! And glare!
Lawn mowers didn’t waste a minute after the game was over to start trimming the field.
On Sunday I met some friends at El Rastro, the most popular flee market in Madrid (and probably Spain). You can find everything and anything. People were selling clothes, jewelry, antiques, appliances, shoes, food, etc. The only thing I bought was a spinach empanada. Now that I know the lay of the land, I’ll come back another day super early to beat the crowds.
Between the market and going home for lunch, Catherine and I went on a hunt for The Museum of Origins. (We only had to ask two different people for directions!) This small, free museum featured artifacts dating way back to the time of the wooly mammoths. Tools, pottery, etc. There was also a model of current day Madrid along with the history of how the city came to be. On our way to check out the Plaza Mayor, we stopped to eat at a very appetizing tapas restaurant. I got a sort of spinach crepe with salmon and cream cheese. We then strolled around the Plaza, soaking up the sun and the wide variety of people.
Before this turns into a complete food tour, I’ll end this post by quickly sharing about the bullfight I went to on Sunday night. I was on the fence all week about going. I decided to buy a ticket last minute because I thought “When in Spain…” But apparently that rule of thumb is on it’s way out - Catalonia just banned bullfights. I thought the hardest part was going to be watching the violence. In reality, the emotional aspect was worse. The idea that I had paid to sit and watch (and cheer on) an animal’s death was just too much. I enjoyed everything about the bull fight until it got gory - the stadium looks antique, the costumes are beautiful and even the horses are dressed up. But the cultural part just wasn’t enough to keep me there - I left after they killed the first bull. All I can say is that I’ve never been happier to live with a vegetarian family.
Until next time!