Friday, April 16, 2010

Lisbon

How come traveling can never be easy? Budget travel gets you what it gets you ... from point A to point B ... with no luxuries in between!

My friends and I had a 7:30 am flight out of Madrid to Lisbon ... so we wanted to get to the airport around 6 ... only problem is the first train from our town to Madrid is at 5:30 ... so we'd get to the airport at about 7:00 .... no dice.

So, we did what apparently ever other american college student living in Spain was doing ... took the 11:30 pm last train into the airport and slept there! When I say literally every college student was doing this ... the entire check in area of RyanAir and Easy Jet (two low budget european airlines) was literally lined with sleeping bodies. It looked like a mix of the end result of a concentration camp or pre school nap time on steroids ... still haven't decided which. But, that's what you get for $20 flights!

We landed in Lisbon only about an hour later and checked into our hostel. We had so much time that day, plus 3 more days ... we really didn't know what to do with ourselves. My friends wanted to nap so we ended up wasting about the entire afternoon which I wasn't happy about, they woke up just in time for dinner ... which was at a buffet all you can eat for 5.95 ... good enough! Then we went out for the night. Lisbon has this amazing drink ... its sort of a fruity twist on a mojito ... instead of crushed mint leaves its crushed strawberries, sugar, and a special Portuguese alcohol ... i'm definitely going to have to learn to make this when I get back to America.

The next day we did the hop on hop off bus tour, went down by the water, explored a little ... but my friends got a really bad sunburn because they just wore tank tops so then we had to search for sunscreen and lotion for them! we ate dinner down by the water and then again they napped (they napped a lot ... it wasnt my most fun trip) after two kind of boring days I made the executive decision that we were going to the beach. One of my friends was too sunburnt and stayed home ... i really didn't care, i wanted to go to the beach so i hopped on the train and i went. It was the coolest thing ever! I've never swam in an ocean the first week of april! not only that but this beach, called Cascais is the western most point of europe ... i had to hike over a lot of rocks and up some long streets to get there, but i was determined to stand on the westernmost point ... aka the closest i've been to home in 4 months. It was definitely worth it. Cascais was an amazingly beautiful, bright colored beach town. The entire train ride went parallel to the ocean so it was cool to see how the beaches changed the further west we got.

I have always known that I love the beach, I swim in the water in Maine when its 60 degrees, I'm a Pisces, we love the water, we love watching the waves and getting lost in day dreams ... but after two kind of grouchy lame days seeing the ocean really had a magical way of lifting my spirits. the two friends who came with me were still very sunburnt so they couldn't really lay out in the sun but i parked my butt down in that Portuguese sand and napped, read, went for a swim, and really enjoyed myself!

Anyways, i wish i had more to write about regarding lisbon except it wasn't the most eventful trip. Don't get me wrong it was absolutely gorgeous weather ... 75 and sunny, and the city itself was affordable, and quite pretty but my friends and I clashed a lot about what to do and where to go ... which is always frustrating when traveling in groups. oh well.

Then on the way home our flight got delayed ... as a result we missed the last train out of Madrid back to our town ... but we had class in the morning so we couldn't sleep at the airport. we took the metro from the airport to a big train station, transferred there to another metro which brought us to a bus port, caught a bus to the center of our town and then had to take a cab from the center of town back to where we live ... not so fun! Which made me realize I have no idea how im going to get from my dorm to the airport when I leave for good because I have two fifty pound suitcases! can't walk far, nor can you really do public transportation because you cant wheel two suitcases thru the turnstiles at the metro. oh dear! looks like I'll have to splurge for a 50 euro cab ride.

in other news, I bought a dress for the ring dance which I'm quite excited about! I have a fitting on Monday so I'll post some pics then. I still took lots of pics of portugal, it was really beautiful, i just didn't have a lot of fun ... except the beach ... that was amazing!
here's the link: lisbon pics

Monday, April 5, 2010

Paris ... again



Well, it's 10pm at night my time and I'm in the airport because I'm too cheap to buy a hostel for a night when I have to get up at 3am anyways to head to the airport for my 6:30 am flight.

Since I have quite a few hours on hand here I figured I could update my blog:

the night before we left for paris, wendy, elizabeth and I (wendy is elizabeth's friend) went to a flamenco show, so although my photo album is titled paris, there are some spanish pictures in it as well)

Paris was quite an adventure!

It all started when my sister's luggage was overweight by 200 euro -- 266 us dollars (no idea how much it actually weighed but I knew it would cost a lot!) she went to one counter and I to the other. I only had a small bag, maybe 20 lbs at most so I asked the man a the counter not to put my bag away until I knew my sisters bag was going to go on the plane, because if not I'd have to squeeze some of her stuff into my bag.

I also may have spoken in Spanish, made a few innocent mistakes on purpose, got him to smile and laugh ... then in English explained that if her bag is overweight not only will she cry, but she wont come on the trip and I've been dreaming to go to Paris for my entire life ... and as my predictions would have it ... the woman at her counter would not let her get away without paying 266 usd .. so Elizabeth declared she would not go on the trip

I waved her over to me to see if we could readjust some things and at least get the cost down when the man at my check-in counter snuck her bag onto the conveyor belt and told her not to worry about the cost because "paying that would really ... really be terrible" phew! crisis averted ... or so I thought.

