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July 21 – 29, 2012: Al Final…. August 6, 2012

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Our final excursion of the LBAT, to Toledo, occurred on Friday, July 21. We left the International House and traveled to Toledo with another student group from the school by bus. We arrived in Toledo mid-morning and first stopped on one of the surrounding hills to view the city from above. Toledo is one of the few cities in Spain that remains completely enclosed by its medieval wall, and, to me, it looked exactly like a fairy tale city out of “Sleeping Beauty” or “Cinderella.” We visited several noteworthy sites in Toledo. One fascinating place was the Sinagogue El Tránsito, which is a thirteenth century synagogue with a museum inside that displays exhibits on the history of the Jewish population in Spain. Another was Santo Tomé, a church that features The Burial of Count Orgaz, a painting by El Greco. This painting depicts the legendary burial of a benefactor of Santo Tomé, during which two saints miraculously appeared in appreciation of his donations to the church. Later in the afternoon, we had free time for lunch and souvenir shopping. I am proud to say that this is the first time we truly gave into homesickness and indulged in an all American mean of hamburgers and French fries, which proved absolutely wonderful and completely necessary. I spent the rest of the afternoon window shopping, for items like swords made of the famous Toledo steel, and purchasing souvenirs, such as fans and marzipan (a traditional Spanish treat).

Our last week was spent finishing last minute homework, consisting of essays for our first class of the LBAT, and our final documentary for the second class. Our four weeks on the LBAT program literally seemed to fly by, and when our last day of class arrived, it seemed as if no more than a day had passed since our very first. We had all decided during our last class that we should get together as a group with the professor for our final dinner. Late that evening, we walked to Plaza Mayor, a major plaza in Madrid I had not yet seen, and ate dinner at a restaurant in the plaza. Although we did not eat croquetas, which were by far my favorite Spanish food, a friend and I split a wonderful Italian pizza, and we all enjoyed eating together and reminiscing about the last four weeks.

The next day, Saturday, July 28, was our last in Spain, and we knew that we wanted to experience the most we could. So, after sleeping quite late because we were frankly exhausted from the difficult studying the week before and late dinner, we headed out into the city to go sightseeing. First, we walked to Palacio Real, where we saw a beautiful view of the palace and surrounding suburbs. We again walked to Plaza Mayor to get any last minute souvenirs. I was able to purchase several more fans, a Spanish tradition stemming from flamenco dancing, for my friends, as well as a beautiful copy of The Kiss by Klimt. I was so surprised and happy to see this being sold on the street, as I had fallen in love with the real painting two years ago at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna during the Oxford program.  Later that night, the students of the program again gathered together for tapas at a restaurant in our neighborhood, and I ate my last croquetas (at least for a while!). After leaving from our Residencia on an early bus at 6:00am, we boarded a plane to the United States. I arrived in Atlanta around 2:30pm, excited to be finally home but already missing Europe.

July 17 – 20, 2012: Segunda Clase August 6, 2012

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On Tuesday, July 17, we started our second class of the Madrid LBAT, which focused on technology and businesses in Madrid, especially focusing on the “Ciudad Inteligente,” or smart city. To do this, we read articles about new types of technologies and systems in use in Spain to aid with energy, transportation, education, commerce, and many other areas. We also interviewed citizens of Madrid and compiled our knowledge from class, as well as independent research, to create two documentaries that were presented during the class. This information was very interesting as it provided insight into an area that I had not even previously realized needed to be studied—for example, one of our projects focused on augmented reality and how it is being used through any of our smart phones.

Another key part of the class was our visits to two prominent Spanish businesses. The first professional visit was to Telefónica, on Wednesday, July 18. Telefónica is a Spanish telecommunications provider in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Their campus is located in the northern part of Madrid, and is composed of sustainable grounds and buildings. We also witnessed new technologies at use in the buildings, such as a three-dimensional television and a hologram. Some of the efforts at sustainability on the Telefónica campus include smart meters that monitor and regulate the temperatures inside the buildings, solar panels that produce fifteen percent of the energy used in the buildings, and also landscape with plants specifically chosen for their ability to survive without excessive water. During our tour, we also learned about the new professional culture that the company is attempting to establish. The campus was created to allow for greater comfort and flexibility for its employees, including facilities like banks, childcare centers, and fitness centers within the campus. Furthermore, employees are allowed to work with “telepresence” and “telecommuting,” meaning that they can have virtual meetings with other employees or work at home instead of in the office if they so choose.

