Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Last weekend, I made my way up north, way north. I spent the weekend in the land of the vikings, Norway. It was perfect weather for a nice fall weekend, upper 40s with blue skies spotted with a few clouds. The trees were just beginning to change, so I got to actually see fall in action, which was something I was worried I'd miss during my stay in Spain. Upon arriving, I made my way to my hotel and grabbed some food. I asked the front desk what I had to do while I was in the city, since I didn't have a ton of time. She gave me a few ideas and I went on my way. I made my way towards the city center, stopping at the Royal Palace, where I saw some sharply dressed guards. The inside was closed, because tourist season is over, and I decided to head towards the castle that was on the bay. On my way, I stopped in the city hall, which was amazing on the inside. The walls of the main room were covered in beautiful renditions of the founding of Oslo, and scenes of the citizens throughout the city's history. There was also an awesome room with interesting portraits of the royal family that I liked a lot. While I was there, I also learned that Oslo used to be call Christiana after one of their kings. After the city hall, I finally made my way to the castle, which had beautiful views of the bay, the ships coming in and out, and the islands that dot the coast of Norway. It was really well preserved, with most of the original buildings still standing. After spending some time there, I continued to walk around the area and went to the Museum of Modern Art, which wasn't that great, especially looking back on the other galleries that Oslo had to offer. The city built a beautiful new opera hall about a year ago, and that was next of my list of what to see. I was able to walk around and up the ramps leading to the roof and get a nice view of the city skyline. The inside was pretty awesome too, because all the walls are glass, giving it a classy look. Since it was hard to spend a lot of time at an opera house without seeing an opera, I headed over to the Viking Ship Museum, that I had heard a lot about. I was not expecting what I ended up seeing. When I arrived, I was greeted by two HUGE viking ships that were perfectly preserved and were about 1200 years old. Apparently, they were found in burial mounds for people who had died. Tents were set up on the decks of the ships, and that was where the viking royalty were burried. These were awesome pieces of history that I could not have a chance of seeing anywhere else in the world. After a full day of sightseeing, I retired to my room, and woke up early the next morning to see more of the city. In the morning, I grabbed some food and walked around, finally arriving at the Edvard Munch Museum, who is known for his painting The Scream which has two copies, both of which reside in Oslo. It was really cool to get to see a painting that I've seen and learned about since I was young in person. I guess that's kind of a theme of my time in Europe! I then went to the National Gallery, which had a ton of paintings that I really enjoyed. The Norwegian artist aren't the first that people talk about, but they're very talented, especially their landscape paintings. They looked like someone grabbed a square of nature and put a frame around it. They were simply amazing. Norway has such beautiful scenery and nature, and these artists were really able to capture that, whether they were painting spring, summer, autumn, or winter. After the gallery, I made some souvenir purchases and headed to take the bus back to the airport, where I flew back home to Madrid after a great weekend in Oslo.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
So, since I haven't updated recently, I'm going to do a quick run through of how awesome Lisbon was. Portugal was amazing, mostly because Lisbon felt like a small city, but had everything a big city has. I loved the history and the landmarks that I was able to see, and the city was very clean and the people were very kind. I have never seen a nicer hostel than what we stayed in. The people working there hung out with us, they offered a tapas night saving me loads of cash, they hosted people for the Portugal-Hungary game, and had amazing rooms and beds. They even helped us with planning our trips around the area and told us what we MUST see. We spent our second day in Cascais and Sintra, two neighboring towns on the coast. The areas were amazing, and I was able to see a lot of really cool castles, palaces, and lighthouses. The pace of life and beauty of the cities just made Portugal an amazing trip.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This past weekend, I made my way to Barcelona for Festes de la Merce, the city's main celebration. Thursday night, I hopped on the night bus that arrived in Barcelona around 7:30 AM after a night of very little sleep. One arriving, we made our way to our hostel, stopping at the Arc de Triumfe to begin our sight seeing. After checking in, we headed for a relaxing day on the beach, and my first experience swimming in the Mediteranean. Since I'm not one who enjoys laying and tanning for the day, I decided to walk to entirety of the beach. It was a refreshing time where I just got to take pictures and see what the Barcelona coast had to offer; I even stumbled upon a beach volleyball tourmament.
