lunes, 19 de diciembre de 2011

Final Farewells

A few weeks ago, Isabel told us about when her daughter studied abroad in England. "Is your father a bull fighter?" her host parents asked her. "Is your mother a gypsy?" After her daughter said no to both of these, the mother was very surprised. Later, she showed her a telephone for what she thought was the very first time. "You can call people with this," she explained to her. "I know, I have one at home," her daughter replied.

Now, when I left for Spain, I certainly did not think that every guy was a bull fighter and every girl was a gypsy. I also did think it was a third world country, as the British family that Isabel's daughter lived with seemed to think. Still, I did not know exactly what I was getting into and there was a lot that I did not know about Spain. Here I am though, four months later and Spain seems very comfortable to me. I have learned so much about their culture and I will never forget this experience.

After our final exam on Friday, we said  our final goodbyes to all of the teachers and everyone who would not be flying on the group flight. Our class of intermediate students bought a picture frame for Ana with a picture from our dinner at her house.

Saying goodbye to Isabel was definitely one of the hardest goodbyes. She said she was not going to wake up as we left because she did not like goodbyes. Instead, she just wanted to pretend like we would see her the next day and we said "hasta luego" (until later) followed by some besitos (the cheek kisses) and thank-you's before she went to bed. I will definitely miss her and how she definitely did everything she did for us with love.

For our final night on the town, we enjoyed one last Flamenco concert before heading to bed for two hours, as we had to leave at 3:30 to walk to the airport bus stop. The sleeping did not actually happen for me, as my mind was racing with feelings of happiness yet sadness.

After a quick flight to Madrid, we had what was supposed to be a short layover before getting onto the plane bound for Chicago. After we were all ready to go and on the plane, we got the terrible news that they found a problem with the brakes. We did not have to wait too long before this was fixed, but then we had to wait another 40 minutes before we could take off because of Portugal's fly-over restrictions. After the 40 minutes were up, we thought we were good to go. Wrong. Now there was a problem with the de-icer and we waited another hour and a half before we could finally take off.
I said goodbye to this as I walked over the bridge for last time.

So, after spending over 12 hours on the plane, we finally landed back in the United States. A lot of the students missed their connecting flights because of the delay, so it was a very hectic atmosphere as we said our goodbye's.

Overall, I am sure this semester will stick out to me as I look back on my college life. I have learned a lot of Spanish and hopefully I will find opportunities to continue practicing it. I am very happy to be home right now for Christmas and I can not wait to see all of the people I missed for so long. Thanks for reading my blog!

miércoles, 14 de diciembre de 2011

Christmas is in the Air

Walking around in Sevilla at night just got even more enjoyable. Now there are Christmas lights over almost every street, and each street has a different theme. It is a sign that Christmas is very near, and it also means that we are almost done with our semester abroad. 

The last couple weeks have been filled with "villancicos," or Christmas carols. First, we sang them at the Hospital de Caridad," where I had been playing bingo and dominoes every week. We sang what seemed like  20 carols for them, most of which were bilingual. The men seemed very happy to hear us despite our general lack of talent as a singing group.

The next week, we sang songs for the children at a convent at their Christmas party. We had bake sales throughout the year to raise money for the party, so we were able to buy all the kids gifts. In Spain, the main "gift givers" are the three wise men and not Santa, so who better to give the gifts than the three guys in the program? It was great getting to see the kids open what would probably be one of their only Christmas presents with such enthusiasm.

We also played a holiday-themed game with the kids. We divided into teams and then raced to blow up balloons as fast as we could. This was the easy part. Next, we had to stuff 4 balloons into each leg of a pair of nylons, which proved to be much harder than I would have thought. The point of this was that when you put the balloon-stuffed nylons on your head they looked like reindeer antlers. We had eight separate teams so at the end of the game, we had eight reindeer running around with their new, very floppy, antlers. 

