21 December 2009

Doing the Dubler - Part 2

So we got up early and headed to Galway on the west coast of Ireland. The bus ride was beautiful but I couldn’t stay awake. We got into the town around 3pm and met Jenny’s friend Brett. He studied for the semester in Galway so he took us on a tour of the town after we dropped our luggage off at the hostel. The first thing we saw was the river running through the middle of the town. It’s the fastest running river in Europe! It was definitely no joke, but the picture doesn’t make it look very impressive. There were no rails, so instead there are “ringboys” all along the edge, which is just what they call lifesavers.

It really only took about a half an hour to walk around, but I really loved the small-town feel. People were all incredibly nice. Then we had delicious fish and chips at a tavern. Cian, my Irish friend, also put on my list of tasks “eat fish and chips with brown sauce.” So after getting my steaming hot plate, I told Brett that I wanted some brown sauce for my chips. He was like “ok, but you need to ask her.” I wasn’t really sure why, but I went with it. It took me at least five attempts to get her attention. At IU my friends say I sound like I’m meowing when I say m’am, so needless to say getting waitresses attention can be challenging for me. I finally get her to come over to the table, and I ask, “May I have some brown sauce please?” She looks at me like I’m an idiot. The only response I get is “ok.” Then Brett informs me that it’s really weird to eat brown sauce with fish and chips. Thanks Cian! Apparently you’re the only one who does that, but you know what, I thought it was good. The brown sauce is basically like worcheshire sauce. Not bad on French fries! 

Then we went and met some of Brett’s friends at a coffee shop. We ended up talking to these two girls Katie and Sarah quite a bit and because Brett had to work on papers, they decided to show us the local pubs. They were so picturesque in Galway. There were people playing live traditional Irish music while I sipped a coffee with Bailey’s by the fire! It was so much fun!

The next morning we headed to the coach station with our suitcases to see the Cliffs of Moher. Apparently only Jenny and I had signed up for the tour with our company so they had us join a different tour group. Our guide Peter was witty and so knowledgeable. First he drove us through the Burren and gave us some basic knowledge. The Burren is around 350 square kilometers of exposed limestone hills, but the interesting part is that this area contains 80% of the plant life of Ireland as a result of the high levels of nutrients in the stone, and its ability to hold warmth. It’s absolutely beautiful, raw, and enchanting land.

A part of the tour that we joined was a walking tour through a farm on the Burren. We had to pay another 8 Euros to go, and honestly I was a little skeptical. I’m so glad that I did it. It was lightly raining when we arrived, but John, the attractive, rugged, Irish farmer, took the group to a room full of rain gear and had us suit up. We put pants over our pants, jackets over our jackets, wellies over our shoes, and wollies our hair (wellies= rainboots, wollies = wool sock hats). I thought, “this seems excessive, but ok.” I could not have been more wrong. Once we got to the top of the hill the rain was beating my face and the wind actually knocked me over. But it was still one of the coolest experiences of the trip to get off the bus and experience the terrain. From the bus it looks like it’s just rock but once you’re up there there’s crazy plant life everywhere.

After the walking tour we got back on the bus and headed to a set of small cliffs for a photo stop. I thought they were amazing, but I didn’t even know how much cooler it would get.

Then we got to the Cliffs of Moher. It was such a beautiful, mystical place. It was weird, but there was something almost spiritual about that place. I felt overwhelmed by the nature God created. It was so simple, yet so breathtaking. It just made me think about the intricate artwork, we humans create. Honestly that art will never be adequate in comparison to what God made from the earth. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but that’s how I felt in the moment.

On the tallest cliff there’s a Tower with green grass coming down from it, and I’ve never seen grass look like that. It was long, but blown down by the wind. It looked like velvet and it was so enchanting.

After that overwhelming experience, we went and saw a 5800-year-old dolmen! The wonders of the Burren are never ending! A dolmen is an ancient burial site, in which the people built a hill over the body and then placed stones on top of it. Honestly I had no idea that Art History class at the beginning of my time in Spain would be this useful. But it makes me feel really good whenever I can actually identify and understand things that like.