After the time on the beach, my housemate, Nick, and our friend, Laura, made our way to see some more of the historical parts of Barcelona. We decided to head to the Gothic District and see the Cathedral. I had seen some pictures of it, and it looked AMAZING, so I couldn't wait until it was standing right in front of me. We wound our way through sidestreets and turned the corner to look at the Cathedral, only to see it covered in scafolding. Despite being severely disappointed, we went inside, and that more than made up for it. It seems like every Cathderal I go to has something different to offer me, and this one had a choir singing inside. It was awesome to be in a place built for worship and actually experience a worship service there. After taking a few pictures, I just sat, closed my eyes, and listened to the group praising God. It was a truly unique experience to hear everything in Latin.
The rest of the night, we experienced the festival in the city. There were a bunch of free concerts going on with random Spanish bands that were pretty good, and some others bands that weren't so good.
Saturday morning, we woke up and went to the Mercat de la Boqueria, an open air market that sells fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses, and more. The fruit that they had was AMAZING, and they had a ton of smoothie-esqu juice drinks that were delicious as well. Another cool thing about the market was the fish area. You could tell all of it was fresh, as each one stared straight back at you; the lobster and the crabs were still moving too! After getting a peach and some pineapple, we made our way to La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral by Antoni Gaudi that has been in the process of being built since the end of the 19th Century. I can not express how amazing it was. I could barely take in the entirety of the building. There are two sides that are currently done, Naixement and Passio, that depict the birth and death of Christ. The side depicting the Nativity scene is done in more classical style that seems somewhat Romanesque, while the Passion side is far more modern, with sharper edges and more square bodies. The inside is still a work in progress, but is supposed to be done by the end of next year. They have a museum devoted to the history of the Cathedral where we learned a lot about who Gaudi was and the process that has been taken to build the structure. We also saw a sketch of the finished product, which words cannot do justice too. I have to reserve my spot when it is finally finished in 2030! They also had a elevator up to the towers of Sagrada, which gave an amazing view of the city. You were able to see so many buildings and how the city was laid out. Not having completely gotten our Gaudi fix, we decided to go to Parc Guell, a park that Gaudi was commisioned to design. It was a really peaceful place that was reminiscent of Candyland. There were a bunch of local artist selling their artwork, while some musicians played music that was a perfect soundtrack for the area. We made our way through the park and up to a hill, which had a platform with three crosses, where we sat and had a beautiful panoramic of the city. You could see the coast and the mountains and all of the famous buildings that we had seen in our few days there. We made our way down the hillside and headed to the fire parade that was taking place that night. It was wild! There were people holding poles with giant sparklers that sprayed all around them as people danced under them. There were also floats of dragons that did the same thing. How could I not join?!?! It was a once in a lifetime experience to get to be a part of the festival that only happens once a year!
The next day, I got to see another Barcelona tradition, Los Castellers, groups of people who make pyramids in competitions with others doing the same thing. The square was packed, and even the mayor of the city was there. The group, made up of people ranging from young children to old men, began with less dificult formations and then built up to the grand finale. The men formed a large circular base as three person circles stood on top of them. This continued in layers, until it was to the right height, about 30 feet, and then a single person tower built up in the middle of them. The ring then began to disassemble until all the was left was a single tower of about 5 people. The crowd went wild as the Castellers celebrated completing the tower. We then made our way to the aquarium, which had a ton of awesome fish, most of all, sharks. We spent about 3 hours there, one of which I napped, and then made our way to get food. On the way there, we found the best bocadillo place I have ever been to. They had really fresh toppings and had a bunch of meat options that most places don't. You could get a sandwich with grilled beef, chicken, smoked salmon, or hamburger. It was pretty awesome and really cheap. I wish we had found it earlier!
