Sunday, March 6, 2011

3/5/11- Going out of order but Carnaval in Ciudad Rodrigo

Ok so I just got back from a long day in Ciudad Rodrigo. Today was the big day in Spain to celebrate Carnaval which is basically Halloween here and in Ciudad Rodrigo they celebrate it with a running of the bulls and a corrida in which the matadors or toreros face-off with the bulls and actually kill them. It was definitely an amazing cultural experience.

I woke up at 6:30am to meet my friends at 7:30 to take the 30min walk to the bus station. We got to the city at about 9:30 and the festivities didn’t start until 11am so we walked around and explored the city a little bit. Due to the corrida none of the historical monuments were open, but we got to walk around the outskirts of the old part of the city on the old walls.

Around 11 we finally found where the majority of the people had been hiding and where the bulls were actually running around. Some of my friends even decided to jump in the giant pen and run around with them. At 1:30 the real “running” of the bulls began, they let loose 6 baby bulls and then 4 big and mean black/brown ones. We were on the metal barricade watching as the stupid drunk young men and women ran from the charging bulls. All of the sudden one of the bulls decides to turn and ram into the barricade 2 down from where we were standing. He knocked into it about 3 times and was almost able to break loose, definitely an adrenaline rush.

Running with the bulls

After running with the bulls we went to find a place to have lunch. We found a cute little restaurant filled with locals and got to sample some of the local dishes. Nothing too different, but I had penne pasta with chorizo for my first plate and then almóndigas (basically turkey meatballs) with patatas fritas for my second and then ice cream and the five of us shared a bottle of wine all for 12 euro each. Gotta love the menú del día, cheap and usually a good amount of food and lets you taste what the locals have.

After lunch we went to stake out our seats in the plaza mayor where they had set up the stadium for the bull fight. We were early enough that we pretty much had the pick of any seat we wanted and so of course we chose the front row that way us short people could actually see. We had made sure we didn’t sit in a section that said reservado when an old woman walked up below us and started basically harassing us. We could understand everything she was saying, but she still wasn’t making any sense, she even tried to insult us while standing in front of us saying that we were dumb Americans who can’t speak Spanish in which Giovanna and I replied saying, “Podemos entender Señora” and the woman went quite and walked away. We turned around and asked a some local men who were sitting behind us what the deal was and they said we were fine to sit where we were so we didn’t sweat it (later they somewhat gave us a complaint/insult saying that “los chinos no entienden nada, pero los americanos un poco” always funny when people don’t think that you can understand what they are saying, but you do). Next this old man came over, whom I think was the woman’s husband, and told us that we could sit there and if she came back and bothered us again to ignore her and say that he gave us permission and to say that we were his “hijos,” basically he was super sweet and the cutest old man ever.

When the man came to collect the money for the seats it cost 15 euro to sit in the front row as opposed to 10 euro for every other row, but it was so worth it. Not only were we up close and personal with the bulls, but also with the toreros. As the corrida began we weren’t exactly sure to what to expect, but it turned out to be the whole shebang. The fancy moves, the use of the capes, the poles to prod the bull in the back, the man on horseback to spear the bull to make him bleed and to weaken him, then the man on bull part where eventually the torero places his sword in the bulls spine and then with a different sword pokes his head and the bull collapses. It was definitely difficult to watch the first one; I had to keep telling myself, this is part of their culture and you are here to experience every aspect. The next three were a little bit easier.

To top off the experience, we had the nicest Spaniards around us. There was one couple sitting in the third row, right behind Libby and Sammy that were continuously answering our questions about what everything meant and what was going on. Also, next to Natalie was an older gentleman who placed a matador cape with a Barcelona fútbol logo out infront of us girls, which Jeff was not too happy about. He knew everything about the corrida, even the names of all of the toreros. I think he was either really amused by us or he really liked us because after the second torero finished and he received his flowers the man reached over and touched the torero on his shoulder and asked if he would give us his flowers, and HE DID! So Rachel got to take home flowers from one of the matadors. Nuts right?

