Monthly Archives: January 2010

Paris, and my entrance into the world of flickr.

WARNING: this email is just a shameless plug and excuse to promote my new flickr photo page. More info to follow.

Seine-ic view.

A bit of everything in this installment.  Firstly, made it to Paris, despite the nasty weekend-cold I had just gotten over a few days before, to see my good friend Isabella from Chatham, who is studying abroad there with Smith College.  I had been to Paris two times before and felt satisfied with the amount of tourism I had done, so the weekend was less about showing me the sites and more about catching up.  She lives in the 13th arrondisement right by the national library, a towering modern building (or, group of 4 buildings) that’s designed to look like four open books that form an enclosed courtyard at the center.

Bibliothèque François Mitterrand

She told me that although it is a lovely design, it was not a well-thought out one: the designer did not take into account the fact that his open window idea (he intended for the entire exterior to be windows, which they are, but did not realize that all that light would damage the precious materials that the library is indeed trying to protect.  Now these windows are merely covered up with a quick fix of Ikea blinds to shelter the books).  We spent most of our time just wandering around central Paris, drinking hot chocolate in a café on the l’île de France, scoping out the Bastille neighborhood by night and hanging around her apartment, a cute and cozy hideout from the November weather (which still has not hit Valencia).

SHAMELESS PLUG: and if you want to see the pictures from the trip, AND all the pictures from the semester so far, just check out my new flickr.com page. I realize I had been sending y’all links to facebook albums that I’ve made private.  So now everyone, a facebook member or not, can see what I’ve been up to.

This week has been relatively low key: my internship on Monday, my tutoring session on Wednesday (not sure if I mentioned but I’m giving English lessons to a 7 year old boy whose family wants him to learn enough language to go to summer camp in America.  He’s a great kid and I’m learning lots about my own language in the process of teaching it!), and on Thursday something cultural; the program bought us all passes to this art exhibit that’s here for a year, a collection of Sorolla paintings from the New York Spanish Society.  Ironic that they’ve been in the states all these years and I’m only just seeing them now in Spain.  It was finally time for my art history class knowledge to kick in, and it made the event more enjoyable, since I could actually see what we had talked about in class a few weeks back (Sorolla is a quintessential impressionist from Spain).

With only a short while left in the semester, the group dynamic and the individuals are definitely changing.  People are starting to get comfortable, starting to feel bad for not having spent as much time in Valencia, and starting to wish they weren’t leaving in 3 weeks.  It’s so hard to believe that the first semester is already over, and that after a month of traveling the program will refresh, start all over again, this time with a new batch of people (and much more of them!).  We year kids keep prophesying about what the experience will be like to be sitting in the orientation the first day, watching the newbies and their anxiousness while we already have 4 months under our belt.  But the change will be welcomed and I’m excited to see what will go on next semester…

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head cheese

I’m taking a break in posting old newsletters home (the main element of this blog) to share with you all where my mild case of insomnia has led me. here is the email my parents received from me this morning:

“souse.

just thought I’d let you 2 know (for no reason other than to say hi and freak y’all out) that I just discovered what I was eating all week for lunch and dinner in Belgium at Peg’s house:

head cheese is not a cheese but a meat jelly made with pieces from the head of a calf or pig (sometimes a sheep or cow) in aspic. It may contain onion, black pepper, allspice, bay leaf, salt, and vinegar. It may also include meat from the feet, tongue, and heart. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature as a luncheon meat.”

oh.my.god.”

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ciao, bella!

