Sunsets in Florence

Italy part 2: Sunsets in Florence

My first memory of Florence is a rather hazy, golden dream. I remember that when my family got there I was exhausted, but that stepping out into the pink and gold tinged streets of the city gave me new life. At some point in the evening, I remember that we stumbled upon an orchestra performing near the Ponte Vecchio and I knew that I had fallen head over heels in love with the city. Several days later, as my family’s time in Florence was coming to an end, I made sure to rub the nose of the Bronze Boar statue which, according to legend, guarantees your return. Four years later, I proved the legend right as I have come back, only this time sharing the adventure with two friends.

I was determined to make this year’s Florence experience as magical for Mary and Catey as my first visit had been for me. Unfortunately, the trip didn’t get off to a great start. As I mentioned my last blog, we missed our train from Rome to Florence. Thus, we had to buy second-class tickets for a three hour train ride and, to make matters worse, we actually ending up getting off at the wrong stop and had to catch another train ten minutes later. All of this resulted in us getting to Florence very late and eating a dinner that was good but way overpriced. So…not really the magical first day I had envisioned. But I shouldn’t have worried too much, because the next day was almost as perfect as I was hoping for.

The next morning we had a delicious and cheap breakfast at a little cafe called ‘Caffe Rosano” (a croissant and a freshly squeezed o.j. for 4.5 euros). Then we headed to the Galleria Academia to pay a visit to Michelangelo’s David. I had bought tickets before hand so we had to get there a little early to exchange our vouchers for the tickets.

The gallery is, in my opinion, the perfect size for a museum. It only takes about an hour and a half to see everything and, especially with the David, you feel like you get your money’s worth. The David is very impressive (I think Catey might be in love). The details in just the hands of the David are absolutely incredible, you can even see the veins. Definitely a ‘must-see’ of you get the opportunity.
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Quick note: Seeing the David during the off-season was actually a lot better than seeing it during the summer, because in the summer the museum is extremely crowded.

After our wanderings through the museum, we got a quick sandwich to go at a little shop called ‘Sandwichic.’ The guys behind the counter were super helpful and gave us each a button for good luck as we left. The sandwiches were absolutely delicious and we ate them on the curb of the Piazza Della Signoria while fending off pigeons.

After lunch, we made a quick stop at the Ponte Vecchio, took some lovely photos and headed to the Pitti Palace. I had only given us two and a half hours for the entire palace, because I forgot how large it really is. Unfortunately, even with the Museum of Fashion and Costume closed, we didn’t see everything. I had originally planned to take a quick tour of the Boboli gardens, but both Mary and Catey were pretty tired so we headed to a coffee shop instead. After being reinvigorated with caffeine, we headed to the Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset. Now, I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but watching the sunset from that hill was a great idea. The entire city of Florence turned gold and pink in the sunset and right behind us a street musician played beautiful songs on his guitar. We even saw a professional model shoot happen right below us. I felt the same magically beauty that had originally made me love Florence, and this time Catey and Mary could experience it as well.
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The Ponte Vecchio

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Pc: Mary

After climbing down from Piazza Michelangelo, we headed to the Santa Croce where both Michelangelo and Galileo are buried. Unfortunately, the church was closed by the time we got there, so we spent the evening exploring the Christmas market nearby. For dinner, we headed to a restaurant named ‘La Fettunta.’ I split a lasagna and an eggplant parmesan with Catey. Both were absolutely scrumptious. After dinner, we headed to a nearby gelato shop to meet up with an old friend of mine from Denmark named Natascha, who just happened to be studying in Florence when we were there. The gelato was pretty subpar for the normally delicious florintine gelato, but sitting in a warm room, surrounded by friends and catching up is always a nice way to spend an evening.

The next day, didn’t go as smoothly as I had planned unfortunately. I had bought tickets for us to se Il Duomo at 10:00. They were supposed to be ‘skip the line’ tickets, but we ended up standing in line for about half an hour anyways. As we were nearing the front of the queue, I noticed that some people with tickets that looked similar to ours were being turned away. I asked the couple in front of us what was going on and they told me that not only did you need a ticket, but you needed a reservation as well. I was pretty confused because I had bought the tickets for a specific time, and had the physical copies of the tickets with me. But when I showed them to the security guy, he told me that because we didn’t have reservation we couldn’t enter. I was starting to get a little frustrated by this point, but we made our way to the ticket office in the museum to figure out the problem. It turns out the company I bought the tickets from sent me an email with two separate links–one for the tickets and one for the reservation–and wrote that I only needed to print one or the other to enter, when in reality, I needed both. After figuring out the problem we went back to the guard and he finally let us into Il Duomo. The moral of the story kids–always print out every link from a ticket website because it’s better to be safe than sorry.

I forgot how long the climb is to the top of Il Duomo and Catey and Mary were pretty tired of stairs by the time we got to the roof. The view, however is definitely worth the climb. 24993194_1141385252658950_1572070914499339006_n.jpg

After walking around the Duomo museum for awhile we met up with Natascha had an amazing lunch at Toscini Panini (6€). If you get the opportunity definitely eat there! You’re allowed to sample all the different meats and cheeses before choosing the ingredients for your sandwich and all the employees are very nice.

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Right after eating a delicious sandwich, I felt the overwhelming desire to hug my Danish friend, a.k.a. Natascha

After lunch, we grabbed a quick gelato (Florence gelato is the best), and headed to the Uffizi gallery to spend the afternoon looking at art. Unfortunately, there was another mix up with the tickets (although this time it was entirely my fault). Somehow I had bought tickets for the 5th and the 7th but not the 6th, which was the correct date. So yeah…another piece of advice would be to always triple check your ticket dates before buying them. I bought some more tickets and we headed inside. The museum itself is quite large and beautiful. We saw Botticelli’s ‘Venus’ and many other stunning paintings, but unfortunately I think we were rather museumed-out by the end.

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We left a little earlier than planned and headed to the laundry mat to wash our clothes. For dinner, we headed to a small, Chinese-food restaurant. We had all been craving Chinese food because, as good as Asturian food is back in Oviedo, they don’t have a lot of good international restaurants. Thus, we ended our final night in Florence eating delicious fried rice, spring rolls, and in my case, sweet and sour chicken.

The next morning, we got to the train station extra early to make sure we didn’t miss our train this time. It was hard to say goodbye to Florence yet again, but I know I’ll be back because I paid a dear old friend a visit.

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Our Roman Holiday

Italy part 1: Our Roman Holiday

As some famous opera composer named Verdi once said, ‘You may have the universe, if I may have Italy.’ While I personally might not go that far, I can entirely understand his reasoning. There is an endless beauty and magic to be found within that little boot and I have been lucky enough to visit it twice now.
My first encounter with lovely Italy was four years ago with my family. It was ‘the big family vaca’ and we spent a summer traveling all over Europe. This time, my travel companions are two college friends who are also studying abroad in Spain. We decided to take a small break from studying Spanish and head to the land of pasta, pizza and gelato for a week. We split the trip into three main sections-Rome, Florence and Venice (each city will have its own blog post) – with each of us taking a different city to plan. Our first stop was Rome.

Rome. Just the word itself invokes feelings of grandeur. Walking through the city, I’m constantly reminded of Rome’s ancient power and splendor (of course, it probably helps that I just watched Gladiator- are you not entertained!?).
Mary was in charge of Rome and had planned for us to see the following sites: The Vatican museum, the National Roman Museum (a.k.a. the cat museum-I’ll explain shortly), St. Peter’s Basilica, The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, The Roman Forum and, of course, the Colosseum. To keep this blog post on the relatively short side, I’m going to do what I have done in previous posts, and only write tiny reviews and summaries of the biggest, most famous places we visited. Like last time, Mary’s blog has a more day-by-day blow of accounts, so I’ll put a link to her story below.

The Vatican Museum:
We started off our Roman Holiday with a trip to the good ole Vatican Museums. I had previously visited the museums with my family so it was rather fun to see how much of it I could remember (almost everything except the Egyptian room was the same). This time, right before leaving, we had just finished talking about Dali and Picasso in my art class. The amount of art those museums hold is astounding, so I had completely forgotten that some of Picasso and Dali’s work is in the museum. It was very interesting to revisit and take a closer look at their art.
After making our way through the numerous rooms (the map room is my favorite), we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. Now, I’m going to be honest here, the Sistine Chapel isn’t my favorite. It’s generally very crowded, and there’s a constant call of ‘no photos, no photos’. The chapel itself is fine, in fact the main image is quite beautiful and if I hadn’t seen it before, both in person and in photographs, I might be more impressed, but I find Michelangelo’s other works such as the David and the Pietà to be much more moving and beautiful.

