Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fourth of July X 1000000 = Las Fallas

Hello all!

So, in Spanish there is one fabulous word to describe my blog - fracaso. For those of you who don't have wordreference.com as one of their most visited sites as I do, fracaso = failure. I think I got so wrapped up in trying to make every blog entry amazing that I overwhelmed myself, and then after Spring Break it just wasn't possible to catch myself up again. So here's what I'm going to do. I already have most of the blog done for Las Fallas (from March - yes, I know - two months ago...), and then from there you'll get random snipets. Not exhaustive accounts of every place and every story, but enough to let you know that I'm still alive :)

Megan, Katelyn, and I embarked very early for our adventure to Valencia, Spain for Las Fallas. I'm going to try to give a pretty good overview of the history and everything, but Megan posted this link on her Facebook wall and I think it gives a pretty great description, so I'll attach that at now (so that you can read it, all the while eagerly anticipating my pictures, videos, and personal experience) :) http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/fiestas/lasfallas.asp Sleeping on the bus would have been much more possible if the driver had not decided to play extremely loud techno music at 8:30. When we got to Valencia we obtained a map - in my opinion, THE most important part of arriving in a new city (after using los aseos, of course). We located on the map where we thought our hotel was, and then started off. It was a bit of a walk, but it was a pretty nice day and we're fans of walking anyway. We saw our first falla on the way! I'm putting a picture of it just because it was my first one, and thus very exciting. Basically, a falla is made up of many different ninots, which are made of paper-mache. The big ones are all political/satirical/making fun of famous people. The fallas infantiles were for children, and consequently, I liked them better. I think that I just didn't understand the political fallas, but there isn't much to understand about the children's except how completely cool they are. Spain is having an economic crisis right now, so there are definitely a lot of people/things to satirize this year. But I'm getting ahead of myself. More on that later. We went to the area on the map where we thought our hotel would be, but when we asked an older man, he told us that the hotel we named was outside of the city and we couldn't get there by walking. We were sure he was wrong, so we thanked him and walked on. We found a policeman and asked him for his help. Probably the nicest and most helpful policeman I've met in my entire life. He too, thought it was outside of the city, but he called over his radio to ask for help, looked in his book to find the postal code to look up, and when we called the hotel to ask for directions, he offered to talk for us. Eventually we discovered that it was indeed outside of the city. At that point it started to rain, so he sent us inside a cafe to have a cafe con leche while he hailed us a cab, negotiated a price, and gave the driver directions. It was the start of many helpful and very nice Valencian people. Also...it was interesting because I couldn't read any of the signs - they weren't in Spanish. Apparently they speak a special language called Valencian, and most of the signs were written in that language. However, whenever I spoke to someone, they spoke perfectly clear Spanish and I had no problem whatsoever understanding. We went to our hotel and couldn't check in yet but we put our bags in their secure room so that we didn't have to wander around a city with 3 million people with huge backpacks. The cab driver waited for us and took us close to the city center so that we could make it to the mascleta at 2, which is basically a bunch of explosions, which really explains the entire day pretty well. On our way to the plaza we walked through a market and looked around and also found some more fallas. One warning about a few of the coming pictures: the culture here is very different. It was not odd to walk through and see naked figures. In fact, the children riding on their parents' shoulders would comment about the naked people. One of the many differences I noticed throughout the day. There were many women throughout the day who were dressed up in beautiful dresses with lace and had hair in elaborate buns on the side of their heads. They are the falleras, and there is a competition among the women in any given neighborhood to represent it, and then a huge competition to determine who is the Fallera Mayor. In my mind it's similar to Miss America. They were gorgeous, and also represented in several fallas. We made it to - well, close to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento a little before 2 so that we could see the mescleta, but there were a TON of people there, so we didn't quite make it to the plaza. We were getting pretty excited but also tired of waiting, until the greatest invention known to man came out. Giant beach balls. I mean, what else do you do with a crowd full of people waiting for something to happen? Right around 2 is when the madness started. At first it was nice fireworks, and then it turned into a ton of explosions. It sounded like we were in a war zone! There was a TON of smoke everywhere and everyone was cheering and yelling. Here's a short clip - get your earplugs ready! We walked around the rest of the afternoon - we had planned to go to the Fallera Museum, but ended up running into all sorts of fallas around the city and decided that was better than a museum, so we just walked around and looked at them.

