“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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pedro Ximénez


I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I certainly missed be home with my family and of course - I missed all of the food!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Carmen took us all out for a nice dinner on Thursday to celebrate, but nothing can compare with Gig's stuffing!

Yesterday we took a trip to Jerez - a city just north of Cadiz, where Carmen lives. The city is best known for its sherry wine, which is produced in "bodegas" - which are similar to wine cellars. There is literally a bodega on every corner and when you walk outside, you can smell the wine in the air. It was incredible.

When we arrived in Jerez, Carmen took us for a little paseo and we all fell in love with the town. It had everything we loved about Cadiz combined with everything with love about Sevilla. It was the perfect combination. We then met with a tour guide (I can't remember her name), a gitano (gypsy), who I was not a fan of. Regardless, she was very knowledgeable and she was kind enough to take us to a very special bodega.

Apparently, we were supposed to tour a larger, more commercial bodega in town - but our tour guide took us somewhere very unique, a "regalo" (gift) she told us. We had the incredible opportunity to tour Bodega El Maestro Sierra - a local bodega famous for its high quality, all natural, handmade sherry and vinegar. El Maestro Sierra has been a family run business since 1830. The bodega was founded by a carpenter (of wine barrels) who decided to buy a small vineyard. Today, El Maestro is one of the best sherry bodegas in the world. Most impressively, it is owned and operated by 2 women - Pilar Pla Pechovierto and Ana Cabestrero. It was a real honor to meet these women, especially Dona Pilar, who was full of wisdom and advice.

Our tour began with a visit to the room where the barrels are made. To this day, all of the wine barrels are made by hand, using special American wood and hand-formed copper rings. There is only one man the bodega trusts to build and repair these barrels. We then visited the vinegar cellar and had the opportunity to smell some of their renowned sherry vinegar. AMAZING. We then walked around the wine cellar for a bit and learned about the process behind making the sherry. It amazed me that El Maestro does not use any chemicals or preservatives of any kind. They have truly mastered the art of making sherry. ***An interesting fact - all bodegas have windows that face the ocean. The secret: the ocean breeze has salt in it, which adds a unique flavor to the wine.

After the tour, we had a tasting! I must say - I am very picky with wine, and I am not a big fan of sherry. But, it was still quite a treat to be able to sit in Dona Pilar's personal office and taste 8 different types of sherry, including 3 reserve bottles (one aged 30 years, one 60 years, and one over 80 years). My personal favorite - Pedro Ximenez - a VERY old sherry, a little thicker, and tastes like raisins. It was delicious. Best part - they gave us a bottle of wine to take home. We can't wait to try it!

Following the visit to the bodega, we toured the Alcazar in town. We then had lunch and returned back to Cadiz. I didn't take any pictures inside the bodega - but Natalie did. Here is one that I stole from her:

Tomorrow we are going to a Cadiz futbol game (if the rain lets up!) - so be sure to check back for another post soon!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Italia - Manga, Manga, Manga!

Hello Everyone!

I am FINALLY back from Italy! A day later than planned, but it was totally worth it! I had an incredible time and I have so much to write about!

To start, I think it would be best to tell you a little about the people I met and got to know over the weekend, otherwise, you will be very confused!

Dominick: Pop-Pop’s first cousin. He lives in New York. We communicated by email to organize my trip.

Maria: A wonderful woman, 75, and the first cousin of my Pop-Pop. She is also Dominick’s brother. Maria lives in a house by herself next door to Dominick and Tony’s (her son) house. Maria is Gee-Gee’s twin. You hear that Gigs, you have an Italian twin! I cannot even begin to tell you how similar you both are! Everything about her seemed so familiar and I felt as though I had known her for years. She is such a sweet woman and she is very funny!

Tony: One of Maria’s sons. He is in his 50s and works for TrenItalia. He took charge of my visit and arranged all of our visits around Italy. Tony is also incredibly nice and is funny just like Maria!

