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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tails.


So I know I just wrote in here yesterday but I thought I would share this little story with you guys. So a couple days ago after lunch, my host mom asked me if I enjoyed lunch today and I said yes (because I enjoy every lunch.) She then told me that I had eaten bull tail. However, it was just the tail bone with the meat around it. I think she has discovered that Claire and are less willing to try weird foods if she tells us what it is before we eat it. So today for lunch, we had lentil soup and Lola pulls out this huge, long, disgusting-looking thing that was in the pot with the soup, and Claire and I both gave her the same look that said “what in the world is that?!” She read our faces and started laughing hysterically and told us it was a pig’s tail. Like the actual tail. It had to have been at least a foot long. Then she started cutting it up with scissors! She also said that when my Godparents come to visit (she wants to invite them to dinner), that we should have pig tail. I hope she was joking. So Vera and Mark, if you’re reading this, this is my way of telling you that we may be having pig tail for dinner. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Las Fallas! Valencia, Spain


The main sculpture
This past weekend, some friends and I took a student bus to go to a festival called Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain. Las Fallas was incredible and I’ve never seen anything like it before! Apparently over 2 million people from all over the world come to this festival. Our bus left Caceres at 2 am and we arrived in Valencia 9 hours later. I was only able to sleep for 2 of those 9 hours. We toured the city for a little bit, ate lunch, and then at 2pm, we went to an event called “Mascleta” which is a “concert of gunpowder.” It ended with what is called a “terremoto” which literally translates to “earthquake” and hundreds of masclets explode at the same time. It was so crowded so we didn’t get to actually witness it, but we sure felt it!


At the beach in Valencia
After the Mascleta, we headed for the beach. The beach was a bit far from the center of the city so we decided to take a bus. The beach was fun; the weather was warmer than when we were in Palma, but the sea was a lot colder! Also, three of us broke our cameras while we were at the beach. We think it must have been the sand. Mine still works, but the shutter doesn’t close when I turn it off. I’m glad I can at least still take pictures. After spending a couple hours on the beach, we went to go find Paella. Paella is Spain’s most famous dish and it’s actually from the city of Valencia. My host mom made it once before and we had it with shrimp, clams, and muscles, but Paella from Valencia is made with meat such as chicken and beef. We ate on the beachfront, and also got to try ‘Agua de Valencia’ which is a famous drink from there.


After dinner, we took the bus back to the city and that was quite the experience. We stopped at a bus stop on the way and there were a couple of boys who were lighting fireworks. They had what looked like wands and the fireworks shot out of them (which was pretty cool because it made me feel like I was in Harry Potter.) When we first stopped, they were shooting them at other people and then they started shooting them at the bus! Everyone started screaming and closing the windows. I think the bus driver thought it was funny because we were stopped there for a good 5-10 minutes! I’m going to try and post a video of it on my Flickr account with my pictures, otherwise there’s a video on Facebook. They actually left marks and scratches in the windows of the bus!

Me with the burning of the statue
When we safely got off of that bus, we walked around for a bit, and then waited and stood for 3 HOURS for the fireworks and the burning of the statues to start. The fireworks were incredible since we were right below them in the plaza. After the fireworks show, they lit the main structure on fire. Even though we had to wait 3 hours for this event that took only 20 minutes all together, it was worth it. I can’t even describe how incredible it was. After the show, we went to go meet up with more of our group at a nearby Burger King. Getting to that Burger King took forever because of all the people. I thought Carnaval was crowded… this was ten times worse! I couldn’t believe how many people there were. Lots of pushing and shoving, rubbing up against people I did not want to touch, so many bad smells; it was awful. We finally made it to Burger King, found some empty tables, and Claire and I just crashed. Then we had to leave because the employees started kicking people out who were sleeping. We walked around and found a churro stand (which always makes me happy.) I got a filled, chocolate-covered churro and it was the richest thing I think I have ever had in my entire life. I couldn’t even finish it I felt so disgusting.

