Emily in Madrid

Emily, a junior Hunt Leadership Scholar majoring in corporate communications and public affairs, is studying Spanish language and culture in Madrid in Spring 2011 as part of SMU-in-Spain.

Espana: una experiencia increible

spain%201.jpg Alonso Martinez, la Fundacion, Cien montaditos, el Retiro, Bulevar, claras con limon, las Fallas, kebaps, el Kapital, Chueca, botas, tortilla de patata, Carnaval, la Sierra Nevada y los seis solidos.

spain%202.jpg There are so many things that will always remind me of the amazing semester I spent in Spain with 13 SMU friends. The study abroad group at la Fundacion became like family, especially Noemi, who was the best coordinator and helped us daily with anything we needed.

The school atmosphere was welcoming and friendly, and I learned so much more because of the intimate class settings. The SMU-in-Spain program organized several trips throughout the semester, which took us to multiple regions of the country and gave me some of my fondest memories.

spain%203.jpg Living with a family in Spain could have been the most meaningful part of the experience. Carmen, my host mother, became literally like a mother. She would get frustrated when we left clothes on the floor, and we would roll our eyes when she told us for a sixth time what time we were eating dinner. Yet on our Saturday nights out at Pizza Jardin, the bond we formed was evident, and I will always treasure the love and hospitality she gave us over the four months we shared in her home.

spain%204.jpg I will miss so much the Spanish lifestyle and attitude toward living: working to LIVE rather than living to work. I loved the restaurants with terraces to enjoy beautiful afternoons, and countless bars and clubs open nightly as late as you wanted. Madrid is a vibrant city, and I was blessed this semester to call it home.

Things I didn’t realize about Spain before living there:

spain%206.jpg • Shopping for shoes and shopping in general is inexpensive and abundant
• Like the United States, every region of the country is unique
• Spanish isn’t even spoken in Barcelona, so Madrid is the place to go when studying abroad
• Spain and Latin America couldn’t be more different, the food isn’t spicy and the language doesn’t always directly translate
• How you order food, when you eat food, and how you eat it is VERY specific; don’t mess it up unless you want to pay more or look like a tourist
• There are thousands of other students studying abroad in Madrid, and it actually bothered me when I heard a lot of spoken English
• Madrid is clean, safe, historic, inexpensive, friendly, and once of the most exciting cities in the world!

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Spring break in Greece

greece%202.jpg We used a Spanish travel agency to book our Spring Break, which I would definitely recommend to other study abroad students. The agency organized all transportation and accommodations, which included a cruise through the Greek Isle and four days in Athens.

greece%204.jpg The first part of the trip was the cruise to several Greek islands, including Mykonos, Crete, Patmos, Santorini and Kusadasi, a coastal town of Turkey.

My favorite was the charming island of Mykonos. We had great weather when visiting Mykonos, where we walked around the shops in “little Venice” and saw an incredible sunset.

When we visited Santorini, the most picturesque of the islands, it was unfortunately raining and foggy. We didn’t let that stop us from having our Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants moment by riding donkeys up to the city, or from enjoying a Souvlaki kebab at the famous Lucky’s Souvlakis.

greece%206.jpg Our stop in Turkey was probably the most interesting. It’s safe to say that female tourists were the only women roaming the bazaar, which made us a little uncomfortable as aggressive vendors hassled us to buy leather shoes and purses. As soon as they knew they were dealing with Americans, I swear the prices and sale pitch would double. We used wise advice from friends on the ship, saying that we worked for the cruise company so vendors wouldn’t bother us.

greece%201.jpg The cruise itself was a riot, as the majority of passengers were twice our age, but it was the perfect way to visit so many of the islands in only a few days.

Back in Athens, we got a great deal on our hotel, which we soon found out was because of its location in Omonia, the worst neighborhood of the city. It came to be a joke because locals would look horrified when we told them where we were staying, but in actuality it was only unsafe at night.

Athens overall isn’t the prettiest city in the world, and you can definitely see the toll the economy has taken. However, there was so much history to see that we really enjoyed our four days there. We visited the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, original Olympic stadium, and several interesting museums, all of which were almost free for students.

