Thursday, December 2, 2010

Leprechauns, Shamrocks, and Guinness: Dublin

I must start my story of Dublin by first explaining how I got there.  I booked my flight for 11am on a Thursday morning under the assumption that I could miss class that morning and go straight to the airport.  Unfortunately, that Thursday I had a midterm in one of my classes and it is not possible to make-up midterms.  So, I packed my suitcase and brought it to school with me and into my test.  I finished my test around 9:30am and literally took off running for the airport.  I had to take three different metros, I went up and down about a million escalators, and jogged through the airport.  When I got to the gate, they were about halfway through boarding the plane, but I made it.  Granted, I was covered in my own sweat and wheezing from running.  I met up with my friend Whitney and her roommate Hannah from Santander, Spain and we boarded the plane together.  When I was about to get on, they stopped me and said that my bag was too big and I would have to pay 50 euros if I couldn't fit it in the carry-on box.  So I began to push and I shoved with all my might (while holding up the line of people trying to board) until my bag dropped down into the box.  I threw my arms up in the air and shouted "hooray!" and the people in line behind me started to applaud.  Then, I couldn't get my bag out of the box.  Silly me, I put the bag in handle side down so I couldn't grip it to pull it out.  The people in line behind me were holding the base and the Ryan Air guy and I were pulling my bag as hard as we could.  Finally, it popped out and I proudly carried it onto the plane.  After single-handedly delaying our flight and accumulating a new layer of sweat, we were on our way to Ireland.  

But, As Ryan Air flights notoriously are, our flight was a little turbulent.  I actually thought that I was going to die on the plane ride, as did all of the people sitting around me.  Now, I have been on many planes that were shaky or that made it feel like you were free falling, but this flight was different.  The ENTIRE plane screamed at once because we all thought that we were plummeting to our deaths.  I don't mean screamed like gasped, I mean blood-curdling screams throughout the whole plane.  When we were about to land, it looked as though our wing was going to hit the runway before our landing gear.  Some people started crying when the plane landed because they were so glad to have made it to Ireland alive.  Not an enjoyable experience.  But now we were in Dublin safe and sound.  

We checked into our hostel (12 beds, one room, one bathroom, 50 euros for three nights) left our stuff there and immediately headed off the meet up with our friend Michael and eat some non-Spanish food.  We had burgers and Guinness beers.  Delicious.  Then we explored the city and went to the Temple Bar for drinks.  The Temple Bar is a huge touristy bar, but it was a lot of fun.  We attempted to eat a late-night snack of quesadillas, but they literally burned our tongues because they were so spicy.  The Irish do not have a form grasp on Mexican food. 

The next day we met up with three more friends coming in from Prague and our group of seven was complete.  We walked around the city and toured Trinity College, which was beautiful.

Then we went to the Guinness Storehouse.  We did a tour of the storehouse, which was a lot of fun. 

At the end of the tour, we got a free Guinness in the Gravity Bar, which is the oldest and tallest skyscraper in Dublin.  Granted, it is only seven stories tall, there is a fantastic view of the whole city.  

The next day, we went to the Dublin Castle and the Dublin Cathedral which were beautiful, but I am a little tired of cathedrals on this european adventure that I am on.  

We left the tour early to go to the Dublin wax museum.  While the wax museum is not one of Dublin's main tourist attractions, we had a great time there goofing around and taking pictures. 

After the Wax museum shenanigans, we toured the Jameson factory.  I feel like if I were a 70-year-old male golfer I would have fit in a lot better than a 20-year-old female college student.  I thought that maybe seeing how Jameson was made would increase my appreciation for whiskey, but even after learning so much about it, I still do not like whiskey.  At the end, they gave us a taste test between Jameson, Jack Daniels, and Johnnie Walker to sip and differentiate between the different types.  I couldn't tell the difference and I didn't like the way they tasted anyway.  Maybe by the time I am a 70-year-old golfer I will appreciate whiskey.  

