Sunday, October 25, 2015

Today I am happy

Breakfast by the river
Today I am happy. It seems like a strange thing to write, so simple yet so powerful. I’m sitting on a plastic bag, propped up against a stone seat facing the Guadalquivir River (gotta have that back support). Yesterday I bought an apple tart, and apple, and a soft pretzel from the Mercado and that’s about to be breakfast (there’s something lovely about grocery stores here). There’s a hint of fall in the air, but if I was sitting in the sun I’d probably be too hot. There are tons of runners on this path along the river and it makes me miss my long weekend run, perhaps I’ll find a race to do in the spring? Vale, I’m going to start my tart and fill you in on my adventures from this week!

The biggest thing I did this week was start my practica (internship) at the colegio. I know I told you about it last week so I’ll skip to the good stuff. I “observed” seven classes this week, I use “observed” lightly because the only class that I actually “observed” was taking a test. All this rest of the classes I dove into head first…which was great. Monday is my heaviest day, I’m there all morning and have four classes. Two of the classes have 8/9 year olds and the other two have 11/12 year olds. It’s nice because I have both of the 8/9 year old classes again later in the week. For the younger kids I basically introduced myself and then helped them go over their workbook pages because they have a test coming up. I read the examples out loud because it’s good for them to hear it in a native English accent. For this coming week I have to make lesson plans. It’s a little confusing because I don’t really have any guidelines  but I made a Halloween based lesson, so I guess we’ll see how that goes! #wingitproductions With the older kids I introduced myself and then they got to ask me questions. They were mostly normal questions (favorite color, food, etc.) but asking if I preferred Sevilla or Betis (the city football club rivalry), if I owned a gun, and if I had a boyfriend was also quite common. They were (not surprisingly) all appalled that I didn’t eat meat. Also there is a descanso (#snacktime) mid-morning and on Monday two kids offered
Birthday cake!
me cake as it was their birthday and they brought it in to share. Man that reminds me of the good old days! On Thursday I had a class of 14/15 year olds. It was quite intimidating at first, but once I got into introducing myself and answering questions it was much better. I also wasn’t sure how much I liked the teacher until I talked to her and found out that she had only been teaching that class for 3 days! Finally, on Friday I had a class of 3/4 year olds. It was really disorganized because I hadn’t officially been assigned to a class yet and the program organizer was out of town. The kids were adorable, and obviously there isn’t too much you can do with teaching English to basically toddlers when you’re completely unprepared, so it was more like babysitting, which was fine. Oh, and the teacher left the room for like half the class. Lesson learned:  my Spanish is good enough to keep 25 3/4 year olds from destroying a classroom. In total: I adore my practica and would rather stay at the school all day than go to class. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do “when I grow up”. This internship is already making me think about teaching but also has renewed my interest in post-grad research in the field of language acquisition. It also occurred to me, it would be really amazing to work on establishing a bilingual program at an existing school or a stand-alone bilingual preschool/daycare. That combines research with application, which is all I really want out of life.
Another defining moment of this week was the fact that I didn’t have my computer until Friday. YAY for having it back but not yay because all of the data on my old hard drive is still on my old hard drive, but they're working on transferring if off. Also the wifi at our house stopped working on like Sunday night and we didn’t get it back until Friday morning. It was kind of a struggle in that I had to either buy something at a café or go to the university and hope that one of the computer rooms was open in order to check my email or do anything on a computer. In some ways it was nice, I went to bed early almost every night (except the nights I couldn’t fall asleep due to...a variety of reasons). It was frustrating though because everyone else in the house seemed to still used their phone (they had data or pre-loaded social media while at a place that had wifi). Regardless, the issue is resolved and I have both a computer and internet access at home now.

Since I’m tired all the time I always have an internal battle of whether or not I want to go to my flamenco class on Tuesday afternoons (LOL I must be from Spain, my class is from 8-9 which in my defense is before dinner). I always go because, well, I already paid for it. I usually end up having a good time but this week was exceptional. I’m not sure what it was but I had a blast. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of it!

The Best Pastry Ever
On Thursdays there is a meeting at the capilla (small church) of university students. I had wanted to check it out so I decided to go and see what it was all about. My class ends at 7 on Thursdays so I walked around for a bit and then went back to the university to get this pastry that is super popular and I always see everyone walking around with. I’ve wanted to try it but I always just convinced myself that it couldn’t be very good. OH MY GOSH I WAS SO WRONG! It is amazing. It’s warm and chocolately and buttery and amazing filled amazingness. I am literally so surprised how good it is. I think I am going to make it my Thursday treat J Anyway, back to church. I went to mass and then there was adoration and then there was the meeting. There were TONS of students. It was really cool to see how many people were there, especially because I’m not used to large groups of Catholics. I won’t lie, the meeting this week was kind of boring, and there was an invited speaker who came to talk about a program that is similar to hospice but not quite the same. I also wasn’t expecting it to go as late as it did, I left at like 10:15. I’m glad I went though and definitely want to go back.

