Saturday, May 22, 2010

Last Weekend in Madrid

Well its Saturday morning/afternoon. And I just woke up a little bit ago and decided I needed to update this little online journal. Last night was my friend Paloma's birthday so a ton of kids from the resi went to a club called Naranja, it was a blast, a nice mix of American/Spanish techno style music and if I remember correctly a little Spice Girls was even played! Haha.

2 weeks ago I did end up going to Ireland (Dublin and Galway) without being trapped by volcanic ash. It was an amazing trip and I am so happy I had the opportunity to go. With it being my last weekend and all, I think I will most likely have to write about Ireland when I get back to the good old US of A and I am just relaxing on my couch catching up on Grey's Anatomy, The Office, Glee, and just about every movie that has come out since January. Anyway, I have 6 days left in Madrid. So surreal. Almost everyone in my program flies home May 28. I will also be flying May 28, but not to the States, I will be headed to Slovenia to stay with some distant family members. I am super excited and really hope the volcano does not interfer with my travel plans. I am having such mixed feelings about having to go home. I am looking forward to it on one hand, but on the other I know how much I'm going to miss it here. The lifestyle, the friends I have made, the everyday places I walk past everyday. Anyway, my cousin Samantha is also in Spain at this time, in a town called Trujillo, so I might get a chance to visit her on Wednesday, but it might be really hard with finals and everything...oh yes I am still in school. I will be landing in the US on June 2.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de mayo

Today is the 5th of May, cinco de mayo if you will. In honor of this fantastic holiday I wrote a poem out of sheer boredom in class...and here it is.

Cinco de mayo
Today is the fifth of May
and in Spain, not a holiday.
I'd like to be drinking a margarita and taking tequila shots.
Instead I'm sitting in class and taking shots, I'm not.
En los Estados Unidos I'd be having a ball.
But here in Spain cinco de mayo is not celebrated at all.
But this problem can be fixed, no worries I say.
Because I'm going to the Atletico Madrid futbol game today!
Haha just thought I would share, I feel like this poem has some potential, probably become the next Dr. Seuss. Anyway, I actually just got home from the Atletico Madrid soccer game. They are the second biggest team in Madrid, after Real Madrid. They are the underdogs and their jerseys look like candy canes and I like them. Their fans are awesome, there was a group that stood and chanted the entire game, it was quite the experience. Atletico won 3-1, they game was a blast to watch.
In other more recent news, I will most likely not be going to Ireland due to the volcanic ash cloud that seems to be floating over the country...awesome.
In less recent news, I went to a bullfight (corrida de toros) last Sunday and it was my first and last bullfight. I am glad I went to experience the culture of it and try to understand how people could possibly find the killing and suffering of a bull entertainment, but after 2 out of the 6 bulls were stabbed to death, I decided to leave.
Basically, I thought this was a one on one duel between the matador and bull...false. First they keep the bull in the dark for hours before the fight, this way when they let him out into the ring, he is blinded and confused by the bright sunlight. Then he is stabbed by two men who are on horseback, then he is stabbed by 6 little stabber thingies that stay in the bulls neck/back and have poison/some kind of tranquilizer in them. Ok so now the bull is seriously slowing down and bleeding all over the place and the matador walks out. He puts on a little show and then is suppose to kill the bull with one swift stab to the neck. Welp, this usually doesn't happen and the bull is stabbed numerous times while falling over and coughing/throwing up blood. This is not something I would bring my little kids to, but some people do. Then the bull is finally killed after about a 1/2 hour of suffering and it falls to the ground and it's body is hooked up to 3 horses, which drag the bull out of the ring.
PETA would have a field day over here. I actually did a 20 minute presentation on anti-bullfighting groups in Spain and surprising around 70% of Spain is against bullfighting. There are alot of tourist that come to bullfights and some traditionalist trying to keep it alive. In my opinion, it does not need to go on any longer. I understand it is part of your culture, no, not "is" it should be "was" because this kind of suffering for entertainment does not belong in our modern world. It is honestly unbelievable that these acts are still allowed.
Phew, I'll get off my soapbox on that one. Anyway, Happy Cinco de Mayo! Not much is going on here for it, so it was a perfect day for a futbol game. Really glad I had a chance to go to a game and also glad that we discovered a cute local bar that has happy hour everyday from 4-7. haha. I will be home June 2 so I have a little less than a month left here in Europe. Time sure has gone fast.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lisbon, Sintra, Lagos

My trip to Portugal was one of my favorites. I feel like it is a real hidden gem of Europe, that is overshadowed by Spain. I actually don't think I would have ever gone there if it wasn't for studying in Spain. I was pleasantly surprised, when we landed and got to our hostel. I had heard Portugal was known for the best hostels around and it is true. Our hostel was reasonably priced, right in the downtown, safe, blankets and towels included, and every morning this nice little lady would make us chocolate crepes and scrambled eggs. You really can't beat that. I felt like I was staying at a friends apartment, not a hostel.

