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Ciudad Rodrigo

I am sorry it has been a while since I have posted something but last week was full of classes and I figured no one wants to read about my classes :)  Anyways, this past weekend was very eventful because it was (and still is until Tuesday) Carnival here in Spain and Europe as well.  It is fun because people dress up in costumes like we do for Halloween and basically just go around and have a good time.  However, on Saturday it was the bull festival in Ciudad Rodrigo, which is a pueblo about a hour away from Salamanca.  This festival is unique because to start it off, there is a running of the bulls like in Pamplona.  In the morning, 6 bulls are led into the Plaza Mayor where there will be a bull fight later in the day.  Then, after 4 are killed in the fight, the remanning 2 run out of the city only to be killed the next day in more bull fights.  I did not go to the bull fight but I did watch the running of the bulls, which was insane!  There were so many people everywhere it was crazy and when someone wants to run, they just hop over the fence and start running.  People get so close to the bulls I could not believe it!  Also, everyone is wearing a costume so it is quite a sight to see.  My host dad apparently ran with the bulls many times when he was younger and he said that groups of friends will form teams and all run together.  This is true because we often saw a group of men dressed in the same outfit, preparing to run!  After the running, we walked around the city that is actually very close to Portugal (about 20 miles) and learned that Napoleon invaded the city.  His canons can be found along the city’s wall and there are cannon ball holes in the wall of a church.  We found a nice place to sit on the wall and looked at Portugal (we liked to think) for a bit to enjoy the beautiful weather we were having.  This weekend we are going to Madrid and Toledo.  I am very excited because I have never been to Toledo but have always heard wonderful things about the city!  Hasta luego

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Week of Traveling

This past week has been amazing!  Through AIFS I traveled to Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada and then on my own with a group of friends I went to San Sebastian and Bilbao.  It is crazy because if you look at a map of Spain, we went from the South all the way up North in 6 days!!!  I’ll start with Cordoba:

We left for Cordoba 7am on Monday the 21st and it took us 6 hours to get there but it was worth it!  We visited La Mezquita which is a beautiful cathedral/mosque.  It started out as a Visigoth church that was converted into a mosque in 785 after the Arabs invaded Spain.  At this time, Cordoba was the capital of Al-Andalus (later Andalusia) and therefore a social, cultural and political powerhouse where people from all over the world traveled to.  The Arabs used some of the material leftover from when they tore down the Visigoth church to make the beautiful arches and columns (see attached picture) and this is why the arches seem Roman instead of Arabic.  Some 20,000 people can fit into the mosque at one time to help you get a feel for the massive size of the building!  The men were the only ones allowed into the mosque to pray while the women and children waited outside in the patio de naranjas or orange tree patio.  Eventually, Spain was gradually reconquered by the Christians and King Ferdinand III added 49 chapels in 1236 that help make it the cathedral it is today.  What is amazing is that mass is held at the Mezquita (mosque in Spanish) every morning and the organs, although hundreds of years old, are used as well.  It is just amazing to walk through this building that is Arabic, Baroque, Neo-Classical and Renaissance in style.  La Mezquita is an UNESCO World Heritage site and I would absolutely recommend visiting this wonderfully beautiful building.

That night we traveled to Sevilla but arrived late so we pretty much just wandered around and did our sight seeing the next day.  We started out at the Plaza de España which was constructed in 1992 for the exposition.  The Plaza is enormous and of course very beautiful.  All the provinces of Spain are located along the walls and it is fun for people to go take pictures next to where they are from.  After the Plaza, we went to the  Alcazar which is a palace that Pedro (Peter) the cruel built as a summer home.  It has been used for many years as a residence for the royal family and is still used today!  The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was married there and the architecture is once again a mixture of Christian and Arabic styles as are many buildings in Andalusia.  Our tour guide showed us that the four point Christian star, the eight point Arabic star and the six point Jewish star can all be found on the tiles throughout the building proving the many cultures that were and are prevalent to Sevilla’s culture.  After the Alcazar, we went to the cathedral which is the third largest in the world!  Christopher Columbus’ tomb is located in the cathedral and we got to climb the famous tower, La Giralda, where we could see spectacular views of the city.  For dinner we went to this AMAZING Italian restaurant (I know Italian food is not what we are suppose to be eating in Spain but sometimes you just crave something else).  I got a delicious plate of homemade gnocchi with tomato sauce and fresh basil sprinkled on top.  Ah we were so happy after our meal.  

We left for Granada the next day to visit the famous Alhambra palace.  It is the second most visited place in Spain, next to the Prado museum with some 7,000 visitors a day during the summer!  It is similar to the Alcazar in that the architecture is primarily Arabic but there are some Christian elements to it as well that make it so unique and beautiful.  Definitely worth the visit and there are also beautiful gardens that you can wander around in.  At night, we went to an amazing Flamenco show in these caves that Michelle Obama went to as well!  The dancers were so graceful and I have no idea how they move their feet so fast!  A Flamenco show is a must see when traveling to Spain.  This show was great because it was not overly touristy and your seats were right in front of the dancers; their dresses would touch you as they danced!  It was incredible and I am so glad we got to go.

