Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I can't believe it's been a month!

Four months in Spain is simply not going to be enough. I am going to need to figure out a way to get myself back here. This past weekend was my first excursion with friends. As mentioned in another post, we went to Madrid. We took the Ave there—it was great! The train station is conveniently located very close to my house (I seem to live close to everything!) I mean really close, not Flossmoor close. The Ave was a breeze. The train was super nice. Traveling by train is so much easier than by plane. The train stations are typically in the middle of cities, which makes it less of a hassle to get there and then easy when you arrive in your destination city as well.

Once we arrived in Madrid we went straight to our oh so lovely hostal. We had a few guidebooks, which thankfully had maps. Right when we got out of the train station, we were a little turned around so one of my friends wanted to ask for help. In España the blind run the lottery system, called ONCE (eleven in Spanish). My brilliant friend walked up to a ONCE booth to ask for directions. I could not stop laughing at the fact that she asked a blind woman for directions. We asked her what her response was and my friend said the woman just said that she wasn’t very good at directions. This is kind of the overlying gist of the trip. That and 24 bathroom stops (truthfully.)

We stayed at Hostal Fabiola. It was pretty nice as hostals go, however the Web site neglected to mention the 5-floor walkup. Nonetheless, it worked out nicely. The two guys working there were very nice. The older gentleman said he was from Sevilla. We couldn’t figure out where the other guy was from—yet alone his nationality. When we arrived he started to speak to us in French. We spoke back in Spanish and then he switched to English. Over the course of the weekend we got many guesses on our nationality. It ranged from French to German to British and best yet (and most offensive) Texas. We would have settled for American, but Texas? Was that really necessary? The girl who guessed that looked like she could have been Amy Winehouse’s twin...along with all of her problems. So, we just brushed it off.

After settling in the hostal, we walked to the Prado, where we ate our picnic lunches in the park before entering. The Prado has quite a few famous paintings, which I’ve studied in various classes. They have a load of Goya’s and Velazquez’s work. I was very happy to see Velaquez’s “Las Meninas.” I’m sure that’s a painting you would all recognize.

Me and my buddy Velazquez outside of the Prado

After the Prado we headed to La Plaza Mayor. From there we went to get pastries (another theme of the trip.) Luckily, we walked everywhere, so hopefully we left somewhat the same from when we arrived. My friend Briana, who I traveled with to Madrid, has a good friend spending the semester there. We met up with her and she showed us around a little. We went to a Picasso and Max Enrst exhibit. I am seriously museum-ed out for awhile! From the exhibit we headed to El Parque Del Buen Retiro and to La Iglesia Real, the church where King Fernando y Queen Isabela were crowned.

This is Plaza Mayor

The Official Bank of España!

From left to right: Julie, Me, Briana and Allison in El Parque del Buen Retiro

El Parque del Buen Retiro

A homeless woman put together this cool toilet paper thing in Plaza Mayor. I think she just wanted money, but we took pictures anyway.

Breakfast one morning, churros not pictured. Warning: jealously is a normal reaction. Grandma, Mom, Dad and Liza, this photo is for you. Only a true Elman would like chocolate this much.

The next morning we headed to El Palacio Real. This is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to. It’s the old royal palace for Spanish Royalty. My trusty guidebook tells me that it was constructed in the 1700s. Spain’s Treaty of Accession to the European Union was signed there in 1985 and it’s also where the Middle East peace talks were held in 1992. The place is truly decorated for a king. Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures inside, so you’re going to have to visit for yourself.

The outside of El Palacio Real

Me with El Palacio Real en el fondo (in the background)

After El Palacio Real we went to El Escorial, which was about an hour train ride out of Madrid. To tell you the truth, I’m still not really sure what El Escorial is. It’s a giant building, but none of us were really impressed. They had an architecture exhibit as well as a lot of medieval art. Part of our disappointment could have stemmed from the fact that we went to El Palacio in the morning—it’s hard to beat that.

The very underwhelming El Escorial

The courtyard of El Escorial with some pretty mountains. The mountains and the gardens (which we couldn't find the entrance to) were probably the best parts of this particular excursion.

Look what we found in Madrid by the train station! If you can't tell by my face, I was very excited.

They have a very similar exhibit to the Cows on Parade that were on display in Chicago a few years back.