The fourth torero looked really young and so we were all giggling and joking about him, “oh que guapo” and joking to Giovanna that he was her counterpart and the man heard us and after the torero finished and came right infront of us to his crew to clean up our friend asked him how old he was (21). Then, when he received his two ears from the bull for his good performance, he looked directly at us and posed. Pretty cocky move, but pretty cool at the same time. We were almost sure he was going to throw one of his ears at Giovanna and we kept joking about it, but sadly he didn’t, I guess not really sadly because that’d be kind of gross.

The procession
Our Torero
Flores para las americanas from the Torero

All in all it was definitely a cultural experience to say the least. I enjoyed it, especially how close we were to the action, sometimes the bull ran right into the wall below us and we could feel it hit, but I don’t think I could go to another one. It was something I had to experience while here, that is for sure and I am so happy I did, besides if we were to go to one, it would be in a large stadium and we wouldn’t be as close to the action. I’ve never experienced something like Carnaval in Ciudad Rodrigo and I’m very happy I made the trip. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

3/4/11- I'm alive, I promise!

Hey guys I just wanted to let you know that yes, in fact, I am still alive over here in spite of a week from hell and two more to go. I hope after the next two weeks I can get you guys updates dating all the way back to the end of January. Look forward to stories of Lisbon (Portugal), Valencia, and tomorrow I am making a day trip to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is in the Salamanca province about an hour or so away, to see a running of the bulls and to celebrate Carnaval Spain-style, basically their version of Halloween. 

I just want to say how much I miss you all and thanks to those of you who offered some supportive words to me this week, it really meant a lot to me and helped me get through the week. 

I will leave you guys with a little video of some of the things I will hopefully be seeing tomorrow :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

1/25/11- Few days in Madrid

Here we go again a whole other week without writing. This habit has got to stop, too much to cover. I’ll try not to leave the good stuff out.
Museo Taurino

So unfortunately Wednesday (1/19/11), along with almost the whole rest of the group, I had caught the beginnings of a cold. Our afternoon activity was touring the Museo Taurino or in other words the bull fighting museum. It was less than impressive and being sick didn’t help to keep my interest.

The next day after class in the morning we walked over to one of the University of Salamanca buildings to meet with our professors. They all gave a brief introduction about their courses and then welcomed us to Salamanca and said how happy they were to be working with us, blah, blah, blah. Wasn’t really in the mood to sit and listen to them chatter on, especially since in the afternoon I was going to the train station with my friends to buy our tickets for our trip to Lisbon, Portugal on the 27th.

From the train station we went to our afternoon activity. We met at the centro and then walked to a movie theater nearby where we were seeing the Spanish film También, la lluvia, all in Spanish, no subtitles. I was worried when I heard this, but actually understood the majority if the movie and I really liked it. I think it is actually nominated for awards at the Spanish version of the Oscars, the Goyas.

Friday was fairly uneventful. It was the last day of our “curso intensivo” meaning time for our quiz. Fortunately, Gala graded them, but didn’t give us grades, just comments on what to practice and work on. The group had no plans for the night because we were meeting at 8am Saturday morning to head to Madrid.

I left the apartment way before the sun came up and we got on the bus to make our way to our first destination, Segovia. As the bus pulled up we got a perfect view of the aqueduct built by the Romans in the first century. We then took a walking tour of the city; we saw an old cathedral and a synagogue that had been turned into a church during the reconquest of Spain. We then made our way to the Alcázar, a castle built by the Romans at the edge of the city. It was extremely protected because it is surrounded on 3 sides by valleys, meaning there was really only one easy way to get in. We got to go up the towers which had and incredible view of Segovia and wandered around the different rooms of the castle including the armory.

