Las Semanas Finales & Todd Visits!

Now as I am sitting in my little home in Lititz, Pennsylvania and looking back at this semester, I must admit it all seems a little unreal. My last weeks in Spain were wonderful. We finally got the weather we were all praying for the entire semester, and I soaked up every last drop of adventure I could. I’m so happy to be home, but of course there are plenty of things I miss already…my abuela, the Plaza Mayor, cafe con leche, being able to get a drink at a bar…etc etc etc. I honestly can’t believe I did it…it seems like it went by so fast now, but I know there were moments when I felt the semester would never end–either in a bad or a good way. I definitely conquered a lot of my homesickness, even though it was always there in the back of my heart. Home is such a nice place to be, but I think this semester helped me to say I am actually ready to start my own life and make my own home.

I can confidently say that I have found my lantern of inspiration and hope…just like the reference I made in my very first blog post. Since my theme for this blog was the Disney movie, Tangled, I think it’s appropriate to bring my journey full circle in this way. In the story, Rapunzel’s goal when she leaves her tower is to find the lanterns that she sees floating in the sky each year on her birthday. She doesn’t know what they mean, but she feels drawn to them. They are, in fact, lanterns that her parents, the king and queen, put in the sky each year in attempt to find their lost princess daughter. The hope of finding her lanterns is Rapunzel’s inspiration for continuing on her journey and her final destination at the end of the movie. In a more concrete way, the symbol of light and awe that always enchanted me throughout the semester was the Plaza when it was lit up at night. Of course, more importantly, my abstract “lanterns” were many things…overcoming homesickness, strengthening my Spanish, connecting with new cultures, meeting different people, reaching out to and discovering my most important friendships from home, arriving safely to my family…the list goes on. If I could change the photo I have on my blog now, I would probably change it to this photo…a content and inspired Rapunzel, surrounded by all of her lanterns of hope. Maybe my whole theme was a bit silly, but for me, I think it was a fun way to wrap everything together and come full circle. Having closure is a lovely thing, even if you have to create it yourself.

From my spot at an outdoor cafe/bar in the Plaza…my lantern of inspiration and hope.

Here is Rapunzel singing during one of the final scenes in the movie when she finally finds her sky of floating lanterns.

So the last few weeks…

One of our last weekend nights out in Salamanca, we all went out together. Somehow, my friends got me to wear these new red heels I had bought specifically to wear on my 21st birthday. They are pretty comfy as far as heels goes, which is good because you will never find me in heels. They were astatic that they got me to wear them and took lots of pictures. Teeny wedges but they still count!

We had a good time saying goodbye to a lot of our favorite spots in Salamanca 🙂

My last week in Spain, Todd came to visit! I went to pick him up at the Madrid airport on Saturday morning. For some reason, I thought he would get into Terminal 1…BIG MISTAKE. He got into Terminal 4 and had to figure out (with no Spanish ability) how to get to Terminal 1! This included having to find someone who spoke English, figure out where the buses back to Salamanca left from (terminal 1–where I was waiting), take a subway, then take a shuttle! OH MY. He did it though, and silly me just waiting all confused at the cafe in Terminal 1 where we had planned to meet. Good job Phoebe. Anyways, it was pure luck and fate that as Todd was leaving the information desk in Terminal 1, about to head back to Terminal 4 (to see if we had crossed paths and missed each other), I saw him from across the airport on my way to the information desk (to see if his flight had been delayed or something weird) and sprinted to catch him as he walked away. If it hadn’t been that moment we were both going to or leaving the info desk, I don’t know how we ever would have found each other, seeing as Todd’s phone didn’t work in Spain. Oh deeeear. All worked out in the end though and we made it back to Salamanca safely together. The week following that stressful morning was wonderful. We had so much fun.

We spent that evening having a picnic by the river with all the friends I had made that semester.

Friends

Then we all went out together that night to see the last of the Salamanca night scene.

Friends

The rest of the week we spent eating pastries and drinking coffee in the mornings, hanging out on the grass in front of the Cathedral while I studied for finals during the days, and going out to eat during the evenings…how can life get any better than that!

Morning pastries

Hanging out on the grass and enjoying Coke and Fanta…a typical afternoon occurrence…

Shopping–new sunglasses and a hat for that strong Spanish sun!

Doing some sightseeing, like the Love-Lock Garden

Picnic dinners finished off with watermelon dessert!

Paella Dinner

Pizza Dinner

Tapas dinner

Churros con Chocolate at the best churro place in the world, in my book anyway

Saying goodbye…

“Phoebe’s Goodbyes”

Goodbye Cafe con Leche

Goodbye Spanish Flowers (I only got to see at the end!)

Goodbye beautifully decorated old buildings

Goodbye Puente Romano

Goodbye “being able to enjoy a drink out”

Goodbye tapas

Goodbye old ruins

Goodbye Cathedral

Goodbye Gelato

Goodbye big fruit!

Here are a couple videos we watched in my last day of Spanish Language class…they make me laugh and take my journey conquering the Spanish language more lightly in times when I feel I will never 100% dominate the language, even though I know I have grown so much in my ability to speak with fluency during this semester abroad.

Que difil es hablar el español (How difficult it is to speak Spanish)

One Semester of Spanish, Spanish Love Song

I am constantly reminded of this quote while thinking back over the semester. It was said by a woman who I have always looked up to…

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face…we must do that which we think we cannot.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

I think I can confidently say that I have followed her advice very closely. And now the journey of world exploration and language domination continues. It is one that will take a lifetime and never be fully completed, but like they always say, the journey is what matters. Thanks for reading!

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Final Travels #3: Paris, France

This week in Salamanca…

I enjoyed hanging out with many of the friends I’ve made this semester. Our time here is coming to an end, so I am doing my best to see everyone as much as possible and get all my goodbyes in!

Here are a bunch of the American girls I take classes with…we went out one evening before dinner for some drinks and tapas…

Here I am with some of the students from my program in one of my new favorite Salamanca bars–it’s a teeny little hole in the wall place with photos of costumers plastering the walls and practically no tourists or international students go there. They also play some great, off-the-beaten-track music, which is very pleasant to hear after all the American and Spanish pop music in the discotecas.

This weekend I was in…

Paris, France…The City of Love…La Ciudad de Amor

Paris was lovely. That’s probably the best word for it. I would definitely want to return someday, but I am satisfied with the amount of things we saw and did in our short visit there. I was thinking about being a character in the movie Midnight in Paris, which I saw just before I left for Spain, the entire weekend. I especially tried to picture myself in the mindset of the main character when it started pouring on us. In one scene he tells his fiancee and her mother that Paris is lovely in the rain, so they should walk instead of taking a taxi, an idea which they find preposterous! I really loved the movie. Here’s the trailer in case you are interested. It’s so interesting now to watch movies or look at paintings or read books of places in Europe that I have been to this semester. I feel I definitely have a different, more deep and personal connection to many things that I used to only be able to imagine myself having visited (did that sentence make sense?). Anyways, it’s a very cool feeling.

Midnight in Paris Trailer

We arrived Friday night at our hostel and met up with my friend Samantha’s two friends from home. They are both studying in France this semester, and they joined us for our explorations that weekend. We got in too late to go out to see anything, so we started early the next morning. Saturday we saw…

Sacre Coeur

View of Paris from top of Montmartre neighborhood

Moulin Rouge

Pigalle: Paris’ Red Light District

Champs-Elysees

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

All of us!

Love lock bridge

Seine River and Me! We followed this river all day…

Notre Dame

Jardin des Tuileries

After strolling around the garden, we headed into Musée de l’Orangerie to see the Monet waterlilly paintings. Somehow we got in free…I guess being students. It was definitely worth it. We sat and looked at those paintings for a good while…walking around the perimeter of the two circular, white-walled rooms, taking in the paintings from up close (seeing only colorful brushstrokes) and then far away (seeing the painting take form as you step back). Sadly, I couldn’t take photos, but you all know what those paintings look like anyways. I always hoped I would see those paintings in person some day, and there I was! So much of this semester has been like that…realizing that I am looking at something I had often dreamed of visiting someday. That museum was probably my favorite. We also saw a lot of other famous names…Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Modigliani, Laurecin, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, Devain, Utrillo (I liked this stuff a lot…beautiful paintings of city streets with women with large bottoms painted from behind them. The perspective was funny, but very well done…charming I’d say.), Soutine (like this stuff too…colorful, misconstrued scenes…as if the painting had gone through a tornado), Edvard Munch, Manet, Degas, Klimt, Kandinsky, and Derain.

