Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Hazards of Kinder Eggs

We've now been back in the United States for a whole week, and I already miss Spain!  However, at the same time, it is nice to be home.  It’s wonderful to see my family, and I am looking forward to being back at UCF for the spring semester.

At this point, I think our blog is drawing near to a close, but we still have a few post topics left up our sleeves.  Today, I shall relate a cautionary tale about the dangers of European candy.  It is the story of how I was detained in United States customs for the possession of Kinder eggs.

Amanda and I woke early on Thursday the 20th for our trip back to America.  Fernando drove us to Cervantes Plaza, where we said our goodbyes and boarded the bus to the airport.  Upon our 7:15am arrival to Madrid-Barajas airport, we learned that our 10:30 flight was delayed and would not depart until noon, so we had a long wait in the airport.  We eventually boarded and had a long, uneventful flight to Miami.
We made it off the plane and through the preliminary customs line with our heavy carry-ons, sleepy and warm, since we were overdressed for Miami weather.  Next we found our suitcases and made our way to the final line.  Amanda made it through without trouble, and at first, I thought that I had, too.  The man looked at my passport and customs form and told me to have a nice day, before he said, “Wait a minute.  Please follow that blue arrow.”

Instead of following Amanda through the doors to family and freedom, I was directed to a line off to the side.  I could only shrug at Amanda through the glass door and head off where I was instructed.  There, I waited for another half an hour.  I had no idea why I had been sent off to this mystery line, and my nerves intensified when the girl behind me grew frustrated with a security officer at the line and he told her, “Ma’am, by getting angry, you are only making this worse for yourself.”

Worse?  Were things already bad?  Were we, in this line, in trouble?  I racked my brain for anything that I possessed that could be the problem.  I did have a sword-shaped letter opener that I bought in Toledo, but I had packed that souvenir in my suitcase since I knew it wouldn’t be allowed in my carry-on.  I did have coconut-flavored turrón.  Did that count as fruit?

Eventually, I made it around a corner to a counter where a man explained to me that I had been flagged because I had Kinder eggs.  Kinder eggs are hollow chocolate eggs with toys inside, hugely popular in Europe.  I had a few in my possession to give away to friends and family here in the States.  I learned that they are not sold in the United States because they are considered a choking hazard, so the customs officer warned me not to give them to small children, and I was good to go.

All in all, it was a nerve-racking half hour, but in retrospect, not a big deal.  I was reunited with Amanda and my mom and brother, and we made it out of the airport and back home without further hang-ups.

But you can be sure that I will never, ever, give a Kinder egg to a small child.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Goodbye, Spain! We'll miss you!

          Just a few days ago, we were celebrating my birthday, cake and a movie included! We went to see the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Madrid with our friends Alicia and Rodrigo. We were all speaking Spanglish and exchanged fun sayings and expressions while the Christmas lights illuminated the streets in a final marvelous display. I had an amazing birthday, one that I am sure I will not forget any time soon!

     Our last few days have been filled with invitations to visit our friends across the country, giving thanks for a great semester, and sad goodbyes. We've definitely had our fair share of hugs and double kisses! Haha! It’s been great and sad as with each goodbye we cherish that person more and more for all the fun they added to this semester.   
Friends in UCF and Spain!
Same pose, different country!
     Wow, it’s hard to believe that this is our last day.  We’re packing up our belongings, memories flooding back as each souvenir finds its way into the suitcase. The feelings are so conflicting! We are excited to go home and to begin the next exciting chapter in our lives, but we are also sad to leave this amazing and incredible place filled with some of the best people you can find. We have been blessed with a fantastic host family, incredible Intercambio friends, and great American buddies. Back in Florida and here in Spain, we definitely have the best friends one could ask for!
         "In the end, what you do isn't going to be nearly as interesting or important as who you do it with." --John Green


      So, I will finish my time here with these final words from the song 93 million miles by Jason Mraz, “We’ve come a long way to belong here, to share this view of the night, this glorious night, and over the horizon is another bright light.”

