Monday, February 28, 2011


This weekend was a holiday here in Southern Spain, Dia de Andalucia, which gave us Monday without classes. A group of 8 of us API students decided to travel to Seville and took a bus there on Saturday morning. We planned some things to go see and booked a hostel in advance, but went with a more relaxed mentality than Rome last weekend. Our hostel was amazing! We stayed at Sevilla Backpacker's Inn, which is located right near the famous cathedral and the Alcazar in Seville, and was relatively cheap. The 8 of us took up one room for 2 nights, enjoyed a complimentary breakfast, free walking tour, and a BBQ on the rooftop terrace for dinner. We went to the grocery store for food as well in order to save money, and I would say it was a success: for dinner one night we spent a total of 4ish euros, about 58 cents each.

We spent our first afternoon in Seville walking around the city a little bit, just relying on maps and what we had seen on the drive in to guide us. We saw el Teatro de Lope de Vega, a big deal for me since Lope de Vega is a huge name in Spanish theater history. Unfortunately there was a show about to start, so I didn't get to do in, but we did see signs for a dinosaur exhibition in a different part of the theater.

 We went to some beautiful parks nearby- Seville is all about huge, ancient trees and large parks!- as well as the Plaza de Espana, a famous plaza built in the 1920's. The best part for me was learning that parts of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones were filmed in this plaza!

We also saw the Alcazar on Saturday. The Alcazar is a Moorish palace and is thought to have been built in response to Granada's la Alhambra. Although the gardens were larger and more exotic, the architecture of the palace itself was much less refined. There were also a lot more tourists- while in the Alhambra gardens it is possible to go and sit and relax as a resident nearby, it would be much less pleasing to do so in the Alcazar. Plus you have to pay to enter any of the Alcazar, while only parts of la Alhambra are paid entry. It was definitely worth it to see and explore though!
Saturday night, a few of us went to a flamenco show. It was a free showing in a bar not far from the hostel- another reason why the hostel was awesome!- and at first we thought we had the wrong place because no one was in the street or the first room in the bar! It turns out the back room packs about a hundred people in to watch the flamenco, and they're kept very quiet to allow the performers to concentrate. It was so quiet we thought we had the wrong street!

I enjoyed my first view of flamenco, though. I found it mesmerizing, though I know other members of our group aren't big fans of flamenco, and the musicians behind the dancer helped with some of the clapping and tapping. At some points, being unable to see the dancers' feet because of the crowd, it looked like she was walking slowly and gracefully around the stage- when in reality she was stomping in a sort of tap dance in true flamenco style.
On Sunday, some of us went on the free walking tour offered by the hostel. We saw the Barrio de Santa Cruz, or the Jewish neighborhood, which was designed with small, winding streets to confuse Christian soldiers during the Inquisition and to protect the Jews during that time. We saw a monument to Christopher Columbus, and our guide explained to us the theories about a relationship between Queen Isabel and Columbus. We went to the Spanish Plaza again and learned a little more about the history there: I love especially the little maps tiled into the semi-circle of the whole plaza that allowed residents to "visit" the other regions of Spain. We also walked by an old tabacco factory, where the opera of Carmen has roots, and the Toro de Oro, or Tower of Gold, where boats would be taxed right off the river. Our day ended inside Seville's famous cathedral.

Columbus's tomb
The cathedral reminded me a lot of the one in Toledo, where we weren't allowed to take pictures. There were chapels lining the walls for various saints and people; lots of huge columns; large Gothic arches with stained glass windows; a beautiful choir in the center; and a massive, ornamented, high altar. The highlights of the cathedral were climbing ramps to the belltower- the cathedral sits on what was once a mosque, and the person who called for the 5-times-daily prayers needed a horse to get up there 5 times a day!- and the tomb of Christopher Columbus. This cathedral was also filled with more tourists than the one in Toledo, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

After all that traveling, I'm ready for a weekend off! I'm hoping to go to a soccer game this weekend with API, but otherwise it will be filled with relaxation and, hopefully, sun! The weather in Seville was absolutely beautiful and hot- but Seville usually gets extremely hot temperatures, whereas Granada is at a higher altitude near the mountains and notably cooler. Still, I'm glad to be breaking out the lighter clothing, now that I've been here for a month! I had to buy warm weather clothing when I first arrived!

