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Spain, it’s a pleasure to meet you! August 10, 2010

Posted by Maziar Adloo in Travel Log.
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Hello again faithful readers!

Yes, I know it’s surprising, but I’m still here. It has been far too long since we last had a nice little chat, and for that I apologize. Few places in Spain had internet capable of posting pictures and the like in a timely fashion. For that reason, I kept a journal of sorts on my computer and will now post them for your reading enjoyment. I hope this arrangement has not caused you undue stress, but I know the perfect remedy: the long-awaited stories of my time in Spain! I hope they don’t disappoint.

Best,

Maz

Sunday, June 6th

WOW! That’s about all I can say to describe just how incredible this trip is turning out to be. I can’t believe we’ve only been here a week! So much has already happened that I know this will be the four most phenomenal weeks of my life. Well, to be quite honest, happenings in Spain didn’t start quite on the right foot…

Milad (my older brother) and I flew Delta into Madrid. Our itinerary was as such: land at 10:30am, switch terminals to Terminal 4 (which unfortunately was in a separate building), meet up with the rest of our group, and fly to Jerez on the 1pm flight with Iberia Airlines. To help us make the transfer smoothly in a foreign airport, we had planned to meet with Farshad, the uncle of a good family friend of ours. This man, quite simply, saved us. After waiting for 45 minutes for our luggage, he quickly drove us to the other terminal, cut the line waiting for boarding passes (with permission), and explained our situation to the man behind the counter. However, despite his best efforts, we had missed the flight by 10 minutes. 1 and half hours, 2 lines, and 200 euros later, we had checked in our baggage and were on standby for the 4pm flight to Jerez. Since we had some time to kill, we spent it with Farshad running some errands and eating Telepizza (which, by the way, is easily the best “fast-food” pizza I’ve ever had).We thanked Farshad, bid him goodbye, and made it to the gate in time to catch the flight to Jerez. From the Jerez airport, we had to take a bus to Cádiz. After asking its whereabouts from an information booth, I realized we only had one minute to catch the last bus of the day; we caught the bus right as its cargo hold was closing. Thankfully, the driver was in a good mood and let us on. We got off the bus in Cádiz and met up with David, the director of Centro MundoLengua (the Spanish school that our program collaborated with). He took us to our beloved apartment, and we had our first real taste of Spain.

After ascending to the third floor, we met our host family, consisting of a widow Antonia, her sons Sergio, Alberto, and Raúl, and their dog Blackie. We settled in, and went out to the porch; discovering it accessed the roof, we climbed up and were stunned with the breathtaking view. From the roof of our building we could see the entire Playa Victoria, the Atlantic Ocean stretching to the horizon, and above that the setting sun. (In case you want to Google Map how close to the beach we were, our address is: Calle Almirante Manuel de Vierna, Cádiz, España, 10) Our mother called us down for dinner, and we quickly discovered that she was an amazing cook. As we went upstairs and got into bed to get ready for our first day of classes on the morrow, I knew that our time in Spain was going to be unforgettable.

The next morning had a couple of small surprises for us: the first was breakfast and the second our MundoLengua teacher. A typical breakfast for our family consisted of a few pieces of bread with olive oil and warm chocolate milk. Slightly put off, but determined to have a great first day, Milad and I set off for Salesianos (the MundoLengua campus) and encountered our second surprise: Ana Dosal Pelayo. Though she was only 26, she had graduated from college, gained two masters degrees, learned English, had lived in half of Europe, and was going to be our teacher for our time in Cádiz. Her class is focused on us learning more about the culture, geography, and language (local dialects, words, and phrases mostly) of Spain and, in particular, Cádiz. (Our other class, Medical Spanish, is with Dr. Angela Labarca, a professor from Georgia Tech that is travelling with us.) We couldn’t have asked for a more upbeat, amusing, warm, and understanding teacher. To supplement her class, we took excursions into the city.