Later in the day we found where a parade was going to start, so we snuck through the barriers and stood behind the chairs. The parade was pretty cool - with an African and Arabic flavor that included camels, dancers, and tons of gorgeous costumes. We decided that we would leave to go find something to eat, and tried to leave, only to discover that we were kind of trapped, and spent the rest of the parade on a tiny curb because there was literally no way to escape. After the parade ended we found a fun little Italian place to eat dinner, and after that walked around a little bit more and tried to find where we wanted to watch the fallas burn. We stopped to get bunuelos for dessert - it's basically fried dough that looks like a donut and of course is covered in sugar and dipped in melted chocolate. There were venders on just about every street corner selling those, and they're very typical of Las Fallas, so we felt that there was no excuse not to get them. It was almost midnight at that point, so we found a smallish falla where we could be at the front of the barrier for prime viewing. It was absolutely not what I expected, and more than I had ever hoped for. I thought it would just burn, but it exploded, complete with fireworks and flames and loud noises. We were just screaming and cheering the whole time. SO exciting :)

We had crazy adventures with having to go to a new hotel, fun taxi rides, and exploring Valencia the next day, including a trip to the Las Fallas museum, and the world famous paella.

One last thought about my failed attempt at blogging. I've been keeping a pretty good travel journal, and I've decided that I'm going to live my life to the fullest while here and then tell everyone about it when I get home rather than missing out on things or stressing myself out to try to keep everyone super up to date. Thanks for hanging in there with me, and I hope to do better in the next two months!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My daily life - and someone to share it with

Hello all! Okay - here's the plan (we'll see if I can stick to it). Today: blog about Rob's visit, Granada, and time with my new roommates. Tomorrow/Tuesday: blog about Las Fallas and Valencia. My spring break starts at the end of this week and I'm leaving for France with Katelyn and Megan - we're going to visit Paris, Nantes (where one of my sorority sisters is studying this semester), and Mersaille. Then we're heading to Madrid for two days and one of my best friends from home is going to meet us there. Then we're all going back to Murcia for the rest of Semana Santa (Sarah is coming back to stay with me through Easter) and then I'll leave for Amsterdam/Leiden to visit her on Wednesday and stay for the rest of the week. I'll do my best to stay up to date on all of this blogging. I really love to do it, but it takes a while to keep you all informed! By the way...today is two full months for me. :)

First of all, something I don't think I mentioned. I have two new Italian roommates! During the first week of March my landlord brought them by and they were staying in a hotel while searching for apartments. God certainly answered my prayers because they decided to live with me! Their names are Valentina and Monda, and I love them! More to come about that later - just wanted to say that because I'm a big fan of chronological order in my blogs.

Okay...so, my very first visitor came to visit me the second week of March for Butler's Spring Break. My boyfriend Rob got to spend a week with me in Spain, and we had a blast together! The day before I spent almost entirely at Angie's house doing nothing - we wrote blogs, searched Facebook, and had breakfast for lunch. (The night before Angie, Katelyn, Megan, and I made pincha de tortilla, or Spanish tortilla. It turned out really well and we were very proud of ourselves for making a traditional Spanish dish). Anyway...I decided that I was going to make cookies for Rob, and we went to the store in search of baking supplies. Apparently Spanish people aren't huge fans of homemade cookies, because I could not find chocolate chips, vanilla, or baking soda. Please tell me how to make good cookies without those ingredients. I found one for zucchini cookies and decided that would be better than nothing. Unfortunately, I don't have any measuring cups or anything like that in my apartment either, so everything was pretty much estimating and guessing, which isn't quite as acceptable when baking. The cookies turned out looking like flat pancakes - I suppose it's the effort that counts?

