Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Vacation from our vacation

We took a vacation from our vacation.  Nothing is wrong with that!  The beach on the Mediterranean Sea is a must on a visit to Spain.  This weekend I got to check this off my list of "Things to do in Spain".  And a lot of other firsts too.  It took a lot of planning to accomplish a weekend trip to a city a few hours away where they don't speak your first language. I am proud that we were able to accomplish this with few problems.  Our trip to Malaga, Spain.


The first step was setting dates and determining how long our vacation could be.  We decided to leave Friday and return on Sunday.   


Brooke and I at the train station
 The transportation options were either the train (Ave) or the bus.  The train is about twice as expensive as the bus, but takes half the time.  We wanted to try the train but since we are poor travelers we also wanted to save money.  We chose to do one way train and the other bus.  The train was 25.20 Euros one way and the bus was only 13.  The bus was even cheaper (about 10 Euros each way) if a round trip was purchased.  The train ride took 1 hour and the bus took almost 2 1/2.  The train ride was fast, comfortable, and exciting, but it was more difficult to see the scenery out of the windows.  On the bus there was a little less space, kind of bumpy, and a better chance of motion sickness, but there was so much more to look at out the windows.  Overall, I am glad that we had the opportunity to try both but in the future I will probably stick with the bus for money's sake. 


 Next, we had to find somewhere to stay.  Malaga is a tourist hot spot and therefore hotels are pricey.  We decided to stay in a hostel, which are numerous in European cities.  We stayed at Feel Malaga Hostel.  The woman who we made the reservations with and who was at the front desk for most of our visit was very helpful and even spoke English.It is best to make reservations early in order to ensure that everyone is in the same room.  We lucked out.  There were only 4 in my group and we were lucky that we all got to be in the same room.  We had a key lock and shared bathroom.  There was a sink, microwave, washer, and even A/C in our room and two bunk beds.  The room cost 37 Euros each for 2 nights.


Meggie and I Saturday morning on Malagueta Beach


The beach was only about a 15 minute walk from our hostel.   The beach was called "Malagueta".  It was a pretty big beach, although very crowded, especially on Sunday.  We got there early both days, about 10:30 a.m. and staked out some good spots.  We took snacks and lots of water so that we could stay on the beach all day.  The sun is extremely hot and the water is extremely cold.  We had to apply sunscreen every hour and cool off in the water. 


Grilled Hake
Try the seafood!  It doesn't get any fresher than here. On Friday night we ate at a delicious seafood restaurant.  I tried the fried calamari, which was actually very good, but the plates are big so sharing was a good idea.  Saturday night we went to another restaurant near  Taco Bell and I tried the grilled hake.  The prices were very good here.  Sunday for lunch we ordered "bocadillos" for only 2.5 Euros and they were delicious!  Mine was just tuna and it tasted so good!  We bought food at the supermarket for snacks on the beach.  Fruit and crackers were great, but water is a necessity.  Brooke's host mom warned us not to drink the tap water in Malaga.

What we learned

This trip was a wonderful experience.  We learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when traveling.  We had some good laughs and saw lots of beautiful sights.   There are a few things that stick out from our travels. 
The main street of Malaga on Saturday night
  • Consider bringing an extra towel for the showers, depending on your hostile.  Our hostile rented towels and we were much to poor to pay for one.  So we got creative....
  • Get to the beach early.
  • Get a map.
  • Plan ahead, but be flexible.
  • Go out at night.  Everything looks more beautiful.
  • Follow your ears.  If you hear live music, check it out.  We stumbled upon a free dancing and singing performance that was very exciting.
  • Check out all the ice cream shops before buying.  We should have seen all our options (there are a lot) before ordering.
  • As tempting as it may be, do not eat at McDonalds, Taco Bell, or Burger King.  Try the seafood!
  • Talk to other residents in your hostile.
  •  Bring sunscreen and reapply more than you think you need to.
  • If you burn and need aloe vera, make sure it's not actually hand sanitizer WITH aloe vera (Meggie)
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Visit Picasso's house and the cathedral
There is a lot to do in Malaga and so many sites to see.  It is a perfect weekend getaway. 

