Mayra, France and Spain

Mayra is a senior majoring in Spanish in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The recipient of a Gilman International Scholarship, she is participating during summer 2012 in SMU-in-South of France and in SMU-in-Madrid.

No lo puedo creer…..

La clase de “El Quijote” con los molinos de viento.

I cannot believe that my summer abroad programs are ending. The cliché “time flies when you are having fun” becomes not only a cliché, but a reality. We are finishing classes, studying for finals, finishing essays, last-minute shopping, going one more time to this place to eat an empanada, or going back to a museum because I have to see one more time this or that painting.  We look at each other with sad faces, knowing that we have to go back home, but we are not ready; there is still too much to see and learn.

This past weekend we traveled a lot – some of us more than others. We went to part of ‘‘La ruta del Quijote,’’ and for the students who are reading and analyzing that masterpiece of world literature, it was an amazing experience. Then we went to Toledo. Toledo is known as ‘‘La ciudad de las tres cultures,” meaning “the city where three cultures converge.” You witness that reality firsthand, with the Catholic churches, the synagogues and the old Roman entrances. It is a definitely place to put on your “go visit” list, and you won’t be disappointed.

en “La Alhambra”

The next day we went to Alcalá de Henares, a suburb of Madrid, where one of the first universities is located. It is also the city that claims to be the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of ‘‘El Ingenioso Hidalgo, Don Quijote de la Mancha’.’

Last, but by all means, not least, some students went to La Alhambra. It is without a doubt, one of the most impressive examples of architectural beauty in harmony with nature. I do not think pictures will do it justice, so you should also add this place to your list that I hope you started when I began this blog, as you were thinking to yourself, ‘‘I want to go there.’’

Well, my time is up, like we say in México: ‘‘ya se me acabó el veinte.’’ I am almost ready to go back and finish my last year at SMU. I have to thank too many people who made it possible for me to live this amazing experience. I cannot mention names for fear that I would leave one out, but you know who you are, and from the bottom of my heart I say: THANK YOU!

“Almejas”

Food Corner

I apologize to everyone who was waiting for me to talk about paella, but I have not eaten one yet that was worth writing about. But I still have 2 days left to go, so maybe I will send an addendum to this blog. For now, I will share with you the two raciones (portions) that we tried in Granada. The first was almejas, and the second one berenjenas. The first one has clams that were basted in a wine sauce: ‘‘delicious’.’ The next one is eggplant, thinly sliced and breaded in a tempura batter, and you eat it with honey. Trust me, this dish goes on your list as well.

¡Hasta pronto España!

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Yo soy español, español, español….

Campeones

That was the chant that hundreds of thousands of people were screaming, yelling, singing, and probably just mouthing on Monday evening at La plaza de las Cibeles in downtown Madrid. The soccer team had just won the “Eurocopa 2012,” with a win over Italy of 4-0, so thousands and thousands of fans and some tourists (like myself) were there waiting for the bus that would bring the players. You have to be there to feel and understand the electricity and enthusiasm of everyone, from the little ones to the grandparents – it was spectacular. Maybe some would think that is so trivial, but I believe that you have to live and be part of the life that the city you are studying abroad has to offer.

Before we went to the celebración, we went to El Museo del Prado with one of the professors from la fundación.  We are learning about the Austrias and the Borbones, so what better way to learn than to admire the paintings that were made during their time. We stopped at “Las Meninas” by Velazquez, and we had the best explanation of a piece of art that I have ever heard. Just being there made the trip so worthwhile, so please, if you come to Madrid, you have to stop at El Prado – and not just once, but several times, because it has so much to offer that you cannot take in everything in just one visit.

Segovia

This past weekend was our free weekend, meaning there were no planned visits or field trips; we were on our own. Some students went to Barcelona, others stayed in Madrid, and I went to Segovia. Segovia is a city in Spain, of course, that is well known for its aqueduct. In fact, the UNESCO declared them both – the city and its aqueduct – World Heritage. Segovia is really pretty, but the aqueduct is absolutely breathtaking, and knowing that it was built during the Roman Empire probably in the 1st century, and that they used granite blocks, without mortar, and it is still there, leaves you speechless.

