Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Its already March....

...unfortunately. The time here is going by so fast...thanks in part to my classes only on Mondays and Wednesdays...and also the traveling almost every weekend. This past weekend we went to Córdoba for a couple hours to see the Mesquita on the way to Granada. Mesquita means Mosque in Spanish...which confused us since the inside looked very Christian - Jesus on the Cross and everything. The tour we had was in Spanish and boring so we didn't get much out of it. Córdoba was rainy and we were all tired so it wasn't that great.

From there, however, we went to Granada which I loooooooved. It was the very last city in Spain to be under Arab rule, and is home to the Alhambra. It is situated in the middle of the Sierra Nevada, so snow-capped mountains surround the city. Although the city is obviously under Spanish rule, the Arab influence is very very evident as you walk through the city...especially the side streets where small shops sell Arab/Spanish jewelry and accessories, clothes, and smoking paraphanelia. Granada is stereotypically kind of a gypsy city; the gypsies seem a lot like the hippies of the U.S. My friends and I had a lot of fun out on the town Friday night, then got up for our tour of the Alhambra.

The Alhambra is a very old fortress/secluded palace-ish place on the highest hilltop within the city. It was built by the Arabs and was eventually taken over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. So, like the Mesquita in Córdoba, it use to belong to Islamic rulers and then switched to Christians. And also like Córdoba, our tourguide talked in Spanish...and never stopped. So boring. She would talk for 15 minutes, then move us ten feet and talk for 20 minutes. I stopped paying attention after a while... It was a really beautiful place though, we saw all the very intricate architechture, and I got a little bit of the history. You can click on the link below to see the pictures.

After that, my friends and I got pizza (HAWAIIAN :) ) and spent the rest of the day walking around the city. Madrid, up until then, was my favorite city. Valencia seemed exactly like Madrid but a little less modern. Granada was completely different - it had the feel of a huge modern city, but has retained sooo much character at the same time. I really enjoyed this city and hope I can go back someday...I really recommend seeing it. The pictures will be available soon!

This weekend we are going to Sevilla - which is, according to a lot of people, one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. This weekend also happens to be the weekend that my friend Juan will be in Sevilla with his school program from Barcelona, so we're all excited to see him as well. Since I've found a way to post pictures you'll be updated as soon as I get back.

Yay for pictures...

OK so I have finally found a satisfactory way of letting you all see my photos...it is through Facebook but its just a link that lets you see whole albums - you do not need to sign up or anything, just enjoy.

More TOLEDO: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2645673&id=13955527&l=0b375

VALENCIA: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2646464&id=13955527&l=a31a6

More VALENCIA & Some CARNAVAL Photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2646472&id=13955527&l=f2822

LISBON: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2654072&id=13955527&l=24c65

LA ALHAMBRA: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2658006&id=13955527&l=f6fb7

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Toledo & Carnaval, Lisbon

Hey everyone, again, sorry for my slacking! We had midterms this past week and I also traveled over the weekend so it's been pretty busy here. I'm working on getting more pictures on PhotoBucket so as soon as they load I'll post link to all the albums.

So since I last blogged, I have had a weekend in Toledo and then one in Lisbon, Portugal. We stayed in Toledo for that first weekend because of the festival called Carnavales. It is everywhere is Spain, and even in Italy too...but we wanted to experience the festival in our "home town". Carnaval is similar to Mardi Gras, but lasts around 10 days or so, depending on where you are. And we also dress up like Halloween (minus the emphasis on scary costumes). People get very creative here; and we've also realized that they don't have quite the same cultural limitations as we do in the U.S. For example, it was popular to dress up as an Arab, African American (with black painted skin and everything), or an Asian. We all found that a little strange since in the U.S. that would be considered extremely wrong. So on Saturday Carnavales was in the Casco (the old part of Toledo where I am). We went to the parade and then got our costumes ready. My friends and I were dressed as devils, a bunny, a puppy, and then some people just had crazy wigs with colorful clothes. La Plaza Zocodover was decorated with lights, a huge stage, and an outdoor bar. The streets and the plaza were FILLED with so many people...everyone dressed up in crazy costumes, including families and all the adults! My friends and I spent the night outside in the plaza and in a few different bars and discotecas for dancing. When we went home at 5am there were still sooo many people out, a lot of them waiting to get into the discotecas!

The next day was beautiful and sunny, my friends and I went down by the river to eat lunch...I got sunburned in February! (Don't worry, Mom, it wasn't that bad) The whole week leading up to our trip to Lisbon was absolutely beautiful, everyday was sunny without any clouds and between 55 and 65. We took all of our exams, and spent a lot of time outside.

