PARA ESTUDIANTES FUTUROS: solo se vive una vez.

YOLO (sorry, not sorry).

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Okay, so I’m currently sitting at the Madrid Airport, and my flight is leaving in an hour and a half, which is a crazy thought to me. It hasn’t sunk in yet, so I guess I’ll make a post about post-trip impressions and reflections in a few days. Also, I don’t know what picture to post, so here’s one of me in Madrid, I guess, because I’m in Madrid again haha.

I just want to qualify this blog, saying that my experience was not, and will not be, like any other person’s experience. So, if you’re a prospective student that is reading this, take note of the trips I went on and everything, but do not expect your host family to be the same as mine, or the experiences in classes to be the same  – it is what you make of it.

The independent trips that I went on were to Granada, Lisbon, and Madrid. I also traveled with an outside program to Morocco and Gibraltar. If you want to take those same trips – go for it! But, there are a ton of other things that you can do. I never went to Málaga, because I didn’t have time and I wish I had. Lots of students did a beach weekend to Lagos, Portugal. I have some friends who went to Mallorca, and Barcelona. One girl went to London! Valencia and Alicante are also relatively easy trips with a long weekend. Bottom line is – it is so easy to get around in Europe. If you have a long weekend, there are so many possibilities of trips that you can take. You just have to plan in advance, it’s what you make out of it. One more thing: I highly, highly, highly recommend trying travelling alone at least once, even if it is just for the day. I didn’t think I would like it, but I think that was one of the most valuable parts of my trip. I felt so accomplished after doing my first trip (which was to Granada) alone.

Additionally, everyone will have a different classroom experience that I had. For example, my second class, Foundations of Culture in the July term, was taught by a different professor than the teacher who taught in May and June. When I compared everything that I had learned in the July term to the people who took the class in another session, the materials covered and classroom vibe was completely different.

After my class was unexpectedly cancelled due to a lack of students, I went to the Center and talked to them about the fact that my school requires the credits for my culture class. Eventually, we worked out a solution of an independent study, and then another girl joined my class. Honestly, this is your trip. As long as you are proactive and remain firm, the trip will turn out how you want it. If I hadn’t spoken up, I would’ve been stuck taking a class that was not going to help me achieve my minor.

My host family experience was very unique, compared to other families. Some houses had air conditioning, I did not. I had a roommate. My house was always full -with three kids and three dogs! Some people stayed with a single woman, or an older couple without children. Every host family is completely different, and I think that truly shapes your experience. At first, my relationship with my host family was a little strained. But I soon realized that I needed to initiate conversations with the family in order to get the experience I wanted. Eventually, I developed strong relationships with the host kids, and grew closer to my host mom. She even made my favorite meal and ice cream on my last day. Living with a host family is different, and as long as you are willing to roll with it, you will have a good experience. Just be open-minded (that’s hard for me sometimes).

The Center may be strict about the Spanish-only policy, which is extremely frustrating at times. It is all to help you, just remember that haha. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t cheat (frequently), but the times when I was speaking Spanish were the times that really helped me. And, don’t stress if your Spanish seems to plateau. After my first session, I was upset because it seemed like I wasn’t learning or improving any more. It’s all about immersion and practice, though.

One more thing! The culture in Seville is much slower and more relaxed than what I am used to. The cafe culture is very different from NJ/NY! Eating (or drinking) at a cafe is truly an experience, and it can take up to an hour just to have a cup of coffee. The waiters move more leisurely in Seville, and you have to ask (maybe twice) for the check. Also, the drinking culture is VERY different from the United States. Alcohol is seen as more common – people usually have a cup of wine with a meal if you are eating out. But one thing! Because it is so common, the Spanish tend to look down on los borrachos (drunk people), so careful! One glass is normal, being drunk is not! Also, I highly recommend the tinto de verano instead of sangria. If you walk in and order a sangria, they know you’re a tourist. Tinto de verano is bubbly, sangria is not. It’s the drink of the locals.

My advice to anyone doing the program in the future is to plan ahead, and to keep an open mind. It’s extremely hard at times, but you can do it! Just go with the flow:)

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Todos los caminos llevan a Roma

For my last weekend I decided to go to Madrid. The class that I am taking now is about the history and culture of Spain, so I decided to go to a city rich in culture. Some of my friends went on a beach weekend to Portugal, but I decided to go to Madrid. I’ve been to beaches before, but never Madrid!

