Thursday, March 25, 2010

Our first stop on Spring Break: Brussels, March 25

Friday-March 25 I thought I would get a head start on the blog since I don't know when I'll have Internet :) We traveled most of yesterday. We took a bus to Santander, about an hour and a half from Bilbao, and then flew Ryanair to Brussels. The flight itself was an experience, b/c Grace and I are sharing a luggage, and we kept having to rearrange things in order to make the weight requirements. But we did it lol, and then we were off. We finally touched down around 10 and began to search for our hostel. It took us a while to figure out the metro/tram situation. When we found our hostel though the people were still there to let us in and were really nice. This place is amazing compared to Salamanca's hostel.

We're sharing a hostel with 9 other people. We felt bad coming in so late but there was nothing we could do. A lot of the people left this morning, but we've had a few newcomers.

The best parts of the day were eating a delicious chocolate mousse covered in white chocolate small piece of chocolate. Absolutely incredible. And then the waffle I ate that had whip cream, strawberries, and chocolate. Absolutely incredible. :) They have a lot of variety.

We went to their Gran Place area...I believe the name was... They have their Town Hall there (that looked like a Cathedral-photo below on left). The original Godiva was there as well. The buildings are all beautiful there. We also saw the statute of the little boy peeing, it's a huge deal here and there are souvenirs for it everywhere (photo below on right). They call him squirt in the tour book lol. We also saw the shopping mall (there are chocolate shops everywhere). We saw the European Commission and tried to tour the European Parliament but we came 1 out of the 2 days the members meet and they don't give tours. We also were able to see the Palace of Justice, the Royal Palace, and the Cathedral. We visited a huge park with a beautiful arch in it. It was blue skies most the day and rained for only a little bit in the afternoon. It stopped in time to eat waffles though! Yum!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Seeing Salamanca :)

Friday-March 19-This past weekend Chrissy and I visited Salamanca which is 5 hours from Bilbao, and northwest of Madrid. Once we got to the city we were able to find our hostel fairly easy-we didn't have a map so we were going off of what we remembered and the street our hostel was on. But there were a lot of friendly people there to help us out. Our hostel itself was absolutely terrible. We knew it'd be bad, but it was the cheapest out of the ones left available for the weekend-Salamanca is pretty popular to be at on Saturday nights especially. Anyhow the hostel was dirty and not fun, but we luckily didn't have to spend a lot of time there because we had great weather (it was supposed to downpour all weekend).
One of the first places we headed to was Plaza Mayor (photo below)-one of the, if not thee, most beautiful plazas in Spain. It is large, beautiful and full of life. People just sit on the ground within the plaza enjoying the weather (for some reason there aren't many benches within it), meeting up with family or talking with friends. Around the plaza are restaurants and bars.

We then headed to Museo y Iglesia de San Esteban (photo below from inside). The outside was beautiful but some of the inside parts were a bit creepy. One room had a dark room that was full of in ground tombs (more then normal) with music to go along with it... And then some of the porcelain pieces were sort of strange.

The main tourist center is called, Casa de las Conchas, meaning House of Shells and has shells decorating the outside walls. Across from it is Universidad Pontifcia. After we got our map from the information center it looked like it was about to downpour so we headed back to the hostel and ate lunch. Surprisingly it didn't rain until Saturday night after we were done sight-seeing for the day.

Night came quick since our bus hadn't gotten into Salamanca until about 3, so we spent the night finding the top places on the map so that on Saturday we could easily find them and take day pictures and tour, etc. We found the main University(photo above). The main wall is decorated and detailed like a cathedral, but the catch is that when you walk by it, everyone (literally) is pointing to the right side of this decorated entrance and saying rana. Rana means frog, and if you find the frog on this giant detailed entrance way-you'll have good luck on your studies. Unfortunately we needed help finding it, because at first we weren't sure what we were trying to find. Then someone told us exactly where to look, in the middle and to the right there was a small skeleton, on top of it was a tiny blurb that was indeed a frog (if you use your camera and zoom in and take a picture you will realize it isn't just a blob lol) (photo below). The obsession with frog souvenirs in all the shops is crazy, and since frogs are my favorite animal I thought it was cool. But by the end I was even frogged-out. We then found the Cathedral which was massive. And then we found the Roman bridge on the outskirts of the city.

