October 11, 2010No Comments

Barcelona Part 2

Saturday was essentially the day of Gaudi. After purchasing some breakfast at the Mercado, we hopped on the subway and headed to Parque Güell, Gaudi’s famous park built into the hillside at the edge of Barcelona. The metro station left us with more than a short walk to the park, but on the way we were able to catch part of a bocce game being played in a local park by some ancianos enjoying the beautiful Saturday morning.

We reached the park and were immediately immersed in both the incredible architecture and the hundreds of other visitors. Parque Güell was originally conceived as a housing development by Count Eusebi Güell, but when the houses didn’t sell it was converted into a public park. Judging by the number of people visiting the park while we were there, it’s was definitely a good choice to keep it around!

The entrance to the park is dominated by a white marble staircase and beautiful tile mosaics. We spent hours walking throughout the park, listening to the street musicians, and enjoying the breath-taking panorama of Barcelona. With all the walking and the warm weather, we were all pretty hot. With the beach only a short metro ride a way, most of the group headed to the shore to tomar el sol and cool off in the Mediterranean. I made the tough choice to stick Gaudi and headed to Casa Batlló with Emma and Anna.

The house was absolutely incredible. Living there must have been quite the experience. The entire building flows, from the oval windows to the rounded doors there seemed to be no typically constructed piece of the house. The very first glimpse of the house once you emerge from the metro lets you know that what you will see inside is a design found nowhere else. The balconies that adorn the façade of the house look like masks of bone, looming above in a haunting yet beautiful way. We entered the house and were greeted with floors of curved surfaces and beautiful tile mosaics. Gaudi must have had such an interesting view of the world!

After the tour we headed to the Sagrada Familía, the enormous cathedral designed by Gaudi. We refueled with a quick lunch beneath the Gaudi designed streetlights and headed to the cathedral for some photos. The building breaks all established norms of a Cathedral, looming above the Barcelona skyline as a eyesore to some and a marker of the brilliance of Gaudi to others. Still under construction, the building is a constant subject of debate for the people of Barcelona. Unfortunately the building closed at 6 and we reached the entrance at 5:55. Undeterred we took the metro to meet up with the beachgoers at the Museo Nacional, located in the beautiful Palau Nacional that was built for the World’s Fair in 1929. A short walk from the Plaça Espanya, the Palau Nacional provides a beautiful view of the Venetian Towers and the city of Barcelona from the base of Montjuïc. Unfortunately we ran into timing issues again, but this time we were allowed to enter the building and go through a security check before being told the museum was closing in 10 minutes. I like to think that we have just finally adapted to the Spanish sense of time.

Defeated by both the Sagrada Familía and the Museo Nacional, we headed back to the hostel to prepare for the evening. After a brief siesta we got ready for our big night out in Barcelona. We headed down to the beach to take part in some of the local Paella, some of the best in Spain. We walked for a bit and came upon a street full of different paella restaurants and picked one at random. We chose wisely in our ignorance and had one of the most delicious meals I’ve eaten in Spain. Needless to say there was nothing left in the dish. After the Paella we headed to the metro stop near Razzmatazz, one of the larger clubs in Barcelona. Leaving the metro we found ourselves in a disconcerting area with dark, warehouse-like buildings and filled with people of the goth and punk persuasions. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten us into! We finally found the club, however, with the help of some kind locals and went to a nearby bar to have some drinks in first. A unique local place, the bar was neither empty nor filled with a younger Spanish crowd that would dance and sing to the songs being played. Ready for the night, we headed back to Razzmatazz and danced the next few hours away, making our way to each of the five salas and ultimately meeting up with the other group of program students visiting Barcelona for the weekend.

Morning came much too quickly with a ringing telephone and a pounding on the door. It was 10:55 and we were supposed to be out of the room at 11:00. Joder. Still in a post-fiesta/still-asleep haze we packed everything up, located the key, and checked out with the exasperated hotel employees. After a night on the town what else is there to do but head to a museum first thing the next day? Clearly nothing, so we bought some breakfast and hopped on the metro to see the Picasso museum before our flight home. We had to wait in line a while for the museum, but it was definitely worth it. The museum houses many of the pieces we’ve studied in art history and it was an amazing experience to see them in the real world. When I was a child I only knew of Picasso’s cubist period and thought of him as some fluke who managed to convince the world that his childish drawings were incredible modern art. Naturally I realized how wrong this assumption was as I grew older, but if there had been any doubt left in my mind it would have been evicted after visiting the museum. Picasso’s journey from child prodigy to world famous artist was traced chronologically, following his changes in periods and styles. Amazing to see how such a prolific and talented artist continued to reinvent his art while maintaining his artistic identity. Incredible visit with which to end our visit to Barcelona.

