Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day nine, Madrid- Chicago

I wake up this morning not wanting to leave. It’s bittersweet. The experience has been amazing and I don’t want to leave but I have no other choice and Stephanie and I have a plane to catch. We all go to breakfast together before heading out. The group is going to visit a local newspaper El Pais and Stephanie and I have to catch a taxi to the airport. We had our last awesome breakfast at the hotel and say our goodbyes. Goodbye group, goodbye professors, goodbye Hotel Regina, Goodbye Madrid. Our drive to the airport was really sad but we had a great time in Spain while it lasted. We have great memories and great photos to remember it all by. I know I will be coming back to Spain in the near future. It is now and forever will be my home away from home. Adios amigos…. hasta luego!

Day eight, El Escorial- Madrid

It was a bit of a struggle to wake up this morning. My roomies and I quickly got dressed because we woke up with little tome to pack. We went downstairs to meet the rest of the group for breakfast before walking to the bus stop to catch our charter bus for the last time. Gillian met us all for breakfast and pointed us to the direction of the bus stop. Emily’s ankle felt better this morning so she decided to ditch the wheel chair and walk on her own. Cesar was pushing the wheel chair on the way to the bus and was leading us all. As we neared the bus station we found a ramp that led us down to load onto the bus but Cesar however continued to walk down the street. I think if we hadn’t called his name we would all have been loaded on the bus waiting for him to find his way. It was kind of entertaining to watch him pass the station but he found his way. This bus ride seemed shorter than the rest, probably because we were excited to come back to our original hotel because we love Madrid.
We arrived at Hotel Regina and checked into different rooms than we had before. This time our rooms were nicer. It was kind of exciting to walk into our hotel room with a mint on our pillows. This is Stephanie and I’s last full day in Madrid so we’re on a mission to get as many souvenirs as we can in a couple hours. Our first mission, get our luggage out of the hotel storage. We checked in our luggage to the hotel before leaving to Segovia a couple days ago to make sure it’s safe. Well turns out many other people also checked in their luggage to Hotel Regina storage so it took a while to find out which room ours was stored in. We finally found it hiding inside a glass room then had to open a secret door to another room. Yeah it sounds a little complicated but what matters is we got our belongings safe and sound. Next Stephanie and I hit the streets of Madrid to find unique shops and pick up great buys. I was searching mainly for a Ronaldo Real Madrid Jersey for my younger brother and Stephanie was searching for boxing gloves for her mom. We finally found what we were looking for after going to many many many shops. If it were up to me I would have shopped all day but we were on a time limit because we had to be back at the hotel for our last speaker Arturo Dovalina from Mezcal Entertainment.
We got all the gifts we needed and had extra time to lounge in our rooms before going to the meeting room. Arturo Dovalina from Mezcal Entertainment was my favorite speaker by far. He was so entertaining and his passion for what he does truly shows when he talks about his company. Mezcal Entertainment is a Mexico based company that provides editorial and video services. They provide a lot of services to Latin America and especially Madrid. His business focuses on covering Latin media such as artist like Shakira and Actresses such as Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. He still covers mainstream market in case people approach his business for some photos of popular mainstream artists and actors. The way Arturo describes his business and what he does seems very real to me. He has people located around the world to capture certain photographs. Just like EFE has reporters placed around the world except Mezcal Entertainment hasn’t grown that big yet. Arturo was very real and answered every question that we had for him. I think we could have talked about his company all day if Cesar hadn’t wrapped it up because he was so easy to converse with.
After snapping a group photo and leaving the meeting room for the last time we were excited to watch España play another game in the world cup. As our usual we head to O’neils but this time we decided to sit upstairs. We figure it would be easier for Cesar to find us there because he planned on catching up with when the game begins. It was a lot of fun to share the traditional Spanish experience watching fútbol in the pub with the locals. We ordered some nachos and some drinks and enjoyed the game. España won 2-0 against Honduras and it was such a great game to end the night. We all went to the game as a group and afterwards we were all very hungry and searched for a restaurant to eat dinner. Well our search took over 45 minutes to find a restaurant that fit our budget and by that time we had lost a couple of people from our group because they were tired and decided to call it a night. We finally sat down at what seemed to be a pretty fancy place to eat. We were pretty delirious by this time so by the time the bread and bread sticks came out we started playing with our food as if we were five year olds all over again. It’s always fun to act like a kid, right? Well it was definitely entertaining. As soon as our food arrived, everybody’s eyes got really bug because our food looked tasty and we were excited to eat it. I order lemon chicken and it was the best darn chicken I have ever had before. We couldn’t just stop at dinner because we always have room for dessert. Some ordered ice cream, a couple ordered flan and Alex and I ordered cheesecake, or as it was printed on the menu “cake of cheese!” Haha we got a laugh out of that one. We all pitched in for the bill because for some odd reason they could never split the bills in this country. We took a nice stroll back to the hotel and called it a night. Tomorrow morning Stephanie and I are off to the airport and are the first to leave out of the group. I could barely sleep because I was so upset that I had to go but I had to rise early in the morning to make sure I packed everything so I tried my best to catch some z’s. Goodnight

