Spring is Coming

Standard

Well, technically it’s already here … but the weather can’t seem to make up its mind. We’ve had some nice warm days recently, but also several cold and rainy ones.

tuspain9-1

On one of the warmer days, a few of us enjoyed an afternoon at Parque de Invierno (Winter Park). This park has a lot of open green spaces; it’s a great spot for jogging or taking the dog for a walk.

tuspain9-2

Ridge poses in a tree at the park. Although climbing trees can be a great workout, the locals usually stick to more traditional forms of exercise.

tuspain9-3

There’s also a small stadium, right next to Parque de Invierno, that a nearby school uses for track and field events.

tuspain9-4

This abandoned building used to be a dormitory for workers at an arms factory on the same property, but it has since fallen out of use.

tuspain9-5

The pedestrian bridge going across the highway offers a great view looking into the Oviedo skyline.

tuspain9-6

This is a sign post for el Camino de Santiago (the Way/Trail of Santiago) located at Parque Camino de Santiago in the western part of Oviedo. El Camino de Santiago is a Christian pilgrimage route that dates as far back as the 9th century. The trail can begin from any number of locations in Europe, and ultimately ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, a city in the autonomous region of Galicia, west of Asturias.

tuspain9-7

This is towards the western edge of Oviedo, with roads leading out of the city. Any peregrinos (pilgrims) of el Camino de Santiago would end up walking in this general direction if they decided to come through Oviedo.

tuspain9-8

The Spanish word for peacock is ‘pavo real’ which basically means ‘royal turkey.’ Parque San Francisco is home to several pavos reales that roam the grounds and occasionally even fly onto a roof or a tree branch.

tuspain9-9

This ancient arch is the last remnant of a bygone era that still stands in the park, and now coexists with the daily happenings of the modern age.

tuspain9-10

During the weeknights, the streets of the old quarter are quiet and empty: a stark contrast to the weekends, when the streets are filled with crowds of people traveling from one bar to another throughout the entire night.

Barcelona and Culture Week

Standard

ImageThis past weekend, a few friends and I spent about 4 days in Barcelona. It was a great mini vacation for us, and although it was just over an hour away by plane, it was drastically different than quaint Oviedo. One of the first things I noticed while we were walking through the train station was that the signs were in three different languages: English, Spanish, and Catalan. Barcelona is in a different region than Oviedo, so they have adapted a different dialect. It is possible to somewhat understand the people who speak that, but it is very difficult. Our hostel was perfect because it was not located in the center of the town, and it took less than ten minutes to walk to the metro. The efficiency of the metro was mind-blowing to me. In Philadelphia, if you miss the subway, you’re guaranteed to wait about ten minutes. In Barcelona, it came every three minutes Image(there was even a countdown on the screen!) It had a kitchen, and we made good use of it by making some home made sandwiches. In the end, it gave us a chance to save money on food, and spend it on other things! On Sunday, there was a Barcelona vs. Madrid game, so we went to a bar to watch it with some locals…it was so much fun! The bar rumbled when Barcelona got a goal…and won:)

Most of the places we went to, people either spoke Catalan or English to us. One thing I learned from travelling outside of Oviedo is that if someone hears you speaking English, they will more than likely speak English with you. In Spain, there is a big emphasis on the importance of learning and knowing English, so any opportunity that arises where the person can practice English, they will take it. Even here in Oviedo, there have been many times when the waiter will try to speak to my friends and I in English, even when we order in Spanish perfectly.

ImageI saw many of the touristy sights in Barcelona, including La Sagrada Familia, the Montjuic Palace and the Olympic stadium, Botanic Gardens, the Cathedral, the beach, and my favorite site: Park Güell, an “architectural gem.” We took a ride up in a ski-lift type thing, and saw so many breathtaking views of the city. All in all, I’m so happy I got to see Barcelona. It was not at all what I expected, and I’m glad I saw it for myself.

