Stay tuned for my last post!
Thursday, July 17 was a bittersweet day. I finished my last two finals, one of which was an oral exam. I was so relieved to be done, but this was also my last day in Valencia, as we had to leave for the airport at 4:00am the next morning. Thursday night, all of our professors and the university staff threw us a farewell dinner. We had tapas and drinks at a local restaurant in Valencia, and danced the night away. It was so much fun to hang out with our professors outside of the classroom, and it was great to have one last night with everyone from the program all together. After the dinner, we spent the rest of the night at one of our favorite local bars, Roa. The owners had grown quite fond of us MSU students over the past nine weeks, and were so sad to see us go. They brought out a complimentary bottle of champagne and gave a very sweet toast about their favorite customers. As we raised our glasses, it was at that moment it finally hit me… I was really leaving Valencia. This was one of my last moments in the place I called home for the past two months, and I was full of mixed emotions--Excitement, sadness, disbelief… Although I was misty-eyed, the feeling that overcame me most was thankfulness. In that moment, I realized how incredibly lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Stay tuned for my last post!
Incase you didn't know, I am back in America safe and sound! Once again, I apologize for my tardiness, but I only have a couple of more posts to catch up on!
After my fun weekend in Barcelona, it was time to get back to reality. Monday marked the start of finals week. Before studying all night, I spent one last afternoon at the beach. It was an extremely hot day, but the Mediterranean breeze felt so nice. I walked around the little tents and shops that line the beach and got all of my last minute souvenir shopping done!
Tuesday marked the last day of classes. I have absolutely no idea where the time went! After class, I thought about all of the things I still needed to do in Valencia. I only had three days left, and I knew I had to make the most of it. I set off towards La Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences), which is the very modern part of Valencia. It is known for its unique architecture. It consists of several buildings, all of which are white and have huge glass windows. They are surrounded by series of pools, and it is so pretty to look at the reflections on a sunny day. One of the buildings is L'Hemisfèric, which resembles a giant eye ("eye of knowledge"), and is an IMAX cinema, planetarium, and laserium. Another is an interactive science museum that resembles the skeleton of a whale. One of the main attractions is Oceanogràfic, which is the largest aquarium in Europe. It was built in the shape of a water lilly. My host mother was telling me it is a cool place for kids to have birthday parties, because they have an overnight package where the kids can sleep in the shark room and watch all of the sharks swim around them! Furthermore, there is an opera house and performing arts center, a plaza for concerts and sporting events, and a walkway called L'Umbracle, which is lined with plants indigenous to Valencia. Parts of La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias are underground, but unfortunately I did not have the time or money to explore inside!
The highlight of my trip was walking around the Río on the way there. La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias is at the very end of the Río It was about an eight mile walk there and back, but I am so glad I decided to go. There were so many parts to the Río I'd never seen before. There are tons of parks for children, exercise equipment for adults, fountains, and entertainment plazas. I love that the Río offers a big splash of green in such a large city, and next time I am back in Valencia, I am determined to bike the entire thing and see all of the other parts I've yet to explore! (Incase you forgot, the Río runs down the middle of Valencia. It used to be a river, but was very prone to floods. In 1957, the flood was so horrible, the city decided to divert the course of the river, and the fertile soil of the riverbed quickly gave life to a lush garden).
On Wednesday, I had my first final exam. I had to write a timed essay for one of my Spanish literature classes, which went very well! After my exam, I headed to Old Town with my friend, Taylor, to enjoy one of our last afternoons in Valencia. I FINALLY walked by the cathedral museum during open hours, and saw the supposed Holy Grail, which is the chalice Jesus drank out of during the Last Supper. According to Christian historians all over the world, evidence points to this particular chalice as the most likely candidate for being the authentic cup... Pretty cool!
