Are You Ready Kids?

Hey everyone! It’s been a short while since I last posted but I’ve been slipping slowly under the iron sea that is HOMEWORK.  It’s been a very busy past couple of weeks but once my Thursday classes are over, a wonderful four-day-weekend awaits (the perks of being ahead in your degree!) In the midst of all the uju7ujhyyhj get difficult, I find it a lot less stressful than the questions that plagued my mind leading up to this semester abroad:

Is it intimidating? Is it right for me? Is it worth it? Is it possible? How do I apply? Will I fall behind in my degree? What if my friends forget about me?

But there is hope and relief on the other side–for me that other side is Madrid and that will be my focus in this post.

  1. Decisions, decisions, decisions. The fact that, as a SUNY New Paltz student, I can choose from any SUNY program anywhere in the world blew my mind. Pursue your wanderlust and go where you feel led to. Madrid was the perfect choice for me because even though I had never set foot in Europe, I have the advantage of speaking both English and Spanish. Located in the geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula, it’s easy and affordable to travel anywhere in the country and to other parts of Europe. It’s also the capital city, the perfect place for a journalism-public relations major like myself to keep up with the most current events (UC3M is one of  the Top 50 Under 50 universities in the world, talk about prestige).
  2. Lifetime investments. This is probably about as carefree as you will be able to travel on your own, so make the most of it!  I could be the poster-girl for the poor cheap broke college student and even though I didn’t come here with rolls of cash to blow, financial aid and help from friends and family definitely went a long way. Almost every adult that I spoke to on campus, in my neighborhood, and at my summer internship jumped on the opportunity to tell me how much they wished they took time in college to study abroad and the few who actually did were super open to sharing their tips. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Madrid on its own has so much to offer historically, visually, educationally and more; Madrid’s world-renown golden triangle of art, the 5th-Avenue-esque Gran Via, amazing cuisine, and too much more to mention in such a short post.
  3. Life goes on. Sure, things might change while you’re away, but you’ll be meeting people from all corners of the world–and that is invaluable. I went out to dinner with some friends this week and four of them said that in their four months here, they had yet to actually befriend Spaniards. What. 😯 It just doesn’t make sense to me. One thing I’m extremely thankful about living in a residence hall is the amount of Spanish friends I’ve been able to make–a couple of whom I would return to see in a heartbeat. On top of these wonderful mates are the people I’ve met from around the world, further expanding my social network. Don’t be scared to face the unknown, there’s so much to take in.

The rest of the questions that I mentioned at the beginning can be answered by our resourceful Center for International Programs (at one point, I visited my advisor one or two times for tips and advice.)

P.S.


If you didn’t immediately think of the pirate from Spongebob Squarepants, you might be a bit too old or mature for the reference. Last week, my roommate and I went for a Saturday walk around Sol and as usual, the street performers were in abundance. They typically hassle you for money if you take a photo of or with them, but I’m a bit sneaky.

Feeling sneaky around the many Sol street performers.

Feeling sneaky around the many Sol street performers. This is a gif, so click-through!

Welcome, November!

Halloween ended October with a bang and somehow it’s already November 5th. Autumn has hit Madrid full force: chilly breezes, crunchy leaves, and the brown knits are here for the season. As is the case with many other students, the library has become my second residence–the best place to productively get some work done because my toasty dorm room beckons me to drink hot coffee and watch movies online with friends. Halloween in Madrid was amazing: the hundreds of dressed-up, costume wearing people made Sol feel like one huge open-air fiesta. According to my Spanish friends, Halloween is only recently increasingly popular,”Us Spanish people love a reason to go out and party,” joked one of my girl friends.

These "nuns" insisted my friends and I take a photo with them. Oh, the kindness of festive strangers!

These “nuns” insisted my friends and I take a photo with them. Oh, the kindness of festive strangers!

The week leading up to Halloween was even more exciting because one of my friends from New Paltz who is studying in Kingston, London this semester came to Madrid! She spent a good five days here and I got to play the expert and show her around “my city.”  After not having seen each other since April of spring semester, we raved about how as sophomores last fall, we would have never thought we would be spending time together in another country, less so another continent. It was as though my worlds were colliding as we caught up over tapas in an old cave/basement of a bar and spoke about our time studying abroad.

Reunited and it felt so good! After an evening at the two world-famous Prado and Reina Sofia museums, we hung out in Atocha.

