Thursday, October 18, 2007

Oporto: Donde siempre subimos


Oporto is the city of port wine and is also the city where everywhere you walk is up! If I hadn’t eaten so many sweets, I probably would have lost weight from walking uphill so much (not that I need to, the sweets are so worth every calorie in Europe!) I went with Austin and Rachel, both from my program, and it was the first trip I’ve taken with a small group. We took the bus this time which was SO much better than the train. I didn’t have to sleep with people that I didn’t know on the bus because I had my own seat. And this was the first trip that I actually was able to sleep en route.

Aver, about Oporto (I think in English it’s Porto). It is the second largest city in Portugal and one of the most visited, but it is still not as touristy as the other major European cities. The first day we were there, we visited the Museum of Photography and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Both were hit and miss with actual artistic talent, I’m not sure that I agree with todo el mundo about what exactly constitutes art. But we’ll save my opinions for another day…it was interesting nonetheless. We also visited a big cathedral the first day. Most of the churches I have seen so far in Portugal and Spain have been super-baroque style, and this one was no exception. There was shining gilded bronze everywhere and it’s so busy that you can’t ever tell what is going on (with the decorations that is.) I wouldn’t want to decorate my place como así, but I always love to look at it because it’s so detailed and beautiful in its own way. There is also a lot of ceramic on the facades of churches and other buildings, which is something I’ve never seen before. It’s really pretty because usually it’s blue and white and contrasts so much with the sandy brown color of the rest of the building.

The second day we climbed the tower at the Igreja dos Clérigos (Portuguese for Church of the Clergymen). It is the tallest tower in Portugal and we climbed all 225 steps to the top. The sight was definitely worth how sore my legs were the next day! We explored the city a little after that because we reserved the day for wine-tasting, but we didn’t really want to start too early. So we studied up on port first at the Museum of Port Wine. It’s lucky that I made it there because I almost got run over by a car who was driving on the sidewalk! And it’s not like Spain where the streets and the sidewalks are the same thing, there was definitely a clear difference between the two and he definitely was driving faster on the sidewalk than the cars were on the street. Don’t worry, I’m all fine and good, although I know plenty of words now in plenty of languages that I wouldn’t have minded telling the driver if I’d had the chance.

So then we went across the river to the tastings. I’m going to start at the end and work my way back…the last one we went to was Sandeman. I learned the most there, but it was the most touristy and had the least personality. The one before that we all enjoyed because it was more personal. There were only a few of us on the tour and we could ask questions and have more of a conversation rather than a lecture like at Sandeman (we took all the tours in Spanish I might add, and the Spanish people that we took a tour with told us we spoke very well). In both tours, they took us through the cellars that had barrels upon barrels of wine. One of the barrels of wine in the first tour was from 1885 which makes it 122 years old – not the wine, just the barrel. I won’t bore you with the process of port wine-making, but feel free to ask if you want to know, because I know all about it now! We took those tours on Saturday, but our actual first wine-tasting was Friday at a little house converted into a port shop called Casa da Mariquinhas. This one was my favorite because it was just the three of us – Austin, Rachel, and I – and the host and we talked a long time with her, not just about wine, but about a lot of things. The best part was this; usually when you are a tourist, the tour guides give you a choice on which language you want to take the tour in. All of them speak at least Portuguese, English, and Spanish. It was the same with the guide at Casa da Mariquinhas, but when she asked us which language we spoke, we gave her the choice of Spanish or English and she chose Spanish because that was easiest for her. It’s pretty cool to not be the “chooser” for once. We enjoyed that so much that we went back on Saturday and bought some wine/liquor from her. I got a small bottle of Ginja, which is cherry liquor and it’s really tasty.

Saturday night was the best and the worst time of our trip. First, we weren’t really sure where we were supposed to catch the bus back to Salamanca because when we arrived the bus driver let us off on some random street, not at the bus station. So when we started researching it, we could not find any indication on websites or our bus tickets about where to catch the bus, so we were freaking out for like half an hour. The worst was that one of the guys that runs the hostel was trying to help us, but at first he told us our bus stop was a bar, then he said he didn’t know, and then he basically told us that we were just going to have to take our chances with either the bar, bus station, or the airport which was 45 minutes away. After our crisis, we went to eat at a “barbecue” place. It wasn’t quite barbecue, but it was the best chicken I’ve had in a long time. Between the three of us we shared two full chickens, Austin and I each had our own gargantuan plates of french fries, and Rachel had her tomato salad. It was a ridiculous amount of food, but it was ridiculously good as well, so we ate every last bite. The next morning we went to the stop where the bus let us off the first time, which we had decided the night before that it was the best thing to do. We were right and we arrived safely back in Salamanca seven hours later without having to find another way home.

