Almost home…

It’s official. Studying in Spain has changed me as a person.

A fairly epic snowstorm seems to have hit Europe with effects analogous to a zombie apocalypse. I’m writing from an airport in Amsterdam at 3:47 AM local time and currently waiting in a line to find out the best way to get home (I should have been home Friday for dinner). When customer service opens in six hours, hordes of highly strung travel warriors, complete with crying babies and excessive luggage, will demand a trip home.

I’ve fortunately never been the type to go hysterical over delays, but the Steve Henke before this semester would have certainly been at least somewhat worried… how am I going to get home? Where will I sleep? How is this Dutch cheese going to survive the journey? [note: see my first blog entry immediately before my departure for Spain. Nervous wreckage in written form.]

But now? My first thought was legitimately “Where am I going to charge my iPod?” I tried, futilely, to consol fellow study abroad students, helped an elderly find a bed for the night, and befriended some people from Spain.

According to a professor from the University of Valencia, the key to worldy success is twofold: be a nice person and speak English. This semester, I’ve been working on the former and learned not to worry so much about myself. I do everything that I can to solve a problem, and then move on to the next step or help others.

In the eloquent words of David Celma, “There’s no problem that can’t be helped significantly by a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.” Spain has taught me to keep a cool head.

Time will tell I this is an entirely beneficial philosophy… there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done (LSAT prep! Student Senate work! Christmas present wrapping!), but my mind is uncluttered and there’s a smile on my face. Thank you Spain.

Now back to work.

Sidenote: the last thing that my host brother Oscar said to me was, referring to my fall break adventures: “Well, you should be in America by what, three months from now? Maybe? Have a good flight.”

La vida en España

Wow. The past several weeks have been full.

Most obvious is the successful campaign for student body president. I spent a disproportionate amount of time on Facebook, sent out emails, and constantly had Wabash on my mind. I’m very grateful to Wallies for giving me this chance to help our school.

But this blog’s about Spain, so I’ll try to stay on task.

Two weeks ago, my language partner, María Minuesa García, informed me that Madrid Real and Barcelona would be playing and that she and some other Madrid fans could use a token American. She texted me Monday evening to meet her at 8:00 before watching the 9:15 game at a sports bar. I was busy across town, and showed up several minutes late. She relayed that the ideal bar was already full and that we’d need to find another. We were on the university side of the town, so there are more bars than bus stops. One bar, I noticed, was playing a cooking show while the bartender cleaned glasses alone. Every other bar was packed. We eventually found five seats in “The Electric Orange,” and my new friends slid slowly into depression as Real Madrid was destroyed by Barcelona (5-0).

Juan Mata and an American

But my soccer education was not over. Juan Mata, a soccer player for Valencia CF and world champion, came to the UVA Valencia campus to chat with students. Unlike the majority of his interviews, his audience had virtually no previous knowledge of his achievements… when I mentioned in passing to a friend that I’d be talking with Mata, he literally leaped into the air and begged to come. He was the most educated fan in the room. Juan Mata spent the majority of his time explaining life as a celebrity… he can’t go out for a night on the town without four bodyguards, can’t shop without being harassed for an autograph, and has received a hand-carved wooden mask of his face. Ladies in the program were disappointed to hear that he had a girlfriend, and guys were intrigued that he thinks Switzerland produces the most attractive women (his girlfriend is not Swiss). All in all, he gave a very candid and open interview, and I was impressed by his sincerity and focus. I informed him that I write a blog that would propel him to fame, and he’s ecstatic.

Last Friday was the program talent show, so I naturally appeared twice… once doing an impression of my literature professor and another in a movie loosely adapted from Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It’s been a great semester with this fun group of students, and the slightly spontaneous and hilarious event proved representative of the semester.

Early the next morning, I left for Salamanca, one of the world’s oldest college towns. I met up with Shane Evans ’12, who’s been studying there since his epic trek across Europe. His host mom was kind enough to let me stay with him in Salamanca, and I enjoyed some mind-blowing tapas.

Early the next morning, we set out to explore Salamanca itself. Of all the sights we visited, I enjoyed the Catedral Vieja de Santa María the most… not only were we able to climb through the Cathedral’s winding staircases to explore the Gothic building, but we could get an amazing view of the city.

Wabash men en el Catedral

I miss scrambled eggs.

