Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Buenos Días!

August 28, 2014

Hola from Valladolid!

This week has been packed full of change and excitement for the six of us as we settled into our new homes for the next (almost) four months. We arrived on Sunday morning in Madrid after an overnight flight and we brought a bus to the wonderful city that is now our home: Valladolid. Our respective host families were waiting for us in the bus station and as we arrived, we were assigned our home-stays and then we went our respective ways. Sunday was a day to unpack, eat our first Spanish meal, nap, and eventually tour the city. And what a city it is! After spending the afternoon in our new homes, we met with Alberto, our guide for the day, at 10 pm to get ourselves oriented with the city.

Monday brought our first experience with our school. We did not have formal classes, but we received some materials and we were given a run-down of how it functions. Tuesday was the actual first day of classes and the first day of having homework. Wednesday and Thursday followed suit. Class and work need to get accomplished, but there is also plenty of time to explore and discover the city. We have had beautiful weather here: mid to low 90’s as a high but lows dipping down in the 50’s at times. Thus, the mornings are nice and cool, and so are the nights, which allows for ample time to walk the streets. Where we are staying is the historical center of the city. There are churches on practically every corner and museums are scattered in every direction.

As Thursday has passed, we are done with classes until Monday (perk of being in Spain). This weekend, some of the group is traveling to Santander to stay there for a few days and others are planning on hiking some trails near Valladolid. We are excited about our plans for the upcoming weekend and we are beginning to feel at home here in the city.

Hasta pronto!

On behalf of the students studying abroad in Spain,

Matt

A Weekend in Basque Country Part I: Bilbao

For those astute and international-conscious folk, you might know that the Basque country is known, or were known, worldwide as the home of ETA, a terrorist/separatist group in Spain that committed bombings and murders during the last few decades. The Basque country is also known to have one of world’s few isolated languages, having no known language ancestors or relatives making it stand out quite a bit on the street.

With all this in the back of my head, our contingent of 4 woke up early and headed to the train station with our eyes set on Bilbao, the largest city and cultural capital of Pais Vasco or Euskadi in the local tongue. From the onset, its impossible to miss how beautiful and natural the Basque country is. Honestly it makes Castille y Leon (the province Valladolid resides) look like Nebraska; meaning of course that it is very flat, deserted, and not surrounded by many natural beauties. On the train ride we saw picturesque rivers and streams over rolling green hills that transformed into lush mountains with small villages at their feet.

We arrived in Bilbao at about noon. We wandered around a bit and absorbed the city’s arquitectural atmosphere which is distinct mixture of French and Mediterranean influences making for astounding views along the Nervión River.

We eventually made our way to the center of town which conveniently houses several main landmarks. The first we came to was the “Zubi Zuri” walking bridge which was hands down the nicest walking bridge I’ve seen, trumping the Millennium in London. We walked across and were spit out in front of the Guggenheim Art Museum, a stunning work of from architect Frank Gehry who designed it to have a random overlapping structure which captures light. It is said to loosely resemble a ship and has been called the best architecturally designed building in the world.

In front of the museum is another iconic landmark known simply to the locals as “Puppy.” Puppy is a gigantic sitting dog that is covered in colorful flowers. It was designed by York, Pennsylvania native Jeff Koons which is very insightful and it was even thought to be part of a terrorist plot by ETA who wanted to dress as gardeners and plant explosives on it.

After walking around the museum we meandered around town walking the main circle which is the financial district and contains many lovely parks to walk through. Bilbao is the headquarters of BBVA the biggest bank in Spain and one of the biggest in the world. They currently sponsor the domestic soccer league here in Spain and have an enormous building smack dab in the middle of the city. I also took the opportunity to buy a pair of shorts which I had none of for my entire 4 month journey. Spring took quite a while to rear its head but she is finally here and in full force. Shorts were a necessity for all intensive purposes.

After center city, we made our way south to check out the neighborhood around San Mames, the stadium where the local club Athletic Bilbao plays. I was under the impression that the stadium was “visually stimulating.” However it turns out San Mames is one of the oldest stadiums in Spain and is set to be knocked down at the christening of the new stadium which I had originally seen amazing pictures of. Naturally the group of ladies I was with never let me hear the end of it but the neighborhood had quite a lot of gastronomical sights to offer which enticed them.

