Sunday, May 29, 2011

Madrid: Big City, Small World!

My time in Madrid this week has been wonderful! Well, except maybe the past two days, but I'll get to that later. First of all, there is SO much more to do in Madrid than there is in Malaga. After being in Madrid, I can't believe I survived in Malaga for a whole week! The only thing that Malaga has going for it is the beach. Madrid is a much more happening place with so much more to do and see. It's a great place to meet new people... and run into people that you already know!

After getting 2 hours of sleep on my 7 hour overnight bus ride, I arrived in Madrid completely exhausted. I found my hostel without any problems and luckily, there was a bed ready for me that early in the morning! I grabbed some breakfast, quickly emailed my mom to tell her that I made it, and went up to my room. I fell asleep instantly and slept literally all afternoon. When I woke up at 5pm, there was one more person in the 5 person room. His name was Brian, originally from San Francisco, and he had studied abroad this semester as well... in Berlin, Germany. We talked for a while about the plaes we've seen in Europe and our plans for Madrid, and I mentioned that a girl from my last hoste (Tatiyanna) had studied abroad in Madrid and gave me a list of her favorite places to eat and neat things to see. I shared the list with Brian and then we decided to go try one of the tapas bars together for dinner. The name of the place: El Tigre. The tapas: unbelievably cheap AND delicious. It was this little hole-in-the-wall place that was packed full of locals. It had no seats... just counters where you could stand and eat your free tapas. Each drink we got was under 2 euro and with each drink, we received a huge plate of various tapas!

On Tuesday, I spent most of the day shopping. Souvenir shopping, that is. I bought so many souvenirs and gifts for friends and family, that by the end of the day, I had a huge shopping bag full of just souvenirs that I carried around with me separately. The sad part about this... this morning I put all of my stuff (except for my purse) in the luggage storage room in my hostel while I went to the market. During the two hours which I was gone, somebody had taken my big bag of souvenirs and my tennis shoes? Don't ask me why they would take my tennis shoes... they smell. And why would they choose my bag of souvenirs over my laptop? Not to mention my book! I had about two or three chapters left of this amazing book that my friend let me borrow, and they took that, too. It's a little upsetting knowing that I won't get to bring back gifts for friends and family though. I hope everyone is happy with Spanish pennies and Kinder Bueno bars. Sorry, guys. I also realized that I lost my iTouch yesterday. I'm not doing so hot lately.

Our tour guide talking about the protests
On Wednesday, Brian and I took a free walking tour that he found online. The walking tour also included a bunch of other hostels in the area so there were a lot of people there. As we were standing around waiting for it to begin, I looked over and saw a girl with blond hair who looked extremely familiar. Then I thought, she kind of looks like Annika (from Malaga) and then when I saw Zach standing next to her, I knew it was them. I told Brian I'd be back and I made my way around 50 other tourists to say hi. We had no idea that we were both going to be in Madrid at the same time, and to see somewhat of a familiar face was exciting!

Our Argentinian tour guide walked us around the city of Madrid for three hours. We saw famous sites such as the palace, Cibeles, Plaza Mayor, Retiro Park, Gran Via, the museums, and Puerta del Sol where all of the protests are. Brian and I went back to our hostel where he went to take a siesta and I was going to check my email/facebook.

Signs from the protests in Puerta del Sol

Maren spilling the Tinto in the boat!
Earlier that morning, I had seen another girl who looked really familiar at breakfast. I thought she looked like someone who goes to ISU, a friend of a friend that I met about a year ago. Her name is Maren and we've hung out a couple of times before, but aren't really close and I hadn't talked to her in a while so I didn't say anything. Plus I thought there's no way it was her... how crazy would it be for us to be in the same city, let alone the same hostel? There are hundreds of hostels in Madrid. So instead, I sent her a message on Facebook earlier and when I went to check my email/facebook when Brian went to take a siesta, she responded and said that she WAS in Madrid. To make a long story short, she was in Spain with another friend from ISU (Kristen) and they were visiting one of her childhood friends who is studying in Barcelona. They were leaving the next day, but they kindly invited me to go rowboating with them at Retiro Park. Maren had also done the same Caceres program two years ago and had recommended it to me. We had a fun time rowing on the lake while drinking some Tinto de Verano. It was great seeing some Iowa Staters!

Retiro Park with the rowboats!