Ester and I last night
Practicing my Spanish has been going really well, I went to get coffee/drinks multiple times this week with my Spanish friends. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m always convinced that my Spanish is only “sort of kind of okay” and then I realize that oh, I just had a multi-hour conversation with someone. I was really excited because I went out with a friend last night and she said that my Spanish has improved since we first met…YAY! That was literally so exciting to hear. Oh, I guess I can just tell you about last night while I’m at it. So Ester and I had been trying to make plans all weekend but one thing or another came up (like being tired) and we didn’t end up going out until last night. We met up around 10 in Triana and then headed to el Centro to look for a bar “muy tipico” called “La Gitana Loca” (the crazy gypsy). It was indeed crazy, it was jam packed with uni students, complete with a non-functioning, disgusting bathroom. It was really cute decor-wise and the food looked good, but I just stuck with a nice glass of tinto. After spending some time there we headed back to Triana to look for this flamenco show that someone had given us a flyer for. After figuring out how to use the map that was on the flyer we found the place. It was a club called “Nonina”. There were singers and a guitar player and it was cool to listen, but we were the youngest people there by at least ten years! After a couple of songs we headed back to Calle Betis in search of a place to dance. We stopped in a few bars before we went into Rio Latino. I’ve been there before and I really like it and they have good music. The only thing was that it was a Saturday (less young people are out on Saturdays, I’m not exactly sure why…Thursday and Friday are the big nights here) and also it was late. For me. Late in Spain is 6am, late for me is 2am. It was around 2, which felt like 3 because of changing the clocks. We met this one guy who was nice but he talked to us FOREVER. It was also frustrating because while he is from Sevilla he had spent like in London so he spoke pretty good English which meant he wanted to talk to me in English and Ester in Spanish. I explained that I also spoke Spanish but he didn’t believe me. It’s kind of annoying, I know you want to practice your English but you can’t just not believe that I can't speak Spanish because I’m not from Spain. I mean, I came here for a reason right? Anyway, after my classic “oh I don’t have a phone that works here” line, we headed out. It was a fantastic night, and am looking forward to going out with Ester again, possibly on Thursday because that’s when there’s more uni students out. Also, I have been having trouble falling asleep but I’ve found that walking around cobblestone streets for six hours in heeled boots will have you sleeping like a baby in no time at all.

Saturday night dinner
In other news, Christmas candy is already out (I legit can’t wait to buy and advent calendar!) and my host family is great. It’s really throwing me off that there’s Christmas stuff out, but Ester explained to me that Halloween and Thanksgiving aren’t really things here so Christmas is the next big thing. As far as my host family, it’s still really weird to me that they’re kind of like a copy of my family in both number (3 kids, 2 parents) and how everyone acts. I can’t imagine living with any other family. And I know I’ve said it before but my host mom has been an absolute angel with helping me get the package that my actual mom sent! It’s also super fun to listen to the fam talk about random childhood memories like their mom dressing them in matching clothes or demanding that their banana be pealed like a “fuente” (fountain) with 5 pieces not 3.

Breakfast "muy tipico" at Cafe de Indias
Strange things: I went to Skype my parents the other day and was having such a hard time forming English sentences…it was so weird! Especially when I would pause to talk to someone in Spanish and then try and go back to English, it was a struggle. I also have to restrain myself from writing my journal in Spanish, I know it’s not a bad thing but I’m trying to keep it in English for other people’s sake/what if when I’m 80 I can’t read Spanish (which I hope never happens), some Spanish sentences do make their way in though.  I find myself thinking in Spanish sentence structure if not in Spanish words. It’s exciting but also such a weird phenomenon. I also love how the language flows here. When I’m hanging out with people my age the conversation just seems to drift between languages. It’s a very “romantical” (as Mark would say) notion but also super cool. It makes me sad that that’s not a thing that’s going to happen when I get back to the states. It also occurred to me that while I am becoming well versed in fifteenth-seventeenth century European history, I only know the names and places in Spanish.

La Gitana Loca
What else? I really want to re-watch/catch up on the TV show Reign because we’re getting to that point in my history classes (Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine d’Medici, etc) but for some reason it’s not showing up on my Netflix, which YAY SPAIN GOT NETFLIX, legit like 5 days ago. I started a new BBC show called Paradise which is really good and I’m going to start on Velvet which is a Spanish show that my host mom and her oldest daughter are obsessed with. I watch it with them on Thursdays but it’s a bit confusing so I need to start at the beginning of the series. Oh, I finally bought a carry on suitcase and it’s proudly displaying my Lisboa sticker, I kinda wish that I had brought my other place stickers from home to put on it. I’m not sure what it is but there’s something so exciting about buying a suitcase.

Having been here for 7.5 weeks I feel entitled to give an award for the best cup of coffee in Sevilla. I’ve tried many places and I know there’s many more to try but Cristina and Co (across the street from the university) is AMAZING. I go there to intercambio with Alejandra twice a week and it’s amazing, on Thursday we didn’t meet but I still went to get coffee there. It’s just a simple café con leche for a euro twenty and it’s great. I think the university cafeteria is second, but Christina’s wins for sure. So if you’re in Sevilla, give them a try!

