Archive from October, 2011
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