This past week, we didn’t have regular classes because it was a week full of cultural workshops. There were many classes to choose from, like cooking, dancing, photography, newspaper, etc. Instead of being in the traditional classroom, we were exposed to the language in a different way. We each signed up for two classes of our choice, mine being cooking, and other called movements. We were instructed in Spanish, of course, for all the classes. Friday is when presentations were held, but not all of the students had to present their individual work. The ones who were brave enough to go on stage did. It was nice having a break from regular classes, but it really is catching upImage to me this week because I have three tests. I have only had a few so far throughout the semester, but now the work is starting to pile up because of the past weeks without tests.

I spent this weekend in Oviedo, my first weekend since about three weeks ago, and I’m happy I did. As much as I love traveling
around, whenever I come back here it truly feels like home. I have met some people who study in Barcelona, and I am so happy that I am not studying in such a busy city. Leaving is going to be hard, but that’s not something I want to think about right now. Coming up this week is our third dinner with Jaime, which will be a good reward after this week of tests.

El mercado

Standard

Every Sunday, there is an open-air market in El Casco Antiguo (the old quarter) of Oviedo. The streets are always full of people looking for deals, or just enjoying a relaxing day.

tuspain8-1market

Vendors set up shop in various plazas, selling goods ranging from clothes to books, jewelry and food.

tuspain8-2street

The busy streets also have dining areas where people can sit down and enjoy a snack or coffee.

tuspain8-3leggings

Clothing items are in no short supply at the market; most of the merchandise is very reasonably priced.

tuspain8-4jewelry

Many vendors also sell jewelry, including necklaces, rings, earrings and watches.

tuspain8-5flowers

Sundays are generally designated for spending time with friends and family, so it’s common to see parents bringing their children to the market.

tuspain8-6books

Anyone in need of some bargain reading material is bound to find something interesting here.

tuspain8-7trees

Paintings and other art goods are also standard fare at the market.

tuspain8-8park

One section of the market is held in this small park, just outside El Casco Antiguo.

tuspain8-9clock

The market opens up in the morning, and begins to wind down in the early afternoon, around 3p.m.

tuspain8-10junk

As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so vintage items like these could hold great value for the right customer.

¡Vamos a Portugal!

Standard
Today, I did a double take when I looked at the date on my phone: March 20th. I thought to myself, “is this a joke?” How is it already the end of March? Every week is going to go by faster than the previous, but I have more and more to look forward to in the coming weeks. This past weekend, I went to Portugal with ESN and a lot of the other Temple students. It was my first time out of Spain, and I can say that Portugal is on my list of “must go” countries for anyone who is planning on traveling to Europe. After 9 long hours on the bus, we arrived in Lisbon: our first stop. After we climbed the steep, San Francisco-like hill to get to the hostel, we dropped our stuff off and headed to el Castillo de San Jorge. We rode a trolley to get there because walking would have been close to impossible: too many Imagehills, so little energy. There, we saw some of the most beautiful views of the city. Something very unusual to me was seeing peacocks roaming through the outdoor part if the castle. I was hesitant to get close to them, but they were in their element and didn’t pay any attention to me or any of the other tourists who were snapping up-close and personal photos. During our free time, we had lunch at a nice restaurant where we met the owner, a very friendly man who spoke English (a good amount of people speak English in Portugal), and he gave us his business card, inviting us back to his restaurant for the next time we go back to Portugal.

Image

The next day, we visited Belém, a neighborhood right outside of the city. One thing that I had never experienced before was walking underground in order to cross the busy street. It was exactly like a subway tunnel, except it was just a long hallway that we walked through in order to avoid a dangerous intersection. After spending a few hours there, we went to Porto, another city that was about 4 hours away. Out out of the three, Porto was definitely my favorite. Not only was it a smaller, less condensed

Image

city, but it just had a charm to it that Lisbon didn’t have. On Sunday, we had a tour if the city, followed by free time to get lunch. I had a typical dish called Francesinha, which is a sandwich with cheese on top and many different types of meat on the inside. Covering it was a special type of sauce that is made up of tomato and beer sauce…could be compared to hot sauce. It was good, but nothing to brag about. Later in the day, we went wine tasting and then took a boat ride! It was the first time I had been wine tasting, so it was an exciting experience that I really enjoyed. The boat ride took place around sunset, so it really was a picture-perfect setting! One thing I wasn’t thrilled about was that I didn’t speak much Spanish during the weekend. While I loved being in Portugal and having the opportunity of experiencing a different country, I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t get to practice my Spanish.

