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… and the end arrives…

So… obviously it’s been a really long time since I last blogged. For anyone who was worried, I’m not dead 🙂 Studying abroad was all about learning about myself, and it looks like one of the things I learned was that I’m not a very consistent blogger!

But, as I go back to Tulsa and TU tomorrow, I figured a closing post would be nice. So.. here’s a brief summary of everything since I last posted.  I had a great time studying abroad, it was an awesome experience, and i’m so glad for the opportunity. Thanks so much to everyone for all your support!

November

My family came and visited the week of Thanksgiving. It was a ton of fun – We did a lot of sightseeing in Salamanca, and I was able to go to Cordoba, Sevilla, and Madrid with them.

My sister and I at the cathedral in Cordoba. After seeing it in so many art history book and Spanish class posters, it was awesome to see in real life.

The Cathedral in Sevilla, a view of the tower with a few of the famous oranges as well!

Family photo on the roof of the Cathedral in Salamanca - it had an awesome view!

On Thanksgiving, ISA put together a dinner for us. While it wasn’t exactly American food, it was a nice thought. I also had a lot of fun hanging out and eating with my friends.

The ISA Thanksgiving Dinner - I'm so thankful to have made friends in Spain!

 

December

Spaniards have a bunch of holidays – In December, they get both the 6th and 8th off (the 6th is the immaculate conception, and the 8th is the Spanish Constituion day, kind-of like our 4th of July).  Since the 6th and 8th fell on Tuesday and Thursday, a lot of people take what’s called a “puente” (bridge) – Monday, Wednesday and/or Friday off as well.

I ended up going with some friends to Santiago de Compostella – the end of the pilgrimage accross Spain to Cathedral where James the Disciple’s bones are supposedly held. It was a beautiful church, and felt more authentic than a lot of the other cathedrals we visited. Santiago was a cool town – it rains *all* the time there, which means that everything is lush and green, definately different from more central Spain.

We walked along the Camino de Santiago for a little bit, it was really awesome!

Finals were a little stressful, but not too bad. We’ll find out my grades when I get my transcript within the next few months, cross your fingers!

The last evening we were in Salamanca, they had a huge New Year’s Eve celebration, called “Noche Vieja Universitaria”. (Since all the students go home and aren’t in Salamanca for New Year’s Eve, they have a special celebration two Thursdays before Christmas.) It’s become the biggest NYE party in Spain, and people from all over the country come. It was an *awesome* way to spend my last evening in Salamanca with my friends.

Plaza Mayor at the beginning of the evening, before it was packed with people.

So (!) many people in Plaza Mayor.

Before our flight home from Paris, Riley and I spent a day in Madrid and a few days in Paris. It was a lot of fun to see all the Christmas Markets, and I got to see the two things I’d missed in Paris the first time around: the Eiffel Tower at night, and the museum with Monet’s Waterlilies paintings.

Eiffel Tower! I was so glad to be able to spend the semester traveling with Riley.

Then… the flight home and Christmas! It was great to be back in America – no more ham, and hot showers! I also have loved being able to see all my friends, family, and boyfriend over Christmas break.

Thanks to everyone who read my blog, and a happy 2012 to you!

A busy week

Hey everyone!

I’m sitting here in the hotel in Granada (I’m on an excursion with Granada), getting ready to go to bed after having seen an amazing flamenco show. The past week has been super busy with midterms (what, you mean I actually have to study sometime??), and fighting off a little bit of a cold, so I apologize for my failure to post.

Anywho, I figured I should post a little bit before all my loyal readers get bored and leave, so here’s an interesting story from class…

In my “Current Spain” class, we have been discussing Spanish history, including the years under Franco’s reign. Our professor was telling us about the period of time in which Franco’s government was based in Salamanca, and how there is a plaque outside the building noting it. Apparently, a few years ago, the PSOE (Socialist political party) outlawed any sort of signage or symboism in Spain that refers to Franco in a positive, political manner. However, many local governments have protested this law, and so the plaques and such still (illegally) exist.

