Monday, July 28, 2014

Leanna and Lloyd in Spain!

Hola mis amigos de honores! (Hello, my Honors Friends!)

Leana's dragon friend Lloyd waves hello!
I recently spent five weeks in Spain with some awesome UNCG students and faculty members! We lived in host homes in the city of Madrid, but had fun weekend trips planned and led by the faculty members on the trip. While I was in Spain, I visited Segovia, Mérida, Sevilla (Seville, as we Americans call it), Granada, and Toledo. The last weekend that we were in Spain, we were able to go wherever we wanted, so I decided to travel to Morocco, Africa!! My hope for this blog post is that you become very informed about the awesome opportunities of this trip, that you enjoy reading it, and that it influences your decision to study abroad.
First of all, I am an Elementary Education major who is concentrating in Spanish, so this trip was the perfect opportunity to finish getting my necessary credits and satisfying my International Honors. As I mentioned, we lived in Madrid for the duration of the trip with host families around the city. I lived on Calle Arenal, which is one of the main roads in Spain. I saw everything from riots, to parades, to live musicians, and people painted like statues. It is definitely a very lively city that (unfortunately for me) never sleeps. I was not planning on spending these five weeks sleeping with ear plugs in my ears, but it was clearly worth it!
While in Madrid I was able to experience some really interesting cultural things. We visited three museums while in Madrid including: The Museum of Modern Art Reina Sofía, The Prado Art Museum, and El Museo Arqueológico Nacional. All of these museums had many artifacts and paintings that I will never have the opportunity to see again, so I soaked up every visit. During our visit to El Museo Arqueológico Nacional, the upcoming king (his coronation was scheduled for the very next week!) came to the museum with his wife to inaugurate an exhibit in the museum! So yes, I stood about 10 feet away from him and took a million pictures of him. 

King Felipe VI and Queen Consort Letitzia
Another cultural experience that I attended was a bull fight. These bull fights happen all during the summer in Spain, so it was easy to get a relatively cheap ticket (only 9 euros). I have mixed emotions about these bull fights because while I thought that the symbolism and cultural aspect of it all was very intriguing, it was quite brutal to watch SIX bulls fight for their lives. 

One of my favorite cultural activities that I did was go to El Rastro, Madrid’s flea market. It was only open on Sunday mornings, and we only had two Sundays in Madrid, so I took full advantage of both of those mornings. They sold everything from scarves and tapestries to jewelry and purses. Everything was relatively cheap there, and it was only one Metro stop away from where I was living. There were so. many. people.

In addition to all of the wonderful experiences that I had in Madrid, I was able to visit five other cities in Spain. The first weekend that we were in Spain we went to Segovia. We saw these amazing aqueducts! 

We also got to explore an old castle, and of course climb to the top of the tower (with an incredible view) through the very small winding staircase! 

The windy staircase!

The view was worth the climb!

The second weekend, we travelled to Andalucía and visited the cities of Mérida, Sevilla, and Granada. In Mérida, we saw these ancient ruins of a coliseum...

...and got to explore the city on our own for a few hours. A group of us ended up taking a trolley around the city where we were able to see other artifacts in the city and hear about the cultural history of the city through an audio guide. In Sevilla, we happened to arrive on the day of the Spain vs. Bolivia soccer game… and we got tickets to go!!! We walked the streets of Sevilla for probably close to 45 minutes just trying to get to the stadium, and I have never seen so many people all trying to get into one place! There was a lot of shouting and shoving, but once we got inside, it was such a blast! We had great seats, and we all bought Spanish flags that we wore as capes during the game. We even got to participate in a stadium-wide wave attempt… and it worked!

Panoramic view of the stadium!
We also stayed in a really cool hotel in Sevilla that had a rooftop pool with an incredible view!

Our last stop in Andalucia was Granada. This was one of my favorite cities because we got to go to a live flamenco show and see La Alhambra! The flamenco show was incredible, and we had phenomenal seats! The dancers were very intense and engaged in their performances. It was really beautiful. 

La Alhambra is a palace that is one of the most magnificent Arab works of art in the world. The gardens of Generalife are also enclosed in the palace.
Our final weekend of planned trips was a trip to the beautiful city of Toledo. Here, we visited a cathedral and did some shopping. The shopping in Toledo was very similar to the shopping in Madrid, but that didn’t stop me from buying way too many things (like I did the entire trip. But when am I going to get back to Spain?? Who knows!). I got the most amazing pictures from this city! We drove around the perimeter of the city and were allowed to get off the bus to take some pictures. They were simply breathtaking…

On the road near Toledo.

Toledo from a distance.

