More Food Appreciation and Travel!

(June 2, 2014)

The second week here was just as eventful as the first, if not more. However, I am still making the transition to the life of a madrileño. For example, my host mom, Julia, has reminded me several times that the meal customs are different here. El Desayuno, like our breakfast, is the first meal of the day. However, if you’re expecting a large fried breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, etc, you’ll be in for a surprise. For breakfast, I usually have an assortment of pastries, fruits, juices, and coffee! Lunch, or La comida, is the biggest meal of the day. Usually around 2:30pm, this meal consists of four courses, full of proteins, vegetables, and lots of bread. La siesta is a custom where one takes a  ~4-6pm rest period after the huge mid day meal.

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This is a picture of a very typical spanish meal that I have had for lunch. It features Gazpacho-a cold vegetable soup w/a tomato sauce, Tortilla Española-an egg and potato tortilla sauteed stovetop, el pan (bread), and la sandía (watermelon) for dessert. Fruits are a common dessert here which is a nice change from the unhealthy sweets I’m used to.

IES Homestays in Madrid include two meals a day. So, I usually eat breakfast and lunch with my Spanish family here and then I go out to dinner with my classmates. I really enjoy these times because my conversations with Julia and Antonio are completely in Spanish. I learn so many new things every single day with them.  Our conversations over our delicious Spanish meals include topics about culture, history, and even current events like the impending coronation of the new king of Spain, Felipe, as the current monarch Juan Carlos’ abdication of the throne.

Interestingly enough, my experience in restaurants in Spain has differed greatly from those in the US and even my meals with my family. The disposition of the waiters, or camareros, in Spain is completely different. While in the US its customary to tip waiters when being served as it relates to the quality of service you receive. However, in Spain, you are expected to be very stern about what you order and waiters will not attend to you bended knee during the meal. Just an interesting difference I have noticed while exploring the famous tapas bars here.

The past few days in Spain have been non-stop and I definitely find myself frantically searching for water to stay hydrated. This can be a little difficult since the beer is usually cheaper than water. Regardless, the busyness is what I live for.  IES planned amazing excursions with to famous sites around the city with Spanish tour guides to give us more of an understanding as to what we are seeing. We went to an ancient Egyptian temple in the middle of the city called Templo de Debod.

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The views here were spectacular and the history was inspiring. My classmates and I got some really great practice speaking Spanish with students from Universidad Complutense de Madrid, who showed us around.  This excursion was almost as fun as going to Valencia for 3 days this past weekend.

Valencia is an extremely historic city that is accented with new and old architecture as well as beautiful coast along the Mediterranean Sea.

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The mother church of the Christian community in valencia, called Valencia Cathedral or The Cathedral of the Holy Chalice (Holy Grail) was humongous and ornately decorated. We were able to scale the 207 Steps of the Miquelet Bell Tower which features an awesome view of the entire city I will never forget.

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The first two weeks here were a bit stressful as I was learning my way around the city, starting classes, and learning how to constantly hear and speak Spanish.We did have a chance to let our hair down at a massive discoteca where we partied on the coast till 6am and then headed to the beach to watch the sunrise before returning to Madrid. Good times with good friends from American Catholic University.

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This trip was just what I needed to recuperate. And don’t even get me started on the Valencian Paella and Horchata…YUM!!

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First Week Survived: Tons of Walking and Fútbol

(May 26, 2014)

I’ve survived my first week in Madrid! It was an interesting one to say the least. I don’t even know where to begin to describe all that I have experienced in these past few days. But I think I would like to start with my Homestay experience and first impressions of Madrid. The differences between life here and in Florida are innumerable.  My family lives in Lakeland, Florida and I am currently living in Gainesville, Florida for school. To say the least, Madrid is bigger than both put together. Adjusting to a huge metropolitan city has been a challenge in and of itself. I realized just how big the city is after studying the map of the city and subway system. The public transportation system here is extremely efficient and cost effective. I’ve downloaded a mobile application that shows routes and have unlimited access to the subway and bus systems while in Madrid. (Tip Time: To get to any particular place on a time schedule, I suggest you take the metro. However, when time is on your side, there’s no better way to see a lot of the city than on the bus. – Both get the job done!) I paid approx. 35 euros for a month long ticket.  (Tip Time: It will take some time to get your bearings in a new city; especially, in a city where it may be a more difficult to understand the signs or ask for directions. I have gotten lost several times already (sometimes purposely, sometimes not so much)). However, this is a surefire way to force yourself to learn where you are and where you want to go. I will throw in a shameless complaint to wrap up this Big-city rant and say that I absolutely HATE the amount of walking done here. I miss my car so much. However, it is keeping me in relatively good shape despite consuming copious amounts of amazing food.

