What a glorious last day in Madrid! I went to El Rastro in the morning, had lunch in Plaza Mayor, then spent the rest of the day in the Retiro where me and my wonderful friends went row boating (is that the proper verb? Or is it rowed boats?).

Time to get cheesy. These past few months have been absolutely life changing and eye opening. I had the fortune of immersing myself in a different culture in a beautiful city. I found that Madrid is so unique for a European city because, while there are a few sightseeing attractions, it is about the experience, not the historical sights. Madrid is about the food, the night life, the people, the art, and ‘sabor de vida.’ Nothing is better than spending a sunny day at my happy place: in the Retiro.

I will truly miss so many aspects of my time here. In the future, I will be able to return to Madrid and even live here if I wanted to, but I won’t be living with my generous señora, taking classes with amazing professors, and making memories with the craziest group of study abroad students ever assembled.

Hasta luego

And now, for your viewing pleasure, I have assembled a list (in chronological order) of Patricia quotations.

[Context: Patricia was my AMAZING art history professor who is about five feet tall, about 90 lbs., and exploding with life. She has an incredible passion for what she teaches and words her lectures colorfully.]

"She's eh-scared! eh-What you say to me? I am eh-pregnant of God?!"

"Oh, I am so fer-tile."

[At the start of our second class about the Renaissance] “We were drinking together the Reen-ah-since cocktail?”

“El Greco is….heavy metal. But he come later.”

"He see the block and say, 'David!' and he make it."

"Como la canción, 'It's raining mens. Oh my God!'"

“Venice is eh-special; really different, they are living on the water, that gives to them eh-special things: humidity.”

“The one who don’t believe in Bac-oos (Bacchus) have a lot of problems. Have no lucky, for example.”

"Woman is waking up, 'Hmm, what a nice party! Hello!'"

"Una fiesta de bebes."

“Tienes un problema, Houston.”

"All the mommys in front of this say, 'Oh this is my Georgio. Oh, my Georgio is not a bad boy.'" "'Hmm, give me some coins.' He have the bright eyes."

[On the close relationship between Felipe IV and Velazquez] “Felipe on his computer, ‘Hey Velazquez, what are you up to?’ ‘Painting your daughter, what are you doing?’ ‘Oh, a war with England.'”

"This man is saying to her, 'Do you want to come home with me tonight....... baby?'"

"Rococo is, 'Oh, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.'"

"'Do not touch me, I am not alive.' But Mary Magdalene want to touch him. But he say, 'No, no, no, no, do not touch me.' Look at him here, 'Do not touch me.'"

"Super photo-shop."

“He have no afraid.”

"Do you want to see Pepita?"

"Dress-ed, naked, dress-ed, naked, dress-ed, naked, dress-ed, naked, dress-ed, naked. Like the pens, click, click, dress-ed, naked, dress-ed, naked, dress-ed, naked, dress-ed, naked."

[On Goya having French friends] “He was accused of ‘Frenchship.'”

"He is making a big vomit over the wall."

“Ok, I end here. Yay, we are the winners!”

Los Toros

May 2, 2010

I cannot believe I am about to write this, but I think I am a fan of bullfighting! I would want to see at least one more bullfight to confirm whether or not I am a true aficionada, but I went to a bullfight yesterday with my classmates and I was impressed.

There are six rounds of bullfighting, each round has specific stages until the bull is finally killed. The first matador in yesterday’s match was not that good, even though he was the most senior of all the matadors. It was brutal and bloody, and I thought I might have to leave early. Fortunately, the fighter after him was superior and killed the bull nearly instantly. The third was alright, and then there was a sort of brief intermission and we interrogated Ramon on everything we had just seen. The bullfight then continued and the fourth one was fine, but then came the fifth fighter.

The fifth matador of the day started just as well as the rest of them had. Some of the bulls had been better than others, but his was alright. This man had the best showmanship of all the fighters, and began to do some really impressive passes with the bull. The whole time he was slightly better than the rest, but when the time came to kill the bull, he proved he was the best.