Okay folks, I think that’s all I’ve got for ya! I have another busy week coming up (wooooo midterms!) but I hope everyone has an amazing Halloween…eat lots of Reese’s for me!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mid semester slump

Well, thanks to my wonderful friend Madeline, I am back. I started this rainy fall morning with warm toast and peach marmalade and some hot cinnamon tea, excited that I would be able to blog again this morning after mass. Mass wasn’t until noon so after I ate I worked on a bit of homework and watched a canonization service with my señora on TV. Today la Madre Maria de la Purisíma, a nun from Sevilla, is being recognized as a saint! Anyway, I went to mass at the capilla at the university and it has definitely been my favorite mass so far. The capilla (small church) reminds me of home, the priest is young and full of energy, and the people at the mass were generally a bit younger. Now I’m sitting at “Café & Te” using Madeline’s laptop to tell y’all about my life.
Why am I using her laptop? Well, a little over a week ago mine decided that it wasn’t going to work anymore. I’ve been trying to fix it and have had people look at it but so far I haven’t had any luck. It’s more of an inconvenience than anything because most of my classes don’t require writing and I can use my phone to do the readings. It is frustrating when it comes to planning travel, doing my JYS homework, and not being able to blog…especially since that’s one of the highlights of my week. Not to mention that my whole life is on that computer! Also, sometimes you just want to watch a movie...or the democratic debate. I’m hoping I can resolve whatever the issue is soon and without having to pay.

In reality, my computer breaking could not have come at a worse time. I had already been having a really hard time, an off week (or two) or sorts. I think that my slump is a mix of things. One of the main factors is that my lovely mother sent me a package in mid-September and instead of getting the package I got a nice little note from Correos (the mail company) that my package was in Madrid but that I’d need to jump through many a hoop, wearing a tutu and a clown nose id i wanted it. After spending a week trying to figure out how to submit all of the documentation I needed myself, I went to the JYS office for help. I was basically told that I wouldn’t be able to get my package because I needed a NIF (sort of like a social security number) and that it was impossible to get one before the deadline they gave me and that there was nothing they could do for me. I was very frustrated and upset but luckily my señora is an angel. She talked to her dad, who just went through this with one of his JYS students and he got me a temporary NIF and then my señora took me to Correos, sorted out what we needed to do, and then helped me upload all of the necessary documents. We’re still waiting on a confirmation, but I think we may have solved this mystery!
Aside from the package and the computer I’ve been feeling a bit down in general. I didn’t think about it until a conversation that I had with a friend, but I could quite possibly have been feeling the effects of culture shock. I found the following description of stage 2 (negotiation) on Wikipedia:

After some time, differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. Excitement may eventually give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger as one continues to experience unfavorable events that may be perceived as strange and offensive to one's cultural attitude. Language barriers, stark differences in public hygiene, traffic safety, food accessibility and quality may heighten the sense of disconnection from the surroundings

I would say that this is a pretty accurate description of what I was feeling. Other things that have contributed to this “slump” are my ongoing frustration with lack of personal space (aka a tiny room and sharing a bathroom with four other people), not having anywhere to study/do homework quietly, not being able to find any sort of protein/cliff bar, being catcalled (or barked at) whenever I go out at night, and struggling to find times to practice using Spanish.

I can’t say that everything has been bad. While I am now out of my slump, I still had plenty of fun experiences over the past two weeks that I’ve been waiting to tell you about! Something that started out being a negative was constantly seeing everyone at home posting pictures of fall related things. I’m thinking I should just spend less time on social media but regardless, it made me really miss being in the states. After posting a Facebook status and taking a trip to Starbucks (I didn’t get a pumpkin spice latte, just a cappuccino and blueberry muffin), I found my FB well covered in pictures of the Berkshires and fall themed things in general. Thank you so much! I love seeing the pictures, and I’ve had friends tell me that they like seeing them too ! Also, my señora must be psychic because we’ve had crema de calabaza (pumpkin soup) twice since that day! Also random thought-do I love pumpkins so much because I love Cinderella?

Speaking of Cinderella, I’ve seen two movies in the past two weeks, both American movies but both in Spanish. It’s gone pretty well, which is great because I love going to the movies. It is a little weird only hearing people with Spanish accents though. The first one that I saw was “Pan” which is the new live-action “prequel” to Peter Pan. I really enjoyed it and it was surprisingly easy to understand. The other movie that I saw was “Marte” (The Martian). I’ve been dying to see this movie since I read the book, so of course I went to see it on opening day. I treated myself to dinner and a movie and it was a great night. I went to the gourmet market near the Puente de Triana and got a slice of capresse pizza and a copa de rosé. Not your typical wine and pizza pairing, but I do love the pink stuff. There’s something relaxing about treating yourself and I do have to give a shout out to professor Lobo for making us go out to dinner and a movie in Intro Psych alone, he knows what he’s doing kids! I complained that we’d always at least have our phones to occupy us but that is not the case in Spain! #nointernationalplan One of the things I love about the movies here is that you can bring in your own food. In fact, there’s both a candy store and a grocery store on the bottom floor of the building where the theater is. I spent 1 euro on popcorn compared to the 3.50 they were charging for a similar size upstairs. The movie lived up to its expectations, but I feel like I missed some jokes because it was in Spanish, reading the book helped a lot though. I definitely want to see it in English! The only down fall is that the movie theater is at least a half hour walk from my house. 

