Tag Archives: Sightseeing

Orientation, Alcalá and Madrid (May 30, 2014)

My Spanish breakfast
My Spanish breakfast

This right here is a picture of what my Spanish breakfast looked like. I learned there that breakfast in Spain is not really that big of a deal as it is in the U.S. Usually the breakfast is the lightest meal of the day and a lot of Spaniards don’t eat it at all. Well… coffee. Everyone has coffee.

In the picture there is a croissant, a magdalena or muffin, orange juice and chocolate milk, because I’m not that big on coffee. Now, this chocolate milk is made with a chocolate powder called cola cao which I miss dearly, and even though I like my very continental American breakfast, I do miss my Spanish breakfast. It may just be the memory it brings mixed with the fact that I’m unable to find cola cao here in the States, but sometimes that’s all I want after I wake up.

It was 59 degrees outside… I woke up really early today. I’m guessing it’s because I was really excited. I didn’t even need my alarm, which is a miracle. My host mom walked with me in the morning to the university, where I had orientation all morning. We took a placement test and discussed important topics such as: historical facts about the city of Alcalá de Henares, information about the university, safety tips, information about public transportation, information about field trips, disciplinary norms and information about internet access. Basically, a lot of information about everything we needed to know.

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Orientation Packet

In orientation, I met other American students from across the country and after orientation was over, we took a tour of Alcalá de Henares. The city is beautiful. While we were touring, a guy that wasn’t part of the tour started screaming, which scared us all, until we realized that someone was recording him. We later found out that high school kids were doing that when they found tourists, as a joke, to put the video of the reactions on YouTube. We laughed afterwards, after the creepy moment had passed.

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Jackie, me, Sydney
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Jillian, Leila, me

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Tapas

That last picture is tapas. Something you will love while you’re there. Tapas are basically a variety of Spanish appetizers and snacks that are served when you buy beer or sangria or wine… The concept of the tapas is that you buy an alcoholic beverage and you get free tapas. Apparently, this was something that was done throughout Spain but lately you are unable to find it in most places. (the concept, not the actual tapas. Tapas are everywhere!). However, Alcalá is one of those places where you can still buy a beer and get delicious tapas for free.

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Leila

We then went to the train station to take a train from Alcalá to Madrid…

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Madrid was a city I had been dreaming of for a long time. When I was little, I remember my friends wanted to go to Paris or Rome, and don’t get me wrong I want to go to Paris and Rome as well but Madrid was the place I was always thinking about.

We toured Madrid walking as well, and it was fun being able to see everything but we didn’t really have enough time to stop anywhere, so the guides explained where things were located and how to get to them so we could go on the weekends. They were really sweet and fun.

Madrid is beautiful but that first impression wasn’t the best. It didn’t feel like I thought it would. I took pictures and walked with the group trying to figure out why it didn’t feel like home away from home. The amount of tourists didn’t help either but I kept on walking and snapping away. It turns out, it was just not the right time. I would figure that out, later on…

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I believe we came back from Madrid around 9pm and my host mom was waiting for me at the plaza because I don’t know my way home yet. Once we got home, I ate, took a shower, got dressed and met up with students from UCF and other American universities.

We went to a really nice tapas bar, and later on to an Irish pub that was playing bachata and some mix of reggaeton with techno. Jackie and Sydney walked me home after the night was over.

It was the perfect ending to a hectic weekend of cultural immersion. I was sleep deprived and I still couldn’t believe that I was living in Spain…

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Jillian, Jackie, me, Sydney (left to right)

A Puerto Rican in Israel…

My name is Roberto Rodriguez Calderon and I’m 19 years old. I live in Canovanas, Puerto Rico and I’m a third year B.A. student of psychology at the University of Puerto Rico in the town of Carolina. Usually in my free time, if I ever have any, I like to write, read subjects of astronomy, neuropsychology, philosophy, physics, literature and history, listen to music and sleep.

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What do you think about traveling?