Day Seven, Avila- El Escorial

I had an early rise and shine than most of the group this morning. Cesar, Doris and I decided to attended Catholic mass in a cathedral that was nearby our hotel because it was Sunday after all. Doris and I were interested in how similar or different mass was in Spain as opposed to in the states. The three of us woke up earlier enough to grab some breakfast before heading over to the cathedral. It was absolutely gorgeous inside. The ceiling above was painted beautifully and there were stone images of Jesus on the cross around the church. Cesar showed us the small yard with a statue of Jesus as a young boy and Santa Teresa. It was beautiful. Mass was shorter than we expected, it’s definitely shorter than the mass I attend back at home. We had enough time to go back to the hotel and meet up with the rest of the group before we all split into different directions for our activity choices. Doris and Stephanie went with Cesar to see the Monastery in Avila and a couple of the girls just decided to sleep in and stay in the hotel.

Allison, Alex, Aleksandra, Philip and I decided to climb the wall that Avila is surrounded by. We get to the ticket booth to purchase our tickets then head up the stone staircase. Little did we know our legs were still going to be burning from climbing the tower at the castle yesterday. We are definitely getting our daily exercise in with this activity but it was well worth the hard effort. We finally got to the top of the tower and just got to walk around. The view was gorgeous. You got to see the entire town of Avila and the sky was so clear and blue. This was a great way to start our day. All of us had a lot of fun climbing the wall but it was exhausting so we headed back to the hotel to pack up our stuff and hopped on the bus to El Escorial.

Another hour long bus ride and checking into another hotel. We got our room keys, which were actual keys by the way. Typically we get handed a card to swipe in order to get into our rooms so having a real key was weird, in a good way. We had just enough time to find a place to eat lunch before our tour began at the monastery. We looked at so many different places but they all seemed so expensive. We were all on such a tight budget that we continued to look until we found a perfect place that everyone felt satisfied with. We found a small family owned restaurant which served us a drink, appetizer, lunch and desert all for around ten euros. Now I think that bargain was worth the search. We did however let the owner know our time crunch and he was very understanding and did his best to serve us a quick lunch. He had amazing customer service and because of that we all tipped him very well. Cesar however, was a little bit shocked at the amount we tipped him and told us that we probably made his day. We had to make him feel rewarded after catering to all our needs in such a short amount of time.

