Exploring Cities Around Toledo

Mark Thomas ’10 – After finishing up my third week in Spain, I can definitely say that I am having a fantastic time living, learning, and traveling here.  Also, I have quickly learned how easy it is to pick up drinking coffee in Europe, especially for someone who used to hate the taste.  Currently I am drinking only one cup a day, but who knows what the future will hold.

The first week of classes consisted of traveling around my host city of Toledo.  The historic and antiquated city of Toledo is drastically different from any city in the United States.  Even though it has a smaller population than my home town of Muncie, Indiana, the city sits upon a hill guarded by old stone walls and fortifications. Early on in my stay, the school took my fellow students and me on a tour of the city.  The highlight was when we drove up onto the neighboring mountain and took pictures of the city.  Toledo has so many unique aspects and sites to see, but even though I live here, I haven’t had the time to discover them all.

After the second week of classes, a couple of friends from school and me traveled south to the city of Granada.  There we were able to visit Granada’s main attraction, Alhambra.  Underlined by its artistic quality and grand size, the site is most famous for being the last Moorish stronghold in Spain before Christians from the north seized it.  Even though we were at the location quite early in the morning, we had to wait four hours to get into the palace area of Alhambra, which turned out to not be a problem.  The actual area around the palace was so large with its gardens, museums, and forts that we spent nearly five hours exploring the whole site.  Granada was also exceptional because of its cheap and quick kebab stands.  For around 3 euro, one can become quite stuffed, or allow half of it to fall onto the ground. 

The latest and definitely most entertaining trip I have taken during my stay in Spain was Barcelona.  The city of Barcelona is definitely one of the most fascinating cities I have ever visited.  The architecture, highlighted by famous Gaudi structures, displays a mixture of French, Spanish, and Mediterranean influence.  The only city in the United States similar to Barcelona would be New Orleans.  Also, in all of the large cities in Spain one would not see dozens of skyscrapers and cranes for construction. Instead one would observe a vast amount of original structures, many over hundreds of years old. 

My favorite and perhaps most interesting part of the Barcelona visit was having the opportunity to attend a FC Barcelona soccer match.  Though, this was no usual soccer match. This was a Barcelona vs. Espanyol derby.  Both teams reside in the city, but have totally different fan bases.  The majority of FC Barcelona fans are separatists, wanting to secede from Spain, while the Espanyol fans are said to be nationalists.  This created conflict that I was not expecting to see.  During the game the visiting fans of FC Barcelona starting hurling lit flares and bottles of unknown substances onto the stands were the supporters of Espanyol resided.  These acts created an uprising from many Espanyol fans which was quickly followed by riot police surrounding the Barcelona fans until the end of the game.  So with all of these visits I would definitely say that I have been able to experience much of Spain  . . .  and more.               

Schultz ’10 Finds Language Challenging

Mark Schultz ’10 – My study abroad experience in Germany began three weeks ago when I landed in Frankfurt. Since then, the program has kept us busy with study trips and grammar classes. On Monday, we have to take the DSH test which partially determines what classes we can take. All of those little details within the German language that I always skimmed over are starting to come back to get me.

The first weekend we traveled to Wertheim and Würzburg along the Romantic Road. Würzburg is famous for the Residenz, which is a large palace built in the baroque architecture style. We were given a couple hours of free time to wander around and visit a number of other historical sites in the city. Last weekend we traveled by bus to Bavaria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. In Bavaria, we saw one of the most famous European castles, Neuschwanstein. We have seen a number of castles in the few weeks here, but this one clearly beats them all. Unfortunately it was raining for most of the trip, but a number of people in the group managed to pass the time with a few beverages.

I am looking forward to entering the classes at the Üniversität in Heidelberg, mostly because it means being done with four hours of grammar classes every morning. The program also offers numerous opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and even find a part time internship. On top of that, it’s a nice change of pace to actually have girls in class.

Next weekend is Heidelberger Herbst, which is basically Heidelberg’s version of Oktoberfest. The next weekend is the Volksfest in Stuttgart, so I should be keeping busy for a little while. A few fraternity brothers are planning on visiting for those events, so hopefully that works out as planned.

In photos: Upper left, Schultz at Neuschwanstein. Lower right, Heidelberg’s famous castle overlooking the city.

A Road Trip to Germany for Beethoven

While many of my peers that are studying abroad this semester are finally getting settled into their new environment and gearing up for classes, I have taken somewhat of a different route. I’ve already had my first round of finals and am on fall break as I write this in mid-September! Not to fear, though, my classes will be starting up again and won’t slow down for the rest of my time in Vienna, Austria.

