On Friday 4/12, Semana Santa started. This is the week long celebration for Easter in Spain and everyone has school/work off to celebrate (kind of like Spring Break).
To begin Semana Santa I took a train to Seville- city in southwest part of Spain, and met up with my friend Michelle (from the U of M who is also studying abroad there). We spent the day seeing some of the big sites in Seville such as Plaza de España-where they filmed Star Wars episode 2 scenes in Naboo. After we continued to walk through the streets by the cathedral and along the river, stopping for gelato. We spent the rest of the day catching up on how our semesters were going and we even saw the processions in the streets for the start of Semana Santa. A huge part of the traditions for the week are processions that included people dressing up in costumes. Then behind them people carry a large altar decorate specific for whatever day it is.
On Friday night I stayed in a hostel near the center of the city, while Michelle went back to her host family. On Saturday morning , we met up for breakfast and then left for the airport to catch our flight to Tenerife. For a long time Michelle and I wanted to meet up for Semana Santa and travel somewhere together. We were trying to decided between multiple places in Spain and eventually settled on Tenerife- the largest island of the Canary Islands (off the coast of Africa). We figured it would be the best place to relax and unwind a little bit before finals (similar to Spring Break). We arrived at our Airbnb in the evening of Saturday night, after taking an hour long bus ride from the northern end of the island to the southern end of the island (there’s two airports). Lucky for us, our Airbnb was located conveniently close to the bus station. We spent a couple hours checking out the beach (a 5 minute walk) and watching the sunset over La Gomera- the island located directly west of Tenerife. We also decided as a way to save money that we would cook all of our meals in the Airbnb so we stocked up on groceries. This was fun because it is the first I have cooked a meal in over three months.
On Sunday we planned nothing to do except the beach all day. We had a slow moving morning followed by a really delicious brunch and then headed out to a beach that was about 15 minutes away called Playa de Las Americas. We stayed there for about four hours and in that time we managed to fry our bodies on the front and back. The cool thing about the beach we went to was that there are a lot of good waves so a couple dozen surfers were in the water trying to catch some waves. After thinking that we had spent enough time in the sun, we decided to do something else and we tried fish pedicures. For the record, I’m pretty ticklish and with a regular pedicure I have a hard time sitting still when they rub the bottom side of my foot. This took it to a whole new level, there were at least 30 little fish sucking on my toes up to my ankles. The point of a fish pedicure is that the type of fish they use like to pick off/eat dead skin so they nibble on your feet for about 20 minutes and then your feet end up super smooth.
The next day, Monday, we were both sunburnt from our foreheads to our toes so we didn’t move for a very long time. Finally, around noon, we got up and took a bus to the los cristianos area. We walked in and out of shops until we finally found the perfect t shirts to show off our burns and our vacation. Afterwards we had lunch on the boardwalk- burgers and pina coladas. Then the evening was spent by the pool, mostly covered up, and watching another sunset from out on the rocks.
On Tuesday we booked a tour to see the mount Teide, the 3rd largest volcano in the world. The tour began at 8:30 when the bus picked us up and we slowly made our way up into the mountains (Tenerife is very similar to Hawaii) stopping to admire smaller volcanos, views of La Gomera and the change in vegetation as alititude changes. We also stopped at a quaint café for barroquita- a coffee drink with heavy cream, cinnamon and liquor that is native to Tenerife. We continued up the mountains towards the volcano, stopping at a museum that was originally a farmers house who lived up in the mountains even when the mountains were declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Afterwards we were planning on taking a cable car up to the top of the mountain but there was too much wind so they closed it down for the day. Lso instead we stopped at a different area of the park, the northern side, that had fun trails to walk on and a visitor center with information on the volcano. Continuing on, we stopped at an area of the park that looks like mars because the Teide National Park’s volcanic character causes dramatic geological formations resulting in a blueish tone. Last part of the trip was visiting La Roque Cinchado. Which reminded me of the badlands and I had a fun time hiking and climbing around. Since we didn’t end up taking the cable car, the tour ended a little earlier so we later by the pool at our Airbnb again. Oh I also forgot everynight Michelle and I spent watching a movie on Netflix she hadn’t seen yet so we watched everything from the Holiday to Julie and Julia.
