Sunday, November 27, 2011

Una Adicta a Harry Potter and some Spanish Thanksgiving

I just finished reading the 4th Harry Potter book...literally just finished it like 10 minutes ago. I lost all self I lost it last week with the Nutella, I lost it today with Harry.  But don't think I'm just a ridiculous American kid reading Harry Potter when I should be immersing myself in Spanish culture...I was reading it in Spanish!  So I've now read the first 4 of 7 Harry Potter books in Spanish. And I have every intention of going to the bookstore down the street tomorrow or Tuesday to buy the next.  How can I be expected to take planes to and trains through Italy for 11 days without Harry? I certainly can't just study for the finals that will be awaiting me 2 days after I return!

This weekend was the first weekend that I stayed in Sevilla...well since the beginning of the program. It was a much needed break from travelling, and really turned out to be a fun and relaxing weekend.  When I woke up on Thursday, I made the mistake of checking my facebook.  Why was that a mistake?  Because EVERYONE is posting something on facebook about going home for Thanksgiving, spending Thanksgiving with family, or cooking something delicious for Thanksgiving. And no one cares about Thanksgiving in Spain. So I was a bit sad at first. But then I met Maddie for a run down the Guadalquivir (the river in Sevilla), and it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL outside...70 degrees and sunny...and I was so happy and thankful to be in Sevilla!  I returned home to make OREO BALLS with Meital! For those of you who are not familiar with oreo balls (aka bombas en espanol), they are little balls of HEAVEN: crushed oreos mixed with cream cheese (queso filadelfia), covered with white chocolate, and put in the fridge. So simple, so good. So Meital and I brought my laptop into the kitchen, turned some music on, and went to town making them. We had so much fun making them while talking to our host sister Pechi, and they were SO GOOD. Pechi and her Irish boyfriend had life changing experiences when eating my oreo balls.

After that, Meital and I headed over to Nervion, a neighborhood in Sevilla, to eat a Thanksgiving feast with some members of the program!  It was delicious! Everyone contributed something (oreo balls for us), and we really succeeded in having a good American-ish Thanksgiving meal, with turkey, gravey, cranberry (it was really just jelly), green bean casserole, pumpkin bread, stuffing, apple crisp, oreo balls, and brownies. There are probably more things that I've just forgotten, but we had a ton of food.  We also had sangria, so it wasn't completely American. :)

And later that night, Meital, Maddie, and I went out flamenco dancing with our flamenco teacher Carmen! It was so fun!  She took us to a small flamenco bar that had one flamenco guitarist and 2 women singing.  Trying  it in the typical Spanish setting of this tiny flamenco bar was really cool.  They enjoyed having 3 Americans in there trying to dance, but it definitely wasn't the norm.  So we succeeded in finding a really typical un-touristy flamenco spot!

When we arrived, they shifted into a small room lined with benches and seats, and started playing various "Sevillanas" songs and an occasional Rumba.  Sevillanas is the type of flamenco done in Sevilla, and literally everyone has some understanding of how it goes. There are 4 different dances that you learn, but then you can basically go with your own flow after that. That is, you can go with your own flow if you're a native Sevillana who has that strange rhythm in her blood. So I pretty much stick to the rules.  Also, the room was so small! In class, we basically have as much room as we want to dance, but that was not the case in this tiny room. So running into people occasionally was just part of it. It added a challenge to my already-nervous-about-dancing-Sevillanas-in-front-of-so-many-spaniards-self.  It was still fun though!  I definitely wasn't very good (although the Spanish man 15 years my senior who kept dancing with me insisted that I was).  One other thing to add about that night, is that in Spain, age difference really doesn't matter.  It is not weird for a 20 year old girl (or 3) to spend their night out dancing away with men 10-20 years older than they are. And it's also not completely inappropriate for those men to hit on the young girls.  They didn't mean to be creepy, but hey, things like that just aren't really okay in the good ole Estados Unidos.

In any case, like a typical Spaniard, I returned home at 5 am and slept til my host dad knocked on my door for lunch time (2:30) the next day.  And that was how my un-American Thanksgiving happened: oreo balls, big meal, and flamenco dancing.

On Saturday, I had un dia muy tranquilo.  Somehow the word tranquilo just seems to express it better than any English word! (Oh the dilemmas of a study abroad student trying to learn a new language...).  I went for another morning run with Spencer, then did some touristy things that I hadn't yet done in Sevilla. I went with Stef, Courtney, and Megan to La Casa de los Pilatos and Las Setas. La Casa de los Pilatos is the palace of the famous, old, ugly, and recently-married Duchess.  Her house is beautiful though, and although the audio guide would NOT shut up, it was still cool to see it. Afterwards, we went to Las Setas, a recently opened structure that fills up La Plaza de la Encarnacion and basically looks like a big waffle-like thing. You can ride up in an elevator to the top and see some beautiful views of Sevilla.  I believe one will be appearing in the Lanners family Christmas with la Catedral in the background.  After walking around on the top for a while, I went down to the bottom and checked out the roman ruins.  Apparently when they went to build Las Setas, they found a little roman ruin village down there, so they managed to make it a cool display.  I've heard that roman ruins are another reason (along with la crisis) that it's taking so long to build the next subway line. Ohhhh, the construction problems Europeans have!

