Salamanca

Last weekend my organization organized a trip specifically for the yearlong students! In total there are 16 I think, and 2 from my program (Advanced Liberal Arts) including me. Our destination was Salamanca. I was super excited because Salamanca is somewhere I really wanted to go but I don’t think I would have taken a trip by myself, since it’s about 6 hours away. I was also excited because there were two spots open for Spaniards to encourage us to keep speaking Spanish, so I got to invite my friend Leticia. It was awesome to be able to spend more time with her, and she also had friends studying in Salamanca so we got some great recommendations.

The first day was spent mostly on the bus, but we broke up the 6 hour ride by visiting Mérida in  the province of Extremadura. There we saw some really impressive ancient Roman ruins, went to a museum, walked around a little bit and then drove the rest of the way to Salamanca. After we checked into the hostel we  took a walk to the Plaza Mayor at night. It was really beautiful. After, we broke off,walked around a little and went to a street famous for its tapas. I went tapas hopping for the first time! I ended up getting three different tapas in three different places for around 5 Euro total. The food was decent (except the first place hwere the only thing I could eat was a sad plate of potatoes), lots of cheese for me of course, but it was more the experience of popping in, getting a bite, and heading to the next place, paired with some great conversation. That just doesn’t exist in the US – I felt really authentic. I even threw my napkin on the floor for the first time too haha (it’s actually completely normal to throw trash on the floor. It makes it easier for the bartender because a lot of people come and go and that way trash isn’t piling up on top of the bar). After we ate, it was around 11:30 so we went back and hung out at a bar close to the hostel for a little, but went to bed rather early because we had a long day the next day.

The next day after breakfast we went back to the Plaza Mayor to learn a little of the history. On the walls surrounding, there are portraits of famous intellects, kings and political leaders etc. The one of Franco had the marks of many eggs thrown and paint splattered over the years. The most impressive thing about the Plaza Mayor is how full of life it is – even on a chilly winter day, it was full of people. We spent the rest of the day seeing other sights around the city such as the Cathedral and the University of Salamanca (one of the oldest universities in the world, with a famous hidden frog on its façade and famous alumni including Cervantes, Fray Luis de León, Luis de Góngora, and Unamuno).

We went for lunch, wandered to the river and back, did an optional visit to an art Noveau museum and then brief trip to a Masonic Lodge/museum, which I liked particularly because I had to write a paper on the Freemasons for one of my classes last semester. That night, we went tapas hopping again and then went out in the city of University students – it earned its reputation. Literally all night the streets were FULL of young people. We had an awesome night and got back to the hostel around 5:30.

Unfortunately, we had to wake up 3 hours later and prepare for the last day. Our last scheduled trip was a convent but it was freezing, everyone was either exhausted (me) hung over, or still drunk and we ended up leaving about an hour after for the trek back home. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I loved Salamanca. All of the buildings had the same beautiful stone and the street signs had the same beautiful typography. It was also just full of life, and full of people my own age. I think I would have liked it even more if I wasn’t such a cold weenie. And it was a great chance to bond with Leticia and meet the other students that made the same decision as I did (to stay a year) and see if our mentalities and goals were similar. Overall it was a really great weekend.

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Winter in Sevilla

I realized I haven’t written in a while about the things that have been happening in Sevilla! With the exception of Morroco and Italy, the past two months I have had quite a lot of free time here. My exams were really spaced out, with the first one in early December and the last one in early February, so I really didn’t have a short period of high-stress time like I do at home, for better or for worse. Most of my time I spent doing absolutely nothing, unfortunately, but there were a few exceptions:

For Christmas eve and Christmas day, I went to Lora del río, the town of my friend María Luisa. It’s close to Seville so we took a short train ride and arrived around lunch, which her mother cooked for us – how nice!Later we went to a coffee shop to hang out with her friends, and it looked like the entire town was there. It was so different from the US on Christmas eve or Christmas day. It is very typical to go out in the afternoon and a night on Christmas eve. That night I went to hang out with one side of her family and I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t want to impose, but it ended up being so fun! They made fun of me for being a vegetarian which I deserve here because Spain really is a country where vegetarianism doesn’t exist, but it was funny because it kind of reminded me of my own family. I’m sure they thought I was so strange for it, but either way they were so nice to prepare things I could eat while they chowed down on (literally) an entire baby pig.

It’s also funny that Zoey is such a hard name for the Spaniards because the “z” sound doesn’t exist, it just sounds like “SSoi.” María Luisa’s slightly senile grandmother literally could not say it and then sarcastically asks me “Zoey? Is that the name of some saint or something?” (Almost everyone here is named after a saint). After dinner we ate a delicious dessert and opened presents, although usually they do that January 6th. January 6th is 3 Kings Day, and that’s usually the biggest holiday and day for gift giving. And they gave me presents! The nicest one was from María’s mom- earlier in the day she saw me admiring María Luisa’s scarf and asking questions about her knitting, so she bought me a scarf! I felt so included and it really was so nice of them. Christmas day we went to the other side of her family’s house in the country, which was really beautiful and also really fun. I am really glad I got to experience a typical Spanish Christmas and especially that I wasn’t alone.