That night, before our busride home, we went to the Magic Fountain for a fireworks display. It was the end of the festival, so it was the best one of the weekend. The fireworks went really well with the music that they played and the fountain was timed to it as well. They had a bunch of types of fireworks I had never seen before, like ones that exploded in the shape of a flower. Sadly, my camera ran out of battery at this point, and I did get any pictures of it :( As we pushed through the huge crowd and rushed to the bus station to make our night bus, I couldn't help but think how great the weekend was. I felt like I saw so much, but Barcelona still has a whole lot to offer when I go back.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Today, I woke up and decided to head to El Museo Reina Sofia, the modern art museum in Madrid. It was a convenient time to go, because it is free on on Saturdays from 2:30 on. I didn't know exactly what to expect, since it was a modern art museum. I got a few typical things that were a stretch to call art; eggshells sitting on a stool and three flourescent lights that were turned on are some examples. However, one I got to modernist paintings, I fell in love with the museum. Picasso's paintings are AMAZING, specifically La Guernica. I had seen plenty of reproductions of it, but I never realized how big it really was. It was about 12 feet wide, which I didn't expect, and there was quite a bit of documentation of the process that Picasso took, and it was interest to see what his first sketches included that he changed for the finished product. Picasso's commentary of the Spanish Civil War paved the way for the rest of the exhibit on that floor, which included a great deal of war propaganda and other images of soldiers and civilians during the war. I was also able to see paintings from other famous artists, such as Dali and Murillo. I didn't get a chance to see the entirity of the museum, but I know I will be heading back for another visit.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Madrid has been cooling down quite a bit lately. Over the past week, it has dropped roughly 15 degrees Celsius. This has been a welcome change, because it is now about the same temperature as it seemed Michigan was all summer. My week of classes went pretty well, even though we just got into real work. I added a really cool history class on Spain between 1500 and 1800. The professor has made it easy to get adjusted to the class, since I joined a week after it started. I feel like I'm getting a whole new perspective on the things that I'm seeing, because I'm learning about right where I'm living and the cities I'm visiting.
The other highlight of the week was Bible study on Wednesday. I am blessed with the opportunity to lead the small group that's going to end up being around 7 or 8 people. I'm excited to see how God will continue to build this community while I'm in Madrid.
Today, I woke up early, grabbed a train, and headed to Segovia. The small town has a heavy Roman influence, made clear by the city's most recognizable feature, an aqueduct carving its way through the city that greeted me upon my arrival. The size of it left me speechless. From there, I continued to walk and explore the city. Since Segovia itself is not that large, I stumbled upon la plaza mayor fairly quickly. It was a quiet, open area with a lot of food shops all around it. The plaza was comfortable and quaint, but was overshadowed by the beautiful Cathedral that stood next to it. There was so much beauty on the outside, I couldn't wait to see the intricacy and detail on the inside. For the first time, I saw stained glass throughout the Cathedral. It was very well lit and the statues and paintings were a lot different from what I had seen previously in Toledo. You were also allowed to take pictures in this one, so I had a pretty good time not having to be sneaky about it. There was a doorway that led to a garden behind, where I went and met a nice old Spanish lady. The conversation started like any other I've had with locals, asking me where I'm from, why I'm here, if I like Spain or not, but we ended up talking a little longer than normal. I was able to talk to her about what I liked about the Cathedral, why I liked it, and what it means to me as a Christian. I went away from the conversation feeling really good about communicating everything I did in Spanish, because some of my classes had kind of shot my confidence. After my Cathedral experience, I headed to find Alcazar, the castle in Segovia, which Walt Disney modeled Cinderella's Castle after. The castle was pretty awesome and had a lot of