Monday, June 4, 2012

Spain vs. the US: What I've learned

Before coming to Spain, I knew for sure I’d be gaining new life experiences. What I didn’t realize though was just how much I’d grow from spending five months in a foreign country. I thought that spending two years at college away from home had given me some sort of independence, but I had no idea just how much growing I had left to do. So, I thought as a final blog post I would make a list of things I have learned while studying abroad. Bear with me here, this one is going to be long.

1. Spanish
Perhaps this is the most obvious one, and something I definitely expected to learn from spending 5 months in a foreign country. Now I know from experience what everyone will ask me as soon as I come home. Are you fluent now? It’s absolutely everyone’s favorite question, and it’s a tricky one to answer. As soon as I say I don’t think so, people quickly jump to a condescending looks. But truth be told, I’m not sure it’s possible to become fluent in just 5 months. Maybe that is just my excuse, but there is just far too much vocab and colloquialisms to learn.  Now don’t start judging me yet. I know I spent a lot of time hanging out with Americans while I was here, and I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t speak as much Spanish as I possibly could have, but that in no way means I haven’t improved. When I first got here, I had a hard time understanding most things our family said, but now I often find myself listening to the radio, tv or even people’s conversations besides me and don’t realize until later that I understand what they are talking about. So I guess I don’t know how to say every word or phrase in Spanish, but thanks to 5 months in Spain, I now feel confident with my Spanish abilities. I can hold my own in a conversation. I’ve formed a close relationship with 3 kids and 2 Spanish parents whom I only speak with in Spanish. I’ve taken classes with all Spaniards as a foreign exchange student. I’m proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished. I know I have a lot more to learn, but I’ve got a whole lifetime ahead of me to keep practicing and improving.

2.How to live with a new family (with new rules)
For 5 months Colleen and I have been members of a Spanish family. I know a lot of people in our program would say they have just been a guest in their senora’s house, but we have had the blessing of having a family that has truly accepted us a member of their family. This wasn’t always easy…in fact most of the time I would say our family was far too comfortable with us. I've always been the youngest in the family, and I've had to learn how to live with younger siblings. I’m honestly not sure how my siblings ever did it. Far too often I found myself wanting to strangle Carmen at 8 in the morning when she screams (or during one of her many tantrums in the middle of the day). I had a few unfortunate run ins with naked 13 year old Luis. Maria lately has been coming home from school and stripping down to just her underwear. But I would take any of these slightly awkward instances any day because the way I see it, it is just their way of showing how comfortable they are around us. As I told Carmen when Maria wouldn't let her play with her friends at her communion, she has 2 other sisters to play with. I never thought that I’d have younger siblings (not to mention ones that only speak Spanish), but I’m so happy I was paired with them. And even though I've had my ups and downs with Pilar along the way, 90 percent of the time she has been great. Sure she could be a bit moody sometimes, but with Carmen as a child, who can blame her?  She eventually did remember my birthday 5 days later when Maria reminded her and felt so bad she had forgotten that she went out and got a cake right then and there. She will never be nearly as great as my real mom, but as a Spanish substitute for 5 months, I must admit she was pretty amazing.

3.Enjoy the moment
Throughout all of our trips and all of the bumps we hit along the way, Colleen and I always told each other one thing: It’ll all work out. Whether it was getting stuck in Florence without plane tickets home or train hoping through Germany to catch a flight in time, we always found a way to work things out. Traveling should be a fun experience, not a stressful one. I was lucky enough to have had a travel companion as great and as laid back as Colleen. All in all we visited 2 continents, 8 countries and 19 cities. Is there any better way to spend the semester?

4. How to travel
Before coming here I had only really taken vacations with my family. My parents did the planning, and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. But after taking so many trips, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to travel. I now know the ins and outs of European trains, planes, hostels and sightseeing...and of course how to do it in the most fun and cheapest way. I’m not sure it’s a skill I can really explain. I guess just being thrown into new situations in new countries (that often speak a different language) has provided me with situations to learn from. I now feel confident in my ability to travel and more independent because of it.

Alright so now, to wrap up my blog posting career, I want to take a minute to reflect on the things I’m going to miss most in Spain and the things I can’t wait to get back to America for.  