A fast-paced, hectic and incredible weekend, Barcelona left us all exhausted and glad to be back home in “quiet” Alcalá. So glad to have seen the city and visited the architecture of Gaudi and the art of Picasso while taking part in local cuisine and markets. The quick weekend in Barcelona helped me appreciate how much there is to see everywhere in the world. Three days in any city is never enough, particularly in a city as rich in culture and history as Barcelona. I look forward to revisiting it some time, maybe at which point the Sagrada Familia will finally be finished!

October 11, 2010No Comments

Barcelona Part 1

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona for a few days with some of my friends from the program. I had a great time and the weekend was full of experiences, most were fantastic, some of a less awesome nature, but I came away with tons of memories, stories, and the desire to go back whenever I get the chance to see even more. The Tufts/Skidmore program provides each of us with 200€ for traveling within Spain, which covered our flights and hotel, leaving us free to indulge a little when it came to our cultural culinary experiences. I am lucky enough to not have classes on Friday, so I booked an early morning flight so I would be able to make the most of the short vacation.

Arrived in Barcelona around 9:30 in the morning with a whole day ahead of me. Emma and I tracked down our hostal and then I set out to explore the city a bit. Our hostal, La Terrassa, was located a block away from the main street in Barcelona, La Rambla, a stunning pedestrian street running from Plaça de Colón on the sea to Plaça Catalunya in the city. The street was filled with tourists, shoppers, street performers, and vendors in the middle pedestrian path with shops, hotels and restaurants lining both sides. I followed La Rambla down to the sea, walked around Plaça de Colón and did some browsing of antique stands before heading around the harbor and along Passeig de Colom. From the harbor I headed into el Barrio Gótico with narrow, winding streets that date back to the 14th century. Barcelona is quite a stunning city with an interesting mix of the medieval, modern, and everything in between.
The region of Barcelona presented a departure from the comfortable castellano (Español) that we’ve been surrounded by in Alcalá and Madrid. In Barcelona the language of choice is catalán, which is somewhat of a mix of French, Spanish, and Italian. Mostly everyone also speaks castellano, but generally when speaking to us most people resorted to english when we spoke in castellano and not catalán. It was definitely a little strange hearing english so frequently when mostly everyone at home speaks to us in castellano.
After wandering around Barcelona for a while, I met up with the girls back at the hotel and we headed off to Montjuïc, a broad hill that overlooks Barcelona. On the way out we stopped at the Mercado de la Boquería, a stunning open air market filled with fish, meat, fruits, and customers. We purchased some sandwiches, pasta, and fresh fruit juice and ate along Las Ramblas. After a somewhat tedious scavenger hunt for the correct bus to Montjuïc, we were on our way up the hill, driving through Plaça de Espanya and the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics. The bus ride itself was like a tour of some of the most beautiful parts of Barcelona, providing us with incredible views of the city sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. We left the bus at the Montjuïc tramway and boarded a tram that brought us to the Castell de Montjuïc which dates back to the 17th century. Suspended from the tram hundreds of feet above Barcelona, we could see the entire city before us. Amazing to see the places I had been, La Rambla, Colón, Catalunya, the harbor, all laid out below.
The view from the castell was marvelous and we spent a good amount of time walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying the beautiful weather. Hard to believe that such a beautiful location was home to so many executions throughout its lifetime, even within the last 100 years during the Spanish Civil War. Tired and ready for a break before dinner, we headed down, walking back to the base of the tram and then taking the funicular, which is part of the Barcelona metro system, down to the city and heading home on the metro.
After a brief siesta we headed out for dinner. Our goal was to head into the Barrio Gótic and find a local bar/restaurant in which to dine, but we entered the labyrinth a bit north of the gothic area and found ourselves in El Born district, an up and coming area full of hipsters and high price tags. Our stomachs growling, we hunted for the perfect restaurant and found a lovely place full of ambiance and locals. With menus printed on wine bottles and delicious entrees and desserts, our first main meal in Barcelona was a success.
We headed for a night on the town, but our lack of a specific plan quickly showed itself. With friends already in a bar down by the water and more arriving soon on their now-delayed flight, the Tufts/Skidmore coalition in Barcelona was spread a little thin. We found the bar and rendezvoused with the others and I headed back to the hotel to pick up the latecomers and bring them back to the bar. I headed into the winding gothic district that was filled with people walking towards their respective destinations. While walking back to the hotel, a man attempted to rob me, but after a slightly forceful rebuttal on my part he decided to let me go on my merry way. By the time everyone at the hotel was checked in they were fairly tired and I was still processing the attempted mugging and wasn’t ready to head back through the gauntlet, so I stayed at the hotel and the rest of the gang returned later by cab. Our first night in Barcelona was certainly an experience, but all worked out well and none of us were much worse for wear. We certainly weren’t in quiet Alcalá anymore!

