24 December 2010
I am here in Wuppertal, Germany spending Christmas with Blake and Clara and Clara's family. Wuppertal is close to Köln (Cologne), in the mid-western part of Germany, here is a map to give you all an idea:
I arrived last night a little later than expected because of snow in Germany; our flight left later to begin with and then we had to circle the airport once, waiting for the runway to be cleared of snow. It worked out perfectly though because Blake and Clara got to the airport late to pick me up because of the roads. I am so thankful for the well trained pilot who landed our plane in the snow as well as Clara's sister, Mira, for taking so much time to drive in the horrible weather! The normal hour and fifteen minute car ride took over two hours for us and as Clara pointed out to me, I rode on the Autobahn. She said that most foreigners always want to know about that highway since it's so famous, but it really wasn't anything different...and there was a speed limit!
In Germany, the 24th is the main day to celebrate Christmas, so this morning we all just hung out and talked, very relaxed. About mid-day Clara's older sister and brother-in-law, Lina and Emie (and their son Aaron), arrived to spend a few days here. Normally, the family would have gone to church somewhere in the afternoon/evening, but because of the snow and weather, they decided to stay at home. So we started dinner earlier than usual, had the first two courses: cream of celery soup and then a mango, lentil and celery salad with a small portion of duck for the second. It was so delicious! Everything we ate today was wonderful in general, but the celery soup was to die for! Then we all opened presents, which took a few hours and it was really nice because everyone took their time and we all enjoyed the gifts that each person received. I even got a special gift from the States, from my Mom! It was so nice to have a little something from home on Christmas; I almost cried, it felt so special that my Mom had made sure I had something! But I also got a gift from Blake and Clara and Clara's parents gave me some chocolates and candies to take home with me, that was really sweet of them! After presents, we went back to the table and ate the main course: fish (not sure what kind) or steak with mashed potatoes/red beans and a boiled cabbage salad that had spinach and chestnuts in it...the main dish was so rich and wonderful! Both the fish and meat where so flavorful and tender, and the cabbage salad was amazing! I would love the recipes for the entire meal! Then it was desert and we had some cake that I thought was ice cream, but it wasn't, I'm not sure how to describe it and a baked apple. I think it was baked, it had been cored and then the inside filled with pine nuts, it was so yummy!
Then the family all chilled out and talked about how full we were! Clara's parents, Viktor and Eva, went to bed after a little while and Clara, Blake, Lina, Johnny (Clara's older brother) and I stayed up talking about the Enneagram book that I got from Blake and Clara. We actually just got done a little while ago; it is 3:30am now!
I would have to say that even though I was not at home and with all the people I love, it was a very enjoyable day and a wonderful place to spend Christmas! Clara's family has been overly generous and they all have been very good at either speaking English as much as possible when I'm around, so I'm not so lost, or one of them will translate a little bit for me if they do speak in German. I don't really mind that they speak in German around me, I have gotten used to being in a place where I can't always comprehend situations, but it is nice to be able to have conversations with them and they all speak English so well! So already, I have really enjoyed and appreciated my time here in Germany because I have been shown hospitality like none other and Clara's family is fun and they have really intelligent, engaging conversations.
I miss everyone back home and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas day!! I can't wait to be home in less than a week and seeing all my family and friends; I've missed you all more than you'll know!!
Lots of Love!
14 December 2010
Well, I wanted to write about our excursion that we had on Saturday, even thought it's not all that interesting and it wasn't an awesome day for me cause I came down with a cold the day before. We went to the Navarra region of the basque country, which is the largest basque region and according to one of my friends, it's the region that actually wants to be apart of Spain.
The first place we went was the Monastery of Leyre, which was about an hour or more away from Vitoria and it's in the mountains. It is actually situated in a really beautiful place! Great view of the mountains and forest as well as a view of a large lake below; Elley and I felt kinda at home there. We took a tour and learned about the history of the site and found out that nuns still live there and services are still held at the church connected to the monastery... and those are buildings that were built in the 11th century!
After that we had a short ride to Olite, a small town with a sweet castle! We went there specifically for the castle, which was built for Carlos III in the 1700's. It was such a cool place to go explore and it literally looked fake sometimes; whoever restored the castle did an amazing job because it looked like it was straight out of Disneyland! We had a lot of fun running up and down the towers and finding hidden places, it would have been the best place for hide and seek!
Our final destination for the day was Pamplona, which may be familiar to you, or not, but it is where the running of the bulls happens every summer. We weren't there for very long, but we walked along the path that the bulls run every year and ended up at the Plaza de Toros, where there happened to be a Christmas market. It was kind cool to see that part of the city because it is so famous, but it's hard to imagine what it would be like when it is full of people and the running is happening.
Then we headed back to Vitoria, everyone else went out that night and had a lot of fun but since I wasn't feeling well, I decided it wasn't the best thing for me.
Well, I have my final exams at the end of this week and the beginning of the next, so wish me luck! I might not write again until I start my Christmas in Germany!
Part of the Castillo de Olite.
12 December 2010
1. Listen to your instincts, it's God talking to you for a split second.
3. Be good to all you meet; Karma exists.
4. Take responsibility for your actions.
6. Laugh often.
7. Exercise and eat your vegetables...take care of your body... it carries your most precious possession, your soul.
8. When in doubt, pray. When confident, pray.
9. You are not the center of the Universe.
10. Every accomplishment is a victory.
11. Do what (and who!) you love.
12. Constantly learn new things; knowledge is power.
13. Be a good listener, cause everyone likes a chance to talk.
14. En boca cerrada, no entran moscas. (Silence is golden.)
15. Have something to believe in; if you don't think there is anything, you're forgetting yourself.
16. We all have to go through bad times to appreciate the good ones.
17. You are never done creating yourself.
18. Missing someone or something is good, be grateful you have things great enough to miss.
19. Mind your own business.
20. People need understanding. Understanding that mistakes are made, not trusting they won't be.
21. Live life as the pursuit of happiness.
Who knows if I actually follow all those all of the time, but they are things I aspire to achieve!
What would your instructions be?
Paz y amore.
11 December 2010
I will be staying in Spain next semester! After going to Granada and experiencing the southern part of Spain, I realized that that is the type of Spanish experience I want. The southern part of Spain is the culture and atmosphere that I had always imagined and I think the northern part has been a disappointment for me in that respect.