Thanks for reading- more updates later. If you get a chance to visit Seville, remember the Sevilla Backpacker's Inn. I will try to get pictures from Rome and Seville on flickr this week.

Chicas! At the Alcazar

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do you have an accent when you speak Spanish?

It's hard for me to tell since I'm the one speaking, but I'm positive I sound very American when I try to communicate! Hopefully that is something that will fade a little more over time. Also, the Andalucians (that is the region of Spain where Granada is located) have a distinct accent. They are known to drop parts of words, especially "s" so "gracias" sounds like "gracia." Who knows how much this will affect my Spanish by the time the semester is over!

Ask me anything!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Adventures in Roma!

This weekend, API took us on a visit to Rome. We took 2 buses and a plane to arrive in the famous city from Granada, and although there was a lot of traveling and walking involved this weekend it was a really incredible time for all of us!
We left Friday morning and spent most of the day traveling. Upon our arrival at our hotel, we dropped our bags and went out for some genuine Italian food! I went with a group to Taverna del Corso, where we enjoyed pasta and pizzas and tried out our Italian.  I was especially terrible at remembering not to speak least most Italians can understand Spanish, given its similarity to their own language!

 We also saw the Trevi Fountain that night, which was really beautiful.

On Saturday, API arranged for a panoramic bus tour of the city. We saw a lot and learned a lot about various sections of the city, and got to get out in one or two places to walk around. We walked around near the Coliseum, outside St. John's, and ended at St. Peter's in the Vatican. Our guide was really great, and sitting in the very front of the bus really gave me a taste for Italian driving. That may have been some of the scariest hours of my life! But well worth it!

When the bus tour was over, I went to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. The museum was overwhelming without a guide, with many rooms of many different artifacts. The path to the Sistine Chapel was incredible. There was a hall full of tapestries woven with gold, silver, and silk; a hall of old maps; statues and extravagant ceilings. The Sistine chapel itself was beautiful, but my experience was slightly let down by people taking pictures and making a lot of noise.
That evening myself and friends went to a restaurant where we had to wait a half hour just to get in! It was rumored to have amazing pizza, and it looked like a legitimate hole in the wall, so we tried it. The pizza was very good, but I couldn't tell the difference between the other great food we had over the weekend. We headed back to the hotel in preparation for an early morning.

On Sunday, I got up very early to take the subway to the Coliseum and see the inside. I met with friends Matt and Rachel from Saint Mike's, which was very exciting! They arrived in Rome last week to study abroad there for the semester. The inside of the Coliseum was breathtaking, it was so big. Standing on the ground level after walking the upper levels, I tried to imagine walking out into the stadium with it full of people, wondering if I would live or die. It was very intense. In all my theater classes we've studied Roman theater and entertainment, so going to the Coliseum was really fascinating, especially seeing the underground part where prisoners were kept; where elevators brought wild beasts up to fight; where the gladiators prepared.

 I split from Matt and Rachel for the day to go to the Pope's weekly blessing at St. Peter's Square. There were a lot of people, but not the crushing crowd that I expected. There were a lot of school groups there, and one in particular from France was very excited. They sang songs and waved their flag. It was very touching to see so many banners and groups coming for this. The Pope spoke in Italian and Latin for the blessing, and then greeted groups in English, Spanish, French, German, and Polish (maybe?) which was very nice.

After that, Rachel (from API, not SMC) and I waited in line to get into the basilica and again to climb the cuppola. 551 winding, twisting, uneven, wild steps later we saw the best view of Rome that you could ever ask for. It was well worth the long, slow lines!

