Faculty Abroad: Mike Wallace, Valencia, Spain 2015

Mike Wallace

 

The Last Week: Wednesday, August 12 (Panama City time)

Yes, all good things do come to an end.  It was the last week in Valencia, and amidst giving exams and grading papers, I found myself preparing to return home.

Of course, I wouldn’t be a very good son if I didn’t bring things home things from Spain for my mother’s 81st birthday.  After all, she did bring me into this world and put up with my during my youthful years (and indiscretions).

The first place I shopped was the Central Market, located just two blocks from my apartment.  Lalo and Geta had introduced me to the market the day after I had arrived in Valencia, and each week, I visited this huge, open marketplace to buy fresh produce, eggs, cheese and bread.  With Larry Gerber’s help, I also found honey infused with rosemary.  It was the first of a number of gifts I brought home.  I would later add a cookbook of Spanish food (written in English), several hand fans, and an olive oil based hand lotion.

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All girly stuff, I know, but, hey, she’s my mother!

Meanwhile, Jose Gonzalez coordinated a special workshop for that Monday night for faculty and their family members on how to cook paella.  
We collectively met by the Valencia Silk Exchange (opposite the Central Market), then walked around the corner to a little storefront.  Two years before, Jose had befriended the owner of this small business, who had set up a similar workshop for faculty.  The owner had since passed away, but his family kept the doors open and this budding tradition going.  With some necessary Spanish-to-English translation from Jose, they guided us through cooking a potato omelet, steamed mussels, a chicken and rabbit paella, and homemade sangria (the secret ingredient was orange soda, which I am pretty sure wasn’t part of the original recipe).

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Not shown here is me cracking and beating eggs, or a picture of Susan making a really strange face while drinking wine (I promised her I wouldn’t put the picture in the blog – I didn’t promise, however, that I wouldn’t mention it). 

True to Spanish traditions, the dinner was full of good food and conversation…and a lot of wine.

On Wednesday, the program held their goodbye luncheon – for me, a last chance to say goodbye to many students I had met, some of whom I imagine I might not ever actually see again, unless it is as friends on Facebook and pictures shared.  The lunch ended with Larry Gerber singing in Spanish a song of Valencia.  I should have had the presence of mind to video his performance – the man has such an incredible voice.  Unfortunately, his song may only resonate in my memory.

Earlier in this brief semester, I had promised I would include Ashley and Mallory in my blog.

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They had come from separate places, meeting for the first time at an orientation at FSU in Tallahassee.  Over the course of nearly a full year in Valencia, they had become inseparable friends.  Now, they were both going home to their separate families before heading to Tallahassee for their sophomore years in college.  I can imagine them being friends forever.

On Thursday morning, I turned in my apartment key and phone, flagged down a cab, and found my way back to the airport to begin my journey home.  Unlike my rather torturous 48 hour voyage to Valencia, I travelled most of the way back with friends – students and faculty on the same flights from Valencia to Paris, then Paris to Atlanta.  Nineteen hours and seven time zones later, I arrived home to my apartment slightly before midnight on the same Thursday.  Too tired to drive over to WalMart for groceries or to find an open restaurant, and with almost nothing in the refrigerator, I ate apple sauce and oatmeal.

The next day I shopped for groceries, did laundry and slept.

Almost two weeks later, I am sitting in a Starbucks in St. Petersburg, Florida, drinking coffee that Lalo wouldn’t approve of and writing this last blog entry.  I arrived in St. Pete last night, and over a simple dinner, started telling my mother about my adventures in Spain.  Only now is it sinking in just how much of a gift going to Spain was – I could teach for a hundred years for free and never repay it.

 

Bull Fighting: Monday, August 10 (Panama City time)

Although Spain has a long and rich history, prior to travelling here, I didn’t think of castles or kings when I thought about Spain.  Furthermore, before my current adventures, I couldn’t find Valencia or Madrid or Segovia on a map.  I had heard of bullfighting though.  In fact, I knew Ernest Hemingway had written about bullfighting in one of his books (none of which I’ve actually read, unless it was years ago in high school).

So, before leaving Spain, I decided to go see a bullfight.

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Valencia has its own bullfighting arena, and apparently bullfights are held throughout July.  It was easy to purchase a ticket, and I paid the extra Euros to get a front row seat.  Not that I am a supporter of this 300 year old sport or cruelty to animals.  Let’s face it - the bull usually doesn’t fare very well.

