Yesterday I went on a day trip to León, about an hour and a half away from Oviedo. It was fantastic! Below is a map of where León is in Spain - slightly to the North you can see Oviedo, Gijón, and Santander to the west - all of which I’ve been to and mentioned before. To the far right/east on the Mediterranean you can see Barcelona, where I am going with my class next week and for which I am so excited! It’s our last class excursion and my last trip within Spain!

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But yesterday I went to León. It’s a little bit smaller than Oviedo in terms of population, but is known all over for having the best Gothic cathedral in Spain. Most everyone knows of the cathedral in León.

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León is on the other side of the mountains from Oviedo, and the drive through the mountains was incredible. It took about an hour and a half, and it was the first time all year I’ve gotten to see snow! It was quiet cold in León, and we were a bit underdressed, so it made for a bit of a cold day. The high for the day  was around 45 degrees, which wasn’t what we expected. The wind was a bit strong

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Of course, the first place we visited was “Catedral de Santa María.” 

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The stained glass windows are really what help set this cathedral apart. At the turn of the last century they removed all of the stained glass, put them in boxes, restored them, and put them all back up. A pretty impressive undertaking.

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The cathedral has historically had significant structural problems. It was not originally engineered well, and the original dome had to be removed to save the cathedral from collapse.

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Being the cathedral of Saint Mary, the Mary plays a huge part in the decoration of the cathedral. Below is “the birth of Mary.” It struck me because I’d never seen Mary’s birth represented - luckily it looks like her mother had a lot of help!

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And here’s a relief depicting the angel commissioning Mary in carrying the Christ.

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And of course pregnant Mary, an image I don’t think I’ve ever seen represented outside of children’s Christmas books. She pulls off the pregnant look very elegantly.

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I thought this was really interesting - I can’t recall the name of the man who pierced Christ with the spear, but look at what he is doing with his left hand. Catholic tradition holds that a some of Christ’s blood spirt into his left eye, blinding him for life.

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After the cathedral, we walked around a bit of the old part of town for a while, and ran into Antoni Gaudi’s “Casa de Los Botines.” It was built in 1893 as a private residence on the first floor with commercial space on the ground floor and rental units above, but was purchased in 1929 by the Bank Caja España, which still owns it today.  

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Across the street Gaudi is looking over some sketches. Antoni Gaudi is certainly Spain’s most famous architect, and next weekend in Barcelona we’re going to see his most famous work - “Sagrada Familia.” If you google “Barcelona,” Sagrada Familia will be one of the first images to come up. His works are pretty intense, and this building is one of his earlier, more relaxed projects.

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Then we went to the town Basilica, the Basilica of San Isidoro, which houses the royal tomb for the Kingdom of Castilla and León - the church, the tomb, the library, and a few other elements are from before the 12th century. 

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By far the most fascinating place in the basilica is the royal tombs, which has mostly untouched frescos from the 12th century - truly unbelievable. 

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After that, we ended the night going to MUSAC, the museum of contemporary art of Castilla and León. It was what you’d think of when you think about modern art - weird staged rooms, lots of looping films with bizarre content, and very few traditional pieces. It was a bizarre contrast to the 12th century frescos we’d been looking at only an hour or so prior. 

I don’t have that much longer in Spain. In the same way it feels like it’s going to be over before I know it, 5 weeks is still 5 weeks. The more time I spend in Oviedo, and strangely, the more I travel, the more I appreciate Spain. I am so stoked for our trip to Barcelona - I’ve heard many people say it’s their favorite city in Spain - and I think it comes at a nice time with that leaves us with about three weeks left.

