March 30, 2010

El Cautivo

Woo I love Spring Break!

El Cautivo

Spring Break in Spain is really called Semana Santa, or Holy Week. In Spain they celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with day-long processions. The processions involve giant tronos, or floats, that are carried by men. The tronos depict different images and scenes of the life of Christ, such as his crucifixion or resurrections. Each trono of Christ is also accompanied by a trono of the Virgen Maria, or Virgin Mary.

The train of Maria Santisima. Notice the flowers on it? People throw flowers at their favorite processions.

And when I say giant, I mean giant; it takes between 20 and 250 men to carry these things! And the Spanish go all out decorating the tronos. Each trono is unique and different but elaborately decorated with pan of oro (gold leaf) and plato (silver). The images of Christ usually involve some bloody crucification details while the Virgins sport tears of crystals. The faces always express some sort of suffering, either with the physical suffering of Christ or the emotional suffering of the Virgin.

The tronos leave from their respective churches from all over Malaga. The procession then follows it's specific route around the town, which always include La Alameda, Calle Larios, and La Tribuna de los Ricos. After the route (which could anywhere between 4 and 8 hours to complete!), the tronos return to their churches. But not before a few encore performances! People gather around the church to watch the spectacle of encierro (putting away), but will continue to cheer and shout until they bring it back out. This happens at least once for every trono but the more popular ones may make 3 or 4 encore appearances, delaying the closing time by up to 2 hours!

El Cautivo with all of its 242 portadores!

The most well-known trono of the Malaga Semana Santa is El Cautivo that makes it's appearance on Lunes Santo. This year, the impressive El Cautivo was carried by 242 portadores. It was also accompanied by 500 nazarenos all decked out in white robes and tapados (their pointy hats). El Cautivo also generates a large following - 3,000 normal people walk behind the procession in their own vigil! The trono of Maria Santisima de la Trinidad Coronada follows behind El Cautivo. She is just as impressive - it took 270 portadores to carry her this year!

Nazarenos (NOT members of the KKK!)

Harley and I were lucky enough to nab a spot in La Tribuna de los Pobres to watch the whole procession!

Maria Santisima

Another unique aspect about the processions in Malaga is that the portadores carrying the tronos don't just walk - the sway back and forth with each step kind of like a boat. They do this because it's an homage to the thriving maritine business that has supported and sustained Malaga for hundreds of years. So cool!

So there's your history lesson for the day, kiddos! See you in 13 days :)

March 27, 2010

March 23, 2010

Sevilla: Churches, Palaces, & a Bachelorette Party

Missed me? I'm back from Sevilla, our last overnight excursion for this program. It's sad to think it will all be over soon but I must say I think we went out with a bang!

Sevilla is the capital of Andalucia which means a couple of things.
1. It's old.
2. It's large.
3. It has a bunch of really old, large buildings.
4. There are TONS of English-speaking tourists.

But the old, large buildings were the first things on our agenda. On Saturday we saw the Alcazar and the Cathedral. Like every other part of Andalucia, Sevilla has a history rich in Muslim, Jewish and Christian history. The Alcazar, which is in between a palace and a castle, is a perfect showcase for all three religions. It first controlled by Muslims until the Spanish Reconquista, when the Christians came to power. When the Christians took over, they had to borrow a lot of money from the Jews to finance their pretty things, like the Cathedral. Because the Jews were so near and dear to their hearts (and wallets), they housed them in a special barrio (neighborhood) right next to the Alcazar, until the Inquisition when the Reyes Catolicos kicked them out too.

Muslims were obvi really into their reflecting pools. I want one in my house, too!

The Muslims like to decorate their architecture with scripts from the Qur'an. The top line is fancy Arabic while the bottom is common Arabic, which is written, read, and spoken by the people. The Muslims pride themselves on their literacy.

Forget what I said earlier. I want THIS in my house.

Warning: Whatever you do in Sevilla, DO NOT feed the animals in this pond. The pond is inhabited by ducks and giant fish. Someone tried to feed the ducks by throwing in a piece of bread form their sandwich and all hell broke loose. The second that bread hit the duck's mouth, the fish swarmed and attacked the poor duck. Luckily, the duck managed to swallow it in time to keep all of it's limbs but the fish went crazy after that. Please, don't do it.

