Monday, February 28, 2011

Mumsy and Popsicle!!!

The title is a Wicked reference for those of you who are uneducated in the ways of musical theatre....
This past weekend was a very exciting one for parents came to visit Murcia!!! They flew into Alicante, and after a little bit of getting lost, they made it into Murcia at about 2:30.  We started by going to out lunch at Dad's new favorite restaurant of all time, Lizarran.  Basically it is the dim-sum version of tapas.  The waiters come around with platters that have pieces of bread with a tapa on top and you take what you want.  You then pay by the toothpick (holding to tapa to the bread).  50 cents for small toothpicks and 1 euro for the big ones.  It's pretty amazing! We then walked around the city and hung out.  We went out for an early dinner at a nicer restaurant near their hotel.
The next day we woke up early to have churros con chocolate at Valor, basically the Godiva of Spain.  Dad had Mayan chocolate, with cinnamon, and I had Mediterranean chocolate, with oranges.  Mom did not partake.  Then we drove to Cartagena.  Although I had already been there, it was a lot of fun to go again.  We went to the Roman Theatre, the castle (which was really just a tower), and the Civil War Refuge.  This was topped off with potato chips and beer before heading out the La Manga (the beach that has the Mediterraean on one side and Mar Menor on the other) for lunch.  As it turns out though, La Manga completely shuts down during the off-season so there weren't any restaurants open for lunch, so instead, we came back to Murcia (by this time it was 4 pm) and had pastel de carne and wine for a snack.  We then met up with Andy (my roommate), Annalisa, and Bre for tapas.  
On Sunday we woke up early for churros con chocolate at Valor, again.  This time Dad had 52% dark chocolate and I had regular milk chocolate (Dad's was the best) took a drive to Guadalest, a little mountain town of 200 people about 15 miles north of Benidorm (which is north of Alicante).  According to the Fodor guide this little town has the distinction of being the second-most visited attraction in Spain after the Prado.  It was definitely cool, but not what we expected.
We thought it would be a little (a lot) bigger with more space to just wander and explore.  But anyhow, we went up to the castle and we went to the museum of Microminiaturas (basically this guy made a bunch of paintings or statues that were invisible to the human eye on things like pieces of hair and needles.  There was one that was a little camel passing through the eye of a needle.)  The town has 7 museums, one of which being the museum of salt and pepper shakers which boasts a collection of over 20,000 sets, and the one we really wanted to go to, the museum of torture, was not open.  It was very sad.  We then drove back down to Murcia, making a loop which caused us to drive on windy mountain roads for about 3 hours.  We did stop and have a wonderful picnic (which I packed myself.  Mom, rubbed off on me!) on a rock overlooking the Murcian valley.  
Later that night we had dinner at an amazing restaurant behind their hotel where I ate waaay too much food, but it was delicious.  
Unfortunately I have class this week, but Mom and Dad are driving up to Barcelona (first stop Valencia) and I will meet them there on Thursday after my classes.  

¡Hasta la semana que viene!

P.S. My newest blog post at Pink Pangea is up. Dancing the Night Away: Exercise in Spain

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The quest for the Holy Grail and some dolphins too!

Masquerade! Paper faces on parade. Masquerade; hide your face so the world will never find you.
Yes, that is from Phantom of the Opera, and yes, I did go to a masquerade this week.  
It was our friend JC's birthday party, although his birthday is not until the end of April (he just won't be here for it).  Masks were supposed to be obligatory, but that ended up not being the case.  In any event that's probably a good thing since I made mine out of some lace and elastic...not very attractive.
The next day, Saturday a group of five girlfriends and myself went to Valencia.
Immediately upon arrival we consumed paella.  The hostel staff actually told us that we wouldn't be able to find paella since we went out at 3 and yet we ate this amazingness literally around the corner.  It was paella valenciana with green beans, legumes, meat, and snails.  I did try a snail.  I can't say I will necessarily eat one again, but at least I tried it once.  Following our amazing lunch, we got very lost trying to find the cathedral and ended up in front of the town hall instead.  It was really pretty on the inside, and outside.  Pretty much all the buildings in Valencia are Gothic-style architecture, so it was gorgeous.  After a few wrong turns, and stop to ask directions at the tourist info desk, we found the cathedral.  
We then found the shriveled up arm behind the altar in the cathedral.
The arm is said to be the left arm of Saint Vincent who was martyred in Valencia in the year 304 CE.  Not sure if this is true or not, but it just as gross either way really.  We did not, however, find the Holy Grail.  The quest continues!...Up the 173 very steep steps of the cathedral tower.
The view at the top was definitely worth the pain though.  We also timed it perfectly so that we got there right as the sun was beginning to set.  It could not have been a prettier view of the whole city.

