It's hard to believe that September is already over! Three weeks in Spain, twelve more to go. It's going by very quickly. Classes are now finally starting. I'm taking two classes through my program. One is Advanced Spanish Language, which is basically an intense Spanish grammar class that I take here in Alcalá. The other class I take in Madrid with all of the Alcalá students and the Tufts students who are living in Madrid. That class is called Spanish Theater and Civilization and is essentially a study of Spanish history, culture, and theater from the late 1800s up until the Spanish Civil War, which started in 1936. The classes I'm going to be taking at the University of Alcalá are Spanish Literature II, which studies Spanish literature from the 16th and 17th centuries, and a philosophy/law class called Conscientious Objection and Religious Beliefs. All my classes look like they'll be pretty interesting but it seems like the university classes are going to require a lot of work to keep up with the Spanish students.
This past weekend was super busy. Friday we went on a guided tour of the Prado with everyone from the program. The Prado is the most famous art museum in Spain and it's most famous for it's collection of Valezquez, Goya and El Greco paintings. It's a HUGE museum, so we only looked at the major paintings by Valezquez and Goya, but I'm planning on going back a few times so that I can see everything. Some of the best (and most famous) paintings we saw were Las Meninas by Valezquez (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Meninas) and El Tres de Mayo by Goya (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tres_de_mayo). It's pretty incredible to be standing 2 feet in front of paintings that you've seen a million times in books and on posters. After the museum we wandered around the Paseo del Prado for a bit and then headed back to Alcalá.
Friday night, we decided that we were going to get our first true taste of Madrid nightlife. Pretty much all of us in the Alcalá program took the train into the city and went to Kapital, one of the biggest discotecas in Madrid. First of all, we didn't even go to Kapital until 1 a.m., which is early by Madrid standards. Second of all, this was one of the craziest places I've ever been to. There were seven huge floors in the discoteca, each playing a different kind of music. It was so much fun and well worth the 15 euro to get in. When we finally left at 4:30 a.m. (again, early for madrileños), it was as crowded as it had been all night. Discotecas in Madrid usually stay open until 8 a.m. and tons of people definitely stay there until then. When we went walking to look for the bus back to Alcalá, the city was so alive. There was so much traffic and so many people out walking around. Looking at the streets, you would have thought it was 8 at night, not 5 in the morning. Needless to say I was a little tired after finally getting to my bed at 6 a.m., but it was a great introduction to the crazy nightlife Madrid is so famous for.
Sunday I went on a historic/architectural walking tour of Madrid with the program. I had already seen a lot of the places we went to, but we went to a bunch of new places that I was glad to see. We went to the Plaza Mayor, the Plaza de Cibeles, the Plaza de Colón, the Spanish stock exchange, the Madrid Ritz, and a bunch of Madrid/Spanish government buildings. The best part was the end of the tour, when we went to the Palacio Real (royal palace). We didn't go inside (although I'm planning on going on a tour of the inside later on), but it was still amazing wandreing around the outside. The palace is HUGE and outside is a gorgeous garden/courtyard with statues, fountains, and paths. After the tour we all sat and drank cafe con leches outside on a terazza overlooking the palace.
I stayed in Madrid after the tour was over and wandered around the city for a bit before meeting up with most of the people from my program to go to a Corrida (a bullfight) at the Plaza de las Ventas, one of the most famous bullfighting stadiums in Spain. The stadium is shaping like a giant ring, and even though we sat up high in the 7 euro seats, we had an amazing view. In a corrida, 3 toreros (bullfighters) take on 6 toros (bulls). First, the bull is let out into the ring and the toreros run it around to tire it out. Then, they stick 8 spears into the bull's back to weaken it (this is when the blood starts coming out). Finally, they go in for the kill and stab a huge sword into the bull's back. After it falls over dead, horses are strapped to it to drag the bull out of the stadium. It was pretty violent to watch (lots of blood), but it was amazing. The toreros wear gorgeous suits (called trajes de luces, suits of light) and the whole act of killing the bull is almost dance-like. It was such a cool experience. The crowd gets really into it too. There were all these old Spanish men sitting next to us who kept yelling obscenities at the toreros, which was hysterical and made me nostalgic for Fenway park and American sporting events. They explained to us that the bulls and the bullfighters were awful, but obviously we Americans had no idea and thought they were great. I was glad we got to go to a corrida, because the last ones of the year are in October and don't start again until April and because it's such a historical part of Spanish culture.
I'm continuing to do well and even though I still have those "What am I doing here?" moments, I'm really enjoying Spain. Studying abroad is really fun, but I've definitely come to realize that it's not just a 4 week vacation. There's a lot of work and it can be incredibly exhausting, epecially when you're trying to speak another language. However, it's definitely worth it. For now, I am going to go work on an essay for my grammar class, but I will update again soon. Hasta el prózimo vez.