Friday, May 6

It all started with a postcard

Hola! I just back on Monday from a week and a half spring break trip. My roommate and I decided to tour the southern cities of Spain and hit up a little bit of Portugal. We had a great time with only a few snags here and there. We hit all types of transportation: flying, metros, bikes, walking, trains, swimming and buses. On top of the non-stop schedule we made, we lost 3 nights of sleep taking night buses and trains. I don't really recommend doing that, but it was so much fun! We did so much that I can't really do it justice in a blog. When I am home (in a week!!) I will be happy to share my thousands of pictures with everyone. For now, here is the timeline with some highlights....

Flew to Sevilla, Spain 

Bused to Faro, Portugal 
(Faro was a bit boring, but the beaches were gorgeous.
 Being in Portugal was a little nerve racking because I knew 
NO Portuguese. )

Bused to Lagos, Portugal for the day (I saw a postcard at the beach in Faro of this place called Lagos and I decided I wanted to go there. I went to the bus station the next morning and bought 10 euro tickets for a nice day trip. So my new words of advice....always go look at the postcards and then go there! After looking back at my pictures, I still can't believe this place is real. While swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean water, I kept expecting Captain Jack Sparrow to sail around the corner and take me away.)

Bused back to Faro, Portugal

Bused back to Sevilla, Spain
(Here we saw the Cathedral which is the 3rd largest
 in Europe and the Alcazar. Pictured here is the Tower 
of Gold. This is the first stop the gold and treasures
 from the New World would make in Spain. )

...and had a little time to relax by the river...

Bused to Córdoba, Spain 
(Saw the Mezquita and all the vibrant patios around Córdoba. 
For some reason, the Mezquita was so moving- it was a very
emotional experience for me.)

...while seeing beautiful Andalucían countryside...

Bused to Granada, Spain
(Hands down my favorite Spanish city so far. AMAZING. It has a great hippy/Moroccan culture that is so inviting and fresh. We spent a whole day at the city's Alhambra which is an amazing fortress that the Moors built during their time in Spain. Breathtakingly beautiful. I recommend Granada to anyone visiting Spain. PS. You get free tapas when you order drinks! Kara and I went on a tapas crawl one night and we were very successful in our ventures.)

...Almost didn't make it....

Stayed in a treehouse of a hostel...

And finally, took a train back to Valencia.

See you all in a few days (I get back late Wednesday night and there are going to be lots of fiestas next weekend....I am an expert Sangria maker now)! Hasta Luego...

Sunday, April 24


I'm off to tour southern Spain and Portugal...the Andalucía region. Can't wait to tell you all about it when I return. Happy Easter!

Love, Katie

Friday, April 22

La Copa del Rey and Cathedrals

I am trying to post a lot this week just because I will be gone for a whole week starting Monday. My spring break officially started yesterday and I will be going to Portugal, Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada next week. Valencia has been pretty wild though.

On Wednesday Valencia hosted the King's Cup. Madrid-Real and Barcelona were fighting for the national championship! There were 2 different locations for fans to start was by the university and the other was about a mile or 2 down at the river. They had to separate the two sides so the number of fights would be a minimum. There were HUGE tents set up for people to start partying around 12 in the afternoon (on a Wednesday) and the party didn't stop until around 3 that night. I walked around after my classes a few hours before the game started and got to see King Carlos drive by heading to the stadium.

All the tickets had been sold out months in advance and I heard some people bought tickets for about 600 euros a pop. Ouch! My friends and I found a bar right behind the stadium and watched the game from there. There was a good mix of Madrid and Barcelona fans but everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Once Madrid scored the winning goal...all hell broke loose. People were shaking beer all over the crowds, they were beating drums, screaming, dancing, falling all over the ground....madness. I love how the Spanish are so passionate about soccer! It makes it so fun. There was an estimated 5 million people in the city to watch the game. (Valencia is home to 800,000 and during Fallas there were only about 3 million here)

Well that night when Madrid-Real went back to celebrate in Madrid, on the celebratory bus ride to the city plaza, one of the members dropped the trophy and the bus ran it over!! This was a huge news story in Spain. HUGE!. So here is the entertaining little video.