I hadn’t planned on going to Rome, but one of the guys on my trip, Matt, found roundtrip tickets for about €70 - something like $100 USD. Since flying to Italy costs a bit more from the US, I jumped on the opportunity and I am do glad I did.
Friday our trip began for us at 12:30 am. Our first leg of the trip - Oviedo to Santander - required us to take a 2 1/2 hour bus, and the cheapest option was the 1 am to 3:30 am bus. It saved us about €10, after the fact we all agreed it was probably not worth it.
Interesting note about the bus system in Spain: Spain’s main bus is called Alsa, and you can pretty much get anywhere in Spain. Bus stations are usually pretty central, and they’re economically sensical. In the US, I usually think of Greyhound as reserved for recently released convicts and people generally too unstable to fly. In Spain everyone takes the bus. Middle class families, students, the elderly, etc - and some of the busses have airline style seating with individual screens. It’s a pretty pleasant means of travel.
Our flight left Santander at 12:30 in the afternoon, so we had some time to kill. The bus station closed from 4-6 am, so we went out and found a rotunda in a square in Santander to hang out in (because of course it started to rain lightly). Once the station opened back up, we took another bus from the station to the airport, found some benches in the airport and slept for 4 hours. I wouldn’t have considered myself a great airport sleeper, but thankfully I pretty much passed out.
We got on the plane and had a smooth flight to Rome. Ciampino airport, which ryanAir flys into in Rome, is an odd deal. It’s a business-jet airport and RyanAir is the only commercial airline that flys there (everyone else else flys into Da Vinci). Ciampino doesn’t have any public connections into Rome - you either have to take a taxi or there are several private shuttle busses to Termini station, one of the main train/underground stations in Rome, which was right next to our hostel.
We ended up waiting at the airport for one of the shuttles for about an hour and a half, so by the time we actually go into Rome it was nearly 5 pm. We had planned on being in town closer to 3 pm. Dan and Matt were determined to see Pompeii, which is outside of Naples and had planned to see it Friday afternoon, but since they missed their intended train and didn’t get into Naples until 10 pm. I stayed in Rome and after I checked into the hostel, got to wander the sights of Rome at night.
It was incredible. I took the underground to the Spanish Steps, the beginning of my self-guided mini walking tour of Rome. There wasn’t a lot to see there, and I know it’s an important site in rome, but it was a little underwhelming. A lot of people to watch, but I was ready to move on after I felt like I’d seen it. The next stop was the Trevi Fountain, which was absolutely stunning. It’s one of the most incredible things I saw, and to see it at night - it was almost euphoric. I spent a lot of time examining the incredible detail in the fountain and people watching. Even in November all the monuments were packed, which I think contributed to the whole experience. 

Next stop was the Pantheon, another incredible monument in Rome. Essentially right next door I got gelato which was absolutely phenomenal. I checked out a famous plaza (which I can’t recall the name of but I know it was important), and the made my way toward the Colosseum, but passed so many historical sites and monuments along the way - the whole area around the Colosseum is excavated ruins, much of which you can view from the sidewalk off the main street. It was only about a mile long walk, but I stopped so often it took me over an hour to get there. I walked around the Colosseum and looked at it for a while before I hopped back I the metro back to the hostel. I had a long day ahead of me.
The next morning I woke up and met up with two Canadians studying in France that I had met the night before on the rooftop deck of the hostel who had wanted to visit the Colosseum in the morning also. We made our way over, got tickets and went in. I bought the audio tour guide, but it was kind of a waste of money. It helped a little bit, but for the most part, it just provided back ground noise filling in the gaps. It’s really an incredible site. 

You could do the Colosseum in 40 minutes and see the whole thing or you could spend 3 hours and read everything. I chose the latter. I was really pleased to get to go slow and spend as much time as I wanted - something you don’t get when traveling with a group. 
After the Colosseum I headed over toward the Vatican as I had booked a tour the day before and I was so glad I did. The Vatican is massive, and between the galleries, museums, chapels, enclaves, gardens, and of course St Peters Basilica, I don’t think I could have done it in 4 hours without a guide - and my guide was hilarious. This was absolutely the highlight of my trip.
Of course we visited the Sistine Chapel, and it was quiet the experience. The room was packed, and nearly constantly there was a monotonous man saying “Silence. No photos. No video.” In several different languages. It was a bit ironic, because the silence is required since the Sistine Chapel is a “holy place,” yet the heavy Vatican police presence and the frequency with which they accosted tourists completely removed any sense of holiness or awe or reverence that one should experience in that chapel.  When people would sneak pictures, the police would run over to them and make them delete it - and we saw one Asian tourist get kicked out, when I think he genuinely didn’t understand. But aside from the bizarre ambiance the chapel itself is pretty spectacular. 
And St. Peter’s was St. Peter’s. It’s the largest Christian church in the world, and to drive home that fact, the dimensions of all the large churches in the world are etched I to the floor - not kidding. It is a remarkable place to visit, both inside and out. 

For scale - look at the people on the left and see the man in the black robe on the right - it is the absolutely monstrous. 