Place de Concorde

Break for coffee and crepes to escape the rain!

Eiffel Tower at Night all lit up…still beautiful even though it was pouring and we only stopped to snap a photo!

On Sunday (the first Sunday of the month), the Louvre was free, so we got all our bags together, checked out of the hostel, strolled around the Louvre, and then headed home. We got back to Salamanca late that night.

The Louvre

I won’t bore you with my photo of the Mona Lisa…of course, we saw it, took a photo, and just like everyone says, it’s a bit under-whelming…a small frame on a huge white wall. Instead, here are two statues I particularly liked which we saw (among lots of French paintings, Michael-Angelo sculptures, Egyptian mummies, etc. etc.)…

This one was just outside the Louvre…

Delicious tomato, mozzarella, lettuce panini to end our time in France!

Goodbye Paris! And goodbye weekend travels! Now for my last two weeks soaking up Salamanca before heading back to the States!

P.S. I want this scooter.

Final Travels #2: Lisbon, Portugal (and Cascais)

This week in Salamanca, DUTCH BLITZ came to SPAIN! I had so much fun teaching my friends from my study abroad program here how to play it at a bar one night…

This weekend I accomplished my goal: to sit on a beach with sand and enjoy the sun. CHECK! My friend, Samantha, and I set off on Thursday for Lisbon, Portugal (the capital city…on the coast of the Atlantic). Unfortunately, our flight was delayed about 6 hours…womp womp…so our adventure started out a bit drab. When we finally arrived Thursday night, we made our way to our couchsurfer’s apartment in the dark. Exhausted from sitting around in an airport all day, we went to sleep almost immediately.

The next morning, we decided to walk down through the city to the old, historical part of town, and we took lots of fun pictures along the way. When we finally reached the coast of the river that borders Lisbon (and lets out into the Atlantic), we made our way along the coast to the train station. We took a 40 minute train ride for only about 4 euro round trip to Cascais, a small beachy town nearby. We had heard it was beautiful, and our goal for the weekend was to sit on the sand and Lisbon does not have sand, so off we went! When we arrived, we walked along the coast, stopping to eat on the rocks that border the ocean, until we reached the Boca de Infierno (Mouth of Hell), a little inlet of water where the waves splash up against the rocky cliffs on the coast. It’s quite spectacular. We walked back down along the coast and arrived at our goal: SAND and BEACH! We spent a few good hours lying on the beach, taking in the warmth, and dipping our toes in the water. Of course, an italian family nearby did more than that–stripping down to their underwear, they jumped right in and spent the rest of the afternoon playing soccer on the beach in little more than boxer shorts.

When we had finished enjoying the sun, we took the train back to Lisbon and found a nice cheap restaurant to eat. We both had salad and ham and egg sandwiches, and I got a fruity beer which was delicious. Then we walked back to our couchsurfer’s apartment and slept til the next morning when we had to get up early to leave. Even though our time was cut short in Portugal, and we really only spent one day there, it was definitely a great trip.

Great artistic graffiti

Cool taxis

Awesome walkways

Shoe shining on the streets

Fountain in plaza in the old part of town

Trams

Another plaza

The bridge!

Cute streets of Cascais

Awesome seashell chandeliers

Boca de Infierno

Beach, and water, and coast, and all you could have ever wanted…

Cascais–I’m in a fairytale land?

Boats on water

Beach time–feet in sand–oh how good it feels!

Having fun

Of course…

Shadow fun

Birdies!

The coast

Me and the atlantic ocean

I loved these guys…Two old men in suits enjoying lunch on the rocky coast 🙂

Dinner with my awesome fruity beer drink

Serenaded by these guys 🙂 They played Ai Se Eu Te Pego on accordion for us!

Waving hello to the U.S.! Be home soon!

Final Travels #1: London, England

A short but sweet blog post about the lovely city of London…with lots of pictures!

My friend Stephanie and I arrived Friday night at our hostel and planned for what we would see the next two days.

Saturday we went on a free 2 1/2 hour tour of some of the “touristy,” more historical sites in London. It was great because the girl made the tour really interesting, adding little stories here and there. We saw…

Green Park

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace fountain

Trafalgar Square

London Eye and Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

Parliament buildings

Guards

Taxis

Road leading to Buckingham Palace…it’s red to make it look like a red carpet!

Fish and Chips stop!

Then we headed out on our own to find The Clash’s first rehearsal space, which ended up being a chinese restaurant…womp womp. But we took some pictures anyways…

Front of rehearsal space

Back alley of rehearsal space

We continued on and took a picture at the famous Beatle’s Abbey Road. I have always imagined myself someday taking a picture here!

Telephone booth pic

Then we took the tube to Camdentown, an artistic, musical, punk-y neighborhood full of interesting shops, a little canal, lots of pubs and restaurants…we explored a bit and then met up for a bar crawl for the evening. We ended up going to 5 bars/clubs/venues and saw lots of really good dancing live music. We had fun dancing with some guys from Australia, Germany, and Japan. After the live music, there was a DJ who also played really good fun dancing music. It was a great night, and we really got a good feel of the London night life. One of the bars we went to ended up being Proud Bar and Galleries, which was The Clash’s main rehearsal space called “rehearsal rehearsals.” Sadly (so sadly), I didn’t realize this until afterward and could’ve gotten a picture of the door that led into the space and a picture like the famous London Calling album on the steps…aw well, just another reason to return to London someday!

Camdentown pictures

Dr. Martens everywhereee!

Camdentown street

Little canal running through camdentown with cool bars on the sides

Record stores galore!

Bar crawl pictures…

Me, Stephanie, and our new friends we met! The one bar had an EXCELLENT band–great for dancing, and then had an equally excellent DJ, so we danced the night away.

First bar…I liked this one a lot…

Bar/club/gallery we went to where The Clash had their “Rehearsal Rehearsals” main rehearsal space…wish I’d have known that beforehand!

Inside the club/bar…the space was an old stable as far as I know, so when you first walked in it was the big barn area I guess which today they use for live bands and have a stage and a nice dance area. Then you walked down a long narrow hallway of the old stable and on the left and the right were the individual stables, which they had adapted into bars or special, private rooms that you can book for a private party, so each room had a bouncer at the door and you had to show a wristband or something to prove you were invited to that specific party. The back end let out to a lovely deck/terrace area overlooking the little canal that runs through Camdentown. My favorite part were the christmas lights they strung across the stable hallway. Very cool.

Final bar…awesome live band

The tube signs!

Tube map, the amazing-ness of the tube–it’s like a whole other world down there!

If you are interested, here’s some sites that explain the places I saw regarding The Clash…

http://www.theclash.org.uk/RiotOfOwn.htm

http://www.theclash.org.uk/LastGang.htm

http://www.theclash.org.uk/TheClashCD.htm

Sunday we headed out to Brick Road, another artistic, musical area full of outdoors live music, tons of antique/vintage shops, tons of international food, record stores, and a great vibe.

Brick Road pictures…

International food market…a big warehouse full of stands…each a different country selling authentic food. I could’ve stayed and ate all day…we decided on a chinese food stand–amazingggg.

Vintage Market

Great street art

Street musicians!

Reggae

The best beat-boxers i have EVER heard in my life. I couldn’t even believe the sounds they made…could’ve watched for hours.

Then we headed to the Thames River to see the London Bridge and to get a glimpse of the London Marathon, which was happening that day!

London Marathon

Thames River/London Bridge

Awesome trip, love London, have to return someday…

My boots are hanging in there, just like me! Now what do they say about what these boots were made for? Oh, yeah, WALKIN’! And that’s just what they’ll do 😉

Semana Santa Travels: Florence, Venice, Rome, Nice, Marseille

Just returned from a week of traveling through Italy and Southern France. We had no classes this past week due to Semana Santa celebrations. I am very tired but have no time to waste in terms of blogging since I am already down to my last month in Spain with travels every weekend until the end! I am excited to go home to a relaxing summer in my little hometown which I miss so much, but I know that when the time comes, I will be very sad. I arrived this evening in Salamanca to the comforting presence of my abuela telling me to sit down while she made me some coffee and toast. I will miss her the most. Can you teach a little elderly Spanish women to use Skype?