Dinner from my night out

One of the other exciting things that happened this week was my host sister’s birthday. She turned 20 on Friday and we had a big birthday lunch to celebrate. We had cannellois, mine with spinach, for the main dish and some very yummy Tinto and an amazing tarta for dessert. They call it “tarta de Valencia” but it also goes by “tarta de chocolate con galletas”. It was amazing. It is made out of sugar, eggs, butter, chocolate, galletas (cookie like crackers), milk, cognac, and coffee. It sounds like a weird combination but it’s to die for. It was a very fun lunch and makes me excited for my birthday! (Even though I won’t be in Sevilla on my actual birthday). 

Yesterday we had a JYS trip to Ronda. The city was "¡precioso!" but the views of the mountains both in and on the way to the city were just breath taking. My camera of course did not do them justice. I really need to go back and hike there..."the mountains are calling and I must go". The city is built on top of a cliff which is pretty amazing in itself, as is the bridge that connects the two halves of the city. During our tour we saw the bull ring, the bridge, the Arabic baths, and walked around in the "old town". There was a storm looming in the distance and it finally hit us just as we were finishing the tour. Madeline and I sat on the ground and enjoyed our bocadillos safely under the cover of an outdoor walkway. We then set out looking for the perfect rainy day pastry. We ended up at a cafe where we had our nice warm cafés con leche and a yummy pastry. I'm still not really sure what it was, but it was amazing. We had a nice philosophical conversation that lasted a few hours in the cafe and most of the bus ride home. I think cafés tend to have that effect on people. I know I always do my best thinking there!

Not my picture, but it looked like this 
Last night after dinner (a homemade veggie burger that my señora was very proud of), I stayed in and watched "Lo Impossible" with my host sister Esperanza. It's a movie, with Naomi Watts, about a family that survives the 2004 tsunami. They were running a special last night because the family that it's based on is Spanish. It was a lot of fun to hang out with my host sister and the movie was really good, sad and scary, but good. There was also a documentary on after so I got to see real videos and also hear from the actual woman who the book/movie is based off of. It's interesting because I remember being in 4th grade when it happened and us having a bake sale to raise money to donate. 

[Side note: I've really come to appreciate staying in with my family. At times I have a bit of an internal conflict, "why aren't you going out? Why aren't you taking advantage of the night life? Why don't you go and hang out with people from the program/meet new people?" I have found that I never regret staying in, and almost always regret going out. I really do enjoy it sometimes but most of the time I get more out of activities that don't involve spending money at bars and walking half way across the city to go to dirty clubs with crappy American music and a bunch of drunk Americans and a few sketchy Spanish guys. I've also realized that the type of people I want to meet are not the type of people that I'm going to meet at bars and clubs. I'd rather spend my money and time in a cafe. Coming to terms with this has been difficult but a real lesson in figuring out what I want and expressing that]

In Ronda
While we're on the topic of schools, I start my internship this week! I'll be helping teach English 4 days a week at a local catholic school. I have classes in a range of age groups and I'm super excited! I adore children and can't wait to work with them and get more involved in the community! I still have to work out my morning schedule with going to the gym, eating, showering, and being at the school by 9am. I'll keep you updated on this!
I've been really happy with how I've been keeping up with working out. It definitely gives me something to do in the mornings other than being in my room and starts the day on a good note. I've officially been doing "Kayla" for a month which is exciting. Also I went on a run for the first time in a while on Thursday night en el parque de Maria Luisa as stress relief for working on getting my package for most of the day. It was beautiful. I loved it and I loved running, I have to make time for it more often. 
I think this is hilarious: "Toasted flakes of golden corn"

As frustrating as it has been trying to find time to really practice my Spanish, I have started regularly "intercambioing" with Alejandra (who I know from SBC) which is a lot of fun. I go back and forth almost hourly on where I think my Spanish skills are. It's very difficult to have uninterrupted Spanish when you are reading English on your phone or talking in English. It's hard but I'm trying to immerse myself more fully. 

This is pretty much all I have for you right now. I have a nice rant on consumerism/exploitation that I'd love to write but it's always a bit difficult to write that much on your phone. Maybe I should just take pictures of my journal pages and upload them? Then you can see my raw and in edited opinion. Otherwise maybe I'll stay at the university one day during lunch and type it. 

Okay, this is goodbye for now! I have a busy few weeks coming up with midterms (lol what) and lots of traveling! I hope that I'll be able to keep you a bit more updated on my life!

Love and Lollies,


P.S. Sorry about the lack of pictures of Ronda, I didn't want to upload all my pictures to Madeline's computer. Also we're sitting outside of Starbucks using illegal wifi-I stole the code off a table :) 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

I've officially been here for a month!

Sunday Breakfast
I decided to take a different approach to breakfast this morning. After wandering into all of my favorite cafes I decided that I didn’t want something sweet for a change. I ended up at the supermarket near my building (one of the only ones open on Sundays) and I got a “chapata” of bread and a melecoton (peach). It was only 66 cents for both, which is great considering how much a café breakfast can be. I took them to Parque de Principes which is where I’m currently sitting. It’s pretty amazing because in the shade it actually feels like fall! I’m not sure what it is but something about buying supermarket food makes me feel very much like a traveler and makes me excited for the adventures I have coming up!