For fall break, I have decided to take an academic break. By that I mean take a break from my normal classes and do some major research on Ludwig van Beethoven for a lecture/presentation that I am planning in conjunction with a junior piano recital for next semester under the guidance of my piano instructor, the unceasingly amazing Cheryl Everett (just as an FYI, Cheryl has held performances in Vienna. Appreciate that the next time you hear her play “Old Wabash”).

Although my official research began in Vienna, as Beethoven lived most of his life in the city, I would be remiss if I did not visit his hometown, Bonn, Germany while being abroad. It was about a 10-hour train ride, but worth every second of it. I have been able to visit numerous memorial sites dedicated to Beethoven. It worked out that I am in Bonn during Beethovenfest! Not quite like Germany’s other “fest”…Some people are very serious about the music of Beethoven, and others just kind of check it out. Unfortunately for me, however, the events being held during my time in Bonn had sold out before my arrival.

The first location I went to was the actual birth house of Beethoven. Dean Rater’s new office, if it were split into two levels with a small attic above it, would be very comparable to the size of the original Beethoven house. It was quite small for a family, but the Beethoven Society has made adjustments to the structure of the house and adjoining houses, combining them to make a nice sized museum. In the museum, I was able to see many original items from Beethoven’s era including instruments (pianos, violins, violas, cellos, flutes, clarinets, bassoons), documents (personal letters, official *original* scores of music, conversation books, announcements/advertisements), furniture (writing desks and busts) and other mementos such as a lock of Beethoven’s hair from right after he died, pictures (paintings) of his closest friends, and his infamous hearing devices due to his hearing loss.

At the completion of my tour of the house and museum, I spoke briefly with the faculty and once they found out the reason for my trip to Bonn, they invited me to visit their private library to share their resources on Beethoven with me. I ended up staying for a few hours just reading and jotting things down. It eventually came time to close and they invited me to come back for as long as I would be in Bonn.

I discovered on my second day of research the table I was working from is a table from the 18th century. It had belonged to one of Beethoven’s close musician friends (I unfortunately didn’t catch the name) and it is believed by the Beethoven Society that the “Quartet Table” was used numerous times by Beethoven and his friends for composing and playing music, as at each side of the table the setting could be converted into a music stand, perfect for string quartets.

I’m already excited about my presentation, but I am more looking forward to the continued research while I am abroad.

Italians Have a Slower-Paced Lifestyle

Nathan Schrader ’10 – So needless to say these last two weeks have been an adventure. The excitement of arriving, the homesickness, the amazing breathtaking views of Roman buildings … it’s a giant blur. It’s quite an adjustment from Wabash, which is why I wonder what I’m doing here at the moment. The 30 minute commute to school, cooking my own meals, dealing with the euro and money, the 3-1 girl to guy ratio, and NO BASEBALL. Or any fields for that matter. I was ecstatic when I found a baseball field the other day about 15 minute ride from the apartment You just don’t know what you got until it’s gone.

Otherwise, seeing Dan Metz and Rob Harvey at Campo di Fiori (the American social scene in Rome) was a blast. David Haggard too. Other fun stuff includes seeing all the monuments, visiting quaint little Todi (a relief from the hustle bustle of Rome), and eating a 12-course meal at a restaurant in the hills.

And two things with Italian culture – they definitely don’t work out hard – it’s more of a social thing, and the value of family and enjoying the simple things amazes me. There are so many people chilling on the Spanish steps or at St. Peter’s. It makes me realize Americans could slow it down a bit.

Well that’s all I have for now, keep you posted. Pics are of the Wabash guys at Campo di Fiori in Rome and of me and an overlook of the city.

Exploring Madrid While Settling In

Mark Thomas ’10 – With much thanks to Wabash, I have been given the opportunity to do what many juniors at Wabash this year are doing, studying abroad. After my arrival in Madrid, Spain, I met up with my orientation coordinator, who then proceeded to place me in a taxi en route to my hotel. There I slept for about five hours trying to drop my bad case of jet lag. 

First suggestion, don’t watch the extra movies on the plane, simply go to sleep after dinner is served. Later that day, my orientation group and I traveled around Madrid, viewing all the monuments and architecture the city had to offer. Even though I am studying in ancient Toledo, Madrid was a great introduction to the country and culture of Spain. 