Last weekend I got a little taste of true Spanish night life and got to bond with my roommates. We all went out together to a club nearby and didn’t leave until 6 am! But we had an amazing time. I am seriously so lucky with my roommate situation. They are all nice, respectful, clean, and fun. They (hopefully) don’t get too annoyed when they have to repeat things to me and I think being here is definitely the best for my Spanish.

Another thing that I’ve really enjoyed in the past few months is grocery shopping for myself. It’s nice because I don’t feel like I’m spending my own money, and everything here is so much cheaper! Especially produce – produce in DC is ridiculous. It’s also interesting trying to figure out how to live without my meat substitutes – not that I was really super attached to them, but I do miss veggie burgers from time to time. It’s always the little moments that make me the happiest – successfully making someone laugh in Spanish, watching a Spanish game show on TV and getting an answer right, talking with my roommates… it’s times like those that really make me feel at home here.

Last week classes started again. Here’s what my Monday-Friday schedule looks like: Imagen 6

Wednesday is my worst day, but everything else is pretty manageable. My classes are –

1)French II: To keep up the battle to lot lose all of my French while in Spain. I had to fight with myself to sign up for this though, because two of the classes are at 8:30 and the third is on Friday…ugh.

2) Spanish Literature Twentieth Century: Although I didn’t actually know what Monographic meant and I’m still actually not sure, I think it has something to do with the fact that in this class we will be analyzing one or two works of literature as opposed to a survey of all 20th century Spanish literature. I think I would prefer the latter, but the professor is really nice and so far the class seems interesting. We’ve started by talking about the social and historical factors that influenced Spanish literature in the 20th century. I’m mainly excited because I feel like the other two Spanish lit classes I’ve taken have focused more on older literature, so I wanted something a little bit more mordern.

3) Sociology and Communication: This class seems awesome so far, mostly because I REALLY like the professor. She basically told us the goal of the class was to get us to question everything and every human interaction, and that we couldn’t use “it’s always been that way” (for example) as a way to explain an aspect of culture.  Basically, I’m really happy about this class so far.

4) Psychology of Learning a Second Language: This is the class I have with other foreigners. The subject matter is interesting but unfortunately a lot of the material (material in psychology in general) is in English, and a lot of my classmates speak really bad Spanish. Either way the professor is nice, and if it will help me pinpoint ways to improve my language acquisition it will be worth it.

5) Western culture in the modern age: This class is pretty boring, but I don’t have anything to change it to. I thought modern implied 21st century, but he started off by mentioning the Renaissance…so…oops. I’ll power through it.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on in Seville as of late. I took a trip over the weekend, and I’ll post about that soon!

Hanging out in Tuscany

Florence… what to say about Florence? The true birthplace of the Renaissance, a city full of wonderful art and history…and yet… it’s no Rome. Travel weariness might have been setting in, but my first day in Florence was an off day in terms of my happiness level, which I discovered as I woke up and had to force myself out of bed. I went first to the Galleria dell’Accademia, mostly to see Michelangelo’s David. Wow. The statue is situated in a way that when you turn the corner you see it at the end of a long hallway, not completely expecting it (I guess I was expecting it to be the last part of the museum visit), but when you see it you are shocked. Even studying it, I was not prepared for the actual size. Every detail is perfect- although the hands and head are not exactly proportionate, it was designed to be seen from below, so everything is actually spot on. I just can’t even imagine how anyone would be able to sculpt anything like this ever again. I also really liked Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, especially the named “Prisoners” which really do look like they are trying to escape from the half-sculpted blocks of marble. The rest of the museum was pretty mediocre, especially for someone getting tired of religious art, but they did have a pretty cool collection of musical instruments (I thought of you mom). I next walked to see the outside of the Palazzo Medici, whose architecture I studied in class, and then to the duomo (Florence’s main cathedral) to see Brunelleschi’s dome and the doors to paradise (gates of paradise? translating from Spanish here). The actual facade of the cathedral is pretty gaudy and the inside is pretty boring. I did consider climbing the dome, but if I remember correctly it was 10 Euro…really?

That’s my first Florence rant. Everything in Florence is so expensive, so I spent most of the first day walking to things I wanted to see but only seeing the outside, pissed at how much it cost to enter- even the churches! They basically slapped the word museum on the churches that have good artwork and charged to enter. In contrast, I did not pay to enter a single church in Rome. I did enjoy the Piazza della Signoria with some nice statues and a replica David. But basically, I spent the first day in Florence wandering aimlessly. The Ponte Vecchio was pretty cool, and the jewelery there was fun to look at. But overall, Florence didn’t have the same magic for me as Rome did. I know that’s an unpopular opinion. I can see how it would be nice on a bigger budget so you could commit to seeing every but of the art that makes this city legendary, but charging for all of it sucks. Even the atmosphere didn’t seem as authentic as Rome, and believe me, I did walk out of the touristy centers. Rome just had a “something” a roughness around the edges, an ability to survive with or without tourists, that made it so much more enjoyable. The first day I actually ran out of things to do at around 6pm so I just went back to the hostel.

