Category: Zaragoza (page 1 of 4)

The Food/La Comida

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One of the best things about living with a host family while abroad is that you can experience traditional meals all the time. Actually, this really depends on your particular host family and I have been very lucky as my host mom loves to cook. I have enjoyed many Spanish dishes thanks to her and have even learned a little bit of cooking also.

When I told people I was going to study abroad in Spain, there were a few comments like “I hope you like tacos!” Let me tell you that Spain does not have Mexican food. Yes, Spain obviously speaks Spanish, but just because the language is the same in Latin America does not mean the food is the same. I have not had a single taco while I’ve been here simply because tacos are not Spanish. Since Spain is almost surrounded by the sea (except for France to the north and Portugal to the west), the Spanish eat a lot of seafood.

I have had tortilla de patatas and paella plenty of times because these are Spain’s two most famous dishes. Tortillas de patatas are definitely not the tortillas you are thinking about. Tortilla de patatas is sort of like an omelette. It is a mixture of eggs, thinly sliced potatoes, and sometimes onions. First the potatoes and onions are fried in a pan, and then the eggs are added to the mix and it all gets fried again. Some people also like to add spinach, zucchini, or other vegetables. It can be eaten warm or cold, in a sandwich or without. This is definitely one of my favorite dishes and it’s not hard to make!

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Tortilla de patatas

The other most famous Spanish dish is paella. I describe this dish as sort of like a stir fry, but with a different taste. It has short grain rice, is yellow, and is cooked with saffron. The traditional form of this dish has vegetables and seafood, but there are so many different variations of paella that almost anything goes. Valencia is the home to paella and Valencian paella has rabbit and chicken in it. I did try this paella when visiting Valencia, and it really is great. There are over a hundred types of paella as each region, family, and restaurant has their own special recipe. Paella is often served with a lemon to squeeze over the rice. Traditionally, paella is a Sunday meal that families share together. My host mom does often make this on Sundays which I am extremely thankful for. Fideos is just like paella, but it is with tiny noodles instead of rice.

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Valencian Paella

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Paella

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Fideos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most famous desserts in Spain would have to be churros with chocolate. Yes, my host mom even makes the chocolate for this also! I have only bought this delicacy one time but I’ve had it multiple times as she likes to make it when it’s really cold out. The churros part is basically fried dough with sugar and the chocolate is melted, rich goodness that can be enjoyed either hot or cold.

The ham in Spain is almost a way of life. Jamón ibérico (referring to the Iberian Peninsula which is Spain and Portugal) is very famous and rightfully so. This ham has so much more flavor than any ham I’ve had in the US. In my opinion, the best way to savor this ham is with tomato and bread. My host mom usually crushes fresh tomatoes, spreads it on fresh bread, and add slices of this delicious ham. Back home, ham is not my favorite meat, so when I came here, I had no idea that I would like ham as much as I do now.

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Jamón ibérico with bread and crushed tomatoes

Gazpacho is a tomato soup that is served cold. It’s very popular in the summertime because it’s refreshing, but getting past having cold soup was a little hard for me. Garlic and cucumber are also included along with other various vegetables. It’s not bad, but it’s not my favorite.

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Gazpacho

Cocido madrileño is Madrid’s famous dish which is enjoyed by others all around Spain. It is a stew with garbanzo beans, sausage, ham, chicken, and vegetables. Like paella, there are variations, but this stew is great on a cold day.

Finally, the calamari sandwich is also surprisingly popular. In Madrid, there were plenty of restaurants with the calamari sandwich and beer special. It is just fried calamari on bread. Some people like to add mayonnaise so it’s not so dry. It really does not seem like this sandwich would be good, but it actually is. Usually it is accompanied with beer.

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A calamari sandwich with Ambar, the beer of Zaragoza

10 Things to do in Zaragoza for 5 Euros or Less

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1. Visit El Pilar, the biggest and most famous Basilica in Zaragoza. El Pilar and its plaza are one of the best spots in the city and I try to visit the Basilica and look at its beauty often (it’s free so why not).
Cost: Entrance –Free
To go up the tower to get a great view of the city, 3€

2. No matter where you are in Spain, getting tapas and cerveza is a must. Tapas are basically appetizers that can either be just a snack or your whole meal. Spaniards usually accompany tapas with beer (cerveza). It’s fairly easy to find tapas for under 5 euros. Prices vary, but for reference, I recently went to a place where they have 5 tapas for 3€ total. Food in Spain is generally pretty cheap.
Cost: Prices vary, but no more than 5€.

3. Visit La Aljafería. This gorgeous Palace has a lot of history and sights to offer and is a definite must when visiting Zaragoza.
Cost: General- 5€. Student discount- 1€. Sundays- free.

