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the bay downtown

>>Disclaimer! = (Spanish Food ~= Mexican Food)

Contrary to the popular belief, Spanish food is not Mexican food. While Mexicans choose to liven their meals up with a fiesta of spices and flavors, the Spaniards take their notorious route to siesta with subtle hints of salt and extra virgin olive oil. And yes, olive oil is their main seasoning, sauce, and/or dressing. So good thing for us, we can still be fat Americans enjoying our variety of  fried food (fried french fries, fried funnel cakes, fried chicken nuggets, fried Oreos, fried candy bars, fried.. butter, etc.) but skip the Spain 15 and reap the benefits of healthy extra virgin olive oil (http://www.healingdaily.com/detoxification-diet/olive-oil.htm).

≠≠≠≠With that said, one of Spain’s most famous dishes is the Spanish tortilla (again don’t think Mexican food). Its composed of eggs, potatoes, and onions giving you your three major food groups, protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables. The great thing about this tortilla, apart from its great Spanish taste, is how incredibly cheap it is. If you want to get it at a local restaurant or cafe, it’s about $1.50, and if, instead, you want to unleash the iron chef in you and make it yourself, that $1.50 will buy you enough ingredients to make it for a week, well like four days. Entonces, with the $8 you save from eating a tortilla instead of your day’s Statler salad, you can buy your Ryanair plane ticket to Barcelona, but that will have to wait until another post. Until then, I wish the best of luck with your finals.

Sincerely,

Leigh

World Youth Day, Madrid

World Youth Day, the Catholic festival that brings together young pilgrims from across the globe, was held this past summer August 16-21 in Madrid, Spain. Millions of Catholics flocked to Madrid to share the joys of their faith, celebrate Mass with the Pope (Papa, en Español), and meet Catholics from all different parts of the world.

Inevitably, this also leads to the mass influx of Catholics backpacking around Spain, parading in the streets waving their countries’ flags, invading museums and restaurants with “Pilgrim Specials,” singing hymns in harmony in subways and buses, and clashing with protesters who argue that the estimated 50 million euros spent on the event were ludicrous in light of Spain’s current economic crisis.

If you are wondering why I, the only Jew in Spain, would know so much about this worldwide Catholic festival, it is because I was there.

The summer Spanish courses were split up into two three week sessions, with a five-day-long break in the middle. Naturally, once we heard that we would have a break, we ran to our ordenadors (because computadora is only a Spanish word in Latin America) to check which Ryanair flights would be the most reasonable during that week: our tickets were shortly booked for Madrid.

The first suspicion that our trip would be out of the ordinary was planted when Megan, the only Catholic of the group, mentioned that she wanted to find a “Pope cowboy hat” when in Madrid. Yes, we would soon realize that cowboy hats, along with millions of other 2011 World Youth Day memorabilia, would be sold throughout the city before, during, and after the Pope’s visit. “Oh,” we nonchalantly replied. “I guess we’ll look out for them …”

Only days before our spontaneous and seemingly innocent vacation, other friends mentioned that the Pope would be in Madrid that week, and while there were clear signs all over the news, we simply nodded our heads and brushed it off. Well, that’s nice, but I’m not Catholic. This doesn’t affect me. Right?

Wrong. From the moment we arrived at the airport in Madrid, we were surrounded by “Pope people”—pilgrims sporting World Youth Day (WYD) gear from head to toe (or should I say, from cowboy hat to WYD sock). There were Australian middle-schoolers who flew to Spain with their Catholic boarding school, there were Brazilian families chanting and waving flags, there American college students from Michigan wearing traveler’s backpacks equipped with mats for sleeping on, and the list goes on and on.

Our hostel was a disaster, as there were groups of pilgrims checking in with no less than 20 people at a time. We were only five—we had to wait. But at least we could assume we wouldn’t get robbed with Catholic pilgrims as roommates.

Eventually, we tried to see the Pope at his opening mass. Still not realizing the magnitude of the situation, we walked with swarms of people towards what seemed like the entrance to the event. We walked, and walked, and … nada. All we saw were more people, more flags, more Pope cowboy hats, and nothing else. “Don’t go! There’s NO FOOD!” a fellow American bellowed from the crowd—we knew we had to turn back. Masses of pilgrims began retreating, and we were informed that overcrowding and security issues had caused the event to close its doors.

