Thursday, August 13, 2015

So Much To Say

First off: I lost my iPod. It was my only source of communication with the world and that's why I haven't posted. I'm mostly sad about it because I lost three good days worth of logs. I don't remember what I did, but I remember that week being good. Second thing: I am officially back in the US as of two days ago, but I'll continue to update until I finish with what I want to say.

Anyways. So much has happened. For starters, I finally traveled Spain. I went to Toledo, Valencia, Granada, Sevilla, Madrid, Lisbon, Portugal, Pamplona, and Zamora; a new place each weekend, with Toledo and Valencia in the same weekend.

Toledo was rad because we went during Corpus Christi and the streets were decorated with flags and flowers and the likes. Toledo is exactly what you would expect a city to look like if that city was located within a castle. It honestly felt like I was in a different century. Apparently, Toledo is where the swords for Lord of the Rings were made, and most of the stores sold knives, daggers, full blown swords, or even knight's armor. I saw my first cathedral, too. I wish I was the kind of person that cried when they saw something as incredible as this cathedral because it was absolutely beautiful. The details are so extensive that I can't fathom a human being capable of creating them, especially considering the technology that was available when it was built. Unreal. It was so hot, though, and I only had two hours of sleep because of another story for another post. We walked around all day and I was dead by the end. Actually, I was dead by the beginning, but oh-so-dead by the end.

You know when you have those days where you look back and realize that you didn't actually do a whole lot, but you still had a great day? That happened to me with Valencia. We got to Valencia and walked out of the parking garage to find that a parade for Corpus Christi was going on - right in front of us! We watched that for a while before walking around, where we saw tons of buildings that were nothing like American buildings. The buildings here were in a class of their own. Holy cow the people in Spain actually try to make their buildings look memorable! It's one of my favorite things about Spain. Then we went to the beach!!! We ate paella on the board walk before we went to pick our spot in the sand. I saw my first set of boobs almost immediately, and I saw a lot more as the day went on, too. María, Josh, Gabby, and I went out into the ocean, then came back and chilled/ tanned with Linda. After bumming around for hours, we decided to walk along the boardwalk and looked at all of the little tiendas. Those three things (parade, beach, and boardwalk) were the only things we did that day. No complaints.

Granada was a lot of fun. There's a huge Arabian influence there, so most of the street vendors sold hookah, tea, and low-crotched, Aladdin-like pants. While the four girls went in and out of each store, Miguel and I stayed outside and talked about how each tienda was exactly the same as the last. The next day, we all went to Alhambra. Up until that point, I had thought that Alhambra was just a good brand of Spanish beer, but then I learned that it's one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Spain. I still don't know exactly how to describe it because it's not a monument, but it's not a park either. It was super green and insanely pretty all throughout, with gardens and buildings and plazas. Every bush was perfectly manicured, and the water ran through the plazas and down the steps, not just in the fountains. The views were great, too. It's really something you have to see to conceptualize because it's difficult to explain. Afterwords, we visited the cathedral, which was also gorgeous like the one before. Granada is a very, very close third (maybe tied for second with Valencia) on my list of favorite trips for a ton of reasons: the city was beautiful, I was with people I really liked, our apartment that we rented was way cool, the bus rides to and from Granada were the best, and I had the best paella in all of Spain.

Most people would've learned their lesson after my experience with very little sleep the night before a trip. Most people wouldn't want to go through that again. Most people take care of themselves and don't want to bring misery into their lives. That being said, the morning we left for Sevilla I only had only slept for one hour (again, another story for another post). I was able to sleep for an hour on the train, but, unsurprisingly, I was still tired. I don't remember specifics, but I do remember it being unbelievably hot. I also remember that Plaza España was one of the prettiest things I have seen in my entire trip to Spain. A gigantic courtyard with beautiful tile everywhere, and stair rails that were all distinct from one another, making it impossible to see everything quickly. Plus, there was music in the background and people in row boats rowing across the pools of water, which dished out a kind of romantic vibe. It was lovely. The next day we went up the Metropol Parasol, which is this giant wooden structure with a weird shape. I thought it was way cool, but it would have been cooler at night or at sunset.