Claire and I exhausted at Burger King

After our churros, we found an entry way to a bank that was open and hung out in there for a while since it was cold outside. Then we met up with more people from Iowa State, talked for a while, met some more Americans, then headed back to the bus station. We huddled together for warmth in the bus station until our bus came at 5 am to pick us up. I slept almost the entire way back to Caceres which goes to show how tired I was because I can hardly ever sleep on buses. We got back to Caceres around 2 pm and I thought I would just lie down for a bit even though I didn’t feel that tired. I ended up sleeping from 4pm yesterday afternoon until 8am this morning without waking up once! I don’t think I’ve ever done that before in my life! I was more exhausted than I thought.

Today I’m missing Flamenco class to go to a piano concert with my host mom. I don’t know much about it except for the fact that the lady who is in charge of the concert was the piano teacher of Elizabeth, my American host sister who lived with us the first two weeks we were here.  

Speaking of pianos, I played one for the first time in two months! I just found out that the music hall is in the same building and is directly above where most of my classes are so there are about 3 or 4 pianos. We’re allowed to play them as long as there aren’t any classes going on in those rooms (obviously) since they’re all classrooms. I have a break between classes 3 days a week so I figured I would play piano during my breaks from now on.

This weekend a bunch of us are traveling to Lisbon, Portugal! This will be my first time traveling outside of Spain since I’ve been here. We’re planning on taking a train Thursday overnight and arriving in Lisbon Friday morning and staying until Sunday night.

Hasta luego!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A weekend on the Spanish Islands!

This past weekend, 5 of my friends and I went to Palma Mallorca! Mallorca is the largest of the Spanish Islands located east of Spain in the Mediterranean.

Our four day journey to the islands began last Thursday at 6 am. Our bus left Caceres at that time, arriving in Madrid four hours later. Before we checked in/went through security, we all ate our packed lunches that our moms made us in a deserted area of the airport since we had some time to kill. Around this time was when my roommate realized she didn't have her passport with her so unfortunately, she wasn't able to come with us. After making sure that our backpacks were able to fit in that stupid little RyanAir bin, we were on our way to the islands! 

View from our room!
Thursday night, we arrived in Palma and took a bus to our hostel. Our hostel was VERY nice. Ellyn and I were lucky enough to get a "Mediterranean Sea view"! Our hostel was located above a bar and I felt like I was living in my favorite TV show “Friends” so that was awesome. Even though it was a bar and not a café… close enough. We also got free breakfast every day and our showers were AMAZING. Or maybe they just felt amazing since I’ve gotten so used to crappy showers. After we checked in to the hostel, we walked ACROSS THE STREET to the beach and watched the sunset. It was a great way to end our long day of traveling.

Our s'more "fire"
On Friday, we walked along the boardwalk and looked at all of the little shops around where we were staying. We also walked along the beach for a little while and Clint and I did the ‘Polar Plunge’ into the freezing cold Mediterranean Sea! Then we stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant that was selling all of their pizzas and pastas for 5 euro. I had pizza (Hawaiian to be exact) for the second time since being in Spain! It was delicious. Then we went and laid on the beach during siesta until the sun went away and we got too cold. For dinner, we all pitched in and bought bread and lunchmeat at a nearby Eroski and made sandwiches back at our hostel. This was also the night that someone had the great idea to make s’mores! Marshmallows are a little hard to come by in Spain but we found some! We used circular “galletas” as graham crackers, and we bought a package of mini candles to make our “fire.” It was quite the experience and it was a little difficult at first figuring out how to roast the marshmallows but we managed by using the matches as sticks.

La Seu
We knew that Saturday was going to be a rainy day so we picked that day to tour the city of Palma. (Our hostel was about a 20 minute bus ride to the city.) We got to the city around noon and toured La Seu, which is a Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral. After we toured the cathedral, we found a café to have lunch (where I had my third pizza.) Then we stopped for gelato where I mixed Kinder Sorpresa and Hazelnut gelato and it was the best decision of my life. Although when I ordered the Hazelnut, I said “Avellana Haselnuss” which was on the sign. “Avellana” means “hazelnut” in Spanish and “Haselnuss” means “hazelnut” in German. Let’s just say the lady gave me a weird look (since I ordered “hazelnut hazelnut”) and then one of my friends had to tell me what I did because I still didn’t understand. While I’m on the subject of German, I think there were more Germans in Mallorca than Spaniards. So many German restaurants, words translated into German, and many tourists from Germany. We never figured out why Mallorca is such a popular destination for Germans.