We couldn’t see the Pope, but we found a McDonald’s, packed with hungry and weary travelers from across the globe. We sat. We ate. We heard dozens of languages buzzing about in one room. We had come to Madrid expecting to explore a city of Spanish culture, and what we discovered was the amazing spiritual (and gastronomical) appetite of faithful Catholics all over the world. We also discovered that there’s just nothing else quite like a cheap and easy fast food stop on a never-ending road.

 

 

Summer Days

 

Yes, this is actually where we live

Daily Schedule, Monday to Friday:

8am – Wake up, eat breakfast with host family

9am – Classes start with mad, crazy, fabulous Spanish professors

11am – Break, get café con leche and tortilla at the cafeteria, hang out with other abroad students

11:30am – Classes resume, perhaps with a different yet equally as ridiculous Spanish professor

2pm – Big lunch with the fam, siesta

4pm – Meet at the beach, work on your tan, swim, “study” by reading magazines in Spanish

6pm – Break from your hard afternoon of sleeping on the beach to get the greatest ice cream you will ever eat

8pm – Return to casa, get ready for dinner, take a run or bike ride around the Palacio de la Magdalena if you want to work off that ice cream (just skipping the ice cream is not an option)

10pm – Dinner with the fam

11pm – Plaza Cañadio for tapas and drinks

 

Plaza Cañadio on a summer night

 

 

Now try and convince yourself you would rather be in Ithaca, NY.

-B

La Siesta

This after-lunch food-coma nap is taken very seriously in Spain. Instead of just sleeping all night, they go to sleep much later and then nap in the middle of the day. Between the hours of 1:30 and 4:30, the entire country closes down, and everybody goes home.

Everybody. Students, teachers, butchers, bread-makers, retail workers, you get it. There is absolutely nothing to do between these hours in the afternoon but eat and sleep. If, for some strange reason, you have already eaten lunch around 12 or 1, and you have slept for a decent amount of time the night before, you are out of luck.

We quickly realized that we were either to adapt to the Spanish eating schedule or be bored for the majority of the afternoon. Adhering to the 3pm nap was gladly welcomed by us sleep-deprived Cornell students. The difficulties began while waiting for a 2:30 lunchtime. Breakfast, which at Cornell consisted of a half eaten pop-tart and iced coffee, now became a much more substantial meal (the iced coffee is also nowhere to be found in Spain – make that all of Europe – even the Starbucks here doesn’t usually get it right! Gasp). The days where I was running late and did not have time for my Spanish abuela’s wholesome breakfasts of cereal and milk, bread, and fruit, were filled with headaches, drooping eye-lids, and wrong Spanish answers in class.

Since you waited until 2:30 or 3 o’clock to first eat lunch, it follows that dinner starts up at about 9 or 10pm. Restaurants won’t serve you before 8, and most won’t fill up until 9pm or even 10pm on weekends. It is not uncommon to finish eating around 11 or 12 at night. And now because we are eating dinner so late, we are also going to sleep very late, and therefore desperately need an afternoon nap the following day.

Whether the siesta or the late nights out came first, I do not know. But once you get stuck in this Spanish life schedule, it is very difficult to get out. I suggest eating some tortilla, taking a nap, and thinking about a solution mañana.

-B

The Home-Stay: New Noms

Whether it is because Americans can be obsessive worriers, or because there are extraordinary superpower preservatives in Spanish food, the people in Spain usually don’t feel the need to refrigerate milk, eggs, and other perishables right away.

They might prepare tortilla for you at 10am and let it sit out until 2:30pm when you come home for lunch. They might leave fruit in a bowl for a week before they serve it to you. They might leave their left over bogadillo con jamón covered in mayo and cheese and all sorts of foods with clearly labeled (and ignored) “Sell-By” dates on the table over night and then eat it for lunch the next day.

Well the six of us are still here and we have had it all. Stop being an obsessive freshness patrol, scrutinizing every last bite, and just eat.

That being said, if you end up hating a particular dish, let your host mom know. It’s better for everyone involved if you enjoy the food you’re eating and if you don’t waste your host family’s money on food that you would just throw out while they’re not looking. If problem foods are specifically mentioned in the beginning, there will be less of a problem throughout the home-stay.

I’m not going to mention all the food I ate because, well, then you wouldn’t be discovering new foods. I will say, however, that you need to be prepared to explain any vegetarianism, veganism, kosher-ness, or any other inability to eat pork at least three times a week, very, very carefully. Most Spaniards will just not understand. I don’t eat pork, but my Spanish friends get very confused/upset/concerned when I mention that I do not eat jamón, chorizo, pork chops, sausage, morcilla, or any other form of pig meat.

