Archive from September, 2011
Sep 28, 2011 - Uncategorized    4 Comments

World outside my window

This weekend the CIDE group went on a trip to Madrid and Toledo, the capital and old capital of Spain, and what a weekend it was! We left Friday morning at the insanely early hour of 8 am (well, subtract an hour for transportation and 45 minutes for getting ready, now it’s early). Upon boarding the bus sauna that would take us the 4 and a half hours into the heart of Spain we were informed of the rules of the road. There weren’t many – 1) there were seat belts and we should wear them and 2) no eating. Nevertheless, I believe we all managed to break them, some in a more discrete fashion than others. No one noticed the pack of fruit snacks Elana and I devoured in the back, yet our naps were later interrupted by a chaperone informing us that she could smell an orange – good call guys, good call. Other than that and the few times I smacked my head into Elana’s shoulder as the bus careened around the several cones on the highway – acceptable?? -, the ride was relatively uneventful, and at the much more reasonable hour of 1:30pm, we rushed into the fresh air of Madrid. Outside of our hotel, slight chaos ensued as we tried to divide ourselves into groups of 3 for the purpose of room assignments. Eventually things were settled and we dispersed into the hotel lobby, onto the elevators, and into our rooms where we promptly collapsed onto the beds truly exhausted from… all the sitting we had just done.

But onto the real excitement! Madrid was a big city with people everywhere and it reminded me a lot of a scaled down, cleaner version of New York City. After our lunch and siestas on Friday, we were given a “guided” bus tour of the various buildings in route to the Royal Palace, a marvelous building constructed after the requisition of Spain from the Arabs and the largest palace in Europe. It was once home to the king and queen of Spain but is now simply a place to visit. Once there, we spent about 20 minutes admiring the outside and taking touristy pictures before finding out that we would actually be allowed to walk around inside. The building was huge, and we were only privy to about 18 of its 2,800 rooms. What the heck! Each room was a different color and decorated with several chandlers, gold lions, and paintings of Cherubs – not exactly how I’d always imagined my castle, but still very impressive. Located directly across the main plaza of the Palace was the first of two main churches we would visit during our trip – the Cathedral of our lady the Almudena, which took over 300 years to be fully constructed. I was very impressed by the basic beauty of this church. Unlike some other churches that boast dark and extravagant gothic styles, this one had only a few beautiful stained glass windows contrasted against white arches and strategically placed decorations. After admiring it for a little while, we continued our walk around the city, stopping at a few more plazas – they’re everywhere!! -, a central market full of fruits, veggies, helado, and local pintxos, which all smelled sooooo much better than the fish market we visited last weekend, and finally arrived at la Puerta del Sol where we were shown the nearest metro station and abandoned for our 3 hrs of free time. Main mission = find Starbucks. 10 minutes later, we were happily caffeinated, slightly reconnected with US culture, and game for continuing to wander the streets (clenching our belongings of course). Cue one stuffed metro ride back to the hotel, dinner that consisted of the exact same options as lunch (and would continue to be that way all weekend), and choosing to stay in with the roomies and watch parts of various different US movies with spanish voice overs and that was Friday.

Saturday’s main event was visiting Toledo, the previous capital of Spain, land of the famous Don Quixote novel, and the prettiest city I have ever seen! Before entering the old quarter of the city we stopped at the top of the hills for a panoramic view. It seriously looked like something out of a history book. Needless to stay we all scrambled off the bus and starting posing for every possible combination of photos (again) including sitting, standing, jumping, candid, you name it, we probably did it. Post photo-shoot we made our way actually into the city where we wondered through the streets, saw a few plazas, admired the combination of different architecture representing it’s Jewish, Muslim, and Christian past, and made our way to the Toledo Cathedral – possibly the largest church I’ve ever seen. It had an obviously Gothic/Baroque style with a plethora of decorations and different alters, paintings, and statutes.  We spent over 2 hours inside. By the time our tour guide brought us back outside we were starving and, even after a month of getting used to eating times, slightly ticked that lunch was still a half hour away. We were told to wonder the streets where we stared longingly into the pastry shops, mentioning how much we’d love to try basically anything in the window and then holding onto our precious euros, rationalizing that we were getting free food in a matter of minutes. I made my first truly european purchase – a leather shoulder bag !! , which was totally necessary considering that my current favorite travel bag (the every trust worthy USA Ultimate nationals drawstring) was not only obviously American but had somehow managed to rip at the seems in 4 different places, oops. Finally it was time for lunch! We were served veggie lasagna (NOTHING like what you could possibly expect from hearing the word lasagna), chicken, and cheesecake. A very strange combination of foods, if I do say so myself. Somewhat full, we started our trek back to the “sauna”, passing over the Puente de San Martin, a beautiful medieval bridge across the Tagus river and, of course, another perfect photo stop! An hour later we were back in Madrid and Friday night basically repeated itself. But Friday was good, so I was okay with that.

