Saturday, July 30, 2016

Next Adventure :)

On the eve of my next big adventure I find myself standing in my kitchen thinking about all the things I haven’t blogged about. I’ve started my big “euro-year” scrapbook but still haven’t told you about the majority of my second semester adventures…or anything I’ve done this summer. I’m sorry but yet I’m not convinced that people besides my mom and a few others read this. I feel like those that do love me enough to be patient <3 [It is significantly harder to blog when you can't go sit in your favorite cafe...]

SO, where to next? Well I’m off to Costa Rica to spend ~3 weeks working on an organic/self-sustainable/eco finca (farm)! I’ll be staying with a family that I connected with through I’m excited not only for another homestay but also that they don’t speak any English so I’ll have a great opportunity to practice my Spanish. I will mostly be working mornings so I’ll have afternoons to explore. My work in the morning is compensated in free room and board minus a small weekly fee for things like laundry soap. I’m super excited because I have this amazing opportunity to learn about sustainable farming which is something that I’m really interested in in the future. I'll also get to spend a day or two in the capital, San Jose. It'll be exciting getting to experience and figure out a new part of the world!

I’m just taking a backpack (thanks Dad for lending me yours!) which is an experiment in packing. I’ve travelled for 10 days with just my LL Bean bag in the past but I never needed to bring rain boots! Even though I only have one backpack and my purse I already can’t help feeling like I over packed.
This is my list…I can look back on it when I get home and we’ll see how I did:

·         Button up shirt (wearing during travel)
·         Two nicer tank tops (wearing one during travel)
·         1 pair of nicer shorts (wearing during travel)
·         3 “work” tank tops
·         2 t-shirts
·         1 long sleeve t-shirt
·         1 nice crop top
·         Zip-up wind running fleece (for nights)
·         Rain jacket
·         Knee length leggings
·         Thick ankle length leggings
·         Jean capris
·         1 maxi skirt
·         3 pairs of athletic shorts
·         Socks/underwear/sports bras
·         Bathing suit

·         Old sneakers (wearing)
·         Cheap flip flops
·         Rain boots

The usual, fit into 1 mini-bag and 1 TSA approved liquid bag + baby wipes!

·         Lots of granola/Cliff bars
·         Quick-dry towel
·         Journal (and a million pens)
·         A book to read
·         Baseball hat
·         Water bottle
·         My purse (wallet, passport, etc.)
·         Camera  w/ charger
·         Ipod w/ charger
·         All necessary paperwork 

The finca I am going to

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Love not hate. Hate breeds hate.

I know, I know. I’ve been staring at a list of blogging topics since before I got back. Feria, Paris, Santiago de Compostela, Barcelona, Basque Country, Florence, not to mention the not so pretty trip home and all the struggles that come with being plopped back into your little town.

 Right now I’m about half way through my Summer Honors Research at my university, Sweet Briar College. I’m doing a project on how the sexual abuse and violence that women fleeing from gang violence, government corruption, and domestic abuse, among other things in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras face impedes their ability to successfully gain refugee status in the United States. It’s a very relevant topic, though it’s hard to get up to the minute information and it’s proving to be difficult to get firsthand accounts online, as the information is mostly confidential. If anything, I just want to be able to educate people about this humanitarian crisis in our backyard.

Speaking of humanitarian crises: I was horrified by the massacre in Orlando this past weekend, but then again I wasn’t. I was SO confused when they said it was the deadliest mass shooting in US history. It was “only” 50 people, right? There has to have been bigger ones? Oh, that was Paris. It reinforced the idea that these arbitrary borders we have in our minds or on paper are hurting us. How horrifying is it that I thought, oh only 50 people that’s not that bad. THAT’S HORRIBLE, though I get that it’s just one of my coping mechanisms. We say that we stand in solidarity against whatever type of violence (unless it’s in a non-western country, but that’s a rant for another day) but until we actually do something about the violence, it’s all just for show. It’s not just their problem or the government’s problem it’s OUR problem. We all breed hate on a daily basis, though it’s often in small ways rather than big ways. Any issue in which it becomes “us against them” there is hate and hate breeds violence. It’s simple really: you make a gay joke, a racist joke- us vs them, you make a snide remark about someone on welfare- us vs them, you catcall a woman- us vs them, you laugh at someone at the grocery store for not speaking English- us vs. them. Maybe you don’t mean to, or maybe you do, but when you marginalize people you are destroying lives.

Look at the gangs in El Salvador. They do terrible, really horrific things and have taken control of large parts of the country. The government calls them terrorists. Maybe if the government wasn’t so corrupt and actually funded social programs instead of labeling gang members and their families, funding indoctrinating Nazi-style military schools killing “the problem”, the violence could be lessened. Build the economy, fund schools, provide opportunities. Love not hate. Hate breeds hate.