We booked our plane tickets to Lisbon a looong time ago...because someone had found cheap tickets. Do I don't remember who's genius idea it was to go with this itinerary, but I do not like them. Our flight from Madrid left at 6:50am on Friday morning. The first bus/train from Toledo to Madrid wasn't until 6:30am. The Madrid Metro doesn't start running until 6am. The last bus/train from Toledo to Madrid on Thursday night is a 9:30pm. Considering all this information, we had to sleep in the airport. NEVER AGAIN. I spent 6 hours attempting to sleep on a cold hard bench made of 4 chairs making sure that no one would steel any of my things. Absolutely horrible. Finally 6am came, and we boarded the plane...which, suprisingly, had some of the best coffee I have ever had. We arrived in Lisbon at 7am (there was an hour time change) and headed to our hostel. As if the night wasn't enough, our hostel was a flat on the 5th floor of the building without an elevator, and our room wasnt ready yet. They let us keep our backpacks there though, so we went back outside to decide how we wanted to spend our day. We walked around for a little bit and stopped at a tourism office. From there, we decided to go to Sintra for the day, a small town about a 40 min. train ride outside of Lisbon. Sintra is very small, but with a lot of cute little cafes and restaurants, and a few castles...all surrounded by beautiful hills. It was a great day, and they had a 3-site hop-on, hop-off bus tour so we decided to do that. The first stop was some building...that obviously didn't interest me much. After that, however, we went to Moorish Castle...which is deteriorated castle walls on top of a very green hill. We spent a couple hours hiking through this and got some great pictures of the city below. The next stop was the National Palace of Pena (Palacia Nacional de Pena). This palace was a huge, colorful building on the very highest point of the city (which they apparently wanted us to appreciate since they made us walk up the mile-long road to get to it...). I got a lot of great pictures of this place, which you will see if the internet here decides to give me a break and upload my photos.

Eventually we returned to Lisbon (after a delicious meal of Hawaiian pizza and cheesecake) and went back to the hostel to get ready for the night. In our hostel we met 3 Belgians who asked us if we wanted to go to Barrio Alto with them that night (which is where the best nightlife is). They were nice guys and we didn't want to walk by ourselves so we accepted...it turned out to be a good idea because we were approached by at least 10 old men trying to sell us drugs. I should mention that if I were to describe Lisbon in one word...it would be dirty. Its a beautiful city but they don't keep up with the buildings very well, there are a lot of homeless people on the streets, and lots of dog poop. Anyway, we walked around Barrio Alto for a bit and found a little bar to sit and have a drink. We had a lot of fun but we were lacking on sleep so we took a taxi back to the hostel pretty early. The next day was a little rainy and cold, but we went out in the city anyway to do some site-seeing. We walked around for several hours and saw a lot of the city. My favorite part was after a lot of walking up hill, when we found this huge terrace overlooking the city with a little cafe. We had some coffee and sat on the couches to relax. It was almost time to go back to the airport so we headed back to the hostel to collect our things and return to Madrid.

I had expected Portuguse to be similar to Spanish...there are a lot of words that are the same. But we could not understand anything - it sounds like Dutch actually. So I was happy to get back to Spain where I am able to at least understand most of what people are saying. It's still pretty hard to understand, especially with the speed that they talk...but I'm working on it and slowly getting better. My speaking has improved a lot, I am better able to pronounce the words the way they are supposed to be pronounced. This weekend we are going on a trip to Andalucia, which is the most southern province of Spain. We are visiting Córdoba and Granada...its a school-planned trip so we just paid a set amount and that covers the already-planned hotel, meals, and tours. So it should be a nice, stress-free weekend. Although, the Andaluz accent is VERY different than the Castellano accent we are used to. To give you an idea, the Andaluz accent is different because they drop a lot of the s's and d's at the ends of words, they drop all the d's that are between vowels, and the dialect is very different. Also, according to my friends that have already visited Granada, it is full of hippies...it should be an interesting trip! I'll be sure to write about it when I get back.

I am loving Spain more than I originall thought I would...everything about it is so different and all it good ways. I already know that I'm going to be sad leaving, even though I'll still be in Europe for a while after. I've made a lot of friends in my school - all from the U so I'll be able to see them all again. But I've also made some Spanish friends...who make this whole trip so much better. I'm trying to think if I have any updates to tell you all, but I can't think of any right now. I'll be sure to blog more and put up pictures!

