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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Barça Part II: Cable Cars and Cats!

Now for Day 2 of our Barcelona adventure!  On Saturday, we woke up early, threw our bed sheets in the washer, and set out for the train station to catch a train to Montserrat.  We knew trains left hourly from Plaza España, and we assumed departures would be on the hour.  We arrived comfortably early at 8:35, only to find out the train had left while we were buying our tickets.  Lesson learned—don’t assume anything about train schedules!  It’s always better to find out, because it’s possible that trains leave on the thirty-fourth minute of every hour, or some other such random number.  We killed an hour eating some tasty pastries for breakfast and caught the next train, but this small error caused us to feel rushed the whole time we were at Montserrat, so it’s a mistake we’ll try to avoid on future adventures.

In short, Montserrat was incredible.  When we arrived, it was foggy around the mountain, so all we could see were the cables leading upwards until they disappeared into the mist.  After a short wait, we boarded the cable car and floated up the mountain.  When we rose above the fog, we began to realize how high we were.  As someone rather frightened of heights, the experience of dangling from a tiny cable over the side of this gigantic mountain was both amazing and nerve-racking.

At the top of the cable car, we got to wander around the monastery at the top and even witnessed a couple minutes of mass inside the gorgeous and ornate sanctuary that makes a striking contrast with the rugged landscape just outside.  Then we rode in a funicular up even higher, nearly at the peak of the mountain.  If we thought we were on top of the world at the monastery, this vantage point felt like looking down at earth from space.  Photos failed entirely to capture the scale of that view, but we took lots anyway!  There is lots of hiking to be done up at the top of Montserrat, but due to our lost hour in the morning, we had to hurry back to Barcelona after only a short walk.

We arrived back in Barcelona a bit before 3pm, and we needed to check out of our apartment by 3:30, so we hustled back and hung up the clean linens to dry for the next person, handed off the keys, and headed across the city on the metro for the second apartment.  This apartment was only a short distance from the Sagrada Familia.  We arrived and met the owner, a kind lady who lives there with a couple family members and her nine cats, and rents out the extra rooms to travelers.  The quantity of cats wandering around was admittedly bizarre, but otherwise, this apartment was great!  We got to meet another temporary resident, an English girl who recently moved to Spain to work for a year between high school and university.  She was relieved to have people to chat with in English, since she is living in Spain with only rudimentary Spanish skills.  Anyway, upon our arrival, we dropped off our stuff and set out on foot to see some Gaudi architecture, but Amanda will tell you more about that!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Amazing! Fantastic! Barcelona. Day One

 A trip to Spain can never be complete without a trip to the famous Barcelona! So, joined by our new friend Larissa from Tennessee, we set off to Barcelona very early, taking a taxi at 4:30 in order to catch our 7:00 flight from Madrid. We arrived  in Barcelona about an hour later, navigated through the airport, slightly baffled by the signs in Catalan, and then we took the train to Barcelona. Finally, we checked into our room and began exploring the city.

         Barri Gotic and Las Ramblas
Iglesia de Santa Maria del Mar
This was a really cool area filled with old building and narrow streets. Shops lined the streets and tourists were everywhere. It was super busy and always bustling. Due to the wise advice from concerned followers, we were constantly alert and remained safe the entire trip without any pick pocketing horror stories.  This district was really neat with a brilliant contrast between old and new. You could look down one street and see a gigantic Gothic cathedral but as you look down another, you could see a giant stuffed Spiderman dangling from a balcony.

Barceloneta and the Beach

As we walked past the port filled with boats, we had our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. The beautiful blue water stretched out into infinity, calm and cool under the bright and hot sun. We took a little break, sinking our toes into the sand and swimming in the sea.

Montjuic and the Magic Fountain

As the night settled on Barcelona, we made our way to the Magic Fountain. On the weekends they have a choreographed show with music and colors and a great fountain. The water rises up from the huge fountain creating different shapes and feelings. It was super crowded and filled with tourists, but a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Then, after the show, we climbed up the many stairs to the top of Montjuic where we could look out over the skyline of Barcelona, illuminated by the night lights.


Then, after a long day of walking and travelling, we went back to our room to sleep and prepare for another busy and absolutely amazing day!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Tale of Two Pueblos

This weekend, Amanda and I went on day trips to two different Spanish cities.  Soria is a small city in the community of Castilla y Leon, and Manzanares is a town in the northern end of the community of Madrid.

Ermita de San Saturio
Soria was first.  This excursion was a mandatory part of two Instituto Franklin classes.  In her Oral Traditions of Spain class, Amanda read poems by Antonio Machado that are set in the town, so the trip highlighted places featured in the poems.  I’m in neither of the classes, but there was extra space on the bus.  So, I signed up to go anyway, because who turns down a free trip to a new part of Spain?

Soria is up in a cooler, wetter part of Spain, but we were lucky.  While it rained all day in Madrid on Friday, it stayed dry in Soria.  The two main highlights of the trip were the ruins of the 12th century monastery of San Juan de Duero and the Ermita de San Saturio.  The latter was one of the most interesting and impressive buildings I have ever seen.  The hermitage is built right into the mountain over the river and incorporates the natural caverns, so when you enter the building, it’s actually like walking into a cave.  But as you go up the stairs, you gradually climb out of the caverns and into a building, with an ornate sanctuary and some classrooms with hardwood floors.  The view from the top over the River Duero was beautiful.

Castillo Manzanares El Real
(After it stopped raining!)
On Saturday, Amanda and I set out on our second solo adventure, this time to a town called Manzanares.  We began with plenty of time, but due to the fact that the bus station at Plaza Castilla in Madrid is a multi-level labyrinth in which you could accidently wander for days, we barely made it onto our bus.  It was a rainy morning, which made it difficult to see through the cloudy windows on the bus, so we nearly missed our stop, but we luckily did stumble off the bus in Manzanares.  A helpful lady in the tourism office pointed us in the direction of the castle.  A short walk later, we found shelter from the rain within Castillo Manzanares el Real.  Built in the 1400’s and restored at various times over the last 70 years, the castle is a truly impressive structure with panoramic views of the mountains on one side and the reservoir on the other.

What’s even cooler than a medieval castle?  A medieval castle full of dashing Spanish swordsmen! (and swordswomen!)  On Saturday, Manzanares played host to la Jornada de Esgrima Antigua, or a day of antique fencing.  Part exhibition, part lecture, and part social gathering, this event drew fencers from various historical fencing schools and clubs across Spain.  Many fought in costume from the same era as their weapons, although many wore contemporary athletic clothes, protective gear, and Nikes.  We got to watch a fencing class and later a demonstration of battle in full armor.  One of these armored knights agreed to pose for a UCF picture with us!  He was super nice and chatted with us in English and Spanish for quite some time, and even encouraged us to take up fencing when we returned home to the U.S!

My favorite part was that this event was very casual.  During siesta time when there were no official demonstrations going on, most of the fencers hung out together up on the wall top or other parts of the castle, either chatting or sparring or goofing around.  This sword fighting in such a picturesque setting was like spending a day on a movie set.  You could turn around a corner and stumble upon an epic battle for control of the tower.  Everyone we met was friendly, and the fencers and spectators alike all seemed to be having a great time.  It was so much fun!  I would definitely recommend Manzanares to any traveler to Spain, especially if such a visit could coincide with this event!