After the Vatican closed, I headed back to the hostel to meet up with Matt and Dan who finally made it back to Rome after spending the day at Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. We went to dinner at a “cheap” authentic Italian restaurant, but our friend who recommended the restaurant clearly had a different definition of that word. We ended up only buying a first course and heading out to one of the million pizza stands littered throughout Rome. Since they hadn’t seen Rome yet, we essentially did the same walking your I did the night before, but I was happy to see everything a second time. This time we met a very sweet German couple who we’re celebrating the husband passing his medical exams in Germany to become a physician. I think he still had some schooling left, but they proved to be really interesting and we chatted with them for quiet some time.
We woke up at around 7:30 am this morning in order to catch a bus to the airport, fly back to Santander, and made it back to Oviedo around 9:30 pm.
Overall, Italy was amazing - I’d say my second favorite city in Europe for a variety of reasons. I am so incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity and to be able to study abroad - it had been so awesome.

I just got home from a weekend in Madrid, and it was absolutely fantastic. It might be my favorite city in Spain (though for the sake of full disclosure, I often feel this way after getting back from an excursion). 

The trip to Madrid was a “Class Excursion” with the group from Calvin, our professor, and his family. We left Thursday afternoon and had an action packed weekend and just returned tonight.

First of all, I am finally over being sick. Evidently I picked up something really horrible in Morocco and suffered through it for almost two weeks. Terrible side effects, a fever of 103°, two trips to the medical clinic, and countless liters of “Aquarius” (similar to Gatorade?) later, I finally feel normal! This is important because of the trip to Madrid this weekend, my trip to Rome next weekend, and Barcelona two weeks after that!

We got to see a lot - Madrid, Segovia, Valley of the Fallen, the Prado Museum - and so much more. I have pictures and a more detailed account of the weekend coming, but I need to go to sleep now. 

Coming up this week: planning the trip to Rome, an exam on Tuesday and several homework projects due. It should be an exciting week!

Two weekends ago, I got to go to Morocco for the weekend. It was incredible. Unfortunately, after I got home, I got incredibly sick.

Both are long stories to be told. I’m still pretty sick and not in a terribly inspired place to write, but as soon as I recover and am caught up I have a lot to share.

In the mean time, here are a few of the pictures I took:

 

This last shot is a picture of where the Atlantic, out to the left, and the Mediterranean, on the right, meet.

Spain is beautiful, especially here in the mountains.

On Sunday I went canoeing down the river Sella, which empties out into the Atlantic in the Bay of Biscay. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it that far! We did end up covering about 16 km of the river though, and it took about 6 hours.

I teamed up with my friend Annie and spent 6 hours or so paddling and floating down the river.

We got to witness some incredible landscape.

Because water and cameras do not tend to mix well, we only brought Annie’s small waterproof camera. The pictures turned out alright but none we stellar, but these give you a basic idea of what we saw - and this wasn’t even the best part!

Rivers in Spain seem to be pretty similar to their North American counterparts. Can’t say it was too much of a cultural experience but the scenery really was stunning, the temperature was perfect. It was a good day!

There were several rapids along the river that added quiet a bit of excitement to the trip. I only heard of one canoe that went under during the whole day, but there may have been others. It really was pretty exciting!

Classes are going well, and once again I am just getting into the rythm of school and spanish and classes and living in Spain! Each day gets easier and more enjoyable.

FYI - I have a little bit of a surprise coming up this weekend, so stay turned for that! 

Today was our second day of classes taught only in Spanish, and the first day of my “Foreign Trade” class in English. 

Yesterday, I took four classes: hispanoamericana, expresion escrita (written expression), vocabulario, and expresion oral (oral expression). For our program we are only supposed to take three classes, but I wasn’t sure which three I wanted to take. I decided to cut hispanoamericana because it’s a much more abstract topic then the others - which initially sounded much more interesting, but after an hour of only understanding around 65% of what the professor was saying, I decided it was best to steer clear. 

Now, you may ask: “why are your classes only starting now in October, but you went to Spain at the beginning of September?” Good question. The University of Oviedo is on a trimester schedule, and this trimester didn’t begin until now. My Calvin class came to Spain during the start of the Calvin semester and took a 3 week Spanish language primer course, and I’m really glad we did.

The classes I’m in now are completely in Spanish, but are still pretty basic - I tested into “Intermediate I,” and the classes are at a good level for me. I like having classes in Spanish because it requires me - every day - to make an effort at learning and speaking more. It’s exciting when things start to make sense in class and when the verbal transactions in public (at the bus station, grocery store, etc) go a lot smoother.