Reunited and it felt so good! After an evening at the two world-famous Prado and Reina Sofia museums, we hung out in Atocha.

 

Along with other New Paltz faces, a few weeks ago I participated in Spain’s first Holi Run (very similar to the American Color Run) with a couple of other girls from New Paltz! Every now and then I would see them on the path and get a face-full of holi powder thrown at me by them. Although Madrid is a big city, we inevitably run into each other at events–day and night!

Casually running the same 5K with Gunsel and Pauline! :D

Casually running the same 5K with Gunsel and Pauline! 😀

Though we go to the same university, we wind up seeing each other more at different going-ons in Sol. With the semester in full gear, it’s also easy to lose track of time  but even though days become weeks,  I know we’ll have plenty of stories for each other when we get together. Well, this is just a quick recap of the last couple of weeks…I have a good amount of homework to tend to. Granted, I chose to take 3/4 courses in Spanish and even as a native Spanish speaker, taking classes in one of the most rigorous universities in Spain is no joke. I do not regret this, though, not one bit 🙂

A Minute in Madrid

Two months from today, I’ll be back on a plane headed towards New York City and that is something I cannot wrap my head around. It seems like a lot of time, but essay, assignment, and application deadlines mark the time a little too neatly.

The Spanish sense of time is very, very different from that of New York City. The past two summers I have had the honor of interning at organizations in downtown and midtown New York, respectively, and receiving an hour lunch breaks. In both of these areas, you cannot go one block without at least two or three food establishments and a few shopping stores. Those hour-long lunch breaks fragment into: 30 minutes for eating, 15 minutes for walking, 5 minutes for window shopping. Every second that you wait at the crosswalk is a second you’re losing on your lunch break or a second that you could be late to an important meeting; this explains the hoards of business-attire-wearing men and women scurrying past honking yellow taxi cabs during green traffic lights. This is New York City, 24/7, 365 days a year.

At most pedestrian crosswalks in Madrid, you have to play a game of “who’s going to cross first?” with the cars and buses, but, thankfully, drivers show a lot of respect, so no need to really worry. This being said, there’s an obvious difference in patience and pace of life, but understandably so: I’m no longer at the center of corporate America. Even though the economic situation isn’t so good in this part of the Eurozone (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece), even though Spain is “less happy” than it reportedly was five to eight years ago, the picture painted in the media is a bit more bleak than I see it before me. Here’s a day a Madrid as I’ve come to know:

In the morning, bar tenders are really your average, friendly restaurant servers, serving porras (big churros) with Cola-Cao (Nesquik-like chocolate milk) and/or zumo de naranja (fresh orange juice) to other adults stopping by on their way to work. While the employed are working and the young ones are at school, tourists, street entertainers, college students, and the non-employed make up the hustle and bustle of the city. Even during the work day, the madrileños are out and about. For lunch time, bars offer their menú del día: an appetizer, a main course, desert, some bread and your choice of wine or water–all for usually 10-12 euro. Whether this is too much food or totally worth the “bang for your buck” is up to you, but remember, your Spanish friends won’t want to get dinner until past 9 p.m.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have time to enjoy the siesta either in your own bed or laying down out in a nearby park, probably El Retiro (the “Central Park” of Madrid). We’re almost at the end of October and it’s only just starting to get chilly, so bring a light sweater if you plan on staying outdoors. Come evening, you’ll have finished your homework (right? 😉 ) and will be able to enjoy the night outdoors. Dinner in it’s cheapest form are the sacred tapas (small, inexpensive portions of food), raciones are a step up in portion size, and if you’re really hungry you can just buy a meal but that might cost a bit more. When the clock strikes midnight, the young adults pour out to the city. Nightlife in Madrid mainly consists of bars , some with live music, and discotecas/clubs. The night typically extends to 4 a.m., even as late (or early) as 6 a.m….a phenomena I have not gotten accustomed to after my two months here., but props to my foreign exchange counterparts  who have. I’m not saying it’s sustainable to live this way every day as a college student, but you’ll find yourself adapting to this schedule sooner or later (except getting home so late.) Just like at home, there are pizza shops open for when you get a bit hungry on your way home. My roommate calls it re-cenar (second dinner), sort of like Taco Bell’s “fourth meal.” 😀

Churros con chocolate is the Spanish breakfast-treat equivalent of pancakes with coffee in the U.S. This was at the reknown Chocolatería San Ginés, right off Calle Arenal.