Saturday-March 20-The first thing we did was head to Plaza Mayor which was a central point to see the things beyond it. Our first stop was to the Cathedral (Nueva-New) (photo below), and after taking pictures of the outside we went in. It was pretty inside but not as much as the one in Toledo. It was interesting because they were working on different small rooms that surround the outer edge of the cathedral. We realized people were walking around the top of the cathedral so we found where the door to go up was and paid a student price to go through. This actually led us to the old cathedral and it looked like they were preparing for a wedding with white flowers on the ends of the benches and a red carpet down the center. There were a lot more tombs in the ground to the right side of the center of the cathedral and then about 4 extravagant tombs along a side wall that led to more of the Old Cathedral. We decided to go to the towers, which had appeared to be included in the first ticket we bought but wasn't. It was definitely worth it though. We went up a winding staircase and one part led us to a room with a book of Aristotle's and other important works. We kept walking and were able to walk out on 2 different parts- one was like a platform-and be level with the tops of the towers-it was incredible. We then got to walk along the top of the New Cathedral.

We then went and saw things that were close to Plaza Mayor that we had previously seen but didn't know the names of including: the Torre (Tower) de Clavero, Palacio de La Salina de Fonseca and Palacio de Orellana. The Palacio's weren't anything too fantastic, mostly just plain buildings, so we head back to Plaza Mayor.
After lunch we headed to the Cathedral again in search of an astronaut that was supposed to be on the wall. We couldn't find it so we thought it was a scam on the web given the time the Cathedral was built-but when we went into the souvenir shops we realized there was an astronaut somewhere on the wall. When we still couldn't find it, we headed to the University and toured it. The rooms were pretty basic, but there was a library we could see from the glass enclosed door, that was really cool to see. There were a ton of books on all of the walls, and a couple old-fashioned globes. To imagine the room, picture Beauty and the Beast and the library in there. :) In the corner of the hallway there were 2 faded paintings of Saints that were done to discourage students way back in the day not to pee in the corner when studying in the library in days of no heat or glass.
After the University we went into the Official Souvenir Shop of the University. It was pretty expensive, nice things that weren't really touristy. We also toured the Convento de Las Duenos. There was a large plaza inside of it and you could go up stairs that let you look down on it.
We then found the astronaut-finally!-on the Cathedral-we had been on the wrong side of it. Both sides were extravagant. Very strange of the cathedral to have an astronaut on it, and it was worn from the years and looked sort of like an alien.

And one side-note-The Universities here look like Cathedrals, all old-fashioned buildings. All beautiful.
(View from the Roman Bridge on our first night in the city :))

Sunday March 21-Today we returned back to the entrance of the main University. Across from it and to the left is a plaza-in which there are rooms off of it. One particular one has a large painting in it. The background was faded blue and had gold stars on all of it. With different figures/animals painted on it. It was very large and the room was dark with only some light shining well enough to see the painting.
We then head to see Casa Lis Museo Art Deco y Art Nouveau. The back of this museum that faced the river was completely stained glass. We had to check out of our hostel by noon so we headed back and got our stuff, then relaxed in Plaza Mayor until it was time to leave for our bus to Bilbao.
Another successful weekend :)
March 24th- Wednesday we begin our spring break. It's been a lot of work planning it, and it has come so fast. The places we're going: Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, and then Zurich and Geneva in Switzerland and back to Bilbao. :) :) :) I'm going to do my best with pictures and blogs either during or after break :) If things get to crazy/busy with our touring probably after :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Weekend trip to Toledo :)

(View from the bus tour)
Friday March 12th-Chrissy and I took off on a 1:30 am bus to Madrid (about 4 1/2- 5 hours) followed by a 30 minute train from Madrid to Toledo. We arrived in Toledo early morning and were ready to start our day. First thing: finding our hostel. Not as easy as one would think, since the station didn't have a map and the information center was hiding somewhere within the city walls. So we grabbed our luggage and trucked up the side of the city's walls, 2 gigantic hills and then started asking people what direction our hostel was in. After an hour or so we found success in the back of the city (which is the only thing we knew about the location of our hostel). Check-in wasn't till 1:00pm, so we dropped our stuff off, asked them for a map and headed for the Cathedral. The Cathedral was beautiful, and just like the other ones seen in Europe, completely full of unbelievable detail (top left photo below). The city itself is gorgeous, made completely of bricks, with castles, old-fashioned brick bridges and surrounded by a city wall. The streets were small, and yet vehicles still manage to get through them, within inches of us many times as we stood flat against the wall. One area we went to in the city was Puerta del Sol which had a beautiful view of the area surrounding the central city (top right photo below). We went to Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz and also the Iglesia de los Jesuitas. Here we saw the church and went inside. All the walls were white which I'd never seen before (Bottom right photo below). We were actually able to go to the top of the towers and see the bells and take pictures of the views. We walked into a few gift shops and the lady of one loved explaining everything to us about the different things in the store, it was informative and in Spanish--so good practice :) Afterwards we ended up at Monasterio de S. Juan de los Reyes which was interesting because it had a lot of chains on two sides of the building...