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La Aljafería

4. Visit La Catedral de San Salvador (La Seo). This cathedral is significantly smaller than El Pilar but it rivals El Pilar’s beauty. Personally, I think La Seo is more beautiful on the inside than El Pilar. There is also a tapestry museum upstairs which is really beautiful.
Cost: 4€

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La Seo

5. Have a picnic at Parque Grande. This park is definitely one of my most favorite spots in the city. There are fountains everywhere and it’s so huge! It has a great overlook area where you can see the city and the mountains. If you come at night, you can watch the colored lights make the fountains even more mesmerizing than in the daytime. For a picnic, it’s easy to buy some freshly baked bread, ham (Spain’s ham has a reputation for being fantastic and it surely lives up to that reputation), and fruit for well under 5 euros. This is what a typical picnic would consist of here in Spain, and it’s really all you need.
Cost: No more than 5 € for the picnic

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Parque Grande

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Parque Grande

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Parque Grande

6. Visit the rastro. The rastro is a huge flea market in Zaragoza (as well as many other Spanish cities). In Zaragoza, the rastro is on Sunday and Wednesday mornings and vendors sell loads of stuff including clothing, flowers, shoes, coats, and much more. Anyone could find a treasure here for under 5€. And if anything, walking through the rastro is an experience in itself and that’s free!
Cost: No more than 5€

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El Rastro is pretty popular on Sunday and Wednesday mornings!

7. Visit El Foro. This museum is part of a set of museums called Ruta de Caesaraugusta which explores the ancient Roman city named after Caesar Augustus with ruins and tunnels underground. El Foro is right next to La Seo. It’s a really interesting place to visit and to see a glimpse of life from so long ago.
Cost: General- 3€. Student discount- 2€.

8. Taste the heavenliness that is Churros and Chocolate. Seriously, it doesn’t get better than enjoying some churros con chocolate on the streets of Zaragoza. You can either get your chocolate cold (great for the summer) which is like pudding, or you can get your chocolate hot (great for the winter) which is like very very very thick hot chocolate. This chocolate is so sweet and rich and oh so good.
Cost: 2-4€

 

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Churros con Chocolate

9. Walk along the Rio Ebro, visit the Expo, and see the bridges. There is a really cool area of the city that was built up for the World Expo in 2008 which is pretty neat to explore. Additionally, the bridges that cross the river are all unique. While you’re there, you can get a stunning view of El Pilar with the water’s reflection.
Cost: Free

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Pedestrian Bridge over the Ebro River

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10. Visit el Mercado Central. This market has any food you want including fresh fruit for cheap, meats, cheeses, fish, nuts, and so much more.

Cost: Free to walk around, 0-5€ depending on what you want to buy

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Mercado Central

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Mercado Central

My Study Portion of Study Abroad

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I just passed the halfway mark of my time here in Spain, so I thought it would good to share about what the study part of study abroad looks like for me in Zaragoza. I am studying at the University of Zaragoza in their Spanish as a Foreign Language course (Curso de Español como Lengua Extranjera). This program consists of a Monday through Friday 4 hour class with multiple groups of about 25 students in each group. These groups are formed according to the students’ level of Spanish.

When I first arrived here, I took a three week course in this program that had the purpose of helping students brush up on their Spanish before the regular university classes began. While I am not really a part of the “regular university”, I decided to take the three week class as a way of meeting more people, jump-starting my Spanish classes here, and lengthening my time in Spain. The majority of the students in this three week class are a part of the Erasmus Program. The Erasmus Program, which I was totally unaware of until I arrived here, is a European Union student exchange program. After these first three weeks, the Erasmus students started taking normal classes at the University and many of them will stay for the whole school year (until June) or for one semester (until February). I am very glad I took the three week class because I made a lot of friends through that class.

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The entrance of campus

Once the three week class ended, I started taking the three month class. It is the same structure as the class before, but because it is for a longer time period, we have more a bit more in depth topics and homework including various projects and presentations. Like the three week class, the class is 5 days a week from 9 AM to 1:30 PM with a half hour break in the middle. Usually in the first half of the class is spent going over grammar together and in our textbook or learning different slang we most likely did not know before. The second half is a little less grammar oriented as we often play games, practice role plays, or even watch a Spanish movie. Some days, like today, we might even get some dancing in! One classmate really wanted to dance in class but no one else wanted to dance. Our professor told us that we had to use a certain grammatical structure and if we used it correctly, we did not have to dance. Whoever did not use it correctly had to dance. (Note: I took the photo and was not dancing.)

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Through the day, we have plenty of chances to speak the language and listen. I am reinforcing my grammar knowledge, learning Spanish phrases I did not know before, and learning plenty of cultural aspects about Spain as well. There are many different countries represented in my class which gives opportunities to learn things from around the world. I have classmates from Ghana, Japan, Korea, Russia, Australia, India, and China. Most of my classmates will continue this class with the four month class next semester (January-May).

