Tuesday, May 31, 2011

31 de mayo

Tuesday, 4:18 p.m.

I have three days left in Santander. Less than that, actually. I leave this beautiful city I have learned to love on Friday at 3:45 a.m.

This week has been a busy one. I’ve had two presentations, written several papers, and my finals are coming up in the next two days. I have yet to undertake the daunting task of packing up my room even though every bit of me is longing to do so. I’m forcing myself to wait because I really didn’t bring enough things to be able to pack some of them early.

Because I’m itching to get things together and go home though, I’m starting to get somewhat organized about pre-packing. My toiletries are now organized not based on convenience of use, but based on what I will be tossing and what I’ll be taking. My closet is no longer organized by color and sleeve length, but by what I think I’ll be wearing over the next few days and what won’t be touched until I’m back in the U.S. I have made mental notes of what school things I will immediately recycle once I finish with classes (the culture folder and notebook will be the first to go, tomorrow afternoon once I take the final). I know which carry-on items will go in which bag.

Heck, I’ve even organized my garbage (empty water bottles in one box, garbage in another, paper in yet another).

I’m ready to be home. Obviously I’m so ready to see all my loved ones and speak my favorite language, but I have missed so many other little things about home.

I’m excited to drink Eugene water again. To use my debit card (I haven’t used it hear unless I was withdrawing money, in order to avoid a gargantuan charge). To eat a more sizeable breakfast. To eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. To have vegetables. To not inhale smoke from countless cigarettes on walks. To use my cell phone. To go to Target. To see a real dog (I’m tired of these teensy little purse dogs that are constantly underfoot). To dry and straighten my hair. To read PerezHilton.com daily. To be in a country where it's considered strange to not wash your hands after going to the bathroom (in Spain it's normal to just flush and go...gross!).

Don’t get me wrong – there are things about Spain that I will miss too. I love the people-watching. The fact that the city shuts down on Sundays. The proximity of the beach. Cola-cao. The magical shades that completely shut out any and all light from outside. Having my laundry done for me. Window-shopping. Meeting up with people at all hours of the evening. Regma ice cream. Wandering the Paseo. Watching “Hannah Montana” in Spanish (the girl who voices Hannah sounds exactly like her, it’s scary). The cute little pennies. My sweet host mom saying, “¿Que tal, bien?” whenever I walk in the door, not even giving me the option of being anything but good.

I have seen Spain. I’ve experienced it; I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot…and now, I am ready to be home.

Tomorrow I have classes and a final, and then on Thursday I have another final. I will pack like a crazy person on Thursday afternoon before going to La Cena Despedida (The Goodbye Dinner) will everyone from my group, plus our teachers…and then it’ll be time to bus to Bilbao and start the long journey home.

I’m so excited. This trip has been so amazing, but I can't wait to be back where I belong!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cansada

Sunday, 12:32 p.m.

I. Am. Tired.

This weekend has taken everything out of me. I was trying to create a lovely post with pictures from my excursion this weekend, but for some reason Blogger is being difficult and keeps ruining my words when I add photos, so I have decided to ignore the photos for now.

On Friday we had our Picos de Europa excursion which involved four stops - a monastery, the Picos, a town called Potes, and a really old church (10th century old). The excursion got off to an unpromising start as I was feeling incredibly bus sick...I'll spare you the details.

We went to the monastery where we got to touch a piece of the cross Jesus died on. Yeah, right. Not to be a Doubting Thomas or anything, but I just don't understand how anyone can claim such a thing!

Next we headed to the Picos de Europa, were we crammed into tiny cable cars to go up the mountain. We were rewarded for this death-ride (my already being nauseous plus my claustrophobia does not lead to a good experience) with a view of fog. We could barely see 10 feet ahead of us, it was that foggy.

Next we headed to a town of Potes. At this point we were all dragging and most of us would have been content to stay on the bus. Instead we wandered into tourist shop after tourist shop, buying last-minute Spain gifts for family and friends.

Next we headed to a teensy little church that was built in the 10th century before hitting the road to Santander. I was exhausted and slept the entire way.

Once back in Santander I had dinner then headed over to Kyla's in the hopes of doing homework. On a Friday night. There's a reason this group calls me "Grandma". Obviously.

Her host mom (best host mom on this trip, hands down) took us out for Sangria with the two girls from University of Texas who just moved into Kyla's house. Their program just started and they'll be here for the next six weeks. These girls are the sweetest girls I have ever met in my life. Since Kyla and I have been here longer and have been taking Spanish longer, we were able to play translator for them when Kyla's host mom was talking, which made us feel like Spain has really been teaching us.

We returned to Kyla's where I decided to abandon homework for the evening and just go home and go to bed. I'd been getting sick (some bug had been going around among my class) and was feeling pretty tired so I thought if I wanted to go out on Saturday, I better save my energy.

On my way home I stopped at the plaza where everyone was meeting and ended up running back home to change before heading back to go out with them. We sat on the steps for a while, where everyone was drinking bottles (or boxes) of one-euro wine (I refused to drink any, informing everyone that it tasted like church) before we went on to the next destination.