The Cathedral of Sevilla is the largest gothic cathedral in Spain and the 3rd largest church in the world. Our charming tour guide, Joaquin, told us that when the Catholics set out to build it, they told the architects that they wanted something so grand and massive that everyone would think they were crazy for building it. And those Catholics do not disappoint! They tore down the Muslim mosque and put up a mammoth of a building, complete with a giant altar covered in pad de oro (gold-leaf). Some of Christopher Columbus's remains are encased in a tomb here, too. That's right - not all. Just some.

Outside the Cathedral (left) and Giralda (tower on the right)

The whole group in front of Christopher Columbus's tomb. Who would have thought someone's grave would make for a photo opportunity?

Beautiful altar covered in gold-leaf.

Even though the Catholics destroyed the mosque, they left standing la Giralda, a giant tower built by the Muslim sultan of the area. The Giralda is the tallest building in the city and it will forever be that way thanks to building ordinances forbidding new buildings to be bigger than the Giralda. To get to the top, you must climb up 34 sets of ramps. Not stairs, ramps. The sultan wanted to be able to climb to the top from his horseback so he told the architect to build him ramps. Now what you would want to do with a horse once you got to the top of a tower is beyond me, but that's what he wanted, so he got it. From the top you can see the white-washed walls of Sevilla sprawled out around you. I can't imagine how breathtaking it would be a on a sunny day if it was already so beautiful on that cloudy Saturday!

After we parted ways with Joaquin on Saturday afternoon, we had free time until 11:30 the next morning. What is there to do in Sevilla at night? Throw a fake bachelorette party, of course! We came up with an elaborate story about how I was going to "casarse" ( get married) and "despedir de soltera" (say goodbye to singlehood) for getting into a popular club in the centro. We even set a date (May 10th, btdubs) and decided we were all from New York. In the end, we didn't really need to make up this little white lie because there was hardly anyone in the club when we arrived unfashionably early at 11:30 PM. But the club filled up quickly and it turned out to be the best fake bachelorette party I've ever been to!

Bridal Party!

The next morning after shoving our faces at the breakfast buffet, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Jardines de Maria Luis and the Plaza de Espana, where a scene from Star Wars Episode II was filmed. The Plaza is absolutely gorgeous in the summer, with bridges that span meandering moat lead to a huge fountain in the center. There are also benches that surround the Plaza and each one is dedicated to a different province in Spain. But unfortunately for us, the Plaza de Espana is not so pretty during off-months. Like almost everything else we've seen in Spain, it was under renovation to prepare for the bustling tourist season. Even the bench for Malaga was under construction!

Look familiar?

Pretending to sit on the bench. Womp.

There is a reason why Sevillanos are known for being very proud/arrogant about their city - it is full of culture, history, and 3 Starbucks. But I would take the beaches of the Malagueta and the silly one-armed Cathedral of Malaga over Sevilla any day!

March 20, 2010

Spanish TV

Just like in the United States, television is an important part of Spanish culture. The people of Spain are very proud of their language so every Spanish channel is broad casted only in Spanish with no subtitles or dubbing. They also have English channels, such as BBC America and CNN, but Emma and I don't really watch those because we feel like we're cheating!

One of the shows we watch during lunch is called "La cocina de Karlos Arguiñano en tu cocina". Karlos is a world-renowned chef from the Basque Country of northern Spain. He cooks traditional Spanish food but usually with his own twist. He also likes to infuse his show with humor and random entertainment; he dances and sings in between preparing the food. After he's done cooking, he plates the food first in a "media racion" and then in a full "racion" style, which is typical in many Spanish restaurants. His food always looks delicious and he's so fun to watch! I'll miss the whole lunch experience here where me and Emma watch his show over a heaping plate of macarrones or sopa while staying warm with the space-heater under the table.

Right after "La cocina", "De buena ley" comes on the same channel. Emma described it perfectly as a cross between Judge Judy and Jerry Springer but classier than either show. Two people argue their cases in front of a judge (who I'm pretty sure is not legit) and then the audience gets to weigh in on their arguments. The battles can get pretty heated, which makes for some awesome television! My favorite person on the show is a recurring guy in the audience who looks like a character straight from Jersey Shore - he's ripped and wears skintight shirts, usually from American tourist attractions like South Beach or New York. He always gets air time and he always yells at someone, either in the audience or on the stand. But I have yet to see a full episode since I always have to leave in the middle for my (stupid) afternoon class!