Food Corner

This time I will write about drinks. Of course you need to try the Sangria and the Tinto de Verano, and las cañas (draft beer), and so on, but there is also one that you should really, really  try:  Horchata. There are many varieties of horchatas, depending on where you are at the moment: Mexico will use rice, Malta uses almonds, France uses barley, Puerto Rico uses sesame seeds, but in Spain, they use “chufas.” Chufas in English is tigernut, which is as strange to me as chufa, but let me tell you, it is a tuber that is grounded, water and sugar added, and then it is ready to drink, just fantastic. There are references since the end of the XVIII century of the recipe of that fantastic drink, and some of them even mention about healing powers.

¡A su salud! 

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Algunas Tradiciones

Kilometro 0

There are so many traditions in Spain, it would almost be impossible to learn and understand them all. They vary from region to region, culture to culture and also from generation to generation, but I have been really lucky that during the first two weeks, I have been able to participate in at least two of them.

When you are in downtown Madrid, in “La Plaza del Sol,” there is a plaque on the floor that reads “Kilometro 0.” The tradition says that when you step on the plaque with your left foot, then you will be back to Spain. I hope it is true, as Spain is a very beautiful country!

El Monasterio de las Huelgas

This weekend we traveled to Santander; it is located in the North of Spain, and it is a little colder than Madrid – different yet so neat and exciting. Before arriving to Santander, we stopped at “El Monasterio de las Huelgas,” en Burgos. This is a monastery built under the kingdom of Alfonso VIII in 1187, and is still in use today. This monastery contains a great display of religious art and some tombs, as it was also intended to serve as a cemetery in that time.

Upon arriving to Santander, we had the evening free to visit and experience what this part of Cantabria has to offer.

On Saturday we went to “El Palacio de la Magdalena,” where King Alfonso XIII and the Queen Victoria Eugenia spent their summers for 17 years. It is now an international school. That evening, we participated in another one of those great Spaniard traditions I had mentioned earlier, “Las Hogueras de San Juan,” translated; “The Bonfires of Saint John.”  This occurred at the beach, at midnight, and is a rite with fire about renovation and transition. People jump the bonfires and dream of a wish. It is really spectacular.

The last day of the weekend we went to the “Museo Marítimo” and to “La Neocueva de Altamira.” Our last stop before going back to Madrid was “Santillana del Mar,” a small town full of charm and delicious food.

Setas con queso de cabra y jamon serrano

Food Corner

Talking about food, the gastronomy in the North is very different than Madrid. Because Northerners are so close to the Cantabrian Sea, they eat more fish, but they also have great dairy products. The picture on the side shows just the first entree of our dinner at the museum; it was “Setas con queso de cabra y jamón serrano.” A great dish to finish a great weekend.

Now we have to get ready for midterms (oh no!).

Nos leemos la próxima semana.

Las Hogueras de San Juan

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¡No pasa nada!

Mayra and her SMU group in Spain

Group photo.

It is one of the mantras that you will hear very often in Madrid – not for its literal meaning of “nothing happens,” but the real translation, which is: “Don’t worry, be happy.” Madrileños live with that attitude. Life in Madrid is wonderful.

I am now participating in the SMU-in-Madrid summer program. It is a very intense program focused on Spanish language and culture, while living with a local family, using local transportation, and eating as much local food as possible – and at the same time, obtaining 6 credit hours through your major or minor. That really sounds like a dream come true.

Mayra and friends at El Escorial in Spain

Hanging with the locals at El Escorial.

 

In our first Saturday, we went to El Escorial and El Valle de los Caídos. El Real sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial is one of the Spanish royal sites and functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum and school. It is also known shorthand as El Escorial or the Escorial.

Before we went into the palace, we encountered a businessman who was selling pine nuts, and almonds that were coated with salt and sugar. Every little bag of pine nuts came with its own nutcracker. It does not get more traditional than this. He was so thankful that we stopped and bought some of his merchandise.

El Valle de los Caidos in Spain

Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos.

After we finished our visit to El Escorial, we went to El Valle de los Caídos. We were told that this beautiful and impressive place creates a lot of conflict among Spaniards as it is a surviving artifact of Franco’s rule. We were there to admire the enormous monument and to try to understand a little bit more the culture of Spain.

