Monday, August 29, 2011

A(hhh)ntoni Gaudi

After a relaxing few days in San Sebastian, I headed to Barcelona to take in as much of Antoni Gaudi's incredible work as possible.  For the record, Barcelona in August = Hot + Crowded. 

I managed to visit La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Casa Battlo, and Park Guell (as well as Museu Picasso and a few other smaller galleries). Pictures are up on Picassa, the link is on the left.

The first night our Barcelona guide (a friend of Alys') took us to one of the best tapas restaurants I have had the pleasure of enjoying yet.  It's called Tapas 24, and if you are in Barcelona you owe it to yourself to go there.  Here's the menu, be jealous -

It was a nice start because the next few days were pretty hectic but incredible all the same. While I don't really enjoy rushing around, there is too much to see and do in that city to sit still.  If my time wasn't limited, I easily could have stayed for another week and still not seen and enjoyed all Barcelona has to offer.  That being said, it felt great landing back in Madrid and hopping on the metro with confidence and understanding a little of the Spanish that was being spoken around me again. I actually slipped and told a friend who was meeting me - "I'll be home around 6:00".  Hmmm...

I am now in La Alberca which is a few hours west of Madrid, almost near the border of Portugal, for my other English immersion program.  This group is really big (52 people in total) so it's a different feel but again, the Spaniards I have met are really great people and there are a few other volunteers taking similar trips as mine so we've been comparing notes and sharing info.

I know this post is short and not entertaining but I have a promise to my adorable little mother that I will post once a week and I missed my cutoff.  Being on another continent when a hurricane is hitting your hometown was quite a challenge for me so these last two days my free time was spent following news on the internet or trying to contact friends and family.  Glad I was finally able to get through and everyone is doing okay now.  Miss you all.

~ N

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Semana Grande

And "grande" it was!

Spent the last week in northern Spain and was lucky enough to be in San Sebastian during their annual week-long fiesta called Semana Grande (Big Week).  As I mentioned in the last post, each night there is a fireworks display by a different country.  You know how the grand finale of most fireworks shows can give you the chills?  (No? Just me?) Well in any case, these shows were basically one big grand finale. The show that South Africa put on was unlike anything I've ever seen.  From what I understand, it's the same company who did the fireworks at the end of the World Cup when they hosted. It was sort of drizzling/raining that night, but the show was just unreal so neither I or the thousands of people sitting on the beach cared that we ended up soaked. 

Ok, I'll stop now. You know me and fireworks.  So anyway... San Sebastian is a beautiful little city that is known for its beaches and its pintxos (tapas).  We stayed in the old city which is just rows and rows of pedestrian-only streets that are filled with tapas bars, restaurants, gelaterias, etc. so we would bounce around all afternoon trying different places and each was better than the last. Since it was Semana Grande, there was also live music, street vendors, and all types of events that we would just stumble on as we were walking. It wasn't really beach weather but that was okay because it gave us a chance to really enjoy the city.

One more quick "Nancy tries to speak Spanish" story and I promise I'll stop doing that.  When we went to buy our train tickets to Barcelona, the woman behind the counter had a necklace with the Eye of Horus as a charm.  It was definitely Egyptian gold with the signature blue stone so she either went there or someone brought it back as a gift.  I decided to ask her in Spanish if she visited Egypt and she replied emphatically that she had been there in 2005 and loved it, it was so beautiful, etc.  We proceeded to have a pseudo-conversation and I know my conjugation was completely off and I probably sounded like a child but we actually communicated.  At one point I apologized for my awful Spanish and explained that I'm just now learning. She asked me how long I've been studying and I told her I've done 2 weeks so far and she kept saying "Es increible! Solo dos semanas?" Heehee. Yay!

And now I am in Barcelona...and they speak Catalan... and I can't understand a thing.

Talk about a let down!

~ N

Monday, August 15, 2011

La Turista

I spent this weekend catching up on some touristy things in Madrid...made it to Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia, Plaza Mayor, the Teleferico, and Templo de Debod at sunset.

The Prado and the Reina Sofia were unreal. I spent hours in each, and could go back tomorrow and do it all again.  Art History happened to be a class I really loved freshman year in college, so having the opportunity to see so many pieces I studied by Goya and Velazquez at the Prado was amazing.  I spent the next day at the Reina Sofia and saw so much work by Dali and Picasso that I didn't even know existed, as well as discovering some other artists that made quite an impression on me.  That afternoon/evening was probably one of my favorite days so far.