Only two more posts until I am finished with this blog! Thanks for being patient with me! :)
Alright, time to get caught up again!! For my last weekend abroad, I traveled to Spain's most popular city, Barcelona. Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, and is located about five hours north of Valencia. I did this trip through my university. We took a bus there, and upon our arrival, our first stop was a guided tour of La Sagrada Familia. La Sagrada Familia is one of my favorite places in Spain (Second, after the Alhambra in Granada). My jaw continually dropped the entire time I was there. The coolest part about the church is that it is still under construction. Construction began on March 19, 1882. The principal architect was Antonio Gaudí, who dedicated his whole life to the design of the church. He passed away in 1926 (His tomb is inside of the church), but teams of architects continue to work on his original design, which will not be completed for many years. They originally estimated the construction would be finished by 2026. However, they now realize this is not an attainable goal. The architects want to complete the construction with the same care and attention to detail that Gaudí would. In addition, it is an expiatory church, meaning it is built from donations. Gaudí himself said, "La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people." Therefore, it is going to take a very long time.
However, the architects have promised that by 2026, the Tower of Jesus Christ will be completed for the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death. Each tower of the church represents a different element of Catholicism. The tallest tower will represent Jesus Christ. This tower will stand at 558 feet, which is also taller than many buildings in Barcelona! Every element of the church is symbolic and extremely thought-out. For example, the exterior of the church on the east side (Where the sun rises) is the nativity scene, depicting the birth of Jesus. The architecture on the west side (Where the sun sets) depicts the Passion. Even the windows are symbolic, with certain color schemes of stained glass representing events such as the resurrection, while others represent specific saints, etc. The windows in the central part of the church have no color, and are made with translucent glass to symbolize purity. After spending time in the church, we visited the museum and learned about all of the geometry (Way over my head) involved in the design, and even saw the current principal architects at work in their office, making designs with digital and clay models. It was amazing! I would really love to go back and see the final product someday!
Friday night we ate dinner on La Rambla, one of the main streets in downtown Barcelona. From there, we ventured to the beach where all of the nightlife is. The highlight of the night was Icebarcelona, which is a bar where everything-- the walls, seats, and cups, are made of ice. The bar is kept at 20 degrees Fahrenheit (Which really seems like nothing after last winter!), and they provide you with a parka and gloves. It was definitely unlike anywhere else we went out!
On Saturday we went on a guided bus tour. At first, I was skeptical about a bus tour, but I quickly realized Barcelona is way too big to walk around, and the main attractions are very spread out. Our guide also let us get off the bus at many of the sights. We were able to stop at the Olympic Stadium from the 1992 games, on a mountain for beautiful panoramic views of the city, and lastly, Park Güell. This park contains more works of Antonio Gaudí, as well as beautiful nature and views of Barcelona. I was really bummed to find out that as of recently, they charge you to go into the part of the park where all of the mosaics are. Unfortunately we were unable to get tickets because you have to reserve them in advance… But I'll get to see it during my next trip to Barcelona when La Sagrada Familia is done, right? ;)
After the bus tour, we had free time for the rest of the day. We stumbled across Barcelona's Central Market, which had the largest and freshest foods I have ever seen. The supplies of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seafood, and spices were never-ending! I wish I took more pictures. After that, we visited Montjuïc, which is another area that offers great views of Barcelona. At the top of the mountain, there is an art museum, and in front of the mountain, there are the Magic Fountains of Montjuïc. This is where a music video for the Cheetah Girls (A popular Disney Channel movie during my childhood) was filmed. I remember thinking it was so cool when I saw the movie way back when. It was surreal being there in person! We liked it so much, we decided to come back at night for the Magic Fountain Show, which did not disappoint. It was a 30 minute show, and all of the fountains were synched to music and lighting. There was also a full moon right over the fountains. It sounds corny, but it was honestly one of the highlights of our weekend! We ended Saturday night celebrating my friend's birthday at Espit Chupitos, a famous shot bar. They have over 600 kinds of shots, all of which are unique and interactive. Some of ours were on fire… Literally! It was a ton of fun!
On Sunday, we had a guided visit of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter. We saw several old buildings and shops and restaurants that are native to Barcelona. The main attractions were two cathedrals: Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, and Santa Maria del Mar. Both were very pretty, and we even got to see the locals dance the Sardana (A type of circle dance typical of Catalonia) in the plazas outside of the churches. We tried visiting the Picasso Museum afterwards, but the line was unreal! It snaked down the streets for at least five blocks. After exploring the city a little bit more, we loaded the bus and headed south for our last week in Valencia!
P.S. I'm not sure if I already posted about this, but there are several different dialects of Spanish. Each region of Spain has different ways of pronouncing sounds, and some words have different meanings depending on your location. It's pretty confusing, but I never had any trouble communicating with anyone until visiting Barcelona. We asked for directions and received a response in Catalan that we could not even begin to decipher!