Today, I took a study break to walk around and soak up of some of Valencia. Got to see the original foundations of the city when the Romans were here in 100 B.C. Amazing! (This is what Michael Gray told me to go see). Then we wondered around the all the cathedrals and stumbled upon some hidden ones, too. It is Semana Santa in Spain which is their week long Easter celebration with processions, parades and more. I think I am going to study on the beach tomorrow and catch some Mediterranean rays. See everyone in just a few weeks!

Hasta Luego.

Wednesday, April 20


Went to the *amazing* Valencia zoo on Sunday. It is a zoo that tries to hide barriers between people and animals....think "animal kingdom" because that is what it reminded me of. We saw hippos, monkeys, aardvarks, birds, fish, elephants, zebras, much fun. Here are some pictures of the zoo and also some from Peñíscola (check the last blog). I still can't believe that Peñíscola is a real place. waters...sun....pirates. Well, no pirates, but I am sure they were here at one point in history.

Tonight is the HUGE game in Spain! The finals...the King's Cup. The king of Spain will be in my backyard pretty much. There is going to be millions of people in and around the stadium and I am so excited. You should watch it! I was interviewed by an ESPN reporter yesterday about the fútbol world in Spain...he said I might have a 30 second!

Oh, yeah, and I officially do not want to leave Spain. Sorry everyone back at home...I might just be canceling my plane tickets. Miss you all! Love you!

Sunday, April 17

Adventure time

So since the days have been dwindling, my sleep schedule has as well. Its become a crazy whirlwind of school, hw, going out, walking, biking and adventuring. I just woke up from a 12 hour siesta.....

Somehow or another, where ever I seem to go, there are aways awesome friends to be had. On Wednesday nights here, some guys have been playing at a popular bar that we go to and do a couple sets. They sing fun American songs and throw some Spanish ones in the mix as well. The Spaniards eat it right up...and the performers get free cervesas!

Thursday, some chicas and I went out to a really nice cocktail bar called "la casa blanca" and got some amazing drinks. They were all fun, girly, Spanish style drinks. The place itself is really cool...which is why we wanted to go in the first place. Its in the main plaza and there are seats outside as well as in the 4-story tall white building with cool black lights outside of it. Very chill place. Then we went to an Irish pub because the guys who work there are really cool and you get free food when you order drinks. It was a very eclectic night.

Friday night, we had the school's cabaret (talent show)! Of course your's truly was in it. We wrote a little play/musical and performed it for the school. Hopefully it will be on youtube so I can share it with everyone. Other groups got little dancing numbers together with popular club songs, some people read poetry, some sang, some music groups got together again. It was a great time! All the professors got to see our crazy, American true colors. Then we went out to Foster's Hollywood, which is a famous "American" restaurant here, but it is SO very Spanish. All the American food has a Spanish twist and the place was completely packed. It was fun to see their version of our food. Then we found the COOLEST place I have ever been too. It is a little hole-in-the-wall bar about a block off the main plaza. I have no idea what it is called. It is a little place with all sorts of artifacts and pictures hanging all over. The lights were really dark and obscure and there was a loft with bean bag chairs that--of course--we sat in all night. I have to be honest though, most people would think this place is a little creepy. There was a weird soundtrack playing of "witchy" sounding music and some of the things laying around were a bit odd. For example, on our table, the candle was a little tea light with a dog lifting a leg over it.