Cutting the sandwiches with a pocket knife?
Later that night, Brian and I went to Euromania at 100 Montaditos (another place that Tatiyanna recommended.) Everything on Wednesdays is only a euro! It was so busy inside, that the doorman wouldn't let anyone else in for another 20 minutes or so. We finally got our turn and got the 6 sandwich platter. We both wanted to try them all, so we were going to split all the sandwiches in half. This didn't work too well because either the ham was tough to break, the sandwiches were too messy, etc. So Brian asked me if I thought it would be weird if he were to split them in half with his pocket knife. At first I thougth he was joking, so I just laughed... but nope, he was serious. He took out his pocked knife and started cutting the rest of the sandwiches. That's not sketchy, right?

When we got back to the hostel, we were going to watch a movie on Brian's computer, but there were people sleeping in his room so we were going to try my room. When we walked into my room, we found 75ish year old man asleep in his bed wearing nothing but his underwear. It wouldn't have been so weird if he wasn't sprawled out everwhere and was at least wearing boxers or something. Brian and I looked at each other and tried not to laugh as we shut the door and left. I kind of wanted to take a picture... you know, to spice up my blog or something, but I couldn't bring myself to do it... it felt wrong on so many levels.

On Friday, it rained all day so I read a good chunk of my book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (yeah, the same one that got stolen.) Then I spent time with a couple of new roommates from Germany. They had a rule that since they were in Spain, they would talk in Spanish, even though they knew like 5 other languages, including English. (Jealous!) I liked this rule so we sat and talked for a couple hours all in Spanish! It was weird since I hadn't spoken Spanish that much since I've left Caceres, so it was a little difficult to get back into the swing of it.

This morning, I went to the big market which was really neat to see. It was really crowded though and then it started to rain, so I headed back to my hostel. I spent probably an hour going through the luggage room making sure my stuff wasn't there, and now here I am writiing one of my last blogs! My family leaves Iowa in just a few hours and hopefully by this time tomorrow, I will be with my mom, Paige, and Kaicer!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I survived my first week alone!

Rushing through security
On Friday (May 14th?), Dad and Jeanne left Malaga. They had decided to drop the rental car off at the train station instead of the airport since they would be taking a train back to Madrid. We spent about 2 hours that morning driving all over Malaga to find the train station and once we found it, we couldn’t find where to drop the car off! It was about 10:50 and their train left at 11:05. We were in some parking garage beneath the train station, but not where we were supposed to drop the car off. Jeanne went up to the station to find out where to take the car and they told her that we could just leave it down there and I would have to turn in the key and get the inspection done while they ran to catch their train. We quickly said our goodbyes and I watched them run through security and down to the train platform just in time to catch their train.

After everything with the rental car was taken care of, I walked around the train station (which was also a mall) and did a little summer shopping. Then I walked back to my hostel and took a much needed nap. The next day, the weather was gorgeous (little did I know that this would only be one of the few days that it would be sunny) so I went to the beach with another woman who was staying in my room. She is a yoga teacher from Australia and flew to Italy 3 weeks ago to visit her boyfriend of 5 years... only to find out that he had an affair with another woman and wanted to break up. Since she was planning on spending 7 months with her boyfriend in Italy, she decided to visit Spain and a few other countries in Europe instead of going all the way back to Australia so soon. We shared of a few stories with each other and she left for Granada a couple days later. 

Until Wednesday, I spent most of my time just hanging out on the beach, getting used to this whole ´being by myself´thing which I wasn´t a huge fan of. On Wednesday, I walked an hour to the city to buy my bus ticket to Madrid, found a place to buy stamps so I could send all of my post cards, and walked an hour back to my hostel. Later that night (this is where things got better), I met another girl, Tatiyanna, who had studied abroad this semester in Madrid this past semester and was travelling alone like I was. She and I shared stories and compared our semesters in Spain and she gave me a lot of good tips on where to go for when I go to Madrid. Then we went outside to hang out with a woman from Copenhagen, a man from Russia who spoke no English, and a woman from England who was singing and playing guitar. Her voice reminded me so much of Ingrid Michaelson’s (one of my all time favorite singers) so we sat there and listened to her until she stopped singing. 

