Monday, February 27, 2006

The house of pain

Where did I leave off? I believe that I had just returned from Cordoba and Cadiz and the second trimester had just comenced. Now we are only three weeks out from finishing this quarter and that has my nerves standing on end. I think that it is time to come home and try to start my life back up where I left off but at the same time I want to stay and finish out the year here with all the awesome friends that I have made. Well, whether I want to stay or not I´ll be home on the 21st of March. It´s coming up pretty quick so get ready y´all.
Let´s see if I can recap all that has happened during the last month and a half or so. Classes started out alright, things were moving kind of quickly because I had put myself in a level more advanced than I was. But now things are right on track. I really enjoy all my professors and eventhough the 5 hour class days every day are a little monotonous it´s alright. I give credit to the teachers here for trying to make their classes as interesting as possible and I know that that can be sort of tough as there has been some classes that were just terribly unoriginal, but in general everything is good to go.
Now it´s time for the excurison recap: A week or two into this trimester I was talking to a friend after class. He mentioned to me that he was going to the train station after he ate lunch to buy his ticket to Lisbon, Portugal. He asked me if I wanted to go and I told him that I would think about it and if I wanted to I would meet him at the station at 4:00. It was really a spurr of the moment decision but I went and met up with him at the station at 4:00. When I arrived I saw a gigantic group of people all waiting outside for me to buy our tickets. In total there were 11 of us. 10 Americans and 1 guy from France, Franc, but he had been studying in Alabama for the last 8 years and his english is just about perfect. I really didn´t know any one except for my friend Colin, from Chicago, and a classmate Ryan. But what the hell, I´m here to make friends right. So we bought our tickets, on a wensday and the 7 hour train departed on thursday night at 4:50 am. Although we missed one day of classes I would not be able to live with myself if I didn´t make it to Portugal especially since Salamanca is so close. So we went. The first day we spent checking out the sights in Lisbon. They have an amazing cathedral and a castle that sits on top of the highest point in the city. It provided a spectacular view of all of Lisbon and its 4 or 5 million citizens. The second day we went to a little town just outside of Lisbon called Cascais. Sinct there are no beaches in lisbon we made the train and traveled about 40 minutes to this amazing part of town. All day it was sunny and we walked along the little strips of beaches and took pictures all day. As we were walking back to catch our train to the hotel we stopped at a little stretch to watch the waves break against the huge collection of lava rocks bordering this stretch of the coast. I walked to the edge and hopped down on a little rock to take a picture of a wave crashing. The waves weren´t very big at all, so I don´t want you to get paranoid at this part of the story. I sanpped a pic and turned around to talk to one of my friends for a second. Collin yelled "Be careful man your gonna get soaked!" As I turned around I saw a larger wave coming right at me and of course it proceded to soak me from the waist down. Fan-freakin-tastic. So I jumped up and we continued to the train station. All of a sudden the sky turned gray and started to pour rain. So now we are all soaked from head to toe and had to find refuge in an Irish pub called O´Mallys. We had a few overpriced beers and listened to Jack Johnson´s newest CD. A very traditional Portugese experience right. But it was fun and at least I wasn´t the only wet one, so that made me feel a little better. After the beers we all walked and caught the last train to Lisbon.