Come Sunday, we were all pretty tired, especially those who decided to party hard two nights in a row – not sure what they were thinking! They missed some really good movies : P We spent about 2 hours on a tour through el Museo del Prado where we were whisked from room to room to look specifically at one photo or another, focusing the majority of our time on paintings by Goya and Velázquez. I’ve mentioned before I’m not much of an art fanatic but I was excited to see Las Meninas in person, definitely a cool painting with the three different portions of light! When our tour finished, we sprinted off to the Parque de Retiro, set on spending our last 30 minutes in Madrid amongst the beautiful gardens and water, something we hadn’t seen much of all weekend. Several pictures later – yes that’s right more pictures. This time in trees and flower beds and near statues, but you saw that coming, right? – we were sprinting again, this time back to the bus. We were treated to yet another meal at the hotel cafeteria, we certainly got to know their pasta salads and coffee machines well, and then it was time to say adios to the capital city. We were Bilbao bound once again.

Upon arriving at the bus station 4 hours later, we were all a little groggy and incredibly happy to be released from the “sauna”. As we waited for our nice clean metro to take us into Getxo, we professed to each other how happy we were to be back home. Yeah, home! It may have taken us a month and a trip to two other Spanish cities, but in that moment we realized just how much of an attachment we have to our new lives here. I now have proof that Spain consists of more than pretty little Bilbao and yet am incredibly happy that Bilbao is the city I get to call home!

Sorry for the delay in posting and for writing a novel! On a side note, we had my favorite meal for lunch today – PISTO!!! Great day! ¡Que tengáis una semana buena! Hasta pronto : )

Sep 17, 2011 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Paso a paso

As my second full week in Bilbao comes to a close, I’m finding the more comfortable I begin to feel here, the more I notice just how much I stick out. There’s always something! If my blonde hair isn’t enough on its own then it’s the fact that I walk about 5 times as fast as the average person on the street and take pleasure in going for runs, or perhaps the way I smile at practically every person I pass (an act of flirting or pure lunacy here – you don’t smile at strangers, yet after meeting for all of 5 minutes you give kisses ??) Or if all of that still isn’t enough than it’s the fact that pretty much the only spanish phrases I nervously mutter on the street are “Excuse me, where’s the metro?” and “will you take a picture for us?!”, which quite obviously scream I’M NOT FROM HERE – perfect. To be completely honest I’ve gotten lost 3 times in the past 24 hours and gotten at least twice that many photos taken, oops. Fortunately I’ve got about 12 more weeks to work on all of this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to run to the nearest drug store for hair dye or start traipsing around with a scowl on my face, but the getting lost thing and the power walking should be easy to fix, no? For starters… paso a paso, because when in Spain, do as the Spaniards do… even if it means giving kisses on the cheek.

Perhaps in an attempt to further broaden my extent of the amazing culture I have still not adapted to or maybe simply as an incredibly awesome way to spend a Saturday (take your pick), today some friends and I went on an excursion to San Sebastian, the province of País Vasco known for its beauty, and true to its reputation, it was gorgeous! Similar to Bilbao, the city is located along a river which empties into the sea. We passed over a serious of bridges, each designed in a completely different fashion, walked through the heart of the city where we saw the town hall, a beautiful cathedral, and a fish market (ewwwwww), and finally arrived at the beach which was shaped like a “U” and resulted in an alcove of sorts. The area was breath taking. The water was three distinct shades of blue and there was a small island about 100 meters out. Families were either playing in the sand or splashing in the water and you never would have guessed that it was only about 60 degrees out and drizzling – unless, of course, you were walking in that “chirimiri” for a few hours like we were and then, well, having a wet face and drenched sandy pants is kind of hard not to notice. Why were my pants sandy you ask? Well, our tour guide thought we needed to experience the beach from the sand its self, but of course!

