The End

I’m currently sitting in the Madrid airport waiting for my connecting flight to Chicago and I can’t believe this day has come.  I have spent the last four months of my life immersing myself into the Spanish culture and learning so much.  My program ended last week, but I have been traveling, just putting off the goodbye.  I’ve grown so close to my Spanish family and they were my hardest goodbye.  My host mom told me I can’t be sad, but just need to plan to visit again, and I hope I get that opportunity some day.  After this experience, I can picture myself living in Spain or Europe (sorry Mom).  Maybe not permanently, but I could see myself working abroad for a couple of years.

The reality of the situation hasn’t quite hit me yet even though I have a dentist appointment in 5 days and plans to see friends and family.  I move back into college in 2 weeks and start working again shortly after that, but I can’t quite wrap my brain around my life in the US right now.

I think for the first time I am speechless, because I cannot find words to describe what I’m feeling.  I’ll definitely be happy to see my family, friends, and pets soon, but it’s difficult to leave behind such an amazing experience.

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Puente (Dublin & Oslo)

December 6th was the beginning of every student’s dream come true: a long weekend.  I only had class Monday and Tuesday the week of December 4th, so a long weekend obviously calls for some traveling.  I was lucky enough to spend some time in Dublin with some friends and then travel to Oslo to visit a friend.  Especially in Oslo, the weather was a lot colder than in Alicante, so I got to experience a little taste of winter in preparation for when I come back.

I got to Dublin late Tuesday night, so we didn’t start exploring until Wednesday morning.  We got up early and joined a walking tour from our hostel where we got to learn some of the history behind the Dublin Castle, Christ’s Church, The Temple Bar, and Trinity College, just to name a few places.  Below are a few pictures from this afternoon.

After lunch, we walked over to the Guinness Storehouse where we saw the process of how beer is made, how to “professionally” sample Guinness, and then at the very end we got a pint of Guinness.  I guess I never really thought about what was in beer or how it was made, so that was very eye opening for me.  Guinness beer has been around for 250 years and the Guinness family has a large influence in a lot of places in Dublin, including some of the other breweries.

On Thursday we took a train to Howth, a nearby fishermen town on the coast.  We walked around the pier for a while, then hiked along a path that follows the shoreline along the Irish Sea.  The wind that came off the sea was freezing, so we were very glad to hike to warm up.  Naturally, we ate fish and chips for a late lunch before we went back to Dublin.  Afterwards, some of us wandered around in the streets and went into little shops that were unique to Ireland.  There was a lot of places that sold handmade hats, gloves, and scarves from Irish wool and Celtic jewelry.

Thursday night was probably my favorite part of my time in Dublin.  My friends and I wandered around for a long time looking for a place to eat and came across a pub where we ended up in the back corner, a little secluded from the rest of the pub (we’re pretty loud, so this was good for everyone else in the pub).  We decided to keep our phones put away for the meal.  We sat in the pub for about three hours just eating and talking, getting to know a lot more about each other.  The end of the program was(is) rapidly approaching, so a lot of the conversation was a reflection on our experiences and our growth.

Friday morning I flew out alone to Oslo to meet a friend, Christian.  He was a foreign exchange student at my high school my junior year of school.  He and his family were so kind and opened their house up to me and invited me to a family Christmas party Saturday night.  Christian showed me around downtown Oslo Friday night.  I saw the city, the palace, a Christmas market, and all the places of his childhood.  Saturday during the day we went to a Norwegian Folk Museum and the museum from when the winter Olympics were held in Oslo.  The track for the Ski Jump is still there today, and we went there and watched the sun set over the city.

One thing that was a little comical is that they speak Norwegian in Norway, obviously.  I knew that before I left, but I didn’t really realize that until I was in Oslo and the signs weren’t in a language that I spoke.  Almost everyone in Norway also knows (or at least understands) English, so it wasn’t an issue that I didn’t speak  Norwegian.  Christian’s parents were nice and spoke English when I was around, but the Christmas dinner with his family was very interesting because they were all speaking Norwegian with each other.  I honestly didn’t mind sitting and listening because it’s nothing like English or Spanish.  Christian tried to teach me a few words in Norwegian, but I wasn’t very successful.  I went back home to Spain very very late Sunday night.  It was a very full and busy 5 days, but it was probably one of my favorite trips this semester.  It also made me realize how little of my time in Spain is left.