**I couldn't believe we were in Toledo-in my tour book I was like wow, I would love to go there, but since it was south of Madrid, I didn't think I'd be able to, but this weekend was definitely a success**
Saturday March 13th-Today Chrissy and I started off eating breakfast by the river. Our hostel was directly next to Rio Tajo. The river was beautiful and there was a mountain-like hill across from us with jagged rock. Afterward we went into the city again, deciding to go on a 5 euro bus tour that would take us on the outskirts of the city in order to take pictures of the city. It was a double-decker bus and awesome for only 5 euro. The pictures we got from it were great. Right before the tour we had gone to the Alcazar (palace which is now a library-photo below on left). It was gigantic and beautiful, and across from the Alcazar, across the river and on a hill was an old (small) castle (photo below on right). After the tour we went to the Museum of Santa Cruz. There were tapestries in one large part of the museum, and through another door there was a pretty plaza that had a couple exhibitions off of them. Then there were ruins within the plaza on the walls. One of the exhibitions was full of bowls/plates/ceramics/tiles all decorated differently. The other exhibition was full of paintings, one was El Greco's.

After lunch we weren't sure where to head to first, so we took off to the Iglesia (Church) de Los Jesuitas and took pictures of the outside. Then we headed to the main Cathedral and bought tickets to go inside. Definitely glad we did, our culture professor wouldn't have been too happy if we hadn't. It was absolutely massive inside. Unfortunately we weren't able to take pictures inside. Detail was, once again, everywhere. It's so hard to describe, but there's two sections in the center of the cathedral. There were smaller rooms to look in all along the front. There were a couple rooms that were worship rooms for smaller services. One room was filled with paintings by famous artists like El Greco, Goya, Velaquez. The ceiling was painted magnificently by a Jordan Lucas I believe.. This room had 3 small rooms branch off of it. One was of more paintings-one was Raphael, the next room had different objects on display and the last one had different wear the cardinals had worn, many faded and now old. The stained glass everywhere was beautiful.
After the Cathedral we looked in a few stores and headed toward Sinagoga Sta M La Blanca and also saw Escuela (School) de Artes y Oficios along the way. We ended our day in a park that overlooked an old brick bridge in the distance and jagged rocks and beautiful hills.
Toledo is a beautiful city and a lot of the experience was through walking the small streets and seeing the views and the different buildings.
Sunday March 14th-We went into the city and ate breakfast. Not a lot was open being a Sunday in Spain. We then spent the remainder of our day in different plazas and enjoying the sun and nice weather before heading back to Bilbao. Our trip back went smoothly-getting back to Madrid and then taking the metro to the bus stop (we got a little frantic looking for our bus, but found it in time), then it was the long trek back to Bilbao. :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Weekend Excursion to Madrid and Segovia!! :)

Friday March 5th- To make up for not having my laptop during Madrid/Segovia weekend I ended up writing down the events - so it's way more detailed :)

Today our CIDE program took a bus from San Mames (bus station in Bilbao) to Madrid-about a 5 hours bus ride. We made one pit stop at a small hotel (compared to the size of our 2 buses and about 100 students).

Once we got into the city of Madrid-we first went to the hotel-TRYP Hoteles. It was a nice hotel, funny you would have to pay 4 euro an hour to use the Wi-Fi when at hostels it is free and cheaper to stay there. Our meals were a buffet in the hotel, it was alright and nice to eat to our own content versus being given 2 large entrees and dessert.