Speaking of amazing food, This past Friday IES planned a trip to Segovia for my as apart of our program itinerary. The trip featured a traditional restaurant in Torrecaballeros called El Rancho De La Aldeguela. We were able to try local Segovian food like Tortilla de patatas, pimientos pollo asado, croquetas caseras. In addition to the amazing food we also enjoyed walking through the city to visit beautiful sites like the Iglesia de la Vera Cruz (an Ancient church), Alcázar (an ancient Fortress and Palace), as well as the famous Aqueduct of Segovia (a 2000 year old ancient Roman monument-an interesting bit is that this monument, used to transport water to the city, was constructed stone-by-stone without the use of any adhesive). The City was amazingly beautiful with views I have only seen in movies.

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As you may know, soccer, or fútbol, is sort of a big deal here. Last night, the two best soccer teams from Madrid were competing for the championship of the UEFA Champions League. Needless to say, the city was going to be in a crazy state of euphoric celebration, regardless of whichever team won. And crazy it was.  Some friends from class and I decided to meet at a bar to watch the game and experience what all the “hype” was about. To put it lightly, Madrileños are very serious about their soccer. It seems like all ~4million people here were dressed in their teams colors chanting and cracking jokes about the opposing team. We were literally shoulder to shoulder in the bar watching Real Madrid beat their city rivals, Atlectico Madrid, 4-1 to earn their 10th victory at this prestigious tournament. After the game, I spoke with some locals who explained to me that the Madrid team would be celebrating matches at Cibeles Fountain in Madrid. MY classmates and I decided to check it out and were overwhelmed by the number of people and level of excitement. The team was expected to make an appearance that night. However, I survived the massive block-party until 4am before I decided to turn in. Of course, most everyone else in the city was fully prepared to party the entire night! Vamos Real Madrid! Campeones!

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Introductory Post for IES Madrid Summer

The opportunity to study abroad is a privilege and a journey that I cannot wait to begin. Like the mantra goes,  “hindsight is always 20/20,” and in the final days of the spring semester of my junior year here at the University of Florida, there is no exception. As a freshman, the thought of starting school was in and of itself a beast I needed to tame. At the same time, the thought of traveling outside of the country was no less daunting and, well, scary, quite frankly. I have never traveled without my parents right by my side; telling my younger brother, sister and I ‘what to pack, where to go, and when to be present.’  Naturally, the thought of doing all of those things on my own seemed as farfetched as any movie about plane malfunctions or hijackings (Although, when I think about it, there have been an unsettling number of incidences like these in the news recently! – add that to the long list of worries I already have about this trip). Now mind you, I did have the same “pre-flight jitters” freshman year while learning my way around the Swamp, finding my classes, and meeting a plethora of new people. But, nonetheless, I am confident that this study abroad experience will mirror the growth I have experienced during my time here as a Florida Gator.

 

My name is Tilman Monsanto and welcome to my Blog! I study anthropology and Spanish at the University of Florida. I also have an interest in public policy, cultural awareness, and gender studies. I have hopes of continuing my education in family law and aspirations of opening a non-profit organization for at risk youth minorities. I can remember first being exposed to Spanish in junior high school. Each student was mandated to pick a language to study as it interested him or her. Lo and behold, my interest in Spanish has lasted ever since. Of Spanish, French, and German, I chose to learn Spanish because of the rising numbers of Latin-American diversity we experience here in the US, especially in Florida (at the time, my best friend had just moved to the States from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic). Not to mention, it is one of the most spoken languages in the world! When I am not putting in hours at the library or at the local children’s shelter, I enjoy putting in hours on the tennis court with the University of Florida Tennis Club, singing at philanthropic events and talent shows around campus, or spending time with friends by the pool in the Florida heat. I do, however, ask that you bear with me, as I have never blogged before. But, with so many news things just around the corner, what is one more and why not start now!?

 

One of the first things I learned when I became a student here at UF is that although the world (or the tons of students here at UF) may seem overwhelming at times, the connections we make are the keys to opening the proverbial doors of life. This is exactly what inspired me to start this blog about my upcoming trip to Madrid, Spain this summer. The Spanish language and culture have always captivated me. I want to take this opportunity to document and share all that I will learn and experience. While searching the Internet in a nerve-wrecked haste to find out exactly what this trip would be like before I go, I came across past student blogs from UF as well as my chosen study abroad program, IES. The travel tips and tricks in these blogs gave me an insider’s scoop on study abroad unlike anything you can find in a travel book or website. They also reassured me that each and every study abroad experience will be different, but it is never a bad thing to prepare for the challenges ahead. These are the people that have “been there and done that,” which really put things into perspective as the trip nears and my to-do list grows. If nothing else, the trials and tribulations described in past students blogs have definitely turned my anxious-energy about traveling into excited-energy!

