Friday, June 29, 2012


I've been in Bilbao for a few days now and I absolutely love it here!
My host mother, Begoña, has been very welcoming, and has made me feel right at home! We live in a suburb of Bilbao called Getxo (pronounced: geh-cho). Begoña lives in a beautiful 2 floor apartment with her Yorkshire terriers, Gordito and Mickey.  I live next door to to my friend Milan, who is staying with Begoña's sister, Teresa. Milan never studied Spanish before coming here, and Teresa speaks no English, so it's been a challenge for them to communicate.  Begoña speaks English, so she and I help them, and Milan is learning very quickly! Jessi lives on our street as well, so we go to the downtown shops together and explore.  The beach is a 5 minute walk from my apartment, which is great!

We had two days of orientation at the University of Deusto, and classes start on Monday.  I'll be taking Culture and Politics in Contemporary Spain, and 20th Century Spanish Literature. We've met some of the other American students who will be our classmates, and are planning to go out with them tonight.  

It turns out that the biggest challenge I'm having here so far is not the language barrier, but a different barrier. You know, the one that gets me into my apartment. The door. The keys here are different than what we have at home, at least in the building I'm living in, and are more old-fashioned looking.  Begoña had to give me lessons in unlocking the door, and it takes me a few tries every time I try to get into the house. Hopefully I master that task soon!

many photos to come!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

La salida de Madrid

Anyone who knows me knows that a few of the most important things in my life are family, friends, and of course, food! The Spanish seem to love food just as much as I do, so I've come to a great place. My previous posts have already touched on this fantastic topic, and I'm sure there will be lots more to come. My attitude towards food for this trip is go for it! ...even if I don't have a clue what's on the menu. I just order and wait and see what the waiter puts in front of me. Just hoping that
Here's a brief recap of the previous post "¡Mi primera paella!" for anyone who doesn't read Spanish:
Milan, Jessi, and I were given free time for lunch again yesterday, and set out to find authentic Spanish paella. We walked up a side street of shops and restaurants and picked one randomly.  As we walked in, we noticed that there were a few pictures of aliens on signs and framed inside the restaurant, which was very strange. 
It tuned out that the name of the restaurant was "Taberna del Marciano" or Martian Tavern, which explains the alien theme. It was especially unusual because the Tavern was not tacky at all, it seemed very traditional, and many of the customers were Spanish-speakers, not tourists. The food was very good authentic Spanish cuisine, and we ordered from the "menú del día".  My favorite course was the primer plato (first course), which was a mixed seafood and chicken paella. It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to eat the shrimp, because they were served with legs, tails, heads, eyes and all! I guess I'm going to have to get used to my food looking at me from the plate while I'm here.

Our last day in Madrid was spent with a visit to el Museo del Prado, which is an art museum that houses many famous masterpieces. We saw works by El Greco, Velazquez, and many other famous artists.  In the afternoon we toured the Royal Palace of Spain, which was beautiful! I will post pictures taken of the outside when I get a chance later on! We spent the evening out for tapas and then at a chocolateria which served churros y chocolate. 

We left Madrid on Wednesday morning to take the bus to Bilbao. This was our "salida de Madrid" or exit of Madrid.  I get a kick out of the Spanish exit signs because they seem to suggest that people crouch and run in order to go out the door of restaurants and shops here.  Anyway, this is what they look like:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

¡Mi primera paella!

¡Hemos probado nuestras primeras platas de comida española auténtica!  Es una experiencia muy buena y interesante ir en los restaurantes donde comen los madrileños y los camareros no hablan inglés.  Ayer probamos un restaurante que nos recomendó Andrea cerca del hotel, y la comida allí era muy deliciosa. Hoy comimos el almuerzo en "La Taberna del Marciano," porque la pasamos en la calle y un camarero nos dio una menú. El tema de marciano me intrigó también porque parece un poco extraña. Habían muchos españoles en el restaurante, y por eso pensamos que sería auténtica. La camarera nos dio una mesa en el piso abajo de la restaurante pequeña. Escogí unos platos del menú del día: sangria, entrada de pan, plato primero de paella de una mezcla de mariscos y pollo, plato segundo de pollo con salsa de naranja, y postre de profiteroles. Toda la comida era deliciosa, y me gustó especialmente la paella.  Es una plata tradicional de España de arroz, especias, y en este caso, mariscos y pollo.  Se sirve los gambas en la paella con las piernas y los ojos - muy diferente que las gambas típicas de los estados unidos. ¡Me gusta probar estas platas nuevas!

