“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quick Update

Hey Everyone,

All is well here in Cadiz. We survived the huelga! Actually, there was no real evidence of a strike here. People just used it as an excuse to skip work and go to the beach. And we used it as excuse to skip class! It was so fantastic to sleep in until noon!

We saw a chipmunk in a cage at a pet shop the other day. Very interesting. Especially since in New England we don't shed a tear if we see one lying in the middle of the road, but here, people consider them pets?!

Also, I got pooped on by a seagull today at the beach. Yep. It only took 2 weeks! Needless to say it was a less than pleasant experience, and I am hoping that it doesn't happen again soon.

Tomorrow we have our "examen" as a conclusion for our "intensive" language course. We are currently in the plaza "studying." I'm not too worried. It shouldn't be difficult. In fact, its more of an annoyance than anything else. This course did not help us improve our Spanish as much as we thought. For the most part, it conflicted with all that we have been taught over the years. I will be relieved to hand in that test tomorrow.

I am soooo looking forward to the weekend. Natalie's 22nd birthday is Sunday, so we plan on celebrating from the time we finish our exam tomorrow, until Sunday morning! Should be fun!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Buenos dias,

Today was relatively uneventful. I finally figured out my class schedule! I will be taking Roman Mythology, Prehistoric History of Andalucia, Roman Linguistics, and the regular Spanish class. On Fridays I have no classes and instead will be volunteering to help rehabilitate the salinas (salt marshes) in the area. I am looking forward to this the most as we will also be working with different species of birds. Mom, I'm sure you are very jealous!

After class Carmen took us to the Museum of Cadiz. It was interesting - there were a lot of historical artifacts. The first floor had many Phonetician artifacts including the coffins of 2 mummies made of Italian marble. The second floor had a number of artifacts that washed up on the beach in Cadiz. The final floor had a variety of paintings on display along with some creepy puppets. La Tia Norica is a marionette collection that is over 200 years old. The collection is unique to Cadiz and served as entertainment for people that could not read.

Creepy, right?
 Tomorrow there is a "huelga" or strike across the entire nation of Spain. Therefore, all public transportation will be shut down and stores will be closed. So, we are going to make the most of going out tonight! We are hoping there is no class tomorrow, but we won't know until we get there. The strike is being held by mainly lower class citizens who are in opposition of new government regulations. These include wage cuts, an increase in the retirement age, and reforms that make it easier to hire/fire workers. As you may know, Spain has been hit hard by the economic crisis and unemployment rates are still very high. However, the strike is incredibly unproductive. The new reforms have already been made legal and there is nothing a strike can do. In fact, had it not been for the World Cup, this strike would have happened months ago. So - fingers crossed for no class tomorrow! I could use a day of relaxation at the beach!!!!

Hasta luego. Besos!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Oh dear God.....this is a bullfight

Hola todos,

I'm sorry it has been a while since my last post. We have been trying to keep busy, so finding time to sit down and blog has been difficult. Class is more of the same - can't wait for it to be over! It's not exactly as "intensive" as I thought it was going to be. I'm anxious to enroll and be in true classes with other students next Monday.

We had a relatively quiet weekend. We were so tired and drained from the week we spent a lot of time watching Spanish movies and relaxing at the beach.

Remember how I had said that we would be going to a "running" of the bulls? Well - Sunday night we ended up at a bullfight. Yes. A bullfight, and I was not at ALL prepared!! Natalie, Teresa, and I had been told by our program director that there was going to be a Festival in San Fernando. She explained that there was going to be a party with people in the streets, music, and other things - or so we thought. We should have done our homework because here in Spain - "festival" is the same as "bullfight."

Anyway, our director said she was going to purchase our tickets, but didn't, so we boarded the bus to San Fernando relatively early on Sunday with the intentions of purchasing them there. At the bus stop, this guy overheard us speaking English, and came over to talk to us. His name is Alex - from Manchester, England - and is here in Cadiz for the year studying. He had just arrived and didn't know anybody in the city. He was relieved to meet some English - speaking people! So he tagged along with us for the night and we had a great time getting to know each other.

The group before the fight!

The bullfight began around 6:30. We chose to sit in the "sol" (sun) because it was such a nice day. Notice in the photo that because of the shape of the arena - you can buy your tickets based on "sombra" (shade) or sol.