First for what I’ll miss most about Sevilla,

1. The relaxed atmosphere. Not having much school work at all has been so completely different from the usual work load I have at UNC. I know going back to the Business school next semester will be a tough transition. But more than that the people here just have such a relaxed way of living. The 3 hour long siestas in the middle of the day and day drinking are exactly what Spain is all about….and I must admit I’ve gotten a little too used to it. 
2. This beautiful city in general. Sevilla truly is spectacular. I will miss walking by the river, finding my way through the tiny historic streets in el centro , gawking at the stunning cathedral and running through the beautiful Maria Luisa park. There truly is nowhere else quite like Sevilla.
3. My Spanish family. Yes, even Carmen. I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss them until this last week. Pilar and I both teared up this morning when Colleen left, and I’m 100% certain I’ll cry tomorrow night when I have to say goodbye. But as Pilar said herself, we will see each other again someday.
Us at dinner when Colleen's mom visited
 4. The cheap beer and wine. Drinking here is so common that drink prices have no choice but to be cheap. That being said, I guess I’ll also miss being legally able to drink. Thinking back on it, I don’t remember a time I was even carded while in Europe. Oh how different America will be.
 5. Cafes con leche…they are small, sure, but they are absolutely delicious. I’m afraid the Costco blend just might not hit the spot anymore.
 6. The ease of being able to travel. This semester has been full of amazing trips….trips that just aren’t possible from UNC. It really has been more like 5 months of vacation than anything else.
7. Pilar’s food. Having someone to cook for you twice a day is a luxury far greater than any dining hall plan back home. I will truly miss lunches with warm, freshly baked bread every day…although I’m sure my waistline won’t miss it
8. The new and amazing people I have met here. I have spent the past 5 months with Colleen. We sleep a foot away from each other, walk to class together, eat meals together and suffer through the highs and lows of our family together. In the past months, I don’t think we have spent more than 2 days apart. It will take some getting used to not spending every day with her….I hope that doesn’t sound too creepy. Although, reading it back through I don’t know how it couldn’t. I guess I should just say that in general I’m so happy to have had a great roommate and met wonderful new friends along the way. Colleen and I say all the time that we are on a 5 month long honeymoon. And I'm sad to say it seems that honeymoon has come to an end. But not to worry, we have PLENTY of pictures and memories to reminisce on back in Chapel Hill. I thought I'd leave you with just a few of our infamous honeymoon shots...believe me I had a lot to choice from.

Now, for the fun part: what I’m excited to go back to America for.

1.   Friends and family. I haven’t seen anyone from back home since January, except for my parents of course. I truly cannot wait to be reunited with Kevin at the airport on Wednesday, Daphne on Thursday and see my family at Anne’s wedding this coming weekend. Then there is the list long of UNC people I will hopefully see sometime this summer. If nothing else, at least being on the same time zone as everyone will be a relief.
Our family on Mother's Day. I'm looking a bit yellow on the iPad
2.Having more freedom and independence in my house. Living with your own parents is much more comfortable than constantly having to respect rules like no showering after 10 and always having slippers on. It has by no means been terrible, but it will be nice to get back to my own house, my own bed, my own parents and, most of all, a quite house without screaming (and far too often naked) children running around.

3.Gym—running through the parks here is truly wonderful, but I have missed having access to a gym. Not only for the sake of lifting weights, swimming or taking classes, but also so that I don’t have to listen to the whistles, honks, and comments from Spanish men.

4.Fully functioning internet. The connection here hasn’t been terrible, but often times the internet will go out without warning…especially when Skyping.

5.My closet. I know I’m getting a little materialistic here, but I really have missed having my full wardrobe. Coming here I had no choice but to pack light…plus I had to pack for winter and summer so having lots of outfits wasn’t really an option. I’m excited to get back to having choices…oh and to having my laundry done more than once every week and a half (a problem that wouldn’t be an issue in the US, but here gets a bit annoying with such a clothing restraint).

6.Libraries. Now this obviously isn’t something I’ll be taking advantage of right away, but come fall semester it is nice to know I can always go to the library if I need to get work done. The hours for libraries here are really inconvenient…not to mention the libraries are tiny and hard to find. 

7.Big cups of coffee. I know this goes against my cafĂ© con leche love, but I do miss being able to sip on a big cup of coffee…far too often cafes con leche here are gone in a matter of minutes.

8.Air conditioning. As far as I know, our house does not have airconditioning, or at least if they do it certainly has not been turned on yet. In the middle of the day I find myself sweating if I stay in my room for too long…not to mention how terrible it has been to try and fall asleep at night when I’m hot. I’m sure I’ll sleep like a baby come Wednesday night. I can almost feel the air coming from the vents just thinking about it.

9.Cell phone. My prepaid cell phone here has certainly served its purpose. I’ve been able to contact friends if I’m out and call Pilar if I need to tell her something, but with every phone call or text, I think about how much money I have left on my phone. I also really miss just being able to call my mom, sister or aunt when I’m walking around just to chat. Unlimited texting and free calls to Verizon customers is going to feel like a luxury when I go back.

