Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I returned home from an interesting weekend in Portugal on Sunday afternoon.  We had an early flight on Friday that flew directly into Lisbon and arrived around 7:30am.  There were 9 of us total including the 8 of us from my program and a friend from Purdue studying in Sevilla, Gretchen.  She joined us later that day when her bus arrived from Sevilla.  We stayed in a really nice apartment that looked straight up out of an IKEA magazine, complete with a plasma TV in the living room that comfortably fit all 9 of us.  That afternoon we booked a tour guide that met us outside our apartment to take us around the city on a walking tour and explain the history behind the city and major buildings.  We started walking in the Chiado neighborhood where there were incredible views overlooking the entire city as well as the coast.  Lisbon is a very hilly city that sets right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.  During our tour, our guide was telling us about the earthquake of 1775.  The quake destroyed nearly everything in the city as well as set fire to many buildings.  The people than ran to the port for safety until a tsunami came on shore and killed 30,000-40,000 residents.  Talk about a shitty day.  After seeing some of the major buildings in Lisbon, she took us to the oldest wine cellar in Lisbon where we had plates of food waiting for us and 6 different bottles of wine for a wine tasting session.  Pretentious.. I know.  We were educated on how to properly drink wine and which wines go best with which foods.  Red wine is best with meats and sea food, White wine with lighter meals such as Italian, and Port wine (what they are most famous for) is best with desserts or salads.  I wasn't a huge fan of Port wine as it was very sweet, thick, and a little spicy.  Then again, I still think box wine tastes good.  That evening we walked around Barrio Alto and the Chiado neighborhoods.  The following day the Portuguese were celebrating their day of Independence from their dictatorship.  Many people were congregated in the Plazas and they had venues and stages set up for bands to play.  You literally couldn't move down streets because it was packed wall to wall with people.  After walking around a little bit we decided to head back to the apartment to get some sleep.

The following day, Gretchen and I took a train to Belem which is about 15-20 minutes away from Lisbon along the coast.  While walking towards the Jeronimos Monastery, we passed by a Chariot Museum with free entry.  Now a Chariot museum does sound kind of boring, but it was fascinating to see how these authentic chariots have lasted through time.   After the museum we headed to the Monastery where we sat in the court yard for a while and had the familiar "I don't want to go back to reality" and "I can't wait to move to Europe" discussion.  We headed over to the famous pastry shop Casa Pastéis de Belém to try the Pastel de Nata.  Pastel de Nata is a small cream tart that kind of looks like a miniature Sugar Cream Pie.  After we enjoyed our pastry and some authentic Portuguese McDonalds (a Big Mac), we headed back to meet the others at the apartment.   On our way back, we ran into a huge parade along the streets.  It seemed to be more of a political parade with each type of party being represented.  People were dancing, music was playing, and political party flags were waving.  It was interesting to see the “Portugal for Communism” flag in their section of the parade.  The next morning we caught our flight home and I just uneventfully hung out around the apartment and caught up on the television serious 30 Rock.

This was an interesting weekend to say the least.  Traveling with 9 people can get difficult as everyone has different agendas and opinions on things.  It was good traveling with Gretchen and comparing our study abroad experiences.  This weekend I will be traveling to Brussels and Amsterdam to visit two friends from Anderson that are studying over there.  I am excited to get out of this part of Europe and eat some authentic Belgium Waffles.

I did a little photoshop.. I'm not too good at it though

Overlooking the city from the observation tower

Another view, our apartment was along this road

Bottle 5 and 6 of our wine tasting session

Gretchen (friend from Purdue) and I outside their main plaza

The courtyard inside the Jeronimos Monastery in Belém 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Doing as the Romans do..