The university is very close to my homestay; it is only about a ten minute walk. The actual building my class is in is pictured at the beginning of this post. As I mentioned earlier, the class is scheduled to start at 9 AM every day. However, this is Spain and almost nothing starts on time. My professor usually does not come to unlock the door of the classroom until 9:15 and then class usually starts 5 minutes later. My classmates have really gotten used to this and many come even later than that. Usually there are a few that finally make it to class around 9:40. Class starting late is definitely not normal in the US, but I have gotten used to it as I usually bring a book with me when I wait for class to start.

The program also offers various excursions and field trips throughout the semester which is a great way to learn outside of the classroom. During the first week of the three month course, we went on a bus tour of Zaragoza and a walking tour of Zaragoza as a way of learning about the city we would be staying in.

Earlier in October, we visited two very charming pueblos, Albarracín and Daroca, and went on tours of both small towns. Albarracín is considered one of the most beautiful pueblos of Spain. After spending time visiting the Cathedral, walking the cobblestone streets, and climbing up to the ancient city walls, I most definitely agree. Daroca was also quite gorgeous. I love these field trips because it gives us the opportunity to go somewhere we probably would not have visited on our own. I look forward to the next class excursion!

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Albarracín

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Albarracín

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Albarracín

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Albarracín

I am going to class, doing homework, and working on projects while here. It isn’t called STUDY abroad for nothing!

Fiestas Del Pilar

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These past few days have been spent celebrating the Fiestas del Pilar here in Zaragoza. Before this week, I had no clue what this festival would include but I did know it was very important to the people of Zaragoza and Spain as a whole because we were given three days off of school for the festival. The festival is actually an entire week but the most important days were October 12 and 13. This festival honors the patron saint of the city, the Virgin Mary of the Pillar (Virgen del Pilar).
The festival officially started on Saturday evening (although there were many concerts and festivities on Friday night and during the day Saturday) with a parade and speech with fireworks afterward. Each year there is a different person that is honored during the festival (sort of like a parade’s grand marshal in the United States), and that person gives a speech to start the festival. After the fireworks, there were concerts right there in the Plaza del Pilar where the speech took place. I cannot even begin to describe how many people were there and how crowded everything was.

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The opening speech

There were so many different things to do during this festival all over the city. On Sunday, I went to a light, music, and water spectacular at the fountains of Parque Grande. Later, I went with friends to the Plaza del Pilar again, where there were more concerts and festivities. The main road to the Plaza del Pilar, Paseo Independencia, was full of street vendors, food vendors, concerts, and street performers. Take note that this is probably the main street of Zaragoza and one of the absolute busiest. During the fiestas, this street was closed to car and bus traffic. That alone is an indicator of how many people were walking through this area and how much stuff was going on. This street was also used for the offerings which happened Monday and Tuesday (I’ll get to that in a bit). The ambiance was exciting; there was lots to see and do! The amount of people here for the festival was also quite immense. It was obvious that many of these visitors had traveled far to attend this famous festival. After stopping every so often to watch different performances, look at the traditional foods, and grab some cotton candy (algodón de azúcar in Spanish or candy floss if you’re British), we finally made it to the Plaza del Pilar to watch another concert.

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With friends at the fountain spectacular

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Food vendors from all over Spain selling traditional food

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Monday morning, I had thought that the festival was a time to celebrate the Virgen del Pilar with concerts, street performances, and fun times. I knew that people brought flowers to the Virgen Pilar (which I will explain later), but I had no clue what that all entailed. I was also not aware of the other two parades/offerings that happened during this festival. There is a huge traditional aspect of this festival that I was not aware of until it was actually happening.

Monday was the main day of the festival as it was October 12. (This is Columbus Day which is important in Spain because King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella funded Columbus’s voyage to the Americas.) October 12 is the day that The Offering of Flowers occurs during the Fiestas del Pilar. For 13 hours, different pueblos (smaller cities in Spain), schools, and other various groups bring flowers to honor the Virgen del Pilar. Some of the groups came all the way from Latin/Central America to honor the Virgin Mary. All the groups were dressed in their traditional costume which is usually unique to their pueblo or community. The groups bring their flowers to the statue of the Virgin Mary in the Plaza del Pilar which ends up looking like a beautiful mountain of flowers! There are hundreds of groups that participate in this tradition every year. The groups were lined up on the streets going toward the Plaza del Pilar. On their way to give their flowers, they were performing traditional songs and dances to honor the Virgen Pilar. Once they finally arrived at the statue to give their flowers to the Virgen, each group usually had another special dance. My friends and I watched groups give their flowers at the statue for over an hour which was very interesting.