Maybe it’s idealistic of me to think that a solution is this simple. Actually I know it’s idealistic of me but I’m honestly so exhausted. The fact that the most deadly shooting in my country happened and the first two thoughts in my mind were, oh it was only 50 people and oh at least I didn’t know anyone this time, is sick. I promise you that if you go look back far enough in any situation, the perpetrator was marginalized by society’s idea of something. Am I saying they aren’t responsible? HELL NO.  People are 100% responsible for whatever it is they do. Everyone is responsible for what they do, including us. This is not about us vs them. This is everybody’s issue.

Why do we do it? Why do we separate people into categories? Discrimination is real. I’m guilty of it, I could talk for days about how people (who I don’t think deserve it) get welfare while I have a disgustingly high interest rate on my (government) student loans. Maybe I don’t think that’s fair. Explain to me Holly, what exactly is complaining about it going to do? What is saying bad things and making grossly inaccurate blanket statements going to do? Nothing, it’s going to do nothing except create hostility between you and this population. Couldn’t your time be better spent doing something about it? Looking at people like humans and asking, what can I do to help? Love not hate. Hate breeds hate.

Again maybe it’s too simple. But honestly, with the direction this beautiful country and out amazing world are going in, what other choice do we have? Please, let me know if you come up with a better option. I love reading the news, but I shouldn’t feel sick every time I open my app

Thursday, April 14, 2016

When in...Rome

I had been pretty indifferent about going to Rome until I had a conversation with my host dad one night in the kitchen during first semester. After telling me about how much he loved the city, despite how touristy it is, I decided I had to go. I found a decently priced flight in January and sort of forgot about it until a week or so before I was going. I quick google search lead me to a small eco-hostel about 30 minutes outside the city. It sounded like the perfect place to stay. Since I wasn’t going to check in until Friday night and had an inconveniently early flight home on Monday morning, I threw a romper and some PJs in my backpack, grabbed my three essential travel items: my camera, my journal, and my toothbrush and hopped on the plane.

My game plan was to “do the Vatican”, that is the museums and St. Peter’s, on Friday once I arrived. I bought my ticket ahead of time so I was expecting it to be pretty easy. Unfortunately I had been feeling sick since I got on the plane and was light-headed the entire afternoon. I was also very overwhelmed by how crowded it was. I’m not sure if you remember but since the terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, I’ve had a hard time riding on the metro. Rome was no different. I had to take the metro both to and from the Vatican. On the way there, there were some guys smoking in the metro, but with very big/smoky electric cigarettes. I thought it was weird but then a mother turned and looked at another woman with this horrified look on her face. I don’t know what it was, but it made me sick. I had to get off at the next stop and then get on the next train. On the way back I was in a very full car and there were two men with camo backpacks. I’m sure they were perfectly nice guys but I was convinced that something bad was going to happen when I saw them texting a guy a few seats down. Again, I felt sick but made myself stay on the train.

Anyway. The Vatican was overwhelming. It was huge and crowded and frustrating. I didn’t like it at all. I definitely feel much more “holy” in my little church at home or in the streets during Semana Santa than I did there. It was too much. I headed out to my hostel around 6pm. It was a 30 minute train ride…for some reason I can do trains, just not metros. When I got to the little town of Zagarolo I walked the 20 minutes to the hostel even though they had free pick up. I didn’t feel like calling them and wanted to walk anyway. The sidewalk was sketchy at best, so I got rides all of the other times I went to the station.

The hostel, Wiki Hostel, was perfect. I absolutely loved it. As they were checking me in they told me that since it was Friday there was a pizza party for only 6 euros. They had a wood-brick oven and these Italian guys to cook tons of pizza/teach us how to do it. And they were made with all local ingredients. The bar was also stocked with local wine, by the bottle only. It was exactly what I needed. While I waited for the cooking to commence, one of the employees, a British expat, gave me a map of Rome and helped me plan out the perfect two day itinerary complete with pizza and gelato suggestions. During the pizza party I ate so much of the best pizza I’ve ever had/made and met a bunch of cool people (yay hostels!). We finished off the night with a Nutella pizza J

The next day I got up for breakfast at the hostel before heading into Rome around 11. I followed pretty closely the itinerary that the guy at the hostel gave me, stopping at a few churches and parks before walking around the Coliseum and Forum. I didn’t pay to go in since I have seen Roman ruins before (in Italica, a Roman center just outside of Sevilla). It was super fun to people watch. I especially liked watching this one older couple who were carrying around Teddy Bears taking pictures of them in front of the ruins. It was adorable. I went to lunch at the recommended pizza place and got the truffle pizza. Wow. It was good. On my way to get gelato I stopped in a Nepalese store and talked for almost an hour with the guy who owns it. He moved from Nepal ten years ago to open the store and he took the time to explain a lot of the Buddhist symbols and theory to me even after I told him that I wasn’t going to buy anything. The coolest thing he showed me were these “singing bowls” which are used for meditation and relaxation. It was really cool and he showed me how to use them and explained how they are used in different cultures. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I love things like that; if I hadn’t decided to walk in just to browse I would have missed out on all of that. It was also kind of funny, who would have thought I’d get my first introduction to Buddhism in Rome?