Claudio: Tony’s wife. She is a hair stylist and has a little salon downstairs in their house. Although I didn’t understand the majority of what she was saying to me, I could tell she has a good, sarcastic sense of humor. She was very sweet and took good care of me while I was there.

Chirro: Tony and Claudio’s only son. He is 25 and is studying architecture. Chirro was great and with the help of his computer – and Google translate – we were all able to communicate with each other. Chirro was very kind to let me spend time with him and his friends over the weekend.

Pascualina: Chirro’s fiancé. She is also very nice, and very pretty and has a great personality.

Madallena: Pascualina’s cousin (I think!) Chirro introduced her to me as HIS cousin, but when we went to her house, Pascualina told me they have the same grandmother. Anyway, she is beautiful and absolutely hysterical. I loved spending time with her and she made an effort to make sure I was included.

Mario: Madallena’s fiancé. LOVE HIM. He also speaks VERY GOOD English, which was wonderful. He helped to translate when we went out. He is also incredibly nice, and funny. He and Madallena make a great couple.

Oscar: Tony and Maria’s German Shepard who lives outside.

Chirro has 2 sisters. I met the oldest one and her husband briefly. The other sister, Rosanna, is actually a model and was in a fashion show that weekend and couldn’t be there. I was also surprised to learn that she has competed in Miss Italy, Miss World, and Miss Universe pageants. From the pictures I saw, she looks gorgeous.

Over the course of the weekend, I met a ton of people! Too many to write about! I will say this, everybody in this area knows everybody else. And – everyone is someone else’s cousin.
Now it is time to tell you about all of the wonderful experiences I had!

Friday: Tony, Maria, Chirro, and Pascualina all came to meet me at the train station in Naples and we made the 1 hour drive back to their home. When we arrived, we were greeted by Claudio who had a wonderful meal prepared. First course – tortellini. This was followed by a salad with chicken. Then, we ate bread and actual chunks of Parmesan cheese. Next came pistachios, mandarins, and Torrone. We finished the meal off with some ice cream. Oh – and don’t let me forget about the wine – delicious. I honestly don’t know how I fit so much food into my stomach. After we ate I showed them some pictures of my family that I had brought with me. They loved seeing everyone. A little while later, Chirro took me out with him and Pascualina to meet Madallena for a coffee. I took this opportunity to have a Nutella Cappuccino, which was recommended to me by one of the Italian girls in my Spanish class. FABULOUS. After coffee, we went home and then went back out again to meet up with Mario for pizza. I was stuffed, but I could not resist homemade, brick oven Italian pizza. Before heading home, we stopped for coffee, which I have to say, is the best coffee I have ever had. It’s basically a little shot of espresso with sugar.

Saturday: Before starting the day, Maria wanted to show me around their property. We started at her house, which she is in the middle of renovating. I couldn’t get over the view from the balcony on the top floor. Next, she showed me Dominick’s house, which he stays in when he comes into town. He has a mandarin tree outside which provided the fruit we had been eating. There is nothing better than fruit picked straight from the tree. There is also a small collection of grape vines in the backyard and they use the grapes to make wine.
Next, Tony, Maria, and I took a short drive to Pompeii. Although the weather wasn’t the greatest, we still made the most of it. We spent a few hours touring the ancient ruins which date back to the 7th century BC. I could not believe I was actually there. It was funny because Tony and Mario were walking around as if they had been there a million times before, navigating the streets without a map. And there I was in complete shock that I was in a place with so much history looking at buildings and temples that have been there for centuries. Not to mention the fact that Pompeii is situated on a plateau of lava from Mount Vesuvius – and from everywhere in the city you have an incredible view of the volcano. 
Me at the Temple of Venus, Pompeii

Me and Maria among the ruins of Pompeii
After touring Pompeii, Tony and Maria took me along to buy some cheese. Now, when you and I want cheese, we go to the supermarket to buy it. But not in Italy! We drove up a windy, narrow, one-lane road to reach an actual farm/small factory that makes fresh mozzarella and ricotta. Tony took me inside with him so I could see how it works. When you walk in, there are 6 large, metal basins filled with milk and water and inside there are hundreds of balls of mozzarella cheese floating around. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Tony must have bought about 20 balls of mozzarella and 2 things of ricotta.