For a matador to kill a bull, he must get it squarely in front of him, aim, charge at him, and plunge the sword into a very small, exact spot on the back of the bull’s neck. Most of the matadors struggled with this yesterday, and had to make several attempts to kill the bull. The fifth matador, however, literally risked his life to have a perfect kill. When he got the bull squarely in front of him, he charged at the bull with such speed, he launched his body at the bull’s head, and the bull tossed him in the air! When he landed on the ground, the bull tried to gore him, but started to get weak and ended up stumbling over him, stepping on the matador a few times. As soon as the bull was no longer on top of him, the matador sprang up and started yelling in the bull’s face, commanding it to die! The bull dropped dead right then, it was incredible. It was such an amazing kill, the matador was awarded with an ear, which is a big deal. Ramon said he had never seen anything like it!

The bullfighter then walked around the stadium and Ramon said to us, “Now you can throw things at him, anything you want! Telephone numbers, addresses!” People threw in their hats and cardigans, but none of us threw anything.

The final bullfighter was a huge letdown after that performance. One thing that was interesting about the final fight was nearly as soon as the bull entered the ring, the crowd demanded a new one because his hind legs were weak or something. But even though the bull was not replaced, it was striking that everyone knew right away that the bull was just ok.

After the fight, Ramon took us to a bar for a beer. At the bar, he ordered a plate of bull intenstine lining for us to try, and it was actually pretty tasty. At the bar, Ramon’s old friend Stephen Drake-Jones found us. He was slightly intoxicated and told us some great stories from their younger years.

I only have one more day of classes! I then have finals next week, depart for Lisbon, go to Northern Spain after that, and finally return to Madrid for my final weekend here! It’s so crazy. I would have to say, though, that this trip has not entirely flown by, I have really done a lot and enjoyed the city as much as I could. I am constantly finding something to do here, and if I cannot find anything, I go to the Buen Retiro, which is the Central Park of Madrid. I have been to six museums and I have plans to do two more this weekend. I’m fairly certain that I have done everything I wanted to do and so much more, but I guess I should look over my guide books to make sure. Also, I might go to a bullfight on Sunday, but I cannot make up my mind….

Also, it has been in the 80s, so my classmates and I have been wearing shorts, tank tops, and flip flops, and we are still sweating, but the Madrileños are still wearing sweaters, scarves, and boots! They look at us like we are strange for wearing such clothing, but I cannot even comprehend how they put up with the heat! I understand that I am acclimated to colder weather, but boots in 80 degree weather?! Unbearable.

On Thursday and Friday, I went on a trip with my school to Burgos and then to Peñafiel.

Burgos is a tiny village, home to the Gregorian chanters whose album, “Chants,” hit Billboard’s #1 record in the 90s. It was raining when we were there and there was only one paved road in that whole little town, so that was fun [sarcasm]. The only thing to do in that pueblo was tour the monastery and watch the singers, both of which we did. It was interesting because they didn’t give a concert, they were in prayer, so they weren’t facing us, but the acoustics in the church allowed us to kind of hear them. They didn’t really harmonize at all, the ‘performance’ was just 15 monks in traditional robes singing prayers. It was certainly a unique experience.

Luckily, we went to Peñafiel for the night, because even though it was also a relatively small town, it there were at least signs of modern civilization, such as a gas station and a supermarket. The next morning, we toured the castle complete with a Museum of Wine. After the wine museum, we went to lunch where the only thing on the menu was lamb. I told our program director, MariCarmen, that I don’t eat lamb, and she said, “No, but it’s baby lamb, it’s really good.” And I was like, “Yea… I don’t eat it.” There are three vegetarians in our group, so I would have been perfectly happy just eating whatever they were going to eat, but three other people in addition to the vegetarians felt the way that I did and did not want to eat the lamb, so they made us steaks, which wasn’t necessary but still pretty good.

After the lunch, we went to the Protos wine factory and it was SO COOL. Their underground storage system was huge; it just went really far in every direction with rows and rows of barrels. Then there was this other area with huge cages of bottles, I think they said 3 million, which is a year’s worth of work. We got to sample a glass of white and a glass of red at the end. The white was fantastic and the red was just ok. We then returned to Madrid!

Courtyard of the monastery in the rain

Castle in Peñafiel

Protos Wine Factory

That title doesn’t summarize my experience of Paris in the least bit, those are all just aspects of my trip worth mentioning. I guess it is worth mentioning that I loved it!!! Paris was tres magnifique! It was a delightful city and a gret way to spend some of my spring break.

Unfortunately, the weather was pretty miserable the whole time I was there. It was mostly annoying because it was constantly going in and out of sun and rain. I’d have to put on my sunglasses, then pull out my umbrella, then put my umbrella away… It was crazy.