 

I look forward to learning as much as possible in a place so foreign to the American Worldview that has cultivated the person I am today- foreign linguistically, culturally, monetarily, etc…. – it’s crazy to think about all of the differences, right? I would like to share a tip I have already implemented even on the precipice of my study abroad adventure: to watch television in Spanish. Seems banal at first, I know, but bear with the thought. I am constantly wondering if all of the Spanish I have learned thus far will hold up in Madrid and if I will be able to assimilate to the extremely social culture there. To get my ears in the right state of mind, I started watching a show, called “La Teacher de Inglés,” on hulu.com. This telenovela colombiana is about the intertwined lives of a Colombian English teacher and a businessman looking to travel to the United States to take part in our increasingly globalized world. I find it to be a happy coincidence that this is exactly what I want to do in Spain (which is why I’m hooked on the show)! I have already begun to learn different travel related vocabularies as many scenes in the first episode take place in “el aeropuerto internacional de Bogota” (the Bogota International Airport).  As you can imagine, this study medium is a lot more engaging than reading about grammar nuances in my Spanish textbook. Not to mention, I am starting to familiarize myself with different native accents, dialects, and speeds that vary greatly in spoken Spanish.

 

All in all, my hope for this blog is that it provides other perspective study abroad students and travel enthusiasts alike with a place to learn and experience a new world with me! I look forward to sharing with you all again soon!

~Tilman

Barcelona

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Spring break part one, my friend and I left Saturday night from London to Barcelona arriving for the first time in Spain at midnight with no map and no understanding of catalan, their local language. After a few wrong turns we finally arrived at our airbnb apartment and were greeted by our other friend who arrived earlier in the day. The weather all week was bright and sunny, quite the change from London. We decided to use our first day to go day trip over to Monserrat since it was clear and sunny.

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Getting to Monserrat is only a short train ride from the center of Barcelona, about an hour away, out to the countryside and mountain range. After getting off the train to the base of Monserrat you have the chic of taking a funicular or Aericar to get up the mountain. The funicular is a like very steep uphill monorail car and the Aericar is a hanging cable car. We opted for the Aeri and enjoyed the views as we made our way up the 1000m of mountain face.
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Monserrat is home to the site of the Benedictine Abbey, Santa Maria de Monserrat, which hosts the Virgin Mary of Monserrat. The Abbey is situated on the side of the cliff and provides amazing views of the surrounding area. The abby itself hosts quite a large sanctuary with many ornate murals on the walls.  Surrounding the abbey is several hiking trails and another funicular that can take you to the summit of Monserrat.
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The second day we decided the best way to see most of Barcelona was taking the hop on-off bus tour. The busses go all around the city stopping at all the main attractions and provides earphones to listen to an audio guide as you make your way around. On the bus ride we saw the ornate Casa Batlló with its curvy dragon like roof.
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We then moved on to Sagrada Familia, a massive church designed by Antoni Gaudi that ha been under construction since 1882. The massive church is paid for through private donations leading to delays in finishing it but they are in no rush. The Church dwarfs everything around it and has so much detail on every part of the building.
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From Sagrada we headed up to Park Güell which was also designed by Gaudi. The park has lots of paths and trails running through it leading up to the top of the hill where amazing views of the whole city can be seen.  Park Güell is also home to a large mosaic wall encompassing a terrace and a large mosaic statue of a salamander as well as a museum of Antoni Gaudi’s home.
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After the park we meandered on the bus through the neighborhood of Gràcia where on March 3rd they happened to celebrate a big festival and parade called Sant Medir where people on floats throw candy to all the people lined up on the streets. Our bus was filled with candy as we rode right behind a float and the open top double decker bus was a prime target. People of all ages were running around with grocery bags collects little pieces of candy. We took the bus through Olympic park and Camp Nuo where FC Barcelona plays. the stadium is pretty bland from the outside but on game day is full of energy with a capacity of almost 100,000 people. We ended the night at a bar called the Dow Jones where drink prices go up and down like the stock market and as people buy drinks that one goes up and others go down. Every now and then a siren goes off with lots of flashing lights indicating a “market crash” where all the drinks are very cheap. The bar also played american sports so we were able to have a little bit of home watching college basketball there.

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Day 3: We got sandwiches at the best sandwich shop in Barcelona, Bo` de B, fresh grilled filling of chicken or beef toped with fresh veggies and then layered with their custom sauces all on a fresh baguette for 3 euros, we couldn’t beat it. I am getting hungry just thinking about it. We were regulars by the time we left, tallying up 8 sandwiches over the course of the trip it was the perfect walking around snack. We then headed over to the Picasso museum which holds over 2400 of his works from his early years up until his end. the museum had lots of pieces that we not typical Picasso, showcasing his change in style over time. His early years at age 14 we mostly of classical landscapes and portraits which later changed to more iconic abstract styles and his blue period. That night we ventured over to a bar called Espit Chupitos that only served shots but had a list of over 100 different shots. the bar itself is lined with metal because many of the shots are not traditional and some involving setting the bar on fire. We tried the boy scout where we were given a skewer with a marshmallow on it and we toasted it over the fire set on the bar and put it out in our shot. The concept was very neat and the bar had a lively crowd thanks to it being 1 euro shot night.