Rain and all, we made the best of the day, walking all the way around the “U”, where we arrived at the wind combs – 3 contemporary metal statues built into the rocky landscape of the shore so that they look like they are hanging on against the force of the wind and water of the sea – and the funicular – a fun (get it??) train-like ride that takes/pulls you slowly to the top of Mount Igeldo so that you can get a panoramic view of the entire beach, island, and part of France. Or at least that is what we were told. What we saw, on the other hand, was a nice gray cloudy mist with some green off in the distance. Repeat of the Niagara Falls failure? I think yes. After mumbling how disappointed we were that it was -gasp- still raining and gross at the top of the mountain, taking pictures of post cards of what we should have been seeing (shhhh), and deciding against paying 20 centavos to have the privilege of using the restroom, we headed back down the mountain where we were told we could wait 20 minutes for a bus to take us back towards the river. Being the adventurous (and possibly frugal) types that we are, my 3 friends and I re-zipped our rain jackets, donned our ever fashionable umbrellas, and informed our tour guide that we would be walking back. Half an hour later, we were just a tad wetter, had gotten some new pics, and were back in the heart of Parte Viejo. We stopped at a bar for some pinxtos (Euskera word for appetizers) and explored the streets, because when in Spain, do as the Spaniards do… especially if it means eating ice cream in the rain!  

           

Rose: Exploring a part of Spain outside of Bilbao

Thorn: Camera dying half way through due to low battery

Bud: The sun’ll come out tomorrow Tuesday

<3  This blondie

Sep 12, 2011 - Uncategorized    3 Comments

Happiness

Weekends here are 3 days long, how fabulous is that? The crazy thing is that they still seem to go by way faster than anticipated! That couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that I slept in until 12:30 one of those days, right?? Thanks for agreeing. I was going to argue that I’m still catching up on sleep from this summer… but anyways, back to weekends, cause they’re awesome.

Friday started off with a complimentary visit to the Guggenheim museum courtesy of our University. As many of you know, I don’t claim to be much of an art fanatic, I appreciate it but I don’t know that much about it and haven’t visited all that many art museums; consequently, the fact that I found the modern art pieces of the Guggenheim to be pretty cool doesn’t say much, I find kindergartens’ pictures of their favorite sea animal to be pretty cool too. Nevertheless, suffice it to say that the Guggenheim was a cultural enhancing experience and I enjoyed my morning/afternoon there. My favorite piece was a grocery store scene knitted out of pink thread. It was a representation of a suicide-bomber story the artist found on the web, with the pink color symbolizing the perceived innocence of the young girl who took her life in the store and the stitches symbolizing the inter-workings of the internet. Depressing, but impressive as well. I somehow managed to get a photo of it without getting yelled at by security – score! But I’m not sure if the picture doesn’t any justice whatsoever, dang it.

After thoroughly exploring the museum, a few friends and I decided to find a local restaurant and try out “el menú del día” – a meal consisting of small portions of both a first and second course and bread (which we somehow never received). We selected a nice looking place with decently priced food and found a table inside. Half an hour later, we were finally treated to menus – Spanish efficiency at its best. We had reached the point of no longer holding a conversation and sullenly mumbling 3 or 4 times about how hungry we each were, because obviously we couldn’t possibly understand that we were ALL starving, when our food finally arrived. I had pasta and fish, two plates that didn’t really go together but were quite delicious and, thinking back on it, probably worth the hour wait. From the restaurant we headed deeper into the streets of downtown where we hit up a candy store and then sat on the side of the street waiting to see part of La Vuelta de España – a bike race similar to the Tour de France – which hadn’t passed through Bilbao in over 30 years.

A half hour of watching bikers, a crazy maze-like search through the barricaded streets for the metro station, and one viewing of The Proposal later… cue Saturday, which started off with a refreshing run along the beach, followed by a homemade dish of paella !!, some homework, and time spent with friends browsing shops and beaching – the usual?! And then Sunday was another relaxing day filled with some more homework, watching a movie with my host mom, a walk through town, hellado, and international trivia night at one of the local café/bars. The trivia was kind of hilarious. They gave us an answer sheet to fill out, informing us that every 3 to 5 minutes they would announce a new question for us to answer. What were we supposed to do during the rest of the time you ask? Watch the NFL game that was on the tv positioned directly above my head, obvi. And they provided free snacks – warm Lays potato chips, I’m still perplexed as to how they managed that one…

After 3 days off I was thinking that going back to school today was going to be quite difficult. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised that come 7 am I was actually kind of awake and ready to hit the books. Class are moving along nicely, I’m starting to really get to know my classmates, and I still have very little homework to speak of, perfect! Here’s to a week of continuing to think that getting up at 7am and coming home around 8pm is perfectly acceptable!! ~ Happy Monday ~

Sep 7, 2011 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Time flies??