(to be completely honest, I’m supposed to be studying for my final tomorrow…but…you know. I guess I’ll just include some historical details??)

This trip, culturally, was enlightening. But the trips there were kind of a disaster haha. On the ride there, the air conditioning in my car broke. After lots of complaints, we were dispersed throughout the train in other cars. Bless.

I decided not to splurge on a taxi when I arrived in the city, so I walked to the hostel. It was a 20 minute walk, not bad, but a little scary because I had no idea where I was. Turns out the train station was literally on the same street so it was very easy.

IMG_9781The next day, I woke up early to go to the Royal Palace. Though royalty does not live there now, it was beautiful to see how opulent and wealthy the Burbons were. Also, fun fact, I had been living in Spain for six weeks before realizing what form of government they have. Soooo for all of you that didn’t know it is a parliamentary monarchy, which means they have a king or queen, along with a parliament. The current king is Felipe VI. It is fascinating to me because the Bourbons came to power from France with Philip V in the 1700s.

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Then, I went to Plaza  Mayor to people watch, which is a giant square filled with restaurants and stores. It was interesting because when I went, there was going to be a TED talk that night, so the plaza was set up to accommodate such a large event.

 

That night, I went to Temple of Debod, which is an Egyptian Temple that is randomly located in Madrid. I watched the sunset there, and read my book, which was very relaxing. It amazes me that a city like Madrid could have so much history, whereas New York City is so relatively new.

IMG_9847.JPGOn Saturday, I woke up to do a walking tour of the city center. We walked a lot, and the tour guide gave us a rundown of Spanish history in only seven minutes, which was really helpful for me, to be honest. I spend a lot of the day sitting in Retiro Park, which is huge. There is a Crystal Palace, which is a building where the walls are made entirely of glass, which I loved. Architecture is weird haha.

At night, I went to the Reina Sofia museum. The museum is most known for its Picasso and Dali artwork. The two were important around the same period, but with two completely different styles: cubism and surrealism. I’ve never really been an art person, but El Guernica was a fascinating painting. The chaos that the painting shows during the Spanish Civil War was actually frightening.

On Sunday, I went to the Prado Museum. It is HUGE. There is so much art, and history packed into that museum, you could spend hours wandering through the building. I cut myself off at three hours, and then went back to the Retiro Park to sit in the shade and read my book. I love to people-watch, and listen to little snippets of peoples’ conversations to practice my Spanish. Slightly creepy, but that’s how I’m learning!

But the real adventure was in the train ride back! So there was a 30 minute delay before we left the station in Madrid, and then the train stopped twice on the track! We then had to change trains halfway through in some obscure city, and then I finally arrived back to my home at 11:30, two hours late!

I guess it’s all a part of it haha. But, I guess all roads lead to Rome! That’s my title today. Somehow, through the whole saga, I stayed CALM because Seville is a big enough city that I would have found a way back before my class this morning. I knew everything would work out. Now, tomorrow, I am going to try and get a refund for my train ticket, because I hear that’s a thing that RENFE offers. Wish me luck, I have to do it completely in Spanish!

Also, wish me luck on my exam haha.

It’s weird that tomorrow is my last class in Spain, and that I am leaving the day after. Seven weeks seemed so long two months ago. And while there were times that really dragged on, overall it has gone by so fast! It has been the most intense and exciting seven weeks of my life. Hands down.

Seguir la corriente

So, I am having a great, transformative experience here in Seville. But, I will say, that my Instagram does not show the full experience. My Instagram shows the romanticized version of events, and yes, it’s been great and all, but there’s a lot that my instagram doesn’t show. On my Instagram, there are pictures of me doing the most exciting things: riding a camel, at a beach, watching the sunset, etc. And yes, I did all of that, which is crazy! But there is more. I feel like I should show all sides of the experience. If I sound too complain-y, please know that I am not complaining! I am just sharing the other side! Culture shock was pretty real, it just hit me late.