SO much food!
Then Tatyanna and I met another couple who was eating the dinner that the hostel provided for just 6 euro. We decided to sit down and have this dinner as well, which was so huge that I think I only ate a third of everything! The girl, Annika, had just studied abroad in Norway this semester and her boyfriend, Zach, had just flown from the States to come visit her and they are going to travel Europe together this summer. We had all been talking for a couple of hours when another man, Marek, just arrived to the hostel and he joined us for dinner as well. Marek had actually planned on going to South America with a friend, but his friend bailed last minute so he decided to travel Europe alone instead. We all sat outside talking for while and then decided that it would be fun to take a day trip together the next day. Marek really wanted to go to Gibraltar; however, Zach and Annika were too tired from traveling, Tatiyanna had to leave the next day, and I had already been there with my dad. But I told him if he wanted some company, I’d go along since I had nothing else to do. 

Marek, Tatiyanna, me, Annika, & Zach

So the next day, Marek and I decided to take the 11:00 bus to La Linea, which is right next to the Gibraltar border. We left the hostel a little later than expected; we took a bus to the transfer point where we were supposed to take another bus to the station, but we decided to take a taxi since we were pressed for time. We arrived at the bus station at exactly 11:00 (which was too late.) So I asked the ticket person if there was another bus going to La Linea soon and she said there was one at 11:30 and then one a few hours later. We bought the 11:30 tickets and took the 3 hour bus ride to Gibraltar!

Me and my new friend!
When we got to Gibraltar, we rode the cable car up to the top of the rock, and when we got to the top we couldn’t see anything since we were in the clouds (which was a little disappointing, but also kind of cool.) We walked around a little bit and then saw the "van guided tours" come by and one of the guides was allowing the monkeys to climb on top of tourists´shoulders and take pictures. When Marek and I saw this, we both looked at each other and you could tell we were both thinking the same thing. So we, too, got our turn with the monkeys on our shoulders and Marek even had a monkey hanging from his arm, swinging back and forth! It was the highlight of our day! And no, Dad... they did not bite our faces.

Gibraltar in the clouds

Hanging out on the beach!
Then we walked around the big rock for a while, turning whichever direction looked more adventurous. We did a lot of unexpected hiking, found some very neat trails, hidden caves, and even a jungle-type-looking-area. We hiked up and down for quite a bit and then finally made our way down the mountain which took a good two hours. When we got to the bottom of the rock, we were exhausted and hungry so we stopped for some fish and chips, and then took our 3 hour bus ride back to Malaga, arriving at our hostel that night around 10:30. We met back up with Zach and Annika that night, borrowed the hostel’s guitar and walked over to the beach to play guitar and sing some songs. Annika actually wants to be a professional singer so it was a lot of fun listening to sing! (I later found out that she made it to top 11 of Canadian Idol!)

The next morning, Zach and Annika left for Sevilla and Marek and I grabbed some lunch down the street before he left for Granada. Then I went downtown to find a quieter place with WiFi because I had an interview via Skype with Iowa State University for a summer job. I found a McDonald’s which was very loud and crowded, but luckily there was an outdoor seating area just outside of the McDonald’s where I could still receive good internet connection. I ended up getting the job (yay!) and then took the bus back to my hostel. 

That night was rather interesting… I came back to my room to find 5 or 6 drunken Irishmen wearing jerseys and skirts (with their legs shaved, by the way.) They said they were a women’s netball team from Ireland. I had never heard of netball before and when I asked what it was, they were in shock. They asked where I was from and I usually respond with, “the States” and sometimes that’s good enough but sometimes I just get stared at blankly as if I need to say which state I’m from. (This was one of those times.) I said I was from Iowa and one of the drunken Irishmen said very loudly, “YOU OWE WHAT?!” After nobody laughed, he said, “ha ha don’t you get it? I…O…WA …man, sometimes I just crack myself up.” It was fun talking to them for a while until they decided that they wanted to go skinny dipping. When I declined their offer of coming along, I got the response, “YOUR LOSS!” I found that a little hard to believe...

The last two days were sunny so I took advantage of that and spent the majority of those two days out on the beach. It was wonderful! It was pretty entertaining watching some middle school and high school boys doing flips off of their little trampoline. 

Later that night, I walked to the bus station and read for three hours while waiting for my bus to come. I took a 7 hour overnight bus to Madrid, arriving in Madrid on Monday. I´ve been in Madrid since then and will blog about my week here (I´ve got some great stories!) later this weekend before MY FAMILY COMES ON MONDAY! Yeah, you could say I´m a little excited. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"I don't want it to bite my face off!"