This week felt pretty long in comparison to last week but I’m assuming that’s because last week was more like 2 mini weeks. My classes have been going well but I like my “regular” class about 200x more than my cursos concertados. The topics are interesting in those classes but the professors are all really monotone and they’re 2 hours instead of one. The atmosphere of my regular course is just so exciting and energetic and it makes me want to do well. The professor is great and sits down with me after every class and answers my questions. I’ve also really enjoyed reading the book that goes with the class. It was the first (and so far only) textbook I’ve bought, and it was only 38 euros! My professor was appalled when I told him that if would have been at least 100 dollars in the states. It’s surprisingly easy to read and understand. I think that in general it’s nice to take a break and study something new!

My life outside of school has been pretty crazy this week and I really enjoyed staying in and watching a movie last night. If you’re looking for a good comedy/adventure/wanderlust inspiring/and a lil bit of romance movie, I recommend you watch “Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. It was really good, though some popcorn and watching it on an actual TV would have made it great. I did manage to find some peanut M&Ms at a chino though. It was an “I’m exhausted and craving chocolate and a good movie” kind of night.

Very Hot Churros
Monday night was my friend Madeline’s birthday so we went out to the river to botellon and then to get her a drink at an Irish pub (per family tradition). It was really nice because I don’t normally go to botellons or hang out with very many of the people who were there. It was also cool to go to the Irish pub, I’ve never been to one before. I wonder how different it is from actual Irish pubs. Also they play American football games so that’s good to know as football season kicks into high gear at home.
Tuesday morning I went and got coffee with Giulia, the JYS program director, and Alejandra who was a teaching assistant at Sweet Briar my first year. It was so nice to sit down and chat with some Sweet Briar people! Tuesday night was my flamenco class. It’s exciting that the class get bigger every week. I’d be lying if I said that I thought I was improving, but it’s only been three weeks so that’s okay. It’s so hard to switch from a style of dance that is all about being “up” to one that is all about being “down”. Flamenco is very much like tap in that the focus is on movements heavily concentrated in your feet. You are stamping (“gople, arriba, tacon”) and creating the rhythm yourself whereas in styles like ballet and modern there is a more equal emphasis on the whole body. You use the whole body in flamenco and tap but weight is heavily concentrated in the feet, from what I’ve discovered so far.

On Wednesday after class I met up with Sara, a girl from Serbia that I met online at The have a section of the website where people can post their trips and you can message them to host them or just to talk. I found out that she was coming to Sevilla for half a year with “Erasmus” and decided to message her. We spent that afternoon going to look at student flats, which was really cool because it’s obviously something that I didn’t experience when I came here. It was a great opportunity to practice Spanish as well! It’s so interesting to find people who also have Spanish as their second (or third) language because without it, you wouldn’t be able to communicate at all! At the first flat we met this girl Linda from the Netherlands who was also looking at it. The landlord was nice as well and while the other two were looking around we talked about the trip he just took to Boston and New York (in English). After looking around at a few more flats I said goodbye to Sara and went to help Linda move into the place that she had decided on. It’s pretty big as far as student flats go, it is several stories and there are 16 people living there. It has a nice patio in the middle and a beautiful terrace on top. I will say that looking at all the flats made me a bit jealous. I love my host family and I love having food cooked for me, but I miss personal space…a lot. We met a few of the people that live there and they all seemed really nice. Afterward we went out to a café in Alemada that had 40 cent cañas and 1 euro sangrias. She’s super sweet and we had a really great conversation. She’s also from a small town so Sevilla is still a city to her, a lot of people complain about how small it is, so it was nice to talk to someone who feels the same way as I do. English is her second language and Spanish is her third and they’re both pretty much self-taught which I think is amazing. After finishing our drinks I made the trek back to Los Remedios. One of the things I love about going through El Centro at night is all the people on the streets playing music. One of these times I’m going to join in and dance, especially with the violinists. It will happen.

Thursday night was my first meeting with my intercambio. An “intercambio” is a person that you meet with casually (like over drinks) to practice speaking in different languages. The idea is that half the time you “help” them and the other half they “help” you. It’s also a great way to get to know new people. I was a bit nervous at first because even though we had emailed a bit, I didn’t really know who he was. But my worrying was all for nothing because he’s super cool. He’s done a lot of traveling, a lot of other intercambios, and he speaks/is learning five languages! All self-taught, except for Spanish of course. We went to go see a show put on by the cultural center at the university. It was a mix of flamenco and jazz music and it was amazing. Maybe it sounds cheesy, but it really spoke to my soul. I think that if that was the background music to life the world would be a much happier place. It was such an interesting mix of genres but now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense. As I said before, flamenco and tap dance are similar in how they use the feet and they were influenced by flamenco and jazz music respectively. Hmmm, that’s interesting. They had a dancer for a few of the numbers and she was breath taking. Her lines were beautiful and it looked like she also had some training in modern. Absolutely stunning. Y’all should check them out- Ian Scitoni Trio! On Thursday in Sevilla is was “day of the Pianos” which is when they put a bunch of baby grand pianos all over the city for people to play as they wanted. I walked by one in El Centro on my way home from the show and the guy playing it was spectacular! Only in Sevilla!

