A Travellerspoint blog

ITALIA

Venice, Italy!!

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I had a fabulous trip to Venice to visit my friend Natalie. She has been living there for over 2 years. I was lucky to have a terrific place to stay and a wonderful tour guide. Her apartment is on the other side of Venice from the train station in a narrow little street. The outside looks like your typical Venice building like you see on postcards and the inside was updated and so cute!
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View from her living room window

I arrived around 7p.m., got settled in and we went out to eat at a great little Trattoria. We had wine and pasta. The food in Italy does not disappoint! It was a welcome break from greasy tapas and Spanish tortillas. The next morning we went shopping at the market for fresh fruits, veggies, fish, cheese and bread for lunch and dinner the next couple days. We of course had our fair share of pizza over the 4 days I was there too!

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One of the days we took a "bus" (in Venice, public transportation is a boat :-) to a nearby island to rent bikes. We biked to the end of the island and took a ferry to another island to bike some more and have lunch. We of course rewarded ourselves with a gelato at the end.
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Another day, we took a "bus" over to an island with a bell tower that had some great views.
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You can spend endless hours wandering the winding mazes of narrow streets throughout Venice and watching the boats and gondolas make their way throughout the canals. It is such a unique place, it hardly seems real. There is definitely no other place like it!
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Thank you Natalie for making it such a wonderful trip! :-))

Posted by Kristinh 07:39 Comments (5)

Weekend trip to Toledo

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Toledo!

I had a fabulous 3 day weekend trip to Toledo, Spain. It is such a beautiful city! I was very proud of myself for managing my way through the train system without a hitch. First from Salamanca to Madrid, then took another train from one end of Madrid to the train station on the other side of Madrid to catch my other train to Toledo. Feeling pretty confident now, however I'm sure I will do something stupid in no time at all and be humbled and brought back to reality. :-)
When I arrived in Toledo, I walked to the historic center of town. It was a beautiful walk and a gorgeous sunny day. I stopped frequently to take in the views.
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I arrived later in the day and had a late lunch. Actually in Spain it was a lunch right on time. (Sidebar: They eat lunch at around 2:30 or 3 p.m. I am having a difficult time adjusting to their mealtimes here. They have lunch at 3, tapas around 6 or 7 p.m. and dinner at 10 p.m. Haven't done the 10 p.m. dinner yet. This is another benefit of not staying with a host family. I can eat my dinner at 5 or 6 and be in bed by 10!).

I spent the next day walking all over Toledo visiting a museum, the cathedral and a synagogue.
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Toledo has tons of narrow, winding cobblestone streets that branch out in every direction between the many plazas throughout. It's fun to just wander, get lost and try to find your way back. Every street looks the same. I began to get my bearings after the first day. When I first arrived to town however, I tried to follow a bad map I had on my Ipad. I wandered off the main plaza when you walk up the hill into town and before I knew I was standing about 20 feet away from my hotel. I was standing in a small plaza trying to find it on my map. I couldn't find it and I had the feeling I was far away from the direction of my hotel. I walked a few feet forward and looked down a street and saw the hotel sign. That was a total fluke! I completely wandered aimlessly and wound up in front of my hotel. Like I said, things don't always go this well and I'm sure I'll be humbled very soon.

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What a great way to spend a 3 day weekend! I highly recommend visiting Toledo if you are ever in Spain.

Posted by Kristinh 06:24 Comments (3)

Daily Life in Salamanca

Hello again! I just completed my third week of classes at Salamanca Univerisity-Cursos Internacionales. I'm learning a ton about grammar and vocabulary, but I'm worried that I'm not getting enough oral language practice. I'm surrounded by too many English speakers. I found a website that is called conversation exchange. You put in what language you want to practice, what language you speak and where you are living. It gives you a list of people with their ads looking for a conversation exchange ie.. you help them with English conversation and they help you with Spanish conversation. No money exchanges hands, only time. Perfect! I have contacted a couple people and will start meeting with them next week. There is also a girl from France who lives at my house and we speak Spanish together and watch Spanish TV together once in a while. It's all American shows like Greys Anatomy, Castle, and Scrubs. The shows are in Spanish and we put on the Spanish subtitles which helps me immensely!

