SPAIN UPDATE # 3

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Hello all!

So that title may seem ridiculously random, but listen to this: it's snowing in Madrid right now! How cool is that? Yeah ok, so maybe those of you who live in places where it snows every day from November till March are guffawing at me, but for me, a California boy all my life, to live in a place where it snows is awesome. Especially since the weather in Madrid is so similar to Sacramento weather (where I live) that it's almost as cool as when it snows in Sacramento (which it does maybe once every 5 years, so it's always a cause for celebration). At any rate, I have been meaning to send an email to all my friends and family back home, and this was something I had to share, so it gave me a good opportunity to write to you.

How has everyone's Lenten season started off? Any good resolutions made? Any of those same resolutions broken yet? How about Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday - did anybody do anything exciting for those? Here's how my Lenten experience has gone so far. Last weekend, I skipped my last two classes and Thursday and jetted out (literally, I took a jet) to Bonn Germany to visit my good friend Raymond Crosby, whom some of you know well. There is a German town called Köln (or Cologne for all of us German-challenged) where they have what I hear is a Karnival celebration second only to Rio de Janeiro. Well I don’t know about that, but it was certainly a darned good time. As soon as I arrived at 11pm Thursday night, I was greeted by a wild man in a full body lion costume who gave me a vial of strange tasting liquid to drink, then suited me up in a full body rooster costume and took me out on the town. Unfortunately, we were in the wrong part of the city, and the parties were already dying down a bit. Over the rest of the weekend, I made friends with several other LMU study abroad-ers, as well as a few cute German girls (though sadly, cute German girls are somewhat few and far between), and I saw some of the German cathedrals, as well as the mighty Rhine, in between freezing off the outer epidermal layers of my buttocks and partaking in some fine bratwurst. Overall, the weekend was a blast, though my immune system sadly could not keep up with me, and I have been recovering from a cold since then.

I came back Monday and in place of my normal songbird like voice was a screechy scratchy thing and a wicked cough. Yet I managed to perform my first cantoring at the Ash Wednesday mass, and as far as I could tell, it didn’t sound too bad! Yesterday I finished my last midterm, so I’m good to go for another few months of clowning around and goofing off, and Ray will help me start that when he comes tonight to visit for the weekend. Then next weekend is when the real fun begins. Two SLU friends, Pat and Jordan, will accompany me first by bus to Barcelona, where we will fly out to London, spend a night there probably partying with Jean Luc, another LMU study abroad-er whom some of you probably know, then fly out to Dublin the next morning, stay in Ireland for a few days, fly to Scotland, stay there a few days, fly to Stockholm Sweden, there for a few days, then back to London, back to Barcelona, and back to Madrid. The entire travel expenses for the trip will be probably only around the $200 mark, which is not bad for so many different places. It's going to be a blast, and I can't wait to party hard, Irish/Scottish/Swedish style.

[For those of you I have talked to often, the following might be repetitive… if you wish, skip it, though be aware you might be missing some of the wonderful storytelling of your dearest friend and humble narrator.]

Before last weekend, days were filled with studying, homework, and other such endeavors, but I still found time to do some fun touristy things. I went with a friend to see El Escorial, which is the burial place of all the kings of Spain. It was ok, but the place was pretty dead when we were there (rim shot). The weekend before that I went with a group of friends to Barcelona, where we saw all kinds of neat things and had a great, albeit exhausting time.

That’s all I have for now, and sadly, in the time that I was writing this, it has stopped snowing. However, the sun has come out as well, so I’m not too sad. Strange weather we’re having indeed… must be that crazy El Niño everyone is talking about. In the meantime, keep sending emails my way, as we finally have internet at my apartment and I can respond to them even faster than before, not to mention I love to hear from all of you. My love to all, and I hope this finds you well!

Con cariño,
Mark

SPAIN UPDATE # 2

Hello friends!

It has been great to hear from many of you and how you are all doing without me. Luckily, it seems most have been able to get on with their lives, and I’m glad to hear it. I have been having a very fun time, most especially over these last few weekends, and now I’ve been catching up on some much needed sleep. Here’s what has been going on since last time I emailed.

The weekend before last (the penultimate weekend, I suppose), I went on my first excursion with my Spanish Culture and Civilization class, and we took a bus Friday morning for 6 hours down to Granada, where we checked into our hotel and then went immediately over to the Royal Chapel, and we got to see the mausoleum, complete with coffins and everything, of Isabel and Fernando, los Reyes Catolicos. Next day we hit la Alhambra, this small town on top a huge hill, and it had all kinds of interesting architecture, fountains, gardens, etc. After lunch, we took the bus for an hour or two to Cordoba, where I went to mass in Spanish at a ginormous church. We walked in right on time at 8pm, and we left after mass at 8:27pm. These Spaniards really know how to pray efficiently. That night I went with some new friends to the Mercado Medieval, which was basically a Renaissance Faire in Spanish. It was very cool, we drank some mead, saw a fire juggler, and witness the forging of a dagger by an actual blacksmith. Next day was filled with more historic sites, including la Mezquita de Cordoba, the famous mosque that has been converted to a church. That place was amazingly huge. I have a feeling we did not make a great impression, as our tour guide was speaking very loudly throughout the tour, despite the many "Por favor, mantenganse silencio [Please keep quiet]" signs. Oh well, we didn’t stay long. Then we came back home and I slept the rest of the night.

In between weekends, we had another week of school, which was fairly uneventful.

The following weekend (this last one) was fun-filled. Thursday, I went to the Casa de Cerveza (even you non-Spanish speakers can probably translate that) with some friends, and then made my way home around 2, which is early for Madrid. However, after getting lost several times, and being propositioned by about 10 different prostitutes, in Spanish (to the tune of "¿Quieres ***** conmigo?" "No gracias" "¿Por que no gracias?" etc), I finally took a cab home for about 3€. The next day was spent resting up for that evening, when I went with about 30 people from my Latin Rhythms dance class to a club that looked like something out of the 70s, very Scarface-esque. We danced merengue, and did the cha-cha, and tried to be stars while Tony tended bar (obscure musical reference). It was a wild and fun night, but very crowded and very hot. I finally made it home around 4am, which is still early for Spain. Saturday was spent hiking, which was fun but not as long or rigorous a hike as I had hoped, as we did not even make it to the top of the mountain. Then Sunday was spent shopping, churching, and finally, heading down to the Hard Rock Cafe at about midnight for the big game. Five friends and I, as well as about half of the Americans in Madrid were in attendance, as I celebrated my first Super Bowl Monday. It was a rousing good time, but made for a tough Monday morning, as the game did not even till 4:30am here, and of course we stayed the whole time and had to walk 45 minutes home as the subway closes at 1:30. And yet, it’s still early for Spain. I have yet to stay out until a time that is generally considered "late" here.

Overall, very good times going on so far. I have yet to see a football (read: soccer) game here, but I’ve heard they’re awesome. Travel plans are slow going, partly because I am trying to conserve funds to backpack through Europe after school is out. I finally booked the cheapest flight I found (240€) to visit Ray for Karnival in Cologne, Germany Feb 19-23. Should be a wild time, especially with the Raymonster.

In the meantime, keep sending those emails, as I love to hear from all of you, and I will send out another email soon with more pictures! Hope everyone is doing well, and you are all constantly in my thoughts are prayers.

Love, Mark
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