I got there Friday, March 26 and I just went right to bed at my (mediocre) hostel. I got up first thing in the morning and, after a free breakfast at my hostel that was composed of coffee and a hoagie roll, was one of the first people in line at the Musée d’Orsay. Upon entering the museum, I was supposed to have gone to the left and then loop around, but I noticed that the Impressionists were off to the right, so I went off course and got to enjoy Impressionism completely alone, it was perfect. After spending a long time in this section, I wandered around the rest of the museum, eventually ending up in the “Decorative Arts” section, which is a fancy term for furniture. And I got lost! In the furniture section! It was my worst nightmare. The rooms connected in an illogical way and then just stopped, so I was supposed to have turned around and gone back, but I got confused. It was awful.

It was about 11:30 a.m. when I left, and the restaurant my book told me to go to wasn’t open until noon, so I shopped a little bought and ending up buying a cute little dress that I’m really excited about.

Anyways, I went to Montmartre after lunch and it was really cool. It’s really high on a hill, so I could see a beautiful view of the city from Sacre-Coeur, which is this big cathedral on a huge hill. This cathedral also had a carousel in front of it. It’d be pretty cool if all churches had carousels outside of them, it’d be like a little reward for sitting through mass.

I went to Place du Tertre, which is where Toulouse Lautrec and a bunch of other Bohemian artists lived and worked. It was this little square with a bunch of artists trying to sell their paintings of the famous Parisian sights. There were also these portraitists that Rick Steves warned me about that convince you to let them draw you then charge anywhere from 100-200 euros for them. From here, I walked to the Red Light District to see the Moulin Rouge. It was very exciting (seeing the Moulin Rouge, not the area..)

That night, I went on a night time bike tour that was run by Americans and included a boat tour. It was expensive, but it was a good decision because I had a lot of fun and met a lot of really cool people there. We agreed to meet up at Versailles the next day, but that ended up failing because they were LATE (we agreed to meet up at 12:30 p.m. then wait up to 15 minutes before just going in).

The next morning (the morning of Versailles), I was really lucky because there was a flea market right by my hostel! It was mostly fresh, delicious looking food that make me really wish I had a kitchen there, but there were some jewelry stands as well. After this, I went to the palace, and after waiting for my amigos, I saw the long lines and followed Rick Steves’ advice and went in town to the Office of Tourism because they sell tickets there. Sure enough, there were no people there and (I found out on the bike tour) I talked to the woman about getting free admission with my visa. She said she didn’t think I would because it was a Spanish visa, not a French one, but she told me to go to the security line and try it. So I went back to the palace and waited in the security line, which I was really nervous about because if I waited through this long security line and got rejected, I would have to go wait in the really long ticket line then get back in the long security line.

When I reached the front of the security line, there were two options to go to: an angry looking woman or a jolly looking older man, so I chose the guy obviously. As I was handing him my passport, this other Versailles lady comes out of nowhere and grabs my passport, and she looked even stricter than the other lady! I was thinking, “Aww man…” But after she looked at it for about 5 seconds, she shrugged and said, “Ok.” Yay! Free admission! I went through the metal detector, but I forgot my umbrella was in my pocket, and I told them that, but they still pulled me aside for a thorough frisking session.

Anyways, the palace was ok. And at first when I was in the gardens, I was like, “This is just OK, the Retiro is better…” But the beauty of the garden is definitely it’s size. It keeps going and going and going… Literally, all of the people in line and in the palace just disappeared in the garden. I would walk around for about 15 minutes or more and not see anyone.

I didn’t do anything else that day because I was exhausted after getting lost (I seem to have a penchant for that). But I was SERIOUSLY lost in the garden, nearly to the point of tears because I thought I was heading back towards the palace and there was nobody around. I ended up on a farm with a thatched roof and animals (I found out later it was the ‘Hamlet’). When I went back to the train, I heard my name being called, and it was the friends I was supposed to have met up with! They were probably walking paces behind me the whole time, but didn’t actually want to hang out with me all day, so they didn’t say anything (I’m kidding). So I spent 20 minutes with them on the train then we went our separate ways again.