Nevertheless, I still love the food in Spain, and I think anyone else with an open mind and an undying willingness to try new foods will love it too. And just remember that when you move out, you’ll have to cook food on your own, so enjoy being served by a Spanish abuela for the short time you’re there!

-B

Cornellians in Cantabria: 2011-2012 Edition

from left to right: Brooke, Karolina, Alexandra, Kristian, Meg, Ashleigh, and Bonnie

Pequeño – Everything is smaller in Spain. There’s no Jack’s Grill with burgers the size of your face, nor is there Subway with the famous “$5 Foot Long” (nor do they measure things in feet – astonishingly, the metric system is used more than just in science class). There’s no extra large fries, there’s no 18” pizza pie, there’s no Venti sized iced coffee.

In Spain, one person could generally consume an entire dish in one sitting without needing a doggie bag for leftovers. That includes Peggy Sue, the single chain of diners in Spain that tries to mimic the typical 1950’s American diner (however, I’m sorry to say, they fail miserably).

But we love Spain. Really, we do. From finding the best discount international airline websites to dealing with an entire country on a three hour lunch break for “siesta,” the transition from Ithaca, NY to Santander, Spain has been crazy and hectic at times, but never too much to handle. Please, we’ve done Ithaca in winter, trekking to Riley Robb and back in the snow. We can do Spain.

Having the opportunity to meet students from all over the world, learn about their cultures, eat their food, and visit their home countries using Ireland’s fabulously economical airline, Ryanair, is all definitely worth the strangeness and awkwardness of adjusting to a completely new world.

In this blog, Meghan, Kristian, Brooke, Ashleigh, Alexandra, and I will attempt to give a taste of life in Santander, Spain, of traveling Europe on weekends, and of engineering in a foreign country (oh yeah, we also have four engineering classes each semester). By the end of our year in Spain, hopefully readers will be undoubtedly convinced to continue the Cornell-Cantabria junior year abroad and will also have enough advice and useful information to get them there.

-B

Final thoughts

I know I wasn’t terribly consistent with my posts this past year, but I figured you might get sick of hearing about my traveling and that you should learn on your own those sorts of things when you come. So in this last post, written back in the US after a year spent abroad, I will put my final thoughts and suggestions about the Cantabria program.

If you do this exchange program, you will not only have the change to run with the bulls, watch a Flamenco show in a gypsy cave in Granada, see the Semana Santa processions in Seville, and sunbathe on the black sand beaches of the Canary Islands. You will also have the opportunity to drink beer and eat chocolate in Belgium, go skiing in the Alps, attend midnight mass at the Vatican, see the Eiffel Tower light up on New Years, go to a costume party in Tours, and so many other things. When you do the program you learn a lot about Spain and Spanish culture, but you also learn about other cultures too. With the Erasmus students from all over Europe, you have the opportunity to hang out, eat, and have parties with different people and learn about their cultures too. Then you make friend and visit them in their native cities and meet their friends.

After 11 months in Spain and traveling about Europe, I do not regret my decision to do this program. I do admit it was difficult in the beginning, but challenges make you think and make you a more experienced and in the end, I think, stronger person. I met so many wonderful people and did so many things that this for sure will be a year that I will never forget.

Good things to know or things I wish I knew before coming:

  • Get there more than a day before your Spanish classes start, you will need a day or two to adjust and it gives you time for if things don’t work out as planned.
  • You may want to buy a calling card to call your parents in the first few days; the school’s internet supposedly doesn’t support Skype.
  • Use the International Relations office, they are there to help and they do a fantastic job of it.
  • Listen to as much Spanish as possible, T.V., radio, movies, it really helps to improve your Spanish and learn new phrases.
  • You should do both the summer Spanish courses; even if you don’t think you need them. The teachers are fantastic and you are there the best time to go to the beaches. We were the only 10 during the August class, but we got to know each other and the city very well. In September all the Erasmus students come and there are a lot more people in the classes, but that’s really when you make your friends. There are organized activities for you in August and September that are good chances to meet people and get to know the city.
  • When you get there your host family will most likely not have internet, but the International Relations Office has computers that you can use and so does the language center.
  • You should live with other Erasmus students because then you are forced to speak Spanish and get to know new people and cultures.
  • When you first start classes, the Spanish students may seem a little cold and keep to themselves, but it’s not how they really are. In the beginning the Americans don’t really speak Spanish well and the Spanish assume that you don’t speak Spanish but they don’t speak English very well, but approach them and start up a conversation, between English and Spanish you will basically understand each other.
  • Do a language exchange with someone! This is very important if you want to improve your Spanish. Find someone to spend an hour a day or so with, speak English one day and speak Spanish the next, it really works and you will get to know cool and interesting things about the person.
  • Do the program for the entire year. I believe that if you don’t do the entire year you will not get the full effect of the program. A lot of Erasmus students left after the first semester and wished they could have done the whole year.
  • There are companies that will ship your baggage for a reasonable price within Spain. I took a train to Madrid with all my stuff at the end of the year and it was miserable. If you have a lot of stuff you should consider shipping them ahead of you, it will relieve a lot of stress.