Today marks one week since I left the US and I am finding that incredibly hard to believe because a) I feel like I just got here and b) I feel like I’ve been here forever… weird, I know, how is that even possible?? I guess we’ve been so busy adjusting and running around the city that everything feels semi-normal? Does that make sense? I don’t know, but anyways.

A lot has happened over the past few days. First on Monday, all of us CIDE students went on a tour around Plenzia (the beautiful beach town that I mentioned early – I’ve now seen it in the day time and it is as pretty as everyone says!!) and Getxo. We learned a lot of history about the towns and their importance in the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries in Spain. Plenzia was developed a few years before Bilbao and has a beach along the Atlantic Ocean. There are so many old buildings that have changed hands many times – going from lookout towers, to lighthouses, to churches or palaces, to prisons, to museums.

View from the restaurant

It was very interesting to walk the streets of the villages with someone who knew what they were talking about instead of simply trying not to get lost. After lots of walking, we were treated to a three course lunch (no big deal) where I received a salad, imagine that !!, roast chicken, and a brownie. I must admit the dry, cake-like brownie I received in no way compares to the gooey, chocolaty ones I’m used to baking back home. Guess I should have opted for a more authentic dessert, lesson learned.

Bilbao toast!

After eating, it was back on the bus to visit the ferry bridge of Areeta, see some mansions along the sea, and walk lots more. I think my favorite part of the tour was Puerto Viejo back in Getxo, an old fisherman’s village full of quaint white houses that were built on sandstone close to the old Bilbao port, which is actually located only a short walk from my house in Algorta – score! I will definitely be visiting again. When we were done with the tour we visited a local café/bar where we shared a pitcher of sangria before parting ways. Two of my friends and I headed back to the water where we sat on the beach and people watched as the evening clouds rolled in. 

Then came the reality check of Tuesday – the beginning of classes. I mentioned before that I was eager to have a schedule, right? Well I’ve got one now, and it’s quite a mess hahaha but I am looking forward to my classes anyways. I have three classes on Monday/Wednesday (normal) and five on Tuesday/Thursday with awkward hour breaks between several of them. My host mom was quite disappointed to hear that I will not be able to come back home for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays but certainly understood that there just is not time for an hour and a half round trip commute with that many classes going on. This schedule does, however, permit several walks around the Guggenheim, naps on the hill across from the University, and scenic skype sessions with friends from home! Yay!

I’ve had one session of each class except international financial systems so far and I am the most excited for my spanish culture, politics, and history class. What better place to learn all of the fun spanish stuff than in Spain, right? All of my teachers seem really legit (my international marketing teacher came in all dressed up in a suit and tie – business man much?!) and very friendly. Haven’t had much homework yet, granted it’s only been two days but that’s a change from Mary Wash.

Right now I am enjoying my afternoon in Algorta before heading back to Deusto for my last class at 5:30. Maybe I’ll take a siesta? As long as I don’t get lost on my way back to the metro this evening like I did yesterday (long story), my plan is to take advantage of the lovely weather and run on the boardwalk along the river before dinner tonight, GOOD LIFE!

Sep 4, 2011 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Explorations

This weekend has been full of walks around Bilbao and Getxo – trying to get my bearings!! With every step I’ve taken, I’ve fallen more and more in love with the beautiful landscape and the ancient architecture of this country. 

I was introduced to the city of Bilbao on a tour with all of the CIDE students on Friday. Bilbao was originally developed as a trading center with Northern Europe due to its convenient location along the Nervión river, which connects to the Cantabric Sea. Consequently, it is home to the more businessy and historic aspects of this area and is divided into two sections: the old quarter – Casco Viejo – and Abando, the current center of the city. In Casco Viejo we saw the city hall (Ayuntamiento), an old theater, many plazas, and Santiago’s Cathedral (which is located along the paths of the St. James Pilgrimage to Galicia). In Abando, we saw more typical buildings including the central offices of several banks and various boutiques and stores. I’ve also been informed that there is a mall somewhere in the middle of downtown and I will definitely be heading back to check that out. 

