It's Friday evening and the piney smell of Spain is drifting in through my open door after the large rainstorm we had last night. We've had another fast week, as all of them seem to be, but as always I'm very ready for the weekend. I've never had weeks in a school year (or summer, for that matter) go by so quickly. It seems like we wake up on Monday and before I know it it's Thursday and almost the weekend. However, as I've mentioned before, Thursdays leave me feeling exhausted, bummed out, and incompetent in Spanish.

Yesterday was no exception. With DELE first thing and teaching English classes to rather wild children up until dinner, Thursdays just really have nothing going for them. The highlight of my day is Literature class, where we are starting our section on Don Quijote and reading a much easier, slightly abridged version of the classic. Still, it was hard to shake the "I don't really speak Spanish at all" feeling I had left over from DELE and attempting to teach ten niños the names of fruits in English didn't really help. My only urgent homework was a C1 level article to read and summarize for Conversation and I managed to get that done in about half an hour, although it seemed a bit complicated and boring.

Today I woke up determined to start the weekend off on a good foot, so I headed to Conversation with a smile on my face and a forced confidence in my heart. It didn't last long though, because when Ana walked in she announced that instead of discussing the article like we usually do, we were going to have a sort of impromptu midterm conversation/test. We each would have to go sit with her and explain the article until she stopped us, which would be three or four minutes. Depending on the day, this can seem pretty simple or very difficult. Luckily I managed to make it through, feeling alright about the whole thing but not great. After that it was off to Grammar which actually somehow always makes me feel better and is one of my favorite classes. I finished off the day with Lingüísticas and Composición before I began my relaxing Friday afternoon ritual (which consists of either cleaning or watching some sort of BBC program with Ryan). 

I did have a great day, and I'm glad I have Fridays to recover from Thursdays so I can really enjoy the weekend. But then tonight I was looking over some of my first blog posts from when I got to Spain. Now that it's all coming to an end, it's hard to remember what it felt like when we first arrived. Travel, new scenery, and the feeling of being in a foreign country aside–the language barrier was huge. I remember have no clue what was happening for the first two or three weeks of Folklore. I recall learning something about some festivals but I didn't understand most of it. That first week the man from the airport came to drop off my luggage and I didn't know how to say "I don't know where the dean is, can you wait while I call her?" and I couldn't take notes in class because I was too busy focusing on what the teacher was saying. Today I can read, write, and speak in Spanish, and even if it's not perfect, it's about a million times better than when I arrived. I have conversations with my teachers, I listen while taking notes, I can diagram sentences and tell you if a verb is reflexive, passive, or impersonal based on context.

I might not have a clue what to do on the DELE when it comes. But it doesn't really matter to me at all. I've learned more Spanish than I ever imagined I would and wouldn't change a single thing about the year so far. And it's not over yet! This last month is packed with activities and farewells, tests and quizzes, book reports and documentaries, and always, always time with my Mejor Amigos Para Siempre (MAPS... the Spanish version we invented for BFFs :) Have a happy Sabbath everyone!
Yesterday marked forty days on our countdown until we go home. I'm not rushing the time here or wishing the days away, but I am looking forward to seeing my family again, eating familiar food, working, and not feeling a little guilty when I speak English.

I filled out my ACA evaluation survey this week, which took nearly 45 minutes and included questions about the academics, staff, travel, school trips, and what we think of the program in general. I said I would recommend it to anyone—and it's been one of the most positive experiences in my life. This is absolutely true, and although there is a lot I'm missing about home right now, I know there are many things I'm going to miss about Spain once I'm home. I've been keeping a list on my iPod of all of this. Some are obvious (friends, teachers, etc.) and some are very random (having a balcony in my dorm room). Here's what I'm thinking this morning:

Fresh bread . . . for pennies. In Europe, it's rather uncommon to buy a perfectly square loaf of bread in a plastic bag, like Wonderbread or Pepperidge Farms. Instead, every grocery store has a small bakery (similar to the States) where they sell loaves of freshly-baked French bread every day. The thing is, these cost less than a euro, usually you can get a pretty large loaf for 45 or 55 cents. Oftentimes they are warm and fresh from the oven. Think good Panera bread, but all the time and super cheap!