Honestly, this decision was really easy for me to make, I knew that I didn't want to be in Vitoria anymore, but lately I have been feeling sad that my study abroad is coming to an end. This is a way to solve both problems, or as Elley would say, "get the best of both worlds!". I'm really excited to continue learning Spanish and increasing my confidence in the language, as well as learning about "real" Spanish culture.
I will be enrolling in the Modern Language Center of Granada and hopefully taking Hispanic Studies courses that will transfer back to the Fort. Troy studies there now, doing intensive language courses and he really likes the school; it is also the same school that my other friends who studied in Granada attended.
There isn't a whole lot of difficulty for me to transfer schools, except that I stopped applying for my residency card when I decided to go home, so technically after 90 days, I will be "illegal". Really, the school doesn't care about a visa, I just can't travel outside of the country after the 3 months or get in trouble with the law, of course. I'm trying to work with the Fort's international exchange program and see what all I can do at this point about that, but I'm not too worried about it.
Now I hope you all breath a sigh of relief that the Spanish adventures aren't over yet!
I will still be spending Christmas in Germany with Blake and Clara and then going back to Colorado for just under 2 weeks before going down to Granada. It has all worked out perfectly so far actually because when I bought my ticket home, I had to get a round trip flight because it was about half the price of a one-way. How silly, right? But turns out it has been a good sign all along! :)
That's all for now, but more about local travel soon!
10 December 2010
Yesterday, Elley and I got back from a week of wonderful vacation! We had a super long weekend this week because Spanish people are lazy and like to take holiday whenever possible! :P But aside from that, Monday was the anniversary of something to do with the Constitution and Wednesday was the celebration of the Immaculate Conception. No separation of Church and State here!
Anyway, Elley and I took the bus down to Granada really really early Thursday morning and arrived in the city in the early afternoon; the bus ride is about 11 hrs total with an hour stop in Madrid. Before leaving, we got in contact with a fellow FLC student who is studying down there, Troy, and he met us at the bus station. Neither of us really knew Troy, but he turned out to be an amazing host and has now become a good friend!
That first day, Thursday, we walked around the gardens and the public area of the Alhambra. The Alhambra was the last Moorish stronghold of Spain in the 14th century during the Reconquest. From what Troy told us, it was surrendered by the Moors because they knew they would be defeated by the Spanish. So, many of the building are still in good condition and didn't require much restoration because there wasn't a huge battle there. It is such a pretty place to visit! I love historic places like that because the detail in the passageways and buildings is just fascinating! Unfortunately, we never got to tour the whole thing because the next time we went there, the ticket booth had closed for the day.
We really had a pretty chill time in Granada, we went out almost every night and stayed out pretty much until the sun came up...as the Spanish are famous for! So we usually slept pretty late and then would just tour around different parts of the city. It is a pretty big place, but totally different from Vitoria in the way it is laid out. Granada is on the edge of the Sierra Nevadas, so the landscape is more like the Foothills, instead of completely flat like here.
Probably one of my favorite parts of the city is the area called Albaicin, it's the old part of town where a lot of gypsies hang out. Troy took us to a gypsy tapas bar there that had the best food ever! It's so cheap too, you buy a beer or glass of wine for 2 euro and then you get to fill a plate full of tapas...so worth it!
We also planned to spend two nights and a full day in Sevilla on this trip, but that only turned into one night and about a half a day. We didn't have the best Sevilla experience. Our Irish friends here in Vitoria know a guy who is studying in Sevilla and he offered to let us crash on his couches for the time that we were in town. So that seemed like a great idea, a free place to stay! This guy was spending his long weekend in Madrid and he told us he wouldn't be back until late Monday night, so we go into town in the evening and showed up at their apartment around 9pm. His two roommates from Mexico were there and they were kind of confused as to why we were there cause Karl had told them we were coming Thursday...great. But they said it was fine that we were there and they just had to go get a few things ready, so they cleaned up the living room a bit and then just went about their business...literally didn't talk to us for the rest of the night. Strange. Later, right when Elley and I were going to bed, the Irish guy, Karl, gets home, he introduces himself to us and then says he will put his things in his room and be back. Well, we stayed up for about another hour...and no one ever came back to the living room to say anything to us. It was so strange! So aside from not feeling very welcome at all, the "couches" we slept on were the worst things imaginable, so neither of us slept well at all. Needless to say, we got up in the morning and immediately decided that we would not stay another night there! On top of that, it was pouring rain like I have never seen before, so we were just not in the best of spirits.
I already had in mind that I wanted to see the Cathedral of Seville because it's the biggest in the world, as well as the Plaza de España because I've heard it's wonderful. We decided to make things easy on our selves and took the metro to stop closest to the cathedral...note to anyone who does to Seville, the metro there is not like other cities! We had a hard time figuring it out...But found the cathedral really easily and it was magnificent! Never have I seen a building that compares to that cathedral! We had to wait in line for about 30 mins to get in, but it was more than worth it because we spend almost 3 hours looking around the inside! The details of the alters and ceiling were just breath-taking and a fun fact is that Christopher Columbus' tomb is inside that cathedral! By the time we were done with the cathedral, the rain had calmed, so we decided to walk to the Plaza de España cause it was only about a half mile away. The Plaza is actually in a new part of the city, build in the late 1920's for a World Fair, to showcase Moorish style in Spain. It was a really cool place, but too bad for the cloudy day and Elley started to feel ill, so we made it a quick trip there. We were both tired and ready to head back to Granada, so we hailed a taxi to take us to the bus station. We are still very proud of our city-slicker skills! :)
Our next two days in Granada were kinda like the first, just relaxing, going out at night and doing a little walking through the city. We tried to go to the Arab baths, but they were all booked for about 4 days out, which was too bad cause that would have been so relaxing! And we couldn't go see the Cathedral of Granada because of the Catholic celebration they had a special service or something and it was closed to tourists.
Then we were back on the bus to Vitoria and the cold weather. But big news is coming up in my next post, so stay tuned!!
P.S.- Sorry it took me so long to post this!! I started it the other day and didn't have time til now to finish!
The Alhambra at night.
Troy and me at the Palacio de Carlos V in the Alhambra.
Me at the Plaza de España.
One of the many amazing alters in the Cathedral.
La Catedral de Sevilla.
