Dec 17, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A wee bit in denial ~ Full circle

A wee bit in denial ~ Full circle

As I spent today walking around Algorta in the rain (symbolic of Bilbao crying for our departure according to one of my professors, awwww), sat talking with my love, Elana, and watched a movie with Carmen, I found it hard to believe that I really am about to leave the place and the country that has been my home for the last 3 and a half months. I have made so many wonderful memories and friends while here that it’s hard to even explain it all. I’m nervous for the general question of “how was spain?” because I don’t have a general answer. Spain was awesome, fabulous, unreal, very much the dream that I was referring to when I named my blog!

SPAIN. I have a routine here, a real life within this foreign culture, one that I’m finally used to and could easily continue living. The body wash that I used as shampoo my first two nights here still sits in my shower, taunting me. The large tin that has housed the galletas (aka biscuits) that composed 80% of my Spanish diet is still full. The beach and my running routes still call my name. But my closet is once again empty, my suitcases full and next to my bed, most of my new friends are half way back to the US, I’ve said goodbye to my little spanish boys, and I’ve already drowned my tears more than once in what is the best spanish candy ever – sour, cream filled straws. Carmen has been telling me repeatedly how much she’s enjoyed having me this semester. When she found out the name and some info about her next host student, she tried to convince me to stay another semester. It’s so sweet and so sad. Along with everything else I will definitely miss this wonderful lady, crazy rants about sandwiches and all! 

My flight plans for the morning are as follows: Sunday December 18th                               6:50am Bilbao, Spain to Frankfurt, Germany                                          12:45pm Frankfurt, Germany to Philly                                                   — 6 hour time change — : (                                                              6:10pm Pilly to Baltimore

By 7pm tomorrow evening I will be back in the US of A. I am, of course, super excited to be reuniting with my family and America friends but I am super sad to be closing this chapter of my life. Much love Bilbao!! Here’s to waking up from my Spanish dream…

” You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” 
― Azar Nafisi            

Dec 16, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on When in Rome and Walkin’ up in Venice

When in Rome and Walkin’ up in Venice

Another distinguishing factor about my wonderful trip to Denmark was that, unlike my usual weekend rendezvous around Europe, this trip was only the beginning of an 8 day trip thanks to two Spanish holidays and two thrown in “puentes” (bridge days between holidays – a great idea that the US most definitely needs to adopt). 3 hours after saying goodbye to Karoline and Denmark, I found myself (quite intentionally yet still surprisingly) in Italy, where I met up with two other girls from CIDE to embark on a 40-hour journey around the eternal city of Rome. With only two semi-days ahead of us before the departure of our overnight train to Venice, we were determined to start our Rome adventure on the right foot and, when in Rome, that can only mean one thing – Pizza! By 4:30pm we were happily fed and it was surprisingly dark. But fortunately that only added to the fantastic atmosphere of wondering through the half ancient, half modern city. Cue Coliseum by sunset. Yes please.

The rest of the night was spent hopping from piazza to piazza, throwing our coins into the Trevi fountain, and eating way too much gnocchi at an “off the beaten track” Italian restaurant, comprised of only 10 small tables and tons of character. Needless to say, eating at Sals will never compare! Aside from one of the girls I was with causing a slight scene by catching her bag on fire in one of the candles on our table, we were able to enjoy a truly authentic Italian experience, robust waiters and all. We may have spent over 2 hours there – watching our waiter dance the rumba, inventing the language of “Spantalian”, and laughing our heads off. And we’re used to long Spanish meals, so it was no big deal.

Tuesday we woke up bright and early for all things Vatican. After checking our bags at the train station for the day, we were ready for Italian meal numero tres – pastry and cappuccino yumminess. Note to self and any of you that may be thinking about going to Italy, café con leche is definitely the Spanish thing… when in Rome it’s cappuccinos all the way. Kay, now that that’s clear, our route to the Vatican was not the least bit comfortable, in any way. It started with a super packed metro full of people stepping on my toes and squishing me from both sides and then culminated with rowdy tour guides pestering us with their solicitations along the street. By the time we reached Saint Peter’s Basilica we were all a bit flustered but the beauty of the Basilica quickly turned our slight frowns upside down. The Basilica was so large and ornately decorated (even in its more quant side chapels) that I couldn’t possibly imagine going to mass there, but it was extremely impressive and amazing all the same. This church is literally covered with art from floor to ceiling, including the tiles. Pretty insane. And for some purpose, of which I can think of none except to provide a little extra entertainment, the guards at the door were dressed in primary color striped puffy pants – sophisticated sounding, I knowwww, but I couldn’t think of a better way to paint that picture!

Post Basilica we wrapped around Vatican City to the Vatican Museum itself, which was also very impressive. And artistically overwhelming. So many statues!!! Eventually we ended up admiring them from slightly afar as we breezed on, closely following the signs to the Sistine Chapel. Maybe a guided tour would have been worth it after all… oh well, we got what we could out of it and it was a cool experience no matter what! Sistine chapel = unreal! All that artistic detail. On the top of the ceiling. With half of it upside down. I was speechless and very eager for a photograph but resisted the “illegal” temptation and will maybe just have to steal one from my braver friends in the near future. Yes, done and done!

When we’d had our fill of beautiful religious art, we said good-bye to Vatican City and made the trek back into Rome, the whole mile that it is, laughing at how we can’t understand how they are two different countries, but we’ll buy it anyways, whateves. It was now daylight Coliseum viewing time and this time we were going inside, which I have to admit was pretty freaking cool regardless of its slightly morbid associations. Along with seeing the ruins, we found some signs around describing the distinct history of the famous structure. In addition to gladiator fights, the arena was used for fights with animals and labyrinth type competitions. After getting our necessary photographs, we intended to continue the ruins exploration at the Palatine Hill but were unfortunately too late to enter. Oh well. Walking back to the Trevi fountain to people watch while eating gelato sounded like a great plan B. And make that kiwi gelato? Yes please! We killed time being touristy until about 7pm when we headed over to a cafeteria for a risotto dinner and then braced our selves for our overnight train to Venice. Ciao Roma!


Overnight train rides are certainly an experience, especially when your chair has a top and a bottom but no middle section – awkward 7 hour riding position. But we made it to Venice safe and sound and consequently the way we got there quickly became a mute point. At 5:45am the train station was too cold to bear for 5 and a half hours while waiting for the other half of our Venice group to arrive from Florence, so Molly, Jen, and I ventured outside and, viola!! There it was, the grand canal. Gondolas, water taxis and all. VENICE. Of course the city itself was pretty dead at that hour so we parked ourselves at the first open café we found and happily sipped on early morning cappuccinos while ignoring the raised eyebrows our pjs and suitcases were causing. Tourists?? No, of course not! But, sorry what was that last part? Ohhhhh, well we don’t actually know Italian… do you speak Spanish?? And that about sums up our morning.