Ryanair. It's going to seem strange when I go home and look for flights over a hundred dollars. With Ryanair, we've been able to fly to Rome, Paris, and back from Milan, each for less than 100 USD. Tickets to Ibiza, a nearby island, sometimes drop as low as 12 euros a flight. They aren't the most accommodating  airline, but if you show up on time and don't mind the fact that they try to sell you calendars and lottery tickets during your transit, it's really efficient!

Kebabs. We've discussed it all year. Our favorite go-to "fast" food here in Europe is virtually non-existent in the States. I'm sure we'll be able to find restaurants with falafel, pita bread, and some sort of sauce, but it's not likely to be the same. It's become our Taco Bell of Europe—fast, reliable, nearly the same in every shop, vegetarian, and best of all, never over 4 euros and very filling. 

Here's something I'm not going to miss this summer . . . homework! I have a nice little pile waiting for me so I better get to it. Today it's reading my book, doing a few worksheets, and responding to an article for conversation. I hope everyone back home is having a good weekend and we'll be back in just 40 days!
We've only been back from Madrid about a week and we're full-swing into the semester. Technically it started between Las Fallas and Semana Santa, but last week was the first time todo el mundo (everyone in the world) was back from their trips. 

This quarter, for my electives I'm taking Literature (again), Spanish Culture, and Linguistics. Spanish Culture is more or less a continuation of the Folklore class that I took first quarter, a class with Ana about what life is like in Spain. Linguistics is a very interesting class aimed at those who want to teach Spanish in secondary education, and even though I'm not planning on doing that, I enjoy the class a lot. The last few classes we've been talking about "spanglish" which is, as you may already know, the mixture of English and Spanish. What I didn't know is that how we talk here would qualify as Spanglish a lot of the time. For example, "Rachel, puedes ayudarme con my tarea porque I forgot what pages Lidia assigned." 

In other news, ESDES has started their "Yo hablo Español también" program with us. Last week they handed out wristbands with this phrase printed on it and everyone was supposed to sign a contract saying that we'd speak Spanish. I haven't gotten mine yet because I don't want to promise to speak Spanish and then continue talking in English as has already become customary. I also don't want to beat myself up trying to speak Spanish and have no fun with my friends in the last few weeks we're together. So we'll just see how it goes, I'll probably cave and get one pretty soon since groups E and F have been told that our grades can go up if we do it. And that's pretty tempting.

The weather here has been absolutely wonderful, at least 70º every day the past week, perfect for tanning on the roof, going to the beach, and slacklining. When we were in Madrid I had gone with the boys to the park while they practiced their skills. Last Monday was a festival day so Jon set up the slackline so he and Seth could teach me how it's done! We started between pretty close trees but this weekend I moved up to the "big" line. I tried one time at the very beginning of the year but until now I haven't ever really tried to learn. I'd always see kids at Union with straps set up between trees and thought "I bet they wish they went to Walla Walla!" and now here I am with all my WW amigos, learning to slackline! 

Jon and I practiced for a long time on Friday and both resulted in nice shoulder tans as a bonus! On Sabbath after church we headed straight to the beach to tomar el sol even though the water is still too cold to swim. When we got back that evening we slacklined some more before making the usual pasta and pesto dinner with Ryan and Hannah. I got to talk to my mom late Saturday night to finish out a relaxing Sabbath. Sunday was completely filled with homework and an impromptu meeting for one last travel adventure before the year is over! I'll keep the destination a secret for now, but stay tuned for more information! Now it's time to settle in with my book, La Caverna, before I go back to class. 
Time for my final installment on our trip to central Spain, as well as a short update on what's been going on here at ESDES. 

