When’s dinner?

They warned me. People have told me over and over that the eating schedule in Spain is very different from that of the United States. What did I do? I brushed off the comments and thought to myself, “Meh, I’ll be able to handle it. Nothing to sweat.” To some extent I was right, I can handle sometimes the late lunches and the extremely late dinners. But sometimes, my body refuses to obey. All I can think about is the mouth-watering gastronomy of this precious land and the inexplicable joy that I get at every meal.

This should not be a surprise because I am a man that likes to eat. When my stomach tugs at my mind for food, I have trouble concentrating on my schoolwork. Lunch and dinner being later than what I am used to really challenges me in this area. In the United States, I may eat lunch at 11:00 am, noon, or maybe even 1:00 pm. In Madrid, my classes run right through what I use to call “lunch time” and have me eating at 2:30 or 3:00 pm. When I am finally out of class, I speed-walk to the dining hall where they serve delicious, typical Spanish dishes or to Donner Kebab, a high-quality Turkish restaurant that is popular among the students.

“When’s dinner?” my stomach mumbles an hour after I eat my large lunch. Normally in the U.S.A, I may have dinner at 5:00 pm, 6:00 pm, or maybe 7:00 pm at the latest. Here, my host mom calls me from my room to eat dinner at 9:30 pm, 10:00 pm, or 10:30 pm. All the waiting makes the meal much more enjoyable. Marilé, my host mom, prepares a variety of Spanish dishes that I savor every time. Lentejas, morcia de Burgos, huevos fritos, sopa de calabaza do not name even half of the foods she serves.

Even though the lunches and dinner may be later than what I am used to, through this change, I have learned to savor every bite and leave each meal happy. Waiting tends to make each God-given plate special and more delicious than it already is.

Click on a photo to view in slide show format and each description!

From Santa Teresa to Cervantes

“Medieval walls? Santa Teresa de Jesus? A 16th century home?” were questions that were going through my head as I toured the nearby cities of Avila and Alcala de Henares. I could not contain myself when I found myself face to face with thousands of years of history. What topped off the experience was that both cities were having medieval festivals!

One of Avila’s centuries-old gates awaited our arrival into the bustling city center inside.

Avila, Spain, which is an old city to the west of Madrid, where I am studying, shattered my expectations as my host mom and I inched closer and closer to the city center where the behemoth wall stood. The wall is almost 1,000 years old and encircles the historic city center. We went through one of the main entrances and were greeted by lively folk music, people in colorful medieval costumes, and a plethora of vendors selling souvenirs and food.

Avila’s ancient wall stretches far and conforms to the hilly landscape of central Spain.
Avila’s “plaza mayor” or central square was flooded with people from all over Spain, enjoying the atmosphere of the annual medieval festival.

On my way out, I did not hesitate to try Avila’s famous Patatas Revolconas, to visit the ancient Cuatro Postes, or to learn more about Santa Teresa de Jesus who lived in Avila.

The inner city’s street were adorned with festive decorations and decorations alluding to religions such as Judaism.
Los Cuatro Postes is an ancient site on a hill with a fantastic view of Avila where it is said that Santa Teresa de Jesus and her brother decided to become heroes for Christianity.
Trying hard not to slip, I inch away from one of the best views of Avila and its medieval walls.
“Patatas revolconas” is a famous dish in Avila made with pureed potatoes and pork meat. This hit the spot!

My thirst for history led me further to Alcala de Henares, an ancient city just east of the city of Madrid. I felt honored to stand in a city founded in pre-Roman times. I was able to visit an archeological museum where million-year-old fossils were displayed along with Roman mosaics and other ancient artifacts. I also received a tour of the house where 16th century author Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, was born. Stepping outside into the streets of Alcala, I found charming streets bustling with people who have come for the medieval festival. Mini parades of people dressed in armor and mystical creatures livened the avenues of vendors.

One of Alacala de Henares’s street reminded me of downtown Holland with its short trees, charming store fronts, and friendly people.
The University of Alcala was founded in 1498, a just 6 years after Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain!
Alcala de Henares’s central square was lively with decorations of varying cultures representing its multicultural history.
I was able to explore the 16th century home where Miguel de Cervantes, author of the famous book Don Quixote, was born!
While Alacala de Henares was founded even before the Romans arrived, the city’s archaeological museum held millions-of-years old fossils found in present-day Spain!

The Referendum

I’m not sure how much coverage the news in the States has given to Spain and its political situation recently, but there has been some very important stuff going on here. On Sunday October 1st, there was a referendum in the Catalonia region (northern area) of Spain. Those who live in the Catalan region and who are 18 years or older were eligible to vote. The voting to make the Catalonia region independent is technically illegal according to the Spanish Constitution, so the police have made efforts to stop the campaigning and voting. I have been watching the news with my señora during lunch and dinner and there has been lots of footage of demonstrations and protests in Barcelona. Some have become confrontational and escalated into violence between the opposing sides. Even though the voting already happened, protests and strikes still continue, which are being monitored by the police force.