While we were in the plaza the group from Texas showed up and I ran over to say hi to the girls staying with Kyla (Kelsey and Kendall). They (and some other people from their group) came to the shot bars with us, and joined us in our random wanderings of the city. Our group got separated so many times, and everyone's phones are out of minutes so we would wander pretty blindly trying to find people. Whenever we ran into someone, the first thing out of their mouth would be, "Abbie you're still here?!"

It was late.

I finally got home at 4:00 a.m. with absolutely no voice - I was squeaking like a teenage boy going through puberty. Bars are loud!

On Saturday morning I got up, wrote three papers (go Grandma!), wandered to a few stores, had lunch, then spent a few hours at the beach. The weather was absolutely perfect, but my fear of skin cancer led to me using too much sunscreen to get tan. I suppose my skin will thank me later...a lot of people were looking like lobsters.

After the beach I headed home to shower, then went to the market to Skype Jonny and then my family before dinner. After dinner I watched a movie before going out at 11:30. I only lasted an hour-and-a-half last night - didn't even make it off the plaza steps! My voice was still gone and I was completely exhausted.

I woke up this morning after eight hours of sleep, ate breakfast, then immediately went back to bed to take a nap. I have a terrible cough and a stuffy nose. I haven't tried my voice yet, but I'm betting I'm still squeaking like nobody's business.

Today is going to be a lazy day - I'm going to go home and read and study and go to bed early early early!

This week is our last week of school plus our finals week, so I really need to be on top of my game! I have a presentation on Tuesday and finals on Wednesday and Thursday, plus have to fine-tune those three papers I wrote this weekend to turn in.

I can't believe I only have five days left here. My time here has really flown by and it seems like I haven't been here very long at all, but at the same time I feel like it's been forever. I have gotten so much out of this trip, and I'm definitely ready to be home.

Hope you all are having a great weekend!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

26 de mayo

Nothing too thrilling to report here...this week was long. Is long. I had to return to school three afternoons this week, and today we had to recuperate a class and stayed longer than usual. One of my teachers took to calling me "Abbie" this week, which amused me...pronounce it in Spanish and it just sounds funny! Ah-vee. Try it. See? Funny.

My host mom has been sick since Sunday night (have you ever tried to eat dinner while someone is puking in the next room? I don't recommend it), so I've been taken care of by a stream of "babysitters" this week. Today's "babysitter" reminded me of my grandma - she gave me a fork, knife, and spoon at lunch...and all I was eating was soup. I actually don't know that Grandma would have gone to all that trouble...but she'd be pleased to know I have all the silverware at every meal! My "babysitters" usually give me my food then go do other chores, which has made for lonely mealtimes, but it's not so bad with the company of Little Women. (So Rach, these women...just how little are they? Sorry, I couldn't resist a Friends reference!)

Luckily, the end of the school week is here, which means nothing too thrilling except uninterrupted homework time. I have a presentation on Tuesday, two papers due on Thursday, and finals on Thursday and Friday...and then I get to come home. That seems like good motivation to stay on-task and get things done to me!

Tomorrow we have our final group excursion. We're going to Picos de Europa. Obviously I have no idea what that entails - we're leaving school at 9:00 a.m. and will return at 9:00 p.m.

This weekend is my last opportunity to enjoy the nightlife of Spain, so I (and the rest of the group) intend to do so. I'm guessing it will involve everyone's favorite shot bar, dancing, and some pretty late nights. I'll probably only go out one night, because I get tired too easily if I stay out late. Because of this, some people in the group refer to me as "Grandma," a name I will willingly accept. I can't argue with it if it's true, right?

Right now I'm at the market, downloading some TV shows to keep me company tonight (including the finale of How I Met Your Mother, Zach!). I'm hoping to turn in early and get some good rest - I have woken up every morning this week (for no reason, I should add) at 4:00 and haven't been able to fall back to sleep for a least an hour. This makes for an incredibly tired Abbie!

Hope you all had a great week!

Monday, May 23, 2011

el cumpleaños de mi papá...y otras cosas

9:37 p.m.

First of all, let me wish a happy birthday (ahem, feliz cumpleaños) to my wonderful papá! He is turning a very young age today, obviously! If you've ever taken a Spanish class, you've probably sung "Feliz cumpleaños a ti..." to the tune of the "Happy Birthday" song, but did you know that is wrong? A guy in our group's birthday was today also and we sang to him, but you sing "Cumpleaños feliz" to the tune of the usual song.

I know you're really glad you know that now.

Ignore my silly face in this photo and please note the birthday boy in the following photo...

And now you may note the Zumba skirts Kendall and I are rocking - que guay, si? (That means "how cool, yes?")

I have been Zumba-ing up a storm over here lately. And by that I mean that whenever I hear Shakira's waka-waka Africa or whatever song Zach was obsessed with last summer, I do the few moves I can remember Tanya teaching me.

Sometimes people think I'm cool.

Other times they just laugh.

Let's not talk about it.

I'm writing this from the market in one of my last few weeks of being in Spain. Only 11 more days to go! It's gone by so quickly and so slowly at the same time. I have a few more papers, a presentation, and next week's finals and then I'll be done...and moving onto my senior year.