After leaving Segovia, we piled into the bus for a few stops before we actually arrived in Madrid. ESDES does a really good job of using every minute of our time spent traveling while still allowing us free time, but sometimes it's just too cozy on the bus to want to get out and see yet another rich person's castle. Our next stop was the Granja, another palace outside of Madrid with lots of over-the-top furnishings and super-intense NO FOTO rules. As usual, my favorite part was the light fixtures and I was quite disappointed that I couldn't take photos of the flowery chandeliers that hung in several rooms. Our guide was not particularly lively and seemed to hurry us through with a separate guard behind us because heaven forbid someone sneak a their iPhone out. 

They allowed us an hour to roam the gardens which was a bit excessive considering it was a blustery day and nothing was blooming. However, instead of sulking around, my friend Beth and I went for a stroll and enjoyed some time talking and reflecting on the year that's almost behind us, and the unknowns of Life After Spain. I'm so glad we had that time together and I appreciate Beth so much for her maturity and encouragement she always gives me. Plus, she gave me this great blog title and I wanted to give her credit! For those of you that don't know, Real Madrid is the fútbol (soccer) team of Madrid and, depending on who you are a fan of, Spain. Since I know a fair portion of my readers are my family and we know nothing about these athletic events called sports, I thought it could use a little explanation. Also it's pronounced "RAY-al" meaning "royal" as opposed to "real." Ok, I think you get the idea.

At last we arrived at our hotel in Madrid where Rachel and I shared a room with our friend Sara. We lucked out on this trip getting corner rooms with more space, and the tree of us settled in and then met with friends to find food. I ended up with a group that headed out in search of Taco Bell, one of three in Madrid but the only three in Spain. Personally, I miss lots of other food more that TB, but I do miss its prices, free refills, and most importantly, ice. We used the metro and arrived in no time. Walking in, it smelled like home, which is when I started getting excited. The regular "bean burrito" was a bit different than what I'm used to, but it was good and only a euro, so I splurged on a drink which I could fill with as much ice and coke as I wanted. We stopped at a gelato shop after, and, caving to peer pressure, I got a small cup of chocolate and café. 

Back at the hotel, we chicas were getting a little chilly in our room so one of us who will remain unnamed decided to turn up the thermostat (hint: it wasn't me!). Still not knowing anything of the centigrade system, we had a good laugh the next morning when we woke up to a sauna and a room at 30 C (that's 86º F). We told Cristian that dormimos en los trópicos anoche! He told us that appropriate temperature for indoors was about 23 and we decided to try that the next night.

The next day the bus drove us about an hour away where we went to the Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen), a memorial to those who died in the Spanish Civil War. Here there is a huge basilica carved into the side of a mountain. It's actually larger than the one at the Vatican, but only part of it has been consecrated to avoid conflict. There's also a huge cross that can be seen from miles away. Driving up reminded me a lot of being at a national park in the States and the scenery of the Black Hills of South Dakota. We spent an hour or so looking around and then boarded the bus to go to an Escorial Monastery. 

The Escorial was extremely cold inside with all-stone floors and, of course, no space heaters. I don't know how anyone could stand being in such cold, empty palaces so long ago with no means of keeping warm. We saw the sepulcras of many royal family members below the Escorial. They told us a little more than I wanted to know about exactly what remains get stored in the chamber, and with that we continued above ground for the rest of our chilly tour. 

Once again, that night we had more Adventures in Temperature. Cristian came in for room check and as he left we asked him to set the thermostat at a comfortable 23 centigrade. Ryan left to go to bed shortly after and we asked him to check that we were at the right temperature, and then the three of us rolled over and went to sleep. Thanks to some trickster (I'm still not sure which one it was!) we spent the night in a 16 centigrade room (that's 60º F). So from one night to the next we went from the tropics to the icecaps and back to Spain again. By the time we got the silly system figured out, we came back to ESDES where we don't actually have air-conditioning and our heaters have been turned off for the season. Luckily the weather has been extremely pleasant and sleeping with the doors open has kept us quite comfortable. 