However, some things you just have to see for yourself…

The arena itself is probably older than Wrigley Field, or at least that’s the impression I got.  It just looks…old, right down to the uncomfortable wooden seats.  Thankfully, I knew just enough Spanish to find mine, which really was only a few rows up from the field. 

The show started right at 8:00 with a procession of matadors and helpers parading in costumes around the ring.  In the stands, people are packed together, a long rancorous mass, eating their bocadillos, downing beers and smoking cigarettes. 

Add to it the aroma of sweat and bull dung, the experience was a rather smelly affair.  There were six bullfights scheduled for the evening – I stayed for four, and then left to get oxygen.

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One of the FSU staff, Alicia, was kind enough to describe some of the traditions of the sport beforehand, so I understood a lot of what was transpiring on the field.  Still, for an untraveled American like myself, this was an entirely different world.  In the first match, the matador was on horseback, and he spent several minutes messing with and being chased by the bull.  The crowd loved it, and the more outrageous, the better.  Over the course of the fight, the matador would then thrust spears into the bull, and you could see the blood pouring down the bull’s back.

Eventually, the bull tired, and the matador went in the for the kill. 

Fifteen minutes or so after the fight started, the bull finally collapsed, and once the animal dies, it is hauled off the field by a team of horses. 

As is the custom, the crowd stands and cheers, waving their white handkerchiefs in approval of a good performance.  If it is a particularly good performance, the judges will allow the matador to take one of the bull’s ears.

After the first fight, the matador was awarded an ear, which he paraded around the field with until he threw it up into my section of the stands.  For the next five minutes, the people around me took turns taking selfies of themselves with the ear.  I didn’t, but I did include a picture of the ear being passed around. 

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I probably won’t ever go to a bullfight again, if for no other reason than my lungs wouldn’t survive a repeat performance.  But it was a once in a lifetime experience.

 

Wine tasting - Monday, August 10 (Panama City time)

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Blogging does have its perks – I asked Leda Pedelini, one of the instructors teaching the Food and Society course, if I could tag along on her class’s Wednesday wine tasting outing if I agreed to write about it in my blog.  
She let me come along (although she might have let me go anyway – she’s just nice like that).  So, the class loaded on to the bus and headed to a different, older part of Valencia, an area I hadn’t explored before.  Hidden away in the labyrinth of streets was  Casa Montana, a wine cellar and restaurant opened in 1836.

Forgive me if I didn’t catch the name of the owner (I am just not much of a journalist, and I was so busy taking it all in), but he gave us a brief history of Casa Montana, where locals apparently have come for nearly 180 years for Valencian wine and other spirits.  In fact, he took us to a special room in the back designed just for wine tastings, and described in detail how to taste wine and what to expect.

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He explained as well the purpose of the cork, which apparently is to allow air to slowly into the bottle, the making and use of wooden casks, and even how to properly taste a wine (you start by sticking your nose in the glass).

He even allowed us to taste a 30 year old bottle of wine, using a special implement to draw the wine from the bottle without taking out the cork.

To be honest, I am still not much of a wine drinker, but least now I can impress women with my knowledge of wine.  Or not…but it was worth the journey.

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Oh, and this last picture is of Leda showing off a bottle of Valencian wine. 

By the way, the customer reviews of Casa Montana as a tapas restaurant are just plain off the charts – definitely on my list of places to dine the next time I find my way back to Spain.

 

Visiting the aquarium: Saturday, August 1, 9:00 am (Panama City time)

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Every Tuesday during my time in Valencia, program staff had planned out an evening activity for students.  This Tuesday, it was a visit to Valencia’s Oceanografic Aquarium, which, according to the on-line Valencia tourist guide (http://www.valencia-tourist-guide.com/), is the largest sea aquarium in Europe.  So, I tagged along with two bus loads of students, spent an hour or so walking through this huge aquatic complex, and then took in a dolphin show that included synchronized (human) swimmers.

Truthfully, I haven’t been to a sea aquarium in quite a while.  In fact, after four years of residing in Panama City, I haven’t even visited Gulf World (please don’t tell the Bay Chamber of Commerce – their chair, Andrew Levy, might be giving me a call).

I actually found the visit a bit unsettling.

While it is really cool to see sharks up close, it is abundantly clear these animals are in captivity – and for all the sea lions, dolphins, and penguins, the aquatic tanks are a far cry from a natural habitat.

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All the kids probably think penguins are cute creatures, and, if you ever watched the movie ‘Happy Feet,’ you might think they live to sing and dance.  The penguins here at the Oceanographic Aquarium, however, seem, well, unhappy.  So, when one of the penguins turns tale and poops in the direction of the audience, he could be just taking of a natural bodily function.  Or maybe he is expressing his displeasure at being on display for other flightless mammals to see.