A word of warning for any Bilbao would-be travelers out there. The city has a different time for their siesta. While most of Spain, from my understanding, hibernates from 2-4:30, Bilbao takes their siesta later from what seemed like 4-6. So instead of getting a nice big Basque dinner which we heard so much about from our teachers, we settled for sandwiches in a cafe across the street from the stadium and I’m not even sure the patrons of the restaurant were pleased with our business. At any rate the stadium was also conveniently near the bus station which would take us to our ultimate destination for the weekend: the beautiful and world-renowned resort and beach town of San Sebastián. But it wouldn’t be so simple.

Though we had tickets in hand, it turned out that the day and exact time we were at the bus station corresponded with a huge local basketball game. Apparently the Basques love their basketball more than the typical Spaniard. The station was packed with fans and news crews capturing their hooliganish chants and songs while we nervously waited for a bus that was either late or hiding marvelously well. It turned out that it was in line waiting behind all the buses that were taking people home from the game but it was quite a scare as we had no plan to sleep in Bilbao that night. We made the hour’s journey to San Sebastián and that’s where I’ll leave you for a few days!

Saludos

W. E.

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London part two

Alright where were we?

The next morning was a bit odd I I found myself alone in the big city. Everyone honored the original plan and departed from the hostel at about 4 AM to get to the airport on time off in the outskirts of northeast London.

After the disorientation dissipated and the breakfast settled in, I made my way to Hyde Park on a rainy and miserable St. Patty’s Day. Hyde Park is one of the most known parks in London and for good reason.

One particular corner of Hyde Park is known as Speaker’s corner where, conveniently on Sundays, anyone can come can become an orator to the anxiously awaiting public. Sometimes its more of a lecture and others serve as intellectual dialogue.

I listened to one speaker in particular who was talking about the lack of competitiveness in the British economy and how they should divert money from making arms and weapons to education. Surprisingly, the Irishmen met with some opposition from the crowd as a few spectators made the point that foreigners aren’t buying British manufactured items as they used to with the rise of the NICs and sweatshop-esque labor. Following that logic they asserted that Britain should continue to manufacture arms as that will always be a market that they can compete in. A very worthwhile discussion that brought up the United States a lot…..I kept my mouth shut for fear of any backlash. Americans aren’t necessary hated or despised abroad but the actions of the former administration certainly are. This I can say for certain.

I traversed from the Northeastern corner to the southwestern corner of the park and made my way to a pub that I thought would show the upcoming Chelsea FC game. To my shock and awe, the bouncers told me, “Not today,” and sent me on my way. My plan was in shambles so after a bit of thinking I decided I could just watch the game in the hostel.  I hoped on the tube at Earl’s Court and made my way to Wimbledon. On the tube I ran into two guys from the Canary Islands asking me if I knew how to get tickets for the game today. I told them in Spanish that there are ticket scalpers outside the stadium that sell them but they’ll be rather expensive. However this didn’t deter them as they got off at Fulham Broadway. Me? I made it one stop after the stadium and switched paths back to try my own luck.

Time to cross it off the bucket list. I exited the special exit only used on stadium days and was hounded by ticket scalpers immediately. I asked one how much and I was told 70 pounds which is $105. I told him I would return promptly to get some money out and when I returned I got my ticket and surely enough the ticket was retail 70 pounds. I thoroughly questioned the economics of their money making venture as it clearly seemed frowned upon but perhaps not illegal…I’ll never know.

My seats were high up in the West Stand but there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Surprisingly Stamford Bridge (the name of the stadium) is actually one of the smallest in their league holding about 45,000. The team has been trying to expand or move but that is easier said than done in a metropolis such as London.

Without getting into too much detail  the game was great! Chelsea dominated West Ham and won 2-0 courtesy of a Super Frank Lampard header, his 200th of his Chelsea career, and a spectacular individual effort from the Belgian maestro Eden Hazard. Easily the best birthday present I could ever imagine.

After the game it was nearly impossible to get anywhere! Everyone made their way to the tube station including the visiting contingent who hailed from the east end of London….on the same line as Chelsea….someone didn’t plan that correctly. Luckily no one was heading south towards Wimbledon and I headed back to the hostel after a long and exciting day.