10.Food. Alright I know I’m really sounding like a hypocrite now because I just said how much I am going to miss some of Pilar’s food, but I have been craving certain foods ever since I got here. I’ll try not to go on for too long (something that is very easy to do with this subject), but to name a few: Chickfila, Mexican food, any type of cheese (Pilar doesn’t like cheese so therefore we never eat it), fruits (we’ve been deprived for the past 2 weeks for some reason), vegetables (far too often the only thing resembling a vegetable that I see all day are french fries), sushi, pizza, my mom’s oatmeal (and any breakfast food that isn’t corn flakes for that matter), macaroni and cheese, and Chinese….just to name a few.

I know I made the US list longer than the Spain one, but I guess that is probably just because of how much I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ll be going home to. I will miss this place, but I know I’ll come back one day. There is no use being sad at this point...I am just happy that I was given this opportunity. And thank you for reading this. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed writing down all my thoughts. I hope to one day read through my old posts and relive some of my experiences. But for now I must concentrate on getting to Madrid tomorrow and then back home on Wednesday. So for now, hasta luego espana!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Final Week

I still don’t know if it has really hit me yet that I only have a handful of days left in Spain. My emotions are highly mixed about returning home. I’m excited to get back to my friends and family of course, but at the same time I’m sad to have to close this chapter of my life…and a big part of me knows that after a week back home working with children in the Georgia heat I’m really going to wish I was back in Spain. I’ll try not to bore you for too long…as I plan to dedicate a separate blog post to Spain versus the US tomorrow or Tuesday.

This past week has been a great one. Pilar has been in the best of moods and I’ve finally finished up all my finals. With the strike that the university decided to go on, the last two weeks of class ended up being canceled.  This ended up making one of my university exams that was supposed to be on May 23rd a take home exam…easily the best present I could have asked for. I spent a good while last weekend studying for my history of movies final. I took that on Monday and left feeling like I had been cheated. The professor only asked us to write 2 essays, 1 about a general topic and 1 about a specific movie we had watched in class. Throughout the semester we had watched 3 full movies and so I had studied the directors, actors, key scenes, etc for each of those 3 movies. Then I get to the test and he instead has us write about a 10 minute movie clip we had watched back in February.  Then the other question just asked about Westerns (a topic we had only spent 20 minutes discussing during one class). At UNC for a final you are expected to know everything. Here its more luck of the draw with what question you will get asked. I guess I ended up studying Russian, German, Italian, and Japanese cinema for nothing. Luckily, I only need a 5 out of 10 in the class to pass so hopefully I will squeeze by.

On Wednesday I decided to put off doing my final paper for Historia del Cine and go to Cadiz for the day with Colleen and Jess. We spent the day soaking up the sun on the beach and even met up with 3 other UNC summer students while we were there. Spanish beaches are about 50/50 with topless women…a concept I couldn’t quite understand completely. Why do some women walk around topless while others (who look and sound equally as Spanish) are fully covered? It’s a mystery I guess, but it sure made for some interesting and at times very uncomfortable people watching.
On the beach

View from the point

The city of Cadiz
Thursday was unfortunately a library day for me (although Spanish libraries are far less convenient than UNC’s 24 hour UL or Davis). I finally had to suck it up and write my movie analysis of the Wizard of Oz that I’d been putting off since February. If you had told me five months ago that I’d be able to write a 22 page paper in Spanish in one day, I don’t think I would have believed you. But by some miracle I was able to finish up the entire thing and hand it in on Friday morning. I guess my Spanish has gotten better after all.

Thursday was also Carmen’s 5th birthday…a day she had been reminding us about for as long as I can remember. She also kept dropping comments about how we had to buy her a birthday present…and she even went so far as to write it on the family calendar to remind us. Calling her a brat would not even begin to describe her. But Colleen and I, being the nice people that we are, bit our tongues and went to Corte Ingles (a department store here that has everything you could ever want…and a barbershop and dry cleaners too) to find her a present. We eventually decided on a pretty cute green stuffed animal frog for her (mostly because the price was right). After dinner that night, her godmother came over and gave her a cute tutu, shirt and new sandals. Carmen of course ripped through the bags, looked at the presents, and then had a face that seemed to be asking: is there more? But without so much as a thank you, she went into her room to put her presents away. Colleen and I told her we had a present for her too. She quickly skipped into our room, and Colleen handed her the bag. She pulled out the stuffed animal, did not so much as smile, and then ran into her room to put it away. Maria rolled her eyes and apologized for her. And wouldn’t you know it Carmen then came running back in the room and asked me where my present was for her. I told her the stuffed animal was from both of us, and she turned right back around and left. I can only hope that one day she’ll wise up and outgrow her brat phase, but at this point it isn’t looking promising.