The month of December is usually one that goes by quickly in general for me, but this year it’s flying by even faster.  This past week one of my classes ended and next week is my last week of classes in Spain.  A week from now my program will end and I might not see some of the people I met this semester ever again.  There have been a lot of goodbyes in the last few weeks and there will be so many more within the next week.  I definitely miss my friends and family back in the US, but I don’t know if I’m ready to leave Spain.  These past four months have been full of memories, learning, and so many experiences.  I’ll admit I was very nervous and scared about studying abroad the week before I left, and on the plane ride to Spain a small part of me was wishing that I hadn’t done this.  Looking back I laugh because these have easily been the best four months of my life and the thing I once feared has now become such a huge part of who I am today.

These are a few of my favorite things…

1.) TV nights with my host mom (or the family, depending on the night)

2.) Turrón (Christmas chocolate from Spain)

3.) Watching the sun set from the beach

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4.) All the dogs in the streets being walked by their owners

5.)  Palm trees

6.) El Parque de Canalejas

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7.) My host mom humming whenever she’s in the kitchen

8.) The warmth of the Spanish sun

9.) The word “genial” (it’s my favorite way of expressing sarcasm in Spanish)

10.) My art class (Makenzie and I love to point out all the things that we learned in art class while we travel.  Among many things, here’s an arco de medio punto abocinado)

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I’ve done quite a bit of traveling this semester and no trip is flawless.  Here are some recommendations for future travelers that I have from some of my experiences:

1.) When you buy an outlet converter, buy one that is a universal converter.  It’s not something you think about when you’re buying it, but you can be in a tough situation when you travel to the UK and you have a plug in from the US and only a European converter.

2.) Make sure your carry on bag fits the European flying requirements.  There are airlines that make you place your suitcase in the box to see if it fits, and I promise you trying to make your suitcase fit is not fun.

3.) Get an app that converts units.  There are TONS of free ones out there and I find myself using it almost daily to figure out how many ounces my 40 centiliter pop is or how fast 180 km per hour is.

4.) Creativity and an open mind is always a good idea whether it’s enjoying the day in the rain when you weren’t expecting it, passing time in an airport, or finding ways to maximize the space in your suitcase.

5.) The rule “you get what you pay for” applies to hostels and airplane/flight prices.

6.) On the topic of hostels, earplugs/eye masks might be worth the investment, even if you do sleep like a rock

7.) Always check the details of your future flights.  Flight times change, companies go bankrupt, your flight could switch airports…there’s tons of things that can change weeks or even hours before takeoff

8.) Do the touristy things, but also try to find the “hidden gem” in places.  Touristy things are usually a safe bet because they wouldn’t be popular if it wasn’t worth the visit, but some of my favorite visits have been to things that I’ve stumbled across on accident that you don’t find when you google “things to do in _______”

9.) If you can’t find somewhere or you don’t know the answer to something, don’t be afraid to ask!  Tipping, whether or not water is free in restaurants, or whether the water is safe to drink from the faucet varies from country to country.  You can’t know everything, and the local people are the best sources for information.

10.) Make sure you’re having fun!  Yes it’s good to experience different cultures and not every trip is going to be equal in fun as the rest, but you’re paying money, so make sure it’s money well spent.

