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"I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things." --Antoine de St-Exupery

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Homeland-->The End

Summer vacation has officially started! In reality, this whole semester has pretty much felt like a vacation with a little bit of schoolwork, which has suited me just fine. I didn't study even a fourth of what I normally do for Madison classes, but I still think I'll come out of this with similar grades. One of the reasons I didn't study as much as I should have for my final exams (which were yesterday and Wednesday) was because I was in Prague until Sunday night. I decided that since I'm Czech, learning about my history trumps studying for finals. And I am sooo glad I made that choice.

My friend Vanessa (I went to London with her as well) and I flew out on Thursday morning and were able to spend the majority of the afternoon meandering around the city. I could walk that city for days. The buildings are gorgeous. All of them. Their gymnasium even looks like the buildings in the picture.

 We got dinner at a nice pizzeria which was really good and very cheap, a college students dream. Walking back to our hostel, we saw a beautiful sunset which made me so excited for the next few nights. I have a slight obsession with sunsets and in Sevilla it's kind of hard to see them because of the buildings.

The next day we got a free tour where we saw pretty much all the main attractions of the Old Town and the New Town. The tour ended at Charles Bridge, aka where I spent the majority of my money. It is a pedestrian bridge only so, fittingly, it is were all the unique jewelry and art is sold. We probably spent a total of 2 or 3 hours on that bridge throughout the weekend. Specifically at one jewelry kiosk.

Astronomical Clock

Charles Bridge
The bridge leads to the side where the Prague Castle is along with Petrin Hill so we decided to go to the Castle first. My favorite part of that was the Cathedral which held one of my other obsessions: stain glass. It was amazing. I don't think I'll ever get sick of walking into churches throughout Europe since they're all so different and unique and have so much history. That night was another gorgeous sunset. Let's just say that by the end of the day I had filled my camera's memory card. We also stopped at the John Lennon wall which was really neat. The graffiti is all about the Beatles, loving life, etc. No one seems to have the guts to put anything bad on that wall.

View of the city walking up to the Castle

Inside the Cathedral

Part of the John Lennon Wall

Love love love

The next morning we went back to the Old Town Square and actually went inside all the buildings that we had seen on the tour, which consisted mostly of more beautiful churches. That afternoon we decided we wanted to go to the top of Petrin Hill which is the highest point in the city. We knew we would obviously have to walk up the hill, but we weren't expecting it to be quite the hike. We definitely weren't dressed properly (it was actually really really warm when we were there) and had bags full of souvenirs and gifts dragging us down. But, it was so worth it. The view of the city from the top of the mini Eiffel Tower was amazing. And there is a garden up there that apparently has thousands of different varieties of roses. Unfortunately they hadn't started blooming yet, so my next trip there will have to be when the are :)

St. James Cathedral

St. Nicholas Church, which houses one of the largest chandeliers in Prague

The start of our surprise hike

Loving being in nature again

View from the top of the tower :)

Part of the gardens which are probably starting to bloom now
Our last morning we spent just walking around the city. There was another marathon going on (we seem to find those in every city) which is always fun and exciting to see. Although I was in no way ready for the exams coming my way, I felt so content and happy leaving Prague. When we left Paris, I was sort of sad about it thinking things like "What if I never get to go back" etc. and although I love Prague just as much as Paris, I didn't feel or thing like that. The phrase "Don't be sad it's over. Be happy it happened" (which I have heard many many times from my mom) has never really set in with me. I've always enjoyed my experiences to different places and would never have chosen to not go, but I've always been a little down after big trips or even just stages in life. But leaving Prague, I was so happy and I think that mentality has finally set in without my forcing it which is really good seeing as though I go home soon.

I'm very excited to come home. Last night, we had a goodbye dinner and drinks event on a rooftop patio of a hotel where we had the Giralda as the backdrop of our pictures. It was a very fun night, but definitely bittersweet. I am glad that I'm staying extra time to go around the city, see my favorite places for a final time, and just relax instead of being all stressed about having to pack right now. Definitely a good choice.