The problem with slacking in your blogging is that when you finally do, you have so much to say. So I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this week.  So sit back, relax, find your coffee/pipe/snack and settle in for the post-Fall Break update:

Started the internship at the publishing house, and am really enjoying it.  It’s less an internship and more of a personal tutoring session given by a publisher; we have a very defined checklist (yet another syllabus, if you will) of what we’re going to accomplish (such as learning to correct Spanish texts, formatting a page to be printed, translating and other general editing tasks), and none of what we do in the weekly meetings is actually used or published.  Instead, we’re given exercises from the real world (real letters or documents) but only use them as practice materials.  This doesn’t bother me too much, it’s just not what I expected. It’s also great practice for my language skills, since I’m correcting texts in Spanish, and having to remind myself of grammatical and stylistic rules.  Now all I have to do is work up the courage to ask the company for a summer job…

Apart from academics: last week was Fall Break.  And before I launch into my description of my TRIP TO ITALY (!!!!) I should explain the nature of the holiday itself.  In Spain they have this wonderful custom of «hacer puente» (“making a bridge”) between two holidays, in this case the Valencian independence day and an obscure national holiday.  When this happens, you get all the time off in between the two holidays since they’re so close together.  What an excellent system.

a puente

So the week of freedom started off with a traditional Valencian holiday (read: fiesta) called Nou d’Octubre (the ninth of October).  I would be lying if I told you I knew the full story behind it, but basically on this date in the 13th century, Valencia defeated the foreign occupants in the city and declared itself independent.  I honestly didn’t know how important this day was to the Valencianos, but it definitely is: EVERYTHING was closed, and EVERYONE was downtown, watching or

the moros y christianos parade

participating in an incredible parade.  I’ve never seen such elaborate costumes: glitter and fans spitting fire and medieval robes. Moreover, it’s the Valencian version of Valentine’s Day, and the traditional gift to give your lady is a handkerchief full of marzipans shaped like fruits and veggies, or erotic shapes if you’re into that sort of thing.  After a day of spectacles, our new Valencian friends (a very convoluted story that includes playing guitar in a plaza, watching magic tricks and schmoozing with artists who live next to the city’s cathedral.  The ending, however, is that I’ve made some very colorful Spanish friends) invited us to their annual Nou d’Octubre dinner party.

And the fun never stops! After celebrating my first October 9th, I headed off to Italy for a week!  The posse I traveled with consisted of 5 other girls from my program, half of whom were from different schools (Catholic University, Michigan State) than UVA.  I didn’t know them all that well going into the trip, but I loved having a chance to spend time with them outside of the school, where our communication is generally limited by the fact that we can only speak in Spanish.

The trip started in Rome, where we stayed in a suburb northwest of the city center in a quintessential hostel: 10 beds to a room with one shower in between us all, lockers for our luggage, overstarched sheets (at least they were clean!), a communal kitchen and dining room, etc.  The guys at the desk were all hilarious and liked to broadcast American rap music over the speakers in the dining room every evening.   We spent the first night wandering around the city and managed almost immediately to stumble upon the Coliseum, the Forum and the Palatine Hill.  The amount of history in the city is staggering; everywhere you turn there’s some archeological wonder, something you’ve read about in history classes but never dreamed you’d see one day.  The next night we decided to check out Rome’s nightlife, and signed up for the infamous “Spanish Steps Pub Crawl”, during which a group of 20-somethings take the pub crawl participants around to different bars around the city.  What was great about this was the people we met: everyone was travelling, most of them without a plan, just seeing where life took them.  It was also nice to not have to worry about getting lost in the city, since we had people leading us.  Overall, a good night.

How fitting (or ironic, really) that after a night out my next day would be spent at the Vatican.  A word to the wise: when Rick Steves tells you in his Lonely Planet guide that Monday is NOT a good day to do the Vatican, listen to him.  He’s right.  A lot of the other museums and monuments in the city are closed this day, making it a perfect time to go visit the Pope and his pad.  So along with everyone and their uncle, I made my way to the northwest corner of the city.  Any visit here is divided into two parts: St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum.  Out of the two, the former was my favorite; you can just tell there’s something special about the place.  It’s not just a church, it’s THE church.  The interior is ornately decorated with gold, vivid paintings and incredible sculptures (such as one done by Michaelangelo when he was only 19).  Downstairs you’re led through the basement to the tomb of St. Peter himself, a shrine dedicated to the discovery of his remains that occurred rather recently in the 1960s.