Later, after seeing some outdoor markets at Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori, I met up with Matt and Rachel again and we went to a church service at St. Maria in Trastevere, the neighborhood they are living in. The Catholic mass here was in Italian, but familiar from the masses at home. The music was very prevalent and reminded me of church when I was younger, when Penny Arslanian dominated the music at my local churches. It was beautiful, and to actually sit in a mass in a huge, decorated church after visiting so many of them was really a treat! I lit candles there for Jordan Porco and for Patrick Devlin, two people I didn't know very well but wanted to remember and pray for.

After church, we went out for dinner and gelato. The Trastevere area is cheaper and less touristy than the area my hotel is in, so that was a lot of fun. The streets are narrower and remind me more of Granada. We enjoyed dinner and talked about Saint Mike's and our experiences so was so nice to see familiar faces out here! I saw Rachel's apartment and eventually took a cab to the hotel as it was raining and I wasn't sure of the bus system here (the cab was a measly 10 euros, so well worth it!) And this morning, we were up before 7 to start the journey back to Granada.

I really enjoyed my weekend in Rome, though it was hard to plan with so little time and so many monuments! I did not get to see the Pantheon or the Spanish Steps, unfortunately. Although it was a wonderful weekend and I spent time with new friends and old, I am glad to be back in Granada. Thank you for reading, as always.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rest In Peace

A Sad Day for SMC: Going to classes one after the other today was a struggle, at best, thinking of the people at home and hoping that SMC stays strong these next few days and weeks. I wish more than anything that I could be there to give- and receive- the support, love, and prayers going around as my classmates and friends strive to remember, honor, and to prevent the loneliness from spreading any further.

Hopefully the candle I light tonight will comfort my own feelings of desperation, hopelessness, and loneliness on this day, and remind me of the strong core of support at SMC. Please say a prayer today for us and for the loss of a fellow student.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Travel Plans and News

It's a rainy, chilly day here in Granada, and I'm looking forward to curling up in my room and listening to the rain tonight! My American suitemates and I spent Valentine's Day eve out at for tapas and chupitos, which was very fun, if a little wilder than my usual Monday nights. Given my financial situation and recent discovery of tax amounts, that kind of night is going to be pretty rare for me.

Also knowing how much money I have has limited my travel plans. Originally I was hoping to go to London and Ireland or Paris for spring break, since I've never been and it's a great place to go for theater, obviously. Although I won't be able to afford that kind of trip, I'm looking at it as an opportunity: my parents' wise advice was that Spain and the Mediterranean are well worth exploring, and that people spend thousands of dollars vacationing here to see the sights. So for my spring break, I'm going to stay in the area and go to the beaches, not 2 hours away from Granada; spend a day skiing or at least in Pradollano (the Sierra Nevada Sky Resort); and do some day trips or overnight trips to local places, like Ubeda, Baeza, Ronda, and Grazalema. These are all towns not far from Granada that my program, API, recommends and offers easy travel info for. I am however still looking for someone to go with. I'm getting a new roommate in March, a woman named Anna (Ana?) from London as part of the Erasmus study abroad program, which may be a great opportunity to make a new friend and potential travel buddy.

Another direction I'm interested in exploring over break is theater, of course. Granada is the home and birthplace of the famous playwright Federico García Lorca, who lived in the early 1900's and was killed during the Spanish Civil War. During my time here I'd like to visit his hometown, Fuente Vaqueros, and to visit the museum in his name. I will be reading his plays, some of which I am already familiar with, and probably some of his poetry as that was his main forte. It would be incredible to work on one of Lorca's plays for my senior exhibition project back home next year; one of his famous trio (Blood Wedding, Yerma, and The House of Bernarda Alba). Saint Mike's also offers a whole class on Lorca's works. This is definitely a route worth exploring to connect my time here to my theater career!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Frustrations Abroad

One of the things they don't tell you enough about, when you think about applying for study abroad, is how frustrating it can be sometimes. I remember reading a brief paragraph on how things are so much different and it can be hard, but you'll come back changed!...and I remember wondering how is it different and how will it be so hard? I mean the application itself was a long and obnoxious process, but necessary, and obviously going to a place where you don't speak the primary language will be a challenge, but I still wondered how could life out there be so much different from my own?