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Dancing while on the way to give flowers

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The offering of flowers to the Virgen del Pilar

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The offering of flowers to the Virgen del Pilar

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The offering of flowers to the Virgen del Pilar

Tuesday morning was the Offering of Fruit which was is a much smaller offering than the Offering of Flowers. This took only the morning (in contrast to the 13 hours the Offering of Flowers took). In this offering, groups brought different fruits, vegetables, and oils to honor the Virgen Pilar. Many of the donations were what they grew in their pueblos. My host mom told me that these foods are donated to different charities in Zaragoza for people in need. This offering is different than the previous one because they actually take the fruits into the Basilica del Pilar while the flower offerings were collected outside of the Basilica.

Tuesday night was the Glass Rosary Parade. This parade is very unique in that there are glass parade floats to represent the rosary and other themes. This parade was much more somber than the other two and the people were dressed in even nicer traditional dresses. This parade is an offering of the rosary. Most people in the parade had rosaries or candles in their hands. The glass floats were very beautiful and lit up the streets.

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A glass parade float in the Glass Rosary Parade

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Traditional Costumes

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Glass Rosary Parade

I’ve tried to compare this holiday to an American holiday, but there really is no good comparison. In some ways, it reminded me of Thanksgiving. At home, usually we watch the Macy’s Day Parade on TV, enjoy each other’s company, and eat a huge meal as a way of reminding us to be thankful for all we have. On Monday, we watched the Offering of Flowers on TV and later had a nice meal together. A few of my host mom’s friends came over and it reminded me of Thanksgiving a little bit. There is not really a traditional food that is shared during this festival and there are many other differences that make them both special. The main difference is that it is a hugely Catholic holiday which is not common in the United States. Everything revolved around honoring the Virgin Mary by giving her flowers, fruits, and going through the streets with the Glass Rosaries.

In some ways, it was almost like there were two different parts of this festival. One was very traditional while the other was more modern with multiple concerts and other performances. It was interesting to see how both of these aspects of the festival were maintained. I’m sure the festival as evolved a great deal throughout the years to incorporate different aspects, but seeing the traditional aspect was definitely the most unique. There were many other events that happened in Zaragoza to celebrate the Fiestas del Pilar, but the most important was the Offering of Flowers.

Pamplona

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This past weekend, I visited Pamplona with a friend. You may not know anything about Pamplona, but don’t worry! I would love to let you in on Pamplona’s famous sites and festivals. This city is most known for its Festival de San Fermin which is also known as The Running of the Bulls. (I bet now you are saying, “Oh, that city!”) This festival happens every year from July 7-July 14 in the small city of Pamplona which is to the northwest of Zaragoza. The Festival de San Fermin is one of Spain’s most known festivals and people from around the world come to see the craziness that is the Running of the Bulls. My friend and I only visited for the day because it is not a very big city, and one day is enough to get the feel of Pamplona and visit its well-known spots. When we first arrived in Pamplona, we started out at the beginning of the route that the bulls run, “ruta de encierro”. This famous tradition started out of pure necessity as it was the way of getting the bulls to the bullfight located in the Plaza de Toros. People from the city would lead the bulls to the bullring starting the tradition. Later, the tradition of having them run through the streets was banned but still happened every year because it was so popular and unique. Since then, the ban has been lifted because it was practically impossible from having this tradition stopped and the festival now brings many visitors to the city each year.  The actual route that the bulls take is very short, only 825 meters. There is one point in the route where the bulls have to complete a 90° turn, the Curva de Estafeta, which is quite dangerous. The end of the route is the Plaza de Toros which is a huge bullring. We were not able to get inside, but judging from the outside, it is huge and historic. If I were ever to go to the Festival of San Fermin, I would try to watch from a balcony overlooking the route. I think that would be the only way to actually see everything safe and sound!

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The Monument to the Encierro (Bull Run)

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The Plaza de Toros

The bulls run on this street during the Fesitval de San Fermin

The bulls run on this street during the Fesitval de San Fermin

The Plaza de Toros

The Plaza de Toros

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The Monument to the Encierro (Bull Run)


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We were very surprised IMG_7531to encounter a festival while we were in Pamplona. After some research, I found out that it was called the Fiestas de San Fermin Txikito which took place Friday through Sunday. This festival included music, concerts, activities, and much more. We walked into (quite literally) the festival in the morning when there was a parade of the “gigantes y cabezudos”. “Gigantes y cabezudos”, popular in Spanish festivals and parades, are giants and big heads that are worn during festivals. They usually wear traditional clothing and commemorate historical and acclaimed people. It was interesting to see this and hear everyone singing while a parade of sorts was going on. We picked a good day to visit Pamplona!

The Camino de Santiago goes through Pamplona and the city has many hostels and hiking stores to accommodate those who walk the Camino. The Camino de Santiago (St. James Path) is the name given to the multiple routes to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. People that walk the route are called “peregrinos” or pilgrims and can choose how long they walk which usually varies from a week to a few months. Many people walk the Camino for spiritual growth and understanding. People have been walking to the shrine of St. James for centuries, and now, people from around the world take part in walking this route. Some routes of the Camino also lead people through Zaragoza next to the famous Basilica del Pilar. While in Pamplona, we walked part of the Camino which is always very well marked. The shell is the symbol of the Camino because shells are commonly found in Galicia, where the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is located. Peregrinos often find shell markers on the sidewalks that lead them along their walk.