                 Get ready Florida, we're coming home!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Beginning of the End

So, I’ve been filming too, and I intended to make my own Vlogblothers-style video to respond to Amanda’s.  However, because we’ve been busy and my camera’s been feeling ill, I don’t have quite enough footage for what I was planning.  Instead, I’ll keep recording during our final weekend adventure for a video early next week, and meanwhile I’ll use plain old text to relate a few recent events.

We graduated!  Today we had a cute little “graduation” ceremony in the oldest building of the university, where we were awarded “diplomas” for completing our semester at Instituto Franklin.  This seems a little premature, since we haven’t even taken all our finals yet, but I guess they have a lot of faith in us!  It was a nice ceremony, although it was alarming to realize that in less than a year and a half, I will be graduating UCF for real.

Next we had a sort of picnic in a different university building, where we ate empanadas and tortillas, socialized with our professors and fellow students, and posed for some photos.

The last event of the day was a talent show.  A class presented a virtual yearbook to the tune of Gangnam Style, and prizes were given for various contests.  Our very own Amanda took second place in the photography contest with a lovely picture of the stained glass in the cathedral in Cuenca.  Go Amanda!  After a slideshow of pictures from university events throughout the semester, a few people were persuaded to take to the stage in some unrehearsed displays of talent, and it turns out we have some great singers and dancers in the group!  It was also fun to see the confusion on the faces of the Spanish faculty at the gusto with which every American student joined in singing Don’t Stop Believing.

A week from now, we’ll be back in the air over the Atlantic Ocean, this time heading home.  It’s crazy to think about how quickly this semester has passed.  I wish we could stay longer, but at the same time, I feel like Amanda and I have made the most of our time here, filling our months with school and adventures and new friends.  Maybe it sounds cheesy, but Spain has been everything I could have asked for and more.

All that said, this country isn’t getting rid of us just yet!  We leave shortly to head for Madrid, where we’re catching an overnight bus to Sevilla!  We are going to make the most out of this final week!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Tribute to the Vlogbrothers

        This week,we have decided to do something different. After discovering the amazing videos of John and Hank Green, the Vlogbrothers, on Youtube, we thought it would be fun to do something similar on our blog.

 First, who are the Vlogbrothers?
         John Green is an award winning author of books such as Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. Hank Green is his brother, who started the company EcoGeek and has created many amazing Youtube channels. They started this project to speak to each other without text for one year, and instead they made video letters. Their videos became so popular that they have kept making videos and have started some educational channels and charity work.  They are really awesome!

Second, what are Nerdfighters?
            Nerdfighters are people who like nerdy things and fight "worldsuck" which means that they fight the things that make the world suck such as starvation or bullying. Their symbol is a X made with the Spock hand symbol and the catch phrase is "DFTBA" which stands for "Don't forget to be awesome!" They now have over 840,000 followers on Youtube and are constantly growing and changing their work.

Finally, here I am, in my first attempt at a vlog. I apologize for some of the weird camera angles; filming was harder than I thought!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Windmills! ....or giants?

This Friday, we followed in the footsteps of one of the oldest, greatest, and most insane protagonists in literature: el ingenioso hidalgo, Don Quixote.  Except, of course, for the fact that we were in a tour bus instead of on horseback (or donkeyback), and that our excursion only lasted for one day.  This school excursion, called La Ruta del Quixote, took us to the autonomous community of Castilla y La Mancha, where first we breakfasted at the inn which Cervantes himself supposedly visited and used as the basis for the scene in which Quixote is “knighted” by the innkeeper.  We drank some coffee while sitting on hilariously tiny stools and then watched as some of our fellow students acted out the aforementioned scene at the water trough in the courtyard of the hotel.  This was made very enjoyable by the fact that Don Quixote’s sword and shield were made of paper and his lance was, in fact, an umbrella.

