Segovia

Segovia is a town 20 minutes from Sevilla by high-speed train. I had heard that it was like a fairy tale.

Three matching piggy banks stand in a row on a blue shelf.

Oink! Wrong fairy tale.

Segovia is known for its beautiful Cinderella-like castle, its large Roman aqueduct, and for generally being beautiful and well-situated. The castle is where Isabella married Ferdinand. It’s also where Bill and I visited on our first well-rested day together in Spain.

When you first exit the train, all you see are mountains and plains full of cows.

Long plains of yellow grasses speckled with black blobs of cows, lined in the distance by a rim of purple mountains, all beneath a pink and lavender sky that is layered with wispy purple clouds.

Picture this, but spotted in cows. That photo is on my other camera.

Luckily, there is a bus at the train station, and it is free this week.

The bus drops you off in the city center just in front of the aqueduct. The aqueduct is very big, and uses not a drop of mortar! The Roman civilization is the one thing that can make me do a mental jaw-drop every single time. The picture below is Bill playing amidst the humongous columns that support the aqueduct. Can you find him?

Bill peeks out between the columns of the aqueduct in Segovia.

Hi, Bill!

As you walk into the city, you may notice all the interesting textures on the walls.

The walls are textured in a white frescoed pattern.

It looks like lace.

A fresco of Death standing above its victim.

Can you see the fresco?

You will walk past a beautiful cathedral, but it is not the famous one. The famous one is a block away.

A pretty cathedral laced with arcs and columns, reaching in steps up to the sky.

A lovely Cathedral next to the main plaza.

A massive cathedral that dwarfs the one from before.

It's so big I couldn't fit it in my camera.

Soon after the Cathedral, there is a tree-lined plaza with lovely vistas off either side. It is the entrance to the palace. You’ve made it, and in just a dozen minutes’ walk!

Here are some pictures of me and Bill in front of the Alcázar:

Bill stands in front of the Torre and some turrets at the Alcázar in Segovia.

Prince William!

I stand in front of some of the turrets of the Alcazar in Segovia.

Am I a princess yet?

I would love to show you the inside of the castle and the amazing views from on top of the tower, but for that you’ll have to wait for part 2.

Now it is siesta, and I can no longer ignore the pool. It has been distracting me this whole time. So, until next time, and hasta luego!

Madrid: With Bill

I bolted upright. How long has Bill been waiting for me? I panicked, leapt out of bed, jiggled on my jeans, and ran downstairs. Something was wrong. The lobby didn’t look like it did yesterday at 8:30am, with the television playing a strange mix of spanish ballads, 10-year-old rock songs, and today’s Top 40. And why was the sun so dark?

I went back to bed and slept for another 4 hours.

The next time, I opened my eyes amidst a haze of shuffling bodies. Downstairs, Bill had already eaten breakfast. He couldn’t check in for a few hours, so we went to el Parque del Buen Retiro.

First, we found the Crystal Palace.

The front face of the Crystal Palace in Madrid, with columns reaching up to a bright blue sky.

An austere building...

Bill slides down a giant slide inside the Crystal Palace.

... with a giant slide inside!

Perhaps the giant slide was an integral part of the overall art exhibition including the voices of a man and a woman singing lines from different political mantras and videos of hundreds of people interpreting major historical events by standing in lines and grids and stomping their feet — or maybe it was just a way to get down from a vista.

Across from the Crystal Palace is a man-made pond filled with ducks and geese and swans and other avian creatures. The next day, we would come back to this spot with an old baguette. See the difference?

A view of an urn-shaped sculpture with a lake and trees in the background.

Before the baguette, the pond is serene.

A picture of an urn-shaped sculpture with a lake and trees in the background, covered in birds.

After the baguette, the pond teems with life. Even the sky is bluer!

Notice the bird in the lower-right corner, above what may be my finger over the lens.

We continued to explore more of the park, stopping sometimes to rest and sometimes to play. We weren’t allowed to leave until I saw a cat.