So here is some basic information about the bullfight. There are 3 matadores who each fight 2 bulls over the course of the event. Assisting the matadores are picadores who are mounted on horses and hold long spears. They stab the bull. At our bullfight there were 3 picadores. In addition, there are banderilleros - they assist the matadores in distracting the bull. Together - the matadores and the banderilleros are known as "toreros" and you can hear that word being chanted by the crowd throughout the fight. It is also worth mentioning that there is a small army of men and a set of 3 horses who are responsible for dragging the bull from the arena once it is killed. I know, this is a lot to take in, it took until the 4th or 5th bull for us to understand the process.

Here is a photo of the procession that begins the bullfight. 

A bullfight, as gruesome as it may be, is truly an incredible performances. There is a specific sequence of events that must be followed. First, the bull enters the arena and the matador tests his strength. Often, the baderilleros assisted him. This only lasts for a few minutes.

The 3 matadores being praised by the crowd prior to the bullfight

When the trumpet sounds, a picador on horseback enters the arena. The bull is drawn to him and the picador stabs him several times with a spear. The crowd cheered quite loudly during this part. The spear is aimed at the bull's neck to weaken him and this is when we first saw blood.

A bit gruesome
Following this, is another round of taunting the bull. The banderilleros and sometimes the matadores, "dance" with the bull in an attempt to pierce 2 barbed sticks into its back. This happens 2 or 3 times.

Action shot
The last stage is the most dramatic. It involves the matador with his sword and red cape and the bull. Music is playing in the background and it seems like a dance between man and bull. Towards the end of this stage, the matador pierces the bull in the back with his sword in attempt to pierce him in the heart. Sometimes it would take only 1 stab and the bull would be down, other times it would take several.

Just the matador and the bull

 Immediately after the bull hits the ground, other men approach it with a small sword to kill it so it doesn't suffer further. At this point, the ears and tail are usually cut and awarded to the matador and then the bull is dragged off. There was one matador that was fond of throwing the ears into the crowd before he left the stage.

The bull being dragged off   

Presentation of the ears and tail to the matador
 As I mentioned above, we had to endure this process 6 times. None of us were prepared for a bullfight and I have to say, my stomach was upside down and my whole body was tense the entire night. For me to watch 6 bulls be murdered over the course of almost 3 hours was a very intense experience. It took until the last bull for me to actually feel comfortable watching.

I am glad I went. It is something very unique to the Spanish culture and it truly is theatrical. I have spoken to many Spaniards about it and I can understand why some people respect, honor, and appreciate the bull fighting. I also understand why for many it is cruel, inhumane, and gruesome. Nevertheless, it is something that you must see in your life.

That was enough adventure for me for one weekend! Back to the normal routine for this week. We have a trip to the Museum of Cadiz planned for tomorrow afternoon, so be on the lookout for a post tomorrow night!


Saturday, September 25, 2010


Hey there,

I just wanted to quickly update everyone - I found out last night that I was officially accepted into the Omicron Delta Kappa chapter National Leadership Honor Society at Bryant. After a month long application process, I am so relieved that it is all finally over! I am also very excited to be 1 of the 20 juniors at Bryant to be inducted this fall!

Be sure to check out my next post soon - tomorrow we are going to a running of the bulls in San Fernando! Don't worry - I'm not running, just watching!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh those summer nights, o-well-a, o-well-a, o-well-a

Last night was a blast!!! I don't think I have laughed so hard in all of my life! Last week our host brother Hugo had told us that one of his friends was going to be celebrating his birthday, and that we had been invited to tag along. We had forgotten all about it until last night when his two friends came over and they were getting ready to go out. These are the same friends who met us at the train station and carried our luggage all the way back to the house.

Hugo's friends are absolutely hysterical. Hands down they are two of the nicest and funniest people I have ever met. They really enjoyed showing us pictures from last years Carnival when they dressed in drag! One of his friends will be participating in another festival on October 1st (dressed in drag) and we can't wait to go! Anyway...Natalie and I got ready and Hugo did our hair for us. Gotta love having a brother who does hair, so convenient.

This is one of Hugo's friends.

 This is Hugo's other friend. It was his birthday!

Next, we went to a karaoke bar. WOW! So much fun. We sang a bunch of spanish songs as well as "Stronger" by Britney Spears and "Summer Nights" from the movie Grease. Absolutely hysterical. We didn't leave until the bar closed for the night. Then, Hugo and his friends took us to some dance clubs (discotecas). Apparently, the night life here doesn't get started until at least 4 am - so when we got there, they were empty. By the time we had left, they had filled up. Hugo and his friends were so protective of Natalie and I. They wouldn't let anyone near us and we danced allllllllll night! So much fun! We really hope that we have the chance to go out with them again before Hugo moves next month. 