This is what a porra looks like, a delicious enlargement of the delicious but smaller churros. Porra smiley!

A delicious plate of huevos rotos: homemade potato chips topped with eggs sunny-side up and ham bits. This was the TASTIEST plate of food I’ve had in my time here in Madrid. The place is called Taberna Almendro 13 located in La Latina, definitely check it out!

After walking past this place so many times, my friends brought to my attention that this is the oldest restaurant in the world. I peered in the window of Sobrino de Botín and saw the Guinness Book of Records certificate, dating the establishment back to 1725! Check out Yelp reviews to see if you’re interested 🙂

“We may not have much money, but at least we’ve got enough for our bread, wine and cheap tapas,” joked on of my Spanish professors. Though it’s very difficult to keep financial struggles from affecting one’s daily outlook I’m pleased to see how Spaniards strive to make the best of their days. History is splashed all around me leaving me no choice but to dive in and join them. Whether it’s walking around Getafe to take in the olive oil aroma in the air around lunch time or sitting on the cobblestone ground of Plaza Mayor or scoring free sangria around Calle de las Huertas, there is a lively calm in the midst of Madrid that makes it a place like no other.

 

From Granada to La Sagrada

The past couple of weekends have involved some major movements for me: two weeks ago I traveled south to Granada and this past weekend I traveled north to Zaragoza and Barcelona. Both trips involved seeing some REALLY beautiful sites, both historic and modern.

Granada

Five and a half hours south of Madrid (by bus) awaited the lovely Andalusia (the most populated autonomous community in Spain!). To keep our spending at a low, a couple friends and I decided to stay in a hostel and truth be told, this was my first time ever staying at a hostel. To give you a sense of location, our hostel was located right in the center of Granada, about five minutes from Granada’s famous cathedral.

 

On our way to Calle Reyes Católicos, the main street to get to the historic quarters, we saw this stand of delicious "frutos secos" (dried fruits, dried vegetables, even dried squid!).

On our way to Calle Reyes Católicos, the main street to get to the historic quarters, we saw this stand of delicious “frutos secos” (dried fruits, dried vegetables, even dried squid!).

These delicious, fluffy and creamy treats are a dessert delicacy in Granada, but can also be found in parts of Latin America.

These delicious, fluffy and creamy treats are a dessert delicacy in Granada, but can also be found in parts of Latin America.

By simply looking around and walking through the streets, it’s clear to see Granada’s still-present strong Arab influence. There’s all sorts of beautiful jewelery, tapestry, scarfs, and clothing to pick from! (Definitely plenty of harem or “hippie” pants, which I now own a pair 😉 )

A beautiful mountain-top view of the Alhambra Palace.

A beautiful mountain-top view of La Alhambra.

A world-famous, guidebook-worthy photo of a reflective pool inside the Alhambra Palace.

A world-famous, guidebook-worthy photo of a reflective pool inside La Alhambra.

Barcelona

I hopped on a bandwagon of friends headed away for the weekend and wound up on an overpriced, not-so-organized “organized” erasmus bus trip to Barcelona. Although I absolutely do not regret visiting this beautiful city, I definitely recommend skipping out on randomly-organized group trips. The service/person who took us on this trip wasn’t a good event planner, making for a messy trip that we (the travelers) had to take control of for ourselves. One of the things that I did like about this trip was our stop in Zaragoza, the midway-point between Madrid and Barcelona, for the Fiestas de Pilar: one of Spain’s biggest festivals, dedicated to the patron saint of Zaragoza, Pilar! The old and young alike celebrate the saint with festivities the week of October 12th, with musical presentations, contests and other events put on the day of the holiday.

Crowds of people in the streets with the Basilica de Pilar in the background.

Crowds of people in the streets with the Basilica de Pilar in the background.

We made it to Barcelona in the evening, rested a bit at our budget hotel and then went to the boardwalk for the evening, which was cool! The following day a group of us visited La Sagrada Familia, a Catholic church designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The interior and exterior were both amazing, providing a mix of awe and tranquility.  We walked around to see some other historic sites and made it to the famous street called La Rambla. The street livens up at nighttime when street vendors open up shop and sell unique-crafts. If you keep walking straight down this street, you’ll eventually hit the beach! But beware, although it didn’t happen to me, I’ve heard this street is famous for pickpockets.