Food Corner

I believe that food is always the most representative object in any culture, and Spain has a lot to offer, but before I start I have a confession to make: Behind the Foundation where we take our classes, there is a VIPS. Not the most gourmet of places to eat, or traditional for that matter, but it was so close to home (in Mexico), that I had to go inside and eat. I am not going to narrate how the food was, I am only going to say that every once in a while, it is OK to eat the food that makes us comfortable or is close to home, even if it is not local.

Now for the really good stuff! After a fantastic day of taking the tour bus around town, and playing tourist, I stopped in downtown Madrid for some local cuisine. My first dish was Ensalada de patatas con salpicón de mariscos,  y (and the second was) Cochinillo horneado con verduras. The pictures do not get even come close to showing how good these were! I can’t wait to try tapas y cañas while in Madrid. Hopefully you will be reading about that in my next blog.

¡Hasta la próxima!

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C’est fini!

At the casino in Monaco

It is the last week of the SMU-in-South of France program, and I can’t believe that our time is almost up! Our time to: discover and learn, enjoy and be in awe, stress out and be relaxed. I know that everyone of us in the program wish we had more time, because there are still those little places we were not able to go see, or that extra trip to Nice we would all like to take, so many different experiences we are all going to leave behind.

The only sure thing is that when we started 5 weeks ago, it seemed as if we were all going to be somewhat bored and searching for things to do to fill up our time, and as it turned out, there was never a moment of boredom, and there was never enough time for everything we wanted, or needed to do.

As you all know, we went to Monaco, and it was awesome! We took a little train so we could see the city and find out where we wanted to go, since we were going to have free time. We saw the change of the guard at the Grimaldi’s Palace. Some of us went to the famous Casino, a fantastic example of what Mr. Garnier helped build, along with the Opera in Monaco, and in Paris. We also went to the Oceanographic Museum-Aquarium that was created with the help of Albert I and Jacques Cousteau.

Monaco

When we came back to Cannes you could hear the students planning the weekend, since it was the only “free” weekend that we would have. There were plans to go to Paris, to Rome, to Nice, and as for myself, I went to Toulouse and specifically to Albi.

Before I go to the food corner, I want to show you this little piece of the Mediterranean: it was about 3 minutes from the residence, so several students went there to work on their homework, as well as their tans.

The Mediterranean

 Food Corner

Why Albi, you ask? Well, my dear nephew lives there, who was happy to provide me with an excellent guided tour of some of the beauties that Europe has to offer. Among the many sites, Albi has a breathtaking Cathedral. Pictures taken inside a church are rarely good pictures, but it is my hope that every time I mention a place of interest here, that you will take the time to “Google” it, and see more pictures, and find out more about it, giving you the opportunity to admire just I did.

Cassoulet

While in Albi, I ate one of the most traditional of plates from that region, called “cassoulet.” It is a delicious dish with beans, duck and sausage. And in Toulouse, we were really French; we bought bread in the market, and “aligot.” Aligot is the French version of mashed potatoes. It has potatoes, seasonings and an insane amount of artisan cheese just blended together. You literally eat it by the spoonful.

Well my travel to France is over, but off I go to Spain, so keep tuning in every week for more travel experiences.

Bon Voyage!

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Le temps a passé trop vite!

It really goes too fast. We are ready to go to Monaco, our last organized trip within the program (you will read about it in my next blog probably), but for now, let’s get ourselves current with the events from the South of France.

Les Baux de Provence

It is really challenging that we are learning to juggle homework, study and, at the same time, absorb all of the culture and experience that this side of the planet is offering us, while practicing our French. For a non-native French speaker, there is such joy when you go to a little store or restaurant, or take the bus, and are able to communicate in their language, and every once in a while, they tell you: “Your French is really good.” You really want to ask them: “Can you put that in writing?” – so my teachers can see that I am making them proud!

Thinking about going to the top

Enough of self appreciation. We had a fantastic weekend, and as you see in the following paragraphs, we were busy trying to absorb and admire as much as we could. We went to “La Provence profonde” - or at least one of the professors calls it that. What she meant probably is that we were in the deep part of Provence, where time really stops and you wish you could just stay there and live.