29 November 2010
Sunday night there was a girls night for the Erasmus girls; we went bowling. It was pretty fun and quite a few girls came! It was a good opportunity to practice names, because we have such a hard time with names here...and nice to have a less chaotic setting than a party to get to know some other girls. All of the other foreigners are really nice; they really like hearing how America is different than Europe and what our experience here is like.
Other than that, I just finished a book that Elley gave me, she bought it in London. It's called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and it was a really cool read! It's written from the first person perspective of an autistic boy in his early teens and he tells a story of a certain time in his life. It's not a true story, which is part of what makes it fascinating because the author did a phenomenal job of replicating, what I suppose, an autistic child's mind would be like. It was very intriguing and although it's not the most gripping novel I've ever read, the rarity of it kept me pretty interested. I would recommend it for sure!
Well, Elley and I are on our way to Granada and Sevilla on Thursday for a week, so I'm sure I will have a lot to write after that!
Oh and today marks my last month in Europe! It's all coming to a close now and after we get back from Granada I will need to start studying for my exams and get serious about finding a place to live for next semester! :)
27 November 2010
Something that I don't have to worry about anymore, but that Elley and Nathan are having to deal with right now is getting a temporary residency permit to stay here in Spain for the full year. It's not a super important document, if you are planning on staying in Spain, but apparently if you plan on traveling outside of the country, you might not get let back in if you don't have one. The problem is that no one here knows anything about a residency permit because it is a new requirement for students staying in the country for an extended period of time. It has been really frustrating at times especially when we have no one at the University here to help us, cause the foreign relations ladies had never heard of a temporary residency permit before. ha! Elley and I have waited in queue after queue, in foreign office after foreign office trying to find someone who will give us information on what types of documentation we need to present. After quite a few confusing conversations about Spanish foreign policy, we have finally found what Elley needs to have to get her permit, and it's pretty much all the same things as we needed for the visa. Awesome.
An almost daily occurrence for Elley and me, here in Vitoria, is coffee. We don't really have much of a way to make coffee here in the residence (and people in Spain don't use coffee pots like we know in America), but we have our special coffee shop just across the street that we frequent. The guy knows that we always get "un par de cafes con leche". It's a cute little place that I think has quite a few regulars. It's nice to have a place like that, where our faces are known. I don't know if I've mentioned coffee in my blog before, but it's on the top if the list of thing I will miss from Europe! Coffee here is SO wonderful. I don't know what makes it different or what country it comes from but the flavor is much richer. As everything here, coffee is about socializing and I don't even think that to-go cups exist here. Drinks are always served in mugs so you can relax and enjoy it at the cafe. That is really nice actually, for one it's a lot less wasteful, but it also makes coffee time special instead of getting a cup-a-joe on the go. I will definitely miss coffee time with Elley, we do have some pretty good chats at the coffee shop.
Today we are planning on going to the local art museum in Vitoria, the Artium. I think it's a modern art museum; I hope it will be good!
(Foto cred: Elley McBrayer)
24 November 2010
What a strange thing to be away from home for the holidays and here it won't feel any different than just another Thursday. It's hard to believe that it's already turkey day really, there are still leaves on the trees here and no snow in sight...and even though I don't like it, no american football either. But as always, I have so much to be thankful for today and everyday, which is what we need to celebrate. So here are some things I am remembering to be thankful for today:
1) A good home to return to, with loving family and friends, people who have supported me though everything and whom I could never thank enough.
2) The food that I will put on my table today; it may not be a Thanksgiving feast, but my eating habits are more privileged than the majority of the people in the world.
3) A solid roof over my head. I may not like living in the residence hall, but at least I'm not out in almost freezing temperatures tonight. I have blankets, a heater and hot running water and I will be so thankful for warmth tonight.
4) My experience here in Spain. It may seem like I don't realize how blessed and lucky I am to be here since I'm leaving early, but that is far from true. This adventure has taught me more about life and myself than I could have ever imagined. I will always be thankful for this opportunity and even though it hasn't worked out as the best place for me to be, I'm thankful that I had guidance in making that decision and support when I was at my worst.
I hope everyone, no matter what country they live in, will take some time, especially today, to remember what life has gifted them.
Writing this was not much of a cure for homesickness, but at least I have a place to miss, and I'm so grateful for that!
23 November 2010
San Sebastian is just over an hour bus ride away from Vitoria, to the northeast...here's map with the largest Basque cities, so you all have a better idea of where I'm going and where I've been.
The only places I haven't written about are Pamplona and Logroño, but I will be going to Pamplona on December 11th with our excursion class.
So now that you all have an idea of where I am and where San Seb. is, I can begin. Elley, Adrian (an Irish friend) and I decided to go to San Sebastian one Thursday a few weeks ago because we heard it was a great place and we wanted to go explore for the day. It was such a great day! San Seb. is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, it's right on the ocean and has some great historical buildings. There is a large statue of Jesus positioned on a hill at the end of town and when we got to the city we decided that we wanted to find out a way to the statue. Turns out there is actually a "hiking" trail that goes up to Him and He is standing on an old castle, turned museum. We didn't go into the museum, but the majority of the castle (or at least what we could see) is open to the public. We explored around there and ate lunch up by the statue where we had a view of the whole city, it was so pretty. We took a different way down and came across an old cemetery for English soldiers who had helped the Spanish fight in some war...we couldn't figure out which. The landscape on this hill is a literal jungle, moss and vines and tons of tress and bushes, it feels like a completely different world than the city. Then we all wanted to go to the beach, so we made our way down to the main beach, Playa de la Concha, which is actually a large bay. We played in the water for a while and just chilled on the beach; it was a cloudy day but it was still humidly warm, so we didn't freeze too much. :) Well, after that we were gonna go to the bus station and go home, but instead we got lost for two hours and gave ourselves a pretty good tour of the new part of the city. But we did finally make it home, it was just a lot later than we expected.
About a week an a half later, we went back to San Sebastian with our excursion class. Before we went to San Seb, we went to a small Basque town, Ekainberri, to learn about a prehistoric cave in the area. We didn't actually get to go to the real cave, but the museum we went to has guided tours of a replica of the cave, which was still pretty cool...nothing like our spelunking in Durango though. This little town was adorable and completely in the mountains, with a nice river running along side it, Elley and I felt right at home there. Then we were on our way to San Sebastian and we really just had free time in the city and since it was a sunny day, we all headed to the smaller beach to get some sun and catch some waves. Our Irish friends really wanted to try surfing, but Elley and I thought the waves looked too intimidating, so we just laid in the sun for a while. It was so wonderful to have sunshine! We all needed a good dose of Vitamin-D. When the sun started to go down we all went to a bar for some tea and then we were on our way back home.
