Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back to reality

Before I get into the details of my amazing four day weekend in Portugal, I should talk about our recent visit to the Reales Alcazares. It is currently used as the King's (Juan Carlos) house whenever he visits Sevilla, but when it was first built Sevilla was the capital of Spain rather than Madrid so it was the King's permanent residence. It was first built in the 700s by the Muslims who came to Spain, and the gorgeous architecture reflects the Arab influence. It was absolutely huge with hundreds of gardens and many different buildings connected by patios as well as some super cool peacocks...I would totally live there if I could be Queen of Spain. 

Now to the main part of the story - we just got back from a four day weekend in Lagos, Portugal and I had the time of my life. Those were easily the most beautiful beaches I have EVER seen and Lagos itself is an adorable little beach town settled into the side of massive cliffs. The weather was perfect for lazing by the beach and it was a very nice break from the scorching heat of Sevilla - this was by far the most relaxing yet extremely fun weekend of my life. All of the people in Lagos were super friendly and spoke really good English and all of the signs/menus were in English as well. We soon realized that Portuguese is really similar to Spanish and that we could understand it when people spoke it to us - they also understood us when we replied in Spanish. They called it "Portspanglish" - a hybrid of all three languages that a lot of the people speak when talking to tourists. 
Church by the beach in Lagos
It all started with a 730 a.m. bus ride - we pretty much didn't sleep the night before since we had to get up so early to walk the 45 minutes to the bus station, so we slept almost the entire way to Lagos. Once we got there around 1 p.m. we checked into our hostel (Lagos Escape Hostel) and it was brand new and very nice - for only 12 euro a night we had our own private room and a huge homemade breakfast every morning. We were literally a two minute walk from EVERYTHING. We spent the whole first day at the beach and saw the amazing cliffs surrounding Praia Dona Ana while playing soccer and other beach games with some local Portuguese people. Since it stays sunny so late here we were able to stay at the beach until 6 p.m. everyday, then shower before heading out to dinner (it was very nice to be able to eat whenever we wanted, rather than waiting until 10 p.m. like we do in Sevilla!)
Where we spent most of our days
Ahhh the FOOD. I probably gained 10 pounds over a 4 day span - the food was just delicious. We found out about this restaurant called NahNahBah's (which has one of the top 50 burgers in the entire world) from a friend who had previously visited Lagos, so we decided to go there for our first dinner. It was a tiny little hole in the wall with Jamaican decor but oh my GOSH was the food amazing. The sandwiches were huge and came with amazing potato chips - by far the best chicken sandwich I've ever had in my life. So of course we had to go back there for our last dinner in Lagos too, and that time I decided to try their world famous burger...now I know why its so popular! Even bigger than the chicken sandwich and it had pineapple on it - my mouth died of happiness. We also ate at a local pizzeria, a seafood restaurant, and had some amazing crepes. Full, happy bellies and lazing by the beach all day? Talk about the perfect vacation. 
Best thing I've ever tasted. 
We also went on a grotto boat tour where a tour guide drove us through all of the amazing cliffs and caves in a small motor boat. I got some beautiful pictures and it was well worth the 10 euros to see all of the awesome sights of Lagos - every picture could be a postcard. 
On Saturday we went to a sports bar near our hostel (everything was close to our hostel - the joys of a small beach town) to watch the Copa del Rey soccer game between Manchester and Barcelona. While my friends and I were cheering for Barca, we were surprisingly in the minority. Since Lagos is such a popular destination with people from the UK and Australia, almost everyone was cheering for Manchester. But Barca won so we were happy :) We spent every day from about 11 a.m - 6 p.m. at the beach, and then met up with other friends who were also there from the Sevilla program as well as our new Portuguese friends to hang out at night. 
After some shopping Monday morning we left on the 1:45 bus to head back to Sevilla (or Sevilha, in Portuguese)...a.k.a. back to the real world of school and exams (but really, who can complain about living in Spain?) The bus ride took 7 hours on the way back, 2 more hours than on our way to Lagos, since the bus had to make a lot more stops along the way. I definitely prefer traveling by train, but you can only get to Lagos via bus or a rental car. We were all exhausted when we finally got back to Sevilla, but thats just a sign of an amazing weekend in my opinion :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend fun

Its Monday, meaning classes have started again (is it weird that I feel like I'm here to explore rather than go to school?), but luckily this is only a 4-day week for us. We went on some really cool trips this past weekend (and now I have a cold...not so fun), and I'm even more excited for the trips we have in store for us. We got up early Saturday morning to go visit some ancient Roman ruins at Italica - it was very interesting and very well preserved considering it was over 2300 years old! The coolest part to me was all of the mosaics - they were on the floors of every room in the houses of wealthy families. They were all made with tiny pebbles and they were SO detailed - its crazy how the colors were still vibrant after thousands of years in the intense Spanish sun. 
This is a mosaic showing the gods/goddesses for each day of the week. The only day of the week that doesn't have an assigned protector is Sunday, so each family could use the deity of their choice - this family chose Venus (the goddess of love) to represent Sunday. A lot of the mosaics had been removed and sent to museums for preservation purposes, but there were still plenty of beautiful ones to see. 