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Day 4: After seeing the Olympic park on the bus tour and regretted not getting off to see it, we decided to go back over and check it out. The area provided nice views of the city and had a big square around all the arenas. The stadium were the track and file events were held was open for free to walk in and see. Just down the street we saw the pool for the platform diving. After seeing the park we had lunch at a small tapas restaurant that to our luck had 1 euro tapas day going on. Plates of chorizo, empanadas and croquettes were quickly eaten all for next to nothing. The restaurant had the Catalan version of Two and a Half Men  and Wheel of Fortune on. We made our way to the beach since it was still sunny out and saw a surf class heading out to go hit the waves.

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Our last day in Barcelona we went and picked up some fresh pastries and bread from our newly favorite bakery Macxipan and walked down La Rambla looking at all the tourist shops. There is a big market off of La Rambla with many booths selling anything from fresh seafood to fruits and veggies to the very tasty Jamón ibérico, catalan for very expensive ham. The ham is shaved paper thin off the pig leg with its infamous black hoof still attached and has a powerful nutty flavor due to the pigs diet of only white acorns. We moved on  gelato at supposedly the best place outside of Italy and the gelato was in fact very good and fresh with many flavors. After it was time to pack up and back to Placa Catalunya for the bus to the airport.
jamón serrano / ibérico (spanish ham) hanging @ boquería market, barcelona

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Life is a beautiful thing

Birds Nests at Parc Güell
Hanging out in the bird’s nests at Parc Güell

I have always believed that everything happens for a reason.

It’s so crazy how life works sometimes, but it is a great comfort to think that there is some order. We as humans have the ability create meaning from our lives, ride the flow of challenges and changes, and look for meaning in the rear view mirror as we continue our journey forward.

Not many people know this but in order to study abroad I had to make the decision to set myself an entire year back in school in order to open up space to travel. At my university, the University of Florida, a designated study abroad program for Architecture/Design students in Barcelona is not offered and before myself, no one in my college has ever done this before. It was a difficult and strenuous process, but saying that it was worth it is an understatement. It was 1,000,000,000% worth it.

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Making new friends in Granada

The biggest difference between being in Barcelona right now and how it will be when I return in the future, is that now I am here as a student and then I will be a traveler or in town on business or something along those lines. Anyone can travel to a foreign country but not everyone get’s the opportunity to study in a foreign country.

I went into this journey basically blind. Since I didn’t have many resources from my university, I had to rely on my own personal research. I remember when I found the CIEE website. It was as if my computer started to sing to me! I genuinely do not know if I would be having such and amazing experience if it weren’t for the kindhearted, wonderful people from CIEE. I am so grateful that I found CIEE! This is such an amazing organization and I am so to have found them.

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My beautiful ladies, Paige & Rosa

Not only do I live in one of the best neighborhoods in the cutest apartment, I also am I living with an amazing family, Rosa, Gala, and another fellow CIEE Architecture student, Paige. Oh my gosh they are perfect; I couldn’t picture myself with another family. This is just one of many opportunity’s that would have never been possible without CIEE.

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Gala :)

I also get to volunteer with students teaching them English, I’m also studying Spanish, and not to mention studying architecture in one of the best cities in the world! We’ve traveled to Granada, Girona, and Tarragona, and even Madrid!! Sometimes we have Friday’s off from school so I even have the chance to go to London, Amsterdam, Bilbao and even Ibiza. It blows my mind how much my expectations have been exceeded.

It’s unreal how great of a program this is and how lucky I am to be a part of it. I made the decision to study abroad a bit too late and didn’t even apply until the deadline was already over!!! I will never be able to express my gratitude, isn’t it crazy how life works?! From the absolutely amazing staff to the extremely organized curriculum, to put it in the cheesiest terms possible, being here has definitely changed my life.

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Everyone from the Architecture & Design program at the Alhambra in Granada
Roasted chestnuts with a few of the amazing CIEE Staff members
Roasted chestnuts with a few of the amazing CIEE Staff members

Of course I have so much more life left to live, however, for my first time in Europe and my first time ever really traveling, I could not imagine it going any better. I’ve been learning so much, not only about architecture and art, but I’ve also been learning so much about the world and myself. What’s awesome is that it’s not over!! I look forward for what is to come. For example, Calcotada with CIEE this weekend and my independent trip to London next weekend!! Not to mention the pin-up I have in studio next week and the research paper I have to write…I have never been so happy to be learning!

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Loving life on a weekend trip to Bilbao, Spain

España: Barcelona/Madrid/Valencia

I booked a one way ticket to Barcelona by myself with no plan and no expectations.

