Saturday, May 30, 2015

Day 18 and the trip home.

Day 18:

Today we woke up and had a late breakfast before we headed just ouside of Carranque to look at some ancient Roman ruins. The ruins were incredible! They were discovered only 30 years ago after a farmer accidentally dug up some of the ruins with his plow. These ruins had large tile mosaics on the floor (the main surviving structure). Most of these mosaics were made with tiles that were less than a cm large. There were also a couple of 2 meter tall columns each made out of one single piece of marble. The marble was most likely mined from Turkey and then shipped over to Spain. This would have been incredibly expensive, and signified that the builder of the home was most likely a wealthy plantation owner. The most interesting thing I saw was the way the builders of the home heated it during the winter.

Underneath the floor of the north rooms was an empty space about three feet tall. Connecting to this space was an outdoor furnace that would burn extremely hot. The hot air and smoke would then be directed from the furnace to the space under the floor. This would cause the floor to get very warm and would heat the room! The smoke was then directed through chimneys that ran up along the corners of the room. This would also add warmth to the room by heating up the walls.

After we had looked at all the ruins we hurried home to pick up a traditional Spanish meal known as Pyaya (not exactly sure on spelling). The pyaya was interesting to say the least. The meal is prepared by filling a pan with white rice, adding secret herbs and spices, and then mixing in every seafood item imaginable. By everything I mean everything shell and all. Muscles, squid, crab, shrimp, prawns, oysters were all visable. The mixture is then covered with foil and baked in an oven for an undisclosed amount of time. Once the creation is finished baking, simply scoop out the mixture (shells and all) out onto your plate to serve. To eat y9ur creation, pick out the shells, shrimp, and crab and scoop out their contents. Then mix everything  once again.

Now I am definitely a Midwestern farm boy so seafood is something that I have not experienced much. To my suprise the Pyaya did not make me lose my cookies. I was able to keep everything under control and even went back for seconds! The Pyaya was not terrible at all. It for sure had a flavor that I was not used to, but it was an interesting cultural experience that I will remember for years.

After lunch MiLeah and I played with Jaime quite a bit. Eventually, he needed to do some homework so MiLeah and I rested a while before packing our bags for out trip home.

Day 19:

Today MiLeah and I set out for the USA! We woke up at about 5:30 in the morning and got to the airport at 7:30 (a full 2 hours before our flight as recommended). When we walked into the airport we knew something was not right. A huge line streamed out of the United Airlines luggage check section. Even on a busy day the line should not have been this long and as we waited in line we found that our suspensions were correct. The entire airport was having trouble booking flights because their computer system was down. We waited in line for an hour and a half before we said goodbye to Rocio and began to proceed through security. The Madrid security checkpoint is very very strange. You go through all the standard procedure  (checking boarding passes, putting your bag on an xray belt, and walking through medal dectector) but we then noticed that our boarding passes  would be checked again for an additional level of security. This is where things got a little obnoxious.

I am not sure if it was an American procedure or if it was a Madrid procedure, but I was randomly selected for an additional security check. I was brought over to a special xray belt, repeated the same process that I had already done, had to take off my shoes (which is not as common in countries other than the USA), got a full body pat down, had to empty everything  out of my carry on, ran the empty backpack through the scanner, then I was instructed to go to see a man dressed in a military uniform.

I had been asking every person I came in  why this was necessary, but no one spoke English and my Spanish is very poor. When I cam to the military man I asked what was happening, in broken English he explained that it was random and I did nothing wrong and he just needed my drivers license to confirm my address. I gladly gave it and after taking down my information, he sent me on my way. I was very thankful that I made it through with no difficulty, but that was just the beginning of our trip.

We figured  that our flight would be a little delayed because of the computer issue, and we were not incorrect. We saw as we approached the gate that the flight had been delayed an hour. This was a relief to us because my security issue would have caused us to miss the flight if the time had stayed the same.

MiLeah and I grabbed some food and used up some of my remaining euros on chocolate! We relaxed and waited for our flight. We did not realize that this wait would end up being over 3 and a half hours before we boarded because of a hydrolic leak on one of the landing gears. Eventually we boarded and got to wait on the the tarmac for an hour because of problems finding airspace for us.