Yesterday was Peñíscola for the day. We took about a 2 hour bus ride north of Valencia to this amazing small city. The water here...oh was Mediterranean blue. It was gorgeous! We spend about 3 hours on the beach and then we hiked up a little ways to a castle that sat right on the beach. (I will post my pictures on Facebook). The weather was hot with a nice breeze, we all ate our bocadillos on the beach, took pictures on top of the castle, got gelato on our hike down. It was amazing! This was the best excursion yet. I got a little sunburnt because we were out so long, but no pasa nada (no worries). The castle used to be home to the Pope during a dangerous time in Rome. It was a smaller castle, but we got to explore the whole thing from the top of the towers down to the dungeons below, to the Pope's reading rooms over looking the bay to the churches hidden inside. So amazing!

Today is homework day yet again. We only have 5 more days of classes!! 3 this week, then 2 weeks of Spring Break, then 2 days of classes, then 3 days of exams. So nuts! I am excited for the classes to be over...but I don't want to leave Spain! I really do think that everyone should just come over here. Sound good to you? Good!

.....Actually, over the course of writing this blog, I have made plans to go to the BioPark. Think animal kingdom in Spain....tell you about it later!

Hasta Luego

Sunday, April 10

Hiking in Serra and some fútbol

Caffeine overdose. It is almost 1am here and I am waking  up in 6 hours, but I cannot fall asleep. I went to Starbucks around 5pm this afternoon and ordered a venti iced café americano....this was a mistake. I haven't been drinking much caffeine because they just drink expresso here with lots of milk and I just don't like that combo as much as the normal pot o' joe. So when I ordered a large, normal coffee....the caffeine is raging in my body right now. Crap. Oh well, I will just blog for you nice people.

I had a beautiful weekend in Valencia. The weather is now about 80 during the day with a nice breeze and 65ish during the night hours. I went on an all day hiking trip to Serra on Friday (pueblo in the Comunitat de Valencia). I took the metro as far as it could go north, then jumped on a 30 minute bus ride to the middle of the Valencia National Forest. Serra is a quaint little pueblo that only speaks Valenciano but has great hiking trails. I made my way up a mountain to a little castle that overlooked the land. The terrain here is very dry, rocky and red. My tennis shoes are a brilliant pink right now.

It was about a 4 hour hike up and down. When I got back down, I had about an hour to kill before the next bus back, so I stopped in a little café and got a cold treat. I had a nice little conversation with the owner of the café. The family had owned the café for 73 years and he tried to get me to have lunch with his son. Cute, but that whole Valenciano language barrier would never allow us to work out. haha. They all think I am blond here too. I guess anything that isn't tan and dark brown is blonde to them.

Then tonight, I went to the Valencia C.F. fútbol game! We won 5-0!! It was a great game. The weather was perfect, we had great seats, we were wearing our bright orange jerseys. Too much fun. It was my first BIG soccer game and it was a blast. Lots of drums, singing, music, clapping, screaming, jumping. The Spanish are very into their soccer. I have never seen so many obscene gestures thrown at each other. We played Villa-Real, a city close to Valencia. (Rankings: 1.Barcelona, 2.Madrid, 3.Valencia, 4.Villa-Real) It was great. I prefer these games over American football games too. There weren't drunk people everywhere, people SAT DOWN during the game until a goal was scored, and there are never commercial breaks in soccer. Amazing! I am officially hooked. Valencia C.F. fan through and through!

We have a long week of classes. 5 days! Only 10 more days of classes left for the semester though, so I think I can battle through them. Getting ready for Spring Break vacations! Hope everyone at home is doing well.

Hasta Luego

Friday, April 8

Counting down the days!

Only 33 more days left in Valencia! This number has put me in "go" mode and I am always on the move! I had a pretty good week this week. I got a little homesick after my birthday but all that cleared up after a big cup of café americano from Starbucks. It is funny when I order it, because Europeans only like to drink their coffee in little shot glasses super strong with expresso, but I am all about the big cup of joe to sip on for hours.

