First of all thank you to everyone who is reading my blog and to those of you who are leaving me comments! It's nice to know that people like reading about my little adventure over here. Now on to the good stuff...This past weekend was incredibly busy, but also incredibly fun. On Saturday, everyone in the Tufts in Madrid/Alcalá program went to El Escorial, a small town in the mountains outside of Madrid where Felipe II built the massive Monastery/Palace/Mausoleum of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in order to commemorate a Spanish victory over the French in 1557. Felipe II's idea was to create a sanctuary where monks could live like kings and kings would live like monks (the world in reverse!). Because of this, Felipe's "palace" portion of the monastery at El Escorial was actually very simple in comparison with the church and monks' quarters. El Escorial also has a huge library which was one of the only places in Spain that could house the books banned by the Catholic Church during the Inquistion. The building is HUGE, and surrounded by plazas, gorgeous gardens and hedge mazes. We only toured a small section of the building and the tour took four hours. The best part was going down to the crypt where the majority of the Spanish kings from the past 5 centuries have been buried. Standing in a room next to the tombs of 500 years of Spanish monarchs was pretty surreal.
Another highlight of this past weekend was the Medieval Fair that was happening all weekend in Alcalá in honor of Semana Cervantina (Cervantes week) and Cervantes' birthday. Cervantes was born in Alcalá, so the city is in love with him. Because of his birthday, we had yesterday (Monday) off! I spent most of my weekend at the fair, walking around, shopping, and eating amazing food. All of the vendors were dressed in medieval garb and the entire historical center of Alcalá was decked out in Medieval decorations. The festival was packed all weekend and it was a lot of fun to see Alcalá so full of life and people.
A few random things to share about Spain:
1. Spaniards are obssessed with eating pig. The amount of ham and pork they eat is insane. In my kitchen at home, we have an entire cured pig's leg sitting next to the refridgerator (yes, the hoof is still on there, it's the first thing I see when I walk into the kitchen). Several times a week we take out the leg and my señora or her boyfriend Alfonso will get the knife out and start slicing the ham off for us to eat. The ham is amazing, but it's kind of a strange experience to be eating the meat right off of the leg.
2. They LOVE American television and movies here. Every time I turn on the TV there's some American TV show or movie playing. However, they are always dubbed over in Spanish. They love Friends here (pronounced Free-ends), Anatomía de Grey, all the CSI's, Embrujada (Charmed) y Perdidos (Lost). I've also watched Titanic, Hotel Rwanda, and Mona Lisa Smile on TV in Spanish (needless to say, it's a little strange when you're expecting Julia Robert's voice and you get some strange Spanish woman's voice instead). There are also a bunch of Spanish-produced versions of American shows which I've watched a bunch of. ¿Quién quiere ser un millonare? (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and ¡Mirá, Quién Baile! (basically Dancing with the Stars) are very popular and HILARIOUS to watch. I've found that Spanish TV is really exaggerated, so these shows are even more ridiculous over here than they are in the US.
3. I'm finding that I'm slowly getting to know Madrid more and more. This weekend I went to the Thyssen (one of the three big art museums in Madrid), Gran Vía (which is basically the Times Square of Madrid), and the Parque del Buen Retiro, a gorgeous, huge park located close to the city center. I'm continually impressed by the city...I think my friend Laura said it best when she called it "regal". There's just nothing like that in the U.S.
Tomorrow night I'm taking an overnight bus to Barcelona for the weekend! I'm getting there on Thursday morning (there are no classes on Thursday because of a national holiday for la Día de la Hispanidad and la Día de Pilar) and I'm spending all of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there before heading back on Sunday morning. I'm very excited to see the ocean, all of the Gaudi architecture (especially the Sagrada Familia), and the Picasso and Miró museums. Cataluña (the region where Barcelona is located) is very different from the center of Spain where I am, so it will be interesting to see the differences.