Classroom Norms in Spain

In our culture class today we discussed the norms that are expected in classrooms in Spain.  I shocked at some of the things students in Spain are not allowed to do.  I have done almost all of them in class here and at home in Kansas.  It seems that the classrooms here are much more strict.  Since I am in a class with only students from K-State we did not pick up on these norms from other students.  We had a discussion about them today.  Fortunately our teachers do not enforce them with us.  Here is what we learned:
  • No food or drinks (water is okay)
  • No gum
  • No leaving the classroom to go to the bathroom
  • No slouching in your chair
  • No flip flops
  • No cell phones
  • No pencils on exams
These would be hard changes to get used to if I had to follow these rules!  I like that US classrooms are more relaxed, at least depending on the teacher.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Madinat Al-Zahra

At Madinat Al-Zahra
In front of the city entrance
It's hard to describe what it is like to watch through the ruins of a city that was built over 1000 years ago, but that is exactly what I did.  We visited Madinat Al-Zahra which is located only 7 kilometers outside of Cordoba. Construction on the city began in 936 and took about a decade to complete.  Even though the city stood for barely 80 years it is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Spain and Europe. Currently only one-tenth of the city has been excavated.  Even so, we went on a two-hour walking tour and I would have liked to stay for at least another two hours!  The view from the highest point in the city is incredible.  I could see for miles.  We were able to see gates, stables, servants quarters, remains of the oven, and the hall of Abd al-Rahman III.  I loved to just stand in the center of the city and gaze out upon the remains and imagine what I would have seen if I was standing there 1000 years ago.  What would the people be doing?  What would they look like?  What would they be wearing?  How would the city look?  After the tour at the ruins we visited the museum, which had original and reconstructed items from the city.  Then we got to watch a 20 minute video that portrayed what the city might have looked at during it's prime.  I would suggest to others going here to do the walking tour outside first.  I liked to have my own images of the city before I saw the video. Also, it's a good idea to go early in the morning before you roast in the sun.  This has definitely been one of my most favorite activities so far.

Friday, June 8, 2012

American Influences

I am so surprised at how much the United States influences culture and daily life in Spain.  It is true that more Spaniards speak English than Americans that speak Spanish, but still I am surprised at how much of the English language is seen every day.  I think I see more shirts with English writing than with Spanish.  And in most of the shops and stores that we enter they are playing pop music that is popular in the US.  I have heard Jason Derulo, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, just to name a few.  I wonder how much of these songs the people here actually understand.  In addition I have seen numerous billboards for Hollywood movies.  The new Men in Black movie and the Snow White movie have both been advertised here.  I like it because it reminds me of home.  In class we have talked about how famous the voices are that speak in Hollywood movies.  Movie goers here can recognize the voice but wouldn't know the faces of these people.  I think that is so interesting.  Last night I was watching a Hollywood movie on TV, You Again, that came out just a few years ago.  The Spanish voice overs were included.  I don't think that I would like to watch movie like this.  There are a lot of influences in TV too.  Spongebob, Dora, and the Smurfs are all very popular here.  The Mentalist, House, CIS, and Sex and the City are shown on TV here.  They also have spin-off of American shows such as Big Brother, Minute to Win it, and Grey's Anatomy.  It makes me realize how much of an influence the US is on the rest of the world.  It also makes me so proud of where I am from.  Yesterday we were shopping at the mall and I we found a scarf that was an American flag.  I thought about it.  Would I ever find a scarf in America of Spain's flag?  Probably not.


The singers and guitarists
Three Flamenco Dancers
We had the pleasure of attending an excellent Flamenco show last week.  The show was in a courtyard area and we had front row seats!  The show began with a solitary man playing the guitar in the dark.  He seemed to be one with the music and I could almost see the music by his facial expressions.  Then a man came out.  He reminded me of someone that would be in the Mafia.  Wearing all black, shaved head, stout, and strong.  Then he belted out some beautiful song.  It was incredible!  He was joined by a young, petite woman and another guitarist.  The band was assembled.  Then came the dancers.  First was a man and woman couple.  They each had little clappers in their hands that added so much to the music.  I don't even know how they moved their fingers that quickly.  There were 5 acts total.  Besides the first one, they stomped their feet instead of using clappers.  I didn't know they did that, but it was so cool!  I was worn out just watching the dancers. The dancers faces looked full of pain.  It was amazing experience.  Andalusia is well-known for their flamenco dances and it is a must-see when visiting Spain.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

La Mezquita

Cordoba is famous for La Mezquita.  There are lots of buses full of tourists that visit each day.  Last week we had the opportunity to visit La Mezquita too, which is an obvious must see when coming to Cordoba.  My class had a personal tour guide that took us all around the Mezquita and shared her knowledge with us.  The tour was completely in Spanish, obviously, but I had trouble paying attention for the whole time.  I was distracted by the beauty of La Mezquita.  I wish that I could explain it, or at least show pictures that would convey the beauty of the place, but neither do it justice.  The amount of detail and splendor is indescribable. 