On top of the castle, Segovia in the background

We had lunch in Segovia and sampled some of the local dishes including fabada Austria, essentially a pork and large white bean stew, cochinillo, a fried piglet, and a dessert cake with a layer of cream. The cochinillo is cooked so that the meat is so tender that you can cut it with a plate. The waited asked for a volunteer to try and Gerson stood up. After he had cut the pork, the waiter told him that it was custom to throw and break the plate after, and so he did. The meat was good besides having to pick around all the fat. When the waiters brought out the desserts, Hannah and I were surprised to find candles in ours. Her birthday had been the past Tuesday and mine was the Thursday to come. It was a really nice gesture and of course we were given stupid trick candles that wouldn’t go out. After we ate we got on the bus and drove the rest of the way to Madrid.

The hotel in Madrid was near the Atocha train station, the one that had been bombed by Al-Qaeda years ago. We quickly checked in, dropped our stuff off in our rooms and met in the lobby because we were going to the Prado Museum.

The Prado was about a ten minute walk from the hotel. We entered the museum and our guide, Yolanda, gave us all the “cool” individual cassette players with headphones so we could hear her and she wouldn’t have to be screaming in the museum.

We only saw a small part of the museum, focusing only on the works of el Greco, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco de Goya. We stood in front of the famous Las Meninas by Velázquez which I have talked about before in my blog and I have studied numerous times in Spanish classes. We also saw various other royal family paintings both by Velázquez and Goya. We also saw paintings from Goya’s pinturas negras which had originally been painted on the walls of his home. We spent about 3 hours in the Prado but with all that time we barely made a dent.

Natalie and I outside the Prado

After the museum we headed back to the hotel. I was rooming with Hannah and she and I both decided our favorite part of the hotel was our bathroom. Kind of sad, but it was wonderful, equipped with a continuous flow of warm water in the shower, a magnifying mirror and a hairdryer, it was just fabulous. We are such girls :) 

For dinner, a big group of us went out to a thai restaurant I had looked up on my phone that was just up the street from our hotel. It was surprisingly really good. Due to the fact that by the time we ate dinner and showered it was already pretty late, Hannah, Rachel and I decided to stay in the hotel that night and watch Into the Wild. We were really enjoying it, but all started to fall asleep before we could finish, so we saved the rest to watch the next night.

The next day we spent in Madrid. We started by touring a bit in the bus, driving by the monument for the Al-Qaeda attacks, a big park, the bull-ring, and other little monuments throughout the city.

Our first stop off the bus was the Palacio Real, Royal Palace. It was created in the 18th century by King Phillip V and resembles Versailles, which was constructed by his grandfather Louis XVI. The palace has 2,800 rooms and today is only used for official acts, meaning the royal family does not actually live there. We did a tour through the palace with Yolanda and the headsets again and then had a bit of free time to wander.
Jumping picture in front of the Palacio Real
With Don Quixote and Sancho
We then got back on the bus to finish our tour of the city. We saw the Plaza de España which hosts a large statue of Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho. The tour finished by dropping us off in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, which is much larger than the one in Salamanca, but in my opinion not as pretty.
La Plaza de España

We were then free to tour the city and eat on our own for a few hours. I took this opportunity to spend time with some people I hadn’t really gotten to spend time with yet, which ended up being a group of boys. We walked from the plaza to Puerta del Sol, another plaza in Madrid that’s about ten minutes away. From there we walked up a very busy street to get to Gran Via, or Spain’s equivalent of Broadway with shopping, theaters, and elegant hotels.

At 5pm we met up with Gala, Paul, and Javier to meet Mercedes Alfonso, the author of Nico y Las Meninas, the children’s book I mentioned before. We sat in a small classroom and listened to her talk about herself, life story and books for about an hour. It was funny because she was interrupted not once, but twice by the lights being turned off when one of the boys in the back fell asleep and hit the switch with his head. At the end Gala stared us down until almost everyone had asked Mercedes a question. It was a very long two hours.