After my intro to all things Nepalese I made my way to the gelato place. They sell gelato on every street corner in Rome so it’s really hard to know where you should go. I’m sure it’s good everywhere but I’ve ended up with sub-par gelato too many times in my life. The place I went to, Giolitti, is super popular/old and they have something like 70 flavors. It's the oldest one in Rome having opened in 1890. It’s literally insane if you go during the day. I walked by at 11pm on my last night and it was a completely different story. After waiting for ten years/literally being pushed out of the way by those annoying people who go up with ten orders, I finally got my first Roman Gelato: Caramel and Stracciatella. It was beautiful and everything I needed after a hot morning of walking around the city. At this point I was pretty tired, so I took it easy, wandering around a bit before getting the train back to the hostel. I knew the next day would be a long one so I took advantage of the “order-in” service that my hostel provides, you can order from a number of local restaurants and they bring it right to the hostel. I got eggplant parm and chickory. It was great. I went to bed pretty early, though I had some trouble falling asleep because one of the women in my room breathed really, really loudly. I had lucked out the first night because I was the only person in my room…but that’s life. I do love hostels, but I also love sleeping in peace and quiet.

The next morning after breakfast we went on a tour of the “old town” of Zagarolo. The town history is really interesting. It’s older than the Roman Empire and they were constantly at war with the Vatican because “those who rule religion rule everything”. There’s also a wine festival in the fall where they have local wine running from the city fountains all weekend! I need to come back in October! My favorite part of the city was looking down all of the little alleyways. They were adorable and felt like “real Italy”. It was also interesting because there were a ton of cars on the tiny streets and the tour guide told us that all of the town residents insist on driving their cars to church on Sunday even though the majority of them live less than a mile away. There’s a petition to ban cars from the old town. After the tour we went to a farmer’s market which is still relatively new. There are a lot of people in the town interested in sustainability and being eco-friendly. There are a bunch of projects in their beginning stages right now; it’ll be interesting to see where they go!

I headed into “town” (lol that sounds so casual. Rome. I headed into Rome) and went straight for the gelato place. I had been thinking about it since the previous day and I was super excited to try champagne and blackberry. Of course by the time I got up to the front of the “line” they were out of champagne. I settled for stracciatella and mint which is my go-to combination. Despite not being the combination I had been dreaming about <3 it did not disappoint. My afternoon was largely spent exploring Trastevere a neighborhood on the Vatican side of the river. I absolutely loved roaming through the tiny streets and sitting in the plazas and people watching. The front part of the area (closer to the river) is pretty well developed touristic-ly but not so crowded that it’s overwhelming. It maintains its charm for sure. A bit farther back I found a plaza full of locals. There was a mini open air market (I got to try some cookies!) and lots of kids playing soccer and just fooling around while the parents were socializing. It was very similar to Sevilla and one of the things that I have loved seeing over here. People just relaxing and playing on a Sunday night. Ugh that’s the life.

I found a cute restaurant on a side street for dinner. It was warm enough to sit outside even though it was like 8:30. One of the things I like to do when I’m eating alone is write in my notebook so I don’t get bored. It’s also fun to see what I write about after a bit of wine. So, here we go (translated from Spanish-I’ve been journaling in Spanish recently):
            Dinner- “Sette Oche in Altalena/Reclamavano la cena”
·         The sky is a wicked pretty navy blue right now
·         Bread, grilled zucchini, and olives as the “with your drink snack”
·         White wine, a “mini jar”
·         There are a lot of English speakers but it’s a quiet street. There are some French speakers next to me (I think?)
·         I ordered “Linguine al lemon” for dinner
·         I really like listening to other people’s conversations. Is that creepy? Lol at this family talking about choosing a college. Been there done that.
·         I kind of feel like a food critic writing in this notebook. I wonder if I pull it off well? Probs not. I look like I’m 16.
·         The pasta is very good, I’ve never had pasta with lemon…honestly it kind of tastes like a dessert. But I like it a lot. I’m kinda full but I’m definitely going to have a coffee and dessert. I need to stretch this out as long as I can.
·         I really like this place. Minus the fact that there was a piece of meat in the app dish. But I’ll survive.
·         Dessert: Café Latte (unfortunately café con leche does not seem to be a thing here) and “tortino caldo al cuore di cioccolato”, whatever that is.
·         Thanks to this wine I have lots of energy right now and am excited to go see Rome “by night”
·         There’s this group of old men laughing with the waitress. They look like locals. The couple next to me is smoking…typical. I feel like I’m definitely sticking out right now. The sky is black now and there are some stars.
·         The group of women to my left (that I thought was French) is speaking some weird language. Sometimes it sounds like Italian but also French, English, and German. Maybe it’s Dutch? What’s going on here?
·         This dessert looks good!
·         OMG it’s an Italian lava cake…there’s chocolate on the inside!!!
·         24 euros for the meal. It was good, too much food for me but very yummy.