Friday was interesting because it was my first Friday not having class (last week I was in Portugal). I got up and went to the gym and then out to breakfast, the pan tostada con mantequilla y mermelada was on point, not as good as peanut butter would have been, but still good. I did some journaling and some homework before lunch and then actually got to take advantage of my siesta! After siesta Madeline and I went and got churros and chocolate to celebrate being in Spain for a whole month! They were good, though not quite as good as the ones I had in Madrid when I came to Spain in high school. The cameraro (server) at the chocolateria was a bit weird though and I did not appreciate him. Sometimes, regardless of how un-American you try to be, you just can’t hide it. Unwanted attention is sort of a way of life here, even at 6 in the afternoon. We went around to a couple of stores and tried on some clothes. I was also looking for a carry on suitcase but couldn’t find one that I liked for a price that I liked, so that search will be ongoing.

Patio outside the artisan shop
Friday night I met up with a guy from Germany that I also met on Couchsurfing. After a sangria (way overpriced) at his hostel we went to a house party at my new friend Linda’s house (the one I was at on Wednesday). When we got there everyone was on the terrace and after ringing the bell a million times, they finally came down to let us in. Just as we were going in and angry neighbor came over saying that he was going to call the police if they didn’t quiet down. While I sort of understand, he was being ridiculous. It was 11:30 on a Friday night on one of the busiest nights is Sevilla (Noche en Blanco-all the monuments are open and free until 2am). Also, at 11:30 on a Friday night, half of Sevilla hasn’t even eaten dinner yet! The party was huge, there had to be at least 90 people there at its biggest point. Most of them were from Erasmus, though there were few Spaniards. I think I was the only American, which was kind of cool, though everyone thought I was from France or Belgium (two countries I really want to go to!). I met Jessica, a girl from Ireland and Ester, a girl from Spain who studies here in Sevilla. I mostly hung out with them which was cool because I got to practice my Spanish. We got hungry and went to get pizza in Alemada which was PACKED at 1am. It was also so weird to see the hop on hop off buses running so late. After we ate we went back to the party for a bit and then went to meet some of Ester’s friends at Las Setas. Jessica and one of her other friends headed home (to Nervion, which is very far) and I walked home with Ester and her friends (they live in Triana which is next to Los Remedios). It was nice to walk home, or at least most of the way, with someone. They were very sweet because they put up with my very tired Spanish! I always think that it’s funny when I introduce myself here because no one understands “Holly”. They always say “Oh, like Halle Berry!” and at first I’m like “Yes! Like holly berry” but then I realize they mean the actress and then I have to explain the plant which is not a thing here and then they look it up on their phone and the they understand. It’s a process that’s literally the same every time but it’s a great ice breaker! I think the problem is the “H”. It’s not pronounced in Spanish so when it is it’s hard to remember/understand. Regardless, it was a good night with some new friends!

I didn’t get to bed until after 3am, so waking up for our trip to Cordoba on Saturday was a bit rough. While we were there we had a tour of the mezquita/cathedral which honestly was amazing. In a nutshell, it was a mosque that was turned into a cathedral after the expulsion of the Muslims during the Reconquista. They kept most of the Arab architecture, which is stunning. I felt like I was in a whole different world. We also saw a synagogue and the Jewish quarter. After that we had free time, Madeline and I ate our bocadillas and then did some shopping. I will say that one of the hardest things I’ve ever done is not give food to a gypsy and her little girl. It was so hard but there are so many organizations to help people who need it here. Giving to people on the street just tells them that they can keep doing what they are doing and be fine. I’m not sure if not giving the little girl my fruit was right or not, but I’d have rather pointed them to an organization (that whole “teach a man to fish” thing) and they were not your typical beggars either. We went into the local artisan shop and I’m not sure what it was, but it was almost like an other-worldly experience. Something about knowing that everything was hand crafted by artisans right there in Cordoba and the beautiful music and the beautiful patio and just the general amazingness of all the crafts. I had to restrain myself from buying one of the clocks. I did get one gift though, but that’ll be remaining a surprise! We grabbed some gelato (not very good but I’m now biased) and hung out on the bridge that connects the “old” and “new” parts of town for a bit. I loved looking down at the river and the wildlife and my inner child really wanted me to go down and play in the sand and water. But alas, I restrained myself. I was glad to get home. We had the yummy Spanish version of mac and cheese (very much needed) and then I got into bed, put on the movie, and tried to tune out the rest of the world.

Organ inside the Cathedral
This week was a long one, with lots of things to do so I’m coming to appreciate my time to relax a lot more. I’m also working on making sure that I give myself some space, going to the gym, blogging in the park, etc. Hanging out with people is a blast but I’m still getting used to not having a place in the house where I can be alone. I feel like I should be used to this after camp but it’s hard. I have been very happy with my Spanish this week, I still don’t speak it as much as a should but I definitely think that I’m getting more comfortable with it.

What’s coming up? My internships should be starting soon and next weekend is a long weekend. My plan is to stay here but my host mother went hiking at this really pretty place in Cadiz yesterday and I think I might want to take a day trip out there!

I think that’s all folks! Time to leave the beautiful fall(ish) weather and go do some homework…I guess I actually am here to study J

Friday, October 2, 2015

Night [bus] to Lisbon

                                                       [Note: It's October. What?]