After Italica we got back on the bus and traveled for an hour to playa de Matalascañas (the beach closest to Sevilla). All of the Spaniards say that its not the "nicest" beach around, but we all thought it was pretty awesome! Once you got past the shock of all the old men in speedos and topless women, it was really relaxing. We were mainly just happy to get in the water after all of these super hot days. The coolest part of the beach was the ruin of an ancient ocean tower that was left on the beach. 
We got back from the beach around 6:30 p.m. then had time to rest before going out with friends. Each neighborhood in Spain has its own local plaza where people get together on weekends to hang out. Our goal was to meet some Spanish people at Plaza Alfalfa so that we could talk to them and practice our Spanish - we ended up meeting more people from the U.S and France, but we did meet some nice Spaniards that were studying at the Universidad de Sevilla. 

The next morning we woke up and decided to explore some more, so we went down by the river to see Plaza de Americas. It was very pretty and had two really popular art museums, but everything is closed on Sunday so we'll definitely go back! There was also a little area where you could feed the pigeons and they would land on you...but we weren't too excited about that. 
We also walked by the bull fighting ring since they were having a match that evening - I saw some of the pictures that my friends took who went to the game and I don't think I could stomach actually going to one. Everything just looked very bloody, and I didn't realized that each matador killed 2 bulls, and there were 3 matadors. The majority of the Spaniards I've talked to think that the fights are inhumane and don't like them, but just accept it as part of their culture - apparently they are going to be outlawed next year though. 

The thing I'm most looking forward to is our trip to Lagos this weekend - we're leaving at 7:30 Friday morning (skipping class...oops?) for a 6 hour bus ride to Portugal. We're staying at a beautiful (and cheap) hostel right in the middle of downtown Lagos and its only a 5 minute walk to the beach. Next Monday is a holiday in Spain and we don't have class so we're taking the 4:30 p.m. bus back to Sevilla. I'm sure we'll be exhausted in class on Tuesday but it will definitely be worth it! The following weekend we're going on a 3 day trip to Cordoba and Granada which was planned through the UNC program - I've heard great things about both of those cities so I'm really excited! Then the weekend after that is our trip to Cadiz - we have a lot of fun things in store for us :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

One week in

Its officially been one week since I arrived in Sevilla - hard to believe! I absolutely love it here, and I feel like I've been here for much longer than 7 days. The last few days have been fun and interesting - we had our first full week of classes, we've gone shopping, had a lot to eat, done some people watching, and most of all walked A LOT. I feel like we're learning a lot about the people of Sevilla too (as in, if you see one of them walking straight towards you on the sidewalk, you better move because they will run you over in an instant).

Tomorrow we're leaving for a day trip to Italica to view some ancient Roman ruins, and then we're headed to playa de Matalascañas for some time at the beach! My friends and I also just booked 2 amazing trips - a long weekend in Lagos, Portugal and a weekend in Cadiz (the oldest city in Spain).

We also went to Las Setas - a huge new architectural/artistic structure in the main plaza of Sevilla. It looks kind of like a giant waffle, but the name means "the mushrooms". We were able to go to the top for free as a part of the grand opening and the view was AMAZING. We could see all of Sevilla and the city is absolutely gorgeous at night.

Lola is the cutest senora ever. And it helps that her food has been delicious so far. Unlike many other host moms, Lola doesn't deep fry her food and she cooks with tons of vegetables - its very nice! Sam and I are planning on taking her out to dinner at the cafe/bar that is attached to our apartment complex sometime soon. We also found the most amazing pasteleria (pastry shop), which happens to be conveniently located inside our apartment complex as well. It smells amazing every day we walk past it, so yesterday we finally gave in and went inside - there are SO many different kinds of pastries and ice cream to choose from, as well as freshly made bread...it was delicious.

Well I guess I should be going to sleep now since I have to get up early tomorrow morning for our trip! Hasta pronto :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The first few days

I moved in with my host mother Lola, a single lady around 60 that lives on the top floor of a 7 story high-rise apartment in a residential community off a main street. I am sharing a room and bathroom with Sam and we technically have air conditioning but we can't use it yet (apparently 107 degrees is just a normal spring day in Sevilla). Shes very nice and welcoming - we've had a lot of delicious traditional food and she helps us practice our Spanish a lot. Her 2 daughters also live in the same apartment complex so we see her 3 year old grandson Gonzalo a lot, he is so cute!