My last day in London was spent walking a lot and so much so that my beloved vans (shoes) died. A hole on the canvas and cracked sides plus all the rain London had to offer did not sit well with my feet.

I tragically buried my beloved companions and made way for some Adidas Sambas. Classy looking and great walking shoes.

I picked them up on Oxford Street which is also part of Bond Street, the major street for shopping for anyone interested. After that debacle I headed over to Trafalgar Square, a cool place to meet friends to gaze at the spectacle that is the city of London. It’s known for its museum on sight and a giant pillar with lions adorning the bottom portion. Word to the wise, Londoners do not like when you climb on the lions…so I’ve been told.

Conveniently for me there were a few sights close to Trafalgar Square for me to see while I was in the neighborhood. To the south a bit is Downing Street, a British equivalent of the White House. For those LVCers that represented Britain in the EU simulation I’ll be sure to post a picture. I found it kind of strange but neat that I’m sure there are people that could walk by Downing Street and not know what it is. Aside from the 24/7 security it looks like any other piece of London which I think is symbolic of the city and the people.

That’s basically about it from my London Trip!

This week is Semana Santa, a week filled with religious processions and festivals and Valladolid is supposed to have one of the best in the country so that will be the contents of my next entry.

Cheers!

W. E.

 

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London, The Best Birthday Present Part I

I’ve heard this saying that, “A man who is bored of London is bored of life itself.” Meaning of course that London is so expansive and lively that there are endless corridors to explore and things to do.

Our group departed for London on a Thursday immediately after class. From Valladolid to Barcelona and then to Stansted, the airport about an hour outside London. It was a very long day of travel but we finally reached our destination at about 3 AM at our hostel in Merton, a neighborhood in Southwest London close to Wimbledon.

This particular trip was special to me for a few reasons. First of all, my German buddy Felix was with us for the trip. He had arrived a few days before us because he had some free time as he just finished up his finals for the semester. The second major reason this was an important trip is because my birthday was coming up on Saturday, the day before the beloved St. Partick’s Day. What better way to spend my birthday weekend then in the greatest city on the planet?

After hibernating for a few hours, we woke up on Friday to eat some breakfast and plan out the day. Here’s where the big twist come in. During breakfast we were introduced, by my German pal, to a group of Americans studying in Avila, a city close to Valladolid in Castille y Leon. In their group were 5 girls and 1 guy. The girls were all from New York State and the guy was from Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh to be exact. They said they attended a very small private school of about 1400 undergraduates in Rochester, NY. Now where does this sound familiar?

Needless to say our two groups immediately clicked and I found solace in Matt, my counterpart, who had suffered the same trials and tribulations I had studying in a group of women for an extended period of time. Ladies, I love you but sometimes you are just too much.

After breakfast, Felix and myself joined the group from Avila, hopped on the tube (subway system) and headed to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. The ceremony involved your stereotypical British guards that people tend to mess with along with some other guards on horseback.

Following the changing of the guard we split up further and Felix, a girl from the Avila group and I took to the River Thames to see some familiar sights. We started out at the Westminster tube station which is named after the famous Abbey of the same name. Right across our field of vision Big Ben and the buildings of Parliament stood proud and demanded the attention of our ocular senses. Fun fact only the bell inside of the clock tower is named Big Ben. Walking past the Abbey and Parliament right on the river is the famed London eye. A feat of engineering awe and a truly breathtaking experience that we will revisit later.

Along the River Thames are a slew of must see attractions for any visitor of London. Walking away from the Eye towards Tower Bridge we first stopped by the Tate Modern Art Museum which was having a gallery on pop art which was very interesting. The building itself used to serve as an old power station but the staunch and depressing anterior doesn’t do the interior justice.

After about an hour in the museum we grabbed some lunch at this little place called “Eat.” I’m fairly certain it is a chain but they have a fairly healthy selection of mostly just sandwiches and salads. It was highly recommended to me and it did not disappoint.

Full of energy, we carried on towards some famous sights such as the newly finished and pedestrian-friendly Millennium Bridge and the Shakespeare Globe, a reconstruction of the original place where Shakespearean plays were performed in the 17th century in the same neighborhood of Southwark. We ended our riverside journey at the Tower Bridge, a monumental figure and symbol of London. The drawbridge provides lovely views of the river and the city and is a must see.