The slight smile you see on her face lasted long enough for me to snap this picture
A funny side story about Carmen: last Sunday Colleen woke up around 11 and went to the kitchen to get some breakfast. Pilar was still asleep in bed, and papa Luis was sleeping on the couch in just his boxers with a gallon of water next to him (needless to say, they had gone out drinking with friends the night before). She then walks into the kitchen to find Maria eating cookies dipped in fruit milk for breakfast, and Carmen eating raw spaghetti noodles. I guess that just goes to show that even after being here 5 months, you never know what to except with this family. 

Now for perhaps the most interesting part of my week: Maria’s first communion. Even on the very first day we got here, Maria asked us if we were going to be here June 2nd. But although Colleen and I knew what a highly anticipated event this was, we still had absolutely no idea what to expect. So crossing our fingers that we had interpreted the Spanish dress code correctly, we walked over to catch the bus to Marchena with our family. (Papa Luis’s parents live in Marchena, about 30 minutes outside of Sevilla, and they own the egg factory where he works…which is where the communion after party was held). On the bus we met a ton of relatives…including the highly anticipated meeting of Pilar’s sister, husband, and their 2 year old, redheaded son who knows 4 languages. When we arrived in Marchena, we all walked to the church together. The ceremony lasted about an hour, and the priest randomly would sing different parts of the prayers and homoly. Colleen and I were both a bit confused as to what was going on, but we managed to follow along pretty well. I did take communion, even though I’m not catholic…but no one questioned it so I think I slid by. 

Maria with Pilar and Luis at the church

Us with the girl of the day!
After the ceremony was over, we were expecting to head to the factory for the after party where Pilar had said there would be a pool, tennis courts, and a tent with food. For some reason though, we killed an hour bar hopping before getting back on the bus to go to the factory. Colleen and I weren’t sure if we were going to be allowed to drink, so we just stuck with diet coke at the bars. After the adults had worked up a buzz, we got back on the bus and eventually arrived at the factory. Pilar did a great job setting everything up. There was a tennis court and soccer field for the kids to play on (they weren’t allowed to swim for safety reasons), and an open bar for all the adults to take advantage of us. As soon as we walked in, Colleen and I headed straight for the snacks. We hadn’t been giving any breakfast that morning and were starving by the time 2 came around. We still weren’t exactly sure whether we would be allowed to drink. Pilar and Luis drink Cruzcampo beers like water in our house, but they have only ever served us when our parents came to visit. It was a fine line to walk, so we decided to wait and see if they would offer us anything first. As luck would have it, party-man Papa Luis came over and told us to take advantage of the open bar and have whatever we want…and listed cerveza in a list of options. He didn’t have to tell us twice, and as soon as we finished talking to him, we headed straight for the bar. The 6 hours we spent at the party went by very fast. Food just kept coming out and the bartenders just kept pouring. We were given everything we could have possibly imagined to eat: chips, bread, tortilla de patata, caracoles (snails), gazpacho, ham, cheese, sandwiches, paella, candy, and 7 different kinds of cakes. Needless to say we made it into our breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day. And even after the food had stopped and we decided we were still a little hungry around 7:30, papa Luis got us some sandwiches…he was easily my favorite person that day.

Enjoying the caracoles (tiny little snails)

Colleen and I with Princess Carmen

Pilar's brother preparing the paella

Juan (the redheaded Spanish 2 year old who knows 4 languages)

Papa Luis showing off his flamenco skills (he was actually really good!)

Carmen on the tennis courts (I think I like her better behind bars)
Maria was a bit of a diva all night while Carmen oddly enough acted like a perfect angel. Colleen and I were convinced some sort of Freaky Friday moment was going on. Pilar was also very friendly with us as were every guest at the party. Different aunts, uncles and cousins came up to us throughout the night asking, “Are you THE Americans?” It was very funny, but we got to practice a lot of our Spanish with them. A good amount of people there had also studied abroad in Ireland with Pilar and Luis and were eager to practice their English with us. Pilar’s brother was great at English and was super friendly to us. He apparently is the one who taught Luis had to make paella. Being from Valencia, he is quite the expert on making some pretty delicious paella. He also made sure we had drinks in our hands throughout the night. Spaniards certainly know a thing or two about parties! There was a rather creepy family friend who asked us a bunch of deep questions in Spanish like would you rather be happy or please other people? Or, do you want children? He had 3 kids that were all at the party, but that didn’t stop him from taking a picture of us, calling us beautiful, and then holding up 2 lemons to Colleen’s chest. Needless to say, we did our best to steer clear of him. But all in all the party was a huge success and we found ourselves not wanting to get back on the bus to go home. 