So we made it to Paris no problem, but had to take a 1.5 hour bus into the city because we flew into a small airport outside of the city. That was no problem. However, once off the bus we had to take the metro to our hotel ... Wendy and I have longer legs than Elizabeth and we got on the metro first, as she was getting on the doors began to close and in a panic she let go of her suitcase!!! the metro took off, wendy, me, our luggage, and elizabeth were on but elizabeth's very large, very heavy suitcase was still sitting on the platform! wendy got off at the next stop, while Elizabeth and I backtracked back to the original platform to hope the bag was still there. Wendy htought maybe a nice person would bring it onto the train so she was going to watch for that at the next stop. By the grace of god a very nice woman brought the luggage over by the police stand and stood with it, took nothing from it, put nothing in it and was really just being a nice french person ... so why does everyone always say the French are rude??? :)

well, once we got settled into our hotel it was about 5pm, we walked down around to a big hotel, went to the post office, window shopped and then met 2 of Elizabeth's friends for dinner. She studied in China with these friends and hasn't seen them since so it was fun for her to hang out with them and they were very nice people to me as well. After that Elizabeth and her friends stayed out while Wendy and I went to bed.

In the morning we essentially covered Paris in one day ... we hit the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, Moulin Rouge, and Notre Dame!

Now, when we got to the Eiffel tower we learned it was cheaper and faster to climb 1/3 of the way up and then take an elevator to the top. after staying in line for about 1/2 hour we bought tickets and began to climb ... right away my fear of heights kicked in but I knew I couldn't stop or I'd be stuck ... afriad to go down and afraid to keep going up ... so I tried my best to look only at the stairs and not the very distant city or river below me, and we made it up. It was about 40 degrees, windy, cold and rainy though so when we reached the stopping point we grabbed some hot cocoa and peeked in the gift shop. Then we had to buy tickets to go up the elevator, waited in line about an hour for that, and then up we went!

i found it really funny that at the first stopping point after the climb up the stairs they had pay phones! you could call home just to say "hey, i'm on the eiffel tower!" I thought about it, but it would have cost about 15 euro so no one in America got calls from me :(

After the eiffel tower we stopped for lunch and to warm up!! i got french onion soup mm good and of course, a crepe. the picture of the crepe didn't upload onto flickr for some reason so here it is:

mmm banana, nutella and whipped cream!

well after lunch we headed to Notre Dame which was breathtaking but so dark inside it was hard to take pictures! After that we headed to the Lourve but unfortunately it was closed so then we walked down the very expensive high fashion district which ended with the Arc di Triumph which celebrates Napoleon's conquests ......


....... and now a homeless man walked into the airport and is setting up his bed next to me, so i'm going to close my computer and get walking.

write more in a minute!

aaaanddd i'm back. i walked to a chair next to customer service and away from the door to the street. much better!

anyways,
the next day we got up and went to Easter Mass at another famous church called Sacre Coeur or sacred heart in english. There were 13 priests (well one was a bishop) and 30 nuns leading hte mass. the nuns sat on either side of the altar and sang in latin while the priests all participated in the mass. There was an ENORMOUS ENORMOUS pipe organ that when played literally shook the pews. The combination of the 43 religious leaders, the dim lights, the candles and the booming organ music really could have convinced any non believer ... it was really something extraordinary to experience. I wish I could describe it better ... the music shook my to the core and the mass, though in Latin and French, still captivated and mesmerized me. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the church but feel free to google it, it's really quite a beauty.

Then we went for a nice lunch, headed to the Louvre ... again ... but because it was the 1st sunday of the month there was free admissions ... and therefore over crowding and although it was only 2pm they weren't selling any more tickets for the rest of the day!!! so, we walked around a bit more, headed to the hotel, packed our things and at 5pm we went our separate ways. Elizabeth and Wendy hopped on a train to Germany to continue their trip and I checked into a hostel in another area of the city.

I sat in the lobby for a bit on the internet then went to a gourmet grocery store and bought myself some dinner, downloaded a movie and called it a night. I was called a "beautiful little baby" by enough strange african men in paris to know that I shouldn't really go out to a bar or a cafe by myself once it got dark and I didn't have my bearings. Luckily I ended up sharing a room with the most pleasant girl ... she's in Delta Gamma at Northwestern. We spent a few hours talking about our sorority and showing each other pictures of our chapter houses, reading the DG magazine, and then went to bed.

This morning I got up and went to the Louvre ... and finally got to go in! i saw the Mona Lisa, a few other famous paintings and just really walked around amazed at the amount of people inside and amazed at the sheer size of the museum. All in all I had a great trip. I think by now I am museum-ed, palace-ed, garden-ed, fountain-ed out for a few years ... but wait ... in 3 days I am going to Lisbon, Portugal with a few friends. But I'm hoping its going to be more of a relaxing on the beach, not doing anything kind of trip because I'll tell ya ... for all it's glory, traveling sure is exhausting!

so, as my trip is winding down, i can officially say I have seen the crown jewels in London (in 2001), the Mona Lisa, eaten french bread in France, a canoli in Italy, seen Flamenco in Spain, been to the Vatican and Notre Dame in one week, in four weeks visited Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Paris all while still attending class three days a week -- I've accomplished a lot, more than a lot of people can say in a lifetime ... oh and did I mention in 2001 I also went to Ireland, Scotland and Whales .... and the truth is not a single one of these trips would have been possible without the sacrifices my parents have made. I would never have been able to take advantage of these amazing learning and growing opportunities had it not been for my parents and I am truly truly grateful... to show my gratitude ... I'd like to say I'm bringing them home some nice Spanish wine, or a memento from the Vatican ... instead however, I plan to come home broke, with out any gifts because man is traveling the world expensive!!! :)

hope you enjoy the pics, here they are: click here for paris photos

Sunday, April 4, 2010

paris

we took a tram ride across madrid. ... sort of reminded me of family vacation '93 to Smugglers Notch ... vermont/madrid ... same difference haha.
more touring madrid.
just 'hanging out' in a park in madrid.