Anyway. After we had lunch, we were going to try and find the Bellver Castle. We wanted to tour the castle because it is one of the few European circular castles. However, there weren’t any buses that went to the castle that day except for the tourist bus which was too expensive so we thought we would walk. We walked for an hour or two towards the castle (we could see it from a distance on the hill) and then stopped and asked for directions. The man said it was still pretty far away and it closed in 2 hours. So we decided not to see the castle and we turned around. Might I add that it was raining this entire time. Even better, after we asked for directions, my umbrella decided to break. By the time we got back to the bus stop, there were three of us without umbrellas so we were soaked. We all got back to the hostel and took a much needed siesta.

Doing our "Palma dance"
Sunday was by far the best day. We spent the entire day at the beach and there wasn’t one cloud in the sky. It was wonderful! We all swam in the Mediterranean that day and it was so much fun jumping the waves! For lunch, we decided to eat at one of the German restaurants. We went back out to lie on the beach, and after we had been there for a while, a couple of guys came up to us and started speaking in German. Then they realized we weren’t German and started speaking in English. They worked for the “German newspaper” there in Mallorca and thought it was hilarious that we were “sun-bath-ing” (pronounced just like that) and wanted to take our picture for the newspaper. We thought it was a little strange but they gave us brochures on their newspaper and told us we could “cover up whatever we needed to cover up” and we could look at the picture online and if we wanted it deleted we could email them so we said sure. It was pretty funny because that whole day, we were the only ones in swimsuits, let alone in the water. Even some of the locals were still wearing winter coats! One thing I’ve really gotten used to since I’ve been in Spain is being stared at.

Monday, we had another long travel day and returned safely to Caceres around 10:30 pm. When we were at the airport in Palma, RyanAir was actually checking to see if everyone’s baggage fit in their tiny bin. A couple of my friends started freaking out and one of my friends realized what they were doing as the line was moving and she was so scared that her bag wasn’t going to fit in the bin so she quickly took out her sweatpants and putt them over her jeans to make more room in her backpack. It was hilarious. Mostly because of all of the attention she attracted and then they didn’t even end up checking her backpack.

Going to Palma ended up being a good choice and I’m glad I finally got to see the Mediterranean!   

Keely and I in the Mediterranean


This weekend the majority of our group is going to Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain. It is a huge celebration in praise of Saint Joseph. There are many monuments created and then they are eventually burnt. We begin our 7 hour bus ride to Valencia at 4 am on Saturday and stay in Valencia until 6 am on Sunday. Another weekend with no sleep.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

CARNAVAL [Badajoz, Spain]

I don't even know where to begin. This past Saturday night was possibly the craziest night of my life.

Okay, Dad. I now know why they celebrate Carnaval and where it comes from. It's basically this huge celebration all throughout Spain (and other Catholic countries) but it is mostly celebrated in three towns/cities: Badajoz, Cadiz, and somewhere on the Spanish Islands. It is always celebrated the week before Lent starts. It usually starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and lasts until Fat Tuesday. It's name comes from "carnelevarium" which means "to remove the meat."

Getting ready...
On Saturday afternoon, 6 other friends and I took a bus from Caceres to Badajoz. Badajoz is even farther west than Caceres, so it's right on the Spain/Portugal border. Before we left, we all got ready at our piso since Lola had gone to her pueblo to celebrate Carnaval. We all had bought various things such as make-up, glitter, wigs, masks, leg warmers, colored strands of hair, neon nail polish, etc. We spent about 2 hours getting ready for this big fiesta.

Emily and I on the bus to Badajoz
Then we all packed our things and headed to the bus station which is about a half an hour walk from our piso. No one in Caceres was dressed up so walking to the bus station was quite interesting. We already stick out because we're Americans. You can only imagine all the looks we got when we were dressed the way we were.

We arrived to Badajoz and walked around the town for a couple hours or so. The town of Badajoz wasn't all that great. It's not pretty at all, and there is nothing special about it except for Carnavales. Not many people were out yet because we arrived during siesta, so we just hung out at a bar for a couple of hours. That is also when I added the "finishing touches" to my costume. Aka - fake eye lashes... which I've never worn before.


