Tuesday, December 11, 2007
It hasn't so much been the classes that have left an indelible mark, like they did so memorably for Justin this semester, but instead the process of adaptation - of settling into a city across an ocean and making it a home - that has really defined the essence of this semester. You can bet that the memory of my señora, Olga, easy-going and motherly, will remain with me forever. The same with my host-brother, Luis, party-animal and avid skier. But, most of all, I'll remember the unique experience of stepping out of my American life, if only with one foot, and forging a new path through an unknown terrain. The Vanderbubble, science classes, dorms, rowing, and many more things that are so basic to my life in the US were swept away for a semester to be replaced with bullfights, metro rides, eurotrips, and tortillas, the framework of my adopted Madrileño lifestyle.
From that first silent ride in the taxi from the airport to my new home to the final takeoff from Spanish soil this Sunday, it's been a wild ride for which I couldn't be more thankful.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
In Barcelona, I met up with some friends from Vanderbilt who are currently studying in Aix through Vanderbilt-in-France and some more friends who are in Ireland and Scotland. The day started off a bit late with the last of us not arriving until about 7 pm, so we took it easy the first night, just hanging out and catching up in the hostel lounge and then wandering around the city looking for a good restaurant (we eventually found a great pizza place: always a great standby!), followed by a trip to the Mediterranean beach.
The next day we rolled out of our warm beds trying unsuccessfully to not disturb our random Venezuelan roommate and headed out for some sightseeing. First on the list was the Temple of the Sagrada Familia, a fantastical church designed by Antoni Gaudí that has been under construction since 1882 and is not projected to be finished until around 2030. It's no stretch to say that it is the most unique and most memorable building I've seen as of yet on my European excursions.
Looking at the port from the castle walls
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Since my parents left last week, I’ve been experiencing the pains of homesickness a little more strongly. Their visit brought me a little taste of the
With Vanderbilt on a mission to internationalize its undergraduate population, raising the percentage of international students from its current 3% to 8%, the admissions folk are not letting any opportunity go to waste. There was a conference of English-speaking international college counselors in
Those of us students who weren’t traveling this weekend (long essays in Spanish on obscure literature topics tend to prevent that…) had the opportunity to help out at the reception, giving the counselors the chance to grill us on whether we really like Vanderbilt or not. My first duty was manning the shirt table, where each one of the 140 guests (and a hotel security guard!) got a pretty sweet black Vanderbilt polo shirt and a goody bag with information and stats on Vanderbilt. The other students manned the lobby, gave directions, mingled, and occasionally brought Sarah and I some of those delicious hors d’oeuvres to get us through until dinner.
Holly and Sarah at the shirt table
Next we all moved up to dinner, where admissions counselor Shari gave opening remarks, followed by Director of Admissions John Gaines, and then a little bit later by Associate Provost and Dean of Admissions (and a whole lot of other titles I can’t remember) Doug Christiansen. In the meantime, we all spread out to individual tables to avoid “clumping” and to maximize the mingling factor. When I say these counselors were international, I’m not lying; at my table they were from places as varied as
Left to Right: Amy Smith, John Gaines and his wife, Doug Christiansen and his wife, Carlos Jauregui (the Vanderbilt-in-Spain director) and his wife Tatiana, and Shari Sutton (not shown are Mike Drish, who coordinated all this, and Roberta, who volunteered time from her vacation to help out)
To wrap up the night, we watched a great short video covering the joyful time of graduation, which was apparently so moving that some of the women counselors shed a tear or two.
Hopefully our efforts will persuade these counselors of the magnetism of Vanderbilt so they can give us a strong recommendation to their students, helping us to make even more great strides towards a completely diversified student body!
From left to right: Sarah, Arielle, Holly, Vanessa, and me
Monday, November 19, 2007
The palm fronds swayed in the cool breeze while the sun’s rays warmed my back. No, I didn’t make the journey back to
The first place we saw this Islamic influence was, surprisingly, the grand cathedral of
I am not exaggerating when I say that this is a grand cathedral; it is the largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world, with the central nave rising 138 feet above the ground, and it also houses the largest altarpiece. Almost eclipsing all of this architectural grandeur, however, is the tomb of Christopher Columbus, hoisted by four Spanish Kings above their shoulders.
The next stop on our tour of
The Islamic influence is striking here, with a dizzying array of fountains, geometric arches, and large courtyards seen throughout the sprawling grounds. One of the most serenely creepy places in the palace was the Baños de Doña María de Padilla, which is a tank for rainwater collection.
Nicest rainwater tank ever
The last big stop during our stay in
A guided tour was required to explore the bullfighting arena and its museum, which actually ended up being pretty cool, especially since the tour was bilingual and we all got to get in the “Spaniards” group of the tour and leave all the other American tourists behind! The most memorable part of the museum was the bull heads mounted on the wall, ears cut off as rewards for the matadors with whom they performed a deadly tango.