Barcelona                                                                                                                                 I booked my one-way flight to Barcelona with no plans. I figured I would find a hostel and walk around by myself, maybe go to the beach…to my surprise I experienced much more. Enric, a friend I met while he was studying abroad at UF last year, invited me to stay with him.  I didn’t realize when he invited me to stay with him meant that he would be my personal guide for the next 2 days. Enric wanted me to have the best experience possible while in his city and he made sure I saw everything. I was able to experience Barcelona from a local’s point-of-view and that is the best way to do it.

10143978613_5e2691445a_oDay 1: As soon as I arrived Enric pulled up Google Maps and explained to me how the city is set up, we then grabbed 2 helmets and hopped on his moped. Our first stop was up a mountain at beautiful overlook of the city. We then drove to Park Güell, which was designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. After riding around for a couple hours we went back to his apartment and got ready for dinner. I didn’t realize how late everyone does things in Spain. We met up with his cousin for dinner at 9pm and ate delicious food. After dinner he invited a couple friends over to hangout. I’m used to being a foreigner and not understanding the language, but Enric made sure his friends spoke English around me and if they didn’t speak English he would translate everything for me. It’s funny how being friends with locals can make for such a difference and amazing experience.

10144280093_ecd722fd7b_oDay 2: We woke up and explored the city for hours. I enjoy getting lost, mostly because I believe it’s the best way to see a city. We stumbled upon many beautiful buildings and after the day of exploring I decided Barcelona is my favorite city I have visited in Europe. Don’t get me wrong I love Dubrovnik, but Dubrovnik isn’t real life. I could see myself raising a family and settling down in Barcelona when I’m older. Fingers crossed! While we were walking around this little man walked up to us and asked for directions. To his surprise we were very nice to him and we were actually heading in his direction so we offered for him to walk with us. He was shocked. He didn’t think locals and tourists were that nice so I’m glad we were able to prove him wrong. When we asked him where he was from his respond was “South Korea like the man from Gangnam Style” and he even did a little dance move along with it. Before he left us he asked to take a picture with us because we were his first friends in Spain. You never know whose day you’re going to make just by simply giving them directions. For my last night in Barcelona we went back to Enric’s cousin’s house. She invited a bunch of her friends over and we ordered Domino’s…yes, they actually eat Domino’s pizza in Barcelona.I was the only American who did not speak Spanish or Catalan and there was a guy from Portugal who spoke Spanish, Portuguese, & English, and everyone else in the room spoke Spanish, Catalan, and English. I used to laugh when foreigners would tell me that they can’t hear the difference between and Australian and an America, but I don’t laugh anymore because I realized I can’t tell the difference between Spanish and Catalan. The entire night everyone would switch between English, Spanish, and Catalan and it was definitional as humorous as it sounds. I learned you just have to laugh at the entire situation.

10144209506_a60d864564_o10144940733_70bcccc51d_o10144818636_8456498374_oMadrid:                                                                                                                                  At the end of my journey in Barcelona I planned the rest of my holiday. I was fortunate enough that I was able to visit my friend Natalia who is spending this semester in Madrid.

10145418126_b5e4444d01_oI didn’t think I would like Madrid, mostly because I loved Barcelona so much and I really like cities by the sea. Clearly I was wrong.

Day 1: As soon as I arrived Natalia had our day planned out and it mostly consisted of eating amazing food. We went to a local restaurant for the special of the day which was 2 plates of ham and a pitcher of sangria. What a wonderful way to start my adventure in Spain. After our 2 plates of delicious ham we went and got churros which are basically fried dough that you dip in melted chocolate. After all of the dough was gone we ate the chocolate as if it were soup. I was perfectly content with a day dedicated to eating and relaxing.

10145392873_3de5a9dc0a_oDay 2: My second day in Madrid consisted of exploring as usual. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like to do touristy things, especially walking tours or museums. Our first stop was to a really cool street market. After a couple hours of shopping we decided to grab burritos and bring them to a local park to eat. Once we got the burritos it took us about an hour to find the spot in the park that Natalia was dying to sit at. I was in Spain, eating Mexican food, sitting in an Egyptian temple. Yes, Spain is a very cultured country. After we finished out delicious burritos and explored the temple we went to visit the Royal Palace. I definitely wouldn’t mind living there.

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10144100796_23ac4b0af6_oMadrid definitely exceeded my expectations and it was thanks to Natalia and the amazing food!

Valencia:
This is the first city I have ever stayed in a hostel by myself. Valencia might not have been my favorite city, but I still had an incredible time. The first night in the hostel I met a guy named Lubo. He is originally from Czech, but grew up in Florida and Czech. Coincidentally he graduated from UF! He might be the most interesting and inspiring person I’ve ever met.

Gator Chomp

Gator Chomp

Day 1: The first night we relied on Yelp for a good restaurant and it was a wonderful decision. We ate the best food I think I’ve eaten in Spain so far (that says a lot because I ate delicious food everywhere in Spain). Compared to Barcelona or Madrid, Valencia is a pretty quite city. We were sitting at dinner talking and telling stories when all of a sudden a man walks up to us and tells us to be quite. After dinner we wondered the streets of Valencia for a while and we met up with a bunch of travelers from our hostel and just sat outside and talked until it was time to go to sleep.