When we got home, Maria brought out bread and prosciutto. She put 2 balls of mozzarella on each plate and we sat down and ate! It was fabulous! I also learned a little trick to tell how fresh the mozzarella is – press down on the top with a fork – the more milk that comes out, the better! Maria didn’t bother cutting her cheese. She stuck her fork straight into it – and ate away! Too funny!

About an hour later, Madallena and Mario came to pick me up. Chirro and Pascualina both had to work, so they offered to keep me entertained for the evening. We went out even further into the country to Madallena’s sister’s house. They live on a little farm with goats, chickens, cows, and horses. Her sister Laura, her husband Angelo, and their 2 year old son Nicolas were kind enough to have us over for dinner. We spent some time playing with Nicolas which I loved! I have been going through withdrawal from family interaction (my family in Spain is not exactly what I consider “family”) so it was great to be around them, even though I didn’t understand most of what they were saying.  For dinner, we ate pizza that Angelo’s mother had made. It was hands down – the best pizza I have ever eaten. My favorite – white pizza with sliced potatoes, onions, and rosemary. 

After desert and coffee, we headed out. Mario and Madallena took me to a little “disco-café” as I like to call it. It is basically a coffee-bar with a small stage and a DJ. There were a ton of people there and we had a good time just hanging around and people watching. Eventually, Pascualina met up with us and we went to another place down the street which had a live band. And…that’s about it for Saturday!
Pascualina, Madallena, Me, Mario - at the discocafe
Sunday: In the morning, Tony and Maria and I went for a little drive through the countryside. The landscape was breathtaking. I can’t even put it into words and no amount of pictures could do it justice. Tony actually has another house in this part of town, complete with olive trees in the backyard. Maria also took me to a small church in the area so I could see what it looked like. 

Inside the church

View from the top!
 After the drive, we made our way to Claudio’s parents’ house – were lunch was waiting! Claudio’s mother is this little old, 85 year old Italian woman. She is hunched over and walks around with a little chair as a walker. I didn’t understand a word she was saying to me, and she didn’t quite understand that I only spoke English. Regardless, she was absolutely hysterical. Claudio’s father is also a funny old man, 87, and very nice. The food was amazing. Homemade pasta and sauce, more cheese, more Torrone and more sweets. Mmm!

After lunch, Tony, Maria, Claudio, and I went to visit the Royal Palace and Gardens of Caserta. Once again, another beautiful place. I was surprised to learn that the statues in the gardens represent different episodes from Virgillio’s Aeneid – a book of classical mythology. It was great to be able to connect everything I have been learning in class to the statues I saw during our visit.
Claudio, Me, Maria - outside the Royal Palace

Tony, Maria, Me - outside the fountain
 On the way home – we stopped for sweets. I enjoyed a lovely cannoli. Then Pascualina, Mario, and Madallena came to get me for another adventure! We ended up going to see Mario play basketball! While the skill level is low, as Mario admits, these men take the game very seriously. By the end of the game, Mario’s team was up at least 30 points and the other team started verbally assaulting the ref out of frustrating. Before the clock was up – the majority of the other team had been thrown out on technical fouls. The three of us girls had a fun time watching and making fun of some of the players.

Afterwards, we all went out for pizza – again! I have to say, I thought it was just a stereotype that Italians ate so much pizza, but now I am not so sure. We had great conversation at dinner, thanks to the help of Mario, the translator. They had a lot of questions about the United States, which I was happy to answer. After dinner, we called it a night!