Before I left, though, I was able to see one Semana Santa procession through Salamanca–very solemn parades with eerie music, incense and strange costumes. The processions depict the crucifixion of Christ.

Semana Santa Procession

First stop: Florence, Italy

My travel partner during this past week was my new friend, Lauren. I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy. We got along so well and had some really great conversations. We were knocking on wood all week long mentioning how lucky we had been with everything working out practically perfectly…especially considering all the brand new public transportation we used and our lack of always knowing the language! I think we got a little bit of everything! In Florence, I have a friend from Pitt, Katie, studying abroad. My other friend, Thea (also from Pitt) who is studying in France this semester (and came to visit me earlier in March), also stayed with Katie for the weekend along with her friend. We had a great time trekking around Florence together, despite the rain.

Friday I did some nighttime exploring with Katie before Thea and her friend arrived. We saw the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge and the Duomo and made a yummy pasta dinner.

Ponte Vecchio at Night

Katie and I in front of the beautiful Duomo

The Duomo

Saturday we all went to the market together, made lunch with our fresh purchases, saw the Ponte Vecchio in daylight, visited the Santa Croche church, saw the David at the Academia, explored plenty of Piazzas (little plazas), ate amazing heart-shaped pizza, viewed the city from above (after climbing many steps to the highest point in Florence, and had gelato, of course!

Nutella muffins for breakfast at the market

Ponte Vecchio

Santa Croche

View of florence

 

Pizza

Gelato Cones

Gelato

Sunday was Easter. We went to the celebrations outside the Duomo but struggled to see the fireworks between all the umbrellas and crowds–lots of loud noises and smoke though! Then we visited Fiesole, a small suburb/town of Florence which has great ruins, a beautiful cathedral, and a spectacular view of Florence. We also made sure to get in some yummy pastries and hot drinks to escape the rain!

Easter celebrations: Firework smoke covering Duomo

Easter celebrations: Cart where the set off the fireworks from

Lots of umbrella carrying…

Fiesole view

Warm cafe, pastries, and drinks

Good bye to gorgeous florence!

Second stop: Venice, Italy

Monday. Venice was a maze of exploration. Lots of tourists in the winding labyrinth of streets which sometimes forced single file lines (and a good map)! Beautiful bridges and canals with gondolas and water taxis galore! Our hostel was a little run-down place with a small private bridge leading to it run by two young Australian boys who made us all a huge pot of cheesy pasta for dinner which we shared, along with travel stories and plans, around a big table…we even met a boy from Peru studying in Salamanca like us!

Private bridge to our little run down hostel 🙂

Masks for sale everyhere!

Me and Lauren

Gondolas galore!

San Marco

Of course, I could post a million photos of the cutest little canals you’ve ever seen…here’s one…

Third stop: Rome, Italy

Tuesday we arrived in Rome with plans to couchsurf with a Latvian man. We met him at the metro stop closest to his home and dropped off our bags at his apartment. He gave us a great route to follow to see some of the major sites: the spanish steps, trevi fountain, pantheon, and piazza venezia. That evening we met up with him again for a personal tour of the nightlife and a nice walk through some cool neighborhoods we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We saw the colosseum at night, went to a bar with great jazz, ate some authentic pizza and these cheese/rice fried balls, saw some ruins which our new friend also called the cat refugee since it is the home of many kitties who are fed by someone!, saw some bridges, witnessed the underage drinking scene, which is the same in spain (called botellon–basically underage drinking in parks/plazas outside) and drinking in the streets, which I find is more enforced in Spain (although everyone does it anyway)…not sure if it’s actually illegal in Italy or not.

Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain

Pantheon

Inside pantheon

Piazza Venezia

Cat refugee ruins–spot any kitties?

Bridge/water at night

Wed we had breakfast with our couch host and headed out for the day. We saw mass at the Vatican–the Pope was on the big screen!, Castel san angelo, piazza navona (cool fountains), campo de fiori (cool markets), tried to stay out of the rain at a cafe where we had cafe lattes, used their wifi, and got hit on by our very italian waiter, saw the forum ruins, the colesseum, san Giovanni in laterano (cathedral), had organic gelato (pear and grapefruit flavors that tasted exactly like their names), and met up with our couch host in the evening for amazing strawberry tiramisu, greek pita, and wine in a wine bar I fell in love with in a super cool artistic neighborhood called pigneto.

Vatican

The pope on the big screen!

I like them.

Castel San Angelo

Piazza Navona

Campo de Fiori

Cafe latte

Forum ruins

Colesseum

San Giovanni in Laterno

Gelato!

Tiramisu!

Wine bar

Good bye beautiful Rome!

Fourth stop: Nice, France

Thursday we arrived at our hotel and walked around with Thea who met up with us again because she is studying in Menton, a half hour from Nice. We took pictures of the beach from a great high spot and made dinner together back at the hotel (getting some great tips from a french boy studying in Marseille, our next stop). Friday morning Lauren and I walked to the beach again, ate the hotel breakfast (amazing french croissant), were called mademoiselle (which I found made me feel quite proper), and headed out for a train ride along coast (gorgeous) to Marseille.

Friends in Nice

Beautiful coastline

Mountainous coast with colorful houses

View of city

Main square with cool “figure” lights

Dates

Rocks from the rocky beach

Goodbye Nice!

Fifth and final stop: Marseille, France

Friday we arrived at our hostel, made dinner, and went to bed. We had planned to explore a bit before sleeping but ended up enjoying our food, wine and conversation for 5 hours. I was good to take a little break from our fast go-go-go pace!

Saturday morning we explored the city a little before Thea met up with us again since Marseille also isn’t too far of a journey for her and she had never been there before. We visited some great food and antique markets, a cathedral, and other little treasures, like vintage clothing shops and such. Once we met Thea, we explored the historic/old area of Marseille, got crepes, and set out determined to see the Calanques (inlets of the mediterranean sea water between the mountain cliffs–that’s the best description I got).  There was a huge meeting for the communist party (since there are elections coming up) in the part of town where we wanted to catch a bus, so everything was re-routed and congested. We weren’t even sure where we were going exactly or if the bus we ended up taking was correct, but we decided to go for it. After a 30 minute bus ride, we got off the bus and asked the driver the way to the Calanques. He pointed. Following his direction, we crossed through a not-so-safe looking neighborhood finally arriving at a sign that said Calanques after maybe 15 minutes. Another 5 and we found a parking lot and some policemen who motioned further up a paved road winding up the mountain. Seeing all the cars pass us, we realized that most people drove to wherever we were heading, and after getting pretty high up (another half hour), we came across some more policemen who told us the Calanques would be another 30 minute walk. We didn’t have the food or time or energy to go further. Unsure if we had been defeated, we decided to hike a few more minutes up a small, rocky path to the highest point near us. What came next was literally the high point of our trip. How could zero planning get us the most gorgeous view I have ever seen? I’m not sure we deserved it, but the pictures say it all (or at least more than my descriptions can)! Of course, nothing compares to real life–the whitest mountains dappled with dark green trees and the extensive and awesomely blue mediterranean ocean surrounded us, not to mention the view of Marseille way off in the distance. We had reached the top of the world as far as we were concerned, and the gusts of wind twirling around us made it only that much more incredible. In awe after that unexpected adventure, we headed back to the hostel and made dinner with a girl from South Korea who shared our room. More great culture swapping!

Flower market

Fish market

Port

cathedral

Food market

Man playing violin at antique market

Cathedral

Crepes

Les Baumes, of course

Finally made it!

Me and Lauren

Me and Thea

Dinner with new friends!

Good bye Marseille!

Sunday was nothing more than a travel day back to good old Salamanca!

After returning, that Monday was the Salamanca holiday “Lunes de Aguas.” As I explained in an earlier post, this is the day that the church let the prostitutes back over the river into the city. Each year before Semana Santa, they were banished there for the Holy Week and allowed back over the following Monday, greeted by a huge party of people hanging out down by the river, eating hornazo (bread filled with meats and cheeses) and drinking all day long. This tradition continues in Salamanca, and most places close this day (even though it’s not an official holiday). Granted, most of the people down by the river drinking are the young generation–classes get cancelled in the afternoon and friends go down to the riverbank to picnic and hang out the rest of the day!