My weekend in Dublin was amazing and I had a wonderful time.  I was there with good friends, I loved the food and the drinks, and most of all, I loved the language.  For the first and only time in three months, I was in a place where everyone spoke ENGLISH.  I have been to Germany, France, Morocco, and a ton of places in Spain, but for the first time, I could eavesdrop on other people's conversations and I loved it.  I didn't realize how much I missed eavesdropping until I couldn't do it anymore.  I love Ireland. 

France 2010: How to use an Umbrella in Extreme Weather Situations

First of all, I am so so sorry that I haven't updated my blog in so long.  I have been WAY too busy jetting around Europe and having an amazing time.  So to update you on my adventures since my last blog post...

At the beginning of November, I flew into Aix-en-Provence in the south of France to meet up with my roommate, Megan, for the weekend.  We stayed in Aix for a night and had fancy French food, fancy French wine, and met fancy French people.  After dinner we went out for some drinks where I proceeded to practice the three French phrases that I know.  I think if I informed one more French person that they "are my little grapefruit," Megan would have left me in France.  We woke up early the next morning to catch our train to Paris.  

The three hour train ride to Paris seemed like nothing because of my transportation narcolepsy.  I slept for the entire time.  One of the initial observations that I made about Paris was that it is gloomy.  I do not think this is solely because it rained the ENTIRE time we were there, but also the buildings, the people, everything is gloomy.  But I thought to myself "good thing I brought my umbrella!" Wrong.  Pretty fast I learned that this little Colorado girl has no idea how to use an umbrella.  Umbrellas work great when the water is falling straight down from the sky.  In Paris, it seems that the rain fancies coming down at you from the side.  So logically, I tilted my umbrella to the side to block the rain, when the wind caught the edge of my umbrella and flipped it inside-out.  I felt like I was in a movie, because umbrellas don't get flipped inside-out in real life (at least not in nice and dry Colorado).  If I had a dollar for every time my umbrella flipped inside-out or I had to chase it down the street, I would have at least ten dollars.  Needless to say, I was soaking wet for a full 72 hours. 

We took a cab to our hotel and immediately set off for the Louvre Museum, because that was at the top of the list for things to do in Paris.  The extent of my knowledge of the Louvre comes from reading the Da Vinci Code, but I was still very excited to see it!  We took the metro to a stop a couple of blocks from the Louvre and walked toward it.  One of the first things we saw were the giant pyramids.  

Once inside, we went on a single-minded quest to find the Mona Lisa.  Luckily, we were not the only tourists fervently searching for Mona, so we just followed the masses of people.  We found Mona and she is beautiful.  Yes, she is smaller than I would have expected, and there are about a bazillion guards making sure that you do not get within 12 feet of the painting, but she was still breath-taking.  We fought our way to the front of the pack to get a good look at her and to take some pictures (without the flash).  Here is a picture of me and MONA:

 We left the Louvre and went out to dinner with my friend Maddie who is studying in Paris.  At this dinner, I had my first experience with mean French people.  Our waitress at dinner brought us our bill and it was forty euros more than it was supposed to be.  Thank goodness we had Maddie with us to attempt to figure this out while speaking French.  After about 20 minutes of being yelled at in a combination of French and English by this awful awful woman for being stupid and clever Americans, she stormed off and said "Fine! Pay whatever you want to pay!"  So we did.  We paid for all of our meals, plus an extra 30 euros.  But we shorted the waitress 10 euros solely to make a point.  Occurrences like this simply reinforce the stereotypes that I have in my mind about French people. 

The next morning, Megan and I ventured to the Eiffel Tower to be extra-touristy.  We took the elevator to the top, took lots of pictures, and saw two different people get pick-pocketed.  The elevator is interesting because it moves on a diagonal through the towers at the base, then you have to change elevators at the first observation deck and take a vertical elevator to the top.  The view of the city from the top was beautiful, but the weather made it so there was limited visibility.  I really enjoyed the Eiffel Tower, even though it felt as though I would never be warm again in my entire life.  

