A Travellerspoint blog

Salamanca- days 1 and 2

We have two days to explore the city and prep before classes. They are a fantastic two days.

Monday night is rough for sleeping. Our room is hot and we have yet to acquire a fan. I woke up at 7 and groggily rolled downstairs for a breakfast of toast & orange juice. I sleep again until 11, and then my roommate Lauren and I decide to wander the city and find a fan, groceries, and toiletries.

As we explore streets around the plaza, a man in his mid-60s approaches us. He takes my hands, and in relatively slow Spanish, he tells me I am the most beautiful girl in Salamanca, and in the Spanish style, kisses both my cheeks. He then does the same to Lauren, and welcomes us to Salamanca. It was a little confusing at first but I walked away feeling touched by his kindness.

There are no Target-style stores here: everything is sold in shops strictly according to it's nature. We first meet up with four others, and wander in the safety of six. Then we find others out and about, who just bought Spanish flip phones, and increase our numbers to 10. We find fans and explore souvenir shops. I want to get Salamanca shot glasses for all of my friends, along with a Spain tag for my keychain and a large Spanish flag.

When the heat increases, we head back to our dorms for lunch. The good chef is now here, and he makes us delicious bean and pasta salads, and a Spanish-style lasagna. Full and happy, I head back for my nap- and sleep until 7 with the help of the dousing of water. After my nap I briefly research the other cities that we will travel to (I love love LOVE research and planning) and join the others for dinner. There's an incredible squash and cheese soup with bread, more bean salad, and more red peppers.

Tuesday night was our first night out in Salamanca. Originally the six of us who had wandered in search of fans earlier had planned to go together at 10, so as not to be a huge squad of Americans invading the plaza, but apparently everyone else decided to go out at 10 as well. We ended up in a group of 14. Along the way we find a small park with a perfect view of the Cathedral, lit up for the night, in the background, and pause to take several rounds of group pictures. At the Plaza Mayor, we revel and the lights and wonder what it's like for those who live in the walls of the Plaza.

We combine five small tables to accommodate us all, and order a full round of Sangria, and three potato plates to share. No one really wants to eat, but it's expected that you order food if you're sitting outside. The Sangria is good- not as good as the first night in Madrid- and strong. Our waiter is patient with us as we learn new pronunciations and attempt different ways of ordering. After we begin to order more- which I assume is more custom- he lightens up and soon becomes a prancing, upbeat highlight of our night. I'm wanting more to drink, so I order the cheapest drink on the menu- the House "Vermut del Dia". It's kind of a red wine and whiskey base, with floral notes and a flaming orange rinds. I try to take a picture of my drink on fire but miss it. A few minutes later our waiter returns with more orange rinds, of his own choice, to humor me and help me get the picture. I love my drink and pass it around for sampling- everyone either loves or hates it.

Around 12:30 no one is drunk, but we've all had just enough to have heavy legs and find everything funny. We walk back in two groups- the disadvantage to this is that we have to fight off people (read: men) trying to drag us into clubs. We still have more girls than guys, so our ratio makes us a target. We stop for more pictures of the Cathedral, and ponder buying bottles of wine and loaves of bread for an upcoming night, and finding a quiet park with a view of the Cathedral to enjoy our findings at.

A few of us, still wide awake from the rush of the day and jet lag, hung out in the basement until 2, and then slowly dispersed. I didn't fall asleep until after 4am, so Wednesday I slept until 11:30.

Wednesday is slow so far. After waking up, I showered and went to the convenience store just around the corner to get an iced tea- I think I'm going to be a frequent patron there for their 1 euro cold drinks. They asked if I was American, and said I was surprisingly kind and intelligent for an American. I was flattered but also saddened by the fact that because I asked how their days were and made small talk for a few minutes somehow set me apart from the rest of the travelers coming through.

Anyways, I took my iced tea to the basement lounge and set to work writing this blog, and today I've written all my entries. It's 3:30 as I write this now, and besides my trip to the store, we haven't left our residence. I think I'm going to nap, and then we had a meeting at 6, before exploring the university, before dinner, before maybe going out and maybe bed. More to come. Naptime. Time to douse myself and my bed in water.

Posted by sierralove95 06:32 Comments (0)

Travel & Arrival in Salamanca

sunny 98 °F

We unload our bus at the airport and settle in for two hours of waiting for all the other travelers to arrive. We wandered, exchanged more cash, and experimented with McDonald's breakfast in Spain. I really just wanted some damned iced coffee, but had to settle for a frappuccino. At least it was cold, right?

Once all 29 of us are there, our leaders, Joan & Heidi, usher us onto a bus somewhat reminiscent of a caterpillar. It has large mirrors that dangle from the front of it, like antennae or weird bug eyes. The bus has AC and USB ports. We each take a window seat and put our bags on the seat next to us. There is some talk as we begin our 2 ½ hour drive to Salamanca, where we will study, but there's also a lot of sleeping and spaced-out staring.