Afterwards we headed out to an afternoon/night of Madrid. We first went to Palacio Real (picture above) – the 3rd largest palace in the world people were saying. It has a large plaza and the palace was on the right, the cathedral on the left. In my tour book (thanks to Donna and Jeff :)) it says you could spend a day going around the palace and admiring it-they’re right it’s gorgeous. We went inside and got to see several rooms. Absolutely incredible. We saw the room with the throne in it where the King and Queen told Columbus he could go on the voyage. Gold, beautiful frescos-extravagant. Chandeliers in almost all the rooms we saw-if not all. One large room was just for the King to get dressed in. It had grapes and vines on the walls. The walls of each room were cloth/material sewed on. And they were extravagant designs. Detail everywhere. Another room was mostly blue. Another room was made completely of porcelain-somehow attached to the wood of the walls-I don’t remember quite how now. There were beautiful statues and quite a few clocks. One was a clock face on a small-sized world within a huge statue. My Grandpa would have loved these clocks. One room I never thought I’d see in my life was the grand dining room. The table seemed to go on forever and there were so many chairs arranged on either side. Just like in the movies. There were several chandeliers in that room. –One other thing-everything was in perfect condition including the furniture. There were several stools or even sofas with fabric completely perfect-not worn or snagged or anything. We then went through several –a couple-rooms that had silver pieces in them. In one room there was what looked like a giant silver punch bowl. Next to it the plaque said the King had melted some of the silver in order to help fund the war. (Unfortunately pictures weren't allowed inside).

The hallways were tall and massive. One of the last rooms had 3 instruments, each was worth over 1 million Euros each, Euros-not USD. The room was very green. Another room was a billiard room with a pool table. We also saw the kids play room that was filled with colorful images. – Afterwards we went to La Catedral de Almudena. The current prince was married there. It was a more colorful church in the high ceilings.

We also visited Plaza de la Villa, and Plaza Mayor.
In Plaza Mayor there is a huge open area. The shops/restaurants/and bars surround the Plaza. Before we had gotten to Plaza Mayor we also passed an old-fashioned market. As for where we ended-Puerta del Sol, I didn’t hear much about the significance of it. The weather since we had arrived in Madrid had been raining and pretty miserable, making it difficult to hear about the Plaza. My jeans and shoes were completely soaked. I am definitely appreciating the fact I bought a huge umbrella in Bilbao.

After Puerta del Sol our Professors let us loose to explore. Since the weather was so terrible, it was hard to be motivated to search out places. I had been hoping for Starbucks so Becca, Emily, Chrissy and I walked through a few shopping streets and went in a couple stores. When we found a Starbucks we enjoyed some drinks and warmed up. Then we sought out Puerta de Alacala (photo on right with Chrissy and Emily)-a pretty arch structure and took pictures, along with other monuments (like the Bank of Spain on the left). Earlier on the bus we had passed the large and beautiful National Library.

We then figured out our way successfully back to the hotel for the buffet dinner, talked a while and headed up to our own rooms. I spent a lot of time blow-drying my jeans and running shoes since the next day in Segovia was supposed to be winter like weather. We don’t typically get nice weather on our excursions—but we see incredible things. :)

Saturday March 6
- Today we went to Segovia from Madrid—and it was absolutely incredible. The first place we went was el Acueducto—Roman Aqueduct (photos below). Absolutely incredible that it’s only rock upon rock with no cement or anything in between and it’s over 2000 years old, bringing water into the villages back when. We were able to walk up the stairs to the left of it and see them from a greater height with the mountains in the background.

One crazy thing-on the way to Segovia I fell asleep-when I woke up we had gone from rainy Madrid to a snow storm. After some distance the snow disappeared and there was only some in the mountains once we almost reached Segovia. Segovia itself had beautiful weather and blue skies. Very strange.

We then walked through some side streets to see the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Plaza Mayor. The cathedral was gorgeous and unique and I’ve never seen anything like it. We didn’t go in but the outside spoke volumes. The cathedral is Gothic style.