I mentioned this in another post, but the food here is challenging for me. I have always been a picky eater, and  I knew that I was going to run into problems. The first few days were really hard for me, and I lived off of ice cream. I will never complain about eating ice cream, but I realized that I needed to eat something a little more nutritious. There is an adjustment period that comes with studying abroad, you need to learn to make compromises. Unfortunately, with food, it took me over a week before realizing that a person needs food to survive. I swallowed my pride a little bit there, but now I’m realizing that there are foods in Spain that I can eat, and might even (omg) LIKE. I learned that albondigas are literally just meatballs. And they serve them at every tapas bar. And tortilla de patatas is safe, it’s an omelet. Lol. And now I’ll eat any kind of meat. I don’t think I’ll ever be really into ham, but I’m trying it. And with fish, I’m truly trying.

There’s also a crazy schedule in Spain, and the distribution of food and the timings of meals only hit me about two thirds of the way into the trip. In the beginning of the trip, I was just excited to be in Spain, and  ready to do whatever! But, then, I realized how bizarre the schedule really is. Breakfast is at 9 AM, and it’s two pieces of toast and tea or coffee. Every day. Lunch isn’t until 3:30, and it is served in multiple courses, with many different kinds of food. Dinner is at 9:30, and it’s something small like a bocadillo, or sandwich. Culture shock hit me late here. I think I’m becoming a grandma…9:30 is too late for me! I’m ready for bed at this time. But you get used to it, and it’s a schedule deeply imbedded into the culture here. If I had visited Spain for a short period of time, I probably would have followed the American schedule of eating lunch at 12 and dinner at around 6. But living with a host family is teaching me more of the culture.

Speaking of which, living with a host family can be challenging too. There’s compromise, and rules which may seem strange. For example, shoes have to be worn at all times. Also, I have to keep the fan off at night (challenging!). But you have to remember, they are opening up their home to you! I am learning to respect their rules and customs, and try to be viewed as a family member.

The heat is a whole other issue! 110 degrees! But, if you carry around a cold water bottle and only walk in the shade, it is doable.

Language exhaustion was not something that I thought I’d have an issue with. But after being immersed in Spanish for six weeks, I am truly exhausted. My Spanish has definitely improved, but it is exhausting to have to think about everything you are hearing and everything you have to say. One day, I hope to get to the point where Spanish requires as little effort as English, but I’m not there yet.

Despite all of these little things, my six weeks in Seville have been incredible. I am here for less than one more week. Though I am looking forward to a slice of real pizza, this is a once in a lifetime experience. I am truly embracing everything, even the little things that may bother me some days. My title means to go with the flow, which is what I’m learning to do.

This trip has made me more open-minded, being able to accept more people and things. I’m also noticing that I’m more…friendly? I don’t know if that’s exactly the word I’m looking for, but I am finding it easier to strike up small conversations with random people. I met a girl on the bus in Sintra who had just graduated from Johns Hopkins, and we talked about her future plans, which fascinated me. A college student studying English in Seville heard me speaking English, and asked if he could practice with me and listen to my accent. Last night, Jill and I met a couple from Houston. They asked for directions, but then we struck up a conversation. I never would have had any of these conversations before coming here.

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Originally, I thought that staying for seven weeks here was too long, and I should’ve left after the first session. I think I saw the most growth in my Spanish during the first session, and I was angry and frustrated that my Spanish has not been improving quite as much in the second session. I do think that the second session saw the most growth in myself. I am happy that I ended up staying here for the second session.

I don’t really know what  pictures to post here, but I feel like I need something, so here’s a picture of Jill and I hanging out haha.

Muchas manos en un plato hacen mucho garabato.

One more week done! Weird to think I only have one more week in Spain. But then again, I have done and seen so much here, and it’s also crazy that I’ve only been here for five weeks. Time is weird haha.

This weekend might have been one of the best weekends of my life – I’m not joking. I decided to go to Lisbon on my long weekend. Alone. Honestly, I did not think I would like travelling alone as much as I do. I guess it’s the freedom that comes with it. If I want to spend more or less time in a place, it’s just up to me. That’s why my title today is basically saying too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth:) sorry fam hahaha

There are some cities in Portugal that are very close to Seville. For example, the south of Portugal is filled with lots of beaches. But, I’m from New Jersey. I have beaches! I wanted to see a new city, with a completely different culture. So, Thursday after class, I hopped on a bus to Lisbon, which was seven hours away. A little far, but SO worth it.

