Post #8: Burn Baby Burn

Holy moly, the time is flying by so fast. I just wanted to take a minute to talk about my ONE DAY TRIP to Valencia. This action packed trip was decided super last minute and coincided (intentionally) with the festival Las Fallas.

For those of you who do not know what Las Fallas is – think of it as the craziest Spring Break of your life just with more rain, huge sculptures and SO MUCH FIRE. I need to put a lot of things in caps for this post because Las Fallas is “the most”. Me and a bunch of friends signed up for a Las Fallas trip through Be Madrid and took a bus at 7 a.m. in front of Madrid’s Ventas – their usual meeting point. I would absolutely recommend Be Madrid for student trips. This cost around 20 euros for the bus and they were very reliable. They also have other trips across Spain, Portugal and Morocco. We then rode for five hours, stopping only once at this creepy rest stop called Area 175 in the middle of nowhere Castilla La-Mancha where we got to see all of the ALREADY DRUNK Americans and other Europeans on our bus. As you will read in just a minute, this was probably the most “college” experience of my life.

Story time: as we got off the bus at the rest stop, two young men who could have just stepped off the set of the Van Wilder movie, were talking about their experience on the bus. One proceeded to say, “Haha, dude. This is just like the time when when we took a bus to our formal.” #FallasGoesFrat #FallasFormal2k15

Once we arrive, we were good to go because we already ate our picnic lunches that our senoras graciously packed us the night before and were all bundled up in the appropriate weather gear according to their sage advice. We arrived just in time for La Mascleta in the center of town and then walked around to various “tents” selling a plethora of alcoholic beverages (mostly mojitos – you will be so sick of mojitos when you leave Spain) and saw the beautiful sculptures that were to be burned at the end of the night. We arrived on the final day of the festivities for the Nit de la crema. After walking around for what seemed like days looking at Valencia’s most well known sites (#2, #8, #9), along with seeing three year olds setting off fireworks…because Fallas, we (meaning me and three other people) got to sit down and enjoy some ACTUAL PAELLA. Paella is originally from Valencia and let me tell you, all other Paella in Spain is a lie. This stuff was the real deal. We chose one restaurant (not the super fancy ones) that was part of a strip of exclusively paella restaurants along the beach and tucked into some paella con mariscos (seafood paella) and paella valenciana (paella with rabbit and chicken). Whatever your fancy, they are both equally good. Also, side note, in Valencia, they speak Spanish and Valenciano (which is either considered a dialect of Catalan or a language entirely its own, depending on who you ask). However, unlike in Catalunya, all of the signs are in mostly just Spanish.

After lunch, we headed back into downtown to consume more “beverages” and prepare for the nights festivities. There was much dancing, singing and fire. So much fire. Here is a video of what it looks like when the statues are burned – truly amazing and terrifying at the same time. The last statue to be burned is the one that is in the center square – this year it was a lion with a globe and all statues, including this one, are made out of a mix of wood and papiermâché.

Then, after some more fiesta, we caught the bus home at 2:30 am and proceeded to sleep all day in Madrid upon our arrival.

No “Tips and Tricks” for this post (since everything is pretty much listed here and we did not stay in a hotel) but check out other ones by clicking on the link!

Vocab word(s) of the day: baladí (petty, trivial, inconsequential), lío (mess, fuss – often used as “que lio”, follón (commotion, racket, hullaballo – similar use to “lio”)


Post #7: Tal qual o velho Tejo

Okay, hi readers. To start off: this post is not about Spain. However, as part of our Iberian Experience program here in the IBERIAN PENINSULA, I felt like I had to share my experience in Portugal. To be honest, this was probably my favorite trip of my entire time abroad. I had been wanting to go to Portugal for a long time ever since I first discovered Fado music. Carminho is one of my favorite Fado singers today and you can listen to some of her songs here, here and here (Fado/Spanish Pop mix). I cannot fit all of them because I have to write about other stuff too!

When we got to Barajas at six in the morning, I had never felt more awake. I was so excited to begin my journey with my friends in my program and we got off to a pretty quick start considering the flight only took one hour from Madrid. We flew TAP which is the national airline of Portugal and, according to my aviation-enthusiast friend in the program, John, he told me that they only fly into Newark.

Right after we landed, we were whisked off for a tour of Lisbon from our departure point at the Vasco de Gama bridge. It was truly weird to be driving on a bridge and only see ocean on all sides of you. Although it was chilly, it is truly a beautiful place and you can really feel the “saudade” in the streets as the curtains of the local shops blow in the breeze from the wide open doors and the melancholic, low-hanging wires of the school bus yellow trams. After walking around for a little bit and stopping to get a bite to eat, we saw the Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monestary and the Discoveries Monument. Afterwards, we did some more walking around the Belem neighborhood and Elena and Paco bought us some Pasteis de Nata from the Lisbon-ubiquitous bakery, Pasteis de Belem. No one could confirm whether or not they contained nuts, since no one in our group speaks Portuguese, so I could not eat one which made me sad.