Our first excursion took us to the Casco Antiguo (or old half of the city), where we were taken on a tour of the major plazas: las Plazas España, de San Antonio, de la Catedral, de las Flores, and de las Minas. Scattered throughout the Casco Antiguo, these plazas are the hubs of all traffic, which is mostly walking, and most activities – eating, shopping, playing music, dancing, festivals, playing soccer, and anything else you can think of. Our tour ended with us being treated to montaditos (little sandwiches) in la Plaza de la Catedral. After the tour, we spent the rest of the day in Casco Antiguo, seeing the sights, visiting Cádiz’s museum (which has the only two Phoenician sarcophagi in existence), walking on la Caleta (the one small beach on the old side of the island), and visiting the two castles: el Castillo de San Sebastian and el Castillo de Santa Catalina.

The next day, we went to the central market to buy ingredients for paella. My group was assigned to veggies, but after buying the most gorgeous bell peppers and tomatoes I’ve ever seen, we gave in to temptation and gorged on some cherries and figs as well. However, my favorite excursion of the week was Friday’s. On Friday, we went to la Torre Tavira. This is the tallest tower in Cádiz (and of course we climbed to the top and took amazing landscape pictures), but it’s famous for another reason. Inside the tower resides what is known as la Cámara Oscura; it is a large (about five feet in diameter), concave circle of material similar to a projector screen. Above this is a hole in the ceiling that leads to a contraption of powerful lenses and mirrors that creates a Harry Potter-esque, real-time moving picture of the entire city on the concave film. Using some pulleys and levers, our “virtual” tour guide was able to pan side to side, zoom in and out, and change the focus to show us the city’s landmarks. It was an almost unnerving but very neat experience to be looking at a 2D picture with birds flying around, people walking on the streets, and clothes flapping on clotheslines.

However, Friday’s fun didn’t stop there. Through MundoLengua, our entire group had bought tickets to the national BachataStars dance competition semi-final and final that weekend. As part of the ticket, we also gained access to lessons taught by international bachata competition winners, Koke and Judith. So, in the evening we went to their lesson and late that night we attended the national semi-final. 16 pairs representing Andalucía (Spain’s southern region) danced two at a time to an unknown song; after judging, eight moved on to the final which was the following night.

Saturday was another day full of adventure and our first exposure to the soccer fever that exists in Spain. That day was the second to last home soccer game for Cadiz’s club team, and the entire city was cheering for them. By the entire city, I mean everyone; from little kids to grandpas, from cars to shops, every conceivable surface was covered with blue and yellow flags and fabrics. Cars were honking their horns, people were banging drums, and it assumed the air of a city-wide holiday were everyone diverted all their energies to supporting their team (regardless of the fact that they were number 17 of 21 in their league and that they were playing the number 1 team). We had bought tickets earlier, and I couldn’t believe our luck; we were sitting in the bottommost row, right next to the field! I got to see a Cádiz player kick a corner kick from less than three feet away! It was a wonderful experience. What wasn’t wonderful was that we lost 2-1, but thankfully I wasn’t there to see it. A few of us left the game a bit early so we could make it to the Casco Antiguo in time for a second lesson with Koke and Judith. After the lesson, we went up to them and thanked them; once they found out we were American, they invited us to join in on a lesson they were teaching the following day, and we gladly accepted.

The rest of the group met us for dinner and ice cream, both of which were exquisite. Dinner was kebab (döner kebab, they call it) made for us by a Syrian couple; they were very nice and exceptional cooks. We’re definitely going back to pay them a few more visits. After dinner, we found a great ice cream shop in la Plaza de las Minas that served gelatos. I know neither thing sounds very Spanish, but if you ever go to Spain, you have to have döner kebab and ice cream at least once. Trust me, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.

After eating, we went to the bachata competition final. After three rounds of eliminations, a couple from Sevilla emerged victorious, and they deserved. I don’t think a single person in the audience took a breath their entire performance. They were beautiful, graceful, powerful, and passionate all at once; they flowed like water and moved like the wind through trees. It was incredible to behold. After seeing them dance and partaking in a few bachata lessons myself, I’ve been inspired to continue taking bachata lessons upon returning to the states; I will learn how to dance, and it will be glorious.

At this point, I would like to remind you, oh readers stout of heart and steady of concentration, that only one week has passed since my arrival in Spain. Sitting in the bedroom I share with Milad, it’s hard to believe that all this (and massive amounts of beach time I somehow forgot to mention) happened in one week, but that’s how it is. I cannot wait to see what the next three weeks hold in store!

Until next time, abrazos y muchísimo amor,

Maziar

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