Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bull Fight & Coming Home to America

As usual I'm late on writing this blog post. Unfortunately I can't lie and say I was busy culturing myself with new experiences abroad. Instead I was catching up on jet lag, playing video games, and eating copious amounts of Chipotle. Although I promised my grandma I would write this today, so grandma, this one is for you!

To the left you can see one of the milder pictures I have from the bull fight. The tickets were five euro and we got to sit in the VERY FRONT. When I say very front I mean that there is the bull fighting ring, then there is the place that I sat. We didn't see this video till after but this happen at the venue I was at and I was sitting right behind those wires the bull jumps onto initially. So five euro got us front row seats to six bull fights, not to shabby.

The bull fight is essentially broken up into three parts. The first part you have about four guys taunting the bull and then hiding behind a hole in the wall when he charges. If I were to participate in bull fighting this would be my job, all the fun without any of the danger. After they have their fun a guy comes out riding a horse and pokes the bull with a long stick to get him even angrier.

During the second bull fight the bull ended up getting under the horse and flipping it. Initially it looked liked the horse broke its leg, and it fell on the rider, so we assumed he was dead too. They both ended up being fine. Not sure how the rider survived by the horses are covered in some magical blanket looking material that protects them from the bulls horns. They are also blindfolded. I don't know how you train a horse to be okay with any part of this situation but they preformed valiantly and I was impressed.

Then during the final stage the matador comes out and does all the normal stuff you would expect in a bull fight. He supposedly has three chances to kill the bull before they put it out of its misery but I think only two of the bulls were killed within three strikes.

The first few were sad because the bulls gave up and sat down. At this point a guy comes up and stabs the bull through the top of a head with a knife, killing it instantly. There were a few bulls who fought until the very end though. I was impressed with their endurance and unwillingness to give in.

There was also a matador who got stabbed in the leg by a bull's horn. It is dishonorable not to finish a bull fight unless you are injured to the point where you can't continue. He hobbled around and finished the fight, losing a lot of blood from his leg the whole time. With his injury his reaction time was slower so this made the end of the fight a lot more interesting.

Bull fighting is now illegal in a lot of Spanish speaking countries. Spain is one of the last countries to allow it and I believe there is legislation in the works to outlaw it there as well. Not something I'd do again, but definitely worth seeing once.

The the right we have my "spanish family photo". From left to right we have "Don Juan", me, Jake, Teresa, Jack, and Mitch. You'll notice my host mom is holing a sword. Isn't that just awesome?

So before coming back to America I was looking forward to the following things in the following order: Chipotle, bottomless cokes at restaurants, public restrooms, and air conditioning. Since being back I have had plenty of each and now miss various things about Spain.

The pastries in Spain are unmatched in America. Specifically the neopolitana. This is essentially a croissant with chocolate all through the middle. I'm fairly certain they could use it to treat depression or cancer. It is by far my favorite food there. Their coffee is also unmatched in here. I was satisfied with American coffee before I left but now my morning Joe leaves me feeling empty and abandoned. I really began to hate taking the metro while I was in Spain but now that I'm back I kind of miss all the homeless people and bad street performers.

Finally I'll leave you with some interesting anecdotes from the flight home. I purposely didn't eat dinner on the flight so that I could rush to chipotle before it closed and be reunited with my favorite food. Unfortunately there was a half an hour "food science" show about pizza on the plane. I watched the whole thing because I couldn't fall asleep and immediately began craving pizza. Obviously my love for chipotle runs deep and requires more than an empty stomach and a food network special to make me betray her that easily. I got off the plane and ate a small snack to tide me over until I got home. When I went to the gate to wait for my connecting flight a lady sat down next to me with an entire California Pizza Kitchen pizza. She ate one slice and asked me if I would like the rest. Unfortunately free pizza was not something I could pass up at this point. I gave in and ate the whole thing, it was amazing! ...Although I still feel incredibly guilty for not saving myself for chipotle like I originally planned.

I'm heading to Mexico on Saturday for a mission trip with Flatirons. I'll probably write a blog post on what happens there. Anyway, if you've been reading this the whole time, thank you. Mo, if you read this, you still owe me $5.