Another important event happened on October 1st, which may seem irrelevant, but is actually the opposite: the Barcelona and Las Palmas soccer game. This wasn’t a typical soccer game because it was played behind closed doors due to the political tension in Barcelona. There was no audience, no fans allowed inside. The Referendum and its effects have been a discussion topic in many of my classes. In my Anthropology of Sports class, we talked about what would happen to Catalonian athletes such as Gerard Pique who publicly support the independence of Catalan. If Catalan does not become independent, will he be able to continue to play for the Barcelona soccer team? Will he be eligible to compete in the Olympics for Spain? All interesting questions, but they remain unanswered until the final decision of Catalan’s independence is reached.

Even though the Referendum is happening in the northern Catalan region and I am studying in the southern Andalusian region, there have been some effects in Seville. There have been peaceful demonstrations in front of the ayuntamiento (city hall) related to the Referendum. Numerous houses have hung the flag of Spain on their balconies to show they support the unity of Spain. There were even signs of political opinions during the Carrera Nocturna del Río Guadalquivir (night race by the river), which I had the amazing opportunity to participate in. There were over 24,000 runners and the entire race had a positive and fun atmosphere! Spectators encouraged the runners cheering “Vamos, vamos! Ánimo!”, there was live music, and some participants dressed up in costumes. There were a few groups of runners who proudly ran with the Spanish flag chanting “Yo soy español” which most likely signified that they disagree with the independence of Catalan and support the unity of Spain.

President Mariano Rajoy, King Felipe VI, along with other political leaders have made public announcements addressing the independence movement. We were told that the final decision of Catalan’s independence would be announced Monday, October 9th, but has been rescheduled to Tuesday, October 10th (because it’s Spain and everything is on European time, which means life moves at a slower pace than the United States). So, make sure to check the news to see what happens/ed!

 

Thumo? Fumo? Or Zumo?

Since I have been here I admit to having my fair share of misunderstandings, which have been awkward and uncomfortable in the moment, but looking back on it now, make me laugh. These small moments may seem insignificant, but they contribute to making my study abroad experience unique and memorable.

My favorite mix-up happened my first morning in Seville. I woke up around 8am and went to the kitchen where Maria, my señora, was making herself breakfast. When I walked in, she greeted me with a “buenos dias” and eagerly told me all of the breakfast options. There was pan con aceite y mermelada (bread with olive oil and jam), galletas (Belvita biscuits), magdalenas (muffins), fruta, leche, and “fumo”. When she said the last item I was a bit confused; “fumo” means smoke in Spanish. I learned from my previous night of orientation that smoking is a social norm here, but I was surprised Maria would offer that, let alone on my first day. Maria saw my uncertainty and continued explaining that the student who was here last semester loved “fumo” and would have two magdalenas and “fumo” every morning. I was about to explain to her that I don’t smoke but rather I was content with just the two magdalenas, when she walked to the fridge. She pulled out a juice box declaring “thumo”, which is when I had the big realization she was saying “zumo” with the Castilian accent. Not “fumo”. Whew!

The Castilian accent, also called the Castilian lisp, is when certain “s” or “z” sounds are enunciated with a “th” sound. For example, the Plaza de España would be pronounced the “Platha de Ethpaña”. Fun fact: this accent is only in Spain and not in any Central or Southern American countries.

I’m slowly but surely adjusting to the new accent! Thanks for listening! Grathias por escuchar!

 

Playfair…Seville Style

I thought I’d never say this, but orientation week was a blast! It was no ordinary Playfair where all the freshman students crowd into the Dow Center and do speed dating and ultimate rock, paper, scissors. This was orientation in Spain!

The first night here, our guide, Pedro, led me and eight other students along Calle San Jacinto, the main road in Triana (a barrio or neighborhood). It is lined with delicious bakeries, restaurants/bars, and ice cream shops. Imagine 8th street in downtown Holland but even bigger and a lot cheaper. Any Dutch person’s dream. This street leads directly to one of the many bridges in Seville, the Puente de Isabel II, or more colloquially known as the Triana bridge. Pedro took us to a small café/ice cream shop called Mascarpone where we were able to buy snacks and meet some of our fellow study abroad classmates. I treated myself to a refreshing granizado de limón (lemon slushi)! One thing that surprised me during my first walk through Seville is that everyone smokes cigarettes. Young and old, male and female. People smoke while waiting for the bus, walking down the street, and in the outdoor seating of restaurants. Even the tour guide Pedro, who is about 21 years old, smokes. It’s strange to see so many people smoking, even some my age because it’s so different than what I’m used to.