On the way home from Las Setas, I decided to not bike, but to stroll through Sevilla, and it was so nice!  I wandered in an out of stores, meandering through the streets, and I really enjoyed it.  I found a store right next to the cathedral that sells really cool old posters too. The store has a bunch of original posters from bullfights and the Feria (a HUGE festival/fair of Spanish culture that Sevilla is famous for) from years ago. Those are expensive, but I bought a cool copy of a feria poster from sometime in the 1920s, I think. It'll be a nice addition to my dorm room or room at home!

And today has been another dia tranquilo! I went for a run, got some work done, read far too much of Harry Potter, and wrote this entry! All in all, a really nice, fun way to spend my last weekend in Sevilla.  Why is it my last weekend in Sevilla? Because I'm headed out on Thursday for my 11 day trip through Italy with Meital, Joan, and Mori!  Very excited, but a bit sad to be leaving Sevilla for so long with such little time left here. I'm definitely going to be excited to get home, see friends, family, etc., and to head back to my Davidson life. But I'm gonna miss it here in Sevilla! Alot!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Confessions of a Nutellaholic

Nutella is possibly one of God's greatest gifts to humankind. And it is NOT appreciated enough in the U.S. of A. Really, the deliciousness of the hazelnut (avellano) with the chocolate is life-changing. And when I arrived in Spain, I immediately knew things were gonna be great when my host mom informed us that a jar of Mister Choc (off-brand, but still delish) would be available to us 24/7. I also knew I'd be fighting with an addiction.  After a few weeks of struggling, I finally got to the point that I wasn't having it all the time...really for the most part, I don't even crave it any more.

But then I went to Milan. And thinks got out of hand. Nutella seems to be appreciated even more in Milan, if that's possible.  On Friday morning, Kate, Meital, Livy, and I woke up and headed to il Duomo, but we had to first stop for breakfast. Our hostel was lame (and cold) and didn't have any. So we found a little place with pastries and bread. They had freshly baked croissants filled with nutella. This is not a joke. It was absolutely 100% as delicious as it sounds. And that's when I realized that Sevilla has a very limited supply of real pastries. They just aren't always fresh---always good, but never life changing. And this was.

The gelato places in Milan also almost always had a nutella flavor.  One particular gelato shop really rocked my world. You go in, pay 2.50 euros, and are given a number. When it's your turn, you're asked to choose between dark, milk, or white chocolate. They literally have 3 different fountains of those flavors and stick a cone under the fountain, filling the bottom of the cone with (in my case) white chocolate. You then choose 2 flavors of gelato...and the chocolate flavor choices are incredible. I chose java, a rich chocolate--darker than milk, but not too dark--and some nutella something or another. The man helping me scooped out some vanilla gelato, then went over and dipped a spoon into the nutella jar. He proceeded to twirl nutella around the top of my gelato cone, leaving me with a cone filled with white chocolate, topped with one scoop of chocolate ice cream and one scoop of vanilla covered in nutella. Jay T. Lanners Jr. would have been in the same heaven I was in.

So needless to say, I ate well during my weekend in Milan. Pizza (bufalo being my favorite), pasta, foccacia, and nutella all over the place! And the touring wasn't too bad either!

Kate had a friend from Northwestern who showed us around the entire city. She was an awesome guide for us. We went to the Duomo, Milan's incredible cathedral, the castle, the park, the old theater museum (the theater where Alessandra Ferri was trained and danced for a decent number of years), and ate a ton. Meital and I also went to the little church that has Leonardo da Vinci's last supper. It was sooo frustrating to get those tickets. You have to get them months in advance, and despite help from mis padres, I thought I'd lost my chance. After a few calls to Italy, though, I made it happen! So Meital and I were able to go see the masterpiece! It was really cool to see it, and I'm definitely glad I did. It really is disintegrating though, which was intriguing. Apparently he used a new technique that allowed him to take his time painting it directly onto the plaster instead of having to hurry and do it before the plaster dried.  That also meant that by 1517 (only a few years after da Vinci completed it), it was already starting to peel off the wall. In any case, lots of restoration attempts left the original painting covered by other layers of paint, so a 1999 restoration got rid of all of those layers, leaving you with da Vinci's work. In any case, it was cool, very cool.

