This past weekend was spent in the beautiful and vibrant city of Madrid with the lovely Spanish family. Several members of my group took a weekend excursion to Lisbon, Portugal, but I am choosing to make my own travel arrangements to Portugal this Thursday night/Friday. I woke up early Saturday morning and took the bus to Madrid to meet Ale and her family. We went to a smaller town on the outside of Madrid known as San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It is a smaller town, smaller than Salamanca, that was built around the Monastery, El Escorial and located on the southern slopes of the Mount Abantos. This is the most prominent building in the town and is one of the main Spanish Renaissance monuments. It is very famous for the Royal Library that is located within the Monastery. For awhile, it was the home of King Phillip(Felipe) II. After taking a million pictures and taking in this beautiful place in the mountains, we had lunch at a really neat placed called La Cuerva. It was like having lunch in an old house that was made into a restaurant with breathtaking views of El Escorial. I also had the best steak of my life there. Everything about the place was great. After lunch, we went back to Ale’s place where I had the pleasure of meeting her boyfriend, Daniel and his friend Santiago. Pizza and cerveza, followed by a little outdoor shooting competition made the perfect ending to another perfect day in Madrid. Sunday morning came too soon as usual, and I had to make my way back to Salamanca. However, Ale is planning on coming for a visit to Salamanca my last weekend here, and then I will spend my last few days in Madrid with her and her family. I cannot believe how fast this trip has flown by. What an incredible experience it has been
Sorry for the delay in my posting. It has been a rough couple of days. Four days after I left for my trip, I learned of the death of an incredible friend, Beto. I am so fortunate that I was able to see him and catch up before I left. He will be missed so much. And as for yesterday, my sisters and their step-father, as well as my family, lost an incredible mother, wife and woman, Leah, in her battle against Melanoma. However, I think we are all at peace to know that suffering is no more for her and she is in a much better place. His hands are good hands, that’s for certain!
This past Sunday, those of us who did not go on any weekend excursions to other locations in Spain, met in the plaza to try our first “Churros con chocolate.” I am not sure if I have ever had a breakfast that delicious. They are the best thing that I have tried by far on this trip. My friend Suzanne and I went for a walk down by the river to explore the day before. Best idea ever. You can practically walk, bike, run, etc. around half of the city along the path of it. I just can’t get over how beautiful it is here. The weather barely exceeds the seventies and during the nights/early mornings, the temperatures can get as low as 48 degrees.
During this trip, we have all participated in keeping up with the FIFA World Cup. We have found this Irish Bar, St. Patrick’s Museo, that we all really enjoy and so it has become a regular place for our game-watching. The pub owner knows us by name now, which makes it even better. For the most part, all of us were extremely happy about Germany’s big victory over Brazil. It is safe to say that that is who I’ve got my eye on as for the winner.
As for the Salamantinos, they are an interesting breed. The men do not hesitate to make the women aware of their presence. They are very expressive and outgoing in that sense. To share a particular experience, as my friend and I were walking around the plaza one night, a man who appeared to be in his late sixties, asked us if we cared to come have a drink with him. We politely said no as he was begging us, and quickly retreated back to the residencia before anything else could happen. (I am sure my Dad will love reading about this, Mr. Rambo/Liam Neeson)…We have learned that although the crime here is rarely heard of, it is best to have a “buddy system” when walking back late at night. Well, that probably goes for any place.
We found out that our residencia is run by Monks. Actually, that is quite the common thing around here for buildings such as this. I was fortunate to have a conversation with a Monk from England. It was very interesting, having only seen them on television. He said how he was “called” to Salamanca a year ago and spoke not a word of Spanish. However, he now knows far more than I do which is incredible. I am sure he must have a lot of time on his hands…
We finally got to go for a swim at a local pool yesterday. Upon our arrival, they were very clear with their instructions about a no picture-taking rule. We were not sure of the reasoning behind this, until we were about to leave. I happened to look up from the book I was reading, and I noticed that the pool we were at was not just for swimsuits, but also for those who wished to not wear a swimsuit at all, of any kind. First nude pool experience. Ah, European experiences have brought lots of firsts.
As I did not go to Madrid this past weekend, I will be leaving for Madrid this Saturday morning. I am so thrilled to be able to meet up with Ale and her family during my travels, no matter how long/short of a time it may be. When I arrive at the bus station, we are going to have lunch for her Dad, Gus’ birthday. Afterwards, there was talk of visiting “El Escorial” which is an enormous Monastery, and one of Madrid’s main sites. Looking forward to the visit very much.
I am making plans on travelling to Portugal for the day, next Friday. My friends and I are craving the beach. It will also be a great time to see other parts of Spain and also another country. I will post more pictures and more stories about my European experiences as they come. God bless!
P.S. My souvenir list seems to be adding up as I have been receiving more requests. Because of this, let me know if there is anything you would like for me to bring back!
I hope everyone had a wonderful July 4th! I admit that it did make me a little homesick, missing one of my favorite holidays and all. However, I definitely had a blast celebrating it in Spain, minus the fireworks. I started out the day with the second day of classes, followed by some browsing/shopping around the Plaza Mayor with friends. That night, our group made a return visit to St. Patrick’s Museo (Irish Bar) to watch the Brazil vs. Colombia World Cup game and to have our own 4th of July celebration. Great atmosphere and great time.
