Saturday, February 27, 2010

Winter Break: parte dos

I’m back folks! Sorry, my break was a little longer than expected… I was all blogged and journaled out. So anyway, after Paris we went to Köln (cologne in English), Germany.

Germany has been on my places-to-visit list for a long time. And one of the main reasons why it has topped this list is that I know that a sizable chunk of my ancestors are from there. I know that I probably have blood from many different European countries… but I only claim 3 (haha). #1) I know I’m Irish on my Dad’s side, #2) I know I’m Germany on my Mom’s side and #3) My (maternal) Grandma told me she has ancestors from Wales. Well, when I was 14 I went to Ireland and Wales. So ever since then I’ve wanted to make it to Germany! Mission accomplished.

After our hours around the Eiffel tower on Saturday, we took an EIGHT HOUR bus ride to Koln. The bus started off very full, but luckily we made stops in Brussels and Dusseldorf which cleared it right out. When we got into town, we found our hostel, A&O. It was another good one! Not as raging as the Paris one, but it was clean, up to date and had great staff. This time we were in a 4 bed mixed dorm… But even knowing this ahead of time we were caught off guard to walk in and see our roommate: a French guy. Danielle and Chloe slept in bunkbeds, and I slept in a twin bed that was 1 ½ inch away from frenchie’s twin bed. Luckily that was the only night we shared with him. We had the whole room to ourselves for the next two nights which was really nice. This hostel pretty much had a hotel set up. Our room had a shower, bathroom and TV in it. Aaaaaand breakfast! :) We had to pay for it here, but I definitely got my 4 Euro worth every morning. I’ve always known that I love breakfast, but here I’ve realized it’s definitely my favorite meal! If I don’t start off my day with a big ol’ feast, it won’t be a good one!

Since we got in pretty late Saturday night, our German adventure didn’t really start until Sunday morning. I was so ready to get up and explore the land of my forefathers! haha Walking around the town I kept thinking to myself (and saying out loud sometimes too), “This looks sooo German!”. It really did. The stone/brick roads (which were a biatch to walk on), the houses all lined up next to each other, the restaurants. I loved it! Our first stop was the Chocolate museum. It had exhibits about the history of chocolate, the cultivation of the cocoa beans, how it’s made, its influence on society… it was great! I especially loved that they gave us a piece of chocolate when we bought our ticket, and then a wafer dipped in a chocolate fountain during the tour. There was one room that had all of the machines to make chocolate treats in it and I kept getting flashbacks to visiting the Hershey Factory when I was little. In that same room, there were ladies making truffles and other chocolate treats (like giant chocolate rabbits). And they were in glass boxes! With everyone standing around taking pictures and pointing at them, I imagine that they probably feel like they’re zoo animals. My favorite thing was the chocolate gnomes!

From there we went to another Museum, the El-De Haus. It was the headquarters of the Gestapo, and a prison that they held their “political enemies” in. There were exhibits on every floor about the Nazis and Hitler, but by far the most moving part was the basement. We could go inside of the prison cells and torture rooms, and you could FEEL the people’s presence. I got major chills thinking about the people who were detained there for no reason, and of the ones that died there. I got freaked out a couple of times and almost broke my knee cap because of it! I was in a sub basement area that used to be a torture room, and I turned around to notice my roommate had already gone back upstairs and I was all alone. So I RAN up the stone steps, but slipped. And my knee slammed right into the edge of a step. It hurt sooo bad and I got really light headed and almost passed out! I had a limp for the rest of the weekend and still have a bruise today. The most eerie part of the prison, was that there were still so many inscriptions on the walls from the prisoners. They wrote about the injustice of their imprisonment and their poor living conditions and treatments. They talked about missing their home and families. Many of the prisoners were just teenagers. It was so moving.