The best part about Greece was the delicious food and outgoing people, and we couldn’t have asked for a more memorable Spring Break.

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Loving Lugano

DSC03027.jpg I expected Switzerland to be an industrial country with a climate and population colder than Spain. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

DSC02943.jpg Lugano is a charming city with a beautiful lake surrounded by lush mountains. We visited at the perfect time of year because the flowers were in full bloom. Lugano is very close to the Italian border, and thus has the gastronomy of Italy and cleanliness and organization of Switzerland.

We stayed with Hannah’s friend from high school, who is a senior at Franklin College. Because of Frankin, there are actually a lot of American students in Lugano. SMU even has a study abroad program there! A semester abroad in Lugano would be no less than enchanting, but very expensive. It is a really nice city and thus everything, even McDonald’s, is extremely pricey.

On our first day in Lugano, we toured the Alprose Chocolate Factory and sampled some of the best chocolate in the world! I learned that 90 percent of the world’s cocoa beans are owned by one family in Africa!?

Lugano%20restaurant.jpg After the factory, we walked to the water and had a delicious Italian lunch on a terraza by the lake. One of my favorite foods, risotto, is a local specialty.

Emily1.1.jpg Because the weather was so nice, we decided to walk to Gandria, a small village east of Lugano. The walk was long but worth it; Gandria was quiet and picturesque, with only private homes and a few bed and breakfasts along the water. We stopped for a drink at a small family-owned restaurant, where the Italian owners were having “first meal.” The walk had taken about three hours, so we decided to ride the ferry home.

On our final day in Lugano we also ventured out on the water, this time renting a speedboat! I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend, my only disappointment was that we didn’t run into George Clooney.

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Festival in Valencia

DSC02447.jpgAs soon as we returned home from Pais Vasco, we boarded another bus for a trip to Valencia for the festival “Las Fallas.”

Las Fallas is a festival in honor of St. Joseph, where different neighborhoods of the city create giant, comical, paper-mache “ninots” (kind of like non-moving parade floats) and at the end of the night light them on fire. I have never seen or heard anything quite like this festival; all day long firecrackers were exploding in celebration.

DSC02284.jpg We arrived in Valencia early enough to explore the whole city. The compound of science buildings was modern and impressive, with the third largest aquarium in the world.

After touring the aquarium, we visited the beautiful Valencian beaches! Valencia is the region of Spain famous for paella, so of course we had it for dinner at a restaurant on the beach.

DSC02476.jpg At “la crema,” or midnight, we watched the second-place ninot light on fire, as the winning float is saved in a museum.

The ride home was a long one, and we reached Madrid at about 7 a.m., but the experience was worth it. If you visit Spain during the Spring, I would say Las Fallas in Valencia is an experience you cannot miss.

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Heading north to Pais Vasco

pais%20vasco.JPGThis week we traveled to the Basque region, Pais Vasco, in the north of Spain. Pais Vasco is a very beautiful and prosperous area, and many say the citizens have so much pride for their autonomous community that they want to become their own country.

DSC02051%5B1%5D.jpg We traveled by bus to Pais Vasco, stopping on the way to visit a vineyard where they still use traditional methods to harvest and produce the wine.

After a tour and tasting, we continued to San Sebastian, said to be the most picturesque city in all of Spain. It seemed to be a very classy beach town, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t great and we had to tour most of the city in the rain.

However, we can now say that we visited the north, south, east and west coasts of the Iberian peninsula!

DSC02085%5B1%5D.jpg The province of San Sebastian is famous for its “pintxos,” and for dinner we went to several bars trying different regional tapas.

The next day, we made a stop to visit Guernica, a city that was bombed during the Spanish Civil War and inspired Picasso’s famous painting.

DSC02250.jpg The final city we visited was Bilbao, home to the renowned Guggenheim Museum.

People told me that there isn’t much to do in Bilbao besides visiting the museum, but I would highly disagree. It had a very lively center, and the structural design of the bridges and Guggenheim museum were amazing. The modern art in the museum was great, and I especially enjoyed the interactive sculptures by Richard Serra.

