Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ten days left in Málaga!

As for another quick update - I'm not sure if I mentioned this already or not, but our host mother will be moving to Barcelona early in September (after Mary and I have finished our program in Málaga).

But, so yesterday they turned off the Internet at our apartment, since she'll be leaving there soon. Not that I've been doing the best job at keeping this blog updated, but things are going to get a bit slower as far as communicating and such goes. Luckily the ISA office here has wifi, and so do a lot of cafés, but otherwise I won't be spending as much time blogging or uploading pictures and things. Which is probably for the best - I feel like there's so much left to experience here in Málaga!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Just a quick update-- one of the girls in our program had her purse stolen... which had the keys to her homestay, her wallet, cards, money etc., cell phone, camera... she and her friends fell asleep on the beach and by the time she woke up, it was gone.

It's really too bad for her, but it was a great wake-up call to the rest of us, that this can happen to anybody.

On the plus side, they decided not to make her pay for a new lock and sets of keys to her homestay... but losing all of that stuff is super unfortunate! Especially after only about two weeks abroad, for her first time. It's just a good thing that more of their stuff wasn't stolen as well.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Catching Up: Ruins & Bull Fights

A few days ago our ISA group took a trip to the ruins of a sort of fortress here in Málaga called the Alcazaba. It turned out to be a really neat mix of Muslim and Roman architecture, since it was inhabited by the Muslims and then later by the Romans, who adapted and added to it.

A model of the the way the city and the Alcazaba used to look - higher up on the hill/mountain is a castle.

Some views of Málaga from up in the Alcazaba.

The architecture and design of the place were all really cool. There are orange trees growing all throughout the place, which apparently is a Muslim tradition.

A keystone! : )

Most of the trees and other green stuff wouldn't have been growing there long ago... supposedly the place where the garden is is where the soldiers used to train. But it still looks really beautiful nonetheless.

There were lots of slots carved into the ground all over the place for water to flow through, and some of them even had water actually flowing through them.
Farther into the Alcazaba, we got to go into the palace where the Sultan would live during times of peace, and there were plenty of pools and fountains, since they considered water to be so valuable and important.

We only got to spend a couple of hours there which wasn't nearly enough time to explore everything and take pictures, but instead of staying longer, Mary and our friend Genesis decided to go to some bull fights instead.

There's a bullfighting ring less than five minutes from our apartment, and every year around the time of the Feria de Málaga, they host bull fights for a couple of weeks. Last week all of the bull fights were free since the matadors weren't professionals, and we decided to take advantage of that. (Some of the prices for the really good seats get close to nearly 200 Euros.)

The toreros were all decked out in some incredible outfits, and their sheets as you can see are bright pink. These guys would rile the bulls up before the matador came out a little bit later. The reason the fights are free was because the matadors that week were all students, and they turned out to be really young. Apparently to people like us who were just seeing a fight for the first time, it would be hard for us to really appreciate the differences between a professional and a student fighting a bull.


There was also a guy who would ride on a horse covered in armor, who would try to stab the bull somewhere near the back of the neck. The three of us stayed for two bull fights, and the first bull (the one that I have pictures of) actually knocked the horse over and pinned it against the fence surrounding the ring.

The matador! The way he held himself was really cool to watch.
After the toreros stick the bull with as many of those sticks as they can (they were barbed on the ends), this guy would come out and dance around with the bull they way they did earlier.

Apparently bulls are colorblind. The matador shakes the red sheet, which catches the bull's attention, and it charges.
Both of the matadors we saw got knocked over and beat around a bit by the bulls, but both of them just got right back up and within a couple of minutes were going right back at the bull again.
Once the matador was out, the toreros hung back most of the time and only came out to help if the bull got too out of control (like when he got knocked over).

Unlike the bull fight that I saw a couple of years ago in France, the bull fights here in Spain are like 100% more violent. Overall it was pretty difficult to watch, especially the first match, even knowing what to expect. We were sitting next to a Spanish family who seemed to think it was really hilarious at how upset we were at how the toreros treated the bulls.