But let's not talk about that either.

We have an excursion to los Picos de Europa on Friday, and then I will be trying my best to have a great final weekend in Spain!

I'm in the process of creating a bucket list of things to do with the rest of my time here...I'll let you know what it contains as soon as I finish it. I see a lot of ice cream and beach time in my future, that's for sure!

Hope you all had a great weekend and are having a good start to your week! Happy birthday, daddy!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ew.

Thursday, 9:07 p.m.

There are several foods I make it my life’s mission to avoid. Included on this list are instant mashed potatoes and anything hot dog or bratwurst-like.

I sat down to dinner tonight with a growling stomach. Imagine my horror when placed in front of me were a big ol’ pile of instant mashed potatoes (the kind that develop an outer skin after sitting for a moment too long) and two disgusting-looking bratwurst.

Little Ramón was not thrilled with tonight’s dinner either. He’s really picky and his parents always have to watch him to make sure he’s actually eating. Tonight he refused to chew and his mom was getting really frustrated with him. But honestly? I felt like doing the same thing so I can’t say I blamed the poor kid.

In attempts of setting a good example (and knowing that my next food won’t be until my scant serving of breakfast crackers with hot chocolate and juice tomorrow morning) I choked down one of the bratwursts and a few bites of the potatoes.

Yuck, yuck, yuck.

I think my host mom caught on to the fact that I wasn’t a huge fan of the food (normally I’m so hungry by dinner than I wolf it down in no time) and brought out my yogurt before it was gone.

I’ve never been so thrilled to see my yogurt than tonight.

Fortunately, tomorrow we’re having tortilla con patata for dinner – thank goodness! It’s a food I look forward to, and it will be a welcome change from tonight’s out-of-character horrible meal.

Unfortunately, I have 11 hours until breakfast.

It’s going to be a long night.

3 x 5

Thursday, 6:07 p.m.

I wrote the following while staring out the window on the drive home:

There is so much beauty in Spain, and photos won't do the scenery justice.

Ever listened to John Mayer?

In 3 x 5 he sings:

"Didn't have a camera by my side this time,
Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes."

We're on the bus home from Burgos right now, making our way through the Spanish countryside, and I can't even begin to describe it's beauty. Photos don't do it justice - and believe me, I've tried to capture the beauty.

To continue John Mayer:

"Today I finally overcame trying to fit the world inside a picture frame."

I did. I realized that some things can't be captured. Too often I find myself looking at everything through my camera rather than actually appreciating what's right in front of me. Some moments just need to be enjoyed without anything distracting us.

Right now I see lush green hills with grass rolling like waves as the wind moves it along. Heavy gray clouds are casting dark shadows on the grass, creating a mottled black and green pattern. The hills are dotted with trees, flowers, and the occasional quintessential Spanish home - small and white with a red roof. Cows and horses graze and roam, contained to their pastures by low stone walls.

It's peaceful and beautiful. Here's the one shot I snapped with my phone before realizing that some things just have to be enjoyed:

Excursión: Segovia, Toledo, y Burgos

Saturday, 5:50 p.m.

I am currently writing this on my phone as an e-mail to myself while on the bus back to Segovia from Toledo.

Follow that?

I don't want to forget anything I've seen this weekend, and with three amazing cities in three days (Burgos on Sunday), I figured I needed to start documenting now. Or yesterday, if I'd planned better.

On Friday morning we left Santander for Segovia, a five-hour bus ride. No big deal for most, but for me -possessor of the world's tiniest, most responsive bladder - it was an issue. We had a planned stop two hours in, and then were expected to make it the rest of the way sans pit stops.

Ha.

First of all, Spain is extremely lacking in the public restroom area. Try are few and far between, and are either dirty and free or clean and 20€ cents. And they don't believe in bathrooms on buses, even the charter one we take.

I don't get it.

But anyway, as the miles (excuse me, kilometers) rolled by, I more and more urgently needed a potty break. I finally risked being the annoying one holding up the group and requested a stop, which my advisor graciously allowed (she was understanding because I had already explained my issue to her).

We finally got to Segovia, dropped our bags off at the hotel, and went to lunch. I struggled to choke down one of my least favorite meals (green beans with tomato sauce) for the second day in a row.

After lunch we met up with a tour guide and got a brief glimpse of the city. Segovia is home to an amazing aqueduct:


An amazing castle...

Which had an amazing view…


And an amazing cathedral...

We toured the inside of the castle and the cathedral and got to see some very cool architecture and paintings.

Afterwards we wandered the city until dinnertime, where we fed what I was told tasted like Chef Boyardee (thank you for never feeding me that, Mom!).

After dinner I was too tired to do anything except read and go to bed. We got up early this morning and left for Toledo, making another emergency restroom stop (not for me, although I heeded Uncle David's advice and didn't pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom) on the two-and-a-half hour drive.

Toledo might just be my favorite city. It was absolutely beautiful. Please note the view:

We had another guided tour by a very animated old man. He was great and very excited about his job.

We saw so many cool things, like this Abbie-sized door:

And pretty buildings:

We ate paella for lunch (better than what my host family cooked for me):

I learned to make an origami turtle...