Rob's flight was supposed to get in around 11:30, and though we had decided that I would just take the 11:00 bus and get to Alicante by 12:00, I decided to surprise him and be there ahead of time, so I got up early and ran to the bus station (I of course was running late). I got there by 9:45 in enough time to get my ticket for the 10:00 bus, only to be informed that there was no 10:00 bus - the next one was at 11:00. So, I waited patiently and wrote in my journal, got on the bus at 11, and ran into the airport when I got there so excited. As soon as I got in the doors my phone rang, and I thought it would be Rob telling me where he was inside the airport. It was definitely Rob, but to tell me that he was actually at the San Javier airport in Murcia. Awesome. So...I asked the man at the tourist desk the fastest way to get to that airport. I caught a bus to the center of Alicante, and then had to wait for an hour and half to catch my bus to San Javier, which in and of itself was a 2 1/2 hour bus ride. Then I had to take a taxi to the airport. Five and half hours later, I finally got to see Rob! We went out that night with my friends Angie, Katelyn, Megan, and Tiffaine for tapas, chocolate y churros, and then chilled at a bar for a while. It was exciting to be able to share my life here and for him to meet my friends. (The matching was completely by accident...I swear!)

The next day we went to church, and although he couldn't really understand anyone or talk to people, my church family here in Murcia is such a big part of my family that I'm glad he got to experience it. Dimas, the pastor, would pat Rob on the back and proudly say, "Roberto!" every time he passed him. Gotta love that man. I made a big lunch and then we spent the rest of the day lounging around and not doing much of anything since he was pretty jet lagged from his flight and I was also tired from all of the hullabaloo (sp?) the day before. The next night we went over to a friend's house who's friend was visiting from the US and we had a carry-in. He got to meet the rest of my friends too, which was fun. The next day I had to go to class early in the morning, and I went to the two morning classes before deciding I was done for the week. We went out to eat for lunch and then walked around and explored Murcia a little bit. We discovered a new park and walked down a path that leads out into more the countryside and goes along the river. It was a beautiful day - perfect for exploring!

We met Sam, Megan, her friend Donovan visiting from the US, and Isabella for tapas later that night at an amazing place called Izarron. Here, instead of ordering at the beginning, all of their tapas are little bocadillas (sandwiches) and the guy walks over every so often with platters and we can choose the ones that we want. Then at the end they count the toothpicks to do the bill. The food was DELICIOUS and it was a good time. Afterwards I took him to experience Badulake, the international bar that's popular among the study abroad students. One of my friends knows a boy who plays football (American football) and was working in Spain and he came too. Apparently whenever you put two football players together they get along and have a good time, so that all worked out well too :)

I had decided that I wanted to take Rob to see something else besides just Murcia, so we took a short trip to Granada. I had hoped to go to Toledo and see the windmills of La Mancha from Don Quijote and the vineyard there, but there wasn't a bus or train directly to Toledo and it would have taken too much time to get there, so we decided on Granada instead, and I'm glad we did. Granada was beautiful!!! We decided on Granada around 1, and our bus left at 4:30, so there was just enough time to book the tickets for everything and pack and head out. The bus ride was about 3 hours, but the landscape was so beautiful with the mountains and the sunset that it was a nice ride. When we got there we bought a map and talked to the lady about how to get to the place where we were staying and the good sites to see and such. After checking in, we walked around a little bit and found a nice little place for pizza and watching the Real Madrid game. We walked around the city a little more but there weren't a ton of people out on a Wednesday night and it was pretty chilly, so we made it an early night since I had booked our tickets for the Alhambra early the next morning.

The Alhambra is a huge palace that was built and occupied by the Muslims until the Reconquista when the Christians essentially took it over. It is the biggest tourist spot in Spain, and it was obvious throughout the day because there were SO many people there. In March. It was definitely good that we got there early because it was so much easier to take pictures. There were gardens, the actual palace, and towers to see as well. The Sierra Nevadas surround Granada and it was just beautiful for taking pictures. A lot of these don't really need much explaining, but are certainly beautiful to look at!

After we left the Alhambra, we decided to walk around a little bit. We were told that the area of Sacramonte is where the gypsies live, so we went to explore up there on the mountains. There are so many beautiful white houses, and there are also cuevas, or caves. A lot of the houses are half cave, half house, which is pretty cool. We didn't get to go inside any of them, but they were neat just to look at. We also had a beautiful view of the Alhambra from the small winding streets where we were exploring.