Next we boarded the bus and traveled the remaining distance across the largely empty landscape of La Mancha until we reached Consuegra.  Consuegra is notable for its windmills, its castle, and its vast variety of hot chocolate flavors.  We filed off of the bus and posed for some very chilly pictures on the windy ridge with the windmills.  Of course, the students from the literature class had to act out Don Quixote’s most famous scene, so we all got to witness a student, armed with only a red umbrella, valiantly charging a windmill-I-mean-a-giant.

Then, castle!  I love castles.  We have been fortunate enough to see so many castles while here in Spain, and I could visit many more without losing my enthusiasm.  This castle was notable for its false doors, its water collection room, and its series of concentric walls to defend it from attackers from the time of its construction in the 10th through 12th centuries through the time when the reconquering of Spain was complete in the 15th century.

Next we got to go up inside one of the windmills and learn about how they functioned.  The whole top of the windmill could move to adjust to the direction of the wind, and a series of interlocking gears within used the power generated by the wind to move a large grinding stone and crush grain into flour.
Finally, we took a lunch break down in the town of Consuegra, which lies at the base of the ridge, down below the castle and the windmills.  There, we sampled some hot chocolate.  My white chocolate café was delicious, but our classmates recommended against the whiskey-flavored hot chocolate, comparing it to drinking a substance that resembled melted plastic.  (This made me very happy about my choice.)

Then we headed back to Alcalá, where snow is now visible on the tops of the distant mountains.  We’ve been told that fall was mild, but this week, winter has decidedly arrived.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Art, Beer, Pancakes, and Skyscrapers

        During the past week, we went on 3 school trips, one to the Mahou beer factory, one to the Prado and Reina Sofia, and one to the city of Cuenca. Wow! Plus, we squeezed in Thanksgiving where we cooked brinner (breakfast for dinner) for our host family and made rice krispy treats with our friend Rali. It was a busy and fun week!
 Our first trip took us to the Mahou factory, obligatory for my Business Spanish class. Only about 20 minutes from the school, it was a short trip. We toured the factory, which included a visit to their NASA-like headquarters and a Disney worthy recreation of an old stable where they explained the making of cerveza. We walked through the bottling plant with huge conveyor belts and swirling systems, and then finished at the bar. It was filled with tapas of all kinds and we were all invited to try the free beer. Sibley and I opted for the smaller glasses, meant for tasting, and then we split a Shandy Mixta (which is basically soda). I didn’t like the beer at all, but Sibley thought it was alright. The atmosphere was fun and the tapas were delicious.

       The next day we went to the Museo del Prado and Museo de la Reina Sofia, both in Madrid. It was a long day, with LOTS of art, but was still really neat. Antonio, my art professor, gave us a guided tour of the Prado, complete with a little microphone that played into these telephone-looking devices so that we could be quite in the museum. However, we were still shushed when Antonio told a joke and caused us all to laugh. The Reina Sofia, home of the Guernica, was a completely different style than the Prado, with art that was more modern and abstract. We were given free rein to explore but were still given guided introductions to a few key figures such as the photographer Robert Capa.

       Then there was Thanksgiving, stuck right in the middle of our adventures. We decided to make pancakes, a UCF specialty of ours. Before we started though, we called up our family back in Florida and Skyped with them on the computer. This year, our grandmother’s house was filled with 28 people! It was bigger than ever before, and we missed it! Still, we got round after round of people waving hello to us on the computer.


        Finally, the week ended with Cuenca. It is a beautiful medieval city built on an island between two rivers, making it easily defended against the Moors. The problem, though, was that then they couldn’t expand. So, they began building 14th century skyscrapers, expanding upwards. Our trip started with a steep uphill climb and then a scary walk across a 20th century bridge. We then toured the Cathedral, which was decorated with beautiful stained glass, barroque chapels, and a Neo-gothic facade. Our school guided tour then finished with the Abstract Art Museum, exhibiting works of Fernando Zóbel and Eusebio Sempere. After exploring of the city and tasting some local pastries, we walked back to the bus and headed home to Alcalá, ready for a relaxing weekend.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Medieval Times