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The map room. Pc: Mary (if the Pc is Mary, you can see the picture on her flicker)

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The staircase in the Vatican Museum. Hey–it’s cool, ok? PC: Mary

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Forlorn Statue that reminded me of Gulliver’s travels

Quick note: There wasn’t any long lines to get into the museums because we went during the off-season, but it’s always a good idea to buy tickets ahead of time.

 

The National Roman Museum:
After eating a delicious lunch, we took a train to the Palazzo Massimo (also called the National Roman Museum). I hadn’t gone to this museum with my family, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The tickets were €7 which I think was a fair price. In the Palazzo Massimo itself we saw Roman statues, jewelry, a mummy, and a rather extensive Roman coin collection.
Afterwards, we headed to the Baths of Diocletian, a different branch of the museum right across the street. It was here that we met the ghost cat, or what we originally thought was a ghost cat. Here’s the whole story; as we were watching a film about Roman baths, Catey spotted a cat lying on the lap of the lady in front of us. I thought it was rather odd that someone would take a cat to a museum, but I was also envious because I wanted a cat on my lap too. Later in the evening, we saw the same lady walking through the gardens, only this time the cat was nowhere to be found. We looked for it everywhere and when we couldn’t find it, we came to the conclusion that it must have been a ‘ghost-cat’. Some time later, right before we were about to leave, the cat reappeared, scaring the bajeezus out of me. We got to pet it for a while and the museum man told us it was the museum’s cat (or at least I think that’s what he was trying to imply as his english was even worse than my Italian). The cat was very soft and, overall, we had a great time. I wouldn’t call this museum a ‘must-see’ but If you have the time, it’s a great way to spend a cold evening.

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Ghost Cat

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We had way too much fun playing with the shadows on the museum wall. Pc: Catey

Quick note: I think all museums should have at least one cat.

Saint Peter’s Basilica:
The next morning we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica. I would like to give a quick shoutout to Mary’s planning skills, because not only did we attend mass in one of the most impressive basilicas I’ve ever seen, but we actually saw the Pope afterwards. Well, ‘saw’ might be a strong term. From our position in the square I could discern a tiny white blob waving its arms around. Still, the square was packed, the crowd was cheering and waving signs, and the Pope blessed us. All in all, a pretty cool experience.

 

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Just exploring Saint Peter’s

 

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Right after being blessed by the Pope

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The cutest little blob that you ever did see. Pc: Mary

Quick Note: Michelangelo’a Pietá is absolutely beautiful. After entering the Basilica, take a sharp right and it’ll be in front of you.

 

The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain:
After eating a quick on-the-go lunch, we took a very bouncy bus to the general vicinity of the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.
The Pantheon is alright. The structure itself it very interesting and it has a hole in the roof, but you don’t need to spend more then half an hour in there. The same can be said for the Trevi Fountain. It’s absolutely beautiful and a great place for pictures, but you don’t need to spend more than 30 minutes there especially in the winter (I might eat my lunch or gelato there in the summer however).

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There’s a hole in my roof, dear liza, dear liza (this caption is meant to be sung).

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Like I said- great place for photos

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Quick note: I imagine it would be quite cool to watch the rain fall through the hole in the Pantheon roof, so if you get the chance, tell me how it goes.

The Spanish Steps:
I hope the following statement doesn’t make me sound like too much of a pompous, ‘oh, I’m so well-travelled,’ snob, but The Spanish Steps are a lot more fun in the summer. On warm summer evenings, everybody sits on the steps, laughing and chatting. It feels like the place to be, and you can watch the evening sky from the top of the steps. In the winter, it’s just a big, fancy, almost empty, staircase with a church on top (wow that did sound snobbish). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice staircase, and a fine little church, there’s even a beautiful view and a great place for photos, but the summer charm that captivated me the first time I saw it wasn’t there. With that being said however, it was still a pleasant place to visit and I would still recommend that you see it.

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Pc: Mary

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The view from the top. Pc: Mary

Quick Note: When I visited in the summer I remember eating on the steps, but this time we were told food wasn’t allowed. So eat at your own risk.

On our last day we visited the Roman Forum and, to finish things off, the Colosseum.

The Roman Forum:
In my opinion, the Roman Forum is like a side dish to the Colosseum right next to it; it adds a little spice to the whole experience but probably wouldn’t be sufficient on its own. You should visit if you have time, and if you’re really lucky you might hear an instrumental rendition of ‘Despacito’ while you look the ruins.

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Pc: Mary

Quick note: The exit is not the same gate as the entrance, it’s located to the right of the entrance as you walk in. There are signs and arrows pointing it out, but it still took us a surprisingly long time to find.

The Colosseum:
Ever since I did a sixth grade report on the Colosseum, I have been vastly impressed and enamored of it. To me, it represents the epitome of Rome; beautiful, powerful and, at times, terrible. Standing in the Colosseum, I can almost hear the clash of battles happening in the arena and the shouts and jeers of thousands of spectators.

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Pc: Mary

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Are you not entertained?! Here I am channeling my inner Russell Crowe

Fun fact: One of the coolest tidbits I remember from my sixth grade report is the fact that one female gladiator (not as common as male gladiators but still used), won her freedom by killing three opponents with a chamber pot. Food for thought.

 

To end my Roman Holiday blog post, I’m just going to share a little information about its public transport. As impressive as the ancient ruins and structures of Rome are, its public transportation system is rather lacking. Unlike in Paris where we could travel almost anywhere using the metro, Rome has a very limited metro system. On top of that, we had a bad experience with the bus as we were leaving. Long story short, it arrived to the train station ninety minutes late and although we had given ourselves over an hour and a half of cushion time, we still missed our train to Florence. I don’t think you’ve truly experienced panic until you’re running towards your train and suddenly realize its pulling out of the station. So, just be careful in relying too much on Rome’s public transport.

 

Mary’s blog: https://marycecelia12.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/our-great-italian-adventure-part-1-roaming-in-roma/

 

 

Midnight in Paris

I could never remember if Paris was known as ‘The City of Light’ or ‘The City of Love,’ now that I’ve been there, however, I realize it could easily be both. I only spent a total of three and a half days there, but my friend Mary and I must have gone to almost every big tourist attraction there is and more. Our time in Paris was so busy and full of experiences, that If I were to try and write every single one down, this blog post would go on for hours. Thus, in the spirit of keeping things short, well, shorter anyways, I’ve decided to just focus on giving quick reviews to the biggest and most famous monuments/ places we visited (Mary’s blog has a more day-to-day write up of our experience, so there’s a link to her blog below).

Musee D’Orsay: The Museum itself was quite nice. For a ticket costing around 10 euros, you could see hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and pottery, including works by Van Gogh and Monet. The size of the museum is very nice—large but not overwhelming.

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Quick note: The Museum is right by the River Seine, and, unfortunately, if you stop to take pictures you might be targeted by a group of swindlers. They look like well-dressed, young hipsters, but I assure you their intentions are not benign, especially if they tell you they are collecting for the ‘blind, deaf and handicap children.’ Beware! I’ve been a victim of swindling in the past and it’s the absolute worst feeling because you blame yourself entirely (seriously, it sucks).

Sacré Coeur: The Sacre Coeur is a beautiful Basilica on top of a hill (it’s pretty easy to spot while in Paris). It takes a while to walk up the incline and then climb the stairs, but it is well worth the time. The view of paris is absolutely incredible and the basilica itself is very nice.

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Quick note: This Basilica is called the Sacré Coeur (Cu-ur) not Sacre bleu (which is one of my little brother’s go to phrases when badly impersonating a frenchman). Try to remember this as it can help prevent extreme embarrassment in the future.

Luxembourg Gardens: Mary and I decided to go to the Luxembourg Gardens rather late in the day, so we only had about an hour to explore them. They were quite pretty, although I imagine they would be ten times prettier in the summer, and a great place for some photos.

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Pantheon: After being kicked out of the Luxembourg Gardens (because it was closing—not because we were obnoxious), we kind of stumbled upon the Pantheon. It is a very impressive structure from the outside, and since it only cost seven euros to go inside, we decided to give it a try. There were some crypts, including Madam Curie’s (fun fact: Madam Curie was actually born in Poland), and an impressive, spacious main floor. Although it was cool to see the inside, I wouldn’t consider it a ‘must see.’ If you have time, go, but If you don’t, don’t worry about it.

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Quick note: The bathroom looks like it is for both men and women, because the sign for both is placed at the entryway, but if you keep walking there’s actually two distinct bathrooms.