We stopped at a little plaza for lunch at a table that overlooked the city. The food was delicious (I had a typical Granadian dish of beans with onions and ham and it was fabulous!) and the man who worked at the restaurant was adorable - he sang to himself and squirted the cats around the table with a water bottle, and was so nice.

It was sunny and beautiful and we just had a very relaxing time eating, having coffee, and enjoying the view. We made our way down and walked around town a little more, seeing all sorts of beautiful buildings and fountains.

I even randomly ran into a girl in my business fraternity who graduated from Butler a year ago who was traveling with her boyfriend around Spain. How completely crazy! The rest of the day was beautiful, and we caught our bus and got to watch another sunset on the way home. We got back pretty late and had dinner and spent a little bit more time together before his early flight the next morning. We got up at 5 and caught a cab to the airport, which was still closed when we got there. I had no idea that airports closed, but apparently small regional airports do. I was very sad to see him go, but thankful for the time that we did get to spend together.

Angie called me up later and we went to the market to get some fruit, and then I had dinner with my roommates later that night and Megan came over and spent the night too. I felt that I had kind of ignored them while Rob was with me because he can't speak or understand Spanish, and they can't speak English. It was nice to spend time and get to know them. I took them out the next night to meet some more of my friends and we went to a bar where we danced to American oldies music - great times. I played for church the next day, and when I got back they asked me if I would like to go get paella with them, which of course I could not decline since I had never had this typical Spanish food at an actual restaurant. We walked into town and found one called La Cocina de Vives, and the workers there were so nice. I'm pretty sure that I could not possibly eat a more typical Spanish meal than this. We had a bottle of sangria, tapas (croquetas of jamon y queso, patatas bravas, bread, ensalada murciana, and calamari), then the marisco paella, which had shrimp and fish in it. I never used to be a shrimp girl, especially shrimp that still had the eyes and the tails attached, but this was extremely delicious. Following that, we had dessert which consisted of carmel flan and chocolate ice cream and whipped cream - a sweet tooth's dream.
Coffee and a shot of Baileys after that, and we were stuffed to the brim. The whole meal was so reasonably priced that I would recommend it to anyone. As we were heading back, there was a free concert in the plaza near the Catedral. We asked a lady why, and she basically just said - because. We listened to a few songs and then headed home. It was great to be able to spend a whole day with them and get to know each other better. What great girls.

Getting back into the grind of school was tough at first, but I survived my first test! It was for the class of History of Urbanismo, and we had studied about 20 cities and the test consisted of comparing two plans of cities. I was nervous, but found out that I got a .8 out of 1, which thrilled me beyond belief. I also am loving my History of Music and Folklore class - we get to sing all sorts of children's songs and I get to learn the songs that Spanish children learned growing up. We sang a few lullabies this week, and they were beautiful. I'll have to keep those in my repertoire :) My professor also changed my final assignment so that instead of taking the written final exam, I get to give a presentation to the class about folklore music from my country. I decided to do children's songs, so I'll do songs that my family sings, songs that children sing while playing games (ex: Ring Around the Rosie), relgious songs, songs from the media, and I'm going to do one song from the Native Americans. I'm really excited to get to choose and research these songs and then sing/play them for the class. I feel that I'll actually be able to contribute to the class and they can learn from me as I'm learning from them.

Short week this week - leaving for France on Thursday! Stay tuned for Las Fallas and Valencia - coming soon!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Welcome to the land of flamenco and bull-fights - Sevilla!!!

Oh dear...I started this quite a while ago and apparently couldn't find the time to finish it. So, on this sunny yet chilly Wednesday afternoon I will finally finish the Sevilla blog for anyone who has enough patience to stick with me :)

Hola a todos! Last weekend we ended International Week with a bang - a trip to Sevilla! We left at 2 am on Friday morning, so Angie, Lily and I decided to split a cab for the 45 minute walk to where we met the bus...good choice on our part. One thing that was made very clear to me on this trip was the concept of Spanish time, which is always late. If they say that you need to be there because we're leaving promptly at 2, what it really means is that the American kids will all show up at 2, everyone else will be there around 2:20, and we might end up leaving around 2:45. That was the theme for the weekend, and no matter how much I knew that, I was always one of those American kids who was there on time. Oh well...I stick out like a sore thumb anyway, so it's not like everyone can't tell that I'm American. May as well just embrace it :) I didn't sleep so well on the bus - maybe it had something to do with the fact that we stopped every so often and everyone had to get off the bus. That's alright...it was my beginning to a weekend of very little sleep.

