Well, I haven't felt like writing. I've been a little down though I'm not sure why. I guess I'll start from last week, when I set the pencil (keyboard, I guess) down. Wednesday, I gave my presentation over The Clan of the Cave Bear and everything went fantastically. I had a powerpoint presentation that was well put-together and colorful with all kinds of descriptive pictures and bulleted points so that my classmates could follow along. I took up more than the required 10 minutes and taught everyone new words in Spanish, such as "manada" (herd) and "antepasado" (ancestor). I only stumbled here and there and only forgot to mention a few minor points. I was pretty happy with it. The downside, because there is always a downside, is that, after all of my hard work, about half the class had their eyes glazed over within the first 2 minutes, which I don't believe is a reflection of my presentation abilities, but a revelation about the type of people with whom I am attending class. Also, I think I have put the most effort into this project than anyone and I am very proud of how it turned out. I raised the bar, but everyone else refuses to reach it. That's fine, but the teacher will grade on their level and I will have done all that work for nothing. Ah, well.
Thursday, I bought my tickets for Spring Break. Here is the plan. I am going to Rome for 4 days, London for 4 days and Paris for 4 days. I plan on taking side-trips, here and there. I want to see Venice, Stonehenge and Bath, and I was kind of hoping to visit the prehistoric caves of France, but I'm not sure that that will be feasible for a day-trip. So far, the plane tickets for Rome, Paris, then Madrid have cost me a good $270 (ouch!). This does not include the train ticket to London, the side-trips, food or lodging, or entrance fees to places I want to visit. This will be one expensive Spring Break. Part of me wonders if I should have just caught a flight to the Canary Islands and lived on the beach for 12 days.
Friday morning, we left on our weekend trip to Cantabria, a northern "state" (they call them autonomous communities) in Spain. There wasn't that much to do there, but it was the most gorgeous place I've ever seen. Friday morning, I was hoping to get to the bus early in order to get a good seat, but my host mom was a little late in giving us our lunches and Carla was late getting ready, so we didn't leave the piso until less than 5 until 9 (when we needed to be there at 9) and didn't get there until 5 after. Fortunately, we weren't the last to arrive, but I was stuck with an aisle seat. I was feeling a bit ill from the breakfast (I'll never get used to our milk) and mentioned it when asked. This caused my seat partner to collect his things and rush to the back of the bus. I felt badly, but, at the same time, I got the window seat, and the entire seat to myself...
Our first stop was in Castilla-Léon in the city of Burgos. We visited The Cathedral of Burgos, this giant (beautiful) cathedral that they began building in 1221 and that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It has the remains of El Cid Campeador (does anyone remember the movie?) and his wife Doña Jimena. Tom and I watched the movie with his grandparents not long ago, so it was kind of cool to see his resting place. The catherdral was wonderful, but it was freezing! I kept thinking: When will this cathedral end?! We just walked and walked and walked. We had to have passed about 15 "Salida" (exit) signs on our way through this maze.
A very small section of the Cathedral of Burgos. It's gorgeous, isn't it? Especially the sky...
We ate our lunch in Burgos, which was nice. I hung out with pretty much one girl the whole time and we chatted. She is a very open and outspoken girl, so I learned her opinion about pretty much everything in that day, and I shared a bit of mine. It was a nice bonding time.
Our hotel for the weekend was in Santillana del Mar. This place was amazing. It's this little town of stone streets and stone buildings. Very old-timey. Very medieval, in a not creepy way. It was gorgeous. However, our first stop was at the Museum of Torture where we viewed all the different kinds of torture that they used during the Inquisition. It was pretty horrible. I was rather disturbed. I really can't imagine how one person could do such things to another human being. I'm not against capital punishment, and I'm not saying terrible people should go in a painless bliss, but this stuff was terrible. And beyond that, it was disturbing to see how entertained some of the people of our group were. These were real people who may have done nothing worse than say that the church may not be correct in everything. I can't even imagine. I lost my faith in people again for a bit.
This is a hollow metal cow. People would shove other people inside of it, lock them in and then light a fire underneath until the person inside was cooked to death. What kind of twisted mind would even think this up?
Saturday, we visited three other "pueblos" (little cities, or villages, kind of) of Cantabria: Comillas, Potes, and San Vicente de la Barquera. In Comillas, we saw the beach, though we didn't go near and it was rather cold, a few gorgeous buildings of which I can remember no history except that the one was done by Gaudí (recall that Barcelona would be nothing without Gaudí). They were El Capricho, The Palace of Sobrellano and the Universidad Pontificia Comillas.
