Archive from November, 2011
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 And I still have those notes from last Sunday, all slightly out of date now maybe but pure reflections just the same.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 ♥