So that's a bit of what's going one and I will be sure to write more soon about other things that have been happening. Here's some pictures from the first time we were in San Sebastian.
Elley and me at the bay
The Jesus Statue
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (Catedral del Buen Pastor)
14 November 2010
The topic for today is already pretty well known I think and won't be a surprise to the majority of the people who read my blog and talk with me. As I mentioned in a recent post things have been hard for me here and honestly, the month of October 2010 was maybe one of the hardest I've ever faced. I never understood what depressed people feel and how their life works, but now I can empathize very well. Being a foreigner is a very strange experience and I can't really tell about it in a way that everyone could understand. One can't understand it well unless they've experienced it themselves. At first it started out with homesickness, but that turned into an overall dislike and even loathing of everything here. No motivation, no desire, just a feeling of dislike and unhappiness. After much thinking and weighing my options, I decided that I didn't want to be here for another semester. I have considered changing schools within Spain and going down to Sevilla or Granada for the second semester, but I have decided that what I really want and what I think is best for me right now is to go back to FLC for the winter.
I'm looking forward to it and I can picture myself there. That's one thing that has bothered me is that I haven't been able to picture myself being here until June, it just seems unfathomable. I know it's good to walk into the dark sometimes and create your own light, but I don't think this is the time nor place for me to do that. Going home won't be easy, there are technicalities I have to get around and lots of mixed feelings still, but it will work out as it's suppose to. I've been praying a lot and finding guidance in God; it's been good. I've been asking for lots of signs and I don't think I made this decision alone.
Now things are so much better and I know it's because I have made up my mind and no longer struggle with where I will be. It has made it harder to decide to go home since my mood has improved so much, but I know that it's because I'm in a better state of mind from my choice.
So in a few months I'm sure I will be writing about what I miss about Spain! But for now it's good to know that I can fully enjoy my time here without much burden.
Ciao for now!
08 November 2010
After a little bit of resting, we decided to conquer one of the hills just outside of town that has a cross on top. Come to find out, there is a greenway path that goes right to it and will hopefully become a great place to go run. The hike was a little harder than we expected and then we both felt lame for having adapted to the low altitude; we can no longer boast about our powerful Colorado lungs. It was a good trip, we both spent some time at the top just reflecting and looking over the city. It was a shame that it was a cloudy/foggy day because the view from up there is phenomenal and so expansive, but we enjoyed it none the less.
There's not a whole lot that's new going on here, but Elley and I are making plans to go to Granada at the beginning of next month. We get three days off school for some catholic holiday and we want to go south for a bit. Should be fun, I really want to see Granada and the historical sites there. I guess I will have that to tell about when it comes, for now....
02 November 2010
But as we all know, this past weekend was Halloween and even though the Spanish don't really celebrate it, some of us exchange students decided to dress up anyway for fun. All of the Spaniards knew it was Halloween, but it's just not a celebrated holiday, they celebrate the day after, All Saints Day (which we got the day off school for!). Elley went to London for the weekend so we celebrated twice, Thursday with her and then actual Halloween night. It was fun and quite crazy!
Also, Saturday I went just over the border into the French part of the Basque country with my excursion class to the cities of Bayonne and Saint Jean de Luz. It was not a fun-filled trip like some of the others, we didn't have a whole lot planned for us, but we got to spend sometime at the ocean and now I can say I've been to France! It didn't feel much different from being in Spain, although everyone was speaking French. It's actually a pretty cool area because people growing up there learn French, Basque and usually, at least, conversational Spanish because it is so close to the border. It was overall a good day, a pretty place even though it rained most of the time.
In other news, Elley and I have discovered our new favorite thing about Spain: roasted chestnuts. There are little kiosks around town, shaped like trains (adorable!) where they roast them and you go buy a little package full of warm, ready to eat nuts. Amazing! I will have to take a picture of a kiosk soon.
Well that's all for now I think.
The beach at Saint Jean de Luz, France
Elley and I on our early Halloween.
22 October 2010
Number one is of course my friends and family. I could never name all of the people at home that I miss, for fear that I'd have a brain fart and forget someone...but I'm sure you all know who you are!
Number two is my doggie! I miss Sparky (and Bandit) so much! Really I miss contact with animals in general, I keep thinking that it will be a year before I will touch a furry creature and that scares me to death! How will I ever stay happy?!?
Number three is, sadly, the gym. haha! I would, wouldn't I! But really, not having a constant place to workout and recharge myself is really killing my mood some days.
Number four are hamburgers. A big juicy burger with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup and mustard on a fatty bun...mmmmmm.
Number five is hugs. That kind of goes with number one, but I felt a need to add it as a cultural reference because in Europe, people don't hug much, they do the whole kisses on the cheek thing. NOT sufficient for satisfying my hugging needs.
Number six is the mountains. There are mountains here, but nothing like at home, especially in Durango. I miss living IN the mountains...and big ones at that!
Number seven is one-stop-shopping and that does not mean Walmart, Walmart is still the devil. I just miss places like City Market and Safeway where I can buy pretty much everything I need on a regular basis. Shopping for things here takes so much time because you have to go to five different stores to get all that you need.
Number eight is baking, really most forms of cooking. My tiny kitchen is not very nice for cooking and we don't have an oven, so I can't even make brownies!!
OH! and number nine is most definitely spicy food! Even just food with some seasoning! Salt is seriously the only thing that they use here and it has become quite an annoyance.
Number ten is the Fort and Durango. I never thought I'd miss that little college town so much, but really it has the majority of the things I'm missing all in one place! I miss the friendliness of Coloradans and the atmosphere of Durango.
Well I think ten is probably enough, at some point I will write about all the things I love about Spain to counteract this. But for now, it was good to think of my longing for the States. Being here is a good thing in many obvious ways, but I like the fact that I am appreciating the place that I come from more and more. I know I will miss Spain like crazy when it is finally time to leave, but I think going home will feel better than I could imagine.
Adios a todos!