You see tiles like these all throughout the city. This is what all their
sidewalks are like, except for different patterns and shapes
depending on where you are in the city. ------>

So we arrived on a Thursday night and decided to grab some traditional Portuguese food. We went to a small, local restaurant, recommended to us by the hostel. We shared a delicious feast of codfish, calamari, garlic shrimp, wine and sangria. We had a lovely meal and then decided to head to barrio alto, where streets are lined with bar after bar after bar. And the best part was that drinks were extra cheap compared to Madrid. Actually, everything there was much cheaper than Madrid, so that made going out even more enjoyable! And the coolest part is you can buy drinks and then drink them in the streets. So these narrow little streets are filled with people and all types of fun. We met some French people who brought us to this lookout, to where you could see downtown Lisbon from above and it was really neat. You could see the castle off in the distance over the lit up city, a beautiful sight. Portugal is a really relaxed city, just walking around the streets and listening to people speak Portuguese was comforting. I think their language is more beautiful than Spanish. It doesn't sound like someone is yelling at you haha, the words seem to flow better and end is ooshes and swooshes. It is just more relaxing for some reason. Also, just because you can understand doesn't mean you will understand a WORD of Portuguese. Reading it is one thing, you can grasp what you are reading, but trying to understand their speech is pretty much impossible. Also, I found out that most Portuguese do not appreciate when travellers try and speak to them in Spanish. They said it is better to speak to them in English than it is in Spanish. They are very proud people, who have been overshadowed by Spain for most of their lives, so I can understand why they don't want people to assume they understand Spanish. So I used the one word I learn in Portuguese alot...obrigada..which means thank you.

hiked to the top ----->

On Friday, a couple of us decided to go to Sintra, which was my favorite part of Portugal. It is this town about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon where they have 4 World Heritage sights. When you get there you are suppose to take this bus that drives you to each castle/fortress whatever, but we decided to hike it. It was awesome. It was a 2-3 hour hike up the hill. We stopped and checked out the Parque and Palacio De La Pena, which is the best example of Romantic architecture in Portugal. We also stopped at the Moorish Fortress/Castle, which was my favorite. It is believed to date back to the 9th century during the period of the Arab occupation. It was used to monitor the coast line and I believe we could see Lisbon from the top of the fortress. They actually let you climb these old stone wall up to the Castle Keep to have the best view of Sintra and the coast. Actually we had our sack lunch on top of the fortress, which is something I will never forget.

We only saw two of the sights, because we walked instead of taking the bus, but by doing this it gave us the best sense of accomplishment ever. Because you see all these buses taking people to the top and it just feels awesome to walk it. The walk down was much easier and then we took the bus back to Lisbon. When we got back Kailee, Caroline, and I were exhausted, but we bought the necessary supplies to cook a wonderful pasta dish and veggies for dinner. Our other friends went out, but we went to bed because we had to get up early to catch a bus to Lagos in the morning.
Fast forward through our 4 hour bus ride and we arrive in Lagos. Meet a man who says he will take us on grotto tour. So we pay 10 euro each, go to the grocery store for food and drink for the day and meet our local fisherman guide Louise who takes us up and down the coast of Lagos. We go into all these little grottos and he shows us all these rock formations and their names. He said he has grown up in Lagos and loves it. I would love to live in a place like Lagos. It is absolutely beautiful, the people are phenomenal. Louise was so kind, he showed us where his favorite fishing spots were, he showed us secret beaches that you could only get to by boat and other beaches where you had to climb down a rope to get there. It was crazy. Then we decided we wanted to jump in the water. Caroline was the first to jump in/get pushed in and I guess I didn't trust the look of utter shock on her face because I jumped in after and immediately lost my breathe because it was so cold, but after awhile our bodies pretty much went numb and then all 9 of us were in the water laughing and taking pictures. After our tour time was up, Louise dropped us off on Potato Beach were we met this juggling Brazilian man who hung out with us for the rest of the afternoon. He was quite interesting and told us stories and juggled for us in nothing but his little speedo with bumble bees on it. Hahahaha. I wish I knew his name, but it was an incredibly entertaining day. Then we had to leave because our bus was leaving at 6:30pm. We got back to the hostel just in time to go on the hostel bar crawl with our main man Daniel.
Our hostel people were awesome. They took us to 4 of their favorite bars in Barrio Alto and we spent the night drinking, dancing, and taking flaming shots. Quite interesting. When we got back Daniel and I made scrambled eggs for everyone and then one by one we crawled into our twin bunk beds and called it a night.
The next day was Sunday and we went to the beaches of Lisbon, which are not actually in Lisbon, but you take this little tram for a 30-45 minute ride and get off at whichever beach you want to. The main beach everyone usually goes to is Cascais, but we went to Parede and it was really different. It was a small beach, because most of the coastline is rock and cliffs, but we found a small strip of sandy beachness and layed out and swam for the better part of the day. Sunday and Monday were the sunniest days so we couldn't resist spending the day at the beach. After we had enough sun for one day, we headed back to Lisbon, showered, and went out to dinner. After dinner we went back to the hostel and just chatted. Some of my friends watched a movie that the hostel was playing, but let's be serious I knew I couldn't make it through the first 2 minutes of a movie without falling asleep so bunked up in my cozy twin.