My final full day there, I hit up the Lourve first thing in the morning. Rick Steves told me about a significantly less crowded back entrance, but I thought, “It still hasn’t opened, I’m early enough, I’ll just go to the regular entrance.” But I accidently ended up at the back entrance, and sure enough, it was nearly empty and definitely worth it. The Lourve is a huge museum. I spent half a day there and didn’t even realize it. After grabbing some lunch, I went on the Rick Steves walking tour detailed in my book, except I did it in reverse because I was coming from the opposite direction, but it still worked out. I went to the Concierge, which is a big prison where some 2,600 people were held during the Revolution (and it’s pretty small), and I showed the ticket lady my visa. And she was going to charge me the student price (4.50), and I was like, “It’s not for free?” and she replied, “You’re a resident from the U.S. even with a visa.” And I said, “Ok, thanks,” and I walked towards the exit. And then she called, “Well, don’t go!” and gave me free admission. I was then going to go into the Sainte-Chapelle, but the line was way too long. So I went across the river to the Notre Dame, and that line was also too long, so I just enjoy it from the outside (flying buttresses!).

My last morning there, I went to the Rodin Museum, which was another good decision. He was an excellent sculptor, his most famous work is the Thinker, and it was on this beautiful property.

Random notes: luckily for me, there was no border patrol when I arrived at the Ryanair airport. Also, the metro doors open before the train comes to a complete stop; that freaked me out a little bit. And the toilet paper is pink (but it didn’t burn, Mom).

Oh, and a hostel story: On Sunday night, I was EXHAUSTED after spending all day at Versailles and couldn’t wait to just get in bed, but everyone had left my room, so I figured I would get new roommates. Sure enough, there’s a knock on the door (my hostel did this weird thing where there was only one room key, so you left it at the front desk when you left and if someone was already in the room when you returned, you knocked). I was like, “You have the wrong room.” And there were like, “Oh sorry.” Ten minutes later, these guys were back, like, “No, this is our room.” And I was like, “Well, that’s a mistake…” I reserved a room for girls only, so I grabbed my confirmation and went down to the front desk and explained the situation. And he looked it up in the computer and realized they made a mistake when they reserved only and marked themselves as females. And he says, “Well, I could move you to another room, but it would just be for the night then you would have to move back to your current room. And they’re just there one night, does it really matter?” I was like, “Um, yea, it does. I reserved a room for women.” I was exhausted and guys snore, hell if I was going to put up with that. I must have called his bluff because he stared at the computer for about one minute, not moving. Then he clicked around and told me that if I didn’t tell anyone, he could put me in a private room with it’s own bathroom, but it was only for the night. That was fine with me!

This weekend, I went on a fabulous journey with my school to Barcelona! It should be noted, however, that though I remembered to bring my camera battery charger, I forgot to bring my camera, because that’s my life. Anyways, the plan was to travel there via bus all day Friday (an eight hour bus hour bus ride with two one hour breaks), go out to dinner when we got there. So Friday went according to plan, as did Saturday (we toured Barcelona all day), but Sunday went slightly astray and Monday was even more erratic. Let me fill in with some details…

Friday

When we finally arrived in the amazing Barcelona, we checked into the hotel, then went out to dinner at this great restaurant (which was somehow able to accommodate us as a 20 person table and a 10 person table). I ended up at the smaller table with the coordinator (the wonderful MariCarmen), and I ordered everything she ordered, which was a fantastic idea because I had such a great meal. Afterward, some of us went to this bar that Ramon recommended (unfortunately, our friend, Ramon, stayed behind for this trip, which is weird because he’s from Barcelona…), and it was really interesting! It was called “Bosc de les Fades,” which translates to “Forest of the Fairies”(“The good kind of fairies,” Ramon clarified when he was describing it, which is hilarious because he was trying to say that it is not a gay bar). This place was incredible because it was dark and it was a fake forest complete with trees and a waterfall. After this, we walked out and were handed free vouchers to a techno club, and it was pretty cool. We wanted to catch the metro home, so we left, but got delayed and got there just before the last metro. The problem was, we had to transfer lines, and we missed the other metro, so we got out at a random stop and tried to walk back to the hotel in city that we had just arrived to hours earlier. Funny story about the metro, though. We were such good, honest Americans and as soon as we got into the metro, we went to the computer-ticket booths to buy tickets to enter. I was the last in line to buy my ticket, and I looked over and realized the doors were open! I said, “Look, we can just walk right in!” So I saved like the one euro and entered. But anyways, we walked for like 20 minutes and somehow ended up at the hotel. I have no idea how that happened.

