¡Holy Toledo Batman!

Last week we took a day trip to Toledo, which is about an hour and a half bus ride from Alcalá. When we arrived, instead of heading straight into the city, our bus driver took us to the top of hill that overlooks the city of Toledo, which is set on a mountaintop and is surrounded on three sides by a river (Rio Tajo). Everything was covered in the early morning fog, making the city look even more ancient and mysterious. Then the bus dropped us off at the bridge, which you have to cross to reach the city. Toledo is like a fortress...the bridge reminded me of a drawbridge over a moat, leading to the heart of a castle. Toledo has an incredible history, and it was once the religious capital of Spain and has been famed for being a place of coexistence between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. These different religions and cultures have influenced the art, architecture, and people of Toledo immensely.

Our first stop inside the city was El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, which was founded by Ferdinand and Isabella and then dedicated for the use of Fransciscan friars. This was one of my favorite places...the architecture was incredibly detailed and the whole thing was just really beautiful. My favorite part was the courtyard with a garden in the middle, complete with citrus trees. It was very zen, and for a moment I contemplated becoming a monk.
Beautiful iglesia, courtyard, and sculpture

Well that thought lasted for about a second, and then we moved on. Next we headed to the Jewish quarter of the city, to the Sinagoga del Tránsito. The building and decorations were completely different from what we had just seen at the monastery. It was really beautiful, and interesting to note the differences in decoration and architectural style. The second floor of the synagogue is a museum, so we spent a little time looking at different Jewish artifacts. This particular Synagogue was originally built as the private synagogue by the king’s treasurer, Samuel HaLevi, around the year 1400. At the time it was a pretty big deal because there were laws prohibiting any synagogues to be bigger or more decorated than the Christian churches. But he defied these laws and the synagogue was bigger than many of the churches at that time. So there’s a fun history lesson for you.
Note the completely different styles and decoration
Next stop, Iglesia de Santo Tomé. The purpose of this visit was to view one of El Greco’s masterpieces: The Burial of Count Orgaz. El Greco is a very important artist in Spanish history, and Toledo is where he spent his later years and produced many of his mature works. This particular painting is probably the one he is known best for. It is a huge painting, and illustrates a popular local legend of the time. It was especially cool for me because last semester in my Civilization class we studied a lot of art, and I was able to apply that and recognize some key aspects in the painting. Who knew you actually learned useful information in school?
Now we move on to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo. This cathedral is massive. It is considered to be “the pinnacle of Gothic style in Spain”, which is understandable because it is really something. From the outside, the cathedral is amazing. The architecture and the detailed sculpture and the pretty doorways are really cool.Then we went inside the main chapel, and it was stunning--all of the ornate decoration and just the sheer grandiosity of size left you in awe. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but I’ll try to snag some off the Internet so you can get a picture in your mind. There were so many paintings and stained glass windows and gold work- it was super intense.

Magnificent spire piercing the sky, amazing architectural detail, and a stolen picture from the Internet of the beautiful stain glass windows inside. 

After admiring the cathedral, we ate lunch on the steps of the Town Hall in Plaza Auntamiento (which is right outside the doors of the cathedral). Our director set us loose to explore the city on our own, and we had the plan to follow a walking tour in a travel book that another girl in our group had. However, when we combined the labyrinth of streets with our limited navigational skills, we ended up just walking around in circles and getting nowhere. So we split up into two groups that both had a different second best option. I had read something about a church where you could walk up a ton of stairs to get to the towers and have a great view of the city, so we set out to find that. By some miracle, we made it there, and I’m so glad we did because it was one of my favorite parts. The view was magnificent. We could see the spires of the cathedral, Alcazár, and just all the pretty houses and buildings in the city. The buildings are so packed together, it almost looked like they were sitting on top of each other. It was gorgeous!
The amazing view. Plus some posing. Plus a random man posing us.

Afterwards, Meredith had the idea to go to the torture museum. So we braved the winding streets again and managed to find the museum. It was really interesting and kind of cool, in a morbid sort of way. We saw many of the torture implements that were used on the heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. Let me just say: Ouch. Please don’t ever let me be tortured to death...just kill me, quick and painlessly.
Torturous chair of death. Plus masks of torture. Equals pain. Lots of pain.
After this, we mainly just wandered the streets. Toledo is especially known for two things: swords and marzipan. There were hundreds of shops selling hand-made swords and delicious marzipan. My little brother would have gone nuts and come home wielding all sorts of sharp objects. I was more into the marzipan. Marzipan is mostly just sugar and almond meal, and it can be shaped into all sorts of interesting objects, like animals and castles and such. I think it’s delicious, but most people either love it or hate it.