I also got to see Isabel setting up her nativity scene, which seems to be a very big deal here in Spain. Several of the churches had signs advertising their nativity setup inside the church and there was a huge fair going on for the past month outside of the Cathedral that sold figurines for the nativity scenes along with any animal you could possibly want to accompany them.

lunes, 5 de diciembre de 2011

The Great Peacock Debate (along with some other site seeing)

Despite having lived in Sevilla for so long there were still a few must-see places that we still had not visited until recently. Therefore, we dedicated the last two weekends to doing just that.

First, there is the palace called the Alcàzar. Most of the palace is now open to the public, but some of it is still private so the royal family can still use it. The inside of the palace is yet another example of the Muslim influence from their reign in Spain. It has a lot of traits of the Muslim architecture including baths, mosaics and a dome. 

My favorite part of the Alcàzar, however, was the world of gardens outside the main building. If you are walking in the central of Sevilla, it is hard to picture where they would possibly be able to fit so many gardens right in the middle of a city, but they were there.  

The gardens are complete with a small hedge maze, waterfalls, fountains and, of course, peacocks. A fun fact is that peacocks in Spanish is "pavo real," which means "real turkey." There were peacocks all over the gardens, but  we also saw a cat, and we wondered if it would try to attack the peacocks. 

Thus sparked what has now become the "Great Peacock Debate." For the past week, Luke and I have been arguing with Mark about who would win in a fight between a peacock and a cat. The two of us are convinced that with a cat's agility, claws and teeth it could easily take down a "real turkey" after the initial shock of their huge feathers. We have been asking teachers, students, and senoras alike what they think about who would win, most of whom agree with us. However, Mark still thinks the peacock would win and the subject is sure to come up again. 

Despite tempers flying in the debate, Mark and I were still able to go on a trip together to Aracena, a small city about an hour and a half west from Sevilla. 

The most noticeable thing about the small town is that there is a castle on the top of a hill that you can see from almost every spot in the city. When we went up here, we could see everything including bulls that, are used in the bullfights according to Isabel.

We also went on a cave tour while in Aracena. The caves were beautiful and there were huge crystal formations all over along with some of the clearest water I have ever seen. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the caves, but they probably would not have done them justice anyways. 

The final must-do thing that we did was climb the Giralda, the huge tower connected to the Sevilla Cathedral. It is kind of sad that we had not done this yet, but we were waiting for a non-busy Sunday, when it is cheaper. 

Upon entering the cathedral, we saw yet another breathtaking display of pipe organs, altars and Christopher Columbus' grave. After taking all this in, we headed to the tower and walked up 34 small ramps once used by men on horses to ring the bells, and finally arrived at the highest point in Sevilla. 

From the Giralda, we could see everything from the Plaza de Toros to the huge bridges along the river. I could have stayed up there for a lot longer than I did, but it was still an amazing site. We waited for the sun to set behind the mountains before making our way back down.

This week, we have yet another week of holidays, with classes only on Wednesday and Friday. I am going to try to make the most of it as it is the last week before exams and then my return. 

sábado, 26 de noviembre de 2011

Two Fantastic Feasts

When she heard that some of the students in our class still had not tried paella, our professor was shocked. So shocked that she invited all six of us in her class over for dinner on Monday night just so we could try the paella along with some other Spanish favorites.

Professora Ana
So, on Monday night we all went over to Ana's house where we met her two sons and a family friend who I actually already met at church. We all gathered around a small table in her living room and enjoyed chicken paella, tortilla de patatas, and my personal favorite, arroz con leche for dessert.

The meal tasted wonderful and we all loved spending time with Ana outside of class. It was really cool that she likes enough to want to make us a meal and spend time with us discussing something other than what we are learning in class.

A few days later, it was Thanksgiving, where we had another delicious meal. Before that, however, we spent the morning in Italica, a city just outside of Sevilla that contains Roman ruins.

The first stop on our tour of Italica was the monastery where I think everyone will remember a moment with our tour guide, professor Jose Maria. While walking through the monastery, we came upon a painting. "Now the lion in this painting," Jose Maria explained, "is what you would call a" Everyone laughed at this because we just did not see it coming from him, but it was true that the lion did not look like a typical, scary lion.

