Saturday, June 5, 2010

I'm Baaaaaaaack!

Wow. When I left Spain, I had no idea that it would take this long to write my next blog. I actually planned on doing it one of my first days home! But here I am, 3 ½ weeks later, finally getting around to it! I think I was afraid, because this blog would verify the fact that the most amazing chapter of my life so far is over :( depressing.

My last days in Madrid were VERY busy! I did last minute shopping, soaked in all the sights one last time, and had a lot of studying to do for my finals. But, that last Sunday my roommate Danielle and I squeezed in a Bull Fight. I mean, how could you spent over 4 months in Spain and not see one?! It is so important in the Spanish culture. I was surprised with the fight because it wasn’t as gruesome as I expected it to be. It was hard to watch at times, but it’s amazing how artistic it is and the precision and skill needed to be a successful “Torero” (bullfighter). We only paid about 4 Euro for our seats and we were in the VERY top row. We stayed to watch 3 bulls get killed, then went home because we still had so much studying to do for our finals the next day.

On Tuesday, my last full day, it really hit me how sad I was about to be leaving. Leading up to then, I would say that my excitement about coming home slightly outweighed my sadness, but on Tuesday it all changed. Throughout all of my routine activities I was so sad that it would be my last time doing it all. I didn’t want to leave and if I would have been given the choice, I would have signed on for a few more months right then and there!

After my hardest final, Spanish Literature, Chloe, Danielle and I went to “The Golden Cock”, a Tapas bar right by our school. It was so sad knowing that those were some of my last moments with them. But, we had a very busy last day together! From there we did some shopping in Sol, finished up our packing, then went out for dinner. Our plans were to go to a Flamenco show after we ate, but it turns out the place Danielle had found online was just an abandoned building. Haha. While walking around we found a random Renaissancey looking market, then headed to “Dubliners” to meet up with friends and say goodbye :( On our way back to our apartment, we saw a photo-booth! Obviously we stopped, piled in, and got 4 copies… one for each of us and Angela (or Ange, as we referred to her as), our Señora.

Our Fruiteria!! Where we got all of our Fruits and Veggies... same 2 workers every day.
The Chino down the street where I always bought.... Chino-Delight! yum.

Danielle packing up.. depressing :(

"Ham Museum". ew.

When I woke up Wednesday morning, I had crazy butterflies. I have no idea why, but I get nervous for everything… especially big changes or events… like coming home, in this case. Danielle, Chloe and I said goodbye to Ange, then got in our Taxi and headed for the airport. Danielle and I were both leaving that day, but Chloe was going to pick up one of her friends (they were staying for a couple weeks more).

We sat around for a while, and then the dreaded moment came: It was time for me to go through security and catch my flight. Even though 30mins earlier we had all said that we weren’t going to cry, as soon as the reality of what was about to happen hit, we all stood there hugging with the tears flowing! After spending soooo much time together and experiencing such amazing things with each other, it’s weird to realize that we may not see each other again for a long, long time. I really lucked out when it came to roommates… I know that who you room with and how well you get along can make or break your experience. Not only were the trips we took and Madrid times we had amazing, but I will also always remember the good times the three of us had just chillin’ at our apartment. My semester was such a wonderful experience and I’m so happy I got to share it with them :) I miss my roomies!

I was very surprised to discover that it was harder to get used to being home than it was to living there. The experience was so unique… and I would do it again in an instant. It was the time of my life, and I feel so fortunate that I was able to do it! I can't wait to get back there some day :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Closing Time...

Oh boy. Here I am... about to flick off the lights and go to sleep in my squeaky Spain bed one last time. What a great semester this has been... and a wonderful way to end college! Finals are over, goodbyes have been said, and my bags are packed. As long as this pesky volcano doesn't get in my way I will be arriving in Chicago around 3:30 pm tomorrow afternoon. I am scheduled to leave Madrid at around noon (5am Central)... Fingers crossed it happens! As sad as I am to be leaving this city and ending this experience, it is going to be pretty frustrations if I run into travel problems!

