Sunshine and Culture

The next day started out with me apartment hopping. I moved from Sara’s apartment to the apartment of two other friends, Lauren and Darshali. Because Lauren happened to have the afternoon off, she decided to join me in my exploration of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, one of Madrid’s main art museums. However, almost as soon as we got there we issued a groan. The line snaked around the block. With plummeting hopes we decided to walk towards the main doors and assess how dire the situation was. To our great surprise, the door was locked. Turns out we had showed up right before opening hours and the line wasn’t hopeless after all. To make things even better, the museum was free that day. So without too much ado we waited for about 10 minutes in line before being ushered inside.

In order to stay relatively crowd free, we decided to work from top to bottom, something that happened to actually make sense chronologically. The museum’s oldest collections are housed at the top of the museum, while its more modern works are shown on the main floor. I will say that one of my favorite moments was running into a few El Greco paintings. I had always found El Greco a bit odd when I studied him in Art History and Spanish class, and while I still find his artwork strange, I left liking quite a few of them. Yay art! Overall, we spent well over two hours at the museum–and we didn’t even get to have a good look in all of the rooms! Unfortunately, our grumbling tummies told us that they would rather eat than spend another hour in the museum, so we set off for lunch.

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After a nice lunch, Lauren had other obligations, thus leaving me to my own devices. I’ve discovered through my various travels that while I am a huge fan of public transportation (probably a product of growing up with the practically non-existent public transport in Los Angeles), I am an even bigger fan of walking.

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Madrid is a fairly walkable city, so I walked through the Parque del Oeste and caught a glimpse of the Temple of Debod. The temple is an original 2nd century BC Egyptian temple that was given to Spain after Spain helped the Egyptian government in 1960. The construction of the Great Dam of Aswan posed a threat to several nearby historic monuments, and Spain responded to an UNESCO call asking for help to preserve Egypt’s monuments. The Temple of Debod was then given to Spain as a thank you by the Egyptian government. After taking in the temple, I turned around and began to walk back into the heart of the city.

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Not too far away from the park is Madrid’s Royal Palace. Unfortunately it was closed when I passed by, but I wasn’t too put out. While I do enjoy visiting palaces, I’ve seen so many this past year that missing this one wasn’t devastating. I did however enjoy taking a quick walk around part of the palace grounds.

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Right next door to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral is named after Madrid’s patronness, the Almudena Virgin. According to legend, an image of the Virgin was found by the king on the city wall, thus creating the Almudena (derived from an Arabic word meaning city wall) Virgin.

Similar to palaces, I’ve seen quite a number of cathedrals this past year, and have started to pass them by. What made me want to go into this one was pictures that I’d seen of the ceilings. The multicolored panels were definitely worth a short stop.

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After saying hello to the installation of Pope John Paul II just outside the cathedral, I decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. From there I reunited with all of my Spanish ETA friends for dinner. After a tasty selection of tapas we went to San Ginés, which is a cafe renowned for its hot chocolate and churros. I must admit that it’s definitely famous for a reason. The melted hot chocolate was fantastic, but it was so rich that my friends told me that it’s rare for anyone to ever finish all of it.

Playing Tourist and Winter Storms

Tromsø actually boasts quite a few Fulbrighters (I met at least four of them during our August orientation) and two other Fulbrighters, Alyssa and Sarah, made the trip up to Tromsø for Sami Week. All in all we were a solid group of five people since two of the Tromsø Fulbrighters were out of town. Even though not everyone was able to make it, it was still great to have a mini Fulbright reunion and to have some of the local Fulbrighters show us around town. Lucky for us visitors, the Tromsø Fulbrighters had planned out some weekend activities for us to do.

My first full day in Tromsø was slightly more adventurous than the day I got in. To my delight I woke up to a bright and sunny day so I was quite happy to do some outdoor exploring.

IMG_8970  IMG_8971  IMG_8973Although there were five Fulbrighters attending Sami week, we were all scattered throughout the city. Luckily Tromsø is quite small, and I managed to catch up with most of the other Fulbrighters at the Sami Week lasso throwing competition. While I was hoping that the competitors would be lassoing actual animals, this was not the case. From what we could understand of the competition, the competitors had to lasso a set of reindeer antlers at different distances. Once someone had successfully lassoed the “reindeer” at each distance they were declared the winner. While it didn’t seem like the lassoing involved much technique, I suspect that probably wasn’t the case. I assume that their skills were such that it just made everything seem casual and effortless.

IMG_8980  IMG_8981  IMG_8983IMG_8982  IMG_8988  IMG_8990Once the lasso competition was finished we quickly stopped by the Sami Winter Market. Unfortunately the market was quite small (it only had three stalls) so it didn’t take us very long to look around.

From there we headed to one of the local art museums, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum. Considering that the gallery was free it was pretty good. There is a permanent exhibit on the second floor and a rotating exhibit on the first floor. One of the things I found really fun about this experience was going with Alyssa, the Fulbrighter who works with Munch paintings. It was fun watching her walk around the paintings and learn a bit more about what conservationists and chemists look for in artwork. She said that part of the time what she is doing is keeping an eye out for conservation work. When I asked if the conservation work is obvious she said that it is supposed to be, but that it’s probably much less obvious to the layman than it is to the specialist.

One story of hers that I enjoyed was about a conservation conference she recently attended in Barcelona. She went to one of the local art museums with some of the other conference attendees and said their group managed to drive the security crazy. Apparently all of them would crowd around the pictures and do atypical things, like kneeling on the floor to catch the painting at a particular angle, in order to examine the conservation work that was going on. I was told that they created quite the spectacle. Fun fact: Picasso used to paint new paintings on top of old paintings, so in some of his paintings, particularly ones with peeling paint, you can actually catch a glimpse of an older painting underneath the one on display. You can now understand why the conference attendees were having so much fun staring at the paintings.

IMG_8998  IMG_9000  IMG_9002IMG_9004  IMG_9006  IMG_9007After that we for a nice lunch at a place called Smørtorget, a combination of café and boutique shop. Once we had filled our tummies we wandered through a few of the local stores before settling down at a different café called Aunegården.

Once we had finished our cakes and hot beverages, we decided to make our way towards one Fulbrighter’s apartment. The weather had forecasted that a storm would hit Tromsø at 4 pm, and for once the weather forecast was correct. At almost 4 pm on the dot we started to see the first snowflakes fall. By the time we made it to Meghan’s apartment it was a full blown snow storm with limited visibility. A quick check of the local news consisted of dire capitalized headlines proclaiming that you should not leave the your house for any reason.

IMG_2643  IMG_2645  IMG_2648Because Kari and I didn’t particularly want to spend the night sleeping on Meghan’s floor, we decided to risk it and see if we could catch one of the buses back to Kari’s place. To our great surprise, in the middle of our wait for the bus a car pulled over and the driver asked if we needed help. We told the driver that we were waiting for the bus and were told that if we were still waiting after the driver dropped off his son he would happily drive us to wherever we needed to be. Of course as soon as he left the bus came, but we were quite touched by the kind offer. We made it back to Kari’s place without too much of a hassle and found out afterwards that we had managed to catch one of the last buses before the bus system shut down. The whole city truly shut down for the storm. On the plus side it did mean that I managed to snuggle up with a book and occasionally watch the storm rage on outside from the comfort of Kari’s couch.