Our first stop was Les Baux de Provence. A ruined château with fragments of walls and towers still standing greeted us as we arrived. It also provided us with a breathtaking view over the Alpilles. This place attracts a lot of tourists year after year. It is such a nostalgic experience visiting this medieval city.

Le Pont du Gard

After our great walk in Les Baux, we went to Arles. Arles is famous for its “Arena” (amphitheater), mainly because Van Gogh took up residence here. He painted numerous paintings in Arles, and it is also where he chopped off his earlobe.

Our next stop was “Le Pont du Gard,” where it stands as a testimony to the Roman empire, an aqueduct built in the 1st century AD, and it is still standing. It was a very short visit, but we took great pictures to brag about.

We arrived to Avignon around 7 p.m, enough time to get in our hotel and go around this beautiful Provencal town in “le midi.” The next day (Sunday), we had a guided visit to “Le Palais des Papes,”  which the Popes built in the 14th century to rule the Roman Catholic Church from here, Avignon, France.

Le Palais des Papes: completely astonishing!

The palace really is two palaces: The old one built by Benoît XII and the new one built by Clément VI, which now are connected by a beautiful courtyard that hosts the Festival d’Avignon every July.

Food Corner

Our last stop was to a winery, so on this occasion I am going to talk a little bit about wine more than food, and of course the winery that we visited.

The cave at Domaine de la Solitude

We went to the “Domaine de la Solitude,” where the owner told us a little bit about the story of their winery, which had been in their family now for several generations – and among their family they have counted two cardinals and 1 pope. He also told us the story of the region and the numerous recognitions that their wines have obtained.  They have some wines that are classified as Châteauneuf du Pape, which we learned is a very prestigious recognition within the French wines.

Salut!

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C’est incroyable!

Yes, it is incredible that we are at the halfway point; we are getting ready for midterms. We are, of course, still enjoying tremendously our stay in the South of France.

This past weekend we went to Nice (to visit another museum) and to Èze. All joking aside, this time we visited the Musée Marc Chagall, which is located north of Vieux Nice (the old town). And we finally have a photo of the group, without me, because I was taking the picture.

The museum Marc Chagall contains 17 enormous and fantastic paintings of biblical inspiration, overall from the two first books of the Bible and the Song of Songs. There is also an auditorium where the artist depicts the creation of the world on stained-glass windows.

When we arrived in Nice, our very nice driver told us a lot about the important and touristiques places that we should see while in Nice. She told us that among tourists, Nice is the second most popular city after Paris, and I completely agree with them. Nice is a French city in the Mediterranean with Italian flavor. Just amazing! Nice is big enough for museums, parks, boutiques, restaurants and, of course, squares (Place in French, and pronounced plas). Even the names at Nice are charming: the “Promenade des Anglais,” the “Baie des Anges,” the “Zone Pietonne” – that sound so much more romantique than “The road of the English,” “Bay of the Angels” or “Pedestrian Zone.”

There are two Places (French pronunciation here, please) that I want to mention. The first one is Place Masséna, c’est vraiment une petite place italienne au milieu du Sud de la France. (I had to write that to impress you all about how much French I have learned.) And the second one is the Place Rossetti - it is a must-see in the old town. It has the best ice cream (gelato) I (and like 200 others who were in line that morning) have ever tasted.

Have I mentioned that the weather is just magnifique? Finally, here is a picture of myself, and two wonderful students from the SMU-in-the-South of France program. After Nice, we went to Èze, with a stop at “Fragonard,” a local factory of French perfumes and soaps, where they taught us how they made the “Eau de Parfum,” “Eau de Cologne” and so on, all with natural ingredients.

We had a little time lef tover to climb to the litte village, since Èze is a hilltop medieval town, and it provides us the most beautiful panoramic view of that side of the Côte d’Azur.

Food Corner:

While in France, you should look for the restaurants that offer the “plat de jour.” It normally consists of an appetizer, an entrée, dessert and a drink (or any combination of the above depending on how much you want to spend). It normally runs between 12 euros to 27 euros, again that would depend on how much money you want to spend (it is never cheap). But I am telling you that if you walk around, look at the menu, see what people are eating, you can get yourself a feast like the one pictured.

That was my lunch on Sunday, it was 20 euros, and I had une salade de tomatoes et fromage, saumon à la something, un délicieux gâteau au chocolat named L’Opera and bien sûr un coca light.