Getxo is basically the suburbs of Bilbao and is made up of several small towns, most of which have small beaches along the sea. Yesterday some of my friends and I took it upon our selves to become more familiar with this area. So far I’ve wondered around Areeta, Gobela, and Algorta (my home town). In each town the architecture is slightly different but all beautiful. We spent about an hour walking along the boardwalk that borders the sea and taking in the sights. The area closest to the shore is full of small boats, for fishing i guess?? We joked about trying to take one out in the future but even if that isn’t possible I know we will be going back soon to spend some time on the beaches themselves.

After exploring for a while, we split up and returned to our houses for dinner. Have I mentioned that I am still not quite accustomed to the food here?? My host mom has given me a variety of different things including tortilla de papas, empanadas, arroz chileno, ham & cheese dumplings (they have a fancy spanish name but I can’t remember it), and soup. I’ve tried everything with an open mind and definitely liked somethings more than others with the soup being my favorite so far – which is good because I’ve been served it with dinner every night. I think the thing I miss most from home is vegetables. I’m so used to just having them to snack on!! On the flip-side, there is always plenty of fruit around and it is delicious!! I’ve definitely had my fair share of nectarines. 

We met up again after dinner to set out on our final exploration of the day which brought us to Plentzia. Plentzia is apparently one of the most popular tourist places in the basque country – know for its beautiful beaches. Unfortunately it was so dark by the time we got there that we weren’t really able to enjoy the sights. We did however, stumble upon a huge festival complete with cooking in the streets, a live concert, and carnival rides ?? We quickly found ourselves swept up in the music and trying to follow the crazy dance moves of the Spaniards. It was so much fun, even though the lyrics were in Euskera and none of us could understand what they were saying.

After all the excitement of Friday and Saturday, I was kind of glad to wake up to a gray sky this morning – an excuse to spend some time chilling out in mi casa. Tomorrow we have another orientation at the University and classes begin on Tuesday. I must admit that I am looking forward to having some kind of a schedule!! 

Hasta la próxima,

Emily

 

Sep 1, 2011 - Uncategorized    5 Comments

España – ¡Por fin!

After spending close to 24 hrs in various airports, I’ve finally arrived in Bilbao! The flights themselves weren’t bad but the trip ended up being semi-stressful due to a delay in Philly, which led to missing my flight from Germany to Spain, having to zig-zag through what seemed like the entire Frankfurt airport – including customs and security, where I received a full pat down?? guess this American girl looked rather suspicious – , waiting 4 and a half hours for the next flight to Bilbao, and catching a taxi to my host mom’s apartment instead of being picked up at the airport. Best laid plans 🙁 Fortunately, while in Germany I met up with about 8 other students who will be spending the semester in Bilbao and are doing the same program as me! Silver lining?? – I guess so 🙂 When we were descending into Bilbao, I got my first glimpse of the beautiful landscape that will be my home for the next 3 and a half months and am proud to say that I’ve taken my first spanish picture – through the smudged plane window 🙂 

Upon completion of my first Eurpoean taxi ride, and parting with way too many Euros at the curb outside the Telletxe apartments, I fortunately ran into a young man coming out of the apartments who helped me get my bags into the elevator. I must of looked super overwhelmed because after informing me three or four times that I wanted “la puerta a la izquierda en el segundo piso” he pieced together “two, on left?” Those are the only English words I’ve heard all night. My host mom, Carmen, seems super sweet and really happy to have me. She, however, does not speak a word of English and while I was pretty much expecting this, it was hard to have just gone through all the stress of international travel and not be able to share my experiences in my native language.

As I started unpacking everything in my cute little spanish room, the initial giddiness of simply being in Spain wore off and it hit me just how much of a life style change it is to be living here.  I then might have shed my first tears since leaving my Dad in Baltimore while washing my hair with what I believe was shower gel… will definitely be finding some sort of convenience store tomorrow. All in all I am happy to be here, looking forward to seeing la Universidad de Deusto tomorrow, and most definitely ready for bed. Thank you 6 hour time difference!!

Besos!