I was fortunate enough to book my trip to Rome at the last minute.  I wasn't too thrilled about going mainly because I didn't really know too much about it.  I've always kind of pictured it in the back of my head as "old and dirty."  I was proven wrong as it by far exceeded my expectations I had set.  The flight was around 2 1/2 hours and I flew directly into Rome’s main airport.  I took the train to the main station in the middle of Rome, Termini, where our hostel was fairly close.  Since I booked a different flight than the rest, I arrived first and checked into the hostel while I waited for them to arrive.  We had a 4 person private room with our own bathroom.  It was in this nice plaza that was close to many of the main attractions Rome has to offer.  When the rest of the group arrived everyone wanted to have a quite night as we were hungry and tired from the day of traveling.  We decided to go to an authentic Italian restaurant across the street from the hostel for a quick Italian meal.  Four hours and a few laughs later, they kicked us out because they were closing the restaurant at 11:00pm.  We were pretty tired so we just decided to call it a night and head back to the hostel for an early day the next morning.

We got some information about the double-decker buses that tour around Rome from the hostel and decided to try it out.  We bought the 2 day hop-on hop-off pass so we would not have to worry about taking public transportation (Rome is much less inefficient than Madrid’s metro/bus lines).  We ran the tour once all the way through to listen about the history of each monument and such while we passed them.  After the first run tour, we stopped at the Trevi Fountain where it is said if you throw a coin behind your back into the Fountain, you are ensured a return to Rome.  Approximately 3,000 Euros are thrown into the Fountain a day and the money is used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome's needy.  I was one of those stereotypical tourists and threw my 0.50 Euro into the fountain while making a wish.  Hopefully that whole return to Rome thing comes true.  After the fountain we headed to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or as its better referred as by Americans, The Wedding Cake.  It’s a very large monument that has an incredible view of Rome from the top.  After pondering on top of the monument for a while, we headed down to the Coliseum.  It was surreal seeing one of the most famous structures in the world literally right in front of you.  Since it was near the end of the day, we decided not to take the tour of the inside and continue on with walking around the city.  That night we did a Bar Crawl where I talked to some girls that were studying in Rome for the semester.  They went to Carnegie Melon and were leaving in 8 days.  I asked them if they were tired of the Italian food yet and they replied with, "I don't think I can ever eat or look at Italian again."  By the end of the weekend, we could already start to feel that way as everything is carbs with tomato sauce.. but I'm not complaining too much, Italian is my favorite food.  

The next morning we wanted to make our first stop to the Vatican.  We entered into St. Peter's Basilica and words cannot describe how beautiful and extravagant the inside was.  Pictures cannot give proper justice to this breathtaking structure.  Gold was everywhere, famous sculptures, paintings, and alters dedicated to many past Pope's and other significant people.  From the center of the Basilica where the alter of St. Peter stands, the Statue of Liberty could fit with room to spare in the top of the dome.  After walking around inside the basilica, I stopped in the prayer room and said a quick prayer.  It was really moving praying in one of the most holy places in the world.  After walking around a little more, we headed to the Vatican Museum to check out Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and specifically, "The Creation of Man" fresco.  They really made you work to see the Sistine Chapel because you probably walk through 50 other rooms just to see it at the very end.  It was really neat to see but, the whole room is overwhelmed with paintings.   It is hard to really get a grasp of what’s going on in all the works.  After the museum we got some phenomenal gelato and finished the evening up walking around the city.  We grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the hostel to call it a night and pack for our flight in the morning.  

I can really say I now really appreciate the Roman and Italian culture.  My first experience of Italy was Milan where we had a difficult time adjusting to the city, the people, and the Italian language.  Now, it was like second nature to us.  I didn't really notice a language barrier at all this time as it is so similar to Spanish.  You could always get a general idea of what was going on, especially if you were reading something in Italian.  Plus, EVERYONE spoke English.  I could not believe the people from the store workers, waiters, and everyone in between spoke English.  I saw more American tourists in Rome than I have any other city in Europe.  I have been so fascinated by the Roman history and culture that I have been Wikipediaing like crazy random facts and history of Rome.  I really hope to return again sometime and utilize actual tour guides instead of kind of winging it like we did.  The whole city is like one huge Museum and I strongly recommend checking it out if you get a chance.  