Emily, myself, and Lydia with the Giralda in the background :)
My mom and sister come on Monday!!! In about 60 hours!!! I am ecstatic for everything that brings with it: them meeting my family, showing them the city, eating the food, and Italy! We're leaving on Tuesday for Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome and then will be back for one final day in Sevilla before heading home on the 24th. Time really flies.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

La Feria

It's been quite the busy week in Sevilla. More tourists, no school, hardly any work, and Feria. To start the week off, my friend Spencer and I tried to go to a corrida, a bullfight, on Sunday. (Un)fortunately it was rained out. We ended up going the next night and it was definitely an interesting experience. I thought I was going to be completely repelled by it, as I'm sure thought most everyone who knows me, but I don't think that was the case completely.

To start, the ambiance of the bullring, I suppose you call it, is actually pretty neat. Everyone gets dressed up for the corrida and everyone is really friendly. You have to be since you are all sitting very close together. They sell candies and other things you would find at baseball games such as peanuts that most people take advantage of. When the fight actually starts, people would say "Bien" or clap when they liked something and they would whistle if they didn't like something. If they didn't like one of the toreros, when they left the ring no one would clap. That's the worst thing for a torero.

The ring

On the first day we went when it got rained out

It took us a while to figure out what they are looking for when they were cheering, and it's not that they like a good stab. I think it has a lot more to do with the actual art of it, which sounds really weird, I know. But the way that the torero uses the cape and tries to get the bull to circle him is sort of like a dance. The intense pauses where they are standing facing each other hold a lot of energy. And the crowd really hates when there is a "bad" kill, not a clean kill. I won't go into detail about that, but we saw one that was awful and I did tear up a little. Obviously I would never advocate for an activity that ends in the death of 6 bulls all for the sake of entertainment, but there seemed to be more going on than that.

So that was on Monday night. On Tuesday, we spent the whole day preparing for La Feria de Abril. This fair goes back to the 1800's. There are what's called casetas all over the fair grounds, which are private, but if you know someone you can get in (which we did). Usually the casetas have a private bar and a flamenco singer with a small stage for people to dance on and chairs and tables. Besides the casetas, there are actual fair type things such as Ferris wheels, rides, and the normal carnival type games. And, of course, the dresses.

Pili and I spent the day getting my and Paula's dresses ready. I was lucky enough to wear Pili's old one so I didn't have to spend over €150 on a dress. I picked up Paula from school and we went home and got ready. Paula had told me on the way home that she now had a boyfriend so she had to really make sure she looked her best :) They tried to teach me how to dance the Sevillano (although Paula doesn't know it yet either), but there was no way I was going to learn it in one day.

Pili doing my hair with one of Paula's friends in the background

All the kids

Paula and I at the fair :)
 After we were all ready to go, we met up with the normal group that I spend most of my Friday afternoon's with when I'm in town (Pili's mom friends who are hilarious and all their kids who are Paula's friends) and my friend Spencer. We walked to the fair grounds and found our way to a caseta. The flamenco singer was amazing, and she was also the mom of the baby we had babysat the night before. It was quite the show. Anyone can get up and dance on the stage so there was a pretty big variety of dancing going on.

Again, the ambiance of the place was amazing. When we were getting ready, I felt sort of like I was getting ready for Halloween or something, as do I think the little kids did, but when we were watching people dance, you could see the elegance in it and how this isn't a game of dress up. This is just their straight up culture. You can see the emotion in their face as they dance (Pili kept telling us that the Sevillano dance was an art of seduction, not "culo" which means ass) and it isn't an act that they put on for everyone; it's for themselves too and their culture in general. You can feel the intense energy that radiates from them and can't help but get caught up in the music and the dance itself. It was really an amazing hour and a half watching it all and soaking it in.

Maria Jose, the singer and our neighbor

Lots of dancing. And I love her dress.
The next stop was the actual fair part. Basically, think of any fair you've been to, add a couple extra Ferris wheels and everyone walking around in huge flamenco dresses and you have the fair section. It really was like walking around the fair/ride section of State Fair with rides that are a little more extreme. It was pretty odd to look up and see the bottoms of all these dresses. I was pretty worried the whole time about getting Pili's dirty since the ground was basically dust, but no one else seemed to give it a second thought.