Each of the last two weekends, Amanda and I set out on our own from Alcalá for day trips to medieval cities here in central Spain.  First up was Toledo, the city of swords!  Amanda managed to find some cheap tickets for the AVE train from Madrid, which made the whole day super convenient.  The trip was so quick that we barely had time to enjoy the luxury of the quiet, spacious high-speed train.  We arrived in Toledo, Castilla y La Mancha, at the beautiful station with its stained glass windows and set out in the direction that we hoped would take us to the city center, where we would be able to pick up a free map.

A short walk later, we rounded a bend and found ourselves looking down at the river.  An ancient Roman bridge spanned the distance from where we stood to the historic heart of the city of Toledo, which is located on the hill in the bend of the river.

The streets of Toledo are narrow and winding, and the names change frequently, so it’s difficult to navigate.  Luckily, the huge cathedral, the walls, and the river on three sides make it possible to stay oriented even when the streets don’t take you quite to the intersection you expect.  We wandered through the city for several hours, taking advantage of most of the attractions since many are free on Sundays.  We visited la Iglesia de San Roman, which is also a museum about the Visigodos, or the Visigoths, the people who inhabited between the Romans and the Moors.  We also went to a 14th century Jewish Synagogue, el Museo del Greco, and el Monasterio del San Juan de los Reyes.
 In addition to its many museums and religious sights, Toledo is famous for its swords.  Espaderías, or sword shops, line the streets, as common as restaurants.  The other famous product of the town, both less dangerous and more delicious, is its marzipan.  I’m still not entirely clear about what marzipan is, but I did learn that I like it!  There is a variety of types and we tasted and enjoyed a few of them.

Next up, Ávila.  Located in the community of Castilla y Leon, this town is home of some of the best preserved medieval walls in Spain.  We decided to go on Friday because the weather was supposed  to be good.  Luckily for us, this decision coincided with one of the few days of the year when it is free to ascend the wall top, so that unexpectedly saved us a few euros!  The view from the wall is incredible.  We also walked down alongside the river by a picturesque mill and yet another Roman bridge.

Other sights and activities in Ávila included the huge cathedral, an outdoor food market, and eating chocolate and churros in a café.  Another successful adventure!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Is it already November?!

     The colder weather has started to move in and so we find ourselves huddling in warm fuzzy blankets and laughing at the people back home in Florida who say it is cold while still wearing shorts.  Lately, the cold has been accompanied by gray days with drizzly rain. The magic of a warm beverage is becoming clearer and clearer as we find ourselves more often wandering into a nice café for a cup of coffee or Cola-Cao (hot chocolate).
       It was on such a cloudy day that we went on a school excursion to two monuments of Spain: El Escorial and the Valle de los Caidos. El Escorial is an all-in-one church, monastery, library, school, and cemetery. It is shaped like a grill to honor Saint Lorenzo and placed in a legendary opening to hell, in the hopes that they could close it off by placing a massive church in front. The pantheon, containing the coffins of many of the past kings and queens, was elaborate, luxurious, and more than just a little creepy. Many people awed at the hundreds of years of history contained within one room. It is pretty unique, especially with the fog making it extra spooky.
Instituto Franklin
El Escorial

       El Escorial also served as inspiration for many other buildings of the time period, creating a signature style known as Herreriano, named after the architect. In fact, many of the buildings in Alcala were modeled after El Escorial featuring similar entrances with 3 arches and pinnacles topped with round spheres.
         Then, we drove to the other side of the mountain to the Valley of the Fallen. This is a giant monument to Franco and contains his tomb. Since he couldn’t be buried with the kings at El Escorial, he ordered his prisoners to build a massive structure within the rock of the mountain. The building is also the burial site of the people who died fighting for “God and Country”, so that only included people who supported Franco. It’s a controversial place, and very chilling, with giant statues of angels wielding massive swords commanding respect from all around. It was a very interesting site.
    To finish on a lighter note, we have also made an amazing discovery during one of our snack raids at the local supermarket: frozen fruit filled with ice cream! Granted, it would be slightly more fitting in the summer, but it is delicious nonetheless. For only one euro, you can pick between pineapple, lemon, coconut, and orange, and then dig in to a sweet and scrumptious desert. Yummm!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Guest post! Gastronomía by Jennifer Brown