                                              ¡Mi primera paella! Paella de una mezcla de mariscos y pollo
                                                  My first paella! Mixed seafood and chicken paella

Monday, June 25, 2012

Charlie's Angels in Toledo

Day 2 in Spain, and loving it already! 
Last night we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant, so today was our first day to try the real Spanish cuisine. The breakfast buffet offered at our hotel had a big selection of pastries, churros, eggs, cheese, meats, fresh fruit, yogurt, breads, and more. I tried a few different things, including Spanish tortilla, which is like an omelet with potatoes. I've read that breakfast is typically small in Spain, so I'm wondering whether the hotel makes a big spread especially for tourists, and I expect that it will be different once I move in with my host mother.
After breakfast, my program group visited Toledo for a tour through the Old City. My group includes our director, Andrea, the other students, Jessi and Milan, and me, so it's nice to have a small group to travel and tour with. We took the metro and a half-hour train ride to Toledo. We met our tour guide, Mario, who was a prime example of what I expected of a Spaniard. He greeted us with kisses on each cheek, spoke very close to us, and made lots of comments on how beautiful we all are. He seemed to know everyone in Madrid, and greeted people we passed on every street. He quickly nicknamed us "Charlie's Angels" and told us that the other guides were all jealous of him because he had the best group. We walked around Toledo, which is the old capital of Spain, and the center for the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures in Spain. The streets are very narrow because the city was built in the middle ages, so we had to step very close to the walls as cars passed. Much of the architecture of the Jewish and Christian buildings also appears Muslim because during the middle ages when the three cultures were on good terms in the city, the Muslims were the best builders and sculptors, so the Christians and Jews commissioned them for building. We visited the Santo Tomé Chapel, which houses El Greco's famous painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz. We also went to the Sinagoga de Santa  Maria la Blanca. Synagogue of Saint Mary the White... ironic, right? It was built as a Jewish synagogue by Muslims, so it has a Muslim look with arches and geometric art - no images of people. It later became a church when the Christians took power, and gained it's name for Saint Mary. Our final stop on our Toledo tour was the Toledo Cathedral, the second-biggest cathedral in Spain. It is a beautiful gothic-style building that was constructed over the course of about 300 years. The detail of the building, art, and sculptures is very intricate and beautiful. After saying goodbye to Mario, we returned to Madrid for lunch. 

In Spain, the afternoon meal is the biggest of the day, eaten around 2-3:00 pm, and often includes multiple courses. Jessi, Milan, and I were on our own for lunch, and we went to a traditional Spanish restaurant that Andrea recommended. The menu was all in Spanish, and the waitstaff spoke no English. We were seated, and our waiter offered us a taste of some word that we didn't quite understand, and turned out to be a beer on tap, which he brought us with a small plate of olives to start. We decided to wing it when we ordered. Most restaurants here offer a "Menu del Día" which offers a selection from which you pick one appetizer, one first course, one second course, and a dessert.  I chose an appetizer of "pan y chorizo" (bread and sausage), a first course of "pastel de verduras frescas," and a second course of "bocaditos de merluza".  We knew what to expect for our appetizer, but the rest was guesswork. "Pastel de verduras frescas" translates directly as "cake of fresh vegetables," okay, but what does that mean? I like vegetables, so I'll see what I end up with. My plate came out with a spongy-looking cut of food covered in a light tomato sauce. With a "just go for it" attitude, I dug in. The texture was very unusual, but it tasted good, and the sauce was fresh and delicious. And I still don't know what was in the "pastel." My second course was "bocaditos" or "little bites," and I correctly assumed that merluza was a type of fish. It was a light-flavored white fish that was battered and fried, and served with buttery mashed potatoes and another tasty sauce. For desert, or "postre", we got custard-filled pastries topped with powdered sugar, and a side of strawberry sorbet. Everything was delicious, and my four course meal cost only 16!    