The next day we had to be to the train station by 3:30 to catch the train back to Salamanca but first we wanted to partake in one last adventure. Unfortunately not everyone shared the same enthusiasm. So the hard cores all went to another little town about 10 minutes form the Atlantic called Cintra with the goal of seeing the Palacio de Pena. When we got off the train in cintra we followed all of the other tourey looking people to a large map of the town. It had a route mapped out of how to get to the palace, so we started walking. We kept walking and walking and walking and after an hour of walking up the side of a mountain there was still no sign of the palace. We were starting to get a little worried that we weren't going to make it before we had to return to catch our train. Then it began to rain pretty hard and four of the six of us turned and walked back down the mountain. So, Coolin and I started running, cutting corners on all of the cut backs and occasionally would stop to check out the view when there was a clearing. You could see the Atlantic and all the different shades of blue and green for what seemed like a hundred miles into the ocean. Absolutely beautiful. After about 12 cars had passed us we thought we had gotten ourselves into something a little deep and not to sure that we were going to actually get to see this palace, but we kept on. After another 20 minutes of running and walking we made it to the park at the bottom of the palace grounds and still no palace in sight. We asked the security guard at the gate how much further we had to go to reach the our destination and he told us it's only ten more minutes up this road. Only 10 more minutes! So we took off running. Let me remind you that we are still racing against the clock and at this point we have about 45 minutes to catch our train back to lisbon or we will mis our train back to salamanca. Finally we saw a information booth and asked where in the hell is the palace. She sold us two trolly tickets that would drop us off right infront. So we bought the tickets and waited for a bit for every one to board. While we were waiting it started hailing, snowing and raining all at the same time. Then all of a sudden the clouds let out an enormous bolt of lightning the lit up the entire sky with a bone shaking thunder right afterwards. We never saw the palace until the trolly stopped and we all got out. And there, right infront of us was this enormous palace. I have no idea how we didn't see it until right then. We take of running again because we have about 5 minutes to take as many pictures as we can before we HAVE TO go and catch our train. So we were running around this palace like a couple of little school girls, oohing and ahhing and snapping pics everytime we turned around. Absolutely breathtaking. You'll have to check out my pictures because I just can't describe it.
We ran back down to the place we bought our trolly tickets and asked if there was a bus going back down to the town and he pointed to a little bus about 20 meters away. We bout our tickets and started heading back down. We didn't go back the way we had come up and I found out later that was because we had taken the longest and hardest way possible. The bus returned to the station in about 4 minutes along it four kilometer route while we had taken the 9km route by foot. Our legs were on fire, we were exausted and soaking wet. But we made it, we saw the properly named Palacio de Pena and made our bus back to Lisbon. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A level up