20 October 2010
It kind of took me back a little bit, like wait. I was just in Barcelona...this guy is writing in the early 1500s about the same city? Whoa.
Isn't it strange to think that the cities here that I am visiting and living in were around before America was even thought of?! Even just thinking about the words "Europe" and "Barcelona", those words existed and were established hundreds, if not at least a thousand, years before the word "America".
It's a weird concept and I don't even know if I have grasped it fully yet. There is a level of history here that, as an American, is very outside of my realm. Whenever I've been in history classes in the past or heard dates of events, I mostly have pushed them aside and not taken the time to realize how long ago that actually was....because there wasn't any real world application. Here, I'm surrounded by it! I keep saying how my classes are difficult because I don't know much European history, so the context of all my knowledge is skewed, but it makes a lot of sense as to why Europeans know so much history...they have it! ha!
I'm still a little flabbergasted, so I'm not sure if my thoughts make sense...
So much for not having much homework, I have 110 pages to read tonight! In Spanish. Better get to work...
13 October 2010
Sunday we first went to the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, designed by Gaudi and is still in the process of being built. We didn't go inside cause it was expensive and looked really busy...we just couldn't justify it when we didn't know if it was going to be good or not. It was really pretty, really different from anything I've ever seen before, definitely a work of Gaudi. Then we went to Park Güell, another work of Gaudi and it was great! It's a huge park on top of a hill, so there is a great view of the city from every side and then there is a winding path that takes you to different art forms. The most famous is the mosaic sidewalk and it was really pretty, kinda crowded, but definitely worth seeing. I think Park Güell was my favorite site in Barcelona, the view of the entire city and the mixture of art and nature was fabulous. Sunday night was the next highlight of our trip, we found a Mexican food restaurant! And the food was spicy! It was wonderful because Spanish food is not spicy in any way, shape or form and actually kind of bland most of the time. The food was exceptional and so were the margaritas! Then we went and had a night time walk along the beach, a very good end to the weekend.
Sunday night we went to bed kind of early so we could be on time for everything Monday morning and our trip home was very easy; everything went smoothly.
Hope that wasn't too rushed, it really felt like we did more than we actually did. Lots of walking and trying to relax. It was a good weekend, but in all honesty I was a little disappointed in Barcelona. The city itself was dirty and crowded most of the time, but the beach was surprisingly clean. Plus, the city smelled SO horribly, the sewer system must not be very good or it's super old cause everywhere we went, it reeked of sewage. Our troubles getting to the city didn't really put a good mood to the whole weekend either, but we are happy we went and we definitely learned a lot about traveling and our capabilities of handling problems!
Until next time!
Elley and me at Park Güell
La Sagrada Familia
Inside the Barcelona Cathedral
Elley outside the Barcelona Cathedral
La Plaça de Catalunya
12 October 2010
INSTEAD, I will tell a tale of our trip to Barcelona, Spain. I feel like I need to first clarify that Elley and I bought plane tickets through RyanAir about two weeks ago and planned on going to Barça from the afternoon of Thursday the 7th to the afternoon of Monday the 11th. We would take a bus from Vitoria to Santander, where we would fly to Barça and do the same thing on the way back. This plan did not work out so well...
I will back up to last Wednesday, the day before departure. Being the smart traveler that I am, I made sure to look up the name, address, phone number of the hostel we would be staying at and checked our flight as well as the time for the bus in the morning. Everything was perfect and the timing was just right.
Thursday morning, we got up early so we would have a few extra minutes at the bus station, but when we got there, the ticket window was closed and there was a sign saying that it would open again at 9:15am, the exact time our bus was leaving. We weren't sure what to do and when we asked at another desk the lady just pointed us to that same window for tickets to Santander. So we waited for the window to open and found out that our bus had left at 9:15am like it was suppose to and the next bus was at 2:15pm, the time of our flight. We did our best not to go into panic mode instantly and asked the man at the help desk, he said we could go to Bilbao first and then to Santander and it would get us there in time. Apparently we didn't understand him completely, he told us to get a ticket to Bilbao from the window and we thought he said we could get our ticket to Santander at an automatic ticket dispenser, so we did both and ran to the bus headed to Bilbao. Feeling relieved, we looked at the ticket to Santander from Bilbao and saw that the time the bus would leave was 2:15pm. We shrugged it off and hoped that we could just change our flight without much difficulty.
We got to Bilbao and wasted some time while we waited for the bus. Got to the bus station early for the bus and about 10 mins before the bus was suppose to leave we looked around and couldn't find it, so we asked at the information desk and she informed us that the reason we couldn't find our bus was because our ticket was from Vitoria to Santander, NOT Bilbao. Great. We quickly got another ticket to Santander and luckly it was leaving just a few minutes after. We felt so stupid for not paying more attention and we could have been to the airport already if we had known. So we got to Santander and went to the airport where they told us to change our tickets was gonna be about £300 each and the next flight was the next day. Obviously not worth it. But a nice lady told us that we could just take a bus down to Barcelona instead and it would be a lot cheaper. So, we went back to the bus station and go tickets for the overnight bus to Barcelona...cause it was already about 5:00pm at this point.
Now we really felt relieved, but also very stupid, since we had extra time we ate dinner and bought ourselves a box of wine and went and drank it in a park. ha! It was too long of a day to not have a drink!
I hardly slept on the bus because it was hot and packed full of people and about half way through the ride, my feet were swollen from sitting so long. Also, our bus stopped in Bilbao AND Vitoria on the way to Barcelona... But, nine hours later and 15 hours late, we finally arrived in Barcelona at 6:30am Friday morning. We got off the bus and walked for over an hour to get to our hostel before we decided to just get on the metro. We walked for almost another half an hour after that and got to our hostel at 8:00am, only to find out that we could not check in until 1:00pm. Awesome. The guy did let us keep our bags there in the office and thank goodness cause we were so tired and didn't want to drag them around for another five hours. Elley decided that she really needed to sleep before we did anything else, so she found a bench on the walkway and slept for about a half hour. ha! I was tired, but not tried enough to sleep on a park bench! We were both so tired and frustrated that we couldn't get in the hostel and just sleep for a few hours, but we got some breakfast and along the way stumbled upon Casa Batlló, a very famous building designed by Gaudi. For me personally, seeing that improved my mood. Then we just went shopping in the shopping district to waste time.