 

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Blog 16_4 visit to Valencia’s Oceanografic Aquarium image
 

Kenzie:  Friday, July 31, 9:00 am (Panama City time)

Yes, I am safely home, sitting in the Starbucks by Panama City Mall, drinking coffee and trying to figure how I am going to do all the things I didn’t do while I was away.  I want to finish the story that I began five weeks ago at 3:00 am in the Montgomery, Alabama airport. 

By the way, I have enjoyed blogging about my experiences, but, wow, does it take up a lot of time.

Back on June 26 when I finally arrived in Valencia (as mentioned in my second blog entry), I met Kenzie, an FSU student in the Study Abroad program who had similar travel misadventures.  What I didn’t mention is she became one of my students, taking my Introduction to Public Relations class.  Excellent student, and a wonderful person to whom I only wish the best.

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I have added a couple of pictures of Kenzie as I will remember her.

Apparently, Kenzie is addicted to Starbucks, so it only fair that I out her as I have been outed. 

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The second picture is of Kenzie sleeping on the bus coming back from the bus trip to Madrid.  Since I cannot seem to sleep on a bus or plane, I am truly curious about how she is able to do it.  

 

A day in Madrid: Thursday, July 23, 11:00 pm (Valencia time)

Catching up on blogging – as I am writing about one thing, such as our visit to Madrid, I am out doing another. 

So, we spent Saturday in Madrid, starting at 9:45 am (which is apparently exceedingly early for most of our students) with a walking tour of downtown Madrid, then a short bus tour, and finally a visit to the Museo del Prado.

Blog 14_1 a Minion image
 

By the way, there are some really strange people populating the streets and plazas of Madrid.  During our tour, I saw a headless man posing with tourists, a Minion, and an alien Predator.  Hopefully, these were all just people in costumes.

Although we didn’t get to go into it – some days it is open for visitors, other days used for official business and closed – we did saunter by the Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the Royal Family of Spain, although they actually live in a more modest palace on the outskirts of the city.  In terms of floor space, it is the largest palace in Europe.  The palace also has 3,418 rooms (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Palace_of_Madrid;  Madrid Tourists Attractions, http://www.madridtourist.info/royal_palace.html).

Blog 14_2 the Royal Palace of Madrid image
 

For anyone who knows me, I am not the most cultured person in the world.  In fact, our visit to the Museo del Prado represents the first time ever I have stepped into an art museum.  The tour guide showed us literally a history of paintings and other works, and, yes, there were artists even I recognized, including Rembrandt and El Greco.  The museum also had on loan 12 Picassos, which seemed incredibly out of place with the realists.  They also had on display the only statue in Spain carved by Michelangelo (the artist, not the ninja turtle, Vincent!). 

Sad to say, the museum didn’t allow patrons to take pictures.

In the evening, all 170 students and the faculty members who came to Madrid went to Los Carboneras for dinner and a Flamenco show.  The Valencia IP program certainly treats faculty like royalty – we had front row seats, and I was able to take some excellent pictures of the show.

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Blog 14_5 Los Carboneras for dinner and a Flamenco show image
 

 

Segovia :Wednesday, July 22, 8:00 pm (Valencia time)

For Floridians like myself, unless you count the Indians who left burial mounds near Lake Jackson, we don’t really have a lot of history.  For example, we don’t have a two thousand year old Roman aqueduct running through our downtown.  Not like Segovia, one of the cities we toured as part of our trip to Madrid.

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By the way, the aqueduct is really a very impressive structure, particularly when you consider the granite blocks were fitted together without any mortar.  It is also apparently the only structure (at least the only one I’ve seen here) left alone by the area graffiti artists.

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Then, there is Segovia Castle, which apparently is only eight hundred years old, and, according to our well-versed tour guide, where Queen Isabella I took refuge in 1474 after the death of King Henry IV.  She soon became the Queen of Castile and Leon (Spanish kingdoms of the time period). 

According to the “Unique Spain” website (http://www.uniquespain.com/segovia-castle.html), many locals lovingly refer to the Segovia landmark as “the inspiration of the Disney castle,” although this is unsubstantiated. 

Of course, the students were interested in going to the top of the castle, which required going up a winding stone stairway of 152 steps (let me tell you, that was a workout).  They were also interested in the castle gift shop, where some students learned about personal protection.