After I paid I went and sat on the couch with the restaurant cat for a bit to use the wifi and plan my route. I had to catch the bus to the airport at midnight so I had about two hours to go see all of the “sights” lit up. I made it to the Coliseum, the Forum, and Trevi fountain (much less crowded by night but still a lot of people). At midnight:15 I got on the airport bus and arrived to the terminal around 1. I got cozy and watched 5 episodes of “Ranch” on Netflix and ya esta. My plane left at 6:30, I landed in Sevilla at 9:30 and then unfortunately had to get a taxi since it was down pouring and I have a 20 minute walk home from the bus station. The taxi driver was nice to talk to though, speaking Spanish is always a good time.

So Rome. Loved it. You should go. Stay in Zaragolo. Eat Pizza. Drink wine. Be happy. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Semana Santa

[Note: now we are actually in feria]

¡Venga, vamos, me parece que estamos en FERIA! Today is Easter Sunday and so the last day of Semana Santa. Whereas in the United States Easter is the culmination of Lent and a commercialized mess that involves Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs, Easter Sunday is much more casual here in Sevilla. In fact, today feels more like the official start to Feria than anything.
As you may know, or not because I haven’t blogged about it yet, I spent the first part of my spring break in Paris [blog coming soon] and then returned to Sevilla early Wednesday morning to see some of Semana Santa and to spend Easter with my host family. Mejor dicho I came home early to run myself ragged during the marathon of Semana Santa and to spend Easter getting pumped for Feria and pretending to work on my various essays. Here’s an overview of my first (but certainly not last) Semana Santa experience here in Sevilla!