In Bilbao we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and finally enjoyed nice weather!

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One word to describe Carnaval in Cadiz: loco!

C%C3%A1diz%20costumes.jpg We booked the trip to Cadiz with a student travel agency and bused down to the southern coast of Spain with 250 other college students. We stayed at a nice resort with individual condos and a close walk to the water. The beaches of Cadiz were beautiful, and even though it wasn’t quite warm enough to go swimming, it was nice to just relax after a week of midterms!

Carnaval.jpg The actual festival of Carnaval is hard to explain. Imagine thousands of people in the streets wearing hysterical costumes, clustered in groups of 10-20 around a pile of food and alcohol. There was so much broken glass on the ground that my roommate cut her foot and had to get stitches at the hospital!

The event seemed to be centered on wearing costumes, drinking with friends and making new ones. If there was an attraction, like a parade or show, we must have missed it. To say the least, it was very different than any Marti Gras celebration we have in the United States. Haber???nada mas negativa!

It was a very fun weekend, I practiced lots of Spanish with new friends at Carnaval, and those of us from SMU had a chance to wear our matching Arabian costumes from Andalucia.

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The best of Barcelona

Biking%20in%20Barcelona.jpg Two weekends ago we traveled to Barcelona, where we stayed with friends from the United States who are also studying abroad. Barcelona is very unique, and distinctly different from Madrid. I would compare the two Spanish cities to Dallas and Austin, Barcelona being Austin because it is more laid back but has a lot of character.

Parque%20Guell%202%2C%20Barcelona.jpg The best thing about Barcelona is the architecture. Gaudi’s influence can be seen everywhere, which is a Dr. Suess-like style with odd angles and colorful mosaics. The most well-known attractions by Gaudi in Barcelona are La Sagrada Familia and Parque Guell.

La Sagrada Familia is a cathedral that Gaudi started designing and constructing before he died in 1926, that won’t be completed until 2050! Parque Guell is a park Gaudi made for artists like himself, on top of Bacelona’s tallest hill. It has the same whimsical construction, and today is filled with musicians, vendors, hippies, and tourists.

La%20Boqueria%2C%20Barcelona.jpg Our friends live right near las Ramblas in Barcelona, which is a busy shopping area. There is an amazing outdoor food market called La Boqueria, where you can buy anything and everything fresh, from a smoothie to the head of an animal. We opted for smoothies, and then rented bikes to ride along the beach. The weather wasn’t great, but the beach was still beautiful and had lots of fun clubs at night.

Barcelona’s best kept secret: Bo de be, a sandwich shop near the harbor that is delicious, and according to students studying there, the only thing you really need to experience in Barcelona (I wouldn’t necessarily agree). Barcelona’s biggest vice: Viejo verdes (dirty old men) and the fact that they don’t speak Spanish, mostly Catalan.

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This past week our group traveled to the Autonomia of Andalucia in the south of Spain. Granada is about 6 hours southwest of Madrid, but we had several interesting excursions along the way to break up the trip.

Emily5.jpg Our first stop was Cordoba, where we visited un mezquito that was transformed into a cathedral during the reconquista.

Emily3.jpg After a tour and tapas in Cordoba, we went to Sevilla where we saw another famous mosque, rode boats in Parque de Maria Luisa and attended a live flamenco performance!

After Sevilla we traveled to Granada, which is unique because it was the last town to be reconquered by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. For this reason, the monarchs are buried in Granada, and we were able to visit their tombs inside one of the city’s beautiful cathedrals.

There remains a lot of Islamic and Middle Eastern culture in Granada because of the city’s history. It is noticeable in everything from scalloped arcs and mosaic buildings to endless kebap stands.

Emily4.jpg In Granada we also saw La Alhambra, which is the third most visited monument in the world. It was once a palace and fortress for the Moorish rulers, and because of its intricate beauty, was not destroyed during the reconquista.

