By Alexa Boyce
The city that stands under the crest of the bear and the Madrone tree has been occupied since prehistoric times, but the earliest facts known about the city date back to the Moorish occupation in the 9th century. It was then that Umayyad Emir of Cordoba, Muhammad I built a small palace on the site where the Palacio Real stands today. A citadel was built around the palace, and this was named al-Mudaina. The nearby river Manzanares was called al-Majrit, meaning "source of water". This word is credited as being the origin of the name "Madrid". Interestingly enough, the word Madrid does not translate into most other languages and is therefore identified as Madrid throughout most of the world. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile then conquered the city on advance to Toledo and took it back from the Moors.
The Iberian Peninsula was divided into Crowns, and per the tradition of the time, each time a king died the kingdom was divided among his offspring. There was much clashing between the Crowns of Castile and Aragon. This strife was put to an end when King Ferdinand II of Aragon married Queen Isabella I of Castile, and they conquered Grenada and expelled the Moors. Then, to demonstrate the new 'unified Spain', Phillip II moved the capital to the centralized location of Madrid in 1561.
Madrid has remained the capital, seat of the Royal Family, and center of government since then. Therefore it has become one of the most influential and historically important cities in Spain. Today Madrid is an industrial center, second only to Barcelona. Madrid is made up of 21 districts that in turn are divided into barrios (neighborhoods). Like the rest of Spain, the city has really only blossomed since the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
There are so many exciting things to do in this city today. The Palacio Real, though it no longer functions as the home of the royal family, opens most parts of the castle for tours. Admission is 6€ ($6.90) for adults, 3€ ($3.45) for students and children. It is located on Calle Bailen, at the Opera/Plaza de Espana metro stop, and is open 9:00 am-6:00 pm Monday - Saturday and 9:00 am-3:00 pm Sunday.
The largest and most important bullring in the world is located in Madrid. It is called La Plaza de Toros de las Ventas and is located on the east side of the city and can hold 25,000 spectators. The best time to go see a corrida, or bullfight, is in May or June when the festival of San Isidrio is taking place. Seats are priced based on how close they are to the action and whether they are located in the sol (sun) or sombra (shade). Shady seats are more expensive.
The Parque del Buen Retiro was once a retreat outside the city, but now is completely surrounded by it. It was originally the site of a Royal Palace built by King Philip IV in 1632. Most of the palace was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars, and the park was opened to the public in 1868. Some parts of the original palace still stand today, such as the colonnade in honor of Alfonso XII located near the lake. Many festivals and activities take place in the park, though at night it is notorious for the sketchy characters hanging around. It is not advised for tourists to visit the park after dark.
Art lovers can be found frequenting the Golden Triangle of Art, housing the Museo del Prado, the Museo Reina Sofia and the Museo Thiyssen-Bornemisza. The Museo del Prado houses an impressive collection of European painters, sculptors and other artists. It can easily claim to have the world's best collections of Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez, as well as other painters such as El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Rembrant, Durer and other works from the 14th-19th centuries.
Nearby Museo Reina Sofia houses an impressive collection of modern (20th century and today) art. A large claim to fame for the Reina Sofia is that it is the current home to Pablo Picasso's famous work Guernica.
The Museo Thiyssen-Bornemisza was started as a private collection in 1920 and fills in the gaps in the other two museum's collections.
Madrid is also known for fabulous shopping. You can find specialty markets, major designer boutiques, and other shops for every price range. The Spanish department store El Corte Ingles has various outlets throughout the city, and sells everything from electronics to sporting equipment. El Rastro is a large flea market where one can go to practice the art of haggling. Calle Serrano, Calle Carmen and other places around the Puerto del Sol are also known for interesting shopping.
By Connie Marianacci
I am the kind of person that watches a movie once and never again. As time goes by, I barely remember the plot, who the actors were let alone remembering any quotes from it like lots of people tend to do.
9 Queens, an Argentinean film directed by Fabian Bielinsky took my breath away when I first watched it. It has a clever plot that holds your attention every minute of the movie, giving you suspense and at the same time, it plays with the characters in a sensual way.
You get a feeling of what Buenos Aires is about, what the city feels like, architecture in the city, the people and the political problems and how people react to them.
Some of the typical themes found in Buenos Aires:
- Going to the bank is always a chaotic experience. There is little customer service, there is always a line to wait on and it normally takes about 30 min. at least to do anything you need to do at any bank.
- Enjoying a coffee in the middle of the day. Many of the main scenes of the movie show people enjoying their small cup of coffee while meeting with someone either for professional or personal reasons.