The loser of the tango
On Sunday we took the high speed AVE (topping out at about 180 mph) to the cold of
Thursday, November 15, 2007
On Sunday the 'rents and I made the journey to Salamanca by train. The two and a half hour ride with Renfe was nice, as the train was virtually empty and we got to look at the scenery (when the sun wasn't blinding us) and contemplate the age of all the rock walls that wind their way across the countryside. We were pretty gung-ho on renting some scooters to motor around the city, but upon walking outside and getting blasted with what seemed like supercooled air, we decided to sightsee by foot.
And sightseeing we did; cathedrals, cathedrals, cathedrals, oh, and some palaces! The cathedrals were amazing in their gargantuan size, ornateness, and overall grandiosity. One of them (supposedly built around 1500) even had a suspicious carving around the door, which you can see below.
We had the chance to climb the towers (don't ask how many steps, or how much it provoked my nascent fear of heights) and see some great artifacts from the churches' archives, which even included an edition of one of Plato's works dating from the 1600's! Of course, we also had to go the Plaza Mayor while in the city, which, I have to say, is cooler than the one in Madrid. Not to mention there was this crazy group of women there, one of whom was dressed up as an old woman in a housecoat with an ample bosom and ample rear-end and another screaming something or another through a megaphone!
All in all, with these adventures as well as some stops in little shops and visits to palaces scattered about the city, it was a pretty great day trip (although with lots and lots of walking...I have the hole in my sock to prove it!) and Salamanca is really a great little town. I definitely recommend it as an excursion if you'll be in Spain (plus, I've heard it has a great night life!).
Favorite sight of the trip:
Thursday, November 8, 2007
My parents started off their Spain trip with a bang, having their four (rather large) suitcases lost somewhere along the way from Orlando to Madrid. Luckily, they were able to persevere for the luggage-less day and still enjoyed the sights offered by the city. Of course, with them arriving on Sunday morning I had to take them (my mom especially!) to the Rastro, the flea market I first went to in September. Being an inveterate bargain-hunter and lifelong flea market lover, the Rastro was like a playground to my mom. Not being tourists at all [sarcasm], we bought some T-shirts (prominently displaying the classic Toro), a flag for my dorm room (also prominently featuring a bull with the red and yellow background), and my mom went after some other items for Christmas gifts (whose identity shall be withheld, lest the recipients be reading this). With the weather being unseasonably warm (who ever heard of 70 degree weather in November in Madrid?!), I also led them to Retiro park to show them the great man-made lake, the mausoleum of Alonso XIII, the glass palace, as well as to the Plaza Mayor to check out all the sights it has to offer.
One of the best things about parents visiting (other than getting to see them after two months, of course!) is the opportunity to get some great food and experience the "gastronomical" side of the city. Between my señora cooking some great meals and the rising prices in Madrid, going out to eat is a rare treat. The first dining stop I made with them was at a little restaurant/bar down the street from my apartment where I introduced my mom to the wonders of Spanish tortilla (great site with a recipe and step-by-step pictures...try to make some for yourself!). The waiter also overheard me telling my parents about the paella I enjoyed in Valencia and brought out a plate of shellfish paella free-of-charge! Now that's what I call service! The next stop was Bazaar, a Mediterranean restaurant in Chueca, a Madrid neighborhood that most definitely has its own personality. My dad and I had some buey tierno, which translates to tender ox, which was much more delicious than it sounds. The best part was dessert; I followed Fodor's recommendation and got the chocalatisimo, the most notable feature of which was that it came with a dinner plate covered about one-fourth of an inch deep in dark and white chocolate. By the time I was done eating, I was sweating! Last but not least on our list of dining-out experiences was El Botin, which has the distinction of being the oldest restaurant in the world (as determined by the Guinness Book of World Records).
Thursday, November 1, 2007
On Wednesday Vanderbilt treated a bunch of us to a Real Madrid game (with 45 euro seats...I'm glad my ptogram fee is being used for such sweet events!) So, for those of you not familiar with "football" teams, Real Madrid is basically the Roger Federer of football. Since their founding in 1902 they've won 30 La Liga titles, 17 Copa del Rey, and have been European champions 9 times. All this resulted in FIFA naming them the Best Club of the 20th Century, which seems like a pretty huge deal. David Beckham just left Real Madrid recently for a $250 million contract at the L.A. Galaxy, which basically goes to show you the kind of talent that Real Madrid keeps stocked up.
They play home games at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, which is actually just down the road from my Senora's house, eliminating the need to fight the typical 70,000-person crowd coming in at the metro stop.
So, taking our Senora-made packed dinner (consisting of an egg and cheese sandwich as well as a tuna one), we headed over to the stadium to watch the game against the Greek Olympiaca team. After 90 solid minutes of being cheered on by my loud-as-possible shouts, Real Madrid was victorious, as expected, with a final score of 4-2.
In other news, my parents get into town to visit in three days! Let's hope I can find a way to show them the greatness of Madrid in the time they're here!