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.