And then wandered the city before heading back to the bus. I finally found the fedora I've been searching for, and beat the heat with a lovely scoop of lemon gelato.

Now we're on the bus, headed back to Segovia for the night. It started raining literally as we were boarding the bus, and right now we're driving through a huge downpour/thunderstorm.

Tonight brings dinner at the hotel, and maybe a bit of city exploring if the weather is decent. Tomorrow morning we leave Segovia to get a tour of Burgos before returning to Santander. Busy busy weekend!

Sunday, 5:45 p.m.

We just finished our tour of Burgos and are headed home, hitting the road only 32 minutes behind schedule (quite a feat with a group of 26 students in a foreign country and even more foreign city).

Burgos was a bit cold but lovely all the same.

We saw a monastery, which was pretty but kind of boring…seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all! Not really…but this one wasn’t anything spectacular, it was freezing, and we had a guide who spoke too quickly for us to grasp all of what she was saying (we were touring with a group of Spanish speakers and didn’t want to ask her to slow down for our account).

We went to a restaurant for a traditional Burgos lunch featuring morcilla, which is rice that has been mixed with pig’s blood and is then fried into a sausage-like food.

Gross, right?

I had tried it with lunch two days prior, not knowing what it was…I didn’t like it, even when I didn’t know I was eating fried blood, so I felt justified in passing on my share of morcilla when it was brought out.

After lunch we toured la Catedral de Burgos, which was incredible. Words don’t even explain it, and the photos don’t do it justice…but here are a few of them anyway:




We took a quick walk through the city before returning to good ol’ Barney for our ride home…it was such a busy weekend! And to round out all my beautiful photos, here is one of my favorites…I took it outside of a men’s restroom. Clearly.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Busy busy busy!

8:21 p.m.

I apologize for the state of my poor, neglected little blog! I have been in go-go-go mode since last Thursday. This weekend took me to Segovia, Toledo, and Burgos. Immediately upon returning I launched myself back into school - two presentations on Monday, extra classes both Monday and today, a paper due tomorrow - and applying for jobs. My to-do list has been miles long and is slowly but surely getting shorter.

Things should slow down after today and I promise to have a post of my weekend (with lots of pictures) up for your viewing pleasure by Friday.

For now, I'll leave you with this little gem...Santander is gorgeous!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

the week seven wall

9:22 p.m.

Folks, I seem to have hit the week seven wall.

After a few weeks of a new term, the novelty starts to wear off. Once that happens, you're left with sheer motivation to do well. But once that wears off? The week seven wall. It's a beast of a wall that is hard to get past. I didn't realize that it existed in Spain, but here I am, face-to-face with it.

I think this wall is even bigger in Spain than it is back home. The week seven wall here is magnified due to already having passed the I'm sick of speaking Spanish wall, the Please, oh please, can I sleep in my own bed again? wall, the Can I go home now? wall, the Are you sure this is edible? wall, and the No, seriously, can I go home now? wall.

All of these walls are stacked up against one another, and them boom. Week seven comes around and you realize all motivation is gone, and all that it keeping you going is knowing that you're going to see your wonderful parents (who don't feed you rice and eggs at the same time), your lovely sisters (who speak perfect English at an extremely rapid pace; Hi Samantha and Kendall!), your precious yet precocious brother (who does not use a potty chair to poop in the living room like other young boys I know...Ramón...ew, right? Thank you for never doing that Zachary), and your sweet boyfriend (who is probably twice as tall as the average Spanish man) in approximately 24 days.

But who's counting?

I'm hoping to push through until the end of the term. I love what high GPAs can do for my cumulative GPA, which has been climbing steadily this year. I know that as long as I keep working hard I can do well in all of my classes...I just have to get past that darn wall.

I'm working on it.

In other news, I have a lot of random thoughts swimming around in my head...observe:

- Today my host mom told me I was getting really tan. And then said, "Que horror". Excuse me? How is my lovely brown hue a horror?

- This afternoon I was jogging. The sidewalk was packed, so I was on a narrow strip of it on the other side of the flower beds where no one goes unless they're moving too fast for the crowd. There's only room for one person, so I moved over for the legit runners I encountered, and they all gave me that runner nod that apparently isn't meant to be intimidating but to communicate appreciation or acknowledgment or something. It made me feel cool.

- I saw someone who looks exactly like my Great Uncle Len on the Paseo this afternoon. Granted, he was probably a foot shorter...but still. I see so many look-alikes when I'm here! But this one was almost spot on, except for the height difference.

- In class today we talked about house I admire from the beach every time I see it. It belongs to the owner of the Bank of Santander, whose last name (ironically) is another word for "thief".

- My birthday is in approximately 32 days. So is Samantha's graduation. Just throwing that out there.

- I kicked butt in my grammar class today. Is it bad that I relish when a certain person gets answers wrong? Only because they think they know everything and I find it amusing when they're completely off. And when I'm right. At the same time. Oh, sweet victory.

- I want raw veggies. Really badly. And a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Some cheddar cheese wouldn't hurt. Or ice! I miss ice.