Our flight out was Monday at around 1pm so I woke up early, indulged in some chocolate crepes and was on my way to explore Lisbon before I had to leave. I decided 1/2 way through my walk that I was going to walk up to the castle that overlooks the city, which I did, but I was kind of creeped out because the guys in Portugal are a bit more...hmm what's the correct word to use...talkative towards women than the ones in Spain (which is actually surprising). So after being cat called by men, including a police officer I decided walking around a residential area by myself was not really the best idea. So I creepily followed this couple, who I called Mom and Dad in my head haha, because I could tell they were American tourists and finally after stalking them for 20 minutes I caught up to them and asked if they were looking for the castle as well. They said yes and we stumbled upon it together in about 5 minutes. Then I parted ways from Mom and Dad because I didn't want them to think I was too creepy so I tried to walk down the opposite way from which I came and of course ended up getting lost and a bit nervous, so I just hopped on a bus that took me back to the city center. And when I got back I thought to myself how much easier it would be if I were a guy travelling. Because then I wouldn't have to worry about so much. So I'm just saying, guys you've got it easy :)

Leaving Portugal was something I did not want to do and I am sooooo glad I had the opportunity to visit it. It was definitely one of my favorite places I have been to. I would recommend Portugal to anyone who was going to do a European travel.
As for today, it is Mother's Day in Spain, so feliz dia de la madre! It is also a holiday, dos de mayo. So most shops are closed today, but I did go for a run and there are tons of families out and about and in the park, so that was nice to see. Tonight I am going to attempt to go to a bullfight again, my last attempt failed, as the event was rained out. I am not a supporter of corridas de toros (bullfights) but I would like to experience the culture of this. As for my next adventure, I am off to Ireland on Thursday, where I will be visiting Dublin and Gallway wish 3 other friends. I am very excited for this trip because before I left for Europe it was on the top of my places to go list. We are having a farewell dinner on Tuesday for most of the kids who are leaving in mid-may with API, which is cool, because I'm going to consider it my graduation dinner since my graduation from Upstate is in fact on Tuesday. Wednesday, I'm going to try and get tickets for the Atletico Madrid futbol game, since I haven't been yet. Hopefully, it works out.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fleckerflacker Burgerbacker

Ok, I am back in Madrid. First, Spring Break was spectacular. It was quite the adventure, I learned a lot about myself and others, and it only increased my want to travel more. Definitely have aquired some good stories and sights, but for this particular entry I will just bullet point the main parts of each day and maybe throw in a story here and there.

Day 1: Milan

  • Saw the most expensive street of shops in the WORLD (including the original Prada).

  • Saw the Duomo -------------------->

  • Got the last tickets of the day to see Da Vinci's The Last Supper. It is huge, it actually takes up the entire wall of the church.

  • Enjoyed gelato

  • Went to a Club called Planet 50

DAY 2, 3,4: Venice

  • Took a train the next morning from Milan to Venice

  • Took a water taxi to the apartment the 12 of us rented. Saw 2 old women sitting on a dock painting, now that's the life.

  • Went on a walking tour with my friends Danny and Laura, took all sorts of pictures. Bought myself a little Venetian mask. They were everywhere!

  • Starting wishing I had studied abroad in Italy.