After class on Wednesday, I ventured off to Valencia's Old Town. There is a big bell tower next to the Cathedral, called Torre del Micalet. I climbed the 207 stairs of the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the tower. I almost opted out because it was 90 degrees outside, but I knew I would regret it if I didn't do it! Once I reached the top, I had a 360 degree view of Valencia (And there was a nice breeze up there!). It was beautiful. On one side, I could see the mountains, and on another, the Mediterranean Sea. I am glad I did this later on in my trip, because now that I know where everything is around the city, I was able to appreciate the view much more!
On Thursday, I had class all day per usual, and then spent the evening starting to study for finals before I left for my weekend getaway to Barcelona, which I will write about in my next post! :)
I cannot believe this is my last full week in Spain!! I spent a lot of time talking to my host sister, Marga, on Monday. She told me all about Las Fallas, which is the traditional celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph. The festivities happen in Valencia every March. After learning all about it and seeing pictures, I am so bummed I won't be here to experience it. Valencianos are hard at work all year round preparing for the celebration. They work hard to create fallas, which are giant figures made of paper-mâché, wax, etc., often very colorful and standing at 20 feet tall or higher. They each satirize a political figure, a soap star, characters from television or movies, sports stars, or simply imagination. Some of them are grotesque, and other others playful and charming. They are all are larger than life and up for public scrutiny. On the final night of the festival, the fallas are burnt as huge bonfires in the streets, and there is also a huge firework display. This is known as La Cremà (the burning), the climax of the whole event.
Every day at 2:00pm, firecrackers rip through the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in a noisy event called la Mascleta. This concert of gunpowder is very popular, and involves different neighborhood groups competing for the most impressive volley, ending with the terremoto (earthquake), as hundreds of masclets explode simultaneously.
There are also a couple of days when the Valencianos take offerings of flowers to the Virgin Mary. There is a huge monument of Mary constructed in front of the Basilica and Cathedral, and the people bring flowers that are intricately placed on the monument to create a beautiful design. The people sing and dance in the streets and wear traditional costumes (which are AMAZING). My host sister showed me photographs of her dress from a couple of years ago. The colors are vibrant, and the designs are extremely intricate. All of the thread in her dress was made of real gold. The costumes are very expensive, and weigh a ton, but they are absolutely beautiful!
Historians say that the origins of the festival go back to the time when carpenters cleared out their workshops at the end of winter, throwing out odds and ends of wood and old candles and lighting them on the street on the day of Saint Joseph. I included a YouTube video below if you want to learn more or see what it looks like!
Happy belated Independence Day! Sorry I'm falling behind again!
Being away from the United States for so long has greatly deepened my appreciation for our country. While I absolutely love Spain, there are many things I miss about home and have realized I take for granted. I was pretty homesick seeing everyone's pictures of their Michigan summers on the lake, barbecues with their families, and fireworks. However, the day still turned out to be fun! Unfortunately this was one of the Fridays we had classes, but after class, I went to Portland Ale House, an American restaurant/bar owned by a man originally from Oregon. I had a true American bacon cheeseburger to celebrate the day. After that, my friend and I explored Barrio del Carmen with friends we met from Ohio and Australia. Barrio (neighborhood) del Carmen is a small district near the old quarter of Valencia. It is known for its little restaurants, bars, shops, and live music. It is not extremely touristy, and is where a lot of locals go to hang out at night. I definitely prefer it over the discotecas!
On Saturday, I walked to the beach for the first time (which took about an hour), and got to see parts of Valencia I've never seen before. The sea breeze was nice while it lasted, but it got up to 95 degrees, so I didn't last too long laying out! This whole weekend was brutally hot, but I was happy to have one more weekend in Valencia. Plus, it forced me to stay inside on Sunday and catch up on all of my school work.
I cannot believe I only have one more weekend left to explore Spain! I am soaking it all in and making the most of what little time I have left here. More updates to come!
P.S. I came across this article the other day… "35 Things You Appreciate About America After Living in Europe." Pretty accurate! :)
Per usual, my week was full of studying and writing essays. Aside from schoolwork, I got in touch with my inner-Spaniard by investing myself in watching the World Cup… Sadly, the United States lost to Belgium in overtime on Tuesday night, but it was fun seeing all of the Europeans so invested in the games while it lasted!