Another thing I really felt acutely while in Italy was a guilt for not being able to speak Italian. I actually felt that a little in Portugal, and of course when I was in France, although at least in French I am almost conversational. I just feel guilty that when I speak English I assume people will understand. I feel bad that English speakers can get by easily while everyone else has to learn at least one other language (English) to get by. When I asked, I asked “do you speak English or Spanish?” I guess to show them that even as an English speaker, I was trying to learn another language, even if it wasn’t Italian. I don’t know. It’s lucky that so much of the world speaks English, but I can’t shake off the feeling of unfair privilege.

Anyway, my like-but-not-love of Florence made it even easier to decide to take a day trip the next day. I decided to go to both Lucca and Pisa because they are both close to Florence and I really just wanted to see the leaning tower in Pisa. While Lucca was pretty much deserted, I liked it a lot. It had the vibe of a real Tuscan city, with almost empty but beautiful streets and I really didn’t see any other tourists. I guess it’s just the time of year. I didn’t really do anything, just wandered around in circles for a few hours, popped in a few churches. The coolest thing about Lucca is they have a wall that completely surrounds the old part of the city, but you can walk on it, and I saw many residents either biking or running on the wall. I may have missed out a little not being in Tuscany, especially this little town, in the spring or summer, but I don’t regret avoiding the 2+ hour lines I would have encountered in Rome and Florence. After Lucca, I took a quick 20 minute train to Pisa. The tower made me laugh but it was also kind of beautiful. I also went in the Cathedral, although very quickly because I got there shortly before it closed. All of that only took about an hour, so to kill time I found a free art collection in the culture center of Pisa. I actually liked Pisa and wish I could have spent a little more time there- I think because of the University it would be a really cool place to either study abroad or live as a young person. Back in the hostel I got to know a few of my roommates a little more, and really bonded with a guy from Chicago and a Canadian girl.

The next day I went to the Bargello in the morning, a small museum but with many beautiful sculptures. It is known for having a lot of Donatello works, especially his David of Medici and the original of the St. George that used to be outside the church of Orsanmichele. Also present are the original samples of what were to be the doors of paradise. In 1401 in Florence they decided to have a contest to choose a sculptor for the second set of doors in the baptistry of the duomo. It had to be bronze with the theme of the sacrifice of Isaac. The competitors were Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, who won. This is considered to be the event that started the Renaissance, so it was awesome to see these bronze demos. Pictures were not allowed here either, so here is a collage of my favorites:

Imagen 1

After, I went to a delicious panini place with the Chicagoan from my hostel, got delicious gelato, and then we parted ways as I went to the Uffizi gallery. It was enormous. I’m talking 100 rooms enormous. At the end I was just strolling straight through and I still spent about 3 hours in there. Obviously the art was pretty fabulous though, and I appreciated even more the ones I had studied, like Botticelli’s works, Michelangelo’s tondo… there were just so many! Here are my favorites. Clearly I am in love with Botticelli.

Imagen 1

Next, I walked to the Piazza Michelangelo for a great view of Florence. Next it was back to the hostel to relax and take a quick nap before heading out to get a taste of the Florence night life. Alex, Caitlin (Chicagoan and Canadian) and I split two bottles of cheap wine (although it’s Italian wine, so that makes it special) while walking down the street and then started the night at a gay bar (called “Yag” haha). Alex is gay and wanted to go, and Caitlin and I decided we were up for anything. After a little while we went to another place, but it was absolutely FILLED with Americans. We definitely could have done that at home, so we went back to Yag for a little bit, where Caitlin and I basically just watched Alex try to get lucky with the Italians. It was actually really fun though. We ended our night with greasy, delicious street pizza at 4:00 am. I’m definitely glad I went out.

My last morning in Florence, I packed and went back for another great panini and my last gelato with Caitlin. It’s really bittersweet connecting with someone at a hostel or while traveling, because she is really great. While I like the majority of the people I meet while traveling, she was different in that I feel as though if we lived closer we could genuinely become friends – I didn’t like her just because of the circumstance, we really got along and connected. It’s sad- we said goodbye knowing almost for certain we would never see each other again. I guess I should plan a trip to Vancouver. From Florence, I took the train back to Rome and from Rome I flew (after a 2 hour delay) back to Seville. What an incredibly busy, incredibly fun week in Italy. While I could take or leave Florence, I’m really hoping the Trevi fountain will work its magic and someday I will be able to return to Rome. It’s ciao until then!