Our second professional visit was to the Antena 3 office building. Antena 3 is a Spanish television channel with both entertainment and news programs. Unfortunately, on my way to the Metro station, I slipped and fell down the stairs. After limping my way through the Metro with the help of my roommate and our professor, I arrived at Antena 3, and they were very accommodating with my sudden injury. During our visit, we toured the facility extensively. We sat in on the set of a news show and also visited the research room, where many interns were working. The most interesting part of our visit was when one of the students was able to actually participate and speak in a radio show being broadcasted from Antena 3. Although I enjoyed the tour, I was definitely ready to get home and rest my twisted ankle!

July 13 -16: Viaje a Andalucía August 6, 2012

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Our second weekend in Spain, we traveled to Andalusia, which is the southernmost “autonomous community” or region in Spain. The Strait of Gibraltar, which is just nine miles, separates Andalusia from Morocco in northern Africa. Andalusia was certainly my favorite part of Spain, and this region is famous for its culture, which we were able to experience in the form of attending a flamenco show and touring several examples of Moorish-inspired architecture. We also had much free time to get to know the other students on the program better, as well as tour the cities of Sevilla and Granada (the particular Andalusian cities that were our destinations) independently.

Bright and early Friday morning, our tour guide met us at our Residencia at 6:00am, and then we all headed to the Estación de Atocha in Madrid to board a high-speed train that would take us to Sevilla. Although we were still very tired, I was excited because this was my first experience with high-speed trains, and I literally felt like I was stepping onto the set of the old cartoon “The Jetsons.” The trains were silver, aerodynamic, and looked like they were from the future. We entered them from a station that was more like an airport than any train station I have ever entered. We arrived in Sevilla at 9:30am and embarked on an extensive walking tour of the city, as our hotel rooms were not yet ready. Some of the highlights of the tour include the Palacio Arzobispal, the residence of Seville’s archbishop; the Archivo de Indias, which includes the political, financial, and cultural records of the development of the Western world in relation to Spain; and Plaza de España, which was my personal favorite site. The Plaza de España is a large semicircle with buildings surrounding it, a large lake and fountain in the center, and walls with murals representing the different regions of Spain along the edge. For me, this particular plaza was very interesting because the scenes featuring the planet Naboo in the movies Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, part of my favorite film serious, were filmed there.

On Saturday, we toured the two most famous sites in Sevilla—the Catedral de Sevilla and the Alcázar. In the morning, our tour guide led us through the Catedral, informing us on the various types of architecture and art that were housed there, the important political and religious figures that had been buried there, and the historical events that had occurred there. For me, the most interesting part of the Catedral was the Giralda, which is a large tower attached to the Catedral that was originally built by the North African Moors who had ruled Spain. We climbed the thirty-six floors to the top of the tower and then witnessed the most perfect view of Sevilla possible. I have not experienced such a wonderful view since climbing Il Duomo in Florence. Later that afternoon, we toured the Reales Alcázares, which was a Spanish palace in Sevilla that was originally a fort for the North African Moors. Our guide informed us that the technical term for the architecture is “mudéjar,” referring to the Moors that remained in Spain after the Reconquista of southern Spain by the Christian kings. The interior of the palace was beautiful, especially the tiles decorating the walls, but the most amazing part of the Alcázar was the gardens outside the castle—I felt as if I had walked into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. At both of these sites, I was able to find many gifts for my family, such as a St. Lucia statue for my mother, who collects them, and a print of the courtyard of the Alcázar for my father, who enjoys Arabic art.

On Sunday, we left Sevilla for Granada, arriving at 12:30pm. Upon arrival, our guide led us on a brief walking tour of the city so that we could get our bearings and then allowed us free time for lunch, during which most of us again had tapas and finished with gelato, of course. That evening, we attended a fabulous flamenco show that was held in a cave in the mountains near Granada. The dancers, costumes, and music were very beautiful and haunting, and were also a real window into the Andalusian culture that we could not have experienced through just films or lectures. I felt that I could appreciate it even more because of a flamenco lesson we had at the International School on July 10, which gave me insight into just how difficult flamenco dancing is. Also noteworthy about this particular flamenco show was that Michelle Obama had attended the show in 2010 during a visit to Granada. The next day, Monday, July 16, we visited the Alhambra, a Moorish palace located on the top of a hill on the outskirts of Granada. At the flamenco show the night before, we were able to see the complex lit up against the dark forest, and it had appeared beautiful then. During the day, the ruins appeared even more beautiful—they included very typical Muslim architecture and art, such as colorful geometric patterns, and absolutely gorgeous gardens with lush plant life. I really enjoyed visiting this palace, and, in a small shop in the streets near the base of the hill, I was able to find two lovely paintings of the Alhambra, which will be perfect gifts for some of my friends.