    I began my visit to Spain to see Sibley and Amanda familiar with tapas and sangria, but I can caption each sight with the local cuisine.  After a cross Atlantic flight, a metro ride and a long walk, I was delighted to find myself sitting between Amanda and Sibley at a Chocolateria in Alcala. We enjoyed cups of smooth, rich chocolate and a piping hot coffee con leche as well as churros which are denser than their Mexican counterparts. 
 My guides led me through 2 tours of Madrid.  Our most memorable Madrileno meal was a late lunch.  The waiter described a paella dish with carne (meat), pollo (chicken), mariscos (shellfish) and something else that we all missed. I knew that I needed to try authentic paella in Spain--the one word we missed was squid.  Hmmm, we all tried the squid and Amanda even enjoyed it. Dessert was included and I made a unilateral decision for FLAN.  It was an excellent choice.
  The host family was welcoming and friendly.  We had a mid-day meal of chicken with lemon salsa that surprised me with a pop of citrus! Clearly the girls are well fed with a mix of American fair—hotdogs with patatas and typical Spanish food--paella (without the squid.)
 As we travelled to Granada, the rows and miles of olive groves mesmerized.  These well-tended trees grew to the very edges of rocky hills of the Sierra Nevadas.  After seeing the Cathedral, we tried a tapas bar for pizza, but first we were treated to a plates of tapas with local olives.  The olives on each plate seemed to have a unique texture, taste and spice. 
  When I think of Cordoba, I will remember our evening meal in a fine restaurant near our lovely hotel in the San Basilio district of Cordoba. Adventuresome Amanda asked our waitress what “gulas” were.  The dish was “Gulas con patatas.” The waitress replied “little fish,” and that seemed to be the extent of her English.  Thinking fish and potatoes, Amanda ordered.  What appeared was more spaghetti-like than fish-like, but Amanda ate and Sibley and I tasted. Sibley and I also enjoyed Tinto de Verano which is what locals order in place of touristy “sangria.” Our waitress completed our meal with gratis dessert and sweet wine.

We checked the internet later and discovered that gulas are baby eels and considered quite a delicacy.  Perhaps it is better to not catch every word because I doubt that I would have chosen to eat baby eels, but I feel more intrepid having done so.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


We arrived in Córdoba right on schedule and wandered along the river until we found an information booth that could direct us the rest of the way to the hotel.  We made ourselves at home in our cozy little apartment style room, and then set off to explore the city.  Highlights in Córdoba include la Mesquita, el Alcazar, the Roman bridge, and the Royal Stables.  That night, we returned to the latter for an equestrian show.  As an avid rider myself, I loved it!  We were all impressed by the beauty, discipline, and agility of these Andalusian horses, also known as PRE’s, or Pura Raza Española.  It was especially neat for Amanda and me, since back at UCF we are fortunate enough to help out with Maluso, the Andalusian stallion who plays the role of Pegasus at Knights’ football games.  So the horses in Córdoba looked very familiar!  After the show, we had an adventurous Spanish dinner that will be described in greater detail in another post, and then we called it a night, but not before a trip out onto the Roman bridge to look back at the city lights. 

The following morning, we got up early in order to make it to the Mesquita before nine, when entrance is free.  It rained all night and it had not stopped, but when we arrived with our umbrellas and wet shoes, we were greeted by a neat sight that only happens in such weather: small waterfalls cascaded from the roof of the massive structure, only making it more impressive.  Inside the building is a peculiar mix of Arab architecture and Catholic influence, since churches were built inside of the mosque after the Moors were driven from Spain at the end of the 15th century.  The cathedral inside features a gigantic pipe organ that fills the expansive building with music that seems to come from everywhere at once.