Upon being joined by the rest of our friends around noon we ventured across our first Venetian bridge – the Gugglie – to the apartment we would be staying in for the next two days. It was adorably Italian and served us perfectly. After pausing for lunch, we set off to do the number one recommended thing to do in Venice – get lost. That’s right. Getting lost in the streets of Venice was actually our objective, the reason for going out without a map. And we were (unsurprisingly) successful.  Needless to say, we’d had lots of unintentional preparation. While lost we saw, well Venice – boats, bridges, and little shops selling pasta, glass figurines, leather purses, masks, and your typical souvenirs. One of my friends then decided to get up close and personal with the canal and that ended our little wondering spree as our carefree meandering turned into a pause of hysterical laughter and then hurried ushering back to a warm shower. Never a dull moment. Wrap up the evening with “personal” pizzas basically the size of Pluto and a surprise birthday celebration complete with delicious Italian pastries for none other than yours truly and that was Venice day one.

There’s really only one place to go from day one… Day two: Island Hopping. Instead of a metro system, Venice has public boats, lots of them. So day two we bought our selves 12 hour transportation passes and had pretty much found our entertainment for the day. I’m actually not sure which we thought was more exciting the island themselves, or touring around on the boats to get there – passing rowers, watching waves, and seeing sunsets. But anyways, the first island we visited was Murano – home of the glass blowing industry. We wondered into a storeroom to look around and found ourselves in the middle of a demonstration, learning amazing facts about oven temperatures and colors that I promptly forgot and consequently cannot relay to you… opps. After getting our fill of glass figurine browsing in the hundreds of stores lining the outside of the island, we migrated over to Bermeo – home of the brightly colored summer houses. Upon arrival, it was pretty obvious that this island was a summer dream land and a winter ghost town but the houses were pretty regardless of the lack of habitants and there still just so happened to be a gelateria that was more than happy to scoop out heaping cones of nutella and coffee gelato without worrying about the ridiculousness of it in 4 degree (Celsius) weather.

When we could no longer feel our toes, we bid Bermeo a fond fair well and hopped back on the boat to the main island. After fighting our way to seats in the heated section of the boat, I quickly abandoned mine to go stand in the freezing cold and watch the sunset over the water. Regardless of what my friends will tell you, it was SO worth it! Seeing the sky turn a beautiful red while standing on a boat in your 6th European country in 3 months is pretty impressive.  45 beautiful minutes later we were back on the main island, gathering goodies for a homemade meal in our apartment before heading out to Piazza San Marco to see all the twinkling Christmas lights at night. Although I still couldn’t seem to grasp that Christmas was coming soon, it was a very pretty sight. Before we knew it it was midnight and time to go repack for our return to Spain in the morning. During our 4 hour layover in Barcelona on Friday I had lots of time to reflect on the wonderfulness of Denmark and Italy and how truly blessed I am, watch Elf and still negate the fact that Christmas is approaching, think about exams coming up, and ignore blog writing hehehe.

 

Dec 16, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Tillykke!

Tillykke!

So delayed on the blog posts these days : ( Life getting in the way of writing… I can deal with that!

As a study abroad student in Europe you get LOTS, I’d even say ample, opportunities to spread your wings and discover new parts of the world. All it takes is a few hundred Euro, some micro packing skills, and perhaps a general sense of direction (for reversing the inevitable miscalculation of where your hostel is actually located) and you’re on your way. City bus tours, hostels, walking guides, sleeping in bus stations, and overnight trains. I’ve had a taste of them all. Camera practically glued to my hand, I’ve “touristed” it up for the past three and a half months and had the time of my life. Hustle and bustle? Yep, we’ve become close friends. But two weekends ago I got to experience a new kind of European traveling. The kind you all probably take for granted because I know I used to! The kind where there’s someone waiting for you as you walk through the airport, the kind where you find yourself lying in a real bed, in a real apartment (with a purring cat on top of you nonetheless). The kind where you’re more than just a tourist, you’re a guest… or a princess, cause that’s what I felt like. The kind that happened December 2nd in Denmark.

Oh Denmark!! Home of freezing winds, over 400 islands, sausages, castles, blondes, and most importantly my friend Karoline, who welcomed me into her country with open arms and a huge smile and gave me the most untraditional and absolutely spectacular 21st birthday weekend ever. I arrived in Copenhagen mid-Friday afternoon proudly donning my hats, gloves and winter coat (I’d like to take this moment to point out that it’s still about 60 degrees F in Spain these days so cold is kind of a foreign concept and these were articles of clothing I literally hadn’t touched in months!). Ready to go. First up on my agenda was reunion time. And sure enough, as soon as I breezed my way through customs there she was, the girl of the hour, the lovely Miss Karoline who I had not seen in 3 and a half years. Upon dropping my luggage and stumbling over it – yeah that unfortunately happened – and reassuring each other that, while standing face to face seemed way to good to be true, this was indeed real life, we caught the next metro into town.

During our travels Karoline informed me that we were headed to her friend’s apartment for the evening where I soon met 8-10 more of her friends. Lucky for me, America seems to be one of the few places on Earth where you can expect everyone else to learn your language while never even dreaming of learning theirs (a cultural trait that I am not proud of). Consequently, these friends did not hesitate to engage me in the festivities. While they preferred to speak in their own language, they took turns both translating the conversations for me and laughing at my meager attempts to spit out something, anything – even the numbers 1 through 10 – in their lovely yet so incredibly confusing language. Thanks guys : ) At midnight they promptly handed me a bottle of champaign, gave me a brief opening tutorial that basically convinced me I was taking my life in my own hands as I attempted to pop it, and 5 minutes later I was toasting my 21st year in none other than what had become the 2nd country of my dreams since the first time I declared I’d one day study abroad in Spain. What a great night! Yeah, me and Denmark, we’re tight. 

9 hours of beauty rest later, the rest of Saturday was straight up family style and I could not have loved it more! I awoke to Karoline once again wishing me a happy birthday and then ushering me out the door to grab some Danish danishes. My danish bakery experience was nothing short of unreal. The smell of fresh pastries smacked me in the face as we walked through the door but the most memorable part of the trip was probably when I about fainted upon seeing the total cost of our hot chocolate, bread, and pastry purchase on the tiny cash register screen. Having not yet grasped the concept of a currency with such a drastic conversion rate from the two that I’m remotely used to, I figured the pastries we were buying must literally be made of gold if they cost 59.68. Upon later calculation, I realized our goodies were actually valued at the much more reasonable sounding amount of 8 euro or 10 dollars. Whew! And they were certainly worth that since, fitting nicely into what seemed to be the theme of the weekend, they tasted unreal.

Post breakfast, we scurried out to the bus stop. Cue an hour of catching upon each other’s lives and singing in the rain in our matching sweatshirts, and we were in Ersum being met by Karoline’s two adorable sisters, Olivia and Laura, and her father Finn, who was tall and had a great sense of humor (even in his second language) and reminded me of my own father quite a bit! In fact I’m almost certain if our fathers were to ever end up in the same country they’d be instant friends. The day continued to be filled with great food – danish ham and sausage for lunch in a four and a half century old Monastery, chocolate cream logs (a danish staple according to Olivia, who was absolutely appalled that I had made it through 21 years of my life without trying one) for a mid afternoon sugar high, and homemade fish balls, sweet potato fries, and Russian salad for dinner. Yum! Finally a European country that appreciates my love for veggies : ) The time between feasts was spent playing Danish trivia – hilariously on my part -, looking through family photos, swapping studying abroad stories, and watching Friends. It was an absolutely wonderful way to spend a birthday abroad and I only wish I didn’t live 15 hours away so I could take them up on the offer super tempting offer to see Michael Buble in concert in April and visit them all again soon! But then, you’re not supposed to say your birthday wishes out loud, so let’s forget I just mentioned that : P

On Sunday Karoline and I bundled up in about 15 layers and took on downtown Copenhagen. First stop = the Danish tower, which provided a 360 degree view of the city and a few very excited squeals on my part upon realization that I was in the same place that the contestants of my fave reality TV show, the Amazing Race, had been in one of their recent episodes. A few commemorative pictures later and we were moving on to bigger and better things, well maybe not literally in this case but we’d soon marched past the Danish Parliament building, some courthouses, the New Harbor area, Queen Margaret’s Palace, the Opera house and Tivoli – Denmark’s famous amusement park, home of the 120 something year old wooden roller coaster (which we of course rode, tear causing windiness and all). The park was decked out in an adorable Russian Christmas theme complete with some of Santa’s reindeer. When we couldn’t bear the cold any longer, we began our journey back to Karoline’s apartment where I thoroughly enjoyed regaining the feeling in my toes while drinking Chai teas, watching The Holiday, and catching up on even more of the wonderful life of Karoline.