 Left to right: Camila, Breanne, Annalisa, Kelsie, Me, and Paige 

We then came down from our great heights and just walked around, getting completely lost.  We stumbled upon a procession for, what I can only assume was, a convention of wine and possible cheese too.  There were representatives from Spain, Italy, France, and Belgium.  Each group had a different color coat on and was carrying a sign with the name of their winery.  It was very odd.  We then found a Starbucks and all fulfilled our craving, regardless of how evil Starbucks may still tastes good.  Bre and I then went on a hunt for a second-hand international bookstore I had read about.  We didn't find it, but we did find a second-hand Spanish bookstore.  I bought an anthology of Garcia Lorca, a copy of Don Quijote from the turn of the 20th century, and 3 playbills from the mid-20th century.  We then met up with the other four girls and walked around some more and since we had nothing better to do decided to get drinks at a bar near the towers which used to be the gateway to the city.  We had Agua de Valencia (Valencian Water).  Do not be fooled by the benign sounding name.  It is a lethal mixture of orange juice, champagne, gin, and vodka.  It definitely tastes delicious, but after one glass we were definitely tipsy. Later that night, being so full from the paella earlier and needing to get something in our stomachs to counteract the Agua de Valencia, we got some kebaps and just hung out at the hostel getting to know our roommates for the night.  As it turns out, all of them, except for two guys who were out all night anyway, were American.  

On Sunday we woke up early because I had read in the Fodor guide that my mom left me that there was a farmers market every Sunday in front of the cathedral.  The Fodor guide lied to me.  There was no market.  There was, however, a cathedral in which was a Holy Grail we still had yet to find so we decided to renew our quest.  I seriously considered quoting lines from Monty Python and singing songs from Spamalot, but I refrained since a few of the girls are actually Catholic and I figured would probably not find it quite as amusing as I do.  Anyhow, the quest continues and this time we were successful!
Monty Python would be so proud!
Of course this is not the real Holy Grail, as they still have not found that one, but historians thought it was for a long time so that's still pretty cool.  We then got some breakfast and then walked toward the Ciutat de les Arts i de les Ciences (City of Arts and Sciences).  It was a fairly long walk, but we had stopped for candy at an amazing candy store and it was almost 65 degrees outside so all was good.  We also walked past a few Sunday morning futbol games and stopped to watch those.  The City was built in 2005 and has four different parts; the art museum, the planetarium, the science museum, and the aquarium.  Each building is designed to look like a shell or crustacean.  We walked around all of them, but our main goal was the aquarium.  It was the only one we could all agree on, and it was a good thing that we went, because it was amazing!! It was made up of a lot of little buildings with tunnels underneath them connecting two at a time.  The tunnels were also aquariums with fish, and sharks, swimming over and around you.  
There was also something that came straight out of my nightmares...not sharks, but a cage filled with birds that people actually went inside of.  Why you would lock yourself into a cage with birds is so far beyond me.  The other exhibits were tropical fish, that tunnel is the longest in the world, the galapagos penguins, pelicans, sea lions, the arctic and the antarctic, and the dolphins.  We, of course, went to the dolphin show and all six of us were literally giddy.  It was a 45 minute show and it was amazing!!!
We then walked back to the hostel to pick up our things.  On the way we found frozen yogurt, which none of us could pass up.  To round out our trip, Bre and I had Valencian oranges (which honestly taste the exact same as Murcian oranges)