Saturday

The first thing we did was go to Parc Guell, the famous Gaudi park, and it couldn’t be more perfect when we there. It was a little crowded, but I’m sure it always is, otherwise, the weather was perfect and we spent just the right amount of time there. We got to enjoy the views and sit in the longest bench in the world.

After this park, we went to the Picasso Musuem, which was particularily interesting because it was nearly entirely his early works, as in pre-Cubism. I had no idea that he produced that kind of art in the beginning of his career.

After lunch, we went on a (disappointing) walking tour. We spent too much time in Gothic Barcelona and it was really cold by the time we got to Sagrada Familia. We were supposed to go to…somewhere… but it was closed, so we drove around a little bit on the bus and saw some Gaudi buildings.

That night, before dinner, MariCarmen told us we were going to the “fuentes magicales,” or “Magical Fountains,” and we were all like, hmm, this might be lame, but it ended up being AWESOME. The street that led up to the show was lined with lit fountains and then there was one huge fountain at the end and it performed with different color lights and music. No photo can do this place justice, it was incredible. Behind the giant fountain was a huge stairway that led to the art gallery on the top of the hill. I convinced my friend to go up there with me, and it was an incredible night view of Barcelona, not that I could take a photo.

After dinner, I went out with a friend from my school and his friends from home, and it ended up being a lot of fun because one of them is living in Barcelona for the semester, so he brought us to the cool bars.

Sunday

The plan was to go to a small town two hours away to see the Dali Museum, then return to Barcelona in the late afternoon and have free time. I was thinking I would skip the Dali Museum and stay in Barcelona for the day since we only had one full day there and we spent half of it on a boring tour, so I felt like there was more to see in Barcelona and the museum would be a waste of time. But I ended up going to the Dali Museum and it was such a good decision! Though I didn’t “understand” the work, the art was so fascinating and visually stunning, it was well worth half a day there. Afterward, we went to lunch and got back on the bus, then MariCarmen knew most of us were going to go to the beach once we got back to Barcelona, but she said, “Do you want to go to France?” And we were like, “Yes!” because we thought we’d go to a beach in France. None of us had our passports, so Border Patrol was a little scary (for me at least, since I don’t have the best luck with Border Patrol situations), but we got to France and ended up going to this small town. We were going to have coffee, a pastry, use the bathroom, then leave, but that plan failed because there were no bathrooms anywhere! We all spilt off in different directions trying to find any sort of facility that would allow us to use the restroom, but the town had nothing in it except dog poop everywhere, so France kind of failed. But I still appreciated the spontaneity of the trip, even though we never got the chance to go to the beach in Barcelona.

The plan for the last day was to go to the basilica in Montserrat and then make the long journey back to Madrid. But on the bus ride to France, MariCarmen said, “Does anyone want to go to Andorra tomorrow?” And half of us were like, “Oh my God, yes!” then other half was like, “What’s Andorra?” [I need to mention that when I skyped with Leah the other day and told her I went to Andorra, she said, “Isn’t that the place with the blue people?” And I said, “No, that would be Pandora.”]

Monday

We had to get up and leave ridiculously early in the morning to fit everything in for the day. This is where the title comes in: MariCarmen said on the bus, “Chicos, what we’re about to do is…illegal.” And we were like, “What?!” And she explained that there is this weird bus law that a driver can only drive 10 hours maximum in one day or something like that, but we were definitely going to clock more than 12 hours.

First thing in the morning, we went to Montserrat to see “Morenta,” or the “Black Virgin.” It is the only black Virgin Mary in Spain. We we got to the top of the mountain to see it, the fog was so thick, we literally couldn’t see more than 10 feet ahead of us, if that. We were disappointed, obviously, because we were on the top of a mountain and the view would have been beautiful. It was kind of creepy because we were literally the only people there. We went into the church that was completely empty except for the organ player. It was dark and pretty eerie. We saw the Black Virgin, then exited out of the back, which led to this really clean stone alley with walls lined with lit prayer candles. The sun was just starting to break through the clouds and it was really serene. We got back to the main road and the fog had lifted a lot, revealing the mountains around the church and it was gorgeous. It ended up being a really great trip and it was better that it was empty.

