Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm so Spanish!

Hello again!

Wow, the time since coming back from Milan has kind of been a whirlwind. Classes started last Monday, but the system is so very different here and very tough to figure out. When students enter college here, they choose a major and then their schedule is pretty much handed to them and they don't have choices. I came here with the hopes of taking elective classes because those are the kind that I saved up to take while abroad. Half of our classes have to be from the same major, though, and we were basically given a website and told to choose our schedule. Last week two of my classes on Tuesday just didn't happen, and one of them was back again on Wednesday - they just didn't have a teacher yet. The other one apparently doesn't start until the first week of March because it's a music ed class and those students have practicum until the end of February, so that won't start until next week. Pretty much every night I've looked over my schedule and changed it up and I think I finally have one that I can stick with, although one of the classes I went to yesterday was cancelled, and the other one that I went to I figured out afterward that I'm really not supposed to be in that class. The professor said it was okay, and the other students were really really nice and the subject is interesting, but it's a continuation of a class from the first semester. Oh well :)

The weekends are very fun here, too. Kind of lazy sometimes, kind of fast-paced other times. Last Saturday we had a Valentine's Party at someone's apartment and just ate and talked and had a good time, and then a bunch of us went out dancing afterwards. Speaking of Valentine's Day, I was so pleasantly surprised when I received a dozen roses and a teddy bear on Saturday from Rob. He figured out how to send it even in Spain - made my day :) This weekend started the International Week festivities, so we had a brunch with the president of the University and all of the international students. Tapas and wine at 1 in the afternoon...only in Spain. Later that day my friend Megan and I went to find our costumes for Carnaval, which is basically like Halloween in February, minus the candy. I went to church later that night to meet with Lidia, the lady that does exchange with me, but she wasn't there. I ended up typing some documents for the pastor and hanging out with the men cleaning the church. I tried some Ecuadorian bread - best I've ever had in my life. I had friends over to make dinner and hang out, and then the next day was our trip to Cartegena, which is a city in the region of Murcia that's about 45 minutes away. It's a very historical city becuase it's very old. We got to see the Roman theater, a maritime museum (they found a boat about a half an hour away that was from 1000 years B.C. and there was a replica in the museum). It was a beautiful day because the sun finally decided to come out and shine for us, and Cartegena is a cute little port town, which made for some beautiful pictures.

When we got back I got ready to go out because our school reserved a club for all of the international students for Carnaval, so I dressed up as a pirate. It was a really fun night to meet people and hang out with friends. I got up the next morning and got picked up by Jose Maria, Beto, Pablo, and Javi. I don't know if I talked about Beto in a previous blog, but I met him at the missionaries' house one Sunday and he needed help writing an English paper about an American city, so I helped him with it, and now we hang out every once and a while. He's Bolivian but has lived here for the past seven years. Anyway, to back up a little bit, I joined the praise team at church. Rafael found out that I could play the piano and told Jose Maria, and bada bing, bada boom, I'm on the praise team. It's actually really cool to be involved in a church, and I'm getting to know quite a few people there. I also haven't played music at church for quite a while, and that's nice too. I definitely was slightly confused when I saw Fa, Do, and Sim, but then I remembered The Sound of Music and made myself a little chart. I did pretty well!

After church, they asked if I had lunch plans, and I said no, so they asked if I would like to join them. I figured that it would be a small lunch at their house, but it turned into a huge lunch at a really nice restaurant with fifteen people. It was a blast, and probably the best food that I've eaten thus far, which is really saying something, because the food has been amazing here. Anyway, after that shindig I went back and changed and then headed into town to see the BULL FIGHT! Yes, friends, you heard me. I went to a bull fight! It was something that I felt like I wouldn't really like, but I needed to experience it because it's the culture. I actually didn't hate it. It was not as brutal as I thought it would be, and it was just very interesting to see. I don't know that I would choose to go to another one, but I'm so glad that I had that experience. (Pictures coming soon)

Another week of classes, and though it's been crazy, I think I finally have a schedule that works! OH! And I don't think I mentioned the flamenco classes! My friend Chelsea and I found a class where we can learn flamenco. We went Monday night - LOVE it :) We went today to buy shoes and the skirt - classes are on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I can't wait for tomorrow!

Hasta luego, amigos!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Italia (long overdue!!!)

Hello everyone!

Wow...so, I haven't quite met my goal of blogging at least once a week...I apologize to those of you who check this on a regular basis and are wondering if my poor sense of direction permanently got me lost. Just so that I don't have to write about 8 pages of info, I'm going to use this post to talk about Italy, and then tomorrow or the next day I'll post about my first week of classes and our trip to Cartegena today.

