Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Language improvement is:

  • taking two three-hour finals sans dictionary and not feeling like your work suffered as a result
Two prácticas, two final exams, and one ten-page paper to go...eighteen days til I'm home.


I leave for Paris tomorrow, but hopefully before then I'll have time to blog about Valencia and perhaps Amsterdam!

Friday, November 18, 2011

All I'm askin' is for a little respect.

A couple weeks ago I started a short two-credit course called La España franquista a través del cine y la literatura (Spain under Franco through film and literature). Last week we watched Bienvenidos Mr. Marshall, a 1953 Spanish comedy film about the arrival of the Americans under the Marshall Plan. There's one scene in which an American flag is thrown into a river, and the professor asked the class how that could be interpreted.

The Spaniards in the class weren't saying much, so the professor asked if there were any norteamericanos present. There were 4 of us in total, and we started giving our opinions. When Danielle and I explained that the flag holds a lot of significance for most Americans, and that when a flag touches the ground or is damaged, it has to be burned in a special ceremony.

The kids in the class were actually laughing and looking around like it was the most ridiculous thing they'd ever heard. Yeah, I know, us Americans go overboard with the whole soaring-eagle-red-white-and-blue thing, but respecting the flag is a part of our culture. It's not something to laugh at. I personally couldn't care less for "displays of patriotism," but I actually took offense to the class' reaction to this American custom.

Just my daily dose of culture shock, I suppose.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Andalucía, ¡Olé!: Cádiz

All right, guys. I'm cracking down and I'm DOIN' this blogging thing...after I spent 20 min watching the Marcel the Shell videos on repeat, because they are the best things to ever happen to the internet...well, maybe second to Feminist Ryan Gosling...

En fin...on Sunday afternoon we took the train south to Cádiz. Our seats were all way far apart from each other, but thankfully I was seated at one of the snazzy tables with no one next to me, so I could stretch out. The guy sitting across from me looked a little bit like Wayne Coyne and was reading the issue of GQ with Jon Hamm on the cover. I almost asked if I could borrow it, but then I fell asleep. Story of my life.

We arrived in Cádiz to even warmer weather than we had enjoyed in Sevilla. Our hostel was really close to the train station, and was actually a sister hostel to the one we'd stayed at for the last two nights, so check-in was quick. After locking our stuff up and getting a map, we headed out to see the ocean (!!!) and  watch what's hailed as "the best sunset in Spain" at La Playa de la Caleta (translation: Cove Beach).

The houses along the oceanfront are painted pretty colors
Unreallllll. The rounded cupolas are la Catedral Nueva
So excited to be back by the ocean. California gurl 4 lyfe
The gold cupola is also from la Catedral Nueva
My bun is twinsies with the cupola
¡Hola gatito!
Just chillin'.
It was a loooong walk to La Playa de la Caleta, but there were a ton of feral kitties and of course, the beautiful Atlantic Ocean to gaze upon! Once we got to the beach, we trekked down a long stone walkway that leads to a fort maybe 400 meters into the ocean (it was high tide). There were fishermen fishing with these crazy long poles, and massive waves constantly crashing over the extremely low walls of the walkway.

Finally there!
Fishermen fishin' for fishes.
Crazy waves!
Oh hey!
I probably told them to pose like this..
...but this one was candid!
Kels took over my camera for a bit
The tag said "black music 4 ever"
It had been way too long since I'd seen a beach sunset
Kels modeled for me a bit.
It was only 7 by the time we finished watching the sunset, but we were absolutely starving, so we set off to find some food. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday in a teeeeeny town, and we couldn't find anything that was open. The restaurant the girl at the hostel front desk had recommended to us (and given us bad directions to) was closed as well, which should have been the first red flags that she is an idiot...but more on that later. We ended up having to take a break and get some drinks and tapas before continuing our journey for real was a low point in my life...but we saw some pretty things in our busqueda (search)!

Pretty lights for no reason at all
Dem palm trees.
Only dead fish follow the river's current
By the time we found and finished dinner, we were too exhausted to go out again. I was literally falling asleep at the table. That might have had something to do with copious amounts of red wine and goat cheese, though... anyway, we pathetically conked out early and didn't get a chance to see La Punta, the place where all the young people and students of Cádiz botellón (pre-game) before going out to bars and discotecas. But honestly, I'll take sleep over a club any day...I'm really a failure at being a young adult.

Since I've apparently turned into a morning person, I bounced right out of bed at 8 am and went up to the roof of the hostel to do a little yoga and enjoy the quiet. 

