Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Los Gallos en Salamanca

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, nothing too exciting has been going on. But this past weekend my parents came to visit, yay! They were here from Thursday-Monday and it was really fun. Thursday afternoon we just wandered around Salamanca a bit and ate ice cream of course (because that's what you do in Salamanca). Friday was spent doing all the normal touristy things there are to do in Salamanca. We visited the historic center of the University of Salamanca, the Cathedral, the Cave of Salamanca (thought to be the site of devil worshipping at one point), and the Roman bridge. My senora, Marisol, also invited us all over for lunch and afterwards we went to a bar for tapas and a drink.Me and Marisol

Me and dad at the Bridge
Me and Mom at the University

Saturday we planned to go to Alberca, a small pueblo about an hour outside of Salamanca. Marisol had told us that Alberca was very touristy and that we should check out Candelario as well if we got a chance. She has a country house in Candelario and she told us she would meet us for coffee if we came by. Alberca was cool, but VERY touristy. Every store was a tourist shop, so we decided to visit Candelario. Unfotunately the road between Alberca and Candelario is hairpin turns on a steep mountain for an hour and a half, needless to say we weren't feeling so great by the time we got there. Marisol met us for coffee and she and her boyfriend, Jose Angel, were our guides for the afternoon. We got to see a house from the 1700s that Jose Angel had bought and was working on gutting the inside and remodeling to as a rental house. Later we got to see their country house and even got to have a drink in the Plaza Mayor (note: the town only has 100 inhabitants, they were all at the one bar in the "Plaza Mayor"). It was definitely the most fun and interesting day of the trip.
In the Plaza Mayor in Alberca
Mom with the town pig in Alberca

Food in Alberca (this picture is just for Joe)

Sunday we visited Toledo on the way back to Madrid. Toledo is a historic city and it was cool to see the big cathedral, the castle, and all the old buildings, but again it was very commercialized and touristy. After Toledo we made it back to Madrid (only after fighting Rodrigo, our not recently updated GPS) to our hotel. The hotel was unfortunately in the middle of nowhere, so we weren't able to walk up to the Plaza Mayor or anything like that, but we were exhausted anyway so it was probably for the best. Instead we all passed out in our family bed (just 2 twin beds pushed together...interesting.)

It was a really fun weekend, and this weekend I'm off to Galicia, updates to come.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Always something interesting in Salamanca: Los Novatos

In Spain there's a tradition called Los Novatos at the beginning of each academic year in the universities. Basically, if you live in a dorm they just tell you what you have to do and you do it. It could be anything, like dressing in pajamas or crazy outfits, or whatever and running around the city singing songs. Last night we were walking around the city and the streets were covered in fake used pads, gross.

Anyway they are pretty entertaining to watch and I think it's hilarious because I'm pretty sure that would be considered hazing in the US. I wish we weren't such babies in the states! Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of Los Novatos, but you can use your imagination.

In other news, Princess Letizia was here yesterday and I had no idea. But she'll be back with the Prince on the 29th, so I'll be sure to find her then.

Adios for now!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ole! The Bull Fights in Salamanca

Saturday began the annual 2 week bull fighting season in Salamanca. Yesterday we all decided to go to the bull fight even though we weren't quite sure we were going to like it (because yes, they kill the bulls). It was definitely an interesting experience.

The bull ring is just like a baseball stadium. There's music and people selling drinks up and down the aisles, BUT unlike in the states you can bring as much food into the stadium as you want. Which is good, because it's tradition that everyone eats a sandwich after the 3rd bull. My senora was kind enough to pack me one so I wouldn't look like a loser.

So here's how the bull fights go: There are 3 bull fighters and they go through the order twice so that each gets to fight 2 bulls. Each torero (bullfighter) has a team, which seems kind of unfair because the other teammates do a lot of stuff to injure and tire-out the bull before the torero goes in for the kill. First the bull runs out and the teammate guys have bright pink capes that they taunt the bull with to make it run around a lot. Then a guy on a horse comes out with a spear and spears the bull in the back (this part is the worst because the bull then charges the horse and sometimes knocks the horse over and hurts it. To make things worse the horse is completely blindfolded). Then the teammate guys come out with this pointy stake things that are colorful and run towards the bull and stab the stakes into it before the bull get's them, then they run away. Then out comes the torero. At this point the bull is already pretty hurt and now the torero just taunts him with a red cape and sometimes grazes him with a sword. After a little while the torero gets a new sword meant to finish the bull off. He points the sword at him and then if he hits him in just the right place the bull dies instantly. If he messes up he has to take the first sword out and try again.