I believe traveling has to be a vital decision on the life of every human being, especially on young people. If we look at it from a philosophical point of view, its stated that we humans are always trying to understand our surroundings, of course some of that understanding can be done by reading books, but obviously it doesn’t compare to what you experience by actually doing the traveling. It is in that particular experience that you learn from the world and about yourself, at the same time. Traveling helps you grow as a person and brings personal joy, when you realize that you know a lot more about the world you live in.

What do you think is most important, the journey or the destination?

I pretty much believe that the journey is the most important thing. Because, yeah choosing the destination is always a hard choice because they’re a lot of places that one wishes to go, but it would definitely be the journey you do since most of the learning that really counts occurs from the moment  you go out the front door until the moment you come back.

Before this summer, had you traveled anywhere outside the island of Puerto Rico? Did you learn anything?

Yeah, I traveled to the Dominican Republic, the states of Florida and North Carolina. I can’t say I learned much from those places since I was a little kid when I first visited them. But I still have the memories which I usually analyze and I get some bit of information that helps me think about deeper things. For example, I have memories of being with my family in the Dominican Republic and having conversations, even though we all speak Spanish, in which they would laugh about some words that I said. By the time I didn’t know the reason behind their laughter, until I read a book in which I learned that some Spanish words in a country have a different meaning in another country.

It seems that culture is always a key component when traveling. Why did you decide to go to Israel, out of all the countries in the world, during this summer?

That’s simple. I have a cousin that lives there and so I thought it would be a great idea to go visit her, visit the country and actually meet her for the first time. I had no idea about the political history, neither the language but I knew one or two things about their culture.

Did any negative events occurred while you were visiting? and if so, how did those events affect your stay?

More than an event I would referred to it as a social phenomenon which is war. Is funny because I always had this dream of becoming this great soldier, obviously I got rid of that dream once I got into college, but having experienced that phenomenon in which my family and I took on the role of the civilians suffering casualties, helped me recognize that I made the right decision on not joining the army. The war affected in great way the whole stay since we had to keep moving from city to city trying to escape the missiles. It was really hard because it didn’t matter in which city we were, we always had the alarms go on as a sign that there were missiles directed to the city.

When you heard those alarms, what thoughts came to your mind?

The first time I heard the alarms I was reading so I didn’t really assimilate what was happening. But after having the alarms go on from 4 to 8 times per day I started having thoughts on wanting to get back to Puerto Rico. I was scared that the airport was going to get hit by a missile and that the war was going to get out of control.

Having experienced a situation like this one, what would you say to people who want to travel but are worried about safety issues?

Well… I mean we always have to, not be worried, but conscious about everywhere we go. Because bad situations can happen anywhere and it’s just a matter of knowing what to do when things like that happen. But nevertheless you shouldn’t deprive yourself from traveling just because of safety issues, because at the end of the day we never really know what’s going to happen.

Considering this particular voyage, what has been your most memorable ‘out of my comfort zone’ experience?

I have some memorables ‘out of my comfort zone’ experiences from this trip. First, the fact that I was traveling alone and without a cell phone from Puerto Rico to Israel was a bit nerve-racking. Second, since every Friday afternoon we did a religious ceremony call “Shabbat”, through all the afternoon of Friday until Saturday afternoon we couldn’t use any electronic devices.  That was hard because I’m always reading or studying from my laptop. And the last one was changing my eating habits for the period of time I spent there from eating rice, chicken and beans to vegetables, fish, bread and a lot of hummus.

From all the things you experienced when you traveled to Israel, what are the top places or main attractions that you would recommend to other travelers that are wanting to go to Israel as well?

I would tell that someone to go to the dead sea and have a great time floating in it covered in mud. If the person is into old fashion or vintage I would tell them to go to Tel Aviv/Yafo especifically the Yafo part. To those who like to be more active and go out I would recommend to go to Eilat, which is a city packed with a lot of hotels and a lot of people to meet. Jerusalem should be visited because it has a lot of history, plus visiting the wailing wall is a great experience. The beach definitely has to visited and stay there until you experience watching that beautiful sunset that Israel has to offer. The last one I definitely think it should be the Holocaust Museum(Yad Vashem) which is a World Center for Holocaust Research and has much information about the holocaust.