First of all, what the heck is Semana Santa?
Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter. It traditionally starts on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) but Sevilla decided it couldn’t get enough so it now starts on the Friday before Palm Sunday with Viernes de Dolores and Sábado de Pasion. Throughout the week different hermandades salen con sus pasos por la ciudad. It’s hard to explain but basically the different church organizations, think knights of Columbus but for all ages, process around the city with these huge like-like sculptures/scenes of Jesus and Mary. The sculptures are carried on gigantic wooden platforms decorated with flowers and candles and are carried by dozens of men. They are accompanied by members of the organization ranging from little babies to teenagers to adults to senior citizens. These people are often dressed up as nazarenos (with the KKK style hood). The processions can last up to 14 hours and a supposed to be an act of penance. The hoods are worn so that the people walking can do their penance anonymously. People will often walk barefoot as well.. The hermandades walk all through the city, each on its own route, but all of them do the Carrera Official and process from La Campana to/through the Cathedral.  It’s hard to explain but it’s one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. It’s sad that nothing like this would happen in the United States. I’m sure someone would be offended. The thing is, while it’s religious it’s also hugely cultural. One of my professors and Sevillan born and raised and very strongly agnostic and he thinks it’s the most amazing display of culture he’s ever seen and his studies have literally taken him all over the world. [Note: “pasos” are both the sculptures and the procession as a whole]
Semana Santa is a holiday in all of Spain but each area of the county celebrates it differently. Even here in Andalucia there are no two cities that celebrate it the same. From what I here it’s much more joyous in the south and more somber up north. I also hear that Sevilla is a truly one of a kind celebration.
So what did my Semana Santa look like?
Wednesday (Miercoles Santo): I got back from Paris pretty early on Wednesday morning. I didn’t sleep much the night before so I went to bed as soon as I got home and slept until lunch. My host sister was the only one home during lunch so while she ate she described Semana Santa a bit to me and told me about how it had rained earlier in the week so some of the pasos (the sculpture/platforms) didn’t get to do their route. I had to tutor at five and I left a bit early to walk through the center of the city to see what was going on. It was crazy. I saw a little bit of one paso and then got yelled at because I was apparently in a ticketed area and I obviously didn’t have a ticket. After tutoring my favorite nine year old, I saw the paso of El Baratillo before stumbling upon a cute vegetarian/vegan bakery where I obviously had to get a snack. Then I went to a plaza behind the cathedral and saw San Bernardo. It was pretty impresionante to see their Christ sculpture, a crucifixion with red velvet detailing and purple flowers, in a plaza between the cathedral, the Archive de Indias and the Alcázar. I felt like I was transported to another century. Minus all of the smart phones being used to take pictures. I called it a night pretty early and was home by dinner time (read: 10pm).
Las Cigarreros
Thursday (Jueves Santo): I knew that Thursday was going to be a long day because it was La Madrugá, the early morning hours of Friday where some of the biggest and oldest processions take place. I of course was an idiot and didn’t take the day to rest so I was even more tired when nighttime rolled around. My adventure started after lunch when I went to go see Las Cigarreros, the only paso in Los Remedios which is my neighborhood. I got there pretty early so I was in the first row. I got to take a ton of cool pictures and see what happens close up. Some of the things, like the little kids asking the nazerenos (the people with the KKK style hoods) for candy as they walk by, you can’t see if you’re further back. I stood next to an older woman and we talked a bit. The funniest thing was when two women walked by smoking she turned to me and said, “Jeez, these days women smoke more than the men…”
I had the perfect view of the paso as it came around the corner onto calle Asuncion. The Christ always comes first and this particular one, which has Roman soldiers on it as well, was just amazing to see coming around the corner with the booming music of the band and the incense smoke everywhere. The Virgen is a whole different story. After the Christ you have to wait a bit to see her but when she’s getting close you can feel the excitement growing. “Is she coming?” “Mama when is the Virgen coming?” “How much longer?” When she came around the corner, hundreds of rose petals were thrown off the balconies. Amazing. Beautiful. Wonderful. Perfect. As she went by, a woman next me who was holding her grandson started crying because he shouted “there’s Maria!” I looked around and she was certainly not the only one.
After that paso ended I spent the rest of the afternoon planning out my route for La Madrugá. Once I found all of the churches and streets that I was planning on going to I went to the grocery store to stock up on candy to keep me awake. Since the streets are usually packed it’s normal to go to the churches in the afternoon to see the pasos up close. I went to Esperanza de Triana on calle Pureza and it was literally INSANE. The street was packed 10 hours ahead of time. Trianeros, that is people who live in Triana, are very proud of being from Triana, it used to be a separate city. Everything is a big party in Triana!
Christ of the 3 falls- not my picture
Early Early Friday morning (La Madrugá): I went back home to bundle up for the 45 degree weather and then went out to get Italian food with Caroline. After we ate I set out to Plaza de San Lorenzo to wait for the salida (leaving) of Gran Poder. I waited for two and a half hours, which was rough but it was worth it. The time was also broken up by a parade of Roman Soldiers who marched throughout the city entering in each of the churches before the pasos leave. I loved this, it made me feel like I was actually watching Holy Thursday/Good Friday happen 2,000 years ago. This is specific to La Madrugá. Unlike some of the others Gran Poder left in silence and then when the Christ appeared there was singing. After that, I headed to Puente de Triana (a bridge) to see Esperanza de Triana. My host dad and one of my host sisters walk in it; my host dad is one of the people who carry the Virgen. Esperanza is long. Very long. Like two hours long. I will say, the Christ (Cristo de las tres caídas/of the three falls) is 100% my favorite, especially with the music and the Virgin is beautiful as well. I can’t explain how beautiful it was when she passed right in front of me. After Esperanza I was getting very tired, it was about 4:30am at this point. It’s hard when you don’t have anyone to talk to and keep you motivated. I was jealous of all of the families and friends that make a day out of each paso, setting up chairs early and bringing picnics, enjoying each other as much as the main event. 
El Silencio-Not my Picture
The last paso I saw was el Silencio which is the oldest hermandad in Sevilla (from the 1300s). I watched them re-enter the church at the end of their route. It was cool because it was also in silence. The paso of the Virgen was decorated entirely in azahar, the flowers from the orange trees. I had plans to go see La Macarena but the streets were all blocked and I was very tired, it was about 6am at this point. Looking back, I’m sad I didn’t see it but I don’t think I would have made the walk back home. I went back to Puente de Triana and got churros and chocolate from the churros stand and sat myself down for the first time in almost 8 hours. I enjoyed my greasy, delicious churros with my favorite view of the city-looking over the river toward Triana. Even though I was exhausted and a bit grumpy, everything was perfect. I normally feel out of place when I’m surrounded by a bunch of Spanish people but at that moment I didn’t really care. After that feeling passed over, I speed-walked home, showered, and was in bed by 8am. My alarm went off for getting up to tutor at 11am and I promptly sent the family a message saying that I had gotten back late/early and asked if I could come after lunch instead. Since the little girl’s dad is one of the guys who carry the Christ in Gran Poder, they understood.
My favorite view, at sunrise
Friday (Viernes Santo): I slept until lunch and then went to tutor at five. At lunch my host sister was telling me about what it’s like to walk in the procession and how she has done it since she was 12. The hemandades seem very cool to me. I think I would want to be in one if I lived here. It’s another thing that I love about the culture and wish I was a part of. She also was telling me that she saw her dad at one point and called out “Alfonso Alfonso!” but he didn’t reply. He said that he heard her but assumed someone was calling a different Alfonso because “there are a million Alfonsos”. She said that all of the pasos stop at this one chapel for a mini-breakfast and when she was eating she could see both the Christ and the Virgen (which is usually impossible) and that it was so impresionante she cried. If you couldn’t tell, Semana Santa is very emotional for the Sevillanos. On the way home from tutoring I watched two more pasos on el puente (bridge). They were much shorter than Esperanza!
Saturday (Sábado Santo): I went out to dinner in Santa Cruz (the Old Jewish Quarter) with Caroline and her aunt who was visiting. She was really interesting and I loved hearing about their trip but I was super surprised to hear such a thick southern accent after having been in Spain for such a long time! I forgot what they sound like! Afterward I went to the chapel at the University for an Easter Vigil mass. It was long but beautiful. There was also a baptism and I thought the priest’s words about the new member (a younger boy) were beautiful, about how all of the saints now had a new son/brother and how he had this whole new family. I loved it. Equally powerful was when we sang “Ave Maria” at the end and the Virgen was still on her paso with all the flowers and candles inside the chapel. After mass there was a social in the university with hot chocolate and lots of traditional sweets. I met a group of girls from the US so I talked to them, ate a bit, and then headed home.