Viaje: La Coruña (y Santiago)

Currently recovering from what I think was food poisoning I got this weekend, so I’ll try to make this post as short and sweet as possible…

First of all, I realized that the movie Vantage Point, which came out in 2008/2009 I think was filmed in Salamanca! I couldn’t believe it! I remember going to see it with friends after taking the SAT’s my junior year in high school–here’s the trailer:

This week in Salamanca…

Since it is Semana Santa (the week before Easter), I learned about a certain holiday in Salamanca called Lunes de Aguas. It is Easter Monday. The whole town heads down to the riverside to eat and drink as tradition. Originally, this celebration was to welcome the prostitutes back after Lent, during which they were banished from the city. Heehee.

I learned about the transition to the democracy in Spain after Franco finally died. This led to my Women in the History of Spain class playing this song on youtube several times and singing it aloud. Apparently, it was the song that you could never escape in the first few years of the democracy–people always blasting it from cars, clubs, bars, cafes, etc:

Spain had a general strike! All the public transportation routes were shut down for the day, and the news was full of images of striking workers parading down streets with banners and signs. The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca was PACKED of people.

Strike in Plaza

I climbed the Salamanca Cathedral with my friend Samantha! It was really neat to see Salamanca from a different point of view–I’ve realized that it really is the best way to see all of Spain. You have to get up high and look down from above. We felt like gargoyles climbing through all these narrow passageways inside and out of the cathedral, walking down narrow balconies on the side of the building and up narrow winding staircases.

Salamanca from above

Me on the balcony of the Cathedral

I took some pictures of my typical Spanish lunch that my abuela makes each day to give an idea of what I’m eating!

First of all, here is Briana and I and our abuela (the maker of all our food)…we love her so much.

Typical lunches

Lunch always followed by salad (drenched in a pool of dressing)…

And always eaten with bread (this big round thing that is very hard on the outside and soooo soft inside)…

And finished with a piece of fruit (Spanish pears are amazing)…

I have continued meeting with my four intercambios, whom I love so much…I meet once a week with each of them (one each day of the week).

First is Marta. She’s wonderful…always complimenting me on something and always saying how perfect my Spanish is (SHE LIES! haha). She works so hard at her English and is always improving! Unfortunately, she’s stuck at home with her parents after losing work because of the crisis in Spain, so she is using this time to try to improve her English!

Marta and I

Next is Victoria. She’s 11. I go each week to her place where her mom and her live. They always give me a little croissant with ham and cheese and a drink and a little dessert. We speak Spanish together, and I help her with her English homework. It amazes me how much they expect from an 11 year old! She’s so fun, and they have become my own little Spanish family. I even taught them how to use facebook video chat, so sometimes we talk via internet too!

Me and Victoria

Third, Nerea. She is 20 also. We get along really well. I wish I could be here longer just to get to know her better! We talk about all kinds of stuff–travel, school, friends, family, etc. She speaks English with a British accent, which is really interesting! She’s been meaning to introduce me to all her friends sometime, so I hope we get a chance to before I leave!

Me and Nerea

Finally, Victor. He’s awesome. We always talk for sooo long without realizing it. He pays for my drink always too–what a gentleman. Picture is pending currently, since I don’t have one yet! But he really is the sweetest. He is another one of those people I would love to stick around to get to know better.

More things I’ve noticed in Spain:

1. Boys/men with purses. It’s not that big of a deal, American boys! They are quite useful and I think you guys should just get over it and carry one…that way you wouldn’t always be asking girls to put stuff in their purses! However, I also think they should make girls pants with bigger pockets. Oh, gender roles. 2. Living in a country that still has a monarchy. It’s so interesting. We were talking about it one day in my Women in the History of Spain class–how the monarchy is evolving and people are having to accept that it’s not as strict as it used to be and that they have to adapt to the times–for instance, having the traditional heir of the throne always be a man changed to either a man or a woman OR realizing that kings/queens might just not marry other royalty if they don’t feel like it. 3. Fresh squeezed OJ everywhere. They have these amazing machines where the oranges role right down the sides and get squeezed automatically…I kind of feel like I’m wasting a lot of an orange, but it’s delicious. 4. Babies are out way too late! I’ll be out at midnight, and people will be enjoying a glass of wine outdoors with the baby carriage right next to them and the toddlers playing in the street. When do these children sleep!? They are already practicing for the Spanish party way of life. 5. TV commercial breaks are much longer here, but then they play the episode of the show for longer too, so perhaps it’s worth the wait? Kind of nice because then you have a chance to go to the bathroom, stretch, and get a snack before your show comes back on–not like in the US where I’m always sprinting to get back. Same goes for street lights, it seems to me anyways–wait longer but then have longer to cross. 6. Spaniards take forever to say goodbye or end a conversation! It’s always “vale, ok, pues nada, ok, vale, bueno, pues nada, ADIOS!”. Hilarious. 7. I tried to explain to the mother of my intercambio, Victoria, that I go to a Mennonite church back at home. She didn’t know what Mennonite was, so all I could say was that it was a type of Christian church. She just kept saying, “oh, you mean catholic?” and I kept saying “kind of, but different. no, not catholic”. I really think Catholicism is the only religion they know. If it’s Christianity, it’s Catholicism. 8. People always go to their original “pueblo,” their hometown, for vacation times to visit old friends and family. 9. Spanish service…well, let’s just say don’t expect anything. Restaurantes, etc. Slow, slow. 10. Bathrooms! Watch out! My friends and I have taken to saying “BYOT” which means Bring Your Own Tissue. You are lucky to find a bathroom with toilet paper, paper towels, a working hand dryer, soap, and working sinks! 11. EVERYTHING is “sabor jamon” or “ham flavored.” I had some chips the other day and guess what–yup, sabor jamon. Can’t escape it. 12. Spaniards are always saying “tranquilo” which I love–it means “calm.” It just makes you feel relaxed. 13. Spaniards are also always saying “vamos a tomar algo”, which means “let’s go get a drink.” It’s always tomar algo, tomar algo. Let’s just go sit in a cafe/bar, have a cafe con leche, and talk. Love it. I’ll miss that. Along with the late night, everyone out, tapas and wine, atmosphere. 14. “L” on the back of a car means that the person driving is still learning and doesn’t yet have an official license. 15. Bike rentals are everywhere. You buy a card and can pick up bikes at special bike racks all over Spanish cities–excellent idea. 16. Spaniards say “hasta luego” all the time. It means “see you later.” When you see a friend, instead of saying “hey!” in passing, you say “hasta luego!” Also, when you leave a store the owner or cashier will say it. 17. Pharmacies are marked by big light up blinking green crosses. Green! How weird.

Viaje: La Coruña (y Santiago)

This past weekend, I visited La Coruña with my room mate, Briana. We stayed with a family that my mom knows through her friend (who is from Spain but now lives in NYC). Manolo and Chusa, the couple, had met my parents in Philly through Chusa’s sister, Reme (who is my mom’s friend now in NYC) while they were visiting in 1991–the year my mom was pregnant with me! They had some old pictures from that visit, which were so cool to see! We scanned a bunch to send to my parents and also had a great skype session with them where I acted as translator between the two couples. It was so fun. Here is a photo of me holding the photo of my mom, gorgeous as always, posing in her bikini with me in that big tummy! 🙂

Mom Pregnant with Me

The weekend was nothing less than wonderful. I think I might move to La Coruña (complete northwest coast). It’s practically an island–if you stand at one point on the peninsula you can look through the spaces between buildings and see water on both sides of the land. The coast and ocean is breathtaking. Manolo and Chusa treated us like queens all weekend–taking us out for every meal and making us as comfy as possible. It was also a good weekend for practicing Spanish! We explored La Coruña our first day, with Manolo and Chusa as our tour guides…here are our adventures…

All of us together, including their son, Manuel (who was born a couple years after me!)

We ate octopus!

Me on the Port with colorful boats!

La Coruña is known for these beautiful glass windows surrounding with white, which overlook the Port

View of the city and beach and clear blue ocean

The beach

Briana and I with the Torre de Hercules (the oldest Lighthouse in Europe? in the World? check me on that!)