The next day we went to the Dom, the cathedral in Koln. Like I mentioned in my Paris blog, visiting cathedrals is much more interesting to me when I know about the architecture! The dom, like Notre Dame, is also Gothic style. And it is the typical Latin Cross plan (it’s shaped like a cross). I felt pretty cool walking through and knowing the name of the part I was in! haha

After exploring the inside, we climbed up a ridiculous amount of stairs to the VERY top of one of the bell towers of the Dom. The first set of steps were oooold, stone and spiral. Then there were normalish metal ones (backless which creep me out) and finally a combo of the two: metal AND spiral. I almost quit because #1, my knee was killing me, and #2 my functioning knee was shaking like a leaf because I was so scared! But I made it… and the view was worth it :)

We basically spent the rest of our day exploring the city. I got a delicious pastry pretzel! I was expecting pretzels to be EVERYWHERE here. When I think of Germany I think of pretzels, beer and disgusting food. So, I made it a mission to eat a big pretzel while I was here and drink German beer, but the pretzel thing was really difficult in Koln! We asked at the tourist information center and they said that Pretzels are famously from southern Germany… so I had to settle for something different than what I had imagined. But it was very tasty. It was obviously really easy to find beer… and I drank the local brew, Kolsch. Something else I decided for myself early on was that I wouldn’t be leaving Germany without a Beer Stein and I found the perfect one. It says “Koln” and has 3 views of the town: a plaza, the Dom and the river. I love it and can already imagine it on my bookshelf at home.

I really loved Koln. And I love Germans! I know this sounds so stupid, but I can really see my people as being from there. Maybe my FAVORITE thing about Koln, is that it has a lot of SUBWAYS! And Sunday, I was finally able to eat my fave. They didn’t have all of my veggies (or my pepper jack cheese), so I had to do some substituting. But this is what I ended up with: 6 inch veggie on honey oat with a mystery cheese, lettuce, onion, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, cucumbers, salt and pepper and sweet onion sauce. I was loving every bite… and was slightly depressed when I finished :(

Our journey back to Madrid started at 5 am Monday and we were sooo looking forward to getting back to our apartment that night. I was especially looking forward to reuniting with my computer, as I was totally cut off from the internet while I was there! So we took our 8hr bus ride back to Paris, then an hour bus ride to the airport. It was 5 pm and I was very ready to get on the plane and be on the final leg of our journey. But when I walked through the airport I noticed right away that our flight was CANCELLED! Cancelled?! We were soooo bummed, but figured we would just get a different flight a few hours later. Not so fast! We flew with Ryanair, a cheap airline… and they don’t have any obligation to get us to our intended destination if the flight is canceled for any of the reasons listed in their terms & agreements.... and they have EVERY possible circumstance listed! I was so frustrated. They wouldn’t tell us why it was canceled at first, but we finally learned that there was a strike. We waited in a line for about 2 hours to see what our options were. They ended up putting us on a different flight that night to Gerona, Spain (near Barcelona). But we would be responsible for getting ourselves to Madrid from there. So we waited around for our late night flight and it kept getting delayed!! I was so nervous that they would cancel that one too. We were all in such bad moods.

But, around midnight we were finally on our way to Spain. The flight was TERRIBLE. There were a few times that I literally thought I was going to die. The turbulence was horrible and we would go down so fast and drastically that my stomach dropped often. There were multiple times towards the end of the flight that there were collective gasps from the passengers. I was so scared!

We arrived at the Gerona airport around 2am. We would have to catch a bus to Barcelona, and then take another to Madrid. But, they obviously didn’t start leaving until the morning. So, we picked a spot and “slept” in the airport. I laid there going in and out of sleep until about 4… but it was so freezing and uncomfortable that I just had to get up and sit there, waiting for the hours to pass. This is the pillar we all slept around...

But FINALLY 8 o’clock rolled around and we were able to buy tickets to Barcelona. The whole ride we were hoping that there would be space on the 10 o’clock bus to Madrid, and that we could make it in time. We got there at 9:55, and we were able to get on! Perfecto! We were FINALLY on our way to Madrid. For awhile, I thought we would never get there.

After ANOTHER 8 hr bus ride we made it. Around 7pm on Wednesday (about 24 hrs behind schedule) I walked through my apartment door. I would have had a huge smile on my face while doing it, but I couldn’t muster up enough energy. The situation could have been much worse… but the whole thing was just annoying. The worst thing about it was that this is midterms time and some people had to miss exams! Luckily the school is letting people retake them since many students were stuck in airports due to the strike. I only had to miss one class, but it was a review session for our midterm (which is Monday) :(

I had 3 classes and one midterm on Thursday… and was so relieved after I was done and it was the weekend again.