 All of us (minus the b-day boy) prior to dancing!

 All of the boys together! So cute!
What a night! So many laughs!!!!! 

Today was more of the same. Class, lunch, beach. I did in fact get my first sunburn today. I hope it is also my last while I am here. Oh! - And today, Encarna's family bought her a bird! So now we have a pet parakeet! It isn't very friendly, but I'm sure it was just terrified by all of the noise and action that there is in this house. 

Time to rest up for tomorrow! Lindsay and her friend from high school are going to be in town. We have plans to meet up during the day - most likely at the beach. Can't wait!!!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

There just aren't places like this in the States...

Today was more of the same. Class, lunch, rest. The weather was awful today. No sun. Just clouds and a little bit of rain.

After a siesta, we skipped our run to go exploring with Carmen. She took us to the Catedral de Cadiz. Apparently, a very, very long time ago there was an old cathedral in Cadiz that burned to the ground. So they decided to build a new one down the street and it took several hundred years to build. When you look at the outside, you can clearly see that each level of the cathedral came from a different time period. The bottom has baroque influence and the top has a classical influence.

The outside of the Cathedral
Inside, there are a number of small chapels as well as a chorale chamber similar to the one in the Cathedral in Toledo. The altar is very simple, but is incredibly beautiful. I would also like to mention the relics that we saw today. Apparently, it is quite common to save the bones/body parts of Saints and display them in ornate monstrances. Check out some pictures below:

The chorale chamber
The altar

The monstrance made entirely of silver

So the coolest part of the day was the crypt! I have never been in a crypt before - I mean, really, who has? It was a very cool experience. Apparently this crypt is below sea level, so it had a very unique smell. They say if put your ear up against the wall, you can hear the ocean.

The girls at the entrance to the crypt!!

We are pretty sure this thing is a mannequin, but we weren't entirely convinced.

It was a creepy experience, but its not anything you can do back in the States. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. After, we stopped by the museum down the street. It was filled with mostly religious artifacts and of course, more relics. We saw a lot of old bones. Very odd.

As Natalie and I were walking home, we stopped at a pasteleria (a bakery) to try some local pastries. They were delicious! I hope I can bring a box home for Christmas! 

That's all for now! We need to get ready to go out with our host brother Hugo and his friends!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Life is for Living

So today was a pretty average day. We had school in the morning and then came home for lunch in the afternoon. I took a short rest and then met up with Teresa to go for a run. We went on our usual route along the coast. We are still getting used to being stared at by every single person. Its not normal for many people to run outside here, so we are the main attraction every afternoon. Also, its typical for men here to stare at women, regardless of appearance. So we can see eyes wandering as we run. Today, a lovely little 70+ year old man with a cane gave us the look, we couldn't help but laugh.

After the run, we all met up at the beach. After about an hour of sunning ourselves, we decided to walk around El Castillo de San Sebastian. At night, around 8, the tide is low enough that you can walk completely around the castle. If you remember my post a couple of days ago, during the day, the water is high enough that we could safely jump off the side of the Castillo. We had a blast! Of course we were scanning the sand for sea glass.... I found some great pieces to add to my collection! It was truly amazing night and is hard to put into words. Enjoy the pictures!!!

Buenos noches. Hasta manana. Besos!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Adrenaline Rush Continued..

Ok, I'm sorry that I couldn't finish posting last night! For some reason I can't post the video of us jumping on the blog, but I will try to post it to Facebook. I want to stress that this is not something I will likely ever do again, it can be dangerous if the tide is low. We were lucky it wasn't the day we were there.

Today we had our first day of class. When we arrived we were given an exam to determine our placement level. The highest level is 8 and below that is level 6. I had no confidence in that test, not at all. I haven't done grammar exercises in ages and I was rusty after a summer without any Spanish, but lots of Chinese! Anyway, I was able to stay in level 8, which I partly feel is a little high for me. I understand everything that is going on. My writing, reading, and listening skills are superior, but my speaking is not as good as the other students in the class. I'm sure after this week I will be back to the level I was at my senior year of high school.

In the morning I have class with Alberto from 9-11:20. He is a blast! I love him! He is so fun and has a great personality. We then have short break until about noon. We went down the street for coffee and pan tostado. Toasted bread with olive oil, crushed tomatoes, and salt is very popular here. And it is delicious! Then I go back for class from 12-2 with Theresa. The break between is very much appreciated, the day goes by much faster. There are 4 Germans in my class, 3 Chinese, an Austrian, and myself. It is quite the mix!

