Sunday, June 29, 2014

From fiestas to the 4th of July... - Looking ahead

Although today brings local fiestas in celebration of San Juan and San Pedro to a close, our Program is now in full swing with students in class in the morning and taking advantage of sports and other co-curricular activities in the afternoon. This Tuesday brings us to the next soccer match for the USA, an excellent opportunity for students to share their support and enthusiasm for our team with their host families. On Thursday, we will be traveling together to the famous university city of Salamanca and on Friday, we will celebrate the 4th of July, Spanish-style, with our annual picnic for students and their host families. Rumor has it that there will even be another apple pie contest this year. May the best baker win!  

Dancers (of all ages!) in traditional costume as they make their way from the plaza by the cathedral to their next event.

A Sightseeing Saturday

Instead of sleeping in, a large number of students decided to get up early and join us for a sightseeing adventure throughout León (the region) yesterday. Although the cooler temperatures and rain threatened to cut our planned itinerary short, the students were determined to get in all they could and experience all that this beautiful region has to offer. 

Our first visits were in Astorga, a town located about 27 miles southwest of León. Astorga, apart from being a stop for many pilgrims along the French route of the Camino de Santiago, is also known for it's Palacio episcopal (designed by none other than famed Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, who many students recognize from his work on the Sagrada familia in Barcelona) and Museo de chocolate. 

Here is a view of the "heart" of Astorga, with the cathedral (constructed from the 14th century to the 18th, hence the varied styles) and Gaudí's Neo-medieval palace.
Although no pictures are allowed on the inside of a palace, the unique, imposing design of the exterior gives you an idea of what might be found beyond the sculpted gates. 

 Just beyond the palace is the cathedral, which was declared a national monument in 1931. 

Our next visit was at the Museo de chocolate, where students not only learned about the history of chocolate in the region but tasted it as well! Note: a good deal of chocolate was purchased here but I am not sure how much of it will make it back to Indiana in July. :)

After the Museo de chocolate, we made our way to the Plaza Mayor so the students could enjoy lunch and a short break from the walking and sightseeing. 

As we made our way back to the bus, we stopped for a moment at a nearby mirador, or look out point, to see the surrounding areas. The weather was luckily cooperating and allowed for a great picture of the group.

The next stop we made was in Castrillo de los Polvazares, located only about 5 kilometers from Astorga but from appearances, a world away. Castrillo is a true pueblo, that with the exception of cars, seems to  be relatively uninfluenced by the larger surrounding cities and towns. To give students a true experience of what living in such a place would be like, we were even invited to see the interior patio of one woman's typical stone home and to walk through one of several traditional restaurants.

 In keep with our unofficial theme of royal excursions, our last visit for the day was to the Templar Castle in Ponferrada.  

Situated along the Sil River in the Bierzo Valley, Ponferrada is the last major city along the French route of the Camino de Santiago. As the legend goes, the area the castle was constructed on was donated by the King Ferdinand II of León in exchange for the protection of pilgrims as they made their way toward Santiago de Compostela.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What did I order?!?

Never one to disappoint, this week our local restaurant offered calamar (squid) and as you might expect, a few of our adventurous eaters were eager to give it a try.  Served grilled instead of fried, what arrived was not exactly the more "familiar" dish they had been expecting.

Good thing that they enjoyed the selection of first dishes and desserts! 

Okay, we didn't win but we're still in!

On Thursday afternoon, several students and instructors met at the Victoria in the city center to watch team USA face off against Germany. As you can tell from the pictures, the students were decked out in their red, white and blue and there was no lack of support coming from this side of the Atlantic.

Even though Germany was the first to score, we were (luckily) not eliminated from the World Cup Games and students will be able to enjoy the next game with their families. Go USA!

From campus to the caves!

As an alternative to a regular día de deportes (sports day, held after class) activities, Wednesday's adventures took us out of our host city and into the Cueva de Valporquero. Located about 47 kilometers outside of the city,  near the village of Valporquero del Torío, the cueva features six salas (halls) that we were able to explore with our guide.

After the tour of the cave, our driver José Luis took us up to a nearby look-out point so the students could get a glimpse of life in the mountains. Undeterred by rain, I think all those who made the trek up the hill would agree it was worth it to experience the fantastic views.