We got a nice 8am wake-up call the next day and had to be on the bus at 9 for our drive to Toledo. We first circled the city to be able to take pictures of it from a scenic overview. Toledo is surrounded on 3 sides by a river. It was declared by UNESCO a “patrimonio de la Humanidad.” Up until the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492, Toledo was called the city of three cultures due to the coexistence with the Christians. There are remnants of many synagogues turned churches with Muslim influences in the architecture. There is a monastery decorated in chains as well.
Girls at the monastery, San Juan de los Reyes

Toledo is also known for being the place of residency of el Greco during his time in Spain. His famous fresco El Entierro de Santo Tormé is located in the Iglesia de Santo Tormé, the work is placed directly above the tomb of the Count of Orgaz, whom the painting is of.

We also saw the grand cathedral of Toledo. In the cathedral there was an attached art gallery with a mural painted on the ceiling that catches your eye as soon as you enter. The guide for the day began to describe the scene and then focused on a painted beam of light from a cloud in the center of the painting descending on the people towards the sides. Within the clouds there was writing in Hebrew. He then asked if there were any Jews in the group, me being the only one, I raised my hand. He pulled me into the center of the circle of the group and had me read it and asked me to tell everyone what it meant. I know how to read Hebrew, but most of the time I have no idea what it is I’m reading, but this word I knew off the bat. It was Adonai, or God. This was a semi-proud moment for me, imagine how embarrassing that could’ve been if I hadn’t known… OOF!!

Rachel, Hannah, and I at night in Puerta del Sol
After the cathedral it was time for lunch and a bit of free time to explore the city. We then went back to Madrid and free time to do whatever we wanted with our last night. Rachel, Jeff, Hannah and I decided to explore a bit and walked all the way up our street until we hit the Plaza Mayor and then from there we continued on to the Puerta del Sol to find a nice place to have dinner. We then met up with a friend of Jeff’s, who is studying in Madrid this semester for drinks.

The next day we left Madrid and drove first to Valle de los caídos, Valley of the Fallen, a giant monument ordered by Franco after the Spanish Civil War. It took 22 years to construct the 167 meter cross and church that are built into and on top off a hill. Valley of the Fallen is surrounded by a lot of controversy because many believe it to be a fascist structure to commemorate Franco; he and José Antonia Primo de Rivera are both buried there. However, France decided to have the structure built to burry both parties after the war. Another problem is that it was built by war prisoners. It was a beautiful valley, no doubt about that, but it definitely gave me the shivers. The guide, and us as well, were not allowed to talk once we got off the bus due to government law. This was a bit unsettling that in a place that is supposed to celebrate the lives of those who have passed we are not supposed to talk about them, somewhat perplexing to me. I felt on edge the whole time we were there.

Next, we drove to El Escorial which was built by King Phillip II to hold a monastery, his palace, a church, and a library all in the same place. It is an example of the Spanish Renaissance in its finest. It is also where many tombs of the royal family are kept. We had lunch in the small city surrounding El Escorial and then continued our way back to Salamanca.

Our last and final stop was the city of Ávila. Throughout history Ávila has been a strategic city during the many wars and repopulations of the region. The old part of the city is still completely surrounded by castle walls. The famous mystic Santa Teresa de Jesús is of great importance to the city because this was where she was born and spent a good part of her life. There is a statue of her just outside one of the main doors into the city located near la Plaza Grande. We spent about an hour wandering the city, read some poems by Santa Teresa in front of her statue and had a quick snack of pastries in la Plaza Pequeña and then got back on the bus to stop at a scenic view of the city. Here Javier gave us a sticky, mushy, sugary candy thing that apparently Ávila is famous for (yemas de Ávila). It reminded me of that asian dessert thing, mochi, and kind of tasted partially like flour and stuck to my teeth and roof of my mouth. Not really sure how I felt about it.