The Catacombs: Oh, the catacombs. Mary’s probably still a little salty about that one (for those who are not familiar with the word ‘salty’ it basically means ‘peeved’—the more you know, right?) Anyways, my parents had told me that the catacombs were a must see, but because we were visiting Paris in the winter and planning on getting to the catacombs early in the morning, I didn’t think it was necessary to get tickets ahead of time. I was wrong, very wrong. We ended up waiting in line, in freezing weather, for about an hour and a half. By the time we finally went down into the catacombs, I was afraid for my health, both because of the fact that my toes felt like they were falling off and because of the dirty (playfully dirty, I like to think), looks I was receiving from Mary. The catacombs were basically just a vast sea of bones. There were so many that it seemed to go on forever, especially if you shined a flashlight into the crevices. I’m not sure how I felt about it. I mean, it was almost as if all the bones were sticks or just plastic props. It was very hard to picture the pile as actually human remains, and it just made me think of my inevitable future as a corpse (I know, super happy). As Mary put it, I had a mini-existential crises. So, overall, I’m glad I went but I wish I had bought tickets ahead of time. 14.jpg

Quick note: The floor of the tunnel leading to the catacombs is basically a death trap. I twisted my ankle like three times. Also, a warning to my fellow tall people, the ceiling is quite low at points.

The Louvre: Before leaving for France, one of our Spanish friends told us that unless you have a lot of time on your hands, The Louvre isn’t worth it because you can’t even begin to see everything. Well, she was right about the fact that we barely scratched the surface, but I think that even if you only get to see a fraction of what the Louvre has to offer, it’s still worth it.

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Quick note: The Mona Lisa is fine, but what’s really impressive is the painting right across from the Mona Lisa. It’s called The Wedding at Cana and it’s absolutely huge.

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The Circus: The friends we were staying took us to go see a circus with them, as it was a show that their young cousins would enjoy and we would understand. I had never actually been to a real circus before, and I felt like I had been transported back in time. It was a fine way to spend an evening, quite entertaining. With that being said, however, I don’t think I would pay to go back, I think it’s probably a lot more magical for younger children.

The Eiffel Tower: On Sunday morning we headed to the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is so iconic and beautiful that even though it was a little chilly, it was quite full of people. Mary and I decided to go all the way to the top. The line on the ground level took about 30 minutes, but the wind wasn’t too bad and it was sunny. After we got into the elevator, I thought we would go straight to the top, but you actually stop on the second level, get out and take another elevator. The line for this one was really long and to make matters worse it was freezing, like Chicago freezing (my fellow Chicagoans you know what I’m talking about). The line took forever, but we finally made it to the elevator and got all the way to the top. On the top level you can see the entire city and you can peek into Eiffel’s apartment where there are wax replicas of Eiffel himself, Thomas Edison and Eiffel’s daughter. Overall, it was worth it. I would like to return one day, but only in warmer weather. 1.jpg

 

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Quick Note: Knowing good time-wasting games can help pass the time in line Also, if your friend doesn’t like your singing, try to refrain from humming continuously while standing next to them. Trust me, they don’t like it.

Île San-Louis: This isn’t really a tourist monument or destination, but I thought I would include it because it was so cute. Despite the freezing weather, our host family took us to get some ice-cream and walk around the shops. I definitely wish to return when I’m not shivering my butt off.

Quick Note: For all you romance-lovers out there, this Island is definitely a romantic spot. I would imagine it’s absolutely incredible in the summer, crossing over bridges, eating ice-cream and listening to the bells of Notre Dame…*sigh* I’m definitely coming back.

 Notre Dame: Mary and I went to mass in the Notre Dame. It was huge and quite beautiful, but I still think my favorite church is in Madrid (Catedral La Almudena). 37798865865_06638c3016_o.jpg

Quick Note: The sermon is in French, but they give you a program that has sections in both English and Spanish, which is nice because trying to read along in French is hard!

 Arc de Triomphe: We only saw the arc from the outside and didn’t spend the money to go to the top. From what I’ve heard, you have a very nice view of all the different avenues coming together, but it’s rather unnecessary if you’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower (that’s just what I’ve heard, so correct me if I’m wrong!). With that being said, it’s a lovely spot for some pictures.

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Grand Palais: Again, Mary and I didn’t actually go into the Grand Palais, but it is absolutely beautiful from the outside.

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Quick Note: Does anyone know if there was something special going on this weekend? Because there were a bunch of vans full of older police officers lining the street next to the Grand Palais.

Pont Alexandre: Lovely bridge, great for photos!

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Quick Note: The bridge decorations reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones (a fact that isn’t really useful or helpful for you but I thought I’d just let you know anyways—you’re welcome).

Galleries Lafayette: O.K. So the Galleries of Lafayette is actually a giant shopping center (similar to the Water Tower Place in Chicago). We honestly had no idea it existed until our French friends told us about it. We decided to go to check it out and it. was. awesome! The entire mall was decked out for Christmas and there were also different ‘Christmas stations,’ for example, a Santa Claus (I wanted to get a picture but we didn’t have time), a fortune teller, and a virtual roller coaster (so much fun!). So if you’re in Paris around Christmas time definitely give the Galleries Lafayette a visit.

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Quick Note: The clothes were super cute too. So if you have money to spend and love fashion, this place is for you.

Well folks, those are all the big monuments and typical tourist attractions we saw. We did a lot more, including, but not limited to the following: watching a documentary on whales in the iMax theater, eating at numerous, delicious, french restaurants, walking through the Tuileries Garden, seeing the Eiffel Tower light up at night from our bedroom, and eating Thai food.

Before I sign off, I just want to give y’all one last tip. Before going to Paris I had heard that the Metro system was really complicated and hard to follow, but I found that to be very untrue. Even Mary, who has almost never used public transportation in her life, could easily figure it out. The only aspect of the system that might be a little confusing is how often you have to switch trains, but it is extremely easy to follow the signs. So don’t be afraid to use the Metro. It’s cheap, quick and really useful!

P.S.–Berets are always a good investment

P.P.S–check out Mary’s blog and Flicker pictures (a lot less of me and more of, you know, Paris)

https://marycecelia12.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/paris-is-always-a-good-idea/

 

Ireland and The Cliffs of Insanity

*Sección de español al final

Ireland. To me, the word conjures up images of rolling green country sides, small, lively pubs, and old men with caps, pipes and charming accents. I have only been to Ireland twice now, and I have fallen in love with it both times. Most recently, I traveled with two friends, Mary and Catey, and stayed in Dublin for about 4 1/2 days. It was, to put it simply, pretty awesome.

We left extremely late Thursday night to take a bus to the airport in Madrid. The bus was not the most comfortable unfortunately, but we did end up sitting next to a couple of American girls who were also studying at the University of Oviedo.

We got to the airport in the quiet morning hours of Friday, and, after having some trouble locating our gate, finally made it onto the plane. The flight wasn’t particularly bad, but my admittedly freakishly long legs were pretty cramped. After touching down in Ireland and going through customs, we got to the baggage claim area where I immediately noticed all of the Halloween decorations adorning the walls. In Oviedo Halloween isn’t that big of a holiday, although it has become more popular in recent years, so it was a nice shock of familiarity to see the pumpkin streamers and skeleton cut outs.

After talking to an extremely nice man at the information desk, we took a double-decker bus to our hostel in Dublin.  Mary and I were staying at Isaac’s Hostel and Catey was staying at Spire hostel which was only about an 8 minute walk away.

My experience at Isaac’s Hostel was a good one overall. The entrance room/ dining hall was completely decked out in Halloween decorations–streamers, skulls, pumpkins–the whole bit. Mary and I stayed in a 16 person room on the third floor. The beds were fine, as were the bathrooms. My only complaint was that the room had a weird and rather unpleasant smell (not entirely unexpected when sleeping with strangers), but apart from that, everything was fine.

After settling in and picking Catey up from her Hostel, we had a fish and chips lunch at a restaurant. For dinner, we found a cute little pub and I discovered my new love of a hard cider called Orchard Thieves. For anyone like me who has the taste pallet of a five year old, I highly recommend Orchard Thieves. It’s basically apple juice with a nice zing.

The next day two really cool things happened. First, we went on a free ‘Irish Folklore and Myths’ walking tour which was absolutely fascinating. Our guide was really funny and a self proclaimed alcoholic scholar. He told us all about the legends of the Tuatha Dé Danann (Irish Fairy Folk), Darkey Kelly, The Hellfire Club, and Molly Malone, among others.

 Second, and this was really odd, I ran into one of my high school classmate’s exchange students. Her name is Franziska and she’s from Germany. She was visiting Dublin with a friend and if I had taken any other street, or had stopped to tie my shoe, or done anything differently, I would not have seen her.

