As with any normal semester, the week after exams was rough. You spend hours upon hours studying for these exams and afterwards all you want to do is take a little time off. Your mind creates this false sense of security: “You just aced that exam; take a few days to relax.” But the homework, presentations, and readings begin all over again. You can’t take a week to rest—ain’t nobody got time for that!
Most important project of the week: the 20-minute oral presentation for Gramática. At this point in a person’s education, it is rare for a teacher to say, “Give a presentation about anything you want.” Literally, no assigned topics, genres, or themes, the only requirement was 20 minutes of grammatically correct Spanish. Most people know that I struggle with making decisions, to the extent of ordering the same thing as the person next to me at a restaurant just so that I don’t have to decide what to order. But choosing a topic for this presentation was easy. Twenty minutes about anything in the world? Let’s blood drive it up.
As if classes, homework, and traveling weren’t enough to keep me busy, tutoring four days a week has me completely swamped. But in a good way! How can you not love being an English tutor for niños as cute as this?
Time flies when you are having fun, so before I knew it, the weekend had arrived and the adventures began again. This weekend was Round 2 of our CIEE excursions.
The city of León is about five hours northwest of Alcalá. We did the bus ride in shifts: drive for three hours, stop for two, drive for two more. Why the long pause in the middle of the ride? For the first adventure of our excursion, of course! Touring the Bodegas Grupo Yllera, a winery in the province of Valladolid! There were three parts to this tour: the modern bodega, the labyrinth, and the tasting. The modern bodega is the building that is used to make wine today. The labyrinth is about a mile down the road, the building (and when I say building, I actually mean underground labyrinth) where the wine was made, stored, and cultured during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Last but certainly not least, we were able to taste some of the wine made by Grupo Yllera. Cheers!
After purchasing several bottles of wine to share with our host families and real families back in the U.S., we boarded the bus again to drive the remaining two hours to the city of León. León is gorgeous. Frigid and windy, but beautiful. The main tourist attraction of León is the Catedral de León, known as the Pulchra Leonina.
We also visited Casa de los Botines, designed by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. This particular building is important because it is one of the few Gaudí designs that is not located in Barcelona.
After our tour of León, we were freezing. Apparently, I am adapting well to the 50-degree climate of Alcalá, dropping that to 35-40 was pretty rough for me. (Although it was nothing compared to the 14 feet of snow in Wisconsin, I’m sure.) Before heading back to our hotel for the night, we stopped for coffee to warm up. Most interesting thing about this particular coffee shop: they offered flavored coffee and coffee drinks. Might sound like your average coffee shop, but you have to realize that they don’t do flavored coffee in Spain. (Once I told my host mom that I loved pumpkin flavored coffee. There was an awkward silence, with a “what country are you from again?” look.) So the fact that this coffee shop had Starbucks-esque drinks was a big deal. León is on top of the international coffee scene.
On Thursday before leaving, our program director had advised us to bring comfortable shoes, gloves, winter coats, scarves, and hats. I wasn’t really sure why. Yes, León was colder than Alcalá, but it didn’t require excessive outerwear. What could possibly require us to dress for a blizzard?
Dear Wisconsin, I don’t miss you.
Saturday morning’s adventure brought us to the Cuevas de Valporquero, an hour north of the city of León. This was my favorite part of the excursion because it was something completely different from everything we had done before. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE going to cathedrals and I find museums to be completely fascinating. But sometimes we need to switch up the routine. And the caves certainly provided that.
After the caves, we traveled back to León to change clothes, warm up, eat lunch, and take a quick siesta before exploring the other side of the city of León.
Part of our tour included the Iglesia de San Isidoro, a beautiful church next to the Parador of León. We finished touring the church at 5:45 and there was a Saturday night vigil mass at 6:00, so a few of us decided to stay and go to mass. When the four of us walked in, everybody turned and stared. After being here for two months, we have become pretty used to the stares. “Four Americans walk into a Spanish cathedral…” It sounds like the start of a hilarious joke. But as we were leaving the church after mass, I realized that our American-ness was not the only thing that separated us from the rest of the congregation. The four of us were the only young people at this particular mass. Every other person there had at least thirty or forty years on us. Just an interesting observation.
Sunday came along, with buckets and buckets of lluvia in tow. Not exactly delightful for a day of walking around the city. Conquering the rain with our sunny dispositions, we took off for our penultimate destination of the excursion, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, known as MUSAC. As a mentioned a few blogs back, I love modern art. I find it fascinating that a white canvas with a splatter of paint can be considered a work of art. But this art was a little more… well, let’s call it far-fetched.
Our final destination of the excursion was the Castillo de Valencia de Don Juan, another stop in the middle of our bus ride. Feeling exhausted from the weekend, wet from the rain, and completely castled out, none of us were stoked about getting off the bus another time. But our passion for Spanish history got the better of us and gosh, was this castle worth it. The rain cleared up for our visit and the castle was absolutely beautiful.
Thought of the day: On Saturday afternoon, when we were walking through León, a few Spanish teenage girls walked by and mumbled “giris, giris” at us, a slang term for Americans. The incredibly awkward half second that followed consisted of us comprehending what they said, them realizing that we understood what they said, and them running away laughing like hyenas. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly offended. Yes, I am an American in Spain. And yes, my blond-haired, blue-eyed, 5’7” self makes that pretty obvious. I was more excited that I understood what they said and they knew that I understood what they said. As we continued walking past them, we brainstormed funny things that we could have said back to them, not particularly insulting, just to clarify that we knew Spanish. And that is when the realization hit me. This wasn’t textbook Spanish. It wasn’t “I’m fine, thank you, how are you? I like coffee, where is the bus stop?” This was 100% conversational, making jokes and thinking in Spanish. How much more immersed can you get?
**Author’s note: Credit for the title of this blog goes to Valerie Hagerstrom.