Madrid/Toledo

This past weekend I took a “personal weekend” and made a solo trip to Madrid!  My friends went a couple weekends ago when I was sick, so I wasn’t able to go then.  I’ll admit I wasn’t overly excited to spend the weekend alone, but I was not about to pass up the capital of Spain.  The trip went a lot better than I was originally anticipating.  I left Thursday afternoon after class and got home late Sunday night, so I spent over 3 days alone.  This trip was a real testament to how much my Spanish skills have grown because I had to rely on my speaking skills and couldn’t fall back on anyone else if I didn’t understand someone talking to me or signs.  I’m very impressed with my growth because I (for the most part) only spoke Spanish this weekend.  I checked in to my hostel, bought museum tickets, and ordered at restaurants successfully in Spanish.  This might not seem like a big deal given that I’m living in a Spanish-speaking country and always do everyday tasks in Spanish, but my growth is tremendous from the beginning of September.  My confidence in my Spanish skills were significantly lower when I first arrived and I always talked to strangers in public in English.  The airport was a disaster when I landed in Spain because I was speaking a mixture of Spanglish to the employees; ordering in restaurants gave me anxiety because the waiters couldn’t understand my American accent; and nothing made me feel worse than when I would try and talk in Spanish to a stranger and they would speak to me in English.  Most of these situations ended in me giving up on Spanish and switching to English.  I had non of these issues this weekend and I’m very proud of the progress I’m making.  It’s the little things like this weekend that make me realize all that I’ve accomplished.

The great thing about traveling alone is that you get to do WHATEVER you want.  I wandered for 4+ hours in 2 museums, el Museo de Reina Sofia and El Prado on Friday and loved every minute of it.  My original interest in going to Madrid was for the museums because in my high school Spanish classes we studied art.  I was very excited that I got to see some of the famous pieces in person like Guernica by Picasso, Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, and La Maja Vestida by Goya.

I also spent a good part of my Friday in El Parque de Retiro.  I needed my little dose of nature for the weekend and I definitely got it.  I was so shocked because I could sit on a park bench in the middle of Madrid and only hear the sounds of chirping birds, leaves rustling, and people talking and laughing.  No cars, no sirens, or any other sign that I was in the capital of Spain.  I wandered around and found a rose garden, el Palacio de Cristal, and lots of places to people watch.

Friday night came and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.  I went out and enjoyed paella for dinner and at this point I would say I finally had become comfortable eating alone in a restaurant.  I was tucked away in a little corner and I sat and read my book in my own little world.  When I got back to the hostel, I hung out in the lounge (one of the only places with wifi there), and I ended up talking to 2 guys from the UK.  It was nice to spend the day alone and then have some human interaction, besides with a waiter, at the end of the day.

Saturday I took a day trip to Toledo, which is about 20 minutes by train from Madrid.  I’ll admit I wasn’t overly excited for this trip.  Multiple people to me that I HAD to go while I was in Madrid so I figured it would be worth it, and it definitely was.  I stepped off the train and it felt like I stepped back into Medieval times.  There is also a strong Arab influence in Toledo as well and the whole city is absolutely gorgeous.  I spent the day wandering around the city and I was very content with that.  I visited the cathedral there, which is very famous for its Gothic-style design (surprise surprise I’m currently learning about its architecture in my art class).  I also walked to a lookout that overlooked the whole city.  I didn’t have much on my agenda for the day, but here are some pictures to give you an idea of what I was looking at all day:

Sunday morning I allowed myself to sleep in a little bit because it isn’t a personal weekend without catching up on sleep.  I headed out for the morning in the direction of the royal palace.  I was a little disappointed with what I found because I was picturing an elaborate palace like in Aladdin and I did not find that. IMG_5264 It was still cool to say I saw the royal palace, but I was more interested in the cathedral next door.  I went inside while mass was taking place (which I found a little strange) so I couldn’t take pictures.  It was very simple but colorful on the inside and around the alter, which is different from some of the more elaborate cathedrals I’ve seen lately.  I stood and listened to mass for a little bit, but I found trying to understand the priest singing in Spanish difficult.  I spent the rest of my day wandering the streets of Madrid and came across some plazas and monuments.  It was another relaxing day, which was a great way to end my weekend.