The older facade of La Sagrada Famila, which has been in continuous construction since 1882. It's totally worth getting the cheap audio-tour at the entrance to learn about this beautiful place!

The older facade of La Sagrada Famila, which has been in continuous construction since 1882. It’s totally worth getting the cheap audio-tour at the entrance to learn about this beautiful place!

La Rambla at any point in the day is nice for a stroll. Be sure to try one of the waffle treats at one of the vendors.

La Rambla at any point in the day is nice for a stroll. Be sure to try one of the waffle treats at one of the vendors.

This

This was in Gaudí’s famous Parque Guell, a fantastical park with all sorts of twists, colors, and cool architecture. We took a photo with this famous Salamander–the tiles are signature to Gaudí’s work–but I especially get a kick out of the older man’s face in the background. Oh, us tourists.

In case you guys would like to see more photos, I’ll be working on setting up a link for you. The awesomeness of these two weekend trips do not fit into one text post.  I 100% recommend that wherever you’re studying, make the most out of getting to know the country you’re in. I don’t know if my budget will allow for a full-on Eurotrip but at the very least, I’ve visited some astounding places in Spain. That being said, get to know the city you’ll be in. Get lost. You’ll find amazing restaurants, cafes, street art, shops and maybe even people (what a concept!) along the way.

No Gov, No PSL

For the time that I’ve been here, my main concern as an American has been the poor dollar-to-euro exchange…but on a MUCH less serious note, my next main concern has been that Starbucks España doesn’t offer my beloved pumpkin spice latte (PSL.) Although the autumn chill only recently hit Madrid (about a week and it’s still in the 70s !), Tumblr, Facebook and all clothing websites have kindly reminded me it’s time for crunchy leaves, warm sweaters, and pumpkin-flavored everything. I love making treats from scratch and there are plenty of PSL-recipes that I’m sure I could stir up whenever I want. But it’s just not the same. #AmericanProblems

Well, I planned on writing this post a couple weeks ago, but homework and traveling have gotten in the way (boy, am I lucky enough to say that!), but it seems that now is finally time to put together this post. Why? Well…

“[Starting Monday October 1, 2013] the US government has begun shutting its non-essential services. Hundreds of thousands of workers are waking up to the news that they are on unpaid leave, and they don’t know how long it will last….The Federal government had no choice. The US financial year ended on 30 September, and politicians on Capitol Hill have failed to agree a new budget for the 2013-2014 financial year….No, it’s not an anarchist’s (or libertarian’s?) dream. Essential services, such as social security and Medicare payments, will continue. The US military service will keep operating, and Obama signed emergency legislation on Monday night to keep paying staff. But hundreds of thousands of workers at non-essential services, from Pentagon employees to rangers in national parks, will be told to take an unpaid holiday.” (The Guardian)

“It is the first shutdown in 17 years and the dollar fell early on Tuesday.” (BBC News)

Major Spanish news sources have been very objective on reporting the politics of the  government shutdown, but their focus remains on issues like the halt of scientific research, and  the closing of national parks and major tourist sites like the Statue of Liberty. I don’t have many international-relations-major Spanish friends so no one has yet to bring up the shutdown. According to NPR, “the president warns that the whole world is watching this drama and the reviews are not good. ‘It makes us look like we don’t have our act together,’ said President Obama.” Maybe I’ll be the one to start asking my peers some questions…

Even still, living outside of the United States is a real eye-opener. The U.S. is a baby on the historical timeline, we are a world super power and are highly regarded (most Spanish people’s eyes light up when they hear I’m from New York). It seems that most college students understand that neither the United States, Spain nor any other country is perfect and that our systems of government might not have it all together, but in the end we’re here to make a difference. Since I’m often busy while I’m at college, it’s not as easy to put my own worries aside to follow national and international news, but now I make time to pay attention to what’s going on. Better late than never.For those of you also traveling,  tune into NYTimes, NPR, and BBC News and while in Spain El Pais, El Mundo, and The Local for easy-going Spanish news in English.)

In terms of infrastructure (irrigation, public transportation, roads, potable water, etc.), it isn’t very difficult making the transition from being in the U.S. to being in Spain. Though shops closing for the siesta has taken some getting used to and not having my dear Starbucks pumpkin spice latte this season is a bummer, this semester abroad is a great time to think about the country I’m in,  the country I come from, and the world as one big smorgasbord of ideas.