October 5, 2010No Comments

El Escorial

Time continues to fly as we enter October and our schedules fill up with classes, cultural activities, and trips. While the amount of school work I have here is much less than what I would be currently dealing with at Tufts, I feel just as busy. This busy, however, is not one of project deadlines and midterm exams (although those do exist), but one of being able to fit everything in. Luckily for me, the study abroad program does an incredible job of helping with this in countless ways.

Two weeks ago, we visited El Escorial, a palace for the Spanish Kings and the eternal home of the Spanish monarchs. A relatively short train ride from Alcalá brought us to the town and after a short hike up to the castle, we found ourselves facing a beautiful 16th century palace on the edge of a mountainside. The weather was incredibly beautiful, a warm sunny day in the mountains of Spain!

We met up with our tour guide, a pleasant old man who was a little racist, but not in a malevolent way, and headed into the library. A long hall lined with bookshelves and an incredible ceiling painted by a student of Michelangelo, the library is home to books and records dating back more than 1500 years. There are over 40,000 books, originally donated by Philip II. The books were written on parchment and are kept in bookshelves, with the pages facing outward to allow for airflow. I couldn’t believe that these books had lasted hundreds of years without hermetically sealed vaults, but a few books open on display proved that it was possible. If only I could’ve sat down and read them!

After our thorough tour of the single-roomed library, we headed into the interior of the building and visited the various rooms of the palace where the royal family lived and passed their time. The large, open rooms afforded stunning views of the beautiful gardens through the time-worn glass windows. While the decorations left in the living areas of the palace were relatively basic in nature, the Pantheon of the Kings, the final resting place for nearly all of Spain’s monarchs, is a beautifully decorated marble vault located beneath the chapel.

The walls of the Pantheon of the Kings are made of Toledo marble and covered with golden ornamental designs. Before our trip, I talked to my host mother about El Escorial and she told me how incredible it is to stand in the burial chamber, surrounded by all the kings of her country, the leaders who oversaw Spain’s journey to the present. I understood what she was saying, but I couldn’t imagine feeling that way coming from a country with presidents, not kings. Standing in the chamber myself, I realized how wrong I was. I stood surrounded by history, not by a particular form of government. These marble caskets held men and women who changed the course of history, decisions that form part of the infinite series of choices that had led me to be there in that moment.

Poetic musings aside, the tomb was beautiful and generally pretty cool. Also buried in El Escorial are the princes of Spain and Don Juan de Austria, who is apparently the original Don Juan. After visiting the tombs we headed into the gardens and then into the town for lunch. The town is built on the hill and has some plazas with beautiful views of the country side.

October 3, 2010No Comments

Como Casa

I can’t believe I’ve already spent over a month in Spain. Time has flown by, and while it seems as if I’ve just only arrived, Spain is already feeling like home. With classes starting on the 20th, I have finally been able to establish a relatively stable schedule for the week, which has helped to make living here feel less like an extended vacation and more like a semester abroad.