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Going into this weekend, I wasn’t worried about spending the weekend relying on my Spanish skills because my confidence and my skills have increased in ways I never could have imagined.  Yes I came to Spain to “complete my Spanish major,” but I don’t think I realized what that meant until this weekend.  I have improved my speaking skills and learned SO much about the Spanish culture and history.  Yes mission accomplished, I took a lot of credits for my Spanish major, but mission accomplished!  I have immersed myself into another culture and learned its language, lifestyle, and history.

Field Trip Time: Granada!

The weekend of November 11th-12th my program took a trip to Granada, a city located in southern Spain.  I was very excited for this excursion in my art class the week before, we were learning about the architecture that we would be seeing in Granada and its importance in Spain’s history.  In 1492, Spain was conquered from the Arabs by the Christians, King Fernando and Queen Isabel.  Granada was the last Arab community of Spain to be conquered by the Christians and over 500 years later you can still see the influence of the Arabic culture in Granada.

We got to Granada early afternoon on Sunday and took a walk to La Plaza Nueva, which is home to tons of restaurants and the Arab street market.  The best thing about dining in Granada is “tapear”.  With the purchase of a drink, the waiter brings a free plate of tapas, or appetizers, for the table.  The art of tapear is that you get to sample a bunch of authentic Spain food at a VERY cheap price.  Some of my friends and I spent a part of the first afternoon loading up on Spanish tapas.

We toured Capilla Real, one of the cathedrals in Granada that evening.  We saw the crypts and tombs of Fernando and Isabel (the king and queen mentioned above).  I didn’t realize that we were going to get to see them, so that was the surprise of my afternoon.

After the cathedral we had some free time, so I spent a couple hours wandering through the Arab market.  I wish I would have taken pictures because everything was beautiful!  All of the authentic artwork was handmade, whether it was hand-painted bowls, lamps, plates, pillow cases, tapestries, clothing, bags…you name it.  Everything was very cheap too, so it was hard to refrain from buying everything in sight.

That night we took a bus up one of the mountains and watched a traditional flamenco dance.  Flamenco dancing is the stereotypical dancing you think of when you think of Spain.  I didn’t really know what to expect going into it, but I’m so glad I went.  I’ve never seen anything like it!  It definitely takes some talent to be able to flamenco and I admire the skills of all of the dancers.

The next morning we got up early and visited La Alhambra.  I was most excited for this because I knew I would be able to apply my architectural knowledge from art class.  La Alhambra was an Arabic palace before 1492.  It’s the size of 14 soccer fields and took over 200 years to build.  It’s full of different rooms and salas an it has multiple patios and gardens.  We took a 3 hour tour of the whole thing and I spent a good part of it geeking out over the architecture with one of my friends from class.  Words cannot describe how beautiful it is.  Below are some pictures, but even the pictures don’t do it justice.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat after La Alhambra and started the long journey back to Alicante.  The trip was at a perfect point in the semester because I’ve gotten to know everyone in my program, so it was fun spending this time hanging out with my friends in comparison to our first trip, where we spent the time getting to know each other.  I am truly blessed to be with such a great group of people this semester.

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Milan, Italy

This trip was a bit of an impulse, but my friend found cheap plane tickets to Milan, Italy in September and I remember thinking, “Spend my birthday weekend in Italy?  Why not?” and so on October 27th after my finals, I found myself on an airplane to Italy!  I spent Friday night-Monday there.  It was my first time leaving Spain since I arrived, so it was a nice change of scenery for the weekend.  Milan is in northern Italy and away from the sea, so the weather was cooler and the leaves were changing colors and falling; I got to experience fall for a weekend and I was very happy about that.

Milan is the fashion capital of the world, so of course my friend and I did some shopping.  I touched an 800 euro sweater handmade with cashmere from Italy and admired a 2000 euro dress that was all lace.  It was fun to see the extravaganzas of fashion and Milan.  We shopped in the oldest shopping center in Europe, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

We also toured the Duomo di Milano (Cathedral of Milan).  It’s the largest cathedral in Italy and the third largest in the world.  It took six centuries to build and is breathtaking inside.  There is huge stain glass on the walls with hundreds of little scenes within the window.  There are over 3,400 statues within the church and on its outside.  There are many important people of the Catholic faith buried in the floors of the cathedral, but also on display are the beautified bodies of the last three popes.  I didn’t take pictures of them because it felt disrepectful, but I took plenty of picture of everything else.