As the sun was setting, our adventures in Toledo were winding to a close. We stopped to snap a few more pictures on the bridge and by the castle walls, and then hopped back on the bus to return to Alcalá. We were all exhausted from the full day of walking and site-seeing, and it felt sooo good to get back to a warm house and a nice hot meal (Thank you Blanca!).
Saying goodbye to Toledo. 
Hopefully that wasn’t a blogging overload for you. Tune back in next week to read all about our adventures in the beautiful Andalucia!


La escuela y Parque de Retiro

So first off, I would like make a statement, which I realize may be naive and presumptuous, but I’ll say it anyway: Everything is better in Spain. I know that this is evidence that I am obviously still in the “honeymoon stage” of living in another country, but I’m just saying it like it is. Everything is better here. For example, last night for dinner Blanca made us some delicious grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Of course I have eaten this particular meal many MANY times before (I am a poor college student, after all), but I swear, these were the BEST grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches I have ever had. Even though Katie informed me that the cheese was fake American cheese, my mind is made up: the best grilled sandwiches are found in Spain, more specifically in Blanca’s kitchen. Another example: each and every building here is a masterpiece. I honestly have not seen an ugly building. Not a single one. These pictures aren’t even of the special buildings (which are especially beautiful), these are just the regular buildings that Katie and I walk past everyday. These are just a few examples of a hundred. Honeymoon stage or not, when you’re in Spain (or any foreign country really) everything automatically seems a million times cooler than it is back home. Okay, there is my spiel about how stupendous Spain is. Now on to the adventures!
All of the buildings are so beautiful to me.

Early morning light hitting the Plaza on our way to school.

Classes officially started last Monday. I know, who knew we would actually be going to school here?! They have been really good so far--I am taking two Spanish classes, grammar and conversation, which are taught by native Spaniards. The first day almost put me in a coma. My grammar teacher spoke at breakneck speed, and I was dumbfounded the entire class. It was a little disheartening at first, because I felt like all the other girls were nodding their heads that they understood, while I sat there with my mouth wide open and a horrified look on my face. Little by little, I’ve gotten more accustomed to the Spanish accent and the “theta” pronunciation (gracias is pronounced grathias, comunicación is comunicathion, etcetera etcetera etthetera:)). My conversation teacher is fantastic...súper fantástica! (She says “súper” at least once per sentence, and just has fabulous words in general). These classes are everyday, and I cannot wait for the day when I understand 100% of what is said in them, as opposed to just 49%. One of my favorite classes is my religion class, which is taught by a general authority for our church and is soooo amazing. It’s all about the history of the LDS church in Spain, which is super interesting and just an incredible story of faith and perseverance. My other classes are a European Studies class (mainly the history of Spain, which is fascinating), a Madrid Walks class (which I think will be more like an educational treasure hunt--we have certain destinations and sites to see in Madrid, and we have to find our own way through the city to get to them), and lastly a Cultural Proofs class (for optimal cultural exposure). These classes won’t exactly be a walk in the park--we already have quite a load of work!--but I’m excited for them nonetheless.

  First day of school!

This is what most mornings look like: Speed-demon Katie fearlessly leading the way with leisurely me following 10 feet behind. :)

One day for our European Studies class, we took the train to Madrid and went to the Archaeological Museum. It is a huge, beautiful building that houses hundreds of artifacts from all of the different civilizations that have existed in and influenced Spain: the Romans, the Celts, the Iberians, etc. There is sooo much fascinating history here, and I learn new historical facts every day. After the museum we went to Retiro Park, which is a gigantic park that includes a lake, a few palaces, tons of statues, and miles of walking paths. Even though it is the winter and everything was mostly dead, it was still a beautiful park and I cannot wait to go back in the spring when everything is in bloom!

The girls in Retiro Park
Beautiful statue and fountain at sunset
Gorgeous lake and monument in the Park

Next post coming up soon, featuring our adventures from a day in........¡TOLEDO! Hold on to your fannies!


¡Soy una madrilena!

Wow. I feel like sooooo much has happened since my last post, and it’s only been 3 days. Prepare yourselves...

At the end of every day I’ve been completely exhausted. Partly from lack of sleep (for some reason I keep waking up super early in the morning, which is a complete contradiction to my personality, as many of you know...) and partly from walking for probably 9 consecutive hours every day. Which is going to work wonders to counteract my newfound obsession: churros con chocolate. Picture the best hot chocolate you’ve ever had...now multiply that by 100, and you’ll probably end up close to this. It is the thickest, darkest, richest hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and combined with churros (which are like deep-fried donut sticks...don’t judge), it is just....mmm DELECTABLE. And it’s a staple here-there are tons of little ‘chocolaterías’ everywhere-so if I come home 30 pounds heavier, just pretend like you recognize me anyway.