While we are certainly here to study, the Tufts in Madrid program has provided us with so many incredible opportunities to visit museums, see plays, and experience the culture of Spain. Even as I write this I am on the train to see Rock the Ballet, a dance and music extravaganza in Madrid! Every museum we visit, every Spanish play or movie, and any cultural activities are all reimbursed by the program, which makes taking advantage of these opportunities that much easier.The morning after we returned from Segovia I woke up early to travel into Madrid as it was the last day of the temporary exhibit Turner y los Maestros at the Prado. As a photographer, I have always loved taking landscape pictures. There is infinite beauty in the world around us, but at the every day level it can be so hard to find the time to stop and appreciate our surroundings. How often do we actually observe instead of simply looking? For me, Turner’s paintings paintings force us to do just that. One cannot look upon his enormous painting of Venice or his startling sunsets without feeling an appreciation for beauty in the natural world. The exhibit was particularly interesting as it followed Turner’s career in trying to make a name for himself. Showing Turner’s art alongside masters like Manet and Rembrandt, the exhibit displayed various views of the same beautiful world, charting Turner’s progress as he carved his own place in the history of painting. On the walk to the Atocha train station after my visit to the Prado I came across the ending to the Vuelta de España, essentially Spain’s equivalent to the Tour de France. I had never seen a bicycle race like this up close before, and it was pretty amazing to see so many bikers fly past.

With the start of program classes on the 20th, our roulette wheel of scheduled activities finally began to slow down. We were provided an extensive list of classes at the University of Alcalá and reviews by previous students, but ultimately it was up to us to find the classes that interested us. I had already decided to take the art history, gramática, and sketching classes offered by the study abroad program, but this left one more University class for me to find. As an Engineering Psychology major at Tufts, I found myself in the unique position of not being able to take any classes towards my area of study. This left me open to take any class that interested me. There were too many, but fortunately enough only a couple that fit into my schedule. I visited a Spanish literature class and, while the professor was kind and I knew some of the Spanish students in the class, the workload was a little high for a guy not majoring in Spanish. Luckily for me, Sergio, one of the professors working with the program, teaches a physical theater class at the University. Art history, gramática, sketching, and physical theater. What an awesome schedule!Dibujo (sketching) has definitely been one of my favorite classes so far. Drawing is certainly not a skill that comes naturally to me, but it is something that I really enjoy doing. For class, we meet at a location in Alcalá or Madrid, like the Plaza de Cervantes, and simply sketch for two hours. Nothing makes you notice the detail of the architecture in the town or the intricacies of a trees form than studying it for hours, drawing it, redrawing it, and constantly evaluating your work.

Moonrise From Diego's House

Not only have I been lucky enough to explore my artistic side, I’ve been able to take Salsa lessons thanks to the program’s stipend for extracurricular activities. I’m currently taking three classes a week and having a blast. While difficult, especially for someone rhythmically challenged like myself, these three hours of dance class help me unwind, get some exercise, and have a blast learning something new. These lessons, combined with my physical theater class, where we run, jump and fall theatrically, will hopefully help me improve my own self awareness and control.One of the best parts of settling in here is getting to know the Spaniards and being able to meet them for dinner or to go out at night. These relationships not only make it easier to adapt to living here, but make one feel welcome and at home. The University of Alcalá is hosts an ERASMUS program for European students who want to study in Spain, so at night the streets, bars, and discoteccas are filled with students from the world over. Some of the intercambios who participate in the Tufts program are also ERASMUS intercambios, so I’ve been lucky enough to meet friends from countries like Germany, France, Latvia and more! My intecambio amigo Diego was even nice enough to invite us over to his house near Madrid after our visit to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid, to celebrate Kayley’s 21st birthday American style, since 21 isn’t as big of a deal here. In Spain many people live at home well into their 20’s, so it’s not typical to regularly have people over to hang out or party. It was a great change of pace to be able to all hang out together, eat pizza, and play games. The house was awesome, the typical post-graduation bachelor pad everyone dreams of, with an incredible view of Madrid in its entirety. I was able to sit on the balcony and watch the enormous full moon rise on the horizon.

