Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tapas Tour; Family Edition

The last few weeks of March seemed to just fly right by; it seemed as though we were all caught up in some sort of whirlwind. Even with the second round of exams looming just ahead, I was still able to take advantage of some of the cultural activities that my school had to offer, starting with an Alfred Hitchcock movie night. With popcorn and candy in hand, we took a break from studying and enjoyed a relaxed night watching Psychosis, or Psicosis in Spanish. Weirdly enough, this was somehow the first Hitchcock movie I'd ever seen and it was mostly enjoyable, especially because of all the dulces (sweets). Later that week, a small group of us ventured out to the Pabellon de Navegacion (Navigation Pavilion) to experience the world-famous Titanic Exhibition. This exhibition has been traveling around the world for several years and has spent the last 6 months in Sevilla. At the exhibition, each of us were given a headset with recorded information about the different artifacts and people associated with the Titanic. All in all, it was a great afternoon and really interesting to learn so much about the journey and sinking of the ship.
Playa Andaluza Resort

The following week we had midterms before our week-long break for Semana Santa (Holy Week), so nothing too exciting there. Luckily, after getting through all my tests, an 8 day visit from my family awaited me! Having been living in Sevilla for about 3 months, I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to play tour guide for the week and show my family all my favorite spots in the city. Besides visiting all the must-see tourist spots, La Catedral, El Real Alcazar, La Plaza de Espana and Las Setas, we also devoured endless tapas at some of my favorite restaurants, and even tried a few new ones. Given that it was Semana Santa, the city was packed with people, and I mean PACKED, and trying to maneuver around all the different parades that went on each day proved to be a little difficult at times, but nevertheless, it was an adventure worth experiencing! After packing in as many typical Sevillano tapas as possible in 5 days and enjoying a delicious 4-course, 3 hour lunch extravaganza at my senora's house, we headed out of the city and hit the beautiful mediterranean beaches in the coastal city of Estepona, about 2 1/2 hours southeast of Sevilla. We stayed at the amazing Marriott Plaza Andaluza resort, situated right on the waterfront, only steps away from the sand. After an insanely busy first half of the semester in Sevilla, a few days filled with doing nothing but laying on the beach, spending time with my family and stuffing my face was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Dad, soaking up the sun
Even though it was sad to see the vacation with my family come to a close, I was excited to get back to Sevilla, my second home! It's crazy to think that I only have 5 weeks left in this amazing city, I can't believe how fast the semester has flown by. Now that the end of time in Sevilla is quickly approaching, I have all the more reason to seize each new day, carpe diem all the way!

Playa Andaluza Resort
Me and Mom
Family pic

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pastry Pit Stop

Cathedral in Lisbon
It's starting to seem like my life revolves around packing and unpacking my duffel bag. All this weekend traveling is really making the weeks fly by! This weekend, we met at our coach bus at 6:30am on Friday and hit the road for a 5 hour to Portugal! Luckily, my senora had packed Ariel and I some breakfast for the road and we got to stop a couple times along to way for a rest stop/coffee break. We arrived in Lisbon around 1:30pm, dropped our bags at the hotel, had a few minutes to freshen up, then we met with our guide who brought us on a bus tour of the city. Along the tour, we had a chance to stop a few different hot spots, such as the Cathedral which was designed to look like the inside of a cave, to take some pictures and walk around. We also stopped at a well known bakery called Pasteis de Belem to try their famous custard pastry, which was delicious of course! After the tour, we had some free time to walk around the shopping district and grab some dinner before heading back to the hotel for an early night.

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and got back on the bus for a 1 hour drive to the beautiful city of Sintra, nestled alongside a hillside with its very own castle. We were given free reign over the three hours we spent there and a group of us decided to climb up the hillside towards the castle on top. Hiking along the trails of the plush forest gave us the chance to see some amazing views of the city below and burn off the custard pastries from the day before! After poking around in a few souvenir shops and enjoying a cup of coffee, we were back on the bus and headed to the coastal city of Cascais. Luckily, the sun decided to poke through the rain clouds that day and we had a beautiful afternoon wandering along the beach and through the harbor, all the while enjoying a few ice cream cones and taking pictures of the stunning views.  Once back in Lisbon, we ventured into the city to find some dinner and wander around the shops a bit before relaxing at the hotel for the night and climbing into bed early. The next morning we packed up our bags and made the long journey back to Sevilla where we were, once again, greeted by a delicious home cooked meal and the smiling face of my senora. I'm starting to think that's a sight I'll never stop being thankful for!
Hiking in Sintra