So overall it was pretty gruesome. Oh yeah, and if a bull breaks a foot during the fight they replace it because it isn't fun to watch a bull that can't run fast. So yesterday 8 bulls died instead of 6 because 2 were injured.

My favorite bullfighter was Eduardo Gallo (for obvious reasons! haha) and he is in the video above. I missed him fully killing the bull though because my camera died. Ugh.

Best part of the booklet they give you when you enter the bull ring: they show you a picture of the bulls all happy on a farm before they bring them here to get killed. Lovely.
Entrance into the bull ring
Announcing the bull that's entering the ring

When one of the horses fell down. It was really sad. Note the man's giant spear hahaDragging the dead bull out of the ring

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Castles and a Big Wall: Excursion to Segovia and Avila

Today was our first group excursion. We went to Segovia first (about a 2 hour bus ride) and then to Avila (an hour bus ride back towards Salamanca). Castilla-Leon is the area of Spain that Salamanca, Segovia, and Avila are in and it is an area known for it's castles. Segovia some of the best preserved castles (including the castle of Ferdinand and Isabella, which we got to tour today). It also has a huge aqueduct that is over 2,000 years old and still in perfect condition. Avila has a gigantic wall intended to protect the city and it is the most well preserved fortess wall in Europe.Cathedral in Segovia

First stop: Segovia. When we first arrived in Segovia there was some kind of military holiday going on that we were unaware of so we passed both the medieval reenactment band and the correct military band doing their parade routes. AKA there were lots of men in very tight white pants or funny feathery hats.

Next we got to see the aqueduct which was really amazing. It's been there for 2,000 years and is still just as strong as it was when it was built. Oh yeah, and the rocks aren't even held together by anything, they're just so perfectly positioned that it won't fall. Wow, those Romans were cool.

Stairs near aqueduct/Aqueduct One pillar of the aqueduct, look at the rocks!

Next was a tour of Fernando and Isabella's castle. If you can recall from your history classes Fernando was the king of Leon and Isabella was the queen on Castilla and when they got married the area of Spain that I'm living in became Castilla-Leon. Anyway, we got to tour the entire castle and it was really really cool. A lot of furniture from that time period was in the castle (not the castle originals because there was a fire in part of the castle) and it was really interesting to see it all. We also got to climb up to the top of the tower to see the view.
Ferdinand and Isabella's Thrones

Then back on the bus to Avila. There isn't all that much to see in Avila except the gigantic fortress wall that's built around the entire city. It was constructed quickly to protect the city and the only material they had to build it was the headstones from a Roman graveyard. You can still see the writting on some of the blocks in the wall.
The Wall
View from the top of the wall

And after a whirlwind trip we headed back to Salamana. Overall it was a really cool trip, but it was short and we were all exhausted afterward.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vive en la Calle: Experiencing La Feria

Over the past couple of days we have been doing typical Feria activities. One of these activities is going to the casetas, which are always packed with people regardless of the time of day. Yes, they serve alcohol all day long, you want a beer at 10am you got it. They're fun and cheap and have really good food, but most of the time they're so crowded it's a little overwhelming.

At the you can see it's pretty crowded

The fireworks and all the people that were there watching them.
(Sorry these pictures aren't laid out very well...)

There are also a lot of free concerts in La Plaza Mayor and other plazas around the city. The first night Pitingo was playing. Apparently he's really famous, but a lot of people have mixed opinions about his music. He's a flamenco-blues singer, but he basically just sang american covers all night and he's kind of greasy and gross looking. And oh yeah, we couldn't even get into the Plaza because it was packed from wall to wall with people. Picture the biggest concert you've ever been to and multiply it by 2 haha. Needless to say we didn't really enjoy Pitingo.

The stage in La Plaza Mayor

But last night 2 Flamenco bands played and they were awesome. It was really unique, especially because the bands were made up of a lot of really weird instruments. One called La Bandina had some kind of lap guitar thing with a crank on the end and a soprano saxophone. The other band, Xose Manuel Budino, had bagpipes and a bunch of crazy looking drums I've never seen before. It was still really crowded but we were able to actually move through the Plaza and stand up front. We all really enjoyed them so you guys should check them out! There are a lot more groups coming in to Salamanca from all over Spain, Italy and France, so that should be fun.

