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!

Marruecos

Marruecos (the Spanish name for Morocco) was my most recent trip. I went for a weekend with a few friends in a big tourist group called Discover Sevilla. The trip was fantastic!! It was like an entirely different world over there. We stayed in Tangiers and visited Tetuan and Chefchauen. All three cities were very different. Chefchauen was in the mountains, built on a hill. All of the buildings were painted white and blue, symbolizing love for Allah. Tetuan seemed a little bigger. It was filled with tunnels under residential buildings, which were like tiny streets.

The food in Morocco was delicious. Couscous is a way of life there, I guess like pasta is for Italy. I actually didn’t like couscous until this trip so it was clearly the best.

Overall the trip was beautiful, despite the unfortunate amount of rain, and an experience to remember!

  

Semana Santa

We’ve been off from school for Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is a huge celebration in Spain. The streets are filled with processions. Unfortunately, a lot of the week was cold and rainy, which cancelled some of the processions. Nonetheless, the streets remained so packed at night that we could hardly walk anywhere near the Cathedral. It actually turned into quite the struggle because our favorite tapas restaurant was right in the middle of the madness. But we caught some great views of midnight processions!

This leads me to talk about one of the most important parts of our lives in Sevilla: the mighty Taberna Coloniales. We LOVE this place. Maybe I haven’t discussed the culture of Tapas yet, so here you go. In Sevilla (Spain’s most tapa-ified city) tapas are everywhere. Tapas are just small portions of any dish. It’s great because you can try multiple dishes and share with friends. We college students also love it because they’re usually 2.50 euros (yeah!). If you don’t get a tapa, you order a ration or half-ration. But rations are huge and are also meant to be shared. It all feeds into the social culture that southern Spain is known for. The weather is warm, everyone is outside, eats outside, drinks outside. All restaurants/bars have outdoor seating. It’s the Tapa way of life.

During our time off for Holy Week, we went to a Sevilla soccer game! That was awesome. The stadium is actually right near us so we had no problem making the trek on a rainy day. Sevilla played Mallorca, and of course Sevilla won. There was so much energy and singing/chanting. I’m glad I took part in a real Spanish soccer game. Who knows, I might take interest in watching soccer now!

 

In addition to the week off for Holy Week, my two classes were canceled the day before break because of Spain’s general strike. Although I didn’t see all the strike action, the aftermath left Sevilla’s streets quiet and deserted. There was a lot of student involvement from what I could see. In days prior, there were students with loud phones protesting through the University. I’m still not quite sure about the details of the labor strike. I guess there are political issues here just as there are anywhere in the world. It’s cool to say I experienced a bit of it.

Barca, Te Quiero

This weekend we went to Barcelona and I fell in love. This city was absolutely fantastic. It is so much bigger than Seville. It’s so bustling with a huge, diverse population of people that I couldn’t help but be reminded of home. Barcelona is completely different from New York City but it has some similar vibes. There were people of every and any nationality, style, age, appearance, attitude.

Barcelona is also full of modern art. We went to see La Sagrada Familia, the most modern cathedral in the world, but only saw the outside. That was really a sight. Plus, to know that we captured a moment of it still in process of being built is pretty awesome.  

The famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, not only designed La Sagrada Familia, but is the artist behind a lot of other Barcelona landmarks. His Park Güell was also beautiful. It was filled with famous mosaic pieces, plus two really cute buildings that looked like gingerbread houses. We went into the Gaudí House, which was full of more Gaudí designs. We also got an outstanding view of the city. It was nice spending half of a day seeing a more relaxing tourist spot.

Aside from Gaudí’s works, there were some really beautiful and interesting parts of the city center. We walked down La Rambla, a famous street packed with people. Just off of La Rambla was a beautiful market called La Boquería. It’s supposed to be one of the best in all of Europe. We tried some exotic fruits- yum! The whole place was filled with color from the fruits, veggies, sweets, cheeses, chocolates and meats. It sounds ordinary but it was actually the best part of our day!!!

 

The whole trip actually made me realize just how much I love and miss New York City. Then again, it goes to show just how different and unique Seville is from anything I’ve ever experienced. Seville really captures the heart of Spanish culture and tradition. Then again, I know my heart will forever belong to NYC. Words from a city girl, through and through.

Matalascañas, Flamenco y Tio Pepe

The last week has been JAM PACKED. Last Sunday we went horse back riding through Doñana National Park and then on the beach. The scenery through Doñana was breath taking. I had a blast, especially because I’ve never ridden a horse before. Although my horse was NOT having it, he was exhausted. I felt so bad because there was obviously nothing I could do but force it to move.

   The town was called Matalascañas. Surprisingly, the beach was actually pretty crowded. It’s weird because we Americans often get responses about how we’re dressed for summer during their winter. But there were hundreds of Spanish people sun bathing on the beach there! I’m confused. Cultural differences that maybe we’ll never fully understand. Nonetheless, the weather was beautiful. The past week has been 80 degrees more or less. We’re starting to see less winter coats around, which is a good sign for those of us who want to wear spring attire.

On Friday night we FINALLY took ourselves to see a Flamenco show. It was amazing! Everything about it was fascinating; the dancing, the singing, the guitar. I never really knew what flamenco was before this. I see now that it is actually a collaboration of art forms, not just the music or the dance. The dance is apart of the music because of her intricate, rhythmic footwork. The singer even participates in the dancing when so inclined. The guitarist has to pay such careful attention to communication between all three of them. It was really beautiful experiencing a great group of artists, even though I didn’t have much to compare it to.

To top off the week, we took a day trip on Saturday. We took a bus down to Jerez de la Frontera, a town famous for its sherry wine. It’s much smaller than Seville. Cute and quiet. We went on a very fancy tour of the Gonzalez Byass vineyard (with the logo Tio Pepe). We ended up talking to a really nice couple from Sevilla for about a half hour. They actually invited us to visit their tent during Feria in Sevilla!

All in all a great week!