Wednesday, January 27, 2010

La Vida Española

Well I decided to make this blog because I don’t want to forget everything that I have been doing while I am in Spain. I first got to Madrid last week. I was so jet-lagged that I probably didn’t even know it. I missed a whole night of sleeping and little did I know it, I was going to miss a whole other night of sleeping because Madrid was crazier than I expected. The truth is I didn’t really know what to expect. I met everyone in the group, and they were all so cool. I feel like I have known them a long time even though it has only been over a week. 

The first night in Madrid, I knew that it was going to be a really fun trip. We went to all these different places, talked to random people in the street, and stayed out until the wee hours of the morning. The rest of Madrid was a blur. We went around the city during the day, and a couple of us also took a day trip to Toledo. It was only about 20 or 30 minutes on a train. Although it was very different from Madrid, Toledo was really awesome. It looked like a quaint town from Harry Potter (that is really the only thing I have to compare it to). It was very very old and it was entirely made up of cobble stone streets. We found a quaint pizza shop to grab some pizza and vino tinto (red wine). Every street corner and every building blew me away because I have never seen anything like it before in my life. Everything was so new to me and I saw beauty in every old building that I saw. We returned to Madrid that same day. 

The second to last night I think I went to bed at 8:30 in the morning. The bus ride to Valencia was really pretty too because we got to see some mountains and this crazy looking river. When we flew into Madrid that first day, I was so surprised by the landscape. I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect too snow topped mountains surrounding the city. When I got to Valencia I was blown away again. It is a very colorful city. The buildings are very ancient looking but at the same time it has a lot of colorful buildings like yellows and pinks and reds. We dragged our suitcases to our dorm which was a lot further than we thought but it was all worth it when we got there. All the Spanish kids were so excited that we were here and they were all waiting on the patio and wanted us to come out there and introduce ourselves and they cheered for us. It was kind of corny but it was really cool at the same time. We went out with a bunch of the kids on the first night. They came and knocked on all our doors like crazy people and told us to meet them downstairs in ten minutes. We went to a bar about a block away from where we are staying. It was really quaint and I talked to these two Spanish girls for about two hours while we were there. We talked (in spain obviously) about cultural differences, and they taught me some slang words that are popular to say that I would never have learned in school. I love this place, and I love speaking with the people. We went to a disco-tech afterwards and danced all night. 

On Monday we started school and were introduced to all the teachers. They all seem really laid back and excited to be working with us. One of my teachers said that she likes teaching American classes better because we are more fun than the Spanish. I don't know if that is true, but either way I am excited to take that class. Another class seems really interesting too. It is a culture class so our teacher taught us a few things about Spanish culture that I never knew before. The people over here not only speak differently, but they think differently. One thing I didn't know was that when you say "gracias" (thank you) to a person for doing you a favor, people take it a little offensively. They believe that by you saying thank you indicates that you are very distant from that person. It is understood in the Spanish culture that people do favors for others and that saying "thank you" would be degrading for the person who did the gesture. It is ingrained in the culture that people are very close to each other. This is one thing that surprised me a lot because in the US, especially in the south, it is polite and expected to always say "please and thank you". This phrase just seems very cliché to me now. In this class we are going on a scavenger hunt and we have to find out from different people about their culture. For example, we have to go to a café and find out about the differences between all the different kinds of coffee. When I get coffee here, it is an expresso with whole milk and it is very small. I am so used to drinking a really big cup of coffee and then getting more refills. ALSO, you don;t get coffee to go. This is another cultural thing. When you want coffee, you sit down and enjoy it either by yourself or with another person. There is no such thing as fast food here either. 

Meals and eating is an integral part of their culture. It is better for people and families and your health in my opinion. The food here is pretty good. It is definitely different but I can deal with it. Since I don't eat meat, it has been a little hard to find other options but since Valencia is on the coast, I do eat a lot of fish. The eating hours are bizarre too. To be honest, I feel like I am always hungry. We eat a very small meal in the morning and then another in the afternoon at like 2 or 3. Then the dining hall opens from 8-11. The Americans are always there at 8 along with some other students there. But the other students are definitely Latin Americans, which is interesting. The Spanish don't eat until about 9 or 10. This has taken me a long time to adjust to. The portions are usually small and in America I am used to eating a huge meal and being really stuffed. Here, however, the meals are small and I never quite feel stuffed, which is probably a good thing. 

We went to the Sorolla museum yesterday and it was amazing. I saw a painting that was probably 70 feet long. The Sorolla exhibit usually resides in New York City and we caught the tail end of it. His paintings were amazing, and my favorite was called "El Baile". These paintings were literally the size of the walls of the museum. Taking a picture of them wouldn't even begin to capture the beauty. Today we went to La lonja and Las Torres. We climbed to the top of Las Torres (the towers) and it was absolutely amazing. We caught the city right at sunset and the colors in the sky were amazing. There were blues and pinks and oranges all mixed in with the tiny black specks of birds flying above the bustling city below. The trees here are really fabulous too. I bet in the Spring it will be even better. 

Our walk to school everyday is about 20 or 30 minutes, although it always seems longer because we are in such a large group and no one really knows where we are going, including our teacher Aitor. We are always walking in big circles with large groups, so we are blatantly American. It's okay though because everyone here is really cool. We all get along so well and everyone is down for anything. I feel like I have known these people for so long but really it has been only a week and a day : O 

Right now Caroline and I found a nice café to sit in to get free wifi and drink our cafés con leche.  We don;t get wifi in the dorms which is kinda a pain but maybe that is better because it will force me to explore some cool places to get internet (like this place). I am having so much fun in this country. Oh! and another really great thing is that I don't have class on fridays. Everyone was supposed to get off fridays but they couldn't find enough time or classrooms so everyone except a couple people have classes fridays. Luckily I didn't take the classes that were scheduled for that day so I get a day off : ) I think me and Austin are the only ones that have fridays off. It is still a bummer that everyone can't because that would be conducive for traveling the weekends. 

We are already talking about where we want to go on the weekends.  Amersterdam seems like a popular destination for a lot of the kids here, which is going to be really crazy . I want to go all over if I can. I need to monitor my expenses though because the exchange from the dollar to the euro is really horrible. Its safe to say that you can only get half the money in euros as you would in dollars. This makes buying things really difficult. Everything looks really cool but I don't want to waste my money with the poor exchange rate. 

I might go out tonight and get some tapas with some people because they know where to get 1 euro tapas!! (which is really like $2, but still is a steal). Tomorrow I am going to a Flamenco concert with Caroline and these two French guys, which should be pretty cool. Pues, ME VOY (I'm going). ¡UN BESITO A TODO!