Anyway, I will write more about some of my recent activities (BULLFIGHT!!) later... I have been so busy studying for finals and preparing for my departure that I haven't been able to update!

Well, see you VERY soon! Hope my blogs haven't been TOO boring for you to get through :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In one week I'll be WHERE?!?!

Well here I am. Smack dab in the middle of my last round of final exams (maybe ever! ahh scary). Luckily, I’m kind of getting eased into the process this semester… the order of my tests go from easiest to hardest. Today I had my Music test, Friday is Ethics, Monday (@8:30am, ugh) I take Art History, and Tuesday is Spanish Literature. Usually I am very happy to have them over with, but this time is different. That is because the very next morning I will be leaving Madrid. That’s right folks, one week from right now I will probably be getting off my plane in the good ol’ U S of A. Time has gone by so quickly since I used my numb (recently electrocuted) fingers to type my first blog letting you all know I had arrived safely. It’s weird though because even though the time went by in a blink, that day I left seems like it could have been a year ago.

I am full of so many contradicting emotions about my upcoming departure. I was talking on the phone with my Grandparents the other day and realized how excited I am to see all of my family again, and Facebook is an everyday reminder of how much I miss my friends… but each day I am also reminded of how much I am going to miss Madrid, the people I have met here, and the study abroad experience in general. I have never dreaded something AND been excited for it at the same time. People ask me all the time, “how do you feel about leaving?” and I’m never quite sure how to answer them. I am extremely excited and extremely sad all rolled into one. This is the definition of “bittersweet”, and it is a crazy, crazy feeling.

Thankfully yesterday I received a little surprise in the mail that has served as a distraction from these complicated thoughts (and unfortunately from my studying as well!). My parents sent me the new Glee CD (from their Madonna episode) and I tell ya, put in Sue Sylvester’s brilliant version of “Vogue” and all of your troubles fade away!

Why Sue Sylvester is my favorite fake person in the world:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Figjel ♥

("Figjel" was my first aol screen name over 10 yrs ago. It was a combination of the names of my two favorite stuffed animals, Figment and Jellaman. This "term" annoyingly kept flashing in my mind while trying to think of a title.... So, as they were kind of the inspiration for this blog, I went with it! lol)

Some of you may be shocked… but I do NOT sleep with Figment and Jellaman here :) Of course I brought them, but they have a nice, cozy home inside of my closet. Yesterday as I was getting my clothes out for the day I saw them peeking out. Creepily, I picked them up and smelled them. That actually wouldn’t be very surprising if you know me well- I tend to smell things… often. Haha. Well, when I smelled them, they smelled like my house. You never really notice that comforting, unique smell of your home until you've left it for a while, and your senses get used to somewhere else. In that moment, with Figment and Jellaman held up to my face, I got a rush of butterflies in my stomach thinking about walking through my door on May 12th, and being overwhelmed with that familiar scent for the first time in over 4 months. It got me thinking about how different smells are associated with various people, periods, events or single instances of my life. It made me wonder, years from now, which scents are going to take me back to my semester in Madrid?

While some scents are reminiscent of not-so-pleasant times, I know that anything that takes my mind back to this chapter of my life will bring a smile to my face and happiness to my heart. Wow, that was cheesy! But TRUE. I hope I always remember the thrill and excitement of living in a culture so different (in some ways) than my own.

My Art History class today is a perfect example of something that I never would have experienced had I been sitting in a classroom at Clarke. Our professor brought us wine! I wasn’t surprised actually, because my roommates have that professor for a different Art class and she brought it for them last week. For their class, she taught them how to drink from a “bota”, which is a canvas bag to drink wine out of (very typically Spanish). But for us, it was in relation to learning about Salvador Dalí. We learned that for his masterpiece “Persistence of Memory”, he was inspired by eating Camembert cheese. So, our professor brought us some Camembert cheese with crackers, and whipped a few bottles of white wine out of her bag. Then she made us draw whatever we felt inspired to. I am not very big fan of cheese alone (unless it’s pepperjack), so I was inspired to draw a garbage can with a rotten banana and dirty sock hanging out of it.