Then Natalie and I went home for lunch. Encarna had her daughter, son-in-law and their 2 children over for lunch as well. They are such nice people. They all love to talk and they treat us like part of the family. The kids are hysterical, especially Joel, who is quite the mujeriego (ladies man) and he is only 9! Oh - and Hugo, our host brother returned from Madrid last night. He is probably one of the nicest people we have met since we have been here. He is so warm and welcoming and Natalie and I hope to spend a lot of time with him before he leaves next month. He bought his own place a few towns over and today he passed his driving exam so he is one step closer to leaving! He is VERY handsome and so is his boyfriend!

After lunch, we rested for a bit and then the 3 of us met up for a run. We jogged for a few miles along a paseo (walkway) that lines the coast. It was absolutely beautiful. We hope to make a habit of it and plan on running everyday around the same time.
That's it for today! Time to finish some homework and get to bed! More school tomorrow.

Buenos noches <3

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Adrenaline Rush

** I apologize if my English is a little off. We hear/speak very little of it here and lately we have all had  a difficult time composing sentences!

Today was a fantastic day. Absolutely fantastic. We slept in until 11 and took our time getting ready for the beach and I had the best breakfast - toasted bread with Nutella!

We went to the beach closest to our school - its the only main beach on the old part of Cadiz. The beach was full of people. Sundays here are family days. Most stores are closed and only a few restaurants and bars stay open. Everyone loves to just get out of their homes and spend time with friends and family.

Me at the beach!
The beach was great. I got some more sea glass today - a lot of very pretty green pieces. There were lots of guapos (handsome men) that we had our eyes on for Theresa (she is the only one of us without a boyfriend and she is here for an entire year!) We spent a lot of time in the water. At first it feels a bit cold, but eventually you get used to it and it becomes like bath water. Theresa was the only brave one - she swam all the way out to the buoy, which by the way, is further out than any of the buoys in Rhode Island. I would also like to note that it is quite common here for women to go to the beach topless, and we saw many women doing just that today.

After a few hours, we decided to take a walk out to El Castillo de San Sebastian - which is basically a fort and was built in 1598. We took our time walking out to the fort, admiring the little beaches on either side. Close to the fort itself there are some little fissures that squirt water out when the time comes in. The fort was closed as it is only used for special events, but I was able to stick my hand through the gate and snap a few pictures.

El Castillo de San Sebastian

The highlight of the day - no, the highlight of the trip so far - was jumping off the side of the fort. On our walk up we noticed some of the local girls jumping off the side. The water is very deep and there are rocks close by that you can swim too. Theresa was the only brave one at first, neither Natalie nor I wanted to jump. But after a few minutes, we had stripped down to our bathing suits and decided to do it. It was the most exhilarating thing I have ever done in my life. I loved it so much, I jumped twice.

Oh, and you probably won't believe me, but I actually have a tan. Not a burn, but a tan.

Well, I can't finish this post because my computer battery is dying! I will finish it tomorrow and add more pictures and a video of me jumping!

Besos y un abrazo!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I almost forgot!

Yesterday we visited an outdoor market. There really is no such thing as a supermarket here. This place took up an entire plaza. One half was all seafood. Every type of fish, shrimp, shellfish, eel you can imagine. The second half was fresh vegetables and fruits. Here are some pictures I stole from Natalie

Are there night birds? There is no climbing wall in the city.


Primero - let me explain the title of this entry. My friend Theresa, the one from is Alaska, is currently sitting on the bench next to me skyping. As I mentioned last time, her parents are biologists/park rangers. Mind you, she hasn't spoken to her parents at all except to tell them that she got here safely. The first question her mom asked her was the following: "are there night birds?" LOL Later, her father asked if there was a climbing wall in the city. LOLZ.

Segundo - I am not an expert, but each day I am becoming more and more convinced that Spain is experiencing a baby boom. I mentioned that Madrid was the city of love, but nothing compares to Cadiz. Everyone here is paired up. From the five year old kids to the old people. Love is in the air! Every young couple has children and the majority of women we have seen here are pregnant. Natalie and I are convinced that it is a national epidemic. Honestly, we have never seen anything like it.

Cutest father and son ever. Notice the little naked boy with swimmies!