We are now in the air with about 2 hours left before we land and I am worried about our connecting flight in Newark, NJ. We originally had almost 5 hours to get through customs, switch terminals, and get on our plane, but because of our delays we will only have about 2 hours. If or connecting flight is canceled, I am concerned that we might be spending the night in Chicago because I don't think there are very many Chicago to Springfield flights. I know that God has His hand on us and we will get home fine, it would just be nice to see my family tonight.

By the time you see this I will have already landed and might be running through the airport trying to get us to the flight on time! So say a quick prayer for us that we make it home save and sound and on schedule!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Day 16 and 17!

Day 16:
Yesterday started off with Nacho taking MiLeah and I to a bull ranch where many of the bullfight bulls are raised. It was interesting to see the farm and the different sizes of bull that are used.

After we got finished looking at the bulls, we went back to the house for a quick lunch before the entire family (excluding Ignacio) loaded up in the van to meet Ignacio at the bull fight!

The arena that we went to was really cool! It was built in 1929 and was a lot larger than I expected! Rocio told us that the bullfight that we were going to only occurred during the month of May and was a huge deal. To put this in our terms, we basically saw the major league of bullfighting. The bullfight was extremely interesting! Although it is a controversial subject to perform the bullfight, it was really neat to see that part of Spain's culture.

After the bullfight we went with the family to dinner. I was expecting something quick and cheep because we were eating with the whole family and it was pretty late at night, but this was entirely the opposite. Ignacio had arranged for us to eat at a restaurant whose name translates to "paradise", and let me tell you, its name was not far from the truth. The restaurant sat only a block or so from Spain's  congress building and was the fanciest place I had ever been. There was stained hardwood on the ceilings and walls, crystal chandeliers, and waiters that wore towels over their arm. Ignacio told us later that the Congress members frequently ate there and the past three Spanish presidents ate at the same table that we were eating!! Our waiter confirmed everything that Ignacio told us, so we knew that he wasn't just blowing smoke. MiLeah and I felt like kings even though we were crazy under dressed. I had on a green shirt and white kaki shorts, and MiLeah had on a tank top and Jean shorts. We had never been to a place that fancy, and we felt silly for not being prepared. Although we felt a little embarrassed, we didn't let that stop us from having a great time! We had a lot of tapas for our starters and then came the main dish. I had a steak, and MiLeah had some really interesting meatballs. After our incredible main dish, we ended with a small but refreshing dessert of cake, fruit, and ice cream. We then headed home (at about 1) and went straight to bed.

Day 17:

Today we all got up late because we were so tired. We eventually got around and took Ignacio to the train station so he could go to Barcelona because of his job. After we all said goodbye to him, MiLeah and I were dropped off to shop a little bit before we met Maria (a future exchange student to the USA). Maria was really nice and her English is excellent. She will do great with her future host family.

After we finished with Maria, we were picked up by Rocio and took home to relax. We are currently watching Over the Hedge with Jaime, and are probably going to eat some food pretty soon!

Tomorrow I think we are going to go see some Roman mosaic ruins that are nearby Carranque (the village we are staying in). It will be our last full day here in Spain/Europe and it is very bittersweet. I love being here and experiencing so much, but I really miss my family and country.

Talk to you all later!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day 14 - 15:

Well I didn't post the other night like I said I would... so here are the past two days here in Madrid.

Day 14:

Tuesday Rocio drove us over the mountains of Madrid to see the city of Segovia. Segovia is an old town with deep Roman influence. The primary example of this influence is the massive stone aqueduct that stretches down the center of the city. I absolutely loved seeing this amazing structure. All of the stone pillars and arches had no form of mortar or cement holding them together. Gravity and friction were the only things that kept it from toppling to the ground.

Near the aqueduct was an incredible castle that housed many of the kings in that region. This castle differed from the castle we saw in Barcelona because it actually looked like a castle. There was a massive moat, and towers that even Cinderella would be proud of. We had a great time exploring the castle and even climbing to the highest point of the tallest tower.