After the tour we were exhausted so we slept all the way to Dublin and then headed straight to the hostel to go to bed! The next morning was our last day in Dublin so we decided to try and hit the things we had missed before. Our first stop was Merrion Square. You know those Doors of Dublin calendars? Well all those doors from a square around a little park, and that’s Merrion Square.

A ton of literary figures have lived there, like Oscar Wilde and Yeats. There’s even a statue of Oscar in the park so I had to continue my homage to Mr. Wilde and take my picture with his statue (last year I kissed his grave in Paris).

It was another sunny day in Dublin so Jenny couldn’t resist soaking up the sun in the park, and it was the perfect opportunity for a shadow group pic!

That night we continued our Christmas spirit and walked to the other side of the river to see the Christmas lights, and then we went and saw a Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey. It was a nice, relaxing way to end the trip because we had to get up at 4am the next day to head to the airport. Ireland was amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone!

16 December 2009

Doing the Dubler - Part 1

I have SSOOOO many fun thoughts about Ireland that I need to split the trip into two parts: Dublin first two days, and Galway and last day in Dublin! It was so amazing that I don't even know where to start so chronologically will have to do. My friend Jenny and I decided to go to Dublin over a long weekend, and I was so amped.

When we got off the plane I immediately realized I wasn't in "Kansas" (aka Madrid) anymore. I kept speaking Spanish to everyone. Saying "perdon" when I was trying to get past someone and "gracias" to shopkeepers. I even asked this guy in Spanish if there was anyone in the bathroom. What's even funnier is that I clearly do not resemble a Spanish person. I look vaguely Irish. So some short, auburn-haired, green-eyed, freckled girl walks up to you in Dublin and starts speaking badly accented Spanish! He looked at me like I was a crazy! Understandably. But I apologized and explained that I've been living in Madrid. Although he didn't really stop looking at me like I was really strange.

That first day, we just tried to get our bearings and battle the culture shock. I was so confused as to why people were eating at 6pm and in bars at 8pm. In Madrid we eat at 10pm and bars don't even open until midnight. To top it off the sun set at 4:30pm. I didn't realize how much I'd adjusted to Spanish life until this moment. I realized that the much more American customs were confusing the heck out of me! So after a long, strange day of traveling, we hit the hay fairly early.

The next morning we got up bright and early, ready to conquer the day! Our first stop was Dublin castle, but it was closed (and not that impressive). So we moved on the Trinity College. The university is surrounded by a wall and there's only one door to enter and exit. It was like the door to Narnia.

The campus is so magical and absolutely gorgeous! I hadn't seen so much green grass in months! We also got lucky with blue skies in Dublin!

In the library at Trinity College, there is an exhibit about the Book of Kells, which is a latin book of the four gospels dating back to the 800's. There was a sweet exhibit with large displays of the beautifully decorated pages and lots of interesting information. Plus in the back room, you could actually view the books. It was really cool to see some of the religious symbols I learned earlier in the semester in Art History in a real life setting.

Then after the exhibit there are stairs that you're led up to leave and a sign for the "Long Room." I honestly had no idea what that meant but I went with it. At the top of the stairs you turn right and laid out before you is the most beautiful library I've ever seen. I gasped and Jenny's jaw fell open. It was unbelievable. It's the library of my dreams (yes I'm that much of an English major that I dream of having a library of my own!). You aren't allowed to take pictures so I've found one so that you can get an idea, but man I've never seen anything like it. It as cool as the Book of Kells.

After the exhibit, we decided to put together a little picnic. My Irish friend Cian, sent me to Ireland with a couple of tasks. One of them involved purchasing the ingrediants for and eating his favorite sandwich. So we thought it was the perfect time to grab some groceries and head to St. Stephen's Green. Cian's sandwich constituted: Brennan's bread (yellow wrapper), Kilmeeden's cheese (mature red cheddar), Irish butter (dairygold preferably), and King crisps (cheese & onion are essential). It sounds a little strange, but we thought why not try it.

It was the best picnic ever! We had Cian's sandwiches (which are fantastic by the way), potato salad, muffins and diet coke. But it was so cold we had to eat with our gloves on!

After the picnic,we headed to Christ's Church Cathedral to hear an evensong service. It was such an amazing experience. A full choir came out and sang songs in both English and Latin. It was a really great way to see the cathedral!