There has also been a little street carnival going on in the Río for the past couple of weeks. There's a giant ferris wheel right in the middle of the city. I decided to ride it the other day, and the views of the city were really cool, especially now that I know the area. Sorry my pictures didn't turn out too well… The carts had orange-tinted windows!
I am not doing any traveling this coming weekend, so I will have more time to explore the beautiful city of Valencia! :)
Last weekend, I travelled to Porto, Portugal. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, and is located along the Douro River. Portugal's main export, port wine, is named after Porto. The Porto region is also a major producer of cork. Needless to say, it is the perfect city for anyone who loves wine!
I flew into Porto on Friday afternoon. It was about a two hour flight from Valencia. On Friday, we had lunch at a cafe that served Franchesinas, which are the sandwiches Porto is famous for. They are made with thick bread, several types of meat, covered with melted cheese, and a hot, thick tomato and beer sauce. Our Franchesinas had ten different types of meat. It was incredible, and unlike anything you'd find in Spain.
After lunch, we climbed 240 stairs to the top of the Clérigos Tower, which is a church bell tower. No building in Porto reaches higher than the tower, so you can look down on the entire city. Once we made our way back down, we headed to the Douro River. We did the "Six Bridges Boat Tour." There are six bridges along the Douro River in Porto, and our 50 minute boat ride took us underneath each one. The weather was absolutely perfect. It is not nearly as hot as Spain. Being on the boat and feeling the cool wind made me feel like I was in northern Michigan!
On Saturday, we spent the day exploring the city and wine tasting. We crossed the river and did tastings at a few different wineries, and got a tour of the Offley cellars. Somehow, we managed to get all of our tastings/tours for free, which was a bonus! Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to visit actual vineyards (it takes an entire day), but we were able to visit Porto's wine district along the river, where all of the port is stored and aged. We also visited Livraria Lello, which is considered the "third most beautiful bookstore in the world." It is also where J.K. Rowling got her inspiration to write the Harry Potter series. Walking around the bookstore, I felt like I was in Hogwarts! Sadly, photography is not allowed inside of the bookstore, but I'll add a few photos from the Internet so you can see how beautiful it is. Saturday night we saw a huge parade in the middle of the city, which was a continuation of the San Juan festivities. On Sunday we just relaxed in a cafe, as we did not have much time before leaving for the airport.
Something I found shocking about Portugal was the language. I always thought Portuguese was very similar to Spanish. However, this is not the case. The locals told us it is very easy for them to understand languages such as Spanish, Italian, and French, but it is nearly impossible for others to understand Portuguese. In addition, English is widely spoken in Portugal. In fact, a lot more people speak English than Spanish.
Overall, it was a very relaxing weekend. It was so nice to have a break from the intense heat of Spain. I really enjoyed Portugal, and I absolutely loved the locals in Porto. Everyone is so genuinely kind! Oh, and I finally got to eat "normal" breakfast food (scrambled eggs and toast), so that was exciting, too! :)
Last Monday, June 23, was La Noche de San Juan. This is a fiesta to welcome the summer season. While every region of Spain has different local traditions, most of them are held on beaches. There are endless bonfires, drinks, food, and friends along the coastlines. Legends, traditions, and magical rituals are connected by common elements: fire and water.
Many locals believe that on this night, paranormal events can occur. It is also a night full of superstition. There are many rituals you can perform, and again, they vary by region. In Valencia, we submerged ourselves in the ocean at midnight, which supposedly purifies the soul and body. While in the ocean, we had to jump over seven waves (not sure what the significance of that was). Then, we all took turns jumping over our bonfire, which, according to legend, gives more strength to the sun, which loses hours of light as the summer progresses. Thousands of bonfires dot the Spanish coastlines, and it is truly a sight to see.
We were advised not to bring anything valuable since it is so crowded, so unfortunately I do not have any of my own pictures. My friend took a few, which I will post once she downloads them. For now, here is a picture from the Internet that gives you the idea!
The remainder of the week I was busy writing essays before leaving for Portugal on Friday, which I will post about later!