Before I knew it, it was Monday morning, my bags were packed, and I was on my way out of that wonderful country. Saying good-bye to Karoline once again was really rough, a wound that took more than the white cranberry mocha I bought from the airport Starbucks and the prospect of soon arriving in Italy to heel. (Spain to Denmark to Italy, yes people this is my real life. I know, I know, so sad) Favel Denmark. Maybe, possibly, hopefully we will one day meet again!

Nov 27, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Words don’t do it justice

Words don’t do it justice

This is now my third attempt at sitting down and trying to write this blog post. Words are evading me. Maybe they can just no longer do Spain justice. Maybe you all should just come and experience life here for yourselves. I’d like that! But your window of opportunity is shrinking… so maybe I should just get on with the writing. I had every intention of posting this blog about 6 days ago, around 1 am on Monday to be exact. I started making notes of what I was going to say in the McDonald’s next to the Granada bus station at 11:30 Sunday night. You see how far that got me since it’s now Sunday night my time, no big deal. And I still have those notes from last Sunday, all slightly out of date now maybe but pure reflections just the same. So jump back with me to how I was feeling Sunday night – tired, cold, anxious for the arrival of my 3 am bus back to Sevilla, contemplating sleeping on the floor (all a story within itself) and here we go…

I spent last weekend in what my host mom (a former resident of this lovely autonomous community) refers to as the heart of Spain, regardless of its non-central location. Any guesses?? Yes? And time’s up: Andalusia – Seville and Granada to be more exact. And while my personal jury is still out on whether I agree with Carmen’s possibly biased perception of these grand cities, I must admit that southern Spain did seem to possess a little extra Spanish magic. Home of Flamenco, tapas, white washed or brightly colored casitas, bull fights, and pretty much every other Spanish stereotype you can think of, upon arriving in Andalusia I felt liked I’d finally found the Spain that everyone talks about, the only part of Spain that has ever received Hollywood’s attention. My response to finally finding this paradise surprised me. I found myself defending (silently of course) Bilbao and its non-traditional Spanish customs. In my head I was having a hypothetical debate with those stereotype setters about how the world needed to get with the times and realize the diversity of Spain and how much the other 16 communities have to offer. And then I quickly hopped off my soap box to settle in to enjoy the weekend.

We arrived in Seville Thursday night and got a bit of a “preview” of its beautiful sights while we crawled along several calles, unfortunately still weighted down by our equipaje, trying to find our hostel – ummm what else is new, you ask? I know, I know, but on the bright side, I think our aimlessly searching time split is improving (patting self on the back : P ). After figuring out hostel cositas we hit the streets for our first tapas experience. Being that it was already 11:45 pm, we were all quite hungry, but the Sevillians didn’t seem to care. While every bar we walked into was more than happy to recite a long list of drink specials they had available, when we requested a food menu, we were given quizzical glances and informed that food was not served after 11pm. Oh. Thankfully the McDonald’s on the corner was more than happy to provide us with an authentic American experience even at the “non-food” hours of the night. Parfait Perfection?

Fortunately, Friday started off on a much more successful foot. After breakfasting in the hostel, the girls and I joined the very corny Italian tour guide Felipo in a plaza only a short distance from our hostel for a walking tour of Seville. We were only going to be in this city for one full day and I was determined to see as much as possible in our short time. This tour did the trick. In just under 3 hours we covered Seville’s city center, seeing the cathedral, the old ship yard, el torre del oro (an old storage tower from when Seville was the exchange port with the Americas), San Telmo’s Palace (home of the current President of Seville), several pabellones of Latin American countries left from the 1929 Seville Exhibition, María Luisa park, the Plaza España, Seville’s University – which used to be a tabacco warehouse… interesting progression – and ended in the Murillo gardens, where we were told an interesting rendition of Christopher Columbus’ departure for India. Felipo’s accent may have made it a tad difficult to keep up at times with all the history he shared along the way but that’s all part of the experience, right? No pasa nada.

Post-tour we rested our feet for a bit at the first street-side restaurant that presented us shoved in our faces an appealing and reasonably priced daily menu. When we were thoroughly stuffed, we returned to the Plaza España for a closer look. As Felipo had mentioned, the symbolism there is pretty impressive. There are 4 bridges around the plaza and each one represents one of Spain’s original “kingdoms”: Aragón, Navarra, León, and Castilla. There are also mosaic maps and pictures of each of Spain’s 38 provinces. After a few failed attempts, we finally found País Vasco under one of its several other names – Viscaya – and promptly took pictures with what we now refer to as our home town. We then had one more stop on our Seville wish-list: la Alcázar – an architecturally spectacular Arabic fortress, which turned out to be a lovely preview of what Granada’s Alhambra had in store for us. Upon returning to our hostel that evening, we promptly dropped of the maps and postcards we had acquired throughout the day and prepared for  what I like to think of as a prefect ending to a great day – a roof top paella lesson. Regardless of the fact that all I really got out of the lesson was the spanish terms for the huge paella skillet, the paella seasoning, and the different types of seafood going into it, the paella lesson/dinner turned into a three hour conversation with new friends: 3 girls who are studying at another university in Bilbao, a guy studying abroad in Barcelona, and an Aussie traveling around Europe by himself just for funsies. Although I’m pretty sure I will never run into any of them again, I thoroughly enjoyed swapping stories with a new audience : ) Maybe I could get used to this hostel thing after all. 