One of these is on my school building, a limestone emblem of the shield that Franco adopted. After class, several friends and I looked up at it before we headed home. We started to have a discussion about removing any sign of their history … it seems to me a little bit like pretending it didn’t happen, which I’m not sure I think is the right approach.

Eventually, the conversation turned to what the Spanish people think of Franco. Salamanca is in a fairly conservative area of Spain, and besides a large student population, also has many, elderly people who are, in essence, still “supporters” of Franco. Especially now that unemployment has reached about 20% here, this is some discontent and nostalgia for things as they “used to be” among a certain sector of the Spanish population.

One of my friends, then, who is in a homestay with a couple in their upper 70’s, shared this discussion he had with his host parents:[Franco had come up somehow in conversation…]

  • Host Parents: “We had years of peace and prosperity under Franco”
  • My Friend: “But didn’t he kill a bunch of people?”
  • Host Parents: “Well yes, but they were all Communists.”

Interesting. November 20th is the anniversary of the day Franco died, and traditionally there are protests both against, and in support of, Franco. However, because the elections are on the 20th this year, all form of political protest are banned.

In other news, my parents and sister are coming for Thanksgiving, and I can’t wait to show them all around Salamanca! (But first, we’ll be spending the weekend in Seville, Spain together next weekend.)

My Dirty Little Secret…

It doesn’t seem like I speak Spanish all that much.

Yes, I live in a country where the official language, and essentially “only” language spoken is Spanish. I go to classes that are taught in Spanish by teachers who don’t necessarily even know English. When I walk on the streets, I hear almost only Spanish. When I go out to eat, or go shopping, or check books out from the library, I speak Spanish. I can’t remember the last time a stranger spoke to me in English.

However, I speak English with all my firends. I speak English with my roommate, and I rarely speak (regardless of language) to the Spaniards in the residencia.

Spanish isn’t my major, and I’ve always been slightly ambivalent about becoming fluent. However, some days I feel like my time here in Spain is a little lacking in purpose, like a temporary “pretend” life. Becoming fluent in Spanish might help with that feeling.

There are probably things I could do to speak more Spanish, but they’re not intuitive or easy, and I just haven’t yet. Like I said… my dirty little secret.

Segovia, Bejar & Alba de Tormes

I haven’t been on any major trips recently. It’s a “lull in the storm” of sorts, this month I have plans to visit Granada, Sevilla, and Madrid. It’s been nice to have a few weekends to catch my breath and sleep in my own bed, although I’m looking at the calendar and trying to figure out how to make it everywhere I want to go! Anyway, just because I haven’t been on any major trips doesn’t mean I’ve been bumming around Salamanca – I’ve taken several day trips: Segovia, Bejar and Alba de Tormes.

SegoviaI went to Segovia two weekends ago with ISA. We (obviously) saw the famous Roman aqueduct, as well as a Middle Ages church and the Alcazar de Segovia (the castle). I thought that the aqueduct, which was built without the use of any mortar, was amazing. It was in continuous use until the 1940’s, and still functions today, although it is only used on special occasions. 

The Alcazar de Segovia was really cool. Fun fact I learned: the castle in Sleeping Beauty was modeled after this castle!

After taking a tour of the castle (and possibly posing next to some dashing Middle Age armor, although you’ll have to look in the Spain Picassa album for those photos), we were given free time to explore the city. We walked around, but it was a Saturday afternoon and most of the shops were closed. To be honest, while the Roman Aqueduct and Alcazar were really cool and made the trip well worth it, I wasn’t all that impressed with the rest of Segovia.

Bejar  I’ve really wanted to go hiking in Spain – there are a lot of really beautiful areas. However, getting to remote mountain towns by public transportation can be a bit difficult (as I’ve discovered), so instead of the beautiful area between Portugal and Spain, I settled for the Sierras de Bejar, about 90 minutes south of Salamanca. A few friends and I took the bus last Saturday, to Bejar. 

While we weren’t actually able to hike in the Sierras, we did walk through the woods. With the leaves falling, it was a beautiful and refreshing afternoon that reminded me quite a bit of Colorado.




Alba de Tormes – Yesterday was a festival day here (November 1st, All Saint’s Day) so we didn’t have school. I decided to go to Alba de Tormes, a little village about 30 minutes away from Salamanca, for the afternoon.