Granada was supposed to be our last stop but like I mentioned above, my friends and I wanted to take advantage of our time off and decided to travel to Basque country or País Vasco.  We first went to San Sebastian and then Bilbao.  San Sebastian is a beautiful costal town and Bilbao has the famous Guggenheim Museum.  I am not a huge fan of modern art but it was definitely something I needed to see.  The museum building itself is incredible and I am so happy I did go.  These were my first experiences in hostels and I will admit I was nervous beforehand but now I know there is nothing to worry about.  Although, the night in San Sebastian was rough.  I have NEVER been so cold in my entire life!  Our heater in our room did not work so I wore socks (I never wear socks to bed), my PJ pants, jeans over my PJ pants, my flannel PJ shirt, a sweatshirt, a jacket over my sweatshirt and my coat over my blanket.  I think I got maybe three hours of sleep because I could not stop shivering.  Oh well, it was an experience and then the hostel in Bilbao was much better.  The man who owned it was named Fede and he was super nice and always invited us out with him.  We had people from Germany staying in our room with us and there were also people from Greece, Italy, New Zealand and France.  I met a woman studying architecture in Barcelona who was from Germany and when I told her I desperately want to go to Barcelona, she invited me to come visit her!  Then I told her all the places I’ve been to in Germany and we talked for a bit (I met her while brushing my teeth) about Germany and our travels.  This is the amazing part about hostels, you get to meet people from all over the world.  

We returned to Salamanca yesterday, took another placement exam today and now get to relax a bit before classes begin tomorrow.  I think now I will take a siesta before going for a walk with my roommate.  ¡Hasta luego! 

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Second Week

Intensive orientation classes are over with!!!  I am very excited because on Monday, we are leaving for Andalucía and will spend 4 days there.  We are going to go to Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada.  After the trip, some friends and I plan to go to San Sebastian and Bilbao since the semester does not begin until January 28th and we have a few days once we get back from the Andalucía trip.  It has been very cold and rainy here so I am hoping that we will have nicer weather in Andalucía.  I knew Spain could get could be it feels like New Jersey winter weather and I cannot believe it.  I need to wear my winter coat, gloves and a scarf everyday!  Anyway, this week went by very fast and I cannot believe I have been here for almost two weeks now.  I am starting to know my way around Salamanca, which is a HUGE accomplishment for me since I need a GPS to get around my home town.  We have found little cafes we like to hang out in and do our homework and it is just so nice that everything is within walking distance.  This week, besides the exams I had, was pretty relaxing.  We went to the Museo Taurino de Salamanca, or bullfighting museum on Wednesday.  It was interesting to learn about the history and the sport since I did not know that much about it.  Apparently, when a torero, bullfighter, dies all of his awards and memorabilia are donated to the Museo Taurino of his city.  Therefore, pratically every room in the musuem had a section deditcated to trophies of some torero.  Today I plan to relax a bit and get ready for mi viaje a Andalucía. ¡Hasta luego!

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First Week

This first week has been amazing and I am so glad I chose to study in Salamanca.  It is a very fun and vibrant city.  We were told that the city has 170,000 people living in it and 30,000 of those people are students so it makes sense why the city is a great place for students to come and meet other students.  In fact, I have already met students from China, Australia, Brazil and Peru.   It is funny because in order to communicate with each other, we speak in Spanish since that is what we are here to study.  I am so happy with my host family because they are so welcoming and understanding.  They know we are trying to learn the language and are very patient with us.  They want us to learn and correct us when we are wrong, which I love because then I do not make a habit of saying the wrong thing.  The past two nights, my madre’s nieces have come over.  One is three and the other is nine-months-old.  They are adorable and so much fun!  The baby is so good and always smiling.  The three-year-old was very excited to see us (my roommate and I) the second night because she wanted to practice her English.  After dinner, she took me into the living room and would point at something and have me tell her the word in English and then repeat it to me.  Then she showed me she could count to five and we worked on counting to ten.  It was so much fun and I look forward to seeing her again.  Classes are going well but we have exams next week so I will need to study tomorrow. I am enjoying the orientation but am excited for the actual semester to begin.  My roommate and I like to walk around and a few days ago when we were walking these guys came up to us and asked to take our picture.  My roommate is blonde, tall and has blue eyes like me so it is safe to say we stand out here.  Anyways, we were really confused and asked them if they meant to ask if we would take their picture.  They said no they wanted our picture so then we responded back in English (they were American) if they wanted their picture taken and they were surprised we could speak English because they thought we were from Finland!  They asked us to pretend that we were when they introduced us to their friends, who took our picture because they needed a picture with people from another country.  It was really funny and just last night I was asked if I was from the Netherlands!  It’s funny though because when I said no, I am from America, they seemed less interested.  I guess it is cooler to be from another country and not America!  Therefore, my roommate and I decided just to say we are from Finland, or Denmark or the Netherlands next time.  Today, we took a tour of the city and learned more about the university, cathedrals and history of the city.  It is amazing how old parts of Europe are compared to the United States.  The University of Salamanca is the third oldest university in the world and was established in 1218!  We went to the oldest University building and tried to find the rana or frog above the entrance.  Rumor is that if you find the frog, you will have good luck and pass all your exams!  I sure hope this is true.  We also saw the oldest organ in Spain when we went into the Old Cathedral.  What was amazing though was that there were long, jagged cracks in many of the walls and we learned this is because of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.  Salamanca felt the earthquake from Portugal!  After the tour, we went to the Plaza Mayor for a cafe before comida or lunch.  During lunch, my roommate and I talked with our madre about movies and actors she likes.  She told us that we should watch some Spanish movies to improve our comprehension and later her husband brought us a bunch to watch.  She also asked if we wanted to all go to a movie together and we said por supuesto or of course so she is going to look in the paper tomorrow for a movie we can all go watch.  My roommate and I are going to go do our homework in a little cafe by our house soon!  Hasta luego!