Pre-Departure Entry

April 23, 2015: 13 days until I board the plane and I’m a mixture of butterflies and elation, but thankfully more excited than scared! My name is Victoria and I will be writing from Spain in the moments between sightseeing, studying, and (probably) binge eating. Why did I choose to study in Seville? I’m a Spanish language major minoring in Classical Studies and Seville appeals to both interests. I have been learning Spanish since I was nine years old in some capacity, but get nervous when I try to speak it. I hope that studying in Seville will boost my conversational skills. Plus, I found out that Seville is about 20 minutes away from a Roman ruins site, and the Classical Studies nerd inside me nearly wept with joy. With great food and such a rich history, how could I not choose to study in Spain?
Let’s talk packing, as it has been the first of what is sure to be a long list of surprises. I’ve been preparing for months and am still not finished! From new luggage to an entirely revamped wardrobe, I am completely shopped out! Fortunately, my grandmother has been helping every step of the way, down to picking out what nail polish I should wear. She has put so much work into this trip that it is completely unfair that she’s not going herself.
This trip will be the best thing that has happened to me so far, and I know I’m going to discover a lot about my own strengths and ability to overcome whatever obstacles come my way. I’m ready and rarin’ to go (except not yet because I’m not done packing)!

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1 day to go update: Finally packed and checking my lists and flight info. Actually feeling a bit sad at what I’m leaving behind and apprehensive, too, but I am glad for this opportunity. I will be in Madrid by this time tomorrow! :)

Feria de Abril

The tradicional festivals of Spain are abundant and a an extraordinary experience. This past weekend I ventured to the south of Spain to Sevilla for Feria de Abril, which translate to the April Fair. It´s a celebration where women wear tradicional “gypsy” dresses, men wear suits and ties and everyone dances Sevillana, a style of Flamenco. There´s streets lined with private casetas, or little houses, where people drink, eat and dance until the sun rises. You have to be invited into a caseta by one of the owners, or there are a few public casetas anyone can enjoy. I was fortunate enough to experience the private and public casetas. Unfortunately I didnt have any tradicional dresses laying around, nor could I afford to buy one of the masterpieces.

This is the portada, or entrance to Feria.

So I´ll start from the beginning. I was able to visit a good friend, who I had not seen in four years. We had kept in touch over time through social media, but seeing him to celebrate Feria was one of the highlights of the trip. His wonderful friends invited us into their caseta where we were able to try tradicional foods like choco, similar to calamari, and  flaminquín, which was a mouth-watering delight of fried ham and cheese. Another Feria staple is rebuito, an apple flavored sherry mixed with 7Up. It was very light and refreshing.

I had googled pictures before I went, but what I saw when I arrived was incredible and way better than what the internet showed. I spent four nights in Sevilla and it was one of the best times I´ve had in my life.

I went with Arielle, another Gator in Madrid. We loved the giant flowers.

I spent the weekend trying yummy foods, wearing a giant flower on my head, and a mantilla, a tradicional shawl, over my shoulders. I also attempted to learn how to dance Sevillana, but that didn´t go to well.
Here I am with my shawl and flower.

There was also a giant carnival. So many carnival rides and yummy spanish carnival foods (I really like food). I´m not a big fan of carnival rides, so I stuck to the Ferris wheel and candy apples.

View from the top of the feris wheel.

Come Sunday, the last day of Feria, I was absolutely exhausted and my feet needed a break from walking and dancing. I had a blast, but I was ready to come home to Madrid.

Más Tapas!

If you walk into a Cerveceria, or Spanish bar, and they don’t give you a small tapa, you’re doing it wrong. Tapas, or small plates, are a Spanish staple that is usually free.

Now, I’m not talking fancy little appetizers that are extremely complex, think more fresh bread with some meat on top, or a  piece of tortilla( Spanish omelet). My personal favorite is a giant plate of patatas bravas, which are cubed potatoes with a thick hot sauce on top. Usually not too spicy and occasionally accompanied by some ali-oli, or garlic mayo. Spicy food is hard to come by here.

The free tapas are usually not too bad, and you get a different one with each drink you order. If you are with a group, the bar will usually give you a generous sampling of their free little snacks. This stuff is by-far better than American bar foods. Oh and potato chips are also very popular, and they are all amazing. I swear they are freshly made. Depending on the bar you’re in, you can occasionally order additional tapas for usually no more than two euros.

Again, these little snacks are exactly that, snacks. They are meant to nibble on while you socialize and hang out with friends. And if there is one thing I have learned about the culture here it’s that Spaniards love three things: talking, eating and drinking (I mean this casually, one or two small beers or glasses of vino). So tapas let people combine all three.