Monday, July 4, 2011


So first things first. Happy 4th! Kind of wish I was back home today, definitely one of my favorite holidays. A girl in my art class brought a small American flag to class, and I'm writing this post without a shirt, but other than that haven't done anything patriotic today. Apparently the US Embassy is throwing some sort of 4th of July party so we might go to that later.

Second thing next. I have a new roommate. Her name is Fredrica and she is from Taiwan. Her English is amazing but she speaks absolutely no Spanish. After translating everything our host mom tried to tell her I asked her if she had any questions to which she responded "Can I take as many showers as I want?" I told her she could but was very confused. All I know about her so far is that she is an extremely picky eater. Other than that she normally locks herself in her room and never ever comes out. I don't know if its culture shock or what but shes interesting.

Anyway went to Barcelona last weekend, it was an adrenaline rush! Took an 8 hour bus ride and got in about 8am. Checked into the Urbany Hostel Barcelona. That whole building is the hostel. By far the best one we've been to. 12 floors, rooftop pool (never had time to use it), 3rd floor balcony with a decent view.

We couldn't check in until 1pm so we dropped off our bags, changed into our suits and headed to the beach. As some of you may know I wanted to really experience Europe to the fullest and part of this means I have to get out of my comfort zone and experiencing new things. It started off as a joke. I told my roommate Jack that I would buy a speedo if we could find one for under 10 euros. After a dare and a few hours of shopping we ended up finding them at H&M (amazing store) for 9.95 Euro. So the whole weekend in Barcelona we wore them.

The beach was normal except for the fact that these Asian ladies were constantly walking around asking you if you wanted a massage (pronounced Massage-ee?). My roommate eventually gets fed up with it and one of the ladies comes around and asks if he would like a massage and he responded "How about I give you a massage... for free. Would you like that?". She looked at him angrily for a second and then walked off. Guess she couldn't handle a dose of her own medicine. Serves her right. So now I'm sitting on the beach, in my speedo, wondering who in the entire world actually pays these women to massage them? Then, BOOM! I see the guy behind me in his underwear pay the lady to rub tanning oil all over his back.

After the beach we head back, check in, and go to sleep for a while (hadn't slept on the bus somehow). We woke up and headed out to the beach for the festival of San Juan. Just like we randomly found ourselves in Portugal for their biggest festival of the year, we also happened to be in Barcelona for theirs. The festival of San Juan.

Now for my pick pocket story. We head into the metro to go to the beach and it looks like this. If you can't tell from the picture you basically can't fit anyone else in the metro. It was packed to the brim. I think to myself "man, if was going to steal my wallet, I'd probably do it here.", so I stick my hand on wallet and just keep it there. The train comes and people start SHOVING on, I was pushing the guy in front of me as hard as I could to get on, and the guy behind me was doing the same to me. We get on and I feel someone grab back pocket. I figure its probably one of the people in our group trying to not get lost. After a few seconds the fingers are still in my pocket (still grabbing on to my wallet the whole time) and I start to get suspicious. I decide to check it out and I see two fingers in my back pocket. I follow them back to the owner and is some completely random dude. At this point it clicks and I realize whats going on. I turn around to grab him and hes gone. The doors close and we start moving. I turn to my roommate and tell him what happened and he tells me the same guy had his hand in his pocket as well. Neither of us had anything stolen but interesting experience none the less.

We get to the beach and the closest thing I can liken it to is 4th of July. EVERYONE is shooting off fireworks EVERYWHERE. There are huge bonfires on the beach every couple hundred yards and tons of music. We just walked around for a while but it was pretty fun.

The next day we went to Sagrada Familia. This was especially cool because I had been here once before in high school so I got to see the progress. For those of you who don't know its a church inspired by Gaudi. Its been under construction forever and is scheduled to be finished in 2026. When I went back in high school the whole front of the church on the inside was under construction, its completely finished now and looks a lot better. There was an hour and a half wait to get to the top so unfortunately we didn't get to do that.

Saturday we took a cable car to the top of a mountain/hill and wandered around another castle. I finally see why people say "once you've seen one castle, you've seen them all". Its pretty repetitive. This one overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and a huge port in Barcelona which was cool. I also went to Park Guell which is a park full of Gaudi art. There is way to much stuff in there to talk about it individually but it was very cool. When I get home I'll put up an album everyone can see and there will be some good pictures from there in it.

