Two Fantastic Feasts
November 26, 2011
When she heard that some of the students in our class still had not tried paella, our professor was shocked – so shocked that she invited all six of us over for dinner on Monday night.
So on Monday night, we all went over to Ana's house where we met her two sons and a family friend who I had already met at church. We gathered around a small table in her living room and enjoyed chicken paella, tortilla de patatas, and my personal favorite, arroz con leche for dessert.
The meal tasted wonderful, and we all loved spending time with Ana outside of class. It is really cool that she likes us enough to want to make us a meal and spend time discussing something other than what we are learning in class.
A few days later, it was Thanksgiving, where we had another delicious meal. Before that, we spent the morning in Italica, a city just outside of Seville that contains Roman ruins.
The first stop on our tour of Italica was the monastery, and after the monastery, we walked to the third-largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. I was surprised by how much of the structure was still intact after so many years. When we went to the middle, we could see tunnels that were dug out underneath the ground where animals or gladiators would emerge to surprise the fans.
Thanksgiving ended with a feast at a Cuban restaurant with everyone in the program. All of the professors have been saying that this is usually one of the most special nights of the fall semester, so we were excited. Everyone got dressed up and we ate all the American foods (turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing) at a Cuban restaurant in Spain. It was a great meal, but still strange to be away from my family on such a family-oriented holiday.
The night ended with the exchange of our "Amigo Invisible" gifts, which is what they call "secret Santa" here. When I received my gift, I knew exactly what it was and who it was from because Luke happened to draw my name. It was a deck of Spanish playing cards, which is basically the same as American cards but with a few extras.
November 21, 2011
A few weeks ago at our worship service, a speaker came and invited us to a Christian camp run by several local churches. The deal was that we could stay there overnight and get free meals in exchange for our labor one day. This past weekend, about 12 of us decided to take them up on the offer, and we headed out into the country.
None of us really knew what to expect in terms of what kind of camp this was, what kind of work we would be doing, and where we would be staying. All we knew is that the camp was about an hour away in a town called Pedroso, and it was in the mountains.
When we arrived at the bus stop, we were greeted by Richard, one of the main workers at the camp. Richard was only able to take a few people to the camp as he only had a small truck, so the rest of us waited. This action of meeting a new person who worked at the camp and then taking between 2-5 people repeated itself about 4 times until finally everyone was at the camp.
It was dark when we arrived Friday night, so we did not explore. However, we did get a good look at the stars from an open field and sat by a fireplace, which was nice considering it was much colder here than in Seville.
Our group had a huge room filled with a few smaller rooms that had several bunk beds in them. It got pretty cold at night, but I was smart enough to bring a bunch of blankets from home. However, I did not know that Luke did not have a blanket all night, and I felt pretty selfish when I woke up in the morning to find out he had suffered through the night in the cold.
Saturday morning, we woke up to a light drizzle. After breakfast, it was raining much harder but this did not stop us from working. We walked to the fields of the camp where we saw farm animals of all kinds. As we walked to our site, we saw a flock of sheep, one of which was a two-day-old black sheep. We also saw two huge dogs named Princessa and Bruto, or Princess and Brute.
Being the only guys there, we had the task of cleaning out a room that they were currently renovating. We had to lift a bunch of random stuff including mirrors, beds and tiles into a truck and bring them into another building. Meanwhile, the girls whitewashed the walls of the room we were cleaning out.
Finally, we got to enjoy a great meal together. My favorite part of the meal was croquetas, something Isabel has made us before that kind of tastes like a chicken pot pie fried into little balls. There are different types, but these were chicken. I am used to only having a few, but we had a huge platter, so I had all the croquetas I wanted. I also tried mussels, which looked bad but tasted a lot like fish.
On the drive back, we were all quite tired and wet, but I think everyone had a good time doing something different for a weekend and was happy that we were able to help out some very nice people.
The Ups and Downs of Ronda
November 13, 2011
Five days of school would be a lot to come back to after such a long break, so instead of regular class on Friday we had an excursion to Ronda, a city about two hours away from Seville.
We quickly discovered that Ronda, like every other city in Spain besides Seville, is very hilly. The city actually seems like it is on the top of a mountain because at every balcony there was a huge gorge overlooking trees, fields, and more mountains.
Before our actual tour of the city, we had time to explore, so I went on a hike along with some other students. We heard that there was a waterfall that we could get close to, and it did not take long to find. We also found a dark cave to walk in, but it did not last long because the girls were afraid of a big spider.
Ronda is divided into two parts: the old and new town. For the tour, we mostly walked around the old town where we saw some houses, churches, and other buildings.
Next, we went into an old building that used to serve as a walkway to get down to the river to collect water. The group slowly made our way down to the water through the damp and dark passageway. When we got to the river at the bottom of the building, those of us that went on the hike for free time realized that we were right across from where we had been.
After making our way back up the stairs, we finished our trip by entering the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain.
The Last Legs of the Trip
November 6, 2011
We arrived in Venice on Thursday afternoon to our bed and breakfast about 15 minutes outside of the city and rode the bus in for the night. We were shocked to see most of the restaurants and stores already closed by 8:00 p.m. Luckily, there were still a few pizza places open where we could experience actual Italian pizza.
We spent most of Friday walking around Venice. According to the traveler's book we read, we were supposed to get lost in Venice, so we did just that. A lot of the city seemed to repeat itself; there were hundreds of shops that sold masks, toy Venetian boats, and other souvenirs all over.
At night, we decided to make use of our stove in our apartment so we made our own Italian dinner with pasta and pizza around our kitchen table. It ended up being a great night with friends even though the rain made us a little grumpy during the day.