Stepping into Lisboa
Lisboa. I hadn’t really planned on going to Portugal this semester. It just didn’t seem like the most interesting or exotic place and I didn’t have anyone to stay with. I talked to Calee (who goes to SBC and did JYS last year) about Lisbon and she highly recommended this one hostel, “Home Lisbon Hostel” as well as Lisbon and Sintra in general. At the beginning of this semester I was talking with a few other girls about going and decided why not? I’m not sure if it was the city or if it was because this was my “first trip” or because I was clearly put on this earth to see the world, but the second I got off the metro in central Lisbon I was in love.
Close! But not actually
We took an overnight bus from Sevilla to Lisbon, it was a little over six hours long. It was decently comfortable and not a bad ride even though I didn’t sleep very much. It was a bit boring since it was dark out but I did get super excited when we stopped in Faro because it was my first time being in Portugal! After we got to the bus station at 6ish am we headed to the metro station. After some confusion and a bit of frustration (I couldn’t activate my city card there, which ended up being a waste of money anyway) we bought our metro tickets and headed to the part of the city where the hostel was. Stepping out of the metro station was the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the sun was rising, the streets were empty, and we had finally arrived. As we were walking towards the hostel we looked down this long car-less street and saw a huge arch, the sun rising, and the ocean (not really, it’s a river that leads to the ocean). We made a detour, took some pictures, admired the hills of the city (compared to flat Sevilla) and watched one of my favorite sunrises.  After that we headed to the hostel and waited for it to be 8 o’clock so that we could eat breakfast. We then got ready, stored our bags, and then headed off to Sintra.

Tiles in the Palace
Sintra is a town about 28k west of Lisbon. It’s known for several things but mainly the palaces. There are several, but the highest on my list was the Pena Palace. They would have to wait though, our first goal when we got off the train was simple: coffee. We stopped at a cute little sardine themed gift shop (it’s a huge Portuguese symbol, along with roosters) before making a beeline for a café, though I will say that we were a bit distracted by the fairy tale architecture in the town.  We sat down inside and realized that the café was also an art shop. They were selling art and gifts as well as food. The waiter was a very nice man from Cuba who was actually a huge Mets fan. I ended up ordering a Portuguese café au lait and a travesseiro which is a pastry typical of Sintra filled with egg and almond cream. They were both amazing. Over the trip I discovered that the Portuguese have amazing coffee, maybe because of their connection with Brazil?

View of the Moorish Castle from the Pena Palace
Anyway, after we finished at the café we decided it was time to head up to the palaces. We didn’t really have a game plan so we just started walking. We followed the signs and found ourselves on a very “enchanted forest” and very uphill road complete with little hidden doorways and magnificent private houses. After 45 minutes or so we came to a gate on the side of the road. We went through, looked up, and saw the Moorish castle in the distance. It was amazing but very far away. We continued our trek (thank God it was mostly in the shade) and finally came to a sign that said we were only about 1000 meters from the Pena Palace! That actually meant that there would be a grade increase and the road would become cobblestone and very narrow and the destination was actually only the place where you bought tickets. But alas, what good is a view that you don’t work for? After more climbing and constantly almost getting run down by tuk-tuks and other “quitter buses” we got to the entrance. We purchased our tickets (reluctantly) and then headed up a very steep hill and a few flights of stairs. We saw a group of kids at the castle on a school trip, they were running around playing soccer. It’s funny how when something is so normal for you you don’t appreciate it. I wonder how many times they had been there before.
Pena Palace

When we got to the top of the mountain and saw the palace in full for the first time, I was amazed. It didn’t matter that I was tired, hot, sore, and thirsty. The palace is straight out of Disney’s imagination. It was so big and colorful and cartoonish but it was also but of intricate details: carvings, tiles, statues. It was ridiculously flamboyant but also very regal. It was situated so high up that it seemed to overlook the whole of Portugal. I could see the ocean in the distance and it was amazing. There was a wall walk around the outside of the castle that had amazing views, it’s unfortunate that my pictures don’t do it justice. I went through the inside, which was cool but I will say that it did not have the impact of the outside whatsoever. After that I sat down to rest and eat the bocadilla my host mom made for me the previous day, it was very satisfying. At this point we were all too tired to go to any other monument so we headed back to Lisbon. Sintra was perfect.

Street art we saw on Sunday
We were all exhausted by the time we got back, so after we were checked in (and had our complementary welcome drink) I took a nap. We decided that night we wanted to go to eat at a Fado restaurant. Fado is a type of Portuguese music that is somewhat similar to flamenco but is more melancholy. It’s associated with the feeling of “saudade” which is similar to nostalgia but a more intense feeling of longing-ness and desperation for happy times in the past. The hostel recommended a place to us but when we got there it was full. After walking around for a bit we met a very nice man who owned (?) a fado place. We talked to him in Spanish (yayyy similar languages) and he told us to come back in 45 minutes. It was close to 10pm, but that wasn’t such a big deal because we’ve been eating on Spanish time for a month. In the mean time we got drinks at a little bar across the “street” (read: cobblestone path that cars still try to drive down). There was a rather rowdy group of Austrians nearby and while I didn’t mind the one who wanted to talk to us, there was this one creepy guy who wanted to take pictures of some of the people in our group. So sketchy. Luckily it was time to go.