Over the past few days- and for the next few months to come, I'm sure- I've been discovering some of those answers first hand. First of all, the language difference. Because I'm with a study abroad program for mainly American students, it barely sunk in the whole way here and in Madrid that people don't actually use English, whether they know a little of it or not. Many people here have been patient with me, but there are some who won't be or will just forget to slow down. The worst part is understanding bits and pieces of a conversation and not being able to form responses in time; conversations here, as in any place, turn quickly to other subjects. I was sick for a few days this past week and asked myself during that time, why did I not go to London and take a theater internship? I would be so much happier there! I speak the language, I know the tools and processes of theater...and I know I have to stick with my reasoning for coming here in the first place. If I know the language and the tools and the processes, what would the point of studying abroad be? I can get an internship at home over the summer. Learning a different language and culture and lifestyle will benefit both my ideas for designs in the theater, and my way of living as a person in general.

Another difference is the lifestyle. What does that even mean? In Spain, it means people eat a light breakfast, go to work or school until 2pm, go home for a huge lunch and a siesta, during which all stores and shops literally close for hours, and then people return to work or go shopping around 5pm. Dinner isn't until 9pm, and when people go out to clubs, they don't go till 2 or 3am. The only movement on the streets before 7am or so is all the partiers returning from a night out. This is completely normal. For me, in a residencia with American and Spanish suitemates, it means a more independent life in general. When your Spanish suitemates watch cartoons literally all day (the Simpsons is a HUGE thing here) and when your American suitemates party all night and don't wake up till 2pm, you learn quickly to make decisions for yourself.

My personal frustrations this week were not, surprisingly, all from the stomach bug I caught on Wednesday. I was laid low until yesterday, but my residencia madre and landlady, Maria Jose, took excellent care of me. Recovering was the hard part: the girls went out, when I definitely couldn't; people at home were busy (and besides, who wants to go abroad just to sit on a computer all day? With nothing else to do for fear of upsetting my stomach further, I did just that, but it sucked). I finally got out and about today on a long walk, where I purchased some flowers for Maria Jose (since I can't find thank-you cards anywhere...another strange thing to get used to is finding the right store for your needs) and took some pictures at a political protest on the main street in Granada, Gran Via.

I still am not entirely clear what they were protesting. There were a lot of banners like this one, but with many different topics. One thing is for sure there was a LOT of noise! They had airhorns and whistles and megaphones and speakers blasting out of cars within the parade. I know many people here are dissatisfied with the government's secrecy, and given their unemployment problems I can understand some of the protesters. Many people are dissatisfied with Prime Minister Zapatero's reforms to cut the national debt, and even on the streets I've heard a lot of unhappiness with the Socialist party at the moment. It seems that this protest summed up a lot of different topics that the people here want the government to reform.
Now, sitting back in my room giving my feet a rest, I am puzzling through what various things I saw and heard today meant. I can't seem to find Maria Jose to give her the flowers I bought, and I'm not sure if it's acceptable to visit during the siesta or if I should just wait to see her later. The group that I hiked with last Sunday at the festival de San Cecilio with sent me a lot of emails about activities this weekend and beyond, but I can't understand any of it- the layout of the email, the dates or places or times. As you can imagine, I'm a little disoriented, but am trying to make the most of everything! At least my long walk this morning means I'm recovered from my stomach bug, and it was time outside on a beautiful day.
Monday-Thursday: Classes. This weekend: ROME!

How many years of Spanish would you recommend studying before studying abroad to a Spanish speaking country?

Well, it depends on what sort of program you decide to go with/what the Spanish University decides. I've met people in the API program who did't know any Spanish and decided to come, all the way up to fluent people who are here to improve as well. I'd recommend learning at least the basics, no matter what levels are offered. Knowing how to handle yourself in a foreign country is not only more comfortable, but safer. At least a year is probably best because then you have the basic communication and will still get a lot out of your trip.