Day 2: Lubo is also one that doesn’t like touristy attractions so we decided to rent bikes and ride to these lakes that were just outside of Valencia. On our way to the lakes we drove through a long park that led to the City of Arts and Sciences. We found a huge rope gym where we climbed to the top and hung on the ropes for a little bit until we continued our bike ride. We stopped at a store that reminded me of a Spanish version of Cosco where we picked up some food for a picnic. What we thought was going to be a13 km ride turned into 23km each way. For us American’s that equals approximately 30 miles when we count the time we spent lost. When we finally arrived to what we thought would be beautiful lakes turned out to be a bunch rice fields. On our way back we topped at the beach to relax and swim. Swimming turned into taking a siesta on the beach because there were jelly fish everywhere. When we finally got back to Valencia to return the bikes we were able to sign the wall and represent the Gator Nation. After walking around the city a little more and eating Valencia’s famous Paella it was time to go to sleep.

10145814123_afe54e1ab9_o10143957956_9395f589c1_o10144024316_f0cc9afcfe_o10144027133_94df408358_oMy journey through Spain was everything I could’ve hoped for and much more. Spain was never a country that really appealed to me. I ended up traveling Spain because 1. It was the cheapest flight out of Dubrovnik and 2. I wanted to visit my friends. Growing up around Spanish people my entire life I thought I already knew the Spanish culture, clearly I was wrong. I know for a fact I will return!

From Trainspotting to Catalunya

Here in England they do a strange thing where they give you a month off from classes. So for a month I was basically free to do whatever. I intended to write essays during the first two weeks. The next two weeks I spent in Scotland and Spain.

Scotland:

We only stayed in Edinburgh, and from what I was told before going there it’s pretty “capitaly”, fittingly since it’s the capital of Scotland. So we did all the typical tourist stuff. Went to the castle. Paid, actually, 14 pounds to get into the castle. Was told that the thing to do at the castle was to watch the canon go off at 1 p.m. Watched the canon, though from what I could tell it was more of a big, modern-looking gun on wheels. I was expecting a colonial-era type thing. Was unimpressed. I guess it’s because I’m an American. And in America practically all our houses are castles and we all own canons and fire at will. That said, really, let’s get this gun control legislation going, America. If not only to keep mass murders to a minimum, but also because I want to be able to look at a canon and be awed.

We went to Arthur’s Seat as well. Something about Arthur’s Seat that no one discloses is that it is the windiest place you will ever go in your life. I was blown off of my feet and onto the ground, screaming with terror along with the rest of the people on the mountain of a hill that day. All this actually happened. I locked eyes with an Asian tourist, and in that moment we mutually recognized that this may very well be our last day on Earth. To get to the very top peak you actually do have to do some pretty rigorous climbing. After a point, It’s not just simply walking up a hill. Despite the risk of losing my life, the view was pretty incredible and I got in more exercise that day than I do in a year.

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After the trip to Arthur’s Seat though, I seriously did google if anyone had died there because it just seems like one of those places. Like Yellowstone National Park. Just a death trap. That suspicion was confirmed. Thankfully though, me and the Asian tourist got to live to see another day. You’ll have us yet, Arthur’s Seat.

The city of Edinburgh is really lovely. I found myself falling in love with everyone I talked to. Maybe it was the accent, but I think they were just really laidback, friendly people. Walking around the city was beautiful. Everything was old, typical europe, but it was charming.

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Barcelona:

The day after I got back from Edinburgh we flew to Barcelona. Some of the people I was with weren’t that fond of Barcelona, saying that it was kind of stinky and dirty, which admittedly was so. However, I really liked Barcelona. It’s adventurous and lively. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Miami: beachy, people who speak Spanish…ish (they actually speak Catalan there mainly), casual. Except it was 400 times better than Miami. I’ve said this before, but one of the things I dislike most about the U.K. is how done-up everyone is: girls wear make-up and false eyelashes, boys wear quiffs and dress like mods. In Barcelona I was reminded so much of the style we have back home. People were so much more natural there and it was refreshing. I think the people, mainly, were what made the experience so great.

Like the guy we met on our way to Montserrat after getting off the train at the wrong stop and wandering along a highway for two hours. He let us use his cellphone to call a cab, while talking to me about the places he’d been in Florida. Or the cab driver, who spoke no English, but was willing to cram 5 students in his 4 person car and giggle with us on the way to Montserrat. Or our landlord. She gave us a bowl of fruit. FRUIT. I, again, fell in love with everyone I met there.

So, I mentioned Montserrat. Montserrat is a mountain that has a monastery on it. It is massive, and we hiked to the top. It was, by far, one of the best places I have ever been. It was breath-taking. I also googled if anyone had died here either. Surprisingly I couldn’t find anything. Therefore, Montserrat is safer than Arthur’s Seat. Let it be known.
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The previous day we had hiked to the top of Park Guell, and got a nice view of the city of Barcelona:

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On our last day we went to Tarragona, which is a city about an hour and a half away from Barcelona. It’s quaint. It has roman ruins.