After la Mesquita, we explored the streets in the rain, periodically taking refuge inside the many tourist shops. We all found souvenirs.  Next we went to the Alcazar, and the rain stopped long enough that we could wander around the beautiful gardens filled with fountains and orange trees.  After ice cream and one last trip out onto the bridge, we made our way back to the hotel and then took a bus to the train station.  We rode back on the high-speed AVE train, which is definitely my new favorite way to travel.  Fast, as comfortable as a tour bus, and with fewer hassles than an airplane, it made for a relaxed, quick trip back to Madrid.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Road Trip through Andalucia

          Bright and early, we jumped out of bed and collected our things for a 3 day jam-packed adventure in Granada and Cordoba. We were joined by Sibley’s mom who came to visit us, treating us to a little bit of home. Once we arrived in Granada, we started our journey with the Cathedral. In my Spanish Art History class here in Alcalá, I have learned the names of many arches, bóvedas, and decorating techniques. I have seen many pictures and marveled at many paintings.

However, none of it prepared me for actually being there. Stepping into the giant cathedral and seeing in person the giant columns and starred ceilings that I had only seen on the projector screen was truly incredible. It was like stepping into a well-loved fiction novel and seeing it all with your own eyes. Wow!

      Then we explored the streets, wandering around in the brisk air, exploring street side stands and cute tourist shops, before returning to our hotel for a nice shower and some sleep. For Friday, we had our sights set on the Alhambra.  

     Another early morning, we warmed up with some hot chocolate and coffee, and then waited our turn for entrance into the great Nazarí Palace in the Alhambra. It was built in the 14th century by the Nazarí Muslim Empire when they occupied Spain. The introduced many design techniques as they wanted to impress any visiting dignitaries. Peacocks roamed the grounds and citrus trees filled the air with a new and exotic scent. To the people of Spain, oranges were new and strange, adding to the mystery and power of these foreign rulers. Note for any future visitors: buy your tickets early! They can sell out in advance, and then you will have to work harder to get the tickets, which could mean standing in very long lines!
            The Alhambra also incorporates many pools as to create a double image, making the palace seem even larger. Even with all these things, the most impressive part for me is the yesería or plaster work. Intricate carvings cover the palace with sculpted words and geometric designs. The ceilings and archways are decorated with Mocárabes, a style of scooping the plaster that is meant to evoke the sensation of a cave filled with stalactites. And then, you can also visit the Patio de los Leones, featuring a large fountain supported by strong lions.

The Alcazar
The Alhambra doesn’t end with the Nazarí palace. It also features an Alcazar, an old Arabic castle, along with a newer palace for Carlos V, from the 16th century, designed by Pedro Machuca, a Spanish painter. Then, there is the Generalife, a huge set of gardens across the river from the Palaces and Alcalzar that offers gorgeous views of the “Red Fortress”, as the Alhambra is often called. So, after this amazing visit, we set back down to the city to go to the bus station, grabbing lunch on the go, and making it just in time for our next ride to Cordoba. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oppa Segovia Style!

Wow, it has been a long time since our last update.  We have been busy with lots of adventures!  I’ll get started with last weekend, when we went on a school excursion to Segovia for Civilization and Culture, the class that Amanda and I have together.