Then onto the museum.  Imagine trying to fit all the attendants of a rock concert into one room.  Now multiply that by 20 (the amount of rooms it felt like we saw in the museum. Probably entirely inaccurate.), and imagine all these people moving in the same direction from narrow hallway to narrow hallway (in the direction of the Sistine Chapel, in this case).  That’s the Vatican Museum.  Not exactly my favorite experience of the trip.  I didn’t realize how vast this museum was going to be, and the amount of visitors there not only made it hard to maneuver, but hard to understand the significance of what we were seeing.  And once you start the tour you can’t backtrack (read: THERE IS NO ESCAPE).  But the payoff of walking into the Sistine Chapel is pretty incredible.  EVERYTHING in it is painted: the columns on the walls aren’t columns, they’re paintings.  The curtains aren’t fabric, but paint on walls.  And in the very center of the ceiling of this vast room: the creation of Adam.  Truly an amazing sight (there was no way the “no photos” rule was going to stop me from snapping a few shots).

My final day in Rome I spent at a Dada/Surrealist art exhibit at the Museo di Risorgimiento, right next to the Coliseum.  It was truly an incredible show, with pieces from Duchamp, Breton, Miró, Calder, etc.  For me, even if the message of the art escapes me, I am simply just excited to be in the same room with such famous works (ok, so call me an art groupie).  The rest of the day we just wandered around the city, trying to hit all the leftover spots before leaving the next day.  What we found was an adorable little neighborhood called Trastevere, a nice change from all the tourists and hustle and bustle of the downtown area.

sunset from the Ponte Rialto

Wow, we’re only on city 2 of 3 (or 5, depending on how you look at it) of this trip.  You’ll have to forgive me for rambling.  But onto Venice: what an amazing city.  There’s truly nothing like it anywhere else in the world.  We stayed in this adorable little town of Oriago, 30 minutes from downtown Venice (since lodging in the center of the city is way expensive), which was a great taste of what small-town life in Italy is like.  The town literally had one stoplight. So on our first day we caught a bus into town, and then hopped straight away on a water taxi to visit two of Venice’s outlying islands: Murano and Burano.  The first is known for its hand blown glass, while the second is a lace-making island.  Just to give you an idea of how incredibly beautiful it was: don’t be surprised if you hear I’ve escaped to Murano, eloped and started my apprenticeship as a glassblower.  When you’re in the factory watching them make it, it’s incredible to realize that this task has been done the same way for hundreds of years, and the skills the workers possess come straight from their fathers, grandfathers, etc.  It seems so picturesque and perfect from a tourist’s point of view, but can you imagine growing up with that kind of pressure?  With that decision having been made for you almost from the day you were born?  Phew.  Heavy stuff.  So after grappling with that reality, it was time for a change of scenery.  On to Burano (the prettiest of all the islands, according to the guy in the lobby of our hotel).   He knows his stuff; all the houses on the island are painted bright, cheerful colors, and a babbling canal runs through the town, where the locals park their boats for the commute to Venice proper.  The lacework is also gorgeous, even for those of us (aka: this chick) who aren’t that into it.  After snagging a slice of pizza and a few pastries, we headed out on the water taxi to downtown Venice.