The weekend didn’t end with the birthday fiesta, however! Saturday night we ventured a town over to Torrejon, to visit Parque Europa, a sprawling park filled with replicas of Europe’s most famous monuments, statues, and landmarks. We sat by the Trevi Fountain, walked past castles of northern Europe, and posed for a picture in front of the EIffel Tower. The night ended with some delicious tapas and a live concert in ManáManá, one of the discobars in town.To cap off a weekend of birthday celebrations, museum visits, and European landmarks, Yoli, a Spanish student working with the program, organized a trip to el campo to go horseback riding. The bus ride was pretty short, about 40 minutes, but in that short amount of time we were transported from urban Alcalá to rural fields and farms at the top of a large mesa. The ranch was pretty large with multiple stables and we spent a few hours exploring, meeting the horses and the resident basset hound, and taking in the cold country air. A riding competition was scheduled for the day and we were able to watch it from beginning to end. With the long morning turning into afternoon, we sat down to delicious meal of eggs, french fries, and chicken, a standard meal in the Spanish diet. We were finally ready to montar los caballos.

I had taken a few horseback riding lessons with my mom when I was a lot younger, which I mentioned to the instructor, so she assigned me to Blackey who apparently has a kicking issue. At that point I wished I had just kept my mouth shut. I had nothing to worry about though as Blackey was great and we got along famously. After a few turns around the corral we headed out to the trail. A narrow path that wound through fields, yards, and orchards, the trail took us up and down the hills and valleys around the ranch. The view of the surrounding countryside was stunning. The sun was beginning its decent and everything was bathed in a golden light. Such a beautiful end to another amazing week in Spain.

September 21, 2010No Comments

Segovia

Two weekends ago we had a group trip to Segovia, a city with over 2,000 years of history. Known not only for it’s ancient Roman Aqueduct, Segovia is also home to the Alcazar, a castle and fortress that has seen use by the various ruling population of the reason over the last few hundred years, as well as a beautiful gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline of Plaza Mayor. Segovia is about a two hour drive from Madrid and I used most of the drive to make up for missing sleep. We arrived around noon and while most of the group took a siesta, I took my camera and explored for a bit.

The city is absolutely stunning. Every building and every street has a particular character to it. This is not only seen in the overall architectural design of the different buildings, but in the patterned walls of every building. This is a custom unique to Segovia that helps create the beautiful, timeless atmosphere. One of the difficulties I always find in photography is taking photographs when spending time with others. When I’m with friends and having fun I always like to enjoy the moment and forgot to “capture” it with pictures. Because of this, I often explore on my own, taking my time to observe, explore, and frame my shots. There’s something almost liberating in wandering on one’s own just to observe one’s surroundings.

After our siesta, we had a delicious lunch of tortilla Española at the hotel and spent an hour or two talking with the Spaniards from our program. Learned a lot of new words as my dad would say! I would like to add to the vocabulary list I posted last time, but I’m not sure how appropriate it would be! Once lunch was over we headed on a walking tour of the city with the professor of our art history class, Arturo Colorado. We visited inside the gothic style cathedral which had gorgeous arches and stained glass windows. Next we walked to the Alcazar, and Arturo gave us a tour of the castle. Beautiful, ancient building with incredible views of the entire country site. Standing at the edge of the castle, looking out through one of the large stone windows, it was hard to believe that hundreds of years ago kings and queens ruled an entire country from where I stood.

