Monday, August 31, 2009

LONDON! ...and the beginning of Granada

Friday, August 28th, 2009
Friday was quite a hectic day…even before the flight! It was filled with last minute shopping and goodbyes as well as a final emergency sunless tanning session. I finally was packed about half an hour before we left for the airport, but not before I weighed my bag. And good thing we did—it was about 30 pounds over the limit! So, instead of just taking one giant suitcase and my backpack, I had to split it up into 2 suitcases and my backpack. While at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, Will and I recognized the other few faces of students traveling to Granada from St. Thomas. Also there were 2 kids from the University of MN Morris, one from Augustana College, and one from the University of MN Duluth. The flight to Chicago was SUPER rough. Our pilot seemed to slow down and speed up a bunch, and change altitudes constantly. I’m sure you can imagine what the landing was like. Anyway, we got into Chicago about 45 minutes late. Our connecting flight to London/Heathrow was supposed to close at 6:55, and we had landed around 6:30! We had to transfer terminals and go through security again before we found out the flight had been postponed until 8:00. We got lucky on that one! I’d like to thank Dad for giving me his ‘traveling genes’ in the sense that while the rest of the group was rather hesitant to lead or ask for information, I felt oddly comfortable. We sat around until our flight boarded, talking and getting to know each other. Apparently 2 other students were sitting near us (including my London hotel roommate, sophomore from OU, Maretta), but we didn’t know they were with AIFS. I suppose the bright orange tags should have given it away. Regardless, we all met up once we got to the London airport. Also there was a girl who had flown in from Washington D.C. We were bussed to our Holiday Inn hotel about half an hour away in a large coach bus.

I suppose this is now Saturday, August 29th, 2009
It was around 11:30 by the time we got to the hotel, and we met with the AIFS welcoming staff who let us run free until our hotel rooms became available at 2. A small group of us walked to a pub nearby and had some of our first traditional English food (Fish & Chips, Potato Wedges with Cheddar, etc.). That evening a “welcoming drink” was scheduled for all of the students going to both Salamanca and Granada. In total, there were probably about 90 of us. Before this, we walked around Kensington Park to do some people-watching. And people we did watch. Near a small bandstand, a man in a kilt was teaching a large group of people how to do some sort of folk dance (looked like line-dancing). We rushed back for the “welcoming drink”, mainly because we knew the Man United/Arsenal game was also on. That evening Will and I went out with our “Pub Passports” in hand (a ticket for a free meal and drink at certain pubs). We didn’t end up finding a pub that wasn’t packed, but did find a nice café in which we got a small pizza.

Sunday, August 30th, 2009
We all got up rather early this day for the tour we were promised. Actually, I mostly got up to see what the continental breakfast was :) We split up onto 2 coach busses and headed off with our highly trained tour guide (2 year program, about 20 exams!). Our tour guide, Nikki, was very, very friendly and funny. She made sure to point out the sights all of us kids would appreciate (like Harry Potter and other movie landmarks, hotels celebrities favor, and funny billboards). Every once in a while we would get off the bus to get a better look and to take pictures. We almost left my roommate, Maretta at Buckingham Palace. Whoops! That would have been a long walk back. Sights included the Globe Theater, St. James Cathedral, Big Ben, London Bridge, Tower of London, Trafalger Square, and Harrods! Well, there was more than that…haha. We were dropped off in Covent Garden to fend for ourselves. Nikki pointed out a Pastie shop and other places easy to walk to. Those of us who still had yet to use our “Pub Passports” found the most convenient pub and grabbed some grub. From there we literally walked all the way back to the hotel. On the way we stopped at the sights we hadn’t spent much time at, including the National Gallery, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the Science Museum. When we stopped at Trafalger Square again, we were reminded of something Nikki had told us about. She said to celebrate…something…each day for 100 days, people had applied for an hour slot to stand on top of this large, wide pillar/platform in the Square and do whatever they wanted. When we had driven past on the Coach earlier, there was a guy sitting on a stool, taking pictures of the crowds walking past. THIS time when we were there, there was a man completely naked…just standing there. People were taking pictures, but I passed on the photo op. On the way back we also walked all the way through Hyde Park (no, we didn’t see Peter Pan) and Kensington Gardens. Will hand-fed a squirrel, but I don’t think it was much of a fan of the Chex Mix we had to offer. All Londoners obviously have a much more sophisticated palate. Once we got back after the 7 hour journey back to the hotel, we took a break. I then went out to the same café as the day before to grab another pizza (and a piece of chocolate cake I had been eyeing) with Will and his roommate, Yuri (U of M Morris student). So, I never used the Tube, but I think it was for the best. I got to see so much, much more by walking.

Monday, August 31st, 2009
I went to bed around 1am…well aware that my alarm was set for 3am. We were to leave the hotel for the London/Gatwick airport at 3:45. I ended up getting up around 2:30 instead, after we received a wonderful wakeup call the AIFS people arranged. However, we DID get to ride on a double-decker bus, so it made up for some of it. Right now I’m on the plane to Malaga. Judging by how many children are on board, I think it must be “Take Your Child to Spain Day” or something. It’s CRAZY.

...quite a few hours later. I'm in my room now at Hostel Jardines, my home for the next few months. My roommate ended up actually being Maretta, so at least something about this move was familiar. We flew into Malaga Airport and all rushed around to get our bags and meet our resident director, Paula Messina. She's a New York native who was an AIFS student here 21 years ago. She met a boy while on the trip, and before she knew it, she was living here! She came on our bus (the resident students), while most of the homestay students went on another bus. We all met up and got to see those kids meet their families. It was pretty cute. The old ladies were so funny and superrrrr excited. The resident students packed up Paula's husband's van with our massive luggage and then we followed her through the streets to Hostel Jardines. Once we brought our bags up to our rooms (that was pretty hilarious...), Paula took us to a Cafeteria for lunch and we all got bocadillas (basically sub sandwiches). We then were on our own. Will and I went to this huge mercado Paula suggested we buy toilet paper and such. We had fun trying to figure that out. Back at Jardines, the little old ladies who basically run the place are very sweet, but don't speak a word of English. They're fun though...trying to talk to us like we're natives. We pretend we understand. Oh, we also had a guy come up to try and fix our AC, but I had to try and figure out how to tell him it must be a different room...I think he understood. Maretta and I unpacked, and it all basically fits. Whew.

Tonight a group of us went out to a small restaurant. We ate outside because it is still SUPER nice out. We're all trying to go to bed early because of the placement exam tomorrow, but that's not happening because we're all STUDYING! Already.
Well, I hope to get some of my pictures up tomorrow...but the internet here is pretty on and off. Wish me luck tomorrow on the placement test! :)

1 comment:

  1. Maria - great that you have a blog to share your travels - you got Steve's traveling genes and his ability to write so evocatively about the experience. Wishing you all the best while your in Spain. Love from Grandma, Denise and Josh.