After making plans to meet with Franziska later that evening, Catey, Mary and I headed to church and then started looking for a place to eat dinner. There weren’t many options and I was pretty hungry and had to pee. Thus, I suggested TGI Fridays because believe it or not, I had never been in the states and Mary and Catey told me it was pretty cheap. So we went. It was way more expensive than I was expecting but the atmosphere was nice and they had warm bathrooms. My favorite part of the night was halfway through the meal when the song Get Low started playing. For those who don’t know the song it’s not exactly what I would call family friendly. The lyrics go something like ’to the window, to the walls, till the sweat drop down my balls all these bitches crawl, till all skeet skeet motherfuckers’… yeah, it was pretty fun.

On Sunday, we took an all day trip to the cliffs of Moher, or as some of you may know them ‘The Cliffs of Insanity’ from The Princess Bride. The cliffs were absolutely stunning and we were lucky enough to have really good weather.

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P1020905.jpgP1020931.jpgIMG_5314.JPGOn Monday, we took a tour of Dublin Castle. I adored the castle and spent a good deal of time pretending I was a guest at a royal ball, dressed in a fancy gown, and holding a glass of champagne (or hard cider). 23517670_1123139517816857_4550301336902798633_n.jpg

Later that evening we toured Kilmainham Gaol, an old prison that had been turned into a museum. This visit was a little more serious than our castle wanderings. We learned about the Easter Uprising and the fight for Irish independence. Do you know that the Irish Declaration of Independence is the first document of its kind that explicitly mentions women? It begins ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen…’ and the uprising was full of badass ladies. 23456577_1123138114483664_3127798052309746974_o.jpg

Our final day in Dublin, we explored St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Now as impressed as I was with everything we had seen so far, I must say I was a little disappointed in St. Patrick’s. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful and big, but it felt very commercialized. For example, there was a gift shop inside the church as well as a play section for kids. I’m still very glad I saw it, but I wouldn’t put it on a list of must-sees.

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We left Ireland late Tuesday afternoon (Halloween for those of you not paying attention), and flew back to Madrid.

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A stop on our way to the cliffs

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Taking a tour of Trinity College

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I can’t resist Christmas lights

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finding my love of Orchard Thieves

Ireland is a place of warmth, of magic, of good story-telling, loud laughter, and lots of bars. It has beautiful countrysides that seem untouched by modern times, as though they have been preserved in their own little sheep infested snow globes. Dublin itself is the perfect balance between the intimate feeling of a small town and the hustle and bustle of a large city. If you are ever lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit, take it. You won’t be disappointed. And who knows? You might come to love it just as I have.

Español

Irlanda. Para mi, la palabra evoca imágenes de paisajes con colinas verdes, bares llenos de gente y música, y abuelos con gorros, pipas y acentos encantadores. Solo he ido a Irlanda dos veces, pero cada vez me encanta más. Recientemente, fui con dos amigas que se llaman Catey y Mary. Nos quedamos en Dublin durante 4  días y medio y fue increíble por no decir menos.

Salimos el jueves por la noche y cogimos un autobús al aeropuerto en Madrid. Desafortunadamente, el autobús no era el más cómodo, y no tenia espacio suficiente para mis piernas tan largas (si, soy una freaky≤,).

Llegamos al aeropuerto la madrugada del viernes, y, después de tener algunos problemas para encontrar nuestra terminal, subimos al avión. El vuelo no fue horrible, y solo duró un par de horas. Llegamos a Irlanda por la tarde. Lo primero que noté, fueron las decoraciones para Halloween. Halloween no es una fiesta muy grande en Oviedo (aunque es más grande ahora que en el pasado), entonces me gustó ver algo familiar.

Cogimos un autobús (con dos pisos!) a nuestro hostal. Mary y yo nos quedamos en un hostal que se llama Isaac’s Hostel y Catey se quedó en uno muy cerca, que se llama Spire.

Mi experiencia en el Isaac’s Hostel fue buena. Nos quedamos en un cuarto de 16 personas en el tercer piso. Las camas eran un poco cortas para mí, pero los baños estaban limpios y había wifi. La mayoría de la gente era amable y respetuosa (había algunos Australianos que no paraban de hablar toda la noche).

Después de dejar nuestras maletas en las camas, salimos a comer con Catey. Encontramos una tienda de ‘pescado y papas fritas’ un plato típico de Irlanda. Estaba rico. Para cenar fuimos a un bar y ahí fue donde encontré mi amor por la cerveza que se llama ‘Orchard Thieves’. Para alguien como yo, que tiene el sabor de un niño de 5 años, Orchard Thieves es la bebida perfecta. Sabe como jugo (zumo) de manzana con un extra ‘zing’.

Al día siguiente dos cosas extrañas pero realmente geniales pasaron. Primero, tuvimos un tour de ‘Folklore and Fairytales’ por Dublin. Eso fue muy divertido. Aprendí mucha mitología y muchas historias de Irlanda como Los Tuatha Dé Danann (La gente del mundo de hadas), Darkey Kelly, The Hellfire Club, y Molly Malone, y mucho más.

La segunda, y esto es muy extraño, encontré el estudiante de intercambio de una de mis compañeros de secundaria. Se llama Franziska, y es de Alemania. Ella estaba visitando a un amigo en Dublin, y si yo hubiera caminado por otra calle, o hubiera parado para atar mis zapatos, no la habría visto.

Después de hacer planes con Franziska para encontrarnos esa noche, Mary, Catey y yo fuimos a una iglesia y después, empezamos a buscar un restaurante para cenar. No había muchas opciones y yo tenia hambre y también necesitaba orinar. Por eso, fuimos a un restaurante que se llama TGI Friday. Era más caro de lo que  pensaba, pero la atmósfera era buena. Mi parte favorita de la noche fue cuando la canción Get Low empezó a sonar. Para las personas que no la conocen, la letra es algo como “a la ventana, a la pared, hasta que el sudor caiga desde mis bolas, todas estas zorras se arrastran, skee skee motherfucker”…sí, no es un canción para familias y por eso, fue muy interesante oírla en un restaurante lleno de niños.

El domingo, fuimos a Los Acantilados de Moher. Eran absolutamente asombrosos. Tengo muchas fotos. El lunes, fuimos al palacio de Dublin e imaginaba que era una princesa, bailando en un baile real. Luego, ese mismo día, fuimos a una cárcel vieja que ahora es un museo. Aprendí mucho sobre la revolución Irlandesa. Sabes que la declaración de independencia de Irlanda es el primer documento de ese tipo que dice explícitamente ‘mujeres’? Empieza con ‘Los hombres y mujeres irlandesas…’ Eso me gusta mucho.

 Nuestro ultimo dia, fuimos a la Catedral de San Pedro. Para ser honesta, no estuve muy impresionada. La catedral es bonita, pero si tienes que escoger entre eso o Los acantilados de Moher, Los acantilados ganan por mucho. Salimos el Martes y regresamos a Madrid.

Para terminar, quiero decir que Irlanda es un lugar de magia, de historias bien contadas, de risas duras y muchos bares. Tiene un paisaje hermoso que parece como si no hubiera sido tocado por ningún ser humano, como un lugar sin tiempo. Pero, por otro lado, Dublin es una combinación perfecta de los tiempos modernos y el pasado. Si tienes la buena suerte de tener una oportunidad para visitar Irlanda, hazlo. Quién sabe? Tal vez vas a enamorarte de ella, exactamente como yo.

Life of an Exchange Student

I write when I am either frustrated and need to vent, or inspired and want to share. For example, I was inspired to write ‘Finding your Happy Place’ and frustrated enough to write “The Weekend from Hell’. For a while now, however, I have been neither inspired nor incredibly frustrated, which means that writing requires a lot more effort. That’s not to say that I haven’t been doing anything, au contraire, I’ve been pretty busy with volleyball, tutoring sessions (yes, I am now a tutor!), school and weekend excursions with the rest of the students from Rollins. I definitely have a lot of material to work with, but for some reason every time I sit myself down to write, I find myself distracted by other things. Thus, instead of writing in great detail about one experience or place, I’m going to break this into sections and write a little bit about everything I’ve been doing.