*Note: The pumpkin spice latte is more a symbol of the season than an actual obsession, I promise.

[UPDATE: 10/17/13: “The US government partial shutdown is over after 16 days. Hundreds of thousands of workers were laid off, businesses have been hurt, and the standing of US credit in the eyes of the world was severely impacted.” (BBC News)

My best friend, who currently attends American University, is working on her thesis and wasn’t able to go to the Library of Congress to access the resources she needed until the furlough was over. Though is the closest person to me that’s been affected by the government shutdown, I fear my whole country will be feeling the effects.]

Simple Student Things

I’ve just entered my second week of classes, while I’m sure my New Paltz counterparts have already been given notice of their midterm assignments and exams. Lucky me! As I mentioned in my previous post, the courses I’ve chosen are all intriguing and, thankfully, my professors all have easy-going teaching styles. Classes here are separated into lectures and tutorials/practices, meaning and, though I’m not sure if this is common, they meet in a three-hour block with a 15-minute break in between. The hour and a half of lecture proves well for taking notes and the other hour and a half tutorial is more for interactive; I retain a lot of info in this style!

Since the residence hall is about five minutes away from the academic buildings I have class in, I use my three- hour break between classes to prepare some lunch and take my mini-siesta ;).  I didn’t have class today so I woke around noon, sent out a few important emails, watched Adventure Time online, and Skyped with one of my best friends…a nice and relaxing day! Later on my new Australian friend Bridget and I went for a walk through Getafe. Given the days still loom around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun barely sets shortly after 8 p.m., it’s hard to pass up on the opportunity. We walked along Calle Madrid, one of the main streets along the campus, to discover a side of Getafe I hadn’t seen in the three weeks that I’ve lived here. Past the first rotonda (the circular street form) is a whole street of restaurants, bars, and different stores. The ayuntamineto (townhall) is also this way; it’s worth taking a walk over.

There are still a few areas of Getafe I have yet to visit, but it’s nice to live in this tranquil area and still be an easy 20 minute train ride from the center of the city. Located around the town are bikes you can rent for a small price and ride around 24/7; conveniently, there’s a whole row of bikes part GBICI right outside our residence hall! This bike initiative is just one of the many “green” efforts on behalf of the town and Madrid as a whole. Perhaps my next sight seeing of the town will be by bike :D!

The signature Getafe "G" located at one of the rotondas.

The signature Getafe “G” located at one of the rotondas.

A beautiful brick wall covered in different greenery, one of many fountains, and little girls!

A beautiful brick wall covered in different greenery, one of many fountains, and little girls!

One of the bookshops located along Calle Madrid/Toledo

One of the bookshops located along Calle Madrid/Toledo

Where else would you find great books about the city you're in?

Where else would you find great books about the city you’re in?

A look down one of the streets close to the town hall.

A look down one of the streets close to the town hall.

 

 

In The City That Siestas

Siesta: An afternoon rest or nap.

Coming from the “City That Never Sleeps” (New York, of course) makes it odd to encounter shops and restaurants that close for a few hours in the middle of the day. Although I’m an avid fan of la siesta when I’m in the Dominican Republic for vacation, they strike me a bit inconvenient as a student. Nonetheless, I’ve started getting accustomed the Spanish lifestyle.

To be clear, I live in Getafe which is in southern Madrid. It’s a peaceful, residential neighborhood with it’s differences from New Paltz. The population consists of a lot of families and older people, which definitely provides a new-comer like myself with a sense of safety/security. As in most of Madrid, there are always people in the streets: walking their dogs, riding bikes, chatting away in small groups, jogging, etc. There are also fountains in abundance, providing a really fresh ambiance. To my knowledge, there are several bars the students like to go to ( El Refugio is a name I hear a lot) and for grander nights out, students flock to central Madrid (Sol & Atocha are “the spots” for clubbing. Key example is “Kapital“, a seven-story megaclub is student-magnet.) But overall, Getafe is a great place to air out the mind after a day of classes.