Monday: Although I wanted to take the train to the airport, Tony and Chirro insisted on driving me allllll the way to Rome to catch my plane. We left first thing in the morning, around 6:30, to make the drive. Unfortunately, we ended up getting stuck in some SERIOUS traffic in Rome and the trip took roughly 3 and a half hours. By the time we got to the airport, my plane was gone! My only option was to pay a penalty fee to change my flight to Tuesday morning. So – that is what I did! 

Since we were in Rome, Tony and Mario surprised me by taking me to see the Vatican. I was thrilled. Standing in St. Peter’s Square gave me goose bumps. It is a truly breathtaking place. We then took a tour through the Tomb of the Popes. I had no idea that all of the Popes were buried beneath the Basilica, and I have to say, I am not too fond of the idea. Although there are signs, and security guards, and a voice recording in 5 languages reminding people to be quiet, most of the visitors were not respectful. It really offended me that as people were kneeled down in front of Pope John Paul II’s tomb, praying, other people were walking all around them, chatting away. Anyway, next, Chirro and I walked through the museum to see the collection of religious items that church had in their treasury. Then, we walked through the Basilica. Once again, I was left speechless. There are no words to describe the feeling as you walk around inside.
St. Peter's Square

Chiro and I outside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica
  After the tour, we stopped for a late lunch and then made the long drive home (with a few coffee breaks along the way!) For dinner, Maria invited us over to her house. Chirro went to go play soccer, so it was just three of us. Once again, she reminded me of Gigs. She had all of the pots on the stove, ready to go. The table was all set and she putzed around the kitchen getting dinner ready. I though the pasta and sauce was delicious – but Maria is very picky and she kept shaking her head as she ate it. The second course was chicken (with lots of garlic), peas, and broccoli. And then, of course, desert. By the end of the night, I was exhausted and about to explode, I had so much food inside of me! I said goodbye to Maria – for the second time, and then went to bed!

Tuesday: Today we decided to leave at 5 am to avoid any unforeseen traffic jams. Which was great, because I did not have to rush around the airport to catch my plane. Two buses and a 2 hour train ride later, I am now back in Cadiz!

This weekend was by far, one of the best I have had. I am so grateful to everyone for having me. Everyone was so kind and hospitable and treated me as if we had known each other forever. There are so many things I love about Italy; I don’t even know where to start! From the beautiful countryside, to the fires that burn in everyone’s fireplaces (yes, MB!), the coffee, the oranges, the pasta, the people… The list is never-ending. I cannot wait to go back! And next time – I’m not going alone! To everyone in my family, you MUST come see this place! It is truly amazing and something you have to experience in person.

Well, that is all for now! Be sure to look through the photo album on Picassa for more pictures. I took far too many to add to my blog!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Benalup-Casas Viejas

Hola Todos,
I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend. I’ve been quite busy the past few days – but I am happy to say that for once, it is raining here in Cadiz, which is great because I have a ton of homework to do!
On Friday, Natalie and I went to Benalup – Casas Viejas, a small little town about 40 minutes outside of Cadiz. Our history professor had organized a conference and invited us to come and learn about some of the new research related to the Prehistory of Andalucia. We spent the ENTIRE day (about 12 hours) listening to presentations by professors, archaeologists, and other researchers. It was a great learning opportunity. The highlight of the day was our 2 hour lunch break. We decided to explore the town a bit and look at what we discovered!
Beautiful church

Natalie and her sheep!

A colt and a baby! They were gorgeous in person

Check out the view!