All of the kids in my Spanish classes are international students. 14 Calvin students are in my classes with me, but there are also several students from Iowa, Washington and Oregon, as well as Korea, China and Japan. It was actually surprising to me how many Asians are studying Spanish, but I guess it’d be a pretty marketable skill. Apparently a lot of Koreans study Spanish in Mexico! 

It’s odd to me that my classes all start 10 minutes after the hour - so if your schedule shows you have class at 10 am, class really begins at 10:10. Calvin does a similar thing, except at the end of the hour. Obviously I am not used to starting 10 minutes passed, but every day it still feels weird. It’s not really an issue for me because all of my classes are one after the other on the same days, So I just show up for 3 back-to-back class periods. In the same room, even. 

Today I had my first class period of “Foreign Trade,” which was a bit of an odd experience because it was on a different campus 35 minutes by bus away - and the class is in English. I thought this would be a major bonus, but it turned out to be quiet challenging. Caleb, a Calvin classmate, and I are the only native English speakers in the class, so some of the dialogue between the professor and the students can be interesting to follow - I can’t recall exactly what the professor would say, but it was an experience listen to him teach in English and which mannerisms and phrases he relied on.

I talked with the professor after class, and he was pretty laid back. Caleb and I were concerned about the material, as it isn’t anything we have had experience with before, and he kept reassuring us we’d be fine and he had no concern for us passing the course. It was reassuring. Caleb and I really wanted to take a class outside of the Language Academy so we could meet Spaniards - our language classes are full of international students, and no Spaniards. This way we can meet Spaniards and maybe help them with their English!

And, luckily for me, I have no class on Friday’s. Which means today was my Friday! I’m definitely okay with that.

Today is Sunday, September 29th. I’ve been in Europe for 39 days, in Spain for 28 days, Oviedo for 21 days and there are 83 days until 18 American students board a plane bound for the homeland. 

Last Monday, it was my friend Annie’s 21st birthday, and we celebrated by eating out at a restaurant called Terra Austur, a local place that serves traditional Austurian food. Part of that experience is drinking sidra, a drink that is essentially alcoholic apple juice. Austurias is famous for it’s production of sidra, and there is an alley creatively called “Sidra Alley” that is literally a road full of restaurants that serve sidra in a particular way - by holding the glass at waist level and the bottle of sidra above the head - this gives the sidra a temporary carbonation. Pretty interesting to see.

The beginning of “Sidra Alley”

Our waitress pouring the sidra in the traditional manner - they turn away from you so you don’t get splashed. The floor is covered in saw dust to absorb all the the sidra that misses the glass. 

I have no idea what I ordered, but it was pretty good. Potatoes, ham, and eggs - very Spanish. Potatoes and ham are a staple of the Spanish diet, and I’ve had eggs included in dinner a lot, but never for breakfast.

Before that about half our class went to my professors apartment for the annual campus bible study.  When we were leaving, we ran into my papa Miguel who owns a barber shop across the street from my professors apartment. He showed us his shop, and then we went out for dinner!

This week I also got a bus pass! The student rate is relatively cheap, less than one euro per trip. I figured out the route between my house and the university - figured out the map, and was able to cut my commute time via walking by about 7 minutes.. which made travel time about 23 minutes! Needless to say, I am pretty proud of myself. Mastering the public transit is one step closer to assimilating into the native culture! 

While purchasing my bus pass, I met a young woman who is learning english, and immediately she asked me if I wanted to practice Spanish with her, in exchange for chatting in English. This is very common - I had been with Clark, another classmate of mine, when a young woman asked him the same question, and with Jennie when an older man asked her the same thing!

Also, today is also my brother Matt’s birthday. Happy birthday brother!

Sorry for the lapse in activity - I have been really busy this last week or so - I can’t believe it’s already Wednesday! I feel like it was just the weekend…

On Sunday morning I went to church at the Cathedral de San Salvador that’s in the center of the old part of Oviedo. The first church was built there in the 8th century, but the current cathedral has been there since 1388, with the tower being completed in the mid 1500’s. It was a nice mass, entirely in Spanish, but it was a nice time to relax, meditate, and observe. Only about half the attendees went up for communion, so we didn’t feel out of place by not going up. After visiting more nearly a dozen cathedrals all over Europe in the last month, I really do believe that the best way to visit a cathedral is by experience the way in which it was intended - an active service. Oviedo’s cathedral is quite small in comparison to most of the ones I’ve visited, but it is beautiful nonetheless. I walk past it often as it’s between me and class, and it is a beautiful building. There were also a ton of people walking around in traditional Austurian dress.