I loved all the ocean-air weathered paint
And now I can say I have watched the sun go down and go up in the oldest city in Europe!
We had a bus to catch at 14:40 (look at me, using 24 hour time like a real European!) so we did a quick walk around Old Town (and a trek to the grocery store for baguettes, brie, apples, and mandarin oranges) before going to THE BEACH for some sun-soakin'. ON HALLOWEEN! Even though I've lived less than a mile from the beach for almost my entire life, I don't think I've ever been to the beach on Halloween, much less gotten a tan. Yet another reason why Europe is da sheeeeet.

The front of La Catedral Nueva. We couldn't find La Catedral Vieja...
And I found this church, with the world's scariest altarpiece.
Do you wanta Fanta?
La Playa Victoria
Some kind-of Thriller hands in honor of Halloween!
I'm doin' caaaartwheels
Like, seriously?
More of than Andalusian yellow
So much anarchist graffiti.
On the way back to the hostel, we stopped to buy ice cream to eat on the roof until we had to head to the bus station. I scarfed down half a pint of lemon sorbet while lying in a hammock (!!!). It was one of those unreal moments where I just kept saying to myself, "You are lying on a hammock on a rooftop in southern Spain on Halloween and you are a little sunburned and in two days you have to go back to class, but this is a once-in-a-freakin'-lifetime experience that you will blog the hell out of once you get back to make everyone jealous...and also to preserve this SUPER RAD memory for posterity."

Look at my tan!
...but right after I was riding this sugar/suntan endorphin wave, disaster struck. We headed back to the station we had pulled into catch our return bus to Madrid, because that's where the girl at the hostel front desk told us to go. Once we got there, I even went to customer service to ask if we were in the right place and the agent told us we were. But when it was 2:40 and our bus still wasn't there, I went up to someone waiting at the bus area and asked him if he was going to Madrid too.

"Madrid? Oh, no, no, this is the south-bound bus station. The north-bound bus station is on the other side of town. You gotta get a taxi now! Run! Run!"

And so we ran. I furiously flagged down a cab we were off--but unfortunately, we were way too late for the bus. So late, in fact, that the bus office had closed, so we couldn't even ask for help. We could see a schedule through the window, and the next bus wouldn't be leaving until 9:40 pm, which would mean we couldn't get back to Madrid til the wee hours of the morning, and there was no guarantee there were even tickets available. We spent half an hour unsuccessfully trying to find WiFi so we could search for other options, and eventually started calling everyone in our phone books to see if someone was home in Madrid and by a computer. Finally, Aubrey's housemate picked up, and we asked him for info on the Ave, Spain's high-speed rail system. Turns out there was a train leaving in an hour and a half, but it would cost a nauseating 70€. After talking it over for a bit, we decided to just go for out, because if it turned out we wouldn't be able to get on the 9:45 bus, we would have to spend another night in Cádiz PLUS buy another bus ticket PLUS waste an incredible amount of yeah, that 70€ sounded okay. Also, the Ave goes 200 miles an hour, which is pretty freaking rad.

But it gets worse, unfortunately. Kelsey hailed another cab and we went back to the south-bound station, because apparently it still has north-bound trains. We went back to the costumer service desk and told him we wanted tickets to the 4:30 train to Madrid, debit cards bravely in hand. After a minute of clicking around the computer, he informed us that...there was only one seat available in coach, but we could pay 130€ to sit in preferente (first-class). Or, we could take a regular train to Sevilla, and catch the Ave there. That would cost a miserable 96€, or $119.

But we did it.

Aubrey buying her $119 ticket, aided by our box of digestive crackers.
We had to wait nearly an hour for the train to Sevilla, during which we tried not to cry about all the money we had just spent. (I coped by swearing a lot and playing Angry Birds on my iPod.)

And I hate to say it, but it gets even worse. Halfway to Sevilla, the train just stopped. Finally, a voice came over the loudspeaker, saying to expect delays of over thirty minutes. We had a forty-five minute layover between arriving in Sevilla and catching the Ave, so this would be cutting it close, but we kept cool. But then it turned out that the delays were because some dingus had stolen the traffic signals on the train tracks. What? Who DOES that? What do you even do with train traffic signals? I'm sure you could get some at Ikea. Or a china shop. I don't even know. But I hate that dingus a lot, because I nearly had an anxiety attack. We were sitting there on the edges of our seats, deliriously playing Veinte Preguntas (20 questions), trying to ignore the fact that if we missed the Ave, we would bankrupt ourselves and be exiled from the country and be forced to kick puppies. Or, you know, really bad things would happen.