Ask me anything!

Do you have any advice in filling out the housing form when studying abroad?

Yes...think about what you want very carefully, and know that what is advertised may not always be what is actually offered. Depending on where you are going, a homestay may be your best option- many people here have indicated that although awkward at times, they are having a good experience with home cooked meals and someone to ask directions from or ask any questions of.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

La Vida en Granada

Today was my second day of classes here in Granada. I'm taking 2 classes in Spanish (gramática, grammar; and POE, or conversation + writing) as well as 3 electives in English: Spanish Art History, Spanish Culture and Civilization, and Islamic Culture. So far my favorite is Islamic Culture, as I know absolutely nothing about the Arab world and this class will go in depth about the differences between the Arab world and the Islamic world. With all the tension today between the United States and the Middle East, the least we can do is educate ourselves about the people of the world. 
People in Granada are rumored, by the rest of España, to be mean people. This is not something I've noticed, however, and I'm not sure how to compare Españoles with Americans. I'm not sure if my adjustment to living here has been more cultural or more geographical; city living is definitely a different experience for me. But this city is slow-paced (other than the motorcycles...they're the best vehicle to have here for sure, but none of the drivers here pay much attention to pedestrians!) and things literally do shut down during the siesta hours, which has taken some getting used to! The meal hours are different as well, and as for the nightlife, it's customary to go out for tapas (a Granada tradition, when you order a drink at a bar you get free munchies) after dinner, and the clubs don't start getting customers until 3 or 4 am. The only people out and about at 6 and 7am are people walking home from a night out. There are also lots of dogs and cats that roam the city, either leashed or not, though I suspect many have owners either way.

Living in the residencia, as mentioned, is taking getting used to. I'm still not sure how the noise right outside my door is treating me yet. Laundry is hung to dry up on the roof; mealtimes are set and laid out for all, though the residencia food isn't great. My roommate moved out to a single room in a dorm-like residencia (as opposed to my suite-like residencia), so I have a large room for now. To be honest I'm not sure how much time I'll be spending in the room, what with the temperature slowly but surely rising. Our rooftop is a beautiful place and, if I'm really in the mood, I'll walk to la Alhambra or the gardens there and work or read. 
 Other than classes, the thing that is occupying my time is travel plans. I'm hoping to do some traveling while here and have already made plans for the end of February to go to Seville with friends! It should be a good way to spend a long weekend. There is one other long weekend in the semester, plans as of yet unknown, and the week off for Easter as well. While I hear it is really beautiful to see the parades and ceremonies in Granada during that week, I'd like to spend the Easter week in London. I suspect it will be expensive, but even a Monday-Friday trip would allow me to see shows and museums there, as well as have the weekends on either end in Granada for the festivities. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

El Albaicin, La Alhambra, y la festividad de San Cecilio

Wow! It's been a week and 3 days since I first set foot in Granada, and life has been jam-packed with tours and new experiences and walking. Please excuse the blog pictures being missing for now....I'm opening a flickr account, as you may have noticed under study abroad pictures, and it's giving me some trouble.

As I mentioned, we toured el Albaicin, the old Moorish quarter of the city that leads to el Sacromonte, the gypsy quarters. In this area there are a lot of caves and buildings combined; it overlooks la Alhambra and the main part of the city. While it's perfectly safe during the day (especially in groups, which I've been in each time) I hear it's definitely better to be in a group at night in those parts. There are clubs and flamenco shows in this area; there are lots of houses built into the mountainside, and a few farms at the bottom with olive trees and more. 