I’m just going to let the tapas speak for themselves in these photos. Because really, what you see is exactly what you get.

On the left, olives, cheese and pepper. On the right, cracker and cheese

Chips and wine!

Some fancy tapas ordered off the menu at a bar near my apartment: starting from top left moving counter clockwise: mini burger with brie cheese, chorizo with quail egg, pork with brie cheese, seafood skewer and tortilla de patata.

These next few photos are courtesy of my awesome fellow Gator, Kai Lee Su!

At El Tigre, you get massive drinks and abundant tapas for cheap.

Left, eggs, fries and chorizo are a popular bar food. On the right, octupus.

Visits from Home

March is the month of visits here in Madrid. Friends back home are on Spring Break, we have a couple vacations during March, so sure everyone come on over to visit.

My boyfriend, Ryan came to visit me last week during UF’s spring break. I can’t explain how excited I was to finally see him after being away for just over two months. FaceTiming someone everyday is so different from finally seeing them face-to-face. I was so overwhelmed with happiness when I saw him walk out of the luggage area at the Madrid airport.

It was so exciting to give someone a tour around Madrid. We got to experience my favorite restaurants, like La Musa and Lateral, as well as try new things, like a picnic and boat adventure in Retiro Park. We had beautiful weather, which made the visit even better. We were able to do a lot of activities that it had been too cold to do before.
Ryan and I on a boat in Retiro Park!

Our yummy park picnic

We went to one of the oldest restaurants in the world, Botin, to celebrate our one year anniversary together. The food was amazing and definitely worth it. We had roast pig and roast lamb. Both were equally delicious. And dessert was amazing as well. The Spaniards really have a strong dessert game. Everything is just so good!

In front of Botin before our delicious dinner.

One cool thing we did was hop on a train to a random town we found online. It was called Cuenca and it was absolutely beautiful. It is an old town built into a mountain with hanging houses and beautiful scenery. We weren’t prepared, but there were a lot of hiking trails we could have done. They looked beautiful.

Being in the city, I forget how scenic Spain is, so I am happy I took the opportunity to get out and explore something new with Ryan.

Cuenca cliffs!

Ryan’s visit went by too fast and I was so sad to see him leave, but we only have about two and a half more months apart.

My best friend, Allura, will be coming to visit me during Semana Santa, or my spring break here in Spain. It’s the first week of April. I can’t wait to see her and celebrate my LAST spring break as a college student. What’s better than Europe with your best friend?

Estoy Enferma

Being away from home is hard, especially when you are in a foreign country without any of your friends. Being away from your comfort zone and being sick is even worse.

Unfortunately I’ve spent these past few days sick and in bed. As soon as I realized I was sick, I wandered to a pharmacy, where I had to practice my Spanish with an extremely hoarse voice, sore throat and congestion. Thankfully the hand gestures for these ailments are international.

Unlike the United States, when you need some cold meds you can’t just wander into a CVS, grab some DayQuil and pay. The pharmacists here ask you what’s wrong, you explain and then they come back with some meds they think fit your symptoms. I got two different medicines, one for my throat and one for congestion that seem to be working pretty well.

I’m not as tired as I have been, but the long walk to school and through the metro is a little difficult. But the meds are definitely working.  I hope I’m better soon because I’ll be traveling to Italy and Greece next week!

I’ve had lots of rest and I am started to be able to function again. Food no longer makes me cringe, so I think that’s a good sign. I attempted to recreate my mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup in hopes of lifting my spirits. Granted, it’s nowhere near as delicious or comforting as her’s, it definitely made me feel a little better and closer to home.

Back at it – reflections and updates from TLV.

So what’s new or in Hebrew, ma hadash? Well, I’m back in Tel Aviv and I’ve never been happier to be familiar with the bus system of a country. Seriously — Europe was amazing and wonderful and beautiful and so much fun but travelling is exhausting. I missed my own bed and my own kitchen and knowing where things are and Shabbat with my cousins in Ra’anana and, to put it simply, my Israeli life. I’ve been back for a few days and after doing nothing but sleeping, eating, and watching Gilmore Girls it’s safe to say that I have recovered from Lane’s European Adventure 2014.

