Archive from December, 2011
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!