We got there in the morning and went to our hostel - Picasso. It was so adorable! I was in a room with four other girls, and it was a nice room. Kind of small, but it isn't like we spent much time in there anyway.

We met at noon to tour the Catedral and the Real Alcazar. Seriously some of the greatest tours that I've ever seen. The Catedral was sooo beautiful, and probably one of the most ornate on the inside that I've ever seen. We actually went to mass there on Sunday, and it was so neat. We had a tour guide who spoke in Spanish, but spoke very clearly so that we could understand everything really well. I don't think I've ever seen that many pipes for an organ! Also, the really neat tall structure thing (like my description) is made of all wood, and it has scenes from Jesus' life. It is painted with some colors and a gold powder. I was serioulsy awestruck. The ceilings were so high, and it was just absolutely beautiful. People who had donated money to the Cathedral got to have their own little "coves" that they could pay to decorate.

The remains of Christopher Columbus (or at least part of them) are in the Cathedral as well. There was a lot of confusing history about how they were rumored to be in different places around the world, including Latin America, but this is his official tomb. That was kind of cool too!

It was a rainy day, but that didn't make Sevilla any less beautiful. There was a tower at the church with 39 sets of ramps that we got to climb up, and it was really cool. That tower is still there from the time that the Muslims had control of Sevilla and it was part of their mosque. It was very significant because it was supposed to tell them the direction where they should face every day to pray. During the Reconquista, the Christians destroyed the mosque and built their own temple over top of it, but they kept the tower and turned it into a bell tower. Our guide told us that they used to ride donkeys up to the top...I feel like that would be kind of a scary trip...

Here are some other sweet pictures from the church, as well :)

After the church tour, we went to Real Alcazar, which is a palace right across the plaza. This too, used to be for the Muslims, but during the Reconquista Spanish royalty lived there. It was so fascinating to me because the structures and art in the palace are a mix of Christian (Spanish) and Muslim (Arabic) art, and that is a pretty rare thing for that mixture to still exist. For example, the picture to the left has the Arabic geometric pattern, but the words around the outside are in Latin and from the Christian tradition.

There was also an amazingly amazing garden. I don't think the rest of the people on my tour realized that it was quite immense as it actually was, so I ended up exploring on my own, but it was worth every minute. There were mazes with the shrubbery, crazy beautiful trees, orange groves, random buildings, and singing birds. It's difficult to describe. I'll just let you see the pictures. :)

After I had thoroughly explored the garden, I left and decided to get lost in the city a little bit, so I just started to explore. I stumbled upon a souvenir shop, only this place seemed very legit - with actual artisan pieces and not just little trinkets. I left and looked into other places too and found some neat things, but I eventually went back to that store once I had run into a few friends so that I could get some gifts for friends and also for me. Then the three of us decided to wander a little bit. We shopped around a little more and then walked toward the Plaza Espanola. On our way we saw the Torre del Oro, which I think used to be a sign for people sailing in the river, kind of like a lighthouse. We continued on and found a little park with lots of grass, something that we've missed in the big city of Murcia. We hung out there and then found our way to the Plaza de Espana, which is absolutely sweet. I believe that it has a lot of offices - maybe governmental? Part of it was under construction which was sad, but we still got to take plenty of pictures and have fun exploring. The sun came out toward the end, and it was beautiful.

We left to go back to our hostels to get ready for dinner and the rest of the night, and on the way saw this beautiful fountain.

When I got back, my roommates had still been sleeping, so we got ready and went out to find the tapas place recommended to us by the lady at the hostel. We found it, and ended up ordering 10 dishes for the 5 of us, a pitcher or two of sangria, and three desserts to share. Needless to say, we were pretty stuffed after that. It's funny...you wouldn't think five girls could eat quite so much...HA After dinner we went back to our hostel and hung out on the roof for a while. There was a perfect view of the cathedral all lit up at night, and it was a beautiful sight!