Image

Yesterday was Father’s Day, as well as el Día de San José, so the house was filled was filled with some excitement.  My host dad’s name is José, so it was a double celebration for our family! I came home from class to find the table in the family room set up, instead of the table in the kitchen, covered by a nice table cloth. We had fresh shrimp for lunch, followed by special desserts. I told my family that I wanted to contribute something, so I made some chocolate-covered strawberries and apples for them. It was something that they had never heard of before, and I was happy  when they tried them and liked them! Again, cooking with my host mom gave me a chance to practice my Spanish by using “cooking phrases.” After lunch, I went for a walk to the side of town that I don’t go to too often, and I saw a vending machine…full of meat and cheese! I was shocked to see that this exists, and I don’t think I can get myself to try it.
Right now, I’m counting down the hours until tonight when a few friends and I will be leaving for Barcelona! We are meeting up with my roommate from Temple, who is currently studying in Rome, so I can’t wait to hear about her experiences and tell her mine, too!

¡Carnaval en Avilés! A City of Foam

Standard

Carnaval is a series of festivities that occurs just before Lent. In America, the most commonly known version of Carnaval would be Mardis Gras or Fat Tuesday. Carnaval is a pretty big deal throughout Spain, but some of the most unique celebrations take place in Avilés, a coastal city in Asturias.

tuspain7-1umbrella

Every year, the streets of Avilés are covered in foam, as a tradition to celbrate Carnaval. This day was a bit rainy, but that didn’t stop people from having fun.

tuspain7-2cannon

These cannons were responsible for spraying foam onto people and into the streets.

tuspain7-3streets

People young and old enjoyed frolicking in the foam. Many were completely drenched before too long.

tuspain7-4mikeanshannon

Mike and Shannon were among those who experienced the local custom of fighting with foam.

tuspain7-5drums

Street performances, such as music by these drummers, contributed to the festive air of Carnaval.

tuspain7-6flinstones

This year, the Stone Age was the theme for Carnaval in Avilés. This float, and several others, were inspired by the Flinstones.

tuspain7-7teradactyl

The Pterodactyl was one of the most impressive floats in the parade.

tuspain7-8band

This rock band was playing in a small plaza on a side street. The music was pretty good, but it didn’t draw as big a crowd as some of the larger stages.

tuspain7-9stage

This band in the central plaza performed a series of cover songs, some in Spanish and others in English.

tuspain7-10dance

All in all, everyone had a good time playing in the foam and dancing the night away.

Carnaval Takes the Streets

Standard

The past two weeks, Spain has been in fiesta mode. It is the time of year for Carnaval, which is basically the last horrah before the start of lent. Everyone gets dressed up in disfrazes (constumes), parents included. This is

Some of us with Jaime at the dinner! (not including the upper left...)

Some of us with Jaime at the dinner! (not including the upper left…)

something I really like about the culture. In the States during Halloween, you usually only see the child dressed up, with the parent dragging themselves along with them in their normal clothing. But here, the whole family gets dressed up. I even saw some dressed up in themed costumes! While many of the costumes were really creative (I definitely wrote some ideas down for next Halloween…), there was also a handful that didn’t seem very PC from the point of view of an American like me. I needed to remind myself that I was in Spain, and what people here think is appropriate is different from what beliefs and customs were instilled in me.

Crowd in Aviles

Crowd in Aviles

Each major town in Asturias has a specific day dedicated to celebrate Carnaval. The first Saturday of Carnaval was in Aviles, where they fire espuma (foam) from a canon-like machine, into the crowd practically throughout the whole night. That’s the first thing I noticed when we got there, and a little while after there was a performance by a really talented drum line. Kids were going crazy over the espuma, sliding in it as if it were snow and their bodies were the sled. I didn’t join because it was rainy and cold, and we still had a

Making a snow angel with the espuma!