That night we went to dinner and went to bed early because Megan had to take the train back to Aix really early the next morning.  My flight wasn't until late that night, so I had a full day of French tourism.  I planned to go to Musee D'Orsay because it was indoors, warm, and heated.  I trekked there on the metro in the pouring rain across town, only to see the sign stating that Musee D'Orsay is "closed on Mondays."  At this point I wanted to cry.  I was alone in France, cold, wet, and my museum was closed.  Luckily, I knew exactly two other places to go in Paris.  First, I used my superb map-using abilities to find the Arc de Triomphe.  Once there, I took some pictures, asked a stranger to take a picture of me, and then took refuge from the monsoon underneath the Arc.  My umbrella blew into the street while I was there alone and I had to go chasing after it, with mean French people pointing and laughing.  Here is a picture of me attempting to fight the elements while a stranger is taking a picture:

After that I trekked across town again to Notre Dame.  By the time I got there, I was so cold and so wet that I took about ten pictures (none of which have me in them) and heading back to the metro.  

Except I got lost on my way back to the Metro and no one wanted to help this lonely American girl was bore a striking resemblance to a wet dog.  So I wandered around for a while before I found the metro stop.  After Norte Dame, I headed back to the hotel, got my suitcase and took a train to the airport.  I got to the airport three and a half hours before my flight because I was so incredibly tired of being out in the rain and the wind and I didn't know where else to go.  I was so happy to get back to Madrid where it rarely rains.  

Moral of the story: The rain in Spain does NOT fall mainly on the plain.  It falls in Paris. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Donkeys, Camels, and Scarab Beetles...Oh My!

Three continents down...three more to go.  For the past 6 days, I have been in Morocco, AFRICA.  I am going to start by apologizing for the length of this blog because I have so much to tell you.  This trip was amazing.  

Tuesday night at 8:30pm, the ISA Madrid and Salamanca students loaded up a bus in Madrid and started driving south.  Luckily, my transportation narcolepsy kicked in immediately and I slept almost the entire way to Malaga in the south of Spain.  I think the excessive amount of Spanish Dramamine that I took also contributed to my sleep.  We arrived in Malaga at 5am, and picked up ISA Malaga and Santander students.  Then we drove two more hours to the ferry port to cross the Straight of Gibraltar.  At the port we met up with the ISA Granada students. Here is a picture of the Rock of Gibraltar taken from the ferry. 

We landed in Africa, but were still in Spain because we were in Ceuta, a Spanish city.  We drove another hour to the Spanish/Moroccan border, went through customs and were on our way to Fes. 

At about 6pm (After 8 more hours on the bus) we arrived in Fes.  We stayed in a beautiful hotel with a pool and all of the luxuries of an American hotel (Phone in the bathroom, etc.).  It didn't really feel like we were in Africa until the next day when we ventured out of the hotel and went to the Medina.  The Medina is a huge market where they sell everything imaginable.  At the market, we visited a fourth generation medicine man (and I allowed him to put makeup on my face as a demonstration).  I particularly like the tree on my forehead.

Saw chickens being slaughtered in the streets (naturally, they were being slaughtered in a humane fashion, similar to kosher, because of the Muslim food rules), 

and a giant bin of goats' heads.  
 Right next to this bin of goats' heads, there was a lovely display of Moroccan spices.  Sanitary.  

There is also a tannery in the middle of the Medina, which resulted in the entire area smelling like death.  But it was interesting to see how leather is made. 

And of course, lots of hand-woven Moroccan rugs.  

Visiting the medina was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  The life style is so vastly different from anything that I have seen before.  The Medina itself is so old that the streets are not designed for cars, but donkeys.  There were donkeys everywhere inside the market transporting goods.  The donkeys were a little terrifying.  They would run into you if you didn't get out of the way fast enough.  Which happened.  Twice.  
The next day, we left Fes, boarded the buses, and headed for the Sahara Desert.  We drove even farther south, almost to the Algerian border.  Which resulted in another 10 hours on the bus.  We got as far as our bus could go, then transferred to 4X4 jeeps to take us the last hour to our campsite.  We camped in "Haimas" tents in the sand dunes of the Sahara.  We woke up at 5am the next morning to take a night-hike to the top of the tallest sand dune around to watch the sunrise.  It was a beautiful sunrise.  There were quite a few scarab beetles out at that time of morning, however.  These beetles are not dangerous, but seeing a two inch long beetle in the sand is unnerving nevertheless.
We got dressed and at some breakfast before our camels arrived to take us around the desert.  Three days later, I am still sore from this camel ride, but it was fun at the time. 