From here our small contingent headed back to Westminster Abbey for a free daily service which consisted of about an hours worth of songs. The choir was fantastic! Their voices came together like music one would hear in Lord of the Rings. It was so beautiful that it was putting a lot of people to sleep. No sarcasm.

After the service Felix and I walked down the street to hop on the London Eye to get some panoramas of the city under the blanket of night (and rain). Luckily we had some coupons and our student IDs that got us on the ride for only 10 pounds or 15 dollars. If you can/want to afford it, the Eye is definitely worth it. The get in your pod with a group of about 10 other people for 45 minutes and get an unforgettable view of the city. The attraction itself reminded me a lot of my job at the ride at Hershey’s Chocolate World; helping people on and off the ride and saying watch your step every 5 seconds. Fond memories.

Following the Eye we returned to our hostel and got prepared to go to the nearby pub for a birthday drink. Unfortunately for us we forgot we were not in Spain. We arrived at the pub at about 12:45 AM and were immediately told that we could have one drink, but we would have to drink quickly because they were closing soon at 1 AM. So after one quick pint we made our way back to the hostel and rested up for Saturday.

That’s where I’ll leave you guys for now. Best stuff to come!

Peace and Saludos

W. E.

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My Spring Break, The Cliffnotes

I could write a novel about my spring break trip to Germany so here are the highlights:

I arrived in Frankfurt and was picked up by my best buddy Felix. We drove down to his college apartment in Stuttgart and the first night there was fairly chill. I learned pretty quickly that Germans have no concept of person space as they like to get very close to you. Specifically your face. This goes for everyone. Also, whoever fabricated the stereotype about Germans being cold and uncaring needs to have a reality check.

The next morning we woke up and had a typical German breakfast. After breakfast we headed off in the freezing cold to the Stuttgart-Nuremberg soccer game down the street. The game itself was not as entertaining as I would’ve imagined but the beer, hot spiced wine, friends, and crazy fans made it an overall amazing experience. That night another house party was had.

The next day we explored Stuttgart and saw many of the old sights that I had come across 4 years ago when I was last there to visit my friend. The streets were a bit more empty this time around because it was a cold and barren Sunday. The day was highlighted by delicious German pretzels and our trip back to Satteldorf, the town that Felix’s family lives.

On Tuesday, I believe it was a rather chill day. We hung out around the house and had plenty more delicious German food such as Würst. Also had my hair cut by Crailsheim’s finest hairdresser. Thoroughly satisfied.

After a day off, we traveled to Erbach, a county in the autonomy of Hesse. This county was important to me specifically because I had done some research and found out that I was directly related to some counts of the region. We spent the day checking out the town and the two castles or residences of my ancestors from the 16th-18th centuries. Erbach om Odenwald was a beautiful and picturesque German town and I highly recommend it to travelers who want to see something of the beaten path.

Following another day of rest I traveled with Felix and his mother to Strasbourg, France, a border town with Germany which was about 2 and a half hours away from where I was staying. The town is very, very old and is home to an impressive set of Gothic churches, clever canal system, and on the outskirts of the city you can visit the buildings of the European Parliament of the European Union as well as the Council on Human Rights. These were must see sights for me due to my involvement in the Mid-Atlantic EU simulation in Georgetown with a few other fine students from LVC. I’m sure everyone involved will remember how unbelievable of an experience it was (most of all for me :p) We ate a rather fancy French restaurant and of course I ordered ribs. After struggling to attempt to eat them with a fork and knife I gave up and ate with my hands with the blessing of Felix’s mother. She agreed it was impossible. I urge others to attempt this ridiculous feat. All in all, Strasbourg was a wonderful city and again I recommend it highly.

After our day in France, Felix’s family and I journeyed down to southern Bavaria to ski the German Alps. If you like skiing or snowboarding this is something you simply must do before you kick the bucket. The views are amazing and the trails are equally as thrilling. I had not skied in two years prior, however once they throw you down a black diamond you get back into it fairly quickly. I let my buddy have the photographic responsibilities for that day so I will post better pictures of the alps when I receive them.

