24 December 2010

Merry Christmas from Germany!

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Frohe Weihnachten!

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

Last Excursion

So I was just on Facebook reading some friends' statuses and I just thought, "I'm living such a cool life". What a good realization to come to, I mean I've known it all along, but it's nice to remind myself that I'm doing so much with my life right now. Even days when I feel like I suck at Spanish and I can't form a proper sentence to save my life, I still manage to get my way around and communicate with friends. Like today, I was feeling really discouraged after my Spanish class because I was explaining something aloud and my professor told me the way I had phrased was confusing, but then he never told me how to correct it and that frustrated me cause I am obviously always trying to improve. Then after class, Elley and I went to lunch with an Italian friend who speaks Spanish very well...of course, he's Italian!...and I carried on a good conversation the whole time about several different topics. That just makes me feel really good because that situation would have been really hard for me four months ago and honestly, would have scared me! One day at a time, improvement is happening.

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

Instructions for life.

The other day, my good friend, Westin, sent me some Instructions for Life that one of his professors had written out and it got me thinking about the instructions that guide my life. Every person has different standards and ways of thinking, so I thought I'd share some of the things I've come up with for my own life.

1. Listen to your instincts, it's God talking to you for a split second.
2. Travel!
3. Be good to all you meet; Karma exists.
4. Take responsibility for your actions.
5. Smile!
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

Change of Plans!

As I said in my last post, I have some big and wonderful news!

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

Granada y Sevilla

Hola a todos!
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.