When we finished exploring Segovia and had a wonderful lunch, we headed back through the mountains. The landscape in the mountains was magnificent. Tall, slender trees were thick in this region, and because it resembled the Ozarks so much, I got my first big taste if homesickness. I missed my home and our land, but most of all I missed my family. Eventually, I quit feeling sorry for myself and tried to enjoy the rest of the ride.

By the time we got home it was really late so we went straight to bed.

Day 15:

Yesterday was a super fun day! We were able to wake up a little later than usual because we had the morning to relax at home. At 2:45 we left with Rocio to go on a tour bus ride of Madrid! The bus ride was really neat. We were on the top level of the bus without a roof above us. Being up this high, allowed us to see the buildings and monuments easily because our views were not blocked by large cars. The only thing I didn't like about the ride was that the audio guide (which we listened to with headphones) was not great. It was difficult to tell what buildings they were talking about and to understand what they were saying.

After the bus ride, MiLeah and I were free to look through a few of the gift shops in the area while Rocio took the car to pick Ignacio up from work. We then met the two of them at a world famous Flamenco restaurant.

The restaurant was a small and crowded building with chairs and tables so close together that felt like they were stacked on top of eachother. But don't let the apearance fool you. This restaurant was super classy. Ignacio and Rocio absolutely spoiled us there. They told the waiter to bring us a bunch of traditional Spanish dishes all in the form of tapas. All of the food was amazing. They would bring the food to us in waves. As soon as we were done with one plate, they would bring another to us! We tried ham, vegetables, cheese, eggplant, assorted breads, lamb, and even goose liver!! All of the food was fantastic, but it didn't even compare to the Flamenco performance.

I had never seen Flamenco, and I didn't know what to expect. I went into the experience with an open mind and I am glad I did, because it is definitely different. The best way I can describe Flamenco is a passionate and loud tap dance routine with live musicians. It was the coolest dance routine I have ever seen. The feet of the dancers would move so fast that they  just looked like a blur. The only thing I didn't really like was the singing, but only because I could not understand it. The whole experience of the restaurant was probably one of the top three things I have seen on the trip, and I wish I could see it again.

After the dance, we thanked Rocio and Ignacio probably 100 times and then headed home and went to bed.

Today we will be going to see one of the important bull fights here in Madrid! Hopefully we will get home before I am exhausted so I can tell you about it!

Hasta luego!!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Days 10 - 13

Well it has been a while since I have been on here so I have quite a bit to write. So, fasten your seat belts folks, because this post is gonna be a long one.

Day 10:

Friday was our last full day in Barcelona and MiLeah and my last day with the group. We were free that morning so MiLeah and I scouted out the train station that we would have to be at on Saturday. We checked to see how you got onto the correct platform and noted the restaurants that were inside. After we figured everything out we went to Las Ramblas one last time. We walked through the curvy side streets and allies that branched off of Las Ramblas. It was a lot of fun to see the awesome architecture of the buildings which were products of the Gothic period.

At 4:30, we met back up with the group to go see the famous church, Sangria Familia. The details of the church were incredible! Every inch of the exterior was covered with symbolic statues. The interior was even more amazing. The columns that supported the building stretched upwards like trees and the light that filtered in through skylights looked like light through leaves. It was the best church I have been to on the trip, and the best part is that it isn't even finished yet. They have been working on the chapel for 130 years and they don't know when it  will be finished.

After we were done with the chapel, a small group of us went to a restaurant in the heart of Barcelona and then called it a night.

Day 11:

Saturday was an interesting day because we MiLeah and I were on our own after the group left at 7:30 to go back to the United States. We started off by dropping our bags off at a hotel close to the train station so that they would be easy to get before we left. We then took a trip down to the beach one last time to pick up some shells. When we got there, we were amazed at how beautiful it was. The weather was cold during our group beach day, but on Saturday the weather was amazing! There was hardly any wind, the sun was out, and, best of all, it was hot! We were so dissapointed that we couldn't have had that kind of weather during our beach day.

After we found a bunch of shells, we made our way down the beach to kill some time. We eventual walked up on a very expensive looking hotel and I saw something that still amazes me. In front of the hotel was the most incredible car I have ever seen: a Lamborghini Adventador.