With ten minutes until the Ave departure time, we pulled into Sevilla. I booked it off the train and sprinted up two flights of stairs while carrying my suitcase in order to find the arrivals/departures board--unfortunately by the time I got there, I was too out of breath to be able to ask for directions (#asthmaticproblems). Thankfully, Aubrey and Kelsey were more rational and found the correct track. We put our bags through the metal detector, had our tickets torn, and made it onto the train with five minutes to spare.

Unfortunately, by the time the train left it was already dark, so we couldn't see what it looks like to travel at 200 mph. We could, however, watch the cabin screening of Due Date IN ENGLISH! It was a $119 movie, but it did have Robert Downey Junior in it, who I'd say is worth at least $13. So I actually only wasted $106!

We got back to Madrid at around 10:30 pm. The metro station was full of people in Halloween costumes, which was quite comical, because Spanish young adults have a very different costume style than American young adults--that is to say, there were no sexy cats and no politically incorrect rice farmer hats, just fully-clothed clowns with dorky wigs and zombies covered in fake blood. I was entertained until I realized this was the first Halloween where I didn't celebrate at all. I didn't even eat any candy. My life is really quite tragic at times...

I crashed as soon as I got back home. The weekend was wonderful, but I was upset that it had ended on such a frustrating note. But as we decided, mierda pasa--shit happens. There was no way I'd get through four months in Europe without a travel hitch. And now I can say I've been on the Ave! And I've also now had to deal with my bank thinking my debit card had been stolen. Both really fun life experiences.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Andalucía, ¡Olé!: Sevilla

I am the world's worst procrastinator. By that I mean that not only do I procrastinate a lot, I also procrastinate badly--as in, I don't even do fun things while I procrastinate. I've wasted dozens of hours in the last two weeks, but I didn't spend any of those hours on blogging! So now I am using classtime to blog because honestly, I fail at life. But that's another blogpost...

Anyway, three weeks ago I went to Sevilla and Cádiz with Kelsey and Aubrey. They're beautiful annd historical cities in the south of Spain, in the region called Andalucía (from the Arabic Al-Andalus, meaning "paradise"). Sevilla is known as the world capital of flamenco dance, and is also home to the largest cathedral in the world. Cádiz is actually the oldest city in Europe--it was founded by Phoenicians 3,100 years ago!

We started the trip out early on Friday, October 28th. I had to wake up at 6 am to get to the south-bound bus station on time to catch out 8 am bus, which was kind of the worst thing ever, since I seem to be incapable of going to sleep before 2 am these days. And because this was before day light savings time ended, it was still pitch black when we pulled out of the bus station, making everything just so much more painful. Thankfully, I was armed with my sleepy time playlist (lots of The Smiths and Bon Iver) and my inflatable neck pillow, and slept until we arrived at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Spain is full of lots of middle-of-nowheres. In California, you can't drive 15 minutes without seeing a movie theatre, but there's really nothing in between Spain's major cities--just giant yellow-brown fields and the occasional cow.

Rest stop with Europe's most expensive KinderBueno candy bars
First cat sighting of the trip!
Kelsey & Aubrey on da bus
It took six hours to get to Sevilla. Pretty brutal, and I fell asleep every time I tried to do homework...oops. When we finally arrived in the city, we realized we had no idea where we were--Kelsey had printed out the directions the hostel had emailed to us, and they gave directions from two bus stations. It took a ridiculous amount of wandering to finally find a sign telling us where we were. After further searching for the taxi stand, we got into one of Sevilla's Prius taxis and headed to the hostel. The website had said the hostel was located "right in the heart of old town, just steps from the cathedral," and for once, it was an honest description. However, upon checking in we were informed we'd actually be staying in a building just across the street--that had only one bathroom and NO WIFI. Disastrous.

No internet, but a gorgeous view!
I like balconies.
Ikea bunkbeds, of course.
After we freshened up and stowed our luggage, we went on an excursion to find some cold beer and tapas. The weather was absolutely perfect--mid 70s and sunny, the way Madrid was before it decided to copy Seattle's weather patterns. Stupid Madrid.

Just part of the cathedral; the tower on the right is the famous giralda
The cathedral is a mix of gothic and moorish architecture
A lot of buildings here are that distinctive shade of yellow--it's the same shade as the sand used in bullfighting arenas
Aubrey & me
 [photo cred: Kelsey]
Cruzcampo cerveza, traditional Andalucian beer. Noms.
And then I showed off my muscles...
Happy to be in the sunshine again.
After drinks, we went back to the hostel to ask about finding a flamenco show. They directed us to the Flamenco Museum--the only one in the world!--and even walked us there, so we wouldn't get lost in the incredibly windy cobblestone streets. So first we explored the museum for a bit--there were lots of cool videos, and a room of costumes I didn't take any good pictures of because it was super dark (excuses, excuses...)