Ps. Where did February go?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winter Break Part Uno

It seems like this semester has barely even started, but we’ve already had our “winter break”! It was Friday- Tuesday, and we (my roommates Danielle, Chloe and I) used our time off to travel to Paris, France and Koln (Cologne), Germany. The adventure started Thursday in the early afternoon right after I took my Art History midterm. We schlepped all of our stuff through the metro to the airport and after a slight flight delay, we were off.

Our flight was only about 2 hours and after a bus ride into the city, and a trip on the metro we arrived at our hostel, St. Christopher's, around 10pm. When we first walked in, I thought that maybe we were in the wrong place. There was a restaurant, an internet café, a bar full of people, music playing, the lights were low and people were playing pool. But looking further into the room I could see the front desk. This rockin’ joint was our hostel! I could already tell that we made a good choice with this place, but when I heard the words “breakfast included” come out of the receptionist’s mouth I knew it was a GREAT choice! We had a ten person room (I don’t think it was full, though) and I loved the set up! Every once in a while something comes along and I think, “wow… I would have LOVED this when I was younger”. And my bed situation here was one of them! Our bunkbeds were like cubbies, with curtains for privacy and nightlights inside of them. How cool is that?! I guarantee to you that if I had seen this contraption 13 yrs ago, I would have had my dad rig one up in my room and pretended it was my secret spy laboratory. Haha.

After an exciting night sleeping in my cave, I had my highly anticipated free breakfast. It was bread, cereal and coffee… nothing special, but I was definitely feeling it! Then we were on our way to Versailles. It is a little way out of the city, so the train ride was pretty long and we arrived around 9:30am. I was really excited to see it again (I was in Paris in 2005 on a school trip). We admired the extreme detail and beauty of the outside for awhile, then went in for the tour of the palace. It was kind of funny because after I would take a picture, I would look at it on my camera and think, “I know I have that exact same picture in my album at home”. This is definitely one of those places that you can visit a few times in your life without getting sick of it.

We explored the grounds much more than I did last time I visited, so I saw a lot of new stuff too. We walked all through the amazing gardens, and ventured over to the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s estate. Needless to say, it was all beautiful. By far, my FAVORITE part of everything we saw was “The Queen’s Hamlet”. Marie-Antoinette wanted her own village for herself and her children… just for fun. So, she had one built! It includes 12 cottages with vegetable and flower gardens, and a dairy farm. I really wish I was one of her kids in a past life just so I could have played in this village! This is another thing to add to my list of things I wish I had when I was younger… my own village. Haha. This village puts my old playhouse (which actually was pretty awesome) to shame. It was sooo cute and quaint. If it wasn’t lurking with ghosts, I could totally live there.

We grabbed lunch in the town, then went back to Paris to do some more exploring! When we were walking by the Seine River, we found a SUBWAY RESTAURANT!! ! At home, I eat subway at least two times a week… and it has been something that I’ve been missing A LOT since I’ve been here. My roommate knew this, and pointed it out to me right away. I lingered by the doorway for awhile taking in the scent. But after some intense soul searching, I realized that I wasn’t hungry enough for it. And depressed, I walked away. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get a chance to eat it again while I’m here because Spain isn’t cool enough to have them. But we kept on. I regretted it immediately. And hoped that someday soon, my favorite fastish-food chain and I would be reunited.

We walked by the Notre Dame, and I enjoyed seeing it soooo much more this time. Lucky for you, I now have all this art knowledge from my class, which I will share with you periodically throughout this blog haha (but for real I’m going to show off my new skills. Get ready for it). Last time I was at this famous cathedral, I only thought it was neat because I knew it was famous and Quasimodo lived there. But this time around, I really admired the façade (and only the façade because we didn’t go inside). It is hardcore Gothic style with its extreme height, Gargoyles, large stained glass and decorative doorways. I remember last time being captivated by the doorways of the Notre Dame and was excited when we learned about this style in art history. Standing there looking at it again in real life, I could clearly pick out the Archivolt, Tympanum, Lintel, Jambs and Trumeau and knew all of their functions. What an architecture whiz! Ha