One of my main goals while in Spain is to blend in as much with the locals as possible. Obviously, wearing a San Diego, California, shirt the first day there was not the best way of achieving this.

To my delight, the food is fantastic here. Every plate that I have received so far has been filled with various types of ham. Spaniards love there pork, and to honest, so do I. One difference that I have found while abroad is that many of the streets in Spain are not used for cars but rather for people to walk. Almost everyone in Spain walks in order to get from here to there. Also, Harley Davidson motorcycles are huge in Spain. Every taxi driver I spoke with asked me if I drove a Harley back home, which could be a huge misconception that Spaniards have. If so that would be an awesome misconception to have.

On my second day in Madrid, my group and I visited one of Spain’s architectural masterpieces, “El Palacio Real.” The Palacio is definitely the most beautiful and extravagant building I have ever had the pleasure to observe. One special concept was that almost all the ceilings in the rooms of the palace have been decorated by famous painters from various time periods. Also, many rooms in the Palacio had no real practical purpose other than to look beautiful, in which they were successful. One thing I found out about the Palacio that surprised me was that most of the architecture and paintings were done by Italians and not Spaniards. Unfortunately, they did not allow me to take photos inside the Palacio, but I definitely took a few shots outside from the plaza.

So now I am working on two of my major goals while in Spain, passing all my classes taught totally in Spanish and finding tickets to as many soccer games as possible. Hopefully next blog I will be writing you all with a passing grade and pictures from me at a Real Madrid game.

Great Start Exploring St. Petersburg

Aaron Bonar ’10 – St. Petersburg, Russia - Winston Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Nowhere is this more apparent than St. Petersburg, which is simultaneously the “Capital of the Tsars,” the “Birthplace of the Revolution,” and modern Russia’s cultural capital. A city with hundreds of museums, it is the best place to study Russian history and culture, as well as one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

After arriving in the city, our group’s first major excursion took us to several sites in St. Petersburg. We stopped at Smolny Cathedral and the bridge linking St. Peter and Paul Fortress to the mainland. Smolny Cathedral is one place that I personally had not heard of, but I’m glad we visited it. It is a beautiful, sky-blue monastery that now serves as a concert hall. Another impressive site, in terms of historical significance, was the battleship Aurora – its cannon fired the first shot of the Russian Revolution.

Two days later, we traveled to the Hermitage, which is partially housed in the Winter Palace of the Tsars. One of the largest museums in the world, it would take one person giving one minute to each piece over nine years to get through each exhibit. I decided I would sign up to volunteer at the museum, and I’m hoping to hear from the Director of the Hermitage soon.

We also started our Russian classes during our first week, which were very interesting. I tested into the highest group, which means that two out of three of my classes are virtually immersion courses – English is spoken as little as possible. Although I thought I would have a great amount of trouble in these classes (I’ve only had one and one half years of Russian), I feel I’m adjusting quite well. I’m understanding more by the day.

On Friday, September 5, our group took a jazz boat cruise on the Neva River. We stayed on until late in the evening, which gave us the great experience of viewing St. Petersburg by night. The entire city is lit up; the bridges put on light shows as the huge fountain dances to traditional Russian music. To top it all off, each night the city shoots off fireworks for the people to enjoy. No matter what each member of our group thought of St. Petersburg beforehand, everyone fell in love with the city that night.

Today, September 6, we took another group excursion to Peterhof, the summer residence of the Tsars. A humongous complex, it is known for its many fountains and cascades. The Grand Cascade is especially beautiful; it is a seven level cascade with a golden statue dedicated to Russia’s victory over Sweden in the 1700s. St. Samson, representing Russia, is defeating a lion, the royal symbol of Sweden, in a rather dramatic fashion. The small palace “Mon Pleasure,” taken from the French language, was the favorite palace of Peter the Great, and it still houses many of his possessions. Peterhof is a beautiful reminder of the proud imperial history of Russia, and would cause the typical vision of Russia as a poorly maintained, gray nation to crumble.

Although this is not my first time traveling to Russia, I must admit that I have found a new enchantment with St. Petersburg. The contrast of imperial grandeur against Soviet architecture provides a charm that one is unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. If St. Petersburg truly is an enigma, I hope I will come close to solving it during my time here.

In photos: Top right, Aaron on the Neva River with St. Petersburg in the background. Center left,  The Grand Cascade at Peterhof. Lower right, The Ambassador Stairs in the Winter Palace, used as a reception area during imperial times, now serves as a main entrance to the Hermitage.

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