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).

Thursday, March 3

Valencia Takes Katie

I always knew that there would be a time here in Valencia where I just wanted to be home. I think it is today. I have officially broken one of my madre's picture frames AND light switch. I am tired from a killer week of midterms. And my computer died. My computer got to know the floor of my room really fast....and hard.  The screen looks like a blurry lightshow when you are drunk at Christmas time.

So what you might ask is my new plan of action? I have no idea. Buy a new computer? Too expensive. Send it in for repairs? I am only here for 2 more months and that would probably take the whole duration of 2 months. Just get by without a computer, medival style? I guess so...

And its a beautiful, cold rainy day in Valencia, Spain. Perfect. Also, my wonderful mom is in Honduras doing her thing, helping los niños, but I miss talking to her beautiful face on Skype. A girl needs her mom on days like these. Ok, well I am done bitching for now. The day is not even halfway over so I am sure that more is to come. But I will try to make the best of it. Sangria? Tapas? Yes please! :)

Hasta luego. Wish me luck! (buena suerte)