We rode the camels about an hour to a really tall sand dune.  I climbed all the way to the top, made some sand angels, and was proposed to by a native Berber desert dweller.  He offered to give my family three camels if I stayed in Morocco with him.  And then he held my ankles and pulled me all the way down the sand dune and called in "Desert Skiing."  
He also showed me how to write my name in Arabic in the sand.  Unfortunately, our love cannot continue for many reasons.  1. He lives in Africa.  2.  He smells like camels.  3. He is over 40.  4. He has no teeth.  It's really a pity.  

Next. the camels took us to a typical desert town.  We brought clothes to donate to the very poor people who lived in this city.  We also brought candy to give to the children, which everyone expected to be a rewarding experience.  These children were vicious.  They would steal the candy out of your hands, pockets, etc.  They tried to steal rings off our fingers and watches off our wrists.  A couple of the students trying to hand out candy were bleeding from being scratched by the children.  It was not a fun or rewarding experience.  Good deed for the month is accomplished and I only have a few scratches to show for it.  

After the camels brought us back to the campsite, I got henna tattoos on my palms.  I sat down in front of a woman of about 50 years, paid her my durhams (Moroccan Monies), and gave her my palm.  Then she summoned over an 8-year-old girl who did my henna.  And it looks like and 8-year-old did it.  The woman did not speak any spanish or any english, so I couldn't express to her the fact that I do not like children, especially when they are putting semi-permanent ink on my skin.  

That night, a couple of friends and I sneaked away from the campsite to go on a night hike.  It was completely dark, without a light for miles in any direction.  We only climbed a couple of sand dunes, laid down in the sand, and looked at the stars.  Now, I'm not really the type of person to dwell on the beauty of the night sky, but these stars were amazing.  I have never seen stars like that in my entire life.  I tried to take a picture to capture how bright and vivid the stars were, but it didn't turn out.  I had no idea that there were so many stars.  Ridiculous.  

The next morning, we packed up, boarded the 4X4's, took them to the bus, and drove 10 hours to Meknes.  Meknes is a much more urban and modern city than Fes.  We explored the city on our own for a while and found a delicious pastry shop.  After dinner, we hung out in the hotel until bed because it is not advised to go out in the city alone at night.  We went to bed and woke up super early the next morning to take the bus back to Madrid. 

After 22 hours on the bus and an hour on the Ferry, we arrived in Madrid at 6am Tuesday morning.  I took the metro home and left for class at 7:30am.  I am still sincerely sleep deprived from the trip, but sacrificing some sleep is totally worth it.  
Friday morning I am off to France.  I will write soon to update you on that adventure!

El Escorial, Salamanca, and Ávila

This past weekend was our first trip with my study abroad program, ISA.  It was nice because everything (transportation, hotels, tours, etc.) was planned out for us.  However, it was a pain in the butt because a group of 75 Americans cannot discretely travel through small towns in Spain.

We left Madrid and drove one hour to El Escorial, which is the historical residence of the king of Spain.  It is a beautiful building, complete with one of the world's oldest libraries, the Royal tombs where many of Spain's kings and queens are buried, and a monastery.  Sadly, pictures were not allowed inside the palace, but here is an areal view of El Escorial:

After we left El Escorial, we drove to Salamanca and had free time to explore the city for the rest of the night.  Salamanca is an extremely small city.  It is essentially a college town and is the home to the oldest University in Spain and one of the oldest in the world.  It is possible to walk the entire town of Salamanca in approximately 20.  Very different from Madrid.  Salamanca has a beautiful Plaza Mayor (The plaza mayor in Madrid is modeled after the plaza of the same name in Salamanca).  