- I always feel like someone is going to come over and kick me out of the market when they realize I'm stealing their WiFi...one of these days I should buy something here. I pay to use their bathroom, does that count?

- Public restrooms are few and far between here. There are random "pay-per-use" toilets strewn about along the Paseo, but I try to avoid those...I've used the market's bathroom before, and it was worth the 20 euro cents. Cleanest "public" restrooms in Spain, hands down!

See? Random.

Hope you all had a simply lovely Tuesday. Don't let the week seven wall get you down!

♥ Abigail

Monday, May 9, 2011

nueve de mayo

7:03 p.m.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately! I have been quite a busy girl lately, and my down time is used to read (what else?).

The lack of internet is annoying when I want to get in touch with people, but it's something I've started to welcome when it means wasting less time. I am astounded at how quickly I can get through homework without the distraction of my computer (unless the homework requires internet, in which case it becomes a long process of finding internet and using it efficiently).

This weekend was nothing special. Almost everyone (save for Sara, Kyla, Becca, and myself) spent it traveling, but we spent it in sleepy little Santander. On Thursday after class we went to the beach for a few hours, and that night we went to karaoke with a group of students learning English at Universidad Internacional de Menendez Pelayo (UIMP, pronounced "wimp"), which was fun. Us true English-speakers know how to pick karaoke songs ("I Will Survive" is a way better crowd-pleaser than "Other Side". The Red Hot Chili Peppers were not meant to be karaoke-d).

On Friday I spent the day running, reading, relaxing, and shopping. I bought an adorable dress that is going to be my "big" purchase this trip, and that should serve me well this summer.

On Saturday it was more running, reading, and relaxing...Sunday was more of the same. What can I say? I find things to do that work for me, and I stick to them. I'm definitely a creature of habit.

Which is why I started this week a little disgruntled and out of sorts. The problems my class has been having with our grammar teacher, Isabel, have led to us having our usual classes during the week, as well as two extra hours in the afternoons on Mondays and Tuesdays.

At first, I was peeved - why should I have to go to two extra classes a week (and not receive any extra course credit) just to learn what I fully grasped the first time around? I was also peeved because it would interrupt my schedule - I was completely adjusted to going home, eating, studying for a bit, going for a run, going to Skype Jonny, doing homework, and having dinner.

After actually having the class this afternoon, I feel a lot better. I'm still a little annoyed that I have to go to extra class for no additional credit, and I'm still peeved that my schedule will be out of sorts, but the class itself was actually phenomenal.

Last week we were told we wouldn't be learning anything new, just reviewing what Isabel was teaching us, but that turned out to be incorrect. Manolo (the best teacher at the university, according to students and staff alike) is a great teacher, and today we learned a new concept that would have taken weeks for Isabel to teach us. Not to rag on Isabel or anything...she's really smart, just used to teaching big groups of native Spanish speakers.

The new material was easy for me to grasp, which makes me feel a lot better about how slowly we've been going through things with Isabel. With the concept we've been covering being hashed and rehashed for the past six weeks, I was starting to wonder if I was missing something. It turns out, I'm still as smart as I thought I was (not to toot my own horn or anything), and I still feel like learning a new language comes naturally to me, even with more difficult concepts being presented.

So, despite being out of sorts due to a new schedule, I'm not complaining about the extra class. Unless it's sunny. In which case I will be staring wistfully outside, wishing I was at the beach for the duration of my two-hour class (it goes form 4:00 to 6:00).

This week is another busy one - I have three sizable projects and papers I want to get done before our big group excursion to Toledo, Burgos, and Segovia this weekend. I probably should take advantage of the mercado's internet and get some research done.

Hasta luego!

♥ abigail

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

cuatro de mayo

Wednesday, 7:55 p.m.

This week is
flying by. I can't believe it's already Wednesday! I wrote a post yesterday but it's currently hanging out on my laptop and I'm on a school computer at the Paraninfo, so I'm just going to try to remember what I wrote yesterday and then go from there!

Yesterday was a pretty good day school-wise. My class arrived at school to find out that our professor was sick, so we received worksheets to work on during our class time. I, being the annoying over-achiever that I am, took advantage of this time and actually did the worksheets, then spent my time catching up on correspondence (aka Facebook and e-mail time).

We then started our España Actual class, which is going to be really interesting. We're learning a little about the history of Spain mixed with current events by reading articles and stories, as well as giving presentations in class. It seems like an easy A...but forget I said that, in case it jinxes me.

Next we had our culture class and got our tests back. I got an A and was quite pleased with myself. I like when my studying pays off, and this time it really did. A lot of people in the class didn't do as well as they liked, an occurance that they blamed on the class being 'too hard', but was something I attributed to their lack of studying.

I got home for lunch on my 'I just got an A' high, and my host mom could tell. We talked during lunch about my classes and how I'm doing well. She was singing my praises, telling me that it's so great that I have the ability to balance everything in Spain, from classes and studying to actually enjoying myself. Being the nerd that I am, I told her that I actually enjoy studying, to which she responded that she can tell. I'm that big of a nerd...I'm just going to go with it!