So now I'm back in Sevilla and I'm here for a while!  I officially have one weekend without travelling! So I will send my Thanksgiving love to the United States directly from Sevilla.  And instead of running around in some other place, I'll run around here, right a paper or 2, and try to solve Davidson housing dilemmas (ohhhh, to be a homeless junior returning from abroad).

And my next trip? Well, my last trip will be an 11 day tour through the rest of Italy: Venice, Bologna, Florence, and Rome, with Meital, Joan, and Mori. Then finals, and then.........America.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Poisoned by Spanish Food...and some Davidson love on the side

So last weekend, my group took a trip to Granada.  2 Important things came of that trip:

1.  I was able to eat lunch with the lovely Corinne Hester!  It was the first time I had seen anyone from my "past life." Seriously, I'd gone 2 months without seeing a single soul from my pre-Sevilla life.  So needless to say, when I rounded the corner of my hotel, distracted by trying to get to my phone so I could call Corinne, and looked up...I was SO HAPPY! There she was! It was a fantastic moment, a fantastic lunch (did you know that when you order a drink in Granada, you get a free tapa? Why hasn't this passed on to other parts of Spain??), and just great to see Corinne!!

2. FOOD POISONING. Seriously, one of the worst evenings of my Spanish existence.  On Monday, I had just changed clothes to go run to a contemporary dance class, when Meital (my roommate) convinced me that I was tired, felt a bit weird, and would be okay if I skipped a day of exercise.  After a quick nap, BAM. FOOD POISONING.  I'd never had it before, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it. I shortly learned that at least 5 people in my group were also sick, and by the next day, almost half of the 20 person group was either sick or feeling so close to sick that they spent all day in bed.  My host family took care of me, bringing me aquarius (kinda like gatorade, with some electrolytes and such) and manzanilla (chamomile tea).  But I literally spent all day in bed on Tuesday, drinking aquarius and manzanilla, barely eating, sleeping, and studying for my midterm the next day.  By Wednesday, I had enough strength to go to class, but honestly didn't feel completely recuperated until yesterday! A whole week of feeling a bit weak. Not fun, but I'm okay now!

Granada also involved the Catedral, Capilla Real (where los reyes catolicos are buried!), and Alhambra...all of which were very cool, very old, and super-llena de historia.

So on Wednesday, in addition to being kinda weak and going to 8 hours of class, I also flew to Barcelona!! I spent Thursday morning with Joan and her friend from high school touring the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.  The Sagrada Familia was awesome!  I thought I would find it weird...and it was weird...but I also thought it was beautiful.  On Thursday afternoon, I was headed to the elevator of my hostel to spend some quality time reading Harry Potter 3 (in Spanish)  while waiting for Rachel Kilman to arrive when BAM. The elevator opened, and there was Rach!!! Exciting Davidson reunion #2.

So then Rachel and I spent the rest of the weekend bonding, avoiding our weird hostel roommates-and their French friends- (first a Swiss woman, then some other American students), and checking out Barcelona! Gaudi's stuff is all over the place: we were a block from Casa Battlo, another few blocks from Casa Mila, Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, etc, = Gaudi everywhere! We also went on a free tour of the Gothic Quarter (where our rude hostel mates did not tip our unpaid guide), so that was cool to check out.

On Friday evening, Rachel and I were strolling through the main shopping area when we ran into another Davidson person, totally by coincidence! Her friends from Davidson had been planning on meeting her, but flight problems, etc, had left her alone to explore Barcelona. So on Saturday, we met Mary Kemp for a really cool and tasty dinner at a nice little restaurant.  So much Davidson love!!

By Sunday at noon, I was back in my little home in Sevilla, back on my perch on my bed, and dreaming of a siesta...

But by Sunday afternoon, I had had my FIRST FOUNTAIN DRINK IN 2 MONTHS!! Liz and I met at the McDonald's near our program's office to work on a partner paper (on printing and engraving, ooh la la), and I gave in and did the American thing: got a fountain drink. So good. They just (sadly) don't do fountain drinks in most parts of the world, but I thoroughly enjoyed mine.

The fountain drink and the fact that I have only about a month left in Sevilla have made me think about the things I'll really want as soon as I get home. And I've concluded that I'll probably want my dad to make me a big American cheeseburger before I can eat out at any sort of restaurant. I mean, I really don't crave American foods much here, surprisingly. Only if I really think of it or have some sort of taste-bud reminder. Like today, for instance, when Alexa brought me one of the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that she and Livvy made this weekend. Ohhh the good tastes of America......

