Cheyenne SMU-in-Spain

Cheyenne is majoring in political science and English with a minor in Spanish. She is spending the fall semester in Madrid with SMU-in-Spain.

Ancient Greece, communism and Old World Bavaria

The last part of my all-inclusive tour of Europe consisted of Greece, Prague, and Germany. Greece, unfortunately, is out of tourist season right now and was disappointingly boring once we got past the Acropolis and Hadrian’s Arch. It was fantastic to be on vacation and actually getting some rest, though! It was also a relief to use a Metro system with only three lines, compared to the 12 or so that Madrid has. Strangely enough, even though most Greeks speak English, they all seemed to think that I spoke Greek … ?

Chey07-arrow.jpg Prague was so fun – definitely one of the best-held secrets in Europe. There aren’t as many touristy things to do and see there as in London, but I did get a chance to visit the museum of communism (fascinating if you’re a political science major like me) and the Prague Castle, which is the biggest castle in the world. The picture is of me shooting a medieval crossbow inside the weaponry room in the castle (it should be noted that I shot all five arrows on target, unlike the rest of my group!). Prague also has a beautiful bridge called St. Charles Bridge that we spent as much time on as possible, despite the bitter cold. If you get the chance to go, try the garlic soup. Every restaurant makes it differently, but it’s delicious!

chey07-germany.jpgSpeaking of food, every dish in Germany was phenomenal. Sausage, sauerkraut, and roast meats as far as the eye can see – all topped off with an entire LITER of beer if you’re a local and have the stomach for that! All the restaurants have long tables that you share with other groups. If I spoke a word of German I might have even attempted to participate in one of the many and very boisterous drinking songs we heard throughout the night.

In Germany we rented a car (about half the size of a compact car in America, mind you) and drove down the Romantic Road (yes, it’s really called that) through Bavaria to Fussen, a town at the foot of the Alps. Gorgeous landscape like you would never believe – a small two-lane road through little, classically “German” towns and orange fall forests, all the way up to the looming, snow-capped mountains. In Fussen is the castle that inspired the Disney Cinderella castle. Let’s just say, I have found my home away from home if I can get all the tourists (there were hundreds) out. It’s quite literally a fairy-tale castle nestled in the mountains with hawks flying around the towers and the picturesque town at its base. I half expected to see Prince Charming emerge and get into one of the horse-drawn carriages that carried tourists up the mountain … Germany was my favorite part of the trip, and I would definitely go back!

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London Calling

chey2.jpgSorry it’s been so long! Our fall break took up these past two weeks, and I’ve been trekking around the whole continent trying to see as much as possible: London, Greece, Prague, Munich, Fussen and Frankfurt! I’ll start with London:

chey3.jpgLondon was, to say the least, impressive. So much to do and see – you could stay there for a month and not get the whole effect. However, I was going to give it a valiant effort: I made it to the Texas Embassy, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge, the Imperial War Museum, the House of Lords, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum (that houses the Rosetta Stone), New Scotland Yard, St. James Park, saw a play, and, of course, had fish and chips and took one of those cheesy pictures in a telephone booth (a tourist must). Most importantly, I had a Dr Pepper and almost fainted from relief (they don’t have my favorite drink in Spain!).

The Texas Embassy is a Tex-Mex restaurant on the site of the original Texas Embassy back when we were our own country. It made me pretty proud, and they even had an SMU flag inside! Plus, that was the first chili con queso dip I have had in nearly three months.

chey1.jpgAs an English major, I enjoyed seeing the extensive literary history everywhere I went. In Westminster Abbey there is a “Poets’ Corner” to honor British authors; Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and Ben Jonson are all buried there. Also, ironically, Charles Darwin is buried in the cathedral. The Globe Theatre was also pretty amazing, even though it is not the original as the Globe burned down multiple times during Shakespeare’s time. Still, getting to see the balcony where all the Romeo and Juliet history was made was very cool.