Sunset

The next day we headed to Santiago de Compostela, the city where the Camino de Santiago starts. It’s an old walk that connects cities through France and Spain and used to lead to Santiago for religious purposes, but people do it now just to enjoy the Spanish and French cityside and countryside, so there are tons of backpackers everywhere…

Me in front of Santiago Cathedral

More seafood! It was literally the weekend of seafood–I could have posted a ton of pictures of everything we ate.

On Saturday night we went out with Manuel for dinner with his friends. It was really fun to be out with a group of Spaniards around my age.

Briana, Me, Manuel, and Friends

I’ve hit that “ready to come home” stage. I know I’ll be so so so sososososo sad to leave, but I feel ready. Now comes the home stretch–taking in as much of Europe as I can in the little time I have left and staying strong knowing that I will be home in a little over a month!

Viaje: Toledo (+ a little Spanish history, women’s studies style)

Currently sitting in the living room of my Spanish house and I hear my name being called from outside, so I stick my head out on the balcony and look up to see my Abuela on her balcony telling me to come over for lunch whenever I’m ready. I love these moments…

I don’t have too much to say about Salamanca this week, except that I finally got to see the Salamanca fiesta through the eyes of a real Spaniard. Last night I went out with my friend Nic (from my program–American) who lives in a Residencia (like a dorm) with a bunch of Spanish students. My other friend, Stephanie, and I followed a group of Spanish boys around the whole night, and it was nothing less than a blast (plus some excellent Spanish practice)!

Here we are with our new friends…

In case you were wondering what a Salamanca street looks like on a Saturday night…

Having fun!

This weekend, I visited Toledo with a school trip, just for the day. Our art professor, Enrique (Quique) was our guide. We love him, so it was a good trip. I’m glad I went on all these school-organized trips because I learned a lot from our professors that I wouldn’t have learned if I had gone on my own. However, I think I am all “cathedral-ed out,” as I am now calling it (AKA I’ve seen so many old cathedrals that I think I’ve just about had my fill). Toledo is a beautiful, small city on a hill. We visited a few old buildings–a Cathedral of course, had some fun with our free time, and took in the breathtaking Toledo river. We also saw a few El Greco originals–gorgeous, and where he lived in Toledo! I think pictures do the best job of describing the experience.

First of all, I figured I should put a pictures of  bocadillo in here at some point, it’s all we eat on these day trips–bocadillo = baguette with some sort of meat on it…chorizo is my favorite.

Toledo is a labyrinth…lots of narrow winding streets. Most cities in Spain, which in the past had streets this narrow and winding have since been reconstructed because they were thought to have brought more sickness to towns by “holding in all the bad air” (later it was realized that they were getting sick because they did their business in the streets and threw trash out the windows–uh duh) but Toledo retained these magical little pathways.

Toledo Plaza

I’m going to miss these new friends of mine–during our free time in Toledo we escaped the world of Cathedrals for a bit to have some fun.

Toledo bridge

Good Friends (taking in the river)

Toledo River

Now, for a little Spanish history–women’s studies style, of course. I’m a taking a class called Women in the History of Spain, and I learn so much from it. It’s really interesting to learn the history of Spain from this perspective, and Spain’s history explains a lot about how their daily life operates today. So much of their way of life stems from, or is a result of, their history. I won’t bore you with too many dates and names and events, but here are some things I’ve found interesting that we have learned in class…(Two great movies which describe the ages that I am about briefly explain are La Lengua de las Mariposas and Las Trece Rosas).

First of all, there are two main political groups in Spain, similar to the United States (Republicans and Democrats). They are called Republicanos (opposite of us, these are the progressives) and Nacionalistas (the conservative party).

In 1931, Spain was in the era of the II República (AKA the Republicanos were in power).

From 1936-1939, the Guerra Civil (Civil War) in Spain broke out–Francisco Franco gathered all the Nacionalistas and his troops together in an effort to take over Spain and become dictator. He bombed the entire country, taking over city by city (won every city but Barcelona–they take much pride in this today). The soil in Spain was not fertile for years following because of all the bombs Franco dropped. Finally, Franco won the war and…

From 1939-1975, Franco ruled Spain as dictator. Like any dictator, Franco had strict rules for his country–there was hardly any freedom for anyone, let alone the women. I had to do a project in class on Pilar Primo de Rivera, the woman who started the Sección Feminina, a group of women who promoted Franco’s agenda. Here is an example of their propaganda on how to be a good housewife. Someone put the “Guida de la Buena Esposa” (Guide for the Good Wife) to music on youtube…I laughed out loud while watching it. If you can’t read Spanish, you can googletranslate if you want, or here is a brief summary of the 11 rules to keep your husband happy:

1. Have a delicious dinner ready when your husband arrives home from work each day. 2. Rest 5 minutes before he gets home so that he finds you refreshed, and fix your makeup. 3. Be sweet and interesting. It’s your job to make his day better when he gets home. 4. Clean and organize the house. It must be impecable for his arrival. Make a final round before he gets home. 5. Make the house feel like paradise for his arrival. 6. Prepare the children for his arrival. They are your little treasures, and they must look good. 7. Minimize the noise for when he arrives–children and household appliances. 8. Be happy to see him when he arrives with a sincere smile. Your happiness is his reward for a hard day at work. 9. Listen to him when he gets home. You may speak only after he speaks. Remember that his thoughts are more important than yours. 10. Put yourself in his shoes–don’t complain if he arrives late or has fun without you or doesn’t come home all night. Try to understand his world of compromises. 11. Don’t complain to him about your insignificant problems. Your problems are a small detail compared to what he has to deal with. EXTRA! Make him feel at ease–get him comfortable in his chair and bring him a hot drink. Speak in a sweet, pleasing voice.

Spain suffered from these years of so much restraint that once Franco died in 1975, EVERYTHING changed. And I mean EVERYTHING. Spain went crazy with liberty. Wouldn’t you if you had been cooped up under a dictador like Franco for so many years? My professor explains this freedom as partly the explanation for the Spanish way of living–relax, party, have a good time, enjoy life, stay out late. They were held back from doing any of it for so many years that they take advantage of their freedom today.

1975-1982 is what is called the transition to the democracy (with a small interruption in 1981 with the Golpe de Estado when the military attempted to take over again–but the king at the time wouldn’t have it). And 1982-present is what is called the normalization of the democracy. During Spain’s newfound freedom, women and the gay community began took hold of their rights. Here are some interesting youtube videos we watched in class which describe this time of new liberties, especially for these two groups:

A video made by Almodovar, a film director (I think) of the time, who challenged the ideas of gender roles, specifically with cross-dressed men in his films (or women as the protagonists):

Alaska, a famous singer of the time, fought for women’s rights and was an icon for the gay community. Her lyrics always sent a message of protest. This song “A quien le importa” basically says “Who cares what I do or what I say? I am who I am and I will never change.” ( Note this was years before Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.”)

One last video is from singer, Soraya. This is her song “Mi mundo sin ti” (My World without You). Lots of people think it’s the typical “girl and guy break up, girl singing about how she doesn’t need him anymore love song,” but it is actually a song about women finally having the freedom to live on their own, without a man. Women can have their own money and their own lives. This is part of the reason why marriage doesn’t appeal to many young Spaniards today–the 35 years that Franco was in power created an awful situation for women, constantly at the beck and call of their husbands.

It’s almost April! I’m excited to be home soon, but I’m going to miss this place.

Viajes: Sevilla y Granada

My time here continues, and it is almost April! This week, I made Rosquillas (basically donuts) with my abuela. I’ve decided that abuelas are the chefs of the world–no measuring cups, no recipes–simply memory and experience. This made it difficult to write down the recipe, but hopefully I’ll be able to recreate the magic for my family when I return home!

My abuela teaching me how to make Rosquillas

Rosquillas–finished!

The weather seems to be constantly fluctuating. This past week was gorgeous, so I got in all the sun I could, but it seems that the temperature is going to drop a bit this week. I love passing a few hours reading in the Plaza Mayor, enjoying the strong Spanish sun.

Tomando sol en la Plaza! (Soaking in the sun in the Plaza!)

Lots of Skype sessions with Todd keep me going! I’m excited to share everything here with him when he visits!