The first full day in Portugal, I went to a town just outside of Lisbon, called Sintra. It was absolutely beautiful. Small, but honestly magical. I bought a bus pass that would serve for the whole day, which was so smart. I cheated using a bus, and still walked over 20,000 steps!

The first place I went is to the ruins of a Moorish Castle. From the top of the mountain, you could see all of Sintra below. Unfortunately, there were clouds, but the city was still beautiful!

 

DSCN4719.JPGBut next, I went to the Pena Palace. It was something out of a children’s book or a Disney movie or something. The colors were so bright, and beautiful. My favorite part was that there was no organized tour, you were free to roam about the castle however you wanted to. They posted information about all of the rooms, but they gave you free reign! I loved getting lost in the castle, and climbing on all of the turrets and balconies. It is absolutely incredible, and I hadn’t even heard of it before doing my research before going. (Here are some more pictures of it because it was so cool, sorry).

 

DSCN4802After that, I took the bus down to the bottom of the hill, and went to the Royal Palace, which was cool because it has giant chimneys in the back.

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to climb halfway up the hill to the Quinta da Regaleira, which is crazy. It is a palace, with a huge garden stretching out around it. The garden, though, was like pure fantasy. Like, I don’t know how to explain, it felt fake because it was out of a fantasy world or something.

 

But the sad part is, it was 75 degrees when I was in Sintra. And I was FREEZING. I bought a sweatshirt. Not joking. I am so used to it being over 100!

DSCN4879The next day, I walked around the Alfama district of Lisbon, which is the artsier side of the city. But I started my day off at the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which is at the very top of the city. You can look out and have a beautiful view of all of Lisbon. Somehow, I found myself a part of another free walking tour. I honestly, don’t know how I keep joining them. But they are informative! But the thing about Alfama, is that it is a giant hill. So, we slowly trekked down, as our tour guide talked to us about the Portuguese culture. I love hearing the stories from the people.

That night, I meant up with my friend Xin for dinner. She is also in the Spanish Studies Abroad program, but our itineraries didn’t quite match up. We ordered a ton of food, which was really good!

IMG_9740But at night, I went back to Alfama, on the hunt for fado! This is the Portuguese form of music, kind of similar to flamenco in Spain, but completely different. The purpose of fado is to convey emotion. Because we can’t understand what they are saying, they are basically trying to make us cry, even though we have no idea what they are saying. Turns out I wandered into a local sort of karaoke bar. Everyone in the bar had a drink, and someone would stand up, sing a few songs, and sit back down. But I loved it because all of the locals knew the songs, and would sing or clap along. My favorite part, though, was when everyone started chanting someone’s name. I thought something bad was happening or something, but they were trying to get the cook’s attention! She was a cute, old lady who hobbled out of the kitchen, and walked up to the stage. And she was incredible. She sang a few songs, and then walked right back into the kitchen without even acknowledging the applause.

DSCN5023The next day, I explored Belém, which is the historic part of the city. I walked around, viewing all of the monuments and buildings of the city. Portugal, was the leader of the explorations in Europe. There are so many beautiful monuments to Vasco de Gama and other great explorers. This monument was my favorite, and it is dedicated to the discoveries. Of course, it is Vasco de Gama in front, leading the pack!

But then I had to go back to Seville, which was kind of sad.  I loved Lisbon so much, it is a beautiful city that I will definitely come back to at some point. The trams are so fun, and there is such a vibrant culture in the city. But, I had to be back for class:)

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Also, fun fact, one of my really good friends at school got engaged this weekend in Sagres, Portugal. He told me the story today and I started crying, it was so beautiful. I’m so happy for them:)

El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho.

Yo thanks Miguel Cervantes because this quote defines my current outlook. It translates to he who reads a lot and walks a lot, sees a lot and knows a lot. This is literally my goal haha. Also fun fact this week I finished reading a novel that was written entirely in Spanish!

Anyway, this week began my second session of classes. I am taking an independent study called Foundations of Culture. It is basically about the Iberian Peninsula, and how it changed over time. It’s kind of difficult for me because I am very science-minded, and the class is a lot of reading and memorization, which is something I’m not used to. The history, though is very interesting.