So off we go, hurrying to the monastery to find out that our tour had been scheduled for yesterday instead of today. This was quite a mix up but nothing that can’t be fixed. We had to wait a little bit as professor Garcia settled everything but when it came down to it we all decided to go in and read all of the information ourselves instead of scheduling another tour. This turned our great because we got an opportunity to browse the entire monastery on our own and at our own speed. At one point we did think we lost Abby but she was just a little behind us and we all soon caught up to each other. We met right before entering the Pantheon of the Kings room where all the kinds were stored in their very own coffin or tomb. This room was full of past kinds of Spain and they were stored in order from past to recent in a circular form. Each of us shared a control that informed us of each of the kings and their Queens that were in that room as we all stood their staring up at all of the coffins. The most recent king, however, was not yet stored in this room. He was still in a special rotting room which can take years before being place in this room of honor. There were only a few more spots left for kings to be placed so I wonder what happens when they do run out of room someday. Do they make more room or do they start a whole other room. Who knows? Only time will tell I guess.

After the Pantheon of Kings room we visited the library. The magnificent view of all the books stored in that library for decades and decades was amazing. There was a huge globe in the middle of the library and more paintings. I wish I could have captured this view in a photo but once again, no cameras allowed. After finishing everything we could see at the monastery we stopped at the gift shop on our way out to pick up a few souvenirs. Next we went around the corner to take a look at the garden. No this is definitely a garden I have never laid eyes on before. It was so green and so beautiful. There were several different designs in each of the bushes. It was just so gorgeous to look at. There were peach trees in the center of some garden peaces and everything you look was just so breathe taking. We walked around the entire garden and even took a peek at the new garden they are beginning to add in order to expand the current garden. We thought the garden had an exit but we soon discovered that we had to walk all the way back to the entrance in order to exit the garden. This was quite time consuming in the heat that all of us were in. We took many pictures before leaving the garden and soon found a smoothie/ drink stand on our way back to the hotel. Several of us were extremely thirsty and bought lemon and berry frozen drinks which were all delicious.

After another long day we got back to our hotel to freshen up before heading to dinner. Little to our surprise we had no idea dinner was actually going to be a feast! Our hotel provided dinner for us tonight. So we just had to walk downstairs to the restaurant area and were treated like royalty. Some of us ordered Sangria and others ordered a glass of wine to start our dinner. Next came tapas, bread, more tapas, appetizers, more appetizers and before we know it we are stuffed way before our dinner even arrives. We do our best to finish our delicious dinner. I order salmon and I think it was the most flavorful scrumptious salmon I have ever had in my life. Next came some pre dessert snacks or as Allison likes to say “Prefunk to dessert.” For desert we got to choose from an array of choices but most of us either chose ice cream or a strawberry filled pastry.

It was getting late and we all had to waddle up stairs to get some rest. By the time we all got to our rooms no one was tired anymore so half of us contacted our fathers to wish them a happy father’s day and the other half of us decided to check out what El Escorial has in store for us at night. Our night turned short when we grabbed a glass a wine and soon began falling asleep at the table. It had been quite a day and tomorrow we have to head back to Madrid. We went back to the hotel to catch some Z’s before our early rise to the bus stop in the morning. Buenas noches. I’m exhausted.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day six, Madrid – Segovia- Avila