Oh yeah, and one Feria activity I haven't experienced yet but my friend Sabra was terrified about is something for the kids. Apparently these cartoon character people with clubs chase the little kids around the town, and it's supposed to be fun apparently. One day Sabra was caught walking head on into the pack of screaming children and almost had a heart attack. I'll let you know if I have any problems in the next couple of days!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Arriba, Abajo, Al Centro, Adentro: La Feria begins

La Feria: basically festival week. Every pueblo has one and this week happens to be Salamanca's festival week. What this means: there are casetas everywhere and people drinking and celebrating all day and night for the next 10 days. A caseta is a small tent/building thats basically a bar brought out into the streets. There's hundreds of them all of the city and they each serve a drink (beer, wine, soda, water, etc.) and a pincho (an appetizer-sized snack that is the house special at that bar) for 1.80 euro (pretty cheap!). Aside from the casetas there are also a lot of bands, performances, and other activities all over the city. Needless to say it's going to be an exciting week. Last night we got a taste of real Salamanca night life (filled with people trying to get you to go to their bar by yelling "5 shots for 3 euros" or "first drink is free!!"). It was a good time, but a little overwhelming!

This morning we were all a little tired, so after sleeping extra late a friend and I went for a walk around the city. We got a chance to go inside La Catedral and it was amazing. It was the biggest cathedral I've ever seen. We also saw 2 weddings going on and people were caseta-hopping in full force even at 1 in the afternoon.
(sorry that these are sideways, I haven't figured out how to rotate them yet...)

Now I'm off to search for a gym to join so I can work off all this food and drink. Pictures of a caseta to come once my friend posts her pictures from last night!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Theme for Spain: I get stuck a lot of places

Not only did I get stuck in an elevator in Spain but last night I was almost locked out of my apartment building. For some reason the locks in Spain are extremely complicated. You think you just put the key in and turn, but no. My lock requires me to turn the key slightly the right, pull the door towards you, push a pedal at the bottom with your foot, and then push the door open, but apparently there's some other trick to it because it usually takes me at least 10 minutes to get the door to open. Last night I went to a cafe and had a glass of wine with 2 other girls and I get back to my building and cannot open the door for the life of me (no, I wasn't drunk off one glass of wine, this had happened to me early in the day as well). I ended up calling a friend of mine to come help me and even she couldn't do it. Eventually it opened and I have no idea what I did. I wasn't able to ask my house mom about it in the morning because she was gone by the time I woke up BUT while I was struggling this afternoon a lady who lives in the building showed me how it was done. Apparently you can't put the key all the way in the lock (duh! why would I think to put a key completely in a lock?) Anyway, this evening it only took me 3 tries to open it haha.

Adventure of the day: A walk by the river. It was a great view and a nice path to walk on, but my friend and I encountered something slightly disturbing. As we crossed a foot bridge an older woman came up to us asking for money. After we politely refused she walked about 5 paces away and promptly lifted her dress and peed on the sidewalk. We were a little shocked and decided to walk a little quicker to the other side of the river. Shoe stores seemed like a safer and sanitary venue.

We also met with the psych professors today, and since all the girls are taking psych classes those should be really nice. Oh yeah, and we basically never have class. Bonus.

Here is where I would insert beautiful pictures of Salamanca, but because I failed as a blogger and a traveler I'll show you some googled pictures of places I like.

This is the Plaza Mayor. It's even more amazing in person than it is here and it is ALWAYS full of people no matter what time of night.
This is the Cathedral. I love walking by it everyday. And yeah, most of the buildings look like this. It's awesome.

And since I am here for school, this is probably the most famous view of one of the buildings of the University of Salamanca. Apparently you are supposed to look at all the pictures etched into and find a frog. If you don't find it before your exams you won't have very good luck. I better get searching.

Anyway, that's it for now. I'm taking a little rest and then I'm out with the rest of the people on my trip plus to German girls who live with a guy in our group. Should be an interesting night. More to come.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Salamanca: Day One

Today was our first day in Salamanca. I met my host mom and she's really nice and very "hip" and a little out there haha. She's probably in her 40s but dresses like she's in her 20s (gucci bag and 4 inch purple pumps included). But I moved into my room and I actually feel kind of settled which is nice. My apartment is really close to La Plaza Mayor (which is basically the center of everything) and to all of my classes, so it's really convenient. AND the apartment has wireless which is really exciting. I would post pictures of my room but I just realized I left my camera cord at home so pictures will have to wait until I can find a cord unfortunately.

So today's update is this: I've been in Salamanca for all of 8 hours and I love it already. Tons of shopping (uh-oh), people walking around all the time, and good food. I will have to get used to the crazy schedule though. Dinner at 9 or 930 and going out til 3 or 4 in the morning? This could be difficult with classes. P.S. people even walk around with their babies and small kids until midnight or so. It's crazy!