Allison in Madrid

Allison is a junior majoring in international studies in Dedman College, with minors in Spanish and political science. Allison is the recipient of scholarships including the SMU Distinguished Scholarship and Marion Tower Study Abroad Scholarship. During spring 2011 she is studying in Madrid with the SMU-in-Spain program and is looking forward to exploring the country’s culture, people and cities.

My last days in Spain

I’ve been back in the States for over a month now, and figured I should update my blog with everything I did during my last days in Spain.

Soon after my last blog post, my roommate Amy and I went to a much-anticipated Champions League soccer match between Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotsput (a team from London). If you’ve read any of my previous posts you already know how obsessed I am with soccer, so I pulled out all the stops and got one of my professors (the amazing Nuria, who is a Real Madrid season ticket holder) to get us tickets. Although I am a Barcelona fan myself, I have to admit Madrid played well against the Londoners. The final score was 4-0, and though I had to put up with some anti-Barca chants, it was definitely worth it.

Later that week began what will have to go down as my best weekend in Madrid. On Friday Amy and I decided we wanted some more soccer, so we went to Real Madrid’s stadium, the Santiago Bernabeu, and took a tour of it. I’m pretty interested in the history of Spain’s soccer clubs, so it was intriguing to compare the history of Real Madrid to the one that FC Barcelona portrays, and how they both relate to the political and social history of Spain as a whole.

Later, since the weather was finally starting to warm up, my roommates and I and some friends from the program went to sunbathe and have a picnic in Retiro Park. Dallas definitely needs a place like Retiro – it is a great place to go and just relax and enjoy the Spaniards and the beautiful scenery.

The next day, after a couple hours in Retiro, Amy and I continued our interest in sports in Madrid and went to the Real Madrid vs Regal Barcelona basketball game. While Spanish basketball has nothing on the NBA, it was still an exciting game due to the tension that always fills the air when any teams from Madrid and Barcelona meet. Madrid ended up winning that game (boo) and so Amy returned home quite happy.

The next day our house mom, Maria, taught us how to cook some traditional Spanish dishes so that we would feel a little less “homesick” when we returned to the States. We learned how to make Spanish tortilla (like an omelet with potatoes), paella, and an apple pastry. Yum! Later that day I decided to meet up with a fellow SMU student whom I had met in Paris, Amrita, and go see an event that has turned into quite a controversy in modern-day Spain: the bullfight. While I don’t necessarily endorse the event itself, I wanted to witness a tradition that has permeated the Spanish identity for centuries and see for myself what it was all about.

The arena in which the bullfight is held, Las Ventas, is very impressive; it is probably one of the most prestigious bullfighting rings in history, and its Neo-Mudejar style invokes a very “Old World” feel when you stand in its shadow. At the commencement of the fight, the matadors and other personnel parade around the ring, showing off their brilliant costumes of plated gold or silver. However, when the actual struggle started taking place, it was a bit shocking; the bull is stabbed repeatedly with different lances, swords, and other sharp devices, and the young men (in our case) fighting the bull actually had many close calls with the noble animal. In the end, I don’t think the bullfight is my cup of tea and I definitely wouldn’t go see it every Sunday evening, but I can respect the importance it holds in the history of the Spanish people.

Later the next week I went with some of my classmates to see a zarzuela, which is another distinctly Spanish tradition similar to opera but with talking also. The zarzuela we saw, Luisa Fernanda, was actually written by the grandfather of our program director, Maria Fernandez-Shaw. It was an amazing performance and I hope to see another one the next time I am in Spain.

On Thursday of that week, my roommates, 2 other friends on the program, and I departed on our weeklong vacation during Spain’s Holy Week. Our first destination was the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. Immediately we were struck by the beauty of island, and very impressed with our hostel, which was better than many hotels I’ve stayed in. Although the weather was still a bit chilly for the beach when we were there, we found ways to enjoy ourselves. We took an old early 20th-century train from the town of Palma to the port of Soller and grabbed a fantastic seaside lunch (I enjoyed some more swordfish). We even braved the chill and lounged on the beach, and watched the first of many matches between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona with other Spaniards in a bar.

After a couple days we departed Mallorca for the eternal city of Rome. Rome is one of the most fantastic walking cities in the world – around each corner is not just an old building, but an ancient one. We spent a whole day exploring the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum, not to mention the wonder that is the Vatican, and spent our nights eating pasta, pizza, and gelato alongside the Trevi Fountain.