The next day, we toured Salamanca as a group.  First we visited the Old and New cathedrals, which are absolutely gorgeous.  The are attached to each other and located in the heart of the city center.  The old cathedral was built in the 12th century and the "new" cathedral was built in the 16th century.  Which isn't very new if you ask me.  I propose that they call them the "old and older" cathedrals.  Here is a picture of the inside of the Old Cathedral. 

We also toured the University in Salamanca.  As I was wandering through these beautiful academic buildings and classrooms, I just kept thinking to myself "well, this is no Sturm Hall."  There were people being married inside the school because it is such a beautiful venue.  I don't think anyone would want to get married in Davis Auditorium...

After we left Salamanca, we drove to Ávila.  The one and only reason why this city is worth visiting is because it is surrounded by a really old wall.  That's it.  A wall.  

We climbed the wall and took a lot of pictures.  Then got in the bus and drove back to Madrid.  If you ask me, the stop in Ávila was unnecessary.  I've seen walls before.  And I will probably see one or two more in the future.  But my exploration of central Spain continues.  Oh, here's the wall:

We arrived back in Madrid and I had one day to un-pack and re-pack before MOROCCO!  Please see next blog entry.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barcelona es de Puta Madre

 The past week has been full of adventures all around Spain.  For fear of this blog entry being intolerably long, I will try to keep my anecdotes brief and entertaining.  

Last Friday, at an ungodly early hour, my friend Heather Scott and I boarded a plane headed for Barcelona.  While the flight is only about 50 minutes, plane tickets were cheaper than train tickets and comparable to bus tickets.  We landed in Barcelona, took a cab to our hostel, and prepared ourselves to explore an entire city in approximately 40 hours.  Our hostel In Barcelona was my first true hostel experience.  Communal bathrooms, twelve beds in one co-ed bedroom, and an extra fee to have sheets on your bed.  Ew.  High maintenance Emily aside, I ended up liking the hostel experience.  We met young and interesting people from all over the world and had culturally enriching experiences.  (Even though none of the electrical outlets worked, thus preventing me from using my hair straightener...)  Here is a picture of our bedroom in the hostel. 
 The first thing we did in Barcelona, on the advice of many many people, was go to La Sagrada Familia.  La Sagrada Familia is one of Gaudi's most famous works in Barcelona. It's a giant temple that has been under construction since 1882 and it's not expected to be completed until at least 2025 ( time for completion varies depending on different sources of information).  

The cathedral was absolutely breathtaking.  Heather and I spent more than three hours there, just admiring the detail.  The stained glass windows are the most recent installation of la Sagrada Familia.  My parents didn't even get to see it when they went to Barcelona two years ago.  

After la Sagrada Familia, we went to Parc Guell, another one of Gaudi's artistic wonders.  The park reminded me of a scene out of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas because the buildings looked almost like cartoons.  Parc Guell is famous for Gaudi's mosaic artwork. 
Friday night was filled with exploring the city, getting horribly lost, and eventually ending up at a gay bar.  We woke up early Saturday morning and headed to the market on La Rambla.  The market was beautiful, with isles and isles of fresh fruit, nuts, chocolates, meat, flowers, and vegetables.  We spent an hour just walking through the market and buying some snacks to eat.  Heather was in heaven in the chocolate section. 

The we walked down to the Barcelona harbor and a saw my first Spanish body of water.  We didn't have time to go to the beach, so this was the closest that I got. 

 Saturday night was an adventure all on its own.  After dinner, we wanted to go to a fun place for drinks, dancing, etc.  But neither of us knew of a fun place to go.  We had an inspired idea to hail a taxi and ask him to take us to a fun place where young people go out.  Good music, dancing, etc.  Without hesitation, we were off, weaving in and out of pedestrians like he really knew where to go.  After much anticipation, we stopped in front of the Hard Rock Cafe, Barcelona.  Thank you, Mr. Cab Driver.  What an interesting and exotic place for American tourists to go.  After that, we went back to our original plan of wandering the streets listening for music.  