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It also has a lovely little beach, which is something I have been sorely missing since leaving Florida.

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That’s everyone on the trip, but me, who is behind the camera.

Ruins and Whirlwinds

Oh man, what a week I have had. When I say it was a whirlwind, I literally mean that in my head it is a totally jumble of awesome and amazing things, but so many that I can barely remember. But I am going to do my best to recount it for you guys. :)

So, last weekend, I ended up not going to Gibraltar. But I DID go see a flamenco show Saturday night. It was really beautiful. I went with a guy I met here and a few of his friends, who are studying abroad from London. I immediately fell in love with flamenco. It is a strange dance, with strange music, but strange in a enrapturing way. I was so caught up in it that I totally forgot to take any pictures or videos. But I will be definitely be going to another one, so next time I can post some. I am really glad I went though. One of the reasons I am in Seville in the first place is to experience the culture as much as possible, and I feel like you can’t do that without taking in a flamenco show.

This week was my first full week of classes, and I am continuing to really enjoy them. I’ve started to kind of get into a routine and settle down here, which I’m loving. I feel like getting more established here is really helping to lessen the number of “homesick” times I have. I still totally have them, usually at night if I can’t sleep. But I am slowly becoming more grounded in Seville, and it is starting to feel more like home every day. I now have a bank account here, a mobile phone and a gym. I also have connected with a pretty solid group of girls, all of whom are really amazing people.

Anyways, back to my crazy week. I honestly cannot remember what I did on Monday and Tuesday. I know I went to classes, but I just can’t recall what else I did. And not because of any kind of inebriation, just because my head is so full of experiences. I think I am going to start writing a journal everyday, because I really want to make sure I remember as much of my trip as I can. Anyways, Wednesday after classes, I met up with the aformentioned group of girls because we all wanted to plan out the trips we want to take this semester. We met at a place in the center of the city called Cien Montaditos, which has 100 different kinds of little sandwiches (montaditos). On Wednesday everything on the menu is 1 euro, so we were all over that.

Did I mention that tinto de verano – aka wine – was also a dollar? Hehe.

Anyways, we planned out basically our whole semester. Just to give you a brief overview, we are planning on taking trips to Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Cordoba, Santander, Portugal, Morroco and Italy (!). Sounds like a lot right? The Portugal and Morocco trips are through a company that organizes trips for students and the others we are doing on our own. The Portugal trip is actually this coming weekend and I am SO excited. Like little-kid-on-Christmas excited.

Thursday night we had our first REAL night out in Spain. We went to a club called Buddha. Excuse me, a discoteka. It was a total blast, which surprised me because I am not much of a club person, but I really enjoyed it. I think my favorite part of going out anywhere in Seville is the diversity of the people I meet. Seville is a really big town for study abroad, not just for the US, but for Europe as well. So on any given night, I meet people from France, Finland, Germany, England, etc. It is like culture overload and I adore it.

Friday I went shopping with Amanda, then at night we went out to dinner at this really cute Italian place in the center with two other girls Lindsey and Marcela. Then afterwards we walked around, and ended up just hanging out at a little cafe on the river with a glass of wine. Crazy nights out are fun, but I also appreciate the times when it’s just a few friends chatting and enjoying the beauty that is Seville.

Saturday my group of friends and I went to a pool party thrown by the same company that does the Portugal and Morocco trips. It was at a country club outside the city. It was fun, but so, so hot. I spent most of my time lounging in the shade. I have very fair skin so long hours in the sun do not work for me. People normally don’t believe me when I say I am from Miami because I am so pale. Nevertheless, it was nice to hang out by a pool with a few drinks and some friends. Once again, I met a bunch of people from all parts of Europe.

That brings me to today, which is Sunday. Today was pretty awesome and amazing, and probably the best day of my week. This morning my friends and I caught a 10:30 bus to a town called Santiponce, about 20 minutes outside of Seville. In this town are the remains of an old Roman city and ampitheatre, called Italica. This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

The city was one of the first Roman cities founded in Spain, in 206 B.C. It was a integral part of the Roman rule in Spain. It was really amazing to be in a place that old. What made it so cool was that I had JUST learned about it in my history class the previous week. It is always cool to learn about history, but to learn about it and then actually go SEE it, in person? Incredible.

That ampitheatre, by the way, was part of the inspiration for the ampitheatre in the movie Gladiator. Just a fun little nerd fact.

So there you have it, my attempt at a recap of this week. I’m thinking of doing maybe two posts a week instead of just one, because I feel like I am experiencing so much, and I don’t want to just cram a bunch of stuff into one post. The problem is finding the time. It is strange because I am so busy here, but in the slowest and laziest way. Does that make sense? Probably not. Anyways, I am off to read for history. And I’m actually looking forward to it! Madness! Ciao!