 Their main claim to fame is a large castle that the Duke and Duchess of Alba lived in at one point. Soon after I arrived at the castle, it closed for siesta (gotta love Spain!) so I didn’t have a chance to visit the museum inside it.

However, the town is directly on the Tormes River, and the trees were turning. It was quite beautiful, and I had a quite pleasant afternoon wandering around the little town taking photos and enjoying the solitude of a festival day.

Hope everyone had a good Halloween, and is ready for November and all that it will bring. I know I am – November 1st marked 2 months in Europe!

Tidbits of Interesting

My classes are going okay. I’m able to understand a lot of what my teachers say (even though it’s in Spanish) because they speak slowly, enunciate, and repeat themselves often. We also review a lot. This means, happily, that I don’t have much homework and have been able to travel and have fun this semester. It also means that I don’t always feel like I’m learning very much, and class can be a bit boring.

However, every once in a while, I’ll learn something super interesting. Here are a few of my favorites…

1. Near a town named Almeria (part of Andalucia, in southern Spain), there is an area that grows almost all of the tomatoes consumed in Europe. In fact, this area grows so many vegetables, that the greenhouses can be seen from space. (Feel free to look for yourself on Google Maps)

2. The “New Cathedral” (La Catedral Nueva, which is connected to La Catedral Vieja) was built beginning in 1513. Why then, on one of the walls, is there this….

No, the builder wasn’t a time traveler. In 1992, some restoration was done to the cathedral and modern figures such as this one were added in empty spots.

3. There is a town in the most western edge of Galicia (a province in northern Spain) called Finisterre. The name was derived from Latin finis terrae, or “fin del tierra” (the end of the land). This is because before Christopher Columbus discovered America, this was thought to be the western-most area before the world/sea ended.

4. In 1492, Queen Isabel of Castilla and Ferdinand of Aragon married. This united their lands and created the country Spain as we know it today – beginning the golden age of Spanish power. Their new coat of arms looked like this:Archivo:Estandarte real de 1492-1508.svg

When Franco won the Civil War and took over in the 1930’s, he chose a coat of arms for Spain that was essentially the same as that of Los Reyes Catolicos.

Archivo:Coat of arms of Spain under Franco.svgThis is (partially) because Franco wanted to emphasize both unity in Spain, as well as the fact that Spain had a monarchy – while there was no king or queen under his leadership, he always intended for Spain to become one again in the future, instead of a republic.

I am excited for this weekend – it is several of my friends’ birthdays here, so we are going to celebrate on Saturday evening. I am also trying to plan a short day trip for either Saturday or Sunday 🙂

Bucket List

One of the first things I did after moving in to my room at the residencia was make a “Bucket List” to put on my bulletin board. Since I’ve been here in Salamanca almost a month (on September 23rd I was in Madrid), it would be fun to show you what I’ve done on the list so far.

My "Bucket List" is up on my bulletin board to remind me what I want to do here!

1. Visit Portugal: I went to Lisbon with ISA a few weeks ago, read more about that in this post.

Andie and me at the castle

2. Go to at least one cultural exhibit/museum in Salamanca

3. Get a library card and read a book in Spanish: I’ve obtained the library card, but am still working on the book part.

My library card!

4. Do some sort of volunteering/community work: this has been much more difficult than I anticipated; I think it has something to do with the bureaucracy and paperwork system in Spain. However, I’m working with the staff at ISA right now and will possibly start volunteering at the Red Cross soon.

5. Find the yarn store: I saw an awesome yarn store one day, but couldn’t find it again. Riley did one day though, and I’m seriously considering taking up knitting again. However, the yarn store only sells yarn, not needles. Where’s a good Hobby Lobby when you need one?

6. Visit Amsterdam

7. Take a tour of Salamanca

8. Eat seafood paella

9. Try a food that sounds/looks disgusting: since I eat whatever the residencia is serving, and that sometimes includes things like squid or pig ribs, I think I can consider this one crossed off. However, I am trying to be much more adventurous with food here.