On our last day in Milan, we walked to the Castello Sforzesco, a medieval castle in Milan.  We arrived just as the sun was setting and we sat in the grass and watched the sunset and the moon rise.  We definitely stood out a little because no one else was on the grass, but as two Midwesterners, we were enjoying the fall night.

And of course Italy is known for its food and pasta.  Every meal I ate was pasta (except breakfast where I ate the over-the-top pastry).  I also tried some mussels and bruschetta too for the first time.

 

 

 

Halfway?! What?!

Last weekend was the halfway point of my program and I’m in disbelief.  I’m torn between feeling like I just got here last week and that I’ve been living in Spain for years.  Even though I still have two months left, I feel like my days here are numbered.  But right now, I’m enjoying the still-warm weather in Alicante as it snows back home.  I have an overnight trip coming up next weekend with my program and tons of activities that I can’t wait to do, but I know that the more activities there are to look forward to, the faster time is going to fly and I’m not ready to leave yet.

IMG_3482[1]Last week was a little hard for me because it was my birthday and I got sick again.  The weather here is still warm, so it doesn’t really feel like fall; therefore, it didn’t feel like my birthday.  My host mom and her daughter got me a “tarta” and it looked like a giant twinkie with candles in it.  My host mom gave me a scarf for my birthday and it will do a great job keeping me warm against the Minnesota cold.  I have some amazing friends in my program who took me out to dinner (I ate my first burger in a long time) and decorated their apartment and threw me a little party with cake.  I will forever appreciate what they did because if it wasn’t for them, I probably would have shrugged away my birthday.  The day after however, I woke up with strep throat and that required a trip to the doctor for antibiotics.  Apparently you never grow out of wanting your mom when you’re sick, because this time was no exception.  After a couple days I’m feeling better, but it made for an emotional week.  Here’s a picture of me in my friend’s apartment.

IMG_4375[1]After two months, I’m still trying new things and still being surprised by the culture here.  I went to a Bachata dance lesson with my program a few weeks ago.  The instructor showed us some basic steps and spins and after an hour we were all spinning around the room!  I would not consider myself a good dancer, but the Bachata is very easy to do as long as you have a sense of rhythm and a partner.  I also got the opportunity to visit some of the barracks in Alicante from the Civil War in Spain.  Spain was torn between a republic and a dictatorship from 1936-1939, so Spain didn’t participate in WWII because it was dealing with its own war.  These barracks were used to hide from the bombings that would take place; Alicante was on the losing side of the war.  It was very surreal walking in pitch black underground tunnels where people waited for the bombing to end, fearing for their lives.  Below are some pictures from the barracks; they were very narrow and weren’t very tall, and I can’t imagine what it was like filled with people.

I am still trying tons of new food and there is very little that I have come across that I don’t like.  Below is some pictures of octopus, pomegranate and “caballa”.  Mom cringes when I tell her about the food I try, but I’m being exposed to seafood that I normally wouldn’t eat in Minnesota because hello, it’s practically a landlocked state.  I’ve had octopus a couple times here, but this is a picture of my favorite plate of it.  I ate it with a baked potato and an egg.  It’s a little rubbery when cutting it, which grossed me out a little bit, but it doesn’t taste rubbery when you eat it.  I’ve never eaten anything like it, so I can’t really explain what it tastes like, but I can assure you it’s good.

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It’s pomegranate season in Spain and I was very happy when I came home from school one day to see pomegranate in the fruit bowl.  Yes I have had pomegranate before, but it is SO much better in Spain.  The outside of pomegranate looks the same, but here is a picture of the seeds.  They are paler here; I’ll be honest, when they were put in front of me I turned my nose up a little bit because they didn’t look ripe and appeared like they wouldn’t taste good.  Oh but I was wrong!  Pomegranates are actually sweet here, almost like eating sugar.  In comparison, pomegranate in the US is bitter and I probably won’t be able to eat it again because it is that much better here.