On a more positive note, we saw a Fado show at the Fado in Chiado – an institution of Fado in the city. We sat second to front row and I was giddy with excitement the whole time. The instrumentalists were fabulous and the male singer was okay (kind of flat at times) but the female singer was brilliant. She truly evoked the nostalgia, longing and love of Portugal by singing of winding streets and Atlantic coastlines. Then, we had free time for dinner and I went on a very belated “Galentine’s Day” dinner “date” with my good friend, Alex. We both indulged in some tasty Portuguese dishes – I had the massive Francesinha with some Vinho Verde. Needless to say, I could barely walk back to the hotel (the Hotel Embaixador) because I was so full.  This was a lovely hotel and our room, and the dining room, had a great view of the city skyline.

After a delicious hotel breakfast (something that is always looked forward to on the trips since eating breakfast at our home stays is very uncommon), we departed to Cascais. While I wish we had spent more time in Lisbon, I am sure that I will come back someday to explore based on how much I loved it from the start. Cascias was lovely and it was great to see some beach action after being all bundled up in Madrid for so long. Not to say it was not cold, but feeling some warm sun was nice. The streets are very cute and the people here, and all over Portugal, are so lovely and friendly. Most people speak Portunhol, which is the bizarre love child of Spanish and Portuguese. This is why Portunhol works: for example, the word “pessoa” means “person” in Portuguese. “Persona” means “person” in Spanish. It is much easier for Portuguese speakers to understand “persona” than for Spanish speakers to understand “pessoa” because you are adding letters instead of taking them away. Therefore, we could get away with speaking Spanish in Portugal and have people respond to us in Portunhol. Interesting!

Okay, back to the beach…Little did we know the preciosidad we were about to witness upon our departure from Cascais. The most beautiful place in the world I have ever seen (speaking in terms of landscape) is Nazare!!! My jaw was on the ground once we got off  the bus. Nazare literally is just a strip of buildings and then the most beautiful cliffs and Atlantic coastline I have ever seen. Literally, there is nothing after the ocean until you hit Cape Cod, Massachussets! I am so glad we just got to eat lunch there, walking along the beach for hours and sip some wine as the sun was setting. At that point, we knew it was time to leave so we gathered ourselves and headed, by bus, to Porto – although some of us almost didn’t make it because we all needed to go to the bathroom and there was no toilet on the bus. But we got there in one piece and had a tasty dinner in the city center, went to a hookah bar with the worst cocktail I have EVER had in my life and headed back to our hotel at the Tuela Porto.

We got to sleep in a little the next day and then had a walking tour of Porto to see the Clerigos Church & Tower and Cruceiro Dos Pontes. I am now not surprised when people say that they like Porto better than Lisbon. Trust me, if and when I do go back, I will be sure to spend more time in Lisbon to get the full effect. This trip was wonderful because we got to spend the entire day just ambling about the town, we saw the library where JK Rowling got her inspiration to write Harry Potter and we got to enjoy a lovely river cruise. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip because it was so fun to laugh and joke with everyone together and also because we saw the filming of PORTUGUESE IDOL on dry land from our boat. I almost jumped in to go sing my best rendition of some Fado tunes. Then, after lazing about on the Rio Tajo riverbank (the Ribeira) and having some wine and munching on some snacks, I picked up a guitar with some buskers and sang “House of the Rising Sun” with a kid my age to which I received many euros deposited into his guitar case. Unfortunately, I did not get to keep my earnings. Later that evening, after being out literally all day, we found some more bars in the center of the city and danced the night away at the lights show projected on one of the old university buildings in that city.

The following day, still relishing in the glory of a PERFECT day yesterday, we had another great breakfast and got to see La Bolsa – the old stock exchange which is now used as a space for concerts, private events and weddings. Then after some more free time, and purchasing more of these bespoke leather bracelets that everyone bought the day prior, we set off to the airport and flew back to Madrid.

No “Tips and Tricks” for this post (since everything is pretty much listed here) but check out other ones by clicking on the link!

Vocab word of the day: Saudade (Portuguese) / there is a version in Spanish which I will post once I ask my host mom. While this word is untranslatable into English, the general feeling of the word represents nostalgia and longing (for times gone past, for love, for homeland, etc.) This is what makes Fado so beautiful because it truly is a song directly from the soul.