Completely exhausted already, I met up with two students from the UVA Program, Keaton Petro and Melissa Ngo, in Madrid. The day was full of waiting in museum lines and rain. Aside from the Reina Sofia, the highlight of the day was improvised eggs and toast at the hostel for dinner (yeah, I’m really missing my Logan Kemp omelets in Sparks every morning).

Tuesday we set out for Segovia, but failed to catch the AVE, and were forced to take the much slower train to the small city. We were shown around the city by Evan Bayless ’12. In addition to Disneyesque Alcázar de Segovia, we had the opportunity to watch Evan working in a metal artist’s shop (don’t worry; he’ll be posting sometime soon with more details). We all loved the city and returned to rainy Madrid thoroughly tired.

Evan and I after a hike in Segovia

The next day I spent the few hours before my flight back to Valencia in the Prado. While this was my third visit, I still managed to see new paintings—including quite a few Habsburg portraits. At the coming presentation of student research, look for my talk, where I’ll detail more about my independent study on the subject and how you can actually enjoy looking at portraits for hours.

At the law firm of Ángela Coquillat Vicente

Today, I had the opportunity to skip class and attend a Spanish trial. A Bolivian man was accused of beating his wife after she left a bar, though he claimed that the men within the bar shoved his wife to the ground and proceeded to attack him. Unlike cases within the United States, when the wife denounced her initial police report and claim against her husband, the prosecutor continued the case. I found the whole process thoroughly intriguing, though his Latin American born wife also found the legal differences startling.

And this afternoon, I played around on “El Gigante Gulliver,” a park constructed in the form of Lemuel Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians. Only in Spain.

In the Gardens of Turia, standing on Gulliver's shirt

Now back to studying like crazy for finals. I can hardly believe I’m leaving next week.

Xátiva and Spanish friends

I spent last Saturday in Xátiva, a small town about an hour away from Valencia. A long castle dominates the surrounding mountains, so we of course climbed the hill and explored the castle. While a great place to hike and relax, the town has relatively little historical significance apart from being the birthplace of two popes (Callixtus III and Alexander VI).

Xátiva Castle

While classwork has certainly slowed down from the post-fall break frenzy, it’s enough to keep my busy. Most time consuming was a six minute video adaption of Gabrial García Márquez´s “Crónica de una muerte anunciada” or “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” Needless to say, we added rap music and fight scenes to give it a Hollywood flair (for the sake of all of our dignities, this movie is staying continental).

But the most enjoyable part of the past week has definitely been Spanish friends.

First, I finally met up with my language-partner, María Minuesa. María is an aspiring doctor at the University of Valencia, but also has a wide array of linguistic and political interests, so conversations are enjoyable and always a little longer than intended. She’s studied abroad in Vancouver and visited New York, so her first experience with a Midwesterner is yours truly. In fact, María demonstrates what I’ve found to be fairly constant with Spaniards: my Spanish is easy to understand, but my English is impossible.

Another group of Spanish friends has really taken off through a local Baptist church. While at a service there, I met Gerson Hernández and had several opportunities to eat lunch with him and his friends at the University of Valencia. There, I am exposed to an entirely new type of Spanish dynamic- a large, familiar group of idiom-spewing college students. While I’m more than capable of one-on-one communication, and have a great time in small groups of Spanish people, this dynamic puts comprehension and communication to the ultimate test. Hopefully in the next several weeks, I can master the art of Spanish group discussions.

Regarding large groups of Spanish people… I went to a soccer game Wednesday!! The energy in the stadium was palpitable. From loud cheers to everyone wearing “Murciélagos” jerseys, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the downfall of Bursaspor (their Turkish competitors).

Thanksgiving in Spain was slightly bizarre. Turkey, green beans, and roasted pumpkin were served (cold and with strange spices). In other news, my host mother and I are a little under the weather. With that, I’m off to an early bedtime. More next week on winter break plans, the program theater production, and my last day at the law firm.

Seville, Law occupy Wally Abroad

This past weekend, a group of nine students from the UVA Valencia program decided to go to Seville for the weekend. We arrived late and were locked out of the hostel, so we crammed into a more expensive hotel for the night.

The next day, we were met by Andy Goodwin ‘97, my high school Spanish teacher. Andy is on sabbatical in Seville, writing and interacting with Spaniards while his wife, Jamie, teaches English at the university.