Famous Tram 28
I was surprised to find that the restaurant was so intimate. There was the five of us and one other couple even though there were a few more tables. We ordered food, pan and queso for appetizers (the cheese was on point) and I just got a salad for dinner because it was the only vegetarian thing besides an omelet.  The others got seafood and said it was really good. Once we were eating the show started. The singers were amazing! They were so soulful and invested and their voices were so raw and authentic. It literally did touch your heart. Since the lyrics were in Portuguese it was hard to understand but knowing Spanish helped and in reality the sound was so powerful you didn’t need to understand the words. There were various singers and including the waitress and the owner of the restaurant. It was an incredible experience. If you’re ever in Lisbon, head to Restaurante da Maria Fonte, you might want to make a reservation first though!

Torre de Belem
Saturday was good, but just not as exciting as Friday which is going to be a hard day to beat. I started off the day by meeting this girl named Neelam from Canada, she spent the day with us and was super cool! We did a tour of one of the neighborhoods, Alfama and it was pretty good. The guide showed us more of the “behind the scenes” parts of the city which was cool, but I missed seeing the main sights. We did pass this cute vegan (!!) restaurant that I will 100% go back to when I return to Lisbon. We went to Feria de Ladra which was a huge flea market that happens every Tuesday and Saturday. I could have spent all day there (literally, it was huge and I did not want to leave). I ended up with a bracelet and a vintage post card. I was looking for a funky, vintage, carry-on suitcase but I couldn’t find any that I liked. After that we stopped at the cathedral and headed to another neighborhood, Belém. I was very excited for Belém because of the famous Torre (tower) they have there. It’s in my book of 100 places to go around the world and I have this crazy goal of getting to all of them. We stopped for lunch once we got off the tram (I ate the sandwich I packed from the hostel) and then went to the Mosterio dos Jeronimos which was cool because it’s where Vasco de Gama is buried. Then we headed to the torre. When we first saw it, my first thought was “adorable”. It was just so stout and proud standing over the water. The whole area where the torre is is a park with food trucks and grass and music and vendors. You could spend a whole afternoon there. We got up to the gate to enter only to be told that we had missed the last entrance by FIVE MINUTES. It was a whole hour and a half (excuse me an hour and 25 minutes) before it closed. I was heartbroken. I started to play back all of the time we wasted at various points that day in my head but then realized that that wouldn’t do me any good. Sometimes things aren’t meant to be. I took pictures in front of it and reminded myself that I’d be coming back someday. Before heading back to the hostel be got the famous pastéis de Belém. They were good, but a bit eggy for me.

Our sweet ride
That night we did Mama’s dinner at the hostel which is where you sign up for this amazing home cooked dinner by “Mama” for 10 euros at the hostel. Our dinner was bread; carrot and ginger soup (1st course); pasta, bean and kale salad, stuffed tomatoes, and zucchini with toppings (2nd course/veggie option); wine; chocolate Pavlova and a bit of cake (dessert) all topped off with a bit of dessert wine. It was amazing. I’m just going to leave it at that. That night we also went on a pub crawl. I shouldn’t have gone, it’s just not really my thing. I was deciding between that and staying in and socializing at the hostel bar. I didn’t have fun but “es lo que hay”.

On Sunday morning I got up early and rode the famous tram 28 around for a bit and went to find the oldest bookstore in the world- Livraria Bertand. Honestly it was a bit underwhelming. If I owned that store it would be much cooler, maybe make it look more original? It would at least have more than a little certificate. We checked out after breakfast and took the metro to the Gulbenkian museum. It was amazing. It was a private collection with everything from Greek and Roman artifacts to 20th century French art. It was the perfect size, it took just over an hour to do and it was free because it was a Sunday! It was also a relaxing way to finish the trip. After a final Portuguese coffee we made it to the bus station just in time. I was nervous we wouldn’t be able to find it, but luckily our expert navigator, Bethany, got us where we were going one last time J The bus was much emptier on the way back so it was pretty relaxing. We ended up stopping one time and the rest stop had these weird bathrooms where it was only a hole in the ground. Weird, but surprisingly easy to use. One lady said that’s what they used to have all over Europe. We got to see the full moon rising which was pretty amazing, though I was glad when we got back home. It’s so strange that Sevilla is now “home”. I think it takes leaving and then returning to call a place your home. 

Other observations: I know they’re different but I got very frustrated at the Portuguese language, it’s so similar to Spanish, why can’t y’all just combine them!! (This is very unlike my language loving self but it’s crazy how similar they are). Traveling with other people has definite pros and cons, it’ll be interesting to compare this trip to my others. The best adventures happen when you don’t have a game plan. Don’t skimp on the sights, I probably didn’t need to pay to see the whole Pena Palace but going through it really completed the experience. Walking up to the castle was long but a great way to see the city and forest, I’m so glad we didn’t take the bus. Portugal is very rich in culture and history, it’s a shame that we tend to ignore it. Not only are they obsessed with sardines, but also codfish which they have to import form Norway…I don’t understand (legit it’s crazy, there are apparently 1,000 ways to cook codfish). There’s nothing as exciting as learning words in a new language and the people really appreciate it even if you can only say “thank you” (Obrigado/a).

Well, I think that’s that! I loved Lisbon and Sintra and could see myself spending a lot of time there!

P.S. Apparently there is a book/movie called "Night Train to Lisbon". It looks good, I'm investigating reading/watching it