Madrid was surprisingly unimpressive, and, once again, it was extremely hot. It was my first trip without Linda, who had planned all of the trips prior and did a fantastic job. I went with Monique (Nix) and neither of us had a lot of interest in any of the museums, but, in hindsight, I think that's the appeal of Madrid. We did go the the Museo del Prado which had works of Picasso, but it was a museum, so it was a little boring. We mostly just walked around the city blindly, stumbling upon a few different attractions, but what ended up being the most resounding was the vertical gardin. It's unique. Before we left, Nix and I stopped at a McDonald's because we were curious if they were the same as in America. More or less, they're the same; however, this McDonald's had macaroons and we decided to buy one of each flavor since we hadn't ever tried macaroons. Those ended up being one of the biggest highlights of the trip because macaroons are delicious. Kudos McDonald's.

My favorite trip by a landslide is Lisbon, Portugal. As a fair warning, I won't be able to appropriately describe why it's my favorite, but I'll try. We left on an overnight train and arrived at the station in Lisbon around eight in the morning. After struggling with the metro for a few hours we finally made it to the house we rented and set our stuff down and showered. From there, we went to see the city. We saw all of the sights on the tourist map, except for one or two, including an old cafeteria that made "natas" (the famous pastry of Lisbon) and another restaurant close by that made fantastic shoarma for cheap (€5 for the shoarma, fries, and a drink). At the end of the night, we ate in a "Plaza Mayor" kind of place, and on the other side of the plaza was a concert. We sat around and ate and talked and listened to the band for a few hours before finally going home. It was nice and relaxed. The next day, Independence Day, we saw the remaining attractions that we missed the day before, then went to the beach. We didn't stay long, but it was fun. Afterwards, we went to a supermarket and bought burgers, salad stuff, and supplies for s'mores. On our way back we ran into some Austrailian guys we'd met the day before and invited them over. Everyone played cards while I tried to cook burgers with insufficient amounts of coal, then we just hung out for a while. The day after that we all took a trip to Sintra, a town that was 40 minutes away by train. The whole city was green!!! Trees and flowers everywhere! The flowers were huge, too! It was nuts. It was like Alhambra, but as a city (but with less fountains than Alhambra). We went to a sweet looking palace and it was really pretty, but the inside was extremely boring. Since this palace was in a park, we explored the park and found a well-thing that you could walk down. Súper guay. Afterwards, we ate dinner at a restaurant that had typical Portugese food and finished the night with one of the best sunsets I've ever seen in my life.

The Running of the Bulls is kind of a big deal, right? I can check that off my bucket list before it even made it onto the list. I'll tell this tale from two sides. First: San Fermín is incredible. There are tons of people all dressed in white and red which makes everything look so festive. Around every corner there's a band playing, people singing their hearts out, or, often times, both. It's so lively and happy. Then there's the bull fights and the running of the bulls, of course. There's one place in the whole world where you can watch bulls run down the streets in the morning, with people running alongside, then watch the same bulls in a bull fight later that day, and I was there. Amazing. The second perspective: public urination. The streets are always wet. Is it water? Is it wine? Maybe. But whatever it is, it has a high pee-content. There are thousands of people in the streets at all times during San Fermín, and as long as there are drunk men and a wall for them to pee on, the tradition will reign. I also saw a girl, mid-day, squat down in the middle of the street and contribute to the smell of porta-potty. Gross. There's also tons of trash. Mostly empty bottles of sangria, beer, or cups that at one point had beer or sangria in them, but nonetheless, the streets were disgusting. Anyways, bull fights are kind of cool, but surprisingly sad. I didn't know what happened in a bull fight until about two weeks before, but even still, it was more sad than I thought it would be. The running of the bulls was way neat. The atmosphere was filled with excitement and everybody was anxiously waiting for the bulls to pass by. It was cool and all, but it was at most ten seconds of bulls running and people clearing out of the way - super quick experience. Overall take-away from Pamplona: one of the best trips I've done with once in a lifetime experiences. Extremely fun and well worth the debt I'm in because of it.