La Mezquita was originally a mosque, but after the Spanish reconquest it was transformed into a Catholic church.  There is so much history that makes this such an incredible place to visit and learn about.  I had the opportunity to attend church there this past Sunday although it was in a small chapel and not the main altar.  Still it was beautiful. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Host Mom

Before I left America I filled out a questionnaire about my preferences for a family to live with.  I checked that I wanted to live with a family that had children.  Instead I am placed in a home with just one mom.  It is just me her.  Her name is Rosa and I couldn't be happier with her.  She is very particular, but extremely patient with me and understanding.  She has been hosting students for 12 years.  She talks slowly and repeats herself a lot until I finally understand, or at least say that I do!  She washes my laundry every Thursday and cooks my meals, delicious although not always the healthiest.  She talks a LOT!  But I have learned to ask questions.  It is extremely important especially when I do not understand what she is telling me.  My host mom obviously knows a lot about Cordoba and I have learned to ask her questions about it.  She always wants to tell me what she knows. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

What study abroad really means...

Study abroad.  Do not be fooled but this phrase.  Many people may think this is synonymous with vacation.  It is not.  Study comes first, in the phrase at least.  Don't get me wrong, studying is better abroad, but it is still studying.  And it does have to get done.  We are in class 5 1/2 hours each day.  Believe me, in the summer that seems like an eternity.  On top of that there is homework to be done and papers to write.  But when we are here we are learning continuously.  Every time I speak with my host mom I am learning more and more.  I have already noticed huge gains in my comprehension and understanding of Spanish.  But this is not a walk in the park.  Most of the time my brain feels like mush and I crave speaking English.  This is another reason I am glad that I am here with other students from K-State.  Studying abroad is fantastic, but when I signed up for this I kept forgetting about the "study" part.  Even so, I wouldn't change my mind. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

La Feria

My first night in Cordoba at La Feria
The day that we arrived in Cordoba was the final day of the week long fair that occurs every year in Cordoba.  It is one of the biggest events of the year.  Although I partly felt like a zombie after a trip around the world that day, it was totally worth it to go out that night to La Feria.  La Feria lasts one week at the end of May.  It includes carnival rides, games, restaurants, places to dance, and fireworks.  We rode a ride that was similar to a ferris wheel and it was incredible!  When up on top we could see for miles and all that was at La Feria.  It was beautiful.  My host mom packed me water and sandwiches so that I would not have to buy food.  Although, all the food looked delicious.  There were huge baked potato things that were topped with loads of goodies that looked delicious!  We walked around and saw all the rides and places to dance.  Since most of the rides were so expensive we only rode one.  One of my favorite things was all the Flamenco dresses.  The women wore beautiful, ornate dresses and sometimes the moms matched their young daughters.  It was adorable!  At midnight we watched the fireworks.  It was a beautiful sight. 

For more information and better pictures of La Feria, click here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Los Baños de España

There are several important things to know about the bathrooms in Spain that I have learned thus far.  First of all, the thing used to flush the toilet is usually on top.  In most instances it is necessary to push down, but don't be tricked by the few that require you to pull up.  The first time I used the toilet in my house I was pushing down with all my might for a long time, until I realized I just needed to pull it up.  Second, it is not uncommon to not have a trashcan in the bathroom.  Improvise!  Adapt to the differences.  Third, bathrooms in Spain are not labeled "men" and "women", but rather "callaberos" y "damas".  The "damas" is for ladies and "caballeros" is for gentlemen.  Don't be confused as I was by "C" and "D".  Creeping into the bathrooms because you're not sure which is which is sure to get you some funny looks.  Finally, there are public restroom located along the street (picture) that are available for a small fee, about 0.3 Euros.  But be quick because there is a 15 minute time limit!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Faculty-Led Study Abroad

I am studying abroad in Cordoba, Spain with a group from K-State.  It is led by a faculty advisor, Dra. Anna Hiller.  She also has the help of a graduate student.  There are 14 total students in our group.  There are only 2 boys and the rest are girls.  I am surprised by the uneven ratio, more boys need to go on these study abroad trips!  The faculty-led trips are great because it is completely organized by the professor.  She has taken care of all the important details and I feel so much safer knowing that she is near-by.  I have also very much appreciated knowing other students from K-State on the trip.  We also flew here together and the stress of the trip has been so much less.  I suggest a faculty-led trip if you feel the need for extra security and aren't completely sure about how confident you are traveling in another country alone.  However, there are some drawbacks.  All 4 of my classes are with all the same people, from K-State.  It is not easy to meet other students at the University who are not in our group.  Sometimes I also feel like our group is very large and we receive a lot of stares.  Still, I am very glad that I am with this group from K-State.  I feel less homesick and more comfortable.  About half of the time I am with the entire group and the rest of the time I am on my own or with just a few others.  Overall I think the decision about a faculty-led trip or not comes down to how confident and comfortable you would be traveling alone.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Welcome to my blog!  I leave for Cordoba on May 25th! Stay tuned.