Chairs & orange trees hanging over the flamenco stage
Some...interesting...flamenco costumes
Me & Aubs being pro flamenco dancers, obvs.
I did manage a mirror shot in the costume room. Typical.
And then it was time for the flamenco espectáculo (flamenco spectacle/show)--or, as the Andalucians pronounce it, echpectáculo. (They have a funny accent down here, which also includes dropping 's' off the end of words--ie., gracia instead of gracias).

¡Qué dramático!
The interaction between the musicians and dancers was amazing.
This guy was so sassy.
Further proof of sassiness.

Growing up in Santa Barbara, I've seen tons of flamenco every summer at Old Spanish Days, a week-long celebration of Santa Barbara's Spanish heritage. But I never saw flamenco like this. These two were actually very famous dancers, putting on a special show to honor the life of a famous Andalucian poet. Anyway, the way they interacted with each other and the musicians was fascinating. True flamenco is not a bunch of 16-year-old-girls in lime green polka dotted dresses dancing in a line on the courthouse steps, like I see every summer at home. True flamenco is very intimate, performed in small restaurants or bars, and focuses on the expression of emotions via dance. When the woman did her soleada dance, I was actually near tears--every flick of her hand, stomp of her foot, or wrinkle of her brow served to create an incredibly powerful atmosphere of melancholy and longing. Then later, during the final pair dance, I was laughing as the woman stole the man's hat and teased him, telling him he wasn't dancing well or fast enough.

When the show was over, someone from the hostel was waiting outside to take us back for paella & sangria night on the hostel's rooftop terrace!

The hostel was decorated for Halloween!
Joseph makin' paella
View from the terrace
Beer, sangria, and the best paella I've ever had. I was a happy, happy girl.
The paella riquíssima (very delicious)--for once, it wasn't coated in about eight kilos of salt. The Spaniards love their salt and it is absolutely foul. Anyway, we ended up meeting a bunch of really cool Americans. One of them was actually studying in Sevilla and was at the hostel with her friend who had come to visit her, so she offered to take us out after dinner. We ended up at an Irish pub with really rad Halloween decorations and delicious mojitos.

Mojitos, heavy on the sugar. Mmm.
We ended up calling it an early night (2 am is early by Spanish standards) so we could be up early for a full day of exploring the city, starting with a tour organized by the hostel. Our tour guide was an Italian studying archaeology in Sevilla, and he was legitimately insane--a welcome change from the middle-aged tour guides we've had in the past who make me want to cry with how boring they are. This was also the first tour I've ever had in English...maybe that's why I paid more attention...

Anyway, just a sample of Felipo's craziness: he described a frieze above the entrance to the cathedral that depicts Jesus expelling the moneylenders from the temple as "the first time we see Jesus kicking asses."

That's Felipo in the acid-ash capris...
Plaque commemorating people killed on this street by the ETA in 1998
Main street. Not pictured: the 3 Starbucks...
CAT outside of the old naval academy building
The river Guadalquivir
Oh hey!
Rowers rowin'
The river area reminded me of a painting by Thomas Eakins, Max Schmitt in a Single Schull:

Art history nerd 4 life.
Me & Kels
Next on the tour was la Plaza de España. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, which was basically a pathetic attempt to make Latin American stop hating Spain for stealing all their gold and silver and giving smallpox to all their people. I don't think it worked very well, but at least we're left with some spectacular architecture! Also, parts of Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones were filmed here, so that's pretty rad.

Typical Sevillan red & yellow--red for the blood of the bulls, yellow for the bullring sand
A series of bridges represent the different regions of Spain 
The tour lasted a whopping three hours, after which we were absolutely starving. After a quick and disappointing lunch consisting of lagrimitas de pollo (translation: "little chicken teardrops"...what?!), we headed to the cathedral. We got there fifteen minutes before it closed, but thankfully were able to stay inside for almost an hour. I guess the Spanish lateness applies to closing of national monuments as well. I'm not complaining!