well, i just typed an entire post and the finicky internet in my hostel decided to delete it ... i'll re-type it later but in the meantime here are my photos:

ps ... paris looks even cooler in black and white so you'll notice that a lot of my photos are not in color!

also i must warn you, it was very dark inside notre dame so it was hard to take photos.

for easter mass we went to Sacre Coeur ... sacred heart in English ... it was a very beautiful church set high up on a bluff but we weren't allowed to take photos inside the church :(



Happy Easter!



Tuesday, March 30, 2010

convent, hospice and a prison



so i failed to mention in the last post that abby lives in a converted convent ... that is, it was converted into a hospice ... and now its an apartment ... interesting. Liz lives in a converted prison ... also interesting. Well on my train ride home from Viterbo back to Rome last night I wrote another blog post so here it is:

Italy, Monday March 29th


Liz and I woke up around 10 and made some breakfast. Then we walked around her town stopping for a cappuccino and a real italian canoli! mmm. mmm. good!


a real italian canoli!


Liz's town, which is called Viterbo, is a completely fortified city with an enormous wall separating it from the rest of the world. She told me that during WWII her town was used a German camp and many of the old buildings dating back to the middle ages were ruined by bombs. However, the history goes back further. The town was also home to the Pope back in the day of 4 popes (2 in italy and 2 in france). She showed me around the old churches the old winding streets and eventually we stopped for lunch.


Liz showed me a restaurant that is in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the largest menu -- over 300 pasta dishes!!! The menu was at least 20 double sided pages long with pasta dishes ranging from pasta with meat sauce to pasta with egg, bacon, sardines, chili powder, you name it … they put it on pasta.



I wanted to take a picture but it was such a small little italian restaurant I don't think they would have liked it … it really didn't seem touristy at all. We both opted for different shrimp dishes and the portions were HUGE. I don't think I've ever eaten so much pasta in my life!


After lunch we tried to walk off some our our meal and then eventually wandered back to Liz's apartment. Liz and I are sorority sisters so it was great catching up since I wont see her now until the Fall semester. We spent the afternoon video chatting and talking online with some of our sisters back home and they were really happy to hear from us. Now I'm on the train ride heading back to Rome … it's about two hours.

me, on the train, love that my mac takes clear pics!


Although there are about 32531542642 open seats, a strange italian man of course, had to sit in the seat next to me. I was sleeping until I heard someone whisper something in Italian near me … thinking maybe I slept for longer than I thought, I woke up in case my stop was approaching. Nope, it was just the middle aged italian man next to me wanting to know my name. He said something in Italian and I tried to explain I did not understand him. He then started speaking English … ugh!


What is your name?

-Diane (i say diane because most people have trouble pronouncing deanna with a long A and I hate being called Di ana)

Beautiful name,.

-m, k.

Like you a beautiful girl.

-m, k. then i look out the window

what are you doing here? visiting this beautiful country?

-yes.

ah but its not as beautiful as you.

-m, k.

then he asked me my age, realizing i was far too young for him he got up and walked away. ugh, italian men … not my favorite.


next time I come to italy I'm not packing any makeup, or a hair brush, or deodorant, maybe if i smell bad and look funny they'll leave me alone!


Now tonight I should arrive in Rome around 7:00 pm. Spend some time with Abby but then get a cab around 4am to bring me to another train station. From that Train station I get on a bus that brings me to the airport. Then I land in Madrid around 9:00 am and head to meet Elizabeth at her hostel and show her around Madrid until I can't keep my eyes open any longer. After that, finally back to Alcala to rest up and back into Madrid again the next day to show Elizabeth more of the city.


Italy is beautiful, but I sure do miss Madrid where I can speak the language and get far less attention!


hasta luego!

Monday, March 29, 2010

here's the horse!

so i found a picture of the horse who gets attacked by the bull: here he is!





Roma!

hello my darling followers,

Although I still have about 3000000 million billion photos from Barcelona and the second half of Matt's visit I'm currently in Rome with some down time so I thought I'd blog about my visit here while it's still fresh in my mind.

Unfortunately Flickr the site I put my last photos on does not let me upload more than 100 per month (for free) so i'm searching for another site right now!

However, let me tell you about my trip to Rome:

Day 1: Good Friday, fly from Madrid to Rome
so I have 2 train stations in my town that can take me to the metro that takes me to the airport. The first, is very small and close to where I live (about a 10 minute walk) however the train only runs from there every hour. The second is in the center of town and the train departs there every 10 minutes but you have to take a bus to get to the center of town. My original plan was to take the close train at 6:49 am so I would leave my apartment at 6:35. However when I woke up around 5:30 I decided I didn't want to walk alone to the train station ... it's safe and all but it's a long straight path thru a long dark field and I knew my imagination would get the better of me if I did that. So, I looked up the bus schedule, saw that one arrived at 6:40 and decided to hop on that and go to the center of town.