Ok this will be the last post from my dad and Jeanne’s visit to Spain. On our last day, we decided to take yet another day trip. This time to Gibraltar! Gibraltar is a small city within Spain, but it is actually UK territory. It’s basically just a big rock known for the apes at the top of the rock. We drove to Gibraltar without any problems getting out of Malaga this time. It was weird driving to Gibraltar though because there literally weren’t any signs that said we were approaching Gibraltar since the Spanish has hated Gibraltar ever since the UK has owned it. We took “La Linea” exit because that is the town right next to the Gibraltar border. We parked at La Linea and walked across the border, only having to hold up our passports as we passed the guards. I was a little bummed that they didn't stamp our passports.

The cable car
We had decided earlier that all we wanted to do was take the cable car up the mountain, look around, and take the cable car back down. We also wanted to take a city bus into the center city since it was quite a walk from the border. We went into the first city bus we saw and asked him if it would take us to the cable car and he said it didn’t but the one in front of him did. He gave us tickets for that one and we ran up to catch it and as we approached the door, the driver was about to pull out. He turned his head and saw us, but shook his head “no” and didn’t let us on! We waited another 15 minutes, took THAT bus to the cable car stop, and headed up the big rock. When we approached the top of the rock, we saw our first ape! Everyone saw it and excitedly said, “Look! An ape!” except for… my dad. His face only showed pure terror. The ape then jumped from the railing ONTO the cable car (which had open windows) and Dad let out a little scream to say the least. 

I’ll give you some background on why my dad is so scared of apes that might make you understand better. Remember that story a couple of years ago about the lady whose face was bitten (more like completely eaten off) by an ape?  Well, ever since then, my Dad has been afraid that if he goes anywhere near an ape, it will do the same to him. Make sense? Maybe a little? Yeah, I don’t get it either. (Just kidding, Dad! I completely understand.)

My dad avoiding eye contact
So anyways, we had to walk up these spiral stairs to get to the café and other lookout areas at the top, and guess who was waiting on top of the post at the top of the spiral staircase? Yep, another ape! Watching my dad walk up those stairs was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever witnessed in my life. He hung on tightly to the railing on the opposite side of where the ape was sitting, avoided eye contact with the cute creature, and did a little jog the rest of the way to where Jeanne and I were laughing. The ape had his eye on my dad the whole time. It was hysterical!

We did a little more walking around on top of the rock, took some pictures, and saw some amazing views of Gibraltar, Spain, the Mediterranean, and even the tip of Africa. After we safely made it down the rock without getting our faces bitten off, we went to find some fish and chips since we were in the UK! After lunch, we walked back to the border since we had no idea which bus stop to go to (they didn’t have any maps or bus schedules at any of the stops) and headed back to Malaga.

A view from the top of the rock

We made it back to our hotel after another long day. We went to the center of the city for dinner where we had some pretty delicious food and white wine that had “Caceres” in its name! We walked around the old part of town (which was really neat to see at night), where we all shared a dessert at a local bakery. It was a great way to end Dad and Jeanne’s trip!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Curvy roads and narrow streets

Last Wednesday (May 11th), Dad, Jeannie and I wanted a more “relaxing” day after what had happened the day before in Morocco. So we decided to go see the Chorro Gorge in the mountains and stop by one of the “white hill towns” that Rick Steves suggested in his guidebook. We chose to visit a town called “Ronda” which was an amazing choice. 

Trying to get out of Malaga!
We slept in a little, ate breakfast, and then headed out to find the Chorro Gorge. However, we had some trouble finding our way out of Malaga. Don’t ask me how this happened, but we somehow ended up driving on a large sidewalk. It was late morning so the sidewalks were packed with all of the locals that were heading to work. There were so many people and not so many cars… we were driving slower than people were walking! Jeannie and I got out of the car and asked some construction workers where to go and he told us we could go straight ahead towards a busier road. We drove away as the construction workers laughed at us, found the road with cars on it instead of people, and finally got out of Malaga.

After we took the exit towards “El Chorro”, we drove up and down the edge of mountains (which I found out isn’t my dad’s favorite thing to do) for a couple hours, found the El Chorro Gorge, saw a lot of other beautiful sights, and had a pretty good laugh about bikers’ caps. Or was it calves? I’m still not sure.

