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).