After an amazing break, it was finally time to head back to my second home of Valladolid. I had grown to miss the city, and especially the weather (its about 60 degrees all week now :) ) Of course on the way to the airport we got a speeding ticket on the autobahn. What an ideal way to end my time in Germany right?

This Friday we will be heading to Segovia and the week after that is London so keep yourself posted and have an enjoyable week!

P.S. Germans mix every sort of drink imaginable. If you are of age and responsible I recommend you to look up some of these beverages and indulge yourself in some German culture. I will name two of the nonalcoholic beverages that were amazing. Coke + Fanta = Spezi and Apple Juice + Sparkling Water = Apfelschorle.

WM

 

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Barcelona, The Spanish Philadelphia?

I might as well say it from the onset; Barcelona is most likely one of the greatest cities I have ever visited. Let’s bring it back a little bit though.

We departed from Valladolid’s sad excuse for an airport which makes Harrisburg’s look like La Guardia. We boarded our Ryanair flight towards Barcelona safely but scarily and arrived on the outskirts of Barcelona after an hour in the air. We headed to our hostel and were immediately welcomed by a few Scottish and Irish students also studying in Barcelona looking for apartments. Since it was late we spent the night grocery shopping and talking with two gentleman from the UK about various topics including cultural and lingual differences between the UK and US. Hilarity ensued.

The next morning we set out for La Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudi’s most stunning works. It is an unfinished church that many would describe as “Disney-esque.” I understand the comparisons but I believe this label is a metaphoric slap to the face of Gaudi as this is not some gimmick to attract consumers but an incredibly unique work of art that the world has never seen before. It was truly an amazing spectacle and I hope to return to see it when it is finished.

After the church we continued our crusade for Gaudi’s works in the form of La Casa Mila and another building across the street whose name escapes me at the moment. These two works are located on the same street called Paseo de Gracia, one of Barcelona’s main streets that leads one to Plaça de Catalunya, a central point with beautiful fountains and places a plenty for local skaters.

Interestingly enough I found myself comparing Barcelona to Philadelphia quite often. La Plaça was very similar to the squares and little parks around City Hall in Philly like LOVE park and Logan Circle. When we traveled past La Plaça we found ourselves on Barcelona’s most famous street called La Rambla. This street is famous for its restaurants, street performers, and night life. To me, La Rambla was like being back on South Street with the constant bombardment of people and things to do. Further down La Rambla we visited an incredible Market/Restaurant hybrid which I could only compare to Reading Terminal Market in Center-East Philly. Through the cramped open-air market were several fish stands for which Catalunya is famous for. Moreover there were micro-restaurants where you could order Catalunyan entrees and attempt to find somewhere to sit.

La Rambla eventually spits you out right by the beach which was perfect timing for our group as we decided to eat our lunch on the sand with the sweet sound of the Mediterranean waves to accompany us. The beach was situated in an awesome neighborhood called Barceloneta which had many landmarks and statues that reminded me of the bay area in Baltimore.

After lunch on the beach, we headed back north to wander around and luckily for us in Barcelona there is always something to go see. After walking north for about 5 minutes we spotted an amazing looking park called Parque de la Ciutadella. It was full of young people playing soccer and older people walking around, some taking their dogs for a walk (everyone has a pet in Spain….everyone). The park had a ton of things to see and do including a castle/zoo, and an unknown monument that our group thought paid homage to a sea god. Whether it was Poseidon or Neptune we didn’t know.

Right beside the park was a pedestrian street (Passeig de Lluis Companys) that led to an enormous arch called the Arc de Triomf that was built in 1888 to serve as a welcome from Barcelona to other nations. It was filled with long boarders who looked to be having the time of their lives cruising down the street.

The next morning we hopped on the metro and headed to the famous Park Guell, yet another Gaudi landmark and I must say it did not disappoint. This free park is located on a hill and visitors are constantly in contact with Gaudi’s works which makes the climb all the easier. As you climb through the park there are multiple levels you can stop at and gaze at the splendor that is Barcelona from a distance. The whole city is visible and it was cool to see La Sagrada Familia and the Mediterranean from that altitude. Once we got to the top the view was all the better because now we could view the back side of Barcelona which seemed to feature an amusement park and a castle off in the distance on another hill. Also close to the top was a pretty fancy looking soccer field. It would’ve been so nice to play on but kids were practicing. Someone’s gotta be the next Xavi. But this is a must see sight for anyone going to Barcelona. The views are phenomenal, the trails are fun and filled with amazing art/architecture and the price is unbeatable (free).