School tomorrow, that phrase will never work its way into my top ten favorites. The ninth has finally come, after a relaxing vacation break. I really like Salamanca and my experience has been all I have expected it to be, and little more. But, I know that salanca has a culture that is really all its own. I kinda feel drivern to explore in all the cracks and crevices of the country before I leave. And as it continued not to snow and just be cold, my desire to find a warmer climate was exponencially growing inside me day by day. So I found a warm climate, a couple of beautiful cities, a great experience of the Andalusian culture and a lot of fun in the two southern cities of Cordoba and Cadíz. My first plan was to go to the north to San Sebastian, Bilbao and Santander. But my mind changed when I saw on the news that the Basque Country near the coast was flooded due to some heavy rains. So south I went.
On the third at six in the morning I departed first to Madrid and then to Cordoba by train. I arrived at about 3 pm. On my map I saw that it was only about a 15 minute walk straight to my hostel so I thought that I would tour the Plaza de Toros to see their stadium because I heard it was pretty big. And it was but it doesn´t hold a flame to Madrid´s. After waliking about 6 km I reached the Plaza de Tendillas, but not before first passing along the river that borders the alacazar de los Reys Cristianos, their Roman Bridge, and the all famous Mezquita Moorish Mosque, I dropped my bags at went exploring. I plotted out a well organzized yet busy tour route that took a litttle more time to complete then I thought so I had to cut a few corners here and there to fit in some things that I didn´t want to miss. I saved the Mezquita, the Alcazár, and the east side of town for the second day. I was really happy with Cordoba and its appearance. Although it had some of its rougher looking barrios I was sufficiently content. The abundance of the bustling orange trees were a nice greeting when I got off the train and imediately put a smile on my face. I read a little flyer that it is in the running to be elected into the hall of really cool places to visit around the world.
The Mezquita was exceptional(check out the picks) and the Alcazar was really....really old with a beautiful garden amoungst its walls. The botanical gardens were´t in bloom and closed along with the zoo they have here, but I don´t think it was anything special so I didn´t feel bad passing it up. The view from the Roman bridge into Cordoba, splitting the Mezquita, on the right, and the Castle(Alcazár on the left)was awesome. At the Far end of the bridge there is a great wide tower that guards the entrance into Cordoba from the sotheast. I could picture riding up to this castle on my horse about 5 or 6 hundred years ago and having to pass through this giant gate. It was like I took a trip into the past. That will always be the image I have in my mind when I think of Cordoba.
Next, I hopped a four hour bus to Cadíz. One of the oldest cities in Spain. Packed with a vibrant beach scenery and also the greenery typical of Andalucia. I was there from the 5th until the morning of the 10th. It was definately not enough time to see all that I could have seen. In fact, the place I was saving to see last was the view from a tower called "el torre tavira". The tower itself isn´t anything too special but offers a view of the entire historic part of Old Cadíz. Unfortunately I arrived at 6:03 and of course it was closed up and locked tight at six sharp. What a bummer. But don´t feel too bad because I bought a post card with the same view, so I´m content.
As I was standing on the beach looking due west over the Atlantic I couldn´t help to think if the earth was actually round or flat and what Cristopher Columbus was thinking when he departed to America as he left from this very same port. When you´re looking out over the vastness of the ocean it´s sort of dificult to comprehend that all you guys in good ´ole America are, in all actuality, just around the corner. After pondering on these issues while watching the sun set for about fifteen minutes I returned back to my hostel because it was begining to get a little chily.
The hostel, Casa Caracol, was my home for those two days. I think half the experience of traveling is in the people you meet. There was a great mix from all over the place: two Austrailians, three Americans including myself, three French, one from Scotland, two from England about three or four others I don´t remember and the owner who spoke about 4 or 5 diferent languages and I have no idea where he was from. They all turned out to be really nice and friendly. Spansih was the language that we would all use and we all seemed to understand each other just fine. The second night we were all there was the holiday of the Three Kings(los Reyes Magos) and the streets were very lively. So we all went out and had a great night.The next day I boarded my bus and off to Salamanca I went to start the next trimester.
Well, Today was the first day all went well as it is always pretty easy. I am a little discontent with my placement exam that has put me back into the advanced level. I went to my directors office and talked about it with her for a while and eventually decided that Superior was the place for me and if it doesn´t work out I can always change back. This of course means that my nose will be in the books a lot more, but that´s ok, I think that is just what I need. I am feeling pretty confident with my spanish now and it is kind of humbling to see the new group of students standing in my shoes of a month ago. Well, I guess we´ll give superior a go and see where that takes me. A little nervious though. I hope everyone had a great Cristmas and New Years. Don´t worry, I´m halfway done you guys, I´ll bee home soon.
Aaroncíto