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This is a picture of “caballa”, it’s a type of fish here that I have a love-hate relationship with.  Funny story about this fish: the word for horse in Spanish is “caballo”.  When I first tried the fish, of course I asked my host mom what kind of fish it was, but I heard “caballo” and I almost lost it at the dinner table because I thought I was eating horse, but it looked like a fish!  My host mom and I had a good laugh when I asked why horse looked like fish and she then corrected me.  But back to the love-hate relationship: I’m used to eating freshwater fish that my family has filleted.  Caballa has a very fishy taste (and smell), and there are bones upon bones in these fish because my host mom cooks the fish, bones and scales and all (minus the head).  I eat it whenever we have it for dinner, but I still can’t decide if I like it.  Below is a picture of the fish on my plate, and  also the spine of the fish that I pulled out one day mid-meal.

 

 

Puedo Respirar

I can’t believe that today is October 13th.  I walked to a coffee shop to do some homework with my friends and I can’t decide if I regret wearing pants or not, but I’m leaning towards regret.  The temperature is currently 85 degrees with a slight breeze and it feels like a day at the end of August/beginning of September in Minnesota, and it’s wonderful.  I am afraid for the day I come home at the end of December because nothing is going to prepare me for the shock I’m going to feel from the cold of a Minnesota winter.

Because the weather is still SO beautiful, I love to take advantage of it and spend as much time as I can outside.  I love to pass time on the beach, whether I’m actually swimming, napping, or doing homework.  This past weekend was sunny and beautiful, so I hiked up Peñón, a mountain, in Calpe, a town just up the coast.  We hiked for 2 hours up this mountain, hung out and enjoyed the AMAZING view, then climbed back down.  The mountain was so steep, we were using our hands to steady ourselves as we balanced on rocks on a worn-down path.  We rewarded ourselves afterward with a dip in the sea.  At one point I was swimming in water over my head and I could see my shadow on the floor of the sea, that’s how clear the water was in Calpe.  Calpe is by far my favorite place that I’ve visited so far; it isn’t a huge city and there’s actually some green around in the city (things in Alicante are brown unless I’m on campus).  This trip definitely makes me miss nature and the bluffs back home.  We also found some cats on the hike up the mountain!  We got weird looks as we were playing with them, but they were worth it.

Tomorrow marks 6 weeks since I’ve arrived and I can’t believe how fast time has flown by, but at the same time I find it so hard to believe that it’s only been 6 weeks.  Last Monday was an important day for me because it finally felt like a normal day in the life of a typical college student.  I was running around from class to class and then home for a little bit before I had to leave again for a group activity with my program.  I was by no means stressed, but it felt nice to be busy and to have places to be.  I’ve also adjusted to my class schedule (even though it changes every month) and the normalcy of taking the bus to school and eating dinner at 9 pm.  The excitement and shock of living in Spain has worn off and now I can actually live.  I still feel like I’m in a dream, but I’ve become more comfortable and can finally take a breath and enjoy the day to day things without feeling overwhelmed.

It’s only been 6 weeks, but I am already seeing how my semester abroad is changing me.  For starters, when I look in the mirror I see a very tan version of myself with freckles splattered across my cheeks and nose and blonde highlights in my hair from the sun.  I don’t think I’ve looked like this since senior year of high school after playing soccer all summer and fall, so I can only imagine what I’ll look like when I come home.  If I look below the surface a little bit, I notice that I’ve become more patient.  It used to drive me nuts when I was in the middle of a conversation and couldn’t think of the word I wanted to use in a conversation in Spanish and I would have to look it up, or if I was with my English-speaking friends, I would say it in English.  Now, I take the time to explain the word I can’t think of and I won’t look it up unless I can’t explain it.  I also have a greater respect for someone who lives in a different country for a long period of time, whether it’s for school, work, or as a refugee.  I have had the luxury of having studied Spanish for the last 6 years, so I kind of know what I’m doing when I speak and read things, but not everyone has that luxury.  I was nervous coming here after all the studying I’ve done, so I can only imagine how it feels to travel to a country that doesn’t speak your native language without any prior knowledge of the new language.