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ladies of Ambiguous Nationality

After spending time in Spain, Portugal, and Turkey, it has come to my attention that I am the proud owner of ambiguous nationality. And Joan is as well. In Spain, it's normal for people to assume I'm Spanish (I've even been told my introductory phrases sound legitimately Spanish...the basic, hi, i'm sarah, where are you from?, y cosas asi).  In Portugal, that didn't change. Joan and I were believably Portuguese.  In Istanbul, yet again, that didn't change. We were Turkish. Well, Joan more than I. Apparently she not only looks possibly Turkish, but legitimately Turkish.  And I'm believably Turkish. So when you're a Turkish man, trying to get the attention of 2 tourists in the Grand Bazaar, what language do you use? We occasionally got English, but we also got Turkish, Spanish, Italian, and French thrown at us. 

There's something about being a very dark-haired American that makes touring easier...I honestly believe it. If you're a tall blonde walking around Turkey, no one will ever think you're Turkish and you will probably always stand out.  But we could blend, and it makes things fun! It's also fun to make it into a game: Go up to a stall in some bazaar and look at something they're trying to sell. Don't say a word. Watch the vendor struggle with deciding which language to throw at you when they desperately want to convince you to buy that necklace you're looking at. And then see what they finally choose. Great fun!!!

So as you've gathered, I just spent 5 days in Istanbul! It was really cool! The city is huge (Sevilla=faux city, Lisbon=clean city with history, Istanbul=legitimate huge occasionally dirty city with lots of history), but I felt safe the whole time.  We stayed in Sultanhamet, the area of the city with all of the historical sites: 

a.) Blue Mosque: We went twice. The first time, it was PACKED. There was a sign saying that women should cover their heads (we were prepared with scarfs) and wear skirts below knee length (not sure if I own a skirt of that length), and that everyone should take their shoes off. The only thing enforced was the shoes...tons of women were wearing pants and no one (except Muslim tourists) covered her head.  So Joan and I went with the flow. It's beautiful on the inside...tons of teeny blue intricate tile designs.  There's a section for visitors and a section for worshippers coming to pray.  I personally found that it put the pray-ers on display for the foreigners, but I can't assume that they felt that way.  The second time we went was a completely different vibe.  It had very few visitors (apparently the cruise ship folks come in the morning), and most of the women there covered their heads. Joan and I followed suit.  We also were able to just sit on the floor and soak in how beautiful everything was.  Superguay.

b.) Hagia (Aya) Sophia: It was built in like the 4th century as a church, eventually converted into a mosque, and now is a museum. Also superguay (english: super cool).  Huge, awesome decorations, beautiful, the whole shebang.  We did the whole audio-tour thing, which was relatively informative.

c.) Basilica Cistern: a huge underground room filled with columns built forever and ever ago (6th century during the Byzantine (Christian) Empire) for the purpose of storing water.  When the city became Muslim, it wasn't used because Islamic societies use running water, not still.  It's creepy down there, but has 2 random columns with giant Medusa-heads (one upside down and the other sideways).  

d.) Topkapi Palace: big old palace that various sultans lived in a long long time ago.  We decided to go for paying for a tour guide, but Istanbul has an interesting system.  Random guides come up to you while you're waiting in line and try to convince you to pay them for a tour. At the Hagia Sophia, Joan and I were skeptical of this method, but realized that those are the only guides you can get; the various sites don't offer guides through the museum.  It was interesting to have a guide, but I definitely took some of what the goofy man said with a grain of salt!  Topkapi Palace is made up of lots of parts: 4 courtyards, the parliament building, a kitchen, the huge harem, etc.  The guide spent a decent amount of time telling us that he could not fulfill our fantasies; the sultans did not have hundreds of concubines! But...well, they did have hundreds of women living and educated in the harem.  The sultans mother would choose which (up to 4) he would marry, and which would actually be his concubines (in the normal sense of the word).  The palace also has several rooms filled with various treasures...including the spoon-makers diamond, I believe the 4th largest in the world.  There's another series of rooms with various religious relics, including (supposedly) Abraham's staff, Muhammad's footprint, locks from his beard, etc. There was no background given on the history of acquiring these relics, so I'm rather skeptical, but it is definitely interesting (for a religion major) that even though I might be skeptical, other people really believe that those relics are what they say they are, and really care about seeing them.

So these sites were all within 2 minutes of each other and within 5 minutes of our hostel! Great location, but also obviously a very touristy area.  But you could easily escape the touristy area to do things like...EAT. Joan and I ate some of the best food ever. Turkish food is incredible, it really is.  