Making a snow angel with the espuma!

half hour bus ride ahead of us. There was a parade that followed the drum performance, and it had a pre-historic theme with floats of dinosaurs of all different sizes. I believe the Flinstones even made an appearance!

Monday night, it was in Gijón, which wasn’t as exciting for me. There was a stage set up for some type of musical performance, but it didn’t start when it was scheduled to. My friend, Nora and I basically just ended up hopping from one cafe to the next, trying to keep dry from the hurricane-like weather that we were experiencing.

I may be biased, but Carnaval was the best in Oviedo! In the town center in Plaza de la Catedral, there was a big stage set up where groups of people who were dressed up in themed costumes and debuted them on stage. One of my favorite performances was a dance team that was dressed up as the Adamms family,

Part of the parade in Oviedo

Part of the parade in Oviedo

but unfortunately they got cut short :( Simultaneously, there was a parade going on where more locals marched throughout the town. All the young people celebrate and party all through the night, and this was very evident the next day when I saw the aftermath on the streets. My friend and I went on a walk through Parque de Invierno, on of the many beautiful parks in Oviedo, and on our way home, the street cleaners were STILL cleaning up from the day/night before! I’ve mentioned many times now that they are usually on top of their work, and to think that it is taking so much time to clean up really gives you an idea of how big of a fiesta the night before must have been. All in all, it was an awesome experience and I’m so glad to have been in Spain during this time of year!

Ridge making his speech

Ridge making his speech at dinner.

Last Thursday was our third dinner with Jaime. We went to a restaurant in Oviedo called “La Mala Uva,” and once again the food was above par! We ate lots of small dishes, but by the end of the night we were stuffed and happy. For dessert, we had a traditional Asturian dessert called “arroz con leche,” which is basically the equivalent of rice pudding. During dinner, Ridge made a really sentimental speech to Jaime and spoke for

Delicious tiramisu and arroz con leche!

Delicious tiramisu and arroz con leche!

everyone when he said how much he appreciated all the work Jaime does for us. He took the words right out of my mouth, and really made me realize how lucky we all are to have such a caring and reliable program director, now friend, that is always willing to do what he can to make sure we are all satisfied!

This weekend, I’m going to Portugal with ESN and a bunch of other students from our group. I’m so excited because it is going to be my first time out of Spain since I’ve been here. It’ll be a nice change of scenery because I’ve been in Oviedo for the past few weekends. One more thing…I was talking with my host mom yesterday, and she told me that she can tell I’m understanding a lot more now and she can see my improvement. What a confidence booster! I’ll check in next week to talk about my trip to Portugal. Hasta luego!

Adventures in Gijón

Standard

Last week, the Erasmus Student Network hosted a trip to the Gijón Aquarium, which is home to a diverse array of marine animals. We also had a chance to check out some other parts of the city.

DSC_0022

“Las Letronas” de Gijón, sculpted by Juan Jareño welcome visitors to the marina.

Image

Gijón is an industrial port-city located roughly 20 miles northwest of Oviedo. It takes about a half hour to get there via bus.

Image

(Left to right) Luke and Manny climbed atop this wall at the beach.

DSC_0009

Chuck takes a picture of (left to right) Ridge, Mary, Lauren and Sophie, at a platform overlooking the beach.

DSC_0020

As a port-city, Gijón has it’s fair share of boats, some of which are used for fishing or shipping, others just for leisure.

DSC_0029

Gijón’s central plaza features a statue of King Pelagius (Pelayo in Spanish), the nobleman who founded the Kingdom of Asturias.

tuspain-hill

(Left to right) Lashida, Emily and Manny walk up a hill to reach a lookout point near the sea.

Image

Octopus, or ‘pulpo’ is a traditional dish in Gijón, but this guy doesn’t have to worry about winding up on a dinner plate.

Image

The largest tank in the Gijón Aquarium houses sharks, rays, sea turtles and several types of fish.

tuspain-sanpedro

The Church of San Pedro sits in the Bay of San Lorenzo, right next to the beach.

Amigos Animales

Standard

Oviedo is a very pet-friendly city. It’s quite common to see people walking their dogs along the streets and in the parks throughout the day.