Clint, Mindy, me, and Claire all dressed up!
A couple hours later, more and more people started showing up and filling the streets of Badajoz with their crazy costumes. This is also about the time in my story where I fall in love. Yes, love. A Spanish boy stole my heart from the second he kissed my hand. It was magical. However, I later found out that he has three other girlfriends so I don't think he is the one for me. "Que lastima!" After we went our separate ways, (it was heartbreaking) the group I was with met up with more people from Iowa State. We walked around the streets that were filled with people for blocks and observed SO many bizarre and absurd things. I don't have enough room to write about everything that I saw but I will try my best. I saw AT LEAST 50 different men (and some women, too) peeing in the streets since they didn't have port-a-potties or anything. I had a homeless "pirate" bite my ankle (still haven't figured that one out.) I saw some pretty intense costumes... my favorite were the big tattooed men in ballerina outfits. I caught a man reaching into the pocket of my jacket while we were walking through the crowds... luckily, I didn't have anything in my pockets and I only had 10 euro in my purse that was safely stored away. To end the night, a few of my friends and I camped out in a parking garage, made a fort out of umbrellas, and huddled together for warmth until the sun came up and then we went to go find churros.

Overall, it was one crazy night. We were supposed to stay until 7:30 pm the next day but another girl and I knew we wouldn't survive the whole day running on no sleep, so we went and changed our bus tickets for an earlier time.

Mi novio!

This weekend should be a MUCH more relaxing one. My friends and I are going to the Spanish Islands of Palma Mallorca!!! We are looking forward to laying out on the beach all weekend and relaxing. I am also excited to see the Mediterranean for the first time! We leave bright and early at 6 am Thursday morning and return on Monday.

Another exciting bit of news - I just found out that my Godparents, Vera and Mark, are coming to visit me at the end of next month!! I can't wait to show them around Caceres and possibly do some fun traveling with them during the last weekend in April. Just a few days after they leave, my dad is coming to visit! Also, my mom, sister, and brother all officially have their plane tickets for the end of May! I can't wait to see everyone. :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Granada y Cordoba - Southern Spain!

This past weekend, we took a group excursion to... southern Spain! I officially have a new favorite city - Granada.

Royal Chapel
Churros con chocolate
On Friday, we left bright and early at 8 am and headed for Granada. It took us 7 hours (!) to get there. The bus ride was rather long and boring. Right after we got off the bus around 3:30, we headed for the Royal Chapel. It is the site where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are laid to rest. The Royal Chapel of Granada is built in Gothic style and is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist.  After we toured the Royal Chapel, we had a couple hours of free time to explore the city. A few friends and I spent some time shopping around and went to a cafe called "Alhambra" and had churros con chocolate. We met back up with our group and went to our "Albuerge" which is kind of like a hostel but nicer. (Although not as nice as a hotel.) We ate dinner and then a few of us decided to go out. We ended up walking an hour to get to the center of the city, and then walked back a few hours later, getting back around 4 am. Still haven't pulled an all-nighter like the Spaniards!

Claire and I on the 'illegal hill' with the Alhambra in the background.
Saturday morning, we took a hike up a hill in Granada and where there was a nice view of the Alhambra. At the top of the hill, there were many people selling hand crafted jewelry and other things like that. I bought a bracelet from a lady, and about 5 minutes after I bought it, the group was getting ready to head back down. All of a sudden, a man and his wife ran right through a small group of us and kept running down the street, yelling. We looked around and noticed more and more of the vendors grabbing their blankets full of hand-crafted gifts and running. They all started shouting "policia, policia!" Apparently, the police were coming, and the vendors had been selling their stuff illegally. I'm sure glad I bought my bracelet before the police came. :)

Sierra Nevada
For lunch, three other girls and I ate at a small pub. We were supposed to meet the group at 12:40 to go to the Alhambra. We waited 40 minutes for our food, and I went up to ask the bartender if it was almost ready. She gave me a blank stare and then went back to the kitchen for a couple minutes ,then returned and said "dos minutos, dos minutos!" TEN minutes later, they brought out my food, then a couple minutes later, they brought out 2 more plates. Claire still hadn't received her meal, and we had 5 minutes to get to the "meeting point" to meet the group and we didn't know how to get there. We told them to cancel the meal, threw down a 20 and ran. We ran all the way to the meeting point because our director told us if we weren't there in 5 minutes, they would leave without us. We did NOT want to miss the Alhambra. So we booked it as fast as we could to only see the group was there still waiting for the bus. We sat and waited for our bus for ANOTHER 20-30 minutes or so.