 On Saturday we returned to Benalup for the last part of the conference. The better part of the day was dedicated to a roundtable discussion/debate about the role that local government and private business play in archaeological discoveries. My favorite presentation was by a director in Malaga who discussed some of the amazing things that are being done to display the ancient history in the area. He provided us with some materials to take home – so I hope we can plan a day trip out there sometime soon.  The highlight of the entire weekend came later in the day. Even though we were about 2 and half hours over schedule and were both tired and exhausted – we didn’t care! The entire group – about 60 of us – traveled by bus to the base of a mountain to explore the ancient Cueva del Tajo de las Figuras. This cave was discovered in 1913 and dates back to the Neolithic period – or New Stone Age which is believed to have begun about 9500 BC. Inside, we saw some cave drawings. These drawings represent the culture and daily life of groups of people over a period of hundreds of thousands of years. 
The view from the top

Look closely - we had to climb that ladder to enter the cave opening

Cave drawings

I had to pinch myself when I finally got back to Cadiz. I could not believe I had hiked a mountain, entered a Neolithic Cave, and had seen drawings from thousands of years ago. I am glad I gave up part of my weekend to attend this conference. I will never have an opportunity like this back home in the States!

Hope you all have a great week! I will be in touch when I get back from Italy!


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Paris - Good thing they gave us a map...


What a weekend! As you already know, I left for Paris on Friday for an API sponsored excursion. We spent 4 days exploring all the city of Paris has to offer. Here is a play-by-play of my trip!

Friday: We left Cadiz before 5 am to catch our flight to Paris. We arrived in the city around lunch time and had a few hours to explore before we could check into our hotel. Natalie, Teresa, and I met up with Lindsay and a couple of her friends from the Sevilla group to have lunch. Let’s just say that our first meal in France was fabulous - I FINALLY had the chance to eat steak!!!! Later on, we departed for a “paseo” around the city. It was later brought to my attention that we walked the longest street in the city of Paris (about 5 km). Lovely.

Outside the Louvre on Friday night
Our final destination: the Museo del Louvre, one of the most famous museums in all of the world. The museum has about 10 miles of art on display, so as you can imagine, we didn’t see much in our 2 hour tour that night. But, we did see some of the most important pieces: Medieval Moat, Venus de Milo, Pysche and Cupid, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Consecration of the Emperor Naploeon, The Wedding Feast at Cana, and of course…Mona Lisa. In addition, I was able to see some paintings that I have been studying in my Roman Religion and Mythology class. Just days before I left, we had learned about “El Rapto de Sabina” and it was so great to be able to see “Las Sabinas imponiendo paz” and “El juramento de los Horacios” (both by Jacques Louis David) in person. When you know the story behind a work of art, it makes seeing it in person that much more exciting! After our tour we decided to go back home and rest up. It had been a very long day and we needed our energy for the rest of the weekend!

Venus de Milo

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

Las Sabinas imponiendo paz

El juramento de los Horacio

Mona Lisa

Saturday: In the morning we left for a bus tour for a chance to see the most important sites in Paris in a more ‘efficient’ way. I personally was not a fan of driving around for 3 hours and only getting off the bus to take pictures of places. I would prefer to have been able to at least go inside – but, it was cold, and raining, and we did only have 4 days in Paris. 

Outside Les Invalides - Napoleon is buried here

The bus tour ended at Notre Dame. Lindsay and I lit some candles, prayed, and walked around for a bit. Notre Dame is a truly incredible place. I was amazed by the architecture and the stained glass. 

Notre Dame

Stained glass

Inside Notre Dame

We took a quick break for lunch and then developed a game plan for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, due to some inaccuracies in the maps we had, our afternoon turned into a huge mess. First, we tried to find the Picasso Museum. That was an epic fail because the museum is actually closed for renovations until Spring 2012. Fantastic. We then got lost trying to get back to the metro stop, thanks to our incredibly helpful map. We decided to stop at Starbucks to treat ourselves for walking around aimlessly in the middle of Paris in the middle of a rainstorm. Yes, MB, I can now say I have had Starbucks in 3 countries. Here is proof! Our next stop: Père Lachaise Cemetery. There are a number of famous people buried here including: French playwright Molière, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Richard Wright, and the lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison. I did not get to see any of their graves, however, because thanks to the inaccuracies in the lovely handbook API provided us with, we ended up arriving at the cemetery about 15 minutes before it closed. At this point, we were totally disheartened and decided to just give up on the rest of our day, grab some food, and go back to the hotel.