Image

My host mom has a Yorkshire Terrier named David. He’s 12 years old, but he’s still an energetic little fellow.

Image

We also have a rabbit in the house. His name is Tambor, which is the Spanish word for ‘drum.’

Image

La Basilica de San Julián de los Prados is a Pre-Romanesque church that was built during the 9th Century. It’s located fairly close to the Milán Campus of the University of Oviedo.

Image

Oviedo boasts some impressive views, such as these snow-capped mountains that can be seen in the distance.

Image

Even in February, we’ve been having some warm days that are great for exploring different parts of the city.

Image

This huge modern-looking building holds the Ayre Hotel and the MODO shopping center.

Image

The tower of the Cathedral of San Salvador is always useful for finding your bearings because it stands out above the rooftops of most of the other buildings.

Image

A waiter pours sidra in the traditional Asturian fashion. This sidrería is on Calle Gascona, the most popular street for cider bars in Oviedo.

Image

It’s typical for bars to serve tapas with their drinks. On this particular evening, we had potatoes and calamari.

Image

Chuck and Mary pose in front of some graffiti on a wall along an alleyway in the old quarter of Oviedo.

Naranco and Family

Standard
View from our hike

View from our hike

This past week was very relaxing and eye-opening for me, starting with my tandem with my host mom’s niece, Noelia, on Monday. We spent over two hours talking, half of the time in Spanish and the rest in English. She knows less English than I thought, so there was a lot of “Spanglish” going on as we were conversing. As we were talking, it hit me that what we were doing is so similar to what I plan on doing in my future career as a speech pathologist! Because there are phonemic differences between Spanish and English, it was very difficult for her to correctly pronounce certain words. I was able to put forth my best effort and help her (almost) successfully pronounce these words! I left that session feeling so accomplished and genuinely happy with how it went! Because I am learning the language, it will be easier for me in my future career to communicate with Spanish-speakers, like Noelia, and treat them. I just can’t wait!!

IMG_1244[1]

Abandoned café along the way.

The end of last week was filled with time spent with my host family. My host parents have a routine of taking Laura to the park every night, weather permitting, so I decided to join them one night. I met all of Laura’s friends’ parents, and it was interesting to see how they interact here with their kids. Here, they seem very involved and genuinely happy to just watch their children play, sometimes even joining them. There are certainly people like this in the U.S, but because of the laid-back lifestyle and slightly different work routines in Spain, it just seems like they have more time to dedicate to their children. As Mariluz and I were walking home from the park, Laura in Mariluz’s arms, an older woman just walked up to Laura and started pinching her cheeks, exclaiming how precious Laura was. In the U.S., this is the type of attention a stranger would give to another person’s dog. It usually isn’t acceptable to come up to another person’s child and touch them. But here, it is seemingly more common to do these types of things. In fact, if you were to pet another person’s dog, you might get some strange looks from the owner.

For Valentine’s Day otherwise known as “Día de San Valentín,” I brought home some chocolates for my host parents, and a stuffed bear for Laura. Proving how generous this culture is, they insisted on taking me out to merienda (a light meal eaten in between major meals, usually between lunch and dinner) in return. So, the next day we went out for chocolate and churros, a typical snack here. Valentine’s Day does not seem to be as big of a deal here as it is in the U.S. I only saw some signs in a few stores around town, and there was a lady handing out red heart-shaped balloons to children on the street. This same day, my friend Nora and I were at a café, and as we were watching the people walk by, there was a grandfather pushing his granddaughter in a stroller. He suddenly stops, pulls out an apple and starts peeling it right in the middle of the sidewalk! At first, I was surprised and started laughing at what had just happened, but this really shouldn’t have been such a shock to me. What we might think is something out of the norm, such as this, is something routine to the people of Spain.