(For those who don't care about cars, skip the next paragraph)

It was absolutely beautiful. The ridged lines combined to create a slick and stealthy looking car that could slice through the air like a knife through milk. The massive spoiler was no doubt necessary to keep the car from losing control to the incredible 720hp engine. The huge breaks (which were probably ceremic/carbon-fiber) were bigger than most car wheels. Just seeing it blew my mind, and I can't even imagine driving it. I hope to one day have an opportunity to drive one around a track, but I doubt I ever will. Honestly, it will probably be the first and last time I ever see that car, but I know I will never forget it.

After I looked at the car, we went back to the train station to grab a quick sandwich and find our train. The train station (which resembles an airport) was really run down. The floor was severely cracked, the chairs looked like someone used them as their bed, and clean was a word seldom spoken. Thankfully the train was beyond comfortable. There was more legroom than was necessary, which is a lot coming from this 6'4" dude. The seats were leather, and there was an in ride movie. This was a sweet train.

After we got off the train, we were met by Jorge's dad, Ignacio. He and his wife Rocio took us on a night tour of Madrid, and then took us home to chat for a bit and then go to bed.

Day 12:

Sunday was election day in Spain, so Rocio, Jorge's mother, was not with us because she had been selected to register citizens when they came in to vote. Even though she was gone, that didn't stop Ignacio, Jorge's father, from going and buying us a Spanish treat for breakfast: churros with a chocolate dipping sause.

After we finished the delicious churros, MiLeah, Ignacio, and I went to Jorge's sister's gymnastic dance compatition. Until this point we had not met Maria, but we had met Jorge's to other siblings, Jaime and Nacho. The gymnastic compatition was ok. It was interesting to see how many American songs are popular in Spain. Many of the dance groups did their routines to many current American songs.

After Maria's group took 2nd place in the compatition, we picked up Maria and went to the old town of Toledo. Toledo was N old city originally built by Romans, and then the Muslims took it over, and then eventually was inhabited by the Jews. Because of these different cultures coming into the city, there are a lot of different building styles. It was really interesting to walk down the cobblestone streets and see the amazing buildings that were built so long ago. Once we had seen enough, and found the car, we we headed home to just relax and enjoy the evening.

Day 13:

I am finally talking about today!! We started by drinking some freshly squeezed orange juice made by Rocio. The juice was incredible. It was really sweet and had way more flavor than anything you could buy in a store. I am really hoping to have some more later on this week!

After we finished breakfast, she took us into Madrid and showed us a lot of the major architecture, and government buildings of the area. We saw the palace that the king and queen used to stay in, and the City Hall.

At lunch, we caught up with Ignacio to meet his friend at a newer market for a taste of traditional Spain. We tried three dishes  (which I can not remember at this time. I will update this when I remember) which were incredible. I have loved everything I have eaten in Madrid so far. After the wonderful lunch MiLeah and I stayed in Madrid when Rocio went back to pick up the children from school. We shopped around for some clothes and grabbed some candy at a neat little candy shop.

At 7:00, we met Ignacio after work and he took us back to his home. MiLeah and I talked quite a bit to Nacho about the differences in the health care system in Spain and the United States. It was suprizing to hear that Spain has a more socialistic style of government, where the health care is "free". What is interesting however is that they have government and privately owned  hospitals. Everyone pays taxes for the government hospitals, but if you wish, you can pay extra to have insurance with the private hospitals. If you have the private hospital insurance, the waiting list for surgeries is much shorter than in the government hospitals.

After a while, MiLeah and  I started playing with Jorge's youngest brother, Jaime. We played ouside with a hula hoop and all counted on English and Spanish while we tossed the hoop to eachother. It was so much fun! I can't wait to try and speak to him in spanish more. Eventually we got tired of playing and MiLeah gave Jaime the Dr. Seuss  books that my mom sent to him. Jaime was so excited once he understood that the books were in English. He sat so quietly and listened to MiLeah read the first part of the book to him. Unfortunately, we got interrupted by dinner or else we probably would have finished the book.