Vasco de Gama monument in Lisbon

Forest in Sintra
Harbor in Cascais
Beach in Cascais

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wok it Out

The week of February 18th kicked off our first round of exams at the Spanish-American Institute, not exactly the most exciting thing to blog about! Unfortunately, reviewing all the material and studying with classmates took up most of my free time and energy for other activities. Luckily all the craziness wrapped up just in time for a 21st birthday celebration for a fellow HPU student in our program, Kyle. A group of us had dinner at a famous tapas restaurant in Sevilla called Los Coloniales where we ordered mushroom croquettes, chicken with a delicious almond sauce and some crispy calamari, just to name a few! Afterwards we enjoyed some gelato at another famous Sevilla hotspot called Rayas; talk about scrumptious!

Bridge in Ronda
The next morning we were up bright and early and our on way to Ronda, a small cliff-side city about 2 hours away from Seville by bus. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't on our side that day and it down poured the entire time. After meeting up with our tour guide and taking a [wet] walking tour around the old section of the city, we were able to explore inside of the Plaza de Toros (bull ring), which is one of the oldest operational bull rings in Spain. Afterwards, we dragged our soaking wet selves back to the bus and returned to Sevilla for the rest of the weekend.

The following week we had only three days of classes because of a Spanish holiday on Thursday, la dia de Andalucia, giving us a four day weekend; the perfect amount of time to pack up our bags and head out on our own adventure to Madrid! Feeling adventurous and all but living by the phrase 'you'll sleep when you're dead',  Ariel, Erin, Tommy and I decided to hop on the midnight bus, leaving Sevilla at 12:15am and arriving in Madrid at 6:20am, where we met up with our friend Alex who had arrived the day before. After checking into our hostel before the sun was even up, we recharged with some cafe con leche and churros in a cafe until around 9:00am then began to explore the city. Fighting off the urge to take a quick cat nap on the nearest available bench, we walked down a main stretch of road called Gran Via, through the Paseo del Prado and ended up in front of el Museo del Prado (the Prado Museum), the largest and most significant art museum in Spain, that is home to many works by artists such as Goya, Velasquez and Greco. Feeling pretty cultured and dangerously close to becoming zombies, we headed back to our hostel for a little afternoon siesta before going out that night to explore the Madrid bar scene.
El Palacio Real

The following day, Ariel and I fought the urge to sleep away the sunlight and got up bright and early to continue touring the city. After hitting up a little coffee shop for a caffeine fix, we took a tour of el Palacio Real (the Royal Palace). Made up of over 3,000 rooms and situated next to the Almudena Cathedral. The palace was an amazing sight to see, both inside and out. Even though the tour for the public only brought us through about 40 rooms, it was clear the Spanish royalty take no shortcuts when its comes to decoration and lavish design. While the royal family no longer uses this palace as an actual residence, it was really interesting to visit the rooms that were once used by royalty for dressing, reading, throwing dinner parties and hosting weddings. After visiting the palace and the cathedral, we ventured over to Mercado de San Miguel, an indoor specialty foods market that all but blew mine and Ariel's taste buds out of the water. Tasting our way through what seemed like a never ending number of food venders, Ariel and I finally decided on treating ourselves to a little lunch consisting of fresh pesto lasagna and fried rice and cheese balls. Sitting out in the sun, enjoying our decadent plates of food in the middle of this beautiful city was definitely a memory we'll both have for a long time! After licking our plates clean (literally), we made our way to Plaza Mayor, a huge square nestled among the older part of the city, filled with restaurants and shops. Definitely a cool place to see, but maybe next time we'll save some room in our tummies.

Mercado de San Miguel
Afterwards, we met up with the rest of our group and shared stories about our busy morning before heading off to el Museo de Reina Sofia (Reina Sofia Museum), another amazing art museum that is home to many works by Picasso, including his famous Guernica. Having both studied this famous work in several of our previous Spanish classes, Ariel and I were so amazed to have the opportunity to finally see it in real life and develop a whole new appreciation for it's importance and enormity. Finally, after a long day of trekking all over Madrid, we headed back to the hostel for some much needed down time.