Afterwards, we went to the Louvre. It was free for us after 6pm. Whoo hoo! Obviously with all of my newly developed artistic knowledge, I was really excited! It was amazing to see so many masterpieces, and I felt extremely lucky to be there for a second time. As you all know, this museum is the home of the Mona Lisa… I was definitely ready to meet her again actually knowing about her this time! I learned in class that all of those “It’s Leonardo Divinci as a woman” ideas are FLASE. The lady in the portrait is a real person, Lisa Gerardini, who was the wife of a very rich Florentine merchant (something Giocondo). He commissioned Leo in 1504 to paint a picture of his wife… so he did it. And now it’s possibly the most recognizable piece of art on the planet! Crazy. It’s really a shame that you can’t get close enough to the Mona Lisa (or “La Gioconda” as we call it in class) to truly appreciate it. The background landscape is amazing and attempts to give a 3rd dimension to the painting (not done very much before the Renaissance). He also used the “Sfumatto” technique which is very characteristic of Divinci… it gives the background a smoky look. Even though I now know the truth behind her identity, there are still some questions that surround her. She was a member of the wealthy class, but she’s wearing no rings (uncommon). Her fingers appear to be swollen, so maybe she just had a baby and this portrait was a gift from her husband? Also, Leo didn’t do a very good job at capturing the psychology of her. Some artists were amazing and just by looking at a person in a portrait you can tell all about their personality. But what the heck is Lisa like? What does that smirk mean? Divinch doesn’t quite tell us. I felt like I could really appreciate this masterpiece much more this time, actually knowing some stuff about it. We saw so many great pieces of art, and visited Napoleon’s apartment. After wandering around the HUGE museum for a couple hours, we were all beat and decided to grab dinner. We ended up at this great Lebanese restaurant near our Hostel. As soon as we walked in and they realized we spoke English, the guy behind the counter said, “I love you!”. Haha it was so funny- definitely NOT the reaction I would expect from anyone in France. The people were soooo friendly, and the food was soooo good. We don’t eat out in Madrid ever, so this was a treat for us! I got some lemon chicken that had an awesome salad with it, and some rice. My mouth is literally watering right now just typing about it. With our bill, our teddy bear of a waiter brought us 3 pieces of baklava. Yummmm. As we were leaving the restaurant and saying goodbye to the staff, he said, “Say hello to President Obama for me!”… we assured him that we would. Haha. Extremely happy with our meals, we headed back to the hostel to rest up for our next day.

We kicked off Saturday with another round of the free breakfast, and then headed to the Eiffel Tower. We went to the very top (I didn’t get in it at all last time) and it was soooo scary! The elevator just kept going up, up, up (and so did my heart rate and anxiety level!). We got to the tip top and the view was great! We could see all of Paris. When we made our way down we explored that area of the city a little more (which included the arc de triomphe), then got crepes and ate them with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Mine had nutella and banana in it. Once again… my mouth is watering.

We soaked up as much as the city as we could, but we had to make our way to the second destination of our trip, Germany! I was pleasantly surprised with my experience in Paris. I didn’t love it last time I was there and was nervous that I would have the same thoughts this time. I definitely did NOT. Not one person was rude to us, and people were generally very helpful. I’m excited to go back someday

Okay. This blog is getting ridiculously long and I haven’t even made it to Germany yet! I don’t want to bore you too much, so I will leave you for now. But I will plan on finishing it up tomorrow…

… To Be Continued!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


As some of you may know, I usually have a lot of trouble living “in the moment”. I tend to dwell on things in the past, or think about things that are to come. I was actually reeeeeeally bad at this when I first got here and it drove me crazy… I’ll spare you the details, but basically when I thought about the past I got sad, and when I thought about the future I freaked out . However, I am proud to say that I have gotten so much better at it since I’ve been here! I just realized that I was wasting my time and energy on these thoughts, and it could interfere with my enjoying this experience to its fullest.

Since I focus so much on what I’m doing right now, I haven’t experienced much homesickness (thankfully). But, there have been 2 or 3 days so far, when I can’t help but spend a lot of time thinking about the people back home and what they might be doing… and today is one of them. It’s my mom’s birthday! Whoo hooooooo! I really wish I could be there in person to help her celebrate, eat some cake and give her a big ol’ birthday hug and smooch. So the next time you see her, feel free to lay one on her and say it’s from me ; ) February 17 is a day that outranks Thanksgiving for me when it comes to being thankful for what I have in my life ( So does June 21st Dad, don’t cry haha). Well, obviously I’m thankful for her every day, but on her birthday I am extra happy that she was born… so thanks Grandma haha.