Bon appétit!

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Comment allez-vous?

It is already the 2nd week, and I know all of you are anxiously waiting for my update, so here it goes. We (the students) are realizing that study abroad requires a lot more dedication and stamina than the classes back at home. We have to balance classes, homework, study time, and yes, every once in a while, washing clothes and dishes; all of this in the midst of living in the South of France and everything it has to offer. Tough job, I know, but someone has to do it. This past Saturday we went to three different sites (since we have to write a report about them, I hope this counts!): Antibes, St. Paul-de-Vence and Vence.

Antibes is a small Mediterranean town with a really big harbor, boutiques, restaurants, bistros and a marvelous marché Provençal. People who live in France walk to the market almost every day to buy fresh produce and seem to live a more relaxed life than the one we live back in the United States.

One of the most visited places in Antibes is the Grimaldi Castle. This castle housed Pablo Picasso from September to November 1946, where he created some of his most known works, among them: “La Joie de Vivre.” When Picasso left, he donated all the work he had created during his stay, this now being one of his most important collections.

Our second stop was St. Paul-de Vence, at the Foundation Maeght, another museum (and we did roll our eyes, because who wanted this much culture in the first week?). We were told that after we finished the museum, we were free to go to the village but had to be back at 4 p.m. Come on; it was only 12:20! Well, since we are such a great SMU students, off we went, and voilà, we were showcased with one of the world’s greatest collections of modern and contemporary art in harmony with nature. It was an amazing experience being surrounded by different techniques and expressions of art.

As we approached the village, our hearts started to jump a little faster as we entered this medieval French town, just like the one you might have pictured in your mind (except for the tons of tourists). You have to give credit to the city of St. Paul: despite the avalanche of people, we were still in awe of this charming town, the boutiques, the 64 art galleries, the souvenir shops and a downtown where they are still playing “pétanque.”

Finally, we visited Vence, which is very important because it is the home of the Chapelle du Rosaire. In 1941, Henri Matisse moved to Vence, where the town’s Dominican sisters nursed him back to health. In gratitude, he designed a chapel that is majestic in her simplicity. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but if you have the opportunity to visit the South of France, Vence should definitely be on your itinerary.

I couldn’t finish this blog without talking a little bit about food, but it is not going to be French cuisine, per se, but Chinese cuisine with a French twist. Yes, I bought Chinese food, but since I am in France, the portions are small, one entrée does not feed 2 and you still have leftovers; but it was good, and of course expensive: 7.40 euros for rice and chicken and a little bit of soy sauce. What I love about this country is it is very ecologically conscious, not because it is the móde, but because it is the way we should all think. Look back at the picture, and notice the containers are not styrofoam, and they have no lids (less waste), instead, they seal every container with shrink plastic.

À tout à l’heure!

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Week one in the South of France

Bonjour tout le monde!

How would you like to go to school every day and when you look out the window, this is what you see? Well, this is the incredible experience that 23 students from SMU have to endure during our summer class in the South of France.

We are very close to the city of Cannes – yes, the one with the International Film Festival – and all the actors, producers, directors. You never know, it could be the opportunity some of us have been waiting for, to be discovered by Hollywood!

Well, in the meantime, let me tell you that this is a great city and the program director has everything under control. This is a very intensive five-week program, and I know some of us were thinking, “What on Earth are we going to do for 5 weeks?” But let me tell you, there is a lot of homework and study, and too many places to go and visit, so now I think that a 7-week program would be better. We will see. I will post a new blog every week, so please follow them and answer if possible; I would love to hear from you.

An interesting blog needs to have photos of food, and I want to make this blog definitely an interesting one. So here is a picture of the breakfast we have to endure every day…

Yes, those are croissants, and they are exactly as you imagine them: buttery, fresh, crispy and delicious. What can go wrong when your day starts with café and croissants?

Talking about things going wrong: My suitcases did not arrive with me; they decided to add their own mileage. We arrive on Nice on Friday, and one of my suitcases arrived on Saturday night, and the second suitcase showed up on Monday night. I survived and it made me realize that everything on a trip is about attitude. I lost my luggage for a couple of days, really not a big deal. I am still enjoying every second of this trip.

À bientôt

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