Siempre escribo cuando estoy estresada y necesito desahogarme, o cuando estoy inspirada y quiero compartir mi experiencia. Por ejemplo, yo estaba inspirada para escribir “Finding Your Happy Place” y estaba tan estresada que escribí “The Weekend from Hell”. Pero durante un tiempo ahora, no me he sentido estresada ni inspirada así que escribir es mas difícil. No quiero decir que no he estado haciendo cosas, al contrario, he estado muy ocupada con voleibol, la universidad, las clases de ingles (si, soy profesora ahora!), y los viajes con los demás chicos de Rollins. Entonces, tengo mucho material con el que puedo trabajar, pero por alguna razón cada vez que siento e intento escribir, no puedo. Entonces, en vez de escribir solo una experiencia o un día con pelos y señales, voy a romper este blog en secciones y escribir un poco sobre todo lo que he estado haciendo.

Volleyball

I guess I’ll begin with volleyball. It’s been about month since I started practicing and playing with the team, and it has been interesting to say the least. I played volleyball in high school and wasn’t half-bad, I even played club ball for a close to a year. Unfortunately, my long absence from the sport combined with my inability to understand the coach (his accent is especially difficult), has made me less than stellar. Because of my height (especially obvious in Spain), the coach thought my level was close to professional and because I could talk to the girls on the team, he thought I was basically fluent in Spanish. This led to me playing in my first game, not knowing the names of any of the positions, running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Not my proudest moment. Apart from disappointing the coach however, it has been a pretty positive experience. The girls on the team are awesome. One of them is even teaching me French to help prepare me for my trip to Paris. So if you see a tall, female American wondering around Paris speaking French with a heavy Spanish accent, don’t be afraid to say hi, it’s probably me.

Voleibol 

Supongo que empezaré con voleibol. Hace un mes más o menos, que comencé a practicar con el equipo, y ha sido interesante por no decir menos. Jugué en secundaria, incluso jugué en un club por un año. Desafortunadamente, mi larga ausencia del juego combinada con el hecho de que casi no puedo entender al entrenador (su acento es muy difícil de entender), me ha sido menos que fantástico. Por mi altura, el entrenador pensaba que yo era una profesional o algo así, y porque podia hablar con las chicas en el equipo, él pensaba que era casi bilingüe. Esto me llevó a mi primer partido sin saber los nombres de las posiciones, corriendo como un pollo degollado. Sí, no es mi momento más orgulloso. Pero a parte de eso, ha sido una experiencia muy buena. Las chicas en el equipo son la leche. Una de ellas esta enseñándome francés para prepararme para Paris. Así que ustedes ven a una Americana alta, andando por Paris, hablando en francés con un acento español, deben decir hola porque, probablemente, soy yo.

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School 

I am currently taking classes in a specific part of La Universidad de Oviedo which is called La Casa de Las Lenguas (The House of Languages). Here, exchange students from all over the world take classes that help them learn Spanish. I am currently taking Art, History, Oral Expression, and English to Spanish translation. Although I should be in the advanced levels for all of my classes, I chose to remain in intermediate for several reasons. First, advanced and intermediate count for the same amount of credit at Rollins College, and second, with everything else going on, I simply don’t have time for too much homework.

The classes themselves are pretty good. I’m especially enjoying Art, where I’m learning the latin roots of a lot of words, and History where we just finished watching Gladiator in Spanish. The students in La Casa de Las Lenguas are usually American or Chinese and in their late teens or early twenties. It’s absolutely fascinating to hear the accent of the Chinese students and I find it impressive that there are so many in my English to Spanish translation class.

La Universidad

Estoy tomando clases en La Casa de las Lenguas, que es una parte de la universidad de Oviedo. Aquí, estudiantes internacionales de todo el mundo, estudian y toman clases para aprender español. Yo tengo clases de Arte, Historia, Expresión Oral y Tradución Ingles a Español. Las clases son muy buenas, especialmente Arte, donde estoy aprendiendo las raíces de las palabras. Los estudiantes en La Casa de las Lenguas son normalmente americano o chino y de edad joven (como 19 o 20). El acento de los estudiantes chinos es muy interesante y estoy impresionada que hay muchos chinos en mi clase Traducción Ingles a Español.

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Me, Catey and Sara (my conversation partner), taking a break from school and enjoying a club night in Gijón

Tutoring

The classes in school are fine, but they pale in comparison to my tutoring skills! (just kidding, I’m still figuring this whole teaching thing out). My host mom put a tutoring add on some website when I first got to Spain, and I finally got a a response about two weeks ago. So now I am the proud tutor of a fifteen year old boy named Sergio. He’s planning on spending the next year in Ireland, but he still isn’t comfortable having a conversation in English, so it’s my job to prepare him. I will admit it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. For one, it’s very hard to figure out his level of English; sometimes he seems to understand everything I say and sometimes he’s entirely lost. For another, it’s very hard to not speak to him in Spanish when he doesn’t understand my English. I constantly have to remind myself that I can’t just repeat my statement in Spanish, I must find another way of rephrasing what I said in English. The hardest part, however, has been finding fun vocabulary games for two people.

So far we’ve played ‘memory’ using different English verbs, good old twenty questions, and boogle. I’ve even had him listen to English songs while reading lyric sheets that I gave him and filling in the blanks. Does anyone know any other games we could play?

Las Clases de Ingles

Las clases de la universidad son buenas pero son nada en comparación a mis clases de ingles (estoy bromeando todavía estoy aprendiendo como ser profesora). Hace un mes, mi mamá española puso un anuncio online que dijo que yo era un nativo en ingles y que yo podia enseñar, y por fin, recibí una respuesta hace dos semanas. Ahora, soy la profesora de un chico de 15 años se llama Sergio. El va a vivir en Irlanda durante el próximo año, pero todavía falta mucho con gramática y vocabulario. Tengo que admitir que enseñar no es fácil. Es muy difícil averiguar el nivel de ingles de Sergio porque a veces al puede entender casi todo, y a veces ni una sola palabra. También es muy difícil encontrar juegos divertidos de vocabulario para dos personas. Ya hemos jugado ‘memoria’ usando palabras en ingles, 20 preguntas y Boogle. Alguien sabe mas juegos que podemos jugar?

 

Excursions

Finally, to end the post I’m just going to quickly mention that I was lucky enough to visit both Ribadesella, (almost as beautiful as Santiago de Compostela–definitely a must see!),  and León, which has beautiful cathedrals.

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I only have one picture of Ribadesella, but If you go to my friend Mary’s blog, there are a ton

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Catedral de León

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So that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope you have enjoyed reading and if you know of any fun vocabulary games, please let me know.

 

The Weekend from Hell

You know that old saying ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade?’ Well in my experience life will sometimes give you lemons, sometimes it even gives you a freshly squeezed lemonade with a little umbrella straw, and then sometimes it gives you rocks instead of lemons and instead of handing them to you, it throws them at you while giggling like an immature child. Unfortunately for me, life has picked me for target practice these last couple of days and has proceeded to bombard me with a shower of lemon-shaped rocks.

It all began yesterday (a Thursday for those who aren’t up to speed with the calendar). It was a Spanish holiday so there wasn’t any school and all of my friends had gone to go traveling over the long weekend (I elected to stay behind so I could hopefully play in my first volleyball game on Saturday). I woke up Thursday morning completely stuffed. I couldn’t breath out of my nose and phlegm wads were ensconcing themselves comfortably in the depths of my throat (wow, who knew something so gross could be described so poetically?). Needless to say I did not feel my best at that moment. Nevertheless, I got up, persevered and went to the gym (I’m really proud of myself for that btw). When I got back I was exhausted so I basically spent the day on the sofa doing absolutely nothing productive, and falling deeper into the rabbit hole that is Youtube. At around 9:00 pm, I finally stopped watching videos and eating cold pasta long enough to call Siubhan, (a.k.a. my number 1 home skillet) back in Illinois. We talked until she had to go to class then I watched a couple more movies and tried to go to bed. Not being able to breathe made falling asleep pretty hard, but the worst part was my hair. For some reason my head itched like the dickens. After a good thirty minutes of restlessness and scratching, it slowly dawned on me that I had felt the exact same itchiness before…in sixth grade…when the school had an outbreak of, wait for it, lice…shit. I tried to remember when exactly my head started itching but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like it had been itchy for a while. The only place I thought I could have gotten it was from sharing hairbands during practice on the volleyball team.
Once I had the idea of lice on my head there was no way in hell I was going back to sleep. I knew no pharmacy would be open or else I would have run down there and bought every bottle of lice shampoo they had. Instead, I frantically searched the Internet scouring for any homemade treatments I could use as a substitute. I finally found a simple one involving coconut oil. Fervently thanking past Shannon for packing coconut oil, I began scooping copious amounts onto my head. I was a tad overzealous with it, however, because when I stood up to find a shower cap, a huge glob splattered around my feet. Not really caring, I jump over the gelatinous mess, shoved a make-shift, plastic-bag shower cap on my head, and set the timer for two hours. Waiting was horrible, now that I had the lice image stuck in my head, I could feel the little critters crawling around in my hair. When the two hours were up I took a hot shower, vigorously washing my hair, got out and inspected the bath water. And sure enough I found one. At least I think I did. It wasn’t moving or anything, but I could see the tiny little legs. Throughly freaking out by this point, I run back to my room to start tearing off the bedsheets, trying to resist the urge to scream and/or light my hair on fire. In my panic, I failed to see the giant glob of coconut oil on the floor. I fell. Hard. And let out a stream of impressive curse words in both English and Spanish. Now, my friends, as impossible as this may seem, all of Thursday night was just a light drizzle of lemon-rocks, the real storm came today.