Don Andrés just after the 47-0 Monon Bell Victory. It was a good night for Wallies everywhere.

Our first stop was la Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, dominant feature of Seville and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. When planning the church, the builders resolved to make the building so large that those who saw it would think they were crazy. And it was crazy large… and climbing the Giralda emphasized the cathedral’s size. In true Spanish fashion, a ramp leads to the top of the Giralda to allow the bell-ringer to ride a horse to the top of the tower.

La Catedral from la Giralda

After some delicious tapas, we went to la Plaza de España, the gorgeous group of Sevillean government buildings. Apparently the location was featured in one of the Star Wars movies, though they chose to admit the murals of Spanish provinces (below). The excessive amount of walking prompted a prolonged siesta until heading out to the flamenco bars for the evening.

UVA Valencia Compañeros. Photo courtesy of Shannon McNeilly.

The next day was spent lazily wandering the Alcázar, a Moorish fort converted into a palace for a variety of monarchs and filled with their paraphernalia—from the Padrón Real to a collection of fans used by the queens. The gardens were beautiful (at this point, my words fail, so I’ll let my less than adequate pictures take over).

That evening, we headed to the European Film Festival and watched Nieves Arrazola: lucha clandestina, cine y lentejas, a less-than-gripping documentary on life of 91-year-old Spaniard Nieves Arrazola. She spoke on her disillusion with communism, encounters with great artistic figures of the Spanish-speaking world (including Buñuel, a personal favorite), and her cooking methods. Click for the trailer, the shorter and more exciting version of the movie.

After a night of laughter, story-telling, and tapas, I began my long trek to the train station at 7:20 in the morning (that’s exceedingly early in Spain). On the train home, I caught up on sleep, did some homework, and saved about $50 in travel costs.

Later that week, myself and two other UVA Valencia students returned to the Spanish law firm of Ángela Coquillat Vicente. There, we began watching a video of a hearing in Valencia.

The case revolved around an employee injury. Working at a British glassmaking company, an electrician unplugged the wrong cord on a critical piece of equipment and accordingly received second and third degree electrical burns to the face, neck, and arms. The judge began with an arduous recitation of the facts—the employee sued the company for 100,000 English pounds. Angela represented the insurance company which covered the glass makers for damages over a certain amount.

We were watching a hearing from the past Tuesday (incidentally while we were in class). The incident had actually occurred in October 2002—every time that any party has a conflict, the trial was rescheduled.

One of the major differences between Spanish court and the States is that Spanish lawyers don’t generally sit near their clients. This particular Valencian judge was a fan of the American judicial system and offered the clients the opportunity to speak with their lawyers whenever they wished to do so.

By this point in the proceedings, the plaintiff’s condition had improved significantly, so the doctor’s original diagnosis was no longer valid. When the insurance investigator discovered this dramatic improvement, the company requested to have a new doctor examine the plaintiff. The judge denied Angela’s claim on the grounds that bothering a doctor before discovering the actual amount of compensatory damages. With this news, our slot for the day expired, and we went home.

Another week has me immersed in literature, random conversations, and delicious food. Coming up: my intercambio (language partner), more in the Spanish law firm, and preparations for my first Thanksgiving away from Indiana!

Wabash Student discovers Holy Grail, Valencia

This past week has somewhat trying. Malaga was rainy and surrounded by excessive train delays, schoolwork was difficult and abundant, and a bizarre run-in with a door has left my right middle finger virtually useless for the next several weeks.

So when the weekend finally came, I was more than ready to explore. I’ve certainly gotten to know the city of Valencia, and figured I’d take the time to share some of my knowledge with you now.

A futuristic world where art and science collide.

The postcard perfect Cuidad de Artes y Ciencias is just as amazing as it looks in the above picture. The surrounding parks make for a great jogging area, or just one of many places to watch the sun set. Reviews for the aquarium inside have been mixed, but the architecture is definitely work a quick walk past.

The Cuidad is at the end of the “Gardens of Turia.” Until a catastrophic flood in the 50s, Valencia had a large river flowing through its center. This river was redirected around the city, and the riverbed was filled with gardens, soccer fields, and fountains. For someone who enjoys a good walk through a bustling city, there could literally not be a better scenario.