Finally, it was Saturday, and time for our last leg of our trip. Originally, we were just going to go back to Seville from Venice, but we found that it was actually cheaper to fly to Barcelona first and wait until an early flight on Sunday to return. By this point in the trip, everyone seemed kind of burnt out from all the big city attractions that take quite awhile to get to, so we just decided to go to a few main places.
First, we went to the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that is still in the process of being built because the artist, Antoni Gaudi, died before completing it. It was obvious that this was a much newer cathedral as it had a completely different feel to its outside. The sculptures had more square faces and the towers were much skinnier than those of Seville or Notre Dame.
After a long eight days, we went back to the airport and waited for our 6:00 a.m. boarding. It was a long night, but we played some Uno, got some free French fries from some generous people at the cafeteria, and even got a few hours of sleep before returning to our soft beds in Seville.
November 6, 2011
What began as a trip in another bustling city quickly became a relaxing one with some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen.
We spent our time at Champfleuri, a retreat center just outside of Grenoble where Luke's mom has connections through her missionary work. It serves as a camp in the summer, and is currently being used by a program for students to study the Bible in French. We were picked up from the train station by Damion, an American pastor who is in charge of Champfleuri.
We got to know the students who are living there until February. This year's program has eight girls, so the guys were back in the minority, just like in Spain. Most of the girls were using this program as a break between college and high school and all of them spoke at least one other language to go along with the French that they were currently learning and using. At one point, we heard French, German, and English being spoken at the same time in one room, so we started speaking in Spanish just to get a fourth language in there.
On Monday morning, the five of us went on a hike to further explore the mountains. We quickly realized how perfect it was that we were here during this time of year; the yellows, oranges, and reds that coated the mountains made an already breathtaking view even better. Between the trees, mountains, countryside French houses, and farm animals, it was almost impossible to walk forward without stopping.
Wednesday was Luke's birthday, and he was able to spend it with his mom, who happened to be in the area for work on the same week we were on vacation. For his birthday, she took us to a castle where a lot of meetings resulting in the French Revolution were held. The best part of the castle was the balcony that overlooked a park filled with geese, ducks, and swans.
On Thursday, we finally had to say goodbye to all the new friends we met because we were on our way to Venice.
Perusing Paris: Part 2
November 1, 2011
Saturday, we hit the streets again for some more sightseeing. First on our list was the Arc of Triumph, a huge arc decorated with carvings and dedicated to those who fought in French wars. I found that I could read some of the French because of its similarity to Spanish, but I still missed a lot of what was written.
Next, we got a look at the Eiffel Tower in the daytime while heading toward a market that is open twice a week and sells a variety of French foods that we could try. We took our findings to a park where we settled in for a relaxing lunch.
We spent some of the afternoon in the apartment of two Americans with whom one of our friends from another Seville program was staying for the weekend. They were nice enough to invite us in and help us plan out the rest of our day in Paris.
Later, we went to a statue garden that I believe was once someone's very fancy backyard. The most famous statue here was "The Thinker," of which there are actually a few copies in the world, but this was the first one cast and therefore the coolest.
The next day, the guys went to another art museum, the Orsay. There were several works from Van Gogh and Monet, some of which I had just seen in their travels to Chicago a year before. I am following them all around, I guess.
The museum was our final destination in Paris, and after this we walked to the train station for our next part of our travels in France - the peaceful countryside of Grenoble.
Perusing Paris: Part 1
November 1, 2011
When I returned from my run on Thursday morning, Isabel was sitting on her couch, hand on forehead with a distraught look on her face. "Do you know what happened?" she asked. I said no, and she proceeded to tell me that she accidently fell back asleep after her alarm went off and was not able to give Luke his breakfast or say goodbye before our trip. "Pobrecito," she kept saying, which means "poor thing." This is just how much our host mom loves us.
Our trip began with a 2-hour flight to a city just outside Paris and a quick bus ride over to our hostel. It was pretty late so we went right to bed after getting a quick tour of the hostel. We were a little worried about the quality because it was such a good deal for being downtown, but it ended up being a nice place.
Friday, we took our first walk through the city over to the Louvre, a huge building that is now a giant art museum. The courtyard has some giant glass pyramids that serve as the entrance to the museum, and it was here that we discovered we could get into all the museums in Paris for free because we had a student visa.
The museum was gorgeous with too many beautiful works of art to admire in the short time we had. In every room, my eyes did not know where to look first. We quickly made our way to the Mona Lisa, where there was a swarm of people taking pictures of the very small but famous work.
Next, we looked at all the statues, many of which I have seen in my history and art books, but never knew where they were held. My favorite statues were the Greek gods, being the fan of Greek mythology that I am.
After enjoying some sandwiches that Isabel gave us the day before, we went to our next famous landmark, the Notre Dame cathedral. It is the only cathedral with square towers instead of pointed ones. I felt a little spoiled with the cathedrals because this one was not as impressive as the ones in Seville or Toledo, but it was obviously still very fancy, and it was awesome to experience such a famous place.
Finally, we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower. We ate dinner outside at a restaurant where we could see it sticking its head out over a building. The restaurant was frustrating because we could not speak French, so we had to resort to pointing out everything on the menu foolishly. It made me realize how easy it is to get around Seville with the amount of Spanish I know.
Following the delicious meal, we sat in the park right in front of the Tower. The pictures that we took in front of it were so surreal and perfect. Every hour, the tower started sparkling with flashing lights for about five minutes, so we stuck around for two rounds of that before making our way back to our beds.