We took in the view and a few pictures and hopped on the bus to finish our journey back to Salamanca. It was quite a busy weekend filled with sites to see.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

1/18/11- A week in review

Hey guys, told you I'd have trouble keeping this up to date, I promise I'll try and work on it. 

Well the first week has come and gone and there is so much to write about. I guess the best place to start is at the beginning of the week.

Sunday (1/9/11): I woke up fairly early for me on a weekend (10:30) and proceeded to have a simple, light breakfast of tea, tea cookies, and little muffins. Considering I usually can’t eat a big breakfast this was perfect and is what I have had for every morning since. I then went with Yuka (the Japanese student), Jeff, and Hannah to explore the city on our own for a few hours. We wandered around the more historic part of the city and went inside the “new” cathedral. Hannah and I decided that it reminded us of Beauty and the Beast. It still baffles me how giant cathedrals could have been constructed without modern technology and machinery. It is just incredible.

We meandered back to La Plaza Mayor and saw all of the families congregating after church, with the little kids running around and the adults standing in groups gossiping. We found a little bar to go and commemorate our first full day in Salamanca with our first glasses of sangria. There were so many people all meeting up after church to talk and enjoy each other’s company. It was definitely a sight to see.

When Yuka and I got back to the apartment, it smelled wonderful! Julia had made paella with chorizo, chicken and shrimp with their heads still on :/ It was delicious, despite the unnerving feeling I had when be-heading the shrimp.
In the afternoon there was a meeting with Javier and Gala to walk around the city a bit in order to become familiar with the important landmarks, like various banks, the doctor’s office, and post office. After this, I went back to the apartment for dinner, but after went back out to get drinks and tapas with a few friends.

The next day we started our “curso intensivo” which is the first two we are here all the students from Wake Forest (all 23 of us) are required to take a culture and history of Spain course that also includes a grammar review. We meet in “el centro’ at ten to begin and end more or less at noon. We then usually have some kind of extra activity in the afternoon after lunch. For example, the first night we had a big welcome dinner with all the students, Gala, her husband, Paul, and Javier. It was a long table so it was nearly impossible to talk to people at the other end of the table, but I tried to sit near people I didn’t know before getting to Spain in order to start to get to know other people in the group.

Welcome dinner
The restaurant had already placed plates of various tapas including 3 types of ham, cheese, roasted peppers, and bread on the table, and of course wine. The peppers were just like the ones I have at Grandma Janet’s house, but not to insult her, they were slightly better. Following the tapas were plates of shrimp, again with their heads on… what is with these people and leaving the heads on their shrimp? Creepy! For some reason Thane thought it would be funny if he placed a few of the heads on the ends of his fingers like those weird finger puppets all kids have when they’re little. However, this so was not funny!

The food just kept coming; steak and fries, salad, and then ice cream, tea and coffee. When the waiters finally stopped bringing us food I was so happy, I definitely could not have had another mouth-full. Typically dinners are a lighter meal, so I didn’t expect to be presented with as much food as we were.

After dinner, a big group of us decided to try out the night life in Salamanca. We went to a couple of bars and clubs, but called it an early night at 3am. I know what you’re thinking, 3am isn’t very early, but apparently the bar and club scene doesn’t really start until about 1am and generally Spanish people stay out until 5 or 6am, sometimes even later. Gente loca! Figured 3am was late enough since I did have class the next day at 10am.

The next day I went to class at 10am and in the afternoon we had the first part of our historic tour of Salamanca. We met with our tour guide, Claudia, in the La Plaza Mayor and then walked to the Convent of San Esteban. We saw the old and new chapels in the monastery, the church, el coro (where the chorus sat), and these remarkable stairs that were built so that if there was no wall they would still be floating in the air. They were a design of Fray Domingo de Soto and called “Escalera de Soto” for those of you interested in learning more.
The floating stairs
We then made our way to the cathedral that Hannah, Yuka, Jeff and I had going in on Sunday, but this time we went to the “old” cathedral. I knew that there were two cathedrals when we were meandering on Sunday and we had looked around to try and find the old one, but we couldn’t find it. Turns out 1) you have to pay a small fee to see the old cathedral, 2) the old is not open on Sundays, and 3) you can only get to the old from inside the new. OK, so an explanation for the two cathedrals is the old one was built in the 13th century, but when the population of Salamanca grew, it was too small and there wasn’t enough light so they decided to build the new one; however, this was in the 16th century so the new cathedral itself is pretty old as well. The reason they didn’t take down the old one is because the built the new one right next to it, they actually share a wall and are supporting each other. If the old was to be knocked down, the new one would fall as well.