Well, I was at the bus station around 6:35 and waited for the bus. 6:40 rolled around, still no bus. started to get nervous. 6:41: realized it was good friday and the start of school vacation: what does this mean? different bus schedule!!!! aka no busses before 7:30 AM!!! ahh!!! so i had to run, in my worn out talbot's flats I've had for 3 years ... so cute but the sole is literally flopping off of them ... with my suitcase across a field ... and by the time i strapped my suitcase onto my back had only 6 minutes to get there ... and the next train wasn't for an hour!

so, through the field I ran, passing old men out for morning walks staring at me as though I were crazy, lost my shoe, didn't have time to put it back on, ran with one shoe on, the other in my hand, and a suitcase on my back like a backpack and magically made the train ... with a full minute to spare!

whew, the worst was over! ... or so I thought.

check in at the Ryan Air counter was no problem but when I got to the gate ... a full 45 minutes before the flight took off, everyone was already in line! so, not understanding why, I still jumped in line with them ... then ... the plane was late getting in by 45 minutes. ugh, after standing in line for 1.5 hours in my broken shoes I handed the woman at the counter my ticket and she tried to tell my my suitcase was not carryon acceptable. I explained to her that the man at the check in counter told me it was but she made me shove it into this little "if your bag fits in here it can come on the plane" box ... and it, being a soft duffle, almost fit but needed a little push. she told me it wouldn't do and I'd have to pay 35 euro ... about 50 us dollars to check it. I told her that if her airline allowed me to have a personal item and a carryon this wouldn't be a problem but my purse had to be inside my carry-on so that's why there's so much stuff in my suitcase. she did not care. Naturally, I looked at the young, male, flight attendant next to her, explained that i'd be more than happy to rearrange a few things, put on an extra shirt, or anything to get my bag on board. then I smiled. He let me pass right on thru :)

the flight was fine ... the seats didn't recline and the drinks and food were for a price but I survived. Then Abby, my friend who I was meeting in Rome, had class that day so she gave me directions to get to her place. Only problem was, she gave me the wrong bus number.

She told me to get out of the airport ... take the bus that cost 4.50 ... to Termini the main train station in Rome... check. (though a bus line or name would have been more helpful, but that's abby's direction style ... love you ab!) haha.

then unfortunately her friend gave her wrong info regarding bus numbers. in spain I never feel like a fish out of water b/c i speak spanish, but in Italy I really was uncomfortable not knowing how to buy a bus ticket or anything and being by myself, but i survived, bought a bus ticket and got on what I thought was the right bus. Abby told me to "get off when you see a hospital on an island ... they don't announce bus stops or anything" well, I couldn't see an island nor a hospital and by the grace of god a young girl on the bus spoke both spanish and english! she told me i should get off at the next stop and get on the 280 ... or 281 (she couldn't remember) bus and that will bring me to the hospital. I had walking directions from abby via the hospital. However, the 280 bus pulled up and he told me he did not go to the hospital. confused, and without a map I debated going to a souvenir shop to buy a map or to just hail a cab ... i decided cab. I told the cabby the name of the piazza in which abby's class is located and he plugged it into his gps ... only 2 Km away ... sweet deal!

so he dropped me off as close as he could get me b/c the street was closed for construction. he told me how to walk there but as a second opinion i decided to ask the police man standing on the corner ... he said I was going in the wrong direction ... pointed me a different way. anyways, eventually, about 3 hours later i found abby ... and then ... realized ... i left my cell phone in the cab! oh well ...

abby had class until about 5 so at 5 we went to the grocery store to buy dinner supplies, walked around her neck of rome, she took me to a place with a great view, we made dinner, hung out with her ... 16, yep 16 roommates and went to bed early.

next day, up at 6am for a full day field trip. we went to 3 italian villas and gardens outside of rome with abby's class. It was pretty cool ... one was called monster park and all the architecture was enormous stone creatures, another was the Pope's summer palace, and the other I honestly forget, but we had a picnic lunch there and it was quite cool. That night my friend from my sorority who is studying in Italy as well, met up with us for a traditional italian dinner. Then we went out with Abby's friends to celebrate her birthday.

so, i really loved the trip we took that day ... but i DID NOT DID NOT DID NOT DID NOT like the italian men at the bar we went to.

i know in spain i sometimes get a lot of attention for being tall and blonde, since everyone is short with dark hair ... and at first i found that unsettling, however I got used to it and realized it was more friendly than creepy. Also, in my small town everyone is just SO nice to me. at the butcher he says "yes boston what can I get you" and the cheese guy calls me "pretty blonde" and that's okay ... but the italian men are NOT OKAY.

in spain, they stare. in italy ... the act like vultures. literally a man would come up and ask if he could have a picture with me, i'd say no ... he wouldn't take no for an answer. I'd walk away, he and his 5 friends would follow. they'd circle me. they'd try to tell me to drink from their drink (like, hello, am i stupid or something? i know i have blonde hair but i am far too intelligent to fall for any of your little tricks). I would literally have to push my way out of their little circles, but each time id make sure to step hard on one of their feet just to show them that I wasn't just playing hard to get. Luckily after the first few times it happened abby's friends would catch on and would stand all around me so that italian men couldn't come near me. sometimes I think I should dye my hair brown.