When I last blogged I had just gotten to Barcelona, and I think I had expressed that my few hours in the city had already impressed me. Well, impress me it did! Barcelona was one of my favorite places we travelled by far. Maybe it was Spain in general or maybe it was the beautiful weather and the Gaudí architecture, but we loved it so much that we actually spent an extra day there. After being advised by everyone and their mother that seeing all of the architecture by Antoni Gaudí was a must, we decided to go to the Sagrada Família our first day there. None of us were terribly pleased about spending €18.50 just to get into the place but we knew we had to go, and boy was it worth every Euro.

Woah. Woah.  Now, we saw a lot of churches in Europe. Like, a lot of churches. As someone who was raised Jewish, I guess churches don’t usually have the same effect on me as people who were raised Christian. For example, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is kind of creepy if you ask me. It has the potential to be really cool and historical and interesting but instead it’s dimly lit and slightly oppressive and there are three different sects of Christianity who have staked their claim inside of it and it feels kind of awkwardly divided. Most churches I see are either one of two things – beautiful or confusing. So I expected the Sagrada Família to fall pretty staunchly into the first category. Beautiful, interesting because of the architecture and Gaudí and such, but not necessarily my cup of tea. I guess I just didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, or even feel spiritual in a church, but I have never seen anything as impressively beautiful and thoughtful as the Sagrada Família, and I doubt I ever will. It’s such a beautiful tribute not only to Jesus but to religion and worship in general that I couldn’t help but be moved by it. Every inch of the magnificent church is so meticulously planned that you almost think it shouldn’t work, it shouldn’t be so powerful, and it shouldn’t be so pretty, right? Come on, at some point it should be overkill, like the guy was just trying a little too hard? It’s not. It’s mind-blowing. I could have spent ten hours there staring at just one of the façades, trying to take it all in. And over the course of my tour I learned a lot about Gaudí, architecture, Christianity, and the Sagrada Família’s 132 years of existence and construction.

I guess I’ll start with the outside of the church. As of right now, there are eight spires, but Gaudí’s original plan calls for eighteen. They represent the twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and Jesus himself. The church has three facades, the Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade, and the Glory Façade. The first is decorated with stone-carved scenes of nature and celebrations of life, which combined give it the overall impression of being like both waves of the ocean and, although you might not think this a terribly romantic description, curly-edged leaves of lettuce. In very stark contrast with the Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade is less opulently carved. It has a lot less going on in general, which makes it easier to understand, but in my opinion slightly less impressive. The façade depicts the passion of Christ, or the final period of his life including his entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Agony in the Garden and his arrest, his trial, and his crucifixion. In reflection of this period of time, the façade features harsh lines, sharp edges, and bone-like columns. Each stage of the Passion is illustrated by sculptures, so as you listen to the audio guide you can go from event to event. The last façade has been under construction since 2002 so we didn’t get to see it, but if the name – and it’s brothers – are any indication, I’m sure it will be glorious.

(P.S. All these events and things I’m casually tossing out are all things that I learned at the Sagrada Família. If you had asked me before I went there what any of these things were I would have done the awkward grimace and apologetic shrug of having no clue.)

The interior of the church is just as intricate and just as magnificent.Light was extremely important to Gaudí, so there are stained-glass windows everywhere that pour in different shades of color based on what time of day you visit, each of which represents different aspects of nature – blues for water, greens for earth, etc. The columns all extend an inconceivable length upwards where they proceed to branch outwards, like a canopy of trees. The experience is both overwhelming and cocooning. On one hand, the enormity and complexity of the church is a lot to take in. On the other, you feel almost protected by the tree-like columns.

Even though I feel like I’ve ranted to you for hours about the Sagrada Família, I can’t stress enough that this is just a fraction of what I saw, and furthermore that it’s truly indescribable. I can throw a bunch of fancy architecture terms at you and tell you what style Gaudí favored but in all honesty, it’s something you have to see for yourself. Other recommendations on what to see include everything else Gaudí. We also went to Casa Batllo and Park Güell, both of which were just as impressive. Gaudí’s love of light and nature weaves its way into every inch of his designs, and his reverence for life and all its minutiae is wonderful, moving, and breathtaking.

Anyways, back to the trip! Much to our dismay, we left Barcelona and headed for Madrid where we decided to mosey around and relax. By this point, we were so tired of traveling that Madrid was kind of a blur. Sure, we saw the palace and a cathedral but we saw a lot of palaces and cathedrals in Europe, and I hope nobody takes offense to this but for me, Madrid didn’t have the same spark that Barcelona did. Madrid was by far more urban and fast-paced, but it lacked the vibrant, festive, yet easygoing atmosphere we found ourselves loving in Barcelona. We did, however, go to a Flamenco show.