The last weekend of the trip was a free weekend for us. We had Friday through Monday off from classes, so a group of us on the trip decided to go across the Sea of Gibraltar to visit Morocco, Africa! There is a company called Discover Excursions (look them up) that organizes trips, mainly for students studying abroad, to places in Spain and Africa. This trip was simply amazing. We got to explore the cities of Chefchaouen, Tangiers, and Assilah. One of my favorite parts of this trip was bargaining with the local vendors! I got some really amazing deals on some pretty beautiful pieces of art from these local artists. I had such a great time going back and forth with them on the prices! They love it, and think it’s a game! However, Assilah was the coolest place because… I got to RIDE A CAMEL!!! It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done!

Leana and her new friend!

UNCG students in Morocco!

As I wrap up this summary of my trip for you, I want to leave you with a few helpful tips to keep in mind if you ever venture your way into Spain.
1) “Llena” (pronounced: yeh-nuh): one of the most important words that you need to know. It means “full.” Your host mother WILL fill your plate with food, and she WILL expect you to eat it ALL. So, as long as you tell her you love it and that you are “llena,” then she will accept that you had to leave some of the mound of rice that was originally the size of your head.
2) Tinto de verano: you can only get this drink in Spain (which makes me want to cry), so you MUST try it. It is a mix of red wine and Fanta limón (Lemon-flavored Fanta… which we don’t have in the US!!!!!). As weird as that sounds, it is life-changing.
3) Ladrón: the Spanish word for thief. Please, please, please hold on to your things. At ALL times. Because someone WILL take them. I was stunned by how often my host family warned us about thieves, but when my friend’s phone got stolen the very first week of the trip, I took them seriously. BUT, don’t let this keep you from travelling abroad!!! I am proud to say that I made it back to America with everything that I left with. Just have a small bag with a zipper or solid closure that you can hold close to you and you will be good to go.
4) The exchange rate: US dollars to euros is a BRUTAL exchange rate. To give you an example, when I first arrived in Spain, I took out 140 euros from the ATM and $195 US dollars came out of my bank account!! So just keep that in mind as you are budgeting and planning for your travels abroad.
5) Don’t say “Excuse me” if you run into someone on the street: This phrase was the biggest waste of breath. I wouldn’t say that Spanish people are rude, but they just don’t worry about other people when they are walking somewhere. If you happen to bump someone, just keep walking. They will look at you funny if you say “Pardón!”
I hope that this blog post gave you a good taste of the wonderful experiences that I got to do while studying abroad. And yes, I did study for my classes. PLEASE study. You can have a full cultural experience while continuing to make good grades abroad. The faculty members on this trip were phenomenal, and they really do want you to get the most out of your experience. Coming from this homebody, if you are even simply considering study abroad, please, please do it! It will give you new perspectives, increase your knowledge, and change your life in more ways than you even imagined.
Leanna Donato
UNCG in Spain

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sam and Miguel, Jr. in Spain

¡Hola, buenas días, and greeting from Toledo, Spain! My name is Samantha Kane and I am studying at La Universidad de Castilla La Mancha-Toledo with my dragon, Miguel Jr. My little dragon is named after Miguel Cervantes Saavedra, the author of Don Quixote and considered the father of modern Spanish. Miguel and I, the crazies that we are, are part of one of the few full immersion programs offered by UNCG! All of our classes are taught in Spanish with local, native Spaniards.  Miguel and I live on the most photographed street in Toledo-literally, there’s a sign and everything. It is located directly behind the Catedral, considered the “magnum opus” of the Gothic architectural style in Spain, and ranked among the greatest Gothic structures in Europe. 

Sam and Miguel on the streets of Spain.

Miguel enjoying the fresh air.

Though I will attempt to sum up some of my study abroad experiences below, no amount of words per page could describe the experience that Miguel and I have had while studying abroad. Wherever we have traveled, from secluded Spanish pueblos, to the infamous Paris and the Parisians, we have always been welcome with warmth and kindness. Everyone, no matter where you go, genuinely wants to help and be kind, regardless of language barriers or cultural differences. 

Our first trip was to Barcelona, Spain, my favorite Spanish cities-excluding Toledo! During our vacation, we visited Park Guell. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi during 1900-1914, this amazing park is considered one of the largest architectural works in southern Europe.  Its main attraction is the mosaic dragon, which snakes down the main staircase, connecting two fountains. It’s a tourist tradition to take a picture with the dragon every time you visit the park. Miguel didn’t want to take a picture with me, he was a little intimidated by the sculpture’s lifelike features :)

Sam at Park Guell in Barcelona.  A little too lifelike for Miguel!
One of our favorite trips while abroad was to London, England! During our vacation, we went to the London Eye, saw Big Ben and the Buckingham Palace, ate fish and chips, and got to visit the Cadbury Museum with one of our Honors College friends! 

