Sunday, November 13, 2011

Intercambios, Mexican and El Retiro

So my school here has this program called Intercambio, where basically you and someone from Spain get matched up by the school for the purpose of bettering your language skills. They practice their English with you, and you practice your Spanish with them. I was a little eerie about doing it at first, due to the inevitable awkwardness of the first time you guys meet up, but I decided it was a good opportunity to take advantage of. I am SO happy I did it. First off, my first meet-up with Patricia wasn't awkward at all. We went to a restaurant a few blocks away from my house for tapas, and we just talked about how I'm liking Spain, things I want to do, and places she's been. She also showed me around Alcala, including a lot of areas I never knew existed, and she taught me some cultural stuff about Spain. She's super outgoing like me, so it was easy to jump into personal conversations. Since our first hang-out, she's been an awesome friend to me, which brings me to my next point. My American friends and I have been craving Mexican food extremely badly, and Patricia said she knew of a place in Madrid with really good Mexican, so she offered to take us all. It was really cool to finally mix my intercambio and my American friends together, and the food was absolutely AMAZING. She also took us to this park in Madrid called El Retiro. It's really famous, and absolutely beautiful. We went around sunset time so it was perfect. There's also a lake in the middle of the park where you can rent rowboats and paddle around. Apparently it's a really big attraction because my friends and I wanted to do it, but the line was so long. Instead we sat by the lake and watched everyone else :) it was really an awesome day.

Going to Barcelona this weekend which I'm REALLY excited for! I cannot believe there's only one month left of my program...I'm already trying to plan a way to come back to Spain.

Patricia and I
The lake in El Retiro (with my friend from New York!)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sevilla, Córdoba y Segovia

Did quite a bit of travelling over the past week. Took a weekend trip to Sevilla and Córdoba with my friends. We spent one day/night in each of those places, they're both in the south of Spain. Also, the University of Alcala offers free day trips to a lot of the main cities in Spain. This week we went to Segovia, which was also awesome. Since I have way too much to talk about for one blog, I'm just going to talk about my favorite parts of each city.

Rio Guadalquivir, Sevilla
Plaza de Espana, Sevilla
1) Sevilla: literally the most romantic beautiful city I have ever seen in my life. This was by far my favorite one. The weather was perfect, the scenery was beautiful and the city in itself was what I imagined all of Spain to look like. It had such an antique feel to it, the streets were super tiny and the people were all so relaxed. Some of my favorite things that I saw was the Torre de Oro and the Rio Guadalquivir. But most of all, the one thing that absolutely took my breath away was the Plaza de España. My friends and I took a trip over there around 11pm thinking it would just be something quick and cool to see, but we didn't realize how absolutely gorgeous it was. Though I'm kind of sad I didnt get to experience it during the day so I could really take in all of the details, seeing it at night was amazing as well. There weren't tons of people around taking pictures and getting in your way. It was just my group of friends and I walking around and taking it all in. I'd love to explain to you guys what it was like, what I saw and how I felt but it would be nearly impossible to put it into words. All I can say is, if you find yourself wandering in Sevilla, it is something you MUST go see. 

El Puente Romano
2)  Córdoba: Another beautiful, relaxed and cultural city. My two favorite things that I saw in Córdoba were La Mezquita and El Puente Romano. La Mezquita is the main attraction in this city, due to it's historical significance. Besides the fact that is an absolutely ENORMOUS and intricately constructed cathedral, it has an interesting story. It used to be a Muslim mosque, but after the Christian conquest, it was transformed into a cathedral. What's cool about La Mezquita is that you can still see the muslim influence in the architecture, the color choices and the decorations inside. I'm not big on  seeing cathedrals because they don't happen to interest me very much, but La Mezquita was a really cool experience. It's hard to appreciate all of the work that was put into it because of how massive it is and how much there is to see inside, but to think that it was built hundreds of years ago, without the technology we have today, is incredible. El Puente Romano was beautiful as well. It passes over Rio Guadalquivir (the same one I had mentioned that ran through Sevilla), and was actually the only bridge in all of Córdoba for over 20 centuries! It was pretty packed when we went, but the scenery that surrounded the bridge was gorgeous. Took WAY too many pictures. 