Even though I wouldn’t describe it as being homesick, there are some things I miss from home. The ones that immediately come to mind are:

DRIVING: I think the longest I ever went without driving since I got my license was 3 weeks. So, after 4 months+, I’m nervous my amazing driving skills will go out the window.

HAVING A YARD INBETWEEN MY NEIGHBORS AND MY HOUSE: The walls between apartments in my building are ridiculously thin. The crying baby living in the apt next to ours might as well be sleeping in my bed with me. And although the roller derby that apparently takes place the floor above me everyday sounds like fun, I’d prefer that I didn’t have to live underneath it.

MY OWN ROOM: It’s just inconvenient sharing with someone else (especially when we have opposite sleeping schedules).

MY OWN BATHROOM: I can’t just leave my stuff strewn about here like I always do at home :(

MY SHOWER: here, I use the most awkward shower ever created. Seriously.

REAL WINDOWS: my bedroom window and all of the windows in the community areas of the apartment look into our “courtyard”… I can never look outside. And those windows are also...ok I do not know the real term for it... but they're foggy/glazy/blurry so you can't see through them. It’s depressing.

ADJUSTABLE TEMPERATURES: The whole building is on the same thermostat, which apparently only has the settings “freezing” and “blazing”.

DISHWASHER: See previous blog

DRYER: See previous blog

CLOCKS: Our apartment only has one (in the kitchen), and I have yet to see one at my school.

MY MORNING RITUALS: Oh Regis & Kelly and the View. How I miss getting ready with you in the background and having my morning coffee with you!

COFFEE: Using my delicious coffee in my little coffee maker is an integral part of the aforementioned morning ritual. The only flavor Spain makes is apparently “Dirt”. Fo real. (Thanks mom and dad for the Folgers bags… I dread the morning when they run out!)

BOWLS: We have none

MUGS: We have none (We have 3 combo bowlmugs that have to work for both)

A TOASTER: I make toast on the stove everyday. What is this, 1892?

Well I guess I miss a lot of things from home! (And that doesn’t even include my long list of restaurants)… But more than anything, I do miss my people. I have a lot of pictures around my room that make me feel like a tiny, frozen versions of most of you are living with me! (creepy, I know)

Tomorrow after class I am off to Paris, France and Koln, Germany with 2 of my roommates! We have a winter break from Friday to Tuesday and are using it as travel time. It should be a lot of fun. I’ll let you know how it goes and will share a few pictures when I get back. Well, I need to study for an art history midterm I have tomorrow… HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Well, I survived Carnival in Cádiz! Carnival is basically the same as Mardi Gras, and is celebrated right before lent with parades, music and a giant street party. Everyone comes in a costume or dressed crazy. Cádiz, Spain has one of the biggest and most well known Carnival celebrations in the world... I can't even imagine what the bigger ones are like!

I had never been to Mardi Gras or anything similar to this, so I had no idea what to expect! I went in a group of about 200 students through "European Vibe". European vibe is an "entertainment" company in Madrid... they're basically a bunch of promoters who have parties at different clubs and try to get students to go to them. But, they also have different trips that they organize- Carnival being one of them. After hearing details about the weekend I thought it sounded like fun and crossed my fingers that the trip wouldn't be sketchy, or a hoax that had ending up like that girl in "Taken". Every previous experience I'd had with the people in charge of the weekend had been at a club having them trying to get us all to drink more and party harder. I knew we'd have a lot of fun with them... but BECAUSE of how much fun we would be having, I was kind of nervous! I hadn't exactly seen a responsible side of these peeps before. But, in the end I was sooo pleasantly surprised. I was used to them being the people handing us free shots of Tequila, but here they were constantly warning us not to drink too much and to always be aware. Through these crazy, young people who literally party for a living, I could hear my Grandma's voice giving me her usual warnings about keeping my eyes on my drink and not ending up like "Natalie" :) They also took attendance allllll the time. It got annoying, but I definitely appreciated it.

We left Madrid at 8am Friday morning, and didn't get to our hotel in Cadiz until after 7pm. It was one of the longest bus rides ever. I was really happy to see how nice our hotel was. We stayed at Vincci...I bet it is a really nice place to stay when it is warmer out. It was near the beach and had a great outdoor pool. And even with 4 people staying in each room, we were all able to have our own beds. The shower was also a great change from the small and awkward one I have to work with in my apartment haha. My favorite thing though, was the FREE BREAKFAST.