Saturday we made it to Granada – none too easily! After waking up at 6:15 am to check out of the hostel and walk the mile and a half to the bus station and arriving at said bus station at 7 am to purchase tickets for the 7:45 am bus, we were met with a closed ticket window that wasn’t opening until 7:30 am. We quickly realized that we’d be cutting it close with our transactions but also knew there was nothing we could do about it now. Happy to see only two people already in line, Maria and I staked out our spots and sleepily watched the seconds tick by. Somehow time moved quickly (maybe I’ve perfected the art of napping while standing ??) and before long we saw a shadow moving behind the screen of the window. Ticket time! Quite unfortunately we also saw a little old lady pushing herself full steam ahead to the front of our line and sticking her face right up to that window. Not eager to practice my spanish fighting words, I was prepared to brush this little setback off and accept the fact that I was now forth in line. However, the woman in front of me did not keep the same calm demeanor. A full fledge argument about the meaning of lines and fairness and yadayadayada quickly ensued and, in my opinion, took up way more time than just letting her go would have but principles principles. At what had to be at least 7:40 we were finally running, tickets in hand, to parking space 18 where our long awaited bus was supposed to be waiting for us. Supposed to be… Did you catch that? Of course the bus in spot 18 would be pitch dark, shades drawn, with no driver in sight. 7:43 we frantically asked the people around us if they are waiting for the bus to Granada. They all assured us that they were. 7:44 we were not convinced so Molly asked a security guard if we were in the right place and he nonchalantly pointed to parking space 28. Since when do you automatically just add 10 to things huh?? 7:45 we squeezed past the bus driver as he tried to get behind the wheel to start the bus and fell into the first seats we could find, a row or two behind the oh so lovely lady we’d met a few minutes early – of course she didn’t almost miss the bus. 7:46 I’d almost passed out from the “excitement” of the morning. Thank goodness it was 3 and a half hour siesta time. Granada bound.

I feel like I must mention that by this point in the study abroad experience I should be over forming expectations of places before I actually visit them because my track record is not good – I always build them up in a completely erroneous fashion. I’ve never seen pictures of any part of Granada and actually can’t say that I’ve really ever even heard stories about Granada so I can’t explain to you why, for some strange reason, I was convinced that Granada was some sort of Mecca. And I can’t even tell you what sort of Mecca I was expecting, most likely because I hardly know what the world Mecca means…. shhhh. Up until Saturday I guess it meant Granada. Now, I’m not actually being fair… Granada was pretty but it was tiny. It was unique and definitely had some arabic influences going on but its main streets also looked really normal. I liked it but I didn’t feel like I was in a fairy tale land. And quite honestly none of this was Granada’s fault. What had I been thinking and why had I been thinking it?? Water under the bridge I guess cause it was ’round the white stone road I went until we checked into our hostel, grabbed coffee (have I mentioned I never used to like that stuff??), dropped of our bags, and ran out the door headed in the direction of THE reason to go to Granada – La Alhambra.

The world famous Alhambra is a preserved muslim fortress complete with look-out towers, palaces, Mosque baths, and gardens. It is built at the top of a rather large hill (or possibly small mountain) and, consequently, lends itself nicely for seeing the entirety of the city of Granada splayed out before you with a side of the Sierra Nevada. Yes, the views were absolutely gorgeous. What I regret from my Alhambra experience though is not having splurged for the always classy audio guided tour headset. With the added commentary, I think I probably would have gotten a lot more out of the visit. Buttttt no pasa nada? After about 3 hours of wandering around the fortress, we declared the sight completely visited and went on our way. Cue some wandering through the arabic markets, which were very cool !!, before heading back to the hostel to pick up rain coats, sign up for the 10pm hot springs tour, and get some dining suggestions.

Dinner was pretty unspectacular (I’m kind of over spanish food. All of it. Sorry Spain) but I grinned and bore it. Come 10pm the hot springs were pretty unspectacular as well. Cause we didn’t end up going. Cause it was raining. They didn’t want us to… get wet?? I still don’t really understand what fell through with the planning of that excursion but, regardless, instead of finding myself submersed in mud and hot water in the middle of Granada’s caves, I found myself trekking through its puddle covered streets to get some cheesecake. Winning? Sureeee. Then came Sunday, funny how that always works out, and half of the girls I’d been traveling with caught a bus back to Seville at noon to catch their plane back to Bilbao around 6pm. Being the adventurous and bang-for-your-buck kind of girl that I am, I had convinced Maria to book a return flight with me on Monday instead. Cue day two in Granada. Although there really wasn’t that much more of Granada to see, we found plenty to do with our extra time including a trip up to Sacromonte – the gypsy quarter of Granada where people have built their “houses” literally into the side of the mountain simply by excavating caves and moving in. This area provided a wonderful view of the outside of the Alhambra. We got a kick out of how impressed we were by having the exact opposite view point of what we had just had the day before. Other sources of excitement included dinning at a local cafeteria and being pleasantly surprised that the inside was decorated in a totally Moroccan theme, circling the arabic markets once again and finally deciding I needed some hand made earrings, having my first “chocolate con churros” experience (it’s literally a cup of melted super strong chocolate and some fried dough – maybe not my favorite thing ever), grabbing some tapas and chilling in an Irish bar, and finally heading to the bus station where we would unsuccessful try for 2 and a half hours to get some sleep while waiting for our 3am bus back to Seville. Why were you so cold bus station? WHY??? I’m pretty sure the cafe workers did not appreciate me sprawling out on their floor but I really had no choice, it was the only place with heat, and I’m never going to see any of those gawkers again so I’m no worse for the wear : P

By noon on Monday I was back in Bilbao and back to reality… well, it’s all relative I guess. This past week flew by! Thanksgiving came and went without too much excitement and come Friday I was all too ready to pick back up with what seems to have become my weekend Bilbao routine – Friday run and hang with friends all day, Saturday run and do homework and see friends in the evening, and Sunday climb some mountains before returning to skype with Kelly or another lovely family member. These weekends I like. These weekends I will miss… but shhhh we’re not talking about it yet. Leaving is something that I may be ready to have happen but at the same time have yet to accept. I refuse to count down. I’m here, Bilbao. No worries.

Nov 12, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on I live in a bubble…

I live in a bubble…

I love classes where I actually feel like I’m learning something. NERD ALERT. But really, there are few things I dislike more than spending an hour to an hour and a half of my life in class and getting nothing out of it. What a waste of time! Consequently, contrary to the opinions of several of my classmates, Europa en el mundo (aka Europe in the world) is by far my favorite class that I’m taking here in Spain.

A little background info on the class: the class is taught in spanish (which, fyi, I love!!!) and is focused on the European Union – specifically its members, its structure, and its role in international affairs. So, basically, Europe in the world is a political science class. Or at least it’s what I imagine a political science class would be like if I had ever taken one, which leads me to my next point. A little background info on my knowledge of the European Union: . Yupp, you’ve got it – zilch, nada, blank slate! (Okay, maybe I was aware of the fact that Germany, France, and Spain are all a part of it but aside from that I was clueless). Consequently, for the first few classes, I struggled my way through the mixture of spanish and english articles, learning new pieces of information here and there and for the most part finding myself completely overwhelmed by this new subject. Every time that struggle was worth it! I’d show up in class with a highlighted article, which still really made no sense to me, and leave an hour and fifteen minutes later with pages full of notes from which I feel I’d be able to explain the latest concept to any nine year old on the street and have her understand (yeah, my teacher is that good!).

So after over two months of reading, listening, and absorbing all this information about the wonderful world of the European Union I was under the impression that I’d reach a point where things would no longer be confusing, where I’d have a knowledge base such that having something to contribute to the discussion of this class (which is usually ruled by three politics smarty-pants) would become a common occurrence instead of a feat that leaves me feeling accomplished for days. I still haven’t gotten there. Everyday Tuesday and Thursday I sit through Europe in the world gaining infinite (an exaggeration, but I like that word…) amounts of new information about a subject that very well may not be part of my major but is more or less a large part of life! And thus I have reached the conclusion that regardless of all my wonderful prior education, I’d been living my life in an american bubble even more so than I originally thought. Not only have I only known the culture one country, I’ve really only thought of the world in terms of that country. A few days ago I couldn’t even have told you where Cyprus and Kosovo are on the map let alone what relation they could possibly have to the entrance of Turkey in the European Union. In fact, at this point, I’m considering it luck of the draw that I knew where Turkey is on that map. Thank you, José, for showing me that many more baby steps (or should I say breaths ??) will be needed to expand the realm of that bubble I call home until I am no longer ameri-centered but rather the tinniest bit world savy.