The weather is perfect in Valencia right now! Its about 75 to 80 everyday with a nice breeze. All the students here at UVA are sun worshippers so while they all go to the beach today, I am going to go hiking in the mountains! I didn´t realize how diverse the geography of Valencia is. We have the beach by the city, and then you take about a 30 minute bus ride out to the national park.

I have my bocadillo in hand and am about to head out! Hasta luego amigos.

Sunday, April 3

Birthday Weekend

Thank you all for all my birthday wishes! It was a bit sad being away from family AND friends from back home, but everyone here made it well worth it. I went out with one of my good friends from Spain on Thursday and some of my school friends on Friday. Last night (the actual birthday night) was pizza picnic night in the Río. Kara, my roommate, gave me a nice bottle of wine and a pack of my favorite cookies. (the bottle of wine is a treat because in true broke-college-kid ways, we always by the 1 euro bottles)

We had beautiful weather here in Valencia for a great weekend! The Spanish sun, Mediterranean beaches, cold horchata, green parks...livin' the dream.  I also bought fútbol tickets for the Valencia game next Sunday. I'm getting my jersey ready!

Well now I have to finally start hacking away at the mountain of homework I have left for Sunday. I hope that everyone back at home is healthy and well and I miss you all very much! Birthday party when I get home!!

Hasta Luego

Wednesday, March 30

¡Vamos a Madrid!

I am being so slack with these blog posts! Sorry everyone. I promise I will get better these next couple weeks. I only have about a month and a half left in Spain! Crazy! My time here has just flown by, and like every Spring, it is getting busier and busier.

Last weekend my roommate and I went to Madrid and Toledo. We took a 5 euro flight (that's like $7 dollars!!) to Madrid on Thursday and came back on Sunday. Our hostel was a bit was more like a hotel with a private room, private bathroom. It was a very refreshing change! We had fun exploring the HUGE city of Madrid. It has lots of plazas with old shops, fun restaurants, people, markets and more. Very international city.

We visited the Prado museum which is like the Louvre of Spain. We spent 5 hours in the museum (I enjoyed about 4 of them) because my roommate is an art history major so this was her heaven. We saw Goya, Rubens, Titian, Rembrandt, Velasquez and many more. Such magnificent pieces! My favorite was a triptych called “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Bosch. Its not very well known but you should look it up.

We also went to the Reina Sofía Modern Art museum and got to see Picasso's “Guernica”, many Dalí pieces and more. I was a little art-museumed-out at this point though. After the museum we treated ourselves to Madrid' famous calamari sandwiches.

On Saturday, we took a 30 minutes train ride to Toledo. When you enter the city, you feel like you are walking into a medieval town from when the Moors ruled over Spain. The city is built on a hilltop and has layers upon layers of streets, buildings, castles and churches. Marzipan is the famous food of Toledo so Kara and I made sure to stop at an authentic nunnery for the traditional treat. I got a present for my family here (hinthint)! The Cathedral of Toledo was mild-blowing! I have become a cathedral snob because I have seen so many, but this one was perfect. It was also a mini-art museum because it houses some works of Goya, Velazquez and Titian.

On Sunday we visited the Royal Palace of España. It was modeled after Versailles and it is almost as big...doesn't have the big garden Versailles has though. So that was really fun! Then we walked about Madrid's “central park” area until our flight home.

This week, I splurged and bought myself a present...a gym membership! I know, I know. It doesn't sound much like a present, but it is! I am so excited I am going to tell you all about it. Ok, it is an all women's gym and it is like a gym/spa. It has different classes that go all day (pilates!!) and all sorts of fun machines. With my membership, I get free facials once a week and access to the sauna and “cool” pool. This is the first time being an American in Europe has been great. Ok, so I speak Spanish. I am not the BEST but I can hold my own for sure, but all the trainers and instructors at the gym flock to me when I walk in and want to speak English with me and help me workout. I am not complaining because every time I have gone (everyday since Monday) I have gotten at least a one hour personal training session. GREAT! I love it. Happy birthday me!