The lake of Buen Retiro, lined with colorful trees and covered in rowboats.

We watch the men huff and puff to push the ladies all around the lake.

A choppy image of me enjoying the swingset.

A playground isn't a playground if no one is playing.

Finally, I saw a cat. We ate in a delicious cafetería called Neila, which has the best tortilla that I have ever had, and then returned to the hostel where it was time for Bill to check in.

That evening, we explored the terrazas, which are the outdoor seating areas of the cafés in the plazas. As soon as we sat down, a man came by to play some spanish guitar for tips. At the next terraza, entire bands came by to play jazz, complete with bass, accordions, clarinets, and saxophones.

We watch a man play spanish guitar on the other side of the terraza.

There are terrazas like this in every plaza in the area.

After the terrazas, we went for one last stop to watch the end of the Valencia vs. Barcelona game in an Irish pub.

Painted tiles depict Oscar Wilde.

This is why we chose this bar.

It was a beautiful and full day. I had a lovely time, and felt that Madrid was definitely my favorite place in the whole world.

The next day we would adventure to the lovely Segovia.

Arriving: Madrid

Well, I made it to Spain… but it’s certainly not because packing was easy!

A suitcase stacked so high with folded clothes that it can't even begin to close.

This wasn't going anywhere.

My sister loaned me a bigger suitcase, I got everything together, spent a couple wonderful days in Chicago (I will miss you, Bon Bon and dense, delicious craft beer!), and headed to DC.

A small baguette overflowing to twice its size with cilantro, carrot, lemongrass tofu, and jalapeño peppers.

My favorite sandwich: the vegetarian banh mi.

On the flight over the Atlantic, I watched Water for Elephants, 30 Rock, and Mildred Pierce until I remembered an hour before landing that I should get some sleep. I laid down across four seats and rested my head on four pillows, then the lights came on and the flight attendants came by with breakfast. I decided to drink as much hot black tea as I could instead.

I arrived at my hostel at 9:30 am and spent the next hour sitting in a half-asleep stupor on the first floor landing of the hostel (that’s the 2nd floor to you American folk) playing Sudoku and occasionally staring at the wall. Check-in wasn’t until 1:30 pm.

The check-in guy came by regularly on his way to the Staff-Only Room and would speak to me rapidly in Spanish. He would ask such questions as, “Do you want the light on?” and “Where are you from?” I would shrug my shoulders. He would repeat slowly in English. I would reply with monosyllables, grunts, and my hand (Michigan). In the face of such hostile questions, I finally decided to go for a walk.

I have no clue what I did. Ah, yes! I ate a bocadillo de tortilla (a potato-and-egg sandwich on a baguette), read Crepúsculo (yes, Twilight), and eavesdropped on the locals. I noted that the next 5 people who came in to the bocadillería ordered fried calamari with salad.

I came back to the hostel and the check-in guy checked me in early (“You just look tired.”). I went upstairs to take a nap.

A lovely American girl from Madison came into the room shortly after, also preparing for a nap. We made a date: after our naps, we would go out and explore the city together.

We went to the Prado Museum and got Thai food for dinner (they use less sauce than in the States, which was too bad). I kept flinging broccoli off my plate. Twice the broccoli landed halfway across the room. We laughed and laughed. Later, I considered buying a Messi shirt from a street stall, but decided to ask Bill about it after he arrived the next day. I started to have a crush on Madrid.

It’s just so clean, bright, and beautiful. This picture perfectly sums up how I felt about Spain at this point. The buildings and sky are dazzling. The people are but a well-dressed, shadowy blur:

The evening sun lights up the top of a pretty cathedral in Madrid.

You can never have too many crosses.

That night, curling up on my hostel cot in the same room I had from last December, Madrid felt familiar, like coming home. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Bill just taking off over the ocean, but I think I fell asleep.