Us "helping" with the paella
Today has been a sad day. Colleen and I woke up early to go check out some street markets. Along the way we crossed off the final thing left on our Sevilla bucket list: eat churros with chocolate. They weren’t anything fantastic, but they are extremely popular here so we thought it’d be a shame not to have them at least once in 5 months. Colleen goes home tomorrow, and our room is already looking sad. Pilar came in to tell us our lunch was in the oven (they are all eating out with relatives), and realized Colleen had packed up. She said we shouldn’t be too sad because it’s not goodbye, it’s until later. We gave her a framed picture of us with the whole family from when Colleen’s mom visited, and she started to tear up. Maria then came in and remembered how soon we’re leaving and her face just dropped. It must be so hard for this family to get close to girls every semeseter and to continually have to say goodbye after a few short months. I’m so grateful that a family as great as this one opened their doors to us. They have truly made my time in Spain the best expereinece I could have hoped for. They were supposed to take in girls for the summer, but Pilar is mad at our program director who shorted her money for this month since both Colleen and I are leaving before our program officially ends. I completely agree with her though. Our parents have already paid for us to be here and it isn’t fair for the program to pocket the money that was supposed to go to them if we had stayed. I can only hope that they will work things out though. This family is truly too great for UNC to lose as a host.
Churros and chocolate (they look a bit like organs, but they were pretty tasty)
Tomorrow morning Colleen leaves to go back home, and on Tuesday night I head to Madrid to spend the night before my morning flight home on Wednesday. I don’t think it will completely hit me that I’m leaving until I get on the plane…or maybe once Colleen leaves tomorrow. I promise to write one more blog post soon though, and after that I’ll be back in the states!

A random picture I don't think I ever got around to posting. It's from a rooftop hotel bar with a pretty spectacular view of the cathedral. I sure am going to miss this beautiful city!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The final trip: Lagos, Portugal and a 20th birthday

Lagos is a trip I've been looking to and dreading for the past few months. Looking forward to it for obvious reasons, but dreading it mainly because I knew it would mark the end of my 5 month period of traveling around Europe. So with mixed feelings, I woke up at 6 am Friday morning to catch the 7:30 am bus to Lagos. After a quick breakfast of cornflakes, and Pilar waking up cause she "couldn't sleep" (We're fairly certain we woke her up and so she came in the kitchen to snoop on was very odd. She drank a juice box, mopped the floors, and fluffed the 6:30 in the morning. Things have been slightly odd at home to say the least and we're not exactly sure why. But I will tell you one thing: I'll be glad to get back home to my real house with my real parents in two weeks!), we caught a cab with 2 other girls to the bus station.

After a slight mishap with one girl who lost her ticket and ended up having to buy a ticket for the 4:00 bus, we were on our way to Lagos. Five and a half quick hours later, we had arrived. I eventually tracked down the lady we were renting a guest house from. Kevin had recommened CasaAmarela as a great place for a big group of us to stay in while we were in Lagos. The only problem was that this lady was very slow to respond to emails...a problem that grew more and more annoying as I was trying to organize a trip for 12 people. But with out too much trouble, we found her and got the keys to our house. It turns out we had all the rooms rented out for ourselves and even had a pool and terrace to enjoy!

Once we had picked our rooms in what reminded me of racing my siblings to pick rooms at a beach house during the summer, we all headed down to the beach to take advantage of what was supposed to be the best weather day we would have. I ended up staying out for four hours or so. I can't tell you how relaxing it was to just lay in the sand and listen to the waves. There really is something special about beach vacations.

Some of the girls!
With Priyanka and Gabi
Beautiful water and cliffs
Later that night we all made a group trip to the grocery store. Two euros a person later, we had all the materials for a gourmet feast: chicken, mounds of pasta, tomato sauce, mixed veggies, cheese and some wine for good measure. Rachel and I put ourselves in charge of cooking the chicken. I quickly realized I know very little about charcoal grilling so we had to resort to cooking them on the stove. Not to worry, they were still delicious.

Trying to be manly grillers
After dinner, we went out to enjoy Lagos's infamous nightlife. Drink specials surrounded us and we definitely made the most of it.

Splitting a "fish bowl"
The next day, the weather was cloudier so I spent most of the day relaxing at the house with everyone. We also tracked down this little place my friend Lauren had told us about that had a 3 euro breakfast that consisted of 2 eggs, 2 pieces of toast, and bacon. Then for only 50 cents more you could get a pancake. Breakfast food is definitely something I've missed while in Spain so, needless to say, I went 3 times while we were there....I mean whats not to love about a cheap breakfast place that also has fantastic milkshakes?
At the hole in the wall breakfast place

For dinner that night we all went to a restaurant called Nahnahbah which has been ranked as having one of the 50 best burgers in the world. I'm starting to drool just thinking about it.