All in all I think what these past few days have actually showed me is that I'm really accepting this culture as a different way of life, not worse or better than mine. Normally I would look at a bullfight and think something alone the lines of "How can they do that all for entertainment?! I'm so glad that isn't a part of our culture", but it is more than entertainment. As for Feria, I cannot think of anything we have in the States where people get dressed up like it's Halloween and that is the time when they feel the most elegant. Their respect for their culture by dancing and just being elegant in general is hard to compare with anything else. This whole realization in itself I think has been building the whole time I've been here, trying new things, accepting things that seem so weird to me, but I think this week was when it really solidified. I'm not judging their way of life anymore (because if there is anything I would judge, I think it would be the corrida!), and hopefully this trait will stay with me for the rest of my life to make me a very open minded and close to judgeless person.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Semana Santa and Arab Baths

Last week we had off of school for Semana Santa. Unfortunately, as I said in my last post, it was expected to be rainy for most of the week. It was. I still was able to see some of the things that go on luckily.

So, Semana Santa in Sevilla is a big deal. Starting Palm Sunday and going through Easter, cofradias go through the city. These are processionals with two floats (usually) included in each. The floats are called pasos, one of Christ and the other of the Virgin Mary. Sometimes a third float is included that is of a scene. Each cofradia is put on by a religious brotherhood that starts at the home church and makes its way to the Cathedral and then loops back. I think the first actual brotherhood was formed in the early 1400's, but that could be wrong.

To start the cofradia, there is a cross carried followed by nazarenos. These are people dressed in outfits that look like the KKK with their pointed hoods. Not all of them wear white though. They wear the colors of the religious brotherhood. Some of the nazarenos walk barefoot which is pretty painful on the cobblestone. They do this as a penance. The number of nazarenos can range from the hundreds to the thousands. It all depends on the number of people in the brotherhood. Anyone can be a nazareno. We saw a lot of little kids, but obviously they did not walk for the whole time. The nazarenos also hand out candy :) They walk before the pasos, after the band, in between, all over. I'm sure there is an actual order to it, but that too can be distinctive to each brotherhood.

Nazarenos. They hold the long candles so that they can see at night.


A little nazareno taking a break :)

Heading over the bridge
Then there is a group of alter boys before each paso with incense and other such things.

The floats are carried by men called costaleros. Weeks before Semana Santa I had seen people carrying something walking in the street around midnight and I had no idea what it was. Now I realize they were practicing for Semana Santa. During the cofradia (which can last up to 14 hours depending on how far the home church is from the Cathedral), the men take breaks and put down the float and after a while, they switch men. Some of the men we saw had wounds on their neck from holding it up. The actual floats are very very detailed and some were made way back in the 16th century. A lot of tradition.

This was when I saw them about six weeks ago practicing at night

Un paso de Cristo

La Virgen

A cofradia that had a scene paso called "misterio"

People who live in the apartments throw flower petals on the pasos. Very pretty sight.

Some costaleros on a break on the right. That's their protective headgear...basically towels
Some cofradias have a band after each paso and after the paso of Christ, sometimes there are people who dress like the nazarenos (but not exactly) who carry crosses.

As for the crowd, if you want to see a paso while it's sitting in the church waiting for the cofradia to start, you are basically going to touch every person you pass. It is like being at a very very crowded concert where you pretty much can't move. Add heat to that equation and then you understand why there are ambulances around the corner. Last year my 21-year-old host sister Maria was taken away in an ambulance due to a heat stroke.

The day that each cofradia goes out is the same every year. They have these little booklets that tell you which ones are going out and has a map for each day and also give you streets and times where each cofradia should pass. Very handy and necessary.