Our last stop on our whirlwind vacation was Florence, one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. Similar to Spain’s Toledo, Florence is a small medieval town nestled in the Tuscan hills of Italy. We explored cathedrals, restaurants, got food poisoning, and even visited a distant relative of mine’s bakery. Yet, by the time we returned to Madrid, we were worn out from traveling and faced a week full of finals and our last week in Spain.

It was a fairly depressing week but one also filled with anticipation and excitement to return back to my family and friends in Texas. I successfully completed my exams and bid tearful goodbyes to the people I grew to admire and respect in Madrid. I’ll never forget the friends, places, and hospitality I experienced while I was in Spain, and I look forward to returning soon. Now that I’m back in Texas, I realize that I left part of me in Spain, and that I’ll always have a special place in my heart for a country I now see as a second home.

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The month of a lifetime

barcelona%20006.JPG I apologize for taking so long to update! I have been extremely busy over the past month, and only now have I finally found time to catch up on my blog. Where to start?

barcelona%20030.JPG After the trip to Andalucia and another week of school, we departed to Barcelona the weekend of February 18. Those close to me know how badly I have wanted to make this trip. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the fact that my favorite soccer team plays for this city, but other than that I had heard about its beauty and all the things it has to offer, and thus I made it the one place I had to visit during my time in Spain.

We arrived early in the morning, and after checking into our hostel we set out immediately to trek across the city to the famous Sagrada Familia, the church planned by Catalan architect Gaudi. Since Gaudi died during the early phases of its construction and some of his plans were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, it has taken a long time for the church to be completed. Even when we went, the whole facade of the building was under major construction, and the rumor is that Sagrada Familia will not be finished for perhaps another 10 years (photos right and left).

Nonetheless, I do not exaggerate when I say that my jaw dropped when I walked inside the church – I have never experienced anything like this building, and pictures or words do not do it justice. Definitely one of the more beautiful places I have been in my life, and something that I feel everyone should see if they are even remotely close to the city.

After Sagrada Familia we continued our exploration of the city, which eventually led us down Las Ramblas, a collection of streets in the center of Barcelona that have many interesting things to do and places to see. In this area, we made a detour into La Boqueria, a very well-known food market. There we found all kinds of things, including a wide array of candy, fish, and animal organs (yum).

barcelona%20154.JPG We later walked on down to the port, and, enjoying one of the warmer days we had experienced in Spain so far, simply lay on the dock and soaked in some sun for awhile. Thus, we had an action-packed first day, and the second one was just as fun!

My friend Amy and I (we’re both soccer fanatics, I think we scare our host mom sometimes) spent most of the day at only the best place on earth, the Camp Nou (photo left), home of the greatest soccer team in the world (don’t deny it), FC Barcelona. We went through the museum, which detailed the history of the club, its finest moments, and its hardships. They even had on display every trophy the club has ever won (a lot), a painting dedicated to the team by Joan Miro, and signed jerseys by the likes of Maradona and Messi.

We later toured the stadium, lifted the Champions League trophy, and broke my camera. Definitely a good time! After all this Amy and I met back up with our other friends and we went and spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach, and interacting with a couple of drunk/half-naked Finnish middle-aged men who couldn’t seem to stand up straight (let alone in the ocean).

Allison%20game.jpg The next day (Sunday), after all of our other friends left Barcelona to return to Madrid and get ready for school the next day, my roommates and I stayed in order to attend the FC Barcelona game against Athletic Bilbao that night. This was easily one of the greatest nights of my life – I sacrificed joining my friends in order to sit in the front row to see a team that not only is currently the best in the world, but perhaps the best team in the history of soccer.

And this team definitely did not disappoint me – Barcelona did clench the win until near the end with a brilliant strike by Messi, the best player in the world, and then he came and celebrated almost right in front of me! (photo right) I almost had a mini heart attack, and I was elated when I returned to Madrid the next day to see pictures of me next to a triumphant Messi in newspapers and online.

cadiz2.jpg A couple weeks after Barcelona, we left for Cadiz for Carnaval, a Mardi Gras like celebration that takes place in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. However, we picked Cadiz because, next to the Canary Islands, it is the best place to celebrate this festival in Spain.

We stayed in a hotel in Santi Petri, about an hour outside of Cadiz and very close to the beach. During the day there we walked along the beach and ate strawberries, collected seashells, and explored the coast. At night we got dressed up in our costumes (I was an FC Barcelona player, of course) and took the bus into the city to experience the party (photo left).