Monday morning we boarded a plane back to Madrid.  We had Monday and Tuesday off because of Columbus Day, which is a huge deal in Spain.  They call it the National Spanish Holiday and everything is closed.  So Tuesday we decided to go to the quaint mountain town of Buitraigo, about 90 minutes outside of Madrid.  To make a long story (and a very long afternoon) short, our guidebooks lied.  I do not think that Buitraigo has ever seen tourists before, nevertheless Americans.  We brought lunch for a picnic because we were under the false impression that it would be possible to leave to city and actually get into the mountains.  WRONG.  There is a huge Moorish wall surrounding the city.  Where there is no wall, there is a river.  The guidebook also said that there is a Picasso museum in this town.  WRONG again.  This "museum" is a room in the basement of a house.  Picasso's barber donated all of the artwork that he was given by Picassi to this "museum."  If I were a painter, I wouldn't give very many pieces to my barber.  Picasso had a similar idea. 

The city was pretty, but we took the 10:30am bus there and had to take the 4:30bus home.  We saw the entire town in less than an hour, ate our picnic for another hour, and were ready to leave by 2pm. We sat in a coffee shop until they kicked us out and then we sat at the bus stop.  Our adventure to Buitraigo was different than we had originally planned, but we created memories all the same. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

La Corrida de Toros and OKTOBERFEST!

Hello! I am terribly sorry that it has been so long since my last blog post.  I have been very busy and blogging is more time consuming than I expected it to be.  To fill you in on the past two weeks, I have to start with one of the most disturbing and cultural activities that there is here in Madrid. La Corida de Toros (a bull fight) is the most stereotypical Spanish thing to do.  And since I fully support being a tourist, (and the flashing "American" sign that is constantly above my head) I attended a bull fight.  I had NO IDEA what I was in for.  I thought that the matador would shake a sheet at a bull for a couple minutes and that would be that.  WRONG.  During every bull fight, the matadors kill six bulls.  One at a time.

  First, they taunt it a bit and get it really angry.  Then a man on a horse comes out and stabs in in the back so that the blood starts to run.  

Then they put these colorful hooks in its back to make it more angry.  Then, the real matador comes out to finish him off.  And they do that exact same process six times!  During the first bull fight, I was mortified by all the blood and really felt sorry for the bull.  And I don't even like animals.  During the second and third fights, I thought it was pretty interesting to watch.  By the fourth, fifth, and sixth bull fights, I was bored and tired of watching the same thing over and over again.  It lose its shock factor I suppose.  But I took lots of pictures and affirmed my status as a tourist. 

I also visited Madrid's modern art museum, La Reina Sofia.  I enjoyed the modern art museum much more than the Prado museum, especially since I was able to see Picasso's Guernica.   I have studied this painting in school before and it was truly amazing to see it in real life.  The painting takes up an entire wall and it is an impressive sight.  Pictures were not allowed in the museum, so here is my sad attempt at discretely capturing Guernica:

Notice the arms of my fellow museum attendees.   The picture was taken from hip-height to avoid being yelled at in Spanish by the mean security guards.

School is going well.  I finished the month-long intensive on Wednesday and started my full course load today.  I am still getting a fell far my classes, but right now I feel like they will be hard.  I am taking Spanish classes with native speakers and I feel that I am not even close to their level.  
Also, On Thursday, I moved to a new homestay.  I had been having some issues both with my roommate and with the host family, so I was relocated to a new family and I love it here.  At my old house, I shared a tiny room with another girl and we had very different sleep schedules.  In my new house, I have my own room which is bigger than the room that I used to share.  Also, the food at my new house is amazing.  My host father is from Syria, so we have a variety of food.  I could not be happier with my new homestay. 

This past weekend, I ventured to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest.  I met up with a large group of DU students who are currently studying abroad all over Europe and we had an amazing time.  On Friday night, we walked from our hotel to Oktoberfest to get the lay of the land.  Oktoberfest is a city all on its own.  There are amusement park rides, stores, food, and of course, beer tents.  
The beer tents are giant temporary structures that hold 3,000 to 6,000 people.  In order to get a table in a beer tent, you need to arrive early and wait in line.  We got to the Augustiner beer tent at 6:45am, ready for the day.  We got a table in the tent and had our first beer at 9am, when they opened the doors. 
The rest of Saturday was filled with great food (giant pretzels and amazing half chickens) Meeting new friends (I talked to people from all over the world, including a couple who don't speak a word of English OR Spanish...) and a lot of laughter.  