I left on a Friday at about 8:15 to meet my friends in town and catch the bus to the Alicante airport. I went with Bella, Sam, Megan, Carmela, Lauren, and Brayan. Yes, the lonely boy among six girls - I don't know that he'll ever travel with girls again. :) Ryanair was not as bad as I had expected, and our flight went smoothly. It was raining when we landed in Bergamo, and on the bus on the way to Milan the rain turned to snow, which was very picturesque as we drove through the countryside. Unfortunately, as we found out, it was not so great to walk in, and we took taxis to our hostel because the snow was more like slush. We got settled (with our two private rooms and our complimentary bottles of wine) and decided that we were very hungry and ready for some authentic Italian food. We walked around in the freezing cold and rain and finally found a place recommended by our hostel. It was 6:30 and they didn't open until 7:30, but I think they saw our desperate faces and let us in to sit at the table until they were officially ready to serve us. Everyone got pizza (except for me) that was HUGE! The food was delicious and the wine cost less than the water. After dinner we stopped by the supermarket and grabbed some - okay, a TON - of chocolate and cookies and such, and then we just chilled in our hotel for the rest of the night.

The next day was clear and beautiful, and we caught a bus into town and got ready to explore. One of the first things that we saw was my most favorite part of all of Italy - Il Duomo. It is the 3rd largest church in the world, and it is absolutely fabulous. So intricate and spectacular - words can't even describe, so I'll just post a few of the pictures that I took, because that will do it more justice than me trying to describe it.

After that we walked around the city a little more - designer stores EVERYWHERE you look! There were some demonstrations happening (since I don't speak Italian, except for "grazie!" and "prego!" I don't know what they were about) and other random things around the city. We kept walking and ran into a castle which I had read about in my travel book and it seemed really neat, so we bought tickets for 1.50 euro to visit all of the museuems, and there were many. There was an artillery museum, a sculpture section, a musical intstruments section, and an art gallery. We got to see a Di Vinci painting that was absolutely beautiful, and the art museum that was there was my favorite art museum of all time. The art was just amazing, and it was displayed well with good lighting. There was much religious artwork, but also some pictures of just plain people. On our way back to the hostel to get ready to eat we stopped for gelato - yes, it was maybe a little chilly. However, there was no way we could go to Italy and NOT get some.

We went out to a restaurant near our restaurant and were pleasantly surprised by the pre-dinner drink, appetizer, amazing pizza, great dessert, and great service, all for an extremely reasonable price. The next morning we made our way to the train station and caught a bus to Verona - my first train ride ever! It was actually a very nice way to travel - very comfortable and quick and didn't make me carsick like buses do sometimes. The weather in Verona was beautiful, and walking around I could tell that it was a little bit more typical Italy: Verona is more of what I think of when I think of Italy than Milan was. We walked around and there had just been a big celebration so there were a ton of people still milling around. We made our way to the place where Romeo and Juliet was filmed - there is a courtyard with the balcony, and a statue of Juliet. It's supposed to bring you luck in love if you rub her right breast, so of course we all had to do it. On the way into the courtyard there is a tunnel with letters and notes all over both sides where lovers and friends write their names. We of course all did that as well. We walked around more and explored the city - which included a huge tower with 368 steps (I climbed them all, thank you very much!) From there we could see the entire city of Verona at sunset - amazing! We also made our way to the Arena, which is a huge circular building where they have operas, I believe. It's usually 8 euros, but on the first Sunday of every month (what do you know?) it was only 1 euro! We had fun climbing the stairs and taking pictures before we decided that it was time for some food. We found a very quaint little place in the plaza and sat outside - our waiter was fun and the food was great! We had a little bit of a mishap on our way home because we accidentally got on the wrong train (the one for rich people, apparently), but luckily we were able to get off before someone checked our tickets, and then we waited for OUR train. Oh, the exciting things that happen! :)

The next day we slept in a little bit and enjoyed our breakfast at the hotel (did I mention we got a free breakfast every morning?), then went out for shopping. As I mentioned, name brand everywhere, but it was fun to explore. We hung out at a little cafe for coffee and lunch, and took the metro to the Navigli district which was supposed to be really great, but it was bitterly cold that day and we were all ready to go home, so we went back to the place we went to the second night for gnocci. The next day we went to a museum that had the cartoon of the School of Athens, and some Di Vinci. My favorite was the exposition of pages from Di Vinci's journal - he was such a genius! I mean...one page would have a list of books he wanted to read on the left hand side and then some geometric drawing on the ride side. His mind seemed like it was always going a million miles per hour, and it was neat to get a glimpse into that.

It was a really fun trip, and I'm very glad that I went. For future reference, five days was probably a little too much for Milan, but I really enjoyed all of the random moments getting to know and having adventures with my travelling companions. I thought that more people would speak English, but we were lucky to have Bella with us because she took three years of Italian in high school and pretty much saved us. I was never more happy to return to Spain and hear Spanish in my life :) I'm going to post a few other random picture of the city and memories below - sorry this has been so long coming - hope you enjoy it!