This past Saturday, I went on a day trip to Toledo with a classmate from the Spanish intensive course I’m taking. The coolest part was we decided to go the day before and bought bus tickets at the station Saturday morning for about 10 euros each! Toldedo is beautiful. I felt like the place wasn’t real, like I was on a huge movie set. The city ascents not so gradually, so getting to the center required a steep walk, but walking through the narrow, cobblestone streets was worth it. My mate and I walked through the Lonely Planet’s acclaimed “open-air museum” that is the city and took in the sights. Toledo is a declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of it’s past co-existence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims; we encountered mosques-turned churches, synagogue-turned-church-turned back to-synagogue, and the like. Prior to visiting Toledo, I had also heard about it’s specialty in making marzipan (a sweet, almond-meal treat), so we made sure to pick up an artisanal batch! After a filling almuerzo (lunch) at Restaurante Palacio, we visisted the [free!] Museo de Santa Cruz and finally snaked back downhill to take our bus back to Madrid. T’was a successful day.

Tomorrow is my official first day of classes, so I should get some rest. In regards to the course selection process, I had a much easier time signing up for classes than most other students. Course registration opened at 9:00 a.m. last week and in 6 minutes, I had all the classes I wanted. Most other students who waited till about 9:30 a.m. had a much harder time registering due to the overload of the system…so, I strongly advising being ready to sign up for classes to avoid being locked out of classes.  I have an awesome schedule with Mondays and Fridays off: hello four-day weekend! Tomorrow I have “History of Spain” and “Photography: Theory and Practice”, both in Spanish, so cheers to the actual beginning of my semester!

The main avenues right by the Fernando De Los Rios residence hall.

The main avenues right by the Fernando De Los Rios residence hall.

Small streets for lil' ol' me!

Small toledana streets for lil’ ol’ me!

 

Yummy marzipan from one of the many bakeries. Fun fact, we also bought some artisinal treats from covents! Talk about helping a "sister" out :)

Yummy marzipan from one of the many bakeries. Fun fact, we also bought some artisinal treats from a convent! Talk about helping a “sister” out 🙂

 

The hilltop view from a traditionally Jewish area of Toledo called La Judería.

The hilltop view from a traditionally Jewish area of Toledo called La Judería.

 

Made It To Madrid

Before coming to Spain, I often heard of the beauty Spain holds, but seeing it for myself has been spectacular. On Tuesday afternoon I  landed on Spanish land, ready to soak in Spain and start my semester at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M).Even prior to stepping outdoors onto the beautiful Spanish land, I took the metro and train from Madrid-Barajas Airport to the Fernando de los Rios residence hall (one UC3M’s dorms). My first thoughts upon taking the metro were, “Why can’t New York City’s train system be as clean as this one?” and “So this is what advanced train systems look like!” For the record, the metro is the inner-city train system and what I call “the train” is really the Renfe, a system like the Metro-North, which travels through outer-Madrid. From my town, Getafe, to central Madrid, the Renfe takes about 30 minutes ( a pleasantly smooth train ride if I must say.)

Enough about trains.

I’ve been here for about three full days and I’m still recovering from jet lag. Madrid is six hours ahead of New York, which explains why I’m not tired at 2 AM (here) and can’t wake up at 9 AM.  But TGIF! I’ll have the weekend to recover! Wednesday was the first day of the Spanish-intensive course I enrolled for (and SUNY New Paltz covered!); for every weekday the next couple of weeks, I’ll have four hours of Spanish with two alternating professors, both of which are super nice and fun. Classes don’t actually start until September 9th, so students who normally live in the residence hall during the year move in the weekend before classes begin…so although it’s a bit lonely in the hall, I’ve been able to get to explore Getafe, use the in-hall gym, and utilize my free time to do homework, work on my trip budget ,among other things. I’ve also made some new buddies from class who I’ve gone out to walk and eat almuerzo (lunch) with. Yesterday, we trekked to a Hipercor (a Walmart-like store) about 20 minutes from campus in order to find some good deals to stock up on food for our kitchens (I don’t have a meal plan and the others live in apartments). With this being my first time in another continent fully reliant on myself and the little bit of money in my bank account, you should know how much label-reading and price-checking I did: a lot. Nonetheless, I spent under 37 euro (~$50) and made myself some yummy pasta for lunch today.

For a lot of the food-bragging I’ve heard and read regarding Spain, I have yet to really  have a meal where I’m completely blown away by my food. For the most part I’ve come across a lot of ham and sandwiches and ham sandwiches…but I’ll cut them some slack since I’ve only been here a few days. I’ll update you all on my inner-foodie adventures soon 😉

Tonight, I’ll be meeting up with my new Australian buddy in Sol (located in central Madrid) to hang out and meet with the other girls here through SUNY New Paltz to have tapas in the evening. I can’t wait! Pues, ¡hasta la proxima amigos! Until next time!