Easter (La Pascua): Sunday morning I got up and went to my usual spot, Café de Indias, to work on my various papers before heading over to Plaza de España for a sevillanas class. Like usual I had a blast and I met a girl who is here teaching with the government program that I was thinking about for next year. She says she loves it and she’s coming back next year as well. The program seems really cool, except that you can’t chose exactly where you want to be placed. After the class we went to go have a drink and talk about being American in Sevilla. I went home for lunch. Since it was a holiday we had a lunch de fiesta, meaning lots of food and wine. Just like with Christmas, I have realized that the only thing you really need to do for a holiday is have good food and good conversation. That’s it. Later, I went to the park to sit in the sun for a bit and then walked around the fairgrounds.

Puerta de Feria!
That was that for my Semana Santa. Some people don’t like it but I thought it was absolutely amazing. The culture is amazing and I’m always sad that we don’t have anything close to similar in the United States. The aspect of community/family was beautiful to watch but made me sad that I did most of it alone. Most of the other study abroaders were traveling and my Spanish friends had all gone back to their respective towns. I had an interesting conversation with the girl I met in my sevillanas class about how hard it was to make Spanish friends from Sevilla. Even though it’s a city, people born here tend to stay here and so the friends that they have are friends that they’ve had since they were two. Obviously this isn’t true in every case but it’s true in every case I have seen. I understand- if you aren’t looking for friends you aren’t going to look for friends, especially with people who aren’t here permanently. This is why I’ve had so much more success with Erasmus students (European students studying abroad) and people from other parts of Spain. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Friends, Faro and Granada