A sign showing the pilgrims/peregrinos where to go

The Camino along the ancient city walls

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A sign showing the pilgrims/peregrinos where to go

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also spent some time at The Cathedral of Santa Maria which is very gorgeous. We loved looking at all the beautiful chapels and alters. There is also a museum included in this cathedral called the Museo Diocesano. This was also petty interesting as it included a variety of religious relics.

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La Ciudadela, another famous site in Pamplona, is an enormous park that is almost as big as the city center itself. It was constructed for military uses centuries ago, but now is a huge grassy area. The unique thing about this park is that it not just flat, but is constructed from many layers. It’s actually quite difficult to describe, and therefore I will let the pictures do most of the writing. This place was quite fun to walk around it. Oftentimes we could not figure out how to get to another level of the park. La Ciudadela is also a great place to rest and catch some sun in the middle of a day of walking.

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I obviously did not take this, but it shows a great view of La Ciudadela. http://www.aireg.es/la-ciudadela-de-pamplona/

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I did not expect to learn as much as I did in Pamplona! I you are ever in Spain, I suggest spending a day or two in Pamplona to walk the route the bulls run and explore this charming city!

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Side Note: If you follow world news, you probably heard about the Catalonia voting which occurred on Sunday (9/27). Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain that is home to Barcelona. Catalonia has been trying to become an independent nation and this voting for seats might propel this into action.  My professor said basically that the Catalonian party for separation (Junts per Si) won seats in the parliament, but it is still a long process if they are able to get independence. I have found two articles about this topic here and here. I am by no means qualified to inform others about Spanish politics and I think these will help you understand this subject if it interests you.

The Pyrenees/Los Pirineos

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On Sunday, a group from the University had organized a day trip to El Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido in the Pyrenees Mountains (Los Pirineos) which is in the north part of Spain and borders France. This park has 22 different hiking routes and is the second largest national park in Spain. I quickly signed up for this opportunity to go on a hike and get out of the city! While I am learning to love the city, I needed a break from Zaragoza and have been eager to see the countryside and mountains which I had been told about before coming to Spain. For someone who has only ever lived in flatlands, this trip seemed like it would be a fun and memorable experience.
Our group of over 100 foreign students left at 9:00 am for Ordesa which is about 167 kilometers (103.7 miles) north of Zaragoza. After a few stops and wrong turns, we finally arrived to the start of our hike at 2 pm. It was a little scary looking out the window and seeing the steep cliffs below. The roads were narrow with bends, twists, and curves so we were happy to arrive and ready to start the hike.

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The view from the bus

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At a stop before the hike

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hike was 17 kilometers (10.56 miles) total and had an elevation gain of about 500 meters (1640 feet). A majority of the time, we were walking along a stream which included waterfalls occasionally. The hike started out pretty flat, but that ended soon enough. Every corner and turn during the hike seemed more beautiful than the last one. When we were done with 2/3 of the way to the final waterfall, we stopped to have lunch by the stream. Some friends and I ate while sitting on top of the rocks in the water allowing our feet to take a break and feel the cold water. The rest was much needed and a great chance to take in the serenity of the land. After that, we set off to get to our destination before turning around to leave. The last 1/3 of the trail to the final point was definitely my favorite. After hiking some steep trails, the trail opened up to a huge valley with greens, streams, and more waterfalls. The scene was quite different from what we had been seeing the rest of the hike. This valley was very open and vast.

 

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Where we stopped for lunch

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The open valley

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With friends from Germany and Italy

I have read that Spain is a pretty popular destination for hikers, and now having a bit of experience, I can absolutely agree. The hiking websites and books will tell you this, but I suggest hiking in the fall or spring. We went hiking on September 20 and it was the perfect day. It was warm, but there was a cool breeze throughout the day which did not make it hot. Any earlier in the summer probably would have had me complaining about the heat and the sun.

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Our final spot before turning around was a grand waterfall at the edge of the valley. Many hikers continued on past this point, but it was very steep and for more experienced hikers. After some time spent here, we headed back. The way back took much less time because it was downhill. We got back to the buses at 8:30 and left shortly after. We returned to Zaragoza at midnight which was pretty tiring (it’s all ok though, I took a four hour siesta [nap] the next day). I’m so thankful I was given the opportunity to go hiking in Spain! If you are ever in Spain, please consider hiking a trail as there are many different trails with varying length and difficulty.

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The waterfalls were gorgeous!