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The Spanish Civil War: Tuesday, July 21, 8:00 pm (Valencia time)

Prior to my trip here, I knew very little about Spain – I could point to it on a map and I knew about ten basic phrases in Spanish, including ‘el bano, por favor’ (the bathroom, please?).  Even after several weeks of living here, I still felt like a tourist.

That is, until we visited the Valley of the Fallen as part of our trip to Madrid. 

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Historically speaking, it was only a few generations ago that Spain was embroiled in a civil war.  In fact, the Siege of Madrid lasted over two years, from October, 1936, to March, 1939, devastating a city of 900,000 people, killing thousands through war and starvation and forcing nearly half a million Spaniards to flee over the Pyrenees to France.  From 1939 to 1975, Spain was furthermore ruled by a dictator, Generalissimo Franco, who, during his reign, had this Catholic basilica and monument built.

We didn’t see any indicators in Madrid of the aftermath of the war – it is a vibrant and prosperous city.  Here at the Valley of the Fallen, however, it is rather hard to miss.

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As seen in the photograph, the place is huge (dwarfing the man walking down the steps).  I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside the basilica, yet it was equally impressive in size.

The monument, which took over 18 years to complete and costing 1.159 billion pesetas to construct, is located on 3,360 acres of Mediterranean woodlands. The basilica was excavated in the granite mountainside and extends along a 262 meter (860 foot) nave with six chapels. The most prominent feature of the monument is the 150 meter high (500 foot) cross erected on a granite outcropping that is visible from over 20 miles away.  It is estimated that between 2,000 and 20,000 convicts and prisoners, some of whom were likely Spanish Republican political prisoners, were used to construct the monument.

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Finding out information on the monument was somewhat difficult.  As noted by Lauren Aloise in her blog “Spanish Sabores,” “I was shocked by…the overall lack of solid information…After reading at least thirty articles about Valle de los Caidos in both English and Spanish I was almost as confused as when I first started my research. It is certainly a reflection of how Spain sometimes tends to ignore the past – a hot topic today among Spaniards themselves.”

“Francisco Franco (Dictator, 1892-1975),” Bio., http://www.biography.com/people/francisco-franco-9300766)

“The Valley of the Fallen,” FeelMadrid.com, http://www.feelmadrid.com/valleyofthefallen.html

“A Place of Contradictions:  Valle de los Caidos,” Aloise, L., March 25, 2012, Spanish Sabores, http://spanishsabores.com/2012/03/25/visiting-valle-de-los-caidos-valley-of-the-fallen-spain/

“Valle de los Caidos,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valle_de_los_Ca%C3%ADdos

 

Going for gelato: Midnight (any night in Valencia)

Do we have anything like this in Panama City Beach?  If we don’t, we should…

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My apartment: Monday, July 20, 10:00 pm (Valencia time)

Not to complain (because I do love living in Spain), but living in the apartment the program has provided me has presented some rather unique…challenges.  I have already mentioned taking a couple of cold showers in my first days in Valencia because I inadvertently shut off the hot water.  While I do count my blessings for air conditioning and a good Internet signal (which the faculty residing in the other apartment building apparently do not have), there have been, well, things I probably won’t miss.

Like having a washer, but no dryer…

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Yes, here in Valencia, we are doing our part to conserve energy, not necessarily because we want to, but because it is a necessity.  Furthermore, my washer, with its labels and instructions in Spanish, doesn’t exactly have much of a spin cycle, so I wring my clothes out before I hang them to dry.

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The Saturday before our journey to Madrid, I also had a little trouble with the stove – after I had boiled some eggs (the extent of my cooking here – I actually can cook, but, one, have little reason to because there are so many good places to eat, and, two, because I fear my kitchen’s appliances), the burner on the top of the stove apparently would not turn off.  After half an hour of turning dials and unkind words, I finally called Ignacio.

Ignacio bet me a week’s worth of dinners the stove would turn off by itself.  Which it did.

Then there is this thing in my bathroom.  Yes, I know what it is, and I know what it does, and I’m not going to use it.

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Too Much to Do and Too Little Time to Do It In: 8:00 pm Monday (Valencia time)

I am finding out just how easy it is to fall behind on writing a travel blog, particularly when there is so much to do here.  Last week, I visited the Museum of History of Valencia, had a memorable dinner with colleagues at Valencia’s oldest tapas restaurant (which I’ve already written about), went to a late night jazz festival, a less-than-stuffy faculty dinner (don’t tell the students, but faculty actually know how to have a good time), and a day trip to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

Oh, yeah, and I teach while I am here.