 My first non-program trip of the semester was to Faro, Portugal with Caroline the last weekend in February. Monday was a fiesta so we didn’t have class. I was excited to spend a long weekend at the beach. Unfortunately the weather didn’t quite cooperate and I ended up wearing a coat everyday but it was a good time nevertheless. This was also an exciting weekend because on Saturday night my friend-from-home Lily, who’s currently studying in Paris, met us in Portugal and then spent the week with me in Sevilla!
Faro, Portugal
We took the bus from Sevilla to Faro and it was nice and easy, only two hours. We got to our hostel no problem and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. This was Caroline’s first non-program trip ever so I was excited to show her the ropes so to speak. Faro is a pretty small town and it’s definitely a summer town. There wasn’t too much to do but we met this kid named Miles who was staying in our room that night (it was just the three of us) and decided to spend the evening with him. We went to a chapel of bones which was SO creepy. I don’t know man, I did not like the feeling of being surrounded by bones and having a bunch of skulls staring at me! While we were walking around we found a vihno biblioteca (wine library) that was having happy hour, only 1,5€ for a glass of wine. It was super cozy and we spent forever there and bless Miles for being genuinely interested in hearing about Sweet Briar. If you get two SBC girls together, especially with wine, you’re going to hear all about the time that it almost closed…even if all the people in question were there. After we had our wine we went out to an Italian place and then to this upscale bar that Caroline found online. They had a super snazzy music video advertisement so we obviously had to go. We ordered our ridiculously priced drinks; mine was a warm berry butter something or other drink. Amazing. It was cold and rainy but luckily they were well prepared and had blankets to keep us warm! Also, don’t let them know but I stole the cup (it was a nice ceramic one).
Deserted Island, Faro
Interesting note: when we were walking from the restaurant to the bar I experienced probably the most blatant example of gender conditioning ever. Miles was joking/playing around on one of the weird playground things on the edge of a parking lot. Caroline and I noticed that a car had driven by us several times, rather slowly before speeding around the parking lot. Then they stopped and two men got out of the car…though they were pretty far away from us. We told Miles that it was time to go and we power walked to the bar and the two men followed us the entire time, stopping only when we went and sat at the bar. We asked Miles what he thought about them and he hadn’t even noticed them and had been wondering why we wanted to leave to abruptly. Maybe we were imagining things but the fact that we both thought the same thing without even speaking to each other while he didn’t notice anything speaks volumes about gender conditioning.
Saturday was pretty relaxed, Caroline and I walked around the town until Lily got there it the evening. It was a bit sad because so many of the buildings were basically falling apart. A sad sort of beautiful. That night we had dinner at the hostel. They were having a special 5 course meal. It was amazing, but very filling!
Carrot cream soup, avocado and tomato, creamy spinach and mushrooms and peanut chutney, a grilled pepper stuffed with cheese and cous-cous, mango mousse. Obviously with Sangria.
Sacramonte, Granada
I met this Danish couple at dinner that was cycling through Portugal. They have a son who is living/working/volunteering in India and a daughter who is going to Colombia University for their journalism graduate program. After we ate we played a bit of “drinking Jenga” with some of the people at the hostel and then we headed out to a bar that Caroline had found online. There was a band that was going to be playing called “Six Irishmen and a Fiddle”. They weren’t particularly good but it was fun to sit in a nice bar and order fancy drinks (Sex on the Beach and Strawberry Daiquiris, can you tell we were wishing for warmer weather?)
Our game plan for Sunday was to go to this desert island. We headed down to the dock bright and early in our shorts praying that it would warm up. The island was about a 35 minute ferry ride away and was really cool. There’s nothing on it besides one restaurant and a couple of storage shacks. During the high season they only take 400 people out a day but there were way less when we went! We had a bunch of fun walking around the island, laying in the sun, and dancing around in the waves. Oh and I also made Caroline and Lily join my mini beach cleanup…there was an awful lot of trash for an uninhabited island. After a full day at the beach we went out for Mexican food complete with margaritas.
Sacramonte, Granada
We headed back to Sevilla on Monday. Lily spent the week with me and my host family My host mom is an angel, apparently a lot of people charge if their students have someone over but it wasn’t a huge deal because I have an extra bed in my room this semester and we didn’t really eat en casa. I had class all week so I didn’t get to spend much time doing touristy things like I did when the family was here but since I didn’t have anything to do on Friday we spent the morning at a café and paseando por la ciudad. We got French fries from this place I’ve been dying to try and then got bocadillos and spent the afternoon at the park by the river just like I did when my family was here. It was great.

The next day was my program trip to Granada. I went last semester so just like with Madrid I kind of got to do my own thing. Lily and I spend the afternoon eating on an outdoor staircase in the sun trying to see how much we could remember about the people we went to high school with. It wasn’t that long ago but you forget a lot and fast! 
Sacramonte, Granada
The next day, while everyone else was at the Alhambra I decided that I was going to check out Sacramonte which is a neighborhood of Granada famous for its caves. The gypsies traditionally lived there but now they are home to professional squatters, the poorer population, and the hippie type. It was really cool to walk through the area but at the same time it felt like I was intruding on their lives. It’s a part of the city I had heard about but had never been to. I was surprised by how expansive the area was and also the diversity. Some houses looked normal; they were built into the caves but had entrances that looked like normal houses while others were literally just the cave with maybe a blanket hanging over the front. The normal looking ones were really nice and I could totally see myself living in one but the others were just really dirty. You could tell that the tourists normally walked around the nicer area, there were bars and locals out playing their guitars and kids outside. The other area was very hard to navigate and you could tell the only people there were those who lived there and the slightly more adventurous tourists. I really do like Granada, especially the juxtaposing landscapes...palm trees and snow capped mountains! As usually though I was happy to get home to Sevilla <3

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Family is Coming! The Family is Coming! (Well, they already came)

Okay people, here’s the deal: I’m about to leave for almost a week in Paris, followed by Semana Santa, a bunch of trips, Feria, and then more trips. Then ya está. That’s it. I don’t want to behind on blogging anymore so the three biggest things that have happened in the last month are going to get done rapid fire (I hope). They are being written now and that’s that.