I miss you all! And I hope everythings going great in the U.S.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Weekend In Valencia

So we thought it would be a good idea to go out on Thursday night and just save sleep for the train ride to Valencia (it wasn't). The cheap train took 7 hours, stopped a lot, and was very rickety. My friend Mel had forgotten to print off her tickets for the train though, so she ended up having to find her own way to Valencia by herself! She's fluent in Spanish though and actually arrived in Valencia at the same time we did because she took the faster train. We walked around until nighttime and decided we were too tired to go out. The next day, we went to La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias which is a huge museum with a lot of different exhibits...we chose the Oceanographic museum which is the largest aquarium in Europe. We spent a couple hours there looking around and watched the dolphin show. Most of it was outside which was great since it was about 60 degrees and sunny! After the museum we went to the beach...which was what I was waiting for the whole weekend. It was beautiful...and my first sight of the Mediterranean Sea! It wasn't crowded at all (because 60 degrees is cold for Spaniards) so we just sat around, had lunch, and enjoyed it. I'll be posting pictures soon...I liked Valencia a lot but it was a lot like Madrid (besides the beach). I still think Madrid is my favorite city thus far. This weekend is Carnaval which is a Mardi Gras-esque holiday here. People dress up and party the whole weekend. So we're staying in Toledo this weekend but next weekend is Lisbon! I'll be updating more later.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quick Update...

Hey everyone, sorry about the blog slacking on my end recently. I have spent the last two weekends in Toledo...the last one was unintentional. Last Thursday two of my friends and I had planned to spend the weekend in Dublin. We got to the Madrid airport to find out that our flight was cancelled because of bad weather in Dublin (a few inches of snow apparently...). So we went back to Toledo for a lowkey weekend without all our other friends (who had flights Friday morning which weren't cancelled). Jusy my luck of course. But Mel and I have already booked our flight and hostel in Dublin for the last weekend in March...so I WILL get to see the country I've been waiting my whole life to see...just a little later than I had planned. Saturday turned out to be fun, since we were in Toledo we were able to go to Radical with a couple of our friends that live in homestays. Radical is a club that's only open every other Saturday...basically its a huge warehouse FILLED with lights and people. It was a typical Spanish club, with lots of smoking and drinking until daylight. Rachel, Mel, and I only stayed until about 4:30 though. The next morning we got to hear all about the Ireland trip...bittersweet.

This weekend my friends and I decided to go to Valencia on a whim...which is okay because its cheap to buy bus/train tickets if you're going anywhere within Spain. We're really excited about the trip after reading about all there is to do there...including some amazing museums, the beach, and (Mom, you'll like this) the Holy Grail. The Cathedral of Valencia claims to house the actual chalice used by Jesus at the last supper. I'll try to get a picture.

So when I get back I'll be sure to tell you all about it and post pictures (an area I've also been slacking). One more thing...please feel free to comment on the posts. Right now it feels like I'm talking to myself...and I'm not one for diaries...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New & Improved Pictures

Click the following link to view my pictures of Toledo, then click "Slideshow" in the top right corner of the screen to see all the picturs: http://s634.photobucket.com/albums/uu62/katiepesch/Toledo/

Click here to view pictures of Madrid: http://s634.photobucket.com/albums/uu62/katiepesch/Madrid/

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Posting pictures on this site is very annoying (slow and poorly designed)...so I'm going to use a different website to post pictures. When I get it all set up I'll publish the link here.

First Week of Classes

After a long week of trial and error, I finally have a set schedule of classes. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have classes from 11:30am to 9:00pm with a few breaks in between. That may seem a little crazy, but I have no classes on any other day so I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I am taking advanced grammar, linguistics, Spanish literature, Hispano-American literature, and conversation. They are all taught in Spanish...even the syllabi are in Spanish. Understanding what everyone is saying is still really hard, they have a very distinct accent - different from anything we hear in the U.S. So far they are alright, the literature ones, however, are going to be very difficult. I had the wonderful luck of getting the same teacher, Professor Mamonde, for both literature classes...each an hour and 15 minutes...back to back. He literally sits in one of the desks and talks and talks and talks and talks in monotone the entire class period. I can understand the gist of what he's talking about for the first half hour or so, but after that I can't hold on anymore - and once you loose track of what someone's saying in Spanish, its difficult to catch up. I really hope it gets better or my GPAs going to hurt. The conversation class is my favorite; we are learning colloquial phrases and how to fit into the Spanish culture. On Tuesday we all went to the TV room to watch the inauguration - pretty much everyone showed up, including a TV crew wanting to document our very American reactions to the new president.