Delicious burger
After dinner we took advantage of having a house to ourselves and had a "friendly" game of flip cup. With cheeseburgers and a house party, I truly felt like I was back in Chapel Hill.

On Sunday 9 people left to go back to Sevilla, but Colleen, Marissa and I decided that spending an extra day in Lagos was easily more important than going to our Monday classes. We spent the day at the beach soaking up all the sun we could. We had a movie night at our empty house and woke up early on Monday to spend the morning at the beach. I really didn't ever want to leave. Not only is Lagos absolutely beautiful, I knew that once I was back in Sevilla, my next trip would be home. I have such mixed feelings about this. I am so excited to see everyone again, but at the same time I know that after a few weeks home I'll wish I could be back in Europe traveling around.

Never seen anything like this beach!

Toes in the sand and a new seagull friend

Colleen, Marissa and me

The city of lagos

Yesterday was my 20th birthday…a birthday I honestly kept forgetting was coming up. Pilar had mentioned at least 3 times that my birthday was May 23rd and had even pulled out a cookbook to show me what cake she was planning on making for me. Now I know birthdays aren’t a big deal in Spain (as I saw firsthand with Luis and Maria), but once she said she was making me a cake, I thought there would at least be some sort of mini celebration at home. Turns out she forgot…a fact I quickly realized when no one in our family mentioned happy birthday to me and there were no signs of a cake to be found. I didn’t want to let it get me down, but I must admit it got to me. I don’t think I’d ever had a birthday without a cake or some sort of special dinner….but Spain is different. I ended up eating a ham sandwich for dinner. Quite different from the filet mignon we normally have. But I have decided that my real birthday will just be celebrated in two weeks when I see my family and have a chocolate chip pound cake. Now I don’t want to pain the picture that my birthday was all bad. I did get to get some drinks with most our program the night before and again at around 6 on my actual birthday. Then Colleen and I went on a late night icecream run to McDonalds to act as my birthday desert. Plus tonight I’m going out with a big group of friends (we couldn’t last night because we had a final this morning). So all in all it turned out alright.
Some of the group celebrating my bday at Cien Montaditos (On Wednesdays everything is a euro!)

Oh and the best present of all (besides the great box of chocolate my friend Jess gave me) was that my exam that was supposed to be on my birthday was switched to be a take home exam. The Spanish students have gone on strike to protest increasing tuition and have called for an academic stop in classes and exams from may 24th to june 7th….which believe it or not passed. This country is absolutely ridiculous, but it is working out in my favor right now! Hopefully my exam that was supposed to be this coming Monday gets moved or cancelled too. We’ll see! Tomorrow Colleen and I are off to spend the day sitting on the beach at Cadiz. I'm going to miss this!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Weekend of Freedom

I'm not sure what it is about a weekend with no one home that gets Colleen and I so excited. Maybe it's because we've only had a handful of days since January of a house to ourselves. But most likely it's the fact that we don't have to wake up to Carmen screaming in the morning. Whatever it is, having an empty house from Saturday to Tuesday made for a fantastic weekend.

First things first we headed to the grocery store. Our list consisted of all the makings for perfect study food: guacamole and cookie dough. We also picked up instant coffee (which made for much more enjoyable breakfasts), spinach (a real salad for once), bread and cheese. As I might have mentioned our family doesn't eat cheese, so the first chance I saw at a grilled cheese, I jumped.

The weekend itself wasn't too crazy. In fact, I don't even think I have any pictures to post for it. Mostly we just slept in as late as we could (although in a house with no air conditioning and Sevilla's temperatures outside in the 90s, we couldn't really sleep in too much). We cooked and watched movies and lived like queens for three and a half days, but in the blink of an eye it was over. Pilar and Luis just got home from Pilar's 40th birthday trip to Prague. She really doesn't seem to be very excited about turning 40 and keeps repeating that she's which Carmen keeps correcting her. Speaking of the devil (quite literally), Carmen just ran in to our room to tell us that she, Luis and Maria all got presents from Prague, but we didn't. I don't think I've ever met a child with such sass!

This weekend we are off to Lagos, Portugal...a beach destination that is only a 5 hour bus ride away. I organized the trip, and all 12 of us will be staying in a guest house that Kevin had highly recommended when he visited. The only bad news is the whole weekend is showing a 60 percent chance of rain....lets just hope the weather channel isn't very accurate in Portugal. 