Me and Todd laughing on Skype

We had two holidays this past week! Día de San José/Día del Padre and St. Patty’s Day (a universal holiday, I’m convinced…anything where drinking is involved). The Plaza was lit up with green lights! It was so cool! I also found a show on TV called “Quien quiere casarse con mi hijo?” (Who wants to marry my son?)–turns out they have stupid reality TV shows everywhere, even in Spain.

Plaza with green lights!

This week, I made some more observations:

1. I realized that I will always remember Spain in colors–golden buildings and the clearest intense blue skies you’ve ever seen. 2. I also realized that the thing my friends and I probably whine about most is missing food from home–hoagies, bagels, ice coffee, our parents’ cooking, pancakes, huge green salads…the list goes on and on. It’s fun talking about all the foods we are going to inhale the minute we step on American soil. My diet here is basically the opposite of what I normally eat! 3. Spaniards often leave milk and meat out. It doesn’t seem to need to be refrigerated. Milk expiration dates are months in advance, and my mom buys like 10 boxes of milk at a time and keeps them in the cabinet until she opens one–then it goes in the fridge. It’s strange. 4. I was talking to a friend the other day who said that her Spanish host-mom will let her walk home from the bus/train station alone on weekends at 1am but not at 5am because it’s much more dangerous at 5am than at 1am. It’s so true! At 1am in Spain, the partying has just begun. People are still in bars and clubs drinking or just leaving their houses to go out. At 5am, the drunkards are all out of the bars, walking the streets, singing, dancing, etc etc. It’s just the opposite in the States! 5. I realized how much different the typical Spanish income is. Much lower than in the States. I suppose the cost of living is lower here…maybe it’s because they have more universal systems in order to pay for things–health care, school, etc. I don’t know. 6. One of my professors was talking to us about the young generation in Spain. She said that there are so little jobs right now that young people live at home until they are much older than we live with our parents in the States. A lot of times, students will just continue their education to get higher and higher degrees because they can’t find work with the first degree they earn. Then, they come out with so much over-qualification that it’s even more difficult to find work. Of course, the price of school is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than in the States and there is lots of financial aid available, so paying for a few more years isn’t a huge deal. 7. In my Women in the History of Spain class this week, we compared the “typical life of a Spanish woman” to the “typical life of an American woman.” It was very interesting. In general, Americans tend to move on with life much faster than Spaniards. I think I like the Spanish way of doing it more. We get married and have children too early in the States. Here’s how she explained it: 0-20 yrs. child, adolescent in school living with parents, study and party 20-30yrs. finish studying, find work, travel and live independently 30-40yrs. get married, have kids 40-50yrs. raising kids 50-60yrs. kids leave the house, can party and relax 60-70yrs. retire and travel 70-80yrs. become abuela/abuelo 8. I have realized the truth in this saying: “Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.” I’m always learning new things about myself when I feel I’ve lost my way a little. It’s challenging but I think essential to growing up too. I never before really considered what it felt like to be an American, or a citizen of the USA until I got here. I’m constantly saying “Soy Americana.” (I’m American.)–something I never have to say while in the States. It’s strange to be the minority and realize who you are, where you come from, and what defines you. I talked in an earlier post about what it means to be American and if I feel “proud” of it or not. I said before that some things, yes, but other things, no. It’s still hard to say exactly because the U.S. is such a huge place and there are so many melted cultures and peoples there, but I have begun to feel good when I say “I’m American.” It is what I am after all, and I think it’s best to embrace the good parts about it–for example, our amazing New York bagels!

Now Presenting! A Typical “Day in the Life” of a Spaniard:

1. Wake up, eat breakfast (cereal, cookie, muffin, coffee, juice, yogurt) and go to work or school

2. Perhaps have a snack at 11/12 (bocadillo: baguette with sliced meat–a sandwich is different and is made with sliced bread)

3. Go home at 2:30/3 for “la comida,” the big meal of the day (I think this is when school ends) and finish with fruit/yogurt

4. Siesta time until 4ish — everything is shut down. Sleep, relax etc.

5. Return to work at 4ish and work until 8ish (times vary depending on job)

6. Have another snack

7. Eat dinner around 9/10 and finish with fruit/yogurt

8. Go out with friends for a drink til midnight/1am…2am…

9. Sleep

10. Repeat next day

This weekend, I went to Andalusia (Sevilla and Granda) with a trip organized by the international students office of Salamanca. A lot of the students in my classes went too, so we had a fun time. I finally got to see some greenery–lots of trees and flowers–and miles of rolling, green hills, closer to those of good ol’ Lancaster County! I think I take that landscape for granted. I miss it. One thing that I’ve noticed is how different the rest stops seem to be here. There are always people drinking a beer or a glass of wine, enjoy a full meal (not just a McDonald’s burger), or seemingly just “hanging out.” It’s a little strange.

Rolling green hills of the Spanish countryside from the bus window…

First stop was Sevilla. We stayed at a very nice hotel and enjoyed the day visiting the Real Alcazar (Alcazar = Palace, Castle), a space full of gardens and beautiful buildings with ornate arches. Los Musulmanes built it, and their style is defined by lots of detailed alabaster wall decorations, colorful tiles, beautiful gardens, and still pools of water and trickling fountains.

My favorite room/area in La Real Alcazar

Arches

Wall tiles

Briana and I in front of a pool of water

Gardens

There were also oranges (that apparently taste disgusting, but look gorgeous) and carriages pulled by horses that tourists take around the city!

Oranges!

Horse and Carriage

My friends and I found La Plaza de España in Sevilla, a beautiful old building with a big fountain in the center, surrounded by painted bridges. We had fun taking photos there.

Me and Friends in front of Plaza de España

Having fun!

That night we went out for dinner at a typical Spanish bar. We each got a different plate and passed them around the table, so we all had a change to try a bit of everything–olives, gazpacho, eggplant with cheese and meat, chicken with orange sauce, meat and potatoes, goat cheese and toast, fried meat with vegetables and cheese inside, and crayfish. Que delicioso!

The next day, we visited La Catedral de Sevilla and got a chance to see a gorgeous view of the city from way up high (but not without the pain of walking up 35 ramps to the top!). I also found my future Spanish apartment! Just kidding, but I wish! It was so cute! We left for Granada afterwards.

My future Spanish apartment 😉

Catedral from outside

View of city

In Granada, we stayed in another nice hotel and visited La Capilla Real (Capilla = Chapel). We had time that evening and night to enjoy on our own, so I got to see Gracie, a friend from Pitt who is studying in Granada this semester! It was really good to see her. She showed us to a super popular, teen-tiny tapas bar, where we tried Tinta de Verano (a wine type drink) for 2 euro and a free tapa! I had a huge chicken burger–how’s that for a cheap dinner! We met her friends at the Residencia (Dorm) where she’s staying and hung out with them for a bit at an Irish pub (because it was St. Patty’s!).

Me and Gracie!

Our last day in Granada, we went to La Alhambra. Also built by Los Musulmanes, it is similarly defined by ornate arches and columns (called “horror vacuí” says my art professor–meaning NOTHING is left without decoration, literally “the horror of emptiness), still pools, spouting fountains, beautiful views of the city, and colorfully tiled walls.

Arches and columns

My favorite room/area–with los leones! (the lions!)

Tiled walls

Fountains

View of city

Pools of water

I was talking with my room mate, Briana, the other day, and we decided that Salamanca is still our favorite city that we’ve seen so far in Spain. Neither of us could ever leave the United States for good to live here (there are too many important ties back home), but if we could, we would both bring Salamanca back to the U.S. with us and live there…or if not the entire city, at least the Plaza Mayor 🙂

Viajes: Leon y Zamora

It’s been getting warmer here in Salamanca! That means two things: 1) I’ve changed my jacket to a lighter one, which I am SO happy about AND 2) If it’s even possible, there are MORE people outside during the day and night!

Restaurant full of people in the Plaza

People walking around the Plaza at night and sitting in groups

Time to ride my new Vespa into the Spanish sunshine! Just kidding, but I wish! Spain is definitely a scooter hot-spot…not to mention all the little cars! I love it. However, often times it’s very difficult to decide what is street and what is sidewalk. I just had to post a picture of one, because I’m always taking pictures of them, and they are such a big part of life here.

Vespa

So, this week I’ve continued my trend of going to class, doing homework, planning my travels, meeting with intercambios, and watching “Friends” in Spanish whenever I need a little down-time. I can’t help posting this, just for the sake of keeping the memory.