Me infront of the Colosseum

Trevi Fountain
Me in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
One of the rooms leading to the Sistine Chapel 
St. Peter's Square in the Vatican
Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Halfway point..

Well this past April, 2 marked the two month mark of my study abroad experience.  It’s truly scary thinking about how quickly this is passing.  I keep thinking of everything else I need to do, things I need to see, and meeting more Spanish friends.  Every time I think about how fast time is going, I get a little depressed because leaving Madrid will probably be the saddest day of my life.  Think leaving Purude without ever returning for a homecoming.  Although I know I will remain close with the friends I have made here, it will not be the same as a simple metro stop away meeting for dinner in Sol.  Although, if I start traveling as much as I do on the weekends here, a flight to California, Wisconsin, or St. Louis doesn't seem that bad.  

The week after Barcelona, my Mom and a good family friend, Marsha, made the trek all the way to Europe for a few days.  It was so good seeing them and I was very excited to show them around my new "home."  We were sure to do all the touristy things in the city as well as just take time to relax at the Park or dinner somewhere in town.  I think they were impressed with everything I showed them but I know they went into this journey without knowing what to expect.  I hope they were able to see why I have fallen in love with this city and why it will be hard to leave.  We took a day trip to Avila and Segovia where we had a tour guide that spoke in Spanish and English.  It was great to see some of the smaller and historic Spanish cities rather than a huge city like Madrid.  They had some wonderful Cathedrals and many historic features in each city.  The castle Alcazar of Segovia was one of the main influences for the design of Cinderella's Castle in Walt Disney World.  It was beautiful on the outside that had a great view of the city, but when we arrived we thought it was the original castle that was now preserved into a museum.  However, the real castle was burnt down in 1862 and was rebuilt to the same style as it was before it burnt.  That was a little disappointing but it was still great to see.  I was glad to hear they returned home safely and I had a great time showing them around Spain.

The week after they left we had mid-term exams.  I believe all of them went pretty and am glad they are over with.  Now most of my classes have a big project left and our final.  I need to start getting those things together that way I’m not waiting to the last minute to finish everything so I can enjoy the end of my trip. 

On Friday I went to the airport to pick up two friends from Anderson, Anna Duquaine and Jacqueline Brown.  They are both studying in Brussels and are visiting Madrid for the week.  We spent most of Friday together and mainly just talked about how fortunate we are to be able to have this experience.  We are thankful for our families support in our decisions to study abroad and how much more we have grown and matured as a person.  Coming from Anderson you are almost stuck in this little "bubble" and forget there is a whole other world out there from Anderson, the state of Indiana, our colleges, the Midwest, and the United States for that matter.  We get so caught up in things from each of those bubbles and you have to wake up and realize there is so much more out there in this world.  Each of us will always have a little Anderson in us no matter where we go or what we do with our lives.  It may not be the most glamorous or desirable city in the world, but I appreciate the things I have learned and the experiences I have had growing up in that town.  All three of us will be back in Anderson for the summer and we are already planning on frequently getting together and mope about how much we miss Europe.  

We have the week off of school due to Santa Semana Easter holiday and I will not return until April 14.  I am planning on going to the beach with my Senora (Rosa) and her daughter (Maria Jose) on Wednesday to next Monday to La Manga, Spain.  It is a small beach town that is along the Mediterranean Sea.  Since it will be just us 3 and Maria Jose's 4 week old baby, it will be a great opportunity to practice my Spanish.  I also have trips booked to Rome April 16-19, Lisbon, Portugal April 24-26, Brussels to visit Anna and Jacqueline April 30- May 3, and possibly France the week following.. but I still haven't booked it yet.  

Sorry for all the random things in this entry..