However, as I said, this year was very rainy. Hardly any cofradias went out on Tuesday, none Thursday (which is supposed to be the best of the best), maybe one on Friday and maybe one on Saturday. On Sunday there is only one cofradia and luckily it was very nice out for that one. On the news, they would update everyone about every ten mintues about when pasos will leave the church and if they will. There is also one news station that covers only Semana Santa ongoings for the week. People crying filled the screens this year. They have been practicing and getting ready for so long and then to not be able to go? I can see why. And with all the tradition it can be very sad. I guess this was the second year no cofradias went out on Holy Thursday so people were very very upset. Everyone can still go and visit the pasos in the church, but it is far from the same.

On Wednesday I saw about four pasos. One we saw as it went over a bridge and we were able to see it very well. We stayed in the same spot for the whole thing and were there for about 2 and a half hours, so it was one that had a smaller brotherhood but it was also the longest in the sense that the home church was the furthest away from the Cathedral. After that, we went closer to the Cathedral since that is where all of the cofradias are headed. It was harder to see in that area because there were a lot more people, but it was still very neat.

Due to rain, we didn't do anything Thursday or Friday. Then on Saturday, we went to Pili's mom's house for dinner. I know Pili's family well now, so it was a very relaxing meal for the nine of us. It wasn't anything fancy, just a spread of mostly different types of fish on the table in the livingroom, people wearing pjs, etc, but it was still nice to get together. I think they threw this dinner together more for me since I was sort of starting to go stir crazy in the house doing nothing the three previous days.

On Sunday my host parents and I went to the final cofradia which was in Pepe's (my host dad) sisters' neighborhood so I was able to meet his side of the family. We went out for tapas after being very very crowded in the streets trying to see the pasos, but again, I think we went more for my sake. They kept saying how they can't remember the last time they saw one on a Sunday since there's only one and it's in a different neighborhood. I really appreciated them coming with me, it was just a very different Easter than what I normally have at home. I didn't see my host sister's until around 11pm that night whereas at home, my whole family gets together.

All of that got me to thinking about the assumption that Spain is very family oriented. I think this is true in the sense that basically the whole extended family lives in the same city so they see each other very often. In the sense of doing actually big family get togethers though, I think that is more characteristic of America since families tend to be more spread out. I've talked with a few other friends about this who are in homestays and they think the same thing. We were all kind of shocked that Easter Sunday was not a huge day for them when they had this huge buildup of a week.

I skype called my brother that day so I could talk with a lot of my extended family since a lot of us get together the celebrate. It was nice to talk to everyone! People here have been asking me if I'm ready to go home and I've been sort of back and forth, but talking to my family has made me that much more excited to come home, which is a lot better than feeling depressed about leaving.

This week, I had a final paper due and two presentations, so it's been pretty busy. I have one more paper, finals, and then that's all! I still feel like I have a lot to see in Sevilla and things to experience, so I'll have to make time. One thing that I did today was go and get an arab bath. There was a competition in our program between 11 groups of about four people where we would get a list of things to find in the city and had to take a picture with those things. Each person/place/thing was a certain number of points and you had to get it in by 5pm on Fridays. Well, my group won first place. The prize was an arab bath for each of us. This included three different bathing areas: 1) an area with a hot bath, a cold bath, and a warm bath, 2) an area with a sauna and jacuzzi, and 3) a saltwater bath. We had an hour and a half to go between all of these areas, drink mint tea, and, the best part, find time to fit in our 15 minute masage. It was amazing, to say the least.

Our group: Emily, Spencer, me, and Kaitlan with a famous flamenco singer we had to take a picture with
I'm now off school again for another week and a half due to the Feria de Sevilla which I will explain next time. Hopefully I'll have time to post before I head to Prague next Thursday, but if not, happy Mother's Day to all the mothers!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


To start, one thing I cannot wait for about coming home is not having to think of the exchange rate. Everything is going to seem so inexpensive, especially after being in London where one pound was about $1.65, so everything seemed very very expensive.

