Thursday, March 5, 2009

Covadonga, Carnaval, and Sleet.

Sunday, 3/1/09
This weekend I went with the international students to Covadonga. Here they are called the Erasmus students, it's a program for Europeans who want to study abroad somewhere else in Europe usually to learn a language. Technically I am not "Erasmus" because I am not European but I can still attend all the Erasmus events because I am doing pretty much the same thing as the Erasmus students. The difference is the European Union has an agreement to send students to other European countries to learn languages, study etc. If a student has good grades and all that then they are eligible to apply. I think it's pretty cheap and many of the students looking to find international jobs like to apply. For non-European students, an agreement between the sending and receiving universities has to be reached so the terms of the contract are a bit different. Anyway, I went to Covadonga with the International students.
I hadn't read too much on Covadonga before going there but I probably should have. From what my host family here told me it's a famous Cathedral and also the site where the first King of Asturias (King Pelayo I think) fought back the Africans (los morros) that had been living in Asturias. The group leaders didn't give us a background of the place we visited but if you wikipedia Covadonga or battle of covadonga you´ll get a pretty good feel for it. The spaniards consider it the beginning of la Reconquista (The retaking of Spain from los morros). It was a pretty nice place and I took a bunch of pictures so no worries. I met a good part of the international students. The group consisted of primarily French, Belgians, Brazilians, Germans, and Americans (Pretty much the same consistency as my Spanish class). Not very many Italians and there were a couple Brits too. There are two big groups of Americans here. They came in groups with leaders explicitly to learn Spanish. They are on a different schedule which runs January to May (it's the American adjusted schedule because it coordinates with how colleges run in the US). One group is from UMass in Boston and the other is from Temple in Philly. There are also a couple other students I met from the "U" in Miami and UNC as well. There's also a student here from Virginia Tech and I didn't know she existed until pretty much last Thursday. Go figure. However, I am not surprised--the international relations staff at Tech isn't really the best when it comes to communication.
I really wasn't interested in becoming friends with the Americans too much. A) I can do that when I go back to the states and B) they weren't really 100% committed to learning Spanish. They arrived in a group here in January and they pretty much just stay as a cluster and speak English all the time. When they had to use their Spanish I thought it was pretty weak but then again I don't really know their level of practice yet either.
However! I made really good friends with 3 Belgian students and one French student. Three of them are in my intensive spanish class and the fourth I met on the Covadonga trip. We're all pretty good friends now. They tend to speak french with each other but if I'm around they'll usually switch to Spanish. Two of my Belgian friends also speak decent English but we don't talk much in English. I also met a very nice Brazilian girl named Angelica. She's here with a bunch of Brazilians and she is also in my intensive spanish class.
Also this weekend was Oviedo's Carnaval. I found out that Carnaval (Carneval maybe, not too sure) is celebrated in many places in Spain and this weekend it was celebrated here in Oviedo. Apparently earlier this week was Carneval for the kids but this weekend it was for all of Oviedo. Starting around 6pm or so pretty much all of the younger crowd (and some older too) dressed up in their disfraces (costumes) a lot like Halloween. I think the Spanish here way out-do the costumes I have seen on Halloween in the US. They do a lot of themed costumes with friends and they put a lot of time (and sometimes money) into their outfits. Much better quality by far. They also are much more creative in their ideas--less ghosts, vampires, and more costumes like the cookie monster, pac man, and characters from popular shows.
It was also interesting to see all these characters packed into bars and "discotechs" as they're called in Europe. Not sure if Dan is allowed in these or not...
The unique drink here in Asturias (although I think it is served in el pais basco, the basque(sp?) country, too but it's a bit different) is called Sidra. There are "Sidrerias", places where one goes for Sidra pretty much on every corner. Sometimes you pass by 3 or 4 in a row too. The manner in which it is served is also very unique and if you get the chance, look it up. Basically it comes in green bottles and the bartender will hold the bottle high over his head and pour without looking at the bottle into a glass that he holds below his waist. I think this is to add additional bubbles etc. into the Sidra to add to the taste. It also looks pretty sweet too. They only fill up the glass about 1/3 or less and you're supposed to drink it all at once and then the last bit you're supposed spill onto the floor with a flick of the wrist. It's common that the floors in Sidrerias are wet with Sidra.
From what the bartender told me they have Sidra in the basque country too (basque country is more or less the land on the Spain-France border--There are two "basque countries" basically one section which is on the french side and the other on the spanish side). On the Spanish side the Sidra is fermented a bit differently and they put more carbonation into the it. Because of the carbonation they don't pour from above their heads and it can be served regularly. I think the bartender also said that the basque Sidra is a bit sweeter. I'll have to check on that.
A lot of the time Sidra comes with tapas. Tapas is pretty much just a snack food (or finger food if you want to call it that) that consists of a thin small slice bread, some type of meat and some cheese with a toothpick holding it altogether. Tapas comes with a vast variety of toppings but typical here is thin bread, chorizo (sausage) and some type of white cheese (I don't know the name).
So now I am learning a bunch about Brazil, France and Belgium. My friends have a lot to tell me of their countries but I can't really offer much in return as they know a bunch about the US already. It's surprising to me how much they know about US politics, policies, and other US current events. I feel bad because I don't know nearly as much about their countries. But I guess when your country is the center of the world's attention, that's just kind of the way things are. So I try here and there to tell them something interesting about the US but usually I end up listening which is ok. Their countries are quite interesting. One of my Belgian friends, Francois(although he goes by "Fix"), thinks that Washington DC has 40 million people which I found pretty entertaining. I told him it was definitely not even near that number and I would look up how many are in DC when I get the chance. I haven't met too many Spanish students yet. I met one Spaniard named Fran and he's my conversation partner for the Tandem program. Another student, Pablo is more or less the student in the department of chemistry who is going to help me adjust to life here although I haven´t met with him yet (somewhat ironic I guess). However I haven't had very many classes yet and so I think over time I'll meet a bunch more Spaniards.
One thing I find pretty interesting living with my host family is how they treat electricity especially lights in the apartment. Basically the rule is, if you are not in the room or you don't need the extra light, turn out the light. At night, if you leave a room, you turn out the light, and then as you walk through the hall you turn on the light and once you enter another room, even if just for a second, you turn out the hallway light. It's very strange and if I forget my host family is always sure to remind me. The only exception to this rule is the TV, which can really be on at all times even with no one in the room. I don't really know how much electricity is used by a 18" TV in comparison to a lightbulb but I have a feeling that this may be a discrepancy in their system. Also interesting is that the only trash can in the apartment is under the sink and is about the size of bathroom wastebasket. and a small one at that.