Today abby had homework so my friend Liz and I did a walking tour of rome. We stood outside the Vatican for Palm Sunday service which was really quite a spectacle, although we couldn't get inside to see the service we were able to people watch the tens of thousands in the crowd and it was really something special. We didn't go inside any of the buildings since I've already booked a trip to Italy (wheel of fortune) in August I don't want to spoil the fun of that trip. Then Liz and I went out for some pizza, did some shopping, spent too much money, and hopped on a 2 hour train ride back to her little town called Viterbo ... which is a walled in ... fortified city .. it's quite cool. Tomorrow she and I are going to tour her city and then tomorrow night I head back to rome, spend the night with abby until about 3 am... get up for my flight back to Madrid to meet my lovely sister Elizabeth and give her a tour of madrid ... if I can stay awake!

touring is so much fun, but so exhausting!!

here are the pics: okay well the internet in my friend's village is too slow to upload pics, so i'll post those on a new blog later!

also if anyone hears of any photo contests, I have a few I'm proud of (of the 900 i've taken over the past 3 months ... and I'd like to enter them into contests, so let me know if you hear of anything!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Matt's visit part 1: The Bull Fight

Last week Matt visited and we had a wonderful time in both Madrid and Barcelona. I took many many pictures so this is just the first installment. However, to get you up to date, his visit schedule went something like this:

Saturday: 3:30 pm Matt arrived at the airport ... visitors are not allowed in Baggage Claim so I had to wait patiently outside of baggage claim behind a barricade for what seemed like hours. As soon as I saw him walking toward me I got so excited ... but then he detoured to the left and I had no idea where he went! true to form, he stopped at the ATM! before even saying hello! That night we enjoyed a traditional Spanish dinner at my favorite restaurant in town and the waiter, with whom I've made friends (probably a bad sign) decided to play a trick on us and handed us a bill for 100 EURO! i almost died. Matt didn't get the joke since he doesn't understand spanish, but luckily the real bill was underneath that one. Then we strolled down the main street of my town and stopped for an icecream. The next morning I had him up and out at the crack of down (his jet lag complaints didn't stop me!) and we headed into a fun filled day in Madrid.

Sunday: We started the day heading to a ticket counter to pick up our Bull Fight tickets and I got to impress matt with my Spanish. Looking at Matt in his American clothing and NAVY sweatshirt! the man at the ticket window immediately started speaking English so I kindly asked him to speak in Spanish because I needed to practice and matt was probably a little annoyed because now he was out of the loop but also impressed that I could understand everything! then we headed down to the Naval Museum. It was arranged by monarch, each room went chronologically by ruler and by the state of the Spanish navy at that time. We saw some cool ships, paintings, and old tools.

After that we were going to head to the Prado, the famous art museum but it was an absolutely gorgeous day outside so we decided to head to the Parque de Buen Retiro instead. We had packed a picnic lunch and Matt, of course, was already hungry even though we had breakfast 2 hours ago, so we strolled through the park and layed down under a tree by the pond and ate our lunch and drank our juice boxes. Everyone else around us brought bottles of wine ... wish I had known that was legal!!! then, jet lag kicked in and we took a nap in the park for about an hour and got a sun burn!

after that we strolled up Calle Mayor (main street) in madrid and stopped at Plaza Mayor (the main plaza .. i've blogged about it before) it was so beautiful out there were hundreds of tables set up outside so we sat for a while, watched the street performers and split a pitcher of sangria and a traditional spanish snack. Then we hopped on the metro and went to the Bull Fight. After the bull fight we headed back to Alcala to a birthday party for one of my chinese classmates. Since they don't really speak english we had to speak spanish for the whole party and poor matt was completely lost but he made the best of it and tried to communicate and they all loved him!

anyways, now here are the details for the bull fight, so you know what you're seeing in the pictures!

here's how it works:
1. there are about 6 assistant matadors (made that term up) who first tire out the bull. They have pink and yellow "towels" (dont know the technical term) that they wave to get the bull to run from one guy to the next. the closer they get the bull to their bodies, the more the crowd cheers. this goes on for about 10 minutes. sometimes the bull gets distracted and charges and then the little matadors run for dear life to a wooden wall they can jump over. that's kind of funny.

2. once the bull is pretty tired a big old matador (past his prime and can't run anymore) comes out on a horse. the horse is blinded and totally covered with thick padding. the assistant matadors direct the bull over to the horse and unfortunately the bull usually tries to ram the horse ... so it's good that his eyes are covered and he's blinded or he'd probably buck and get into a fight. the matador on this horse has a very very long spear and he stabs the bull between the shoulders good and deep. This is the main wound. I know it sounds terribly sad, and at first it was, but you cant help but get caught up in the spectacle of it all after a while.

3. once the bull has his deep wound, the assistant matadors distract him again so that the horse and big old fat matador can exit. then, a young, skinny matador ... THE MATADOR ... comes out with 3 sets of 2 furry hooks. They are about 2.5 feet long each, covered in pretty colors but have long hooks on the end. his job is to get the bull so close to him he can stick these hooks right in the wound ... 3 sets of 2 matching hooks.

4. then the assitant guys come back out and tire out the bull some more.

5. then THE MATADOR comes back out, this time with a sword. he throws his hat in the ring .. literally ... and makes a big spectacle about getting the bull extremely close to his body when he waves his red towel thing. One time, the bull nicked him and the assistant guys had to run out and distract him so the matador could get back up on his feet! then, after he puts on a good show he stabs the bull right in the open wound! if he only went thru the skin and didnt get a good stab, he is bold enough to pull his sword back out and restab him ... though this takes a while b/c by now the bull is VERY angry!

6. then, the assistant guys come back out and about rock the bull to sleep by waving their pink flags until the bull is too tired to stand. his legs will give out under him and he'll fall to the ground. then the matador comes back out and stabs the bull in the head to ensure that he dies quickly.