Why did we decide to go out the night before we had to rise early and catch our charter bus to Segovia? Who knows? Everyone at breakfast looked like a zombie but we were all packed and ready for the day. We grab a ton of breakfast, check our luggage into the hotel storage, and then hop onto the bus. Next stop Segovia!
Most of us took a much needed nap on the charter bus but when we arrived to Segovia we all looked like zombies. We arrived and immediately saw a beautiful aqueduct that looked miles long. Segovia was a little misty and foggy by morning but as the day went on it was gorgeous. We had a guided tour of the city as soon as we got there but had to make a pit stop at the bathroom because the bus ride made some people nauseous. After getting the history and background of Segovia by our tour guide we entered the Cathedral. It was the most amazing cathedral I have ever seen. The gothic architecture was incredible and it was so massive. I can’t imagine attending mass at such a large cathedral. We once again were not “supposed” to take photos but I sneaked in a couple here and there. We saw so many wall art and paintings on the ceiling. It was so surreal and impeccable. After the amazing cathedral we continued our walk to the Alcazar.
The Alcazar is the Disney- like palace that now houses a museum or great armor and souvenirs of the 19th century. While visiting the castle we finally got the chance to take pictures and it was so rad. There was so much to look at and it was so much fun to see what it felt like to live in a castle. We got a chance to look around and before we excited we had tickets to climb the tower of the castle. We were so excited to get to the top until we realized we not only had to climb 152 stone steps up a rounded staircase but the two sets of stair cases before the stone steps. This was definitely a work out. As we arrived to the top out of breath we were so elated by the view that it didn’t matter how hard the stone steps were to climb. It felt as if we were overseeing the entire city of Segovia and all its beauty. We took a look around then decided to head back down to meet up with professor Garcia and Emily.
Afterwards we worked up quite an appetite and decided to grab some lunch at a local restaurant at the plaza. My chorizo sandwich wasn’t as delicious as I expected but I made up for it after lunch when we went shopping. I found a really cool braided bracelet as well as a super cute green purse. I was so excited because they were my first purchases of souvenirs while being in Spain. There was a downfall in Segovia though. A couple of us needed to get cash out so we stopped at an ATM machine but it ate Deanna’s card. Most of the group stood by the ATM as we tried calling the phone number on the machine for help but we soon had to catch the charter bus to the next town so we couldn’t wait for the card. We continued to head to the bus and had an amazing view of the aqueduct. The sky was gorgeous blue and it just sounded so peaceful as we walked. Next stop Avila.
We took another hour to get to Avila but the bus couldn’t take us directly to our hotel so the driver dropped us off at the bottom of the hill. Cesar mentioned Avila is the highest point in Spain so here we are with luggage in our hands traveling through the cobblestone roads trying to find our hotel. Our clothes were beginning to stick to us as we make our way up and some of the girls were struggling with their luggage either being too heavy or the handle breaking. This was probably the worst part of the day. We finally thought we were getting close but we had to walk several steep hill, a huge stone staircase and another hill later we arrived at our pleasant hotel which was really appealing. After we checked in many of us took a nice long nap and a shower before heading out for dinner. We first stopped at a very cute wine bar and watched a little more of the world cup tournament. We each had some appetizers and wine and then went on a hunt to find a rsteraunt for dinner. Dinner was delicious but it took quite some time to figure out the menu. After appetizers, wine, and dinner a few of us girls still wanted more and we decided to stop at an ice cream shop for dessert. ¡Delicioso! We called it a night soon after ice cream because it had been a long day and we are headed to El Escorial tomorrow after our morning activity. ¡Buenas noches!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day Five, Madrid

We wake up this morning and the first thing I think of is Emily’s ankle. It was definitely swollen! We get dressed and downstairs for breakfast before starting our day and Emily’s ankle was the talk of breakfast. Poor Emily could barely walk on it yet we have a full day ahead of us. After we finished breakfast we headed for the Prado museum. As soon as we arrive Cesar makes sure to check out a wheel chair for Emily to get around.

So finally in one of the world’s top three museums, The Prado, and yet again no pictures. I wanted to take a picture of Emily in her chair but security informed us that we had to put our cameras away. Well I out mine away for a minute but I decided to snap a couple of photos anyway because I just couldn’t help myself. There was a statue in the entrance and as soon as the coast was clear I took a picture of both Emily and the statue. Hahaha I felt so sneaky. We had to walk around the corner to grab headsets because we were getting a private tour by our awesome tour guide that we have had since day one. She is so intelligent and knows the history of Spain like the back of her hand. I was amazed by how much information she knows and is able to share with the rest of us by memory. We had the amazing opportunity to get background information about many of the paintings in the Prado. Considering the Museum is huge we didn’t have time to visit it all but we saw the most popular paintings in there and one in particular was Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. It is one of the most important paintings in Art History and has been analyzed by many artists about its composition. While in the museum this painting was surrounded by a flood of people so it is indeed important and popular as many are aware of the history of this painting. Soon after we saw Las Meninas we headed towards painting made by Goya before leaving the Prado. For more Prado information or pictures visit