I think that’s about it. Good luck and enjoy the experience.

Travels in and out of Spain – Part II

Last post I described a lot of travels outside of Spain, and now I wish to touch on some that were close by. The first trip I took was the “Viaje de Prácticas” with the fourth year students of the Facultad de Ingenieria de Caminos Canales y Puertos. They offer the trip to just the fourth year students, bus as those who were going abroad next year would miss it, the Spanish students were invited along, and because the Spanish people are excellent hosts, the Americans got to tag along as well.

Our first stop, the Supersur highway construction in Bilbao.

Our first stop, the Supersur highway construction in Bilbao.

We were visiting five different construction sites around the northeastern part of Spain in five days. The university arranged everything, we got to stay in hotels, got free breakfast and lunch (although the lunch was provided by the companies of the sites we were visiting), and transportation via bus to all of the different places. We saw a highway being built in Bilbao, chock full of those tunnels the Spanish engineers are so fond of, a renovation of a museum in downtown of the city of Zaragoza, then off to another highway under construction outside of Zaragoza, then a desalination plant recently renovated in Girona (north of Barcelona), and finally, a dam that was going to be enlarged in Navarra. We got tours of each of the sites and we were put into groups of about eight or ten students which each had a specific work site to do a report on at the end of the trip. My group got the “presa de Yesa” which was the dam being renovated in Navarra.

Presa de Yesa in Navarra. They are going to build a new, larger dam right in front of this old one to capture more water.

Presa de Yesa in Navarra. They are going to build a new, larger dam right in front of this old one to capture more water.

During the evenings we had free time and took full advantage of this by visiting the nightlife of Zaragoza and Barcelona, which were the two cities we stayed the night in. It was overall a great bonding experience with the students in our class, as well as the other Spanish engineering students. Our Spanish guides of the work sites saw the Americans as somewhat as an anomaly and continually asked if we understood their Spanish. Everywhere everyone was extremely accommodating and helpful, and the lunches were full on three course meals with dessert and chupitos (shots) included. It was a real treat to get Spanish food from nice restaurants although I did have to ask at every single place for a special vegetarian meal. Most waitresses were very kind about my requests, albeit confused; one time they served me pasta, just pasta, nothing else, and I had to keep bothering them to get some tomato sauce. Although I have to say it did help me to save room for dessert (always vegetarian!), as I couldn’t eat most of the tapas (appetizers) that they brought out, and believe me, they brought out way too much. Each meal was decadence in itself, as the companies wish to impress the students in order to convince them to work for them when they graduate. The trip is mainly about making connections, as well as experiencing real construction sites and understanding the full process of a civil work.

Architect explaining his design of the renovation of Museo Pablo Serrano in Zaragoza.

Architect explaining his design of the renovation of Museo Pablo Serrano in Zaragoza.

My favorite site we visited was the renovation of the Museo Pablo Serrano in Zaragoza as this is the type of civil engineering I am most interested in. The architect himself took us on a guided tour of the project, explaining the concepts behind the design, the problems they ran into, and how and why he made the decisions about the materials, escalator placement, and ceiling treatment. The design was quite modern, and as a museum, had a lot of open space. There were high ceilings and drastic overhangs, as well as carefully placed natural lighting. The architect explained that he had to consider the protection of the artwork from sunlight in the design, which led to some of his choices about the layout of the rooms. It was extremely interesting to talk with him and he was very thorough in his descriptions, even taking a half hour or so drawing on the freshly constructed drywall to try to explain the concept of the design.