There are a lot of people on this trip who I feel are struggling with finding a good balance. I'm usually pretty good at managing my time, and here I'm even better at it. The lack of internet coupled with the motivation to do really well in all of my classes are all it takes to force me to buckle down and work hard. I never feel too crunched for time, even when I have a lot going on, because I know that I have enough time to do everything.

My time management has allowed me to start and finish seven books here (If my count is correct. And I've only been here for five-and-a-half weeks, so I'll let you do the math), while in Corvallis I can usually only finish one or two books a term...I guess this means that when I'm back in school in Corvallis I need to limit my internet usage and TV watching and my senior year can be an enjoyable time rather than a stressed one.

We'll see if that ends up happening. Old habits die hard, you know?!

I went for a run along the Paseo before returning home to study and (surprise, surprise) read before bed.

Today was another decent day. My teacher was sick yet again, but we had another teacher come in and teach us for an hour. I spent the remaining 45 minutes of class in the computer lab figuring out my schedule for next fall. I used the new 'MyDegrees' program and was thrilled to see that I am right on track for graduation - success!

We had España Actual, which went well, but then there was culture class...and that's where it all went downhill. Not that it was that bad. I was just extremely frustrated the entire time. A lot of my classmates were talking during the entire class, and it was really starting to irritate me. I find it incredibly disrespectful to the teacher and the other students. I was so distracted by the talking and eventually took to shooting people dirty looks (though I was tempted to chuck my eraser at someone) before finally resorting to shushing people (an act I try to avoid, as it makes me look like more of a goody-two-shoes than I actually am and reminds me far too much of high school).

I went home for lunch, went for a run, had a nice little Skype date with Jonny, then headed to the Paraninfo to get some serious internet time in. I'm currently trying to find a job in either Eugene or Corvallis, but it's proving to be difficult from so far away. If anyone hears of anything, feel free to let me know!

Tomorrow brings the last day of school for the week. My grammar test has been officially moved to sometime next week, so I have a nice homework-free night ahead of me. Book number eight has been started...I think I'll see how far I can get before bedtime!

♥ Abigail

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fin de Semana en Madrid

Monday, 9:43 a.m.

Let me start this post by saying I am absolutely exhausted right now! I got very little sleep last night (more on that later) and it is taking everything in my power to not crawl into bed right now and sleep the day away. Today is a holiday in Spain (more on that later too) so I don’t have classes, but I’m pushing through the day (at least until siesta time) so I don’t throw off my sleep schedule too much! And let me also say that this post is LONG. I’d split it up, but am far too lazy to do that, so grab a snack and then get started :)

Let me start at the beginning…

On Friday morning, Sara, Kyla, Becca and I left our houses at 6:20 a.m. for the bus station. From there we took a bus to the Santander airport and boarded the 8:05 a.m. plane to Madrid. The plane ride is an hour long, which was the perfect naptime for me!

We arrived in Madrid, took a bus to the bus station, and then took a cab to our hostel, which was in the center of town in an area called Sol. There are a lot of shops, restaurants, and plazas in this area, so it was always incredibly crowded. You couldn’t walk without running into someone, and in some spots what appeared to be a sidewalk was also a street cars could drive on, so we had to stay on our toes.

We settled in at our hostel, which was really nice for the price we paid! We had a private room for four with its own bathroom. Our room also had a balcony overlooking one of the busy streets, and free Wi-Fi, which I loved. We also had a TV, where I was able to catch a snippet of the Royal Wedding. I only watched a little of it on TV because it was hard to pay attention to what was being said in English with the Spanish commentary, but I used my handy-dandy iPhone later to watch highlight videos and read articles about it. I’ll give you my two cents real quick – Kate looked gorgeous and was clearly born to be a princess!

We took a quick siesta and then set out to explore the city. Madrid’s street signs are even cooler than Santander’s – in addition to being on the sides of buildings, these ones are just pretty! Observe:

We passed a lot of street performers on our walk. This guy (these guys? I wasn’t sure if they were both statues) made a pretty convincing statue. We passed a Neptune “statue” taking a smoke break and weren’t quite as impressed…but these guys were impressive:

We passed so many gorgeous buildings – every single building in Spain is pretty, I swear! This is a church near Museo Nacional del Prado:

At lunchtime we felt like total Americans as we ate at places like McDonalds (I had carrots for the first time in over a month and was so thrilled) and Starbucks. We would have loved to experience the “real” food of Madrid, but didn’t want to fork over the money – fast food is incredibly cheap and easy. Don’t worry; eating McDonalds is definitely not going to become a habit! And my sweet host mom sent me to Madrid with plenty of food, so I stayed somewhat healthy.

Our wanderings took us to Real Jardín Botánico, a lovely garden near the Prado museum. We explored the garden for a while. It was so pretty! A lot of the flowers weren’t in bloom, but it was still really nice. It smelled incredible too.

Of course I had to get a picture with some roses (Abigail Rose, get it?):

We eventually ended up at Prado, “one of the world’s top museums”. Thanks to Rick Steves, we knew when to go to be able to explore the museum for free. We saw several masterpieces and I was reminded of my love for paintings. The museum was huge and we were hungry so we only stayed for a little over an hour, but we still got to see a lot.