- Populated 9 de Julio Street. This is probably the broadest street found in South America and beautiful indeed. Stores all around, buildings with big billboards, trees around the street and people walking. Just so you know, it is like crossing 2 streets in one and you better run when you have the right of way! http://www.amazon.com/Buenos-Aires-Panorama-Aldo-Sessa/dp/9509140368/sr=11-1/qid=1165510825/ref=sr_11_1/102-5192343-6103300
- Trust is always questionable. People have been known for not "keeping their word" so trust has diminished. This is an overall feeling of Latin Americans in general and not different for Argentineans. The movie has a great way of demonstrating this and build suspense around it.
Aside from a great plot, Gaston Pauls(Juan) is one of the classic sex symbols in Argentina and high demand among young women. Ricardo Darin (Marcos) has received many prizes both nationally and internationally.
To get a peak on Argentina, buy the film!
By Emily Hogge - Guest blogger traveling in Mexico.
Today was overwhelming too, but in a more awe-inspiring way, at least the latter half. Again, it was simply packed with walking and thing to see. First la Plaza de las Tres Culturas, with pre-Hispanic temples, a Spanish church constructed by stones from these, and finally some governmental offices. This site was a little sobering, with details such as gutters on the temples (like mini pyramids) where human sacrificial blood flowed. This was the site of a 1968 massacre of university students, mandated by the government to squelch a student protest prior to the Olympics. So tragic, and so sad.
Next, we went to the Basilica of Guadalupe. Yesterday at the Cathedral, I saw what I had thought was the original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which was beautiful. I was wrong- the original is actually in this other church. This image was more of a letdown, simply because we only had about 15 seconds to view it, as we whizzed by on a horizontal escalator.
The area around the Basilica was packed with people, and overwhelming in a claustrophobic way I had not experienced at the Zocalo. There were so many pilgrims, and so many shops touting Guadalupe memorabilia. I stuck close by Linda, a woman from my Spanish class, and her son Ben, and was happy I did. They were both so nice, and also none-too-excited about the crowds, so we found a quieter way together.
But the end of the day, oh the end of the day. It was more than I could have expected. We jut missed a rainstorm, by the grace of God. We climbed two pyramids, first the Sun pyramid, and then the Moon. The Sun was impressive for sheer size, and the Moon because it was so steep. I ended up buying a mask made with various beautiful stones, which though I hadn't intended to, I'm glad I did.
It's not really possible to translate the grandeur of what we saw into words, but coming back home on the bus, I just felt such a great sense of contentment. Parts of this trip were almost too much to bear, the poverty and my helplessness in the midst of it. I do feel so blessed to have witnessed it all, in its terribly wonderful extremes.
It's not too often something I see really truly takes my breath away, but this weekend has, and I think the images of what I have seen will stay with me for a time to come.
By Tina Lin - Guest blogger traveling in Peru.
The meals at my family have not been the same since Rolan (the spouse of the daughter of my host family) left to work in hydroelectric plant near Machu Pichu 2 Saturdays ago. I miss having so many people at the dinner table. Rolan and his friend Wili are really funny. They make very good jokes. The past week I have been talking more to Guisell (the daughter of the family) and learning more about the family. She showed me some family photos Sunday night. They gave me a better sense of the history and the value of the family.
My host parent has 2 daughters and both of them are married. Marisela is older than Guisell by 8 years. She is married with an 8-year-old daughter named Melissa and currently works in Spain. When both Guisell and Marisela were young, the family lived in the Sacred Valley (Urubamba). I saw pictures of the beautiful mountains I visited last Saturday. It was nice that I became familiar with the geography of the region. I got to see pictures of the kids growing up and my host parent becoming older. At the mean time, I was also struggling to remember my own childhood and wondering if I have the same degree of nostalgia for the past. I watched as Guisell smiled at the memory of her Sweet Sixteen party. I am glad that the family is so sharing and loving. I feel like I will be a part of their many stories to tell in the future.
Interesting things that happened today…I shadowed an amazing doctor in Intensive Care at Hospital Seguro Social. He is a very good teacher that probed how much we remembered about physical signs in unconscious patients, ranges of laboratory values, how to read radiographs and types of bacteria. He patiently explained whatever medication we do not recall and even tested to see if we can remember what he previously taught us.
A lot of the patients we saw were elderly that have severe shock or patients with fractures in skull or ribs. It was a very serious environment and I think that made me feel even more awe for the art of medicine. I have much respect for the doctor who is so knowledgeable. He did not have a PDA, but he kept everything straight in his head.