El Chorro Gorge

After we got down away from those mountains (and Dad was a lot more relaxed), we went to find Ronda. As we approached the small town, we decided to have lunch right away. We all shared a big salad and we each ordered our own soup. After our late lunch, we drove into the town. As we drove in circles trying to find the town square, we approached the end of a road that became narrower as we continued to drive to the end of it! It was so narrow that my dad had to turn the side view mirrors in (which he unintentionally learned how to do earlier.) There was maybe an inch between each side of the car and the brick buildings. It was hilarious; I was completely silent, holding my breath, while Jeannie was screaming "watch out!", and Dad was owning it. It was like he had done this a million times before... he just pushed the button to fold in the side view mirrors like it was nothing as he continued to drive. We finally came across some older women and I asked them where their town center was. They were confused and one woman said, “I think it’s over there…” while another woman would disagree and say, “no, it’s that way!” This was when we discovered we weren’t even in Ronda! We were in some small little dinky town outside of it.

When we had actually arrived in RONDA, we parked the car and wandered around the city for a while. We toured the bullring, which is supposedly the first bullring in Spain and then we went to find the gorge. (Yes, another gorge.) The views from Ronda were absolutely incredible. I can’t believe I had never heard of this town before! The gorge, which separated the old city from the new city, was fascinating!

The bullring in Ronda

On the drive back to Malaga
We decided to take a different way home, which had its ups and downs. The good thing was that we got to drive through more mountains, which meant more incredible views. The bad thing was that we drove through more mountains, which meant Dad was more freaked out. We were driving on the edge of mountains over bridges about the time when the big earthquake happened just a couple hours away from us in Lorca. Fortunately, we didn’t feel it where we were! Once we reached Malaga, we had a couple more scary driving experiences with a bus, a motorcycle, and those darn roundabouts. 

More paella!
For dinner, we went to a seafood restaurant on the boardwalk where we had more paella. It was better than the overcooked paella that we had in Madrid, but still not as good as Lola’s or Valencia’s. We called it a night after a long day of driving and another long day of driving that we knew was to come the next day. We weren’t going to Spanish or Moroccan territory though… we were going to UK territory! 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A few hours in Africa...

Good spaghetti, Dad?
When we arrived to Malaga, we had some troubles finding our rental car company, but after a good hour of going up and down elevators and escalators, we found it. We also surprisingly found our hotel by luck (since we didn’t have a good map), checked in, walked along the boardwalk, and found a really good place to eat. We were the only customers since we ate on American time instead of Spanish time… but we had some amazing food there! And some pretty good Sangria, too. 

That night, Jeannie and I did some research (while Dad slept) on Tarifa, Spain and possibly taking a daytrip to Tangier, Morocco. Dad didn’t seem to care what we did (at THAT moment), so Jeannie and I made the executive decision to go to Morocco and take the guided tour. We left at 6am the next morning so we could get to Tarifa and take the 9am ferry to Tangier. As we approached Tarifa (the southernmost tip of Spain), the roads became curvier and it became a lot windier. (Tarifa is very well-known for windsurfing.) We bought our tickets to Tangier, Morocco and boarded the ferry. Before we knew it, we were in Morocco! 

Not sure whether to laugh or cry
We got off the ferry and saw a couple of other people with the same tour guide stickers as us so we stood by them until an older man who spoke very little English told us to follow him. He brought another man over to us and told us very slowly, “THIS… IS… YOUR…. GUIDE…” as he pushed the man forward towards us. Dad and I gave each other the same look that said, “Oh, crap.” It seemed as though he had just taken this man off the streets and gave him the job as our tour guide. We got into a sketchy van with about 6 other tourists and we rode around the newer part of Morocco as the tour guide would tell us what a random building was every 10 minutes or so and every time he spoke, the speakers blared right by my ear. 

We made a stop where we had the opportunity to ride camels. I was the only one who rode a camel and I don’t understand why. Who would go to Morocco and not ride a camel?! At the camel-riding “area”, there was a man selling some of his crap. He kept asking all of us tourists if we wanted any of his beautiful bracelets and we all kept saying “no” until Dad noticed that he had spoons (which my sister and I collect) and he said “Shea, he has spoons!!!” Seriously, Dad? So then the man told us he would sell them both for 20 euro or something ridiculous like that and I told my dad not to buy them. Then the man lowered the price and I still said no. Then he asked me what I would buy them for and I said I would take BOTH of them for 6 euro. After I said this, he laughed in my face like I was an idiot… then about 30 seconds later, he sold us the two spoons for 6 euro. 