¡Hasta la semana que viene!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Feliz Día de San Valentín

I am well aware that it has been two weeks since I wrote about Marrakech, but that is merely because nothing to exciting has happened.  We started second semester a week ago today.  Three of my classes are the same; Linguistic Commentary on Hispanic Texts, Spanish Stories from their Origins to 1700, and Contemporary Spanish Theatre.  My two new classes are; 20th Century Spanish Literature (which is a continuation of last semester but with a different professor and we're studying poetry and narrative instead of theatre) and History of the Spanish Language (which is a really interesting subject but the professor is impossible to understand...even for the Spanish students...she mumbles).  Other than the mumbler I am enjoying all of my classes, except for the early wake-up times.  I am still doing Flamenco, and loving every minute of it!  I do miss actual ballroom dance though, especially it's a good thing I have my salsa buddy! JC is a phenomenal dancer and we always make sure to get in at least one salsa!  Other than that it's been pretty quiet with the exception of Annalisa's 21st birthday party!   As it turns out there is a Mexican restaurant in the city, it is kind of an odd flavor mixture of traditional Mexican food and Spanish spices...there is not even a hint of Tex-Mex which makes me a little sad.  They did have some really spicy sauce though, so that was good!  The picture is of Annalisa and Hilary sharing in Annalisa's first shot as a legal drinker (of course it kind of looses its effect since the drinking age is 18 here...)    
The other really exciting piece of news is that I was hired as a foreign correspondent for Pink Pangea (the travel blog I wrote an article for last semester).  This means that I will be publishing an article every other Thursday.  The first one came out last Thursday.  It's called Smile Like You Mean It: How to Make Friends in a Spanish School (the title is a link to the article) and as the title suggests its all about how to make friends as an international student in Spain.  And before anyone else asks...the guy in the picture is my friend Jose who studied at Pitzer and I mentioned in the article; and no, we are not dating...he is perhaps one of the most flamboyantly gay people...which makes him soooo much more fun!!! And along that I don't have plans for el Día de San Valentín (also known as Valentine's Day).  Apparently it is really not a big deal here, which is good since my plans tonight are to watch The Tudors and go to Flamenco class.

¡Hasta la semana que viene!  I promise I will actually right next week!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

مراكش (Marrakech)...Camels, and snakes, and monkeys oh my!


So this past weekend I was in Marrakech, Morocco (the week consisted of more going away parties and karaoke).  Pretty cool, right?!
Saturday: We arrived in Marrakech at around 2:30.  We got picked up at the airport and taken straight to our hostel which was exactly in the center of the Medina (old city).  We checked in and dropped off our stuff.  Then we headed to the souks (markets) and spent a few hours getting lost in the labyrinth of stalls and bartering for goodies.  As it turns out 1 euro = 10 dirhams, so we got by on about 100 euros for the whole weekend (excluding the hostel and our excursion).  I bought a 100% cashmere pashmina and a charm for my bracelet.  Then we had an early dinner on the terrace of a cafe which overlooked the Jema el Fna (market square).  Then we just went back to the hostel and watched some movies.  We ended up going to sleep at about 10:30.  
Sunday: We went on our excursion to the Ourika Valley.  Our first stop was a major traffic jam just outside the city walls.  As it turns out Sunday was the day of the Marrakech marathon, so we got to chill for almost an hour watching people running.  Hilary and Jordan decided to join in for a bit...Then we drove up to the Atlas mountains and stopped along the way for pictures.  The first actualy stop was at a natural medicine place.  They had all sorts of natural remedies and were making argon oil the old fashioned way.  Argon oil is an oil that is only made in Morocco.  It is made out of dried nuts (they smell kind of like almonds, but I don't think they are).  If you roast the nuts first, the oil ends up with a darker color and nutty smell and it's used for cooking.  If the nuts aren't roasted then the oil looks like olive oil and doesn't have a smell and it's used for cosmetics.  Following this stop, where everyone  else bought remedies, I saved my money, we went up to the waterfall.  At least we went to the town where the waterfall was...We had to do a little rock climbing to actually get up there.        
Following the excursion to the waterfall we had lunch at a local Berber (native Moroccan) restaurant where we had tagine (where the meat and vegetables are slow roasted in a clay pot) and soup and Moroccan desserts and mint tea.  Really delicious.  On the way down we stopped to ride....camels!!!  Yes, I rode a camel.  It was really scary at first as they were standing up, but it ended up being a lot of fun!  At one point near the end of the ride they unhooked my camel from the line because the camels were zig-zagging and just left him on his own.  The guide ended up coaxing him into trotting (do camels trot?) and he trotted straight into the middle of a two-lane highway.  Definitely got a few really odd looks.  Then we headed back to the hostel where we met up with 5 other Americans who are studying at St. Andrews, in Scotland, and we went to dinner with them in the square.