And then it started to pour. The countryside disappeared from view, replaced by a wall of water. We waited in one of the huge stone rooms, wall and ceilings covered with beautiful paintings, for the rain to pass, telling “ghost stories” in Spanish and catching up with the Madrid students we hadn’t seen in a bit. Eventually the rain slowed down enough for us to make a run back to the hotel where we dried off and rested before heading out for dinner.Eating here in Spain always requires some economic analysis. With the Tufts program, we’re provided breakfast and either lunch or dinner with our host family, and provided with 11€ per day to eat. This stipend is always plenty for eating for getting the menú del día (a fantastic invention that gets you two courses, a drink, and a dessert for under 10€) during lunch or eating tapas for dinner, but when it comes to eating dinner at a full-fledged restaurant 11€ doesn’t usually cut it. Luckily all of this money is deposited in a checking account for us and we can save money from cheaper meals to enjoy fancier meals or put it towards other activities. With all the fantastic opportunities to spend money here, I ended up going to a small bar with a few of the other students and ordering a delicious hamburger. After dinner we turned to the hotel and took a brief siesta to get ready for the night.We left the hotel uncertain of where we would find the fiesta. One of the things you quickly learn here is that people are almost always glad to help you find where the party is. All you have to ask somebody walking down the street, “¿Dónde es la fiesta?”, and they’ll tell you the best places to go, sometimes even accompanying you there. We ended up running into Sergio and Miguel Angel, two of the program professors. After a competition in winking abilities, they accompanied us to a bar near the plaza mayor. The nightlife scene in Segovia was a bit different from the one I’ve grown accustomed to in Alcalá. WIth a university that welcomes hundreds of international students every year, Alcalá has a huge large population of 20 and 30 year olds who visit bars early in the night (around 12) and then head to the discobars afterwards. We went out a little early in Segovia and found the calle de fiesta lined with packs of teenagers, mostly boys. One could feel the hormones oozing forth from these testosterone fueled masses. As most of the Segovia party goers were still lining the streets, we had the bar mostly to ourselves and once we arrived the necessary drinking, dancing, and divertido ensued.After the first bar, the entire group headed to a second smoke-filled venue. Despite the relatively heavy smoking here in Spain, I haven’t had too many asthma-related issues. The biggest issue has always been just the unpleasantness of breathing cigarette flavored air, with an occasional cough or sneeze. This club, however, was worst I’ve yet to experience. The smoke hung visibly think in the air and each breath triggered a sharp pain in my lungs. Needless to say I said my goodbyes (in Spain it’s considered rude if you don’t say goodbye to everyone when making an exit) and headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

Saturday morning came bright and early. The rain from the evening before had disappeared and a beautiful partly cloudy day had taken its place. In the morning we headed out with Arturo once more to see more of the beautiful architecture and history of Segoiva. Our first stop, within walking distance of the hotel, was the gorgeous Monasterio del Parral. A beautiful reflecting pool filled the foyer of the monastery, providing a perfect frame for the Alcazar in the distance. Next to the monastery is a unassuming gothic style church. Relatively standard in appearance from the outside, the cathedral was enormous and ornate within. Leaving the monastery, we walked along a riverside path to our next church, La Iglesia de la Veracruz, a unique circular church once used as the location for knighting worthy Spaniards. One of the coolest features of the church is a small echo chamber in the middle of the church. Standing on opposite sides of the chamber, two people can talk to each other by speaking into the wall, as the sound travels along the dome ceiling to the other’s ear. When speaking from the the middle of the room, one’s voice is distributed evenly throughout the chamber as if it were everywhere at once.

With Veracruz behind us, we headed into the center of Segovia to witness the city’s claim to fame: the 2,000 year old Roman Aqueduct. It’s impossible to convey the feeling of seeing this enormous aqueduct for the first time. It almost seems like an illusion, as if it is going to suddenly disappear when you turn your head to a different angle. But it never does, it just stretches on and on. The aqueduct spreads across the center of Segovia, towering over the lower half and ending in a reservoir in the upper half. While the aqueduct ultimately attracts many tourists, there is good reason for this interest. For me, the idea that this 2,000 year old piece of plumbing is still standing, now towering over modern buildings, stores and cafes, is simply incredible. After a lot of free time, some chocolate a la taza, and a time-passing lunch, we headed back to Alcalá, surrounded by the passing beauty of the Spanish countryside.

September 15, 2010No Comments

¡España!

It’s hard to believe, but after all these months I’ve finally arrived in Spain! Time continues to fly by as the two week anniversary of my arrival in Spain approaches. I’ve been trying to get started with my blog nearly every day since arrival, but life has been so hectic and full of experiences to write about that the list keeps growing and growing. It would be impossible for me to recount as much as I would like to about these first days in Spain, so I will share my memories of the first two weeks and some thoughts from my experiences here.