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On Monday, I tagged along with Chris Coutts and his Introduction to Planning and Urban Development class to the Museum of the History of Valencia.   It was a mile long walk through Valencia’s riverbed park.  Once upon a time, the Turia River ran through the heart of Valencia.  The river, however, was prone to flooding.  After the big flood in 1957, the city diverted the river and gradually turned the riverbed into an eco-park.

By the way, we all walked to the museum.  After our visit, Chris and I walked back.  The students took a taxi.

Blog 9 Museum of the History of Valencia image
 

The museum was quite impressive, containing artifacts from different points in Valencia’s two thousand years of history, including, yes, up to today.

They even had kiosks within the museum that played short videos showing local actors acting out scenes from different time periods, as well as a small movie theatre showing old clips from the 1900s.  Of course, it was all in Spanish…

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Tuesday was dinner with Angel, Tricia and Larry at Valencia’s oldest ta
pas restaurant, the most memorable thing I’ve done to date. Although, after three glasses of red wine and a sifter of brandy bottled before Generalissimo Franco was born, I am surprised I was in any condition to write about it.

Wednesday night was a jazz festival at the Palau de la Musica, which, according to Larry Gerber, has some of the best acoustics of any concert hall in the world.  It was an amazing two hour show – even some very danceable tunes, if only I had my dance shoes and a floor on which to dance.

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Thursday was a faculty dinner, which sounds like a rather stodgy affair, but once the wine started to flow and the food was served, was quite lively.  Funny how it seems that academic discourse is so much more interesting under such circumstances, and, by the way, the lamb, the house specialty, was fall-off-the-bone delicious.  To fill you in, in the photograph, Amy is asking Mike and Jose ‘como se dice ‘the paella is hot’?!”

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Oh, and, yes, there is another picture of me drinking and at least appearing to have fun.  Note to Gary Bliss, our Associate Dean at FSU Panama City:  I really am working.

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Friday was the student day trip to the beaches in Peniscola (no, that is not a misspelling), and, luckily for me, an extra seat was open on the bus.  This town was a picture post card come to life.  Next year, when the summer semester comes to an end, I could see spending a month here.

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Valencia’s oldest tapas restaurant: 11:00 am (Valencia time)

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When in Valencia for the first time, it is probably best to follow people who know where they are going.  So, this is often the view I get. 

That’s Angel and Larry.  They apparently know where they are going.

The night before, Angel had been scouting out Valencia’s oldest tapas restaurant, which he found through talking with the locals and wandering around.  Given the nature of Valencia’s street system (which reminds me of the movie Inception), you can walk by your destination multiple times before actually finding it.

This is the La Pilareta, founded sometime during World War I.  It has apparently survived the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the birth of democracy, and the Valencia flood.  It is an interesting mix of old and new – behind the bar, their reasonably modern computer is situated next to a World War vintage radio that looks like it might still work.

Blog 8 La Pilareta image
 

You know, sometimes life can be magic, revealing at seemingly random moments things you didn’t expect to see or experience or feel.  Last night was one of those times.  Following Angel’s advice (and, quite literally, following Angel), Tricia Shubrick, Larry, Angel and myself dined in this strange little corner of the world. 

For those of you who know me know how much I can talk.  Last night, I mostly listened as these three esteemed professors conversed.  To my knowledge, prior to coming to Valencia, none of us had known each other, yet these three world travelers laughed and carried on as if they were old friends reunited for one evening.  We shared mussels, potato omelets, grilled vegetables and swordfish.  Three of us had tinto vino, and Larry drank beer.

Blog 8 Tricia Shubrick, Larry, Angel and myself image
 

Personally, I felt some regret, for I have spent so much of my life working in endless, meaningless politics, making sure I worked harder than the next guy, chasing money and valuing the wrong things.

I can see now that waiting so long to begin seeing the world was a mistake.  I should have started much sooner. 

During lunch the previous day, Larry had told me why he was retiring, stepping aside to give a new person with new ideas a chance.  Certainly, I can understand his reasoning.  Sitting at that table last night, though, I just cannot find the heart to agree – the day Larry stops teaching, FSU and its students will lose this incredible fountain of knowledge, this man who loves music so much.

Last night, I was a student sitting at the same table with three teachers.  It was a good night.