Following the golden leaves 

Since I couldn’t easily get myself to Cyprus for the weekend, I decided to continue focusing on the expansion of the spanish part of my little bubble with yet another wonderful País Vasco adventure. In honor of 11/11/11 (but actually quite by coincidence) my friends Aisha, Elana, Kelsey, and I found our way to la ermita de San Juan de Gaztelugatxe 

– a tiny hermitage on the top of an island in Bakio, Spain about 45 minutes from Bilbao – where, upon summit, you are supposed to ring the church bell three times and make a wish! How fitting. In addition to being the ideal wishing location, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and the entire walk/climb there were gorgeous! We truly enjoyed basking in the beauty of the entire trip, playing on Bakio’s sandy beaches, and each other’s company (cue the sharing of sandwiches, song harmonizing, and several laughs). The 70 degree weather was also definitely a plus!

Mañana it’s off to the mountains once again with the hiking club. So pumped : ) 

Nov 6, 2011 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

And we’re accepting it

If there is one thing that I’m forever doing in Spain, it is accepting things and moving on. I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty go with the flow type of person – that’s one of those benefits of being the baby in your family or something like that, right? or maybe it’s the effect of my dad constantly using the expression “life is what happens when your making plans” : ) – but I’d say that if you take that normal amount of Emily go with the flow-ness and multiply it by about 10, what you’ll end up with is my new level of acceptance and, quite appropriately I guess, basically the mentality of a spaniard – no pasa nada! This isn’t to say that I’m happy-go-lucky with any possible thing. I’ll admit it, at times I certainly do my fair share of complaining and my friends here can certainly vouch for that but for the most part I feel that I’ve learned to take what happens, process it in some manner, and then move on. Whether it’s the fact that dinner consists of deep fried mashed potatoes or my lunch has eyes, or moving away from food to the fact that I always seem to miss the metro at night by about 2 minutes and then have to wait 28 more for the next one or that the study abroad program is maybe not exactly what I thought it was going to be, the phrase “and we are accepting it” gets tossed around a lot amongst my friends and I.

This past weekend, the fact that we were no longer in Spain had no effect on our love with that phrase and, consequently, way of life. At least it’s a semi-positive way to view things, right? Because really what else is there to say when you find out that the light in your bathroom at the hostel flickers like its having a seizure and the water changes temperature every two seconds then “Christie, is this seriously happening right now?” “yupp, it’s like we’re at a rave, and… we’re accepting it?” “okay, great. No pasa nada… Just checking”.  And I wish I could say that we were more cultured or something for having gone through that, cause that’s what all experiences from studying abroad are supposed to result in, right ??,  but who I am kidding, we were just cleaner, a little dizzy and ready to start our Irish adventures – which are probably what I should be focusing on anyway. I’m guessing you’d like to hear about more than the hostel we were in? Good, cause there is so much more!!

Ever since I can remember I’ve always dreamed of going to Ireland. I, unfortunately, can’t remember what about Ireland made it so appealing to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m 25% Irish or that for some reason I was completely convinced that Ireland was nothing but a fantasy land filled with green rolling hills, rainbows, and castles. Yeah, okay, let’s go with the latter –  naive much?? Yes, extremely, but give me some credit, at least I wasn’t expecting leprechauns!! And I guess, since I’m laying it all out here anyways, I should clarify that when I say “was convinced” that stood as my current opinion until the airport shuttle dropped us off in the middle of a busy street surrounded by normal looking buildings with no castles or green hills to be found anywhere nearby and announced that we had arrived in Dublin. I was shocked. Disappointed. A little sad. But luckily Dublin had so much small city charm that within a few hours I was willing to forgive eastern Ireland for not being the land of my dreams and accept it for the great place it was.

We spent two full days in Ireland and decided to just get down and touristy by using the Hop-on Hop-off bus. That double-deckered green beauty took us everywhere and the old Irish drivers always had a great sense of humor. The highlights of our visit begin with an authentic Irish dinner of fish and chips in a local pub where I embarrassingly showcased the fact that I’d seen the Busch Gardens Celtic Fyre show a few too many times by knowing most of the words and even when to clap during Wild Rover. Friday, the good times continued with a stroll down Nassau street and into St. Stephen’s Green where Elana, Kelsey, Christie, and I rediscovered fall and some goosts (apparently the name for geese in that country), a trip to the Guinness factory (when in Dublin…) where we learned that Guinness is not up our alley and quickly opted for more Starbucks, some stops here and there at bakeries such as the Queen of Tarts – with a name like that how could we resist – for local goodies, and a trip through the rural streets of Dublin in the rain that led us to the Kilmainham Gaol – a history lesson at its best! Here our Irish tour guide didn’t spare any details in his retelling of Ireland’s struggle for independence from Great Britain. Most interesting fact from my point of view – today only 7% of the Irish citizens are fluent in Gaelic, a percentage that was greatly influenced by the plague of 1845 when thousands of people committed crimes to gain a place in prison because life there was significantly better than living on the streets. While in this confined space, the British prison guards banned them from using Gaelic and, consequently, a huge knowledge base of the language was lost and never regained. Oh, and I should probably include walking across the Half-penny bridge simply because I must have begged Christie, Elana, and Kelsey to walk over it with me 12 times, and posing for a picture at the closest thing we could find to a real looking castle – Christ Church. Thanks girlies!! 

 

After fully exhausting ourselves in Dublin there was no rest for the weary! Our flight to London took off at 6 Sunday morning. Pro – we arrived in London around 8, got the bus into the city at 8:30, dropped our stuff off at the apartment we would later sleep like sardines in at 10, and were on the streets ready to go by 11. First stop: Big Ben. We giddily marched our way into the tube and quickly gained a new respect for Elana’s Chicago background. Claiming that it was very similar to the “El” back home, she navigated us through the, oh I don’t know, 7 different lines each going 2 different directions like a pro and we were standing staring at Parliament in no time. After the obligatory touristy picture with Mr. Ben (which is actually the name of the bell not the clock itself!), we marched our way past Westminster Abbey, slightly saddened that it was closed for service but glad at the same time to see that it had an actual religious purpose, and into St. James park. Cue more fall happiness before arriving at obligatory tourist stop numero dos: Buckingham Palace. We stood admiring/laughing at the palace guards for quite some time before continuing our journey past the Wellington arch, more beautiful fall trees, some frisbee players that made me cry just a little from the happiness of proof that ultimate exists in Europe and home sickness, and into Hyde Park. Here we had two missions 1) find the Peter Pan statue and 2) find Kensington Palace. Unfortunately we hadn’t really done our research on either so during our over 2 mile walk we failed to even find number 1 and were slightly disappointed with number 2. Why? Well, the palace was “being transformed” which confused us immensely but was simply meant to signify that the exhibits had been changed… into a ridiculous and creepy princess search that initially looked like every 20 year old girl who still believes she is 5 years old’s dream but turned out to be a kind of depressing portrayal of the struggle of 7 princesses and how they weren’t loved by their parents or allowed to act like children and eventually died – complete with floating, glowing dresses that we still can’t quite grasp the importance of.