My host mom had heard my fall and subsequent cursing and came into my room at 5:00 in the morning to see numerous garbage bags sitting on a completely naked mattress. She asked me what I was doing and I, almost ready to cry, told her that I had lice (fun fact: lice=piojos in Spanish). I honestly wasn’t sure how she was going to react. There’s an old (and completely untrue I might add) stigma that only dirty people get lice. Would she accuse me of infesting her house and kick me out into the streets (hey, in my sleep-deprived brain that seemed entirely conceivable). But, she took it surprisingly well and basically told me to calm down, that lice aren’t fatal and they’re a lot easier to deal with than bedbugs. After making sure I wasn’t having a complete meltdown, she headed back to her room and I tried to catch a couple hours of sleep while sitting at my desk.

I awoke several hours later and if I thought my cold was bad Thursday, Friday it got  worse. Now added to my stuffed nose and phlegmy tubes was an inability to speak without, wait for it, hacking a phlegm ball (I know, my sexiness surprises even me sometimes). Anyways I had class at 9:00 but I didn’t want to wear a sweatshirt because anything I wore before buying the lice-killing shampoo was going straight into the wash. So I ran to school to keep warm, hocking a loogie every few feet. I forgot the money for the lice shampoo back at the house so after class, I headed back home to get it. Once there, my host mom told me that we needed actual dryers to kill the little buggers, and since she didn’t have one, she gave me directions to the nearest laundromat. So I headed to the the laundromat, 20 euros in my pocket, a giant garbage bag in each hand, snuffling and hacking spitballs, and with only the slightest sense of where to go. I started off pretty confidently, all things considered. It took me a good twenty-five minutes to find the laundromat and by that time my arms were pretty tired. The only person in the laundromat was an older gentleman, closing his eyes and listening to some music. I decided not to disturb him and figured out how to load and pay for the washing machine by myself. Unfortunately, the laundromat was a lot more expensive than I thought it would be. It was 10 euros every load in the big machine, which I had to use twice. Thus, I had no money for the dryers, which were the main reasons I had come in the first place. I was in luck however, right across the street was an ATM, I could simply take out some money, while keeping an eye on my clothes. I was at the ATM for a good twenty minutes trying to figure out why it kept telling me my PIN number was wrong. Finally, frustrated beyond belief, I called my dear old Pops. He told me that the PIN number was actually different but because I had tried so many times, they had locked my card for 24 hours. Perfect. I had no other choice than to drag two large, dripping garbage bags twenty five minutes back to my apartment, then return to actually dry them. This was just a little overwhelming for me (did I mention I was also on my period and thus more emotionally fragile than usual?). Anyways, what all this leads to is the following scene: I’m walking down the street, pissed off, tired, walking with a slight limp, dragging two wet garbage bags behind me and probably looking like I’m about to cry. I suddenly see a grocery store right in front of me and decide to check and see if they have the lice shampoo. They don’t. As I walk out the door to leave the lady at the cash register starts yelling at me. I turn around to see her running towards me, and of course, the first response my tired brain comes up with is ‘let’s run too!’. So I start running. It must’ve looked kind of strange; a cashier chasing down what could have been very tired, skinny Santa Claus hauling ass with trash bags flying out behind her. Well it didn’t take long for the cashier to catch up to me (even though I was carrying bags and had a limp it was still pretty embarrassing). She grabbed one of my trash bags and ripped it open. When she saw a pile of wet clothes and bed covers she looked confused and then turned bright red and apologized to me. I opened my mouth to tell her it was fine, and instead of words, I got a mouthful of phlegm. Unable to spit it out without the crowd around us seeing, I could only nod and kind of hum my lips together. So yeah…that was the beginning of my weekend, how was yours?

Author note: originally I wasn’t going to post this because it seemed kind of gross, but if I talk about the wonders and beauty of traveling and being in Spain, I think it’s only right that I mention some of the not so fun parts.

*Este vez no he escrito un sección en Español! Lo siento mucho! Intentaré hacer uno mañana.

Btw. I have my first volleyball game tomorrow, fingers crossed it goes well!

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Actually this was taken during San Mateo, but I felt like I needed to end the post with a happy bang (get it? no? Don’t worry it was pretty bad).

Finding your Happy Place (Santiago de Compostela)

Mi historia empieza un Jueves. Yo necesitaba unas vacaciones (si, yo se que estoy en España pero todavía las necesitaba) entonces Mary y yo compramos billetes a Santiago de Compostela y La Coruña para el fin de semana. Llegamos a Santiago de Compostela a las 9:00 mas o menos y fuimos al hostel se llama Albergues Semenario Menor (16 euros cada noche). Había muchos peregrinos en el hostel y con mis pantalones tipo cargo y mi cabello loco, parecía una peregrina también (un hombre me dijo ‘buen camino’). La primera noche, no vimos la ciudad, solo comimos la cena que Mary había traído en nuestros cuartos. Pero el día siguiente, exploramos la ciudad y me di cuenta que Santiago de Compostela es un lugar especial. Es muy difícil explicar porque tienes que ir a Santiago de Compostela para entender completamente como es, pero voy a intentarlo.

Imagina que estas sentado en una plaza. El sol se esta poniendo y hay música de gaitas en el aire. Todo a tu alrededor son personas: ancianas, jóvenes, familias, parejas y peregrinos. Todos están hablando en otros idiomas: inglés, ruso, aleman, francés y español. Cierras los ojos y escuchas todas las voces diferentes. En tu mano tienes un bocadillo gigante de jamón y queso. Sabe delicioso. La luz del sol poniente esta calentando tu cara. Respiras el aire libre y olvidas, por un momento, todas las cosas negativas en tu vida. Eso es Santiago de Compostela. Estar allí, me hizo feliz.

He oído una frase hecha, ‘Hay algunos lugares donde uno se queda y otros que se quedan en uno’ creo que esto describe Santiago de Compostela perfectamente. Estoy segura de que volveré.

I needed a vacation (yes, I know I’m in Spain but I needed one nevertheless). Thus, Mary and I made plans for a weekend trip to Santiago de Compostela and La Coruña. We planned to leave Thursday and spend the rest of our long weekend exploring the new cities. Thus, at five o’clock, we got on an ALSA bus heading to Santiago de Compostela. It was a pretty nice ride (I definitely recommend the ALSA bus company-very roomy seats with strong wifi and a lot of good entertainment). We got to Santiago de Compostela around 9:00 and headed straight to our hostel Albergues Semenario Menor. We didn’t really do anything the first night except eat some sandwiches Mary had brought for dinner. The following morning however, we went to the Pilgrims Mass in El Catedral de Santiago. The place was packed to bursting! There were pilgrims from all over the world, singing together and listening to the bishop (who happened to be from California). It was awesome. Afterwards, we explored the city and I soon fell head over heels in love with Santiago de Compostela.

Imagine for a moment that you’re wondering around an old plaza. On one side of the plaza is a beautiful hotel that looks like it emerged from an entirely different time period and right next to that hotel is a ledge overlooking the town below. The sun is setting, casting a golden glow on all your surroundings. The faint music of bagpipes wafts through the air, mixing with the sounds of a hundred different voices. You can discern half a dozen different languages from the surrounding conversations: Spanish, English, Russian, French and German. In your hand you’re holding a huge bocadillo (basically a sandwich made from a fresh loaf of bread). It tastes delicious. You close your eyes and let the warmth from the setting sun fill your eyelids and, just for a moment, you forget all the negative things in your life and just exist. That is Santiago de Compostela.

It’s no surprise to me that it is the end destination for the El Camino pilgrimage. To me, it’s like the embodiment of inner peace, except you don’t need a calmed mind or knack for meditation to find it. It’s just there, welcoming everyone who is lucky enough to find it.