Friday morning, we departed from Alcala at 9am and arrived two hours later at the Palacio Real de la Granja, a beautiful palace built to resemble a miniature Versailles for el Rey Felipe de Burbon, the first French king of Spain.  Inside, we toured an impressive collection of tapestries and saw room after room lit by these incredible crystal chandeliers.  My favorite part, however, was the garden outside.  Late October is a beautiful time of year here in central Spain, and the trees that day were every hue of fall.  The fountains were not running, but the ponds made for great mirrors of the yellow-gold trees all around.
Next we hopped back on the bus for the remaining distance to Segovia.  The Roman aqueducts in Segovia are an impressive structure.  I knew they were tall, but I was not expecting it to be that tall.  It was hard to believe they had been standing for not just centuries, but for about two millennia.
After a few minutes of photo-taking, we made our way on foot to the other side of the city to el Alcazar, one of the homes of Isabel la Católica.  This 15th century castle is said to be one of the inspirations behind the design of Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle, so Amanda and I felt like we were back in Orlando!  Well, not really.  Instead of people in costumes, this castle was full of suits of armor.  Despite some rain on the way back to the bus, it was a fun trip.

The following day, my mom arrived in Spain for a visit!  We had a great time on Sunday showing her around Madrid.  We stopped by el Palacio, Plaza Mayor, El Rastro, and the Egyptian temple that’s up in Parque Oeste.  We also had a few unexpected experiences: the first was a parade of Spanish horses along Puerto del Sol, and the other was a Gangnam Style flash mob near the Cervantes monument!  Those were random and fun to see.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rain, Exams, and Oranges

       It’s a strange combination, I know, but our past week has largely consisted of three things: rain, exams, and oranges. First, the weekend was consumed by rain. The sky transformed into a pale gray and hovered at a light rain just above a drizzle for the entire day. We were lucky to see a little bit of sky on Sunday evening, when we went out to relieve our cabin fever! So, what did we do all weekend? Well, we studied and slept and called our family. Also, Sibley is battling a little cold and so we tried to take it easy. The rain kept us indoors and there, we alternated between studying and the internet, like every good Honor Student will understand.

       Then, Monday came and the true realization that mid-term exams, and thus, the midpoint of the trip, were just a few days away. A crazy sort of disbelief came over us. In my case, I am filled with a mixture of excitement and shock. We have done some amazing things since we have been here, so the idea that we have just as many amazing adventures and maybe even more in the weeks to come fills me with joy. However, the shock settles in when I think that I am passing the peak of this experience. Just how these past few weeks have flown by, the time until I return to the United States could go just as quickly. So, I deal with it by planning adventures and eating oranges.

Even the old mascot
for UCF loved oranges!
The Citronaut

        Yes, somehow, I have become addicted to oranges. I, the girl from  Florida, a state filled with oranges, only discovered my love for oranges and all their wonderful goodness while in Spain. Fruit is eaten almost like desert here. When you are done with your meal at lunch or dinner, you are then offered fruit. So, I sampled some apples and peaches, and then…oranges. They taste like the super fresh oranges that come from your favorite farmers market, and I get them every day. Some days, I’ve eaten up to 3 per day, one at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Don’t get me wrong, the other fruits are just as fresh and just as delicious. The apples are scrumptious and juicy and full of flavor. Basically, having fruit every night has been wonderful. 

     This weekend, our adventures start again! First, with a school trip to Segovia on Friday and then, on Saturday, we pick up Sibley's mom from the airport for a one week visit! We can't wait to show off this wonderful town and a little bit of life in Spain!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dos Aventuras Más

Today I’m going to write about a couple of awesome events that have gone on since our return from Barcelona: La Semana Cervantina and a class field trip to Real Madrid’s stadium! 

Tuesday the 9th of October was Día de Cervantes, a holiday here in Alcalá, and the opening day of the medieval market that made its home in the center of town for Cervantes Week.  To celebrate the life and work of Alcalá’s historical hometown hero Miguel de Cervantes, the streets were filled with merchants sporting medieval attire and selling everything from clothing to jewelry to antique weapons to children’s toys.  These booths were tons of fun to explore, but the real reason Amanda and I spent so many hours browsing the market was the food!   Pastries, candies, coffee, and kabobs are just a few of the things we tried over the duration of the festival.

In addition to shopping and eating, we also enjoyed the entertainment.  Each day at a designated time, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and an entourage of musicians and animal tamers marched through the market, looking like they had jumped straight out of the book and were off to harass some windmills.  We also managed to catch a cooking demonstration, some hilarious jugglers, and the end of a fire-breathing show.  This wonderful week was definitely an upside to studying in Alcalá during the fall semester.