Our completion of the palace tour brings me to the Con of our flight having been at the wee hours of the morning – the mini melt down that ensued outside of Kensington Palace around 4pm. Fortunately we are all pretty easily pleased and after a stop for an afternoon snack and some complaining, we’d accepted our crabbiness and were back on our feet, ready to go visit the London Bridge, touristy stop number… well, I lost track. But it certainly looked beautiful at night!!

 

Day two in London included a stop at the replication of Shakespeare’s globe theater, platform 9 and 3/4s – that’s right all you Harry Potter fans, I’ve been there – Camden Market, and the Millennium bridge. Before we knew it, we’d exhausted our time in the land of porridge and tea – I had both Monday morning actually !! – and it was time to say good-bye to the big city life of london. We were, as I’ve said a few times before, Bilbao bound again. Back in Spain, the high from our trip was quickly converted into readjusting to speaking spanish, eating fish, and doing homework. Over the past few days my friends and I have conversed about the possibility of a two month blues. We’ve now been gone from our families, our normal lives, our country for over 60 days and we may be missing it all, just a little. But heres to 42 more days of adventures and growth in this country that we’ll one day be missing instead! It’s raining. I’m tired. I just spent three hours writing a blog when I should have been studying for the two tests I have tomorrow…pues, no pasa nada! Cheers ♥

 

Oct 25, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on No hablo frances

No hablo frances

I think I’m setting a record here on the amount of time between posts recently – less than a week! Score hahaha. Saturday was just too completely awesome not write about right away. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s talk french first. No not, in French but about France… there we go!

Friday, the CIDE group that I’ve come to know and love oh so much and two of our fabulous professors took a quick trip across the french border, marking the end of my perception that Europe may possibly only exist of Spain – it doesn’t, no worries!! Our first stop was Saint Juan de la luz an adorable basque town full of typical white and red basque style buildings and tons of local character that literally looked like the inspiration for the setting of Beauty and the Beast. My friends and I wandered the adorable pastry shop lined streets just waiting for Belle to pop out of no where reading her book… well not really but we could totally envision it happening! What we actually did was head towards the beach, admire the beautiful bay of biscay from this side of the border, shiver in the chilly 50 degree air while we took some pictures, explore a pretty awesome little church, and buy some pastries. I can now attest that French croissants are absolutely that 100Xs better than any other croissant that everyone promises you they will be – especially if yours happens to be stuffed with chocolate, yeah I died a little of happiness!! This experience also prompted my first use of french bascially ever and I do believe my reading off of the little sign and pronunciation of “merci” were spectacular.

Post Saint Juan we made our way just a tad further into France and arrived at Biarritz, a slightly larger town with a little less charm and a little more international appeal. Known for its summer visitors thanks to its absolutely beautiful coastline, the town seemed almost eerily quiet, but a trip down the road to the local market proved otherwise. Inside we found local produce of all kinds – wine, veggies, fruits, spices. My personal favorite = le fromage which Elana, Neia, and I somehow managed to sample 5 free slices of… shhhh. Listening intently to my professor’s wise words that sweets are best in France I also bought a small slice of a local almond and fig candy-like substance. Wow, that description makes it sound kind of awful but as Elana would tell you, it seriously tasted like fall – great purchase! Unfortunately for my self esteem though, this french speaking experience went a little less smoothly. Cue me trying to converse with the adorable french guy behind the counter (who informed me he know un peu de English) by telling him that the amount he had selected was “muy bien”… with the worst part being that I tried it in a french accent – gen parfait. Oh well, made for some good laughs as we continued our walk towards a remarkable coastal overlook where the perfectly blue-green ocean flawlessly crashed around us. True beauty.

After winding our way back into the city, we were whisked away by our bus to a nice, late, long lunch in a winery back in Spain. Fortunately, we’re finally getting used to these affairs so there was far less complaining than in the past and we happily filled ourselves with bread, mystery paella, the typically chicken and fries, and coffee. We may or may not, however, have played with the flan instead of eating it. Five Years Old, yes. When lunch ended we set forth to Loyola, the birth place of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. The architecture of this place was remarkable, with the interior of the house being dedicated to depicting Ignatius’ journey to sainthood. After some words about the formation of the copula in the cathedral, we were Bilbao bound again and thus ended our to southern tip of France and a northern part of Spain.

Now for Saturday night! Background info first – last monday, like 8 days ago, I was looking through the weekly Spain activities e-mail sent out by CIDE and saw amongst the normal theater and cine postings a message about a Bilbao Night Marathon. Intrigued by the prospect of a race in a country where everyone looks at you funny when you go for a run, I clicked on the link thinking maybe I would convince some friends to be downtown when this was going down so we could watch part of it only to discover that in addition to the marathon race happening October 22nd at 9:30pm there was also a half marathon and a 7.5km. No way could I possibly dream of running the marathon (although it’s def on the bucket list!! whose joining me in the future???) but the last one was right up my alley and I immediately decided it had to be done. I don’t really know what to thank this spontaneity to, I mean I had never signed up for a race before even in the US. I love running, but I do it on my own or with a few friends along a path that I pick out for however long I feel like going, you know all within my comfort zone. But regardless, I messaged a few friends and before long three of us had signed up.

Wow, what a wonderful decision!! There is nothing that can compare to the atmosphere that we found surrounding the Guggenheim in downtown Bilbao Saturday night. Thousands of people were crowded around waiting for the races. The marathon and half marathon started 10 minutes before our nice little short race so we were able to take in everything from the fireworks along the bridge that leads to our university to the announcer counting down to the start of race in Spanish. So much fun. When it was our turn, Cathy, Elana, and I packed ourselves into the starting area, excitedly noticing that Christie and Kelsey were there to cheer us on. We tried to join in on what we thought was going to be another spanish count down only to find out this time they were speaking basque, oops, and then we were off. I will never be able to accurately describe the feeling of racing down the streets of Bilbao that I’m just beginning to feel familiar with, seeing traffic stopped in all directions to let us through, and hearing the cheers of hundreds of spaniards who were lining the street to simply cheer us on. Since most girls really don’t run in Spain, we were the recipients of several encouraging shouts such as “venga chicas” and “anima”. But the best part by far was the little children waiting with their hands out for high-fives whose faces lit up the second you extended yours. Made my night. During the race, I felt so surrounded by the joyfulness of these people, who to my surprise were still completely full of energy at 10:00 at night – only in Spain! 42 minutes later, Elana, Cathy, and I happily crossed the finish line (where people still stood clapping and cheering – what patience they have!!) totally and completely content with our ability to say that we completed a race in Spain and feeling more in touch with the city than ever before. Thanks for your love Bilbao!!

This week is going to be a short but busy one. I had two classes Monday and today’s a holiday so two classes Wednesday and two classes Thursday are all that stand between me and Ireland. Say what? Dream country here I come.

