22 October 2010

I miss you and you and you...

For the past two weeks I have been on and off homesick. I don't like that I've been feeling that way because I know I am so lucky to be here and experience the great things that I am, but I just can't help it sometimes. So I decided to make a list of some of the things I'm missing...maybe it will help or maybe it won't, but here goes:

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

European History

Yesterday I was reading for my Latin American Lit. class about Fernández de Oviedo, a conquistador and writer (I guess that's the best way to put it, there's a better word to describe him in Spanish :p) and actually I was reading one of his diary entries about a few of the American Isles. He was describing Cuba and Hispaniola. In part of the writing he compared Santo Domingo (the capital of the Dominican Republic) to Barcelona because of the way that the houses and buildings were built with old rock. He wrote that Barcelona was much prettier and held more of his attention, but the city atmosphere of Santo Domingo had a similar charm.
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

Barcelona Part II: The Sites

Saturday Elley and I slept in pretty late, turns out we had a lot of missed sleep to catch up on. We decided that we wanted to go to the Gothic Quarter of the city and see all the historic buildings. Literally everyone and their grandma was out and touring the city on Saturday, so getting everywhere was a pain. We first saw the Plaça de Catalunya and then made our way into the Barri Gotico. We wandered around for a while before deciding to go into the Catedral of Barcelona and met a very nice man before we went in who told us some great stuff about Barcelona! The Cathedral was so amazing. There is something about ancient churches and cathedrals that is very moving for me and it actually took a lot of self control for me to not cry. When we went into the cathedral's garden, there was a shrine of Jesus on the cross and some old ladies were going in there and praying in front of it. Now that was really special, you could just see the devotion of these women in the way they stroked the feet of the Jesus statue while praying; it was really powerful for me. We headed back to the hostel and the Portuguese guys told us they were planning on going to a club that night called Razmatazz. My friend, Hawke, had told me to go there when I went to Barça, so we were excited and glad to have friends to go with. The club is huge, like five stories tall and tons of different rooms with different music in all of them...but I wasn't really diggin the music that night. It was all techno and not very good for dancing, so Elley and I felt like we wasted our money and left earlier than everyone else.

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

Barcelona Part I: The Arrival

OK, so maybe I won't be writing about our trip to Bilbao, I will be going this weekend again for our excursion class and Elley and I were there about three extra times this weekend...it has lost its excitement for me.
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

La Rioja

I have so much to tell about, but I think I will have to break it up into two posts.
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



El Dolmen

01 October 2010

La Huelga General

I don't know how many of you heard about the strikes/protests that happened in Europe this week, but in Vitoria, on Wednesday, there was a "huelga general" or a general protest. It sounds kind of funny to have a general strike/protest, like what?, you're gonna go with something to complain about and just hope someone else feels the same way about it? ha. Well, that was what I thought when I first heard about it, but really Europeans had a reason to shout out to their governments. The debt crisis in Spain and in Europe has caused many people to lose their jobs or have forced pay-cuts, just like in America, and now the governments are trying to cut public spending in order to reduce debt, so obviously people aren't happy. That's the skinny of the matter and about at much as I understand, but if you want to find out more about it read this article.
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.