Dinner was interesting, but delicious. Rocio fixed us a traditional meal from the south of Spain. (Again, I can't remember the name.... It's really late at night, give me a break, ok?) It was kind of like a thick tomato soup with ham and egg in it. After dinner we sat around with the family talking about cultural differences, sharing stories, and just enjoying each other's company.

This was my most favorite part of the trip so far because it was real life. It wasn't anything that was stressed for time or that was over crowed with tourists. It was my culture meeting their culture and we were all learning and becoming closer. I hope that I have more moments like this with this family because it really opens my eyes to a way of life that is different from mine and helps me respect the differences in culture.

Well, it is time for me to hit the hay, because tomorrow is going to be a fun day. Rocio is taking us to the mountains north of Madrid to see where Ignacio grew up. I hope to get you all an update tomorrow night because writing these long posts really sucks. My thumbs are numb from all this typing on my phone. Adios amigos!ď

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day numero 8 - 9.5

Howdy from Barcelona! Today I am going to bring you up to speed on the most recent adventures that we have had!

Day 8:
Yesterday we started off the day by going to Monsouratt, a mountain monastery just outside Barcelona. We took a 40 minute train ride and ended up in a completely different terrain than we had experienced yet. We saw mountains that stretched as far as the eye could see. Perched at the top of one of these mountains was the monastery. It was placed in such an inaccessible place that we had to take a 5 minute  gondola ride to the top. The view from the monetary was incredible. I took several pictures and I know they are worth more than just 1000 words.

After we looked around the monastery, we headed back to our hotel for a siesta  (which are becoming more and more frequent) before heading out in search of a Jazz club.

Jake found a small club near our hotel that had jazz musicians almost every night. We looked up the times and met down in the lobby to call the club for directions. Unfortunately, the club was not open because of a strike against the high taxes on musicians  (at least that is what we gathered from the convorsation). So we decided to just find a cheep place to eat.

We found a small family owned bar that served cheep food such as fries, wings, and Tortilla Espanola. When I walked in a black man caught my attention and asked me, "Do you speak English?". Until this point I had never been asked that question. I told him that I did and he replied, "Ok, would you be interested in joining the cannabis club?". I promptly said no, but was shocked because i have never been offered marijuana. By the end of the night three of the guys out of our group (including myself) was asked if we wanted weed.

After we ate our cheep and cheep tasting food, we headed down to the Rambla to see if we could find some interesting stores. When we got there we realized that the Rambla that we had seen in the day time was not the one we saw that night. Street vendors galore flooded the streets trying to get us to by knick knacks or to lure us into their restaurant. It reminded us of how we felt in Paris at the Eiffel Tower. We also saw lots of homeless people begging for money and adding to the overwhelming  darkness of the Rambla. After we saw that a lot of the stores were closing and were sick of being nervous about pickpockets, we decided to go back to the hotel for the night.

Day 9:
Today was beach day! That meant we got to sleep in and relax before we left at 11:00 to go to the beach by bus.
The bus was crowded, and we got a lesson on how real the pickpockets are here. Like all of our group, Dr. Philibert had to stand in the isle of the bus because all of the seats were talken. As we approached a stop, she noticed that her bag was moving a little. She looked toward her bag and realized that a man was trying to unzip it! She smacked the man's hand away from the bag and he quickly got off at the stop. Thankfully even if he was able to get into the bag, he would have only gotten her sunglasses because they were the only contents of that pocket. From then on out all of us were very concerned about our valuables.

When we arrived at the beach we were amazed at the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea. The sun was shining on golden beaches and reflected off of the dark blue water. The only problem with the beach was that it was pretty chilly. It was about 75 degrees today and that is pretty cool st a beach. We sat down and sunbathed quite a bit, but none of us did any swimming.

After grabbing some quick Chinese for lunch, we went back to the beach and laid in the sand for a while longer, but found that the wind had picked up a lot and was blowing sand in our faces. After about 5 minuets of getting pelted with sand, we decided that we would just go on back to the hotel for a quick siesta before we go back out for dinner this evening.

After we eat, we will probably go to a water show just down the street from our hotel!

I will catch up with you guys later! Adios for now!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day Siete

The seventh day here in Europe was pretty great. It was our second day here in beautiful Barcelona.