Jeannie was a little scared that the camel was going to spit on her

Snake Whisperer
The rest of our day was spent walking around the older part of Morocco where we got to see a “snake whisperer”, rats and cockroaches roaming the streets, the street where they shot one of the Bourne movies, 7 year old children coming up to us selling Kleenexes, and as a part of our tour… we had the privilege of sitting in on two sales pitches (for rugs and spices.) The spices sales pitch was quite interesting… we got to smell all of his spices and try things like anti-snoring powder, different balms, and “magic lipstick” that was green but turned pink when you put it on. Pretty amazing stuff, huh? This was about the point when Dad had had enough of Morocco. Lunch was also included in our tour where we had soup, some weird kind of meat (which we never found out what it was), couscous, a small pastry, and the best mint tea I've ever had. Our tour guide took us back to the port where we were supposed to take the 2pm ferry back to Spain. After an hour of waiting, we found out that our ferry had been canceled because of the “weather conditions.” A nice couple from our same tour group went to go find out some information. A few minutes later, they called us down from the window so Dad, Jeannie and I ran down there to meet them. On our way out the door, a man stopped us and told us he worked for the tourist office and he knew about our ferry being canceled so he would take us to the ticket office. We got to the ticket office where our friends, Patricia and Miguel were and stood in line to buy our tickets. They told us that this was the last ferry of the day and they took our passports, collected our money, and also took our receipts/return tickets from the company in Spain that we had originally bought our tickets from. He gave us our new tickets, rushed us over to the ferry because it was going to leave in “5 minutes” and he asked for a tip from Dad. We got on the ferry, waited another HOUR for it to leave, then took a very bumpy ride back to Tarifa. The waves were so huge out in the middle of the sea and the boat kept rocking back and forth… I thought I was going to puke. Fortunately, I didn’t; however, unfortunately, the lady next to us did. When we got off the ferry, it was so windy that we could have easily blown into the Straight of Gibraltar. We went to the ticket office in Tarifa and explained our situation. The lady was sympathetic but there was nothing she could do since we didn’t have our receipts. We were a little frustrated that we were scammed, but it was almost to the point where we didn’t care anymore… we were just glad to be back on Spanish soil.

We drove two hours from Tarifa back to Malaga and when we got to Malaga, we went down the street from our hotel and had a very nice Italian meal with a bottle of wine. Just what we needed after the day we had.

This made everything better.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My dad comes to Spain! (Madrid and Sevilla)

So I accidentally sent my camera cord back with my Dad and my sd card doesn't fit into my laptop sd card reader so I thought I wasn't going to be able to post pictures... but GOOD NEWS! A lady in my hostel had a mini card reader so I can now download my 600-some photos from my camera onto my computer. You guys are so lucky.

Saying goodbye one last time from the bus window!
Last Thursday afternoon (May 5th) I said goodbye to Lola and Caceres. Lola and a few friends that still hadn’t left Caceres came to the bus station to say goodbye to me and two other girls who were taking the same bus to Madrid that I was. It was hard saying goodbye even though in the back of my mind I knew I would be coming back on June 1st for the day with my mom, sister and brother to introduce them to Caceres and to Lola. I dragged my large suitcase and carried my backpack, purse, and an extra large bag full of crap around the metro and up 3 flights of stairs to get to my hostel  (before I found out they had a hidden elevator.) Then Alex (one of the girls who had taken the same bus as I did) walked over to my hostel from her hostel and we met up with two other friends who had taken a later bus that were going to sleep at the airport since they had flights the next morning. We met halfway between downtown and the airport, went out for an hour to hang out one last time and then said our goodbyes. By the time I got back to my hostel, it was 1:30 am; I took a quick shower, got about 4 hours of sleep, and went to go pick up Dad and Jeannie (a family friend) at the airport! Thus began some pretty great adventures.

I greeted my Dad and Jeannie with hugs and Kinder Bueno bars and then we went to go find our hotel. (It’s weird to write ‘hotel’ instead of ‘hostel.’) We spent the morning touring the Palacio Real and the afternoon touring The Prado Museum. It was great to finally see more of Madrid other than the bus station, the metro, and the airport! We had some dry, overcooked paella for dinner and then went to the most amazing bakery ever. My Godparents recommended this bakery that they found when they were in Madrid. So Dad, Jeannie and I went there as well. We all split a chocolate pastry and then walked back to our hotel after walking around the Puerte del Sol area.

On the train to Sevilla!
On Saturday, we woke up early and headed to Sevilla! We took the AVE speed train which was pretty neat, especially since we rode first class. (I've never been in first class before so it was exciting.) We had already eaten breakfast at our hotel, but apparently you get free breakfast on first class AVE trains? So we had two big breakfasts that day! Also, Dad and I found out that we happened to be reading the same book! Like father like daughter, right?