 

An afternoon at the beach: 11:00 pm (Valencia time)

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On Sunday afternoon, Angel and I headed to the beaches of Valencia, a short bus ride from downtown.  I am sending this picture back so everyone in Panama City Beach can see just what crowded really is.  There were people as far as the eye could see.  This includes little children running around buck naked, and, yes, the occasional woman going topless, which really wasn’t that exciting…unless, of course, it is more comfortable going without, most women my age should probably keep their tops on.

 

Celebrating July 4 (three times): Sunday, July 5, after 10:00 am – I slept in (Valencia time)

So, Amy Polick didn’t want to write a blog, but you can read all about her adventures in Valencia, complete with pictures, on her Facebook page.  While we do hang out together, Amy and I are not an item (although I am beginning to understand why her new husband, Rusty married her).

Blog 6 Amy Polick July 5 image
 

I ended up celebrating the American Fourth of July on July 2, July 3 and July 4.  As noted in my previous blog post, the Study Centre held their celebration on Thursday the 2nd because many of the students were traveling to other places in Europe for the weekend.  On Friday, July 3, I went by train with a group of students who stayed behind, several of whom I knew from the classes I teach here, to Universitat Politecnica de Valencia.  Apparently, there is a loosely organized group of Americans who reside in Valencia, and they regularly get together.  They had two local bands who passably played American music, baseball and games for the children, and, of course, hamburgers and hot dogs. 

What made the event special, at least for me, was the opportunity to listen to the students talk about themselves (and other students).  Once you get past the routine stuff like guys who don’t clean their dishes or do laundry, staying out late, roommates starting kitchen fires, eating at ‘Walk the Wok’ (a local Chinese restaurant – apparently a favorite place to eat), then it gets interesting.             

I wonder, if I said ‘you know, we did a lot of those things when I was in college,’ how many parents would panic?

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On Saturday, July 4, a group of mostly Valencia faculty members went out to eat (Tricia brought her daughter Alannah).  We started at a Tapas restaurant, which had wine on tap.  Going around the table, that’s me (holding a beer), Susan, Tricia, Alannah, Angel, Jack and Amy.  Miriam, a retired professor visiting Amy who taught at FSU Panama City and is now working in Ethiopia, took the picture. 

A number of us then went to another restaurant, ate really excellent paella (a favorite dish here, made with rice and whatever else they can catch and kill – chicken, rabbit, fish, squid, shrimp, mussels, etc.), drank white sangria, and then wandered over to the river bed (a seven and a half mile long park that used to be a river running through downtown Valencia) and watched fireworks at midnight.

Amy videoed a part of the fireworks show, which you can see on her Facebook page (and you can hear me in the background saying things like “wow” and “gosh!”).

 

The end of my first week: Friday, July 3, late morning (Valencia time)

So, I am not Justin Bieber, and I doubt I will be going viral any time soon.  When I started writing this blog, however, it never occurred to me that the FSU International Program would pick it up and the staff in Valencia would read it.

Blog 5 July 4th celebration image
 

Yesterday, my Public Relations class agreed to help me take a better profile picture of myself (in the picture Becky Kelly is using to grace my blog entries, I am squinting and my ears are way more prominent than they really are).  I am not sure, though, the picture we took as part of last night’s July 4th celebration will work either (I am squinting again).  A message to Mallory’s mom (Mallory is the student to my right) – Mallory did not get any interesting tattoos while in Spain (the black tattoo-like markings on her finger that run down past her wrist is actually henna and washes off after a couple of weeks).

The next photo would make a really cool profile picture an Andy Warhol kind of way, but it's not of me.

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This is Doug.  He is a student in my Public Relations class.  He bought the patriotic eye wear from a street vendor.  This is likely going to be his profile picture if he ever runs for public office.

Yesterday was my third day in Angel Gonzalez conversational Spanish class, and thankfully Angel and his students are muy paciente (very patient), for amidst our in-class practices I am clearly the weakest link.  There is something humbling about trying to be a student again.  In this picture, Angel is explaining on the white board why I am never going to be a billionaire, at least not in Spain. 

Blog 5 Angel Gonzalez conversational Spanish class image
 

After one week in Spain, I can navigate downtown Valencia by myself, and this morning I was able to order breakfast (pizza and café con leche) and buy food at the market (my favorite phrase is now ‘Hablo espanol un poco’ – ‘I speak Spanish a little’).  Many of the students have taken off to Brussels or Portugal or Paris for the weekend.  I am grading papers and studying for next Tuesday’s Spanish quiz.  Tonight, some of the professors are going to a Fourth of July event being held by Americans residing in Valencia (some things, in my estimation, are worth celebrating twice).