I didn’t have my camera with me in class today, but here are pictures of the bota in the other class (my professor showing them how it's done, and my roommate Danielle giving it a whirl)

and this is Dalí's masterpiece... inspired by cheese :)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Time's A Tickin'

Since I got back from Amsterdam, I have been swamped with school work. I was dreading that first week back… I had a Spanish presentation, an Art History exam and a big Ethics paper due. Lucky for me, my Ethics paper (about Ethical Egoism) and Spanish presentation (about Feminist Literature and the piece “Tango” by Luisa Valenzuela) were both delayed a week, so I had a bit more time to prepare for each of them. But still, that is a lot crammed into two weeks (on top of all of the regular work, too)! On Thursday as I submitted my Ethics paper it felt like a HUUUGE weight was being lifted…. Only for me to remember 30 seconds later that finals are just around the riverbend (as Pocahantas would say). I still have big exams in every class, a Music research paper and need to squeeze in two concerts and write reviews on them… Yuck.

This will be my 8th round of college finals and it seems so different than any other time. First of all it’s my last round (at least of undergrad), but secondly and most importantly, it means that my time in Spain is coming to an end SOON. I try not to think about it too much, but lately I have been having departure related dreams every night. The first one was really creepy because it was the same as a reoccurring dream I used to have before I CAME to Spain. It used to be that I got to Spain and forgot a bunch of things I wanted, but now it was that I got home and left half of my things in Spain. It makes me think that I’m having the same kind of anxieties about going home as I was about coming here in the first place. And, the other night I dreamt that I woke up the morning I leave at 8:30am (my flight leaves at 11 something) and I didn’t have any of my stuff packed yet. And this morning when I woke up, before I opened up my eyes, I thought I was in my bedroom at home for a second. It has been really weird- and it always makes me wake up feeling nervous. It’s crazy that things I don’t even think about during the day creep out of my subconscious while I’m sleeping. I wish I were a pro dream interpreter so I could decode the meanings :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Last Hoorah?

Well, this past weekend I went on what seems to be my last trip of the semester: Amsterdam, Holland. It was a nice 3 day escape, before coming back to a very hectic school week.

I went with my roommates Danielle and Chloe, and I really enjoyed the town. It was pretty much as I expected it to be. It was beautiful, and canals were everywhere. I felt like I was in Venice! (Actually I didn’t, they’re really different, but there is a canal connection there…haha)

Our weekend was relaxed and we didn’t have too much going on- we pretty much just enjoyed the sights and the city. It was a lot of fun… we rented bikes to ride around on one day, ate pannekoeken, bought wooden shoes, passed time at the famous Amsterdam coffee shops, walked around the town, saw the Red-Light district, went to a park, went to a wax museum and saw the Anne Frank House.

I really enjoyed the day we got bikes. #1) we didn’t have to walk as much and #2) I have never seen a town so equipped for bicycling. I guess it’s the thing to do there… there were sooo many bikers (mostly on haunted, 1950’s looking bikes) and the streets had specific biking lanes. And you know how traffic lights have the pedestrian lights, with the little guy who is green or red? Well, Amsterdam also has lights with little bikes that are green or red. It’s great; it’s a fast, cheap, environmentally friendly, and seemingly safe way to get around. I was very surprised that I did not see one single person riding with a helmet on. So, I would guess that accidents involving the riders do not occur often.