La Plaza

But the jewel of Valencia is la Plaza de Ayuntamiento—or the City Hall Square. A central fountain makes the perfect meeting place; the best restaurants, stores, and nightclubs are all a short walk away from the Plaza.

Perhaps my personal favorite daytime attraction of the city is the Santa Iglesia Catedral. It’s here that I spent the majority of Saturday—exploring the various chapels and Catholic relics and climbing the 207 steps to the top of the Micalet Tower for an unsurpassed view of the city. But most impressive, of course, was the Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail

Yep, this weekend, I found the Holy Grail. No big deal. It’s a small alabaster cup with several (slightly gaudy) additions since the Last Supper. Turns out that the Holy Grail has been in Valencia since about 1,400 years after Christ’s death. The only other contender for the title is housed in Antioch, and is much more likely a lamp or “communal wine tank.” Regardless, it’s a fairly awe-inspiring, especially considering my affinity for Indiana Jones.

While my tour Saturday ended with the cathedral, Valencia’s tourist sights keep going through the Barrio Carmen, the older district of the city that’s home to all Valencian subcultures come nightfall.

There’s also the Plaza de la Virgen, which is home to the Tribunal de las Aguas, a Valencian court that’s been meeting for the past 1,000 years to resolve irrigation disputes. I’ve heard its a fascinating experience, but I have yet to attend due to classes. Speaking of classes, homework is waiting…

The upcoming week, while hardly Monon Bell week, looks to be an interesting one for me. Tonight, I’m meeting with a local Spanish student for some language practice, tomorrow with my lawyer internship and then a local Baptist to see about a Bible study. Thursday evening I take off for Seville where I’ll spend the weekend exploring yet another lovely Spanish city. Any gaps will be filled with a pleasant mixture of food, siestas, and homework.

Loving la vida española on top El Micalet, despite windy conditions

Have a glorious week and keep the bell safe!

Back in Spain, Doing and Seeing Everything

This past week has been one of contrasts, surprises and hard work. It started with the group trip to Calp. After the most challenging fall break of my life, I was more than ready to avoid travelling for awhile- but, as the trip was completely guided and paid for, I felt obligated to attend.

We were going to see ¨Moros y Cristianos,¨ a traditional parade commemorating the wars between, ironically enough, the Moors and the Christians during the Reconquista. The email sent out to UVA students vaguely mentioned something about trekking until the parade began.

Peñón de Ifach

Turns out we were climbing a gorgeous mountain in the middle of a small harbor. Though I was hardly dressed or rested for the occasion, the steep drop-offs and perfect vistas were magical.

The parade too differed from my expectations. I saw a few recognizably Spanish looking soldiers, but a lot more dancing trees, pirates, or floats with rotating skulls. Very bizarre, and great music- and so many participants.

Moros y Cristianos went late into the night and was preceeded by a gorgeous sunset.

After I came back from Calp, it was time to hit the books. Linguistics, vocab literary analysis… all of these challenges kept me fairly studious after my long afternoon walks and/or siestas.

The weather in Valencia is actually comperable to early fall in Indiana- the perfect walking weather. So hopefully I’m burning off some of the those complex carbs obligatory in every Spanish meal.

As my health is back to normal, I’ve been able to meet Dario, Diana’s four week old son. While incessant crying gets old (he’s been living in the apartment since he came home from the hospital), he’s completely adorable.


In other news, I’ve finally started my internship with Spanish lawyer Ángela Coquillat. It’s a two-woman firm based out of Valencia, and with strong client bases in Madrid and Alicante. Our first day was spent getting to know the firm and looking over a case file. I had the opportunity this past summer to intern with the U.S. District Court Clerk’s Office, so I felt oddly familiar with the style of the conspiracy to distribute narcotics case- phone taps, transcripts, warrant requests- but this time it was all in Spanish! I’m definitely going to have a good time at this internship, and will continue to report.

With that, I’m back out to continue exploring Málaga and find a Halloween costume.

Fall Break Odyssey

Well, the past several weeks have been fairly epic (hence my prolonged absence from this blog). Here’s what it takes for Steve to loose touch with America.

1st—Homework! Classes to this point have been informative, but not particularly time-consuming. I’d spend an average of an hour a day on homework, half of which was time spent on studying the Habsburgs. This past week was comparable to a week at Wabash—papers, reading, and more than a few great conversations. Not much sleep. Though a little taxing, I’ve enjoyed the work, and my scholastic proficiency at Spanish has no doubt improved.