That night, without any concrete plans for dinner, we decided to wander a bit and came across a little Chinese restaurant that we normally wouldn't have looked twice at. Except this time, not only was it packed with people, but we could also hear the unmistakable sound of a sizzling wok; long story short, we were sold. They always say, when in Madrid you've got to try the wok bowls, right? Even if it was a little unconventional, we couldn't have been happier to be sitting on the floor of our hostel room, eating piping hot rice noodles out of a white Chinese takeout box, talking about what an awesome weekend we had had in Madrid. Needless to say, we were pretty reluctant to get back on the bus the next day for a grueling 6 1/2 hour ride back to Sevilla. However, we couldn't have been happier to finally see the smiling face of our senora, a steaming hot home cooked meal on the table and our own comfy beds to fall into after an exhausting yet incredible weekend in Madrid.
Overlooking the cliffs in Ronda
El Palacio Real
Overlooking the outskirts of Madrid with Ariel
La Plaza Mayor

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sangria in the Sun

In what seems like a never ending effort to catch up on blogging, I've decided to go ahead and condense two weeks' worth of activities into one post; here goes nothing.

La Plaza de Toros
Nearly one month into this amazing semester and it's blowing my mind just how fast each week flies by. Now more than ever am I beginning to understand just how important it will be to seize each and every day! And what better way to do just that than by venturing out and exploring a bit without the direction of our fearless leaders Sam and Maria Angeles. With some free time on our hands and adventure in our hearts, my friend Courtney and I made our way over to the famous Plaza de Toros to take a tour of this magnificent bull ring, which just so happens to be the oldest in the city of Sevilla. Thanks to our tour guide who spoke both Spanish and English, we learned all about the rules and customs associated with bull fighting, famous bull fighters, known as toreros, and the traditional uniforms worn during the fights. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to tour the ring, wander along the river and climb to the top of the Torre de Oro, a stone tower left over from when the Muslims occupied Sevilla in the eighth century. Even with the clear blue sky as a backdrop, the pictures don't do these amazing sights justice!

Traditional torero uniform

Later that week, Ariel and I had a chance to meet up with our intercambio partner named Mamen. Mamen is a 25 year old Sevilla local who is currently enrolled at SAIIE to learn English. Each week we get the chance to hang out, whether it be at a cafe or a heladeria (gelado shop) and converse in both Spanish and English in order to better our speaking skills and make friends with a true Sevilliana!
My group finished off that week with yet another cultural activity organized by our very own Maria Angeles, this time it was a trip to a contemporary art exhibit called Nunca Jamas. The theme of the exhibit was childhood memories, such as toys and cartoon characters. The artists used a lot of bright colors and playful designs in their paintings and sculptures and the exhibit was enjoyed by all!

Nunca Jamas
Still feeling pretty tired from our trip to Granada the previous weekend and another busy week at school, Ariel and I decided to stay in Sevilla for the weekend and continue to explore all the great things this city has to offer (most importantly the tapas and gelado). Yet before long it was Monday morning once again and we were back to our hectic routine that we've come to love. That night we had an amazing opportunity to attend a professional soccer game at the Betis Stadium in Sevilla. The stadium was hosting a special event at the game for university students so we were able to sit only 8 rows back from the field at a fraction of what that kind of ticket would usually cost. Nearly the entire group came to the game and it was awesome to see how excited the Spanish get about the sport. Even though I spent most of the game just trying to keep up with which team had the ball, it was a lot of fun to experience the game of soccer, or should I say futbol, from the standpoint of a Sevilliana. Later that week we took a walk to Parque Maria Luisa to go ice skating at a temporary rink that had been set up as a temporary exhibition. Even though it was 60 degrees outside and sunny, we laced up our skates and hit the ice, some of us harder than others. It had been a while since I had last skated but it was (almost) like a riding a bike and after a few times around the rink I was basically Michelle Kwan. 
Cathedral in Cordoba

Once again, the school week had zoomed by and all of a sudden it was Friday and we were up bright and early and on our way to Cordoba for a day trip. Only about 2 1/2 hours away from Sevilla by bus, the city of Cordoba is known for its enormous cathedral situated right on the river. After taking a walking tour of the cathedral and old part of the city, we had some free time to enjoy the bocadillos (sandwiches) our senoras had packed for us, wander through the city in search of gelado and finally find ourselves a nice cold glass of sangria (because really, why not?). On top of all that, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature was just warm enough to leave us with sun kissed cheeks.