Jeannie and I showing off the flowers in our hair at the Flamenco

When we got to Sevilla, we had to take a taxi to the other side of town where our hotel was. After checking in, we went back to the city center to see the biggest gothic cathedral in the world and the Alcazar (or as my dad kept calling it, the “Alcatraz.”) This was also the day where I found my dream wedding dress (just thought I’d add that minor detail.) That night, we went to a flamenco show dinner, which was fabulous. It was a little on the expensive side, but that didn’t matter because we ended up not even paying for it! We made reservations through our hotel and the receptionist said that we would pay at the show. Then everyone walked out at the end and no one paid so we assumed the receptionist was mistaken and it would show up on our hotel bill... but that didn’t happen either. 

At the Feria!
The following day, we decided to spend at the Feria de Sevilla (Sevilla’s annual fair.) We were told to take bus #24 or something like that until the end so we did. We got off the bus after it had went around the roundabout and we saw a bunch of cars and a bunch of tents so we thought that had to be it. We walked around for a while and were rather disappointed. We had read that there was going to be food and crafts and such and all there was was clothes and other crap that people were selling. The only type of food that was being sold was olives. So I asked a lady on the street where the food was and she was confused and said there was a grocery store right behind us but it was Sunday so it was closed. I said “no, the food of the Feria” and she was like “ohhh, this isn’t the Feria… this is the Sunday market!” So after we pieced everything together, we figured out that we got on the bus at the wrong side of the road and went to the opposite end of that bus line. When we finally reached the Feria (which was much better than the Sunday market), we had some delicious food at one of the thousands of “eateries”, paid a euro to pee, and walked around for a couple of hours. On our way home, we stopped by a bakery then sat on a bench and did some ‘people-watching.’ For dinner, I introduced Dad and Jeannie to tapas… we ordered about 5 different kinds of tapas then Dad and I got ice cream and Jeannie bought a Kinder Bueno bar for dessert.

Feria de Sevilla
This wraps up our time in Madrid and Sevilla! The next day (Monday, May 9th) we took a train to the southern coast of Spain… Malaga to be exact. We hardly ever spent any time in Malaga, though. Instead, we rented a car and did a lot of driving to other parts of southern Spain (and even took a day trip to Morocco!) My adventures with my dad and Jeannie get even better from here on out… but you’ll have to wait for my next post to read about them!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Godparents’ visit and the end of a wonderful semester!

Last Wednesday, I had my first visitors from the U.S.! My wonderful Godparents, Vera and Mark from Colorado, came to Caceres, Spain. I was supposed to call their hotel around 4 or 4:30 to make sure they made it and then come meet them. However, when I called, they hadn’t arrived yet. I decided to head over there a little while later and just sit and read a book while I waited for them to arrive. Right as I reached the courtyard in front of the hotel, I saw them just getting out of their rental car! Coincidence? We embraced each other with hugs (multiple times) and after we all calmed down, we checked into their hotel and within minutes, they were ready to see my city!

Lola adding some more "nata" to Vera's strawberries!
We met up with my roommate and another friend at La Guinda (our favorite pastry shop in Caceres), and took in some caffeine and sugar. We then walked around the old city of Caceres, stopped for some white wine, did some much needed catching up, and then went to the Plaza Mayor for sangria. (I promise we’re not alcoholics!) We walked around a little more, and then it was time for another amazing meal made by my host mom. We walked in the piso, and the table was set with many different types of typical Spanish food. Lola had made tortilla patata, my favorite fried cod fish, Spanish salad, and we had slices of ham and cheese from Extremadura, and last but not least… bread! For dessert we had strawberries with cream and honey and then of course chupitos! Claire and I both had fun translating the conversations throughout dinner and we had the Madrid vs Barcelona soccer game on in the background. It was an incredible night to say the least.

On Thursday after class, I met up with my Godparents and we ate a restaurant that Lola recommended in the old city of Caceres. We had some yummy lasagna and a waitress who tried practicing her English with us. After lunch, we were true Spaniards and took a siesta! When we woke up, we explored the old city a little more and headed to the Plaza Mayor for tapas; I introduced my Godparents to tinto de verano and we had dinner there as well. Thursday night was also the celebration of San Jorge in Caceres. This is a huge celebration in Caceres that happens once a year. They put on a huge production of the story of San Jorge and they burn a dragon. I think every single person in Caceres was in the Plaza! I thought it was neat that my Godparents got to be a part of a traditional Caceres celebration. After they started the dragon on fire, I walked them back to their hotel where we watched the fireworks go off in the Plaza Mayor from their balcony. It was a great way to end the night.