When I get back, I'll be in finals mode. Of course here it won't be as intense as finals week at UNC (since I only have to get a 5 out of 10 to pass the class). But I'll unfortunately have a final on my birthday and the day I'll be celebrating my 20th birthday this weekend in Portugal. Can't beat that! I'll no longer be the age I've always wanted to be, but I figure if 19 has been so great, 20 can only be better!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Less than a month left?

The original purpose for me writing this blog was to keep track of my thoughts, worries, expectations and reflections. I obviously realized the benefit it would have in being able to keep in touch with everyone, but I must admit my main motivations were far more selfish than that. I wanted to have something more than just pictures that I could look back at. Something to help me really remember these past few months. I'm not sure how successful I've been, but I've tried my best to really encapsulate my thoughts and feelings while I have been here. So, if you'll bear with me, I want to take a second to reflect on what has truly been the best 4 months of my life.

I've been looking forward to studying abroad ever since my dad told me I only could if I went to UGA. I thought I had given up this dream when I decided to go to UNC. Luckily for me though with a little research, my dad was quickly persuaded when he realized that studying in Sevilla for a semester was half the price of Chapel Hill. It's an experience I would not have traded for anything in the world. I've met so many people, been so many new places, gained so much knowledge and learned so many life lessons. I've learned to live with younger siblings in a household very different from the one I grew up in. I've adapted to a new culture and way of life. I've improved my spanish far more than I could have in a classroom at Chapel Hill. I can't tell you enough how lucky I feel to have had this opportunity. I'm so grateful to my parents for allowing me to come to Spain and to Pilar for opening up her home to us. 

I spent a few minutes earlier today reading over my earliest blog posts, and it really started to dawn on me how long I have been in Spain for. Thinking back to first meeting Colleen and our first few interactions with our family members feels like years ago. But at the same time this whole experience has flown by. With only 25 days left in Spain, I can't help but to think that soon I'll be saying goodbye to this beautiful country. In less than a month, I'll spend my last night sleeping a foot away from Colleen. My last night eating dinner with our family. My last morning waking up to Carmen screaming. And my last day walking around a city that looks like a postcard.

As soon as I start to think about how little time I have left, I try my best to push the thought out of my mind. It's sort of like that feeling of sadness you feel when you realize you only have a few more chapters left of a great book. For these last couple of weeks, I'm going to try my best to read as slowly as I can. To wake up early and truly appreciate this beautiful city I have come to call home. I know I'll come back and visit Europe again one day, but I know it won't be the same. Sure, I'll probably have more money and won't have to stay with 15 other people in one hostel room, but I know I'll never again be given 5 straight months of vacation to  live in Spain and travel around as I wish. But, for now, all I can do is enjoy the little time I have left, and that's exactly what I plan to do!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

London Calling

Back in March, I decided to tag along with a group of girls who were planning a trip to London. Originally, I hadn't planned on visitng london because I had already been there before and because of how expensive it is to visit (dollar to pound is 1 to 1.61 right now). My mind was quickly changed, however, when my friend Marissa mentioned they would be staying for free at a friend's flat in London. Before I knew it, I had booked yet another RyanAir flight.

We left our house, salami bocadillos in hand, at 7 on Thursday, but thanks to a uncharacteristly slow Sevilla bus, a 45 minute flight delay, having to sit through English customs for 2 hours, and finally taking an hour and a half long bus from Stansted airport to London, we didn't end up getting to the flat until 3:30 in the morning. Colleen and I cuddled up on a tiny couch, Willy-Wonka style for a not so great night of sleep.

After getting in so late, we all agreed it would be nice to sleep in late and have a more relaxed day. When we woke up we went to my favorite destination in any city: the grocery store. It has truly amazed me how much money you can save by cooking for yourself while traveling. In Italy, I had to spend a ton of money on the food because of how delicious it was, but for a country like London, it seems silly to waste money on mediocre food when you could have fun cooking great meals together. We ended up buying all our food for the 4 days in one trip, and only spent about 15 pounds a person. After our grocery run, we decided to take a long walk to tour a couple of things within walking distance and avoid buying a metro pass for the day. We stopped first at the British Museum...mostly because all the museums in London are free. Much to my surprise, the British Museum is home to the Rosetta stone. Who knew!

Traveling with all girls has had its benefits…not only in cooking and movie watching, but also in the abundance of touristy pictures. We spent the rest of the day, walking around acting like complete tourists. Thus, I’ll share with you guys some of the phone booth pictures we took.

Colleen and I were sad to find out that touring the Harry Potter studios would cost 27 pounds (something that certain wouldn’t fit into our 20 pound a day budget), so we settled on taking a few pictures with Platform 9 ¾ in the train station.