Do you have any travel plans in the immediate future? Or where is the number one place on your list to visit next?

For now I’m planning to visit once again the Dominican Republic to spend some time with my family and actually travel within the country and learn more about their culture, history and famous places. But my number one place to visit I believe is India. India is recognized as a place of much wisdom but at the same time much poverty, so it makes it really interesting for me.

Would you ever go back to Israel?

Yes, I would. Because even though I couldn’t experience much of the country because of the war, I had an amazing experience in those short periods of time that I was doing something else besides escaping. As a result, I ended wanting to see more and experience more and because of that I would love to go back to Israel and spend more time in that amazing place.

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Top 5 Things To Do In The Beautiful Old San Juan

From walking down the cobblestone streets to breathing the fresh ocean air and enjoying the history behind the old Spanish fortifications located right across a beautiful set of colorful colonial houses, Old San Juan has become my favorite traveling destination of all.

History:

Old San Juan is the historic core of the city of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. It is the oldest city under United States jurisdiction founded in 1521 by Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of the island. In 1493 Christopher Columbus landed on the island on his second voyage, and named it San Juan Bautista in honor of John the Baptist. The location made the original settlement Spain’s most important military outpost in the Caribbean. In 1509 the settlement was relocated to the islet now called Old San Juan and it was named Puerto Rico or rich port. However, around ten years later the confusion of the names led to a switch where the city took the name of San Juan, while the island became Puerto Rico.

Top 5 Things To Do:

  1. Fortifications

Walking or taking the free trolley on a beautiful warm morning to the different fortifications in Old San Juan is a great way to start the day. Old San Juan has over 500 years of history and colonial architecture and visiting the castle San Felipe del Morro, the fort of La Fortaleza and the fort of San Cristobal will allow you to travel back in time with their canons and ramparts used to protect Spain’s empire against Carib Indians, pirates and other countries. These monuments are the must-see attractions in the area and give the region a sense of magic that may not be experienced in other cities.

  1. Cafe Manolín

After a morning full of walking and sightseeing a delicious lunch is in order. My favorite restaurant at this time of the day is Café Manolín located where San Justo street meets La Fortaleza street. Manolín is a family friendly café that has been there for over 70 years and serves the most exquisite Puerto Rican food at an affordable price. The clientele varies from functionaries of the government to tourists and citizens of the island. This restaurant is opened 7 days a week and offers homemade mouthwatering desserts such as: Tres Leches (three milks cake), chocolate cake, and Flan de Queso (cheese custard). It is also very well known for their traditional coffee called ‘café colao’.

  1. Art Galleries

A wonderful and relaxing activity after a delicious lunch is to walk up and down the streets of Old San Juan where delightful art galleries can be found. Here, you will be able to find Caribbean and Latin American contemporary art, pop art, sculptures, naïve art, etchings, silkscreen, photography and much more. You can browse the many galleries while getting lost in this beautiful city and enjoy the very special and cozy sunshine that reminds you that you are in an island in the Caribbean.

  1. Paseo de La Princesa

After enjoying an afternoon full of art and beauty I recommend to head off to one of my favorite spots in old San Juan. Stroll down Paseo de La Princesa when the sun is going down and enjoy the magnificent view of the water and the docks while being entertained by life music and free cultural performances. In the Paseo you can also find street vendors, artisans and a restaurant called Café La Princesa located in a beautiful garden by a colonial fortification that offers traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. Dine in this rustic and homely atmosphere surrounded by the enchantment of a night showered by stars.

  1. Poet’s Passage

When the night has set in and you have finished dining, there is a wonderful little place that should be visited. The Poet’s Passage is an artsy café located on Cruz street that hosts creative events such as open mic and poetry slams. It is an amazing experience that will stimulate your creative thinking by meeting talented artists, writers and poets. This is definitely a delightful way to end your night.

Old San Juan is a magical place where there is a little bit of everything for everyone’s taste.