We wandered back to our hostel where we turned in pretty early – we were all really tired! It was strange going to sleep in such a busy city. It was literally loud outside until 6:30 a.m.

On Saturday morning we set out around 10:00 to see some more of the city. We walked to Palacio Real, a huge palace – this photo is only a tiny part of it:

I was saving my euros (this weekend was incredibly expensive) and opted out of touring it, but Sara and Kyla said it was absolutely gorgeous on this inside as well.

Next we headed to Los Jardines de Sabini, the gardens on the backside of the palace. They were pretty and a nice place to walk around for a bit:


Then we went and saw Templo de Debod, a fourth century temple that was a gift from Egypt to Spain after Spain helped construct one of Egypt’s dams. The temple was cool in theory, but I’m glad we went during free visiting hours.

There’s a park behind the temple, where we took advantage of the view for a photo opportunity:


We returned to the hostel for lunch and a siesta before wandering again in the evening, this time to La Reina Sofia, a museum filled with abstract art. Apparently abstract art isn’t my thing (which makes sense, given my very literal personality), but I still enjoyed the museum. Seeing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica was very cool – it’s gigantic!

After the museum we got dinner and once again called it an early night. I’m really not a “going out” type of person. I knew that before coming to Spain, but being here has solidified it. I’d rather stay in any day, even when I have the opportunity to check out the Spanish nightlife. On top of that, Madrid is so incredibly crowded. The streets are always packed, and I don’t do well with crowds…needless to say, big cities are not for me! Give me sleepy little Santander (which is plenty big to me) any day of the week. Or, even better, give me sleepy little Corvallis! (Only 32 more days, for anyone else who’s counting.)

On Sunday we took our time getting up because we had to check out of the hostel at noon. Luckily the hostel’s manager was very nice and let us keep our bags there so we didn’t have to carry them around the city all day.

We headed to Plaza Mayor in the morning, one of the oldest spots in the city:


From there, we went to El Rastro, a huge flea market. We’re talking streets so packed that it’s normal to get stuck and be unable to move in any direction in parts of it. We were all very careful with our bags (I went as far as to wear my backpack on my front rather than my back) and made it out of the market with all of the things we had arrived with.

Unable to return to the hostel for a siesta, we went to Plaza del Sol and relaxed by the fountains for a bit:

We then continued our wandering, seeing more pretty buildings of Madrid:

Eventually Kyla and I split off from the group, braving the metro to go to Plaza de Toros to see a bullfight.

First of all, the building itself was another masterpiece:


And the bullfight itself was also quite a masterpiece. I know what you’re all thinking – Abbie at a bullfight? Does she know they kill the bulls at those? (To answer your question, yes, I did know.)

It was such an amazing experience though. Was it uncomfortable to watch the bulls get taunted and then killed? Yes. But did I appreciate the culture and history of it? Yes.

Bullfighting is really an art. It starts with the weight and brand of the bull being displayed to the spectators. I don’t know kilogram conversions, but these bulls were huge – the biggest was 590 kilos.

After this, the bull is let into the ring and the first fighters (I think they’re more amateur, but I don’t know for sure) tease the bull to get him riled up. They take turns waving their pink capes in front of the bull, dashing behind protective barriers and sometimes hopping over the wall to avoid getting hurt.


[[These are going to be my last pictures from the bullfight. I took more, but don’t think everyone would like to see them…if you want to see them, I’ll show you when I get home.]]

After this initial teasing, two horses are ridden into the ring. The horses are blindfolded, and I assume sedated as well. They are decked out in some pretty impenetrable armor. The bull, seeing an animal near its own size, charges at the horse. The rider’s job is to use a spear to stab the neck of the bull (above its shoulders) in order to force it to lower its head. This happens twice, and then the horses leave the ring. The final bull (the biggest) ended up knocking the rider off the horse as it almost lifted the horse completely.

It was amazing to watch the teamwork of the bullfighters here – if ever anyone is in danger, they run out from their hiding places, yelling and waving their capes so no one gets trampled by the bull (although the first bullfighter got partially run over during his first fight. He was fine, but it was really intense to watch).

Next, three different fighters use their bodies to attract the bulls as their try to stick the bull with barbed sticks. After these are in the bull, he is sufficiently riled up – snorting, dragging his hooves in anger – and the final fighter enters the ring by himself.

The final fighter is what I would consider the “master” fighter. He has a red cape that he uses to taunt the bull, and his goal is to stab it with two different swords right above his neck. I know this seems mean, but it really is a calculated art form. The way the fighter moves is almost like a dance, and it looks very graceful.

Finally, once the bull has been stabbed twice, three other fighters come out and help the one with the red cape to confuse the bull enough until it falls over and is then put out of its misery.

Doesn’t sound like something I’d like, right? I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Yes, it seems rather cruel to torture a poor animal, but I love how rooted in tradition it was, and how innately Spanish it was. I was really amazed by it, and glad I went.

After the bullfight, Kyla and I met up with Sara and Becca to pick up our bags from the hostel. From there we took three different metros to get to the airport (way cheaper than the bus/cab combo we used to get from the airport to our hostel on the first day). We couldn’t check in until about 4:30 this morning, and spent the night on the airport floor.