Monday: We got up fairly early and had breakfast with the rest of team America.  Then we hung out with them for the rest of the morning, until they had to catch a bus to the beach.  We started at the square, as there was a general need for a bank, where we saw a monkey (or minkey...)  Then we went to the Palais Bahia, the old palace in the middle of the city.  The palace was in  general state of decay, as were the gardens, but they were pretty.  

After the palace, we passed through the spice market (photo on the right) on the way to the mellah (Jewish's still active).  The Jewish quarter has been active in Marrakech since 1558, unfortunately though, the only things that are still active are the cemetery and the synagogue.  We didn't have enough time to actually go into either, which I was a little upset about, but I did meet the rabbi briefly.  I would have really liked to spend more time there though.  
Following this we went back into the center of the city and had lunch at the most amazing vegan  restaurant called the Earth Cafe.  We then walked to the Koranic school, but it cost a little more than we wanted to spend to go in.  So we just walked around in the souks some more.  Jordan met a snake charmer, and the girls all got henna.  The woman with me, is the artist.  Then we walked over to the mosque.  We couldn't actually go inside, but we walked around it.  It was a very impressive building.  Then we went back to the hostel and just relaxed for a couple hours.  Before heading out for dinner which we bought on the street, it was basically ground beef, grilled onions, salt, and moroccan spices all in a pita.  Some of the best food I've ever eaten!  Then we stopped at a random orange juice stand, they were all over the place, and started chatting with the owner and one of his friends.  His friend took us to get mint tea at a nearby cafe and then we went over to his friend's drum circle where we actually got up and danced in the middle.  We were treated like family; all the other tourists were asked for money, especially when they danced or took pictures, and we were never   asked. 

   Abdellah, the friend, also taught us how to put together a Berber head scarf.  Below is a picture with all four of us with Abdellah.  Following this we each got a turn to ride, and drive, his motorcycle (sorry Mom and Dad) and I got my first, of three, marriage proposals.  Apparently I look mediterranean so I am worth lots of camels (of course they don't know that I drink wine, thus negating most of my camel worth)

Tuesday: We only had a couple hours before we had to go the airport so we woke up early to go to the souks so we could spend the last of our dirham, since there was very little point in converting 20 dirham (2 euros).  I ended up buying sandals with the last of my money.  I also the last two of my marriage proposals.  Then we set off for the airport where I bought a thing of mixed moroccan pastries...basically baklavah and almond cookies and such things.  The flight went really smoothly, but after landing it took much longer than anticipated to get through customs (mostly because this german couple was chatting with a flight attendant thus holding up the bus that was to take us to customs) so we made it to the bus literally 2 minutes before it left.  Definitely a good thing since the next bus was two hours later.  But, we made it home in one piece and with all our luggage.  It was such an amazing trip!  I would love to go back someday!  It was a really good way to round off my three week break, school starts again on Monday.

¡Hasta la semana que viene!