During our descent we were very tired and listened to three different musicians on our way. The first was located near this rock formation turned viewpoint with a religious cross. He was an American playing an old steel lap guitar and he could definitely play. I threw some money his way before we sat down and listened to some banjo further down the pathway. Further still we got caught up in a group that was listening to this traditional Spanish band that performed bilingually which was interesting. I have a video of them that I will put at the end of this post.

After Park Guell we were wandering around aimlessly and finally found a Carnaval parade of which I also took a video of and will link. It mostly featured kids in strange garb, sometimes old and traditional but colorful and others in more contemporary costumes one would see during halloween. Most of the kids were playing percussions instruments while others were tossing colorful bits of paper. We followed them around for a little while until we headed towards Camp Nou, the home stadium of FC Barcelona. Although we could not go inside (without paying 30 Euro for the tour) we did get to see the outside and walk around the official stores which were cool. It is another must see. Even those who do not appreciate Fútbol should have fun exploring the stadium of Europe’s best team, and that’s hard for me to admit being a Chelsea fan.

Exhausted as we were, our group persevered and made it to the Olympic Park where the 1992 summer olympics took place. It was, oddly enough, a barren place but it was nice walk around and see all the buildings and footprints of the major athletes. The 92 olympics were the first to allow NBA players into the competition so of course our group was pretty excited to see Michael Jordan’s footprint near one of the stadiums.

Towards the end of our olympic excursion we were shocked to learn that the gates were closed off at night and they must not have looked for or saw us wandering around and almost locked us in! We ran to one gate that was about to be closed but we yelled enough for them to hear us and we made it out safely.

After almost being trapped in the olympic village, it was about time to head down the “mountain” and attend a flamenco show in town. This was certainly one of the more interesting and Spanish things we’ve done so far.  It was nice to get a big dose of culture to conclude our time in Barça. The flamenco show consisted of two dancers, one male one female, two classical guitarists (who could shred….classically), an amazing singer and a percussionist who used his hands to keep the rhythm on what looked like a box. I’ve since been told Flamenco borrows from many different cultures and exemplifies Spain’s ties with both Latin American and Muslim culture. The show started with an instrumental and slowly incorporated more “Actors.” The guitars would start and then the singer and percussionist would come in before the dancers came out on center stage. The dancers were an intricate part to the performance as they enhanced the show emotionally and also added to the rhythm of the music with their tap shoes. At any rate I also have a small video of the performance that I will link below.

After the performance we headed back to our hostel, grabbed our things and made our way to the train station for our overnight bus to Madrid and that is where I will leave you for now. Hasta Luego!

W. E.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRPZisHlLWA

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The First of Many Soccer Games

Yesterday a select group of us weathered terrible conditions and watched Real Valladolid take on northern rivals Athletic Bilbao. Here are a few photos from the 2-2 draw. This post was brought to you by the co-president of the LVC soccer club. Miss you guys and hope you’re having a good semester!

 

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Lisbon, Portugal

This past weekend our group make the trek to Lisbon, or Lisboa, the capital of Portugal, Spain’s neighbor to the west. We took the overnight train from Valladolid which was an experience in and of itself but we arrived in Lisbon at about 7 AM without a problem.

We learned very quickly that Lisbon’s reputation precedes itself. Let me explain. After a few days of Internet research concerning the city one gets a little bit of an understanding about a city. Lisbon, according to multiple sources, is known for quite a few distinct things: Hills (built on 7 like Rome or SF), uncomfortable cobble stone streets, great weather, crazy drivers, cheap food, and dog poop on the streets. I can safely report that all these assumptions proved accurate.

For anyone wishing to go to Lisbon in the future, bring the best pair of walking shoes you have because you’ll need them I promise. We walked out of the train station and headed for out hostel, or rather a metro station to get to the hostel. Of course in our 7 AM tired stupor we didn’t notice that there was a metro station in the train station so what did we do? Got lost running around the Alfama district. This probably sounds horrible but this is actually a must visit sight in Lisbon and a lot of people recommend simply exploring this rich cultural part of town known for its unnavigable streets and night life.