Afterwards, we were led across the Triana bridge to an old train station transformed into a shopping mall. Inside the mall, there were cute clothing stores and a cine (movie theatre). Don’t judge me, but I was very excited about this since my Netflix is not working in Spain. It’s probably for the best that I can’t watch my favorites: The Office, Once Upon a Time, and the Flash to name a few. However, I will definitely be visiting the cine to enjoy some Spanish cinema!

During the next few days, the orientation guides continued to show us around the city, recommend fun activities, and point out their favorite restaurants, some which we ended up going to for tapas and drinks. One day, we had a “tourist day” where we visited all of the major tourist attractions in Seville. Pedro showed us the Torre de Oro, the Cathedral, the Giralda, and the Plaza de España. It was incredible to see all of the beautiful architecture! We also walked along the Río Guadalquivir, which is the river that separates the centro from Triana. The river is always bustling with tour boats, people doing kayaking, remo, stand-up paddle boarding, and rowing.

Throughout orientation, my group and I have become good friends because we all live in the same neighborhood of Triana. I have yet to meet students who live across the bridge on the centro side, but I’m sure that will change once classes start. The centro side is where the CIEE study center, University of Seville, shopping malls, and all the tourist attractions are located (so basically everything except my homestay). The centro has a more city-like feel while Triana is similar to a suburban area. Although it is a long 30-minute walk from my house to the centro side, I am glad for the peacefulness and home-like feel in Triana. Plus, I get all my steps in every day.

Hasta pronto!

Los primeros días

Hi, everyone! I am thrilled to announce that I have arrived safe and sound in Seville, Spain! It was my first time traveling alone internationally, so I was pretty scared about checking in bags, going through passport security, and finding the right gates. Unfortunately, I had a rough start in the Chicago O’Hare airport; I ended up riding the transit to three different terminals before finally finding the Iberia flights check-in. It’s terminal 3 in case you were wondering. I then successfully made it to my gate where I met some other students who were also traveling to Seville for the CIEE liberal arts program. We were all so excited to begin our adventures!

When I arrived in the Seville airport, I was greeted by the CIEE orientation guides who are students at the University of Seville. They gave me the orientation folder which contained the orientation schedule, the address of my host family, my CIEE student ID, and a map of Seville. They also helped me and 20 other anxious students fill out the missing luggage form. (Thankfully, my suitcase arrived 2 days later.) I now understand why people pack extra outfits in their carry on.

From the airport, the CIEE bus took me to my alojamiento (homestay) where I met my señora, Maria. I am known as Alison to Maria because Alli is difficult to pronounce. Maria lives alone, next door to her older sister, and has one married daughter who has kids. Because Maria’s daughter lives nearby, she enjoys walking there to play dolls and soccer with the grandchildren.

When I met Maria, we greeted each other with dos besos (two kisses) and she welcomed me to Seville and to her home. In Spain, it is culturally appropriate for women to greet men and other women with dos besos and for men to greet other men with a handshake or dos besos if they are family or good friends. Like most sevillanos, Maria lives in a small apartment equipped only to sleep, eat, and do laundry. Entertaining guests at homes is not a thing here like it is in the U.S. If a group of friends want to hang out, they will go to the bars or the plazas.

For breakfast, Maria and I normally eat toast with olive oil and jam or a muffin and drink milk or juice. Lunch and dinner has varied from veggies to pasta to soup to fruit, but I can always count on a basket full of bread or pretzel-like breadsticks…sorry Coach Cole. Maria and I eat lunch and dinner in the living room while chatting (in Spanish of course) and watching some of her favorite TV programs: “Yo soy del sur” (a singing competition for southern Spaniards), “Parejas” (contestants go on a blind date hoping to start a relationship), and “Cámbiame” (contestants receive an extreme makeover and wardrobe alterations). It has been so great getting to know Maria and she has been very sweet and understanding about my imperfect Spanish. I’m excited to spend more time with Maria, learn more about the culture, and improve my Spanish!

Orientation fun and sightseeing will be coming up soon!

    

¿Dónde empezar?

So much has happened in the past few days that I feel a gallery of photos would better express my excitement for the wonders that I had the privilege of beholding.  The enormous Palacio Real (ironically, the king and queen do not live here), the beautiful and monumental Almudena Cathedral where the current king and queen of Spain held their wedding, the awe-inspiring Madrid town hall (El Ayuntamiento de Madrid), and the oldest restaurant in the world (el Restaurante Botín, which was founded in 1725) are just a few of the sights that made me beam with life.