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Break

hey every one, I am still alive and well. I haven´t made any entries for a while mostly because I haven´t had anything to write about. It has been a pretty slow and uneventful winter break. As I remained myself here in Salamanca all my friends either went home(the majority) because the quarter had ended or are traveling for the duration. My goals during the break were to find a job, some thing very part time and under the table as it is illegal for me to work here without a propper permit, and the second was to make some more spanish friends. Well the job search was unsuccessful, mainly because it is extemely difficult for Spaniards to even find a job. But the making friends goal was successfully achieved. The best friend I have made is a 26 year old grad student equivalent that is currently involved in conservation experiment that involves the annual percipitation and the water retention in the community of Castile-Leon. She was granted a decent size scholarship to partake in this study. I met her through an intercambio program where a spaniard and foreigner meet up every so often to have a drink and converse for a while. Normally we talk for a half hour to 45 minutes in Spanish and then in Englsh or vise versa. She´s a really cool girl. She is very open minded and easy to talk with. She´s very interested in the war right now and is able to talk about it quite calmly, which is nice and very contradictory to all the other ways Spaniards like to express themselves about the topic. However, she does not approve of it and thinks that we should not be in Iraq. It was New Years last night ..... so happy new years to everyone, I hope you all had fun. My señora cooked a great big meal that included: First Course- Langostinos(small lobsters) and Gambas(shrimp, that are cooked in their shell). We all had a pile of shells about 8 inches high on our plate. Second Course- Peeled and skewered shrimp and Sepias(a calamari type seafood). All were doused with a thick layer of a mixture of olive oil, salt, garlic, amd parsley. Third Course- Three fillets each of pork tenderloin with a nice colorful salad, bread and wine. It was fantastík. After dinner my roomate and I went to the Plaza to eat our grapes at midnight. Every one had a long and very fun and exciting night. A night that will mostly never see its equal;) School starts here in about a week and I thimk Cordoba and Cadíz are next on my list. I haven´t done much research yet but I think tomorrow will be the day. I love and miss ya´ll.
Feliz año nuevo a todos y los mejores deseos para el 2006
Happy new years to everyone and the best wishes for 2006

Aaroncíto

Friday, December 16, 2005

First quarter is oficially over

Enhorabuena a mi. Congradulations to me, the first quarter has ended and the Christmas break has started. It is still bitterly cold and still no snow. I really don´t think that we will see any more than a few sporatic flakes in the air. It will be a snowless Christmas and I just don´t know what to think about that, at least I will have the cold.
All classes went very well. The hardest part was just having to say goodbye to all the friends that I have made. The University put on a party for all the students and faculty for one last visit before everone had to leave. It was a pretty sad party. There were just about as many tears as there was free champagne, and there was a lot of champagne. It´s a very different type of friedship that people established here than on a normal basis. Everyone knows very little about each other but we acted like we had all been friends since childhood. Lots of memories were made in the short three months we had together. The good news is is that a whole other group will be coming in after the break in a few weeks and the whole bonding experience will start over again. i feel really lucky that I get to stay longer than 1 quarter. Just as everyone started getting really comfortable speaking spanish, they had to leave. But, fortunately for me I get to stay. I can´t wait to see the progress in my spanish over these next three months. I have learned soooooo much during the first three that it is kind of hard for me to imagine how much faster I will continue to learn. It seems that I am learning at a speed that is growing exponentially. Learning is soo much fun! And here there is something new to learn every second of everyday.
Last night was the Univerity of Salamanca´s celebration of the new year for all the student´s because they will all have finshed their classes and returned to their own cities. Also, Madrid and Barcelona are typically the hot spots for bringing in the new year. And since not all the students will be together for this, at midnight everyone goes to the Plaza Mayora and waits for the clock to stike twelve. The custom is too eat twelve grapes during each toll to bring them good luck in the year to come. What a party! The entire Plaza was packed. I don´t for sure but I would guess anywhere between 7,000 to 10,000 people were packed into the plaza. There are some pictures of it on yahoo. If you did not recieve the link from me email me at greiftastic@yahoo.com and I will make sure to get it too you.

Feliz Navidad a todos y un año nuevo para recordar siempre,
Aaron

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Back From Barcelona

Helloooooo.....
So I made it back from Barce safe and sound. My friend Erica and I left a little sooner than the rest of the gang. We left at around 3:oopm and got back right around 11:30. Erica doesn't know how to drive a stick shift so i had to drive the whole way. After 4 days of walking aroung the city and soaking up the night life it is pretty easy to say that I was exausted for the drive back, oh, but don't worry Erica slept enough for the both of us. My first experience on the spanish roads were definately a good one. The country side was pretty and am becoming more of a fan of the Round-abouts that they have here. Not having to stop for red lights is a nice touch. However, they did take a little getting used to. Antoni Gaudi's architectures were absolutely awsome. My favorite is the Casa batallo. All of the picks on yahoo of the interior of a house are from this house. That guy sure had and imagination. He didn't go to any special school for being an architect, instead he got all of his ideas and motivation from nature. Use your imagination to try to see the connctin between nature and his designs.
So finals for the first quarter are the monday and tuesday of next week. I should be studying right now but it will have to wait till I finish this. The exams shouldn't be too dificult and I expect myself to ace them all. No pasa nada. During this break is when I am going to miss all you guys the most so make sure you send some emails, snail mails, phone calls or any other type of communication that you prefer. My host family is great but no substitute by any means.
Every one take care these holidays and don't forget what Christmas is all about!!!
Abrazos y besos a todo el mundo. ( Hugs and kisses to everyone).