chey4.jpgDespite the literary side of the city, London is filled with sites and artifacts hundreds of years older than even the first thoughts of the United States. The Tower of London is one such place – it is hard to picture a time of kings and queens, when people used “the rack” to torture and the guillotine to chop off the heads of naughty wives (Anne Boleyn was executed in the front yard!). The best part BY FAR was getting to see the Crown Jewels; I had to circle the exhibit three times to fully inspect the awe-inspiring jewels. Rocks as big as my palm just stuck onto the side of a crown, I cannot even imagine how strong a neck had to be able to support it! I would love a chance to try on one of those solid gold beauties, though.

More soon, I promise! It is hard to convey the amazing things I’m getting the chance to see, but I am definitely going to give it a try!

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Crash Course in French: 36 Hours in Paris

This weekend I traveled to Paris trying to do absolutely everything in as little time as possible. It was a lot of fun, only very strange being in a country where I can’t understand a single word anyone is saying (it all just sounds like a lot of throat clearing).

chey-1015-eiffel.jpgParis is filthy and not at all the romantic city I thought it would be. The first night we got in and went straight to where we were staying – the host family of a friend who is studying in Paris with the SMU program there and who is thankfully fluent in French. We went to dinner by the Eiffel Tower and had lots of bread, cheese, and wine (I maxed out my carb intake for the next year this weekend), and then spent the rest of the night walking around the city. When you can’t see the dirt, trash, and graffiti, it’s actually quite beautiful, especially when the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour.

chey-1015.jpgBeautiful Versailles
Saturday morning I got up early to see Versailles, which is about an hour train ride outside the city. Now, France has unfamiliar politics than what I’m used to in the U.S., and that day there was a strike at Versailles among the ticket sellers (I found this out after a long, desperate search for someone who spoke English or Spanish)!

Although I made it there around 9:30, I didn’t get into the palace until 11 when they could pacify the employees. It was amazing – gorgeous, gorgeous architecture, furniture, paintings, sculptures, etc. The picture is from Marie Antoinette’s bedroom (if you can even see the bed among the outrageously ornate decoration).

After Versailles we went shopping along the Seine River and then walked through Notre Dame. After seeing a ton of Spanish cathedrals already, the only things that impressed me about this one were the amazing stained-glass windows and the Joan of Arc monument (it was in that church that they decided to declare her a saint and not a heretic). After that, we saw the Arc de Triomphe and ate in a classic French tearoom near there (more bread and some chocolate eclairs, yum).

Good sports
The highlight of the weekend was Saturday night – they played a rugby game on a screen on the side of the Eiffel Tower and we watched it while sitting on the lawn. Now, the French aren’t as feminine as you might think, because they take rugby as seriously as Americans take their football. People showed up decked out in body paint, wigs, flags, jerseys, and drinking lots and lots of beer. They were yelling ang singing in the streets and on the Metro, and there were even a few fistfights. Sound at all familiar?
It was an incredibly short weekend and I would love the chance to go back. After all, I didn’t get to see the Mona Lisa!

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Know before you go: 15 tips

A few notices if you’re planning a trip to Spain:

I didn’t do anything overly exciting this weekend, so I’ll use this entry to chronicle a few of my random observances since coming to Spain:

1) If you are walking down the street and headed straight at a Spaniard, natural instinct tells you to move a bit to the side to avoid hitting them. Spaniards will NEVER move out of the way and will hit you instead.

2) Milk comes unrefrigerated in a box. Warm milk is not very tasty. Also, Spaniards think it’s ok to leave certain food items out overnight, including yogurt, milk, cheese, and butter.

3) It rarely rains here, but when it does, Spaniards turn out dressed for a flood of biblical proportions. The same goes for cold weather. Never judge the weather by what you see locals wearing.

4) If you ask a Spaniard to repeat something to you, they will repeat it just as fast, only yelling at you like you’re stupid. No help whatsoever.

5) The Metro doors WILL close on you.