July 6 -8, 2012: ¡Vamos a Pamplona! August 6, 2012

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During our first weekend in Spain, a few friends and I had planned to travel to Pamplona to witness the running of the bulls, a very famous Spanish tradition. The running of the bulls consists of a festival that honors San Fermin during which people run in front of bulls every morning for one week. Another Spanish tradition that I first experienced that weekend was tapas. On our first Friday afternoon in Spain, we left class and headed straight to a restaurant in between the International House and our Residencia, where we sampled their best tapas. Although I had eaten at a tapas restaurant in the U.S., Spanish tapas were absolutely amazing—my favorite kind were croquetas, which consist of a fried roll with ground meat, cheese and potatoes inside that is soaked in herbs and spices. In fact, my friend and I enjoyed them so much that we ultimately purchased a cookbook with a recipe for these so that we could continue to enjoy them back home.

After finishing the tapas, we hurried back to our Residencia so that we could pack and leave for our bus to Pamplona. Although I did go on the Oxford program two years ago, this was my first experience with European buses since most of our traveling then was in a chartered bus rather than independently on European buses or trains. We arrived to Pamplona very early in the morning and spent time experiencing the general party atmosphere of Pamplona during the festival. The next morning, Saturday, July 7, was the first morning of the running of the bulls. Although I personally did not participate, several other students chose to run and claimed it was a “huge adrenaline rush.” For me, however, it would have been an instant panic attack, so watching from the sidelines was the perfect solution.

We headed back to Madrid from Pamplona on a bus that afternoon. That evening, we tried our second round of tapas. I also had my first soft drink in Spain at this meal. After commenting on how much better coke in Spain seems to taste than coke in the U.S., my friend informed me that there is some truth in that observation—European soft drinks have much more sugar than do American soft drinks. I spent most of that Sunday catching up on homework and working on my final project for my first Spanish class of the LBAT.

July 2 – 12, 2012: Primera Clase August 6, 2012

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During our first day of class at the International House, we were welcomed with an orientation session to Madrid, the building and its facilities, and the LBAT program in the morning. During our break that divided our five hour class period, we attended a reception that allowed for more mingling of the students with each other and the professor and included the traditional Spanish tortilla (not to be confused with tortillas from Mexican restaurants!), made of   thick egg omelet and potatoes, and various pastries.

Our first class of the LBAT focused on the twentieth century in Spain, as well as its current issues. I really enjoyed the course material, which focused on the Civil War in Spain, the Franco era, and the current times. We learned about these topics by watching Spanish films, like Los Santos Inocentes and Todo Sobre Mi Madre, and then learning and discussing the themes during class. Furthermore, a major component of the coursework and challenge for me was conversations about major issues in Spain with Madrileños; in pairs, we conversed with citizens of Madrid about popular topics in Spain, like the impact of Francisco Franco on Spanish women and the presence of the gypsy population in Spain. My roommate and I were so interested in this topic, in fact, that our final project consisted of a documentary on “La Unión Romaní,” which is an organization of Spanish gypsies to defend gypsy culture and improve gypsies’ standing in Spanish society.

During these first two weeks, we also visited several important cultural sites in Madrid. On Thursday, May 5, we toured the Museo Nacional del Prado, which I absolutely loved. We spent about three hours, which of course was not nearly enough, touring the exhibits on display there; it reminded me so much of the summer I spent traveling with the Oxford program two years ago. The major exhibit there when we visited was Raphael, and, while the tour guide was really informative, I was so appreciative of the knowledge I learned in Art History class during the Oxford program that I could apply to the art I saw at the Prado. On Monday, May 9, we visited the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which was a museum of modern art. The most interesting piece to me at the Reina Sofia was Guernica by Pablo Picasso, which displayed the massacre of innocent civilians during the Spanish Civil War, which proved to be well timed as we had just studied the Spanish Civil War the week before the visit.