My host family and I went to Zamora for a canoeing competition that the two youngest were competing in. I didn't know we were going until about an hour before we left, but I can roll with the punches so it was no big deal. Apparently it takes five hours to get there, so I slept for half of it, then played a surprisingly childish family car game (despite everyone in the car being at least 18 years old). We explored the city for a bit, then grabbed a bite. Afterwards we went out and drank a few beers with all of the parents of the canoeing kids. It was so nice not having to pay for my food or drinks for once. When we were finished with that, we went to the hostel. As it turns out, the parents reserved two private rooms, and guess who got their own room... Yup. Maripaz and I. Maripaz and I got a whole room to ourselves so that she could practice flirting and I could practice being "really tired all of a sudden." It was a lot of fun. The next day we watched the kids compete, then went right back for Cuenca. I studied the entire way back, which was helpful since I hadn't studied in a long time.

I'll post again sometime soon. I won't include my logs this time because that would spoil whatever else I'd want to write about.

Friday, May 29, 2015

It's Different Here

I've never been abroad before, so I didn't know what to expect when I signed up to go to Spain for three months. It's a totally different culture, and, naturally, a few things have surprised me. The first of which: body odor.

I don't think deodorant has been in Spain for very long. It's still in beta testing here. Only half the people use it which makes walking behind a person extremely dangerous. And elevators - Madre mía, elevators are traps hiding in plain sight. One time, I saw a cute girl walking out of the elevator just as I was walking into the apartment complex. I held the door for her as she left, then went to the elevator to go upstairs. I must have opened the elevator door between breaths because when the door shut and I inhaled, I think I became religious. Sweet baby Jesus, the unmistakable spicy musk of raw pit stench had filled that entire box! In a way, I was kind of impressed that a person could even produce such a pungent smell, but, at the same time, I wasn't sure if I was still getting off on the 6th floor, or if I would keep going up til I reached the pearly gates.
On a less traumatizing note, I expected Cuenca to have wifi. People have wifi in their houses, but businesses almost never offer it. The few that do make you sign up before using it, which isn't awful, it's just very 2008-USA-esque. I told my friends that I'd Skype them from somewhere cool, but that likely won't happen anymore.

I found where the smoking industry went. I thought it was fading into the past, but apparently it just left America and instead came to Spain. Everybody here smokes. I was told that they've recently made it illegal to smoke in restaurants, banks, hospitals, and all those places, so at least there's progress. The weirdest part for me, though, is that some people are only social smokers. America made me think that that was impossible. I'm a social Place 'N Bake cookie eater. You don't see people trying to quit eating Place 'N Bake cookies in America, nor people testifying about how Place 'N Bake cookies has affected somebody they love. Eating cookies socially makes sense to me, but smoking socially is hard for me to wrap my brain around.

Additionally, I've changed my mind about being tall. I'm not necessarily tall here, but in comparisson to my family, I'm definitely tall. I think my family and their apartment were all built to 3/4 scale. Some of the old buildings in Cuenca have front doors that reach just above my waist. I'll try to get a picture.

In Cuenca, just about all of the music is in English. The radio is exactly the same here as it is back home, but with a Spanish speaking DJ. It's weird. I figured it'd be similar music, but with artists from Spain making the crappy music instead of the same Americans I'm already used to.

All-in-all, I like the differences. I can live without the BO, but otherwise it's been great. It's not America, and that's exactly what I wanted out of my study abroad trip.

Day ten

Long day. Went canoeing with the family (minus the mom cuz she's "scared of water"). Super fun despite being paired with Maripaz who, in addition to being really flirty, was awful at steering. We hit so many branches and had tons of trouble handling the canoe, but the views were unreal at times. I wanna do it again by myself. Hadta wear one of Pablo's Under Armor shirts that fit waaayyyy too tight. My nips poked through before I was even cold lol. Immediately after, went to handball with Sara and Yuki. Omg sew kewl D: super loud too. Cuenca won 28-27 on a last second shot by their best player. The band was right behind us during the game. Went drinking afterwords while the band continued to play for the fans at the bar. And immediately after that, I went to a dinner with rock climbing people (who I'd only seen maybe twice before). Ate TONS of food. Drank tons of alcohol. Went to a club afterwords and stayed out til 4:00 am. It was weird seeing adults out past 10:00 pm.

Day eleven

Ears still ringing from yesterday (handball band and club music). Went to a party at the dad's dad's house. Gorgeous views. Couldn't understand anything because I was tired and they spoke fast.