If my friend Kat (the world traveler) is reading this, I just want you to know, minus my initial travel mishaps and the cold showers (because I unknowingly turned off the hot water), I am having a great time.

 

Tuesday was a busy day: Wednesday, July 1, early evening (Valencia time)

After a long day of teaching classes and then walking several miles as part of the ‘Tapas’ tour, I spent last night hanging with my new buds Larry Gerber and Jose Gonzalez at a bar somewhere within the inner city labyrinth of Valencia watching Flamenco dancing.  OK, so the picture is a bit blurry, but I took a pretty good video I hope I can export and get posted.

Blog 4 Flamenco dancing image
 

In case you were wondering why I am seemingly staying out so late on a regular basis, consider that (a) the sun doesn’t go down here until 10:00 p.m., and (b) Valencia is eight time zones east of Panama City — it is actually only 6:00 p.m. according to my body, which is still on Panama City time.  So, in a way, I am going to bed early.

So, Tuesday morning before my very first class, Lalo Robles, the architecture professor from Florida A&M University, caught me in a Starbucks getting coffee. “Mike, what are you doing?  This is Valencia.  There is so much better coffee here!”  He took out his camera, and I held up my coffee cup and accepted my shame.

Blog 4 Santa Iglesia Cathedral image
 

Every morning when I walk from my apartment to the FSU Study Centre, I pass the Santa Iglesia Cathedral, which, according to last night’s tour guide on the Tapas tour, is the real final resting place of the Holy Grail.  On Saturday, Larry Gerber took me on a brief tour of the inside of the cathedral.  However, we didn’t stay very long — there was a wedding in progress, and we weren’t dressed for the occasion.

Back to Tuesday, jet lag apparently hit me right before my 3:00 p.m. Public Relations class, so, after an hour in the classroom, I took my class out for coffee at one of the many outdoor cafés.  Then I went back to the apartment for a brief siesta before taking the 7:00 p.m. Tapas tour and then out to watch the Flamenco dancing.

In case you were wondering, a ‘tapas’ is like a miniature sandwich.  Think Krystal burger, but with a lot more variety.

On a final note for the day, there have been some interesting challenges to this overseas adventure, particularly the mystery that is my washing machine.  And the light switches in my apartment are set at knee level.  I flipped a switch I thought was for the light for the bathroom (it was at eye level) and had two days of cold showers — until Larry Gerber mentioned that one was for the hot water heater. 

 

Student Orientation: Monday, June 29, afternoon (Valencia time)

Blog 3 Orientation_Faculty image
 

It is the first day of class for this semester, and, as a faculty, we are being given last-minute instructions. By the way, the man finding his seat is Angel Gonzalez. He has been in Valencia only four days, and already local shopkeepers know him by name. He also already knows where to get the best paella and mojitos. Angel teaches Conversational Spanish for Hospitality Management, and even though I am not a student, starting tomorrow I will be sitting in on his class. 

Amy Polick (shown in this picture throwing up her hands for some reason) is a colleague from FSU Panama City and teaches Psychology of Women. In the last couple of days, I have had more conversations with her than in the three or so years she and I have worked together at FSUPC. It is probably unwise to say this (because it sounds rather stereotypical), but she is really good at shopping and during the weekend helped me find and purchase an iron. I told her I would sit in a couple of her classes as well — even at 55, there are probably a few things I could learn about women (that´s kind of like saying I know enough to know that I don´t know enough).

The wall in this picture was built by the Arabs in the 10th or 11th century. Our director, Ignacio, suggests that no one attach anything to it, since it is, well, historical, and to tell students to refrain from the compulsion to chisel their names on it.

At 11:00 a.m., we meet the students, all 170 of them, and introduce ourselves. By the way, in addition to offering Conversational Spanish, Studies in Hispanic Language, Spanish Reading and Conversation, Spanish Grammar and Composition, Elementary Spanish I and II, and Intermediate Spanish, the FSU Study Centre offers a wide range of classes, such as business, communication, humanities, psychology, journalism, music, planning and urban development, and, yes, even Calculus with analytic Geometry II. And a bunch of courses that the parents of these esteemed students would probably line up around the block to take: 18th Century Romanticism to Postmodernism, Art, Architecture and Artistic Vision, Hispanic Cinema, Food and Society, International Travel and Culture, Kingdom of Valencia, and Music Cultures of the World.

Blog 3 Orientation_Students image
 

Apparently, one professor, Dr. Salazar, was not present. He teaches Introduction to Archaeology, and according to Ignacio, he is out somewhere digging things up. Given that Valencia is over 2,000 years old, I would imagine he has a lot of digging to do.