2nd—Sickness! on the evening of Thursday, September 30th, I noticed a slight sniffle, but chalked it up to a mild irritation and proceeded regardless. My conditioned worsened to a congestion-based paralysis of the face. In my bull-headed nature, I waited until the following Wednesday to go to the doctor. After taking the ½ pound/day of medications prescribed, I did notice significantly decreased congestion, though symptoms in some form continue to persist. Needless to say, the added health component has meant I’ve fallen asleep quickly.

Going to the beach late in the season may have added to my sickness, but it was worth it.

3rd—Friends! Shane Evans and Evan Bayless both visited Valencia the week before spring break… Wabash friendships are special, and it was definitely great to see them in Spain. Shane in particular has traveled extensively through Europe, so getting his advice was great before setting off for fall break.

Photo courtesy of Esther Solano Bonet

Which brings us to the major event of the past month:

4th—Fall Break!!

A strong benefit of the UVA Valencia program is the built-in week long break—10 days to travel Europe. I traveled with Adam Andrews ’12 and Dan Chabala (a fellow Americano from Michigan State University) around Italy, Switzerland, and Austria.

Our journey started, appropriately enough, in complete chaos. Despite paying for expedited shipping well in advance, my Eurorail pass had not arrived on the day of departure. Thanks to a phone call from José, the rest of the problem was discovered: FedEx had received the wrong address from Eurorail. Thankfully, the package was delivered 2 hours before my train left.

Once in Barcelona, airport personal directed us to the correct terminal, security cleared us, and Ryanair staff validated our tickets. We had a leisurely dinner and strolled through some duty-free shops. We stood in the queue line for a flight to Rome, and noticed the flight numbers were incorrect (not to mention we were running early—a rarity for Ryanair).

Chatting with a flight attendant revealed we were an hour south of Barcelona Girona, and we had an hour until the gates closed at 9:20. But after an adrenaline-fueled sprint through Barcelona Prat, we caught our first break. Our taxi driver, Sergio, speeds like a racecar driver, enjoys throbbing techno music, and made €196 ($273) off of our mistake that night. But we arrive with about 20 minutes to spare (we tipped well). Chris, another friend traveling with us from the program, used this extra time to look for his plane ticket, which he had losted (he printed out another one and was the last person to board the plane).

The start of an epic fight to get home

The first two days were chaotically spent in Rome. Naturally, we had planned our trip during the last U-2 concert in Europe for their 360° tour, so finding a hostel was next to impossible. But with a bit of maneuvering, we found one place in the city and on the outskirts—complete with a full kitchen.

In Rome, Chris discovered yet another problem: he’d lost his Eurorail pass. He spent his time in Rome talking with police to get the situation resolved and eventually return to Valencia.

We, however, explored Rome with insatiable ferocity—the Coliseum, the Vatican, the restaurants—we of course failed to see about half of the Eternal City, but we certainly took advantage of our time. For two nights, we stayed in a small bungalow in the suburbs of Rome cooking pasta for dinner and sleeping late into the morning.

On Sunday, we left for Switzerland via train. After a long train ride (this came to be a motif of our journey), we were greeted in Rappersville, Switzerland by none other than Michael Opieczonek ’09. A phenomenal home-cooked dinner awaited us—meatloaf, salad, mashed potatoes, and, of course, Swiss chocolate for dessert. To compensate for over-eating, we went on a extensive walking tour of Rappersville.

Wabash Sunset in Rappersville, Switzerland

Incidentally for Opieczonek, Rappersville is dominated by a castle restored by a Polish benefactor. Michael’s Renaissance apartment overlooks the castle square, a first-rate coffee shop, and a music store. In fact, we were so impressed by Rappersville that we spent the next day planning and exploring the small Swiss towns. After an enjoyable Wednesday in Zurich, we left via night train to Vienna, Austria still enamored of Switzerland.

Vienna was primarily selected for its phenomenal fine arts museum. Soon after checking into our hostel, we trekked across the city to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which included quite a few portraits of the Habsburg family. While in Vienna, we also visited the Albeterina, which contained some Picasso works inspired by Habsburg portraits…a true liberal arts experience that made me miss C&T.