Day twelve

I think I found a usual spot to get my midday snack from. Got super lost after rock climbing.

Day thirteen

One of the least eventful days. Couldn't find pottery class so I went to a couple bars then went home.

Day fourteen

Maripaz got her hair cut and dyed and thus decided to put makeup on and wear a lingerie-like dress with high heels lol. Drank "Torno" beer that's made in Cuenca and it's *really* awful.

Day fifteen

Learned that Christmas in Spain involves Santa Claus (as a secondary character) and one of the three wise men (except magic and more important than Santa). Also they put out shoes and water instead of milk and cookies. Tried clams (maybe oysters, I dunno but I think clams). Quite good.

Day sixteen

For class, we ate churros while learning cuss words instead of doing real work because Lucias is the best. In Spain it's "cara o cruz" instead of "heads or tails." Played monopoly with the mom, Maripaz, and Pablo's friend.

Day seventeen

Needed to pee for two hours cuz I was waiting for Maripaz to get out of the friggin bathroom. Got my hair cut (which was frightening). Bought bread and ate the whole thing while I watched the sunset. Went to a bar to watch most of Copa del Rey (including Messi's phenomenal goal).

Day eighteen

Too much arguing and door slamming before 10 am. I don't think I like my family anymore. Went to the river for a couple hours. Saw a guy beat a snake to death with a stick. Met Jim and Jeanne from North Carolina (old married couple). Walked the river at sunset.

Day nineteen

Met new students. Saw a parade for Virgen de la Luz. Dudes carried a huge statue thing of Virgen de la Luz on their shoulders from the church next to class all the way up hill to another church while a band played and people followed and quietly sang hymns. The bell at the church was rung in a cool way once the statue got there. Cooked enchiladas for my family. I had almost nothing I needed and the chilis were barely even spicy. They also gave me frozen fajita crap instead of chicken so it was more like fajitas than it was enchiladas. Toured Plaza Mayor again.

Sara photobombing the band at the bar before the match
On our way to balonmano (handball) with tons of other Cuencans
Look at how big the churros are here!
Aforementioned statue thing of Virgen de la Luz being carried by the aforementioned dudes

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mi Familia

My Cuencan family is pretty cool. They're just like any other family, but in Spanish. One dad, one mom, three kids (two girls and a boy), one cat, and a dog. Textbook family composition.

The dad is cool. He tries to be funny like all dads do. I get along with him pretty well for not speaking Spanish. The longest conversation we've had was about bars: which bar has the best beer, which bar has the best food, etc. The first few days I was here, I didn't understand anything anyone said at the dinner table. When he noticed, he would try really hard to explain to me what was going on, but I couldn't understand what he was saying either. Usually I tried to look like I was thinking, then reply "sí," but that never convinced anyone.

I definitely had one of the worst introductions of my life on my first day in Spain. When I met the mom, Encarna, I hadn't had any sleep for more than 24 hours, so thinking clearly wasn't something I was capable of. When I met her I instinctively went for a handshake, and she motioned for the cheek-kiss thing. When I realized that I wasn't in America, I pulled my hand back to convert into a Spaniard for the first time, she put her hand out for me to shake. I was already leaning in towards her so I just turned the whole thing into a hug. It was awkward. She had no idea what was going on, and neither did I. Since then, I've found out that the mom is way super nice. She doesn't know any English whatsoever, which is fine, but she doesn't understand broken Spanish very well either so we don't really talk. We mostly just smile cluelessly at each other from time to time. Probably because of the hug.

Maripaz is the oldest child. She's the only one who speaks English which is sssssooooooooo helpful because I wouldn't have otherwise been able to function the first few days. She's extremely studious and will finish high school soon. The first few days, I talked to the family almost exclusively through her, so the family designated her as my tour guide until I knew what I was doing. I'm 98% sure she developed a crush on me, which is the absolute worst since I need to talk to her so often. The day I went from unsure to 98% sure was also the day the parents decided to send us to watch the sunset. It was just me and this socially-underdeveloped high schooler... All alone... The sunset was beautiful, but the conversation was uncomfortable.