This week was more relaxing for me. I went out to cafes for a drink called tinto de verano a couple times, and my friends and I gossiped a lot.

IMG_9552I went to el Museo Arquiologico this week, which is an archaeological museum displaying the ruins of different civilizations that have been based out of Spain. We saw lots of beautiful sculptures and mosaics in the museum. One component of my class is that I have to write reflections about every visit I go on. So when I got home, I wrote a short essay connecting what we saw in the museum to what we had been learning in class. This picture is of my main man Emporer Trajan.

IMG_9606.JPGIMG_9608.JPGToday we went to Ronda, which quickly turned into one of my favorite places that I have visited so far. Ronda is built on el tajo, which is a gorge. That means that the city is literally connected to civilization by three bridges. The cliff is incredible to see. Ignore the obnoxious snapchat geofilter on some of the pictures…sorry! The city is divided into two parts, the old part and the new part, and both were equally impressive!

We climbed all the way down to the bottom to go into Arab baths. As an engineering student, it fascinated me to hear the intelligence that they had in literally the eleventh century. Contrary to the Romans, they did not actually go into pools. Instead, they created the first sauna (kind of), and used steam to warm you up.

But then, since we climbed down, we had to climb back up! It was exhausting hahha but worth it. We walked through a small museum about the history of Ronda, and then concluded the visit in Ronda’s Plaza de Toros. In my opinion, it is much nicer than the one in Seville, but I don’t see myself going to another bullfight any time soon.

After the official tour ended, I joined some people for a nice lunch. We found a restaurant overlooking the cliff. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen! The Spanish countryside truly is breathtaking. It took me a while, but I’m finally finding some foods that I liked. I guess I’m just becoming braver, foodwise (don’t get any ideas, mom)!

Piedra sin agua no aguza en la fragua

I have never felt more accomplished in my life. Along the way, though, I felt lost, and confused, and scared, but I did it.

What did I do, exactly? I traveled alone. For the first time in my life. After saying goodbye to my parents, I hopped on a train to Granada for a few days.

After I got on the train, the first hitch in the plan was that there was an issue with the railway, and we would have to transfer to a bus halfway through the trip. I was told all of this, in Spanish, and then had to translate to the rest of the tourists on the train.

But, I made it there!

When I arrived at the hotel, I was not allowed to check into my hostel yet, so I started exploring the town. I aimlessly wandered through the streets, up into the Albaicín, or oldest part of Granada. Here, the Arabic architecture has been conserved, and all of the buildings are white. I hiked to the Mirador de San Nicolas, or viewpoint of the Alhambra. My first impression? The Alhambra is HUGE.

Then, I somehow wound up on a free walking tour of the city! Pro tip: look for the red umbrella in Plaza Nueva! They have free tours leaving daily at 11. My guide was young, and really enthusiastic about his city. We walked a lot, and he told us about the history of the city, most of it being centered around the Catholic Kings: Isabella and Ferdinand. We saw a beautiful cathedral which was a remarkable contrast to the cathedral in Sevilla.

Somehow, we wound up back in the Albaicín again, so that was my second time walking all the way up to the top of the city.

Then, I was able to check into my hostel and enjoy a nice little siesta (classic me).

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When I woke up, I walked through the town some more, and found myself in the Royal Chapel of Granada. Here, I saw the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, which was fascinating to me.

At night, I went back up to Mirador de San Nicolas to see the Alhambra at sunset. I ended up staying here for a few hours, people watching. There was also an impromptu flamenco concert at the viewpoint, which was really cool to see.

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This morning, I woke up SUPER early, for my tour of the Alhambra! Hands down, one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in my life. We started our visit in the Palacio Nazaries, which was constructed for the sultans who used to live in Granada. It was breathtaking, the time and money that was poured into the palace was astounding.

Absolutely stunning.

Then, we walked through the gardens of the palace, which were beautiful.

After my tour of the Alhambra, I walked around the city some more, stopping at various coffee shops. But then, I caught my train/bus combo back, and now I’m back in Sevilla.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t have seen any of this, if I hadn’t conquered my fear of travelling alone. And, it was great! I learned so much about the culture and people of Granada. Without a doubt, travelling alone was one of the best decisions I’ve made here. Is it something I need to do again? I’m not sure yet. But I now know that I am able to travel alone, and be okay. My title, loosely translated means, “out of nothing, comes nothing.” Honestly, if I hadn’t gone to Granada, I would’ve just sat in Seville. Yes, it is beautiful, but there is so much more to see in this world than this one city.