Now before I end my blog post, I should probably talk a little about La Coruña. I think that if I had gone there before Santiago de Compostela, I would have loved it more, but after Santiago de Compostela it just seemed kind of- meh. It’s a nice city, there are some cool plazas and buildings whose stonework look strangely like lace, but I wouldn’t exactly call it the ’embodiment of inner peace’. That’s not to say there aren’t cool things to do in La Coruña. Mary and I visited a fascinating museum fortress-prison (free entrance!) called San Anton and also saw the Planetarium and Body Museum. Overall, La Coruña was rather difficult to get a read on. It felt more like an American city than Santiago de Compostela, but at the same time it was entirely different. I think I would go back if only to get better acquainted with the city and its vibe.

Thanks for reading and sorry for the wait. I joined a volleyball team last week (I know, I can’t believe it either!) so I’ve been pretty busy. I’ll explain more in the next blog

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The sunset I previously mentioned. PC: Mary

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PC: Mary (BTW check out her blog if you haven’t it’s awesome! Mary Vickers)

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I felt like I had found Narnia

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La Coruña: Plaza de Santa Maria

 

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The buildings I think look like lace

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Me standing next to the tallest man. Finally found my people.

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Rollins follows us #rollinslife

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San Anton

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La Coruña

 

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the Las Vegas Attack and all those struggling in Puerto Rico. 

Do Blondes Have More Fun?

Las rubias se lo pasan mejor? Esta es la cuestión. Para averiguar la verdad, me convertí en una rubia. Bueno, en realidad, no completamente rubia. La parte superior de mi pelo todavía es marrón, pero el resto es oro pálido. Ahora lo se que estas pensando “Pero Shannon acabas de cortar tu pelo, y ahora estas pintándolo? Porque tantos cambios? Bueno amigos, la verdad es que querría ser rubia por algún tiempo y ahora que estoy en España, porque no?

Desafortunadamente, yo escogí una semana muy complicada para averiguar la verdad sobre las rubias porque escogí la misma semana de las fiestas de San Mateo en Oviedo. Entonces es muy difícil saber si el cambio en el nivel de divertido es por ser rubia o por estar en San Mateo.

Me encanta San Mateo! Cada noche hay películas en el parque, conciertos en las plazas y comida y sidra en todos lados. He visto una banda se llama ‘La Oreja de Vangough” y me gusto mucho (pero son mejores en directo).

En Miercoles fui a los fuegos artificiales con Bea y los demás de Rollins. Fue muy divertido y después fuimos a bailar. La calle estaba tan lleno de gente que casi no podia moverme. Pero, cuando finalmente llegamos a un bar, bailaba hasta que me dolieran mis pies. Por la primera vez, yo estuve despierta hasta las 5 en la mañana. Casi soy una Española!

Para terminar, todavia no se si las rubias se lo pasan mejor. Creo que es una profecía autocumplida. Si crees que las rubias se lo pasan mejor, es la verdad. Eso es la verdad para muchas cosas, entonces ‘aparenta hasta que lo hagas’.

Do blondes have more fun? That’s the million dollar question. In order to ascertain the truth, I decided to become *gasp* a blonde! Well actually no, not really, I simply became blonder. The top of my hair is still pretty brown, but the bottom is now a very pale gold. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Shannon didn’t you just cut your hair? What’s with rapid succession of hair changes?’ Well dear reader, The truth is that I have wanted to try blonde hair for awhile. I was actually planning on going full out blonde but highlights were cheaper and the nice hairstylist told me that it would look better if I left my ‘natural color’ on top (at least that’s what I think she said she was speaking very fast). So anyways, I am now a full fledged half blonde and on the path to discovery.

I will admit I picked a rather complicated first week to go blonde however. The festivities and concerts of San Mateo are so much fun, it makes it hard to figure out if the change in the level of fun has anything to do with the hair. Every night during San Mateo there are movies in the park, concerts in the cathedral plaza, and street vendors, music and food everywhere you look. Unfortunately for the first couple of days, it was rather rainy so most of my San Mateo experience consisted of listening to wonderful music beneath a sea of umbrellas. On Wednesday however, that all changed.

Wednesday night was the night of los fuegos artificiales and our hip, young Spanish teacher, Bea, was going to take all six of us to the fireworks. She told us to bring some snacks and plastic bags to sit on and she would bring us some bottles of sidra (hard, Asturian cider).

At around 7:00 Mary and I met at the Museum de Bellas Artes de Oviedo to complete our homework before the night’s festivities. The museum is absolutely darling (darling must be said in a deep southern accent–DARHling) and it’s entirely free, so I highly recommend it. There are beautiful paintings and sculptures (many by Asturian artists) hung in a very aesthetically pleasing manner all around the tiny, maze-like museum. After completing our homework, we headed out into the city to buy some snacks for the fireworks.

The city was jumping (yes, I’m bringing that phrase back). The weather was perfect, not a drop of rain in sight. Mary and I wondered around for a little while, ending up in the Parque de San Francisco (basically a minuscule version of Central Park). There we watched, what can only be described as one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. It was like a Japanese cartoon with bright, almost neon colors but no dialogue, only music. The beginning must’ve explained everything because coming in during the middle made no sense whatsoever. Shortly thereafter, we decided to leave the bright cartoons behind and finally head over to Bea’s house. When we got to her street, I was almost knocked over by the sheer amount of young teenage hormones in the air. Bea’s street was packed full of 14-16 year olds. They were all standing in different groups and there were so many of them that it was like playing teenager obstacle course to get to Bea’s apartment. When we finally did, we met up with the rest of the Rollins crew and headed out to El Parque de Invierno.

Walking with our bags of snacks and cider, I felt like a fully fledged Oviedoin (or Ovetenses as it’s actually called). We found a spot on part of the sloping hill near the front of the park and arranged our plastic bags in a little group. We ate our snacks and learned how to properly pour la sidra (you must pour it from above your head and into the glass), while the park around us filled with people. Finally, the fireworks began. Out of all the firework shows I’ve seen in my life, this one made the top 5. It was pretty close to us and went on for close to half an hour! The only reason it isn’t higher on my list is because there was a tree obscuring part of my view. [After the magnificent fireworks were over, we packed up out stuff to head out. Unfortunately, Catey had to pee desperately and there were no bathrooms nearby. I volunteered to help her find a bathroom and thus we embarked on another Catey-Shannon adventure (this one shall be dubbed ‘Nature’s Calling’). Long story short- we began looking for an empty, out-of-view place for Catey to do her business, but when we finally found a darkish corner, I look back and see about a dozen girls following us. They finally catch up to us and ask where the bathroom is. I tell them that we couldn’t find one, and we were actually looking for a place to pee, you know, in private. Clearly not getting the hint, the girls (all of them) squat down right in front of me and start doing their business. I saw about seven fully nude butts that evening. I couldn’t stop laughing at the look of horror on Catey’s face as she realized she had to wait until all the girls were finished to finally get some privacy.

After Catey was finally able to attend to her business, we rejoined Bea and the rest and went dancing. We stopped first at El Parque de San Francisco, danced outside, and then headed over to the center of the festivities and the bars. Oh, my, God. The streets around the bars were packed! It seemed like the whole world had come out to dance. It was a little hard to move from one place to another but it was a lot of fun. That was the first night I managed to stay up until 5:00 in the morning (which I’m told is quite normal here). I’m finally becoming an Oviedoin! (Kind of).

So, to end this rather long post, I’m still not sure if blondes truly have more fun, but you will certainly have a blast if you’re ever lucky enough to attend even a part of San Mateo.

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So I’m a half blonde now..PC: The Incredible Mary Vickers

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This (and some of the following pictures) were from the Día de Las Americas parade on Tuesday. PC: Bea the Bae

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Gijón, Ice-cream Lemons, and the Crash of Waves

Things are pretty crazy here in Oviedo right now. The festival of San Mateo just began. It lasts about a week and each night there’s new activities, movies and concerts. I’m hoping that I can try to Karaoke at some point, but we’ll have to see. Anyways, I haven’t had time to blog for awhile, so I’m finally writing about my trip last weekend.

Last weekend I went on a excursion to Gijón, the largest of the three main cities in Asturias. Despite being only about half an hour apart, the two cities of Gijón and Oviedo feel very different. When I first got off the bus at the Gijón bus station, I will admit I wasn’t very impressed. The city just seemed like a larger, more crowded version of Oviedo without all of the old, small town charm. That all changed however, after I saw the beach. The beach in Gijón is awesome. There’s a walkway the that runs right along side it, and allows you to look down on all the sun tanners and surfers enjoying the sand and waves. Sitting on one of the many benches along the edge of the walkway, was an accordion player, filling the air around him with music. With the sun shining brightly over my head, accordion music wafting through the air and the steady crash of the waves, I felt as though I had stepped into a scene from a romantic movie, all I needed was a glorious sunset.