One day, we went down by the water (the "Golden Horn") to get some fish, as our hostel recommended. Literally, there're a bunch of boats with bizarre designs rocking with the force of the waves.  There are about 5 men on each boat cooking fresh fish like crazy.  You walk up under a pavilion, ask for a sandwich (or put up 2 fingers to show that you'd like 2 since you don't speak Turkish), pay about $2, and they throw a piece of fish on good bread with some lettuce. If you can find a table (think baby-sized, with little stools around it), you sit down and put some lemon juice and salt on your awesome fresh-fish sandwich.  Men are walking around selling drinks and fried dough with pistachios (the favorite nut of Turkey).  We had both.  When you walk across the bridge next to this awesomeness, you find tons of men fishing. Some have even set up little bridge fishing stores, with bait, hooks, etc.  Then on the other side of the bridge, you have fresh fish for sale, more men cooking fish sandwiches (but with little grills on land, not on a boat), and some fish "restaurants" attached to the fish market.  So good. Joan and I are happy that we both really like fish.

We also ate the world's best baklava. Baklava is EVERYWHERE in Turkey. And there're so many different types!  One restaurant is known to have the best.  People order like 4 pieces (minimum...for one person!) and sit there chowing down, while Joan and I managed 2 each. We decided we were dieting compared to these folks!  We tried the famous Turkish coffee there, too.  If you like REALLY strong coffee with NO cream, you might like Turkish coffee. But don't try asking for it with milk in most legitimately Turkish places...they will look at you sadly and explain that there is no coffee with milk. It's Turkish coffee.  

Kebabs and Meatballs. So good. The Turks love their lamb, and I personally love the Turks for their love of lamb. And they use yogurt as a sauce for this lamb. And they love eggplant.  All so delicious.  

One day, Joan and I took the public Asia.  Istanbul is a city split by the Bosphorus, and on the west (where all the historical sites are), you're in Europe. On the eastern side, you've made it to Asia! We went to a restaurant we found on a blog called IstanbulEats.  More delicious Turkish food involving lamb and yogurt, and more happiness!! I'm now 5 continents down and still counting.  Although, I guess you can't really count an hour and a half in Asia and a day trip to Morocco when I studied in Cadiz last summer.

So now to analyze the religion in Istanbul! Allegedly, Turkey is like 99% Muslim.  Only about 30% of the women cover their heads.  It's illegal to wear a headscarf in public institutions in Turkey, but women absolutely wear them in the streets.  It's interesting to see that most who do want to cover themselves do so well, without any full hijab.  They'll wear a headscarf, wrapped up very neatly, and a long coat, that at least goes down to their knees, if not to their ankles.  A wise woman named Riley Brigham once told me that Istanbul is so hot in the summer. "Hotter than Sevilla."  I shudder to think of wearing a long coat (no matter how thin the material) in heat worse than Sevilla's.  In any case, I didn't stand out as someone with free-flowing hair.  There were plenty of women with head-scarves, but more without!  So I really didn't feel uncomfortable, not even once. Plus, I'm believably Turkish :)

And a last thought, the Grand Bazaar and Spice/Egyptian Bazaar are awesome.  And they know they're awesome and that they're appealing to tourists. Even still, it's fun to go and buy gifts for friends and family!!

So now I'm back in Sevilla, enjoying a week here (for the most part).  Our group is staying one night in Granada, and I get to hang with mah girl CoCo Corinne Hester!  It'll be my first Davidson contact in a long time!  Then on Wednesday night, I head to Barcelona to spend the weekend with Rachel Kilman!! Yay Davidson all over the world!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Rain in Spain falls Mainly on the Plain

Well, it rained in Sevilla yesterday. For the first time. Literally, it rained the day we arrived and hadn't rained since, and it POURED yesterday.  I got up for class and had to walk the 2 miles or so to the university with rain attacking me from all angles and wind making it difficult to hold onto my umbrella. When I arrived in class (with my hair going crazy and my keds, socks, and jeans soaked up to my knees, i might add), everyone looked rather raggamuffin like.  It was actually funny. No one knows how to handle the rain! A good third of the class arrived late, and pretty much everyone was soaked. It was so weird. It does not rain here. But oh wait! It's supposed to rain again on Thursday. Is that a sign of winter actually arriving? And by winter, I mean that the high temps for the week are all in the low 70s.  Anywho, I'll miss that rain by running of to Istanbul! I probably will have to walk through 2 miles of it with my super-cool backpack to get to the bus that goes to the airport, but I'll worry about that when the time comes!!

So, the past 2 weeks have been crazy, but great! And filled with Lanners love. Last 2 weeks ago on Tuesday, my friend Joan and I left Sevilla on a midnight bus to Lisboa (Lisbon), Portugal.  That was an intriguing adventure, being that the bus was your typical greyhound style and the ride was about 7.5 hours long. The bus also arrived in the Sevilla bus station 45 minutes late (making some little American girls worry!).  As soon as we crossed the border into Portugal (no customs, passport check, nada, because we're travelling within the European Union), the bus driver began to speak ONLY in Portuguese. It's a particularly crazy sounding language, and it sounds nothing like Spanish. In any case, we made it to Lisboa after a bad nights sleep on a bus, a metro ride through the early morning (still dark outside), and a bit of searching. We couldn't check in to our hostel at 7:30, but they did kindly let us have some of their homemade breakfast: a choice of scrambled eggs and toast or 2 crepes with nutella. No joke, best breakfasts ever. So after some nutella and crepes, Joan and I headed to see the old town of Lisboa, fondly known as Belem.