Another one of my/ our favorite shows is "Fisica o Quimica" on MTV. It comes on at night while we eat dinner and we usually squeal when we finally find the channel. It's set in a high school here in Spain and it's about the students and teachers of the school and all of the crazy love triangles (and squares and pentagons...) that ensue. As you can imagine, the story lines are pretty complicated at this point and we only started watching it. And it's even harder to follow because it's 100% in Spanish but it's getting easier. Plus we get to see some Spanish eye candy ;)

I don't have much time to watch TV here but it's still really cool to experience another part of the culture. And even though I'm missing basically a whole season of American television (Pam and Jim having their baby, American Idol, Villians vs. Heroes on Survivor...), television here forces me to listen and hear some vernacular Spanish, which is awesome practice for talking to everyday Spaniards. When else will I get this opportunity to be so immersed and surrounding by this language? It's really starting to hit me that we only have 25 days left so I have to live it up and soak it all in :)

March 18, 2010

Streets Where the Riches of Ages are Sold...

Saturday night we mapped out all of the big things we wanted to see so Sunday morning we were ready to take on London! And Sunday turned out to be the perfect day for some sightseeing!

We started our morning by making some PB&J sandwiches for the road so we wouldn't have to buy lunch - typical college kids trying to save a few bucks in a super expensive city! Then we walked down the street to Portobello Road! Before the trip, I didn't realize that anyone else in my generation had seen "Bedknobs and Broomsticks". But lo and behold, two other chicas in my group have seen it and love it as much as I do! So we followed the signs and asked for a few directions (have I mentioned I love that they speak English? it makes everything much easier!) and found ourselves at the top of the road!

The street was lined with little shops and vendor stands. We stuck to the antique part of the road but it went on forever and ever after that. I bought a few cool trinkets, mostly just to say that I bought them on Portobello Road!

After some shopping and eating (oops, guess we'll have to save the sandwiches...), we hopped back on the Underground to see the Tower of London, where are the beautiful jewels and crazy torture devices are located. Along the way we crossed Tower Bridge and ate some sugary peanuts (can you see a theme with food?). I love how the modern architecture can be found right next to all the really old and historical buildings!

Tower Bridge! How do you like the hat? It was a Portobello Road purchase!

The Tower of London was awesome! We got to see the Jewel House but, unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any pictures. I took a picture of a sign on the wall before heading into the vault and this vulture-esque security woman called me over and made me delete the picture in front of her and watched me put my camera away! The British take their royal family very seriously! We also saw Bloody Tower, where they keep a few of the torture devices they used for the very worst criminals.

We stopped and chatted with a really nice Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London (aka Beefeater). He told us a bunch of stuff about the Tower and Beefeaters in general.

-The letters on their coats, E II R, stand for Elizabeth Regina II. The R is always there because it stands for Regina for a Queen and Rex for a King. But the first initial and the Roman numeral change depending on the monarch at the time.

-In order to become a Beefeater, you must have retired from the British military with at least 22 years experience, receive the Long Service and Good Conduct medal, and submit an application. Once their application is accepted, they must attend a series of interviews and presentations before being admitted. It is a very prestigious position - there are only 35 Beefeaters at a time. The one we talked to was only the 336th Beefeater ever!

-All the Beefeaters live within the Tower of London with their families. Our new friend told us that the teenagers living in the Tower are very popular at their respective schools because everyone wants to party in the Tower of London! But he admits that it is really difficult to have a pizza delivered :)

We also had a conversation with this guard in front of the Jewel House.
Valerie: Ok, don't move! I want to take your picture!
Guard: Don't make me laugh!
Rebecca: Are you allowed to talk?!
Guard: Nope.
Rebecca: Want to get some drinks with us after your shift?
Guard: I get off at 4.

We wrapped up our convo and set out towards the Eye. Along the way, we made sure to see a bunch of cool stuff. One of the first things along the way was the London Bridge. For some reason, we all thought the Tower Bridge was the London Bridge so we were a bit disappointed when we saw the real thing. But it was a gorgeous day so we didn't let it slow us down!

Millennium Bridge from the last Harry Potter book! There are some ridiculous pictures of us pretending like the bridge is being torn apart by Deatheaters but you'll have to wait to see them!

After a 45-minute walk, we finally made it to the Eye! Who would ever think of building a giant ferris wheel on a river as historic as the River Thames? He or she was obviously a genius because this thing was so awesome! We got in our pod right as the sun was setting over Buckingham Palace and the rest of Central London!

Each pod holds about 25 people with enough room to walk around and see all the sweet views. It doesn't stop to let people on and off - you just kind of hop on as it moves. And the views were incredible. The timing was absolutely perfect, I would definitely advise everyone to go around sunset!