After class today, about 6 of my classmates and I went to Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo for folk dance performance. We saw about 9 different types of dances, each with different themes, costumes and choreography. In general, the type of clothing from each region is unique. The clothing also represents social and marital status. The costumes, type of dance and music also express political, religious and personal beliefs. The band consisted of traditional instruments such as Quena (vertical flute), Wancara (drums) and Hualaycho (guitar with metal strings). My favorite dance of all was the dance of Tinta carnival. It was a dance where the women choose their partners during the dance. In all these dances, men and women were clad in colorful clothing. I scribbled down the name of the dances so I would not forget them after I go home.
by Alexa Boyce
While we enjoy speaking directly with our clients, we do often answer the same few questions. I have decided to answer them here for those students who haven't asked them yet:
How do I get credit for an AmeriSpan program?
The easiest way to get college or high school credit for our programs is to receive it directly through your home institution. This avoids any problems in transferring credits. Upon request, we will send you a syllabus for the specific location you are interested in, as well as any other information your school requires. You simply take this to your study abroad office or academic advisor and inquire about the process for granting credits for off-campus programs.
We also offer credit through Brookhaven College and Seattle Central Community College. You can find out more information about which programs are eligible for this credit here.Should I get a cell phone?
If you are traveling for less than 4 weeks, a calling card should be sufficient. The AmeriSpan phonecard can be used in over 130 countries. Please contact us and we will send you a card containing 10 bonus minutes. To get started right away, please visit ekit .
If you plan to be in country for a longer period of time, a cell phone might be a good idea. Beware of using your regular phone abroad, as international fees might apply. We recommend a Telestial cell phone, because all incoming calls are free and local calls are at local rates. Please visit our Staying in Touch page to see more tips.Do I need a visa?
In many countries, a tourist visa is granted automatically upon arrival to US citizens and is good for 90 days. Your participation in an AmeriSpan program does not require a student or work visa. Each student is responsible for ensuring their legal status in the country. Please check with your local embassy for information on entrance requirements. You may find contact information for embassies here.
For help on obtaining visas, airfare and other helpful predeparture tips, please see this page.
For more frequently asked questions, please see our FAQ list.
By Glenn Rigby
Chile is a country in South America, and is made up of mountains, volcanoes, lakes, fjords, inlets, peninsulas, and desert. Chile also controls the world-famous Easter Island! Santiago is Chile's national capital and largest city, located in the country's central valley.
There are many great things to do and see in Santiago, and I will highlight a few of these:
* Mercado Central
Santiago's colorful Mercado Central, housed in an 1872 wrought iron structure, has a fruit and vegetable market as well as a buzzing fish market where an assortment of glistening fish is packed onto the tables. Mussels, oysters and clams sit in buckets among an unidentifiable variety of crustaceans and tentacled creatures. The fishmongers demonstrate their skill at gutting and filleting amid a cacophony of frenzied buying. The best time to visit is at lunchtime when a delicious sampling of the wares can be enjoyed in the happily chaotic atmosphere of the central hall.
* Cerro San Cristobal
Cerro San Cristóbal is a 2,752ft (860m) hill jutting out of the city and on a clear day affords magnificent views of the surrounds and across to the Andes. The easiest way to the top is by funicular, but there is also a teleférico (cable car), bus or a path leading up from the bottom through the forested slopes. There are many walkways and at the summit is the 70ft (22m) high statue of the Virgin Mary to mark where the Pope held a mass in 1987. There is also a small zoo, picnic sites and an outdoor swimming pool. The cerro is situated within the Santiago's biggest open space, Parque Metropolitano, and is a peaceful place, an escape from the never-ending noise of traffic in the city below.
* Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art
Spanning 4,500 years and about 80 pre-Colombian civilizations of South America the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art) is a fascinating place to spend a few hours. Located in the old Royal Customs House, the exhibit displays are well lit and beautifully arranged throughout four rooms set around a central courtyard. The collection provides an informative insight into the cultures of the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and other once proud civilizations of the continent, illustrating their artistic diversity.
By Tina Lin - Guest blogger traveling in Peru.
