pre-spring break

I had a wonderful 10-day adventure through Basel (Switzerland), Amsterdam and Oslo, but first, a word on Salamanca. The latest news here is that I now have a roommate! Her name is Jill (not to be confused with my mother, Jill). She’s super nice, and I enjoy the company. Our host parents have a terribly hard time trying to pronounce her name—it sounds kind of like “yeel,” much to our amusement. Other than that, my friend Shayla came to stay with me for the first half of her Spring Break (the week before mine began). She had a mini Spanish study abroad experience and got to eat some traditional dishes as well as spend time with the family. I served as a translator, but Shayla often got the jist of what we were talking about at the table. She said that even though she hardly knew what was going on, Lidia is so expressive and funny that she loved the conversation.

As for me, I still feel like I struggle with speaking, but having Jill and Shayla around was a nice reality check that made me realize how much I have improved over the past 4 months. I showed Shayla around the city a bit, but it was midterms week so she hung out with our friend Sara, who was also visiting from England. We went to “el rastro” (flea market) which is a magical land of cheap things from scarves to sunglasses, puppies to roticery chicken. We snacked on paella.


Family Gathering

March 19th is Father’s day in Spain and we celebrated a paella lunch. Lidia and Félix started preparing the night before by peeling shrimp, cutting up a questionable white meat (Lidia simply called it “seafood”) and marinating chicken. It looked like a lot of work to me, but they said they didn’t need any help. Félix junior (called Felicín at home to avoid confusion) and his wife, Carmen, joined us for lunch. Carmen has a beautiful singing voice and would randomly break into song. When her husband would try to join in, Lidia would stop him by telling him “cállate” (be quiet) because he was off-key. There’s an expression here that it rains if you sing poorly, so Juan told us to get the umbrella ready ;) It was entertaining to see the family interact because they talked over each other so much and were very expressive. It was difficult to follow such fast-paced conversations, and I would zone out from time to time (especially after 15 minutes of Juan and Carmen trying to explain the Internet to Felicín). The general feel was that of an exaggerated DeVita family gathering :D

I regret not taking a photo of the paella Lidia made—it was very impressive. She brought out a huge pan filled with yellow rice (colored from the saffron) dotted with various meats and seafood. I bet it could have fed 10. When Lidia served it, each person had to take their turn to say, “stop, stop, that’s enough,” otherwise she would fill the plate completely and then some. In addition to the paella, she set out a huge plate of salad in the middle for everyone to eat off of. I had never shared food this way before—less dishes! We had chocolate cake to top off the wonderful meal with coffee (café con leche) to follow. Needless to say, I felt like I would never eat again. 


I met up with some friends for 4 days in London a few weeks ago. Since Madrid is the nearest major airport to Salamanca, there was a LOT of commuting, but it was worth it to see Shayla and Sara (who study in a city about 3 hours from London), and Alex, who came to visit from Minnesota. My flight left Thursday morning, so I had the treat of taking the latest bus (Salamanca to Madrid) on Wednesday night to catch some z’s in the Madrid airport. It was not great. I decided to go through security as soon as it opened (about 4am) because sleep wasn’t happening, but things got better from there. Flying out of the country at the beginning of the weekend, I find that people are always very excited and loud. While I was dead-tired after not having slept all night, other passengers were clapping and cheering at takeoff and singing songs when landing.  I had this experience when flying to Rome as well, though people are much quieter when coming home on a Sunday. 

After arriving at the airport, I took an hour bus ride to the city center to meet up with Shayla. I hadn’t seen her since last summer and I was incredibly excited to be reunited. We both ran towards each other with open arms, and just like a poorly written comedy film, a truck pulled out in between us just before we could hug. What luck. We checked into our hostel and then set out for food. I have a tendency to eat at American restaurants when I travel because I eat Spanish food all the time. So we went to Chipotle (a burrito place, YUM). Spicy food does not exist in Spain, nor does guacamole. Now recharged, we toured around and saw Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We also rode a double-decker bus just for kicks and took photos in the classic red telephone booth (both necessary experiences).


An eerie Trafalgar Square after it was taped off by police who found a “suspicious knapsack” they suspected was a bomb. It wasn’t. 


With St. Paul’s, I have seen the 3 largest cathedrals in Europe.


Somehow, we stumbled into a theatre and walked out with two tickets to see Chicago the musical that night! It was nothing short of incredible, and despite my 40-hour streak of being awake, I could have immediately watched it again. Shayla had to deal with me singing all the songs from having watched the movie so many times and listening to the soundtrack on my ipod (sorry, Shayla). I slept very well that night. 