I think that's about it. I am staying in Valencia this weekend to celebrate my birthday. Discoteca Friday night and salsa night on Saturday! Turning 21 loses its appeal in Spain, but its ok, because I am in Spain. =)

P.S. I am going shopping this weekend for gifts for everyone. If there is anything that you REALLY want from Europe/Spain let me know!

Hasta Luego

Wednesday, March 23

Peanut Butter

I just receive a package today from my good friend Nathan and I thought I would share it with you all. It is peanut butter!! This is the one thing Europe doesn't have and the one thing I cannot live without. I have missed it and I am loving the jar of JIF with its creamy, peanutty goodness.

Tomorrow's bocadillo: ham and cheese peanut butter and banana

My firework is louder than your firework

Let me begin with these damn fireworks. They are called "petardos"and they look like little dynamite sticks. People love to throw them anywhere and everywhere. They make an obnoxious "boom"that leaves you temporarily deaf in one ear. Then we have "borrachos" which are untamed, unpredictable fireworks that jump from place to place, emitting sparks and finally blowing up in the end. These are illegal in Spain because the final moment of these suckers can blow a hand off. So yes, people run from these and I had many close encounters with them. I was lucky enough to get thrown a firecracker that exploded next to me and a piece burnt the fool out of my leg. I had a very pretty burn blister there for a couple days. 

Thursday and Friday were filled with walking all over Valencia to see the Fallas. These structures are huge! They have a wooden inside of them and are built with styrofoam then painted. They all have a cartoonish look to them but I am told that they all serve a political purpose or a certain statement that the artist is trying to portray. Here are some that we saw...

This last one is the one we saw burn at the Cremá on Saturday. Here is this one on fire....

We waited 2 hours to see this Falla burn and it was SO worth it! The heat was so intense that when it caught on fire, the whole crowd (hundreds of people) pushed back. Then glowing embers and ashes fell all over us along with splashes of sulfur water from the fire hoses. Que bueno!

There were also three parades. The Ofrenda, the Moors parade and the Fire Parade.

Then we found street paella. It is an event called Paella Gigante and it is a HUGE pan set up in the street that feeds 1000 people. It was amazing! We waited in line for about 30 minutes and it was the best paella ever. 

Last but not least we have the churros. These little fried boogers were so amazing and irresistible. There were lots of different kinds and there was a churro stand at every corner. 

Yum, yum ,yum. Slash, this is the reason I am on a diet this week! Well that is it for my Fallas posts. There are videos coming soon! My Facebook page has more pictures as well. 

Hasta Luego

Monday, March 21

Come on baby light my Fallas, try to set the night on Fallas!

Happy Fallas! I survived this week of mayhem! I am going to do this week in segments because so much went on. I want to start off saying that Fallas is something you have to experience for yourselves and I know I won't be able to do it justice. I hope everyone can come to Las Fallas sometime! The best way to explain it is just a mix of Carnival in Brazil and Mardi Gras in the States. goes...

Tuesday: First day of Fallas and my friends and I went to the Mascletá. It was the loudest one I went to. These are so loud, that people will tell you not to cover your ears and keep your mouth open so that the sound can pass through. At the end of the 10 minute noise show, some people are literally crying because you feel like your ears are about to pop. A bit scary...but it is fun! This was actually my last Mascletá for the fear of going deaf when I am 40. The first picture is the mascletá all set up and ready to go and the second is during with the plumes of smoke filling the Plaza de Ayutamiento.

Then we found an Horchatería and ordered my first glass of horchata. I really cannot explain the drink at all. It is made out of tiger nut and it a very popular drink during the summer in Valencia. It has a nutty flavor and it more watery than milky. Very interesting. Here is is. Oh, you also drink everything with pastries here. These were pretty good.