I went to a bull fight last night so I'll be posting about that next.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Our flight for Portugal left from Madrid around 11:30pm. I grabbed the seat with essentially unlimited leg room and fell asleep while Jack (my 6'4" roommate) sat one row in front of me with significantly less.

We landed around 12am local time and went to grab a taxi. This is where I realized the value of speaking the native language of the country you are in. There is no doubt portuguese and spanish are similar languages but it turns out that doesn't help you understand portuguese at all. It sounds like a russian speaking spanish with a lisp on the "s". The only phrase I was able to pick up the entire weekend was "Obrigado" (thanks). I said it ALL the time, even when it didn't necessarily apply.

So we get in our taxi and ask the driver if he speaks english. Of course he doesn't. That would be too easy. Spanish? Nope. So Jake pulls out his itinerary and points to the address of our hostel. The taxi driver takes a long look at it, tries to hide his confusion, and we drive off. Driving in portugal is a free-for-all. No blinkers, no speed limits. The driver was weaving in and out of traffic, stopping, and speeding up constantly. Eventually he stops at a light and I assume asked another taxi driver if he knew where it was we were trying to go. We speed off again and eventually he drops us off near our hostel but tells us he can't go any farther because you can't drive on the streets or whatever.

The streets were completely packed with people. Apparently we decided to visit Lisbon during "national lisbon day" or something. They have a party for Saint Anthony (The patron saint of Lisbon). So everyone is just out in the streets drinking and having a good time. After asking a lot of people a lot of directions we finally get to our Hostel.

We stayed in the Lisbon Old Town Hostel. Having never stayed in a hostel before I had some ideas in my head of what I expected and they turned out to be completely false. We stayed in a 10 person room, everyone we met was talkative and very nice. The beds were comfortable and I slept great.

Friday we got up around 8am and really had no idea what we were going to do. A picture is worth a thousand words so heres a couple pages to keep you busy.

The first thing we found was the city elevator. Its exactly what it sounds like. An elevator that gives you a pretty decent view of the city.

The main attraction for the day was the castle of San Jorge. This thing was at the top of the hill and we got lost on our way up there. On the way up we met this girl from Holland who had separated from her group, and was also looking for the castle. We ended up hanging out with her for the whole day mostly discussing American stereotypes. She was surprised that we weren't fat. We also gave her a new stereotype: Americans have to get to the top of everything. She commented about how we were never satisfied until we reached the highest tower in the castle or the top point of whatever land mark we were at. Something I'd never noticed before, but also dead accurate.

Quick side note: Everything written before right now was written right after I actually went to Portugal. Everything after this point is being written right now a few weeks after Portugal. My memory is a little foggy and I've been busy doing European things (wearing speedos). Also, if there is a worse way to put pictures in a blog post, I'd like to see it. Because of this there will only be links to pictures and not actual pictures.

Back to "the story"... At this point its like 2pm, only thing I've eaten so far was a piece of bread. I'm cranky, hot, and hungry enough to eat anything. We stumble upon an 11 euro all you can eat buffet. Jokes on them, I ate all of it, I probably had four or five plates. Amazing food, most of it Portuguese, no idea what any of it is called, sorry.

After this we went to this place. Its been a few weeks so I don't remember what its called. All I can tell you is the picture doesn't do it justice for how tall it is. We took an elevator to the 7th floor and then walked up many flights of stairs until we reached the top. Looking at the top from the bottom people's heads look like birds, literally. I was a little scared when I was on top.

Then we tried to go to this castle. It closed at 6:30 pm and we got there at 6:35 so all you get is this picture.

Before we headed back we picked up some pasteis. This is a native pastry to Lisbon. We bought it from "Pasteis de Belem" apparently the world renown place to buy this pastry. The line wrapped around the block and took about 15 minutes before we could order. While in line I was talking to a cop who said they sell about 40,000 a day, 50,000 on a busy day. They were a euro each and so I bought two. Good stuff.

We weren't really sure how to get home but we didn't want to wait for the train again so we just hopped on this random tram and hoped for the best. It worked out perfectly and we made it home safe and sound.