the Aqueducts, Segovia
3) Segovia: As I said before, my friends and I went here as a free school trip (basically everyone in the program took advantage of the opportunity). We started off our day going to La Granja, which is a huge palace in Segovia. It also has a beautiful garden in the back, and an amazing view of the mountains. Afterwards, we went to more of the downtown city area of Segovia, where we were left off by our bus at the Aqueducts. This is what Segovia is famous for, and was definitely one of the coolest pieces of architecture I've seen thus far. I can't really describe what they looked like, so i'll just leave you guys with a picture instead. At the top of the aqueduct you can overlook a lot of Segovia, which was beautiful. Segovia was the kind of city that I imagined all of Spain to look like before I came here. Very European, with golden/orangey buildings and roofs, and random narrow alleyways that had balconies with plants and flowers and stuff. You could tell it was an extremely cultural historical city. We also visited el Alcázar de Segovia, which is a castle in Segovia that resembled the Disney World castle so much it's crazy! Yet another beautiful city I got to visit, 
and it was my first time going north of Alcala!

Overlooking part of Segovia!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Spent this last weekend in León with my host family for my sister's birthday. My host mom invited me to go with them, and to stay at her parents house. At first I'm not going to lie, I was a little eerie about going. I didn't know how I'd feel staying at her family's house, and I kind of felt like I was going to be a tag-along. I also knew there was going to be a big party for my host sister, and the concept of having to talk to strangers all weekend kind of scared me! But, I realized it was a great opportunity to see another city, to get to know my host family better, and to submerge myself in real Spanish culture. Let me just say that I am SO happy I went. Not only did it make my host mom and I a lot closer, but León is beautiful and is also a city I wouldn't have seen unless I went with her. The first day we were there, my mom wanted to give me a tour of the city she was born in (she takes a LOT of pride in being from León). We walked around by the river and the cathedral, and afterwards we went and got tapas together. At night, there was a big party for my sister's birthday and her cousin as well. I'm not going to lie, at first it was definitely a little overwhelming for me. Over time though, I realized that her family wanted to talk to me and wanted to get to know me, and definitely did not want me to feel uncomfortable or out of place. They reminded me a lot of the Puerto Rican side of my family back home; so much talking, so much food and a whole lot of yelling. We played a charades-type game at night (they tried to help me out as much as they could), and it was just really cool to see my mom and sister in their own environment. The next day my mom and I walked around again and talked a lot about her past and stories from growing up. Met up with the family again at night and went to a few different places for tapas. I did a lot more talking this time; my mom's brother was actually really interested in the things I had to say, which made me feel so much better. I was just really honored that she invited me to go, wanted me to see a very personal side of her, and opened up her parents house for me to sleep at. Overall it was a really good weekend :). Leaving tonight for Sevilla and Córdoba with my friends, lots of pictures to come!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Hey guys! Went to Valencia this weekend with some of my friends, it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Breathtakingly beautiful. We spent most of our days at the beach, relaxing on the softest sand. Now normally if I was still back in New York and I even THOUGHT about going to a beach the first weekend of October, I'd 1) be called crazy and 2) probably freeze to death. But Valencia's coast is on the Mediterranean, and the water was so warm. I couldn't believe it was actually October and I was swimming. It was decently hot out too! I couldn't have asked for better weather. My best friend in the program, Christian, is from Missouri and had never been to a beach before. Being from Long Island, I forget how amazing beaches are and how fortunate I am to live so close to one, and it just made the experience that much better for me. Apart from the beach, the city itself is gorgeous. The buildings have an older feel, but there's so much modern architecture as well. There was this big white bridge by my hostel that looked so modern and cool, and there were also tons of beautiful fountains and things of the sort around the city. I highly suggest visiting if you guys come to Spain, it's definitely a great place to go.