Friday night, European Vibe rented out a club for our group that was not too far away from our hotel. It was a lot of fun hanging out with everyone else and meeting students from Europe and other parts of the US. Buses were coming at a few different times, and we decided to take an early one (1:30ish) so we could save our energy for the big celebration Saturday night!

Saturday morning I woke up for breakfast, expecting it to consist of some fruit, bread and juice (which I would have been more than happy with)... but boy was I wrong! I walked into a room with 3 HUGE buffet counters. One full of meats, eggs & Churros, Another with every kind of fruit imaginable and the last with soooo many kinds of bread and pastries. If you've read one of my previous blogs, you know that I've been kind of deprived when it comes to food variation. I was in heaven... and afterwords we all went back to our room and took a long nap. We had to be well rested for that night!

I spent the rest of the day pretty much just hanging out around the hotel until I had to start getting ready. I dressed up as a devil, because it was the easiest and cheapest costume I could find :) I even brought a pitch fork... and I set a challenge for myself to see if I could get it back to Madrid safe and sound!

We left the hotel at 7:30 and arrived at the center of Cadiz just under an hour later. Driving through the town and seeing all of the people dressed up made me so excited for what was to come! Thousands of people were packed in the streets and plazas. After we got off of the bus, we were led to the main plaza where all of the excitement was happening. I had never seen anything like it. There were just so many people having so much fun. It was ridiculous, and I really can't describe it with words or pictures. It's just something you'd have to experience...I feel so lucky I got the chance to!

It would be very easy to get lost and separated from your group in that crowd. So the 10 or so of us that stuck together for the night had to hang onto each other really tightly so no one would get swept away in the crowd (I always had one hand securely on my pitch fork as well. ha). We would hang around one spot for a while and then migrate to another. It was just so fun to see all of the costumes, and to talk to all of the different people. There was a big stage with performers and food vendors like at a fair. Everywhere you turned there was something funny happening! I didn't take as many pictures as I would have like to, because with all of the people around I wanted to try and keep my purse (which was inside my jacket) closed as much as possible. And, I didn't want to risk keeping my camera inside my coat pocket. I'm happy I was so careful with these things, because many people got pick pocketed/stuff stolen that night.

That night, the buses were leaving to go back to the hotel at two different times. We could choose to leave at either 2am or 4am. We all vowed to make it until the 4am bus... but that didn't happen for me :( One girl in our group wasn't doing so well, and really needed to go back to the hotel. So, I took one for the team and went back with her. I wish I could have experienced a few more hours of Carnival in Cadiz, but I REALLY enjoyed the hours I did have. And a positive thing that came out of leaving with her, was that one of the most memorable parts of the night came out it. While waiting in line for the restroom in Burger King with her, I ended up having a really long conversation with 2 girls from Poland who are studying in Valencia. I was talking to them about how I want to visit Poland at some point, and they were talking to me about wanting to come to the US, and we were talking about studying in Spain... they were just really nice and great to talk to. And, it was funny because I realized the pressure completely comes off when I'm speaking to someone else in Spanish who isn't a native speaker.

We finally made it to the bus, and I got back to my room around 3:15am. My roommates arrived 2 hrs later (obviously waking me up again-haha). So, we all went to bed around 6:15... and woke up 2 hrs later for breakfast. That buffet is motivation enough to get someone out of bed in ANY circumstance. I consumed more breakfast foods than I ever have in my life, and then slept again for a few hours.

Our bus rolled out of Cadiz around 2:30, and a few stops and a few movies (which translates to about 10 hrs) later we were in Madrid. My pitchfork and I both made it back in one piece.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Quest for el Dedo in Ávila

The school weeks zip by here in Spain! (probably because I only have a 4 day school week) But on the flip side of that, the weekends seem to last forever... which sounds really nice, but can actually get pretty boring. So far, we've been lucky and have spent each weekend visiting somewhere new. This weekend was no different...we went to Ávila. It's close to Madrid and there are not TOO many exciting things there, so on Friday we made a day trip out of it.

Ávila is a beautiful town which is still surrounded by its Medieval city walls. It is possibly most famous for being the birthplace of Saint Teresa of Ávila (also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus) and it has many buildings and monuments dedicated to her.