Starbucks in France

Cool cemetery

Very cool cemetery

Sunday: On Sunday, Teresa decided to go to mass at Notre Dame, so Natalie and I went back to the Louvre (it is free entry the first Sunday of every month) to look at some of the pieces we weren’t able to see Friday night. Oh – I should mention, that prior to going to the Louvre, we went searching for Longchamp. We couldn’t find it and every other store was closed. Once again, just my luck! Anyway, it was pouring outside so we didn’t feel guilty spending most of the day in a museum. We stopped to look at the “Romulous and Remus” statue that we had missed the first time around. We also walked through the hall of Italian paintings to see some of Di ­­­­-Vinci’s work and then ended our tour at the Egyptian exhibit. 
Romulus and Remus
 After lunch, we met up with Teresa and the 3 of us made our way to the Catacombs. Once again, thanks to our incredibly helpful map, we ended up lost – about a mile or so away from our desired location. After a long walk in the rain, and a 45 minute wait outside (also in the rain) we finally entered the Catacombs! The Catacombs of Paris were created in the 18th Century following complaints about the Cemetery of the Innocent. The government selected old quarries to deposit the bones in. For centuries many have been intrigued by the Catacombs and many have gone down there to witness the bones of over 6 million Parisians. It was quite an experience walking underground, through dark, damp tunnels, surround by walls of human bones. I’m not sure it is something that I will ever want to do again – but it was worth the visit. Sunday night was the highlight of the trip. 

Tunnel of the Catacombs

Yes - those are bones and skulls

Quarry reinforced with concrete so it doesn't collapse

We decided to take the lift up the Eiffel Tower at night! Once again, it was freezing and raining, but we didn’t care. After waiting in line for probably close to an hour, we joined a Chinese tour group in the lift to the top! (Coincidence? HA!) I feel the need to comment that I was surprised by the lack of security at the Eiffel Tower. Despite the recent terror threats, it didn’t seem as though anyone there was too concerned. Anyway, the view from the top was indescribable. Here are some pictures!
Made it to the top!

I can't figure out how to rotate this - but here is the Eiffel Tower sparkling. Due to the "crisis" it doesn't happen as often/for as long.
Monday: After hearing the weather report from Lindsay, I decided to join her on a trip to the Sacre Coeur Basilica. What an adventure that was! Once again, the map was no help. Thankfully, we found a kind Italian woman on the side of the street to point us in the right direction. After hiking up thousands of stairs in the wind, cold, and rain, we finally reached the Basicila (which sits at the highest point in Paris), and just in time for mass! I can now say that I have been to Catholic mass in 3 countries and in 3 languages, pretty cool! After mass, we toured the inside of Sacre Coeur, which, not surprisingly, was incredible. 

The view from the highest point in Paris

Sacre Coeur

We then sprinted across the street to take a lift down the stairs, sprinted up and down a few more streets, and finally made it to the metro. In our infinite wisdom, neither of us had a rain coat or an umbrella. We braved the downpours to walk to lunch and then to grab a Nutella crepe. The only thing I wanted the entire time I was in Paris was a Nutella and banana crepe. But, of course, they were out of bananas! On that note, I made my way back to the hotel for our departure back to Spain and 9 hours later, I was home in Cadiz.

In reflection, that was quite the trip. A total disaster in so many ways. However, I cannot forget how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to travel to Paris and spend 4 days exploring the city. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I am so grateful that I went. I am, however, a bit disappointed that I was NOT in Barcelona the ONE TIME the Pope comes to Spain!

This week is going to be loaded with school work. I will be spending Friday and Saturday at a conference for my Prehistory of Andalucia class. I also will be booking my plane ticket to Italy! The weekend after next I will be traveling to Alvignanello, just outside of Naples, to spend time with some cousins who I have never met before! How exciting!


Besos to everyone!