After a little R&R in the hostel we headed out to look at the Christmas lights. Dublin is absolutely all about Christmas. Every shop plays Christmas music and every street is decorated. In Madrid they are just now starting to get into the Christmas spirit but in Dublin it was in full force a few weeks ago. Oh yeah and "Nollaig Shona Ouit" means Merry Christmas in Irish! It was everywhere!

After being filled with the joy of Christmas we headed back to the hostel so that we could catch the early bus to Galway.


11 December 2009


A few weekends ago, we had our WIP Fall Excursion so all 24 of us piled into a coach and headed south to Cordoba. We had a guided tour of the city and I thought it was really interesting. So if you're interested in a nerdy entry keep on reading!

Cordoba is in Andalucia and as such was occupied by the Arabs for a much longer time than regions in the north. As a result, Cordoba has some really cool muslim architecture like the Mezquita, which is just mosque in Spanish. The Mezquita is absolutely huge! First there's a tower where originally the call to prayer would ring out, but after the Christians conquered Cordoba they converted it into a bell tower.

Inside the mosque is full of double arches made up of alternating red and white stones and a million columns. This structure is supposed to represent the palm trees of paradise after a muslim dies. It was amazing to see how many there were!

After the Christians conquered Cordoba, they took the middle of the mosque and made a Gothic cathedral. It's so weird to see the "mash-up" of not only styles but major religions.

There's also a castle in Cordoba but it was closed when we got there so we only got to see the outside.

On Sunday, we headed to Madinat al-Zahra, which is an archeological site outside of Cordoba. Madinat al-Zahra was the governmental capital of muslim Andalucia in the 10th century. The ruins were really cool, but it was steadily raining and I had no umbrella so to be honest my attention level was fairly low!

I think that the mixing of faiths was the most impressive thing about Cordoba for me. The intermingling of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity can be seen everywhere. There's a jewish quarter that has one of only two remaining synagogues in Spain, as well as the cathedral/mosque. I was just really fascinated by the interactions.

Well that's a very brief tour of Cordoba. I hope you embraced the nerdy blog!

30 November 2009

Turkey Day . . . In Spain?

One might ask how Katie Clayton, an American living in Spain, would spend such a classic holiday? Well it actually became a two day celebration. On Thursday, my program had a fancy dinner at a Spanish restaurant called Casa Adolfo. We had croquetas (deep fried cheese and alfredo sauce balls), pisto (veggie ratatouille), ensalada mixta (salad but with strange Spanish things in it like corn and white asparagus), grilled veggies (my fav), and berenjena frita (thinlly sliced, deep fried eggplant). It was delicious and all vegetarian friendly!

In case I haven't told you yet, I became an official vegetarian in Spain. It really hasn't changed my daily eating habits all that much, but whenever I've eaten meat here I just didn't feel good afterword and frankly I don't really like the taste although at first I intended to still eat fish. I even jokingly told my parents that I was the only vegetarian who stopped eating meat because I hated farm animals so much. When I was little my cousins used to throw chickens at me, and I think it caused a general fear and annoyance with farm animals in general. Anyway I was bored one day and wanted to know how not eating meat helped the environment, so somehow I ended up on the PIDA website. Big mistake. I now no longer eat any meat including fish. After 10 minutes of those disgusting videos I was done. So the point of that long tirade was that I'm now a vegetarian so I really appreciated the delicious veggie based appetizers.

Then I had an entree of spinach with raisins and pine nuts, and rice. I mean I like spinach as much as the next girl, but a whole entree of spinach was a bit much. But it was so fun to get to hang out with my fellow students. 

I was a little sad though to not be with my family. It felt so weird to not each sweet potato souffle and pumpkin pie. I was a little homesick (honestly that was the first time). I love you guys, but I've been having so much fun here it really hasn't hit me, especially since I'm coming home fore Christmas. Well I decided the solution to my funk was pumpkin pie. I decided to cook an American Thanksgiving meal for my friends. I researched recipes and met with my friend Jenny to go shopping. About 10 minutes into the shopping trip, my dreams were crushed. Not only was pumpkin no where to be found in the swankiest supermarket in Spain (Corte Ingles) but brown sugar, cream of mushroom soup, vanilla abstract, and turkey were also absent. So my pumpkin pie, sweet potato souffle, green bean casserole, and oven baked turkey were all out the window. We were down to canned green beans and mashed potatoes.

