Tuesday, February 24, 2009

San Sebastian and some familiar faces..

This past weekend our program took a trip to the Basque country in northern Spain to San Sebastian and Bilbao. This weekend celebrates Carnival where everyone dresses up in Halloween costumes to watch street parades and hit the bars. After the 5 hour bus ride north, we were given a tour of this little beach town. The water and the entire city was beautiful. I can only imagine the city and beaches with warmer weather. After the tour we grabbed a few beers from a store and started drinking on the beach. We had a blast and it will probably be one of the times I will always remember. Beach, beer, and friends.. doesn't get too much better than that. After we finished we grabbed a quick bite to eat and got dressed up in our costumes to hit some of the bars. I didn't want to spend any money so I just wore my swim trunks, flip flops, a long sleeve t-shirt, and my sun glasses.. pretty boring I know. But other people took this opportunity to go all out with their costumes and it kind of reminded me of breakfast club at Purdue (except at night).

After a long night out, we had to be out of the hotel by 8:30am to take the bus to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. All of us were a little hung over and were not really in the best mood to go to an art museum. When we arrived the building was stunning. The architecture was defiantly a lot better than anything on the inside. The second floor was closed and we could only really see one gallery of Murkami which was really awkward (google "My Lonesome Cowboy" and "Hiropon"). But he has also done some of the famous prints for Louis Vuitton and Kanye West's album covers. After the museum, we left for this huge buffet near Bilbao. That was by far the most food I have had at one time here in Spain.. and it was glorious. It took us 6 hours to get home by bus and I wasn't able to sleep at all. When we got back to Madrid I went home and had no problem passing out.

Yesterday James Wang and Nick Naber, who just graduated from Purdue and are in my fraternity, stopped by Madrid on their way "Around the World in 80 Days" trip. They started in Tokyo I believe and are making their way to London in 80 days. They are hitting every major city in between and they are having a great trip so far. I was able to meet up with them last night for a nice (and very cheap) dinner and a few beers afterwards. It was really nice catching up with them and seeing some familiar faces in a foreign city.

This weekend I plan to take it easy in Madrid as one of my friends from Purdue who is studying in Seville will be traveling to Madrid. It will be nice showing her around and doing the touristy stuff again because there is so much to do in this city.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Back from Milan

Well this weekend was a great learning experience for all of us that traveled to Milan. Seven of us (4 girls and 3 guys) found a relatively cheap flight to Milan for 2 nights. We booked the hotel online and had everything ready for a great weekend in Italy. We arrived at the hotel only to find our "room" wasn't quite ready yet. We went to the McDonalds near the hotel and had some spinach and cheese filled fried cakes, toast, and fries to pass some time. We went back to the hotel an hour later and walked up the stairs to our room. We walked in expecting the worse, and we were correct. So the walls were lavender, the beds were small, the pillow was almost non-existent, and the creepy door didn't lock without a security box in the room... but for $11 a night, we should have seen this coming. This left most of us pretty uneasy and we were quick to use our resources that can always fix everything, our parents. One of our parents found a room at Doubletree by Hilton not too far away and went ahead and booked 2 rooms for us. We walk in and were amazed at the difference from where we came from. The hotel was big, the doors locked, the beds were comfortable, and it was a brand new hotel (as well as the first Doubletree in Europe). Once we got settled in and slept for a little bit (we left for Madrid airport at 4:30am, and didn't sleep well on the plane) we decided to head to downtown Milan.

It was late in the day, we were tired, and we were experiencing a bit of culture shock as none of us had the slightest clue how to speak any Italian. But when we saw the Duomo for the first time all of that went away. Words cannot describe how beautiful this structure is. The architecture and detail that go into the building was incredible. To the left of the Duomo was Milan's city center which included many upscale restaurants, stores, and touristy stuff. It was a huge entrance with large rounded painted ceilings. Naturally, we decided to eat at one of those expensive restaurants inside to have an authentic Italian meal... when in Rome right? (or in our case Milan). All of our food was fantastic and believe it or not, some of the best Italian food I have ever had.. sorry Olive Garden, it’s not the same.

After the meal we walked around downtown a little more. They are not lying when they say Milan is the fashion capital of world because they have huge stores everywhere. But by this time it was getting late and some of the girls were getting tired from the long day. Two of them went back to the hotel and the rest of us had a hard time finding a bar just to serve us drinks because it seemed like everything closed at 9pm. In Madrid, bars do not open until 9 and you can find a beer everywhere you look, on almost any given street. We ended up finding an Irish pub and had a few drinks there. Our plan was to meet up with a friend who is studying in Milan and go out to a club. We finally met her around 11:30 and headed out to the club she was telling us about. We got there and had a really good time until we left around 3:00am to head back to the hotel.

We woke up the next morning with the day planned full of eating, museums, and some shopping. We start by heading towards the Duomo area and found a pizzeria. I can honestly say this was the best pizza I have ever had. I just don't understand why we can't do what they do to cook their food in the states. After that we headed off to see the Last Super by Da Vinci. We entered the Cathedral where it was located and saw all of the other art works there but the Last Supper was in a separate locked room that needed tickets. When we went around the other side of the Cathedral to purchase tickets, they told us they were all sold out. We were majorly bummed because that would have been the highlight of our trip. On the way back wanted to stop at the Ambrosiana Gallery where they had a collection of some other famous pieces of art. We couldn't find the entrance right away so the girls went to go shop and the guys went into the gallery. The Ambrosiana has famous works like the preliminary cartoon of Rafael's "School of Athens," Da Vinci's "The Musician," and other works by Carvaggio, Giovanni, and Botticelli. I never thought my Art History elective at Purdue would ever be relevant, but it was incredible to see all of these paintings in person that we would talk about in class.