  • Went on an island tour. Saw Murano-island where they do the glass blowing. Saw a man make a horse figurine in about 2.5 minutes flat. Burano (my favorite-->) - was a colorful little fisherman's village. Then Torcello, which was an erie little island I believe at one time all the inhabitants died of some kind of disease..and only an old church and monestary remain there.
  • Made dinner ourselves at the apartment. Pasta, the freshest salad with tomatoes, cheese, peppers, and onion, bread, cheese, and wine. So delicious.

  • Saw Doge's Palace, Rialto Bridge, Basilica of San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, and more.

  • Who goes to Venice and doesn't take a gondola ride? Not me.

  • Seriously contemplated what I was thinking by not choosing to study in Italia.

  • Took a night train from Venice to Vienna. Didn't realize that our seat pulled out into a bed until we were getting off the train at 8 in the morning. Awesome. Saw the most beautiful scenery training it up through the Austrian Alps.

Day 5: Vienna, Austria

  • Everything is in We don't know a single word, nor can we figure out any signs, but we do think its funny to pretend we can pronouce the words and for the rest of the trip we made up our own words like the title of my post.

  • Had our backpacks on all day while we explored the city. It was thankfully a beautiful day and we saw St. Stephen's Cathedral and lots of other important looking buildings that I took pictures of.

  • Went to the Sigmond Freud Museum.

  • Thought we could get on the student agency bus without a reservation...epic fail. Ended up having to stay the night and convinced a nice Austrian man who worked a fairly decent hotel to let 8 people stay in a 4 person hotel room for only 100 euro. Success.

DAY 6, 7, 8: Prague, Czech Republic

  • We finally made it to Prague after a quick little train ride. The train ride was actually really fun because about 5 of us sat in the bar part of the train and drank some refreshing beers in preparation for our time in Prague.

  • We got there around mid-day and easily found our hostel.

  • Then we bought our bus tickets and got out the bus, making the HUGE mistake not to stamp or in fancy terms "validate" our tickets. So the next thing I know is I'm being asked for my ticket and I was like here ya go mister tough guy...I'm not doing anything wrong here it is, I'm not scamming the system I bought a ticket. Well you see that's not really how it works. You are suppose to get on the buses and put your tickets in these little yellow machines that stamp the time on your ticket. Well we didn't see a single person stamp anything so we didn't know we were suppose to (this could be because they were all locals who had monthly passes who didn't need stamps, but how were we to know). So the 8 of us get pulled off the train and are told we need to pay a fee of 700 crowns. This seems a bit ridiculous to me and I think it was around about 50 euros or something like that. So we end up arguing with these basically mall cops from the Czech Republic who are in the nicest words I can think of ...little skeezballs. Anyway long LONG story short we talked for them for about an hour while he claimed he called the police twice and ended up paying for 2 of the 8 tickets just so we could get the hell out of there. I'm sure they just pocketed the money, but I guess that was karma because we didn't buy a single ticket in Austria, we just kept getting on and off the trains. It's a lot different than Madrid or Chicago, because in those places to even get to the station you have to scan your ticket or you can't get it. Anyway, lesson learned and maybe this post will save someone 700 crowns and valuable time. haha.

  • After that little incovience we headed to the Prague Castle and walked around checking out the delightful view of the city. Most of the house are white, with red roofs, very beautiful sight.

  • Went out to some some bars as well as a 5 story club. Had a terrific night and met people from all over the world.

  • Woke up the next morning at 9 am and went on our Prague city tour, which I'm really glad we did because our tourguide showed us all the cool buildings in Prague as well as the Jewish quartersand Charles Bridge.

  • After the tour our group split up and me and several of my friends went to the Lennon in John Lennon. It's this really cool wall shown here ---> I overheard some tour guide telling his group that after John Lennon died, some people painted a wall with pictures of John Lennon and song lyrics, but this was during the Communist reign and during the day the communists painted over all the artwork in white. Well then that very next night the Czech people would paint pictures of ole Johnny again, with the Communists painting it white in the day. This continued for awhile until the Communists realized they had more important things to worry about and now the wall changes constantly with more and more artwork. Pretty cool huh?

  • After that we grabbed some dinner. Sausages to be exact because they do not have these in Espana. Solo jamon. Which I never want to see again in my life when I get back to the States.

  • Then we went on a pub crawl which ended up being really fun. Absinthe is legal in Prague so I had a shot of that. It's pretty terrible in all honesty. We started at Bohemian Bagels and then headed to 4 other pubs. We met some Australians and lucky for my friends and I we didn't have to buy a single drink all night ;) I think we stayed out until around 4 am then got up the next morning and headed to the airport for our flight to Copenhagen.