Friday’s plan was for Shayla to meet her study abroad group for a tour of the Parliament building while I took the metro to the Heathrow airport to surprise Alex. It turns out Alex’s flight had arrived one hour early, so you can imagine my surprise when she called my name as I waited in line for coffee. The plan didn’t go as expected, but we were so excited to see each other that it didn’t matter. We trekked back into town to meet up with Shayla and Sara for some more sightseeing (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye) and for more Chipotle (:     


Westminster Abbey + tourists

We started off our Saturday by walking to the Camden Market that was right near our hostel. There were vendors selling everything from jewelry to American candy to clocks made out of melted bottles. I got some Reece’s Peanut Butter cups because they are nowhere to be found in Spain and peanut butter is rare anywhere in Europe. The booths were along the streets, wound underground, and back outside all the while flooded with people.

Shops all along the shore.

For lunch, we picked up some bread, hummus, cheese, tomatoes, apples, etc. for a picnic in Kensington Gardens. It was a pretty nice day and abnormally sunny for London. Afterwards, we took the underground to Paddington Station to see our friend, Paddington Bear and to King’s Cross to see Platform 9¾. We all took a turn to get a Harry Potter photo and then finished the evening with a fish and chips dinner. Chips=fries. I was very happy to be returning to Spain after 2 weekends in a row of international travel!


Kensington Gardens


I finally made it to Italy! It was a short trip (Thursday-Sunday) but definitely a good amount of time to spend in such a big city. This trip was with my program and we took a 2.5 hour bus ride to Madrid for our 2.5 hour flight to Rome. After a full day of traveling, we set out for our first true Italian meal. A girl in our group has a friend studying abroad in Rome who was nice enough to show us a good restaurant with gelato to follow! I probably had gelato after every delicious meal. Over the weekend I ate fettuccine alfredo, pesto pasta, gnocci, margherita pizza and eggplant pizza. SO GOOD!

In the morning we had a bus tour of the city, which was just a recipe for sleep. I enjoyed seeing the sights, but it was hard to appreciate from inside a bus. Getting out to tour the Basilica San Paulo Fuori le mura and the outside of the Coliseum was a nice change of pace. Afterwards, we saw the Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain and were set free for the next few days. I really enjoyed setting my own itinerary with a few friends and we were able to walk everywhere!


Temperatures were in the mid to high 60s—great T-shirt weather! Since we were teased by seeing the outside of the Coliseum earlier that day, we decided to walk back to see the inside. It’s hard to believe that so many people awaited their death in these underground tunnels.


Walking back to the hotel, we could just see the Roman Forums, but didn’t venture in. We also saw the Victor Emmanuel II Monument, a completely white building that some say is obnoxiously big and clashes with the rest of the city. Great views from the top! We bought some bread, pesto, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese to munch on for dinner before heading back to the Piazza Navona. Rome at night is beautiful!

Browsing the Vatican museums took up most of Saturday, and Rick Steve’s audio tour was great to have in the Sistine Chapel, though very corny. It was interesting to see how Michelangelo’s style changed from the ceiling frescoes depicting scenes from Genesis to the altar wall that depicts the Last Judgment. He was 33 when he painted the ceiling and 60 when he painted the altar wall. Rick told me that this marked the transition from the Renaissance period to the Baroque period and the difference was obvious. The amount of artwork and incredible detail was a bit overwhelming throughout the museums. As much as I would have loved to see and learn about everything, it was impossible to do it all! Most of the galleries had beautifully painted ceiling frescoes. This one looks 3D in the top portion of the photo, but looking into the distance, you can see that it was painted flat.


Later that day we checked out St. Peter’s Basilica and even climbed to the top of the dome. I knew there would be a lot of steps, but was not prepared for the diagonally slanted hallways and rope that hung from the ceiling, helping us up the last spiral staircase. The view from the top was gorgeous. We were able to see the various places we had already visited, and scoped out a cool park to visit the following day. 

 Afterwards we took our only metro ride of the weekend to the Spanish Steps only because we were exhausted from all the walking. It was a nice place to hang out and watch the sunset.   

On Sunday we returned to St. Peter’s Square to see the Pope appear at his window. He addressed everyone in several languages, and then said a prayer in Latin. It was another beautiful day, so we set out to find a park just south of the square. When we finally got there, everything was green with little purple and white flowers and there were lots of people picnicking! The weather hadn’t been nice enough for picnics yet in Spain, and even now, it’s not very popular. Parks in Spain are more decorative, with dirt floors and hedgerows (I hardly ever see grass!) It was refreshing to be in a park like the ones I am used to back in the States.


We took a leisurely walk along the Tiber River, taking in our last couple hours in Rome. There were a few performers playing water glasses and tubes that reminded me of “Miss Congeniality” ;) Once back to the hotel, it was time to get our luggage and go! Hopefully, I’ll get to see Italy again before coming home—and maybe even a less touristy area. Ciao Roma!

From the very top of Park Güell.