Ok, now to the good stuff! We are sitting in our favorite spot - La Plaza Mina. Honestly, I have never been happier. Natalie and Theresa feel the same way. We sit here in smile. Between 6 and 8 pm is the best time to come. All of the families are out. Children of all ages are playing - roller skates, bikes, skateboards, jump rope. Dogs are walking around. Old couples are strolling arm in arm. This place is just a microcosm of the city, and Spain in general. Its a very social, family oriented place from what we have seen.
Cute little boy in La Plaza Mina
La Plaza Mina

Now time for a play-by-play of the day! I had to get up early for a quick trip to the doctor. Between the jet lag and climate change, I have a bit of a cold. I got some medicine at the pharmacy but I haven't taken it. Going to the beach today helped a ton and I don't even think I need it.

Carmen and her husband then walked me to the beach to meet up with Natalie and Theresa. I took a little stroll by myself to buy a beach towel. Thank god the people here are so friendly or I never would have found a place to buy one!

The beach here is nothing short of FABULOUS! The highlight - - -  SEA GLASS!!!!!!!!!! You all know how much I love sea glass and I never thought I would find it here! In Rhode Island it is so hard to find! But here, it was everywhere. I filled a plastic bag and each day I go to the beach, I am going to add to the collection. I hope to get in touch with the woman in Narragansett that I know who makes the sea glass jewelery. I plan on making several pieces (pendants, earrings, bookmarks, bracelets) for everyone and giving them as gifts! Natalie and Theresa had never seen sea glass before but they sure got a kick out of collecting it with me! We had a blast. The sand is wonderful - it feels like velvet. The water is incredibly warm and the air is so pure. Honestly, there is no place like it. You can't help but feel happy there.

Sea glass collection: Day 1
The girls on the beach

We took the long way home, walking along the coast. The water is every shade of blue, its impossible to describe and no picture could do it justice. We saw a bride standing on the street corner all done up in the most beautiful dress I have ever seen in my life. We came upon the wedding party a block ahead, and then we came to the church where there was an old car waiting. We haven't learned much about weddings here, but it appears that the family waits for the bride and then they all processes to the church.

Car for the wedding - wish we could have gotten a picture of the bride!

Then we had lunch and met one of Encarna's daughters and her husband. Such nice people and very family oriented. We rested for a bit and then met up with Theresa for a trip to El Corte Ingles (the shopping center) It is only a 3 minute bus ride away in the new part of Cadiz. We scoured the supermarket and bought lots of chocolate, pretzels, and NUTELLA! Encarna thinks we are crazy, but we can't live without it here!

Then it was back to the house for a light dinner (soup) and then Encarna took us down the street to a little candy shop that her family owns. She brought soup to her granddaughter that works there. Natalie and I had a BLAST in this store. Oh my god, there were so many interesting things there! Encarna and Monica could not stop laughing at us - they must have thought we were nuts, but we didn't care. I am going to go crazy picking out candy to bring home for everyone. Connor and Collin - you will love all of the sour candies they have here. Andrew is going to love the variety of sunflower seeds. And everyone else - there are so many delicious types of Ferrier Roche here - not just chocolate like in the states.

So that was the day. Tomorrow, we are all going to the beach. Encarna is going to make us bocadillas (little sandwiches) so we can stay there all day instead of having to come home for lunch. We are very much looking forward to tomorrow! Oh, and our brother Hugo is coming in tomorrow night, so I can't wait to meet him! And I can't wait for him to help me with my hair. My hair and the climate here don't get along too well!

Buenos noches. Besos y un abrazo

Friday, September 17, 2010

La Ciudad que Sonrie (The City that Smiles)

Buenos Dias!

So much has happened in the last 2 days, I have a lot to write about!

Yesterday was our last day in Madrid and it rained!!!! We spent the morning touring the Royal Palace - which was absolutely beautiful. Once again we had a fabulous guia - Pamela - who spoke clear Spanish. My favorite part of the tour was the room with the Stradivarius violins. They are so rare and incredibly beautiful we were all in shock that we were standing in a room with 5 of them.

After that we had about 4 hours to kill until our train so we walked to El Corte Ingles which is a large shopping center. This place was AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have never seen so many wonderful things in one place! I was curious about the prices of things here. There are some designers like Longchamp that are much less expensive over here. But UGGS and Loreal makeup were almost 3 times as expensive here. The goal of our trip was to get a bathing suit for Theresa. She is from Alaska and didn't have one! We were in luck! All of the bathing suits were 50% off and we each bought one for about 15 euros.