In this moment of despair my friend Jenny stepped up and had a genius idea. Why not a Mexican Thanksgiving? At first I was skeptical but then I remembered my love of spicy food. So we had tacos complete with rice, beans, beef, guacamole, chips and salsa. O yeah and potatoes. My friend Cian is Irish and he had already washed potatoes so he insisted on cooking them. And guess what? It was just as delicious and fun as a traditional meal. 

Cian has a house, which is pretty rare here in Madrid, so we were all able to sit down, which means 7 Americans and 4 of Cian's Spanish roommates all around the table. Although I think the Spaniards thought we were a little crazy when Cian put on "Proud to be an American" and came running through the house using an American flag as a cape. 

After dinner we went around the circle and said what we were thankful for. It was a really great experience, and so much fun. When I was sad about the traditional meal failure in the beginning, Cian reminded me that the fun part is hanging out together, and he was completely right. It was a great way to celebrate even though I missed my family and friends back in the States!

18 November 2009

Lisboa = Love

Sorry it has taken me so long to write about this trip! It has been a busy couple of weeks as I've gotten into my regular routine. I teach english, volunteer with homeless people, have intercambios, occasionally study!! The weeks are great but long.

BUT a few weekends ago I headed to Lisbon for the weekend with a couple of friends. We had a Monday off so we thought we'd explore. We got there at 8am on Saturday morning after a really early plane, and hit the city. As soon as we started walking around I knew I loved the vibe. It's right on the water and there's a really relaxed, beachy feel (complete with palm trees).

In Madrid everyone is so posh and all the streets are so pristine and manicured. In Lisbon, there was peeling paint and cracked tile but there was such a beauty in the brokenness. It is an older city than Madrid, and all the sidewalks are made of cobblestones in black and white patterns.

They even use trolleys!

We headed up to the castle on the highest point in the city. The views were breathtaking even though the actual castle was slightly boring!

Then we headed to the water. You know I can't be near the ocean for more than 2 hours without seeing the water! There were birds everywhere and I hopped over a stone ledge and went out on the rocks to scare them all. I got some cool photographs of them all flying around.

So my friend Izzy (the blonde girl in the picture above) had heard about surfing near Lisbon, so we made a few phone calls and . . . I went SURFING! We took a train for about 30 minutes to this beach town near Lisbon called Cascais. The surf instructor, Alex, told me to call from a pay phone when we got there and he would come pick us up. So I got off the train and I had to go the bathroom really badly. I couldn't find a restroom so I asked the man at the ticket counter who inevitably only spoke Portuguese. With a little bit of luck and my Spanish, I got vague directions to a bathroom. Well I couldn't find said bathroom so I just decided to hold it. We tried to use 2 different pay phones to no avail. A guy from California told us they were designed to steal tourists' money, but somehow I just didn't believe that. I decided to go ask the same man at the ticket counter for a phone. After a few minutes of "telefono no funciona . . . hay un otro?," the man closed the ticket counter and motioned for me to follow him. After a few minutes of waiting and walking he led us to a handicapped bathroom. Not a great day for my communication skills! Somehow I asked for a phone and got a bathroom! We finally got to go to the bathroom and figured out a phone. Next thing I knew I was pulling on a wet suit.

Alex told us in the car that this wasn't the best day for learning because the waves were a little big and unpredictable, but we were determined! So after a few minutes of confusion over my height and width ratio in terms of what wetsuit to wear I was stumbling down the beach with a humungous surfboard. Needless to say, Alex was not lying about the difficulties of the day. I struggled. I had more salt water up my nose and in my lungs than I ever have before. I would get knocked over 3 or 4 times in a row. At one point I got taken under and the lead from my foot to the surfboard got around my neck. I had to take a couple of breaks and never actually got up, but it was such a great experience! I will definitely try surfing again on a calmer day.

The next morning we got up and tried to take a taxi to the botanical gardens before our airplane, but somehow ended up on the highway outside of the city unexpectedly. I made it safely home and with plenty of stories. It was a suprisingly relaxing weekend, and I think that is mostly due to the vibe of Lisbon. It was a great change of pace and I can back refreshed and ready to take on Madrid and my midterms!