At 9am this morning, we left for Ollantaytambo, the fortress the Incan last fought with the Spaniards. The way to Ollantaytambo takes about 2 hours on the bus. Throughout the ride, we took many stops to stretch and have some fresh air. The view along the way is just spectacular. We saw mountains that soared above the clouds and the Sacred Valley down below. At Ollantaytambo, we hiked up the many steps to top of the fortress. Our guide, Edward, told us the story behind this fortress. A general that was defeated in a war before the Incan times arrived at Ollantaytambo and built this magnificent fortress. Later, the Incans fought with him and won. The daughter of this general, a princess, married an Incan. The Incan continued to expand this fortress. When the Spanish arrived, they threw rocks at the Spaniards. They were very strong, but not able to withstand the gun power the Spanish possessed.
Ollantaytambo has one side that is built with smooth, well-cut stones that are seen in other Incan masonry. This side is going to lead up to the rooms where the important people such as the princess lived. The other side is built with ragged rocks and it had clay in between the rocks. This side is built to prevent the avalanche of rocks and to drain the water from the rain. We climbed up the side with beautiful stones and saw the portal, the communication site, temple of the sun and moon. The portal was constructed with complementary rocks sticking out of the walls. Next to the portal, you see large, rectangular windows in the walls that are used as a form of communication. If a guard sees a visitor from down below, he can tap the side of these windows on the left, middle or right side. This would create an echo that would notify important official living on the left, middle or right side of the hills. It is quite ingenious.
Ollantaytambo also has baths below for the king and the common people. The spring for the king has the carving of the Incan Cross (representing the trinity of the world). The water that streams down the spring can be slowed down by simply running your finger across the channel in the stone. The Incans definitely knew about the physics of fluids!
After our visit to Ollantaytambo, we went to eat at a very good buffet. Most of us were so stuffed we could not eat any more. We were impressed with just how beautiful this restaurant is set up. After lunch, we dropped by a famous ceramic shop called Pablo Seminario. We learned that the ceramics were made by clay in the Sacred Valley. The ceramics were softened by a soft stone, then carved with symbols from pre-Incan and Incan tribes. It was then colored and baked. These work were absolutely beautiful, I also bought 2 pieces of work.
I am going to rest today after all these adventures. I had a lot of fun.
By Emily Hogge - Guest blogger traveling in Mexico.
Whew! I feel so exhausted. We just finished tramping all around Mexico City, and my mind and body both feel tired. My overall impression of the city was this: overwhelming. There were so many things and people to see.
One of my favorite parts, though probably the most intense, was our time in the Zocalo, or central plaza of the city. The Cathedral is on one side, the Mexican governmental offices on the other, and a huge Mexican flag waves in the center. And the people-- there were people everywhere! That may have been somewhat amplified by the fact that a huge political rally/demonstration is set to take place tomorrow, but was probably not too much different than normal, since there are 22 million people in this city.
People were doing Aztec dances, selling all kinds of food and wares, preparing for the protest, and just generally milling around. A little girl came up and put a sticker on my shirt. Oh how cute!, I thought. Then she asked, "money?", and when I didn't deliver, took her sticker right back.
Part of my feelings right now are hinging on a sense of helplessness. Our guide said, as he described the City and the Zocalo, that there are 22 million people here, and they're all just trying to make a living however they can. As I walked by all the vendors, each with their different methods and ways, I just felt guilty for not buying things.
It must be so hard, trying to sell these wooden puppets by the Cathedral, when tourists just breeze by, or someone picks up a doll for closer examination, and you think you've sold it, but then they turn and walk away.
At times I feel like a selfish American, because while I don't feel like I have any money, obviously I do; that I am able to take this trip to Mexico, to Mexico City, is evidence of this. It's so hard. I just feel so helpless.
I know there will always be poor, Jesus said that, but when you see them, and even touch them, and realize that they're human beings and have feelings and hopes just like you, it changes things.
By: Alexa Boyce
Buraimi is an Omani city situated directly on the border with Al Ain, UAE. This joint-city is located in the center of what has been known for hundreds or thousands of years as the 'Buraimi Oasis'.
Originally made up of six tribes, half of which were loyal to the Sultan of Oman and the other half were loyal to the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi. The national borderlines were drawn in 1972 to separate these two groups. The border actually runs through the downtown area, but customs are on the outskirts of Buraimi so that one may easily walk between Buraimi in Al Ain in the UAE.
However, for the last 5 years, rumors have been spreading that the UAE intends to position regular border guards along the Al Ain-Buraimi border. No one seemed to know for sure what the case was, and nothing ever happened. However, back in September, rumors became stronger and more conclusive that something was going to happen very soon along the border. AmeriSpan's school in Al Ain was forced to move its classes into the homes of host families in Buraimi, as all but one of the teachers lived on the Oman side of the border. This political situation caused us to temporarily discontinue our Al Ain program. This is unfortunate because a student traveling last spring said about the program, "I cannot compliment this school more; absolutely effective and patient instructors and extremely disciplined to make sure that students don't use English as a crutch."