We checked into the hostel, rested for a while and decided to go find the beach. Luckly, Elley knows how to work metro systems cause it made traveling around the city so much easier! We stayed at the beach for a while, but we got kinda cold cause it was a cloudy day...and nothing dries by the ocean, so we stayed wet forever! When we got back to the hostel, we met the other people in our room, a group of Portuguese kids who were taking some time out of school to travel around Europe. They were so great! We ended up going out with them that night, we were all suppose to go to some outdoor festival in a garden, but left too late. We ended up just hanging out around a plaza and had our own dance party in the streets. It was so much fun! Probably the highlight of the trip for us.
Well this post is already too long, so I will write about the rest of the trip tomorrow to save your eyes and interest.
But as a ending note, Elley and I have decided to make a list of the travel lessons we have learned because this trip started out as such a disaster!
The second half was much more successful ;)
Elley and our Portuguese friends
Me at the Mediterranean
04 October 2010
On Saturday, we had our first excursion with my class and went to a few different places to learn about the area of Spain we are in, called Alava, and wine culture. We visited two different prehistoric monuments called Dolmens. They are rock structures built sometime around 4,000 BC that were supposedly used as shelters. They are kinda one of those unsolved mysteries, cause the rocks are so big and the mountains are pretty far away, so no one knows exactly how the structures were built and how the rocks got there. We also went to a small museum called La Hoya, which means "hole in the ground" in Spanish, and learned about the history of the ancient people who lived in the area.
Then we went to a city called Laguardia where we toured a winery, La Bodega de la Fabulista (The Winery of the Story Teller) and got to taste a couple different wines. It was really interesting to learn about the different fermentation processes and how the wine is made. At this particular winery they still squish the grapes by stepping on them...what a cool job! Our professor also taught us a bit about the trading and investing processes of the wine world. Laguardia was a beautiful town with small skinny streets that are only walk-able; the town is mostly restricted for cars. We got lucky that it was a sunny, beautiful day and we could see wine fields and mountains all around.
At the end of the day we went to Labastida, a historic city with a beautiful cathedral and cobblestone streets. Elley and I wandered around for a bit and found some cute pathways and lots of little benches to look out at the wine fields. It was the most beautiful place I think I've ever been! I completely feel in love with the Spanish wine fields and my pictures just do not do it justice. It was an amazing place and really the word majestic describes it perfectly. Everything was so old and had more history than I could ever imagine. We went to the top of one of the hills and the panorama of mountains and fields was breath-taking. I had to pinch myself several times to make sure it wasn't a dream! It was just like I was looking at a beautiful postcard, but it was right in front of me and so much more amazing than I ever imagined. It was a place that doesn't exist in the US because it was the mixture of the history, culture and natural beauty that made it special.
Here are some pictures of our great day and I will write later about our trip to Bilbao yesterday.
Elley enjoying the view in Labastida
Elley and me
01 October 2010
The reason I bring up the protests is because on Wednesday nearly all of my classes were canceled and not really prior to class, the professors just didn't show up to class and most of the students knew not to show up that day. Apparently in the past protesting as disrupted classes and many professors have learned that it's not worth the effort to have class. I also found interesting, the difference between Europeans and Americans when it comes to these matters. I mean, I know the governments work differently, but the US is going through the same economic crisis and yet it's still seen as taboo to protest about what the government is doing. In Europe, it's almost expected that people should protest, to show the government that they are not being represented well; there were signs for the protest all over the town and school last week. Elley questioned if it was really going to do anything if people here protested and who knows if it will make a difference, but it definitely made the news all over Europe.
In other happenings of the week, yesterday Elley and I toured la Catedral de la Virgen Blanca or the Cathedral of Saint Maria. We weren't allowed to take any pictures cause the cathedral is undergoing restoration and is closed to the public, unless you take a tour. The cathedral is gorgeous, even with all the construction going on inside, it's just amazing how people in the 1200's could have such precision and create detailed sculptures with their resources. Dremel tools didn't exist! The restoration is very interesting though, the columns and arches are all being reinforced because when they were built the builders didn't understand how to create structures to resist gravity and natural forces. Also, there is an archeological investigation going on in the underground portion of the cathedral where they discovered a huge storage space...storage of bodies apparently. I think it's kind of like a crypt, but the archeologists haven't identified all of the bodies yet, so they think some of them could be people who died building the cathedral. I would really like see the cathedral after the restoration is finished, but it won't be for a couple years...good reason to come back, I guess!
A few more interesting things I've noted are: there are no clocks around here, literally not a clock in any store, restaurant or classroom. Needless to say, I bought a watch yesterday and for only £2!
There aren't screens on the windows. Maybe that's just a Colorado thing, but there isn't a need here anyway, there aren't many bugs!
Maybe one of the more interesting things I've noticed, came about from a conversation today. In one of my classes there is a Russian girl and she was asking Elley and I where were are from and when we said Colorado, she said she knew where that was because she had to take an American History class in Russia. I just thought it was interesting that people from other countries learn about America and are even required to take a class about our history. I know the US has been very innovative and a "superpower" for quite some time, but now China is coming into more power and I know that it would not fly for a Chinese history class to be required in American schools. So why is it that other countries learn about us? But we don't learn about them?...
Tomorrow my excursion class is going to a local winery where we will learn about wine culture and then Sunday, Elley and I are going to meet her roommate, Irantzu, in Bilbao and spend the day seeing parts of the city and going to the ocean. I'm very excited for both and I'm sure I'll write again soon.
26 September 2010
Elley and I booked plane tickets to go to Barcelona on the 7th! We will go for a long weekend, the 7th-11th and I am SO excited! We have a long weekend then because of a holiday and I found some cheap tickets on Ryanair. It's already less than two weeks away!!
I don't have much else to report now. I love and miss everyone back home!!
22 September 2010
So some highlights of my day were that I got put in to the intermediate level of my Spanish course, which I think is good for the conversation aspect, but I definitely already know all of the grammar that we will be learning. Oh well. The cool thing though is that two other Americans from FLC are in that class as well! I know one of them, him and I had a class together last year and then there is a girl who is really nice and I think we will get along well. Both of them had a really hard time with their schedules and finding classes that they thought would be easy enough for them, so I helped them try and figure out the system and recommended the easy classes I am taking. Elley (the girl) said that she went to talk to the international relations people here and they recommended only two classes for her which is hardly enough credits, but she told me about one of the classes, it's a course for foreign students to get a chance to travel around the Basque country...to do touristy things and learn about the history of the area. So we went to the information session today and it seems really great! We go on five "field trips" on different Saturdays, for the whole day and then we just write a paper about out experiences and what we learned. It's so great cause not only will I get to travel to places (and not have to go alone), but our professor will be explaining everything and telling us how they do things here in the Basque country. So stay tuned for updates on my Basque travels! Our first trip is next weekend, the 2nd of October, to a winery that's close to Vitoria.
