General Commentary

February 13, 2010

Spanish are a lot more blunt/harsh than Americans. My host senora’s nickname is “Chata,” which, my host sister explained to me, means “flat-nosed” because when she was younger, her nose was flat (?), so everyone would call her that. It’s perfectly normal now, though. But the point is that everyone calls her this harsh nickname. I am very lucky to have such a great host senora, but some of my peers are not. One of my classmates was saying that her senora heaps tons of food on her plate, then always comments about how she’s going to get fat if she keeps eating like that. And her senora was telling her one time that she doesn’t look fat, she’s just big-boned. And this girl is not fat at all, she’s about my size, actually. Also, the day after seeing my mom and older sister on skype, my senora said to me, “You’re Mom’s blonde and you’re sister’s blonde….?” And I said that I have the same color hair as my dad just so she wouldn’t think I’m an illegitimate child or something, even though my Dad’s hair is darker than mine.

We also learned that the general attitude of Spaniards is “sabor de vida,” which is like a Carpe Diem sort of mentality that every day needs to be celebrated and lived to the fullest. Following this priority is family and friends. It’s worth mentioning that the first description to collectively characterize Spaniards is that they’re individualistic. Then we received a list of other adjectives that describe people native to Spain, which seemed to contradict what was just said. I wonder if Americans are as easy to describe as a whole?

Segovia, Salamanca & Toledo

February 13, 2010

Last Friday and Saturday, I went to Segovia and Salamanca. Segovia was gorgeous! The aqueducts were amazing, as was the cathedral and castle. I took a photo of nearly every street we walked by/through because it was all so old but beautiful. Mostly of the architecture was Arabic style with arches and decorative details. Ferdinand and Isabella, or the Catholic Rulers as they’re often called, spent a lot of time in the castle and Segovia, so it was really cool to have visited where they lived. We climbed all the way up the stairs to the top of the castle to see all of Segovia and the landscape around it. It was a mountainous area, and it was a pretty incredible view because there’s nothing around the area, just that isolated city, the roads to get there, and the mountains only a short distance away.

Luckily, we left Segovia and went to Salamanca at night because there is no night life in Segovia. In Salamanca, however, there’s the university, so there were tons of people my age. It was fun to talk to my peers about the area and Spain and for me to try to explain life in the U.S. A lot of times in Madrid, there are middle aged people at the bars, even on the weekends. And it’s like, “Oh, I wasn’t planning on partying with people my parents age…”

But we were all very tired the next day when touring through Salamanca, and overall, it was a lot less impressive than Segovia. But all of the Plateresque style details at the churches and the university were interesting.

I started classes this week, and I like everything. I’m taking an art history class, where we’ll go to the Prado every week to see what we learned about in class during the previous class. Also, I have a class about the EU and a 6 credit seminar about the history and culture of Spain. All of the professors are really great.

Yesterday, we took a day trip to Toledo. That was also an incredible city because it was packed with buildings everywhere, leaving only small paths to travel through. It was tough because the city is all hills, but I’m glad we walked around and saw the streets. We went to a lot of churches to see the all the art, and we went to this huge gothic style church, which you were strictly not allowed to take photos in. A guy in my group literally had to wait outside because he kept violating that rule. We also visited this incredible synagogue, which was designed in a very Muslim style but was later converted into a church after Spain became a Catholic country, so the fusion of the cultures was amazing. Toledo had a lot of paintings by El Greco, including his masterpiece, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” which I could have sat and looked at all day. Right before we left the city to go back to Madrid, we stopped at this hotel which overlooked the entire city. It was beautiful! We were all sitting on this balcony overlooking the city just talking and laughing; it was a good half hour.

This is an alter in one of the churches in Salamanca. I have the rest of the photos from my trip to Segovia and Salamanca on fbook

This one's from Linda, it's jewelry that was displayed in the synagogue I described

I did not take this photo, I just wanted to include it to show what I was talking about. It's 'The Burial of the Count of Orgaz' by Greco

View of Toledo

Another view of Toledo

On Tuesday, we were given a brief introduction tour of the Prado. The little bit we saw was amazing, I cannot wait to go back there. I also look forward to going to the Thyssen Gallery of Modern Art, which is right across the street.

A few of us went out that night to Tribunal because we were told there were a lot of good bars there. After wandering around for a little bit, we finally found one, and it was an Australian bar with very few people in it. We found out later that this is an exam week for the universities, so a lot of students did no go out. It was fun, but I went home on the Metro before it closed.

I went shopping yesterday morning by myself and it was an interesting experience. I was either completely ignored or followed closely by a clerk. I guess they don’t like shoppers from the U.S.? It was still cool to go to the different stores and see what’s stylish in Spain. The major trend I noticed was, this is going to sound weird, having a face on the shirt. I did not think of taking a picture to demonstrate, but basically most of the shirts would have a woman’s face on it with crazy make up or hair. I don’t know.

Yesterday evening, we went on a guided tour through Lavapies, which is where 40% of the immigrant population lives. It has become a trendy area and is becoming gentrified. On the tour, he told us about this restaurant that was very local with no tourists because there’s basically no sign for it. So about 6 of us went back to it last night and climbed the stairs 5 stories to get to it. It was chilly last night, but we sat outside on the balcony because the view was so pretty.

The only thing I have today is a meeting about the trips we’re going to go on. We leave for Segovia tomorrow then Salamanca on Saturday.

View of the square below us from the restaurant

View of the city from the restaurant

We sat on kegs at this one bar

Random photograph of a store. I was told to put my camera away before I got a photo of the hanging meat

Hola amigos!

February 1, 2010

The plaza outside of the Prado (the building in the background is not the Prado)

I decided to turn this blog, which I started as a requirement for my Visual Literacy class, into a travel log.

It is my third day in Madrid and I am loving it! I applied for an Abono Transporte (the Spanish Smartrip equivilent), and then went on a walking tour. We started outside the Prado, then went through Huertas, and finished after crossing the Parque de Retiros. It was another beautiful, sunny day.

The only thing that I am having slight difficulty adjusting to is the meals. They barely have breakfast then they have a HUGE lunch around 3 or 4. Then there is a small dinner at 9 or 10. I’m just not used to eating so much in the middle of the day.

This cool wall garden thing

It’s been great walking around all the time. Also, I am in a very convenient location because I’m half a block from a very big metro and bus stop. I think my school is only a 15 minute walk away, but I am not positive because my senora took me via metro.

In the "Central Park" of Madrid

Under a waterfall in the Parque

Awesome building in the Parque, all glass

Cool building in Huertas