6) Mullets and rat tails are in style here. Pray that this fad never ever reaches the states again.

7) Possibly unlike the rest of Europe, all of Spain is in love with American brands and movies, especially High School Musical and Coca Cola.

8) Much to my dismay, there are no cookies here, unless you go to an American chain like Starbucks, and even then they’re not very good.

9) You can get “blessed” in front of a cathedral for a few coins – people will do anything to make money here, including juggling in the street, standing still like a statue for hours on end, and physically blocking the door to a store with their hands out.

10) Spaniards LOVE dogs, HATE to clean up dog poop. Fortunately, there are thousands of street cleaners that come out at night to take care of the problem.

11) Spanish women dress up to go everywhere – the bus is like a fashion show every morning.

12) Peanut butter is impossible to find here, also clothes dryers – the skies are positively filled with drying laundry every afternoon.

13) Air conditioning and walking around barefoot will make you sick, but smoking profusely causes no harm whatsoever.

14) Do not expect to find anything open from 2 to 4 each day or on Sundays.

15) The reason for this is that people of all ages tend to stay out at all hours of the night, and so 2 to 4 and Sundays make great nap times, a tradition I love.

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Southern Spain: amazing!

This week the school group ventured to southern Spain to visit the province of Andalucia. All 31 of us on a bus all the way from Madrid to Cordoba, then to Seville, and finally, to Granada. By that time I had had enough of no legroom and all that bonding that I opted to stay in Granada and then take the quiet train back to Madrid!

cheyenne-1990.jpgcheyenne-1972.jpgAnyway, I have pictures of cathedrals coming out the ears. Even though I have seen more churches this month than I can even count, they never cease to amaze me every time I walk in one. The minute details on every surface alone is enough to render one speechless. We also saw the Alhambra, which is a medieval castle where the famous Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand once lived. We also went into the chapel, Capilla Real, where they are buried.

In Seville we did a tapas and wine tour. Tapas are little snack-type foods that normally come free at bars when you buy drinks, probably because Spaniards spend the majority of their nights socializing, snacking, and drinking in bars! We had a variety of those and some of the infamous Spanish wine from one of the vineyards we passed in the bus on the way to Andalucia. After tapas we saw a flamenco show, which is steeped in Spanish culture, nothing like what you have probably seen on TV! The talent it takes to do any part of the show – the singing, the guitar playing, stomping, clapping, and finally, the dancing – is amazing. I loved every second of it.

cheyenne-2059.jpgThere is a huge Arabic influence in southern Spain because it was once controlled by Muslims and also because of its proximity to Africa. The Arabic tradition in Granada is really interesing, and so we decided to try out an Arabic bath, which consists of this long room with low ceilings and dim lighting. It is decorated in the traditional Arabic style and filled with probably ten shallow pools. Each pool is a different temperature with various oils and scents in it, and you work your way around the room “relieving tensions” by soaking in cold, warm, and hot water. And if that doesn’t relax you, the massage, aromatherapy session, and tea should do it. It was fantastic and by far one of the coolest cultural things I have done since coming to Spain.

Besides the neat Arabic baths, nothing much eventful happened on this trip like in Barcelona. I did, however, manage to slip and fall on the marble floors while touring a mosque. I had made the unfortunate decision of wearing a skirt that day, and ended up flashing an entire crowd of tourists. So the relaxing Arabic bath was pretty necessary by the time I got to the end of the week!

I will be staying in Madrid this weekend, thank goodness, because I need some rest! In two weeks, though, I am off to Paris!