We found ourselves at Cardamomo after braving a monsoon. Let’s backtrack to before the show, when Ginsey and I put on cute clothes (cute clothes =/= rain jacket) and makeup and left our hostel to a light drizzle. We debated taking a cab before deciding that the rain wasn’t bad enough to stop us from saving some money by walking and taking the subway and my oh my what a mistake that was. When we left our hostel it was drizzling. When we got to the subway station it was raining. When we got off of the subway at the station we needed it was pouring. I’m talking a foot and a half of water in the streets, wading to our destination pouring. Ginsey and I hiked up our maxi skirts (the outfits of choice that night, also possibly the only clean clothing we had left) and braced the storm because if there was one thing we knew, it was that we weren’t missing a show we’d already payed for. Within minutes we were drenched. The scarves we’d draped over our hair to try to protect it from the rain were entirely pointless, providing neither protection nor warmth, and we arrived at Cardamomo completely soaked…. and also the only people there who were even remotely wet. I don’t know how that happened, truly, it blows my mind, but I do know that we were greatly entertaining to the staff and patrons of Cardamomo. Maybe there’s something inherently amusing about two college-aged backpackers laughing hysterically and asking the wait staff if there’s somewhere to dry our belongings while debating how rude it would be to wring one’s hair out. In any event, we enjoyed the show, which was very impressive. The venue was small, the stage very informal, and the musicians basically just hung out on stage, strumming guitars and singing whatever they wanted in a mixture of shout-singing and wailing that was weirdly enticing. The whole production, musically, felt like a jam session and the interaction between the dancers themselves and the entire cast felt like we were watching one big, dance-filled jam session. Also, Flamenco dancing seems like a very intense workout. For that matter, Flamenco singing also seems like a workout.

We left Madrid, flew to Geneva, bummed around in Geneva/the Geneva airport for about 15 hours, and then headed towards our flight home – FINALLY! I had a great time in Europe, really, but I was so ready to go home at that point. I was so ready to understand even just parts of conversations and snippets of bus chatter. Except, just our luck, the sailing was far from smooth. After two prior easyJet flights where nobody questioned our luggage, the Geneva airport officials decided to continue holding their weird grudge against me (I would direct you to my first blog post about Europe, or as I like to call it “The One Where Lane Left Her Wallet On The Plane And Almost Punched The Lost And Found Lady”) and told me mine was too big. Not only did they tell me that my backpack was too big, they also told me that my daypack had to go inside of my backpack which, naturally, only made it larger. After getting no sleep other than a quick nap on the cold marble floors of the Geneva airport and having the carrot/dream of being home in Tel Aviv dangled so close to my face/horse (in this metaphor I guess I would be the horse, take that as you will) that I lost it. I made a total scene which, looking back, may have been slightly irrational but I was in no emotional state to deal with my luggage of all things. Despite all of our misadventures being hilarious in the aftermath and all of the amazing things that we had done on our trip, to sleep deprived and uncafffeinated Lane, this was the last straw. I ripped open my bag and started tearing clothes out of it, throwing them all over the terminal as I donned layers upon layers of clothing and smooshed by daypack inside of my larger backpack and proceeded to smoosh the entire thing into the luggage sizer. I caught the attention at the nearest easyJet employee and said “May I go?” while brandishing my Michelin man-like arms towards my suitcase. In his snobby Swiss French accent, he told me there was no need to get upset (commence heavy breathing) and that my bag was upside down. It apparently needed to be right side up. I wrestled the thing into the sizer once more, glared pointedly at the man, and boarded the plane. During the ordeal, Ginsey looked on, apologetically, while I breathed angrily (we were close to fire-breathing frustration, folks) and held back tears. But all was well after that because tears or no tears I was finally on a plane to Tel Aviv, the land of hummus and pita and familiar bus lines.

In more recent news, my classes have started and this time so did regular Israeli classes! Campus is full of students, there’s been a cool farmer’s market-y thing on campus with lots of enticing jewelry, and the weather has been great. Highlight of my week: when my Essence of Judaism professor posed that chauvinism and sexism in religion are the product of self-serving interpretations of the text (specifically the creation story) that are rebellions against God which, naturally, I loved. Other highlights include finding that I didn’t lose all of my Hebrew skills being away for a month.

Until next time!

Me encanta Madrid!

After a memorable night out in London seeing my favorite New Zealand producer Opiuo and the powerhouse that is The Glitch Mob, Dayna and I seperated and embarked on our own individual journeys. Dayna returned to Copenhagen to be with her boyfriend and to interview for Advertising internship positions, and I headed to meet one of my closest friends, Ally, in Madrid, Spain.