history. The views from the windows were spectacular as well. The lady I had talked to at the Cathedral told me there would be a nice "vista panoramica" and she was right! I had a beautiful view of the entire city, and could see for miles and miles in every direction. I exited the castle after soaking everything in and headed to get a bite to eat. I went to a hole in the wall place and grabbed a bocadillo with chorizo, not exactly Segovia's most famous dish, but it was good. The meal that is advertised everywhere is a whole suckling pig that you cut with plates. How this works, I have no idea, but I would love to try it sometime. Apparently, when you're done cutting it, you throw the plate on the floor and break it. Pretty cool, huh? I did a little more exploring after eating, sent some postcards, walked the length of the aqueduct, met some fellow students, and got rained on. I then headed home and relaxed the rest of the day. Tomorrow, I'm planning on going to Reina Sofia to see some of Picasso's work, and then exploring some more. Sunday, the school has a trip to Sierra de Madrid, a mountain range on the outskirts of the city. I'm really looking forward to the rest of my weekend!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
As most of my friends at Wake know, my favorite soccer team is Atletico Madrid. My love for them goes back to when I knew I wanted to go to Spain to study abroad. As I went through the Spanish teams in La Liga while playing Fifa on my Xbox, I came across Atletico. They're not the best team in Spain, but good enough to not be an embarassment every season (I put up with that enough while watching the Lions!) After playing Fifa or 'getting to know my players,' I felt properly equipped to come to Madrid and discuss 'los colchoneros' with the locals, since my time in the city would overlap with the begining of La Liga and the Champion's League. After looking over the schedule, I saw that there was a came against Racing Santander today. I decided last night that I was going to go. I headed out at 3:00 to make sure that I would get there early enough to purchase a ticket. I exited the metro and was greeted by numerous stands selling concessions and souvenirs as they lined the streets directing me towards El Estadio Vincente Calderon. The only way I can really described what I experienced was a Wrigley-esque atmosphere, except cooler. The streets were lined with supporters sporting the red and white stripes of los rojiblancos and holding their team scarves high, a staple of Eurpoean football. The organized chants of the fans could be heard hours before the match began. To properly prepare myself for the game, I went to 'la tienda oficial' to purchase my very own jersey. In the back corner of the store, I found what I was looking for; a 2009-10 long-sleeved home jersey. However, I found that none of these uniforms had player names on the back, which I wanted. Thankfully, the store personalized the jersey to have your favorite player's name and number. I chose Atleti's best player, Diego Forlan, who also happens to be my favorite. I was then ready to enter the stadium fulling supporting my team in my new #7 jersey. I was greeted by Atletico's mascot, Indi, a racoon superhero with an indian head dress. The stadium began to buzz with energy and my education on European football began. Here's the Top Ten things I took away from my soccer experience.
1. People park INSIDE the stadium. You can walk directly out of your car to a concessions stand. Ridiculous.
2. fans are not allowed to walk around the stadium and get to different sections or see different areas of the stadium. There are large, iron gates manned by security that prevent people who don't have a ticket to that area from getting into it. I had to beg the security guard and tell him I was a tourist that only wanted to take some pictures in order to get let through, and that was the second try.
3. Sunflower seeds are a food that should be eaten at any sporting event.
4. Singing and chanting at games increase the value of the game by ten.
5. If players aren't playing well, don't get made at them, just wave your scarf, program, or fist at the managers suite. When an entire stadium of fans is doing this, it seems to get the message across.
6. Whistling is only for bad plays. When an entire stadium whistles after a miscue, the ref and players get the picture.
7. Seeing a goal live is one of the coolest experiences I've had at a sporting event. So is seeing the misery of someone receiving a red card.
8. betting on games is advertised and encouraged in the stadium. I guess Pete Rose chose the wrong country to play in.