The Madame Tussaud’s Wax museum was kind of a random decision… we passed it a million times going everywhere, and every time I saw it, I was reminded of how much I love the one in NYC. Seriously… creepily, it’s probably one of my favorite things to do in the city, and every time I go (even if there are no new figures) it is just so fascinating to me. So on Sunday when we were looking for something to do, Danielle and I decided to hit it up (Chloe had school work). I’m so happy we went, but at first I was kind of skeptical… when you get off of the elevator into the very first room, it’s completely black and then this GIANT wax guy comes down out of the ceiling. Apparently he’s an important Dutchman… I couldn’t understand what the voiceover was saying (even though it was in English) but he was creepy. SERIOUSLY! He was probably 10X the normal statue, was decorated with all of these Dutch things, and had creepy animated eyes and mouth. Needless to say, it was traumatizing. Fiiiiinally we were able to move on. This room was pretty creepy too… it was about the “golden age” and was set up like a little town in those times. Different lights turned on in the various displays and we were supposed to direct our attention to those areas and listen to the creepy voice over… but we found the black curtain leading to the next part and ducked out early.

We walked into a dark creepy hallway and saw a sign that said, “do not touch the live actors, they will not touch you”… “take the yellow path if you have a heart condition”. We went in, and just as I was saying to Danielle, “I screamed all the way through this part of the New York one…” a guy jumped out, scared the crap out of us and we ran away trampling the middle aged couples behind us (literally) and probably deafening them with our screeching. Arms linked, and 1,000 screams later, we were finally out of there and onto the cool stuff. There were a lot of wax figures of American people, and it was really neat to get to see and learn about important people historically and culturally from Holland and the surrounding areas, too. One awesome feature of the Amsterdam Madame Tussauds, was that they had a whole section dedicated to artists... perfect timing with an art history test coming up tomorrow! haha

My favorite, favorite, favorite part of my weekend in Amsterdam was visiting the Anne Frank house. I remember reading her diary when I was in 8th grade and like everyone else who has ever read her story, I was moved by not only what she went through, but the deep and profound insights of this young girl. As you may know, I am possibly the most easily creeped out person in the world. I cannot describe to you the chills that spread through my body as I walked through the hidden bookshelf door, and stood in Anne’s room, looking at the pictures of movie stars that she pasted to the walls herself. It was all so eerie and moving. I could not imagine living in such tight quarters, and keeping quiet all day long. I mean, think of the fear and anxiety they all must have felt? Wow. It was definitely a surreal experience. I’m looking forward to reading her diary again, after having been there.

Even though I didn’t feel well (my Easter-time cold is still lingering…) it was a really nice weekend. Hopefully I’ll be able to return someday!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rusk Family Reunion: Spring Break 2010

It seems like I just returned from Spring Break, and already tomorrow I am heading to Holland! (Amsterdam, specifically) I figured I should post a quick summary of what went down over Spring Break!

On Thursday March 25th, my family got to Madrid! My Mom, Dad, Sister, Aunt Cheryl and Cousin Tim all made the long journey over here. They arrived Thursday night, so we only had time for dinner (Mexican, yum), but we had a long time on Friday to see the sites. First we walked to my school, then I took them on a big ol’ walking loop around the city- we hit up some of the major spots: Plaza España, the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, San Miguel’s Market and Puerta del Sol. We also made a Gelato stop… which prepared us for our daily gelato consumption in Italy : ) After spending some time in each of these locations, we were on our way to the airport to go to Rome!

We arrived after midnight, and after a few luggage and taxi related anxieties, finally got to our hotel! We would be staying in a different hotel EVERY NIGHT (except in Switzerland, where we spent 2 nights at the same place), so I didn’t get to “settle in” like I love doing at hotels. Oh well… after the door handle came off in my hand a few times, I was fine with moving on!

Saturday was our first day to explore Rome… and it got off to a horrible start! Some yahoo in a souvenir shop decided to start talking about an explosion (a supposed terrorist attack) that occurred in the O’Hare airport! He said that almost 40 had died, and there was also a threat on the White House. We were all freaking out. I immediately sent a text to my cousin, Angie, who lives in Chicago to see what was happening, and we made some calls back home… well, as you know, nothing really happened. Either that guy was SERIOUSLY misinformed, or he was playing a sick joke on the Americans. Horrible.