05 November 2009


I thought it was about time to share some of the embarrassing things I've said on accident in Spanish. We call those maldichos. They usually happen when the English word sounds really similar to a Spanish word that doesn't mean the same thing. For example, real in Spanish isn't real. Real means royal. So if i said, "Son estos pendientes plata real?" I would be saying are these earrings royal silver, not real silver. That would be a maldicho, although not a very humiliating one. So on with the embarrassing stories!

One night I was out with a group of people from all over the world, French, Spanish, Mexican, American, etc., and this guy named Pedro who lives with one of my friends came up and asked "Que tal?" Essentially that's like what's up in English. So I said, "Estoy buena," which directly translates as "I'm good." BUT this phrase means in Spanish "I'm good looking" or "I have a nice body." I meant to say, "Estoy bien." Needless to say, for the rest of the night anytime Pedro saw me he yelled "Estas buena" (You have a nice body) and laughed. I'm pretty sure my face was permanently red the entire night. 

Do you remember the lady I hitchhiked with Feli? Well Feli took us to the cathedral in her town and there was this statue, a pieta, which is a scene of Mary holding Jesus' dead body in her arms. I asked in Spanish if it was a pieta and she didn't understand me so I tried to explain what a pieta was in Spanish. I said it was where Mary was holding Jesus' body in her armas. Well unfortunately las armas means weapons not arms. Los brazos are arms!! I had asked if that was a statue of Mary holding Jesus in her weapons. Feli's face was priceless. She looked appalled as though I had insulted the Virgin Mary.  Then I emphatically insisted that I had meant brazos. She never really laughed, but I think she was less offended.

Finally earlier on the same trip, I was trying to explain what a scarecrow was. In Spanish, I said, you know it's a thing that looks like a human and stands in a field to prevent los aviones from landing in the farmer's fields. Well aviones are airplanes not birds. Once again the woman's face was utterly confused. Not offended, but certainly confounded. Then I had to flap my arms about and say los pajaros to clarify.

I always tell my roommates that every day in Spain is a little bit of shame, but I always learn from it. Well I'm heading to Lisbon, Portugal on Saturday so I'm sure I will have more to share soon!

19 October 2009

70 km and over 15 hours of walking . . . I'm exhausted!

WARNING: This entry is not for the casual reader. It is crazy long. I'm sorry but there was just too much to share. I won't be offended if it's just too much for you.

I had a puente last weekend, which is what they call a long weekend (it also means bridge as a side note). Since I had Monday off, I thought it would be cool to do something. Maybe get out of the city. My friend Stephanie had mentioned that she was hoping to walk part of the Camino del Santiago on the puente. I had no idea what that was so I googled it. The Camino del Santiago is a pilgrimage trail that leads from the French border of Spain all the way to Santiago del Compostela near the Atlantic Ocean. The pilgrimage dates back to the Middle Ages. Los peregrinos, pilgrims, would walk for over 6 weeks and be housed by monasteries along the way. Well the pilgrimage has become popular in recent years for people who simply want to hike or those with a spiritual mission. I thought it sounded really interesting so at 1am on Friday morning we made plans to leave the same afternoon at 6pm.

We made decisions a little last minute to say the least. We chose a portion we thought we could cover in 3 days of walking, and booked bus and train tickets. Well I realized that night as I was going to bed that I didn't in fact own a backpack here. So I got up early the next morning and headed to the department store to buy a back pack. I didn't want to spend a lot of money so I just got a little pink Nike backpack. I figured I could make everything fit. I got out of class at 4:30pm and the train left at 6pm. So I had to run. Literally. My metro to the train station had problems so it ran late. So I sprinted through the train station, screamed at Stephanie, and jumped on the train as the doors closed behind me. I couldn't believe I made it, red faced and sweaty, but I was on the train to Leon.

We got to Leon a couple of hours later. Stephanie had spent a summer in Leon in high school so she knew the city pretty well. We decided to walk to see the cathedral lit up at night and I'm so glad we did. It was gorgeous. I love gothic architecture and this church is known to rival Notre Dame in Paris. The stained glass was insane.