We started off the day with a group trip to Castillo de Montjuic! This trip was really incredible because I was able to see something I had never seen before: a castle. Yes, we were able to see a castle that originated as a lighthouse in 3rd century and then became a fully fledged castle in the 18th century. This thing was super cool. I really enjoyed looking out from the top of the castle at the Mediterranean Sea at my right, and then Turing to my left and seeing the sprawling city of Barcelona. It was a stunning sight.

After we had conquered the castle, we walked down to see the Olympic Stadium. Although small, this stadium held the 1992 Olympic games. It was pretty neat to see and it was a great place to grab a bite to eat.

From there we made our way down to an at museum. By this point in the trip I have had my fill of art for at least a year, but I will admit that there was some interesting art in that museum. It had old paintings that were originally painted on the walls of churchs. But due to the conditions of the churches, the paintings were skillfully removed and reapplied to the walls of the museum.

After we left the museum we all went to our hotel for a quick siesta before going to dinner at a tapas bar. This was an interesting experience. Tapas bars primarily make small appetizers that are shared among the group. Theses appetizers are known as tapas. The bar that we went to had been recommended by the hotel and was said to be relatively cheap. Unfortunately, we quickly found out that things were not as cheep as expected. I decided to order one tapa for myself because I did not want to spend €20 for something I might not like. I ordered a tapa  from the menu that sounded good, but upon inquiry I learned that they were out. So, I settled upon a tapa labeled Fried Potatoes with Spicy Sause. When my food arrived I realized that I would be needing more food. I received 12, one inch cubes. I was supprized but I was not terribly dissapointed. What aggravated me was what to of our group members got.

To of our group decided to share a seafood plate. Being on the Mediterranean, that plate seemed like a great choice. When the food arrived however, all was not well. When they reached to grab a mussel from the platter, a small white worm stuck it's head out from the shell. Our whole table was disgusted. They picked up the muscle to examine it carefully and another live worm popped out its head. We called over the waitress for her to take care of it. Apparently in Spain if you have two live worms in your food, then they will grab the piece of food with the worm in it and throw it away... that's all. No free meal, now new patter, not even an apology. I was shocked at the lack of customer service.

After we settled our bill and left the restaurant, a small group of us went to a little pizza shop on the corner of our street.  I got a huge slice of ham pizza and satisfied my craving for meat.  From there, we all went back to our rooms for the night.

Tomorrow we will be going up to mountain monastery! I will keep ya'll posted!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Day 6: Barcelona Begins

Today we left Paris at 9:15 and landed in Barcelona a bout an hour later. Immediately you could tell a difference between the cities. Barcelona seems to be more relaxed than Paris. Barcelona seems to be more realistic. The buildings do not look like they were punched out of a cookie cutter, and the citizens do not look like models. The sidewalks are over twice  the size of those in Paris, and the traffic seems to have more order. So as far as the physical aspects of Barcelona, I like it more than Paris.

After we landed we went straight to the Hotel Azul to get our rooms. Once inside I knew that our rooming situation would be nothing like in Paris. The rooms are actually about the size of a typical hotel room in the states, there are more than just two electrical outlets per room, and the wifi is fast enough to talk with your family. All in all our hotel is very nice.

We then grouped up to walk down the Rambla. The Rambla is a long stretch of road that has a lot of shop vendors, tourists, and, of course, pickpockets. Most of all, it has a large market where fresh  fruit, fish, and ham are sold for very reasonable prices. I am so excited to go back there soon and buy some more food!

Eventually we came to the end of the Rambla and arrived at the Mediterranean Sea! It was really neat to see all the sailboats moving around the docks. We fed the seagulls, and just enjoyed the weather, which was a wonderful 80 degrees.

I am so excited to be in Spain because I am able to better communicate with the people. I was able to ask a security guard where an ATM was even though he barely spoke English. I am sure that my extremely limited Spanish ability will come in handy during this leg of the trip.

Tomorrow I am not sure what is going on, but I am sure it is going to be a blast! I am going to do my best to keep you guys better updated on the events of my trip!

Hasta Luego!