When one of my roommates suggested we go there over the weekend I thought it wound be nice to get to see another city in Spain. Then when I learned it was the birthplace of Saint Teresa I was even more into the idea because I learned about her last semester in a Catholic Faith course. BUT then on Thursday in my Hispanic Literature course my professor was talking about St. Teresa and mentioned that there are a lot of relics of hers in the town.... INCLUDING HER FINGER!!!!! I was creeped out for a second then could not wait to see what a 495+ year old finger would look like. Was it in an open display or in a box? Has it been magically preserved or is it rotting? I was about to find out the answers to these questions... but it took a bit of work.

My roommates Danielle and Chloe and I met up with two friends from SLU-Madrid, Kelley and Caitlin, and took about an hour ride in the worst bus I've taken since I've been here. There was barely any leg room, and most of the seats were littered with wrappers, bottles and grossness. But with all of the excitement over the finger, I barely noticed the nastiness on the window next to me, the gum wad stuck on the seat in front of me, or the mice scurrying at my feet. (ok, the mice is an exaggeration)

So we got to Ávila and decided to head straight for the town's Cathedral. The Spanish are all about their Cathedrals... so we thought the finger was probably hanging out in there. We wandered around and were literally the only people there, with the exception of the security guard who kept following us. In addition to just being a church, there were many rooms that had different art and historical artifacts. As I walked through each room my eyes were searching for the finger. But when we finally reached the end... nothing. Our search continued.

We found a museum about St. Teresa and it seemed logical to us that it would house her finger. So we went. It was interesting and had a lot of great artwork and artifacts about her. But not the finger.

Then we saw the convent dedicated to her, which was built on her birth site. I held my breath while turning every corner, hoping it would be there. But again... no finger. The third time was clearly no charm for us. :(

We were upset. We were discouraged. We were about to give up all hope. But, as we glanced depressingly into the distance something caught our eye. A sign on a tiny building next to the convent that read, "Sala de Reliquias". Reliquias must mean relics... so her finger must be here! I could feel my heart beating faster in my chest as I approached the building. I opened the door... and it was a gift shop. A GIFT SHOP. We stood disgusted for a second, then noticed a large glass door on one side of the room. I walked in and noticed a bunch of old things- clearly Teresa's. And to my right was the possession of hers I was most looking forward to seeing: Her right ring finger.

It was in a large glassed in case attached to the wall. The back of the box was a dark color and the box was not lit at all, so it was really difficult to see. But with a big emerald ring on it, it was almost identifiable as a finger. It was pretty black and shriveled. To me it looked like a stick. But, we weren't allowed to take pictures so I can't share it with you fine folks. I even looked online for a picture and one doesn't seem to exist! I spent most of my time in the room looking at the finger, but also saw the sole of her sandal, her walking stick and her robe. For some reason the finger didn't really creep me out. I just thought it was really neat. I don't like seeing dead people, I'm afraid of ghosts and faint fairly easily, so I was expecting to be traumatized by this finger. Not the case at all. In fact, it reminded me of my Dad and Grandpa and their long lost fingers. A rotting finger made me think of home. Weird, huh? :)

After completing our quest for the finger, we didn't have too much time left in Ávila. We spent the rest of our time walking on the walls of the city, which were built in 1090. I am very afraid of heights and it took me twice as long to get up to the top as everyone else, but even with shaky knees I made it. The views from up there were gorgeous.

Satisfied with our day we made our way back "home" to Madrid. The rest of the weekend wasn't as exciting as Friday... I didn't see any other body parts of saints :( But on Saturday I explored the Sol area of the city a little bit more, and on Sunday went to El Rastro a big Flea Market that's really well known. I was pretty let down by El Rastro, I guess I just pictured it to be different. It was just people selling a bunch of random stuff. Big piles of shoes, clothes and antiques. I think I pictured it as more of a farmers market. It is crowded, boring and known for its pickpockets, so I don't know if I'll be back. I'm glad I checked it out though or else I would have been wondering about it every weekend!

Today was the start of another school week that I'm sure is going to fly by, and tomorrow marks 1 month since I left Chicago to come here. That means my time here is 1/4 over! yikes! Next weekend I'm going to Cadiz, Spain to celebrate Carnival. It should be a really fun time. We're all very excited. Obviously I will let you all know how it goes :)