Day 9,10: Copenhagen

  • We exhaustively arrived in Copenhagen. Found our hostel that looked more like a prison cell than it did a hostel. haha "Sleep in Heaven" very ironic name for the hostel.

  • We spent the afternoon/night walking around doing a walking tour of our own. Saw the Hans Christian Anderson statue as well as his tombstone in the cemetery located right next to our hostel.

  • At night we sat on a park bench right on the water looking at the houses all lit up and with their lights reflecting off the water. It is something I will never forget. We just sat their for hours and talked until it was too cold and we decided to walk back.

  • The next day we rented bikes and the city was ours. Copenhagen is bike friendly just like Amsterdam. There are bike paths everywhere and it was no problem to get around. Only got honked at once so pretty successful.

  • Here was a nice surprise for us though. So Tivoli Gardens is like the thing to do in Copenhagen. Its basically like Bush Gardens I think, but better. And it opens in approximately one week. haha. Then they have a famous statue of the Little Mermaid. Well ..for the first time in the history of the world the Little Mermaid statue is out of the China. cool. Oh and Copenhagen happens to be the 2nd most expensive city in Europe so that was the perfect place to end our spring break with the little money we all had left.hahaha! Other than those cold, hard facts, Copenhagen was sweet.
  • We celebrated our last night by going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. And I really treated myself by ordering King Crab from the North...that is what it was called on the menu and it was honestly the best seafood I've ever had.

So my spring break was a blast. Good group of people, good sights, good times. Today I went to Segovia for a day trip with API and it was really cool. Its this old little town about an hour outside of Madrid. We went in the castle and climbed to the top of the tower. We went in the cathedral and walked around town. Good times. Tonight, some friends and I went across the street to the bar and watched the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona game. Barca won. booo. Wasn't much of a game. Tomorrow I plan on going to El Rastro (flea market) and Parque de Retiro. It's almost 2am so I'm off.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Initiate European Spring Break

Welp I am headed on Semana Santa (Holy Week aka Spring Break) tomorrow morning at 4:00am I will be leaving my residencia and heading to the airport for my 6 am flight to Milan. I will be gone for 10 days, until April 2. I am going to Milan and then taking a train to Venice. From Venice we take a train to Vienna, spend the day there, take a night bus to Praha (Prague), and then fly to Copenhagen, from Copenhagen we fly back to Madrid. Phew. I am so excited, I can't wait. I'm going with about 8 others that live with me in the residencia.

Oh and get this. I'm missing two days of school because Semana Santa actually starts Friday and umm am missing some midterms. I get to make them all up except for my midterm in my Spanish conversation class. Hello minus 17 percent of my final grade. Haha I know right, I can't believe I'm missing it either, but whatever I'll learn more on this trip than I will the whole year in that class.

Today was a good day. I got two letters from my dad and Sanders and a package from my Aunt Kathy with....GIRL SCOUT COOKIES!!!!!! And they are my favorite kind and I was so excited to get it and wasn't expecting it and it was great. So a big thank you for anyone who has sent a package or letter, I appreciate them more than you know. Thank you. I also had futbol practice today which was awesome because I finally got to wear shorts and a tshirt outside. It felt so good, I'm glad the weather is finally starting to straighten out. And my soccer coach let me borrow his hiking backpack so it's all packed up and ready to go.

Yesterday was also a nice day and some friends and I headed to the park. It was such a perfect day, we sprawled out on the grass and read, did homework, played poker, and futbol. I'm liking Madrid more and more with the nice weather. :)

Well I'm about to head downstairs for dinner and make sure I have everything I need packed. I will hopefully be able to write about my trip by April 5 or so.

Until then,


Thursday, March 18, 2010

la dolce vita

Rome is gorgeous. There is literally art everywhere you look. We are talking about the most beautiful cathedrals and basilicas in the world...and there are hundreds of them just in Rome.

We got off to a little bit of a rocky start. We arrived to the airport around 5 or 6 pm on Friday (I don't know why we didn't take a morning flight, but that's beside the point). Then after we got our bags and searched 20 minutes for the bus driver, we found out that our tour guide for our bus tour was no where to be found. Our program directors weren't too happy and then we ended up just picking up the tour guide from wherever he was haha. A little strange and then our bus tour ended up being a night bus tour which was okay, but at this point everyone seemed to be tired from travelling....So after the bus tour we got to our hotel which was amazing by the way. API really hooked us up. They even had doorbells for each room and there were motion lights above the doors...excellent choice. I went with a group of friends on a wild chase for a restaurant that was recommended to us, but when we finally found it we discovered we needed a reservation, which we didn't have so we continued on to find this little hole in the wall Italian place for dinner. Del.icious. I had bruschettaand gnocchi pasta with red wine The wine in Italy is definitely a good choice, I'm not that big of a wine fan and I love it. After dinner, even though we were stuffed, we had to get gelato. I think I had nutella, hazelnut, and strawberry or something like that and I would swim across the sea for another scrumptious gelato cone. :)