A few friends and I took the Teleferico (a cable car that goes out of the center of the city) in the late afternoon one day and had some drinks on the terrace and enjoyed the view as the sun was setting.  On the way back, we stopped at the Temple of Debod just after the sunset and it was stunning.  It's kind of an amazing story - due to the construction of the Aswan dam, it was in danger of being flooded, so it was dismantled in the late 60s, and moved from Egypt by ship and train to Madrid where it was reconstructed brick by brick. (Dad, how proud are you of me right now? haha)

Tomorrow I leave for Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Barcelona before my next volunteer program starts and I need to get myself organized and packed tonight so I'll finish with a quick, amusing (to me) little anecdote - I went to the bus station today to purchase my ticket for tomorrow and I did without a single word of English. The very patient, nice old man at the ticket counter smirked through the whole exchange, and as he handed me my ticket he said "Muy bien" with a wink and the look you would give a child that just recited their ABCs without missing a letter.  I'm pretty sure if there wasn't glass between us he might have reached out and patted me on the head.

~ N

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Castles, Cathedrals, and Cochinillo

Finally got a few pictures up from my volunteer program in Valdelavilla, as well as a day trip to Segovia.  Madrid pictures will be coming soon...

So, Segovia...what a beautiful little city.  The Roman aqueducts are just plain amazing and the cathedral and castle were really incredible to see as well. It was significantly cooler than Madrid so I might have wandered around just a little bit longer than I really needed to simply to enjoy the gorgeous day.  For lunch I tried the traditional cochinillo asado (suckling pig) for which Segovia is famous, and I have to say I was not a huge fan.  Maybe I'm just missing pulled pork really bad and was disappointed.

I'm enjoying "living" in Madrid. I've figured out the metro, bought a cell phone for 14€, can order my meals or pay for things at the store without sounding completely clueless, and I am no longer mesmerized at the selection of Mentos each time I walk into a store. (Strawberry-lime...? Mojito...? Yes please!) Class is going well, but I wish I could take a few months to really focus on learning the language.  I'm hoping to continue elsewhere, but for now at least I am building a base. My school actually has a branch in Argentina so maybe I can pick up my studies when I reach South America. Although...I will be in Brazil before Argentina...and will be learning a little Portuguese while I'm there...yikes, overload! There's a chance no one will be able to understand me in any of these countries by the time I'm done.

Next week I will be heading north with a friend to San Sebastian and then on to Barcelona.  It turns out that next week is "Grande Semana" in San Sebastian. It is a week long festival which hosts ‘Concurso Internacional de Fuegos Artificales’ (The International Fireworks Competition).  Each night, firework specialists from all over the world  compete to give the best show. Um, what?? Alys might have to drag me to Barcelona...

~ N 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Day In The Life

So I'm back in school for the first time in... um... let's just say "several" years. I enrolled in a language school in Madrid for 2 weeks and they have several branches so I am considering continuing with them when I am in Argentina as well.  It's amazing how much more you get out of a class when you actually WANT to learn the subject matter. Both of my professors are great, and my class is a mini United Nations - the US, Germany, Holland, Italy, Russia, Taiwan, and the UK.

I've met some really great people in Madrid through one of the volunteers in my English immersion program last week (hence the decision to take the course here instead of another city in Spain).  He is an American currently living in the south of Spain, and I swear he is a celebrity of sorts here.  Both he and his wife are very involved in many different programs helping Spaniards strengthen their English and every place we walk in to they know him by name. He introduced me to several people/places in Madrid and the other day I actually bumped into someone I know on the street! That was definitely a moment for me. 

So a typical day here starts with a 10-15 min walk to school where I attend class until 1:30pm.  In the afternoon I explore different parts of the city, visit some of the sites, or find a park to read or do homework.  In the evening, I head to a bookstore/cafe/bar a block from my place that has become a "home base" of sorts.  It is owned by Americans and there are a lot of English speaking people currently living in Madrid who come by regularly.  It's a Spanish sort of "Cheers", and I find it fairly amusing that I can walk into a place over 3000 miles away from home and be greeted by name as if I have been coming there all my life.  It has been invaluable in the way of information, connections, as well as just good company.  One of my daily companions is an older gentleman who has retired in Madrid from London, but is originally from Iran and has lived in both Cairo and NYC. He has a daughter my age, and we have become fast friends. (Georgy family: His name is Morad... I almost fell off my chair!)  The bookstore hosts something called Intercambio nights where Spaniards and native English speakers can work on their language skills.  I am not brave enough yet to work on my Spanish with them, but the Spaniards that attend are very happy to have someone to practice their English with. 

There is another spot owned by two guys from the UK and NYC that I am heading to for the first time tonight with my celebrity friend so I am looking forward to meeting more people.  Two of the girls from last week's program have been here in Madrid with me this whole week which has been great, but unfortunately they are heading out tomorrow to continue their travels.

Time for a siesta... (I'm embracing the culture!)

~ N