It ended up being a crazy night! There were tons and tons of people (it was almost impossible to move), and everyone was all dressed up in outrageous and varying costumes – I think I must’ve gotten stopped every few feet to receive a comment (not all pleasant) about my jersey. Overall it was a fun experience, although I was exhausted the next day when we returned to Madrid.

During the week in Madrid we visited the Sorolla Museum, which in fact used to be the home of the Spanish Impressionist painter but was given over to the Spanish state to be made into a museum after his death. It was very interesting, especially because you can still see how he lived and worked (they even still have his paintbrushes).

The next week we left on our second school trip to the Basque Country. Along the way, we stopped in the autonomous community of La Rioja, famous for their wines. Therefore, we naturally visited a vineyard and learned about the winemaking process, and even got to try a few of their wines.

Later on we arrived in San Sebastian, notoriously known as one of the prettiest places in Spain (although its beauty was somewhat obscured by the rain that pestered us our whole time there). We went out for pintxos (the Basque Country’s version of tapas) with our professors that night, and in the morning we explored the beach and the area around it until it was time to leave for Bilbao.

pais%20vasco%20106.JPG En route to Bilbao, we stopped at Guernica, a small town in the Basque Country that became famous during the Spanish Civil War when German and Italian planes bombed it and its inhabitants into dust. It was later immortalized in Picasso’s painting Guernica, which now hangs in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. While in this town we visited a peace museum and the town hall, and also had a delicious lunch where I tried octopus, liver, and bacalao al pil pil (a special cod dish from the Basque region).

We then continued our trip to Bilbao, and after a night celebrating St. Patrick’s Day we visited the Guggenheim Museum, truly a sight to behold. (photo left) Sadly, our trip proved to be a little too short for everyone’s liking, but we had to return home as the next day we left for Valencia to experience Las Fallas, a celebration in praise of St. Joseph where the people of the town create fallas (float-like objects) and then burn them on the night of St. Joseph’s Day.

Valencia%20079.JPG We left early in the morning of St. Joseph’s Day, and arrived in Valencia around 2:30 in the afternoon. Immediately upon arriving in the city we heard the bursts of firecrackers indicating the festivities had already started, but we ended up spending much of the afternoon in Valencia’s famous aquarium within their City of the Arts and Sciences.

After the aquarium, we took part in the nighttime celebrations, observing the intricate and creative fallas (many are parodies of celebrities) and walking toward the town’s main square, where we observed them burn some of the best fallas every hour, along with witnessing the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen! It was definitely one of my finest nights in Spain so far.

paris.jpg Two weeks later (last weekend) we then went to Paris. I had been to Paris once before in 2006, and it was still as beautiful as I remembered. We walked all throughout the city, seeing Notre Dame, the river Seine, the Pompidou Museum, and even took a glorious nap in the shade of the Eiffel Tower. That night we enjoyed some classic French fondue and creme brulee, and explored the Louvre at night while watching the Eiffel Tower light up from afar. The next day we toured the Orsay Museum, went to the Fragonard perfume shop, walked down the Champs Elysees, and stood under the Arc de Triomphe.

Thus, I am now thoroughly exhausted from my month or so of traveling, and am now enjoying my first free weekend in Madrid for quite a while. Last night I went to see Federico Garcia Lorca’s play “La Casa de Bernarda Alba,” and on Tuesday I will go to the Champions League game of Real Madrid vs. Tottenham. Things are winding down here in Madrid (only one month left) but there is still so much to do. More coming soon!

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First adventures

london%20012.jpg After being sick for the past month, I’m finally feeling better and enjoying Spain more than ever!

london%20022.jpg Last weekend my roommates and I went to London and had a great time. We stayed in a hostel that looked like a jail, but the location was great due to its proximity to King’s Cross Station, where Platform 9 and 3/4 is located.

Upon seeing King’s Cross that first night as we were exploring the neighborhood, we immediately set out to find the hallowed ground of Harry Potter fans everywhere. However, due to construction in the station the original platform cannot be seen – thus, we had to accept a cardboard cutout of the platform hidden in the corner, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

london%20016.jpg After a good night’s sleep, we woke up early and hit the streets of London, visiting such famous sights as Big Ben, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. The next day we wrapped up our sightseeing tour with exploring Camden Market, the Tower of London, and the Tate Modern Museum. After those two tiring days we were thankful to return back to our home in Madrid, although we enjoyed our time in London immensely.

andalucia%20102%5B1%5D.jpg After one short day of school, the other students and I departed on our first official extended excursion to the southern region of Spain, known as Andalucia. Our first stop was Cordoba, home to the mezquita-catedral, whose unmistakable arches and interior are known worldwide.