In our wonderful but brief free time, we spent time wandering around our neighborhood and exploring Madrid. My roommate and I spent much time shopping in the fabulous European stores near the Residencia, like Zara and Mango. With many of the other students, I spent an afternoon walking around the Parque del Retiro, one of the largest parks in Madrid. The gelato places in and around the park, which we sampled many times during the first two weeks, were fantastic; I was first exposed to my new all-time favorite flavor, mojito, that afternoon.

 

June 29 – July 1, 2012: ¡Llegamos a España! August 6, 2012

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Today, I boarded a plane in Atlanta, Georgia, and alighted in Madrid, Spain! Stepping off the plane, I had to remind myself that this was, in fact, reality, and I was lucky enough to be studying abroad a second time. After having spent my summer before sophomore year on the Oxford program, I had not expected to study in Europe again during my undergraduate career. After encouragement from both my teachers and my parents about studying abroad to improve my Spanish skills (since I am an international affairs and Spanish major), I elected to participate in the Madrid Spanish Language, Business, and Technology (LBAT) program.

After some confusion regarding the bus arrival and departure from the airport, we arrived at our dorm for the next four weeks—La Residencia San Lorenzo. From the moment I saw the impressive, enormous, forest green doors that led into the plaza of our building, I knew I would love the place. The architecture and detail in our building was beautiful—from the wooden painted carvings on the ceilings to the rooftop gardens that composed the view from the windows during our meals. Beyond aesthetics, our dorm was also very functional and would provide a perfect atmosphere for individual studying, as well as group projects with individual desks for each person, a computer lab, and a library with group and individual study spaces. Similarly, our neighborhood is comprised of beautiful, tall, historical buildings that always remind me of Spain’s long history, some of which we studied in our first LBAT class that traced the developments in Spain during the twentieth century.

Our second day in Madrid (Sunday, July 1) turned out to be quite an initiation into Europe’s love of soccer! Although I had been on the Oxford program during the World Cup, I had never experienced firsthand the joy and excitement that accompanies a victory for the winning team’s country. Sunday evening, we walked around Madrid to find the best spot from which to watch the game, finally settling on a pizza place near Palacio de Cibeles. While the game itself and the energy within the restaurant were, of course, exciting, the celebration in the streets after the win was even more exhilarating. The Spanish people stayed in the streets for hours, meeting and reliving the exciting moments of the games with friends and strangers, all united by the chant “Yo soy español, español, español.” I have never before experienced such a charged, excited crowd.  Or so I thought—later in that week, I and a few other students on the LBAT attended the parade of the returning soccer team members. The streets were completely packed with people cheering for the victorious soccer players and Spain. Although I was almost crushed by the enthused crowd, it was an experience of patriotism and sports enthusiasm that very nearly rivaled Bobby Dodd stadium on Saturdays in the fall, and one I will not soon forget.

Dia duit (from Dublin) and Hálo (from Edinburgh)! August 9, 2010

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Dia duit (from Dublin) and Hálo (from Edinburgh)!

Like I mentioned in my last blog, the weekend trips at Oxford have been so much fun—they are a nice three-day break between the weeks of classes.  The last two trips I took were my favorite.   The third weekend at Oxford we went to Dublin and the next weekend was Edinburgh.  Both of these cities had great history, beautiful architecture, and a fun nightlife: the perfect combination for fun in a European city.  In both of these cities, I purchased more souvenirs than the rest of the cities I visited combined!  This is because Dublin and Edinburgh had an abundance of Celtic jewelry, my personal Achilles heel, which I bought in the dozens for my mom, sister, friends, and me.

Visiting Dublin was a dream come true to me! I have always been very interested in Irish culture and history, so I really loved it. The first day, we met up with a friend from Georgia Tech Lorraine and toured Trinity College.  At Oxford I am taking Medieval English history class, so we discussed at length illuminated manuscripts.  Therefore, seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity was so interesting!  Later we went shopping for Celtic jewelry, which I bought for almost every member of my family and several of my friends.  We ended the day with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which ended with really great views of Dublin.  The next day we took a hop on hop off bus tour, where we saw almost every major site in Dublin. The best sites on this tour were St. Stephen’s Green (where we stopped during the rain unfortunately but still saw the absolutely beautiful grounds) and Kilmainham Gaol (where we learned about the Irish independence movement).