7. two very fancy decorated horses come out and the bull is tied to something that is attached to the horses and they drag him away. The bull is then used for meet and sold the next day in the markets. ... tongue, brain, testicles, and all! (bull testicles are a delicacy)

we saw about 6 bulls that night, ranging in weight and height but it was really quite a show. the first two bulls i had to watch die really turned my stomach but after that you sort of get into the roar of the crowd.

also incase you didn't know ... to kill ... in spanish is MATAR so Mata-dor translates to Killer.


well. I'm off to Rome for the next 4 days but will blog more when I get back!

have a great weekend!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sevilla




A few weekends ago I visited Sevilla, my most favorite city thus far in Spain. Located about 6 hours south of here my friends and I took the high velocity train, stopped for the afternoon in the city of Cordoba, and then continued to Sevilla. (more on cordoba in the next blog post).

Sevilla, or Seville, in English in a warmer climate than madrid and the streets are lined with palm and orange trees ... talk about heaven for me! although it downpoured the entire time we were there we still went on some walking tours and saw the sights. I even conquered my fear of heights and climbed up to the top bell tower of the largest cathedral in Europe to check out the view. The church was really fascinating on the inside as well -- Christopher Columbus is buried there.

After the church we went to Alcazar, a palace in Sevilla with history dating back to the Moors who lived in Spain before the Spanish inquisition when the catholics drove them out. To me, the palace was kind of boring but the immense gardens that stretched for miles were unbelievable. They even had a winding labyrinth of 6 foot bushes ... it was pretty fun to get lost in those.

After that we stopped at a bar where at 3pm they serve up free Paella ... a traditional spanish dish to all of the guests. The paella takes 4 hours to cook in a large pan ... which they cooked outside as to lure in guests -- worked for us!

while the people in Sevilla were very nice their accent was SOOOO hard to understand. They do not pronounce the S's that appear on ends of words .. much like Bostonian's drop R's at the ends of their words. but when I barely understand spanish as is, when you switch up the language and skip letters in words ... you totally lose me!

i've decided to upload my photos to a new website so you can see whole albums and not just a few select photos. to see photos from sevilla (bare with the 40 random photos I took of Oranges) copy and paste this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48700314@N08/sets/

i'm still trying to work out the kinks so please email me de.leblanc17@gmail.com if it doesn't load properly.

in this album .. of over 170 photos you'll find about 40 of oranges. 3 of a random couple i stalked because I thought they were adorable, about 20 of the view from the tall tower, and other random things I find adorable.

hope you enjoy!

check back this week!

hello all!

i finally figured out how to get my old pictures onto my new computer. once i'm done editing them ... that's right, none of my edits saved ... ive taken 900 photos since i got here ....

so, once i re-edit my 900 photos i will start posting my blogs again. i hope to have one up by tomorrow night and one every night after that until i'm thru.

thanks for being patient!

love,
Deanna

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

computer no more

well, it´s official '--- my comptuer has just used up its 9th life. no more turning on, no more functioning, at least ... no more annoying problems? anyways, luckily my awesome family and friends in the USA are ordering and sending me a Mac in just a few days. It´s really hard to be without a computer when it´s you´re only form of communication with home -- and what´s worse is the computer lab at my university is down, too. right now i´m in the comp lab at my residencia but there´s a 30 minute time limit.... ughhh!

so, check back in about 2 weeks and I´ll have updated everything:
1. celia´s birthday party
2. toledo
3. cordoba
4. sevilla
5. matt´s visit
6. amy´s visit

did i mention my boyfriend and my best friend are visiting in the same week???? couldn´t be more excited!!

well, enjoy owning personal computers while I go back to the time of 10 years ago when computers were for sharing.

chao chao!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

chinese observations


As I've mentioned before, I take classes with a countless number of Asians --- mostly Chinese but also a few Japanese. (Chinos y Japoneses -- in Spanish) I've observed many things about them and apparently they've observed many things about me. Sunday night I attended a birthday party for one of my classmates, who's Spanish name is Celia -- her Chinese name is symbols and I don't have any idea how to pronounce it! During the party we shared observations we learned about each other and here they are:

1. Celia knows some English. She thinks its okay to call everyone "baby" and to slap them on the butt. Every morning she slaps me on the butt and says "HOLA BABY!" and every day at the end of class she says "See you later baby" (in english) followed by another slap. I had to explain to her why this wasn't okay -- she said she had seen it in movies.

2. Celia loves to watch Friends -- subtitled in Japonese and does not find any of the men attractive. In China, muscles are not attractive. Also in China, you do not want a handsome boyfriend. If he is handsome, he will cheat on you. Celia thinks her boyfriend is very ugly but very nice. She also told me he is very fat and has "chest like woman" -- aka man boobs however i met him at her party and he was very nice and very thin! When i asked her about this she said "no he has a gut, ill lift up his shirt and show you!" i had to tell her that would be rude.

3. the Chinese never ask questions in class if they are confused.

4. the Chinese giggle quietly to themselves because they do not like to make scenes. Celia is the exception. I don't know if she was raised in a liberal household or what but this girl has Gumption! she cracks me up she isn't afraid to ask questions, to call people out if they say something stupid and she even jokes around. Just the other day she told my friend Kristin "Kristin you have a pretty face but you walk like a man!"