We ran into a bit of trouble leaving the train station in Madrid. Turns out you need to keep your ticket stub to pass through the turnstiles. We had no idea this was the case considering we didn't need the ticket stubs for our trip to Madrid, nor the trip to El Escorial. Three of us had saved ours, but my one friend Julie couldn't find hers. Briana and I had walked through the turnstiles and turned around to see Julie digging through her purse. We suggested that Allison and Julie just walk through together. At the time we thought that was a brilliant plan. So after Julie and Allison made it through Briana and I didn't hesitate to get on the escalator. All of a sudden we looked back to see 2 security guards questioning Julie and Allison. Of course our first reaction was to laugh. After waiting at the top of the escalator for 5 minutes with the two of them still being questioned we started to get a little concerned. Our next brilliant move was to run up and give Julie my ticket. Briana ran up and said that she must have had both her ticket and Julie's ticket. Unfortunately, technology was one step in front of us. The turnstiles stamp the time on your ticket when you go through, so my ticket had already been time-stamped. At first the girls didn't want to give up that there really was a fourth, but then gave in. Meanwhile, I was hiding upstairs because I didn't want them to get in trouble. After some more ridiculous questions, the security guards let them go. When we all got settled on the Ave for our trip back to Sevilla we pulled out notebooks to write down various highlights from the trip. Guess what Julie found. Her Ave ticket. Since we were in the same train station, we all joked and said she should run back and tell the security guards. We obviously got a good belly laugh out of that one.

A random pillow fight we ran into in La Plaza Mayor

For dinner we went to this great restaurant that was recommend to us by Briana’s friend. It’s associated with a culinary school so the food is gourmet, but still cheap. We shared an appetizer, a bottle of wine, each ordered our own entrees and desserts, which we all shared and it was 14 euros (cheaper than dinner the night before and 5 times better!)

After dinner we headed to Kapital—a SEVEN-story discoteca. The cover charge was steep, very steep…so we said that once was enough, but we all enjoyed it. Every floor has different themed music. We spend most of our time on greatest hits floor, which was mostly current popular Spanish songs and then the hip-hop floor, which was current popular American hits. As the clock approached 5am we realized the night was coming to an end, especially after a girl projectile vomited on my friends’ feet (this by the way was the second person we saw puking that night….oh and I can’t forget to include the third person we heard puking when we returned to the hostal.) By that time, we had all had enough. The discoteca was still packed when we left. It was amazing how many people were out when we walked back to the hostal. It was as if it was dinner-time on a Friday night.

Sunday morning we went to Dunkin Doughnuts, which is actually called Dunkin Coffee. I was so excited to get a bagel and we got there to find out they don't even sell them. All I want is a bagel! Is that too much to ask for? Apparently so in Spain. After our glorious breakfast we went to La Reina Sofia. We saw Guernica by Picasso and some other famous works. On Sundays it closes at 2:30, so we had to leave and frankly, I had no problem with that. When the museum closed we walked to an outdoor market and then bought bread and cheese for lunch.

After lunch we walked around for awhile, went to another cathedral and then headed to the Museo del Jamón (Museum of Ham...yes, it really exists in case you were wondering...) After dinner we made another quick stop for chocolate con churros (we just couldn't resist it) and then it was time to head back to the train station.

El Museo del Jamón...yes, that's all ham.

I was really proud of all of us with how we handled this trip. We had it planned to the T, and whether it was out of luck or good planning, everything worked out seamlessly. I had to laugh because I feel like I know the city very well now. I was able to guide us without even using a map. My friends didn't want to believe me since I have so much trouble getting around Sevilla. I just kept saying, I promise, I'm actually really good with directions, just trust me. And wouldn't you know, I never steered us wrong. There's just something about Sevilla that I can't seem to get down. Perhaps it's the fact that the streets are just wide enough for a car and twist and turn every 20 feet. Hopefully I'll have a better sense of the city by the time I leave!

Not too much has happened since we got back. Just another week of classes. There were a few funny/cool things that happened today, though. This morning I went to the radio station for my Communications Interest Group. Our group leader works at the station. There are 3 different stations that broadcast from where we visited. Canal Fiesta (party channel, which plays mostly music), Canal Sur Radio (southern station) and then I forget the name of the third. We got to go into the booths where they were broadcasting. First we went into Canal Fiesta. While the music was playing the radio host, Esperanza, was able to talk with us. I asked her to explain all of the screens in front of her and she said that some of them displayed the music that was playing among other things. We were all standing in the room when she said something on the air, I thought that was pretty cool. Oh yeah, the other screens showed the advertisements that were playing. The station goes to all of Southern Spain and the ads vary by area.