We then went to Andorra! The trip there was unbelieveable! We drove past the snow-capped Pyrenees and this huge river, it was beautiful. We went to this small town in Andorra and it was really fabulous. There was a main strip lined with stores and boutiques. Nearly everyone went to McDonalds, and I was like, “I think I’d rather try some of the local food.” A few classmates and I went to this small restaurant and we ended up just eating pizza, but it was still better than Mickey D’s. We did some shopping, then returned to Spain.

Parc Guell

Part of the longest bench in the world

Sagrada Familia

My classmates and I in Bosc de Les Fades

A better shot of Bosc de Les Fades

Fuentes Magicales

View from outside of the church in Montserrat

This past Thursday through Monday, I went to London! It was an interesting experience. I had a great time with my friends, the sun shined the whole time, and my hostel was pretty cool, but the sights were less than impressive. And traveling was a nightmare, but that has more to do with my bad luck than London. I swear all of the following is true, no matter how unbelievable it may seem, trust me, this kind of stuff only happens to me.

Getting There

From Madrid, I know a few buses run from my apartment to the airport, so I looked up a route that ended in Barajas and took the bus. It turns out Barajas is not only the name of the airport, but also the name of the area right by the airport. I’m going along and the bus stops in this little suburban area, and the driver looks at me and shrugs. I said, “El aeropuerto?” He replied, “No.” He explained that I had reached the end of the route. And I was like, “Well how do I get to the airport?” And he told me the metro was about a 10 minute walk. Luckily I had left my apartment at 5 p.m. even though my flight was at 9 p.m. It was 5:50 p.m. at this point, so I hustled to the metro, took it the one metro stop away to the airport, and rushed through the airport to security. Luckily there was no line, and I ended up at my gate by 6:30 p.m. So I relaxed, ate a sandwich, read my book, listened to music, then at about 8:30 p.m., we started to line up at the gate and I was relatively near the front of the line. I pulled out my boarding pass and waited in line, and then the person behind me informed me that I was at the WRONG GATE. It was like, “What? No…. Umm, Londres, Gatwick?” Everyone shook their heads and said, “Luton.” So I just booked it, in the wrong direction obviously. I ran about 3 gates away, looked at the board, and realized my gate was on the other side of where I was, so I ran past my people.

Luckily, they hadn’t boarded yet. The bad news was, I was the very back of the line and there was no assigned seating. When I finally got on the plane, there were a few seats open, but there was no room in the overhead storage anywhere. I finally saw one with a little bit of space (people put their coats and laptop bags up there, annoying!), so I was trying to arrange some room for my backpack, but needless to say I ws a little stressed at that point and just a little too short to see what I was doing. Just then, a tall, good-looking man with an English accent helped organize the overhead storage at put my bag away for me. 🙂

So I finally settled down into my seat, thinking I was holding up the plane and we could leave now that I was taken care of. But no, we ended up sitting there for an hour because there was “too much luggage on board.”

My flight was supposed to have gotten in at 10:20 p.m., but we didn’t get there to 11:15 p.m. I knew the metro closed at midnight and I only knew how to get to my hostel from the metro, so I rushed from the plane to security.

Welcome to London: Border Patrol

I got to border patrol and was glad I am not an EU citizen because their line was very long. I only waited about 10 minutes, then took my little Entry Card to the Border Patrol Lady (we’ll call her BPL). On the card, it’s all standard information and then you have to put where you’re staying and for how long. I put the address of my hostel and 4 days, but I didn’t know the zip code of my hostel and I was getting nervous that I would have to go to the end of the line, which was getting longer because the other passengers on my plane were just catching up. I was going to ask the girl in front of me the zip code she wrote and just copy it, but I decided it would be best not to lie on this card. I got to the front of the line and there was a Border Patrol Man and BPL. The girl in front of me, went through BPL in about 10 seconds, and kept going, so she called me up next.

I was excited to be there and I said, “Hi!” as I approached. This woman replied by saying, “Where are you staying?” I said, “St Christopher’s Village Inn.”

She said, “What is that, a hostel?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know anyone here in London?”

I replied, “Yes, my friends…”

She interrupted, “Why aren’t you staying with them?”

“I don’t know, they didn’t invite me…”

“How are you going to get to your hostel?”

I said, “I was going to take the metro..”

“Do you know how to get to the metro?”

“Yes, I have to take the Gatwick train..”

