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