Unfortunately the student matadors weren't able to kill the bulls very quickly. Both of them needed to stab the bulls at least twice with their swords, and even then it took a while for the bulls to die. They more or less had to wait for the first bull to bleed to death, and the second bull had to put up with being stabbed five times in the back of the neck before the matador hit the right spot to kill it instantly.

It was a unique experience but I'm glad that we went. The "dancing" between the toreros and the bulls could be really interesting to watch, but once they began to prepare to kill the bull it was just heartbreaking, even if they were trying to do things with grace. These fights are becoming more controversial and have been banned in a city in Spain (I forget which one though), so it seems that it's a pretty current and heated topic for the Spanish.

¡Qué calor!

All of this heat makes it really hard to get motivated to study!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

And so more people discover my fascination with bugs.

One of my favorite parts about traveling is coming across different parts of nature in different countries.
Landscapes, plants, animals... and of course bugs!
I found this little guy chilling out in the flowers earlier today, and after some searching on the Internet I found out that he's an Egyptian Locust.

A Week in Spain

Here is my room! It's small but comfy. 
Lately my desk has gotten a lot messier with all of my Spanish notes and homework and such.

It's been a little while since I've updated here. It's hard to believe that a week here in Spain has already gone by.

It hasn't taken too long to get accustomed to everything. I've gone to the beach a few times throughout the week, and every day after classes Mary and I come back to our apartment for lunch with our host mom.

We've explored town a little bit, and we even came across a bakery called La Exquisita that we instantly fell in love with. The desserts are delicious and the woman who works there is super nice and helpful when it comes to telling us all about what the food is made of and what tastes the best.

Even though I take my camera everywhere I haven't been taking too many pictures, though I'm trying to change that (without looking too much like an American tourist).

So far the weather has continued to be absolutely stunning! It's sunny and hot every day, but it's rarely humid. Today got a bit humid, but there always seems to be a decent breeze, and there are plenty of trees around our area to keep things cool. It looked really cloudy and rainy this morning, but there was no point in getting our hopes up... the sun came right out. This seems to be a great time of the year to be here though, and there are all kinds of  flowers absolutely everywhere.

Here is our ISA group! 
One girl is missing, but otherwise it's just the nine of us.
The girl on the left is my roommate, Mary. We usually spend a lot of time with Genesis (the girl to the left of me).

Also, our host mom's son came home yesterday! She seemed so excited for him to be back. His name is Santiago and he's absolutely adorable and really easy to understand.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

School in Málaga

One more quick post before bed.

This morning our ISA group went together to the University of Málaga, and we took a placement test, along with other groups of international students who are studying here in August as well.
It was very similar to the way we were tested in France:  there was a written part, with tons of multiple choice questions nit-picking at verb tenses and vocabulary words, and an oral part, where you chat with one of the teachers at the school.

I placed into the B2 level, which is apparently the Advanced level... I'm still not sure how I managed that (I almost started speaking French with the teacher who was talking to me), but I'm glad that that's all over with. I don't think we get our placement tests back, which is really too bad, because I'm curious to see some of the answers, and what grade I got... but oh well. They seemed to have a lot of levels broken down, and there are only allowed to be 7 students per class. Right now there are four other people in my level/class... a guy from Germany and another guy from Switzerland, and two younger girls from the US who are also doing a program through ISA (which apparently deals with high school students).

Starting tomorrow I'll have class every day from 9AM - 2PM, with a few ten-minute breaks scattered throughout the day. The school's a quick bus ride away from where Mary and I live, so that's pretty convenient. We even ride right alongside the beach, and there are some pretty intense boats and a yacht or two out there.
These are the classes I'll have... they're pretty general.
Grammar from 9AM - 11AM
Various skills (reading, writing etc.) from 11AM - 1PM
Listening from 1PM - 2PM

We had two of our classes after our placement test and finding out our levels, and they didn't seem too bad overall. It's clear that I still need to brush up on some of my vocabulary but I'm sure I'll be learning lots really quickly.