Dan: Here they say Nike like Mike with a N instead of like Mikey with an N. Not sure why but I tried my best to correct my host family.
Dad: In Oviedo there is the king of all roundabouts: It is 2 roundabouts that are connected like a figure 8. It's pretty intense.
Mom: My host family had no idea what Burritos or Quesadillas are. I haven't asked about Tacos but I have a feeling they'll blank on that too.
Mike: My host mom cooks 3 meals a day for me (then cleans afterwards too), does my laundry, makes my bed, and dries my towel. And she won't allow me to help her with any of these (although I usually try to make the bed)-- Jealous? :)
iPhone: I miss you.

Currently (as in March 5th at 1:30 PM) it is sleeting here. I am not sure why I was told that this winter has been strange with the weather. Usually they never get snow-- just rain. There´s been plenty of rain and yesterday it snowed a bit around 3pm. It´s not snowing like it did in VA earlier this week but for the people of Oviedo I think this is kind of a big deal.

Also! This week I had a chance to check out the Oviedo medical system! I got sick (again) with pretty much the same thing. The doctor I visited just classified it as tonsilitis and prescribed some version of penicillin. It´s a pretty good system I thought (although my family isn´t too happy with it, then again, not very many people are happy with their healthcare systems). There was no co-pay and the medicine I bought was 50% regular price because the other half is covered by social security here. So I got sick more or less on Monday and today everything cleared up. I missed a couple classes but other than that nothing bad came of it. So that makes twice in 3 weeks I´ve been sick with pretty much the same thing... :) :) :) :) That bottle of Advil has come in handy.

Also sorry I haven´t put any pictures up yet... but I will soon. maybe.


  1. Hi, Matt. It's KK. I have had fun tonight reading all your posts. It will be cool for you to have all of these to keep after your trip as a journal to look back upon. I am glad you have met some friends. I was worried you'd get lonely! I am sad not to have anyone to send care packages, but it sounds like you are eating well in Spain. Gotta say I am pretty envious of all you are seeing and doing...sounds a little bit better than spending four years in Lincoln, Nebraska, like I did in college! Thought of you last night when we watched the Tech/UNC game for a couple of minutes. Looking forward to reading your blog on a regular basis!

  2. I looked up the Washington population and found that, in the district itself was just under 600,000, and in the metro area is 5.2 million. It's the 8th largest metro area in the country. Makes you wonder what their media has told them about our country. It will be interesting for you to hear what they say and what they think they know about us. The sidra stuff sounds interesting. You didn't say if it is alcoholic, but with tossing it over your shoulder onto the floor, I'm thinking it is:) Looking forward to seeing some pictures. Get better!! Mom

  3. Well I´m sure they hear a lot about Washington and just assume the population is comparable to the amount of power held by the city (or in the city´s name). Yeah when he said that I told him I could definitely think of many bigger cities in the US.

  4. Yeah the district isn't very big at all... more business than residential.

    You are doing a much better job than I did keeping up on the blog!! Im sorry you keep getting sick, hopefully you will be better soon. -mike