I cannot even begin to explain all that I have learned so far.  I feel that my vocabulary is still small, but it has significantly grown.  Most of my learning is done out of the classroom, but the things I do learn in class I’m actually applying in my day-to-day life/speech, which is an awesome feeling.  Now that I’ve fully adjusted and am more comfortable, I’m excited to see the progress I’ll make in the next 10 weeks.

La Boda (The Wedding)

Thursday, September 28th was no ordinary day for me.  I had my oral final exam for my language course and when I came home, there were three strangers in the apartment.  And by strangers, I mean Andrea’s daughter and her two kids who live in Sevilla.  This past weekend, one of Andrea’s daughters got married and I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to the wedding.  This post is going to give you the inside scoop on what my life was like this weekend, spending it with the whole family.

First, I want to give you a little family background.  Andrea has four daughters: Silvia (who is married and they have 3 kids), Vanesa (who is married and has 2 kids), Gema, and Rebeca (the bride of the weekend and she has one daughter).  Before this weekend, I had only met Vanesa and Rebeca because they live in Alicante, but by the end of the weekend I had met all of these people and many more family members.

Thursday when I came home, I spent the afternoon getting to know Silvia and two of her kids.  A couple hours later, Vanesa and Rebeca come over with their kids.  I’m used to it being just me and Andrea in the apartment and sometimes there’s a grandchild with us, so with 10 people in the living room for lunch, overwhelmed does not begin to describe how I felt.  The family is very friendly and patient with my Spanish skills, but I did a lot of spectating at the first family meal.  As the conversation started to pick up, everyone talked louder and faster to the point where I was surprised anyone was listening to each other.  With a 2 year old running around, the younger girls giggling, and a bunch of people crammed into the kitchen trying to help cook, it felt a lot like a family holiday.

Later that evening, we went to the train station to pick up Silvia’s husband who came on a separate train.  When I say we, I mean everyone from lunch, plus the groom and his daughter.  Talk about a lot of people walking through the streets together!  As we were on our way back home, we ran into Gema on the street, and the family was complete.

After spending the whole afternoon with the family, I escaped to the beach for a couple of hours to watch the sunset, study for my final, and breathe a little.  When I came back to the apartment, everyone was preparing for dinner, minus the groom.  We all crowded around the dinner table (that was made for eight people) and stuffed our faces with pizza, tortilla de patatas, and chips.  I was able to follow these conversations a lot better as they talked about wedding plans for the weekend and were catching up with each other.

Silvia and her husband spent the weekend in the apartment with me and Andrea, but there were always at least six family members in the apartment at any given time.  Most of the family gathered for lunch and dinner and I really enjoyed the “family feeling” for a weekend.

Sunday was the big day.  I woke up to many running around the apartment trying to shower, get ready, eat, and organize kids before we had to leave.  Gema, Rebeca, and Andrea had gone to get ready at the site of the wedding, so I left with Silvia and Vanesa for the wedding.  We rode the bus across town to a cute little restaurant that relatives of the groom own.  There were somewhere from 30-50 people that attended the wedding, and we all stood outside the restaurant with the groom, waiting for the bride.  Rebeca arrived in the back of a convertible and we all cheered and clapped when she came, then we went inside for the ceremony.  The ceremony was very similar to those in the US, but here the relatives speak during the service instead of during the reception.  Rings and vows were exchanged, but it’s also tradition in Spain to exchanges arras, or coins, which are a symbol of good fortune and good luck.  At the end of the ceremony, we all held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer (I think, I’ve never heard it in Spanish, so this is just my guess).  At the end though, the ceremony was opened up to everyone in the room and any wedding attenders were able to say any words of thanks or desires for the newlyweds.  I’ve never seen this done at a wedding before, but it appeared to be of the norm in Spain.