In Vienna too, another European Wabash friend saved the day. Maria Fraczek, a former language intern at Wabash, gave us a first-rate tour of Viennese cathedrals, and later an authentic Austrian dinner. As a pastry aficionado, I highly recommend Fraczek apple strudel.

After a night full of cultural conversations and food, we set off for Innsbruck, home of Ferdinand II’s Schloss Ambras.

There are certain downsides to being completely ignorant of the German language, not the least of which is traveling difficulties. Thanks to a miscommunication with a train conductor, we ended up in Salzburg, Austria (translated from German, “the Salt Fortress”) and needed to wait 90 minutes for a train back down to Innsbruck. We arrived in Innsbruck thoroughly confused, tired, and too late to go to the museum.

Things headed even further south at midnight. In addition to a remarkably slow Saturday night in Innsbruck, it began to rain. We went back into the train station to wait for our 3:40 AM departure for Valencia.

Our plan was to ride from Vienna to Zurich, to Montpellier, France, to Barcelona, Spain to Valencia. An arduous (25 hr) train ride, but not a bad way to see the countryside, read some books, and save some money.

Unfortunately, our train ride to Zurich was delayed, so we missed our connection at Zurich. We took this in stride, and found another connection through Geneve. Not a big deal.

French workers had other plans for us. A strike in France essentially shut down travel through the majority of the country. Our best option was a boat from Lorenzo, Italy to Barcelona.

After a regrettably short night’s sleep in Milan, we took the four hour train to Lorenzo. On the train, I commiserated with an Italian couple, and it seems we weren’t the only ones to face such problems travelling by train. It was comforting to know our inability to get back to Spain wasn’t actually our fault somehow. And we certainly saw our share of Americans dealing with the situation in a less-than-gentlemanly manner.

Upon arriving in Livorno, we quickly made our way to the dock… or at least tried. Despite the good intentions of two Italians, we were thoroughly lost. After many unfruitful, multi-lingual exchanges, we found a woman that confirmed the existence of our boat and sent us off in a taxi.

Our “Mediterranean cruise” was survivable at best. Ferocious waves, unappreciated live music, and, of course, a noisy baby inhibited both sleep and work. But we surived, and arrived to take the 1 A.M. bus to Valencia.

So, at long last, I fell into my Valencian bed at 6:00 in the morning on the 20th of October. And made it to class the next morning.

Now, it’s makeup work time.

The long road to the boat in Livorno, Italy, punctuated by a beautiful Tuscan sunset.

Fourth week in Spain…

Well, my first trip in Barcelona was a great success. Thanks to a wonderful find by another study abroad student, we stayed relatively inexpensively in a nice villa a quick train ride from the city. With all you can eat meals for under 10 euros (including some of the best paella I’ve had to date), the No Worries villa was literally the perfect place to stay. The villa’s pick-up service lived up to its name too—after a Ryanair flight was delayed for nearly three hours, Paul picked us all up from the airport. [Subliminal message: if you plan to stay in Barcelona and you’re still appropriately aged for the hostel scene, stay at No Worries – Barcelona].

After a good night’s sleep, we hit the town. Led by yet another study abroad student, our group travelled las Ramblas, la Sangrada Familia, and walked all over the city (punctuated, of course, by tapas—Spanish midday snacking).

In Güell Park

Most phenomenal to me was the “Güell Park,” Gaudí’s masterpiece in Barcelona. Amusingly devoid of symmetry, the park has a variety of colorful sculptures. I arrived back in Valencia completely tired but thoroughly enthused to continue viajando in Spain. Barcelona seems to me home of the slightly unbalanced and colorful, both in terms of street entertainers and architecture. Needless to say, I enjoyed myself immensely.

Last week at school was also enlightening. From a Buñuel film on power, feminism, and maturation to the moral complexities of Leopoldo Lugones’ “The Rain of Fire: Evocation of a Ghost from Gomorrah,” this past week has been intellectually enjoyable. It’s a pity that there’s such a high linguistic barrier preventing some of this stuff from entering into the new C&T. This week looks to be poetry and feminism… I love being in survey literature classes—variety and plenty of room for further reading.

With that same feeling of exploration, I visited Toledo this past weekend. Unbeknownst to us, Toledo was hosting the Ms. Spain beauty pageant, a convention for the deaf and dumb, and a Star Wars convention.

As a Junior in college, a Galactic invasion is the strangest thing that's woken me from a nap.