Oct 20, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A side of english please

A side of english please

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m giving English classes to two adorable spanish boys, right? Well, these two boys, Iñigo and Cosmic, ages seven and five, have certainly found their way into my heart!! I now eagerly look forward to Monday and Wednesday afternoons, wondering what little English phrase they will latch onto this time. So far we’ve had a huge attraction to octopus, one hundred, airplane, and butt… yeah, I tried to avoid that last one for as long as I could but I am dealing with little boys here and you know how they are. We’ve played uno and bingo to practice numbers, games with dice and random shapes to learn colors, and a connect-four game with fruits. My secret hope is that in addition to learning some basic English, they’ll pick up on my repetitive use of the word “awesome” in practically every sentence and start using it in everyday life : )

Ironically the 4 hours a week I spend at this spanish family’s house and in the local parks playing with these boys, using English words mind you, have given me the biggest insight into the Spanish culture of anything so far. I’ve watched interactions between Kristina (the mom) and their housekeeper (a typical addition to any spanish family with small children), heard stories about the dad who is always at work (even when I get ready to leave at 7:15pm), held the baby sister and seen her take her first steps, meet cousins and aunts and grandparents, and been invited to my first birthday party – mind you it’s over a month away but still super sweet. There is so much energy and happiness and maybe a little drama going on in this household that, although I know I am an outsider being paid to teach their children, the way they’ve accepted me with open arms, countless smiles, and lots of hugs makes me feel right at home. Furthermore, since Cosmic and Iñigo know very little English I must follow my english phrases with spanish ones => conversation practice at its best! If I string together a mess of spanish words in the wrong tenses or throw in some spanglish every now and then, these little fellows won’t simply infer or guess what I mean like Carmen or my teachers and friends. Instead, they give me these adorable looks of confusion followed by giddy retorts of ¿cómo? until I work out an answer in real spanish that is then happily received and responded to. Sometimes I think I might be getting more out of these lessons then they are, oops! Living with just a host mom yet having the opportunity to experience all of the excitement of a spanish family every once and a while = the best of both worlds!!

Moving on from my obsession for my little students… it appears that fall has finally arrived in Bilbao. Now how many times have I been told this before?? Several! Maybe I’ve even relayed that exact sentence to you in the past ??, I can’t quite remember. You see, northern Spain is known for its rainy and cool fall season bla bla bla and yet I can count on one hand the number of times it has rained since I got here. In fact, I can tell you explicitly that it has rained 4 times because I still remember the exact days during which I grumbled about the weather, obviously not having taken to heart the 247 times I’d been told that rain was typical in Spain. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rainy day but there is just so much more you can do on a sunny one and I’ve certainly gotten used to those activities!

Take this weekend for example: Friday I went for a run along my favorite path by the sea, sat on a bench along the coast where I could hear the waves crashing while reading a book, and took a nighttime stroll around downtown Bilbao. Saturday I headed to that lovely bench again, this time with some post cards that need to be written and a little homework. Later two of my friends and I explored a park up a nice long set of stairs in Casco Viejo. And Sunday I joined the hiking club for what may have been the most beautiful trip ever. Cue an hour lunch on the top of Mount Urregarai – which did not take serious rock climbing to summit, mind you – and this girl was one happy camper. (After two distinctly different yet amazing trips, the basque mountain range may have also found a special place in my heart) Fortunately for me and my current sun-loving/anti-rainy season tendency, my recent perusal of weather.com has informed me that there are still some clear skied days ahead of me, arriving just in time for a quick day trip to France (tomorrow) and a nice 7.5KM race around Bilbao (Saturday).

Lovin life

 

Oct 12, 2011 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Beautiful, bustling, Barcelona

Beautiful, bustling, Barcelona

This past weekend some friends and I went on our first unguided/unsupervised excursion and it was an absolute blast! I must admit that I was a bit nervous to be adventuring into one of the biggest cities in Spain without a single adult, especially after making the mistake of reading the city safety tips located on the bottom of basically every tourist website I visited. I boarded the plane with the anticipation of arriving in a city stuffed with people, all anxiously crowding the streets ready to steel my purse or taunt one of my friends. What I found was the exact opposite – beautiful plazas with fountains and statues, tall buildings with unique architecture, and busy streets that still somehow managed to have plenty of room for walking without a single unpredicted encounter with strangers. I may have instantly fallen in love!! And it’s a good thing I did because if Barcelona really had been as scary as I had pictured, I’m not sure I would have survived the 45 minutes we spent walking in the wrong direction down las Ramblas trying to find our hostel the first night – oops!! Needless to say, we eventually stumbled upon Lullaby hostel, ditched our luggage and headed out to see what Barcelona had to offer. We found our way to a discoteca, danced a bit, and then casually meandered back to Lullaby ignoring the fact that our cellphones and watches now informed us it was 4:30 at night.

With the excitement of a short first night behind us we woke up relatively early, grabbed some free breakfast from the hostel – frosted flakes anyone?? I was actually a tad excited, it’s been a while – and headed to what must be Barcelona’s most heard off destination… La Sagrada Familia. This massive, slightly intimidating cathedral is adorned with cranes and seems like it may never be completed but it is beautiful nonetheless! After an hour of winding around it’s exterior (playing concentration and other middle school games of course) we finally reached the entrance. The inside of the church could not have been more of a contrast to its exterior. It was shockingly white with intricate stained glass, enormously high ceilings, and winding staircases. After an hour of meandering around and gazing at the beauty, we took an elevator to the top of one of its many towers where we found an incredible view of the city and an excellent photo location, as well as a seemingly never ending spiral staircase that eventually brought us back to the ground.

Post Gaudi architecture admiration session 1 we wondered the streets of Barca until we found a suitable looking cafe where we parked ourselves for a three course lunch. It was here that we learned two very important lessons: 1) don’t leave personal belongings on the floor and 2) salmonetes ≠ salmon… yay for scales, spines, and eyeballs. Fortunately our waiter was an adorable dad-like figure who saved us from loosing our cameras and gave us many tips about what we should do with the rest of our time in the city. He didn’t propose a solution for our fear of the fish though, in fact he may have made fun of us for leaving so much behind on our plates – oops. After some well earned cheesecake, we hit the streets again in search of more of Gaudi’s treasures. A few wrong turns and a wasted metro trip later we found both the Casa Mila and Parc Gúell. Both were distinctly beautiful although I certainly enjoyed the park more. What’s not to love about mosaic tiled benches, gingerbread house looking structures, and a panoramic view of the city?? And somehow we managed to make it back to the metro station – learning along the way that in Barcelona “very close” is equivalent to “about a mile”, gee thanks locals!! – without getting completely drenched. Cue a lovely dinner at a tapas restaurant and an evening on the hostel terrace with sangria and some new friends and that was Friday.