By this time I was fading, very aware that I hadn’t had a siesta in 4+ days, so I opted to sit for an hour in St. Mark’s Square, people-watching and dodging swarms of low-flying pigeons.  Sounds boring, but was perfect to just sit there and soak up the atmosphere. All around the square are cafes and shops, and each café has its own band to serenade its diners.  And for the fellow-coffee fiends: the [allegedly] first café to serve espresso in Italy is in this same piazza.  After reconvening with the group (all people-watched out), we splurged and got a gondola ride (I say splurged, because, well, it isn’t cheap.  But what’s interesting is that there’s no set price for these rides, you just haggle until you get it down to where you want it.  After this trip I can honestly say I have improved greatly in this skill).  Much to our dismay, our gondolier didn’t/wouldn’t sing, but just being in a gondola, floating serenely down the Grand Canal was enough.  What’s also so special about Venice (something you really notice during one of these rides) is how quiet the back streets/canals are, since there are no cars or buses or even people walking around; all you really here is the calm lapping of the water against the ancient foundations of the buildings.  Post-ride we strolled/explored some more, taking in the sunset from the Rialto Bridge, and bingeing on gelato (despite the howling wind and impending rain that seemed to follow us around the country).

After the short stay in Venice, we were headed to Florence.  Almost can’t decide which I loved more between the two.  In Florence we had the luck of staying in the heart of the city, right near the cathedral.  We got in at night, so we headed straight out to see what we could: the cathedral (Duomo), the Ponte Vecchio, the church (and nightlife neighborhood) of Santa Croce.  We decided we were less interested in museums and monuments (being at the end of our spending money) and more excited to see the town, and the Tuscan countryside.  I’ll admit now that I regret not doing the obligatory Uffizi/Academia visits, because the amount and quality of art in them is staggering.  Next time, I guess! With the alternate plan in mind, we got an early start the next day, with our first stop being the leather market.  This place is just three big streets that are lined, everyday, with stalls selling leather, behind which are actual stores.  Again, my haggling skills came into play and I left satisfied with my purchases (a cashmere scarf and leather bag).  When I started contemplating leather pants, I knew it was time to get out of there. (¡BROMA!).  We then made our way to the town’s famous Duomo, the Pitti Palace (home to the Medicis, I think?) and the Ponte Vecchio for the second time.  In the afternoon, we hopped on a train bound for Siena, a tiny, quaint medieval town in the heart of Tuscany.  After general wandering and exploring (are you sensing a theme here yet?  If not, it’s the verb “explore”.  This translates roughly to: walking around, snapping photos of picturesque scenery and buildings, eating gelato, getting lost at least once, being ambivalent about what to do next, and eating dinner.  Not a horrible system, really.  I mean, when can I honestly say I’m going to be in Italy next?  At least I got out and saw it), we settled into a café in the town’s main piazza.  Warmed by a dinner of salad with roasted vegetables and a steaming plate of gnocci, we hopped back on the train back to Florence.

The next day was our last, with our plane leaving from Pisa in the early evening.  So OF COURSE we had to go see the Tower.  But really, there’s not much more to do in that town.  So we checked our stuff at the train station, power-walked over to the other side of the city, and stared in awe.  It’s really leaning, I’ll tell you that.  Made me kind of nervous to think about climbing it (that being the second most popular activity in this town, coming in just below taking the obligatory “I’m so strong I’m holding up the tower” optical illusion photo).  So we opted for the latter.  And that’s when my camera died.  That’s when I knew the trip was over, that it was back to the real world and back to Spain (if this dream life of mine can really be classified as “the real world”).

The trip (and the break from schoolwork) was an awesome experience.  Almost more so because of how much it taught me about travelling (and I don’t mean the kind I did in high school, when everything was planned for me and I just got to go along for the ride.  Don’t get me wrong, I kinda miss that style).  Like how you should not forget a towel when you’re staying in a hostel (don’t worry, Mom, I remembered shower shoes), not plan late afternoon flights so you don’t waste a day travelling, and not stress when there’s a plane delay.  And the time away made me realize how much Valencia feels like home; I was honestly EXCITED to get back to the country, back to a language I can communicate in, back to Adela’s awesome cooking, back to my new Spanish friends and my other friends in the program.  Of course I miss home, but I’m so grateful that this place has become comfortable to me.  It’s MY city; I’m not just visiting anymore.