After the monastery, we walked to the third-largest amphitheater in the Roman empire. I was surprised by how much of the structure was still in tact after so many years. When we went to the middle, where they had the actual events, we could see tunnels that were dug out underneath the ground where animals or gladiators would emerge to surprise the fans. Obviously, after being in such a cool building, us guys were inspired to watch "Gladiator" the following night.

Thanksgiving ended with a feast at a Cuban restaurant with everyone in the program. All of the professors have been saying that this is usually one of the most special nights of the fall semester, so we were excited.

Everyone got dressed up and we ate all the American foods (turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing) a Cuban Spain. It was in fact a great meal, but it was still strange to be away from my family on such a family-oriented holiday.

The night ended with the exchange of our "Amigo Invisible" gifts, which is what they call "secret santa" here. When I received my gift, I knew exactly what it was and who it was from because Luke happened to draw my name. It was a deck of Spanish playing cards, which is basically the same as American cards but with a few extras.

lunes, 21 de noviembre de 2011

Service Weekend

A few weeks ago at our worship service, called "encuentro," a speaker came and invited us to a Christian camp run by several local churches. The deal was that we could stay there overnight and get free meals in exchange for our labor one day. This past weekend, about 12 of us finally decided to take them up on the offer, and we headed out into the country to see what we would find.

I say "see what we would find" because none of us really knew what to expect in terms of what kind of camp this was, what kind of work we would be doing, and where we would be staying. All we knew is that the camp was about an hour away in a town called "Pedroso" and it was in the mountains. 

When we arrived at the bus stop we were greeted by Richard, one of the main workers at the camp. Richard was only able to take a few people to the camp as he only had a small truck, so the rest of us waited. This action  of meeting a new person who worked at the camp and then taking between 2-5 people repeated itself about 4 times until finally everyone was at the camp. I am still not sure why they did not use a bigger vehicle, but it was funnier this way. 

It was dark when we arrived Friday night, so we did not explore a lot. However, we did get a good look at the stars from an open field and then we got to sit by a fireplace, which was nice considering it was much colder here than in Sevilla. 

Our group had a huge room filled with a few smaller rooms that had several bunk beds in them. In my room there was...Luke and Mark of course, the only other guys. It got pretty cold at night, but I was smart enough to bring a bunch of blankets from home so I was fine. However, I did not know that Luke did not have a blanket all night and I felt pretty selfish when I woke up in the morning to find out he had suffered through the night in the cold. 

Saturday morning, we woke up to a light drizzle. However, after a quick  breakfast it was soon raining much harder, but this did not stop us from working. We walked to the fields of the camp where we saw farm animals of all kinds. As we walked to our site, we saw a flock of sheep, one of which was a two-day-old black sheep. We also saw two huge dogs named Princessa and Bruto, or Princess and Brute. 

Being the only guys there, we had the task of cleaning out a room that they were currently renovating. We had to lift a bunch of random stuff including mirrors, beds and tiles into a truck and bring them into another building. Meanwhile, the girls whitewashed the walls of the room we were cleaning out. By the end, we were very wet but we finished the job. 

Finally, we got to enjoy a great meal together. My favorite part of the meal was croquetas, something Isabel has made us before that kind of tastes like a chicken pot pie fried into little balls. There are different types, but these were chicken. I am used to only having a few, but we had a huge platter and of course the girls did not eat very many of them so I had all the croquetas I wanted for once. While at the camp, I also tried mussels, which looked bad but tasted a lot like fish. 

On the drive back, we were all quite tired and wet, but I think everyone had a good time doing something different for a weekend and happy that we were able to help out some very nice people. 

domingo, 13 de noviembre de 2011

The Ups and Downs of Ronda

Five days of school would be a lot to come back to after such a long break, so instead of regular class on Friday we had an excursion to Ronda,  a city about two hours away from Sevilla. 