So with the tour guide we went straight to the old cathedral. She showed us the “retablo” or alter piece, which was a depiction of the life of the Virgin Mary and above it was a Fresco of the, I think it is called, the Last Judgment. This is the Jewish girl trying to remember things about the Catholic religion and its many religious depictions, I do my best. The one thing I didn’t like about the old cathedral, even in all its beauty, there were too many tombs on the ground. They just give me the Heebie-Jeebies! For some reason I have an irrational fear of walking over dead people. So while in the cathedral I kept having to tip-toe and jump to avoid walking on the tombs. My friends were laughing at my silliness, but I had to do what I had to do. So freaky!!

On top of the new cathedral
We then went to a room next to the cathedral that Claudia said was the old study room for students to finish their careers at the University of Salamanca. The story is that when a student wanted to finish their studies he would be locked in this room for 24hours to completely study a list of topics that he was given. He would then have to pick 3 that he would want to present to a panel of professors in his field. They would pick two of his 3 that the student would have to talk about for more than an hour, but less than two hours. After finishing his discussions, the local people were then welcome and could ask the student any question they wanted about his field of study. The student would have to pay each person who asked him a question a small fee. The professors would then decide if the student would pass or fail. If the student failed, he would leave through a side door with his head held in shame after two very long days. If the student passed he would leave through the doors of the cathedral and all his friends, family and the entire town would have a huge celebration in his honor. They would even catch a bull and with its blood write a victor on the walls of the city buildings to commemorate the day. All this partying because he graduated, imagine that! Next we were able to climb up the towers of the cathedrals and be on the roof where there were amazing views of the city. The group then went to get bebidas and tapas.
A Victor for the Prince of Spain

The next day we had the same routine of class in the morning, went home for lunch, then went back to the centro for a class discussion of Nico y Las Meninas, a Spanish children’s book we had to read for class. It’s sad that a group of college students were reading a children’s book, but the reason is because we are meeting the author when we go to Madrid. Plus it is a very historically informative book. After the discussion we continued our tour of Salamanca with Claudia.

The astronaut and diablo
We walked around the “new” cathedral viewing the different capillas and the rotunda. We learned a bit of history about the patrons of Salamanca and that the inside of the cathedral is still unfinished. We then went outside to view one of the many facades. Here we examined the molding and designs and Claudia explained that there was something different around this particular door. It had been restored in 1992 and the architects choose to place various objects on the façade to differentiate the new from the old, other than the difference in color of the stone. He carved an astronaut, a devil figure with an ice cream cone and various animals, all to represent the modern times.

The Facade
Next we went to see the actual University of Salamanca campus. We first saw the fresco that had been painted in the original library, that is now being preserved in a specially lit and climate controlled room, called El Cielo de Salamanca. We then stood in front of the statue of Fray Luis de Leon one of the famous professors of the school and the façade to the main building. Salamanca is a city of many hidden surprises on various buildings. Claudia told us a story about a tiny frog that was placed somewhere on the façade. The legend is that if a student found the frog they would be given A’s in all of their classes. Unfortunately this tale does not hold true today. We then went inside the main building to see the original classrooms which had plaques above each door that were color coded according to subject. We went up a flight of stairs that on the banister had the story of a male student’s determination to succeed with many obstacles placed in front of him along the way, for example prostitutes and parties. On the second floor there was a library. Hate to make another Disney reference, but again totally felt like Beauty and the Beast. It was filled with hundreds upon thousands of hundred-year-old books. Very classy!