Eventually we made it out of Alfama and made our way to Plaza Comercio which is one of Lisbon’s main plazas located on the bay. Here we went to the tourist office to purchase “Lisbon Cards” which gave us access to the city transportation and many different sights around town for free. With free transportation in hand we headed north to Plaza de Pombal, which acts as the center of the city and the closest metro stop to our hostel. Lucky for us our hostel was located at the top of one of Lisbon’s very steep hills which made walking to and from the hostel very tiring.

The “Chillout” Hostel in Lisbon was without a doubt thee best hostel/hotel experience I’ve ever had. The staff spoke perfect English, the hostel was very clean, had great views, and the other people staying there at the time were very nice. Our group of 5 was put into a 6 bed room so I had the pleasure to bunk with a 23 year old engineering student from Sweden on Erasmus named Emil.

With our bearings and wits about us we preceded to see the sights such as the garden at the Plaza de Pombal, São Jorge’s Castle, the Tower of Belem, the Monastery of Belem, and the Estadio de Jose Alvalde, home of Sporting CP, one of Lisbon’s soccer teams.

During the night, the staff at our hostel booked us a reservation for a “Fado” restaurant which is a very traditional Portuguese dining experience complete with musical entertainment. The meal consisted of vegetable soup, some sort of fish, and freshly grilled sausage that you put into the bread they give you. To drink we had our choice of either Portuguese wine or beer. I chose the latter and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. It’s called Sagre for those inquisitive minds. While we were eating we had the pleasure of listening to some live traditional Portuguese music which consisted of a mandolin player (who seriously shredded), an acoustic guitar player laying down rhythm and a vocalist. They were all extremely talented and it was definitely an experience I will never forget. Oddly enough the Portuguese language sounds like Russian when you hear it at first which was highly perplexing to me. After some research I came across a thread on the topic and saw that other people subscribed to my sentiments and one person said that they both have roots in the Slavonic language tree which is interesting considering Portugal is surrounded by Romantic languages. Who knew?

All in all I can safely say that Lisbon is city with great weather, lots of English speakers, Hills, and cheap eats. If you get a chance to travel to Lisbon do it, but bring some good shoes and don’t walk in the dog poop, it is everywhere.

 

Signing off

WM

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Toledo

Okay then where to begin. I don’t think I have a lot to catch you up on so I suppose that’s good news for me! This past weekend our group spent the day in Toledo. This marked our inaugural journey as we ventured off on our own for the first time and used both the bus and train systems that Spain have to offer.

We took the bus from Valladolid to Madrid which took about 2 hours I think. It was very early so everyone just snoozed except me who got to enjoy the “inflight” movie, “Man on a Ledge.” Riveting

From the bus station in Madrid, we walked to the train station however we did originally start to go the wrong way thanks to the little blue dot on my apple maps….sorry guys :p However we eventually made the grueling journey down ONE long street to the train station and were in Toledo in no time.

Toledo offers tourists and visitors a number of great spectacles. The city is synonymous with the famous painter known as El Greco as well as being an ancient Roman armory, hence all the steel swords and armor stores one can see galavanting around town. Toledo itself is a walled city built on a hill….A very very big hill and must have been quite a venture to try to capture. However once you get into town the walled off surroundings provide you with stunning visuals of medieval-esque landscape featuring rolling green hills, large rocks and the ancient river.

We spent our day checking out these amazing sights but also took some time to venture into some museums that showcased some of El Greco’s works; one museum happened to be situated in his house which oddly even was very small, like that of a hobbit hearth. At any rate his works are tremendous and he was the life-force of Toledo during his time.

Now we come to the venting about Toledo. The main attraction i wanted to go inside is called the Alcazar. This historic fortification just happened to be where Hernan Cortes was received by the Spanish Royal Family after he slaughtered countless indigenous peoples in South America. Unfortunately, thanks to the great Fascist dictator Francisco Franco, the Alcazar is now adorned as a museum….and it’s not free. The other main attraction of the city is their giant cathedral. This too has been turned into a giant, and pretty expensive tourist trap that we did not fall for. Needless to say we succumbed to admiring the awe of these colossal buildings from the outside.