Instead of my regular professor, Ana Maria, the two male professors came along on this trip with us. So, for the first time since school started I was spending time with some different professors, not to say that I do not like Ana Maria. 

We quickly discovered that Ronda, like every other city in Spain besides Sevilla, is very hilly. The city actually seems like it is on the top of a mountain because at every balcony there was a huge gorge overlooking trees, fields, and more mountains. 

When we went on one largest balcony to overlook the view, Salva, one of the professors, told us that the balcony has a nickname among the natives, but he could not tell us the actual name because it was a swear word. Instead, he told us to ask someone that lives in Ronda if we really wanted to know, so we did just that.

Before our actual tour of the city, we had time to explore so I went on a hike along with some other students. We heard that there was a waterfall that we could get close to, so went on a search for that. It did not take long to find, and after a quick walk, (quick because it was completely downhill) we arrived at the waterfall. We also found a dark cave to walk in, but it did not last long because the girls were afraid of a big spider that they soon noticed. 

The walk back up was not as easy since we were now going completely uphill, but when we finally made it we enjoyed our sandwiches before heading back for the tour. 

Ronda is divided into two parts: the old town and the new town. For the tour, we mostly walked around the old town where we saw some old houses, churches, and other buildings. 

Next, we went into an old building that used to serve as a walkway for slaves to get down to the river to collect water. The group slowly made our way down to the water, just as the slaves did, through the damp and dark passageway. When we got to the river at the bottom of the building, those of us that went on the hike for free time quickly realized that we were right across from where we had been. 

After making our way back up the stairs, we went finished our trip by entering the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain. The ring was not as pretty as the one in Sevilla, nor was it as big, but the seats were all in the shade, something that I think they should have done in Sevilla as well. Soon, a lot of students were acting like bulls, just as we have seen in all of the pictures of past students who have been here, but fun nonetheless. 

domingo, 6 de noviembre de 2011

The Last Legs of the Trip

In Venice we saw a lot of water. The water that paved the streets, of course, was expected, but unfortunately there was another form of it as well: rain. It pretty much rained on and off the entire time we were in Venice, but this did not keep us from exploring our third city on the trip.

We arrived Thursday afternoon to our bed and breakfast about 15 minutes outside of the city and rode the bus in for the night. Being used to the Spanish culture, we were shocked to see most of the restaurants and stores already closed by 8. It was clearly not the tourist season because the city was very dead when we went on our first walk through the city. Luckily, there were still a few pizza bars open where we could experience actual Italian pizza. 

We spent most of Friday walking around Venice again. According to the traveler's book we read, we were supposed to get lost in Venice, so we did just that. A lot of the city seemed to repeat itself; there were hundreds of shops that sold masks, toy Venician boats, and other souvenirs all over and of course there were many bridges.

Honestly, I was glad that we only spent one full day in Venice because it may have gotten long if we were there another day. The rain did not help because it made the idea of riding a boat much less appealing so we decided against it.

At night, we decided to make use of our stove in our apartment so we made our own Italian dinner with pasta and pizza around our kitchen table. It ended up being a great night with friends even though the rain made us a little grumpy during the day. 

Finally, it was Saturday, and time for our last leg of our trip. Originally, we were just going to go back to Sevilla from Venice, but we found that it was actually cheaper to fly to Barcelona first and wait until an early flight on Sunday to return. 

By this point in the trip, everyone seemed kind of burnt out from all the big city attractions that take quite awhile to get to, so we just decided to go to a few main places. 

First, we went to the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that is still in the process of being built because the artist, Antoni Gaudi, died before completing it. It was obvious that this was a much newer cathedral as it had a completely different feel to its outside. The sculptures had more square faces and the towers were much skinnier than those of Sevilla or Notre Dame.

After a long eight days, we went back to the airport and waited for our 6 a.m. boarding. It was a long night, but we played some Uno, got some free french fries from some generous people at the cafeteria, and even got a few hours of sleep on the floor before returning to my soft bed in Sevilla.