Sabbath was a day almost free of activities; we only had church in the morning and an optional tour of the city that evening. I headed to the park with Seth, Jon, and Justin to do a little slacklining (more on this later!) and went to Wok to Walk for dinner that night with Justin and Shannon. We arrived back at ESDES Sunday evening and had Monday to recuperate and finish our journals. Now here we are with only seven weeks and couting and a monton of homework. But no pasa nada, I'm determined to finish it all AND enjoy these last weeks in this lovely place. 
After our night in Toledo and tour of the town the next day, we headed to Segovia and arrived for some free time in the evening. Our hotel was right next to the famous aqueduct which was constructed sometime around the first century AD. No plasters, concretes, or adhesives were used and today it remains standing only because of excellent construction and its stones that fit together perfectly. The aqueduct runs nearly ten miles from the Fuente Fría and right into the middle of the city. 

The next morning, we met after breakfast to begin our walking tour of Segovia. It was chilly and drizzling and we stopped under a store overhang for Cristian to give us the history of the city and the aqueduct. We kept walking and the rain let up a bit, and just as we reached the Alcázar (castle/palace), the sun had begun to peek out. The views around the Alcázar were beautiful and the castle itself was pretty impressive. We spent half an hour or so taking photos and then split into three groups for our tour. Our tour guide was very nice and we had no problem understanding her. The arab origins of the castle can be seen in the tilework and ceilings of certain rooms, although a later fire burned nearly all the furniture and wood ceilings in 1862. Above the thrones is written "Tanto Monto, Monto Tanto (Isabel como Fernando)" which was the motto of Isabel and Ferdinand, signifying that they both had an equal rule, hers just as much as his. In the castle we also saw a few items of knight's armor and finally got to climb the tower and look over Segovia. 

That afternoon we left for Madrid where we spent three nights. Our hotel there had no free wifi, so that's why I didn't get to blog until we got back to ESDES. I'll get to that in a few days and that will conclude our trip to central Spain!
After coming back from chilly central Spain, I am thankful I live in Valencia instead of Madrid. We had a wonderful trip and in many ways Madrid and Castilla la Mancha is actually more beautiful despite being land-locked, but nothing beats the weather here in Valencia and getting to watch the sun rise over the Mediterranean every morning. After our six day trip, three of which had no internet, I'm glad to be back in the dorm with my ethernet cable and in the 70º weather instead of the chilly 50s we experienced. This afternoon and evening I enjoyed some slacklining with Jon and Seth who are working on acclimating me to the ways of WWU and the northwest. This evening we all took turns and a small group gathered on the line, enjoying the evening breeze and the smell of orange blossoms in the air. What can I say, it's a hard life here in Spain! 

Anyway, about our trip. I'll try to catch up on the three locations we saw, but for now I'll just start with Toledo. We began our trip early last Tuesday morning and drove four or five hours straight through the middle of Spain. I was surprised at how beautiful the landscape was, as I'm sure my friends from the coasts would be surprised that Kansas can actually be beautiful too. Instead of terraced orange groves were rolling hills with different crops and grasses. I was delighted to discover that we drove right past the famous Castilla la Mancha windmills and snapped a few photos. I've wanted to see them all year, but being on a random highway in the middle of Spain makes them hard to access by public transportation. 

We finally reached our hotel where we met up with Justin and Ryan and some others who had gone to Madrid a day early to meet up with a friend and former teacher. We set off to find a Mercadona and enjoyed our usual supermarket favorites: fresh baked french bread, cookies, yogurts, etc. We met the group back at the hotel and the bus took us into town where we had a short walking tour of the city and the cathedral. Most of the boys wanted to look at or purchase some variety of sword of knife, which Toledo is famous for. We walked around, looking in shops for awhile before heading back to the hotel. We left just as the sun began to set, lighting up the city and surround hills. Hannah and I had a room together for the night and never found the thermostat, spending a chilly night when we couldn't find extra blankets either. Cristian later told us (in Spanish of course) "Come on guys, it's a four star hotel! You can call them and tell them anything you need!" But we got a laugh out of it and it was only the beginning of our Temperature Adventures we had in the next few days.
The next morning we checked out of our hotel but spent the morning in Toledo at a museum of Jewish history in Spain, Santo Tomé, and the Monastario San Juan de los Reyes. The museum was interesting but small and we went through it pretty fast. Santo Tomé is home to one of the most famous paintings by El Greco, which I recognized immediately from my Art History class I took at Union. My favorite part was the Monastario San Juan because it had a beautiful courtyard that we could walk all around on two levels. After the usual free time for lunch, we boarded the buses and headed to Segovia. But you'll have to tune in next time for more Adventures in Temperature. 
After two wonderful days in Valencia, my mom and grandma and I headed north on the train to Barcelona. We rented a small apartment just off Las Ramblas and our first evening made it a priority to get some food and find our way to La Boquería for fresh-squeezed fruit juice. We enjoyed some asian food at Wok to Walk (Yes, clever English name for a high-quality fast-food restaurant) and then walked around the market for awhile. I think the open-air markets we went to were one of my grandma's favorite parts, which made me so happy. I've always loved them and I knew she would too. And I know my mom enjoyed seeing all the cute candy and chocolate that I'm always tempted to spend my precious euros on. 

