Sunday, February 19, 2012

Madrid and Carnaval

Last weekend our whole CIEE group went to Madrid for the weekend!  It was so much fun and definitely a good change from Barcelona because all of our activities were already planned out for us.  The bus ride on Friday was... 6 hours long and definitely felt longer haha.  Once we arrived we went to Parque el Retiro to walk around then headed to El Prado museum.  El Prado was definitely one of my favorite parts of the weekend and we were able to see paintings by Goya, Picasso, Velasquez, etc.  It was so beautiful and I could have spent hours in there.  We started our day early on Saturday but I have to admit I didn't mind because the hotel breakfast actually had a substantial breakfast.  They had omelettes and my love for eggs drove me to eat two omelettes!!  

After a taste of home at breakfast we headed to Escorial, a palace that is now a museum about an hour outside of the city center.  It was really neat and the best part about Escorial was the underground crypt made of marble and gold,where all (minus one or two) of Spain's past kings and queens are buried.  We also got to see the library, where I loved seeing all of the old hand-written manuscripts and books.  We returned back to the center of Madrid for some free time which a few of us spent at the Reina Sofia, a contemporary art museum.  I was excited to see some contemporary art like Dali, but wasn't prepared for the oddities in there.  I never knew a chair and umbrella were considered art or one paint streak across a canvas.  I just have to say I was glad we didn't pay to enter but it was still interesting to see how strange some of the 'art' was. 
A group of us in front of Reina Sofia before our interesting art experience.

Later in the day we went on a tour of Estadio Santiago Bernabeu- the soccer stadium where Real Madrid plays.  We got to tour the whole stadium, through a museum with old jerseys as well as trophies, the locker room and even press room. 
In the Real Madrid Stadium

After our soccer visit, a group of my friends met up for Katie's (our friend from Wofford) birthday!  It was so great to be with a group from home and her parents were there too.  We had a lot of fun and were able to celebrate her 21st birthday even in Spain.  Sunday we walked through the Rastro, a large market in the city.  I restrained from buying anything but enjoyed walking in the main Plaza to see musicians playing in the street and people selling various items. 
Me, Katie, Mackenzie (Katie's mom made this so she could be with us to celebrate!), and Natalie for Katie's 21st 

Sunday was Chuck and I's 3 year anniversary and I can not believe how time has flown by!  This week was our first full week of classes and I have really liked all of them so far. This week also marked that I have been in Alicante for a month; it feels like I just got here I can't believe this has been my home for over a month now.  This weekend we celebrated Carnaval in Alicante, a festival throughout Spain and many other countries.  It was a huge street party where everyone dresses up just like Halloween.  There were whole families dressed up, young and old, even babies and dogs.  My favorite costume was a large family dressed up as Dominos and they would all fall down together just like the game.  With spring break being only a little bit more than a month away everyone has started planning trips.  I am so excited because Chuck and his dad are definitely coming for a week and I am planning to visit my friend Florence in Italy another week!!

This weekend a group of us are headed to Morocco, Africa!!!! We get to ride camels and tour through two different cities.  Another continent down off of my travel bucket list, can't wait!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Barcelona!

This weekend was my first weekend traveling outside of our region of Alicante and travelling alone without the guidance of a group.  We were nervous but excited to plan our whole trip on our own because we had so many places we wanted to see in Barcelona.  On Thursday a group of 7 of us in total left Alicante by train to Barcelona.  However, two of our friends arrived in Barcelona earlier than us but when they arrived to the hostel realized that our reservation was for the wrong weekend!  So, we were only able to stay in the planned hostel for the first night because the rest of the weekend was booked.  At first we were all stressed and worried, but once we arrived we were able to find a sister hostel by the same company in a different (and better) part of the city.  Our crisis was averted!  On Thursday night we decided to browse for a restaurant and found a Mexican restaurant... in Spain!  So we all ate fajitas and quesadillas and had a great time.  After dinner we were able to get together with 3 of our friends from Wofford that are studying abroad there and hang out together. 

On Friday we switched hostels early and walked up and down the shops on La Rambla, the most famous main street in Barcelona.  We walked through an open air market in the city's center that sold fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish.  It was cool to see how all of the venders brought their products there each morning to sell.  However, some of the fish and crabs were still moving and looked like they were about to run away!!

Right before sunset we headed to Gaudi's Park Guell, which is right on the edge of town.  At first we had some problems locating the park and wandered through the woods a little until we finally figured out the right direction!  The park was awesome and the views overlooking the city at sunset were phenomenal. 

After the park we met up with our friends from Wofford again for dinner at this really neat restaurant.  During the day it is a market but at night they have a restaurant and it was incredibly fresh.  After a long dinner we went to a bar called Dow Jones, which is based off of the NY stock exchange.  The prices of the most popular drinks were the highest and the less popular were lower.  About every 30 mins or hour the stock would "crash" and the drink prices would drop.  It was fun because you had to sort of make a strategy like you would with a real stock market.

On saturday we got up early because our hostel provided free walking tours of the city.  We took the tour of Gaudi and were able to learn about his works from earliest to most recent.  I really loved the casa batllo probably the most which was only a block or two from our hostel.

Casa Batllo by Gaudi

The tour of Gaudi's works ended at the Sagrada Familia, which was INCREDIBLE.  It was definitely my favorite part of the whole trip and I did not want to leave.  The Sagrada Familia is still not finished and is anticipated to be done around 2026.  We learned also that it has 3 facades on the exterior walls, one is the nativity facade which portrays the birth of Jesus, the next is the passion facade, which shows the death of Jesus on the cross, and the final and still unfinished facade is the glory facade.  Inside and outside took my breath away and the photos I took could not even do it justice.
Outside of Sagrada Familia



Later Saturday night we headed to Camp Nou to watch the FC Barcelona soccer game.  It was SOOOOO cold but so much fun.  Barcelona ended up beating Real Sociedad.


Finally, Sunday ended with another walking tour through our hostel where we toured the Gothic District, the oldest part of Barcelona.  We were able to see the school that Picasso attended, a plaza dedicated to George Orwell, and tour a cathedral.  After the group tour we went to the Picasso Museum.  We waited in line for a long time but it was more than worth it!  The entire museum was dedicated to his works and we had a great time looking at the transitions in his style and his versatility. 

After a very busy weekend, I can definitely say I was ready to return to Alicante.  I absolutely loved the city, but am so happy with my decision to study and live in Alicante.  I feel safer here and more at home than I did in Barcelona.  My host parents picked me up from the train station which was so sweet.  Last night a group of us watched the super bowl haha to still be American over in Spain.  We had a good time but it also made me miss being at home and watching it.  This week we will contine with our one class at the University of Alicante and our CIEE program has a weekend trip to Madrid on Friday!!

All around Town

The past weekends have been completely filled with travels.  On Thursday of last week our CIEE group went to visit the Castillo Santa Barbara in Alicante, Spain.  It is one of the oldest parts of Alicante and also a landmark of the city.  We climbed up so many stairs and hills to get to the top, but when we did, the views were INCREDIBLE!
Me near the top of the castle

After our castle adventure in the city on Thursday, we travelled around the Province of Alicante with CIEE on Saturday.  It was so neat because we were able to see the smaller pueblos or towns in the province.  First we travelled to the cuevas del canelobre or caves. 

walls of the cave

After the cave we travelled to a small town called Guadelest which had incredible views.


And to conclude our long day, we ended with chocolate con churros... which was DELICIOUS!


We definitely ate more than our fare share of the dessert but it was so good.  It's very traditional in Spain... for breakfast!