And with that, I’m out.  I know I talked (wrote?) your ears off, but just think of it this way: there will be absolutely NOTHING of worth to report this week, as it is exams.  Enough said.

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movies, music, museums. or: cine, canciones y cultura.

HOWDY, Y’ALL!

I start my update this way only to mention that the American Rodeo has arrived in Valencia this week.  So periodically throughout the past couple of days we’ve spotted these rodeo cowboys wandering past us in the streets or, (no joke), eating at the Burger King.  There are some aspects of American culture I guess I’ll never be able to escape…

Over the past few days I’ve been focusing my attention on the people and places of Valencia, trying to find my niche.  This quest started with a mid-week trip to the movies.  I had heard about this one film called Gordos (literally: “Fatties”) by Daniel Sanchez Arévalo that had just come out; our cinema teacher at school had showed us one of his short films in class, which everyone enjoyed, so I thought it’d be interesting to see another work by him.  So a few friends and I embarked on a somewhat confusing walk to the center of town, unsure of just what exactly was awaiting us at the cinema.  Would we even be able to understand it?  Would it be funny? Depressing? Totally artsy and incomprehensible?  To our pleasant surprise it was an EXCELLENT movie on so many levels.

The plot basically centered around a weight loss group and its members, all of whom had un montón de issues (identity crises, infidelity, ambiguous sexuality, to name a few) revolving around food.  I picked this one since it dealt with issue of obesity in Spain, which, after being here a few weeks and checking the people out on the street, doesn’t seem to even exist (EVERYONE here is thin/healthy). Thought it would be interesting to see the contrast (or the similarity) to the American obesity problem.  And of course there was the obligatory damning statement about Fat Americans.  Another interesting element was how graphically sexual the film was; somewhat similar to the level HBO likes to take their shows.  But the audience didn’t seem to care; only we Americans were scandalized.  I’d say a large part of what was so interesting about this evening at the movies was being a part of the audience, right alongside Spaniards (as opposed to sitting in a classroom watching a film for class, or even renting a foreign film and watching it at home).  In the end, everyone loved the movie and the evening out itself, the perfect jolt of culture shock to get us through the rest of the week.

me 'n' Diego, at the concert

I’ve also recently been getting a taste of Spanish music.  Have been to two concerts now: the first in a smoky bar right next to my apartment, accompanied by some girls from the program and Diego (my exchange partner) and his friends, and the second in another neighborhood bar where my friend’s hermano (host brother) was playing.  A lot of Spaniards have told me they don’t like Spanish music, that the lyrics are really poetic and beautiful but the music itself is nothing special.  I’d say that’s true.  It’s much more “fun” music than anything else, but still enjoyable.  These bands also had an affinity for classic American/English rock, so between both concerts I think I heard selections from CCR, Rolling Stones, AC/DC.  It’s also great to hear them play what I think are the Spanish equivalent of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” and all those songs you hear in bars and everyone starts singing along to.  The bar will erupt with slurred Spanish lyrics that I don’t understand but I know make people happy.  So again some cultural norms span many continents.

This weekend was our first one without class on Friday (3 day weekend woohoo!) so a lot of people went out of town.  This only helped me further my campaign to see more of Valencia itself: I woke up Friday morning and went to MuVIM, the Museum of Video and Illustration (I think?).  It was bizarre: a somewhat shabbily put together interactive tour through the entire history of western civilization, starting with illuminated manuscripts which would be replaced by the printing press, and ending in a video montage which was meant to sum up almost everything after industrialization.  The images on said montage were just looped segments from the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the Spanish Civil War, etc. etc. Guess they don’t really have high hopes for modern society?  But the visit was free so I can’t say I lost anything by going.  Afterwards a few friends and I walked to the Plaza de la Reina, where the Cathedral is, and climbed to the top of the cathedral’s tower.  The view from the top was incredible.  A lovely mid-morning adventure.  To top of the weekend I went to the Museo de Bellas Artes, which houses quite a collection of famous works (Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Sorolla, etc.) and later today I’m going to try and visit the modern art museum (hoping that the impending rain won’t spoil the rather long walk there!)

now, if that isn’t a cultured weekend, I don’t know what is.