After classes, I meet with my "madrina", the girl the University set me up with to help me out and show me around. She is really sweet, we went to a cafe and talked for a few hours, we switched speaking between Spanish and English. She said she needed to practice her English cause she hadn't spoken it all summer and I said I needed to practice Spanish, pretty much for the same reason! We compared Spain and the U.S. and she told me about her experience studying abroad in Sweden. I think we will get along well, we seem to have a lot in common and she's really nice.
So this week is turning out nicely so far and tomorrow is Thursday, so you know what that means! Partee!! haha! :)
20 September 2010
So I thought I would write about some other interesting Spanish things, only a few though.
When you go to a restaurant here and order a water or a soda, it's bottled. As in, you can't buy tap water at a restaurant or even ask for it, cause they don't serve anything but bottled. And if you order a coke, they take a 350ml (approx) glass bottle and pour it into a glass for you. There's not a tap for sodas either! I'm not sure about beer, I haven't had one yet and I haven't been observant enough to notice if there is draft beer or not. Most of the beer here is light though, they drink Heineken like Bud Light back home.
Also, the people that do have dogs around here rarely ever have them on leashes. There must not be any leash laws, but as far as I've seen all of the dogs are very well trained and will sit outside of a store patiently for their owner. Most of the dogs are pretty small too, again cause of apartment living.
Oh! Saturday night I ate dinner at Cam and Alba's apartment and we made Spanish tortillas or tortilla de patata. What an awesome meal! If you are envisioning a tortilla made out of flour or corn, think again, this is not South America...wheat and maize are not native here. Spanish tortillas are made out of potatoes (patatas) and are pretty similar to a potato omelette, here's a picture to demonstrate:
They are SOO yummy! I can't wait to make them at home and show everyone how delicious they are!
Here are a few ore pics of Vitoria.
Oh and forget about having a good hair day here, humidity is terrible...
18 September 2010
So I though I'd point out some of the different/strange things I've noticed here. The main thing is that people are so cold to each other, I mean strangers. There is no smiling on the street, you don't say Hi to a passerby and there is no small talk in stores. Everyone just keeps to themselves. It's hard for me not to smile at people when I'm walking around, but it's just not something that anyone does!
As I knew before coming here, the daily schedule is a lot different. Breakfast is small, if anything more than a cup of tea or coffee and lunch is considered the "most important meal of the day". Lunch happens between 2-4pm and is a large meal, in fact, I feel like I've done so much eating already cause lunch is such a big deal. Dinner is late, around 10pm and is not a big as lunch and more for socializing. Alba said that if you go out to restaurants they won't serve you dinner before 9pm usually.
Lots of people smoke here, probably the same as in the US, but it seems more obvious because they are allowed to in restaurants and bars. We are so spoiled in Colorado! Thurday when I got back to my room from going to the club, I reeked of smoke...hair, clothes, even my skin! Gross.
This may be something that is special to Vitoria, but there is graffiti everywhere! It doesn't matter if you're in the nice part of town or the ghetto part, it's all over the place and some of it is really pretty. It makes me wonder if they do it all with spray paint, cause the colors are so vibrant and rich.
Most of the music around here is in English and the same stuff that is popular in the States. It's all dance and techno music like Lady Gaga and David Guetta. There are some Spanish artists, but American music is heard more frequently.
Everyone lives in apartments here, I actually don't think I've seen one house so far. It makes for a more compact city, but there are also not very many people with dogs...at least not like in the US.
There's no Walmart (thank goodness!) and I haven't seen a McDonald's yet, although there is Burger King.
In general, there aren't fat people here. haha! That sounds funny, but it's true, people are thinner than in the States, even compared to Colorado! I think it's because it's easier to walk places here and food is more proportioned.
Since I'm in the Basque country, everything is labeled in both Castellano (Spanish) and Euskara (Basque) and there are many things that people use the Basque word for instead of Spanish.
For example: Pintxos (pinchos) = tapas
Txupito (chupito) = a shot (of alcohol)
Agur (ahur) = goodbye
Oh! And in the supermarkets, you have to buy bags...they are only like .20£ I think, so it's a good idea to save your bags and you see a lot of people going into the market with a suitcase looking thing for groceries.
That's all for now I think. I'm sure once school starts I will have more to share. Here's a pic of the outside of my residence and some random graffiti. I promise I will have more pictures soon!
16 September 2010
So like I said in my last post, everything with flights and buses went fine, but once I got to Vitoria, I encountered some issues. I got off the bus and went in the station to find out which bus would take me to the University and apparently there isn't one, only ones that stop on that side of town. So the guy said that it was an easy walk, gave me a map and drew out my path. Well I haven't established my sense of direction here yet (who knows if I ever will, all the streets go in crisscross and loop-de-loops) so I headed in the direction he said and immediately got lost. I tried to identify some streets with the ones on my map, but the majority of streets don't have a sign. I asked a man to point me in the right direction and he was pretty vague, so I wandered around for about an hour before a lady saw me looking at my map and offered to help. She gave me excellent directions and I got to campus about a half hour later cause I was so out of the way. ha! Once I was on campus, I wandered around for about another hour trying to figure out where the residence was before some girls asked me if I knew of a bus to Bilbao. Of course I didn't and I asked them if they would help me, turns out one of the girls lives in the residence and they chaperoned me there. They were freshman and really nice, I was so grateful they helped me because once we got to the residence I knew there would have been no way I would have found it on my own.
The strange and wonderful thing about it was, even though I was lost beyond belief, it was alright with me. Normally I think I would have been very frustrated, but for some reason I still had a smile on my face the whole time. I was exhausted and sweating like a fat man going up stairs, but none of that seemed to matter. Who knew such a struggle could also be so great. NOT that it was easy, my shoulders hurt so badly today from carrying my backpack and a 50lb. suitcase for two hours!