5. my other chinese friends told me "Deanna your hair is very rare!" I assumed they meant because it's blonde. but when I asked why they said -- because some days its pretty and straight but other days its ugly and curly and pulled back! I explained to them that my hair isn't naturally straight and I'm far too lazy to wake up early every morning to straighten it. They did not understand why. oh well.

6. Asians do not drink -- with some exceptions of course. But the girls at the party did not know how to use a wine opener and when they bought wine because Americans were visiting the party -- they pushed the cork into the bottle with a knife.

7. I am very tall.

8. I ask too many questions in class.

9. I am thin, but I am only thin because I am tall. they say if i were short I'd be fat - I don't know what they mean, but they are very obsessive about their weight.

10. the chinese have been taking classes for 2 trimesters and yet speak far better Spanish than I do -- when I tell them I've been taking it for 6 years they nearly fall over and cannot figure out how I am not fluent -- it was hard to explain that I only studied it 3 hours per week at Maryland since here we take classes 6 hours a day.

11. Celia and I made powerpoint presentations to share with eachother about what is considered attractive in our respective countries. The men she showed me looked like women in my mind, but to them that is attractive -- if men have muscles it means they are manual laborers and are not rich -- not okay in China!

12. In China, you wear red to your wedding. The groom's parents pay for everything and the Bride's parents give the groom a gift -- usually, depending on their income, furniture, a car, or a house.

anyways, these girls crack me up! this past weekend they even invited me to a party! (details to come!)

Su Ordenador es de mierda!


translation: "your computer is sh**!"



who said this? not me! but the very kind Dell Technician who came to fix one of my many computer problems. If I havent called, emailed or facebooked you in a while, I apologize. my computer has been playing lots of tricks on me including not letting me add photos, not recognizing when my camera is plugged in, not playing sound out of my speakers, not allowing me to use the mouse, not recognizing if I plug in an external mouse, muting my microphone without a command to do so, not allowing my itunes to function, and the list goes on and on.

The dell technician came and installed a new mother board -- however that only fixed the worst problem -- my computer blue screening and shutting down once about every three hours. he cannot fix the software problems but mutltiple phone calls and countless hours on the phone with microsoft have fixed a few.

so, apologies that I haven't blogged in a while. however today my computer is in a good mood and thus far has allowed me to add pictures so look out for some new blog posts!

however i would like to go ahead and give myself a pat on the back for communicating with the Dell technician. Don't forget that I'm in Spain and therefore the computer nerds here speak only Spanish. he knew some french, and only simple american phrases. I know enough Spanish to get by, but I know nothing about how to translate computer vocabulary. Luckily he was able to understand me enough to tell me that my fan belt was full of lint! apparently you are supposed to spray compressed air into your vents (WHEN THE COMPUTER IS OFF!) every 1-2 months. if not, your computer fan will not function properly and your computer will overheat and shut down frequently -- in the 3 years I've had this computer I've never once cleaned the fan! well, at least I targeted one of the problems!

love,
Deanna

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carneval in Cadiz

This past weekend we took a group trip to Cadiz, about 8 hours south of where we live. About 100 college students, both spanish and american, loaded onto two coach buses for a weekend of "Carneval" or, as our tour guide said in broken English "To Make Party". Carneval is essentially Mardis Gras -- it's a 2 week celebration leading up to Lent but the largest fiestas are on the weekends. Cadiz is the most famous place to celebrate Carneval in all of Europe!



our itinerary was as follows:

Friday:
12 pm leave Alcala for Madrid
2 pm board busses in Madrid for Cadiz
-- realized i sat next to a bunch of kids from Amherst College who think my dad is really cool and they don't even know him. They think I'm cooler because I know part of the Amherst fight song. I, however, did not think they were that cool.
10pm arrive in Cadiz, check into hotel
11pm board busses for Downtown Cadiz. Friday isn't the big fiesta night but our tour guide arranged with a bar to let us all in for 12 euro and 2 drink passes -- it was essentially like being at an american bar becuase it was with my american bus.
4:00am leave for the busses.
4:30 am arrive at hotel.

**side note, i'm not a party animal -- it's very normal in Spain to stay out as late as 6am**

Saturday:
10 am: wake up for the free breakfast at the hotel
10:30 am: went back to bed
2:00 pm: my friends and I woke up for the day, spent some time back in Cadiz shopping and looking around, worked on some homework.
9:30 pm: boarded the bus for Cadiz
9:30-4:45 am -- crazy crazy Carneval in Cadiz. It is what is called "botellon" -- party in the streets. 10s of thousands of people partying, completely in costume. it wasn't just young kids either. the ages ranged from about 18-65. the bars closed their doors and opened their windows. they served drinks into the streets and food vendors were everywhere selling ham, hot dogs, sausage, nuts, candied apples, etc.

Sunday
we boarded the bus around 1pm and arrived back in Madrid at 9:30 then hopped on the train back to Alcala -- where we witnessed pickpocketing for the first time!! it was a group of four people, one tried to touch my purse but I kicked her in the stomach! i'm always alert ha-ha. Unfortunately for the American tourist next to me, they took $300 out of his pocket.

Before:



After





we asked him for directions, he seemed to know where he was going!



table of wigs and masks for sale by gypsies!



one of my fav. costumes of the night -- matadors with their "bull". (their carrage was full of Mahao -- spanish beer)



some classmates



it's difficult to see but this is a huge plaza crowded with people.


notice -- doors of bar closed, but alcohol for sale outside.



every street was as crowded as this one!

a marching band of clowns -- to some people, a very scary nightmare.