10. Buy souvenirs: let me know if you want something!

11. Go to the National Park (or hiking elsewhere):  I haven’t quite worked out transportation there. Sometimes I definitely miss having a car.

12. Go dancing/take a dance lesson

13. Take at least 2 or 3 day trips: We were going to go to La Alberca one Sunday, but missed the bus. So instead… I went paddle boating with a bunch of friends. It was a ton of fun, and we definitely can’t wait to do it again.

Bianca and I were on a boat together

Andie, Josh and Riley were on the "slow boat" (we beat them in several paddle boat races)

14. Watch an entire soccer game

15. Follow the Spanish Elections: there will be elections for the new President of Spain on November 20th, I’m super excited to be here while it happens. Believe it or not, they haven’t started campaigning yet (and everyone is already pretty sure who will win) – so different from the US! If you have any interest, this website has a good summary of the politics of the election.

16. Do something fun with the Residencia people

17. Have a successful intercambio meeting

18. Stay out as late as the Spainairds do: that would be 6 or 7am

19. Update blog at least every week: this whole blog thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I’m doing my best guys!

20. Visit the Reina Sofia

21. Go to a movie in Spanish

22. Go to the Lion King with people

23. Speak only Spanish for one whole day

24. Read the entire newspaper

There are newspaper stands like this one all over Salamanca that I buy the newspaper from sometimes

25. Visit a walled town in each country I go to: So far I’ve been to walled towns in Italy, Germany, and Portugual – that leaves Spain and France!

26. Go to Cortes Ingles: The Spanish version of Macy’s, it is one of only department type stores here in Spain.

Portugal

Two weekends ago, I went with ISA (my program) to Lisbon, Portugal. When I found out that I would be studying in Salamanca, one of the things I was most excited about was how close it was to Portugal. I thought it would be a great opportunity to experience both another city and culture.

Portugal and Spain have been one country on and off, and they have a lot in common. It definitely was a bit different though. One thing I noticed in particular was that the Portuguese are much more outwardly friendly/pushy to everyone; people were always trying to sell you things as you walked down the street, or talking to you. Here in Spain, people are kind, but not necessarily to strangers – you have to get to know someone. The other major difference was the language factor, Portuguese is quite different from Spanish. Having traveled in September meant that not speaking the language wasn’t too different for me though.

Lisbon is a beautiful city. On the first afternoon, we went on a tour of the San Jorge Castle. It was a lot of fun running all around taking pictures and stuff. When I’m in medieval castles like that, I can’t help imagining what it would’ve been like in the Middle Ages when people actually lived there. It’s up on the top of a mountain, and so you could see the city of Lisbon, which was quite cool. That evening, I walked around near our hotel with a bunch of friends.

At the castle - it was really fun to explore.

a bunch of us walking around Lisbon Friday evening

On Saturday, we went to the other main sights in Lisbon – the Monastery of Los Jeronimos, as well as the Tower of Belem. The tower of Belem was lots of fun to see, as you had to walk over a bridge in the ocean/river to get to it. In the afternoon, I was able to go to one of the markets that they have in Portugal. It was essentially an antique/flea market, in which people set up tables and sold random things. It was really cool to walk up and down looking at the “junk”, I wanted lots of it, but as I couldn’t figure out what I’d do with any of it, didn’t buy anything.

It almost looks unreal!

 

On Sunday, we headed back to Salamanca via a beautiful walled town called Obidos, as well as a monastery in Batalha. Obidos was absolutely beautiful. I love walled towns – they are absolutely beautiful, and almost seems stuck in time which is always cool. One of my favorite activities is walking around the top of the wall, which I luckily got to do in Obidos. The weather was perfect – 80’s – and I wished we could’ve stayed much longer. The Monastery in Batlha, was cool, but at this point I have about reached my limit of churches and monasteries, so I didn’t find it too extraordinary or exciting. I would’ve preferred to skip it and spend more time in Obidos, but that’s the hazard of traveling with a group I suppose.

I am absolutely in love with all walled towns!

Obidos had tons of beautiful flowers, and the weather was perfect.

Overall, it was a great weekend! (Also – photos of Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona are up, Portugal to come soon.)