The next morning my roommate for the trip Lauren and I decided to wake up early and go for a little walk before the walking tour, since we were only going to be there until Sunday. (We are looking at basically one full day, a night, and a 1/2 day in Rome, I would not recommend this short amount of time). Props to the hotel for their breakfast. Breakfast isn't too hot in Spain so I thoroughly enjoyed the granola and dried fruit cereal I had.

So our hotel was pretty close to the Vatican and we started off our walking tour and just walked around the area by us and to the Vatican, just kind of taking in the scenery and the people. It was really nice to be out at 7 in the morning because the air was so fresh and there weren't a ton of people out...very relaxing. Our walking tour with API started at 9:35 so we headed back to the hotel, just in time for another stab at breakfast haha! The our tour guide took us to Piazza del Popolo (Plaza of the People) and from here 3 streets branch off from the Piazza, which is known as The Trident and these streets are known for their expensive shopping. We passed Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada etc, etc. We passed other plazas on our walk as well as several churches. She took us to the Trevi Fountain which I LOVED and didn't realize how big it actually was. Interesting story: she took us to the fountain from a side street and told us to stop in this certain place where we were standing right next to the fountain but couldn't see it because of this structure.

It was built by the creator of the fountain because a barber lived right next to the fountain and every day he would come outside and criticize the artist work. To stop his complaining this Ace of Cups was built right in his line of vision. I thought that was pretty funny.

The fountain is pretty incredible and we threw in 2 coins into the fountain, the first meaning we will one day return to Rome and the second meaning we will meet an Italian boyfriend or girlfriend.

After the Trevi Fountain we went to the Spanish step and drank from one of the public water fountains and by water fountain I literally mean huge fountain. haha all of the fountains have really clean water that you can drink out of anytime.
Then we walked to the Pantheon and saw Raphael's tomb inside. Saw more and more ancient ruins. They are just all over the city in fenced off areas. It's really cool to see. There was also a spot near the Pantheon where you could look down about 12 meters and see an ancient street of Rome. It is strange to think how much of ancient Rome is buried under the city of Rome today.

Our walking tour ended at Campo de Fiori, where they have a market each Saturday I believe. So I bought some trinkets while I was there, we grabbed a quick slice of pizza each and headed towards the Vatican so we could make it in before it closed for the day. We heard horror stories about the line for the Vatican Museum so we were worried that we might not get in, but we must have picked a perfect time because I think we were in line for only 10 minutes or less. The Vatican was honestly overflowing with art. There was so much there and we didn't even come close to seeing half of it I'm sure. We saw famous paintings by Raphael like The School of Athens

The best part, of course, was the Sistine Chapel and the painting The Last Judgement. We did not have time to go inside St. Peter's Basilica, but we did get to see the outside of it.

After walking around for a solid 10 hours I felt like my feet were bleeding and covered in blisters. haha. So we walked to the hotel to rest our feet for about an hour and then we were off again in search for dinner. We found a nice side street with nice restaurants where we got to sit outside, eat lasagna, listen to music, enjoy some red wine, and eat tiramisu. Can't get much better than that. After dinner we decided to walk to the Spanish steps because it is tradition for travellers to go there and meet other travellers. We did that and saw the Trevi Fountain at night. Two stunning views. After that we were completely wiped out and trekked backed to the hotel. I think I feel asleep in 2.2 seconds and woke up again around 6:30 because we had to be back at the hotel at 4pm.

We wanted to see the Colosseum and took the long way to get there passing through some older areas of Rome that were so so pretty and we even ended up catching the end of mass at San Maria in Trastevere. Some of our friends did end up going to the Vatican on Sunday to see the Pope at noon. Here's a picture...

I would have really liked to do that as well, but the Vatican Museums are closed on Sunday, so we had to do the museums on Saturday, which left us with Sunday for the Colosseum. The Colosseum was great! Our tour guide gave us all sorts of cool information and I took lots of pictures. It was pretty cool getting to see one of the 7 Wonders of the World. It's hard to imagine what it looked like in Ancient Roman times, because all that is left now is the bare skeleton and part of it was damaged from earthquakes. But it used to be covered in tapestries and there was actually a canopy top and marble seats. Pretty incredible structure for that time.