I flew to Spain as a lone wolf, relying only on my cell phone to help me navigate my new destination. When I arrived in Madrid late at night, I realized that for some reason my phone would not work. I had no service and I couldn’t contact Ally or use Google Maps to find our hostel. I thought to myself, “I am in a true traveling pickle!”

So, a helpless me decided to ask for help. I approached a a twenty-something female, who told me her name was Pilar. Pilar was a career woman who had been living in China and had just returned to Spain to see her family. Pilar looked at the address of my destination and happened to be going in the same direction, so she let me tag along with her. Coming from London, I only had pounds, so Pilar went ahead and paid the five euros for my bus ticket. She told me stories of China, the most shocking being the fact that she must check an air quality app everyday to see if it’s safe enough to go outside without a mask.

Pilar was my Spanish angel. Without her, I would’ve undoubtedly been lost in Madrid. Not only did she pay for my bus ticket, but she hand-delivered me to the nearest McDonalds, where I was able to link up with Ally. It is absolutely hilarious that McDonalds is the home base of the American abroad, but it is the truth! You may not love McDonalds when you’re in America, but the familiarity and the wifi make it worth the while.

When I got to Spain, I met Ally’s new group of friends. Her experience was very different from mine because she was staying in the same place for an extended period of time. I met her love interest, Jake, who lives in a penthouse overlooking the city. Jake was born in California, but had moved to Madrid years ago because of his dad’s job. A lot of Ally’s friends were American, but many were from other countries, like Brazil.

Madrid was absolutely beautiful and had a very different vibe from the other cities I traveled to. Architecturally, there was not as much stone as in France, and the buildings looked more modern and well-cared for. There were many outdoor restaurants, but the food was not as spicy as I would have thought.

I explored the city with Jake’s cousin, Tatiana, who was visiting from Arizona. The highlights were the traditional Spanish market, where I got a beautiful headband and spinach pastry, and the delicious risotto I had for dinner that night. There were many dogs roaming the streets, and many gypsies begging for change. Gypsies were common throughout Europe, but each time I saw them with hands out, heads down, and skin like leather from the sun, my heart hurt.

I saw a lot of men wearing purses, known as the Madrid “murse.” It seems to me that men are more comfortable with their sexuality in Europe. Because my phone was out of whack, I unfortunately didn’t get as many photos of Madrid as I wanted to.

Exploring the city

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Ally’s friend group was so welcoming. And oddly enough, we ran into some fellow Gators who were visiting Spain as well. We heard a lot of old American music, which is now a confirmed trend throughout Europe. It really is a small world. Ally ordered us silver tequila, which only costs one euro each, and seemed to be the go-to drink for the entire group. The music was great, the drinks were cheap, the people were friendly… I have to say, the Spanish nightlife certainly does not disappoint!

Nights Out

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After a big meal, we took a siesta, which is the hours where almost everyone snoozes during the hottest hours of the day. On my last afternoon in Spain, we hopped on a train to watch the sunset and picnic at a park called Casa de Campo. It’s known as the largest urban park west of central Madrid. We stopped at a corner store to grab some snacks. Known as “chinos,” these are the ubiquitous quick marts run exclusively by the Chinese. The sunset was beautiful while we hiked through the park, which was so large that we almost got lost in the vastness of it all.

Casa de Campo

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As we were walking back to the hostel that night, we came across the aftermath of a revolutionary riot in Puerta del Sol square. The riot occurred because King Juan Carlos announced that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his son King Felipe, marking the first change in 40 years. Younger generations want to remove the monarchy and institute a pure republic because they believe it is unnecessary, as King Juan Carlos was recently caught hunting elephants in Botswana despite Spain’s 26% unemployment rate.

Aftermath of the Riot

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We stayed at the Chic & Basic Mayerling, a very nice hostel in the center of the city, right near Sol. After just two days, I was sad to leave. The people were so warm and accommodating, the city was rich and beautiful, and the vibes were perfectly paced to be slow during the day and fast at night. I will never forget the kindness of Pilar, who chose to help me despite the fact that had no obligation and didn’t know the type of person I was. It’s people like her who keep this world pure.

Spain was the only place I visited where it was warm enough to wear shorts and a tank top, which I loved. I even got to use the few Spanish phrases that I retained from middle school. After only spending two days in wonderful Madrid, I can say that it is one of the most colorful cities I traveled to, with a completely unique cultural feeling. I know I will be back sometime, and I will make sure to see Barcelona too!

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