SPAIN UPDATE # 5

Buongiorno!

It's been a little while since the last update, and I know all of you are starving for more adventures of your humble narrator. Well here goes nothing! (Hope you have a bit of time to read this... it's probably going to be another novella.)

When last we left off, I had enjoyed a hectic but fun spring break in Ireland, Scotland, and London. Shortly after spring break, St. Patrick's Day came and went. Though it is not as celebrated in Spain as in US or a little place called Ireland, I still managed to find an Irish pub and get a free felt top hat that says Guinness on it. As far as I'm concerned, any holiday where people give away free top hats is a good holiday. That weekend I jumped back into the world of movies and saw Lost in Translation & Big Fish. Both very good and highly recommended. The next week I participated in my first open mic night, singing a solo of Your Song by Elton John, and I enjoyed it immensely, most especially the part afterwards when about three cute gals came to tell me "That was soooo good!" Now I understand the appeal of being in a band. That weekend, I went out with the guys, had a lot of fun, and got my wallet pick pocketed. I have since gotten all new credit cards and ran up about $300 in debt to several friends, which I will be paying back while watching my bank account go from hero to zero. To cheer myself up on Lost Wallet Weekend, some friends and I took in Spanish culture with a bullfight, and that coupled with seeing The Passion made for a weekend of no small amount of violence.

So. That was March.

Then came April, blasting in with a wonderful trip to the eternal city--Rome! Pat and I had the idea in February to go to Rome for Semana Santa (Holy Week), and it turned out to be both good and bad. Obviously, it was about as crowded as Rome ever gets, so that made some things more difficult and time consuming than we had hoped, but at the same time, more events were taking place and Rome was probably more exciting than it is the rest of the year. You give and you take and you hope all comes out well, and it did. But let's begin from the... beginning.

Some of you may remember what an annoyance our budget airline Ryanair was for our spring break trip. All Ryanair airports are about 1-2 hours outside of the major city that they say they are in, and having not realized this before booking our Rome flight, we were set to take them again. Luckily, the trip was not nearly as eventful this time around. Despite spending about 12 hours traveling from Madrid to Rome and back, the transportation went off without a hitch. Well, one hitch: we took the overnight bus and I am never able to sleep on buses, so basically I was awake from Tuesday morning until Wednesday night. (Funny how the only all-nighters I pull over here are for traveling sake rather than academics.) Our lodging, on the other hand, was quite the adventure. In booking our hostel, we went online to the normal hostel booking website, and found a place called Camping Roma. It was the cheapest hostel by about 6 euros a night, and we quickly found out for good reason. First, we only had a street name and address, so we found the street and started walking. About an hour of walking later, and after crossing, on foot, a busy Roman highway, we finally arrived at our place of lodging, which turned out to be tents right next to the highway, complete with cold showers and the works. The first night we practically froze, having tried to spare our money by not renting linens (the cots came with blankets... we thought we'd be fine. Both Pat and I woke up with headaches and the beginnings of pneumonia and decided to spring for more blankets. So the hostel wasn't exactly the greatest, but we made a lot of new friends there because, as everyone knows, people in traumatic situations tend to band together, not to mention there was only one bus that ran from the city outskirts to our hostel and more than half the people on the bus were about our age who had also had the impression that our "hostel" was more of a hostel than canvas tents next to the highway.

Besides the hostel, Rome was everything I could've dreamed. Eating pizza and gelati twice a day--now that's amore! Before coming, I had printed out a cheat sheet of Italian, but by the time we had gotten there, the only words and phrases I had memorized were "hello," "thank you," "your welcome," and a few pickup lines such as "you are a star... my star." On Thursday we went first to Vatican City, picked up our tickets for various Holy Week papal masses, then went inside St. Peter's to take a closer look. Pat had some friends studying in Rome that gave us a tour, where we saw Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, many different statues and obelisks, il Gesu (the Jesuit church where St. Ignatius and St. Xavier are buried), the Vittoriano (which I'm still not sure what it is), and several other cool places. Rome is interesting because when we would be looking for a specific place, we would accidentally stumble upon ruins that we did not know what they were but knew at least that they were about 3 times as old (or older) as America. There is such a bombardment of history in that city it is incredible. Friday, Pat was intent on getting out of the city ("it will be way too crowded"), but I had come to see Rome and dammit, I was going to see it no matter the crowds. Luckily, my good friend Ray had the same idea as Pat and I and had arrived into the city just in time to book it to St. Peter's Basilica to attend Good Friday mass. It was a neat experience, and we got to see the pope, but to put it into perspective, if you think hearing the passion read in English is long, try listening to it sung... in Latin. We were in there for fully 3 hours. But it was definitely worth it for the experience and for a chance to chill with JP2. Afterwards, we were both starving, so we went to get some food, and were heavily ripped off to the tune of 35 euros apiece for dinner. We knew for next time not to go to the place where they call at you in English. Rounded off the day with a trip to the Coliseum where the pope was sitting on top of a hill, everyone had candles, and the Stations of the Cross were being read in Italian. Saturday, Pat was back from Napoli and the three of us decided it was time to see the Vatican Museum (which includes the Sistine Chapel). It was an awesome place with all kinds of wonders. I'll tell you what, that Michelangelo fellow isn't too bad of an artist. After the Museums, we took a tour of the inside of the Coliseum and almost had a gladiator fight right there, being so filled with the spirit of the games. Then we headed to Circus Maximus where they had the Ben-Hur-esque chariot races, and then to the Mouth of Truth where one is supposed to put one's hand inside and if he or she is a dishonest person, they have their hand eaten. We did not get to put our hands in because it was already closed, but I didn't mind... if I had lost my hand, Pat and Ray would've known about all my secret lies and deceptions (mwahaha). Easter Sunday we did not have tickets to the mass, so we watched some of it from outside and then continued on to the Forum, where we took another tour and got to see and hear about more history. By this time, we were all exhausted, and spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the fine Italian cuisine. That night we had opted not to get a hostel because we had to be at the airport around 4am for our flight back, so we spent the night in the train station, Pat talking to a fun little Italian guy and I trying to sleep on the floor. At around 8pm, I was finally back home in Madrid, where I ate dinner and promptly passed out. In spite of all the minor problems and such, I would still describe Rome in one word: Buonissima!