“The Gatwick EXPRESS,” BPL said angrily. “The metro CLOSES at midnight!”

“Oh, ok,” I replied, taken aback.

“Well, do you have any money?” Again, with attitude.

“Yes..” My plan was to hit up the ATM in the station. I had Euros and dollars on me just in case, but I didn’t have pounds yet. However, I thought I might have gotten deported if I answered, “No,” to that question.

The interrogation continued, “Where are you coming from?”

“Madrid.”

“Well what are you doing there?”

“Studying.”

“Why are you here?”

“Tourism?” I say with an inflection, not knowing if it’s an acceptable answer.

“How long are you here for?” All of this information is on my card, BPL, and you know it.

“Four days.”

“And then you go back to Madrid?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, the train’s right up the stairs,” she handed me back my passport.

“Thank you!” I say, relieved and exhausted, but in retrospect, I have no idea why I thanked her for interrogating me as if I looked identically like Osama bin Laden.

I ran up the stairs, boarded the 11:30 p.m. Gatwick Express, and got to the city by 12, making it too late to ride the metro. There were about 5 bus stops within sight outside of the station, so I looked at all the routes, and none of them went to where I was going. So I stopped a cab and asked him how much it would cost to get to London Bridge Metro stop, thinking it would be 30 pounds or more. He said, “Only about 15 or 20 pounds,” so I excitedly entered the cab. He asks me if I’m going to a hostel, and I told him yes and I told him the name of it, to which he confessed he didn’t know where it was, but he knows where the street is. We arrived to the area of the hostel and the street’s under construction! So he had to drop me off four blocks from my destination. I’m telling you, this stuff only happens to me.

Day One

The night before, I told my friend Allie that I had arrived safely at my hostel and I would call her and be ready to go by 9:30. The next morning, I got up to my alarm at 8:30 a.m., went downstairs and had my free breakfast, and then got ready and was ready to go by 9:30 a.m. I called Allie, and I was feeling very proud to actually be on time, but I had obviously woken her up. I was like, “I’m ready to go, where should I meet you?” She was like, “Come here I guess… Lola, you know it’s 8:30 a.m., right?” Stupid time change. I got up on Contenental Europe time, not London time.  Awesome.

On first day, we went to go to the British Museum, and ended up at the British Library instead, so we went in their first. There was a few really amazing primary documents, and I saw on my map, “Shakespeare’s Folios.” So we walked around the area on the map over and over and did not see them, so we asked a staff member where the original folios were. “They’re temporarily not on display.” !!!! Of course not.

Rest of the Time in London

The next few days were alright. I had a great time with my friends, they showed me all the good happy hours. But the “underground/tube” closes at midnight, even on Friday and Saturday!! So on Friday night, I wandered around Trafalgar Square trying to figure out my night bus (but the night bus ended up being awesome because I got to be on a double decker!!), and Saturday night, I we didn’t even stay out too late because most bars close by midnight or two at the latest! It was at that point were I really missed Madrid. Madrid is such a great place for people my age.

The Journey Home

On Monday morning, my flight was leaving at 7:25 a.m., so I was really nervous about making it there in time after my disasterous first experience with Gatwick. I took a cab at 4:30 a.m. to the Victoria Station to catch the first Gatwick Express. I then proceeded to practically run through the airport to get to an empty security area. I was literally the first person to pass through security that morning, then I ran to my gate and got there at about 5:50a.m., so I finally relaxed a little bit, but I didn’t get too comfortable because I rememebered that I waited at the wrong gate for two hours in Madrid, so I was very alert and spazzy. I went to a Pret-A-Manger, which is this cafe sort of place that is comically EVERYWHERE in London. There are literally two to a block on every block in London, but I had not gone to one until that morning when I was leaving.

Everything went fine, except that as soon as I got on the plane, I passed out and woke up an hour later and we had still not taken off yet. I wasn’t worried, though, because I didn’t have anything that day except clas at 4 p.m., and I knew I would definitely make it there in time.

When I arrived in Madrid, I took the metro back to my apartment even though I KNOW there are buses that go directly from the airport to my stop. I leave for Paris on Friday, so I am going to try the bus system again and hopefully not end up in a random neighborhood this time. But I’m sure that’ll be an adventure I will just blog about later.

crossing the street: for tourists

tourist shot!

View of Not-So-Big-Ben from Trafalgar Square

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