My Current Favorite City: Madrid, Spain

Our school planned an "excursion" to Madrid this past Friday so my friends and I decided to stay the weekend. We left early Friday morning and arrived in Madrid around 10:30 (about an hour busride). First we toured El Palacio Real, which is where the royal families lived in the past, apparently they now live in mansions outside the city. Outside of el Palacio is a huge plaza, and directly facing it is the cathedral. Inside el Palacio, we toured several rooms; they all had beautiful statues, chandeliers, and paintings, but unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures. After el Palacio, our big group went had a brief bus tour and ate lunch at Museo del Jamón (Ham Museum). It isn't actually a museum, its a restaurant...and we ate chicken. They love ham in Spain so its all over the place; they especially like to hang large chucks of pigs from ceilings in a lot of restaurants and grocery stores. Its disgusting. After lunch my friends and I wanted to find our hostel so we could put our backpacks down and explore the city. It turned out we didn't research it enough before hand because there wasn't a sign - we happened to look so much like a stereotypical group of lost American girls that the owner of the hostel asked us if we were looking for Bulls Hostel. It was located inside of an apartment building and the only indication of the place was a sign about 1in. x 1/2in. next to the buzzer at the front door. We stayed in a room with 12 (very hard) beds and it ended up being a very nice place. For the next few hours we walked around the main plazas and streets of Madrid, took pictures, and shopped. It is a very lively city and VERY beautiful. It really is the best city I've ever visited.

We then decided it was time to get ready to go out for the night. We went back to the hostel to get ready, then went to a tapas restaurant (appetizers) for dinner. Pub crawls are a very popular tourist activity - we found one that looked fun and met up with the group. I guess this is a slow time of year because there were only about 10 of us in the group. We each paid 10 euro and went to 3 bars and 1 salsa club. There were free drinks and a lot of dancing. We had a great time. Our pub crawl guides were Alina from Germany and Beethoven from Brazil...made for a very interesting night.

In the morning we had the "breakfast" provided by the hostel (not that great, Spaniards are not known for having anything besides coffee for breakfast). Then my friends and I headed out for a day of sight seeing. We went through all the plazas we missed the day before, walked past El Museo del Prado, and went in La Reina Sofia to see Guernica by Picasso (an amazing work of art, yet very disturbing and sad). Google "Guernica" for more info. At this time we decided to head back to the hostel to get ready for our night. One of my friends has a love for California Rolls just like me so we stopped at the sushi restaurant near our hostel...delicious. We all got ready and went to the Metro stop about 4 meters from our hostel. The Madrid Metro system is excellent - we had no problems getting where we needed to be...it was clean and very efficient. I wish we had something similar in Minneapolis. A couple of my friends had met an Italian man through their host families - he lives in Madrid so we met him for tapas (appetizers). After that we were going to go to the famous Teatro Kapital - its a 7 story club with different themes and music on each floor. The Italian man has a cousin that works there so he was going to get us in free...but he wasn't working that night. The cover charge was 26 euro so we decided it would be a better idea to find a different club...a free club preferably. We ended up finding one a few blocks away and it was still a fun time. Getting back to the hostel was difficult both nights but we eventually made it back. Sunday morning we got up and had breakfast, then figured out how to get to the bus station so we could go back to Toledo. Again, it took a while, but we eventually made it back to Toledo safely. We can't wait to return to Madrid!

Monday, January 19, 2009

El primer fin de semana y el primer día de clases

This past weekend we had a lot of fun before classes started. On Saturday morning we went to Toledo's mall, which was about a 10 minute bus ride outside of the old city walls. It was very modern, with a lot of different stores, much like the US. I bought a pair of jeans for 10 euro - there were a lot of sales. We also went to a Wal-Mart type store inside the mall so I could buy school supplies, hangers, and a hair dryer. The store was very large and confusing, everything is so different! After the mall, we came back to the fundación for lunch and got settled in. I downloaded Skype and was able to talk to mom, dad, and Sarah over my webcam. Saturday was pretty relaxing, then we had dinner at 8:30 (which is dinner time everyday) and then got ready to go out. A guy that was in this program 3 years ago is staying at the fundación (they rent the spare rooms out like a hostel) and told us about all the good places to eat/dance. La Boveda is a small restaurant that makes very good sangria - a group of 6 of us went there around 11:30 and had a couple pitchers. The bartender also brought us over a free "appetizer" that consisted of potato chips on a plate with sugary gumdrops on top...a little weird even for España. After the sangria, my friend wanted to go to O'Brien's for Irish Car Bombs. We met a lot of other students there, both from la fundación and La Universidad Castilla la Mancha, which is another university in Toledo antigua. Then our big group of American students tried to decide which discoteca to go to. We ended up going to more of a fancy one, but no one knows what it was called - they played a lot of techno music and we stayed there until around 4. A group of us then walked around Toledo which, on Saturday nights, is very lively. There were people walking all over the streets and all the clubs were full. We walked past El Circulo de Arte (the club we went to on Thursday night) and there was a line of around 30-40 people waiting to get inside - and this was at around 4:30 or 5am. The nightlife is crazy. Needless to say, my roommate and I slept very late on Sunday.