I met with two new language intercambios this week–a boy my age named Victor and a girl my age named Nerea. They are both super nice and are both English language majors and make me feel comfortable speaking. I’m really happy to have some Spanish friends my age finally! I also had Telepizza for the first time this week and a movie night with my girlfriends. Victoria (my Spanish “mom”) always plays this song really loud and sings at the top of her lungs while making dinner almost every night. It’s so funny. I love it.

More things I’ve noticed: 1. Personal bubbles are much smaller here–although I knew that beforehand. I actually like it because I don’t mind having people close to me…except when I’m in a rush trying to walk down a busy street or get off a metro when the rule “let people off before you get on” doesn’t exist. My classmates and I tried to explain the small personal bubble everyone has in the US…that from the moment you are in elementary school, you learn to keep your hands to yourself, not to ever touch others, etc etc. She had no clue what we were talking about (jaja cultural differences!). 2.You know how when you were a kid, eating cookies for breakfast was a big no-no and when they came out with Coooooookie Crisp all the commercials were based on the slogan “Cookies for breakfast?” and parents were horrified? Well, in Spain, it’s normal to eat cookies for breakfast. I don’t understand why people here aren’t obese. 3. I heard my first Spanish young-couple argument. I never thought an argument could be so intense for so long. I’ve decided Spaniards are emotional people–they love in public and they fight in public too. Nothing is held back. Maybe stereotypical Americans and stereotypical Spaniards could learn from each other in this way. I think a happy medium is preferable. 4. Take-out coffee is definitely not the norm here. You are expected to sit in a cafe and enjoy your beverage. I really like this concept, but sometimes I just want to take out a cup of coffee. Americans would probably do well to learn this “slow-down” approach, though. 5. Freckles I haven’t seen on my nose since elementary school have begun to re-appear from this Spanish sun! 6. Women here smoke more than men. I’m told by my “Women in the History of Spain” professor that it is because women were deprived of so many rights during Franco’s dictatorship, one being smoking, that now it’s a sign of women’s liberty. 7. I meet with an 11 year old Spanish girl once a week to help her with English homework and speak in Spanish. This week I stumbled across words like “trousers, biscuit, and sledging.” It’s funny to see how they are taught British English. I had no idea what sledging was until I googled it…turns out it’s sledding! Haha. She also clearly pronounces some words with a British accent–“butter” emphasizing the “t’s” whereas I say it more with a “d” sound. It’s really interesting. 8. My professor for “Women in the History of Spain” told us that many women during her grandmother’s generation had cleaning ladies and often their husbands had affairs with them. She told us the story of how her grandmother found out her husband was sleeping with the cleaning lady, invited her entire family over for lunch, and asked her husband to kindly explain himself in front of everyone. What a story! 9. I’m beginning to miss the luscious green rolling hills of Lancaster County, constantly spotted with black and white cows. I think I took our fertile landscape for granted. It’s really lovely. 10. All the little kids here ride bikes without wheels. They just push themselves with their feet, and the BEST is to watch their parents push them from the back so they go speeding down the sidewalk. 11. There are these trees in Spain everywhere without branches or leaves. I don’t understand it, but it looks like they cut them off so they are just stubs. Puzzling… 12. These HUGE birds–some sort of stork–make these equally HUGE nests in basically every high point of every city I’ve visited so far. They’re beautiful and crazy looking.

Viaje: Leon

We visited Leon with a school trip, and our art teacher, Enrique was our guide. We love him, so it was fun to have him along to explain all the architectural details of the buildings to us. We visited La Catedral and La Real Colegiata Basílica de San Isidoro. We also saw a building designed by Gaudi, and during our free time for lunch, my friends at I explored the plaza mayor (full of a Saturday vegetable market) and bought candy, of course! The candy I bought is what ALL the cool Spanish kids are eating these days, so I had to try it.

El Catedral

Inside El Catedral, beautiful stained glass

Me with Candy

Viaje: Zamora

We made a quick stop on the way home in Zamora. We visited the Catedral there and El Castillo (ruins).

Catedral (behind me)

Castillo Ruins

Good-bye, Zamora! Beautiful river and bridge

Setting of the Spanish sun…good-bye to Leon and Zamora and good-bye to another week in Salamanca!

Barcelona and Thea Visits (Madrid & Salamanca)

Last weekend, I took a weekend trip to Barcelona with 3 of my girlfriends. It was a great experience–first hostel experience, first weekend traveling alone in Spain without a pre-planned excursion, lots of beautiful Gaudi architecture, and the ocean! All in all, it was a fun and challenging weekend for me. I realized how much I see Salamanca as the closest thing to “home” that I have right now. It makes me much more homesick when I leave it, but also very happy to return to it!

We took buses from Salamanca to Barcelona and back…both were overnight buses, so we slept on the bus and spent one night at a hostel. Our hostel had bunk beds in a 12 person room was very cool, hearing all different languages and being surrounded by all ages of people from all walks of life AND a very colorful, lively “dining room” where we had free breakfast!

We spent our first day in Barcelona walking around the city, seeing the Gaudi houses, and taking it all in. Our hostel was situated right in the Barrio Gotico, a little winding neighborhood with tiny streets and apartments with balconies full of potted plants. It’s definitely a “scooter city”–every street lined up and down on both sides with scooters and motorcycles. Palm trees and bicycles are also plentiful, and bikes for rent were also everywhere, used by everyone. I especially loved seeing all the bike lanes–finally a safe place to be eco-friendly! After seeing the Gaudi houses, we spent a few hours enjoying the port area, taking in the beautiful Barcelona weather.

Scooters and Motorcycles

Bikes to Rent

Port

Gaudi House

The next day we did lots of walking–saw the Sagrada Familia and Parque Guell by Gaudi–both beautiful and enchanting. We made our way down to the water again, this time to the beach. It was covered by groups of friends sitting on the sand drinking, talking, and hanging out. It was great to see a big body of water again–the beach always reminds me that the water connects all of the wonderful continents on this planet. It also always reminds me of my grandparents old house near Rehobeth Beach.

Parque Guell

Sagrada Familia

The Beach

During this past week, I’ve been doing a lot of finalizing of travel plans and meeting with language interchanges (intercambios, we call them). March (as well as February, although it has passed) is dedicated to Spain traveling–Leon/Zamora, Andalusia, Toledo, and La Coruña. April and May are traveling outside of Spain months!–Italy/Mediterranean (France) = Pisa, Florence, Venice, Rome, Nice, Marseille (for spring break/Semana Santa) and then London, Lisbon (Portugal), and Paris! I currently have two language interchanges–one with a woman around her 30’s (I think, I don’t actually know her age) and one with a 10 year old girl. It’s a great binary to have the two sides of the age spectrum. Marta (the woman) and I meet at a cafe weekly and speak half the time in Spanish and half the time in English–asking each other questions and sharing stories and cultural differences. Victoria (the girl) and I meet at her apartment with her Mom once a week and speak in Spanish the entire time while I help her with English homework. I love feeling like I have these close relationships and resources with Spaniards–like I’m slowly making my own little Spanish family here. I also plan to add a few more intercambios–hopefully with students around my age, so that I can make some Spanish friends to hang out with regular and practice with!

Briana, my room mate, and I have continued going to free salsa lessons at a cafe/bar near our house on Monday nights. Here’s our favorite song:

Some stories and things worth mentioning from this week:

It seems the more I explore this big world we live in, the smaller it gets–in certain ways, good ways. I have made connections with people that I wouldn’t have ever thought I would make. One boy in my program is close friends with a girl I went to elementary school with, I met a girl in one of my classes who goes to Pitt and we share a mutual friend and met before at his apartment, and another girl in one of my classes goes to Millersville (a college very close to my home in Lancaster) and hung out with my mom before (and saw photos of me before we even met in Salamanca)!

I got a box of letters and wilbur buds from my basically “second parents” from when I was younger. You can never have too much chocolate around! I played cards with friends from my program one day. Another day, I watched as the plaza filled up with teenagers balancing boxes of Telepizza and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (the 1 euro Leap Day special).