My friend Vanessa and I flew out on Thursday night after class and, after waiting in line for customs for over an hour an a half, made our way to my friend's place to stay the night at around 2:30am (thanks again Grace!!). After sleeping on nice leather couches (so much better than airport seats), we spent the morning walking around Hyde Park. The flowers were in bloom and it was so pretty. We saw the Peter Pan statue, Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, among other things. It was a very relaxing morning, which was what we needed.

Vanessa, Peter Pan, and I

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

After that we got on the tube to find our hostel. Unfortunately, it took us over an hour to get there due to construction, a fire alarm, and not understanding streets. We finally made it, dropped off our things, and headed to the National Gallery. It holds western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th century and was free so that made it all the more enjoyable. Trafalgar Square is right in front of the Gallery, so we grabbed a sandwich and hung out there for a bit. In the Square they also have the countdown clock to the 2012 Olympics.

The National Gallery

Trafalgar Square (setting up for a concert we thought)
That night we met up with my friend again at a pub near her apartment and it was really nice to just sit, have a drink, and talk. It was more of a laid back environment, which you don't find in Sevilla that much. When people go out here, they go all out as in you are dressed up, makeup perfect, etc. and so it was really nice to just hang out and speak English for a night.

The next day we started off by going to the British Museum, which was very close to our hostel and so cool. We saw so many interesting things including one of the first images of Buddha ever, mummies, and the Rosetta Stone. We spent a few hours there before making the trek to the London Tower (which was a really pretty walk by the river). The London Tower was very interesting as well. We saw the Crown Jewels, scratchings made by prisoners who were held in the towers, the site where people such as Queen Anne Boleyn were beheaded, and many ravens. The view we got of the Tower Bridge was really pretty too. The London Bridge was not as impressive as we were thinking it would be due to the fact that it has a song named after it, but I suppose since it was originally the only way to cross the river however many years ago that it has history on its side.
The British Museum

The Rosetta Stone

From the Parthanon

London Bridge

Tower Bridge

Scaffold Site

After that we stopped to see St. Paul's Cathedral, which was beautiful outside. We only saw a little bit of the inside, but that was gorgeous as well. That night we went out to eat at this nice Indian restaurant and had some amazing food. It was the one time we really splurged on money, but we figured that since we were going to Les Miserables later on that we should make a night out of it. The show was amazing! I've had the music stuck in my head ever since which suits me just fine.

Les Mis!!

St. Paul's Cathedral

 For Palm Sunday we started off by going to church at Westminster Abbey. Yet another gorgeous gorgeous place. And it's located right by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament so we were able get some very good pictures around that area. The London Marathon was also going on and ended at Buckingham Palace so we were able to follow that on our way there. It was a little crowded, but races are always exciting. We took a break on the grass by Buckingham Palace before deciding our next move, which was to head to a different part of town and see Harrods, one of the first department stores. That evening we walked around the area we were staying. There were so many little squares full of blooming flowers all over the place. We went to bed semi early that night since we wanted to fit some things in the next morning.

Westminster Abbey

Big Ben and they Eye

Buckingham Palace

After packing up and storing our bags in the luggage room at our hostel, we went to King's Cross Station, where they have a sign for Platform 9¾ (Harry Potter), but unfortunately that area was under construction! That was a bummer, but on our walk there we ran past a bookshop were every book was two pounds and in English! I got two books for about $6.65 which even in dollars is inexpensive! Before leaving, we went to the British Library since we had time. I am sooo glad we did. In the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, we saw original work by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, an original manuscript of the book Crash, original scores by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden, Ravel, and Mendelssohn, the original Beatles' lyrics (one on the back of a birthday card) to Yesterday, Help, Hard Day's Night, and Ticket to Ride, letters by Leonardo da Vinci, Darwin, and Freud, and also saw the Magna Carta. There was so much more along with all this, but these were my highlights (kind of long I guess).

We made it back on that night (Monday) ready to see what Semana Santa was all about in Sevilla! Unfortunately, it rained pretty much all of Tuesday and is raining again today. Yesterday I was able to go out and see what goes on in the city. Hopefully I can do that some more before the week is up (although I do have a lot of homework to do) so I will tell you all about the processions next time!