At the hostel, we met a kid named Mica who's from the Netherlands. We wound up hanging out with him a lot and really getting to know him, and he was telling us all about where he lives. We actually just booked a trip to head over by him for a weekend, and to Belgium too, for the end of November. It's incredible how many cool people you meet in hostels!

Coolest sand castle I've EVER seen!
Church in the center of Valencia

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Encounter With Madrid

I'm sorry that I'm updating this blog so sparingly, but I'm sure you guys are understanding of the fact that I have a million different things going on at once while I'm over here!

My host family is still absolutely amazing. My host mom and I have had some super personal conversations lately, and it made me realize how much host families really let you into their personal lives. For most of them, their house and their families are all they have. It's not like in America where you have a house in upstate NY, maybe somewhere in Florida, or anything like that. This is their house, their ONLY house, and it is a very valued possession of theirs. Not only do they give you an inside look at their home, but they let you live in it, and become a part of their lives. My mom has really opened up to me about things that happened in her past, and I've done the same as well. If this sort of thing kinda creeps you out, by all means you don't have to do it! But for me, I love to talk, I love to learn about other people and about what makes them who they are, and my host mom is giving me the opportunity to really get to know her and become a part of her life.

So I must tell you all about my first encounter with the beautiful city of Madrid. First off, as I mentioned in my previous post, Madrid is about half an hour away by train which is awesome. My friends and I decided we were going to spend a whole day/night there. The trains are kind of confusing I'm not going to lie, there are so many different trains at the station when you walk in and I'm just used to the Long Island Rail Road, having one train to wait for and not having to think much about it. But thankfully, my friends had a much better idea of what to do than I did. Anyways, we walked around the Puerta del Sol area in Madrid for a few hours, where you can find a LOT of different kinds of entertainment. Anything ranging from clowns and jokes, to people dressed up as dogs laying around on the ground. There was actually a guy blowing giant bubbles, bigger than your body, and trapping people in them and stuff. Seeing Madrid was such a cool experience for me, because I'm so used to New York City. As many of you know, you have to constantly be walking fast, no one pays attention to any of the entertainment that you pass on the streets, and I feel like everyone is just angry about tourists! But my friends and I were walking at a snail's pace, taking in everything around us, stopping to watch stuff as we pleased, and NOT getting yelled at by people behind us! It was rather refreshing.

At night, we decided to go to a club called Kapital, which is actually really famous in Madrid (known for its tourist visitors). It's a seven-story night club, each with a different genre of music on every floor. They even had live entertainment at certain points in the night, and they blast the crowd with a cool air mist every once in a while. It was absolutely AMAZING! Nothing like the night life in New York, not even in NYC! Everyone was having an awesome time, everyone was dancing, and the place itself was absolutely gorgeous. After we left, we had decided to stay in a hostel. This happened to by my first experience ever with a hostel, and I didn't know what to expect. We booked a 19-bed room which is considered really big. The beds were all bunked; it kind of reminded me like a college dorm room. But the hostel we stayed at, Cat's Hostel, is a 'youth hostel' and is geared towards the younger crowd. They have a lot of events that they organize to get people together, so if you guys are ever interested in meeting new people and staying over in Madrid, definitely check out Cat's Hostel. It was super cheap too. We met a few people from France, someone from Germany, and a girl from Malaysia who we actually wound up inviting out with us! Hostels are definitely places unlike any other, but the concept is awesome. My friends and I loved Madrid so much that we're actually going back tomorrow night, so maybe I'll have more stories for next time :)

                                            Walking around Madrid

Cat's Hostel

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Week In Alcalá!

Hey everyone, my name's Arielle Hornedo, and you guys are going to follow my life for the next four months. A little bit about myself, I'm a Junior at Binghamton University, Psychology and Spanish double major, and I still haven't a clue about what I want to do with my life. But that's kind of what this whole study abroad thing is about; finding out about yourself, what you like to do, what you want to do, etc. I'm currently studying in Alcalá de Henares, which is considered a part of Madrid, but is sort of on the outskirts of it. Regardless, it's about a 30 minute train ride away from the downtown area of Madrid, and this town is absolutely awesome. 