We then had the LONGEST train ride ever to Cadiz. I didn't mind it much because the trains here are so nice. They are clean and new and very comfortable. But the route to Cadiz passes through nothing but open land and farms (that grow olives). There were some little villages and towns scattered throughout but otherwise it was a boring ride.

When we got to the train station we were greeted by our host families. Theresa is living alone because she is staying here for an entire year!!! Her host mom, Isabel, is a short little woman with curly blond hair and lots of makeup. She is very fashionable and told Theresa she was going to give her a makeover! She is a sweet lady who is very affectionate and talks a lot! Natalie and I are living with a woman named Encarna. She is a big old woman with a loud deep voice. She is incredibly nice and still stays in contact with the other students who have lived with her. Her grandson Hugo is also going to be living with us, but he is in Madrid visiting his boyfriend and won't be back until Sunday night. Encarna told us he is a hair dresser so we can't wait to meet him!!! His 2 friends came to meet us at the train station and they were kind enough to walk our luggage all the way back to Encarna's house. This was HYSTERICAL to see because they were 2 very short skinny boys.

Encarna's house is nice. It is typical of a middle-class residence here. (We were happy that it was on the first floor so we didn't have to carry our heavy luggage up any stairs!) When you walk in there is a small living room to the right and behind it is Encarna's room. Straight ahead is a small patio with no ceiling. This is where the clothesline is. You then walk down a narrow hallway and on the right there are 2 bedrooms - Hugo's and ours. If you keep walking straight there is a kitchen and a newly renovated bathroom. Its modest by American standards but we are very comfortable there. We had a small meal of pasta salad and then unpacked and went to bed. Last night there was a thunderstorm here (which is very rare) and it was very cool to hear it through the open air patio.

This morning we slept in a little and then met up with Carmen and the main center of Cadiz for a little tour. Cadiz is the oldest city in Europe and you can definitely tell when you are walking down the narrow streets. All of the buildings are old and very beautiful. We got to visit our school - which is VERY nice. We walked by the beach and let me tell you, I can't WAIT to go there tomorrow and get some sun! Our last stop was to this place called El Torre de Cadiz. You climb up a bunch of stairs for a panoramic view of the city. Then, you go into this dark room, they turn off all the lights, and open a hole in the ceiling where there is a mirror. The mirror acts as a camera and reflects a view of the city on this giant circle in front of you. The women who operated the "thing" gave us a little tour of the city and pointed out the important sites. It was pretty cool.

By then it was around 2 so we went home for lunch. We had salad, bread, a soup-like meal make with lentil-like beans, chorizo, and potatoes. It wasn't bad. Then we took a nap! I love this custom. Its around 7 pm here now and everyone is outside. We walked to Plaza Mina which is a few minutes away and offers free wi-fi. We won't have internet at home until Hugo comes back and gives us the password. For less than 2 euros we got a small ice cream and now we are just sitting here people watching. The plaza is gorgeous. There is a botanical garden and a fountain with benches everywhere. There are people all over, kids on bikes, dogs roaming and every table at the nearby cafes is full. This is one of the things I love most about this culture - the people are very social. Everyone is friendly and happy.

A few other little things - pigeons are the native bird here in Cadiz, but they are not anywhere near as annoying as those in the United States. Although, one did just poop on Theresa's computer.

The accent here in Andalucia is obnoxious, and I mean that in the nicest was possible. They speak with a heavy, thick accent and often leave many letters out of words, mostly the "s" which for us is the most important. I'm sure after a week of intensive Spanish starting on Monday we will be ok.

The people here are very stylish, every always looks put together.

The only negative at the moment is this little cold I seem to have. It started in Madrid and I had thought it was just allergies or something because of the smog/pollution of the city. But it seems to have followed me here! I'm hoping a  day at the beach tomorrow will help some! It would be great if I could get rid of this tickle and stop coughing!!! Encarna gave me a spoonful of honey from a local bee farm (which was delicious) but it didn't help much. Good thing there are farmacias on every corner!!! If it doesn't get better by Monday I will visit a doctor, but I'm hoping it will be gone by then! I hope i'm not allergic to Spain!

The girls in the program are great! Theresa is from Alaska. And I think I have learned more about Alaska in the past week than I have about Spain! She showed me a ton of pictures and it seems like a wonderful place. She is a total nature girl. Her parents are park rangers/biologists and so Theresa knows everything about everything. She is incredibly enthusiastic and tuns of fun. Big smiles and lots of laughs.