Another thing worth mentioning is that there were a few times that we encountered people who could only speak Portuguese to us, and between the three of us we could actually pick up on what they were trying to tell us. We could also read the Portuguese signs and simple stuff like that pretty easily because the language is really close to Spanish. Entonces, three languages down and many more to go…haha I wish.

Coming up next weekend: Ciudad Rodrigo and Sierra de Francia…

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Disculpame...I know it's been a while


I have finally met a Spanish person my age! (Besides the one who lives with me and is introverted, so I only speak to him at meals) My program sets people up with “intercambios” which is a meeting between two people who want to learn each other’s languages. I had my first intercambio today with a girl named Veronica. She is my age (which is lucky because some people are paired with 30-year-olds) and she studies philology, which apparently is the study of different languages. I didn’t know that until today because we talked about what our areas of study were in Spanish and for the longest time I thought she was talking about philosophy and finally she had to tell me in English that she doesn’t study philosophy, but philology. A little embarrassing, but priceless. So she is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and English and is now working on Korean. ¡Dios Mío! She speaks English so well and she’s never studied in an English speaking country before. It amazes me. I’m so excited though, we will meet every week and she told me that my friends and I could go out with her and her friends because we don’t have any Spanish friends yet, which makes it really hard to learn to speak colloquial Spanish rather than like a Spanish teacher or something. Granted, we’ve barely had the opportunity to make Spanish friends because they just started school a week ago.


Besides my first intercambio, I’ve had a couple of other fun experiences this week. First, I had an interview in Spanish for a job teaching little kids English. I didn’t get the job – there were only 4 open spots and the whole English-speaking population of Salamanca applied (which is a lot) because they were offering 30 euros per hour! Whew, that’s like 50 bucks an hour. It was a really good experience none-the-less, because I actually did something really practical in Spanish.
Though I didn’t get that job, I did teach kids English today. A woman stopped Gina on the street one day and asked if she could teach her kids English for 30 minutes a week. So now she does that every Thursday, but she couldn’t do it today, so I filled in for her. The kids are so cute, they are 4 and 6, so we are just teaching them colors and numbers and simple things like that in English. The hardest part for me was changing my accent all the time from Spanish to English. And accepting the fact that they are barely out of their toddler years and can speak faster than me. ¡Madre mía!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Por Fin


Well, I’m sure everyone will be glad to know (especially my college friends who are working their behinds off right now) that I am in real school now. I was a little worried about the program that I chose because I was afraid it was going to be too easy. The month of September was a vacation in the Bahamas (or, well, Spain) compared to my classes now. I tested into the highest level of advanced for the trimester, but my program director let me move up one more level into the superior classes for Grammar and Global Communicative Practice. I had already been in the lower advanced level for the month and it was pretty easy, so I figured I would be okay in Superior. Also, the students are a lot more serious the higher up you get, and that’s who I want to be in classes with. So we’ll see if I made the right decision, because now the classes are a little intense. It’s all the same grammar that I’ve always learned, but the professor kept reminding us that the difference between advanced and superior classes were the details, so I will really have to study this trimester.

I’m really excited, though, because I am learning about things that are appropriate for college students. I felt a little like I was in elementary or middle school the past month, but that’s what I needed. I could not speak or understand hardly anything when I got here. It has taken many, many frustrating baby steps, but I think I finally hit the point where it’s all coming together! It took a little longer than the two weeks that other people told me it would take, but that is probably because I spoke mostly in English the first couple of weeks I was here. Now I speak in Spanish, I think in Spanish (though it’s not natural yet, I really have to try hard), and I have even had Spanish dreams! Understanding the language came first, I can now understand almost everything that people say to me without having to constantly translate it into English in my head. I can speak Spanish a lot better than I could before, but it’s still hard sometimes to come up with the vocabulary and the correct order/syntax of sentences. I constantly have to correct myself, but at least it doesn’t take me 5 minutes to get a thought out. I can’t believe I can finally really do this – it’s pretty unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still nowhere near the speaking level of a 20-year-old or even a teenager from Spain (it took me 20 years to get there in English, after all), but I finally feel like I am functioning in Spanish without a filter. People that speak more than one language are a little deceiving when they tell you that it will all come together at some point, whether in one week or two weeks or a month. That statement is true, but they don’t tell you how frustrating and long that time is. Time goes by a lot faster now that I have settled and feel comfortable living in Spanish. So fast, in fact, that I’m really scared I’m going to wake up tomorrow and I’m going to be getting on a plane back to the States. I miss everyone so much, but I’m still having an unbelievably amazing time!