Over the weekend, we got extremely lucky and had two sunny, warm and beautiful days! So, we decided to walk the trail of Naranco, which is only a five minute walk behind my house. The views of Oviedo were incredible, and we didn’t even hike too far

On the trail on Naranco

On the trail on Naranco

up! In the middle of our hike, we hit an area that looked like a playground, only it was filled with exercise equipment. As we were trying out the equipment, a woman walked up to us and asked us where we were from because she heard us speaking English. We told her we were from study abroad students from Philadelphia, and her face lit up! This woman was a former study abroad student who studied at La Casa de Las Lenguas 25 years ago! She told us she was here for a visit with her son, who is also trying to learn Spanish. Still in touch with her host parents, she spends her days hanging out with them, and her nights with her son in their home in Oviedo. This made me hopeful and happy for two reasons. For one, she still has a wonderful relationship with her host parents. Second, she used to be a Spanish teacher in the States! It was really nice and inspirational hearing her story.

Galicia!

Standard
View from the Tower of Hercules.

View from the Tower of Hercules.

Today, I want to start out by apologizing to all of you in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas that are being hit by ridiculous amounts of snow. I have feel for you all, but as I sit here in the 21 degrees Celsius weather, I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. I can get used to having milder winters like this! Although we got lucky today, this past weekend in Galicia (Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña), it was a different story. Practically the whole weekend was filled with rain, wind, and cold temperatures. The procrastinator I am, I did not finish packing until the morning we left, and it was then that I realized I lost my umbrella…eek! There are no places open that early here, so I basically had no chance of being able to buy one. Nevertheless, it was a great weekend full sightseeing, and even more, meeting new people from all over the world. We left around 7:30am, and the streets of Oviedo were EMPTY. It was like a ghost town, and honestly a little eerie. But I made my way to the bus with some friends, and all 135 of us in the group piled in. A nice girl from Germany sat next to me on the bus, and we had a lot of time to get acquainted since the ride was 4-5 hours long. We ended up rooming together in the hostel on Saturday night and sticking together for most of our time there.

It is so interesting being able to meet people from all different parts of the world who are in Spain to achieve, more or less, the same goals as I am looking to achieve. I spoke with people from many different countries such as France, Italy, and Greece. The students from Italy spoke no English, so it was awesome only conversing in Spanish with them. I was so comfortable speaking with them, and even through my Spanish isn’t the greatest, we had some good conversations! It is so rewarding when challenging things, like speaking Spanish for a decent amount of time, is successful. Another new thing and

Cathedral in Santiago

Cathedral in Santiago

exciting thing for me was staying in a hostel. I was surprised at the size of the room because I pictured a room stuffed with two beds, no room to walk, and basically a nightmare for anyone who is even slightly claustrophobic. No, it wasn’t very roomy, but it was so much more different than I expected.

After we checked into the hotel, we had some time to ourselves, so Jana (from Germany) and I went to a café (of course) and I tried

Asturian Dessert

Asturian Dessert

the traditional Asturian cake for the first time! (PICTURE). It was a little too sweet for my taste, but I’m glad I finally got to try it. My favorite part of my time in Santiago de Compostela was seeing the Cathedral. I have been so a handful of cathedrals in Spain so far, but it seems to me that each one has such a different atmosphere.

The next day, we went to A Coruña which I personally enjoyed more because of the beautiful views of the coast. We had a chance to climb up the Torre de Hércules (Tower of Hercules), which is the only functioning Roman lighthouse today. The brutal walk up the endless flights of stairs was completely worth it! The breathtaking views of the water and town from the top of the tower was like nothing I had ever seen before. I felt like the wind was going to carry me away, so we snapped some pictures and quickly made our way back down.

I got home at 11:30pm Sunday, and my host mom was waiting up for me with dinner on the table, and she was excited to hear about my weekend. I wanted to tell her all of the things I did, but I found myself struggling to say what I was thinking. I came to the realization that the later it gets in the day, the harder it is to speak Spanish. When you speak English, it is easy to make converse with minimal effort, for the most part. Usually,  not much

Jana, Ridge and I in A

Jana, Ridge and I in A Coruña

focus is needed. I found myself drifting in and out as I was trying to listen to Mariluz, and it’s not that I wasn’t interested in what she was saying, but the amount of focus that is needed when communicating in a foreign language is so much more evident in times like these. In due time, I’m sure it will become easier to focus and follow along. Stay tuned!