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getting to know you

la escuela

My luck so far in this country has been almost unbelievably good.  This week classes started, and it is safe to say I have one of the best schedules I’ve ever had in college, and some of the most interesting classes.  My schedule reads as follows: 20th Century Spanish History, Modern Art, Conversation with a focus on Spanish Cinema, and Translation.  As far as times go, I’ve got nothing before 11am (some days I don’t go until 12:30pm) and afternoon classes which allow me on some days to be done at 3:30, and others 7pm (leaving me just enough time to get tapas with friends before going home for dinner).  Let’s not forget, also, that I don’t have Friday classes.  I’m also REALLY excited to learn about all of these subjects, and so far class discussions have been filled with lots of cultural conversation that may not pertain to the day’s topic, but are fascinating nonetheless; never before have I been in an art class that in 30 minutes can go from Romanticism to Jung and Plato and then finally to instructions on how to buy, prepare and eat eels.  And hearing about my professor’s grandmother and her death in one of Franco’s concentration camps gave me goosebumps.  Plus class size is TINY compared to UVA, with my largest class having 15 kids (since there’s about 45 of us in the program all together). All in all, I’m really pleased.  Should be a good academic year.

una falla

una falla

Apart from classes, the program provides various extracurricular activities that I’ve signed up for.  One being a service learning internship that places students in fields of study to get a better sense of career life here.  For example, some students can sit in with a child psychologist once a week and observe their work with patients and in the office, while others can help artists build the enormous falles (floats, essentially) that will be paraded around the city for Valencia’s biggest holiday (Les falles).

As far as my interests go, I requested to be placed either in an internship with a publishing house (which would be PERFECT since I’m looking towards getting into that field after graduation) or an online magazine where I’d be editing translations (also good, since I’m also ultimately hoping to be a literary translator).  I find out about where I’ll be next week, so cross your fingers!  Seeing as how I was the first one to turn the sheet in (I practically sprinted to the front desk after the interest meeting to do so), I should get something I like.  The second extracurricular I started was an intercambio (exchange) with a local university student.  His name is Diego, and we were matched up according to similar interests and we meet once a week to speak in both Spanish and English.  We met for the first time last night and it went well; really friendly, and ended up inviting me out with all his friends, allowing me to get some real time with Spanish people my age!, which was a totally new experience.  It’s safe to say I didn’t really dominate any conversation, but I really enjoyed seeing what kids my age here do for fun.  Needless to say there are some cultural norms that are the same everywhere.

The UVA kids continue to be fun, and I’m enjoying getting to meet new people.  This week we celebrated a week in Valencia (my second, actually) by all going out to supper together.  Hilarious, actually, because we ordered paella, which NO ONE in Spain eats after 2pm; it is a LUNCH dish.

mmmm, paella!

Suppers here are lo más light and consist of many different little courses.  So I can only imagine what the waiters and chefs were thinking when they had to whip up an enormous portion (to give you the idea of the size of the platter: 1 of the skillets of paella filled 7 plates) of it so late in the day.  I also spent the week planning a few trips with the kids in the group, and I am officially going to Italy (Rome and Florence) for our first break in October.  SO EXCITED.  Also managed to get both plane tickets for less than 100 euro, and now all my friend and I have to do is find some hole-in-the-wall hostels for the week and we’re set.  Also looking forward to winter break, when I’ll be headed to (if all goes well) Morocco and Egypt with the other 3 students that are here for a full year.  Again, pretty excited.  It truly is easier and cheaper to get around in Europe, and I’ve got the time, so why not?

Other than that it’s been a normal week, and it’s starting to feel a lot like home; well, I’m getting my routine for the semester figured out.  On all other fronts it’s totally different and I love it. But isn’t that why I came?