Today, I think it is safe to say that everyone slept in until at least ten o’clock. We were all finally able to get a good night’s rest. A bunch of us went out for breakfast and “cafe con leche” and afterwards, my friend Suzanne and I went around browsing/exploring more of the city. This evening, we all dressed up and went out to an outdoor Spanish Jazz concert. We really enjoyed it! There were a few hundred people in attendance, and the band played several familiar tunes including, “Georgia On My Mind.” We all sat on the hillside, listening to the music, soaking up the ambiance, the weather was perfect, and we had beautiful scenery with the Cathedrals all lit up in the background. Could not have asked for a prettier night. This is what being in Spain is all about.
As for the title of this post, I failed to mention in my previous post how it is without a doubt, so true that God is everywhere. You never know what kind of people you will meet on your journeys, but I am so fortunate to have befriended Suzanne from NC, who loves to share her faith in God as much as I love to share mine. As we were touring the Cathedrals earlier this week, we were both in awe of the beauty and detail of everything. We struck up a conversation about religion and our faith, and she asked if my faith was important to me. I replied with a big yes. We were both so thrilled to find someone on this trip to discuss the Gospel with. With that being said, I have really lucked out with developing some great friendships while on this trip, and for that I am truly thankful.
So I thought I would try my hand at this “blogging” due to being asked by several people to do so and to let everyone in on my travel adventures.
I left for London last Wednesday, the 25th, from Dulles airport with my nerves in total chaos. I’ve been dreaming about studying in Spain forever it seems, but when it came down to my day of departure, I was a wreck. Going away, especially alone, to a foreign country was something I had yet to experience. Did I mention completely alone? Yes, I was excited to see Ale and her family and friends, but the rest was all on me.
After a monotonous seven hour flight (without being able to sleep), I finally landed in London and was greeted by a Pakistani taxi driver from Barcelona, holding a sign that said, “AIFS” (the name of my program). He greeted me with a friendly smile, took my luggage, and into the taxi van we went. Well, before getting into the car, he told me I could sit wherever I wished, so naturally I went to get into the shotgun seat. However, everything is reversed in the UK, so we had a good laugh about that until I got into the “correct seat.” We drove for about an hour until we reached the International Hall of the University of London, where I stayed for the duration of my time in the UK. I got there a few hours early and was not able to check in until later that afternoon. So, I proceeded to walk around the city, alone, praying that I would not get lost. After check-in, I befriended the members of the group, and went to explore London with a few. London is incredible. Better than I imagined. Honestly, I wasn’t sure of what to expect, being that I am not a city person. Nevertheless, it was spectacular. Day two in London was spent touring the city, getting lost a little bit, and making memories. I was able to see all of the famous and recommended sites and more! Absolutely amazing.
Day 3, Saturday, we all had to be at the airport at 5 in the morning for our flight to Madrid. I didn’t mind the jet-lag, because in a few short hours I was soon reunited with my Spanish family. When I arrived at my hotel in Madrid, Ale, Jaime, Ana and Gus were all there to greet me. That will probably be the highlight of my entire trip. I think I must have hugged each of them for five minutes, maybe more. It was truly a great feeling. They took me out to lunch for an early birthday treat, and later we went back to their place to enjoy a little “siesta” time. I definitely needed it and I knew they could see that I was dragging. Later that night, we met some friends for dinner at what is basically a country steakhouse (reminds me of Outback or Longhorn). The day was perfect and I was very reluctant to leave Madrid.
Day 4, Sunday, we took a tour around the main sites of Madrid before making the two and a half hour bus ride through the countryside to Salamanca, where I will be residing for the remainder of my trip. When we arrived to Salamanca, the expressions on everyone’s faces was filled with awe and excitement. Salamanca is absolutely beautiful. It is everything I imagined it would be from the pictures, and more. It’s large enough to be a city, but small enough to where you can walk anywhere, especially without getting lost! We all got settled into our rooms and then went out to a local bar where we were treated to a “Welcome Fiesta” by our director.
Day 5, Monday, we went on a walking tour to get a feel of the city and where things are, followed by some shopping later on that evening. As for Tuesday, Day 6, I had the best birthday! I could not have asked for a better birthday. We spent the morning at a really neat coffee shop, where some friends treated me to breakfast. We went on a professionally guided tour of Salamanca where we were able to see all of the main sites including the prestigious University of Salamanca, the oldest university in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe, and the Old and New Cathedrals, which were absolutely incredible and made me fall in love with the city even more. The architecture, the centuries-old buildings, the people, the ambiance – it’s all breathtaking. That night, the group took me out to St. Patrick’s Museo (Irish Bar) for my birthday and to watch the USA vs. Belgium FIFA soccer game. They treated me to drinks, and the owner even brought me out a 41-ounce glass of Sangria. They sang “Happy Birthday” to me in Spanish and in English. Although USA lost, it was a terrific day!
Wednesday, Day 7, I took a placement test to see which level of speaking I should be placed in, and I was very ecstatic to have received the superior level of fluency. Hard work pays off. The official inauguration ceremony of summer courses took place that afternoon, where I was able to meet some of the faculty and also the President of the University.
Today, Day 8, was the first day of classes. They went extremely well, and I am pleased with the coursework structure, the professors, and the other students.
I will be leaving Saturday morning to head back to one of my favorite cities in the world, Madrid, to spend more time with my Spanish family and to carry on a little more of my birthday celebration. Can’t wait! I will try to post more interesting things as time goes on. I hope everyone is enjoying their summers! I know I definitely am!