Well, then I was in my room and I immediately got an ethernet cord from the front desk cause I was so sure Mom was freaking out and I needed to let her know I was fine. After that, I did an inventory of my room and realized that I didn't have any sheets, towels or even toilet paper. That was when the exhaustion and homesickness hit me and I just about fell over and started crying, feeling overwhelmed. Cause after being in the same sweaty, dirty clothes (they were really gross) and not having had a nice bathroom to use for almost two days or a good night's sleep...I was pretty pathetic.
So I tried to get myself together, changed clothes and washed my face cause I was meeting Cam and Alba in about 30 mins. I felt a lot better once I saw them and we went around town a bit and then out to eat. Then back to their apartment and they let me borrow a blanket, towel and some TP. It was wonderful!
When I was back in my room, jet-lag was catching me cause I was not tired at all. Finally went to bed around 1am and then only slept for an hour cause I was freezing, put my sweatshirt on and slept SO hard until my alarm went off in the morning. I think I could have slept til noon today.
So my first day or so in Vitoria was a bit of a mess, but I think memorable. ha! And when I woke up to a cloudy, rainy morning all I could think was that I should have traded every dress I brought so I could have my sweatpants! ...but just to wear around my room, that kind of clothing would get me even more glares than I already get!
I haven't taken many pictures cause today is cloudy, I should have yesterday when it was sunny and beautiful...but here's some of my room (pretty bare, I know) and I will have more next time, I hope!
Thursday nights start the weekend here (not literally, it's just the night to go out), so hopefully it will be a fun night! Alba said it might not be that busy cause school hasn't started, so many students haven't moved back yet.
More soon! Chao!
15 September 2010
Well this trip has been quite an interesting one so far. Pretty much everything has gone right, which is wonderful! I didn’t miss any flights or get held up anywhere strange and now I am finally on my last leg of the trip…the bus ride to Vitoria. I’m still four hours away from my future home, but that seems like nothing after traveling for about 20 hours straight.
I guess I should start with my flight from Denver to Boston, it was fine and took just over three hours, I believe. The only problem with it was the guy sitting behind me. Apparently he recently had knee replacement surgery on both of his knees, so before I even sit down, he peeks over the seat and asks me if I could not recline my chair during the flight because of his knees. Which is fine, of course, but he was an overweight guy to begin with and I don’t know if it was because of that or his knees, but for the duration of the flight, he was grabbing the back of my chair and using it to hold himself up…not the most comfortable for me, but I didn’t want to say anything since he recently had surgery. At the end of the flight, the lady across the aisle from me told me I should complain to the airline and try to get reimbursed for the flight. I honestly think she was more annoyed by the guy than I was.
Then I was in Boston Logan Airport and to get to the international terminal from the domestic, you have to walk through all these small damp corridors that look like a mix between an old swimming pool house and a high school built in the 70’s, kinda creepy. When I finally found the line for security, it was wrapped all the way around the inside of the building. It was a good thing I had a couple hours before my flight, cause I waited in security for at least an hour with a guy in front of me who kept looking back at me like I smelled bad…and maybe I did. So, needless to say, Boston was busy, if you ever take a flight out of there, allot yourself a good chunk of time.
My flight from Boston to Dublin was rather empty. There were a lot of empty chairs, including the one next to me, which was nice cause it gave me a little more leg-room. The flight was about five and a half hours, shorter than I expected and I didn’t sleep a wink. I tried for about an hour and then went back to watching movies. When we landed in Dublin – this is where the fun begins – I had just about an hour to make my connecting flight to Madrid. Unfortunately, I was in the back part of the plane, so just getting into the terminal took a while and then unexpectedly, I had to go through customs. I thought I was only going to have to do that in Madrid, so I started to get a little panicky. Luckly, the girl behind me, who was college-aged I guess, was on the same flight as me, so we found the shortest line and then rushed through security, again…I mean, we just got off an airplane, what could we have picked up in the minute walking down the hall?...and then raced through the airport to our gate. And when I say raced, I mean, we ran. We dodged in and out of people and got dirty looks from businessmen, but we made our flight about two minutes before they closed the doors. Thank goodness! Cause I know there were other people who were coming from Boston who were suppose to be on our flight and they missed it. So, after my heart stopped racing, I settled in for a nap and pretty much slept for the whole two and a half hours.
In Madrid, everything went smoothly, the baggage claim was a zoo and the bathrooms where horrible, but the information lady was really nice and told me the bus to take to get to the bus station where I could connect to Vitoria. It all worked well, but everyone spoke to me in English, even if I tried to speak Spanish to them…I guess I’m an obvious American. Which seems strange to me because while I was waiting in the bus station, for two hours, I kept trying to figure out where people were from without hearing them speak at first and I was wrong pretty much every time. Oh well.
Now that I’m on the bus, I never got to see much of Madrid expect what was on the highway, Spain looks kind of like a mixture between Colorado, New Mexico and maybe Kansas as far as landscape goes. Their mountains look about like the foothills, it seems pretty dry here, and there seems to be a lot of farm land, but there are lots of trees and I noticed from the little I could see out of the airplane window, that a lot of the trees are planted in organized patterns.
It’s all very interesting and beautiful. Spanish is overwhelming already and I haven’t even had to speak very much of it, but hopefully it will be better once I am more rested. I’m excited to get to Vitoria and will write again soon.
P.S. – My first meal in Spain was provided by the bus…a packaged sandwich. haha
10 September 2010
I'm thinking about Ann especially today because I spent all morning with her, well not with her per say, but in the same space! She is a member of the Thompson Valley Art League and they invited me to go be a model for portrait painting. Quite the experience. I got to sit in a chair and stare at the same spot for four hours while six pairs of eyes studied my face...ok, maybe only fun for the conceited, but the awkwardness of the situation started to wear away after the first hour. The cool part was getting to see the different styles of paintings and how each person put me onto canvas. It was really quite flattering at times because everyone kept telling how I was a great model to have and any angle was great for my face, it's always nice to hear those kinds of things. :)
Well I thought I would share the UNFINISHED paintings (I think the artists would appreciate the emphasis) because I think they are all very good and interesting. Maybe at some point I will get to see the finished products of my portraits.
Artists in order: Ann Delzell, Peggy Keagle, Jennifer Cline, Jeff Brooks