Interestingly, living here in Spain, my classmates and I have been having to work through not having instant texting/talking abilities, since our phones don’t really work over here. Often, we plan on meeting at a certain place - either in front of the cathedral, or near some particular monument or statue, and though it might seem like a small thing, it’s been pretty interesting having to adapt to. If someone is late, it is really convenient to be able to call or text them and ask whats up - technology only possible in the last decade or so. Bizarre!

Speaking of technology - it is next to impossible to watch a movie or a TV show in English in Spain. In the US I have access to Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime which give me a really solid library of content. Due to some unreasonable US regulation, all of those providers are only accessible in the 50 US states! Even some of the illegal streaming websites bar access to their content from Spain. I occasionally watch Spanish TV with David, the abuelo who lives with us, but Spanish television is quite different from US productions - and not just because it’s in a different language. Spanish TV is a bit more… humorous in the editing and nature of the content. I like watching the evening news, but the regular programming… is odd! Some of the commercials are in English, but are dubbed in Spanish. And not like the lips don’t just line up, but you can actually hear the English being played under the Spanish. 

Luckily, there’s a lot to do here that doesn’t require technological input!

On Saturday I went on a 9 mile hike with some friends - Clark, Annie, Jennie and Sarah. When you drive into Oviedo, you can see “El Cristo” welcoming you into the city.

It took us about an hour and a half to climb the mountain - and I’m talking about a mountain - to get up to Cristo. The views during the climb were absolutely stunning.

Jennie, Clark, Sarah, Annie, and I, standing above Oviedo!

One of the benefits of leaving the city was the reminder of the natural beauty of Spain - when we’re in town, during the week, we see very little of the natural surroundings. It can be easy to forget where we are - because in the hum of busy life, the big differences are obstacles and the smaller differences are forgotten. We got to see the natural beauty different from what we were used to, and it wasn’t a source of stress, but relaxing.

From on top of the mountain we could see Gijon - a city I’ve mentioned earlier, that I visited last weekend - on the Atlantic ocean (more specifically, the Bay of Biscay). It was pretty wild to be able to see it so well!

We could also see the old part of Oviedo very well - in the picture below, you can see the cathedral standing in the middle. It looks quiet a bit smaller from up there!

As you may have noticed, we looked a little bit like hobo’s - once we got to the mountain it was no big deal, but in town - I noticed the disapproval! Spaniards are impreccably dressed - all the time. When you go out in public in Spain, people pay attention to what other people are wearing. I would have said the same about the US, but not nearly to this degree.

I am having a blast here in Oviedo. I didn’t expect to be challenged by life in Spain, because I thought it was going to be very western and very similar to the culture that I am accustomed to. It’s not, really. There are some similarities, but there are more differences. I’m learning the new normal, and each day I feel more comfortable and allow myself to enjoy and take in more.

Today I became an uncle!

Matthew Levi Chesla, JR was born 9/18/13 at 3pm weighing 8 1/2 lbs. Baby and mom are happy and healthy! Thankful for the immense communication resources available to me and my family so that even though we’re all over the place, we all get to share, even if it’s in a remote way, in the excited of the day!

Friday is our first exam, and it looks like it’s going to be a bit brutal. My professor sent over a study guide and it appears to be pretty extensive - not sure how this is going to go, especially since the climax of the festivities of San Mateo are this weekend, essentially Thursday-Sunday. 

Not a whole lot to report - still trying to get in the groove of living in Oviedo with my familia. Staying in one place is a lot different from traveling - it sounds kind of obvious, but I didn’t expect to have any difficulty settling in, as naive as that may sound.

In some ways it feels like I’ve been here forever, and in some ways I feel like I haven’t really moved in yet. I’m learning so much about change and “comfort” and how I respond to different things. It’s… good!

Yesterday I decided to take the stairs down in my apartment building, and found the stairway pretty dark. All of the lights in the building are on timers that expire, so you need to click the light switch on in order to see. Since I haven’t yet located all of the light switches, yesterday I accidentally rang one of our neighbors door bells - I didn’t realize that the light switches and the doorbells had the same shape! That was a bit awkward, but I made it far enough down the stairwell before they answered the door for them to have any idea who it was.

That’s pretty much my story for the post.. hope you enjoyed it! ;)