I could have stayed in the Prado Museum forever but we had to meet with Professor Green before heading to the Parliament. We walked to the Parliament after the museum and passed a group of sidewalk bands which were playing some good music. As we walked some of us danced our way to the parliament too. We arrived at the parliament with the group and were told once again… no pictures. While we passed security and were already inside I felt something in my eye so I took out my phone to use as a mirror and was told by a security man to put away my “camera.” They are definitely strict on the no pictures policy. So I guess once again you have to take my word for it when I say the Parliament was unreal. There was a red carpet entrance when the king visits, a huge clock that tells you time and temperature and I believe other elements as well. One of the great aspects about touring the parliament that I enjoyed was the fact that our tour was bilingual and was both in Spanish and English so we got the opportunity to listen to our parliament tour guide speak to us in both languages. My favorite room as many others would say is the congressional room. Looking at the many seating areas and where the camera men sit as opposed to where the ruler sits and so on was really exciting. We did however finally get a chance to take a picture but it was a photo taken by the people from the Parliament and you have to order it if you would like a copy but none of our personal cameras could be used. After our group shot we ended our tour and had a free afternoon to roam the city as we pleased.

I was getting a little hungry and so were a couple other girls so Jennifer decided to take me, Stephanie, Abby, and Alex to lunch at a cute little restaurant. We had some delicious food and wine after a very busy day. Once we got back to the hotel a few of us decided to go to O’Neils again to watch the USA Slovenia game at the pub. Much to our surprise many other American’s had the same idea as us. The down stairs pub was FULL of what I felt was solely American’s there. Now I understand when people say Americans are loud and obnoxious. The American fans were louder than the locals were when we went to the Spain game. Other than the loud and proud cheering Americans being obnoxious we had a great time at the game. Unfortunately USA did not win but we did tie 2-2. We headed back to the hotel afterwards to catch up with the rest of the group and decided to hit the town as an entire group tonight.
We find the rest of the crew and head the same direction as a few of us did the night before where many of the clubs and bars were at. The atmosphere at night seemed really similar to Vegas night life to me. There are so many club promoters on the street trying to get people to go to their club or bar by offering free entry or even better free drinks. Every place we stopped at we either got a free shot or an entire free drink. I’m not going to lie it felt a little like VIP style. Haha but it was a lot of fun especially because we were all out together. It began to get later and later and we decided to call it a night because we’ve had a long day and another one to come tomorrow. We have to get up earlier than we’ve had to so far to catch a bus to Segovia in the morning so hopefully we don’t sleep in too long. Adios for now. Goodnight!