After the ceremony, we moved into the back patio to eat.  The waiters brought out tapas after tapas.  I ate with Andrea’s grandchildren who are closer in age with me, and they laughed as I questioned some of the food put on the table.  The most unique thing that I tried was calamar, or squid!  (For the record, it’s actually pretty good when fried).  After lots of tapas, we had a main course of chicken, and of course after that we ate cake.  Throughout the meal, people would randomly yell “Viva….” (which is similar to “long live…”) followed by a person in the room (usually the bride, the groom, the best man, the maid of honor, the daughters of the couple, or the waiters) in a way of acknowledgement or honor for that person.  The Spanish know how to throw a party, and the atmosphere was full of life and energy.

The night ended with lots of dancing and pictures.  The family and I made it back to the apartment around 10pm sweaty and tired after a long day of celebrating.  We all came back and drank some decaffeinated coffee, then went to bed.  Here is a picture of me and Andrea from the wedding.  I have a fun and wonderful relationship with my host mom, and I’ve only been here a month.

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Silvia and her family are here until Thursday.  Now that things have returned to normal after the wedding, things are calmer around the apartment.  Vanesa is over a lot too, so it’s like I have three moms giving me advice and taking care of me.  I can now participate in family conversations, but they still don’t let me help them do any of the chores in the kitchen.  I can only imagine how empty the apartment is going to feel when everyone leaves and it’s just me and Andrea again.

 

 

Barcelona

For my first weekend trip, my friends and I decided to travel to Barcelona!  The city is a 5 1/2 hour train ride from Alicante, but it was the perfect distance to give us some practice travelling alone.  We left Friday afternoon after classes and spent the weekend exploring Barcelona.  Saturday we started bright and early and had a 14 1/2 hour day full of sight seeing and adventuring.  We started off at La Sagrada Familia, which is a BEAUTIFUL cathedral.  You can’t judge a book by its cover, and La Sagrada Familia is no exception.  The outside is nothing overly exciting except for being a tall, castle-looking structure with tall towers in the middle of the city, but the inside is breath-taking.  There is rainbow stain glass everywhere that paints colors on other walls and on the floors.  The church’s unique architecture was designed by Anton Gaudí.  If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia is a must-see.

From there, we walked to the Arc de Triomf which is next to el Parque de Ciudadela.  This was probably my favorite stop on our whole trip.  There was tons of people in the park, along with people selling things or performing on the sidewalks.  There was such an amazing energy in the people and in the park.  We wandered around for a while and then sat and people watched for a while.

 

We walked to Parque Güell and unfortunately weren’t able to get in, but we got an amazing view of Barcelona.

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We ended the day by taking a taxi to el Fuente de Mágica de Montjuic for a water fountain light show.

And that concluded our Saturday in Barcelona!  Sunday we walked to Las Ramblas and wandered around in some shops.  We saw the memorial for the people who died in the terrorist attack earlier in the year.  In the midst of all the fun I was having, it was a nice reminder that I need to be careful, but also to enjoy myself because it can be taken away unexpectedly.

Here is a short list of some of the things I have taken away from my trip to Barcelona:

  1. I love the atmosphere in the city.  The people of Barcelona sing in the streets and it’s such an energetic city.  I couldn’t live there, but it definitely was an exciting weekend.
  2. Catalán is such a huge part of the culture.  All of the street and store signs are in Catalan first and if we were lucky, in Spanish underneath.  There is a lot of evidence in the street (whether it was graffiti, flags, or banners) showing Cataluña’s desire to be separated from Spain.
  3. There were a lot of tourists in the places we were because we were in touristy places.  It was a little comforting being around people that were speaking English, but it also made me appreciate the fact that I speak Spanish as well.  There were some people who didn’t know any Spanish that were trying to communicate with others or trying to navigate the city, and I can’t imagine doing that with a language barrier.

Here is a special shout out to Emily for all of the very helpful tips and advice!  You definitely made planning the trip a lot easier than me trying to figure it out on the internet!