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The final waterfall

The City/La Ciudad

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Zaragoza is home to around 600,000 people and is the capital of the comunidad autónoma of Aragon. (Comunidades autónomas are comparable to US states.) Zaragoza (sometimes spelled Saragossa) is the 5th largest city in Spain and has become a tourist destination for many Spaniards and Europeans. Zaragoza was the host of the 2008 International Exhibition (Expo 2008) which brought many tourists and attention to the city.

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Caesar Augustus

Before coming to Zaragoza, I did not know much about this city except that it is rich in history and is a major city in Spain. My knowledge was pretty limited. However, I have increased my understanding of Zaragoza and been appreciating its beauty and history during this past week and a half. I learned before going on this trip that it is a good idea to travel within the city the first few weeks of a study abroad experience. By doing so, the city you are staying in will feel like home and you can discover your favorite spots in the city right away. I have already found some of those spots in Zaragoza because of my travel through the city with friends and my host mother.

I have learned that Zaragoza was founded by the Romans in 24 BC under Caesar Augustus’s rule and the name Zaragoza comes from Caesar Augustus. If a numerous amount of people say his name hundreds of times over many years, his name eventually turns in Zaragoza. His statue is in an ancient part of the city nearby the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar which is a special part of the city that I love to visit.

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El Pilar

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El Pilar

La Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar/The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is what I previously referred to as the Cathedral, but is actually the Basilica. (The Cathedral of the Savior is another famous site in Zaragoza which I have not gotten a chance to visit yet. Living in a city with so many famous churches can get a bit confusing!) Most people here just refer to The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar as El Pilar. I was able to attend Mass here on Sunday which was a really wonderful experience. The churches here usually have around 3-4 services each Sunday and El Pilar has even more. There is Mass every day at El Pilar, but on Sundays alone, there are 12 different services. My host mother and I went to the 1pm service which was very full. El Pilar was crowded with people attending Mass and people just visiting the building. Many of the people at the service were visitors, but some live in Zaragoza and come every week. Later, we went up one of the towers of the El Pilar to see the entire city. When the elevator door opened, we were greeted by a spectacular sight of El Pilar and the city. We then climbed a small spiral staircase to the top of the tower which confirmed my slight fear of heights. I cannot write enough about the excellent view of Zaragoza surrounded by mountains.

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I went to the top of this tower of El Pilar!

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The Ebro River and El Pilar

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El Pilar

As you can see, the Ebro River runs through Zaragoza with picturesque bridges like the Piedra Bridge and Santiago Bridge. Further down the river, la Pasarela Del Voluntariado shows its beauty as a pedestrian bridge. This bridge was built to honor those who volunteered with Expo 2008.

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La Pasarela Del Voluntariado which is a pedestrian bridge built to honor volunteers who helped with Expo 2008 in Zaragoza.

 

Zaragoza is also home to the beautiful Palace of La Aljafería. Originally an Islamic Palace, La Aljaferia, along with other ancient buildings make up the Mudejar Architecture of Aragon known as a Cultural World Heritage Site. After being an Islamic Palace, it was ruled by Christians and later was the Catholic Kings’ Palace. Since then, it has gone through renovations and restorations. This Palace is an incredible treasure of Zaragoza and is similar to La Alhambra of Granada, Spain. I already want to go back to this site to take it all in once more. I went through it fairly quickly, but plan on returning with more time to spend in this famous palace.

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Courtyard inside the Palace of La Aljafería

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La Aljafería

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I still have plenty to see and do in Zaragoza, but I have gotten a good start on experiencing the whole city. I already know which sites I want to visit again with friends. I am thankful to be learning about this fantastic city!

The Journey/El Viaje

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The bus terminal at the Madrid airport, one of my first impressions of Spain

I am here at my home for the next 4 months, España. The act of coming here by myself sounds slightly terrifying, but it actually could not have gone smoother. The trip was long, but, call me crazy, relaxing in a sense. I think when you are left in an airport or in a plane for a certain amount of hours, there is nothing left to do but use those moments to take a break. I left my home in Bay City, Michigan around 9:00am on Friday, August 28.  My parents and I were at the Detroit airport around 12:30 (after a stop for breakfast) and a few minutes later I was saying goodbye. Then I took a flight to Atlanta and around 7:00pm I was on the 8 hour flight to Madrid. On this flight, I sat next to a student from Ohio who is spending this semester in Madrid. Before I left for this trip, I was told by veteran solo travelers that I’ll meet people easier when traveling alone. I was pretty surprised at how quickly that happened for me. I enjoyed her company just being reminded that there are a lot of people like myself not only studying in Spain, but studying across the globe. After landing at 9:45am local time and getting my luggage, I had a few hours to kill before boarding the bus to Zaragoza which was spent people watching. Once aboard the three and a half hour ride to Zaragoza, I took in the Spanish countryside in between moments of sleep. I noticed a few things during the bus ride. 1. Mountains for days.  No, they are not the huge ones in Colorado or Alaska, but they are mountains nonetheless (especially for a flatland girl like myself). 2. The countryside looks pretty dry (at least where I was). I did not see much green grass at all 3. The heat. The inside of the bus showed the temperature, but of course, in Celsius and I am not super familiar with Celsius. I saw 35° and thought, “Oh, that can’t be too bad.” Then I got out my phone and used the converter and saw that 35°C is about 95°F. Definitely warmer than when I left The Mitten State.