When I arrived last Thursday, the bus took all the students to Plaza de Cervantes to meet our host families, and I have to admit I was extremely nervous. I'm not fluent in Spanish, I came to Spain all by myself, and I was afraid I'd meet my host mom and we wouldn't be able to communicate. I was completely wrong. First of all, I hate to be biased but my host mom is probably the best one out there. She's so funny, generous, extremely understanding of the fact that I'm here to learn Spanish and am not fluent, and she makes me feel like a part of the family. I've been here for about 10 days, and I've already gotten dinner with her friends a few times, gone shopping with her, and even done a few one on one things in town. She is an amazing woman!

Everyone is given the option to either stay with a host family or go in the dorms, and if you guys are on the fence about it AT ALL, stop thinking about it! There is no better way to become a true part of the culture than to live with a host family. You get to eat what what they eat, be on their same daily schedules, and live where they live. If you wanted to live like an American and eat like an American, then what's the point in coming here?! None of my friends who I met through the program have regretted choosing a homestay in the slightest; everyone loves their "parents" and "siblings" (my host sister is constantly facebook chatting my friends saying "me llamo Aroa, soy la hermana de Arielle").

As you can probably tell, I could talk endlessly about how this first week has gone, but I'll try and keep it as brief as possible. Classes aren't bad, you have a lot of options about what you can take. I'm currently taking a contemporary women's lit class, a spanish business class, a spanish art class and another spanish lit class. I chose to take two lit classes cause those transferred over for me at Binghamton, but there are a ton more  options. There are no classes on Fridays which is awesome for travelling if you're interested, or just for relaxing and enjoying not having to be at school. 

The culture here is absolutely amazing; the lifestyle is so laid back. Siesta is probably my favorite time of day, where you get to take a nap that is basically built into your schedule. Another cool thing about this town is that all of the restaurants are outdoors. The chairs and tables are just on the sidewalk, sometimes right in the middle of the street (obviously cars can't go down those roads). You just seat yourself, it's really cool. Also if you order a drink, you get tapas for free. Tapas can be anything from an entire sandwich, to potatoes in different sauces, to seafood. You basically get a meal and drink, for the price of just a drink which is awesome. It's really popular for people to go out and meet up with friends, grab a glass of wine or something a little before dinner and just chat. I've done it a few times with my mom and her friends, I actually did it last night as well and met a few more people. The meal times are definitely something my body had to get adjusted to. Breakfast is basically the same time, 8/9 in the morning depending on when your classes start and such. Lunch is around 3, and is the main meal of the day. It's HUGE. I actually just finished lunch and my mom made me a soup with potatoes and all sorts of vegetables in it, ham, chorizo and some bread on the side. It was so good. Dinner is around 9/10 pm and is usually something pretty light like eggs or a sandwich of some sort. By the way, I've been a vegetarian for 5 years, but being here has opened my mind to trying different foods again. So if you're a picky person, coming here will absolutely help you expand your taste. Also, if you do have specific diets, the school will match you up with a family that can tend to your needs. My mom knew I was a vegetarian before I came here and NEVER forces me to eat meat or try anything I don't want to, and she always makes sure I'm comfortable and have something in the house I can eat.

Okay so this was a general "welcome to my life" blog, tried not to make it too crazy lengthy, but the next one will be more detailed about whats going on over here. If you guys have absolutely ANY questions about the food, families, classes, the town in general, nightlife, literally ANYTHING, feel free to leave the questions on here, or you could email me at

^ me and my host sister, she's a nut :) 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

First Week, Pictures from Toledo

Ok, this first one is just a nice fixed gear bike I found when we took a tour of Madrid the first day here. Nice to see people riding here too.