Toledo itself is a preciously unique city—full of winding streets, ancient buildings, and delectable pastry shops. In Toledo, our group met up with Wabash legend Michael Opieczonek ’09. Led by our whims and occasionally by a phenomenal guidebook (I’d recommend it, but it was in Polish), we walked, bused, and ate our way through Toledo.

The city itself has seen three unique religious cultures—Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim. Even within the Cathedral, we saw a chapel covered in mosaic more evocative of a mosque than a Catholic chapel. The infusion of such a wide range of cultures into such a small, winding town has clearly produced some of the most iconic architecture in Spain. From attending mass to walking the streets, this city’s diverse and ancient culture pervades virtually every building and alley.

Our flight the next day left at eight in the evening, so we passed the afternoon in Madrid’s phenomenal Museo del Prado. In the four hours we spent in the museum, I feel like we probably saw half of what the galleries had to offer. I definitely will be returning to Madrid, and anticipate spending more time in el Prado.

Now I’m off to get my first haircut in Spain… good to see Wabash prevailed in Homecoming, and here’s to another fantastic week.

My Typical Day in Spain

Mi Habitación

At precisely 9:00 in the morning, my cell phone blares some digitized jingle while vibrating furiously. The window is open but the shades are drawn—allowing just enough of the cool morning air in while blocking out some of the light and noise from the street below.

The restroom is small (my closet is bigger), and the water never really gets hot. Utilities, I am told, are quite expensive, so I’m sure to turn off the water while lathering myself with soap. A restroom ceiling fan is conspicuously absent.

My breakfast is already on the table—Mery’s nightly routine includes laying out the sliced bread, cereal, and valencianos necessary for my morning appetite. “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper,” she says (though my dinners never seem to be a particularly low calorie event). This is hardly a general Spanish belief; many of my fellow Americanos are forced to forage for more than the single croissant they receive in the morning.

I eat leisurely and read the Psalm of the day (en español, por supuesto), and then make my way to the bus around 10:00. A twenty minute ride is spent digesting, reading one of several local papers, or wishing that I’d gone to bed earlier.

My class schedule is as follows:

Monday and Wednesday

10:40 AM-12:10 PM—Texts and Interpretation

12:25 PM (it always starts several minutes late)-1:50 PM—Latin-American Literature

Tuesday and Thursday

10:40 AM-12:10 PM—Introduction to Spanish Linguistics

12:20 PM-1:50 PM—Advanced Conversation and Film

On Monday afternoons, I also meet with Dr. Enrique Pellayaz to discuss my progress on an independent study on the art surrounding the Habsburg family. Currently, I’m reading “The Genealogy and Lives of Spanish Queens” to wet my feet into the world of the Spanish and Austrian dynasty. More on this to follow (including a variety of excursions).

Classes here have a different dynamic than dear old Wabash, but are nonetheless interesting, challenging (I have yet to roll my r’s), and thought-provoking. The homework itself is relatively straight-forward, but Valencia’s engaging atmosphere makes concentration nearly impossible.

Another beautiful day in the vecindario

After classes and chatting with Americans, I ride back to home for lunch at 3:00 with Mery, Diana, Jose (Diana’s husband), and Oscar. Oscar’s daughter, Sara, generally wreaks havoc around the house. So far, these conversations are the best test of my Spanish capabilities—multiple participants with a high degree of familiarity, accents (Valencian and Peruvian), and mouths full of delicious Spanish food. With the exception of Mery, all are fairly fluent in English, and are more than willing to explain various words or cultural quirks. Their thoughts on news, difficulties, and Sara’s antics make for a thoroughly enjoyable meal on a daily basis.

After lunch, I typically sit down to work on homework—so far this has ranged in difficulty from a simple linguistics worksheet to a literary analysis paper. Of course, if I feel like procrastinating (this invariably happens about 15 minutes after beginning to work), the beach, shopping centers, or parks are enjoyable and readily available distractions.

Somewhere around 7:00, I’m starting to tire from the days activities, so I go for a 30-90 minute siesta. I wake up slowly and stumble into the kitchen, where a warm dinner awaits. Perhaps the defining aspect of my homestay has been long after-dinner talks. Spanish nightlife typically starts at 11:00 at the earliest (some clubs don’t open until 2:00), so there’s always some down time.