I am living with Natalie from Corpus Christi, Texas. She and I are very much alike. We dress the same, talk about the same things, and have the same opinions about everything. She also has a serious boyfriend back home so we have lots to talk about. We are getting along so well and I am glad we are living together. I'm glad its just the 3 of us. Its making things a lot easier and we have a tighter bond.

Well that's all for now! I am going to enjoy the liveliness of the plaza!!! Beach tomorrow!!

Besos y un abrazo!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do I have to come home?


Today was yet another beautiful day in Espana! I'm still jet-lagged and my body is still trying to adjust to a new schedule, but everything is going well.

Today we took a trip to Toledo (only 20 mins by train). Toledo is one of the oldest cities in Spain and has a strong Arabic influence. Every building has a unique history. We were guided by a woman named Elena, who was incredibly kind. She spoke slow, clear Spanish - which we greatly appreciated. We walked along cobblestone paseos (paths, sidewalks, streets) through the city.

There were a number of shops lining the streets. Toledo is known for several unique crafts. They include: knives and swords, ceramics, wood carvings, and something very intricate known as damascene. Damascene pieces are very ornate and handcrafted and involve inlaying threads of gold and silver.

We then took a short walk around the main part of the city and visited El Catedral, which is completely breathtaking.

El Catedral de Santa Maria de Toledo

El Catedral is the second largest cathedral in Spain (the largest is in Sevilla) and is one of the most important religious sites in the entire country. It was built in the early 1200's and took over 500 years to complete. You can see Baroque and Cothic influences throughout. There are gorgeous stained glass windows that reflect off the natural light and create beautiful rainbows on the marble floors. There are 5 entrances (the main entrance is only used when a Cardinal or the Pope is in town). Inside, there are small chapels that line the Cathedral and in the center is the chorale - a large rectangular space with organs that date back hundreds of years. There is also an incredibly ornate main chapel where mass is held. I wish I could have taken pictures inside - I encourage you to google it and see for yourself! I could have spent hours in this place. It's beauty was overwhelming and we did not want to leave!

We spent the rest of the trip making quick stops here and there. As you know, I am a BIG fan of El Greco art work and since we were in his town - there was plenty to see. One of his most famous works "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" is on display in Church of Santo Tome. It has been cleaned and restored, but has never left the church. The story behind the painting is fascinating - check it out! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burial_of_the_Count_of_Orgaz

We then stopped at a synagogue and Elena explained to us the religious turmoil of the Spanish Inquisition. It was here that one of the most interesting moments of our trip took place. Elena made an analogy - she explained how the King and Queen of Spain had demanded that all citizens convert to Christianity or face persecution. She compared that to President Obama ordering all Americans to become Muslim, because he was Muslim. Theresa said, "No, he's Christian." And Natalie, Elena, and I all shook our heads in agreement that he was not. We then had a brief discussion about how in the states, everyone wants to call Obama a Christian, even though he was born a Muslim and practiced the faith for part of his life. I was very interested to hear the European perspective on this topic. It was quite a discussion.

We then stopped for a quick bite to each, did some window shopping and took a train back to Madrid. Carmen held a short meeting about Cadiz, our host families, and school. We are all so EXCITED about meeting our host families tomorrow night!

We have the weekend off and then Monday we begin intensive Spanish classes. For 2 weeks we have Spanish class from 9-2, Monday through Friday. After, we register for classes at the university and we won't have class on Fridays. Isn't that great?! More time to travel and explore!!!

Ok - time for Tapas! There is a place nearby that on Wednesdays  - everything on the menu is only 1 euro!

Besos y un abrazo!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


What a day! Today was our first official day touring Madrid. We got an early start and left our hotel a little after 9 am to make the trek out to El Escorial. After hopping on the metro and a bus - we finally got there around 11. I was very surprised by the public transportation system here. It was obvious from the second I got to Madrid that it is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been too - but I was not expecting the metro and bus system to be so efficient and well-maintained. Everything looks brand new. Once you get to the center of the metro station, there are 15 bus stops that take you to various parts around the city of Madrid. All you have to do is hop in line for the bus you want to get on. So easy. The buses are brand new coach buses and are very cheap. Anyway....