If the border problems continue, the school may permanently move into Buraimi. For now, AmeriSpan offers very popular Arabic programs in Cairo, Egypt and Fez, Morocco.
A good site for historical facts about Buraimi and Al Ain go here.
By Kayla Allen
The United States isn't the only country in the world with tumultuous elections. While the Democrats and Republicans were going at it in the US, Venezuelans braced themselves for their presidential elections, which promised to be eventful.
On Saturday, November 25th hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans showed their support for the leading presidential challenger, Manuel Rosales, stopping traffic on a main highway in the capital and vowing to vote the current president, Hugo Chavez out of office on December 3rd.
The crowd marched from different locations and converged on a highway shouting, "Dare to change!" and waiving their national flag. After reaching their destinations they continued their protest by dancing to Venezuelan folk music and chanting slogans against current president, Hugo Chavez. The size of the protest only furthered the belief that the election was going to be a tight one.
Divided along class lines, Venezuela has become increasingly polarized, with the wealthy backing incumbent, Rosales, the poor backing Chavez and the middle class being pulled in both directions. Rosales has warned that voting for Chavez again would be tantamount to voting for totalitarian government patterned after Castro's Cuba while Chavez has called Rosales a flunky of the US Empire.
Fraud had been a key topic for each candidate both making statements warning against the possibility with Chavez even threatening to shut down a couple local TV stations who he believed would try to sway the vote by reporting false polling results.
The loyalty of both candidates' followers had Venezuelans stocking up on necessities, fearful that the election's outcome might prompt street protests and violence.
In the end Chavez's loyal followers, those who have benefited from his policies favoring the poor, like turning Venezuela's oil (5th producer in the world) into education, healthcare and subsidized food and housing, outnumbered Rosales' supporters.
While there was much name-calling, fear and more than 125,000 soldiers and reservists deployed to safeguard the balloting, the violence that some feared never materialized.
With his victory Chavez took another opportunity to promise Venezuela an egalitarian society, extol socialism as "love" and to call his victory a blow against the devil, George Bush. These kinds of speeches are what have many fearing that even with all of Chavez's social reform that what he will succeed most in doing is dividing his own country even further.
Back to Normal in Morelia - By Emily Hogge - Guest blogger traveling in Mexico.
I've started to finally get into a schedule here in Morelia, and more into the swing of things. The first week here, I was just so tired, both from the adjustment and from the altitude (Morelia is about 1000ft higher than Denver!). Now I have a routine of sorts, and I like it. I go to class each day for a few hours to work on my Spanish, eat a large lunch (which is really more like dinner) in the mid afternoon, and usually hit up conversation club in the evenings, along with other fun things. I've learned how to cook several Mexican foods, taken salsa lessons, and sat in a few cafes.
The pace of life here (in general it seems, not just for me, the traveler with not much to do) is slower than what I'm used to in America. People take time to eat and socialize, and when we eat dinner (or lunch), there's usually a steady stream of people flowing through the house. I like how when we have a drink in a cafe, we can sit and talk for hours, and the waiter will never come with the check unless we ask for it. There's the sense that you're there to relax and converse, and it would be rude to be rushed. I like that.
I've also taken to feasting on some of the delicious pastries from the local panaderia in the afternoons. There's a vast array of choices, along with a vast array of bees too, but that's just part of the fun. My two American friends are trying to eat their way through the bakery and try every kind, which isn't a bad idea. There's a custard that I've been eyeing, so that might be today's treat. Not a bad pace of life, no?
I feel like this trip is also teaching me about traveling. The only time I've been out of the country alone prior to this, I was 16, and lived with a host mother, so I really wasn't really ever on my own. Here while I am staying with a local family, it's really up to me what I do. I love meandering through the streets, looking at one of the many fountains, or even going to the local market and being wowed by the mountains of chiles.
It's interesting to meet new people too. Some of the people at the school have been here for a while, and don't seem overly friendly, but others are very open to talk, salsa, and explore. While last week was stressful with all the new experiences, I'm now very glad I'm here. I've met some really nice people, seen some neat things, and I'm excited to go to Mexico City tomorrow and the pyramids of Teotihuacan too (though I'm still a little nervous about the crowds in the City). I feel lucky that I get to do this traveling, since I know it's not an option for many people. It's nice to be here.