Now here comes my favorite story from the trip. My friend Marissa and I are the last people in our group to visit the Colosseum and then our ticket actually got us into Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum so we checked that out quickly before we had to leave...and then we decided to walk back to the hotel and find somewhere along the way to stop and eat. Well we found this cute little pizzaria and when we walked in the door this was this fairly large man anywhere from 50-60 years old standing there as well, waiting to be seated. Well the little Italian man waiter walks up to us and is like 3? And Marissa and I are trying to say 2, but he keeps going back and forth between 2 and 3 and he's speaking Italian and we are speaking English and Spanish and then it ends up Marissa and I asking this man to sit with us for lunch. Ok here goes...His name was Gerry from Louisville, KY. He has a wife with whom he is about to celebrate his 35 wedding anniversary and fingers crossed will get their vows renewed at the Vatican. He also has two full grown daughters, one who is expecting their first grandchild. Gerry talked alot. He told us he is an aeronautical consultant Boeing airlines and has lived in places like Russia, Panama, Kenya, numerous states...etc etc. He even ended up supporting this Russian artist who has painted the Queen of England twice, along with self-portraits of the women in his family. He also has a landscape painting from this artist estimated around 100,000 dollars. He asked us some questions about school and gave us some insightful advice. We had carbonara for lunch and strawberries and ice cream for dessert. Then it came time to pay for the meal and Marissa and I started to pull out our wallets and he told us he would pay for our lunches. When we tried to offer to pay again he said, and I quote, "You guys wouldn't even believe me if I told you how much money I made."

This story is no tall tale, but actually fact. Almost immediately after he paid Gerry tells us he has to run and catch a bus or he's going to miss it. He shakes our hands and tells us it was a pleasure meeting us and was gone just as quick as he'd come. I think Marissa and I stared at each other for approximately one full minute before either one of us could say anything.

The story only gets better when Marissa got up to go to the bathroom and the little old Italian man comes over and holds my hand while Marissa is gone. I don't really know why it didn't bother me haha, he was just a cute little man who wanted to hold my hand I thought. Then when we go to leave our waiter man is sitting outside smoking and he sees us and springs up from his chair dropping his cigarette. He starts to say goodbye to us and opens his arms like he wants to give each one of us a hug. Well in my joy of wanting to hug this little man goodbye, I totally forget that people don't hug in Europe, they kiss you on each side of the cheek. Well by the time I remember this I am WAAAYYYY to close to this old man, like too close for him to kiss my cheek and he ends up kissing my neck and I don't know why but all I can do is laugh. Then he called me bella and kissed both sides of my cheeks and at this point Marissa is dying laughing and I have tears running down my face. He tells us to come back next year when we are in Rome and we laughed the whole way back to the hotel. It was a perfect way to end our marvelous Rome viaje.
Phew. That took a long time to write. We are finally getting some nice weather here in Madrid and this is actually my only weekend in Spain this month. So I think I'm going to check out some museums and parks this weekend. Do some Madrid stuff :) Yesterday was St. Patrick's day and you know what it was pretty dang fun. No green beer and no South Side Irish Parade, but we did end up meeting the CEO of Tuenti (which is basically Facebook in Spain) and a bunch of his friends and they bought us drinks all night. So thanks Madrid for a good night!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Don't Speak Freaky Deaky Dutch.