Miguel enjoying the change of scenery.

Finally, to celebrate the beginning of summer, Miguel and I took a huge trip through Europe, visiting 12 different cities in 31 days, all while taking exams!!! We rode camels in Marrakech, read scripture during a morning mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, visited a beer garden, and climbed the Eiffel Tower!
While I am glad to be home, I will always love and remember both Toledo and all of Spain!!!

Sam and a new friend in Marrakech.

Hasta luego, and buena suerte a todos!!!
(See you later, and good luck to all!!)
Sam and Miguel

Toledo, Spain
Universidad de Castilla La Mancha Toledo

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jacob and Drago in Siena

Greetings fellow Honors College comrades! I’m currently here in Siena, Italy with my buddy Drago; aptly named for his very nature and for the contrada that won this year’s July Palio! Amidst busy studying, we have been taking the weekends off for exploration and educating ourselves on the history and language of enchanting Tuscany.

The Palio -- Contrade race for the Palio, the prize, in a traditional horse race
            The Palio is an annual event occurring in July and August that not only embodies tradition but is in itself the same ceremony that was originally held to herald a prestigious guest such as a visiting pope or diplomat to the city of Siena. Many towns have tourist reenactments but Siena offers the real deal. This time-honored sport is a reminder of the great battle of Montoperti (1260 CE) although, as the years have progressed, the games became less primal and are currently more civil show of sportsmanship. During renaissance times, the many contrade of which the city was composed of would compete in a horse race for the honor of winning The Palio “the prize”. The city used to have over 50 contrade that have since been absorbed into other contrade or have simply died out; 17 now remain. Each contrade has their own sigil, much like a modern Game of Thrones only less scandalous. House Drago (Targaryen) won this year’s July Palio. The series of events takes over the course of four days, leading up to and ending in the span of a minute and a half or so of racing around the center square “Il Campo”. The contrada that wins has the honor of bragging rights for the next year and celebrates for the next month or so by parading in the streets almost daily.

Drago won this year!

Cinque Terra
            On our first week in Italy, we decided to explore the vast province of Tuscany and ended up near the shore. Here, the Mediterranean sea crashes upon the rugged Tuscan coast, yet nestled within the sheltered, naturally formed harbors are several cities. This area is known as Cinque Terra and is aptly named as it is comprised of five (cinque) lands (terra). Here there are five cities that are separated by the mountains of this coastal terrain. Hiking between them is part of the experience, although you can take a train between the cities. We spent most of the day basking in the sun and enjoying the pristinely blue waters of the Mediterranean; you could see clearly up to eight feet deep without goggles! Drago wasn’t up for a swim, he mentioned something about water putting out his fiery ambition.

Jacob contemplating the Mediterranean
Drago contemplating the Mediterranean

Torre di Mangia
            The “Tower of the Eater” is one of the main tourist attractions here in Siena, Italy. Over 300 feet high, the tower stands as a monument to assumption of Mary, according to Catholic religion. Drago and I made it to the top of this glorious feat of engineering and were able to view much of the surrounding countryside. Beset with glorious bells that toll out over the city, this massive tower gains its name from not so glorious a past. The name of the tower stems from the original bell-ringer, a Giovanni di Balduccio, who was noted for his tendencies to be rather gluttonous, idle and quite a spendthrift. Giovanni was said to squander his profits gained on endless amounts of food or other pleasures of the flesh in lieu of being sensible with his income.

Torre di Mangia
Drago takes in the view
San Gimignano
            Commonly known for its series of towers, this quiet Tuscan “Town of Five Towers” may be well connected to a lot of gamers at UNCG for it gave rise to inspiration of Assassin’s Creed. As a gamer, myself, I just had to visit! The town itself is rich in the history of its nobles, the beauty of its gothic architecture, and is tranquil views of Tuscany. Originally built as a fortress it has great views that were originally used to spot potential warring enemies form nearby provinces. Not too far from Siena, you can reach San Gimignano by taking an hour long bus.

San Gimignano -- "Town of Five Towers"
Siena School of Liberal Arts
            At the Siena School of Liberal Arts, we are currently undertaking spoken Italian, LIS or lingua de italians sign (the sign language of Italy), and Deaf Culture of Italy. The school here is nestled in the heart of beautiful Siena, Italy and in the oldest part of the city. The language is coming along quite well and, linguistically, it has been quite a feat as we’re conversing in Italian, English, ASL, and LIS. We review and have discourse in these languages with our friends, both Italian and American, as we find ourselves amidst organic wine tastings, tours of the countryside and the city, and exploring everyday life!

Drago is a studious dragon.
Having fun in Siena!

Jacob Larkin
Siena School of the Liberal Arts
Siena, Italy