After this “viaje,” I planned for my Formula One  trip to Barcelona. A friend and I took an overnight bus on Thursday night to arrive on Friday morning, threw our stuff in the hostel, then off to the circuit for Friday practice and qualifying (for the supporting series). I highly recommend going to Friday practice as there are few people that actually go. The stands were empty and there was practically no security. Technically we had the cheapest tickets, ones that only allowed us in the open areas around the track, not into any area with stands or seats. However, on Friday we were allowed everywhere. We found a particularly sweet spot that placed us right on the outside of a curve and very close to the track. There were also nice bleachers to sit in if we got tired of taking zillions of pictures.

The sweet spot with bleachers I found on Friday, plus a Ferrari...

The sweet spot with bleachers I found on Friday, plus a Ferrari...

I spent Friday mostly practicing, as trying to take a picture of a Formula One car while its whipping around a corner is quite difficult. Especially, if you have a cheap digital camera with only 3x zoom. Since we were so close to the track most of the time, my lack of zoom hardly mattered. Its also crucial to be seated where you can see a giant TV screen, as motorsports, while awesome to see in person, are really a television sport since you can’t be around the entire track all at once. The noise is what you really go for. I spent all of Friday without earplugs soaking up the deafening roar of the engines, but I wore them Saturday and Sunday lest my poor ears explode. Earplugs are a must, unless you don’t mind an ear ache. I lasted one day, and a lot of it was spent exploring far from the track. Also, if you go to a race, packed lunch and snacks are good to bring. I don’t know about other circuits, but the food was extremely expensive and unvaried. Since you’re allowed to bring whatever you like (you just have to open your bag at security and let them look, and of course no glass) most people showed up with coolers full of sandwich making materials and beer in plastic bottles. The first day we were caught unprepared and had to shove out 5 euro for a cheese sandwich, but the other days we packed lots of tasty food.

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull hitting the gravel when his brakes overheated during the race.

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull hitting the gravel when his brakes overheated during the race.

My experience at F1 was overall a complete success. Seeing and hearing those cars in person is an awesome experience…and one that is actually coming much closer to home in 2012. If you like F1, Austin, Tex. has just signed a 9 (or 10 I’m not sure) year deal with the FIA to host a US F1 race!

After another overnight bus on Sunday night and a very tired Monday, I was back in Santander. For our prehistoric art class (for just the Americans) we were going on two excursions this semester. One to Monte Hijedo and one to Peñu Tu and Santa Cruz to visit the rock art that can be found there. My favorite was most definitely Peña Tu in Asturias where we learned why the archaeology department at Universidad de Cantabria has a Land Rover. For Monte Hijedo, our trip consisted of lots of driving through the Cantabrian countryside and hiking over and through brush to see carved anthropomorphic images from around 3000-2000 BC. The Cantabrian countryside was very beautiful and I didn’t mind the drive at all, although I did get a little car sick from bouncing around the backseat of a Land Rover for 2 hours.

Rock art in Monte Hijedo.

Schematic rock art in Monte Hijedo.

The most exciting though, of course, was the drive up to Peña Tu. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my camera, but I found photos of the site online, and will present them to you here (cited of course). The rock where the artwork can be found is on top of a hill near the coastline and the road to get there is a serious jagged rock, gravely, pitted, sandy path that winds up the hillside at an alarming slope considering the type of ground. When we were half-way up, our professor stopped the car, and said “ahh, now for the hard part,” and switched the Land Rover into low gear mode. We were so slanted at one point I thought we’d tip over for sure; although, that wouldn’t have been a terrible problem as we would have just rested the car against the rock face, which was inches from the windows.

Road we took up to Peña Tu. Taken from "http://www.vivirasturias.com/asturias/llanes/idolo-de-peña-tu/es/fotos."

Road we took up to Peña Tu. Taken from "http://www.vivirasturias.com/asturias/llanes/idolo-de-peña-tu/es/fotos."

After this exciting climb, you reach the top and hike a little bit to the rock outcropping where the poor carving has been shot at and “purified” with Christian crosses. It is a carving of a representation of a human, tombstone-shaped, with eyes in the semi-circle and zig-zags crossing the main body of the piece. There is also a carving of a weapon next to the human image.