 

The Arrival: Saturday, June 27, 1:20 am (Valencia time)

Yes, I somehow found my way to Valencia, Spain, and I am now safely ensconced in my apartment that the Study Abroad program has graciously provided and using a power adapter I brought with me so my computer doesn’t explode because of the voltage differential. 

The time here is after 1:00 a.m.  I think my body thinks it is 6:00 pm. I have been sleeping a while.

Valencia is more gorgeous than words can describe.  However, words are all I have right now – my cell phone is dead and I cannot currently take any pictures, as, to add to the 48 hours I spent in airports or airplanes, my luggage ended up in Paris.  Next time, I will pack my phone charger in my carry-on bag.  Lesson learned.

I did meet Kenzie, an FSU student in the Study Abroad program, in the lost luggage line at the Valencia airport.  We had rather similar travel misadventures.  Thankfully, her cell phone had just enough power left for us to call the FSU Study Centre, and I knew just enough Spanish to get us a cab (my current favorite phrase is “Tú hablas inglés?”).

Immediately upon arrival at the FSU Study Centre, the program director, Ignacio Mesa Redonda, was there, making sure, for one, that the cab driver didn’t overcharge me.  Very friendly.  Very in charge.  He pulled me aside, telling me I was just in time for the faculty lunch that had been planned.  “It starts in 5 minutes.  You don’t have to go, but…” So, dressed in the same clothes I have been wearing for the last 48 hours and with maybe 3 hours sleep (I just haven’t mastered sleeping in airports and upright in airplanes quite yet), I go to lunch.

Sitting at a single large table, I am surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic fellow faculty members, some new like me to the program, some who have been here before.  Some are obviously fluent in Spanish, some, like me, know enough to say "por favor" and "gracias." The waiter brings out plates of meats and cheese, salad, and bottles of red wine.  We go around the table and each in turn introduces himself or herself.  Other than Ignacio and Amy Polick (a colleague of mine from Panama City), I won’t remember any of their names, at least not yet.

I do remember that I really liked the wine. 

So, I survive a three hour faculty lunch, a short faculty meeting, and a long walk to my apartment with Dr. Polick acting as my guide. Sleep was never so welcome. 

 

Airport waiting area in Montgomery, Alabama: Thursday, June 25, 3:00 am

When I accepted the task of blogging about my experiences in Valencia, Spain as part of Florida State University’s Study Abroad program, I never thought my first entry would be about trying to sleep in an airport waiting area in Montgomery, Alabama.  Right now, I am actually supposed to be jetting my way across the Atlantic Ocean to the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, France to catch a morning flight that will take me to my final destination in Valencia.  Because of thunder storms first over the Atlanta airport that led to our initial flight from Panama City being diverted to Montgomery, then scheduling issues between

Montgomery and Atlanta and, yes, a thunder storm over Montgomery airport that led to the cancellation of our flight until 9:30 a.m., I am here. In Montgomery, Alabama. At 3:00 a.m. Trying to sleep in an airport.

Blog 1 Unknown Traveler image
 

Do give some credit to the Delta crews and airport staff.  They were very nice, and they did try.  In fact, the airport staff brought out bottled water, sodas, various snack foods, and someone sprang for pizza for everyone.  But that does not take away from the fact I will spend from noon on Wednesday, June 24 through noon or so on Friday, June 26 (give or take eight time zones) either in a plane or in an airport.  Well, that is as long as we don’t have another thunder storm or scheduling mixup.

By the way, I do pride myself on my meager photography skills.  My first photo I have entitled “The Unknown Travelers.” I believe it truly captures the moment – one somehow was able to fall asleep, the blanket provided by Delta Airlines blocking out the light; the other, he was doomed to stay awake, probably checking Facebook posts until his phone battery gives out, because he, like me, didn’t pack his phone charger in his carry-on bag.

The second photo is simply of the airport exit that leads to Montgomery, Alabama, and is a rather stark reminder that I am not supposed to be here.  Notice there are no people in this shot.  That’s because it is 3:00 am.

Blog 1 Airport Exit image
 

I have solved a mystery that has probably bothered the good citizens of Montgomery for some time.  No, they do not turn off the escalator at night after the airport closes.  It just rolls on and on and on…e second photo is simply of the airport exit that leads to Montgomery, Alabama, and is a rather stark reminder that I am not supposed to be here.  
Notice there are no people in this shot.  That’s because it is 3:00 a.m.