After that we went into another room where the producers were for the station I can't remember. There was a window looking into the room where the broadcasters/radio hosts were talking. Our leader gave them a list with our names and one of the hosts read them all aloud...although, regrettably, I didn't hear my name! I must have just missed it. There were several names on the list that sounded Spanish so the host invited them in to talk on the air! The first girl, Antonia, is Cuban and Mexican and speaks Spanish pretty well considering it's her first language. The other girl, Marisol, is from Texas and has no hispanic roots and frankly, doesn't speak Spanish all that well. When the host called her into the room my heart dropped. I have a class with her and know that her Spanish isn't very good. Well, now all of Andalusia knows as well!

After my trek home (this wasn't so close. More like Flossmoor close) I tried to take a nap. I'm sick again and this really isn't normal for me. I think I might be allergic to the cat and that's causing my cold like symptoms. I'm going to try and go to the pharmacy tomorrow for some over-the-counter meds. Tomorrow is a big day. It's CARNAVAL! I'm looking really forward to it and hoping I feel better. Tomorrow is also Alvaro's birthday. I bought some blank CDs to burn for him.

My señora has needed to stay at work late this week because the bank she works at is merging with another bank and they've been having some problems. At least, that is what I thought she said. Since that's the case, the boys have been making lunch. Today, I thought they were going to burn the house down trying to fry some eggs. I'm not exactly sure what we ate for lunch today. It looked like rice with some sort of red/ketchupy sauce, hot dogs on top and a fried egg. Welcome to my life. The boys were having a ton of trouble with the eggs. I think Alvaro put too much oil in to begin with and they it started to pop up and they burned themselves so José Alberto put a towel over his entire arm and stood back as far as he could to flip the darn things. I thought it would be smart if I didn't enter the kitchen considering my past cooking disasters. Overall, the meal was edible.

This evening a friend and I went to services--believe it or not! It must have been the first time in years. Our program handbook had the address for the synagogue and it said that services start at approximately 6pm. Soooo, Julie and I met at CIEE at 5:30 to walk over together. We got to the address listed in the book and decided it could not possibly be a synagogue because it was an apartment building. I tried calling the number listed in our program handbook and no one answered. We kept walking and stopped at a hair salon and they pointed us back in the direction we came from.

Luckily, we ran into these 2 men who were also looking for it. They said that someone told them it actually was in the apartment building. I couldn't really follow the story this man was trying to tell us, mind you it was in English. Sometime it's easier to understand Spanish than English. Scratch that, most of the time unless they're a native english speaker. Neither of the men were jewish, but they were trying to convince the world that everyone is jewish considering the 5 books of the torah are all in the new testament...something like that. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that no one came to the door after we figured out it was indeed the temple. We figured that since we were there, and all dressed up, that we would wait around for awhile. At about 7:10 two men walked up to the door and looked at us sitting down across the street. They asked what we were looking for and one of the men told me I had a jewish face. I really had to thank him for that one. One of the guys told us it was a Mezquita (Mosque) and my friend got all confused. I had a feeling he was kidding and he obviously was.

We followed them in and asked what time services started. Their reply was whenever everyone gets here. So finally at maybe 8pm services started. This temple is supposedly the only one in the entire city and the two guy told us that the congregation only has about 100 members. There were less than 20 people at services tonight. Julie and I needed to sit in a different section, although we couldn't decide if this was another joke, or if was a orthodox/conservative shul. Either way, we sat towards the back. We were the only women there, so we had no one to disprove the theory. We agreed that it was fun, but that once was enough. They tried to convince us to come for Purim and Passover. We'll see.

The walk wasn't that far, but my American feet couldn't withstand my heeled boots. As soon as I got home I sat down with my señora in the living room and told her I definitely wasn't Spanish because I couldn't handle the boots. She suggested that I wear thinner socks, but I'm confident that wasn't the problem.

Well, that's all to repot here. Hopefully I've have some good stories after Carnaval!

Hasta Luego!


  1. pillow fights in don't have that in america!
    miss you!

  2. hehe we have it in new york :) everything sounds wonderful rachel i can't wait to hear about your next few days!