Well, believe it or not, this is the end of my travels for the semester. I feel like I’ve seen many places, yet there’s still so much to see. I’ll have to save those trips (more of Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Greece, Portugal and eastern Spain) for another trip across the pond. Traveling and experiencing new cultures is one of the many advantages of this program, and I took full advantage of it while here. You can learn so much just by walking around, stopping at cafes, and visiting museums in all the different cities I got to travel to. I hope these descriptions and stories have piqued your interest if just a little bit, enough to check out some of these wonderful cities and events if you can.

Travels in and out of Spain- Part I

By Megan Rotondo

I know, it’s been awhile, but I’ve been busy! Second semester has been full of travels, visitors, and a Formula One race! I plan to sum up my travels in one long post to make up for laziness throughout the semester.

Typical type of building in Tours, France.

Typical type of building in Tours, France.

First trip to speak of is the one I took right after first semester ended, in February. I’ll be brief, because I know Megan talked a little about the first part of our journey in one of her own posts (The start of a new semester). First off, France is beautiful. Even in the cold, snowy weather of February I was open-mouthed at the castles and towns we visited in the Loire Valley. It was also a special treat to stay with one of the girls I had lived with until December, who lives in Tours. She took us around the city of Tours, introduced us to her friends, and sent us off to cute towns with big castles via train. We took an extremely long train ride to get to Tours, and although it was comfortable I wouldn’t recommend using the train unless you plan on getting a pass. It was really expensive for the six hour journey through France, and I believe flying would have been a smarter choice in this situation. The train system was excellent to get around France once you’re there, but I recommend flying into Paris first.

As for our stay with my French friend, I was amazed at how well all of her friends spoke English. They all were constantly apologizing for their “terrible English” but I could easily hold a conversation with them. My knowledge of French is limited to “I don’t speak French” “Hello” and “Goodbye,” a very limited conversation, that would be. Although, they were happy to help me struggle through learning a little more vocabulary while I was there.

For touristy advice, I highly recommend visiting Chenonceaux, Amboise, and the city of Tours, although I’m sure they’d all be more spectacular in the spring or summer. The gardens in February were quite sparse, and I was disappointed I couldn’t stroll through them surrounded by beautiful flowers. Although the castles themselves contain quite a bit of history, and I learned a lot from the self-guided tours we took. Also, in Amboise, the Da Vinci house is certainly worth a visit. It’s referred on the little brown signs strewn about the town as “Clos de Luce” and it has a large yard and really interesting replicas of Da Vinci’s designs.

Castle in Amboise, France.

Castle in Amboise, France.

From Tours I went off to Paris to meet friends. In February, Paris is freezing. I had been to Paris before, in June, and had walked everywhere. However, if visiting in the winter, I highly recommend an itinerary full of indoor activities and good knowledge of the metro system. I was happiest strolling in the warmth of the Lourve throughout my visit. From Paris, it was off to Rome, my first time in the historical city.

Rome is incredible. You can walk everywhere, the metro system only has two uncomplicated lines, you practically stumble upon ruins everywhere you go, and delicious pizza is extremely tasty and ubiquitous. The only problem I had in Rome was the fact that it snowed while we were waiting in line to get into St. Peters, and I had to walk through the church in soaking wet Converse and jeans. Although, I don’t believe this type of weather  is typical, so I wouldn’t pack for snow when you visit. There always seems to be something new to learn there and a friend of mine went back twice after our initial visit.

Hadrian's forum, first night in Rome.

Hadrian's forum, first night in Rome.

After these travels, my boyfriend and a good friend were coming to visit for their spring break. I was super excited to show them around Spain and my new home. We spent a short day in Madrid when they first arrived, then off to Santander. During the week we went to the Picos de Europa national park, where it was unfortunately chilly and rainy. The teleferico (cable car) was out of operation due to the wind and we were all quite disappointed. Due to this though, we did visit an amazing little town in Asturias called Llanes. It sits on the coast with the edge of the Picos right behind it. Although the town was practically empty, it was fun to walk around and look into the shops and cafes. There is an excellent walk along the coastline that is all grass and is situated right on top of the cliffs. We also tried the famous sidra (alcoholic cider) of Asturias, but none of us enjoyed it. We did enjoy, however, the drive into and out of the Picos de Europa, which runs along a small river through the mountains. It’s extremely narrow and twisty, and if you don’t get stuck behind a tour bus, is a fun drive full of scenery and tight curves.

Walkway along the coast in LLanes, Asturias.

Walkway along the coast in Llanes, Asturias.