We met the rest of the group at midnight (or more like 12:20) to head to the bus to go to the club that they had set up for us for the night. I was already tired, so when the rest of the bus voted to not leave the club until 4:30 instead of 3:30 I wasn't super thrilled, but once we got inside and I started dancing, I had all of my energy back. Brayan and I started the dance party - literally there was no one else except for the two of us just breaking it down in the middle of the dance floor. I can always count on Brayan to bust a move with me :)

Most of us didn't get to bed until after 6 am, so the next day we slept fairly late and then they had organized paella for us. Paella is probably one of the best known Spanish dishes, and I was very excited because I had never had it before. The verdict? Delicious. After paella, Sam and Anna and I walked over to a little market to explore it, and then decided to go to the Plaza de Toros in Sevilla, which is probably the most well known in all of Spain. (Oh - there won't be any more pics from here on out because I lost my camera the night before. It was on the bus luckily, but I didn't get it back until the next day when we left.) The arena is beautiful, and apparently the King of Spain (I don't remember which one) commissioned it. In fact, there was a spot at the top for where royalty would sit to watch the bull fights. There was a museum inside, and it was neat to see how things have changed over the years. Bull fighting was essentially invented by the Spanish, which is one reason that it's so neat to hear the history of it. There was a little chapel there too with a bullfighter's prayer. I never thought about it, but right before entering the ring with a mad bull is probably a good time to say a prayer!

After that Sam and I went back to meet up with some other girls and we went on a horse and buggy ride. They were ALL around the catedral, and with five girls it wasn't very expensive. It was so much fun! It did start to rain a little bit and Sam and I tried to put up our umbrellas (unsuccessfully because it was so windy), but it was great nonetheless. We got a little tour of the city and the driver told us about different monuments, and then we took pics with the horse and went to get ice cream.

We decided just to make dinner using the stuff that we found in the hostel, which was interesting. Sam and I whipped up a pretty mean pasta with garlic (for you, Dad). Then we met at our normal meeting spot for FLAMENCO!!! We walked to this little bar that had huge long tables - we tried this drink (don't remember what it's called) that's pretty typical of Sevilla - white wine and Sprite. And sangria, as always. We waited for a while and just hung out until a man with a guitar, a singer, and a flute player came out onto the stage. And then a beautiful Spanish woman in a sweet outfit. The music is very interesting, and the beat is kind of difficult to hear. The dancers need it to be silent so that they can listen to the music and know when to clap and move. She was so beautiful! Very graceful yet passionate and strong at the same time. After her show was done in the big room, she and the band moved into the smaller room and did a show there. Everyone else left, but I stayed to watch it and I couldn't have been happier with my choice. I loved the second performance, probably because it was more intimate and I could actually watch her feet and her face and all of her movements. I have a new dream of becoming a Spanish flamenco dancer :)

The next day I got up and went to mass in the Catedral, pretty much just so that I could say that I have. It was beautiful, and I got to hear a little bit of the organ in action. It's interesting because out of the two masses that I've attended, they don't sing hymns. I don't know if I've just hit odd services, but that's just an interesting difference that I've noticed. AFter that, I went with Katelyn, Angie, and Tiffaine to the other side of town to see the government building (there was a protest going on about the dirty water) and the muralla (wall). Murcia has a muralla too from the time that the Muslims had control of the city, but it's only part here and part there. The one in Sevilla was much longer and complete. It was a beautifully sunny day, and it was nice to walk around. We saw a free concert in the park (I think it was the festival of Sevilla's patron saint) and walked back along the river, which was beautiful. We saw kayakers and rowers and a TON of people fishing. We stopped for lunch at a doner kebab place, which was delicious. That's where they have the meat on a huge rotisserie and put it in a wrap with veggies - yum! Also very popular around the places in Spain where I've been, and also my first experience with it. Success!

That pretty much wraps up my Sevilla weekend, but one more quick observation before I sign off. I think it's so interesting how in Spain it is normal and acceptable for older men to tell girls that they're beautiful. The man at the kebab place told me how beautiful I was, but it wasn't in a creepy way at all. Just a compliment. Kind of nice :)

Okay - the week that Rob came to visit/Granada is coming soon! Hopefully tomorrow before I go to Valencia and get really behind :)

'Sta luego!