Today was la festividad de San Cecilio, a festival for Granada's patron saint, during which all the residents of the city make a pilgrimage from la Plaza Nueva to a famous abbey in Sacromonte at the top of a small mountain. My landlady/"mom" of the residencia set me up with a hiking group that her brother leads on excursions in the area- not that the trip to the abbey was much of a hike- but we met early and walked through el Sacromonte to hiking trails at the other end of the valley, past the farms and houses and caves. I met a lot of Spaniards today!
la grupa
We eventually made our way back through floods of people to the festivities; from afar, I saw some flamenco dancers, and we made our way up the zig-zagging road to the abbey. Everyone pays tribute to their patron saint at the abbey by walking the catacombs where the tombs was fascinating. After that, we went up to the very top of the mountain above the abbey and sunbathed a little and saw Granada and the Sierra Nevadas from the highest point. Fue incredible! 

The biggest piece of history in Granada, however, is la Alhambra. Meaning literally "red fortress," la Alhambra is an Arabian palace that clearly shows Granada's Moorish history from before la reconquista of monarchs Ferdinand and Isabelle in 1492. Situated on a small mountain overlooking the city and el Albaicin, la Alhambra is a series of gardens and buildings- a tiny city where the sultans and other rulers lived and reigned. The culture and designs are fantastic, in a word. They embody the Muslim faith with designs of nature, but they also subtly and psychologically hint through architecture and light that the sultan was second to God.

A separate section of la Alhambra featured gardens and a duck pond with a tower in it. There was a flock of peacocks there! It is really a wondrous place. There were lots of people reading and working and still using the gardens and courtyards of la Alhambra, as you only have to pay to see certain parts. I fully intend to make use of the space as well during my time here :) There's nothing like going to do homework in an ancient palace.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


spiral steps leading to the roof of my residencia!
Not even a whole week in Granada and it feels like we've been here for a while! Last Thursday we hopped off the Toledo bus and moved into our various residencias, host family houses, and apartments. I am living in a residencia with 12 other students, 3 of whom are also from the API study abroad program. Our residencia is located in the main commercial center of Granada, albeit down a sketchy looking side street (it only LOOKS sketchy- there are lots of people around and little bars and pastry shops as well. The main street with huge stores is literally a few steps out the door!)

yep, this is the view where I live :)
From here, we are a few moments away from Correos- the post office and meeting point for several tours- and la Plaza Nueva. School is about 10-15 minutes away by foot, as is the API office, and what pleasant walks they are! Orange trees line the streets here and every apartment has a little balcony porch. My room, in la residencia Aguila, doesn't have a balcony or much of a view, but at least we can get some sun in the room.

Right now I'm writing from the rooftop, where we have a little terrace that overlooks some very awesome other buildings. It's sunny out and warm enough (for once!) to be up here; hopefully the laundry hanging next to me will dry today! Hanging laundry is one of the many differences we've experienced so far. From little things, like pillowcases that open on both sides, always wearing shoes inside, not having hot water, and going around the corner for fresh bread everyday- to bigger things, like listening to Spanish all the time and practicing speaking, trying new foods, and walking everywhere, I feel like my way of living is changing already.

Bri, Myrthia, Isa, and I are having a little trouble adjusting to life in the residencia, however. We signed up for this housing option hoping to meet Spanish students and enjoy home-cooked prepaid meals, but the students have their own schedules. The food is about Alliot quality from the cafeteria back home. We're doing our best to stay positive, but it's hard for Isa and I particularly to sleep, since our room is based right next to the kitchen and common area. API is looking into a change of housing for us, but if the options presented aren't any better I'm prepared to stick it out. This wonderful rooftop is enough for me to stay here right now :)

the view down my street.
So far, we've toured el Albaicin (the old Moorish quarter of the city) and la Alhambra (the Red Fortress, an old Arabic palace that was the last stronghold in Granada when the monarchs Isabelle and Ferdinand converted Spain to Catholicism) as well as the pieces of our university that we'll be studying in. Please check out the "study abroad pictures" link at the top of the page!

We also took a placement exam on Monday, which was like a Spanish SAT and very hard at times. The oral part was the worst for me! I got a level 4 (out of 10) which is fine by me: the classes I originally signed up for fit into that category.We don't actually start classes until February 7th, though. More to come on el Albaicin, la Alhambra, and updates on housing/classes/city adventures!

Thanks for following!