The next morning we went to a monastery to get our credenciales. It looks just like a passport for pilgrims and at every church or monastery or refugio you stop at along the way you get it stamped. Los refugios are hostels designed specifically for pilgrims so they're really cheap. As in 4-6 euros for the night. They tend to be basic but it's cool to meet your fellow pilgrims.

With our credencial in hand, we set off. We planned to walk 22km the first day and follow an alternate route that was more tranquil and further away from highways but it added 5km to the next day. We were still green so we though that was no big deal. The only markers on the path are yellow arrows or conch shell signs or symbols. We started jokingly calling them affirmations because we would get so amped when we saw one. We knew were going to the right way.

El Virgen del Camino was the first city we got to and I thought it was just a monastery on the south side of Leon that it took us an 1 and a half to walk to. I thought we were never going to make it if we were still in Leon. Then Steph clarified that this was our first pueblo. There are a ton of little villages along the way and this was our first one. We visited the monastery and I got a ring with the Virgen del Camino on it to bring us good luck on our journey.

On the first day the path was mostly asphalt with some flat dirt roads. But the landscape kept changing. One second I would feel like I was in Kansas and the next second the clouds would part and I could see huge mountains in the distance. I think Stephanie said that "the land in Spain is on acid." It did make for an interesting walk. It was great to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy being outside. I love the bustle and opportunities Madrid offers but it's nice to get away every once in awhile. We found the refugio in our stopping point for the night and passed out early, sunburned and exhausted.

The next morning we knew we had a big day ahead of us: 28km. I was a little nervous about it but we set off. Every hour we got closer and closer to the mountains. We started going up and down the hills and it was such a feeling of accomplishment to know that I was in the foothills of the mountains I had seen yesterday that seemed so far away. But the path was a lot rougher and my knees could tell that I was not wearing proper footwear. We called ourselves the idiot pilgrims because we had tiny schoolbags and were wearing running shoes. Needless to say, we were not properly equipped. The other pilgrims had metal frame backpacks, walking sticks, insta-dry pants, and hiking boots. I had my pink backpack, pink running shoes, and perfectly matched outfits. We looked a little absurd.

When we reached the top of a particularly tough hill, we just laid down in the shade under a tree and felt the breeze for at least a half an hour. It was so relaxing. That sense of accomplishment at the top of every big hill is really what kept me going. And the cool villages helped too. We walked through this town with a Roman bridge too! I feel like Roman structures are just no big deal here. It's so weird to me.

We made it to Astorga that night, and it is the cutest town in the world. In the main plaza there is a clock with wooden figurines that smack it on the hour.

The town is also known for their pastries which officially makes it my favorite place I've been too! That night we grabbed a bite with some fellow pilgrims from Germany and Spain. It was really great to get to talk about our experiences and just connect across cultures. My favorite was a German man in his 60s walking the camino alone. He only spoke German and some broken English but there was a German who spoke Spanish so there were three languages flying across the table. I really liked Astorga and wished I could've had a little more time there but we had 22km to walk the next day and we had to be in Rabanal del Camino by 4pm. So we left Astorga at 7:30am and stopped at a bakery just opening for napolitana chocolate which is my favorite Spanish pastry. It's basically a chocolate croissant, but the one in Astorga was the best I've ever had.

Our final day was pretty easy in terms of walking, but we did have a time crunch. We managed to leave early so we had a delightful lunch in Rabanal del Camino. We were supposed to take a bus from this town to Ponferrada where we would take a train to Madrid. So I asked that waiter where the bus stop was at which point he told me that no bus comes to this town on Mondays. PANIC TIME!!!! Ponferrada is 30km from Rabanal del Camino and I didn't have it in me to try to walk that far. A taxi ride was going to cost more than we could afford and of course this town had no ATM so Stephanie came up with the idea to hitchhike. This couple in their 40s from the Canary Islands thought it was a great idea. The husband just said that if we thought the people seemed weird to say no. So we headed to the side of the road. The third car stopped.

I debated not putting this in the blog because I knew it would worry my friends and family. So I'd like to put a disclaimer on this: IT WAS A BAD IDEA BUT WE WERE STUCK! I never intend to hitchhike again. Have no fear I realize it was terribly irresponsible and dumb.