We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the Alhambra. The Alhambra was by far my favorite thing to see on this trip. For those of you who don't know, the Alhambra is a palace/fortress complex constructed during the 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate in Granada. It occupies the whole top of the hill of the Assabica on the southeastern border of the city. From the Alhambra, you can see all of Granada as well as the Sierra Nevada - it was the most beautiful site I've seen since I've been in Spain. The pictures don't do it justice.

Part of the Alhambra
After the Alhambra, we got on the bus and headed 2 and a half hours to Cordoba. The bus ride there was rather fun because 5 other girls and I invented "Back of the Bus Club." (Yes, we are in 5th grade again.) We were actually going to play Truth or Dare, but no one could think of dares so we played Truth or Truth. Let's just say we learned a lot about each other!

We got to Cordoba a little later than expected, and dinner at the hostel had already closed. Fortunately, they opened it back up for us. Unfortunately, they didn't have much to eat. For dinner, I had a piece of bread, yogurt, a package of almonds, and a juice box. Yum.

Medina Azahara
Since we didn't get much sleep the night before, we decided to call it a short night and went to bed early. On Sunday, we went to an archeological museum just outside of Cordoba, and from there, there were buses that went to the Medina Azahara. The Medina Azahara is the ruins of an Arab Muslim medieval town. The line to get on the buses was super long, so our group decided to walk. We WOULD be the only group that would decide to walk. It took us a good hour or so, and the drivers in the cars going by weren't too happy with us.

First pizza in almost 2 months!
After the Medina Azahara, we had a couple hours of free time again. THIS time, we decided we were going to treat ourselves to a nice, sit down restaurant after what we went through the day before. We found what I've been looking for for almost 2 months now... PIZZA. I had "Serrano" pizza, which is with serrano ham (very famous in Spain), tomatoes, and lots of cheese. I was 'muy contenta'. After lunch, we stopped for gelato before we had to meet the group to tour the mosque. As we were standing in line for gelato, we met some other Americans who were from Boston, California, and Minnesota. They are studying abroad in France and were vacationing in Spain for the week. After gelato, we toured the Mezquita (Mosque). This mosque actually does not face Mecca because the Syrians face south to face Mecca and so the founder of this mosque remained facing south even when in Spain to emphasize that the Umayyad dynasty never left its homeland. I thought that was interesting.

View of the mosque from across the river

After the tour of the mosque, we took a 4 hour bus ride back to Caceres, arriving around 11pm. It was a long weekend! However, I thoroughly enjoyed southern Spain and can't wait to return in May with my dad!

Things happening this week:

I decided to take up Flamenco dance lessons at the University, and on Monday, I had my first class! My teacher is actually the host sister to one of the students in our group, and she danced at the Flamenco that we went to a couple weeks ago at the Gran Teatro. I'm going to continue taking classes every Monday, and some Tuesdays throughout March and some of April!

Classes at the university are still going well, and I can finally tell my Spanish is improving! Tonight, I'm going with a couple of friends who are getting their cartilages pierced. They really want me to get something, but I got my cartilage pierced my freshman year of college and said that was it as far as piercings go. But who knows, maybe I'll give in to the peer pressure and next time you see me I might have a lip ring or something. Haha, I'm sure if my parents are reading this, they aren't laughing.

This weekend we're going to the big celebration of "Carnaval." Carnaval is celebrated all over Spain but the two places where it is celebrated the most is Badajoz and Cadiz. Badajoz is only an hour from Caceres, so a group of us are going Saturday through Sunday. Apparently people go all out for this 'fiesta' and we have to dress up from our head to our toes. Claire and I bought wigs and make up last week. Also, it's very uncommon to get a hotel/hostel while you're there so we're going to be very Spanish and pull an all-nighter! It's going to be another longggg weekend.