On Wednesday we got up really really early (too early for vacation) and took a bus to los cristianos again for a kayaking tour on the ocean we had scheduled. When we got there they said the weather was really rough and it would not be a good day to go so we decided to try again the next day. Since that was the only thing we had planned for the day… we decided to plan something else and that was surfing! A couple hours later we were with an instructor and family of four from Belgium and we were learning how to surf. One thing they did not mention in the info section was that you had to carry your surfboard for at least a 10 minute walk. And after the first place not working out due to a rough current… we walked to the beach right by our Airbnb (almost 15 minutes away). Trust me when I say that two days later my arms still kill! But regardless I was having fun! We started with some quick practice on the beach before heading into the water. At first, it was interesting to say the least… I kept getting plowed over by waves and my board flying everywhere. At one point it flew straight into my head, ouch. But then I got on the board and Angel (the instructor) told me when to start paddling and gave me a push on the wave and suddenly I was riding the wave!! It took a couple tries to finally feel comfortable to start up on the moving wave but the first time I did stand up… well let’s just say I understand why people love surfing. It was absolutely amazing! And despite the gallons of salt water I probably swallowed, I had the best time ever! Between paddling as hard as you could and carrying the boards, we were spent after our lesson which meant another afternoon spent by the pool 😎but I ain’t complaining.
Thursday, we had a doover of our kayaking tour but in my opinion the weather was still pretty bad. During the tour the wind shifted directions making it very cold and very hard to paddle. In addition, there were dark clouds looming over our heads threatening rain. But on the bright side, we did get to see a sea turtle swim right up to our kayak and we saw a pod of dolphins swimming out by a fish farm! It was definitely an experience and now I can check kayaking in the ocean off the list! Just like the surfing, we were pretty spent after the 3 hour tour so we went to the beach by our place and layed on some chairs for a couple hours, however the sun only made an appearance for about 20 minutes. To conclude our final day we went out for dinner, because we ran out of food, and so we went to a terrace near our apartment with a nice view of the sunset and had sea bass and steak as our final send off from a wonderful, relaxing vacation. Oh and I forgot to mention again but I got gelato almost everyday from the huge gelato shop on the boardwalk 😋Tenerife was a beautiful place full of a lot of fun memories I will cherish forever and I’m so glad I could spend it with one of my best friends 😊.
On Friday, we woke up for our 6am flight to Madrid and then took the train to Toledo so that Michelle could see where I live. Unfortunately, for only the third time this semester, it was down pouring when we got Toledo… this put a damper on a majority of the plans I had made because it was cold and wet outside. So instead I showed Michelle around some of my favorite spots and cafes in Toledo. In addition, we stopped by the cathedral and the fundacion. We had also planned to view multiple processions Friday night since it is the biggest and most important night in Toledo, but it was raining cats and dogs so they had to cancel the processions. Instead, she got to meet a lot of my friends I had made during the program and we went out together Friday night. My host family was generous enough to let Michelle stay in my room so she didn’t have to get a hostel and they made hamburgers and French fries for dinner 😊.
Saturday, Michelle got up early to catch her train back to Seville so I went into Toledo to study for the day, since finals are this upcoming week. After studying all day, my friends and I went to a new bar for drinks with Jenna and her parents. Afterwards we went to watch the last procession of Semana Santa, but again it was canceled due to the rain. However, we did get to witness a ceremony where they changed the robes of the Virgin Mary from black to white to represent the rescurreciton and that was a very impressive ceremony with a brass band playing music in the church. It was also packed wall to wall with people wanting to witness the ceremony. In the pictures below you can see that Mary is on an altar on what looks like a table. Normally, in the processions there are arms coming out of the table and people carry the altar through the streets while the band plays. Despite the weather, I’m still glad I got to witness a very special tradition in Toledo.
Easter Sunday: despite Spain being very well known for its Catholicism, most of the Spaniards (including my host family) are not practicing Catholics so to them Easter Sunday o Pascua was treated as any other regular Sunday. That being said, a group of us from the fundacion wanted to do something for Easter so Sunday morning we went to Mass in the ancient cathedral of Toledo. First of all, the cathedral is beautiful and impressive on its own. On top of it, it was my first ever attending a mass (new things everyday here in Toledo!). Shockingly, most of the people attending the mass were dressed very casual in jeans mostly! (All of us students were dressed in our Easter best). One of my favorite parts of the service was when we recited the Lord’s prayer in Spanish because I was amazed that I had the skills to understand and recite it all in Spanish. After the service was done, I was left feeling very blessed about all that had happened this semester: being able to study abroad, my wonderful host family, all the amazing friends I have made and seeing the progression of my Spanish over four months. In typical Easter fashion, Jenna, her parents and I went out to brunch after mass. Then it was back to studying for finals again. In between studying though, we did get some Semana Santa candy!
Finally to end Semana Santa, I had my last Sunday dinner with my whole host family eating Isabels incredible tortilla española ( I sure am going to miss it, mom maybe you can learn how?). The best part was afterwards we stayed in the kitchen for two more hours and played games! It was a bittersweet time and made me very appreciative of everything all of them have done for me.