Montaditos and sangria from 100 Montaditos, a Spanish chain of restaurants.

Montaditos, salad and sangria from 100 Montaditos, a Spanish chain of restaurants.

The Renfe train from the city to Getafe. Nice, sleek, and clean!

The Renfe train from the city to Getafe. Nice, sleek, and clean!

Me in front of the Palacio Real de Madrid! This is after we had lunch at 100 Montaditos. It is beautiful!

Me in front of the Palacio Real de Madrid! This is after we had lunch at 100 Montaditos. It is beautiful!

New Groove Old Groove

Every culture has a groove– that’s one of the biggest lessons I took away from studying abroad. Forget where you come from, what you know, who you know. Every place has a Way and once you let the flow take hold of you, you’re in! I can’t say I know everything there’s to know about Sevilla, but I think that by the end I had a much better grasp of the Sevillano groove of life. Blending in with a culture is so difficult. It even goes down to the littlest things like the volume of voice in conversations.

It’s hard to imagine life beyond your own. But after this semester, I can’t imagine NOT studying abroad. It’s so important to see life from a different perspective. I can almost speak for the group in saying that we all felt like our eyes were opened. Who would’ve known my eyes were ever slightly shut?

So here I am, back home after 15 hours of traveling and 2 days of adjusting. New York is still the same, at the same pace, with the same smells, and the same people. It weirdly feels like I’m just back from a 4-month-long dream. I guess you can’t have two feet in two places. But the memories remain! Venga hasta luego!

La Feria de Abril & Portugal

I’m writing this post from a different perspective than the last, and the one before that. In fact, all of these posts have captured me from a different point in my experience, not just the experiences themselves. I’ve learned new things about culture, language, and myself every week here. Every day, even. If you can imagine a crazy geometrical, 20-dimensional figure, that’s what this experience has been like.

It’s my last week here in Sevilla now. To be completely honest, I’ve had moments where I wished for a pair of wings to take me home just for a few days. But I am incredibly sad to be leaving, to say the least. I think something clicked last week during Sevilla’s Feria de Abril, which is a week-long annual festival. The city really livened up for Feria. Suddenly everyone was out in the streets and the best part was that everyone was smiling. I had never seen Sevilla like that before. It’s like I really got to see the rawness of the Sevillano culture.

Feria starts off with an “illumination” on the first night. It’s like New York City’s ball-drop; the streets are beyond packed with people dressed in formal wear. Everyone squeezes to get the best view of the gate to Feria. Then there’s a countdown until midnight when the gate is lit up and the crowd charges into Feria. It’s a huge area filled with tents called “casetas.” Most are private, so it is a privilege to be invited to one. Every caseta has its own music, food, and drinks.

Starting the first full day of Feria, women in Sevilla walk around in their “traje de flamenca.” The women really take their Feria outfits seriously. Flamenco dresses are beautifully made and are often expensive. They also wear lots of jewelry, hair pieces, and of course the traditional flower on the head. We didn’t really think people dressed in flamenco dresses until we saw it! It’s serious! People from age two to ninety-two wear the traje.

A huge part of Feria is the dancing. Here they dance “las Sevillanas.” It somewhat resembles flamenco but there’s less intricate footwork and more partnering. It’s a dance of Andalucia (southern Spain). It was really neat seeing everyone dance las Sevillanas in the casetas, in the streets, and all around. (Here’s a YouTube link to someone’s video of las Sevillanas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv8HTr47N7s This is NOT my property.) I didn’t learn las Sevillanas, but I did get a flamenco skirt which was so much fun to wear amongst all of the beautiful flamenco dresses. Feria was probably an experience of a lifetime that I’ll never forget.

We went to Portugal the second weekend of our week-and-a-half vacation for Feria. Lagos, Portugal is a cute little beach town in southern Portugal. It’s only three hours driving from Sevilla. Unfortunately we were stuck with a very rainy and strangely cold weekend. But we were still able to visit beautiful sights, eat delicious food, and enjoy the Lagos atmosphere.

We went on a sailboat ride on the Atlantic around some beautiful caves. We also watched the sunset at a sight called “the End of the World.” That was just as beautiful. In addition to the sight-seeing, we ate at one of the world’s best burger places called Nah Nah Bah. Who knew some of the best hamburgers came out of Portugal!