Be jealous. 
The other day a few of the girls from our group went exploring around Alcalá. We discovered some really beautiful buildings--what used to be an old hospital (it was pretty abandoned, I’m not sure if it’s used for anything anymore), a beautiful cathedral, and the house of Cervantes. The Cathedral (Catedral de los Santos Niños) is a really important and historic building, and is really gorgeous. We were there as the sun was going down, so the lighting made the building especially beautiful. Alcalá is known mainly for the University, but also for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. The house where he was born has been turned into a museum, and though we haven’t been inside yet we did stop long enough to snag some pictures with the statues. :)

Exploring the abandoned hospital
(sorry these are small...I'm somewhat blogging-challenged)

Magnificent cathedral in beautiful sunset

Oh heyyyyyy Don Quixote.
Yesterday we ventured into Madrid! We took a 40 minute train ride there, and then rode the subway into the middle of the city, to Plaza Puerta del Sol. This was amazing because the Plaza was circular-shaped, and then there were probably 10 streets shooting off from it, like a sun. From here we walked to Plaza Mayor, which is probably the most famous Plaza in Madrid. There is a ton of history associated with it--bullfights used to take place here, and it was here that many heretics were executed during the Spanish Inquisition. It wasn’t at all crowded, which was nice because we could walk all around the square and admire the buildings.

There were quite a few street performers here (including a Japanese man dressed as a matador, a 4 foot tall Darth Vader, and, my personal favorite, a chubby Spiderman.) After debating whether or not to break our cover of trying to not look like tourists, Katie and I gave in and went over to see ‘ole Spidey. He was hilarious. He gave us high fives and in his ridiculously deep voice asked us questions and then proceeded to show us all his favorite poses. The last one was the best...he said, “And now, do you know why Madrid is so great? Because we have........the SEXY pose.” At this point I completely lost it, and was doubled over laughing. Apparently he thought that was unacceptable for the camera, so he had us redo our ‘sexy’ pose. He was definitely one of the highlights of this particular trip.
High five for Spiderman. Classic Spiderman pose. Spiderman flying pose.

aaaand the SEXY pose. At first I was laughing uncontrollably, but then I managed to compose myself for the final seductive pose.

When we decided it was time to return to Alcalá we had to brave the subway once again, only this time it was mass pandemonium. All personal space boundaries are broken on the subway. I was literally sandwiched on all sides, with zero inches of space to move. Everyone is totally used to it there, because they do it every day, but it may take a while for me to get subway-savvy.

This morning has been strictly for relaxing, since it feels like we’ve been going a million miles an hour the past couple of days. We’re trying to find a discoteca to go to later...which will be another adventure all in itself!


Ladies and Gentleman, we have arrived!

First off, I just want to preface this by saying: I AM IN LOVE WITH SPAIN. And I realize this is a little presumptuous, because I’ve only been here for 26 hours. And part of that has been spent sleeping...but still, I love it! It is just as I imagined it would be...adorable cobblestone streets, beautiful buildings and rooftops, people walking the streets speaking in blazing-fast Spanish...it is perfect. And now, to recap the journey...I apologize in advance for the rambling.

Before I flew out on Monday, I spent a couple days in Seattle with my sisters. I got to play with my adorable niece and nephews, whom I always miss terribly when I’m away. It was sad to leave them again. On Monday morning, Rachelle took me to the airport at 5 AM. Sydney woke up and wanted to come with us, even though it was beastly early in the morning. So cute. I said my last goodbyes, and entered el aeropuerto Seattle. As I checked in, I looked over and saw Katie checking in as well, so we went through security together and then waited for our flights (we flew separately until we met up in Frankfurt for the last leg of the journey).