Belem is known for it's pastries. So after nutella crepes and a trolly ride to Belem, we ate the best pastry ever. It's filled with a creamy inside (almost like creme brulee, but not) and is fantastic. We then went to the monastery and church in Belem, which are both BEAUTIFUL. Very awesome. Joan and I both have a thing for touring churches and cathedrals. That's what happens when you put a Catholic and a religion major together!  We then checked out the Discovery of the America's monument (pretty cool, and coincidentally shaped like a cross from one angle), and climbed a tower.  For lunch, we found ourselves eating hamburgers and fries. Now before you think we were being typical Americans, I might add that we were NOT. This hamburger was made of pork and the fries were cooked in olive oil, all very Spanish (and Portuguese, apparently) takes on a very American meal. And we knew that. So you know you're a fake Spaniard when you start craving the Spanish version of an American food.

That night, Joan and I went to a very typical Portuguese restaurant with ZERO tourists. That means lots of delicious, fresh fish for very cheap. It also means no English or Spanish is spoken.  But, we learned very quickly that if we speak in Spanish, the Portuguese completely understand us. The problem? We have no idea what they say back to us in Portuguese. It made for an interesting dynamic throughout Portugal, but we were able to communicate!

The next day, we headed to Evora, a small town with little bits of cool history on a small scale. There's some Roman ruins (pretty cool, but small scale), a pretty church (or 2 or 3), and a chapel lined completely with BONES. Yes, apparently Portuguese monks used to meditate in the bones chapel, which reminded them of their mortality.

On Friday, after a visit to the Cathedral of Lisbon, we moved out of our hostel and found MY PARENTS! Yay!  Mom and Dad arrived in Lisbon on Friday. We had lunch, they took a nap, and Joan and I climbed up a mountain to see Lisbon's castle.  The directions we were given to see the castle included, "Walk up the mountain. Just keep going, and you'll find your way there!" Which actually worked...with a few moments of doubt.

Saturday, the whole happy family (Joan included) went to Sintra, a town about 40 minutes from Lisbon that used to be a popular summer destination for the wealthy of Lisboa. For that reason, you've got an awesome castle, a palace, a palace on top of a mountain, and another palace from some random rich guy. It's definitely a cool town (almost more to do there than in Lisbon!) and we had a lovely day!

The next day, Joan and I headed home on another long bus, while Mom and Dad took in the sights of Lisbon.  They flew into Sevilla on Monday, and I began a whirl-wind 3 days of classes, normal activities, writing a paper, and hanging with my 'rents in my current home: Sevilla.  They got to come meet my host family and see the house, which was really funny. Pechi, my host-mom, doesn't speak a word of English, but insisted on serving wine and cheese to my parents. We had a lovely conversation that involved me translating everything for Pechi and my parents. It was really nice and really sweet.

By Wednesday evening, though, I was on a plane with my parents to Bilbao! Bilbao is in northern spain in el Pais Vasco, aka Basque country.  the Basque Country has a really different vibe from Sevilla and southern Spain, and it was cool to see the difference. First thing I noticed: super-clear Spanish. The taxi driver and I chatted about it, and he through a little jab at Sevilla, saying that they talk like they have a mouth filled with marbles. (I found similar jabs from other, "Oh, you study in Sevilla? Your Spanish must be REALLY good if you can understand them!") Bilbao also just has a different feeling. For one, it was cold, and for another it's more of an industrial city, but filled with cool modern art...and the Guggenheim museum. Apparently the Guggenheim really revitalized Bilbao, so modern art is prevalent in the city.  The museum is really's an architectural wonder of a building. And the inside is cool, but filled with modern art....not really my favorite.

With recommendations from a family friend on things to do, we went in search of Pintxos in Bilbao. What are pintxos? Well, we had no idea. Mom was determined that they were some sort of apartment. I was determined she was wrong. :) They ended up being the Euskeran (Basque language) word for tapas!  But it's a bit different. You walk into a bar that has about 15 plates lined up all along the bar. Each plate is filled with little pre-made tapas. You ask for your own plate, and just grab what you want, then pay later!  They're all cold, but still pretty good. I think I prefer the tapas of Andalusia, but I definitely did enjoy them.