Saturday was yet another early morning and this time we headed to the East, exploring las Ramblas, Barri Gotic, and La Boqueria – Barcelona’s famous market. It was the perfect morning for window shopping, postcard buying, sampling smoothies out of shot glasses (only slightly ironic), wedding procession gazing, and enjoying cafe con leche and crescents. When our stomachs started to grumble even more, we headed into the Boqueria, found an assortment of goodies – mine included pineapple, strawberries, and a multigrain muffin, in case you were wondering – and made our way to the port where sat, admiring the beautiful water and stuffing our faces with the delicious fresh food. A short nap later, we were on our way again. This time to the beaches of the Mediterranean sea. Surprisingly, they didn’t look all that different from the ones right by Algorta. When we realized it was already 6pm, we hit the streets and found our way back to good old Lullaby. There we enjoyed Barcelona’s idea of fast food – Pita In – before going our separate ways for the night. While a bunch of my friends were headed to a white-out rave at the olympic stadium called Sensation, my night included a trip to Font Montjuïc – a famous fountain in front of Barcelona’s national palace that “dances” and changes color to a music soundtrack – with Elana, another nice walk through the city ignoring the blisters forming from wearing flip-flops all weekend, a gelato stop on las Ramblas where we were joined by Molly and Miranda, and about an hour laughing at the men trying to sell beer in the middle of Plaza Catalunya – that’s seriously got to be the worst job ever!!

Saturday night was probably the shortest of them all and after getting only 3 hours of sleep it was a little rough rallying everyone to get to the airport by 8am. Somehow we made it!! Settling into my seat on the plane I pulled out my Ipod, ready to spend the hour flight in blissful nap mode only to have my friend Molly knee the back of my seat 3 times and the guy next to me start talking to me in Spanish. Reluctant to pass up an opportunity to talk to a local, I decided against fake sleeping and put my Ipod back in my bag. I soon found out that this kid to my right was also from Algorta and had flown to Barcelona simply to go to Sensation for the night. We talked about our weekends, the classes we were taking, and my future travel plans while he pointed out the Pyrenees mountains and any other distinguishable landmarks through the tiny plane window. Before I knew it we were landing in Bilbao and my hour window for napping had expired – best laid plans. We were welcomed home by some lovely rain and temperatures about 15 degrees cooler than when we left… hello fall!!

After such a busy weekend, this week has seemed to go by pretty slowly, probably due to the lack of sleep that I was running on. Lucky for me, today is a national holiday (a combination of recognition for Spanish armed forces and good old Christopher Columbus) and I got a solid 12 hours of sleep last night : ) Today’s plans originally involved bike riding along the coast. Unfortunately the weather is not so great -> back up plan of postcard writing, homework, and Ireland trip planning. Happy Wednesday!!

 

Oct 3, 2011 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Out of my comfort zone

That time I scaled the face of a mountain…                    Yesterday my friend Christie and I decided to join the hiking club on one of their weekly excursions. We had been informed at the beginning of the semester that the hiking club was a common past time of the international students. They made it sound like a fundamental part of every study abroad kid’s experience, the thing everyone did. So we embraced it. Donning our running shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers we booked our way to San Pedro plaza to meet the bus that would be leaving at the nice and early hour of 8:30am. We got there a little early, traditional american style, and I’m pretty sure no one else arrived until 8:35, traditional spanish style. We were beginning to get nervous, waiting there are all by ourselves, double checking that we were in the right place, constantly looking at our watches. And then we saw a small group of individuals wander to the bus stop on the other side of the street. Now we were way more than a little nervous. These spaniards were not only wearing hiking boots, scarves, leggings, and two shirts… they also had hiking poles and gianormous backpacks with them. We knew instantly that we were way underprepared for this journey but with a few encouraging words from a fellow hiker – “it’s not that hard, it’s just walking!!” we were again convinced that we should get this hiking club experience. We boarded the bus, giggling in the way only american girls seem to, and happily awaited our arrival at the mountain.

2 hours and 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination and got off the bus. We started our way into the woods on a typical looking trail. The first 2 hours continued like this. We gradually progressed up into the mountain range and we were having a fabulous time! Christie and Ali (another girl from CIDE) and I had made a pact to speak only Spanish, which was a way bigger deal than it may seem being as we were surrounded by spaniards who would have been more than happy to practice their English while talking to us. We were loving the chance to talk to these natives, in spanish, all about Spain and learn which beaches and cities were the best to visit, where we could find really good food, and what they had seen during various trips to the US. We may also have been enjoying the awesome scenery and wild horses that we were seeing every hundred or so feet! At around 12:30pm we entered a little cave and our new friends pulled out sandwiches and water. Convinced that we had basically reached our final destination and satisfied with all that we had just experienced, Ali, Christie, and I gawked at the view for a few minutes and then joined them in chowing down. Carmen had made me a ham sandwich and I’d grabbed an apple and granola bar before leaving as well. After the sandwich and half the granola bar ,I decided to save the rest for the bus ride home. This turns out to be one of the best decision I have made in my life. Contrary to our belief, we were no where near finished with our journey. The summit was not even within eye sight. In fact, we had another two hours ahead. All up hill. And I don’t mean around a mountain up hill, I mean up a rocky mastiff that words can’t even describe up hill. I about died. Twice. This mountain was no joke! Thankfully our new friend Alex, an incredibly sweet Frenchman, was willing to go at the same pace as two inexperienced American girls and accompanied Christie and I through the trail of death to the summit of Mount Aitzkobbi. Without him and Christie, I don’t think I would have had the motivation to make it all the way. Needless to say, at this point we had stopped speaking Spanish and a string of “oh my goodness we’ve got to be getting close” and “where the heck are we”s could be heard all the way up.

Finally at about 2:40 we reached our final altitude. The sight was absolutely breath taking and Christie and I immediately agreed that it was worth the completely unexpected rock climbing that we had just endured. I happily gobbled down the rest of my granola bar and all but two sips of my water and sunbathed on top of the rocks for 20 minutes, reassured by my fellow climbers’ comments that we would be taking a different path on the way down. This reassurance did not last long as I soon found my self half tripping, half sliding down the narrow, rock covered path. Down may not have been as exhausting as up, but it was certainly scarier! An hour and a half later we finally reached the bottom and stared up at the face of the monster we had just climbed up and down. Looking back, we were suddenly extremely proud of what we had just accomplished. After begging for cups of water at the little bar that was conveniently located at the base of this mountain – only to realize that there was a water fountain right outside, oops – Christie and I collapsed at a table in a fit of exhausted giggles, happily accepting any food that our well prepared hiking friends still had to share. Our short rest soon came to an end and we were informed that we still had an hour of walking – yes, this time it was just semi-normal downhill walking – before we reached the bus. We made the most of our time by reflecting on the amazing experience we had just been through and talking with a spaniard who had studied abroad at University of Richmond last fall – imagine that!!

In an attempt to not write two novels worth of information, I will spare you the details of the bus and metro ride home – how convenient, right? En fin, I was most certainly not prepared for the experience that was joining the hiking club on their climb, but I am still so so glad that I decided to go! Summiting Aitzkobbi is one of the top ten things I have done since arriving in Spain – a once in a life time kind of experience that I will certainly never forget!!

This is no joke. This is real life, & we were already over half way down

Other minor victories of the weekend include spending the last day of September on the beach and in the ocean, finding our way to Artea mall (without getting lost) and buying CEREAL and frisbee flair !!, going to the movie theater and seeing a movie completely in Spanish, skyping with Kelly for over 2 hours, and receiving my first piece of mail!! This week has many more adventures in store, as well! I’ve promised myself that tomorrow I will do whatever it takes to find stamps so I can mail letters to my friends and family back home. Wednesday I will be teaching English to two little spanish boys (friends of my friend Elana’s host family – did you follow that??) and Thursday I’ll be flying off to Barcelona. Let’s do this : )

Happy fall!! Much love


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