Traveling Solo

I’ve always been scared to travel alone. For one thing, I forget absolutely everything and I hate the more detail-oriented tedium of getting from Point A to Point B; for another, I’m simply frightened of the unknown.

And yet, like so many others, the idea of traveling alone seems like the ultimate transformational journey. Maybe I’m romantic, but I see solo traveling as a way to meet yourself, become strong and wise, and to know the truth of what matters in the world. I don’t want to miss out on that just because I’m scared. I’m even a little proud that I’m scared because it shows I know how much is at stake.

I’ve met some women who have traveled alone, and I admire them. The ones I’ve met seem not to think it’s any big deal at all (or maybe I just haven’t pinned them into the right conversation). They say they never felt unsafe. They say it wasn’t hard. I’m fascinated by this, but I can’t help but feel that it would be different for me. They exude confidence and strength. You can’t help but want to listen to them and know them. Vagabonds would invite them to share their spoils, not take spoils from them. I’m not sure I share this aura.

Anyway, because I’m scared, I have come up with many reasons to be scared. I’m not sure these reasons are real. One of these reasons is that I am a woman. That’s why I read this article, and I was appreciative of this advice:

…while female travelers experience the world differently than male ones, experienced women are more likely to find advantages, while novices are more likely to focus on staying out of trouble. This makes sense: the longer you spend on the road, the savvier you get. You begin to place situations in context to assess their danger level, and you begin to trust your own instincts.

Even if I start out as a vulnerable and silly solo traveler, I will get better. Travel savvy is not a finite thing built in to my DNA. Noted.

I also got a lot of reassurance from that article that it’s not necessary –or even relevant– to plunge myself into the drunken night life in order to get to know a place. Maybe I can save some money on that fake wedding ring.

My favorite advice from the article was:

…take a tampon everywhere. It’s not just good for your own period, it’s a bonding experience. If you’re in a crowded train, or a hostel room, or a bus ride, and someone doesn’t have one, you just made a new friend by giving yours away.

This is so true.

So, my goal is to complete 5 days of solo travel outside the Casco Antiguo (old city center). I won’t set a deadline. Hopefully I’ll breeze right through it, and I am so excited to set my next goal from there!

So Much Love

First of all, I love First Day of School fashion. I wish I had my camera so I could show you how trendy everyone looks. Don’t judge!

Second of all, nothing.

What I came here to say is that I am going to miss Rhapsody. Combined with Instant Netflix and Hulu, I have discovered that integrated CD-ROM drives are obsolete (I owe you $5, Steve Jobs!). I use Rhapsody on a daily basis to listen to whatever music I’m too lazy to buy or illegally download, and there are no commercials, and there are —

So I was writing that paragraph, and in the back of my head I was thinking, “first you plug Fig Newmans, then the Kindle, then expensive personality testing, then Rhapsody? What are you all about, exactly?” And then I chuckled fondly and changed the subject.

NEW SUBJECT:

I’m still in last-two-weeks-of-summer-camp mode, and all the flaws of everything I’ve gotten to know (like consumerist America) are no longer problems. They are unique, complex, and challenging parts of a greater whole, which is overall beautiful, amazing, and interesting. If only it was this easy for me to humanize my parents before I left for college! Right, Mom?

Anyway, instead of doing a new post every time I realize I will miss some object, here is a compiled list of miss-able things:

Stuff I Will Miss, Some Of Which I Can’t Put Money On

  • Americanized versions of ethnic cuisine
  • Michigan craft beer
  • the University Musical Society (they’re doing a Snow White ballet this year!)
  • Fall leaves changing color
  • Michigan apples and apple cider
  • People-watching in the Diag
  • My 14-cup food processor (love you!)
  • Free Wi-Fi basically everywhere
  • How awesome Ann Arbor is
  • How much I love the world right now
  • I love you guys

What’s Your Personality Type?