We spent the afternoon shopping in la Puerta del Sol area, which is a block away from our hotel and has lots of shops and restaurants. I went to Spain's major department store, El Corte Inglés, to buy a new digital camera, because mine was broken when I took it out yesterday. The various departments of the store are housed in two or three different buildings, each with multiple floors. In other words, it's HUGE. We found the store with the "electrónica" department, and headed up to the third floor. The woman working in the camera section did not speak English, which was a challenge but I was able to understand well! She helped me choose a camera that was reliable, and the better value for the price compared to others I was looking at. After a little more shopping, we headed back to our hotel, which brought me here to my blog! It's now 9:17 here, and the nightlife starts late, around 10:00-11:00, so we'll relax a bit before we go out for tapas, our small dinner :)

No photos today :( but I'll definitely be taking lots now that I have a functioning camera!

Sunday, June 24, 2012


After a long day of traveling, I've just arrived at my hotel in Madrid! Mom and Dad brought me to Logan for my 2:30 departure to Philadelphia for connection to Madrid. Both flights went smoothly and we landed here at about 8:00 am (or 2:00 am EST).  The time change is definitely going to be an adjustment! My program director, Andrea, met me at the airport and brought me to the Hotel Regina. Just driving through the city, I've already gotten to see lots of beautiful architecture! I can't wait to explore the area! The other girls in my program will arrive this afternoon, and we will be able to adventure together later today.
I love hearing Spanish all around! It will definitely take a little while for it to click completely, but I was able to converse with Andrea on our cab ride without using English.

                                 Saying goodbye!                                                   Heading for the gate!

¡Acabo de llegar en Madrid después de un día larga de viajar! Mis padres vinieron a Logan Airport conmigo para despedirnos. Salí de Boston a las dos y media de la tarde para la escala en Philadelphia. El aeroplano aterricé en Madrid a las ocho de la mañana aquí (dos de la mañana EST). Tendré que ajustarme al cambio de tiempo. Le conocí a la directora del programa, Andrea, al aeropuerto en Madrid, y venimos al Hotel Regina. Ya he visto mucha arquitectura bonita mientras estábamos en taxi. ¡Me gustaría explorar la ciudad pronto! Las otras chicas en el programa van a llegar esta tarde, y entonces podremos explorar conjuntos.
¡Me encanta escuchar castellano! Tengo que ajustarme a la idioma, pero ya podía conversar con Andrea sin usar inglés.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

getting ready!

I've been working on packing and preparing to depart for Madrid this Saturday!  I will arrive in Madrid on Sunday morning and stay in Madrid for orientation until Wednesday. During my time in Madrid, I will visit the Prado Museum and the Royal Palace. From Madrid, we will make an excursion to Toledo. The historical importance of this city to the Jews, Moors, and Christians has earned it the name the "City of Three Cultures."

¡Estoy haciendo las maletas y preparándome para salir el sábado! Llegaré a Madrid en la mañana el domingo, y me quedaré en Madrid para la orientación hasta el miércoles. Mientras esté en Madrid, visitaré el Museo del Prado y el Palacio Real.  Haremos una excursión a Toledo, también. La importancia historical de esta ciudad a los Judíos, Moros, y Cristianos la ha ganado su nombre, "la Ciudad de Tres Culturas."
                                                  "Vista de Toledo" - El Greco

                                                               Image from:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

¡una semana más!

¡Hay solo una semana hasta que me vaya a España! Véase las fotos de la Universidad de Deusto y Bilbao más abajo:

There's only one week until I go to Spain! See the photo of the University of Deusto and Bilbao below:

la Universidad de Deusto
                                                        image from:

                                                                               Guggenheim Museum
                                           image from:


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

let the adventures begin!

I'm starting this blog as a record of my travels and to share my experiences with my family and friends. My first adventure will be to Bilbao, Spain! I leave in ten days for a five week study abroad program at the University of Deusto, where I will be taking two Spanish courses. I will be living with a host mother in Bilbao, and hope to immerse myself in the culture of this city in Spain's Basque Country. My program also includes excursions to a variety of cities and historical sites throughout Spain. Following my five week program, my sister will join me for an extra ten days of exploration!

As I embark on my adventures, I keep in mind these wise words from Mark Twain:
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw of the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

(This will be a bilingual blog! Spanish translations of my entries will appear along with the English versions)