Moments I love: One morning I was sitting waiting for a friend on a sidewalk curb with my legs stretched out across the walkway. An old gentleman was walking towards me, so I pulled my legs in to make way. He patted me on the head, smiled, and said “Gracias, grapa.” (Thanks, cutie) in that cute grandpa kind of way. Walking to the train station, I passed the bar that is owned by the family of a 10 year old girl I have a language exchange with. I walked in to see all three of them (mom, dad, daughter) serving costumers. She came running out to give me two kisses (one on each cheek, as is customary). Felt like my own little Spanish family!

Now that I’ve been here for about a month, I’ve realized that some things have become ordinary to me that weren’t so ordinary at first. I am trying to be aware of those things, so that I can accurately recount my experiences to others who have never visited this place…it’s the little things that caught my attention at first and no longer do that I think most people would find interesting…

1. You have to pay to use a plastic grocery bag when you go to the store here–usually only a few cents–but it really promotes eco-friendly ways!! This caught me off-guard during my first shopping experience, and I ended up walking down the street midday with a wine bottle in hand, no bag covering it 😛 2. At home, most people drink hot coffee and other hot beverages out of glasses, not mugs! 3. Everything in Spain seems to be beige-colored–the food, people’s clothes, the land, the buildings. Regardless, my experience so far has been anything but beige. 4. It’s normal to throw your trash down on the floor after finishing your food in bars. The more napkins on the floor, the better the bar is. 5. The young vs. the old generation here–complete opposites. Religious and gender-roles vs. liberal minded and party all night long. Salamanca is a great example of both. I watch my abuela work all day long cleaning and feeding her husband. It’s the only way she knows. 6. They wash the streets here–sometimes I think it has rained when I see the wet stone, but then I see the men with the power hoses. 7. Spaniards are big on saving energy–any room you are not currently occupying does NOT have the light on, and if there is any sign of daylight outside, a window is sufficient lighting for the room that you are in. Very eco-friendly, but a bit depressing when everything is always so dark. 8. Spaniards are not about pretty little plates of food. They are about eating what will fill you up–lots of meat, potatoes, eggs, rice, lentils, etc. Thea tells me she thinks it’s because Spaniards are more concentrated on their company rather than a fussed over appetizer. I like that explanation! 9. Graffiti everywhere! How could they do it on these wonderful old buildings 😦 It’s an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the modern though. 10. The size of the US has become apparent to me–it’s HUGE. It kind of bothers me that I don’t think I’ll ever see all of my own country! We tried to explain this to a girl from Holland one night. She was asking us whether or not we feel “proud” of our country. We explained that the country is so huge…there are parts of it where people still hold strong to old ways of thinking and perceiving the world, which do not accept all people. There are so many different kinds of people in the US. Most of the country is ruled by rich, white, men, so it’s difficult to always feel “proud” of every decision that is made. I told her I feel proud of some of our history and feel completely awful for other parts of it. I feel proud when I witness people exercising their right to protest and push for protection for and peace among all people, but I don’t feel proud when we bomb countries and go to war. 11. Drinking ages…everywhere else in the world they are much younger than in the US. I feel like they have it right, and maybe young americans wouldn’t go so crazy when they turned 21 if it was more part of the culture to drink and enjoy good company. It’s the classic “When you tell someone they can’t do something, they do it…and to the MAX.” Spaniards (and perhaps Europeans in general) seem to be more open about taboo topics in the States–drinking, sex (to name a few…condoms are often right next to packs of crackers and juice boxes in vending machines)–and maybe it’s helpful to have such natural topics more out in the open. I think so anyway. 12. Sometimes when I hear a language being spoken now, if it’s Spanish or English, I realized that I don’t register what language it is–just that I understand what they’re saying! It’s pretty neat. I also find myself using Spanish connecting words or space fillers if I’m speaking English or reading English words or spelling English words as if they are Spanish–uh oh! 13. Had a conversation with our program director in Spain who is 21 about paying for college–she said the norm is about 1,000 euro per year…UM WHAT. America, get on this! She was shocked when I told her how much we pay! 14. The way people live here in general is much “smaller” than the US. Mostly people live in more apartment-style housing…washers seem to be tucked into narrow, galley-like kitchens, often dinner tables are in the same space as the living room, etc. People aren’t all spread out in big houses with huge backyards like in the US. Life seems to happen more in public–people go out, walk around town. They don’t spend all day in their house. I like it better this way. Public parks get more use, cafes are full, streets are busy, town squares are buzzing! 15. Salamanca facts — oldest university in Spain, best Plaza Mayor (most Spanish cities have one in the center of town), and whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This weekend Thea is here! I met her on Friday in the train station in Madrid. I took the train from Salamanca for the first time with my friend Will. We managed to navigate the metro in order to get from the train station we were dropped off at to the one where Thea was. We also met my friend, Josh, from high school there along with his friends. He’s studying in Alcala de Heneres, a small town 30 minutes outside of Madrid, this semester. It was so good to see Thea’s smiling little traveler face across a sea of people. Of course, I cried–tears of joy! But that’s nothing new for me! I had to politely explain to my new friends not to worry, that this was normal for me…just my way of expressing emotion.

We spent the day puttering around El Prado seeing Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, and many more. It was stunning, even the second time around. I’m so glad I went back and got to see all the masterpieces I missed the first time. The thing that strikes me the most is the use of light–gorgeous. I bought a few prints as gifts because they were very good quality and only 3 euro each! We then stopped for lunch at a little restaurant, and Thea and I both had tortillas españolas bocadillos–egg and potato omelet between two pieces of baguette, essentially. Happy and full, we spent the rest of the day in Museo Reina Sofía seeing Dalí, Miró, and Picasso–and of course, the famous Guernica which was so cool in person. I bought a postcard of La Muchacha en la Ventana by Dalí for myself…it’s one of my favorites.

My Favorite Dali

Me and Thea

Getting back to Salamanca around midnight Friday, Thea and I went straight to bed. Thankfully, my friend Marquez happily agreed to having Thea stay in her spare room, which made things very easy. Saturday was my day with Thea to bop around Salamanca, seeing all the usual sights and even some new things for me! We went to the Salamanca market–very cool, but after a while I was done seeing fish eyes and full pig heads staring at me. I more enjoyed looking at the piles of lovely olives than those things. There was a wedding happening in one area of the Cathedral, and there was a small group of tourists watching from the back–I guess that’s what you sign up for when you decide to get married in such a touristy spot! We watched for a while. Then we headed down to the river to see the puente and to the lover’s garden, where couples often go to hang a lock above the well as a symbol of their undying love or to buy a poem from the old man at the gate to read to each other. I took Thea to the grocery store to stock up on food for the weekend, and then we parted ways for dinner. Later, I tried seeing the sunset with a friend from a ledge above the river, but it was too cloudy–still a beautiful view of the city and stormy looking sky (the next day we went again and saw the sunset, which was equally stunning). We also discovered this was the “pre-game” spot for underage teens…which more or less ruined the beauty of the landscape. There was some sort of celebration of university students in the plaza that night, so EVERYONE was out. We met for tapas and wine/beer after dinner with some friends (it’s often customary to be given a free tapa–like an appetizer–with your first drink) and then headed out to see the Spanish party life! Like I said, the night was crazier than usual and both bars and streets were packed with people.

Locks at Lovers’ Garden

Olives at Market

Sunday we woke up early to go to a traditional Spanish Catholic mass in the cathedral–echoing voices and delicious smelling incense made the experience especially beautiful. Aaand, I teared up again. I realized that the moment I started tearing up was after everyone shook hands and said “Paz” to each other. Then the men started singing and it was all echo-y and smelled like incense (which always reminds me of my house) and I just couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful it is that people shook hands and said “Peace” to each other. I always get emotional if I’m thinking about something that is lovely about the world especially if paired with intense musical sounds. In the morning, the plaza was full of motorcycles for some sort of rally I guess–I turned to Thea and said “Example #1 of crazy things always happening in Salamanca. I hardly bat an eye when I see anything less than normal looking around here anymore. The strange is normal!” We finished the day where I am now, drinking a hot chocolate (hot chocolate here is more like pudding, very thick) at a wonderful little cafe with a glass domed roof–rain pelting the top.

 

Being abroad for me is a constant strange feeling of middle-ness: between missing home and being excited to return to the comfort of close friends and family AND being happy and excited to be experiencing new things and wanting to make the most of every moment.