For dinner we went to a Fado Restaurant. Fado is a Portuguese genre of music where they basically just sing poetry. The poetry is typically sad and the singers dress in all black and you eat dinner while they sing. I didn't understand a word they said but it was extremely moving. Food was good too, all seafood, I ordered the salmon. Lisbon is close to the coast so everything is really fresh.

The next day we took a 45 minute train ride to Sintra, Portugal. There was a castle and a cathedral with a really awesome view. Neither of these pictures do either of these places justice. Sintra is right on the coast, and the castle is on the very top of a hill over looking the town with a great view of the ocean. Unfortunately I didn't capture this view in picture form but it is one of my favorite places from the trip, you could see for miles, the cathedral was the same way.

After this we took a bus to Cabo da Roca. This is the western most point of Europe. Extremely tall cliffs overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Again, a really cool view, that picture does it a little bit of justice.

There you have it folks, my trip to Portugal. Hopefully I'll get Barcelona up tomorrow.

Jacobito, if you're reading this, thanks for letting me steal your pictures.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The "Cultural Differences" Blog Post

Let me preface this post by saying that I am thoroughly enjoying it here. I also appreciate the cultural differences between the United States and Spain. There are just some things about this trip that really make me laugh. So without further adieu leave your "political correctness" at the door and lets have a short discussion about the differences between bathrooms in Spain and 'MERICA.

Public Restrooms - They are non-existent. The only two places in this whole country where I am ABSOLUTELY positive I can go to the bathroom are at my apartment and at school. There are not always bathrooms in restaurants and if they catch you going they'll probably ask you to buy something.

Metro (Bathroom Related) - I would like to share with you some quick facts I took from the Madrid Metro Wikipedia Page:

6th Largest Metro in the World
Number of Lines - 13
Number of Stations - 272
Ridership - 627 million people a year

There is not ONE SINGLE BATHROOM in any of the stations. 627 million people a year do not go to the bathroom at metro stations. This metro was built in 1919 and has been continually upgraded since. Not once did anyone ever add a bathroom. Where do the metro train operators go when they have to "Go"?

Every time we leave our apartment we ask each other "Did you go to the bathroom yet?".

I haven't seen anyone do it but I wonder if public urination is a problem for the Spanish police?

Bathrooms in private residences are just as you would expect, usually slightly smaller. They do have one interesting difference though: the light switch is usually on the outside of the bathroom.

-Incredibly confusing when I go to the bathroom at night
-Basically begs you to abuse it while your friends are "dropping the kids off at the pool".

Jeans - No words. They are just weird here. Weird zippers, tons of pockets. Its interesting. I tried to find an example in Google Images but came up empty.

Thats all for now.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Segovia was pretty awesome! We got to see the aqueduct and the Alcazar of Segovia (literally Segovia castle). We got up early and took a bus to Segovia. I slept most of the time but when I wasn't sleeping it was nice to see grass, since we were driving through the country. I've only seen grass one other time since I've been here in the city.

We got there and the students had just finished finals or something and were all drinking in the streets at like 10am chanting "USA, USA" at us. They gave us 45 minutes to get something to eat so we all went to this little cafe and literally cleared this guy out of every pastry he had made that morning. I bet he usually gets tops like 30 customers a day or something and we fit like 50 people in there at once.

They split us into groups for our tours. Since I'm in art history we got an art professor with an EXTREMELY easy accent (score!) named Rafa. He was a funny guy and very knowledgeable about everything in Segovia. As we toured the castle he explained the history of the paintings and little tid bits about all the rooms.

After the tour we had a few hours to walk around and do whatever we want. We went to the town square where they had some sort of party going on. There was a band playing and families walking around and stuff. We went the top of the Aqueduct and it was a pretty cool view (no picture, sorry). Then back on the bus and went home.

Sunday afternoon we went to the Rastro. Its basically a flea market times a hundred in Madrid. Its a huge place for pick pocketers so I left everything at home except for like six euro in change which I put in my front pocket. You can barter with the merchants but I ended up not buying anything.

Sunday night we went to a charity soccer (futbol) game for Africa. Real Madrid vs Munich. The game was played by retired players from both teams. Tickets were ten euro which was awesome! Madrid ended up winning like 8 to 3 and there were two own goals and one guy scored with a bicycle kick. I can see why soccer is so popular here, even with the retired players, the game is immensely more interesting than any games I've watched in the states. Another side note here is they only sell non-alcoholic beer in the stadium.