After Bilbao, we headed to San Sebastian, a beautiful beach town near Bilbao.  We had a hotel (we think it actually might have been a hostel) in the middle of the Plaza de la Constitucion in the heart of the old town, which was a really great location.  The hotel/hostel was TINY though. It was funny having the 3 of us try to maneuver around the beds and constantly running into things. San Sebastian really was beautiful though. Beautiful churches, beautiful beaches, a funicular, a castle, and even a Jesus statue on top of the castle!  We also went to a cool museum on Basque history. There's definitely alot of Basque pride in Northern Spain, and we all noted that the museum seemed to scream, "BASQUE COUNTRY IS GREAT AND FILLED WITH CULTURE! DON'T DOUBT IT!"

In any case, it was interesting to learn about some of Basque history. I would've liked to have heard a bit more of modern political Basque history, but I think it's still a relatively fresh subject--ETA, the terrorist Basque political group still exists, and there are definitely still people wanting independence from the rest of Spain.

On a side note, the Basque language is crazy! The taxi driver in Bilbao told me that it doesn't come from Latin, so that's why it's so different from Spanish.  Apparently it was around before the Romans showed up in Spain.  And the Arabs never made it up to northern Spain, so you don't have the Arabic influence in the language either.  Signs around the cities were always written in both Euskera and Spanish, but most people speak Spanish in the cities...more Euskera in the countryside.

So now I'm back home in Sevilla! And mom and dad are back home in GA.  And I'm headed to Istanbul with Joan on Thursday!  Sorry for the painfully long entry that might have gotten a bit to detailed. In any case, I'll try to post after each trip in the future, rather than combining 2.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Remember that time it was October, but still 90 degrees?

So, it's still 90 degrees. Well, to be more accurate, the temperature in Sevilla ranges from a high of 85 and 94 in this crisp autumn month of October. And frankly, I'm ready to wear jeans. I'm always a fan of summer, ALWAYS. I love everything summer stands for: beaches, peaches, swimming, dresses, and general summer happiness. But I really am ready for it to be a bit cooler! Everyone else on my program finds this heat so bizarre. Half go to North Western near Chicago, so they're used to bitter cold in the winter. And well, we won't be getting anywhere near that here in Sevilla!  But even I am not used to having a summer quite this long! Today, a group of about 8 of us took a day trip to Cadiz (the beach!).  It was perfect weather to spend a few hours on the beach, eat some pescaito frito (fried fish...except the restaurant was closed on Sundays so we ate random tapas instead), and head back to Sevilla.  It's about an hour and 45 minutes away by train, and a great way to spend a Sunday, because well, obviously I don't have homework to do. That's a whole 'nother issue...

The Spanish educational system seems a bit bizarre to me. I'm still trying to figure it out, but the general understanding is that there are very few daily assignments. Whereas at Davidson, I'd be reading at least 30 pages of something to prepare for each class, buying a book and reading it for class is basically optional. You're certainly not going to discuss reading in class the next day, so buying a book that the teacher may or may not recommend is really up to you...a personal preference! So, homework doesn't happen super often.
I don't mean to say that I don't work! I've already given a presentation on the country Estonia in my European Union class and written a paper on the American stereotypes of Europe in the movie Eurotrip. And done a few other things...

But, when you're comparing a typical Sunday in Sevilla with a typical Sunday at Davidson....well, writing this blog is the most work I've put in. But that's why I'm going to fill my Sundays with travel! Starting very shortly, I'm going to be a travelling fiend. Tuesday, I'm headed to Portugal with my friend Joan. And on Friday, we'll be joined by my lovely parents! And then the next weekend I'll head to the north of Spain with the padres. And the next weekend to Istanbul, and the next to Granada, and the next to Barcelona, and well, you get the point. I'm not going to be staying put. Because I just want to see the world!!

Now for a bit of a back track of things I've done since the last blog post:

1. Sinogoga: In true religion major fashion, I went with my friend Stef to the teensy little Synagogue here in Sevilla. I'd never been to any sort of Jewish service, so it was really cool! And Stef answered all of my questions! And now I'm more enlightened. Flashback to the first few weeks of the program: I also went to mass in Sevilla's Catedral with my friend Joan. Lots of relig-maj-moments.

2. Ronda: Our group went to visit Ronda, a small town nearby Sevilla that has a REALLY awesome bridge, some Arabic baths, and the oldest Plaza de Toros ever. Stef and I ended up taking the free time we had to climb down a hill to the bottom of the awesome bridge...and it was totally worth it. Beautiful views, beautiful photos, and even a beautiful German student that was also checking out the bridge.

3. Sarah gets Antsy: After the Ronda trip, I got antsy to travel more. These group day trips are lovely, but I'm ready to go places! Well, my wish comes true in 2 days when I leave Sevilla on a midnight bus to Lisbon (Lisboa), Portugal.