El Escorial is at the foot of Mt. Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. It is a royal palace and monastery and is very impressive to see in person. We took a guided tour (in Spanish!) through some of the rooms and spent most of the tour looking at the tombs of the past kings, queens, and royal family of Spain. It was so amazing to be in a place with such history. There is nothing that compares to it in the United States. We then walked around outside for a bit - the scenery was beautiful. And so was the weather! It was a gorgeous day without a cloud in the sky and almost no humidity.
Me at El Escorial

After that, we made the trip back to Madrid. The girls and I stopped for a light lunch and then went back to the hotel to rest up and take a siesta before the second half of the day.

Around 4 Carmen (our program directory) met up with us and we walked to El Prado, a museum with one of the most impressive art collections in all of the world. I have long admired the work of El Greco and to see many of his pieces in person was amazing. Our favorite piece was "El Jardin de Las Delicias" by El Bosco. For those of you who have never seen/heard of this work - I encourage you to go look it up! We spent a very long time looking at this piece.

El Jardin de Las Delicias por El Bosco
After we left the Prado we decided to walk around outside for a bit. We ended  up in a park right next to the museum and spent hours there. All three of us are big animal lovers, and were so very happy to see dogs running all over this park. We sat down on a bench next to a group of older women who were chatting and had brought their dogs with them. Nearby was a family with young kids and their dog. It was amazing to us that these dogs were all just running around without a leash and the people walking through the park were not bothered by it.

Theresa playing with a cute puppy in the park!
In the couple of hours we spent there, we learned a lot about the Spanish lifestyle - and we love everything about it. Natalie, Theresa, and I are from 3 different parts of the country, but we all have the same opinions of how Americans are. We all agree that in general, we are always in a rush, don't take the time to interact with strangers/get to know them, aren't very friendly, and don't put the family in the center of our lives. The people we saw in Madrid were in no rush to go anywhere. There were people just out for a stroll with their parents, husbands/wives, friends - just enjoying each other's company. The women on the bench next to us were eager to make conversation and were incredibly pleasant - and they were complete strangers. And the family across from us spent hours together just playing outside. The kids were running around, playing jump rope. There were no cell phones, ipods, or video games to be seen. We all commented about how happy we felt just sitting there and being in that environment.

A little before 9 we decided to go on a hunt for some good (and cheap!) tapas. Here in Spain, lunch (almuerzo) is the main meal. It takes place between 2 and 3 and is usually followed my leisure time or a siesta (nap). Dinner is not a big deal as it is in the states, and usually people go out between 9 and 11 for some small appetizers and drinks. We walked around a bit with no particular plan and stumbled across a patio bustling with people and when we noticed a sign for 1 euro beer - we knew we struck gold. For 6 euros we got a plate with chips and a variety of 6 different small sandwiches to share. It was the perfect way to end the night. Good food, good drinks, and good conversation.

OH! One last thing before I head in for the night - whoever said Paris was the city of love, was dead wrong. We have ALL noticed that PDA (public displays of affection) are totally acceptable here. In fact, it is not uncommon to see people full-on making out in the middle of the street or the metro station. Everywhere we turn we are noticing it. Very interesting, very.

Ok, well, its bedtime for me - past midnight here. Tomorrow we are off to Toledo.

Besos y un abrazo

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Night in Madrid!


Talk about some serious jet lag! Theresa, Natalie, and I are all exhausted, but we still managed to have a great first night in Madrid. We just returned from dinner with our program director Carmen. Around 8 o'clock she met us at the hotel and we walked around Plaza Mayor and Plaza del Sol. I am certainly not a city person, but I do love Madrid, at the least the very little I have seen of it. We then stopped at an Italian restaurant for some dinner. We had great conversation. Carmen (who by the way is fabulous - in spanish we say "guay") told Natalie and I that our host mom Encarnacion is known for being a FANTASTIC cook and that all the students who live with her gain weight! Great! All 3 of us have already made a pact to exercise together everyday. Carmen had nothing but wonderful things to share about our host families and we are all very eager to meet them! I also found out that I will have wireless internet at my new home! Yay!

Theresa, Natalie, and Me en Plaza Mayor

Well, its off to bed for me! We have a day full of sightseeing tomorrow!

Besos y un abrazo

I'm Here!

Hey everyone,

Just wanted to let you know I made it here safely. We are all going out to dinner shortly and I will post more things later tonight!

Besos y un abrazo

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Today is the Day!!!

Buenos dias!

Today is the day! I can't believe after years of dreaming and a year of planning I am ACTUALLY going to Spain! I just want to thank everyone who has supported me through this process. I can't thank you enough!

Next time you hear from me, I will be in Madrid!

Besos y un abrazo