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This weekend we took the train (nearly missed it due to the siesta traffic on the Metro) to Barcelona, only here in Spain they won’t know where you are talking about unless you put the lisp on the C in Barcelona.

chey-step.jpg It was a fantastic trip. Barcelona is an interesting city because of the politics surrounding it – it is in an area of Spain called Cataluna, and the people there do not like to be associated with the Spanish culture, only the Catalunian culture. They only speak Catalan, Spanish food is more expensive there, and they get very offended if you refer to them as “Spanish.” This sort of anti-patriotism is very common around Spain, including in Pais Vasco, a part of Spain that wants to be its own country and will go to all lengths to get their independence. However, Barcelona is still a huge tourist spot and was very accommodating.

chey-muse.jpg It is also where all the Antoni Gaudi architecture is, including the beautiful Guell Park and the exotic Sagrada Familia church, which has been under construction for more than a hundred years. On Saturday we took a bicycle tour around the city and saw these sights, along with the castle of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand and the castle’s steps that Columbus walked up to announce he had discovered the new world. Absolutely amazing.

This trip was also my first hostel experience, which was very interesting to say the least. The hostel was fairly nice and very clean and safe, but sharing a room with strangers is bound to be weird no matter what the accomodations are. In our room was a young Russian couple, a German teenager, and, strangely enough, a British man in his sixties! Thank goodness the second night my group managed to get a room to ourselves, because I think we irritated the old man when we came in late (one of the boys in my group managed to spill every coin in his pocket onto the floor while his cell phone rang multiple times).

chey-bike.jpg Finally, we had quite the Metro station adventure. A girl in my group lost her flip flop on the train tracks while running to catch the train. No Metro officials were around to help, but we were able to borrow a mop from a janitor to hook the flip flop (while covering it in gross mop water) and bring it back up to the platform. However, in order to do this, my friend had to LIE ON THE FLOOR OF THE METRO STATION! In case you have never experienced the joy of public transportation, the floor is a place where multiple communicable diseases run rampant. Despite the nastiness of it all, it was pretty hilarious.

All in all, it was a great trip. This week the school group is headed to the southern area of Spain called Andalucia, and we will be visiting Cordoba, Seville, and Granada.

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A new life at half the pace

IMG_1441-sm.jpg Bienvenido a Espana, or, Welcome to Spain. Arriving here and making it through my first full weeks was like slamming into a brick wall: Spaniards live at half the pace of Americans, including daily naps, endless chats in the street, long breaks from work during the day and three-hour meals. Needless to say, combined with jetlag and the strange mealtimes (10:00 breakfast, 2:00 lunch, 9:00 dinner), it took me more than a week to adjust to the slower lifestyle and to get over being constantly tired and hungry.

Classes started last Monday, and I am finally settling into a routine. Every night I eat a three-course dinner with my senora (an elderly divorced woman with grown children) and three SMU roommates, a meal consisting of salad or pasta, a meat course, and fruit, all bought fresh at an outdoor market on Sundays. During the week when I’m not in class I spend my time learning my way around the city. Even if you aren’t in a museum or touring some ancient building, there is always something to see, especially while riding public transportation! For example, my new favorite store is El Corte Ingles, a combination of Wal-Mart, Academy, and Nordstrom’s. A two building, five-story maze of everything you could ever need; except, for some reason, caffeinated coffee (I am assuming this is due to the daily naps, another tradition that has taken me no time getting used to).

IMG_1800-sm.jpg In the past two weeks, however, I have taken crash-course tours through Toledo, Segovia, and Alicante. Toledo was a gorgeous town of the quintessential narrow cobblestone streets and black iron balconies with red carnations in the flower boxes. In Segovia, we visited a medieval castle that seemed straight out of a movie, complete with suits of armor, thrones, and lookout towers. We also toured a gorgeous palace modeled after Versailles, with endless gardens, fountains, and hedges, and later saw the infamous aqueducts (constructed of rocks without cement or any sort of glue holding them together!). Alicante was a gorgeous beach town and not much else, a perfect place for Spaniards to come to relax (with or without speedos and bikini tops, something unfamiliar outside Miami in the States!).

This weekend I am taking a four-hour train ride to Barcelona and will get to experience some more of the relaxed Spanish lifestyle. It can be frustrating, but I am sure it will be a lot more frustrating to return to the States and give up my naps.

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