Day Four, Madrid

Wake up this morning exhausted as ever but as usual had to hurry and get ready for another speaker. This morning we are getting a chance to hear about film production. Simon de Santiago is an MOD film producer. He has business in both Madrid and London. Simon went to film school in Paris for production and ended up with producing a Spanish speaking channel.
Simon had very interesting information to tell us about his career which I had not known prior to listening to his presentation. With production, you have to produce the film first before you actually see the profit it produces. So it’s pretty much an investment. After or during the time your film is being produced you have to sell the story line to advertisers and sell your rights to particular events and cinemas. This technical method is called windowing. So an example of this would be sell Latin America rights so show a particular movie on TV for one year.
Another great topic Simon discussed was a class of film festivals such as Can and Sundance which are both popular. He also informed us of some drama that goes on behind the scenes of production especially with actors. One story he told us was in relation to Tom Cruise and his then leading lady at the time Nicole Kidman. Their marriage fizzled during the making of their film “The Others” and after the film was finished they would not attend red carpet events together. Their split gave the media more to talk about and gave the movie great publicity and basically free advertisements. In the end, it was great for the film but not so great for the personal lives of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
I really enjoyed the fact that Simon took time out of what sounds like extremely busy days to come and speak to us. He was very knowledgeable in the information he shared with us and the class had great prompting questions for him. As usual we ended our speaker session with a group photo and thanked our speaker for coming.
We are free now to do as we please until our Flamenco ballet version of Carmen at 8 tonight. Me and a couple other girls decided to take this time to check out the shops around the town. We went to Sfera and Mango the two main big stores our Speaker Antonio discussed on the second day. We found some great buys then decided to head to our favorite bakery and get another chocolate neapolitan… hmm hmmm delicious! After several shops we were exhausted and still a little jet legged so we decided it would be a great idea to rest up until we get dressed and ready for the flamenco ballet.
My roommates and I woke up from our naps excited as ever for the flamenco ballet. We put on our nice dresses and heels and got dolled up for a trip to the Apollo Theater. We went downstairs to meet the rest of the group in the hotel lobby then headed out. We walked to a couple of bars to kill some time because we were running earlier than expected. We stopped at a plaza and each had a glass of sangria. I soaked up the moment as much as possible, we’re in the heart of the capitol of Spain drinking sangria and waiting to go to a flamenco ballet. This is the life! After I get out of my day dream I finish my drink with the rest of our group and we continue our walk to the theater.
After tripping on a few cobblestone sidewalks in heels along the way, we finally arrived and took as many pictures as we can while we were outside. We were not able to take pictures inside the theater. I wish we could have at least gotten one snapshot of the gorgeous dresses that the girls were wearing especially Carmen’s. Their dancing was excellent and so beautiful. I did not once take my eyes off the stage because everyone did such an amazing job. From the clapping to singing and tap dancing, the entire ballet was perfect. Everyone has heard of Carmen before and to see it translated into a flamenco ballet was just beautiful. For more information about this ballet visit
After the ballet we all went back to the hotel but a few of us decided it would be a great night to visit the night life in Madrid. So we took a few minutes to freshen up then met back down in the lobby in ten minutes to discover what Madrid has to offer when the sun goes down. We walked through town and entered the very first club we were greeted at by the manager. He escorted us inside and gave us all a round of shots and that’s how our night got started. We felt as if we were VIP because by the time we left the club we were waving goodbye to everyone as if we were long time friends. As soon as we leave Emily hops up to touch a sign and landed on her foot wrong and before you know it her ankle is swollen. We all help her up and get back to the hotel as soon as we can to put ice on it immediately. Let’s hope it gets better by tomorrow. Bedtime is near and we’re all so tired… goodnight! See ya in the morning.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day three. Part three, Madrid

After we left EFE we decide to go to Oneill's Irish Pub to watch Spain play Switzerland in the world cup game. It was so exciting to be able to share that experience of Spain playing with the locals. Although they did lose the game, it was great to share a beer with Spanish natives as we all crowd into the downstairs area of the pub. There were a lot of people piling into that bar to watch the game on a huge screen. We were lucky enough to get to Oneill’s to find a seat. To get a beer though, that took a lot longer! Overall the game was incredible because the fans in the pub get so involved in the game and really like to celebrate. Interesting enough, Spain is the first team to lose their first game of the tournament and win the world cup. There is a lot of controversy over Casilla’s and his reporter girlfriend being a distractment for him but in the end it obviously wasn’t a problem.
We headed back to the hotel after the game to freshen up for our big dinner with the whole group. Our two professors took us to this delicious restaurant where we had half a bottle of wine each plus an appetizer, meal, and dessert! It was so delicious! I decided to split a bottle of Champagne with professor Cesar while the rest of the group had red and white wine. For my appetizer I had grilled shrimp and salmon for my entre. It was definitely a seafood night. I got a chance to try the paella because there was so much of it to go around and was yummy. Lemon sorbet was the cherry on top of a great meal. Good thing we walk everywhere because we definitely needed to walk off some of that food when we were all slowly trying to exit the restaurant. I think everyone was borderline delirious after leaving with full stomachs because we were all so happy and couldn’t stop smiling! I love it! It was a great way to end an evening. We all headed back to our home away from home to Hotel Regina and called it a night.