These past few days have been a little crazy - I'm ashamed to say we actually slept until 3 pm after our first night with Lola (jet lag!) and until 1 pm the day after that. We're definitely getting used to the time changes and eating late (2:30 for lunch, 10:00 for dinner), and getting accustomed to the Sevillano way of life. We started classes today, both of my professors seem very nice and knowledgeable and I'm really looking forward to Art History of Seville and Advanced Conversation & Composition.

I have done more walking in the past 4 days than in the past few years combined, we walk EVERYWHERE. And being "close" to something in Sevilla is being within 30 minutes walking distance - needless to say, I am expecting amazing leg muscles after this trip. Plus, all of the walking cancels out the daily trips to our favorite heladeria (ice cream shop) on the corner of our street. I couldn't have asked for a more centrally located apartment - we're right by the mall, a gorgeous park & plaza, our university, and tons of amazing heladerias and tapas.

Yesterday Sam and I went exploring and found the Plaza de Espana - I'm convinced that its the most gorgeous place in all of Spain.
The entire palace (which is now used to house government offices) is covered in beautiful Spanish tile and there are so many amazing plants surrounding it. Sam and I rented a little row boat for 5 euros to take around the moat there, it was so much fun! We definitely went over our 35 minute time limit to get around the circle and all of the Spaniards were taking pictures of us and laughing at how horrible we were at rowing, but we were having a great time. After that we went out for our first tapas in El Centro (Cerveceria Giralda), and they lived up to the hype! I got a tortilla (a potato, egg, and onion quiche type thing with a delicious sauce on top), then my friend Kristen and I shared a plate of calamari with fried zucchini and a plate of meat croquettes - it was all amazing & so filling!

Its crazy that after just a few days I know how to navigate our side of the city without a map - all of the exploring really helps! Today we went to el Catedral de Sevilla, the world's biggest cathedral (its even in the Guinness Book of World Records). It was a gorgeous gothic-style cathedral with tons of stained glass windows, and we even saw the tomb of Christopher Columbus! Then we climbed to the top of La Giralda (the tower attached to the cathedral), and after 34 super steep ramps we were able to see the best view in all of Sevilla. As La Giralda is the tallest building in Sevilla, we were able to get a 360 degree view of the entire city!

Well, time for a siesta! I could definitely get used to life here :) Hasta pronto!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sevilla at last

I'm finally here. 30 hours of no sleep, 4 modes of transportation, 2 extremely crazy seat-mates, and a whole lot of adventuring brought me to Sevilla at last. Seat-mate #1 was awkwardly watching self-help videos about depression and lost love on his iPad on the way to Atlanta. Seat-mate #2 was a self-proclaimed "40 year old with extreme ADHD"...that was quite possibly the longest 9 hours of my life. I finally found some fellow UNC students at the Madrid baggage claim and we decided to brave the metro rather than paying for a taxi to get us to the train station (only 2 euros!) - it was uneventful yet very complicated with 3 different metro switches. We finally reached the Atocha train station and I decided to change the time of my ticket to an hour later so I could stay with my friends. The train was very comfortable and took us on a beautiful ride through southern Spain. When we reached Santa Justa train station in Sevilla, we had a short bus ride to the Hotel - all of Spain's public transportation has been creepily clean, it puts NYC subways to shame!

It seems unreal that I could wake up in Carrboro like any other morning, then all of the sudden arrive in the most beautiful place on earth. I know that I've studied Spain for years and seen all of the pictures in my textbooks, but there is something so amazing about finally being able to see it all in person. Our hotel for the night before we meet our host families (the Hotel Alcazar) is located in the old Jewish quarters in the most historic and beautiful part of Sevilla. Right across the street is the Real Alcazar de Sevilla, the huge 14th century palace surrounded by gorgeous gardens. We've already done a little bit of exploring around the old city (while snacking on yummy pastries), but I can't wait to look around more tomorrow!

View from our hotel!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The time has come!

Its officially Wednesday, and me and my 46.5 lb. suitcase are ready to head to the airport in less than 10 hours. I should be sleeping but I'm just too excited about being in Spain/anxious about flying/worried that I forgot to pack something to think about going to bed right now. I have a long day of traveling ahead of me - two flights, a taxi, a train, and another taxi until I reach the Hotel Alcázar in the "corazón de Sevilla" (the heart of Seville) on the 12th. Wish me luck! And I'll be sure to update from Spain asap. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Summer is Finally Here!

Well it's official - school is out and I'm heading halfway across the world in less than a week. I thought I'd keep a blog of my trip this summer to keep friends and family back home updated on my life. Plus, this is much more hip than a journal. 

I'm sure I'll have much more interesting things to say in about 6 days from now. Hasta entonces, adios!