Once classes are over, it's lunch and siesta time!
It's only been about a day but I can't even begin to express how amazing this lifestyle is. We go home and have lunch, our biggest meal of the day (today we had meatballs and potatoes) and then nap for a couple hours. And since lunch is so late in the day and is so big, dinner is light, and happens late at night - we eat with our host mom at 9PM (in France we ate dinner at about 8PM). So far Karina's cooked some pretty simple stuff for us but it's been really good, and the meals are relaxing.

Once again the juice in Europe is really fantastic. I'm probably going to have to start buying my own because I've already drunk almost all of the carton of pear juice Karina had in the fridge.

Aside from eating with our host mom and making our way through the first day of class, we also took a quick tour around Málaga's center with our ISA group, bought bus passes and stopped at a café. My feet are tired and right now it all seems a bit big (it's quite a step up from Aix) but I'm sure by the time I get used to it all it'll be right around the time to head back home to the US.

I'll try to have some pictures soon. There's definitely a lot to see and do!

Also, I took a shower after dinner tonight, and being here in Europe (and especially living with a host family) has reminded how precious water and electricity are... I got about 15 seconds of hot water tonight and I've never been so excited to wash my hair.

(Side note: Comments are enabled)

For anyone who's interested, I have comments enabled on my blog posts for everyone, so please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions as I go along!

¡Hola a todos!

It's been a hectic couple of days!

All of my flights went pretty well, and aside from nearly leaving my passport behind in a bathroom in Barcelona, there's not much to report there.

I arrived here in Málaga yesterday afternoon and took a taxi for the first time right to my home stay.

I have a roommate, Mary, and we each have our own room and share a bathroom.
Everything is already so different from my experiences in France. My home stay is located in an apartment building and everything is so tiny, especially the elevator. The "kitchen" here is more like a narrow hallway with cooking appliances throughout it. Even though we're all about the same size, it's tough for two people to move around in the kitchen without knocking things over. The lock to the front door of the apartment building is really difficult to work with, and so far we've only been able to open the door once by ourselves.

Our host mother, Karina, is super nice and patient, and she knows a good bit of English. Her son is away camping with his dad, so we haven't gotten to meet him yet.
There's a great view out of my bedroom window, and it takes only a couple minutes to walk right down to the beach. Karina's friend noted that I could use a bit more time in the sun, haha.

The beach itself is really nice, there's a good bit of sand (I was expecting it to be a lot rockier), there are umbrellas everywhere, and the water is about the same temperature as I'm used to in the Atlantic. We're planning on spending time at the beach tomorrow after classes. There are only nine students in our program, half of us are from Westminster, and Mary and I have made friends with a couple of other girls from the program (day 1.5 and cliques have already formed)

I slept for a good part of the day after arriving here and getting introduced with Karina. It's really warm here, but it's a lot different from Pittsburgh. It's not humid at all, and the heat doesn't seem to peak until late in the afternoon (which is siesta time anyway!), and overall the weather is just gorgeous. Málaga is tucked in under some mountains and it seems to get a bit misty in the morning... there are palm trees everywhere... and the buildings are all so diverse and unique it's really just a lovely place.

So far everyone's been super friendly, and the Spanish are so much louder and more outgoing than the French. I still keep thinking in French half the time but hopefully it won't be long before I get more used to using Spanish. I'm surprised at how well I've been able to communicate, though, and understanding people hasn't been too bad either. It's not perfect, but I've been able to keep my conversations simple and our host mother says both Mary and I speak Spanish really well. I know I still have another program in Granada coming up, but I really hope I learn a lot here! I can already tell that I'm going to miss Málaga like crazy after this month is over.

It's seriously the most gorgeous night out tonight and it's such a shame that I'm still a bit tired from everything. I know there'll be plenty more nights like this, but it's just beautiful, it's about 10PM and it only just started getting dark.

My view from my bedroom during the day. This part of the city that we live in is called the Malagueta.