The festival ended on Sunday, and at first it was a little sad to see Alcalá without all of the colorful flags and banners, but there was still plenty to look forward to.  This week, my class The Global Dimension of European Soccer had a field trip to Estadio Bernabéu, the stadium of Real Madrid.  Earlier, we had been told that the trip would only be open to people in the class, so we thought Amanda wouldn’t be able to tag along the way I did on the trip to Soria.  However, on Tuesday, a friend let us know that there were a couple extra spots, and Amanda managed to snag one, so we both got to go!

So, yesterday afternoon, we met up with my class at the train station in Alcalá and we headed to Madrid.  The stadium is an impressive structure, with a capacity of around 85,000 people.  If our first thought was about the size of the stadium, our second thought was “Wait, are we at UF?”  The stands are totally Gator orange and blue!  (I might have to support Atletico instead…)

After viewing the stadium from the top of the stands, we descended through a museum sort of area, which paid homage to Real Madrid squads of present and past.  It was neat to see all the trophies, jerseys, cleats, and other memorabilia from the course of a hundred years of Real Madrid history.  Then we got to go down to the edge of the field and sit on the bench, which is not a bench at all, but a row of luxury padded seats.

Overall, it was a great trip!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Entering the Dream World of Antoni Gaudi. Barcelona Part 3

      During the afternoon on our second day in Barcelona, we explored the northern side of Barcelona with a trip to 3 of Gaudi’s amazing works: The Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, and Casa Battlo. When you walk by one of these buildings you can’t help but stop in awe and gaze at the sheer size and enormity of these buildings. Even in its uncompleted form, the Sagrada Familia is incredibly impressive. As you sit and stare at it, you continue to find new details everywhere you look.

Then, to the apartment buildings, sandwiched between normal buildings, these colorful and crazy additions to Barcelona are startling. You have to go to the other side of the street to really appreciate them, then you can move closer and look at the details. We didn’t go inside any of these buildings due to the exorbitantly high entrance price, nearly $25 for Casa Battlo, but we still saw a lot from the outside.

 On our final morning, we decided to go to Parc Guell, my favorite of Gaudi´s works. We walked down to the metro and waited. And waited. Then, we noticed on the screen above that there was a strike in the metro system and so all services were minimal. We didn´t know what to do. Should we leave and try to walk the very long way? Should we try to take a bus? We walked up to the top station, ready to look for a different means of transportation when a woman came out and told us, “2 minutes. It will be here in 2 minutes”. So, we rushed back down and caught the metro to get us close to Parc Guell. Finally, about an hour later we had completed what should have been a half hour journey at most. However, the payoff was huge. As my eyes fell on the amazing wall of Parc Guell, I knew the whole trip was worth it.



         Like stepping into a dream, we wandered through the entrance gate and into the giant park. The buildings look like something out of a Hansel and Gretel movie set with bright colors and candy motifs. Then, as you push past the hundreds of people, you make your way by the Gaudi Lizard and then into the main area with the many mosaics on the ceiling. Past that, you can walk through a tunnel of rock that was built to look like a wave flowing over you. It was absolutely incredible. We kept climbing up and up past stairs and ramps, through carefully designed tunnels and archways. And then we were at the summit where we could look out over all of Barcelona. We could even see the Sagrada Familia and the giant cranes working on it way off in the distance. Wow! What a view!

 After exploring all that we felt we had time for given the metro delays, we headed back to our room to check out. We only took one metro ride and chose to walk the rest of the way since waiting for the trains was the biggest delay. It ended up being a wise choice because at our stop, the metro began to smoke and the whole train was evacuated. Wow! We packed up our stuff and moved on to the bus station, wearing our most touristy outfits, Barcelona t-shirts. And finally, after the 8 hour bus ride, we were back in Alcala safe and sound, and tired.