After our 30-minute ride, we popped into a cafe close by and finally ate our (now kind of mushy) PB&J sandwiches and treated ourselves to ice cream and coffee after our long walk :) Then it was on to our next destination: King's Cross Station to see the legendary Platform 9 3/4!

We're getting warmer...


Burning hot! But after running (literally) around the station for a good 10 minutes, a nice security guard pinned us as HP-enthusiasts and pointed us in the right direction.

Unfortunately, none of us made it through. And even though I know it's just a book, I was a little heartbroken that I couldn't make it through the barrier to see the Hogwarts Express. Ok, maybe I was a lot heartbroken. But even the 2 chicos in our group who haven't read the books got caught up in the excitement of it and posed for some silly pictures like this one.

After such a long day, we were ready to crash. We hung out in the hostel and packed up to leave bright and early Monday morning. I'm so glad we got to see almost everything we wanted to see and it was even better that I had the company of some great friends! We started off the morning right with some telephone booth pictures to wrap up our tour of jolly London. Thank goodness for nice people who speak English! I can't get over how wonderful it was to be able to communicate with other people without having to work out my brain.

And even though we got to see so much, there's still so much more to see there! There were so many museums and landmarks that I would have loved to see if we had another week there but you can only do so much in 3 days. So if anyone reading this out there is planning a trip in the near future and would like some company, I'm your girl! I also plan to attend the 2012 Olympics to watch a certain sister of mine dominate the soccer pitch :)

I'm pretty sure London will be my last big adventure outside of excursions through our study abroad office. I decided to hang out in Malaga for Semana Santa and see more of this beautiful city. But I'm also planning some daytrips so stay tuned for some awesome Andalucian culture!

I love you all and I hope everyone is safe and happy! See ya in 27 days :)

March 17, 2010

Sunny London

Good day, chaps! I'm back from jolly good London, where I have just spent one of the best weekends of my life. We had a pretty lengthy to-do list but we managed to do most of the important stuff like eat fish and chips, see Portobello Road, and walk over the Millennium Bridge. Alright, I admit those might not be the first (or even hundredth) things you think of when you think of London but they were special to us so we did them!

We started out this trip on a much better foot than the Barcelona trip - we actually left the day we were supposed to! Score! And the sun was shining in both Malaga and London. Double score!

Our plane arrived Friday night at Stansted airport, which is about an hour away from the city center. We planned to take a bus to Victoria Station and then I had directions for taking the Tube to our hostel but the bus was full. Instead of letting us wait for another one, one of the guys in charge threw us on another bus to Liverpool Street, which is in a completely different part of town! We were lucky to find a very nice (and a wee bit intoxicated) English man that helped us buy cards for the subway that we were able to use the whole weekend. Yay for being able to speak English in London!

We finally made our way to the hostel and crashed. I'm always amazed at how quickly traveling can wear you out - all we did was sit and wait for the plane, then sit on the plane, then sit on a bus, and finally sit on a subway. But we were completely exhausted!

Hanging out in the hostel

Good thing we got a good night's rest because we were up bright Saturday for a free tour of the city! Our tour guide, Dave, was a native Londoner and full of fun facts about the city like...

-The Duke of Wellington built a giant statue (above) right outside of his front door to honor himself.

-After an important naval battle, the British put their slain captain in a barrel of wine to preserve his body until they returned to the Motherland. But when they got back and went to pull him out, they found only his body but no wine. It turns out that they had drained every barrel during their celebratory voyage home - including the one with the body in it!

-The 2012 Summer Olympics will be held in London. The only sport that will be played on royal property will be beach volleyball. The courtyard of one of the palaces will be turned into a volleyball court!

Changing of the guard!

Our tour took us past the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Parliament building, Westminister Abbey, and a bunch of other palaces and important places I can't even remember. After our lovely tour, Dave showed us a place to go for an authentic British lunch of FISH AND CHIPS! And we even took a double-decker bus to get there - two birds with one stone :)

Emma about to enjoy some fish 'n chips nomnomnom

After filling up our bellies with fish, chips, tartar sauce, and "mushy peas", we walked along the River Thames and picked out the best street vendors for our return to the Eye the next day. Every few feet we saw another stand selling waffles swimming in chocolate and piled high with whipped cream, creamy ice cream in crazy flavors like dark chocolate and rum raisin, and the sweet smells of peanuts covered in butter and sugar! I probably would have gained 10 pounds in 4 days if didn't walk everywhere :)

Big Ben = Gator Bait

After our exciting day of sightseeing and exploring, we went on a pub crawl! Since it was set up through a company catering to tourists, it didn't exactly live up to my expectations. I always imagined a pub crawl to take place along the same street, with people popping in and out of seedy bars with the regulars hunched over their favorite brew, chatting it up with their favorite bartenders. Our crawl consisted of just one bar and 4 dance clubs, where they served fancy drinks and played loud music. But it was fun to hang out and meet some new people!