I officially filled up my first journal while I was in Amsterdam and I just bought a really cool new one from a little bookstore up the street from where I live that is handmade...fancy. Anyway, Amsterdam was awesome. We actually flew into Eindhoven and then took a train to Amsterdam where we accidentally sat in first class with a bunch of older woman and when the ticket collector came around he kicked a bunch of teenage boys out of first class and I was about to get up and leave before he kicked us out when I realized the 7 Dutch women sitting next to me were cracking up. They had 2nd class tickets as well and somehow or another they convinced the ticket guy to let us stay in first class. It was a really relaxing ride with beautiful scenery. Lots and lots of canals. A little saying I learned on my trip...God made the world in 6 days and on the 7th the Dutch created Holland. Which makes sense because the would country is below sea level. The Dutch basically dug out their land to live on and they have so many canals because that is where the water drains and then into bigger and bigger canals and then into rivers and blah blah.
Ok enough about that...We got to Amsterdam around noon on Friday, March 5. I went with my friend Gina and after we checked into our hostel (which was located very near to the Heineken Factory, who knew it was in Amsterdam? Not me.) went to the Anne Frank Huis (House). The Diary of Anne Frank was a book I read and reread many times when I was younger so actually being in the house where she wrote her diary was surreal for me. I actually stood in Anne Frank's room where there were still some posters she had pasted to the wall. I looked out the same windows she had to peak through because no one could know they were living upstairs. It actually gives me the chills to think about it. After that Gina and I walked around a bit in the rain and then I headed to the Van Gogh Museum to check out some arte. We were pretty exhausted from such a long day of traveling so we grabbed some dinner and drinks and then headed to bed.
The next day we got up around 8 am and though it was about 35 degrees it was sunny! YAY!! So we walked around and got a good look at the city, I can only imagine how gorgeous it must look when all the flowers are in bloom. Now for my favorite part of the journey...we went on a bike tour. Now I absolutely love riding bikes, but in Amsterdam, in my opinion, it is the only way to travel around the city. On the streets there are lanes and street lights for cars, the outside of the sidewalks are for people walking and then for bikes they get their very own lane and stop is so cool. If someone gets in your way, you just ring your bell and they scatter. Which makes me wonder how many times these people have been hit by a high-speed bicycle. Anyway, the country side tour took us to a cheese/clog making factory, where I did purchase a pair of real wooden clogs that I plan on hanging on my wall. It was really interesting to watch them make shoes and I tried on a pair and they are surprisingly very comfortable...could be the next fashion trend, though the guy wearing them did look a bit like a clown in them.

We also biked passed a windmill, farms, more canals, HUGE mansions, and through Vondelpark where I saw one of the three statues in the world by Picasso that you can see for free.(Interesting fact about Vondelpark at one time you were allowed to be naked in the park and today after lots of changing rules in the park, I believe today's law is you can have sex in the park, but you must have clothes on.) The Dutch are very interesting people with very very open minds about everything. After the 4 hour country side tour, Gina and I headed to a restaurant to devour the most delicious pancakes I have ever had. They were actually mini pancakes with cherries, whip cream, and powdered sugar. Mhmmmm. After that I decided I hadn't had enough of bike riding for the day yet, so I went back to Mike's Bike Tours and rented a bike for 2 hours. I just rode around the city, which is pretty small to be honest so a bike is the perfect means for transportation. There are literally bikes everywhere in the city. They are chained to trees, posts, or just laying on the ground. Everywhere.

So yes marijuana is legal in Amsterdam along with prostitution. The Red Light District was rather interesting. I didn't really know what to expect before I got to Amsterdam, but it wasn't too sketchy or anything, our tour guide told us it is actually one of the safest parts of the city because there are usually lots of police officers around. Anyway, you are definitely not allowed to take pictures and if you are spotted taking one, someone usually throws your very expensive digital camera right into the canal. I feel like it is basically window shopping for women. Again our tour guide was telling us that the government sees it as prostitution was happening in the Netherlands and instead of some guy taking a woman to a sketchy hotel or some other place, they have a safe room with a panic button that the women can hit if anything goes wrong. So yeah, just another way to look at the scenario.

As for smoking, you can just walk into a coffee shop and buy whatever kind of weed you want. It seems to be a very big tourist attraction though. It's not like all Dutch people are walking around high all the time...The tour guide said because its legal there, there's not really the thrill of doing something that is illegal and he said that there are plenty of people who live in the Netherlands their whole lives and never even tried smoking. So again another way to look at something. I think this is what I like most about travelling. There are so many ways to see things, but if you take yourself outside of your comfort zone, away from people who think like you, it is nice to see the other side and you might even realize that the way you have perceived a topic your whole life is not the only way. :)

As for more recent news I am leaving for Roma tomorrow with API. I think there are around 32 of us going so it should be really fun. I'm excited. We are only there Friday to Sunday so I have a lot to see in a little time.
As for life in Madrid, it is still cold here. Everyone here keeps saying how it hasn't been this cold for this long in like 50 years...perfect timing on my part. haha. I actually kind of feel like a freshman in college again. Going out on random week nights and then having to get up at 7 for class the next morning. This week I ended up going out on a Monday night and Wednesday night until about 4am. Monday night was one of my friends 21st birthdays so we celebrated it at an Irish Pub called Dubliner's. Last night I went to this chic Spanish discoteca called Pacha. It was free for some reason to get in, but its usually pretty pricey and I think famous people go there...well atleast that's what I heaarrdddd. 16 euro to get in and I think 8 euro for a drink. I had a lot of fun and even managed to drag myself to school this morning for my 10:00 class.
Welp, I think I'm going to pack for Roma, I'll be in touch when I get back.