Emily1.jpg At the end of the week, most of the group traveled back to Madrid, but I stayed in Granada with four friends to go skiing at the Sierra Nevadas. The mountains and conditions were incredible! I have never skied where there are no trees and such a breathtaking view. On clear days, you can actually see the coast of Africa from the summit.

I returned home a little sunburned and sore, but skiing in Granada was the perfect way to end a great week.

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Exploring Portugal

EmilyPlaza.jpg This past weekend I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, with five friends. We saw so many interesting things that it is hard to believe we were only there for three days!

We stayed in the central part of Lisbon near Plaza de Commercios (photo, right) at a hostel called Yes! Lisbon. The cool part about staying in hostels in Europe is making new friends from all over the world. We met some great people from Portugal and beyond, and I even learned a few Portuguese recipes to take home with me.

Emily-food.jpg We did not have a single bad meal in Portugal. Portuguese bread is incredible, along with the fresh seafood and the famous pasteis de Belem (photo, left). No one should ever visit Lisboa without trying these things, as well as hamburger (oddly enough) and the local green wine.

EmilySantaJusta.jpg Because there is so much to see in Lisboa, we took a double-decker tourist bus to all of the main attractions, like the Tower of Belem and the Santa Justa Lift (photo, right). Lisbon also has a famous Jesus statue like in Rio, and a bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate. Ironically enough, people travel by trolley in Lisbon as well.

EmilyCaves.jpg One of my favorite things about the city was the beautiful mosaics sidewalks. Even many streets are intricately designed with mosaic, and most buildings are covered in colorful tile.

We also took a day trip to Sintra, which was a small town 30 minutes by train outside of Lisbon. In Sintra, we visited La Quinta da Regaleira de Sintra, which was a summer home of a royal Portuguese family. The grounds have a series of underground caves that we found by walking over a pond on a path of stones (photo, left). The maze of tunnels between the grotto and caves was so dark that we had to use our camera flash to navigate.

Emily-Group.jpg Later that day, we visited Palacio de Pena, which had rich Romantic decor and an incredible view of the ocean.

Portuguese the language is so different than Spanish, that all we could really say without English was “obrigada,” which means thank you. Portuguese people understand Spanish, but some friends explained that trying to speak in Spanish to someone in Portugal is an insult because of the country’s history. Also, since we’re double foreigners, they probably would not understand Spanish with our accent.

Portuguese people were very welcoming to visitors, and I would love to spend more time there someday.

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Welcome to Spain!

Spain2.jpg Bienvenidos a Espana!

We arrived in Spain a little more than a week ago, and already I dread the thought of leaving! Madrid is alive and there is always something interesting to do or see. I live near the Alonso Martinez metro stop in a very well-to-do neighborhood.

Spain3.jpgThe Spanish would call it pijo, which means preppy or snobby. My neighborhood has countless shops and restaurants, and people come and go all day long. The stores are having rebajos right now, which means after-Christmas sales. I live in a nice apartment with a very doting senora named Carmen. She makes us an amazing dinner every night and gives us the freedom to come and go as we please. Carmen speaks no English, so when we are at home we always have to speak Spanish.

When we first arrived in Spain, we had an orientation in Toledo. It is a very beautiful city with an interesting religious history. The architecture and the culture of the town derive from Catholic, Jewish and Muslim heritages. These three groups cohabitated peacefully in Toledo for several decades.

Spain5.jpg We visited religious sites and the famous painting “El entierro del conde de Orgaz” by El Greco. We also had orientation classes at the Fundacion campus in Toledo, but mostly the weekend was for our group to get to know each other and explore the city. We are a very small group, only 13 students.

Spain4.jpg A few days after Toledo, we visited Segovia. Segovia has an incredible palace called La Granja, which was modeled after Versailles and is the oldest and most well preserved Roman aqueduct in all of Europe. The visits to Toledo and Segovia correspond with our Spanish civilization class, and we have several throughout the semester. I am really excited for these organized trips because we will get to see a lot of Spain. Our teacher and tour guide, Miriam, is so nice – as well as the rest of the profesores at the Fundacion.

I look forward to continuing these experiences, as this adventure is just beginning!

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