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first impressions

So, here I am, sitting in my adorable red and white room in Doña Adela’s apartment.  What a relief to arrive and be given such generous accommodations: I’ve got an armoire, lots of shelf space, a desk, a lovely twin bed, A FAN!, television and stereo.  Down the hall are my siblings’ (Laura and Miguel Angel) rooms, each kept impeccable by Adela who still makes their beds even though they’re in their twenties.

On top of siblings, we’ve got a dog (a sweet old whippet that they found on the streets).  No idea what its name is, however, except that it vaguely ends in “-lo”.  Not even sure if it’s a boy or girl.  These are the new types of mysteries present in my life due to my somewhat limited communication skills.  As I told one of my friends: it’s very humbling to not be able to speak like a fully-functional human being.  It makes some familiar situations into a challenge, from opening a bank account to opening the door of the bank (you have to be buzzed in; it’s a pull not a push, etc.)  But almost hourly I’m introduced to something new, which is definitely keeping things interesting, and just what I wanted from this experience.

After two days of solitude in the city, the rest of the students showed up.  In “first day of kindergarten” fashion they all arrived at the school on orientation day with their madres in tow to help them with directions, eyelids heavy with jetlag.  During a morning full of academic and administrative information sessions we were introduced to the faculty and staff, all of whom are vibrant and friendly; you can tell almost immediately that they’re a very tight group, poking fun at one another in front of us and whispering and giggling during the presentation; definitely a more laid-back atmosphere than some of my previous academic experiences.

Valencia's cathedral

Later that evening we were broken up into small groups and taken around the old city on a walking tour.  This central area of the city is much different from where I live (more of the University area, on the way out of town), with its winding cobblestone streets and plazas antiguas.  The cathedral at the heart of city is gorgeous and is comprised of different wings built in different years, thereby featuring a wide variety of architectural styles.  We also saw more modern sites such as the central market (with a gorgeous stained glass façade and vaulted ceilings inside) and the Avenida de la Paz, a street whose modernista buildings are legally protected from being destroyed or altered in any way.  The tour ended at the bullring, and from there my group decided to get a pre-supper snack (keep in mind this is around 8pm; supper isn’t until 9:30 at my house) of gelato and sangria.  After dinner we agreed to meet up again to “make fiesta” as they say here, also known as having a drink, going out.  Definitely a more comfortable way to get to know one another.

Peñíscola

More bonding happened the next day when we boarded a bus headed to Peñíscola, a seaside city that is home to a stunning castle “of Muslim origin,” as the brochure reads.  It was later the home of Papa Luna, one of the popes involved in the Great Schism (history buffs: is that the correct name of this event?), a fifteenth century debate in which multiple men claimed to be the pope of the Catholic church, causing a great rift in the church and its members.  From the roof of the castle you could see all the town below, surrounded by the gorgeous aqua waters of the Mediterranean sea.  Of course our one day trip to the beach was accompanied by the one day of bad weather in Valencia, so the rain prevented us from truly enjoying the beach, even though we did sit there for a few hours with our bagged lunches.  After crashing on the bus and a light supper, the group met up again for another night on the town, this time coordinated by the school at a bar in the Carmen district.  Much like Paris’ Latin Quarter, this area is very old and bohemian, and a great place for nightlife.  Even though we Americans greatly outnumbered the regulars in the joint, this locale gave us a better look at the Spanish social scene.  At some point however we’ll need to start speaking in Spanish to one another.  That will come later, I guess.

And now here I am on Sunday, one week down, hundreds more to go.  Classes officially start Tuesday, so I’ll be sure to fill y’all in about those during my next installment of these notes.  I guess that means back to the grindstone, but something tells me that this won’t be so bad.  I’m just trying to follow the advice they are so fond of giving here in Valencia: “no te precupes” (don’t worry!).

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Filed under schmoozing, travel, Valencia