Sunday, December 04, 2005

In Barce

Hello all,
Arrived in Barcelona last night at about 8:00 after about an 8 hour car ride across Spain. Every thing went well, no car problems and such. Not much to see, however, until you get out of Castilla-Leon, the region that Salamanca is in. It´s all pretty flat and desert like. Cataluña is much more interesting of a region. Today is the first day that I will have to check out the city. We are planning on going tothe Picaso museum because it is free today, for some reason. Also, we are thinking about doing the guided bike tour of the city. There is so much to see here, in particular all of Gaudi´s creations. I will definately post some pictures of all that I see.
This hostal has been pretty impressive so far. The free breakfast and dinner are a nice touch, too. Although it is not a 5 star meal, it´s free, so it makes it taste a ittle bit better. There is a bar with pool tables, plenty of tables, and people from all over the world. When I arrived in my room last night there was a group of about 15 people from Australia to Canada getting ready to go out. Qutie a mix. Well my group is getting ready to take tot he streets. I´ll probably post another one soon. Peace out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ojalá que nieve aquí. (I hope that it snows here)

Well, we´ve gotten a few snow flakes here but mainly it´s just been cold, cold, cold. I was a little ignorant when I was packing before I came and opted for the 5 pairs of shorts instead of my winter jacket. However, do to my extensive sewing skills, I have successfuly turned those 5 pairs of shorts into semi-windresistant "coat thing". Actually I just bought one at the store, but I know that you all believed me for a second. But, no worries, I´m staying nice and warm. Unfortunately the trip to Italy was cancelled because we didn´t buy out tickets in time and now they are all more than 400 euros. How sad. I think that we are going to rent a car and take a road trip to the Basque Country (el País Vasco) and enjoy some of the best food Spain has to offer. Don´t worry I´ll bring back a few samples for everyone to try back home.
The passing of Thanksgiving means only one thing, Christmas is right around the corner.Here´s an early Feliz Navidad to everyone, or just to the three people that have actually read this blog. The town has put all sorts of decorations along the streets and today they are decorating the christmas tree in the middle of the Plaza Mayor. I will post some more pictures once they turn the lights on. Everone is pretty excited. I didn´t think that spain celebrated Christmas with a decorated tree but they do. However, the Christmas holiday lasts for almost 2 weeks. It starts on the 22nd with a hugh country wide lottery, I think the grand prize is like 43 million euros and there are like a hundred or so consolation prizes. Tickets are 30 euros each so I don´t think that I will play. They celebrate the 25th with a large family dinner that I am greatly anticipating. Then comes the new year where the custom is to eat 12 grapes at each toll of the cathedrals bells at midnight. If you do it successfuly you are supposed to have good luck for the rest of the year. Try it, it is harder than it sounds. I´ve been told the secret is to peel the skin off the grapes and just swallow them whole. This too is harder than it sounds. I have practiced once or twice. Then the 6th of January is the day of the Magi Kings. The day that the three kings made their way to Bethlehem and presented baby Jesus with fankensense, myhr and something else that I can´t remember. Anyways, this is the day that they exchange their presents. I kind of like this tradition better than recieving gifts from Santa Clause or Papa Noel as to which he is referred to here.
Time to end another entry. It´s kind of hard to be creative at this part soooooo..............................................BYE!