After that stop, we continued onto Sevilla, where we would be staying for the next day. In Sevilla we visited various places, including Los Reales Alcazares (a Mudejar palace) and the main cathedral (photo left) where Christopher Columbus is buried. We also enjoyed an excellent lunch that included swordfish, and later we were treated to a flamenco show that was fantastic. My roommates and I also did a bit of shopping and visited El Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where the local soccer team plays.

andalucia%20166%5B1%5D.jpg We soon departed once again for the city of Granada, the last stronghold of the Muslims back during the reconquest of Spain by the Christians. In Granada we experienced the cathedral where the Catholic Kings (Isabel and Fernando) are buried and La Alhambra (photo, right), a Muslim fortress/palace that is the second most visited place in the world. Eventually, it was time for us to return to Madrid, and after a long bus ride we were finally back home. Next up, Barcelona!

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A whirlwind first week

AMadrid1.jpeg My first week in Spain so far has been exciting, eventful, and insightful. Although I was a little sad to be saying goodbye to my family and boyfriend, I was soon elated with anticipation of my adventures to come.

I departed from D/FW International Airport for Washington D.C., where I would have a layover before my flight to Madrid. (In photo: Ready to leave at D/FW)

At the airport I met up with the various other students who are on the program with me, and we soon became fast friends as we ecstatically talked of our hopes and expectations.

Madrid2.jpg After a long flight with little sleep, we arrived in Madrid and took a bus to the Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset, the school at which we will be studying this semester (photo right).

At the school my roommates (Allison and Amy) and I met up with our host mother, Maria, and we took a taxi to our apartment a little ways away.

AMadrid3.jpg We settled down in the apartment and attempted to overcome our jet lag, and by the next day we were ready for our trip to Toledo for orientation (photo left: relaxing in our apartment).

After a class on the Spanish language, we ate dinner and later went out to experience Toledo’s nightlife.

Madrid5.jpg We were all excited to visit Circulo de Arte, an old cathedral converted into a bar/discoteca. Although the locals stayed in their houses that night since it was a Monday, we were able to enjoy each other’s company and toast to a new life in Spain. (Photo right: A view of Toledo.)

The next day we woke up early and had another class on the three different cultures in Madrid. During the Middle Ages and before the unification of Spain under los Reyes Catolicos, the people of three different religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – lived in tolerance in the Iberian Peninsula. This coexistence manifested itself through the architecture of the city, as displayed by the religious places we visited – the Synagogue of El Transito, the church of San Juan de Los Reyes, and the Gothic Cathedral of Toledo.

Madrid6.jpg We also got to visit “El Entierro del Conde Orgaz,” a very famous painting by El Greco, an artist who lived and painted in Toledo. After another entertaining night out, we returned to our rooms to sleep, and the next morning we returned to Madrid (photo left: our group in Toledo).

Back at the school we had a class on living with our host families, and then we had the rest of the afternoon free. Since we were a little worn out from our time in Toledo, my roommates and I decided to take it easy and spend the night with our host mom in our apartment. She cooked us a delicious meal consisting of vegetable soup, spinach salad with oranges and onions, a hamburger to remind us of home, and a slice of orange cake with a cup of hot chocolate to top it all off.

The next day we awoke early and arrived at the Fundacion to embark on a walking tour of Royal Madrid. We visited the Palacio Real and then walked over to Plaza Mayor and La Puerta del Sol, the two biggest shopping centers of Madrid. After shopping around for a bit, we returned back to our house for dinner – paella, a salad of apples and carrots, and chicken. Later that night the group went out and explored around the metro station Alonso Martinez.

Madrid7.jpg On Friday we again woke up early and went on an excursion to La Granja and Segovia. Since these two towns are located in the mountains, we got to experience a beautiful drive through the Sierra de Guadarrama range. In La Granja we visited the palace of San Ildefonso, which was modeled after the palace of Versailles. We got to explore its various rooms and the gardens, and afterwards we departed for the town of Segovia. (photo right: In front of the Palacio Real)

Madrid8.jpg We first visited the ancient Roman aqueduct, which is only held together by gravity and is over 2 thousand years old. (Photo left: Aqueduct in Segovia)

We then went to get some lunch, and I had Sopa Castellana, a traditional soup in this part of Spain that consisted of a fried egg, ham, and bread. After some shopping, we went to the Alcazar de Segovia, the palace/fortress where Queen Isabella of Spain was crowned.

We later returned to Madrid, and after a dinner of lasagna and empanadas de atun, the group went out to the nightclub Kapital, where we danced the night away.

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