The last city I visited outside of England was Edinburgh, which I was surprised to find out tied with Dublin as my favorite city we visited after the travel portion.  The architecture here was just beautiful, and the city was small enough that by the end of our trip I really felt like I could get around.  The first day we went on a walking tour of Edinburgh.  My favorite sites of this tour were the original Hogwarts (which is an elite school J.K. Rowling was apparently inspired by while writing the novel in a coffee shop that faced the building), the Royal Mile, and the Covenanters Prison (which was a prison for those who disagreed with the Anglican church).  The best part of this tour, though, were the many stories our guide told us about Edinburgh history, such as why real Scots spit on a heart for luck and the origins of the Molly Dickinson pub (named after a woman who survived a hanging).  The next day, we visited Edinburgh Castle, where we saw the Stone of Destiny (which had long been stolen by the English and kept in Westminster Abbey).  We ended the trip with a ghost tour of Edinburgh, where we saw underground vaults that had been filmed for the TV show “Most Haunted.”  Although sufficiently frightened, I was able to leave Edinburgh the next day very happy with the trip!

August 9, 2010

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Hello from Oxford!

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We finally arrived in Oxford on June 26! We are staying at Worcester College, which has beautiful grounds and was built in the 1700s.  We have classes (I am taking Medieval English History and Computer Science) from Monday to Thursday.  On the three day weekends, we are able to travel virtually anywhere in Europe.  The first weekend several people from my travel group and I traveled to London.  While there, we visited several of the well-known sites, like London Tower and Westminster Abbey.  Westminster Abbey was my favorite site.  I got to see the grave of Sir Isaac Newton, the oldest door in England (from the Anglo-Saxon period), and the Poets’ Corner (which was my personal favorite).  We ended the trip with the Wireless Festival, where we saw JAY-Z perform.  This weekend was such a good introduction to England!

The second weekend we traveled to Barcelona, Spain.  This city was so excited for Spain to compete in the finals of the World Cup!  Although I did not get to stay for to watch the game in Spain, a few of my friends did and said it was like nothing they had ever before experienced.  While we were there, we spent much of our two days at the beaches.  The topless beaches were a completely new experience for me!  My favorite part of Spain had to be the tapas—it was my first time trying them and they were so good!

The last weekend of the trip I spent exploring Oxford.  This was so nice as I also had to study for my finals.  The first day of the weekend I spent almost entirely studying and at the Ashmolean Museum, which is the oldest public museum in Britain.  Their ancient Greek and Aegean collections were really impressive, and I was able to learn more about Medieval England, which was helpful because of my upcoming final. The next day, we toured Oxford Castle, which actually turned out to be the remains of an Anglo-Saxon tower that eventually became a jail.  A tour guide, who was dressed in period clothes and informed us much more about the city of Oxford, led us through the tower. The last day of the weekend, a few friends and I went to High Tea at The Grand Café, which is built on the site of the first coffee house in England.  It was the prefect English end to the trip!

Au revoir au Continent! July 21, 2010

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On our way to Berlin, we stopped at Terezín, which was once an internment camp for Jews and other enemies of Nazi Germany during WWII.  Although sobering, this was a very educational experience.  After reading so many books about the Holocaust in school and on my own, actually witnessing a camp was both disturbing and enlightening.  Our first night in Berlin, I was a tad sick and had to make a quick trip to the hospital.  The efficiency of the Germans is no joke; I was in and out of the Emergency Room within three hours!  The best part of Berlin was definitely the music!  First, we saw the Berlin Philharmonic as part of our music curriculum.  We were in nosebleed seats at the very top of the concert hall, but the acoustics were so perfect that I felt like I could hear every instrument very clearly. (more…)

Grüß Gott! June 24, 2010

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Grüß Gott!

After an early morning boat taxi away from Venice and to the bus, we were on our way to Austria! Our first day there, we were really busy with tours…we started at 8:00A.M. with a tour of the Opera House, which had been somewhat destroyed in WWII. Seeing the contrast between the very new (from the 20th century) and very old architecture (from the days of the Hapsburg empire) was very interesting. Next, we met at the Kunsthistorisches Museum to see more art, and the day finally ended with a Baroque concert, Il Nascimento dell’Aurora. The next day included a few more museums, and the day ended with a classic German dinner from Beethoven’s Bar (above which Beethoven is rumored to have composed).

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