The next day I decided to show them the Sagrada Familia. I knew Spain in general would be a bit busier than usual for Semana Santa and Easter, but after the crowds in Fallas it didn't seem terrible to me. It was indeed crowded but the weather was lovely and we didn't let the swarms of tourists ruin our visit. Upon arriving at the Sagrada at eleven AM, we were told to take a ticket and at 1:30 we could come back to buy our entrance ticket. It's times like that when I miss being in a school group of 90 with pre-paid tickets, audioguides, and a right-of-way into museums and cathedrals. However, we took advantage of our time and stopped to get Subway sandwiches which we enjoyed in a park just under the Sagrada. Our two hours flew by (especially since it took quite a while to order in Subway behind a large group of northen-European youths who spoke almost no Spanish). 

I was so glad we decided to wait and go in the cathedral instead of just looking around the outside and leaving. As anyone can see, the outside of the structure is just plain weird, asymmetrical, and not particularly beautiful, at least to me. Interesting to see, yes, but not exactly breathtaking. However, despite the dark and almost dingy sang-castle appearance of the outside, the inside is light, airy, and colorful and I knew my mom and grandma would like it. We spent a good while walking around inside and when we were done we headed back to our neighborhood to walk around Las Ramblas a bit before heading back to the apartment. 

The second day I had decided to take them to the Parc Güell, which we also went to last month on the school trip. Once again, the crowds were much larger than they were a month ago but the weather was also much nicer. This time the sky was so clear and Barcelona had no smog and the ocean shone bright blue behind the skyline of the city. The walk up to the park was a bit strenuous and included stretches of escalator up the hill. Once we were at the top, though, the view was totally worth it. We took our time and spent several hours walking around the park and taking photos. 

We arrived back in Sagunto Saturday afternoon and the campus was pretty quiet with so many people still gone for break. The train ride back was absolutely beautiful, all the way along the coast the beaches were bright and sunny and the Mediterranean was bright teal. The train took us nearly the whole way along the coast in all the little beach towns people were out enjoying the sun and getting ready for Easter. On Sunday we walked around the campus a bit and through the orange groves, something that never ceases to impress any visitors of the midwest (myself included!). All the trees have begun to blossom and the smell is amazing. I can't even believe how lucky I am to be here and that my family could come and visit. 

By Sunday evening so many of my friends had returned and we all sat around catching up while my mom and grandma got to know my amazing friends here. I know it was a bit exhausting for them the night before their international flight, but it was so important for me and all my amigos enjoyed meeting them so much. I cannot thank my mom and grandma enough for everything they did to make this trip possible–and for being real troopers throughout everything! I feel so blessed to have been able to be surrounded by so many friends AND family at the same time in this beautiful country I've learned to call home over the last seven months. What will come in the next nine weeks? I can't say exactly, but I'm going to enjoy every last drop of it before it's done. 

I just got an email from my mom and they've arrived safely home from the airport. I'm so relieved and so, so proud of them. For me? I'm off to Toledo this morning for our last school trip. And you know what that means . . . more blogs to come soon!