The time difference of nine hours is beginning to catch up with me. Because of my tumultuous sleep schedule the two days traveling to Madrid I adjusted fairly easily, but now being on a bus for several hours, the afternoon feels like the middle of the night- especially given that no one is texting me back now. The time difference has a way of making you feel remarkably unpopular.

The countryside is incredible. It's far greener than I would have expected, and our journey is dotted with mountains, rivers, rolling hills, upscale cities and Porsche dealerships, remnants of shanty-towns, crumbling castles, standing castles, and bulls (torros). The juxtaposition of the upscale condos and luxury of the city alongside the painful shanty-town reminders of the economic revolution, and great migration to the cities, stands out to me. The castles are another favorite- a reminder of the reality of history. The US has nothing nothing nothing like this- you can see, right here, right there- where ancient stories took place. Castles that people lived in. I reveled in these thoughts.

Eventually the landmarks thin out and we're driving through miles and miles of farmland, dotted with tiny pueblos the size of single neighborhoods. And in the middle of nowhere, we spot Salamanca- a grand expanse of housing and ancient architecture on the horizon. Founded alongside the University in 1218, Salamanca is rich in history and the architecture shows that. I ask Joan if we can swim in the river.

"Not unless you want to lose a body part, or find a body," she replies. Okay, no river. But there is an outdoor pool that we can bus to, once we get our ID cards.

The bus comes to life as we roll into the city and begin to take everything in. Eventually we're all rushed off the bus- parking isn't so much a thing in Spain without proper passes- and we walk a few blocks to our residence dorm. Although nice, there's no AC in the rooms and this is regrettable. We set our things down and head to lunch downstairs immediately. It's set up as an all-you-can-eat Spanish buffet. To be perfectly candid, I was dismayed at the lack of labeling on the meat products, and warily sat down with a plate of lettuce, peppers, and yogurt. I can't eat seafood or eggs without getting fairly ill, so I'm beginning to worry about how I'm going to eat here. After lunch we unpack and settle in for a long siesta. I'm sharing a room with a girl named Lauren, who is from Spokane- funnily enough my year-round roommate is also named Lauren, also from Spokane.

Our room is very large in comparison with other doubles, at the cost of being directly above the main entrance to the residence. After our nap we meet downstairs for an hour-long briefing. Afterwards, we wander the cooling town for a few hours, taking in the ancient castles, cathedrals, storefronts, and La Plaza Mayor. After that is another dinner of lettuce and peppers (the yogurt was fairly inedible to be frank) and some undercooked rice. Joan assures us that "the good chef" is due to arrive tomorrow, so I'm hopeful that I won't starve.

That night I take my laptop down to the bottom basement, where there are a few lounges. It's cooler down here and although the couches are fairly decrepit, they are couches, so I love them. I Skyped with Will for about 50 minutes. Skype has always been an awkward hassle for me, but I know for a fact I slept better after seeing his face and hearing his voice.

Posted by sierralove95 04:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Welcome to Madrid

A day and a half in the beautiful, sunny, scorching Madrid.

sunny 106 °F

Jane arrived first at 2:30, and then Stefanie at 4:22. Jane's luggage was lost- and as I write this on July 1st- it has yet to be delivered. We split a taxi from Madrid-Barajas airport to our room at Hostal Lisboa, which had a fantastic location within walking distance to the Parliament building, the best museums in the country, the large city park, and several plazas. Our room had three twin beds, an AC unit which we made ample use of, and boudoir (is that spelled right?) which none of us were brave enough to try out.

Our rest period didn't last long, because at long last we were in Madrid, and pure adrenaline compelled us to go out- hunger played a role as well. We wandered (in a controlled manner) trying to find cheap Tapas (Spanish appetizers, common before the late dinner hour) but to no avail. We finally settled for sampling the Spanish sandwiches. Jane, a vegetarian, ordered cheese, I ordered chorizo (safely), and Stefanie got the Iberian ham. To my surprise and slight disgust, a pig leg hung suspended from the hoof, and the waiter began carving the Iberian ham straight off the leg and onto the sandwich. A whole dead pig hung in the window. I appreciate the freshness, but being the squeamish animal lover that I am, I lost my appetite entirely. The people in that bar were fairly rude to us- not a place for travelers, evidently.

We had better luck in the Plaza de Santa Ana, where we each ordered a Sangria and to share, a Tortilla (Spanish pastry of cheese, potatoes, eggs, and onions) and Patatas Bravas (sautéed potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce). We were enthralled by the Plaza lit up at night, and a jazz clarinetist made his way through the aisles of tables serenading the diners. For long periods of time we sat in awe, commenting occasionally about how the experience felt like it was out of a movie. The tall buildings, all lit up for night, the laid back, social, central culture- was all incredible.

During our wait for a table in the Plaza we had been given club bracelets for free admission and a drink on a nearby street. After our Sangria and Patatas we decided to check it out, with little intentions of staying. During less than five minutes on that street no less than four Spanish men tried to pull us into bars and dance with us and buy us drinks- one even physically. We quickly left the area, bought cold water, and went to bed.