The view from the bus ride

The view from the bus ride

I arrived at the bus stop around 5pm local time which was 11am Eastern Time where I was greeted by my gracious host mom. Much to my surprise, I was not that tired even though I had only gotten a few hours of (not so great) sleep on the plane and bus. My host mom and I took a bus to her neighborhood and then walked to her apartment (during which I was wondering why I had packed so much) where I ate some food and took a much needed shower. That night, we went to some stores near her apartment and walked around the city. It was then when I got my first view of the famous Cathedral in Zaragoza. La Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar is known throughout the world and is a truly fantastic sight. We turned down the road to the Cathedral and a musician was playing Ave Maria on the violin. The music, people, and Cathedral all together resembled a dream.

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The musician with the Cathedral at the end of the road

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La Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

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La Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Since then, I have gone inside the Cathedral briefly and have seen only a portion of the beauty that this Cathedral holds. I’m looking forward to going back often. My host mom showed me around some other famous sights of Zaragoza, and I tried to take it all in. I was also struck by how Europe, in some cases, is just like the movies. Yes, I have only been here for a few days, but the mopeds are everywhere. It’s so picturesque when I see them coming down the cobblestone road with a gorgeous old building in the background.

As far as first impressions go, this one was pretty wonderful. My journey here went very well and my first few days have been great. I’m looking forward to an adventure-filled semester here in Spain!

Choosing To Seek Courage

In exactly two weeks, I’m going to be sitting, (very jet-lagged), in my own living room with my parents and sisters, watching American TV, eating my mom’s cooking, looking out the window at my own backyard in St. Charles, Illinois. And it’s absolutely mind-boggling. It feels like a week ago, I was on board that 8-hour plane ride across the ocean, turning knots in my stomach because I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. “Terrified” hardly begins to cover how I was feeling back in January, and now that my time abroad is winding down, I’m looking back on that earlier, timid version of myself and feeling an overwhelming sense of personal accomplishment about the person I am now. Studying abroad has given me the key to finding within myself a personality trait I never knew I had: bravery. For someone like me who used to live in constant (sometimes obsessive) worry, that’s something of a miracle.

In a world where there's so many acts of terror and fear, it's a blessing to remember that there is also so many examples of incredible beauty out there.

In a world where there's so many acts of terror and fear, it's a blessing to remember that there are also so many examples of incredible beauty out there.

Just so you know, this blog post is about to get very serious. However, I think it’s an important thing to talk about, because my personal experience abroad has related so strongly to this topic. In light of what happened in Boston two weeks ago, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the awful, crippling power that fear has over human beings. It amazes me how a single act of terror can transform the way the entire world looks at society: Americans aren’t the only ones who were affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. Airport security around the globe has tightened. I’ve received e-mails from the Spanish Embassy in Madrid to be extra vigilant in my day-to-day routines outside of the house. My host mom just about had a heart attack when I wasn’t home from school on time the other day because I was talking to my professor after class. People everywhere are treading on eggshells around one another, trusting each other a little bit less than they did before, all because of the spell that terror has cast over this world.

It’s all for good reason, and I can certainly say that my guard is up a little higher than it was two weeks ago. The scary reality is that there is no place that is truly safe from unspeakable tragedies, and there’s always going to be people out there who seek to stir up our deepest and most paralyzing personal fears. Not so long ago, I used to view the world around me from that point of view – constantly letting worry get the best of me and fearing the worst of humanity. I called myself a “realist” because, let’s face it, all of these terrors are very, very real. What I didn’t know at the time was that being a realist can coincide perfectly with being an optimist, and that choosing to seek the good and the beautiful in this world is the recipe for finding courage in the face of fear.

Getting out of your comfort zone, making friends from all over the world, and learning from them is one of the best parts about living abroad!

Getting out of your comfort zone, making friends from all over the world, and learning from them is one of the best parts about living abroad!

The thing about studying abroad is that it has the power to truly force you out of your comfort zone if you let it do so. Get out of your room and just go take a walk by yourself without a map. Strike up a conversation, no matter how bad your Spanish is, with the lady waiting with you at the bus stop. Watch a movie with your host family, even though half the dialogue goes over your head. Go to the bars (don’t be stupid about it), and meet people. Try that weird food. Navigate a bus system that you’re unfamiliar with. Travel to a place where they speak a language you will never learn. Learn from people who don’t come from the same place you do, and teach them new things as well. These are all choices, and a lot of them will make you uncomfortable. But with each baby step out of your comfort zone, you start to learn that there’s beauty and light in this world that you never saw before. Before you know it, you’re taking leaps and bounds out into the big wide world, and discovering the courageous person that lives inside of you.