Also, I bought a hat, which was clearly not a decision made while I was entirely sober.  It reminded me of the Harry Potter Sorting Hat and I loved it.  My mom says that I should never wear hats.  I am starting to agree...
 Next weekend I am off to Barcelona for a weekend trip with some friends from my program in Madrid and I am sure that I will have some good stories about Barca.  I promise not to wait too long before I write again.  Dos Besos!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Studying is Really Getting in the way of my Study Abroad Experience

I am sorry that I have not updated my blog in over a week.  This past week was MIDTERMS for our month-long intensive Spanish class.  I had two midterms, one for each of my classes.  And I actually had to study for them.  Thus, I do not have too many stories from the past week.  Last weekend, I went back to Parque de Buen Retiro to sit in the grass with some friends and "study." It was a beautiful day and we got minimal studying done. 
This is a picture of the lake at Buen Retiro.  You can rent little row boats and go out on the lake, but I have yet to do that. The water is really nasty and would most likely give me jam hands.

I ended up doing well on my midterms.  Well, I did REALLY well on my written test (97%) and not quite as well on my oral test (85%).  I am significantly better at reading and writing than I am at speaking.  I can formulate sentences in my head, conjugate verb correctly on paper in any tense, use complex parts of speech.  But, when asked a question, I turn into a complete and total spaz.  I simply cannot formulate answers fast enough and I revert back to very basic Spanish abilities.  Unfortunately, our oral exam consisted of our professors asking us questions in front of a panel who were grading our responses.  Terrifying.  However, according to my grades, I was able to hold my own.  

In Spain, the grading system is different from that of the US.  Instead of getting letter grades (A, B, C, D, F), we get number grades (0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest).  Getting a 5 or better is good.  We will wait to see how the grades convert back to the US. 

This weekend, 8 of my friends from the University of Denver were in Madrid and I got to play tour guide to show them around my city.  On Friday night, we went to dinner and then went to Kapitol.  Kapitol is a discoteca in downtown Madrid that is notorious for providing crazy nights.  It is a seven story club and each floor has a different theme.  We watched Spanish karaoke, visited the mojito floor, and danced until our feet felt as though they would fall off. 

It was a fantastic night (and morning...we didn't leave until around 5am, when the party was just getting started).  Now I really feel like I have experienced Spanish night life.  And I hope I showed my friends the real Madrid.  

The next morning, we went out to breakfast for the typical Spanish breakfast of churros con chocolate.  I have been searching for a place that serves good churros con chocolate, and on Sunday morning, I finally found it.  The chocolate is thick, almost the consistency of hot fudge.  And the churros were warn and delicious.  In Spain, they do not have cinnamon sugar on them like they  do in Mexico.  It was a nutritious and delicious breakfast. 

Later that morning, I went to El Rastro again to do some discount shopping.  I bought new sunglasses (5 euro), a ring that immediately turned my finger green, but is very cute (1 euro) and a scarf that you can see in the picture below (5 euro).  

Then I met up with some friends to go to Parque Oeste, where there is an ancient egyptian temple.  Madrid is full of parks. 

There is a gondola ride that goes from Parque Oeste to Casa de Campo (11 minute ride) that shows some great views of the city.  We were huge tourists and took the gondola ride on Sunday afternoon. 

Now we are in another week of school and classes.  We only have seven days of class left before finals, and I am still recovering from midterms.  I built my schedule for the semester (after the month-long intensive ends) and I got a great schedule.  I am in class from 8:30am until 11:30am everyday and then I have the afternoons free to explore Madrid.  I do not have class on Fridays, so I have been trying to plan out my travel.  I am going to Munich October 1-3, Salamanca October 22-24, Morocco October 27-November 1, France November 5-8, Dublin November 11-14, and Granada November 19-21. And I still want to find some spare time to go to Barcelona and Valencia.  It is going to be a busy next few months!

I will write again soon.  Hasta Luego!