My daily routine during the week is pretty much set. I get up at 6 if I go for a run or at 7 a.m. if I don't. I catch the bus at 7:55 and get into town around 8:15. I walk a few blocks to a cafe right across the street from my classroom building. This is my very favorite part of my day. I drink a cafe con leche, attempt to read the Spanish newspaper. Ahhhh!

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Heaven!

I head to class at a little before 9 a.m. and finish up at 1:15 p.m. After class, I head over to one of two of my favorite cafes with great tapas and wifi. I have a pop and a couple tapas. The food situation has greatly improved for me since I discovered the joy of tapas which are small appetizer type dishes. You get a free one with any drink order and the others only cost .90 Euros. Cheap! I eat a delicious lunch for only 3.10 Euros. Nice! I wish I would have taken some pictures of the tapas. I'll add some to my next blog. After I eat, I stay and study my Spanish, complete homework and read my book, Los Juegos Del Hambre. I already read it in English and saw the movie which helps tremendously, but it literally takes me 15 minutes to read a page. Every 3rd-5th word I have to look up in my dictionary! Ugh! Luckily I loved the book and movie, so my interest keeps me going. My goal is to finish before I leave Spain. 2 months left, I better get going...
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Generally the weather here has been rainy and chilly. From what it sounds like, a lot like what it's like back in the Twin Cities. We have sporadic sun here and there, but it always starts out cold and windy and the sun usually makes an appearance in the afternoon. Typical spring weather. I'm ready for May and warm temps. This is a typical sight each morning on my way to class. Umbrellas are called "paraguas" in Spanish. Packing my paraguas was the best thing I did!
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Rain Rain Go Away!

This past Monday was a "festival" day in Salamanca called Lunes de Aguas. The story behind it dates way back in history. If I understood correctly, it has to do with the prostitutes coming back across the river on this particular Monday after the courses let out. I know there is much more to it than that, but that's the gist of what I picked up. Nowadays, it's a time for friends to go down to the river and basically party. They bring the traditional hornizo to eat (a pastry filled thing with sausage or ham and cheese) and wine or other alcoholic beverage. Here's a little video clip (in spanish, but you get the point of it) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADwNPp8aOFM
I decided to meet up with some people from my classes. I went to the bridge near where my bus lets off and I called my friend to try and find her. Along the river where I was, it was very chill with several groups of friends hanging out and talking and eating on their blankets.
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Nice!

My friend called me and directed me to another bridge where they were. I walked over there and this is what I encountered.
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Whoa!!! This is essentially a big huge college drunk fest. I liked the first spot better! :-) My age showing through. We stayed for a little while and then headed into the plaza for ice cream. That's more my speed!

This is Sarah, a fellow student who is from California. She is here studying Spanish for similar reasons as myself. We have hung out a little, but are speaking WAY too much English. We need to make a pact to only speak Spanish, but it's tough. You always revert back to your native language because it's just so much easier.
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I'm heading to Toledo (Spain that is ;-) this weekend. It's a small city 45 minutes south of Madrid. There are no classes on Monday due to another festival. This one is celebrated in the entire province of Castilla y Leon. Boy, they find a lot of reasons to fiesta in Spain! We have already had 4 days off for festivals since I started 3 weeks ago. Next weekend (& a few school days) I'm heading to Venice, Italy to visit my friend Natalie. I'm very excited about that!
I'll update the blog after Toledo (pronounced toe-lay-doe). Hasta luego!