The weather on Sunday was beautiful, it was sunny and mid-50's. Mel and I missed lunch so we decided to walk around and find somewhere to eat. I don't know why there are so many Irish bars here, but we found another one called La Rincon and stopped to share a pizza. The weather was so nice that we walked until just before dark. After dinner, we went with a group of students from la fundación to O'Brien's again because they were showing the cardinals-eagles playoff game. We watched until around 11:30, then came back to get ready for classes which started today. My schedule right now is really nice, I have grammar on Monday mornings, then literature and Spanish conversation at night. Tuesdays I have politics and society in Latinoamerica once before lunch and once after, Wednesdays I have grammar again, then Spanish culture, literature, culture again, and finally conversation. No classes on Thursdays or Fridays! Its going to be a lot of work but I think the classes will work out nicely.

There are 4 day trips to Spanish cities that we will take with the fundación, they are to Madrid (this Friday), El Escorial, Cuenca, and Segovia. My friends and I are planning to stay in Madrid for the weekend so we can experience the famous nightlife as well as see the sights. The fundación also offers an optional weekend trip to Andalucía which my friends and I plan on going on. We have started to plan out our weekend trips - so far we will be going to Barcelona, Bilbao, Dublin, Lisboa, and maybe Salamanca and Valencia. For Semana Santa (Easter) we have a 10-day break; we want to go to the Canary Islands and Morocco, then to Sevilla for Semana Santa. But we have to wait for all our class schedules so there aren't any conflicts with our plans.

Today I am going to try to go for a run around the city - hopefully I can find a nice paved path as to avoid another sprained ankle. I also need to buy my books for the semester, and write a one-page composicion for my grammar class. We had a relaxing weekend but its getting busy very fast!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fotos de Toledo

The view of Toledo antigua from across the river.
Apartments in La Plaza Zocodover

La Plaza Zocodover

The streets of Toledo antigua.

La Catedral

La Plaza Zocodover (marketplace)

El Comienzo

The flights went smoothly, aside from an unexpected 5-6 hour layover in London. We finally arrived in Toledo around 9pm on Wednesday night and went straight to sleep since we had all been awake for over 30 hours. Thursday morning we got up early for our language assessments and class registration. I am taking classes on Spanish culture & literature, grammar, conversation, and film. Then it was siesta time! Everyday from about 2 to 4pm the entire town shuts down for almuerzo y siesta (lunch and a nap). We fell in love with la siesta right away since we were all still jet-lagged from the day before. After siesta we explored the town, had orientation, then dinner. The streets are very narrow, most of the streets are only wide enough for one small car - and they go very fast. Whenever we're walking and hear a car coming we have to stand against the building walls to make room for the car. There are no separate buildings, they're all connected and 3 to 6 stories high. La Fundación is very nice inside, my friend Mel and I share a room, and we share a bathroom with 2 other girls. We have wireless internet, meals made for us, and the classrooms are just one floor above us so its a pretty nice setup.

My friends Rachel and Mel met a lot of new people, mostly Americans though. After dinner we spent some time talking then got ready to go out. Around 11:30, 5 girls and I went looking for a fun bar...it took us a while but we found one called O'Brien's (yes, it was one of 2 Irish bars). A lot of students from La Fundación were there also. After that, we all went to El Circulo de Arte which looked like a museum but was actually a club. It did not get crowded until around 1:30 or so. They played a lot of American music and we all danced and had a lot of fun. We left around 3:30 (which is early for Spaniards) and proceeded to get lost in the maze of streets that is Toledo. We eventually found our way back to La Fundación. Friday morning we took a guided tour of both the old and new parts of Toledo. After the tour we went to Movistar and bought phones for the semester; 29 euro for the phones and we pay by the minute so its a decent deal. After lunch and siesta we did a little shopping then had dinner. Tomorrow we're planning on taking a bus to the mall outside old Toledo (Toledo antigua).