I apologize for the delay, but here is the promised post about my weekend in Mallorca! Mallorca (Also spelled Majorca), is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago, in Spain. The capital of the island, Palma, is also the capital of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands. On Thursday evening, I flew into Palma. It was my first time flying with Ryan Air, or as one of my professors calls it, "Ryan Scare." I was terrified, but it really wasn't bad. The flights are inexpensive, and they try to nickel and dime you for little things. It's basically like the Spirit Airlines of Europe. You just need to make sure you read the fine print! When the planes land, everyone claps and the pilot plays celebratory music. The flight was only 45 minutes, and I'm alive and well, so I have no complaints!
Anyways, our hostel was right in the center of Palma, which was nice. It also had a terrace on the top floor where we could enjoy views of the Cathedral, the Mediterranean Sea, and the harbor, which was filled with dreamy yachts and sailboats. The location was great, but there were lots of tourist traps. It seems to be an extremely popular vacation destination for Europeans. The majority of the people there were German and French. In fact, when going out to eat, it was more common to see menus in German than in Spanish. Interesting, considering Mallorca is still part of Spain!
Friday morning, we woke up early to head to the beach. There are TONS of beaches around the island. I really want to go back someday to see more of them, especially because it is nearly impossible to get to the extremely beautiful and secluded beaches (the ones that you see on calendars and computer wallpapers) without your own car. We asked our hostel what they recommended, and ended up at Ses Illetes. The water was gorgeous. I have never swam in water so blue! There were also lots of rocks jetting out into the sea, and it was nice to lay out on them and let the waves spray you. After spending the day at the beach, we headed back to take a siesta before going to a different beach to watch the sunset. We ended up finding a really cool and relaxing beachside restaurant for dinner, too.
On Saturday, my friend and I woke up early to catch a bus to the other side of the island. The bus ride was a little over an hour. The bus took us to Las Cuevas del Drach, which are four caves. The caves have tons of stalactites and stalagmites, which are really cool to look at. Inside the caves is Lake Martel, which is one of the largest underground lakes in the world. We explored the caves for about an hour, and the tour ended with a live classical music concert. We were seated in complete darkness, and little rowboats lit up the lake and a quartet played. Following the concert, we were taken across the lake in row boats.
After the cave tour, we had a couple of hours to kill. We noticed an overlook where you could see the ocean. People were taking pictures in front of it, but nobody seemed to be going down to the water. There were no signs saying not to, so we decided to make the hike down the rocky mountain side. Unfortunately, we were wearing flip flops, but there were no casualties and it was so worth the journey! At the bottom of the cliffs, there was a cove that seemed like a pretty well-kept secret. There were a few people snorkeling in the bright blue water, and we wanted to go in so badly. We didn't think we had enough time because of our bus schedule, so we climbed back up the mountain. However, right when we got back to the top, we immediately regretted not jumping in the water. We made an impulse decision to run to the gift shop to buy big t-shirts (We didn't want to wear our nice clothes in the salt water, but didn't want to flash the snorkelers, either!) and quickly scaled the cliffs one more time so we could jump into the water. We had to dry ourselves under the bathroom hand dryers so we could get on our bus back to Palma. It was well worth it!
On Sunday, we had breakfast on our hostel terrace, which was beautiful. After breakfast, we visited the Palma Cathedral. Like every other cathedral in Spain, it is very impressive. I actually think this is my favorite cathedral thus far. The ceilings are very high, and there are stained glass windows everywhere. Each window is unique, intricate, and made of vibrant colors. I wish my camera could take better pictures! When the sun shines through the cathedral windows, the colors of the glass reflect on the floor, altar, and pews. There is also a huge organ, and when I saw it, I wished I could hear it. About ten minutes later, a mass started, and it began to play!
It's no secret that I love pearls, so of course I had to buy a pair of Majorica Pearl earrings before I left. Mallorca is known for their man-made pearls, which have a much closer resemblance to natural pearls than most. This is because they coat their pearls with "pearl essence" about thirty times. They use natural organic elements of the Mediterranean Sea such as the insides of oyster shells to create a formula that reproduces the iridescence and resistance of natural pearls. Pretty interesting!
Visiting Mallorca was very relaxing and refreshing. As much as I love learning about history and culture and visiting museums and landmarks, it was a nice change of pace for the weekend.