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