My adventure to Granada was great, but I’m more than happy to be home in Seville.

Atar cabos sueltos

Nothing was really too exciting this week, so I guess I can just use it as a reflection of my time thus far in Spain, or I´ll use this to ¨tie up loose ends¨ like my title says. This week I took my final exam, so I´m halfway done! It´s crazy to think that.

After spending three weeks in Spain, I´ve really learned a lot about the culture.

For example, siesta really is a thing! It is truly a way of life. My professor, Mila, drilled it into our heads that siesta does not necessarily mean nap. In her words, only North American students use siesta for a nap. It is really a time to escape the heat on the streets, and to be with family. Lunch here is at 3:30 (much later than when I eat in the United States), and after lunch the family spends time together. Stores are closed in an effort to place the emphasis on the non-material things, like family time.

My class here was incredible. I learned a lot about grammar. I realized that I can easily convey what I want, but to be completely honest my grammar was abysmal. Afterwards, I am more confident in my grammar and technical Spanish ability. Mila also taught us some vocabulary, and we were always able to ask questions about the culture. I learned a lot of little things. For example, in Spain, you wear shoes in the house! It is viewed unsanitary to take your shoes off when  you get home. I don´t think I´ll ever fully be on board with that rule, barefoot is the way to go, but I mean…when in Spain!

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My mandatory visit this week was to the Alcazar, a historical palace of Moorish kings. I have been to Europe before, but I had never seen true Moorish architecture until visiting Seville. It is very ornate, with lots of tiny details carved into plaster and mosaics lining the walls. On the tour we were given (in Spanish!!!), we learned about the prevelance of stars in Moorish and Middle-eastern architecture and art. My favorite place was the Courtyard of the Maidens.

Additionally, I went to…something…called las Setas. I´m still not quite sure what it is, but it is a giant wooden structure that looks like a mushroom. That´s the translation too-the mushrooms! I watched the sunset over the city. Seville really is breathtaking.

IMG_9355.JPGBut on Thursday, my family came to Spain! We watched a bullfight. I´m not going to put in any graphic images or anything, but the bullfight was truly a gruesome experience. I am glad that I went for the cultural experience, but I never need to do it again. I was horrified, and only stayed for half. It shocked me that the matadors, or toreros, were my age! I´ll try to explain the bullfight to the best of my ability, but enjoy these pictures of the less gory part of the bullfight and of my brother and me before we realized what we were about to witness! But I mean if you don´t want to read about it feel free to skip it haha. I just wished I´d had a clearer explanation before I´d gone in.

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Okay, so bullfights are divided into three parts. The first part is mainly used to assess the bull´s agility and ability. This picture is from that part. This was clearly my favorite part, because there was no violence. It consists of a matador twirling his cape around, and seeing how the bull reacts. It impressed me that the whole time, he is calculating the bull´s ability. Then, there´s the part with the ¨picadores¨ or bullfighters on horseback. Two horses enter, blindfolded. They have armor and stuff, but the fact that they are blindfolded got me. When the matadors on horseback are ready, the bull charges at the horse. The guy on the horse then tries to stab the bull in the back in order to make it easier and safer for the main matador. The second part involves the ¨bandilleros¨ which are sticks that the matador´s sidekicks stab into the shoulders of the bull. The impressive part here is that the sidekicks (I don´t remember what they are called) have absolutely no protection. Then comes the final part, which I´d rather not go into. And then you have to watch it six times. Six bulls die. Sad.

Like I said, I only made it through half. My dad braved through the whole fight. I tried to stay positive, and understand the historical significance, but it´s hard.

This morning, I went to the Alcazar another time with my parents. We did a cursory walk through of the palace, but really enjoyed the gardens. We got to see a peacock, which was pretty cool.

Tonight we watched a flamenco show at the hotel. I will always be amazed by the guitar player. He has a supporting role, but the guitar player really steals the show.

Having my parents here was really nice, they got to learn about the environment that I´ve been living in for three weeks. Now maybe they won´t get bored when I tell them stories!