As you probably know, or maybe not, my family came to visit me here in Sevilla almost a month ago. It was super exciting especially because I had been bugging them about it since before I even got here. There were some points when I was sure that they weren’t actually going to come but luckily everything worked out and they did! Per usual, the lead up was one of the most exciting parts of the visit. For several weeks before I would walk to tutoring from the university a different way than usual and go right by the place they would be staying. I imagined all of the things I would tell them about as we walked down the main drag of the city for the first time. I imagined us basking in the sunny Sevillan weather all week taking in the sights that I’ve had the opportunity to walk by every day. Spoiler alert: the weather was kind of crappy.

I picked them up at the airport and they were (obviously) super tired. We hopped on the bus to the center of the city and I brought them to their home for the week. I felt bad that the weather wasn’t great, but we still sat on the rooftop terrace eating the pastries and drinking the OJ I bought the day before.

Over the course of the week that they were here we got to pretty much every tourist spot as well as some of my favorite non-touristy places. We did a lot of wandering down random streets which is one of my favorite hobbies. I have a pretty good command of the city and even if I don’t know exactly where we are I know which general direction to walk in. That means we can get lost enough to find hidden bars in hidden plazas but not so lost that they ever had to worry about not being able to get back. The kids (aka my sisters) weren’t as into the historical things but I had a great time giving my mom and dad a tour of the Alcázar. We also spent a lot of time shopping and Hannah even got her prom dress.

One of the things I loved was eating out. Since I live with my host family I usually eat en casa but while the fam was here I got to enjoy a lot of different restaurants. We usually had tapas for dinner which was great. A plus side to going out with a group is that you can get a bunch of tapas and share. That’s a lot harder when you go out alone or with only one other person. I think the US really needs to embrace tapa culture. Easting a little bit of a lot of things is definitely the way to go. Oh, and red wine should be required! I did have a bit of a problem trying to translate the different types of meat for my family; I obviously never order meat so I just kind of ignore that part of the menu! My favorite dinner was at a restaurant we went to in Alameda. I got an apple and nut salad instead of tapas but I kept with the Spanish thing by getting us a jar (10 or so servings) of sangria for the table. I also introduced the family to picos, which are mini, hard breadsticks. It rained a bit but luckily they put up an umbrella for us (we were eating outside as that’s the norm here). We had lots of fun telling stories and joking around…maybe it was the sangria but it was the best time.
I’m used to lunch being my biggest meal but since the family wasn’t going to completely adjust to Spanish time in just a week, we usually had smaller lunches. On their last day here we went to a cute little tienda on a side street by the apartment and I ordered bocadillos for me and my parents and muffins for my sisters. We bought a bunch of snacks and headed down to the river to enjoy the sun (it finally came out on the last day). We spent hours sitting and doing nothing. It was great.
Since I’m going backwards, let’s talk about breakfast. My youngest sister, Emily is obsessed with croissants. She’s into everything French and has always loved them but let’s be honest, they’re on a whole different level here. I even got her to order and ask for the check in Spanish which was exciting. My dad did too sometimes. The typical Andalucían breakfast is a tostada with something on it (it varies depending on the person) and a café (solo or con leche). My parents aren’t big breakfast eaters so they usually just enjoyed their cafes but Hannah understands and appreciates the amazingness of bread. Breakfast is my favorite meal/time of day and I took the family to three of my favorite cafes while they were here. The swanky La Baronesa, my go-to blogging spot Café de Indias and the home of my favorite coffee Christina & Co.
Last bit on food. They were here over Saint Valentine’s Day and I gifted my parents a dinner at the Río Grande, a restaurant that overlooks the Guadalquivir and I took my sister out to the new Italian place on Calle Betis with Caroline. Oh, and of course we got churros con chocolate at the churro stand at the end of Puente de Triana!
It was great to have the family here but I was super tired by the time they left…it’s hard being a tour guide and still going to class! It was fun to show off use my Spanish skills, one time we went into this store that sold antique tiles and I talked to the owner for a while and he told me all about the history behind them and how to tell the old ones from the newer ones. It was a bit frustrating though because there were certain people who would insist on talking to me in English even if I stated the conversation in and exclusively used Spanish. It may have happened more because my family was there but it’s something I constantly have to deal with.

I wish I had time to take them on a day trip or something, but then again Sevilla has so much to offer! I’m also hoping that now that they’ve seen the city they’ll be more understanding if I decide to move here full time J