Our first day consisted of activities geared towards getting to know each other. We all ate lunch together, then walked to the Facultad de Dcoumentación where we had some ice breaking activities. After this, the night was ours to explore! On our second day in Spain we moved in with our host families. I am incredibly happy with mine! I have a mother Paqui, father Juan, a sister Eva Maria, a dog Wall-E and a cat Gato. We spent the first night talking about music, film and television, both American and Spanish. Since my arrival here, they have been amazingly patient with my Spanish and inability to produce the words I want on a regular basis. Not only does the family help me with my Spanish, but Paqui’s cooking is delicious. Everything I’ve eaten here I’ve enjoyed; from tuna pasta to paella to gazpacho, I am quite pleased with the Spanish diet!

During our orientation period we’ve had conversation classes with Basi, a student at the University. Fun and laid back, they’ve been a way for us to practice speaking and learn some local colloquialisms. Some examples! De puta madre: When something is incredibly awesome. Ex: Mi fin de semana fue de puta madre. Joder: Similar to how Fail is used in the US, but slightly more sympathetic. Ex: Your friend drops his bag and all of his books fall out. Joder. Tú estás como un queso: You are beautiful. (Crazy, I know) Ex: You are introduced to a beautiful girl by a friend. Mucho gusto, tú estás como un queso.These are but a few examples of the colorful colloquiums of Madrid and Alcalá. More will definitely follow as I learn them throughout the semester.The days and nights of our first full week in Alcalá were spent exploring. On Wednesday we took our first trip into Madrid to visit the program center and get acquainted with the city a bit. Renting a rowboat in the Parque de Retiro was definitely one of the highlights.

Wednesday and Thursday nights we went out to different discoteccas and bars in the town, familiarizing ourselves with the local social scene. Alcalá is home to the University of Alcalá where students from Spain, Europe, and the rest of the world come to study, making it an interesting location for going out. We were some of the first students to arrive in town as classes begin on the 20th, so we often found ourselves the only ones dancing like crazy. It did get us free drinks, however!Friday night we met our intercambios (penpals) at a fiesta hosted by the program. None of my intercambios were able to make it up, but I was able to meet a lot of Spanish students and make a few friends. We went out for tapas afterwards and then to a couple of different clubs. Really fun to be able to go out and speak Spanish for an entire night with people who know it so well. Friday was definitely one of my favorite evenings here with meeting new people and finally beginning to feel like a student studying in Spain and less like a tourist visiting for a week.The city of Madrid hosted La Noche en Blanco this past Saturday. A group of us went in the Basi and Yolanda, another University student working with the program. The entire city is opened up to the public; museums open their doors for free, the main streets are closed to vehicles, and stages with concerts, dancing, and other performances line the street. The beautiful architecture of Madrid was on display as all of the buildings and statues were illuminated brilliantly. Music rose from the fountain of Poseidon as people danced in the street.

Click below to see the video:La Noche en Blanco La Noche en Blanco is a perfect showcase of the social spirit in Spain. Everyone is encouraged to come into the city and spend the night enjoying the company of friends, family, and complete strangers. It is the ultimate fiesta, allowing you to make what you want of it and providing everyone an opportunity to enjoy the amazing culture Madrid has to offer. On the walk home from the bus station I ran into a few of the Spaniards I met on Friday night and talked for a bit. Further solidified the feeling of being part of the student community here.Early Sunday morning we returned to Madrid to visit the Prado. Too much to see in a single day, let alone a two hour tour! We focused on the amazing collections of Velazquez and Goya. The incredible depth and lighting of Valezquez’s paintings are simply incredible. Staring up into these grand paintings makes one feel as if he is there with the subject, standing in the past. Goya’s intense later paintings have always fascinated me and there is nothing like seeing them in person. I could spend hours in that museum. Explored Madrid some more on Sunday then went out for tapas and some drinks with some Spanish friends.Orientation continued this week with more conversation classes and the beginning of our program classes in grammar and art history. The grammar class is being taught by one of the program coordinators and will definitely help improve my Spanish. The first art history class was this evening in Madrid and I’m definitely going to enjoy it as well. University classes begin on Monday and I still have yet to choose. So many choices! Life here is beginning to settle in and the initial honeymoon phase is ending, but I am falling in love with Spain more and more every day. This weekend we are traveling to Segovia which should be a lot of fun! I am hoping to update this blog at least weekly, but keep an eye on my flickr page for all of my photographs. This blog is here to share my experiences with friends and family so feel free to ask questions and leave comments!