After leaving the beach behind, Ana, our trip director and native Gijonion (a completely made-up word FYI), took us on a grand tour of the city. We saw the ruins of Roman baths, a small art museum, a sculpture of Gijón’s symbol on top of a beautiful, rolling green hill, and a bustling marketplace. For lunch, we ate at a sea-side cafe with a perfect view of the beach. Ana had called ahead and had reserved a table for us on the top floor. It was, hands down, one of the most beautiful and relaxing places to eat that I’ve ever been to. For desert, I had ice-cream stuffed in a lemon. If any of you are ever lucky enough to have the chance to try ice-cream in a lemon, take it. I’m not sure what kind of magical witch craft is used on this dessert, but it’s 100 times better than it’s regular ice cream counterpart.

After lunch, we headed to the aquarium (the entrance fee is a bit pricey, but I didn’t have to pay so I didn’t really mind). From the entrance, the aquarium looks kind of small, but the exhibit goes on and on, showcasing tons of different fish and amphibians. If you have the time, or an interest in weird, water-dwelling creatures, I recommend the Gijón aquarium. If you don’t make it however, don’t freak out, it’s very similar to all the other aquariums I’ve seen. After going through the entire aquarium, my friend Catey and I decided to head back to Oviedo ahead of the others.

All in all, Gijón was pretty incredible. I’m definitely planning on returning to see a sunset over the beach.

Hola todos, que tal? Espero que estéis bien. En este blog no hay un sección en Español. Lo siento mucho, pero la cosa es que ahora mismo tengo mucho que hacer (tarea, San Mateo,…etc) y mi cerebro no esta funcionado lo suficientemente bien para escribir en Español. Pero prometo que el proximo blog tendrá un sección en Español.

 

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The beach

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PC: Catey

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The symbol of Gijón

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PC: John

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Messing around in the marketplace PC: Catey

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For all you fish-lovers out there

 

Have you ever been really excited about something, started doing it and then immediately regretted your decision to do it, but because you already started, you decide to keep going until the end? That’s basically every activity that Catey and I do together. Take the photo booth incident for example. It began when we were waiting for the bus to come and take us back to Oviedo. We had been waiting for a couple of minutes, when I spotted what I thought was a photo-booth. We thought it would be fun to have a little photo shoot session in the booth to pass the time. Up close, the photo-booth didn’t really look like a photo-booth, but I was so excited to have my picture taken that I didn’t really care. I paid the two euros, and when nothing happened, Catey paid four more. After that, I was really hoping that the pictures would turn out super cute. Unfortunately, as the screen lit up, there was only room for one head in the photo. I thought that was rather strange, but simply flattened myself against the wall to make room for Catey. We were so squished together that we couldn’t close the photo-booth curtain, so everyone waiting in the bus stop had a clear view of us. Many of them were watching us with amused and also rather confused looks on their faces. Trying to ignore their stares and the fact that I was being smushed alive, I tried to look cute for the camera. We took four pictures, each one worse than the last, but we had to choose the best amongst them and make due. After hitting print and going to the outside of the photo-booth to retrieve our photos, I finally realized that the photo-booth was, in fact, not meant for taking funky, cute photos with your friends, it was meant for passport photos and the like. It suddenly dawned on me that the entire bus station had just witnessed Catey and me primp and pose for a passport photo. In hindsight, I should have realized what it was from the start, but in that moment I guess it just slipped my mind. Here’s the lovely photo (we look like an add for toothpaste)21743170_1092847894179353_6335381875860928397_n.jpg

New City, New Hairstyle

 

So I’ve decided to cut my hair…(English in fourth paragraph)

He decidido cortar mi pelo. Tengo tres razones principales para esto. La primera es debido al clima. Cada día tengo que caminar hasta la academia donde me enseñan español, y el camino es mas o menos 30 minutos. En Oviedo la clima no es tan caloroso (en realidad cambia mucho como en Chicago) pero cada día después de caminar estoy sudando. Entonces voy a cortar mi pelo para no sentir tanto calor. La segunda razón es que soy perezosa y no quiero cepillarlo cada día y la tercera razón es que creo que es la hora de cambiar mi imagen. Bueno, puedes ver fotos de mi pelo al final de la pagina pero ahora tengo que contarte un poquito sobre Oviedo.

Cuando llegue a Oviedo con Mary y mi papa, me recuerda un poco de Seattle porque el cielo estaba nublado y la ciudad esta rodeada de montañas. Después de caminar un tiempo, mi padre me dijo que Oviedo es muy similar a Irlanda. Yo solo he ido a Irlanda una vez pero estoy de acuerdo, los dos tienen el mismo sentido de un lugar cómodo y amistoso. Muchas de las calles son peatonales, y es muy difícil saber donde la acera termina y la calle empieza. La ciudad parece pequeña pero es mas grande lo que pensaba (ya me he perdido muchas veces). En el centro de la ciudad hay una plaza donde hay una escultura. Su nombre real es “L a Maternidad” pero todo el mundo la llama “La Gorda” y eso es donde nosotros (los de Rollins) siempre nos encontramos.

Bueno, hay mucho mas que contar sobre Oviedo, por ejemplo el hecho de que los niños pequeños siempre llevan ropa de moda, o la manera en que un camarero escancia la sidra (una bebida típica de Oviedo), pero sería demasiado largo para escribir ahora porque no tengo tiempo. Entonces, ojalá que te guste y te contaré mas en el próximo blog. Ciao!

I want shorter hair for three reasons. The first is that the weather here in Oviedo is very similar to that of Chicago, which is to say that it changes every ten minutes. Every day I have to walk 30 minutes to my language classes and throughout the walk I experience everything from freezing my butt off to overheating like a lobster in a pot. Having shorter hair will hopefully make this temperature change less dramatic and less of a hassle. The second reason is that I really don’t want to brush my hair every day. I shed like a sheep dog in the summer and my hair always ends up everywhere, so cutting it shorter will make it easier to control. Finally, I feel like it’s time for a change, new city, new hairstyle. But enough of my hair (there’s pictures at the end of the blog), I must tell you a little bit about Oviedo.

When we first arrived in Oviedo, it reminded me a bit of Seattle. The sky was overcast and gray and we were surrounded on all sides by beautiful, soaring mountains. After walking around the town to find our hotel, my dad told me that the city reminded him of Ireland. Turns out, there’s a very good reason for that. Apparently, because of the mountains, one of the places that actually had the most influence on Oviedo in the past was Ireland. Thus, the music here is full of bagpipes and the buildings have an old, comfortable feeling, like that of a small town. Most of the streets in the center of Oviedo are full of restaurants and cafes with beautiful outdoor seating. The streets themselves are all paved with stone, so it’s rather difficult  to tell where the streets end and the sidewalks begin. At first, the city seems small, with maybe one or two main plazas, but after exploring for a bit you realize it’s a lot bigger than it appears. It reminds me of a beautiful maze, every street is surrounded by tall, majestic buildings, but if you’re brave enough to explore all the little side streets and hidden pathways there’s always something to find. I went walking around the city the other day with my friends Camille and Mary, and we stumbled upon a tiny little cobble-stone square and had a little photo shoot. The next day we found out that the tiny square was actually where the existence of Oviedo began. Apparently two monks stood at that spot and decided to build a church, this attracted the attention of surrounding villages and even a king, who decided to move his kingdom here and thus Oviedo was born.

The main plaza of Oviedo is called “La Plaza de Escandalera”, and in the plaza is a statue of a women and her child. The actual name of the statue is “La Maternidad” but everyone here just calls it “La Gorda” (the fat woman). Around the edge of the plaza are rainbow colored benches that show support for the gay community and right across the street is a giant park called Campo de San Francisco. It’s like a tiny version of New York’s central park and it’s full of cool statues and busy vendors.

There is so much to tell about Oviedo, like for example, how stylish all the little kids are (seriously, I’ve seen a toddler in a full blown suit and tie), or how the waiters pour la sidra (a typical Oviedo drink made from apples) from above their  heads and into the glass without looking, but right now I’m afraid I don’t have time. I’m about to leave to see a silent Charlie Chaplin movie in the plaza. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this tiny glimpse of Oviedo, thanks for reading!

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It’s like my head lost five pounds! (weight loss tip: cut your hair)

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Mary and me eating pastries before I cut my hair PC: Camille

shan y los reyes

PC: Mary

 

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The little cobblestone square where the Oviedo began PC: Camille

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It was hard trying to get my message across in Spanish. The hairdresser kept saying ‘segura?’ (are you sure?). PC: Catey

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One of the bigger streets, no cobblestone 😦 PC: Mary