The next day, Sunday, held a slow start. It wasn't until 11:30 that we woke and 1:30 until we left our room. One of our two directors and professors, Joan Hoffman, pointed us to a nearby restaurant that served a traditional Spanish lunch for 14,75 euros. We met up with two other girls from our program there, Kristin and D'Arcy (think D-R-C) who had just flown in. After Spain I'll be traveling to France with Kristin and D'Arcy. The traditional lunch consists of bread (Pan), wine (Vino) or water, an appetizer plate (Primer Plato), a main protein dish (Segundo Plato), and a dessert (Postre). I ordered a Castilian soup (paprika, garlic, ham), the only chicken item on the main menu (to my dismay it was fried- I had been hoping for a nice Vino sauté) and strawberries with cream (Fresas con Nata) for dessert.

The five of us then began slowly creeping our tired, full bodies downtown, skipping the afternoon siesta, where the Museo Nacional del Prado had a free admission for Sunday program. We waited in the scorching 4pm sun for a half hour. It was the height of the heat, at 106 degrees. We took turns standing in line, and during my wandering turn I found a fountain, a botanical garden- and the real win- Spanish garden cats. They're like nice house cats except public. Public. Cats.

The Museo was about the Spanish equivalent of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Their stars artists included Goya and Picasso- they had 10 Picassos. That's like, a lot of Picassos. I took a picture of one before being told that photos were not allowed. It's easy to not even notice signs when they're not in your native language, I suppose. Exploring an upscale art museum sure makes you feel fancy and sophisticated- even as we were rushed out for the 7pm closing.

More tired than ever, we trudged up a new street trying to find a place to eat and drink. At 7pm most places were open but empty, as the Spanish dinner doesn't start until 9. We eventually settled at a Mexican restaurant that had 3 euro mojitos and an affordable dinner menu. I've never really considered myself a lightweight, but that mojito had my legs feeling heavy. We all noticed that our drinks, both last night and that day, were stronger than in the US or Canada. They really don't mess around with their mixed drinks here!

By 9pm we were back at Hostal Lisboa. Feeling fairly sick I kept myself in while the other four went back to the Plaza for Sangria and a few shared plates. By 6:30 the next morning, we were lined up in the lobby with our suitcases, ready to board a bus to pick up the other 24 travelers.

Posted by sierralove95 03:41 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

First day of travel

My first "day" wasn't so much a day as several days of fatigue and uncomfortable sleeping positions.

sunny

My adventure began Thursday, June 25th, at 10:30am when my 16-year-old sister and I loaded my nearly-oversized suitcase, a backpack near explosion, and a dainty purse into our mother's Prius. I had said my goodbyes to both my parents the previous two nights. We made the 2 ½ hour drive from Puyallup to Bellingham, where I'd later catch a train to Vancouver, Canada. We rolled into Bellingham around 1pm and I took the opportunity to power nap at Will's new apartment before he returned from his lab. We spent the afternoon relaxing before an early dinner (I got a burger- very American- had to get a last dosing) and a power nap.

My train left at 9pm and we chugged, slower than I expected, across the US-Canada border to arrive in Vancouver by 11pm. After some panic about not having any Canadian cash, I was able to board two sky trains to make the connection to the Vancouver airport. I flew out of the Vancouver airport because it cost nearly half as much as it would to fly out of SeaTac. When I finally got to the airport, around 12:15am to my dismay everything was shut down, save for a heaven-sent 24-hour Starbucks. I settled into a row of chairs with a tall Chai Tea Latte and set about to charge my phone. Also occupying my row was a young couple from Germany, returning home, and a young Indian man from the Vancouver area also setting out abroad. The four of us talked and slept until 5 am when check-ins finally opened.

I was shuffled through check-in, baggage, security, and customs at a surprisingly efficient rate, and was able to find a hash brown and parfait for breakfast- before attempting another hour of sleep at my gate. My plane to Dallas loaded quickly, and by a beautiful miracle I was able to exchange my aisle seat for a window seat on an empty row. We took off at 8am sharp and for the next four hours I slept comfortably.

My layover in Dallas was more of a 30-minute boarding wait onto the most crowded, uncomfortable plane I'd ever been on. We proceeded to sit on the runway for over an hour while they performed "necessary maintenance." Who tells hundreds of passengers that they're performing maintenance on a plane that's about to traverse the Atlantic ocean? The 9 ½ hour flight was straight from hell. I had to do acrobatics to merely squeeze out of my seat. We did get pillows, blankets, and plenty of drinks though. We arrived in Madrid at 8am June 27th- nearly a full two days after my travels began. Unfortunately, my travel companions weren't to arrive in Madrid until 2:30 and 4pm, so I found myself attempting another seven hours of sleep in the airport. And the worst part? No iced coffee.

Posted by sierralove95 03:27 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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