When in London, act like Spice Girls!

Overall, it was a very successful day and we got A LOT crossed off of our to-do list but there was still so much more to see on Sunday :)

-Big Ben: check
-fish 'n chips: check
-Buckingham Palace: check
-double-decker bus: check
-pub crawl: check

March 12, 2010

¡Qué guay!

Our second day in Barcelona -what a glorious day!

We started the day with a breakfast in the hostel consisting of toast, jelly, a muffin, OJ, and cafe con leche. Not too shabby for $15 a night!

We whipped out our handy map, planned our route and flew out the door. With only 4 hours before our bus left for the Girona airport, we had to make the most of our time. It was so hard to pick only a few things to see in Barcelona because the city is filled with cool buildings, awesome parks, and totally crazy statues.

But with some suggestions from other travelers, we decided our first stop would be Parc Guell in the northern part of the city. It was designed my Gaudi to be a residential area. The idea never really caught on since nobody moved in, so they turned it into a public park instead. It's full of his crazy mosaic sculptures, buildings, and of course the world-famous bench!

Ron, Nick, Alissa, me and Harley sitting on the bench. What a fun group!

And does this look familiar?

If you are a girl between the ages of 13-30, are related to one, and/or are dating one, you should recognize this as one of the final runways of America's Next Top Model! Think CariDee in Cycle 7, if that helps jog your memory :)

So what do you do when you walk the path where the great Tyra Banks once strutted her stuff? You strut your stuff too, of course!

Even the ceilings were covered in mosaics! I love them all!

After buying a few Gaudi-themed souvenirs (I can't wait to give them out!), we headed to our next destination: La Sagrada Familia! This is considered Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece. It's been under construction since 1882 and is still not completed. It is scheduled to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. But it will be consecrated by the Pope in November. We just missed it!

The cathedral is always surrounded by cranes and scaffolding. But even with all of the construction, it was seriously the coolest building I have ever seen. The outside reminded me of the droopy castles J and I used to make at the beach. The spires were covered with mosaics and the doorways were surrounded by these faceless saints and iconic scenes. ¡Qué guay! (How cool!)

Unfortunately we didn't have enough time take the tour inside so we settled for just seeing the outside. I'm already stoked to go back to Barcelona and see the whole thing, even if it has to be once it's finished in 2026! Any takers?

So we hopped back on the Metro, and headed to the bus station. When we popped our heads out of the metro station, we were so surprised to see SNOWFALL!!! And even though it wasn't anything close to real snowfall, it was frozen water and it was falling so I'm calling it snowfall! And it was the first time I have seen snow fall from the sky :)

We had an hour to kill before the bus would leave so it's a good thing the Museum of Chocolate was so close! We didn't have time for a tour of that either but we did get to enjoy some delicious hot chocolate, Spanish style!

Hello, beautiful. Get in my belly, please. I love that the chocolate here is so rich and thick that you are forced to take tiny sips with a spoon. It gives you more time to enjoy your chocolate-bar-in-liquid-form!

And just like that, our time in Barcelona was over. We definitely managed to make the most of our 22 hours in the city but it was nowhere near enough time. It is now top on my list of places to visit when I'm rich and famous. It's the most unique and eclectic city I have ever seen. Not that I'm a world traveler by any means but I think it's a must-see for everyone!

As much as I loved every single minute in Barcelona, I was glad to be back home in Malaga. Even though I'm excited to go home, it's moments like this when I fall in love with Malaga all over again. I finally decided to spend my Semana Santa here in Malaga soaking up every ray of sun, getting lost in the labyrinth of streets, and discovering all four corners of the city. I can't wait!

Thank you all for following me on this crazy journey! I don't know about you, but this blog has made it a lot easier for me to keep my sanity and organize my thoughts in order to give you a (semi-)logical idea of what's going on 4500 miles away. I really hope you're enjoying it even half as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

A group of 8 of us are flying to Inglaterra (England) tomorrow night to visit London! We'll be there until Monday so I hope everyone has a great weekend! See you Monday :)