We’re called to live boldly, to seek the best in people, and to overcome the fear that acts of evil can instill in our hearts. It doesn’t mean to be careless, but rather to choose courage over worry. One of my thematic Bible verses of this semester has been 2 Timothy 1:7 – “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” It’s a nice reminder that we’re not alone in this world, and if we can choose to see things in a different light, we might just be amazed at how easily the beauty that surrounds us can overcome the darkness.

Que Aproveches

Since coming to Spain, I’ve learned all kinds of common conversational phrases that we just don’t have the proper words for in English. Yes, if you put them into Google translator, you’ll get some kind of ballpark answer that gives you an idea of what the phrase means. For example, if you take the title of this post and copy it into the translator, you’ll get the response: “you take advantage of.” Que aproveches is one of my favorite Spanish phrases, and considering the fact that I only have 17 days left in this amazing country, it’s a very appropriate thing to be saying during my final stretch here. That being said, Google’s response to que aproveches does not do the phrase any justice whatsoever. It’s something you say to someone else before they enjoy one of the finer things in life: an excellent meal, a night on the town, a vacation, a bottle of champagne, or (in my case) the last few days of the adventure of a lifetime. To me, que aproveches means “I hope you get the most out of it – that you enjoy every last fraction of a second to the very fullest and that you savor it for all its worth.”

The Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia.

The Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia.

Nobody takes this phrase to heart quite like my good friend, fellow Valpo student, and traveling companion, Kevin Miller. Back in February, we read an article in class about a tradition that dates back to the middle ages: a cross-country pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. Beginning as a religious journey towards the destination of what was once considered “the edge of the world” (the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the westernmost coast of Spain – where the apostle James is buried), the Camino has been traveled over the centuries by millions of “pilgrims” from all over the world. After learning about this tradition in class, Kevin mentioned that he’d really like to try it. Last week, that’s exactly what he did. Kevin wrote a little bit about his experiences for us to read, and gave me some photos from his journey to post here…

Each shelter that Kevin ate at or slept at put a stamp in his "pilgrimage passport".

Each shelter that Kevin ate at or slept at put a stamp in his "pilgrimage passport".

“It’s dubbed El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), but in reality, it’s a network of many different routes that all converge at the destination point of the pilgrimage, the Cathedral of Santiago. I spent seven days biking on the Camino Frances, which begins in St. Jean Pied de Port, a small French city only a few kilometers north of the Spanish-French border.  I began my journey in Pamplona, which is about 100 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port, and finished at the Cathedral.

A beautiful sunset along the Camino.

A gorgeous sunset along the Camino.

Most pilgrims do the Camino by foot, normally walking from about 8am until sometime in the mid afternoon, where they then find a shelter where you can shower, get some dinner, relax, and recharge for the next day. But some, like me, decide to do it by bike (and even some, although I didn’t see on my trip, by horse!). Naturally, the Camino Frances is a nearly perfect east to west route.  Therefore, each day the sun served as my guide: creeping up my back, illuminating my helmet, and then sneaking down my front side before sending its last few rays over the distant horizon.

Kevin's view along the Camino (notice the other pilgrims ahead on the road) while entering one of the pueblos along the way.

Kevin's view along the Camino (notice the other pilgrims ahead on the road) while entering one of the many pueblos along the way.

The Camino attracts people from all of the world, all doing it for some particular reason, whether for religious or spiritual motives or solely for the adventure. During my journey, I spent time talking with pilgrims and Spanish locals, either in the shelters in the evenings or during the day when I felt like substituting my biking legs for walking legs. I met an economist from Denmark, a Venezuelan software engineer, a construction worker from San Sebastian (northern Spain), a mother and son from Alabama, a Belgian architect, a truck driver from A Coruña (northwest Spain), a Canadian medical technician… the list goes on and on. It was quite a beautiful experience, and if any of you reading this have the opportunity to do it, I’d recommend it. You certainly won’t regret it.”

The view of the Camino from the top of one of the hills that Kevin climbed up - looking back to the east.

The view of the Camino from the top of one of the hills that Kevin climbed up - looking back to the east.

Kevin’s unique journey across the country of Spain is just one of those things that resonates so appropriately with the concept of aprovechando. Taking advantage of every opportunity, every adventure, and savoring those moments to the fullest are such important aspects of studying abroad, and are things that can only be learned through taking a leap of faith into those types of journeys. It’s a way of thinking that I’m blessed to be taking back home with me. I know without a doubt that all students who have been abroad can easily say the same after experiencing their own individual leaps of faith, savoring the details of such journeys with a new found sense of what it means to take advantage of the moments we’re given.

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