After the Ambrosiana we walked around the shopping area. The girls seem to have pretty good luck (it was Valentine’s Day so some of them went all out) but all I could find were 4 pairs of socks for 6 Euros. Around 8:00 we headed back to the hotel and took a nap. All of us woke up and were still too tired to go back into the city so we ordered room service and just watched TV until we fell back asleep.

Milan was defiantly a great learning experience for all of us. It was our first weekend trip we planned on our own and now we know sort of the "dos and dont's" of what to do when planning for these trips. I am looking forward to this next weekend as we are going to Northern Spain to San Sebastian and Bilbao to the Basque area.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Whoppers and Beer...

Well I am about to start packing for our weekend trip to Milan, Italy. I have a friend from Purdue studying there this semester so hopefully we can meet and she can show us around a little bit. Evidently the painting of the "Last Supper" is there as well as some incredible cathedrals and other museums. I know we are planning a bike tour around the city where we will stop at a winery for a break.

Classes are going really well. I really enjoy all of them especially my history of Spain class. It is really hard to believe they have only had a democracy for only around 30 years. A lot has changed from Franco, and for the better, but you can still see signs of a weaker economy here. Every year in January and June, every store offers "Rebajas" or "Sales." It is the only time clothes and other things are on sale for the entire year. Due to the weak economy, stores are keeping them around until almost the end of March so people will continue to buy. I don't mind too much because I already found a sweet jacket for only 26 American dollars.

I am defiantly starting to see the differences of the cultures. My Senora was talking about how stupid it is the US doesn't have the drinking age at 18 (I tend to agree, but I see both sides of the spectrum). They serve wine (which is always cheaper than any soda) and beer almost everywhere... even Burger King. So for lunch today I had my Whopper meal with a Beer substituted for my Coke... and then went to International Marketing class.

We all still enjoy going out, but you can really tell it is taking a toll on all of us. I think we are starting to get out of the "touristy" stage and its starting to hit us this is home for a while.

The picture below is our group of friends here at Plaza Mayor the other night.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Plaza Mayor y Mas..

Last night was one of the best nights I have ever had going out. We ate at a resturante called "Hollywood" where they had all American food.. it was amazing. We then went to Doubleners irish bar in Sol. It was packed and was mostly of American students and was a lot of fun. When that closed down at 3 we went to Kapital which is a 7 story night club. Each floor plays a different type of music and there was people everywhere. It def. kicked Acapulco's club scenes ass. I have never seen anything like it before. Today a few of us met up and checked out the area near Plaza Mayor. We got some incredible pictures while getting lost around that area. Here are few pictures so far.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What a week...

I just got done booking plans for a trip to Milan next weekend. We found a flight for 50 Euros and a hostel for 30 euro for 2 nights. We did some research and the place looks pretty legit. Classes are going very well and I am really interested in all the topics we will be covering. I kind of forget I am here for school sometimes. I am adapting very well to this new culture. I still have not had the initial culture shock that most students get when they get here.. but I still feel like i'm on vacation. It doesn't seem real I will call this home for four months. My favorite thing about their culture is the way they socialize, especially during meals. You can sit and eat for a good 2 hours like it is no big deal. No one eats for 10 min. and then rushes about their day. It has been a good way to really get to know each other and enjoy a stereotypical "cafe con leche." Going out at night is also a lot of fun. We seem to prefer the smaller hole in the wall bars where we can just sit in a group and enjoy a few beers (i'm legal here so back off!). I think tonight we are going to try to go to a dance club or discotecta. A true Madrid night is going to a local bar for a few beers around 12, hit up a dance club around 3am, get some churros around 6am, and take the metro home at 6:30 when it opens (it closes at 1:30am so any time between there you need a cab). We will see if I have the energy for all of that tonight.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hola Todos!

Well I am finally settled in Madrid. I moved into my apartment with my host family yesterday. My senora is very nice but does not speak any English. It is a little difficult but I am adjusting very well. All the students from the program hit it off very well too. We go out almost every night and hang out when we are not in class. We are already talking about going to Paris next weekend and possibly Greece for our spring break (12 days long in April). The language barrier has not been too bad because almost everyone here speaks English anyway. I am trying my best to speak only in Spanish and I have been pulling things out of my ass I had no idea I even knew. My flight to Madrid was a little frustrating as we were delayed for 2 hours, got on the plane around 11pm, and didn't take off until 1:30. As soon as we got to the city one of my friends on my flight and I walked around downtown Madrid for a while for our first taste of Spain. This city is truly incredible and it still has not hit me I will be here for the next 4 months.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On my way...

Well I'm currently sitting here at the Philadelphia airport waiting for my flight to Madrid. We drove to Chicago yesterday to meet up with Craig and stayed at a hotel near the O'Hare airport. It was good to hang out with the family before I left for this crazy adventure. I am anxious and very eager to get to Spain. I have wanted to travel to Europe for as long as I can remember and it is finally becoming a reality. Thanks for everyones support and I will be sure to update this frequently so everyone can keep tabs on whats going on.