Slowing Down the Pace

Hey everyone! Hola from Seville! I have been here for about a week now, and I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with this city.

Guadalquivir River at night

Quick recap on the past week. I arrived in Seville on September 8th. I took a train from Madrid, and then a taxi from the train station to my host mother’s apartment. I was so nervous on the cab ride. I kept thinking, “Oh my god, what if she doesn’t like me, what if she is mean, what if she is a bad cook?” When I finally arrived, I got into her apartment, and all my worries immediately vanished. Maria (my host mom) greeted me with a huge hug and kissed both my cheeks, then set about making me an amazing lunch. I really adore her. She speaks no English, but has very proper Spanish so she is easy to understand. She is also very understanding if I don’t understand something, and had no problem when I asked her to write some things down so I could use Google translate (true story). And she had my room set up really nicely, with shelf space and a cute bulletin board. It is a small apartment, but super cozy and homey.

Maria lives in an apartment in a neighborhood called Nervion. It is a really great neighborhood, with tons of restaurants and cervecerias (bars) all up and down the street. It is about halfway between the school and the city center, which is great. There is a metro stop super close by, which I use to get to class, but everywhere else I mostly walk. I do a LOT of walking here.

My first week of classes went really well. I am taking five courses here: Spanish Intermediate II, Spanish Conversation, History of Spain, Spanish Civilization and Culture, and Cultural Psychology. I really like them all, but I especially like my intermediate Spanish class and my Civ. and Culture class. The teachers are really cool, and I am actually excited to go to class because what I am learning is so relevant to where I am.

Now, you might be thinking, “wow, this all sounds so wonderful, this girl is not having any problems adjusting!” Let me assure you, as much as there has been good stuff, I have had my share of frustrations. My Spanish is enough to get by, but in a lot of situations when it was necessary to communicate specifics, it has been really difficult to get my point across. Some examples: getting a prepaid phone, opening a bank account, setting up internet, even looking for toothpaste at the pharmacy. Sometimes I just don’t have the words I need in my repertoire. And the people here generally do not speak ANY English. So yes, there have been many frustrating moments, and many times when I wondered to myself if I made the right decision in coming here. But I have learned that the easiest way to deal with those moments is to tell myself that it is temporary, and focus on all the amazing things I am experiencing instead of the few instances of unhappiness.

Anyways, back to the happy stuff. I would say my favorite part about Seville, and also the part that is most different from the US, is the time and pace of everyday life. Here, everything is so much more laidback and unhurried. In the US, and especially Miami, I feel like people are always rushing to get somewhere or do something. Here, it’s like the clocks slowed down. But it isn’t in a lazy or lethargic way. It is more like people take the time to appreciate and enjoy everyday things, without constantly thinking about the next thing they have to do. It is an incredible attitude to have, and one that I have fully embraced. Siesta time is now my favorite part of the day.

Anyways, my first full weekend in Seville is shaping up to be fantastic. I have met a lot of new friends this past week, so there are many plans on my horizon. Tonight, I am going to a world class flamenco show, and tomorrow I am spending the day in Gibraltar. But for now, I think it’s about time for that siesta I mentioned. ;) Hasta luego!

Holy Toledo

Yesterday many of the UF students went on an official host university excursion to the city of Toledo, an hour-long drive south of Madrid. As we stepped off the bus, we were greeted with this view.

Making way around the city, the adjoining professors gave a detailed history (en español, por supuesto) of the many peoples who have held to this city before its next conquerors arrived. The influence of Islam, Judaism, and Roman Catholicism in combination is most clearly evident  in the city’s architecture.

Tight, winding streets were also a theme throughout the city.

In holding to the themes of Toledo’s rich history of religious institutions, our primary tour stops included a mosque, a cathedral, and a temple. Each place was host to many legends of sizes large and small, giving context to the many ornate details that each building possessed.

The mosque shared Christian influences and had weathered much fighting before our  arrival.

El exterior de la mezquita.

El interior de la mezquita.

Un cuadro en el techo.

The cathedral was grand by all measures and perhaps larger than La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Home to twenty-seven small chapels which serve as the final resting places of Spanish nobles, it is plainly difficult to describe the grandeur of all that it is. The cathedral is home to many paintings of El Greco, an artist of the Spanish Renaissance in the sixteenth century.

Entrada de los leones.

Vidrieras.

El altar.

Pared de Oro.

El Greco.

Jesucristo.

Our last stop was the temple. While the exterior was unassuming, there was much to see inside.

El interior del templo.

Las columnas del templo.

After grabbing a bite, we headed home by bus. My last view before taking to slumber.

El Puente de San Martín.

Blogger: Steven Evens
Program: UF in Madrid: Business Study Abroad Program at Universidad Antonio de Nebrija
Location: Toledo, Spain