Andrea is 16, and she's a walking stereotype. Like every other 16 year old girl, her favorite band is One Direction. She's a fan of shopping, boys, and taking selfies. She can be sassy at times, then pleasant minutes later. She's also pestering me to download Instagram because she wants more followers. We've talked a bit more recently because I'm understanding a lot more Spanish, but when I first got here she would taunt me for not knowing anything. Also, she likes to ask me inappropriate questions in Spanish since she knows I won't understand, so that's obviously fun for me.

Lastly, Pablo. I don't want to not like someone, especially if I have to live with them. But Pablo? Pablo's a punk. I haven't ever really talked to him because his Spanish is always too fast, too muffled, and full of teenage angst. I guess I get it: he's 15 and I have preexisting biases towards kids like him, so that may be the root of my disdain, but, be that as it may, I'll try my best to get to know him better so that I can say I tried.

The sunset over Cuenca

Graffiti (American graffiti artists need to step up their game because this is rad)

Journal entries

Day six

It rained for the first time since I've been here, then it quickly turned to hail. Encarna insisted on doing my laundry despite my many attempts to politely decline. Washing machines are the same here, but dryers aren't. Dryers appear to be normal, when in actuality they are big containers to heat your clothes to the point *just* before they catch fire. I went to pottery class and was sufficiently out of my element. Mario, the teacher, was really nice and invited me and Yuki to grab a beer.

Day seven

Found my way back from class without getting lost for the first time. Spaghetti for lunch got me excited. Cold spaghetti made me sad. Why is everything always served cold? Ate excellent desert confections and tried a drink called "Bitter". It was good but bitter indeed. Saw an accordion for the first time. Talked to the dad about beer and bars. Longest conversation in spanish with anyone in the family to date 👍

Day eight

Today in class I understood so much more than ever before. Got invited to go to a handball game on Saturday. Toured a museum.

Day nine

Bought a battery for the phone my family gave me. Thought "catorce euros" was forty euros :( had pizza for dinner and IT WAS WARM!!! :D except one pizza was cold, but whatevs. Had ice cream with the family.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

¡Hola! From Cuenca

I am on day six of my 90 day excursion abroad and I've already learned a lot. Here, I am tall. Not regular tall, but hit-your-head-on-all-the-lights-in-the-apartment tall. I'm also blonde (I'm not blonde). In Cuenca, breakfast, lunch, and dinner is actually breakfast, dinner, and lunch.

Speaking of which, I wake up at 7:30 to have breakfast with the family. It's usually small cookie-like bread circles or toast with coffee, which is probably the least substantial breakfast any real American has ever had. Because of this, I'm starved come 2:45 when we eat lunch. Let me tell you, lunch is the meal here in Cuenca and oh my goodness it's big. I'll eat strange food and finish whatever portion I think is polite, then be tactfully forced to eat more until I'm full. Afterwards, the main dish comes out. Then I eat more food and get even more full. And when everyone is done, fruit. After every lunch and every dinner we eat fruit... I forget every time.

Dinner isn't huge, but it's not small either. We have three or four appetizers at the table and that's dinner. Plus fruit, of course.

Besides my food rant, I've been keeping a log so that I can remember everything. This is everything I've written down so far, completely unedited:

Day one

Spanish is hard. Light switches switch the opposite way. Need sleep.

Day two

Spoke with Carlos and Cristina in Spanish while they talked to me in English. Drank my first beer(s) here. Need sleep.

Day three

Went on a walk/hike with the parents. Andrea asked me if I had seen 50 Shades of Grey while giggling like the 16 year old girl she is. Tried "Risolí" (traditional liqueur of Cuenca/coffee liqueur). It's disgusting. Toured Cuenca with the family. Ate at a restaurant in a village outside of Cuenca that was fancy. Ate octopus that looked like onion rings. Need sleep.

Day four

I got to sleep in (9:00) but I stayed up til 1:00 playing monopoly so it doesn't really count. Also Espot the dog slept with me so I slept poorly. Took a phenomenal nap. Watched the sunset then walked around the castle.

Day five

First day of classes. Talked to the Japanese girl and it turns out she's fresh out of a divorce. Ate a níspero. Muy bueno. Went rock climbing. That was more scary than it should've been. Ordered food for the first time (which was even scarier than rock climbing). Ordered a hamburger cuz I was nervous. Hamburgers apparently have eggs over easy on top of the patty here.