Mery, my host mother, is from Puerto Rico. The former nurse married a Valenciano, who passed away unexpectedly a number of years ago. She has several remaining siblings in Peru, but concentrates the majority of her time on her children and grandchildren. Slightly a different environment than living in College Hall, to say the least. But Mery is kind, and has a wide variety of experience traveling and working throughout the Americas and Europe, so conversations are always fluid and interesting. There is no better way to absorb Spanish culture than conversing with someone who slowly became a part of it.

After dinner, it’s anyone’s guess… late night walks (I’m told this is an unsafe practice. The weather is worth the risk), out on the town with Americanos, or reading. Tonight, I’m getting on a plane to Barcelona for the weekend… so needless to say, I should probably start packing. More next week on meeting my “intercambio” (exchange student—I teach them English, they teach me Spanish) and my various activities in Barcelona.

Coming soon... Barcelona

First week in a Spanish paradise

The similarities between “extranjero” (foreigner) and “extraño” (strange) are becoming increasingly obvious. I am in a different world.

My voyage to Spain was appropriately bizarre. For a phenomenal €470, I obtained a spot on a Royal Dutch Airlines flight to Madrid. Announcements, magazines, and flight attendants were equal parts English and Dutch. To add to the Anglo-Saxon diversity, I was seated beside two Danish grandparents whose English was limited to “vater” and “danke you.”

Sunrise in Amsterdam

After a lengthy layover in Amsterdam, I came to Madrid, capital of Spain and home to 3.3 madrileños. I had booked a hostel that day in Chicago, so went on an epic quest across the city to find it. I did, and fell asleep promptly. Naturally, I slept through the two redundant alarms I had set, so I was forced to shower and eat rather quickly.

The people of Madrid were extraordinarily helpful on my trek to the bus station—from giving me change at the subway station to helping me find the correct route. One woman, Carla, even guided me to the right bus station. In the spirit of paying it forward, I helped a Spanish lady and her daughter decipher their bus tickets. So, despite the overcast skies of Madrid, I headed into Valencia with a sunny (albeit sleepy) disposition.

¡por fin! I'm in Valencia (específicamente la Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias)!

Upon arriving at Valencia, I placed a call to my host mother, Mery (she dislikes her given name: “Hilda”). This was my first phone conversation in complete Spanish, and I was still disoriented, so I interpreted her as saying “Meet me at the Cinca Roja.” The Finca Roja is a local landmark near the house for the taxi driver’s reference—as Calle Honrato Juan is a rather obscure side street.

After the taxi driver found the apartment in a small red book of maps, I spent my first 10 minutes in Spain fumbling with a padlock protecting my luggage from the ladrones known to frequent hostels…naturally, I locked the combination securely in the bag and promptly forgot it. And thus began my time in Spain.

Life here is hard to translate. Food, for one, is eaten at 8:45 (by early morning people like myself), lunch at 2:30 in the afternoon, and dinner around 9:30. Sidewalks start emptying around 1:00 for the cycle to begin again. The weather is phenomenal—right now it’s a sunny 82 with a gentle breeze (the beach is calling me).

It’s the little differences that make the experience. Milk doesn’t need to be refrigerate. Crying children make more of an “eeeeeeeeeee” sound than an “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” sound (school started yesterday; my pseudo-niece, Sarita, was not enthused). Iberico ham (in the States priced somewhere north of $50 a pound) is served regularly on epically proportioned sub sandwiches.

Perhaps the most strange thing about the trip so far is that I’m different. Political correctness doesn’t seem to have quite as strong hold in Spain (or, at least, not in the American sense), and people are accustomed to openly staring at anything they find interesting. It’s a slightly disconcerting feeling to sit on a bus where everyone is staring at you.

La Plaza de La Virgen

Of course, fundamentally, people are the same. I’ve certainly enjoyed the company of the few locals I’ve had the opportunity to meet, and enjoy discussing cultural differences with my widely travelled host family—Mery is Peruvian, and her children have all studied English abroad. So I’m well-situated to discover this new world.

I’ve already seen quite a bit of Valencia, from touring with friends to unintentional hikes (doesn’t help that street signs are in a local dialect, if present at all). There’s always more to do and see, so my ever-increasing knowledge of local spots should yield an interesting post later this year… but for the moment, I’m back to la vida española. Hasta luego!