After my friend and boyfriend departed, I spent only four more days in Santander and then off on an adventure around Europe for Semana Santa. For the Easter break, we got 10 full days off from class. I took full advantage of this long vacation and traveled to Düsseldorf, Germany; Tilburg and Amsterdam in Holland; London, England; and Dublin, Ireland. Two days in Düsseldorf were spent alone, while one friend of mine joined me for Holland, then another joined us for London and Dublin.

Very interesting sculpture along the riverside in Düsseldorf, with the crooked tower in the background.

Very interesting sculpture along the riverside in Düsseldorf, with the crooked tower in the background.

First off, Düsseldorf. I really enjoyed strolling around the city. The river Rhine runs along the edge of it and there is an excellent walk along the water with restaurants and boating tours. The city is known for its art and architecture because of the Frank Gehry buildings (Frank Gehry is the famous architect who designed the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao) and large assortment of museums. Unfortunately, as I was there in the off-season, most of the museums were being renovated and were closed. I did however peek into the glass museum and walk down to the harbor to see the Frank Gehry buildings. There is also an excellent crooked bell tower on the main church. Also along the riverside I stopped for some spaghetti eis…which is vanilla ice cream pushed through a machine to make it look like spaghetti, then topped with raspberry sauce and white chocolate chips acting as tomato sauce and cheese. It was awesome.

Frank Gehry buildings in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Frank Gehry buildings in Düsseldorf, Germany.

After Düsseldorf, I met up with a friend with whom I traveled to the house of a friend of hers who lives in Holland. We stayed at his house for the weekend and went on a day trip to Amsterdam and a nearby town of Breda for a music festival. The thing I most enjoyed about Holland? Stroopwafels. They are an amazing Dutch pastry that consists of gooey caramel in-between two small round”wafels.” I guess I also enjoyed the city of Amsterdam, though I must say I found it quite expensive. Although I was told by our Dutch host that Holland is expensive in general and that it’s not just Amsterdam. I really had wished to go into the Van Gogh museum but the wait was around the block and the admission price was 15 euro! I guess Spain and France were spoiling me, as I paid 2.50 euro to get into the Prado and got into the Lourve for free (with my residency card).

After Holland, we flew from Eindhoven to Stansted and then took a bus into London. My first impression of London? It’s big! We walked everywhere, but it took a full 45 minutes or more to get from our hostel to the Tower Bridge. Although it was tiring, it was great to walk around. Like Rome, you seem to run into something interesting everywhere you go, although it’s a different kind of interesting. Another great thing was that most of the museums are free. You do have to pay to get into the churches though, which was extremely surprising to me…I had always thought that looking at churches was a cheap way to see beautiful architecture. However, since churches are one of the main attractions, Westminister Abbey, St. Pauls, they cost about 12 pounds to get in. We decided to admire their beauty from the outside 🙂

Tower bridge, London.

Tower bridge, London.

We also went to go see a play at the Royal National Theatre. We waited outside at 7 a.m. the day of the play and got front row center seats for the evening show for 10 pounds! The play was called “The Habit of Art” and featured pretty well known actors. We even recognized the actor from Harry Potter (the man who plays Harry’s uncle Vernon) as the lead actor in the play. We were at first skeptical about all the trouble we had gone through to get the cheap tickets, but after the play we realized it was worth it. The actors were incredible and the script was scintillating yet held a deeper meaning in the context of the whole play.

After getting up at 3:30 a.m., we took an early flight to Dublin. Dublin is tiny. We quickly covered the main attractions of the city in a day, walking extremely slowly and stopping to sit on benches. We decided to take a day tour to the surrounding countryside. This was a most excellent choice, as the day trip wasn’t too expensive (25 euro for the whole day including two walking tours and bus ride, though that’s the student price, for adults it was 30 euro) and we got a great tour guide. We visited Glendalough and Kilkenney and got a guided tour throughout the entire countryside. The guide talked the entire time we were on the bus, and told us lots of interesting cultural and geographical information about Ireland.

Glendalough

Glendalough

In the city we visited the Guinness Storehouse, which was a lot of fun. It was also very interesting as it takes you through the brewing process and all the history behind the Guinness brand. You also get a free pint at the end! All in all the trip was a great success. Next post will include the Facultad de Caminos’ infamous Viaje de Practicas, our rock art excursions for prehistoric art class, and the Formula One Race at Circuit de Catalunya!

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