After a tiring day of walking we returned home and arrived in Valladolid at about 12 am. Yesterday (Sunday) we spent the day looking at an exhibit on early African art and culture that the local university has been holding which turned out to be fairly insightful, though they do need some new translators for their signs. Yesterday also marked a day I’ve been looking forward to; a day where we could go to a bar and watch the local football game. The bar wasn’t packed by any stretch of the imagination however we had a good time and Valladolid beat Zaragoza 2-0. Aúpa Pucela!

This week brings us to another exciting week of classes! Strangely for me I had to switch classes today so that I would be able to graduate with everyone when I get home. Good safe LVC registrar office. Jill Russell also deserves an honorable mention as well for saving me. Turns out literature is easier than history anyway so I lucked out ;).

Hopefully this week goes by very fast because were spending the whole weekend in Lisbon, Portugal!!! We’re leaving Thursday night and taking an 8 hour train overnight to spend Friday and Saturday there. Here’s the amazing part, it’s predicted to be about 60-65 degrees there during our stay which is a pleasant surprise and juxtaposition to the weather as of late in Valladolid. I’ll be sure to blog my visit to Lisbon on my return. Take care and Hasta Luego!IMG_1270IMG_1311

Life Thus Far

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First week accomplished! It’s been quite a ride but I’ve survived and have a lot to catch up on. I love my host family. They’re very accommodating especially my mom <3, her food is fantastic too and she is fine with the fact I’m a picky eater. Tisquismisquis. Also the girls in the program are also very nice, all down to earth, you know typical wisconsinites ;).

So I don’t know if I complained about my key situation on here but there was quite a conundrum I had to tackle in the form of getting my keys to work; a very big problem to have in a foreign country. For all intensive purposes I did not know the secrets of the keys, yes there are secrets and they do not function normally as american doors and locks do, shocking I’m sure. However through trial and error this problem is a thing of the past which was one of the biggest relieves of my life because now I can go out and not fear having to wake up my mom at 3 AM because I don’t know how to use a key

Another important step I tackled already was getting a sim card for my phone. Pretty simple task actually. Luckily the lady at the store I went to knew about everything I needed and did everything that needed to be done which included cutting and inserting the new sim card for use here in Europe and for only 20 Euro. Texts and calls are actually pretty cheap and my maps service still works somehow through location services so I will never be lost. Que suerte!

The school we’re at is also pretty nice. It is located inside an old bullfighting plaza which is now home to many different businesses and apartments as well. The professors are very nice and know to speak slowly so we can understand and that is a godsend because we are picking up the language faster every day.  Unfortunately the school has barely any heat so it is very cold but we do our best to bundle up.

The city is beautiful. It is very old and has many churches and palaces where the royal catholic family used to stay when Valladolid was the capitol. It’s getting easier to navigate the city as well which is good because it has only been a week and we basically know where everything is. There are also many plazas and parks which are must see’s here. Campo Grande, sort of a central park if you will, is very beautiful. It has many fountains and outdoorsy sights. Oh and did I mention lots of peacocks. There are a lot of peacocks.

This week we went out to the countryside to see one man’s winery business outside the city. He showed us new new factory before showing us the old town where everyone had wine cellars. They were glorified basements filled with barrels. Then he took us to his Castle….no big deal. It was his family’s castle and he recently had it renovated to become this ultimate hotel and restaurant. Needless to say it was spectacular and that man deserves every bit of business he gets. At the end we got to sample some of his wines and while I’m still not the biggest fan it wasn’t bad and picked up a bottle for my beloved sister. While were on the subject of food, for the record, I’ve also tried cafe con leche, still not my thing, tapas, and churros con chocolate mmmmm.

Yesterday we went on a day trip to historic Salamanca about 1.5 hours outside Valladolid. The city was surrounded by old fortifications which added to the antiqueness. Salamanca was an interesting city filled with frogs, churches, and american fast food….random yes and the only reason we went into mcdonalds was for wifi and a place to eat our packed lunch! …..and maybe some fries. But yes Salamanca, great old churches with splendid views and also home to one of Europe’s most prestigious universities, the town was littered with souvenirs from the college and also of frogs…yea they like frogs.

More to come soon about my excursions to Toledo and Lisbon!