9. It's hard to find someone to take a good picture of you with an SLR camera.
10. I have to go back. There is no way I'm only going to one of these games.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
While I did go to a bullfight this past weekend, that was not the only part of Madrid that I experienced. I also had a chance to go to El Rastro, Madrid's main flea market, and El Museo Nacional del Prado, the national art museum of Spain. El Prado took my breath away. I could not believe the beauty, creativity, and size of some of the works of art that I have been seeing in the text books I've been reading for the past 15 years. While I enjoyed such paintings as "Las Meninas" (Valazquez), "The Third of May, 1808" (Goya), and Las Pintas Negras (Goya), I was blown away by all the paintings about the life and death of Christ, and also paintings of the saints. At this point, my favorite painting was El Greco's "The Adoration of the Shepherds" because it showed the humility of Christ's birth, along with how truly blessed the shepherds felt to be experiencing such an event. El Greco even placed himself in the painting; he is believed to be the shepherd on his knees with his back turned. He is probably my favorite artist from my trip, because the unique way he portrayed his subjects that seemed to be ahead of its time.
Sunday morning, I experienced El Rastro. While I wasn't too surprised by the environment of the market that continued to get more and more pack as the day wore on, I was cought off guard by the lack of bartering that went on. It was impossible to change the price of products in any way. While stingy, the vendors were still pretty friendly. I enjoyed walking the streets and seeing some things for sale that I never thought I would see at a market in Spain. There were entire stands devoted solely to socks, as well as vendors who were selling XBOX360 and PS3 games. The homemade bags, dresses, and pants created really cool color contrast as they hung up, so taking pictures was a blast. I ended up getting a few gifts, a Spanish flag for my room at home, and a scarf of my favorite soccer team in Spain, Atletico Madrid. Even though I didn't get to see the sights around Spain, I had a great weekend in Madrid!
Sunday, September 6, 2009
A lot has happened this weekend, but while it's still fresh in my mind, I'll update on my experience at the bullfight in Las Ventas. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. Going in, I didn't know what to expect. I constantly heard of how brutal and cruel it was to the bulls and how dangerous it really was. While I see this point of view, there is a definite beauty in the sport. As I stepped into the plaza, I felt as though I was going back in time. The venue took me back to the day of bullfighting's roots with the traditional garb of 'los toreros' and the rest of the participants. The rows of granite seats brought me into the action instead of detracting from it, even though they were quite uncomfortable. Being in the third row helped grab my attention as well! The simplistic nature of the event was a breath of fresh air compared to the aesthetically pleasing sports games of America. The crowd was mostly composed of Spaniards, but the were quite a few tourists that were easy to pick out (like me!). The event was a series of six fights, with three toreros each taking on two bulls. The elegance and skill of each torero was made evident with their fluid motion, the sequence of actions that each round took, and the individuality and personal flair that they put into the routine. They played to the crowd, talked to the bull, and even through in a taste of their flamenco skills. The fights went in stages, as the bulls began by running around the arena multiple times, in order to slow them down. They were then lured to 'los picardores,' who were knights on horseback with a pike to stab the bull. After being stabbed, the bull would charge at the torero who would avoid his advances as he swooped a cape in front of it. The moments were used to learn the tendencies that each bull had; would it move left or right as it passed? How fast is it? How much room is there between me and the horns? The toreros would then use smaller pikes to stab into the back of the bull as it continued to pass. This is where the true flair that each man possessed came out. The beauty of technique and recklessness that their fearlessness conveyed brought each patron to the edge of their seat. Finally, after each sequential pass tired the bull more and more, the end of the event came. The torero would come so near the bull that he could touch it, pose twice with the sword, charge at the bull, and drive it through its back into its heart. The precision it took to do this was astounding. As the crowd cheered, the bull would teeter and fall. Three horses would then come and drag the bull out of the ring, and the next match would start. While it was bloody and not exactly something I would go to on a weekly basis, I felt as though I experienced, firsthand, what it was like to be a Spaniard. The knowledge and pride that the people, mostly older men, had in the sport made me feel like this was Spain's national pastime. Knowing I was foreign, they were willing to describe the action to me, why things happen the way they do, and what were characteristics of a skilled torero. At the end of the night, the attendees threw flowers and fans to the torero as a sign of appreciation for the night of action that anyone who visits Spain should experience.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Yesterday was the first day of classes at SLU. My Tuesdays and Thursdays present me with ridiculously long days, but I have nice breaks that give me good opportunities to explore the surrounding area. I arrived at my first class five minutes late after being unable to find my classroom and then walking into the wrong class once I found the hall that was mine. Once I finally arrived at class, I sat down and was a little overwhelmed, but not by the teacher or amount of work. My Spanish classes are about two thirds native Spanish speakers or grad students who are fluent. I have no idea what the two classes are going to look like, but hopefully I'll get a little grace for being a visiting student! My history class seems to be pretty interesting. It will be a lot of work towards the end of semseter, but the prof seems to know what he's talking about.