-- a very old tradition of carneval, choruses performing satirical songs about the national government and poking fun at recent news. However, the accent in Cadiz is very different from Madrid and I really couldn't understand them!


again it's a little hard to see, but this street goes uphill. The carenval starts at the bottom of one hill, goes up the top and down the bottom again (on the opposite side) and ends at the beach. this street is PACKED with people playing music, singing, etc.



anyone want a midnight snack?

El Escorial



A few weekends ago my friends and I visited the palace called San Lorenzo del Escorial. It was the palace of King Philip II (El Rey Felipe II). This palace was COMLETLEY different from El Palacio Real. Nothing about this palace was ornate, except the monestary where the kings are buried, the library, and the church. This is because Felipe II was a control freak, who had terrible difficulty delegating tasks and dedicated 20 hours of his day to working. He had no time nor desire for ornate luxuries, but as always, the royal family and God came first -- thus those rooms were ornately decorated. Per ususal we were not allowed to take pictures inside the palace, so the ones you will see are from outside. However, my friends snapped a few photos inside while I stood as teh lookout so I'm copy and pasting some photos they took as well.

One cool thing about this castle is it's about 2 hours away from Madrid in a tiny little sleepy town. Felipe preferred this because he had fewer distractions and could focus on his work. However, imagine if you were a messenger from the city and had to travel to El Escorial -- it would take a full day! The town really looks like it's stuck in a time warp. It's very small, mountainous and cold!! you can check out more about the town here: http://www.sanlorenzoturismo.org/ingles/default2.htm

The palace is at the base of a mountain but at the top of a hill ... if that makes sense. it was about a 2km walk up hill from the train station to get to the palace and we had to walk up the path of the prince -- it looked like something right out of a shrek movie!

walking up the path ... wishing we had super powers to get us there more quickly.

buried in the monestary is Don Juan, Felipe's brother. THE DON JUAN. the don juan all other don juan references regarding womanizing and chivalry have related back to. he's just been chillin' inside that box in the basement of the unused palace -- for the past 400 years. oh did i mention the palace was ABSOLUTELY FREEZING. i forgot insulation did not exist in the 1500s.

part of the monastery -- this is as ornate as the decorations get. Like the marble floors? built by hand circa 500 years ago.


the bottom of the path. playing with the close - up feature on my camera. The tree bark was very unusual! also the trees leaned to the left. as you will see in the next few pictures.


looking back from the top of the path.





quite a view!



i took these pics from a 2nd story window -- look how far you can see ... even on a cloudy day!

and finally ...



these were taken from the patio in front of the palace ... as you can see everything starts climbing up the mountain behind the palace.



one thing Felipe did quite like was Art. Velazquez was his private painter and among the palace are works of art from many many famous spanish artists. Some works of Goya, Velazquez and others are not originals though, those hang in the Prado which I also visited last weekend, but I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Colors of Madrid



The past two weekends my friends and I have taken day trips into Madrid. Most of the buildings are very ornate, but very plain in color, however here is a selection of some really colorful sides of the city. Although very old, the city is very much alive. I love how quaint it feels, it lacks the skyscrapers and flashing billboards of America and feels very walkable and friendly. My friends and I have walked for seven hours each weekend just trying to get lost in the culture and eventually we find our way back to the train station! Hopefully by the time the trip is over, I'll know Madrid like the back of my hand and be able to fit in in the less touristy areas.



its hard to see, but there's a mural painted onto the side of this building.

colorful gov't bldg near the royal palace.
in Boston, the city drains its fountains for winter. In Madrid it's not supposed to be cold enough that your fountains can freeze ... i think this little lady is definitely frozen solid!
close up of the street performer. The head in the middle was a real guy, the other two were puppets on his hand. they'd scream at you when you walked by, and sometimes they'd stay nice and still and then wait to catch you by surprise!


Also, here is a video of Plaza Mayor (Main Plaza) conveniently located off Calle Mayor (Main Street). It's alive with street performers and tourists, but is a really lively place to pass through during your day.




video


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Futbol!


The most comfortable chairs I've ever had the pleasure of putting my arse on, ( and probably ever will) are bright blue, perfectly ergonomically correct, outdoors and oh ... cost tens of thousands of dollars per chair. Think you can find these in the royal palace? think again. you find these on the sideline of Bernabeu stadium -- the arena that hosts the royal spanish soccer team, the team with the best track record in the entire world, Real Madrid!

This past weekend we toured the stadium of the Real Madrid soccer team ... remember, real = royal in spanish. What I learned was that Real Madrid is a full club that also houses basketball, tennis, track and numerous other sports teams as well. Seeing so much soccer memorabilia in one day made me pretty sad -- I realized I really miss playing! I'd play in Spain but I'd rather not make a commitment to something -- I'm trying to live less scheduled and more spontaneously while I'm over here -- I didn't even bring a daily agenda book which is a shock if you know how much I love a good plan to start my day! Also check out the hair cut/color -- not bad for not knowing any hair terminology -- although I thought I asked for long layers, apparently I asked for a big cut -- oh well, live and learn!

one of their trophies looks like a boat!
the best players in the world do not shower together, they each get personal, massaging showers. what's not shown is the whirlpool tub right in front of this!
one of the many walls of the trophy room.
old school goalie gloves and ball.
the gloves of Casillas, the current goalie and best goaltender in the world.
old school uniform.

gahhh what a beauty!
me and the team!