Then we went to the first Castillo of Fallas! It is a fireworks show that can be seen all over the city, but when I say fireworks, I mean FIREWORKS. They shut down the streets near the river and turn off all the streets lights so that you can see the show better. It was amazing! The fireworks got better and better every night and they were all mind-blowingly amazing. They were very big and loud and some of the embers would get close to falling on the crowd. The Spanish aren't really the most careful when it comes to fire....

Wednesday: Bullfight! The one thing I said I wasn't going to do in Spain was go to a bullfight but they only occur in Valencia during Fallas and we decided to go. I have to say, I don't want to do it again, but it really is an extraordinary event. The costumes, the traditions, the crowd, the arena. The whole thing lasted about 2+ hours because there were 3 matadors and each one killed 2 bulls. (For those of you at unease, keep in mind that these bulls live a great life- fed well, live in the country side- because they want the bulls to be extremely strong and healthy. And also, all of the meat, which is very good supposedly, is given to homeless shelters in the city.)

One of the matadors got hit by the bull, flipped up in the air and then trampled on. He was able to get away and then he came back and tried to fight but we later found out that he broke two ribs and had a concussion. So the bull did have its way. There is a video with highlights that I will post later. It was just so scary because it happened so fast! It didn't register that he was hit until he was completely up in the air. 

Wednesday night was another night full of fireworks and fun. I will post more later today, so stay tuned!!

Hasta luego.

P.S. In regards to the title, a fun game we started playing was inserting the word "Fallas"into songs. Loved this one.

Thursday, March 10

Halfway through the semester

Ok, so the past 2 weeks have been a bit of a downward spiral, but that is stopping now! I am turning over a new leaf. I am halfway done with the semester 2 months, I will be heading to Madrid to fly back to the States! Its a bittersweet feeling right now. I miss you guys over there! Computer  update: I am getting a new computer thanks to my awesome parents. I am excited about it! Also, midterms went well. Good grades all around.

But anyway, I am writing today because this weekend, things are going to get crazy. About 2 million people will be heading to Valencia for Las Fallas that start next week. Fallas is a long, loud and crazy street fiesta with fireworks, masclets, falleras, paella, beer and crowds! I will attempt to explain a little of this craziness right now for you...

1. Crowds: Valencia is a city that houses about 1 million people...during Fallas, there are about 3 million people in the city.

2. History: It is a celebration to celebrate Saint Joseph of Valencia.
Each neighbourhood of the city has an organized group of people, the Casal faller, that works all year long holding fundraising parties and dinners. Each casal faller produces a construction known as a falla which is eventually burnt. A casal faller is also known as a comissió fallera. The names derives from the word 'falles', meaning 'torch', because at the end of the festival, all the Fallas are burnt. The girls in the beautiful dresses are calles Falleras. It is a huge honor and they are all so pretty!

4. Falla: a huge paper-maché sculpture that has a central theme and the best Falla of the festival is spared from the torch and is saved in the Fallas museum. A group of artists get together to create and assemble the fallas which are all over Valencia.

5. La Despertá: each day of Fallas at 5am, brass bands play in the streets around the city playing lively music. Behind them are people who throw firecrackers making more noise.

6. La Mascleta: a display of fireworks and firecrackers. They go on all around the city and in the main plaza at 2pm everyday. This is more of a show of noise than for appearance. They are loud....REALLY loud. I went to my first one was loud. Imagine bombs going off around you, and you are imagining a mascleta. They last about 10 minutes.

7. Els Castells and La Nit del Foc: Every night a huge firework display is seen from all over Valencia. Each night gets progessivly grander.
8. La Crema: The final night of the festival, all the Fallas are burnt as huge bonfires and firecrackers. This is the climax of the festival and it is called the Night of Fire.

And finally: There are paella competitions throughout the city, drinking all day, discotecas all over the city, churros stands, costumes, music and more!

So this is why I am writing to you all now. Valencia is going to explode soon and I am SO excited! I will take plenty of pictures for everyone (the pictures here are just googled ones).