Thanks to my ability to sleep anywhere, I got a decent nap in…I woke up at least once an hour and probably only got three-and-a-half hours of sleep total because, let’s be real, the cold, hard tile floor of the Madrid airport is not comfortable. My friends don’t have my ability to sleep anywhere, so they stayed awake and made sure we didn’t get mugged. There were so many people camped out in the airport with us – looks like no one wanted to pay for a hostel the night before an early flight!

We flew out of Madrid at 6:40 a.m. (I slept from before take-off and through the landing, sans Dramamine!) and arrived in Santander at 7:45. We shared a cab home, where I immediately ate breakfast, took a shower, and unpacked.

All in all, it was a great weekend in Madrid. The girls I spent it with and I have become great friends, and we really enjoy each other’s company. Madrid itself was nice too – more English was spoken than I would have liked (it seemed like most people in shops and restaurants, as well as police officers and museum workers could speak English), and there were a lot of tourists (we heard accents and languages from all over the place while we wandered the city). I sometimes have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept that people actually live in the cities of Spain – the lack of actual houses and the fancy-looking apartment buildings make it seem like every building is some hotel or important government residence.

Oh and Zach, just so you don’t miss a shout-out, I got your present this weekend :) You too, Jonny, Grandma, Gwen and Dru, Tanya and Vern, and Dad. Mom, you are still proving to be the most difficult person in the world to shop for – thanks for that!

Today is a lazy day here, which is much needed after the hubbub of this weekend. May 2 is a holiday in Spain, so the city is pretty quiet. Madrid probably isn’t because it was there on May 2, 1808 that Luis Daoiz and Pedro Velarde lost their lives attempting to take back control of Madrid from France. This battle started the War of Independence against the French. Or something like that…anyway, the Plazas were starting to get bleachers and things set up in them yesterday afternoon, so I’m assuming stuff was happening there today.

Anyway, this means that shops are closed, and with the clouds that are filling the sky right now, I’m guessing that the streets are pretty empty as well. This afternoon I’m hoping to be able to find Internet somewhere and post this so you all can see what I’ve been up to!

It’s been a busy weekend and I’m glad to be “home”. I’m also glad to have reached the halfway point of my trip (it came and went on Friday). Don’t get me wrong – I like Spain. I love that I’m able to spend a lot of time here, getting immersed in the culture rather than only being able to experience a few weeks’ worth as a tourist. I just know I don’t belong here.

A lot of people on this trip love everything about it and aren’t even looking forward to leaving. This trip has solidified what I already knew about myself – I’m a homebody and I crave being near my loved ones. It also solidified something I didn’t know for sure – I don’t like big cities.

I’m really glad I’m on this trip, and that I’ve toughed it out during the rough moments. But I know that home is where the heart is, and my heart is always going to be in Oregon. I know that sounds cheesy…but I also know that it’s true. I believe that there probably are people who are born in one place but find somewhere they belong somewhere completely different. Luckily, I was born somewhere I know I belong. I don’t have to see any more of the world to know that, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore more.

♥ Abigail

Semana Cinco Recap

Monday, 9:00 a.m.

Sorry for my lack of posts last week! School was keeping me extremely busy, and every time I had access to Internet I was using it for schoolwork.

On Tuesday Sara, Kyla, and I gave a presentation on Catedral de León in our culture class. I was a little nervous to be up in front of the class, speaking Spanish and trying to teach them about something I really didn’t know that much about, but it went pretty well. My professor told us we did a good job afterward, so hopefully that was heartfelt!

On Wednesday, I had a final for my conversation class. This final (one-on-one with the professor) consisted of a little vocab test (we had to create a list of 300 words and our professor picked several for us to explain to her – in Spanish, of course), a few questions on a story we read, and a conversation on the topic of our choice. Since I’ve already had conversations with her about books and family, I talked to her about another favorite topic of mine – my boyfriend :) Stop gagging everyone, it was precious! And it got me an A, so there! (Okay, so I’m just guessing about the A, but I still feel pretty confident).

On Thursday we had a mid-term for our art culture class. I studied so hard for this test! I was very prepared for it and think I did fairly well – I hope to find out tomorrow and will keep you posted. It’s definitely the hardest class – grammar and conversation are definitely easier concepts for me to remember and grasp than art and history of Spain. After the test I got a paper back that I wrote a few weeks ago – an A :)

Those were all of the big projects of the week, but I also had a lot of other homework assignments to do for my grammar class. Our professor offered to move our mid-term to Tuesday (tomorrow), and we were ready to accept but then decided to see if she’d be willing to move it to Wednesday since we were all going to be traveling this weekend. Asking a teacher to postpone a test even further never works in the United States, but apparently here it works just fine (with Isabel anyway), because now our test is on Wednesday.

This week we start a new class – España Actual – to replace our conversation class. It’s taught by the same teacher I had for my conversation class, so I know I’ll enjoy it.

And there you have a quick week-in-review! As you know, on Friday it was off to Madrid. Stay tuned!

♥ Abigail