On Friday, I met my Godparents in the morning and took them to my favorite churros place where we had traditional churros con chocolate and some good café con leche for breakfast. Breakfast of champions, right? We then began our roadtrip to Nazare, Portugal! 

Does this even count as a toilet?
Our trip to Portugal took about 5 hours and we had some interesting bathroom encounters. We stopped at a gas station where we used the bathrooms that had no toilet paper. (This is pretty typical in Spain.) However, at our second rest stop…  we walked up to the bathrooms where they had toilet paper OUTSIDE of the bathrooms that you are supposed to take with you before you enter the bathroom. (Also not very uncommon here.) We were so excited that they had toilet paper since they didn’t at the last place (and frankly, I don’t like to drip-dry) but when we walked into those bathrooms… well, just look at the photo and you’ll understand how we felt. We obviously had to squat, right? Well, apparently Vera didn’t squat and that resulted in some unwanted liquids on her pants. 

We finally got to Nazare and the Atlantic Ocean! When we got to Nazare, we didn’t even check into our hotel… we headed straight for a RSR (Rick Steve’s Recommended) restaurant. Or as my Godparents call him… “Ricky boy”? Vera and I ordered a very common fish from Portugal – Bacalao, which is a type of cod, and Mark ordered fish stew. All of our dishes were incredible. So incredible that I can say that it was the best seafood that I’ve ever eaten without a doubt. 

Mark is excited for some fish stew!

We checked into our hotel, and Vera and I headed straight for the beach. We laid on the sand for about 5 minutes when it started to rain on us. We then went to a wonderful little pastry shop and ended the night playing a couple games of cribbage!

The funicular!
On Saturday, we took the funicular (cool word, huh?) up to the small town of Sitio. The view of Nazare and the ocean from the cliffs of Sitio was incredible. We visited the church in Sitio, walked along the cliff, and decided on a place for lunch. We found a place that we wanted to eat, but it was closed. The lady must have seen us peeking in so she came over to tell us that she would open the restaurant in a half hour. As we were about to leave, she came back to find us and told us she would open it early for us. She seated us (the only ones in the restaurant) and took our order. It was a small little place and she was the only one cooking. It was neat because the kitchen was visible from the dining area and we watched her bring up the fresh fish and other seafood and make our meals from scratch. It was like having our own little home-cooked meal! I had the fish stew, Mark had the fish platter, and Vera had some giant shrimp. Everything was obviously delicious.

The view from Sitio!

Sippin' on some white sangria!
After lunch, we took the funicular back down to Nazare, walked along the beach for a while, and then we ate. Yes, we ate for the entire rest of the day. We had gelato (where they had my favorite – hazelnut!), we went back to that pastry shop, and then we went for tapas/dinner! We had shrimp, calamari, French fries, and some white Sangria. We returned to our hotel where we played Gin Rummy. It was long before Vera and I got upset that Mark won almost every single time so I taught them a new game… 31. Vera owned that game – so she was pretty content by the end of the night.

Before we left Nazare on Sunday, we stopped by the food market where we picked up some bread, cheese, and fruit for the way home. We also stopped in a small town outside of Nazare, called Obidos. This was a cute little town known for chocolate and its long castle. We spent some time walking along the castle, shopping in the cute little stores, and trying some chocolate. Then we headed back for Spain. They dropped me off in Caceres and we said our goodbyes. I can’t even express how wonderful it was to see them. It was a great way to spend my last weekend of the semester.

Me with my Godparents :)

I'll miss my Claire Bear!
Speaking of the end of the semester… today was the last day of the program. About 6 students from our group left for Madrid today since they have to fly out tomorrow morning. This includes my roommate, Claire. Just a few hours ago, Lola, Maria, and I all took Claire to the bus station and said our goodbyes. It was sad to see her go, not because I’m going to miss her… we’ll see each other in just a couple of months. It’s mostly because things won’t be the same. I know we’ll remain close friends, but we won’t get to be with Lola and in Caceres together anymore. 

Tonight, Lola is making my favorite fish for dinner and we’re going to eat with her mom who is visiting here in Caceres. I’m going to finish packing (hopefully), meet up with some friends tonight for ice cream, and then I leave tomorrow afternoon for Madrid. I’ll stay one night in Madrid and then Friday morning, I’m picking up my Dad at the airport!