4. Classes: I've now survived 2 weeks of official classes (in classrooms that usually seem to function without air a really old awesome building, but a really hot old awesome building). 2 weeks also only means 6 days. I only have class Monday through Wednesday!  That does mean that I have 8 hours of class on Wednesday though...a bit like death, but I make it through. My classes? La Proyección de las Tres Culturas: Cristianos, Musulmanes, y Judíos en España Medieval; La Influencia Árabe en la Literatura Española; Técnicas Artísticas; La Unión Europea. Some are more interesting than others, but they do the trick.

5. Bought Flamenco Shoes: I'm taking weekly flamenco classes (Sevillanas being the specific type of flamenco) with my roommate Meital and friend Maddie from an awesome and funny teacher named Carmen. I bought the official shoes, which make me much more legit. They're kinda like character shoes (for my fellow dancers), but a bit different. They're designed to make a bit more noise when you dance.

6. Cordoba: I went to Cordoba for the 3rd time in my life! I went with my fam in high school and the Cadiz group when I studied in Cadiz last summer. La Mezquita de Cordoba es tan impresionante, but I got the point of how beautiful the mosque was after time number 2.  In any case, it was a fun little trip, but I'm ready for big trips to new places!! Portugal in 2 days!

7. Discoteca with Meital's new Spanish friends: Apparently, there are mosh pit moments in Spanish discotecas...that is, if you find yourself in a dubstep discoteca. I'd never heard that word til last night (to my friends' dismay), but it basically is some intense techno type of music.  Not generally a situation you'd picture sweet Sarah in? Well, think again.

8. Cadiz: see earlier paragraph.

And now, I'm here in my room looking writing a really long blog and looking forward to a few things: 1. a 2 day week (Spain has a holiday Wednesday!) 2. heading to Portugal! 3. Seeing Buncie and Jay-los padres llegan en Portugal el viernes! 

That's the update for now! 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Being the Token Southern Girl

Over the course of the past few weeks, it has been brought to my attention that I might be the only true-blooded southerner on this Sweet Briar program in Spain. What defines one as a true-blooded southerner other than the frequent use of the word yall? Well, for one, a southerner who chooses not to leave the south to receive a fine education. (Grey and Liz might be from the south...but they bailed for a northern education!) And who also might have a cute little southern accent occasionally. And, this story explains more...

Spencer: My middle name is Earl. It's a family name.
Me: 'Caus Earl had to die...
5 seconds of awkwardness in a group of 8 people...
Joan: I got it Sarah.

For those of you who haven't caught on, that was a reference to a dixie chick's song that every southerner knows/should know.

See this youtube video for enlightenment if need be.

In any case, in a southern situation, at least 3/4 of the group would have either a) laughed at my joke or b) thought of it before me. But no, I'm in a very northern situation, and so everyone gets to make fun of me (with love in their hearts, i know) for being a small town southern girl. :)

On another note, I went to the beach this weekend! We took a group trip to Chiclana, but went first to Jerez, where we did a sherry tasting. I hate sherry. It. Is. So. Gross.

Chiclana was lovely! We stayed in a really nice 4 star hotel with an incredible buffet for dinner, breakfast, and lunch. Why is a buffet so impressive? Well, for 3 weeks (and for the next 3 months), none of us get a say in what we eat. We eat what our host families prepare, which might be delicious or might be a plate full of asparagus (true life, that was my dinner Thursday night...with little bitty shrimps and onions in a plateful of asparagus). So having so many delicious choices in front of you really rocked our worlds. They also had absolutely delicious french the thick cut kind they have at steak houses. If the ketchup hadn't tasted like non-American ketchup, I might've felt completely American. And they had omelets made-to-order (I miss commons!).

In addition to eating like a pig, I went to the beach, took some sun (a direct english translation from a great spanish phrase), and finished reading the first Harry Potter book in spanish.  It was lovely! Harry beat Voldemort! Who would have guessed? Kate bought the second, and Maria bought the third, so Kate is bringing me the second tomorrow. I'm pumped.

Tomorrow is the first day of university classes! Ah! I have five hours of class in a row: 2 hours of The Projection of the 3 Cultures: Muslims, Jews, and Christians in Spain; 2 hours of The Arabic Influence on Spanish Literature; 1 hour of Artistic Techniques...a course directly in the university with a bunch of spaniards and a professor who won't slow down for foreigners. In any case, it'll be a long 5 hours of classes, but it'll be nice that I'm completely done with class at 2! I'll stick some magdalenas in my purse (muffins) to snack on between classes...since apparently it's a faux pas to munch in classes in Spain. Not that I ever munch during classes at Davidson, but the option is always there...