Phew.

That brings us to last weekend, which included a trip to northern Spain (La Rioja & Pais Vasco). Not nearly as eventful as Rome, the trip was still quite fun. I went on this one with my Spanish class, and one of the first places we stopped was a winery in La Rioja. We got to hear how they make the wine, and at the end, sample some of their best red wine. It was quite delicious, and I ended up buying two bottles of champagne made there to enjoy this coming weekend on my trip to Ibiza and two weeks after when my family comes to visit. After the winery we went to Bilbao where we spent about 5 hours relaxing and then visiting the Guggenheim museum. It was an interesting museum, but I don't really appreciate much of modern and contemporary art, so I only liked about half of the exhibits. Next on the itinerary was San Sebastian, where we took in some dinner, some beach, and some nightlife. The following day we just relaxed, walked around a bit, attended a mass said in Euskera, which is an interesting language that has no known roots, and then hopped on the bus back to Madrid. Overall it was a very laid back weekend, yet very fun and complete with very beautiful cities and very good times with some classmates that I had not known very well until the trip.

This coming weekend, Pat, Jordan, and I will be jetting off for an awesome, relaxing vacation in the Balearic isle of Ibiza, where we will spend most of our time during the day contemplating our navels and doing other such useless activities on the beach or in the spa or in one of the pools of our hotel, and most of our time during the night enjoying the nightlife and club scene, which is rumored to be one of the best in the world. I'm forecasting an expensive but exciting and exhilarating weekend.

This will probably be my last update until the end of the school year. After Ibiza this weekend, we have a week left of classes in which I will be participating in two dance performances and a choir concert, then the following week is finals week and my family comes over to Madrid, where from there we will visit Toledo on our way down to Andalucia and Málaga for a week, then Alicante in Valencia for another, during which my brother and I will take a quick two day trip to Amsterdam. After Alicante, we are driving up to Barcelona for the weekend, then family flies out and I bus over to Madrid where I will fly out to Sweden for a little less than a week. After that, my friend Steve is coming over to London, where I will fly and meet him and we will hop on over to Ireland for about two weeks. After Ireland, I am flying down to Italy for a little less than a week, where plans are undetermined as of yet, but probably will be spending a day or two in Florence or Venice and then training down to Rome to hang out with my friend Sanda who is flying in to participate in an academic program in Italy. Somewhere around the 18th of June, I will fly back to Spain and spend about 30 days walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, an 800km hike from the French border across the north of Spain to the northwest tip. Finally, at the end of the Camino, I will bus back to Madrid where I will catch my flight back to London and back to San Francisco. Hopefully after 30 days straight of walking I will be able to catch some sleep on the flight. Oh, and if you're wondering where I'm getting the money for all this traveling, well... let's just say that's one of the parts that I haven't quite figured out yet. In general, I plan on getting deep in debt, then digging myself out of it next year when I am working two jobs at school (Jesuit Community and Asst. A&E Editor Loyolan). I don't know where I will find internet along the way during this time, and whether I will have time to write updates when I do, so if you don't hear from me until July, rest assured I am having the time of my life and will tell all about it to whoever wants to hear when I get back.

In the meantime, how are all of you? I have gotten internet at home since I sent my last update, so I have been able to more regularly converse with some of you, but due to the time difference I still don't get as much chance as I would like. I hope that all is well with all of you and I miss you a lot. You are all constantly in my thoughts and prayers and I can't wait to get back and hear all about your stories and events during this semester. If you can't wait to tell me about them, send me an email, because I love getting your love notes and stories and am pretty good at responding to all of them.

Until unspecified next time we speak, have a great day and good luck with the end of the semester and the beginning of summer!

Love, Mark
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