We then left the university and walked to see the local “palacios,” the first now houses a public library and its exterior is covered in a cement seashell design. The second is where precious salt used to be protected. After the tour a few of us had a huge chocolate craving so went to get churros con chocolate.
The next day nothing too exciting happened. After dinner, I went to a local bar with Jeff, Thane, Caroline, and Libby to watch a Real Madrid soccer game.

Friday we had class in the morning, but were free in the afternoon so a group of girls and I, plus Jeff, went shopping to take advantage of all of the rebajas (sales). That night a big group (I think it was pretty much everyone) met up to go out. I was home and in bed by 5am which is still considered early.

Unfortunately the next morning I woke up and just my luck, my terrible skin decided to take a turn for the worse. I had somehow picked up an infection that resembled impetigo. Fortunately, I had experience with skin infections. I knew as soon as I looked in the mirror that morning that I had to venture to see a doctor and get it checked out.

When I finally got the courage to get up and out of bed to get dressed, my friend Hannah called me to see what were my plans for the day. I told her the situation and she immediately offered to come with me. We met up and made our trek across town to the hospital. When we got there the fear definitely kicked in. It is one thing to have to go to the doctor normally, but on top of it I had to try and communicate what was wrong with me using my very, very limited Spanish vocabulary of medical terms. My heart was beating ridiculously fast when we walked in the building. First I had to check in and give a secretary my information. I think this was the more nerve-raking part because she was rattling off questions for me to answer and was talking very fast. I took a deep breath, looked back at Hannah for reassurance and got through it, not even having to ask the woman to repeat herself. She then sent us to the waiting room down the hall.

We waited for about an hour and then it was my turn. The doctor was a young woman, probably late-twenties or early-thirties, very nice, and saw me fairly quickly. She wrote out a prescription and directions of use and sent me on my way.

Hannah and I then went on a scavenger hunt through Salamanca to find an open pharmacy because we had hit the siesta part of the day which made it difficult. I think we wandered around for about a half hour before we found one. The pharmacist took the paper and went back and found the prescriptions. I was given a cream and 6 days worth of oral pills and it only cost me 14 euro, not too bad.

After that I went home and spent the rest of the weekend in the apartment. Watched a Spanish-dubbed movie with Julia and then finally watched Garden State. I also finished the whole first season of Scrubs; I’d say it was a fairly productive weekend.

This experience was definitely a reminder of the reason why I want to be a dermatologist and not only that, but also why learning a foreign language is important to me. Also, thank goodness for Hannah being there for moral support and for my parents buying me the internet phone on my plan. From the moment I woke up that day I had been emailing my mom and been able to give her a play-by-play and she was able to talk me through a few of the medical things. It was almost like she had been there with me. Could not have gone through that without either of them.

Tuesday, we all had to dress nicely because after class we were meeting with the mayor of Salamanca. None of us really knew what was going on, but the mayor shook the boys’ hands and double kissed the girls and was talking us up. It turned out to be a big thing in all of the local papers and on the local news. Apparently he and Gala were signing papers to signify that we were, in fact, students of the University of Salamanca and of Spain. After the politics we were privileged to experience the view from the balcony overlooking the Plaza Mayor from right under the clock, a view that only certain people ever get to experience. It was very cool to look down on all the people standing there looking up at us.