The next day, Ariel, Megan and I decided to purchase bus tickets and take our own little day trip to another nearby city called Jerez. Jerez, also known as Spanish Sherry Country, is where much of the world's sherry comes from. After finding our way from the bus station to the city center, we explored a few plazas and eventually ended up at the Tio Pepe Bodegas, one of the leading providers of Sherry and Brandy. We took a three hour tour of Tio Pepe and had the chance to visit all the different bodegas on the property, ending it all with a sherry and brandy tasting and a sampling of tapas (of course). Needless to say we got back on the bus that evening feeling rather sophisticated and pretty darn proud of ourselves for making the day such a success. 

La Plaza de Toros

Betis Stadium

Riverside in Cordoba
Sherry tasting at Tio Pepe

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tapas Gratis

Week 3 in Sevilla and I am still just as excited to be here as the day I arrived! Now that we are fully getting into the swing of things, I am truly beginning to appreciate the value of a Spanish siesta (nap). There's nothing quite like coming home from school to a delicious meal made by my senora, followed up by a little nap before heading back out into the city to explore a bit before dinner; I just love how quickly this place has started to feel like home.

Scavenger Hunt
This week, in order to get better acquainted with the city, Maria Angeles put together a scavenger hunt around the city center. Each team of three students was given a list of tasks to be completed, such as finding the oldest bar in the city and asking a Spaniard to teach us a traditional Sevillian song. While my group got a little side-tracked speaking with a few locals and didn't end up finishing in first place, it was a lot of fun exploring just a little bit of what this amazing city has to offer. 

La Alhambra
Over the weekend we packed our bags and took our first weekend trip of the semester to Granada! Only about 3 hours away by bus, Granada is a beautiful city surrounded by snow covered mountains and picturesque countryside. After leaving early Friday morning, we arrived around noon, dropped off our bags at the hotel and headed straight to La AlhambraLa Alhambra, situated on a hillside overlooking the city, is an enormous compound of palaces and fortresses dating back to the ninth century. The group met our tour guide and spent the next four hours wandering around the many different parts of the compound and learning about all the history that has taken place in this magnificent city. We had the chance to stand in the middle of an open air coliseum (where my roommate Ariel had an impromptu vocal performance), wander through the Sultan's summer home, and  even stand in the exact place where Christopher Columbus received permission from Isabel and Ferdinand to venture to the New World. Each room, patio and garden we saw was even more breathtaking than the last. Needless to say it was truly spectacular experience! That evening, we were able to head out into the city and take full advantage of the free tapas customs in Granada. Basically, anytime you buy a drink in Granada it will automatically come with a freshly made plate of tapas, usually chef's choice...definitely a rule I could get used to!

The next day we were up early and headed back out into the city, this time to explore the gypsy caves nestled in the hillside on the outskirts of the city. It was crazy to see just how many little houses and caves lined the steep and winding roads; definitely very different from anything I've ever seen before! After enjoying a cafe con leche at an overlook at a high point of the city, we were set free for the day to explore the many shops, plazas and, of course, pastelerias (bakeries) the city had to offer. We spent our last night enjoying a few more free tapas and made our way back to Sevilla early on Sunday morning. While it was an exhausting couple of days, I am so happy to have had the chance to explore this amazing city with such an awesome group of friends!

Open Air Coliseum
View from La Alhambra
The Sultan's Summer Home

Overlooking the city

Street in Granada

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Huevos Fritos Forever

The patio at el Palacio de Lebrija
It's strange to think that after only a week of living in Sevilla, I am beginning to really become comfortable with the city and way of life! It's been nice being able to finally start getting into a daily routine and getting used to some of the different customs, like eating lunch at 3pm and dinner around 9pm (not going to lie- snacking has become somewhat of a necessity). Also, after about a week of orientation activities and getting to know the other students in the program, classes have begun. Since it's not every day that I get a chance to study in Spain, I have decided to jump right in and take all of my classes in Spanish (wish me luck)! This semester I'll be taking Spanish Phonetics, 20th Century Spanish Literature, Spanish Culture in Cinema, Artistic Monuments of Sevilla and Flamenco Dance. I'm sure adjusting to thinking, speaking and learning in Spanish will be difficult at first, but surely worth it in the end! The Artistic Monuments in Sevilla class is the one I am most excited for as it gives us a chance to take advantage of all the history that Sevilla has to offer. Each day of class we venture out into the city on a different field trip, visiting everything from museums and monuments to palaces and cathedrals. This week we had the chance to visit el Palacio de Lebrija (Lebrija Palace), an old residence in Sevilla known for its extensive collection of Roman art from the 16th century. Also on the top of my list is the Flamenco Dance class that meets twice a week and, if nothing else, is a good source of entertainment! Nearly everyone in the program has decided to sign up for the class, even a few of (braver) boys! Hopefully, by the time Feria (a week-long cultural festival centered around music and dance) comes around mid-April, we'll all be ready to strut our stuff.