Posted by Kristinh 10:28 Comments (3)

Learning Some Things the Hard Way

I'm nearing the end of my second week in Salamanca. I am in the full swing of classes and have established a routine. I have 3 classes every day which include a 2 hour grammar class, a 1 hour conversation and writing class and a 1 hour oral language practice class. The last class is my favorite which is essentially a lot games, discussions and debates. There are 9 Chinese people, 3 Japanese people and myself and one other American. I'm learning a lot about China! Their accents when speaking Spanish is super hard for me to understand though. Sonia is the teacher in this class and I like her style. She's laid back and creates a fun learning environment. Here's a picture of her.
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Sonia/Oral Language Class

One thing I have learned through my travels, past and present is that I will encounter situations that may cause some frustration and that I will make mistakes. This weeks blunder involved the bus. I'm living in a house that is about an hour walk to the city center and University. One of my housemates told me (in Spanish) that I can get a bus card for the month and I could save a little money per trip. Great! I'm always looking for ways to save money. Sounded easy enough. I asked the bus driver where I could get the card and he told me at the "kiosko". Which kiosko I didn't catch in his fast Spanish. I asked a lady at the supermarket in town where I could get the bus card and she also said at the kiosko and she explained where and I understood enough to figure it out. So the next morning I got off the bus and went to the kiosk and asked the lady if they sold bus cards. She rambled something super fast and then started helping the person behind me. Um, hmmm, not sure what just happened. Maybe they don't sell bus cards. Gave up for the moment and went to class. A girl in my class said she knew where I could get the bus card so we walked to an office on the same street where I get off my bus. I figured I would need approximately 40 trips on the card, so I paid 25 Euro ($32) for the card to have 40 trips. I was super excited that I finally had my card and I would save some money! I walked across the street, got on the bus and tried to swipe it. No beep. The bus driver chuckled and said that was not the card for this bus. What!? My heart sank and I was so angry! The card I bought was for the city routes and I ride one that goes outside the city. Crap! I just wasted $32! I sat in my seat fuming the whole ride home. I knew they wouldn't return the card, but I tried anyway. No go! :-( I went back to that other kiosk the next morning and bought the correct card with no problem. Sometimes, the most basic things can be so challenging when you don't speak the language fluently. I have recovered from that blunder and will be much more careful next time and be prepared to ask more questions.

Here is a picture of my house and my room. It's in a nice, quiet neighborhood called Santa Marta de Tormes.
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Pretty basic room, but it has wifi and my own bathroom :-)

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One of the many plazas to hang out in and to the right is the famous cathedral where there is a frog hidden within the details. Tourists always looking for the frog!

Posted by Kristinh 10:26 Comments (3)

First days in Salamanca

I arrived to Salamanca on Friday, a day later than planned. I was held up in Madrid for the day/night because of a national labor strike. The trains were completely shut down and there was minimal bus service. I was happy to at least get a bus from the airport to the train station in Madrid. I found a cheap hostel to stay at for the night. I had time to walk around Madrid a bit and discovered some really interesting sights ie.. a nice plaza to sit and have a meal, a beautiful cathedral and a nice garden. As I was walking outside the cathedral I think I almost got pick-pocketed. I felt/heard my zipper on my backpack and I whipped around to a startled twenty-something woman. She said, "Madame?" and turned and walked away. Phew, close one. Note to self, be very aware of those walking behind you & don't keep all my money and credit cards on me in case I do get pick-pocketed!

Salamanca was a 2 1/2 hour train ride from Madrid. I took a cab to my hotel and as I looked around I was SO excited about the city. It is beautiful! I got settled into my hotel and walked around. The following are some sights:

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Street Views that are similar everywhere you turn.

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The Main Plaza that the old town centers around

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View from a bridge on the river looking up to the old town

I've spent the first couple days walking all over Salamanca exploring. I found some great running trails along the river. I also found a place to live online that is about a 25 minute walk to the old town, but it's right near the river paths which will be great! I haven't seen the place yet because I had to book it before I could even see it. It is in a house with 8 other rooms. We will share a kitchen and living room area. Everyone has their own bedroom with their own bathroom. Kind of scary, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try. It sounds like it will be a good fit because it's in a quieter area and has wifi. Yay! I'll post pics in my next blog.

Posted by Kristinh 07:49 Comments (7)

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