We left Comillas and headed down this mountain to Potes. This was the most frightening drive I've ever been on. We are in this giant bus, rounding all kinds of curves with cars flying past when there is barely room for two cars. The bus driver is swearing and honking the horn, but I was completely transfixed by the scenery. I couldn't pay attention to the bus coming nearer to the edge of this cliff we were on. Apparently, though, everyone else was feeling the curves far more than I was. Not long into the ride, Susana, our director, came by asking "¿Estás bien? ¿Estás bien?" (Are you alright?) I had no idea why until the girl a few seats away began vomiting. The fun thing about Spanish is that "to vomit" is "vomitar", so when we recounted our adventures in class this week, everyone kept saying, "Michelle vomitó en el autobus." It was great.
The mountains near Potes. We didn't drive those, but they were in the background the entire time. Look at how gorgeous the sky looks. Not a cloud in sight.
Near Potes, we went to the Monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liébana. In this monastery is the (believed) largest piece still in existence of the wooden cross upon which Christ died. Many might think that would be an amazing thing to be able to see... I thought it was kind of creepy, but I guess tons and tons of pilgrims made their way to this monastery in order to see it. Potes was a beautiful little town full of angry locals that dislike tourists. The group I tagged along with got lucky and found an empty friendly restaurant in which to have our lunch (toasted sandwich of fried egg, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise; Delicious!). We wandered around later. I bought some earrings (I think I'll buy earrings from every place I visit) and we took some fantastic pictures of the scenery.
Me in Potes. You can see the river below, kind of, it's the shiny thing to the left of me, part of the village and the mountains in the background.
San Vicente de la Barquera was right next to the sea. I took some amazing photos and we arrived right around sunset, so some are even better. We checked out the cathedral and a castle. Both were nice, but the views stole the show. The sea was freezing though. We didn't even bother going down to the beach. The wind was enough to keep us all huddled together. It was Valentine's Day though, so I stopped in a candy shop and bought myself a heart sucker. Great day, beautiful sun. It was colder than I would have liked, but it wasn't raining, which apparently is a miracle for northern Spain.
San Vicente... This is a view from the top of the castle looking out toward the sea. Those little things in the water are boats and you can see part of the castle there at the bottom of the picture.
Sunday morning, a quick unexciting tour of Santillana del Mar and then we headed to the Altamira Caves, which I discussed in my presentation and somewhat influenced Auel while writing her books. They are the caves discovered in 1871 with prehistoric cave paintings, far advanced from what was expected for the time. I was a little disappointed. Firstly, no pictures at all. I mean, these are fake caves. Reproductions. Why can't we take pictures? Then, I wanted to buy a t-shirt at the gift shop, but all of the t-shirts were ugly, basically, and very expensive. I finally settled on a stuffed mammoth that I fell in love with for more money than he was worth, but I had to take him home. He was a hit with everyone too. I wish we had had more time to wander around the museum part of it, but we didn't. It wasn't all a disappointment. It was gorgeous and amazing and it made me happy to learn more about prehistoric people, but I just wish that the people who run the museum weren't so uptight and wouldn't rip you off at the gift shop. It made the experience a little less amazing and feel a bit like a tourist trap, when, considering what it is, it should never be considered as such.
The ride home wasn't bad at all. I sat and discussed life with a grad student for most of the time and caught a catnap here and there, but I had had a late night Thursday talking with Tom and then two late nights in the hotel, hanging out with people in different rooms. Of course I couldn't go home and sleep. I had to get home and begin to write an essay about my trip, in Spanish, and finish up the rest of my homework. I didn't make it to bed until after 3 and was up before 7. Needless to say, I was exhausted and not loving life at this point. Monday was a long, difficult day. The internet in the school gave out and I needed to begin studying for midterms. I caught up on my sleep yesterday, but I'm behind on my studying and my parents are coming soon. Lots of pressure right now and I'm really feeling it.
I miss home terribly. I've even begun counting the days and I'm not even halfway through. I think I'll feel better when midterms are over, but then my family will be leaving at the same time. It's just going to be an emotional week and a half. I just hope I handle it well. I guess I have no choice.
Well, I think that's about it... I need to head home now. Catch a nap and start organizing myself for the studying that I'm going to need to do over the next 5 or 6 days. I'm not excited. I might check for typos later, but it takes so long to upload these pictures and everything that it's just not worth it right now.