By the way, Moyukh, if your reading this, this concludes post #5. You owe me a Qdoba burrito (we had a bet about whether or not I would actually blog).

Thursday, June 2, 2011


This post is called food because its all I think about. The food here is awesome but you only get to eat three times a day. They don't snack, ever. I'm used to eating all day so this has been an adjustment. Since we have all the time in the world to eat during meals I try to get "thanksgiving" full each time to hold me over.

Also, I walk up hill to school both ways. Or at least I can if I get lost, depends on which metro stop we take, took us a few days to figure that out. If we take the correct way home we still have to climb this long hill which we have aptly named "la montaña" (the mountain).

Teresa also has a friend who is frequently at our apartment, his name is Juan Carlos. We call him Don Juan (not to his face). He is from Argentina as well and about Teresa's age. He is a pretty smart guy and is always telling us "fun facts" about Spain and Nebrija. He can also be incredibly sarcastic. Its funny, but hard to catch because its usually in what he says and not how he says it, so we don't always understand. He also speaks better english than Teresa and acts as a walking talking dictionary for us. He asks us for the english translation of a lot words as well.

Today was our first class at the Museo Del Prado. We learned about the symbolism and story behind some of the paintings of El Greco. He has a potrait that looks like one of my roommates, other than that not much to tell. You can see why I'm not an art major. The class is pretty interesting though.

After that Jake and I tried going to the bank to exchange our cash for euros. We went to the Bank of Spain, and were told we could not exchange there. Then tried the Spanish Treasury on the off chance they might do it, and they told us to go to the Bank of Spain. We went back to the bank and the same police man saw us and immediately cut us off. Pretty sure the policeman was lying to us but I can't argue as well in spanish as I can in english so we're going to have to figure something else out. In hindsight I should have just taken large amounts out of the ATM.

We're going to Segovia this weekend and either Portugal/London the next. The Barcelona trip is planned for June 23rd hopefully and we have a soccer game this Sunday.

Monday, May 30, 2011

First Day of School

Went to bed at 12am, and as able to sleep pretty well. Woke up at 7am. I don't think I'm jet lagged at all anymore. Breakfast was corn flakes and sterilized milk. The milk is heated to around 150 C for a few seconds, it tastes different then the milk I'm used to but still pretty good. Breakfast is basically non-existent in Spain, I think our house mom serves it to us as more of a courtesy. I ate as much as possible because I knew I wouldn't be eating again until around 2pm.

The metro is about a 5 minute walk from our apartment. We take the number six to the number seven in order to get to school, pretty basic stuff and we haven't screwed it up yet. From there you can take a short cut to Nebrija or you can take the long way. I think you need to have lived in Spain for about 10 years before you are comfortable enough with the streets to take the short cut. I took the long way.

I now understand what people mean when they talk about being physically tired of listening to Spanish. Orientation was almost entirely in Spanish, they talked very fast, and I had to concentrate extremely hard to catch everything. Sometimes I would catch myself drifting off and have to force myself to pay attention. Its not like not paying attention in english where you can zone in and out as you please, always being able to tell whats going on. If you zone out in spanish you have to wait a little bit before you can tell whats going on. I'm hoping in another week it won't matter and I can just listen passively like I would in english.

We took a break half way through orientation for "cafe" (coffee) in the cafeteria. As far as I can tell its french press, they essentially give you a shot, with milk if you want. I drank it in about 4 sips and immediately felt jittery. By far the strongest coffee I've ever had.

We ate lunch at the cafeteria in the university. It was some kind of salmon sandwich, spanish tortillas, a meat I didn't recognize and sangria. It is extremely common for them to drink alcohol with meals, and doesn't bother me one bit. All the food was very good as well.

On the metro ride home this lady walked in our car and started giving a speech. Initially I didn't have any idea what she was talking about so naturally I paid attention. A few seconds into her speech I noticed everyone else was avoiding eye contact. As I listened more it became clear that she was a homeless person asking for money. I didn't give her any money but I assume she makes more on the metro then she would in the US on a street corner. People come in and out of the metro every stop and if the police see her she can just stop talking. She just has to pay one euro to get on the metro and she can stay there all day asking for money if she wants.