So the car stopped and we ran up to see a couple in their 50's. They asked where we were going and the destinations matched so we got in. I was a nervous wreck. I thought for sure I'd made the worst decision of my life. Even as Feli, the wife, talked about how they were worried bad people would pick us up, I was freaking out. To end the suspense they were incredibly nice. They stopped at key points for us to take pictures, took us for sodas in their home town, and gave us a tour of Ponferrada. Feli has such a huge personality. She couldn't get enough of us.  When they left us at the bus station, she gave us her phone number and asked her to call us if we were ever in the area. I was just so relieved that we made it to the bus station!

But we had to wait 5 hours for the bus which left at 1:30am. So we decided to try and sleep, but I kept waking up to this homeless man staring at me. Obviously that made me a little nervous so I ended up listening to the Pride & Prejudice book on tape Adrienne gave me until the bus left. I got back to Madrid at 6:30 with sore knees, a sunburn, and a sinus infection but it was an adventure to say the least! I'm really thinking about trying to do the whole 6 weeks in June. I just loved the communal aspect of the camino. All the pilgrims just want to hang out and share their stories. I'm so glad I got to be a part of that even if it was only for 3 days!

04 October 2009

epic weekend

I finished my exams on Wednesday (I think they went pretty well) and I didn't have class until Monday. I figured this would be the perfect time for a few day trips from Madrid. It has been a really busy break, but it's been so fun.

First on Thursday I relaxed a little bit and then went dancing that night. It was so fun and we stayed until the place closed at 5:30am. BUT I had to get up at 9am to go to Toledo. That was a little rough, but I'm so glad I sucked it up and went.

Toledo is a beautiful, quaint town about 30 minutes south of Madrid by train. It has a city wall and a ton of history.

I ended up going with 5 guys from the program. They spent part of the day trying to say as many gross things as possible since I was the only girl. Ridiculous.

First we grabbed lunch at an amazing Syrian restaurant. Then we went and visited the Catedral de Toledo.

It has a beautiful exterior in the romanico style. Sorry I know a ton of architecture vocab now but it's all in Spanish so try and go with me on this one. The arched, massive door, or la portada, was absolutely stunning.

Inside the cathedral there was a tiny museum. I didn't really expect much because it's a church not an art museum, but I underestimated. Almost every painting in the place was from a major artist. I don't know that much about art, but I recognized almost every painter. el Greco, Goya, Velazques, Rubens, Titian, Van Dyck. WOW!

As a side note, Toledo was also the home of Cervantes, the famous author of Don Quixote. So there are statues of him everywhere.

Then we headed to El Museo de Santo Cruz. There were supposed to be 18 paintings by El Greco there, but unfortunately there were in Mexico, but the architecture of the building was a really interesting mix of Renaissance and Muslim. So it was still kind of cool.

After the museum, we went to the la Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz. It was built in 1000. CRAZY old! I just can't believe that a building that old still exists. It was really cool to see the mixing of cultures in the structure. There were columns that date back to the visigoths, roman corinthian columns, and lobulado muslim arches. It was a grab bag of ancient architecture. I mean even the name reveals the cultural mixing.

We ended the day in a bar hearing the announcement that Madrid didn't get the olympic games. That was a little sad, but the bartender was quite a character so it was still fun. On the way to the train station I got a great image of the bridge and river surrounding Toledo. It was a wonderful day.

Then I went dancing until 4:30am again. I told you this weekend was epic. Then that morning on Saturday, I went to el Escorial. It is a military fort, monastery, and royal residence all in one. It dates back to the end of the 16th century, and was built during the time of the Inquisition. It is supposed to reveal the power of Spain. It is dedicated to San Lorenzo who was burned to death on a grill. So the symbol of the grill is all over the structure and it is shaped like a grill. But my camera died about 5 minutes into this trip so I only have a few pictures of the outside.

It took us over three hours to tour the place. whew. But the library and the royal palace were two really cool highlights. In the library they had some of the books on display and they were so beautiful. Book-making has certainly changed since then.

And Saturday night I went dancing. Basically my weekend consisted of dancing and tourism. It was great, but I'm exhausted. I start classes tomorrow so wish me luck!