Once we got word from home that nothing really had happened, our preoccupation with the “attack” subsided and we were able to take in all of the culture and beauty we were experiencing. We went to St. Peter’s Square and spent hours in the Vatican Museum. I was finally able to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and Raphael’s “School of Athens”. The Sistine Chapel wasn’t like I had imagined it to be at all… it was much smaller than I had thought. We were the last people to leave the museum, and we were all exhausted afterwards!

The next day we signed up for a guided walking tour and saw St. Peter’s Square (again), the Trevi Fountain, the “Spanish Steps”, the Pantheon and many sculptures by Bernini and other artists. Since it was Palm Sunday, the city was full of people and there were palm stands everywhere. I even saw some people selling little palm crosses like they make at my church for the holy day. Later on, we went to the Colosseum and saw other architecture that remains from ancient Rome.

At 5:30 am on Monday, we were on our way to the airport for Venice! Alysia and I were lucky we made it though… we didn’t wake up until 5:18!!! I’m happy we did, because Venice was every bit as magical as I remember it being. We walked all around the city and saw the canals, bridges, and narrow, winding streets. We did a little shopping, spent some time in St. Mark’s Square, and all piled into a gondola for a relaxing journey through the waters.

Bright and early on Tuesday, we were off for another leg of our journey… Lucerne, Switzerland. On the train rides we were able to catch up on some much needed rest and were excited to get to our hotel where we would be (finally) staying two consecutive nights :)

After checking in, we went to look at the town. After a few minutes, I realized how much I loved Switzerland. Walking across the bridge to where all the action was, I could see the Alps, a river and the cutest, most “Swiss” looking buildings you’ll ever see in your life! It was sooo beautiful. There wasn’t too much going on in Lucerne, so our days there were chill- just what we needed after our go-go-go attitudes in our other locations.

The first night in Lucerne was the best night of the whole trip, in my opinion. We went to Stadtkeller, a Swill Folklore dinner show that had disgusting cheese-fondue, but a great performance. The Alphorns and yodeling took my attention away from the ass smell invading my nostrils, and it was an amazing time. Alysia and Tim were able to give the Alphorn a whirl, Cheryl and Tim tried some traditional Swiss dancing, and Dad was able to put his yodeling and beer-drinking skills to the test.

On Wednesday, we spent a few hours at Mt. Pilatus. We took little “gondolas” on cables up to the top, and the views were beautiful… if you could ignore the blizzard going on around you! We had lunch up there, took in the sites, and warmed up with a little hot chocolate and dessert before heading back down. That night I had my best meal of the trip: Meat Fondue (way better, and way different than the cheese one).

On Thursday morning we bid farewell to Lucerne and were on our way back to Madrid. We did make a 6ish hour pitstop in Paris, though. We had enough time to visit the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Then we boarded our overnight train to Madrid. GROSS. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say that our cabin had the cleanliness of an airplane bathroom. YUCK. And almost as annoying as the disgustingness of it, our room was only big enough for one of us to stand up in it at once. Thank God I was asleep for most of this ride. BLAH.

I was rejoicing when we pulled up in Madrid Friday morning, but sad because I knew that my time with the fam was almost at an end. We were planning on going to the Prado Museum that day, but because it was Good Friday almost everything in the whole city was closed. We went to Retiro Park and to Sol again, then ATTEMPTED to go to a Flamenco dinner show… but because of religious processionals the cabs couldn’t drop us off right at the place…And since we were in two different cars, we got separated. Very long story short, we were swept away in the crowd, it took Mom, Dad, Alysia and I over 45 minutes to find the restaurant and since Tim and Cheryl didn’t turn up, we left… turns out they showed up 5 minutes later! Well, we were still separated. But finally, probably 2 hrs later, we were reunited at a little café across from our hotel- where we had our last meal together.

On Saturday I rode with them to the airport and said goodbye to them… it was sad since I had gotten used to being with them again, but knowing that I would be seeing them in less than 6 weeks made it a little easier.

Sunday was Easter. Blah. I was sick. And on Monday I was back to school… and today’s Wednesday. Jeeze that was supposed to be a short summary! Sorry Charlies.