Besides getting used to the class schedule, we've also gotten a taste of just how busy SAIIE will be keeping us with different cultural activities! Each day there is a different opportunity for us to get involved in a typical Sevillian activity or get to know the city a bit better. This week, Maria Angeles, the Student Affairs Assistant, planned a shopping trip for the girls in the program. She brought us around to all the hot spots and best places to shop for the best deals and cutest Spanish fashions. Friday night was also the start of an ongoing semester-long cultural activity known as Ruta de Tapas (tapas tour). A couple times each month until the end of the semester, Samantha, the Student Affairs Director, and Maria Angeles will be bringing the group around to a different barrio (neighborhood) each friday night to sample a few of the best and most traditional tapas that area has to offer! This past Friday, we stayed close to our school and checked out a few of the tapas bars in that neighborhood, called Alfalfa. We had the chance to try some delicious montaditos (mini sandwiches) and huevos fritos (fried eggs served on top of french fries with tomato sauce or chorizo). I can already tell that this will probably be one of my favorite activities to look forward to, and not just because it involves food! Thanks to Sam and Maria Angeles, we'll have a chance to steer clear of the tourist traps and see all the amazing food this city really has to offer! To finish off the week, a group of us decided to venture over to Triana, the area of the city on the other side of the river, for dinner. We ended up at a beautiful open-air restaurant right on the side of the river, looking out onto the calm water and light-up city. While we probably ended up paying a bit too much for the sangria, the experience made it all worth it!

Shopping Trip

Typical Flamenco dresses worn during Feria

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Well, better late than never, right? After being in Sevilla for nearly a month, I have finally gotten my act together and started working on my blog! I'll start by backtracking a bit to when this journey first kicked off; it's hard to believe it was almost four weeks ago already!

Bienvenidos a Sevilla! After what seemed like a never ever series of plane rides, layovers and nervous banter about what our first words to our Senoras would be, I finally arrived in Sevilla, Spain! Luckily, I was on the same flight over as a few of the other students in my program, so the trip was far from lonely. After collecting my bags (I was one of the few lucky ones whose luggage didn't get left behind at our layover in Portugal), I was met by a few staff members from the Spanish-American Institute, given the address and name of my senora (host mother), and was promptly put in a taxi and on my way to my new home for the next four months. Next up, a huge sigh of relief. My senora, Carmen, is an absolute angel! Not only did she have a hot meal ready for me the second I walked through the door, but she greeted me with besos (kisses) and lots of Spanish words I was far too jet lagged to understand. Fast forward to the end of the day, I've eaten, napped and taken a walking tour of my barrio (neighborhood) and the route I will take to walk to school everyday. Shortly after the tour, my roommate for the semester, Ariel, an awesome fellow HPU student, arrived to our apartment after an even longer day of traveling than I had myself, needless to say it was an early night for us both.

Looking back on the next three days, it seems like something of a blur; an unidentifiable mix between overwhelming excitement, exhaustion and constant yearning for a cafe con leche (their typical cup of coffee). As a group of 27 students, we're all blending really well, especially considering how much time we've already spent together. In just the first few days, we had the opportunity to see an authentic flamenco dance and music show at La Casa de la Guitarra, visit the famous and breathtaking Plaza de Espana, and take a double-decker bus tour around the entire city. By the end of the week, our legs were tired and our feet were blistered but nonetheless, were we ready to experience our first weekend as Sevillanos! And what better way to kick off our first fin de semana (weekend) than with a Welcome Tapas party hosted by our program! It was nice to meet all of our professors and the staff and finally have a chance to relax with the other students in the group-- not to mention stuff our faces with tapas and sangria galore.

We finished off the weekend with a little adventure to the top of La Seta, a modern architectural observatory structure situated in the middle of La Plaza de Encarnacion in the center of the city. Even with a few clouds in the sky, the views were breathtaking. I couldn't have asked for a better way to wrap up my first week in Sevilla than by having this chance to take in the jaw dropping beauty of this incredible city I am now calling home.
Flamenco show at La Casa de la Guitarra
La Plaza de Espana
La Seta from the ground
The view from the top of La Seta