My flight itinerary consisted of three flights: Seattle to Toronto, then Toronto to Frankfurt, and then Frankfurt to Madrid. I had never flown international before, so I was a little nervous about making all my connecting flights and everything. The first flight went well, and as I left it was raining. Thank you Seattle! To be honest, there were a few tears as we rolled out of the terminal...the sky was crying, so I did too :) Then we left the ground, and I drifted off to sleep. On the second flight, I was on a ginormous plane and each seat had it’s own TV screen so you could listen to music, watch TV or movies, etc. This was the longest flight, and lasted all night. I read my Spain books for a couple hours and then watched a movie. Oh and I made a fabulous new musical discovery...Pete Yorn. Hence the first song. Anyways, it was dark outside for the whole flight and I had no concept of time, which was very bizarre. That flight was a little late leaving Toronto, so we arrived in Frankfurt an hour late, at about 8 AM. My next flight to Madrid was at 9:10 AM, and I was nervous about making it on time. Luckily, I had overheard a guy on the plane sitting in the row in front of me saying how he was on his way to Spain, so after we landed I found him and asked if I could tag along with him to find our plane to Madrid. There was another girl going to Madrid as well, so we stuck together and ventured off to figure out where to go from there. The Frankfurt airport es muy confuso, and we spent 20 minutes figuring out which line to stand in to get our boarding passes before someone told us that we could go straight to our gate and get them there. We hurried through security, and then ran to our gate. And when I say ran, I mean sprinted. It was the most epic run through the airport ever. We were sprinting up and down stairs, along those moving walkways...three strangers bolting through the Frankfurt airport, united in gate number. People were staring. It was chaos. We finally got to our gate, hot and sweaty and out of breath. And of course, once we got there we found out that our flight was delayed, so the epic dash was unnecessary, but still epic. :)

(This is what we do in airports to curb boredom)
This is where Katie and I met up, and it was sooo nice to see a familiar face. We boarded the plane, and then it was delayed for another hour. I was exhausted at this point, so I slept the entire way to Madrid. When we arrived, we had a few hours to kill so we played cards and tried to keep ourselves entertained until the bus came to take us to Alcalå. There, Katie and I met our host mother, Blanca. We live really close to the Plaza where the bus dropped us off, so we got our luggage and walked through the streets to her house. I was pretty delirious at this point, and making small talk in Spanish was way more difficult than it should have been. Blanca showed us around the house and to our living area, a cozy little room with 2 twin beds. There is another study abroad student staying here too, and she has a room right next to us. She is from Korea and her name is Rosilla (well, that’s her Spanish name). After we unpacked and settled in, Blanca made us dinner (warm soup, which was perfect because it was so cold outside). It was delicious, and soo nice to eat real food again. She told us that at the table we’re only allowed to speak Spanish, so needless to say it was a pretty quiet dinner. Afterwards, we were quite exhausted and went straight to bed, even though it was only nine.

(Our cozy little room! Katie is addicted to a new card game on her computer, and did not appreciate her picture being taken :) )

Today I woke up at noon. Typical. We had lunch at one, which in Spain is the most important and largest meal. Blanca made what she called “tortillas de patatas”, and it was kind of like a potato pancake...more potato and less pancake, but that’s the only way I can think to describe it. Katie and I have decided that we are in love with Blanca’s cooking. And she is adorable-I went to put my dishes in the sink and she was like “no no no, you eat and go to school, and I cook and wash dishes.”  As we left the house, she fussed over my hair being wet, saying it was too cold outside and I would get sick and that I should go dry my hair. Which I haven’t done since probably the 8th grade, so that was fun to re-remember how to do that. :) Then she led us outside and showed us how to maneuver along the streets to get the Plaza. She is so funny--she kept commenting on all the cute guys who passed by. I love her already. I feel like she is perfect for me and Katie. She lives by herself and has been hosting study abroad students for 16 years! I’m excited to pick up on my Spanish skills and be able to have real conversations with her. Anyways, she dropped us off at the Plaza, where we were supposed to meet our group. We waited for a while but didn’t see anyone familiar, so we called our director and he told us that everyone else was still so jet-lagged and exhausted that we would meet tomorrow instead. So we walked around for a little bit, soaking everything in (including the rain and our lack of ‘paraguas’) and then walked back to our house.

(En Plaza Cervantes)
The past few days have been a pretty chaotic, but it is such a joy to finally be here! I am in love with this place, and I can’t wait to explore and fall even more in love with it!



My lovely sister Madison just got me started in this whole blogging business, and I am going to try my absolute best to keep it updated for the next few months as I do a study abroad program in SPAIN. I am so thrilled and grateful for this opportunity to fulfill my dream of studying abroad, and I hope that I will be able to take time out of the wonderful chaos to keep you all updated on my adventures.

From January to April, I will be living with a host family in Alcalá, which is about 10 minutes outside of Madrid. My fabulous friend Katie, whom I met last year and lived with this last semester, is also going on the program and we'll be living with the same family. She is from Washington as well, and I love her to death and am so excited that we get to share this experience together! We will be going to school at the University of Alcalá, which is one of the oldest universities in Europe and is renowned for its Spanish-language programs. I'm a little nervous about taking classes from native Spanish speakers, getting used to speaking with a whole different tense, and just my Spanish-speaking abilities in general, but I really hope that I'll be able to learn quickly and come back speaking like a pro! I really love the Spanish language, and I can't think of a better way to learn it than in it's mother country! :)

Approximately 9 DAYS left! I can't wait!