I had about a two hour break between my history class and my second Spanish class, so I went walking around the area around school to explore and take some pictures. There is a lot of really cool graffiti that is all over the area that I took some pictures of. The time walking around was really relaxing and a great way to get away from school and just let loose. I'm sure it's going to be one of my favorite times of the school week.
I then came home and then went to the city center, Sol, after eating dinner. Right after getting off the metro, I could tell I was in downtown Madrid. I really enjoyed seeing true Spanish culture in action. I really want to go back, take some pictures, and experience more of what Spain has to offer. A late dinner downtown until 12:30 or 1:00 seems very intriguing. I liked the idea of just sitting in a plaza, getting some tapas with some friends, and people watching. I'm definitely going to have to go back!
Today, the school is having a BBQ and an activities fair in the afteroon. After that, I think I'm going to head over with my roommate to get tickets to a bullfight that's Sunday and do some more exploring downtown. Tonight, the school is having a tapas night, where they get groups together to go to local tapas bars. It should be a pretty fun time to just get together and meet new people.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Life in Madrid has been great so far. Other than feeling like a freshman at orientation, I've really enjoyed what I've been experiencing. I LOVE Spanish food. I don't know half of what I eat, but it tastes good, so I'll keep eating it. Tomorrow marks the first day of class, which means the 'study' of my study abroad begins. So far, orientation has included most of what it did at Wake along with a few added meetings on Spanish culture. It wasn't my favorite experience, but it did end with an excursion to Aranjuez, a small town just just south of Madrid. The city used to be a spring retreat for the King of Spain, with a palace surround by a number of gardens. Sadly, I left my camera at the appartment and was unable to get some pictures of the scenic area. Overall, it was a good trip and I got a quick nap on the bus ride home. God has really been providing for me as well. He has placed me into a program that has multiple resources that encourage spiritual growth, whether it be small groups, church references, or retreats. It's been amazing to see God begin answering my prayers in the first few days in Madrid.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
As most of you already know, I'm studying in Madrid this semester at the Madrid campus of the University of St. Louis. So far, it's been quite the experience. After spending some time rushing to flights, being sandwiched between a stoic college student and a Russian woman cuddling on my arm, and waiting to be picked up from Barajas Airport in Madrid, I finally arrived at my homestay. As I entered the elevator to get to my 'casa' on the fourth floor, I learned that there was no way that the elevator was going to get me where I wanted to go. Apparently it's completely normal to have one elevator for odd floors and one for even. As I lugged my bags down the stairs and into the appartment, I was greeted by my 'madre,' Teresa, who is housing me, along with her husband, Pepe. Their hospitality and helpfulness have crossed language barriers and made me feel at home over my first two days in Madrid, despite the 90 degree heat. The Taco Bell in the mall cross the street helps too :) I'm filled with anticipation as I wait to encounter how I will be stretched, grow, as well as be blown away with what God can do in my life and others. On the agenda for this weekend is a bullfight and a possible trip to Toledo.
Que Dios te bendiga.
The view from my appartment