We went down the side streets of the cathedral and ….reached Alcazar (accent on the second a) an incredible castle (photo below on the left)-just like I’ve imagined seeing growing up on Disney movies. We went on a tour with a lady who took us through a few of the rooms. The first one had a horse and a mannequin decorated in armor. There were also children sized armor because the kids wore them at young ages to become accustomed to the weight. We then went to the Fireplace room where they ate dinner. We saw a throne—the ceilings were absolutely incredible (picture of one of the ceilings below on the right). They were extravagant. In one room there was an important item-kind of like dresser drawers but with an insane amount of hidden drawers where they would hide important documents and also transport this box, as is, with the documents hidden inside. Another room we saw was the King and Queen’s bedroom. Because the room is so large it makes the bed look small-but it wasn’t. The curtains around the bed were to keep the warm because the room could be freezing (it was chilly just standing in there). They also sewed tapestries onto the walls to help keep it warmer. Another room was the church. There was a fire in the 19th century-all that was saved was a painting and the library books. The last room had weapons and cannons. The last place we visited was the top of the palace, in a platform ‘la torre.’ What an incredible view of Segovia, it tooks us 152 steps up a winding and narrow staircase (like in the movies) to get up there. It took a lot of work to get up and down them with the amount of people.

After Alcazar we headed back to Plaza Mayor and had lunch in a restaurant there. (Not very delicious for me-first entrée: big beans in soup = good/okay, second entrée: cow I believe? :( Dessert: Flan-very good.

Then we took off back to Madrid-again passing through a (smaller) snow storm on the way back (so weird). Once back in the city the bus would either drop you off near (but good walking distance) away from the Museum of Queen Sofia. (Museo Reina Sofia) or the bus was heading back to the hotel. We went and saw paintings by Picasso, like Guernica. Guernica is a small town near Bilbao that was bombed in 1936 by communist Franco. The piece was kept in New York until Franco lost power and was then brought to Madrid. We also saw paintings by Dali and one set of paintings/drawings by Goya. (Sidenote-on the way to this museum we saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier).
One of Picasso's pieces below, we were able to take pictures in this museum, except of the Guernica painting:

Afterwards Becca, Joanna, Chrissy and I walked to see Teatro Real and saw Palacio STA. Cruz as well-right near Plaza Mayor (the have a lot of Plaza Mayor’s in Spain). The theatre’s front and back weren’t incredible-but we took pictures in front of and of each other in front of Palacio Real. (Which was across from the theatre). We had not seen this side of the Palace the day before.

I was disappointed in their souveniors-their shot glasses mostly said España on them not Madrid and not many had the Palace on them (none actually) or their postcards weren’t very diversified.

And besides the Palacio Real – honestly I wasn’t really impressed with Madrid, but yes it was fun and an experience. And you can’t go to Spain for 4 months and not see Madrid.

Anyhow after the Teatro Real we headed back to the hotel and ate dinner.

Sunday March 7th
This day was pretty straight forward and not a lot to tell. We woke up, ate breakfast, put our luggage in the bus and headed to Museo del Prado. We went on a guided tour and saw amazing works of art including: Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, one of Spain’s ‘greatest Golden Age artists. And many more pieces by him, we also saw many Goya paintings, paintings by El Greco, The Garden of Earthly Delights and Table of the Seven Deadly Sins by Bosch and a painting by Rembrandt. We went back to the hotel and ate lunch and made the long bus ride back to Bilbao. And I think we were all happy to get out of the big city and go to our current homes here in Bilbao :)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

El Partido de Fútbol (Soccer Game)!!!

Wednesday-March 3rd, 2010 Chrissy and I went to our first Fútbol game! It was our friend Grace's 21st birthday and the plan was to go to the game, sadly since we bought our tickets a few hours after Grace, Becca, Emily and Kristina we were not able to sit with them :( Who knew buying the same cheap tickets---that they would be in the lower bowl and us in the upper bowl lol :) Anyhow, the stadium was incredible and ... awesome :) The footwork of the players---intense. At one point the goalie of the other team (Athletic Club is our team, and they played against Paraguay) hit the ground extremely hard and got back up and played like it was nothing. The crowd was very enthusiastic--people wearing the our flag as a cape, etc. Unfortunately, we lost 1-3, but it was still a cool experience to be at a professional game. Raquel and Oscar (my host parents) told me that our team is very proud (which is past evident if you walk the streets after a game :))--they're the only team who does not pay a ton of money to have star players play for us--all of the people on the team are only from the Basque Country.
So I actually wrote that last blog today, Thursday, and that means tomorrow I leave with our program on an excursion to Madrid and Segovia! So next week there will be more to read hopefully!! :) Hope everyone has a great weekend! Miss you all!