I think Personality Types are fun. I like to make all my friends and family take the tests, and then I like to talk about it afterward. More than actually reading about their results, I like to hear them bounce off the test and their results with their impressions. While they decide if they liked the test or if the results were accurate, they talk about what is important to them and how they work. Maybe seeing a personality laid out in words and Likert scales helps them articulate their own personalities in ways they wouldn’t have — or wouldn’t have been able to — before.

So it’s not really random that I presented the question to the facebook group for 2011-2012 Auxiliars, “What is your personality type?” I included the Myers-Briggs Personality Type and The Color Code by Dr. Hartman.

So far, I have 28 responses [Update: by the time I finished this post, I had 31], but I thought the results were interesting. There was a perfectly even split of Extroverts and Introverts [there are more Extroverts now], and a perfectly even split of Judgers and Perceivers [more Judgers]. There were slightly more Intuiters than Sensers. The most interesting thing, to me, was that there were far more Feelers than Thinkers.

For The Color Code, there was a strong representation (over half of respondents) of Blues.

Granted, this is a highly select group; (1) they are auxiliars to Spain, (2) in this particular facebook group, (3) paying attention to the group when I posted the links, (4) self-selected to actually take the tests, and (5) self-selected to actually post their results, so I won’t go making any judgments about the personality types of people in this program in general.

But I thought it was fun. Which is perfect because my Color Code was Yellow (fun-motivated).

So what about you? Can you answer these 4 questions in the comments?

  1. What’s your Myers-Briggs personality type? Take the test.
  2. Were your Myers-Briggs results accurate? Interpret your results.
  3. What’s your Color Code? Take the test.
  4. Were your Color Code results accurate? Interpret your results; here’s more information.
I would love to hear about your results and your impressions of them! I’ll leave my info in the comments, too.

Get A Kindle

New auxiliars with extra spending money may be asking themselves, “Should I get an iPad or a Kindle?” Either one will take up less space and less weight in the luggage than even one book. The one, though, does everything. The other one only does one thing, but you can do it outside. This is a really tough decision. I have spent weeks thinking about it.

I made my decision. If you plan on reading sometimes/a lot, get a Kindle.

  1. A single charge of the battery lasts a full month, even if you’re reading all the time. When I play with my iPhone, the battery lasts 6-12 hours. Even with light usage, the iPad battery lasts 10 hours. That means I would either have to charge it frequently or not use it that much. I want to use it a lot, plus I’ll be traveling and not necessarily wanting to plug in an iPad and hang out at the hostel so no one steals it. +1 Kindle
  2. A Kindle is much cheaper. You just buy the Kindle and you buy whatever books you’re not already reading from the free book list or Project Gutenberg. Meh, an iPad is the same thing–but that initial investment is still 3x more expensive. +1 Kindle
  3. The Kindle is smaller than the iPad. In fact, it fits in my little purse. The iPad doesn’t, which means I won’t carry it with me everywhere, which means I won’t get to take advantage of more random reading opportunities. Plus, the Kindle is light and I can hold it in one hand and flip pages while eating, laying in bed, or sitting on the bus holding a bag of groceries. +1 Kindle
  4. I already have an iPhone. If I need access to a map, Angry Birds, the latest news, or my email, I can already do that, and it still fits in my purse. +1 Kindle
  5. I already have a laptop. If I want to watch a movie or do something on a larger-scale, I can do it. And I have a keyboard that I’m used to. +1 Kindle

I like iPads. They’re fun. They make me feel like I have magic powers. But I have an iPhone and a laptop and a Kindle, and each one is still better individually at what it’s supposed to do than an iPad is for any one of those things. It’s not that I don’t want an iPad; it’s just that I don’t need one. I’d rather not buy a $600 device that does things that I can already do,  then use that money to buy a Kindle–and a trip to Greece.

Priorities.

If you do get a Kindle, or if you already have one or just have a Kindle account, add me! We can lend our books to each other and follow each other to share our notes and quotations.

Totally unrelated because the internet: Brave Little Megan.