Well that about sums up that week, as you can see it was a pretty busy one. Up next classes and a trip to Madrid :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1/8/11- Day 1

What feels like the never ending day finally comes to an end, thank goodness! I think I slept of a total of maybe 3 hours in the past 30 something hours. Jet lag better not haunt be or I’m gonna be very unhappy. Got into Madrid a little before 8am, before the sun even came up. Customs was easy and my luggage came without a problem. There were about ten of us on the flight from Philly. We all got our bags and headed towards the meeting spot to find Doctora Gala, the program director, and Javier the onsite director. Also, Doctora Gala’s husband, Paul a history professor at Wake, is here for the semester with us. We hung around the Madrid airport until a little after 12pm because we had to wait for all of the students to arrive before we could get on the bus and make the 2 and a half hour drive to Salamanca. 
The group waiting in the airport
Even though we were all zombies, Javier asked us to try and not sleep during the bus ride. Too bad that request didn’t work, almost everyone crashed as soon as we got moving. I woke up just in time to watch us enter the city and drive past the new and old cathedrals which are breath-taking.

Shortly thereafter we arrived at the drop off area to meet our home-stay families. With nervous butterflies we all got off the bus and one by one our names were called out to step forward and meet our families. Julia, mi madre, was there to pick me up. As I had told many of you she is 72 years old, but by here persona and liveliness you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. Noticing my ridiculous amount of stuff, she called a taxi to come and pick us up because it would have been a half hour walk to the apartment. Considering my exhaustion, I think that was the right thing. My hand, arm, neck, something would’ve broken off if I had to walk all the way to the apartment. I would’ve been miserable.

Ten minutes later we were at the front door of the apartment. It’s a cute little, or I guess not so little since there are 4 bedrooms, apartment. As I said there are 4 bedrooms, a bath room with a bathtub/shower, a small kitchen, a small dinning/living room, and another room with a sink and toilet that also has the washer in it near Julia’s bedroom. On the original housing sheet it said that there was a “41 year old hija” as well, but it turns out her daughter, Clara, is an English teacher at a school in Valencia and is only here on vacations. However, it is not just Julia and I in the apartment. There is also a Japanese student, my same age, staying here. Her name is Yuka and she’s really nice as well.

The first thing Julia asked me when we got to the apartment was if I was hungry, due to the jet lag I wasn’t very, but I thought it would probably be a good idea to get some food in my stomach so I said “un poco” and quickly she entered the kitchen to begin cooking up a frenzy as I unpacked and began to make my room into my own.
My room
Churros con chocolate
All the Spain tour books aren’t kidding when they say lunch or la comida/el almuerzo is a big meal. She served me first a large helping of cooked green beans, then bread, a salad of just lettuce (which is what a salad is here), pork cutlets and she also put out a bowl of fruit which after I couldn’t even finish the rest of the food I didn’t touch. At 6pm there was an optional meeting of the group in la Plaza Mayor, the main center of the city where everyone meets. We walked around the older part of the city towards the university and then ended in a small chocolate focused restaurant that serves a dish that Spain is known for, Churros con chocolate. The churros are not like the American churros we eat with all the sugar, but they are more like funnel cakes or doughnuts, grease and all, and the chocolate is a real thick dark bitter-sweet soup. It was sooooo good, but deathly rich and definitely not something I could eat every day. After the snack or la merienda, the group did another traditional Spainsh activity, “tomamos un paseo” we walked. We got a mini-tour of the city which ended back in la Plaza Mayor at around 8pm.
La Plaza Mayor
The majority of the group then went to purchase our local phones so that we all could be on the same plan and not have to pay per minutes to call each other only the initial connection fee. The phone I bought allows me to receive calls from the US for free, but for those of you interested in calling me, check your rates, it can be very expensive. If you wish to call me, I suggest buying a calling card, or the easier way to contact me is via email or facebook. But back on topic, after about an hour all of us had purchased our phones and went our separate ways back to our casas for la cena, dinner.

I can’t believe I made it through the day, but now I’m ready for a good night’s sleep, YES! Luckily I get to sleep in, yay! The plan for tomorrow is to explore the city a bit with Hannah and Jeff, two of my friends, and then there is a group meeting at 5pm. So far it is only a bit awkward to be living in someone else’s home, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it in due time. Julia has been great so far and she’s done this a bunch of times so I’m not worried.