The cathedral, as I already mentioned, is the largest cathedral in the world and the third largest church in the world. When its construction was completed in the 16th century, it replaced the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul as the largest cathedral. Christopher Columbus is buried there, but somehow I totally missed his grave--oops.  Construction was initially begun in 1184 by Muslims, but after the Christian conquest of 1248 by Ferdinand III, it was converted into a Catholic church. It still has many elements of the original Muslim structure because I guess the Catholics didn't hate the Muslims guts enough to destroy all of the awesome buildings they built. The most noticeable remnant of its moorish days is the giralda, the large tower, which used to be the mosque's minaret. It is 343 feet high but has zero stairs--instead, it has about 40 ramps spiraling to the top. This is because the muezzin (man in charge of calling Muslims to prayer) would have to climb the tower five times a day, and it would be way too exhausting if he had to walk--so he rode a donkey.

The gothic end of the cathedral
The cathedral offers sanctuary to those laid off or on strike. This was a teacher's strike, and behind the barriers they had beds set up to sleep there.
I'll never get over the vaulted ceilings of gothic cathedrals
I was very disappointed to discover they do not offer donkey rides to the top of the giralda--I had to walk! What the heck, man? The thing is donkey-equipped! So unfair. At least the views from the top were absolutely amazing!
A little tilt-shift action...

I wanted to go to that rooftop pool SO badly.
The tower strikes a pretty impressive shadow
Embroidered cape worn by Carlos V at his coronation on October 23, 1520. THIS THING IS 491 YEARS OLD.
Cute circle scarf, bro.
After getting back to the hostel, I checked Foursquare (my fav social networking app) from my iPod to find a restaurant for dinner. The top-visited restaurant far and away was called Las Coloniales and promised to have "comida buenissima y barata" (delicious and cheap food) and wasn't too far away from our hostel, so I broke out the map and we were on our way.

I've actually become really good at reading maps, believe it or not
Once we finally found the restaurant, we asked the waiter for a table and he told us to write our names on a chalkboard hanging by the bar and wait. We ended up waiting an hour, but oh god, was it worth it. We ended up ordering so much food, the waiter had to put the wine bucket on a chair, because it wouldn't fit on the table...¡qué vergüenza! (How embarrassing!) If I remember correctly, this is everything we ordered...

  • chicken with almond sauce
  • crunchy eggplant with drizzled in honey
  • toast with roquefort cheese and blueberry jam
  • goat cheese salad
  • chocolate cheesecake
  • one bottle of wine
  • one bottle of cava (Spanish champagne)

Not only we were the crazy girls with 23098 plates of food on the table, we also had an Eminem rap-a-long at one point. (Quietly, though...I'm not that obnoxious American!)

Spanish wine is da best
Me & Aubs
All of the foods...devoured.
Chocolate cheesecake & cava!

The best part is, all this food (and drink) only cost us €20 each!

So stoked about dinner.
Ghost tourists!
We got back from dinner at around 11:45 pm to discover that everyone in our hostel room was already asleep...what party poopers. Kelsey and I decided to head over to the river and enjoy the surprisingly not-cold night.

I wish I had had my DSLR with me--it was so pretty!
We ended up staying up way too late, but thankfully daylight savings time ended in Europe that night (a week earlier than the US) so we gained a splendid hour of sleep and were decently well-rested for the next day.

After eating literally 4 pieces of toast and Nutella in the hostel, I headed out with Kelsey, Aubrey, and our new friend Lindsay to explore the Real Alcázar (Royal Fortress). The site was originally founded by the Arabs in 712 CE. Like the cathedral, it was taken over by Christians in 1248, and also like the cathedral, it still contains a vast amount of moorish architecture...this time because the Muslims were clearly much better at tiling than the Christians.

Entrance to the Alcázar
From the central courtyard
Coolest. Architecture. Ever.
Aaand the scariest fish ever...
Las chicas
Legend has it, this was the private baths of a king's mistress
The gardens were SO. PRETTY. I didn't want to leave that windowsill!
Not-so-creepy fishies.
Sometimes I photograph other photogs.
And then we came across a bunch of peacocks and I refrained from singing that horrible Katy Perry song.

Whatchu lookin' at?
Nommin' on bread crumbs
Dat tilework!
So obsessed with Islamic architecture.
Adios, ¡Alcázar!
Before catching our train to our next destination, Cádiz, we stopped by Los Archivos de las Américas (Archives of the Americas), home to the largest collection of documents relating to the discovery of the Americas. Unfortunately, it was way cooler in concept than actuality, and some of the signs were printed in Comic Sans. Oh, the horror!

Sevilla is an absolutely gorgeous city, and it reminded me a lot of Santa Barbara. It's always refreshing to be in a small town after a few weeks in the metropolis that is Madrid. I wish I had been able to spend a little bit more time there so I could have crossed over the river to the next town, which is famous for its pottery, but c'est la vie. Just another reason for me to come back...