After our picture taking tour, we walked home and made a chicken salad with more veggies than I’ve seen since I’ve been in Spain. If you had asked me back in January what food I would miss from back home, I probably would have said cheeseburgers or pizza. Never in a million years did I think I would miss vegetables as much as I have…but when you are served kids food (fried things and French fries) every day, you start to miss your veggies! The night was brought to a fantastic end when we found out that 3 of the roommates were leaving and we could sleep in their beds for the night. Definite bonus.

Their beds were so incredibly comfortable that in the morning when Marissa came in to wake us up by saying “rise and shine”, I thought I was back at home in my big bed with my mom coming in to wake me up. After realizing where I actually was, I woke up and made one of the best breakfasts I’ve had while abroad (with the exception of my mom’s oatmeal when she visited). A simple egg bagel breakfast sandwich tasted a million times better than our typical cornflakes. After breakfast, we headed to the local “tube” station to buy an unlimited day pass (I learned the hard way that people don’t understand what you’re talking about if you refer to the tube as the metro). On the way to the metro, we stopped in a theater ticket stand, and after finding a relatively cheap tickets for a play (23 pounds), decided we would work it into our spending budget....a decision that turned out to be a great one.

The Wizard of Oz was too expensive to see, but Toto is a westie in this version!
Trying our best to optimize our unlimited tube passes, we headed straight for Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. There was a huge crowd, but we stayed for a while to try and get some good pictures. Oddly enough, the royal band was playing Lion King's "circle of life" when we left.

Outside Buckingham Palace
From Buckingham Palace, we hoped back on the tube to Westminster Abbey. We took all the touristy pictures you would expect, but did not go in to tour anything (not in our budget). The weather while we were there was not optimal to say the least, but I suppose London never has great weather. 

Outside Westminster Abbey

With the policeman outside of Big Ben

Big Ben!

London Eye
We stopped inside a coffee shop to escape the rain and eat our sandwiches we had made. While there I ordered a cinnamon latte that I will most likely be dreaming about until I get back home. Coffees in London were big like back home (instead of the small, espresso-like cafes con leche in spain). We then walked around Trafalgar Square some and saw the official countdown to the Summer Olympics.

In front of the countdown in Trafalgar Square
Next came possibly my favorite destination in all of London: Harrods. I remembered going before when I visited with my family, but the dominant part of that memory is filled with Nathan throwing a tantrum about not wanting to shop while on vacation. I love absolutely everything about this store...from the abundance free perfume and lotion samples to the women who goes in and individually cleans each stall before going to the bathroom. Not to mention the amazing smells of the food. Everything was of course crazy expensive, but looking was free!

Outside of Harrods
After gawking at all that Harrods has to offer, we then headed over to walk through Hyde Park. We ended up having to run through it for fear we would miss our play, but we did take a moment to stop and take some pictures in front of the Princess Diana memorial.
Princess Diana memorial
After breaking a sweat in our sprint to get to the theater on time, we picked up our tickets from the box office and took our seats for "Blood Brothers", a musical (of course) about two brothers, separated at birth who become best friends not knowing they are related. The play itself was fantastic, and our seats ended up being pretty great...the theater was pretty small so there wasn't really a bad seat in the house. It was definitely one of my favorite things we did on our trip, and something I will always remember.
Outside the theater

In our seats!
To properly celebrate cinco de mayo, we had planned for a while about which mexican food to eat. I know before I said how much I've missed vegetables, but I must also admit how much I've missed americanized mexican food. You know, the kind with unlimited chips and queso dip (two things that do not seem to exist in Spain). Well, lucky for us, Colleen had planned ahead and found out that London had of which just happened to be right next door to the theater. My burrito bowl was significantly smaller than in America (and significantly more expensive in Pounds), but for a one time splurge while eating out in London, it was completely worth it. After filling ourselves with burritos, chips (of which the guy gave me a free extra serving--saying I looked hungry) and guacamole, we headed over to piccadilly circus to check out the night scene. Piccadilly circus is more or less the times square of London, but was cool to walk around at night. After exploring for a while, we hopped back on the metro and stopped by the store for some late-night snacks (I found 4 chocolate muffins for 35 cents that granted were about to expire, but were delicious none the less). We then all cuddled up in a bed to watch the new Footloose. The movie itself was laughably bad, but we all had fun watching it together.

After another egg bagel sandwich and coffee the next morning, we headed off in the tube to the Tate Modern. I distinctly remember visiting the museum with my family when we were in London so I knew how weird it was going to be. There are 2 floors you can see for free and exhibits you can pay for. We saw some very "modern" art which provided an hour's worth of great entertainment.
At the Tate Modern
After that, we walked by the Millennium Bridge (as featured in Harry Potter 5) and Shakespeare's globe theater before stopping to eat our sandwiches in a cafe. We then went across the Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge as I thought it was called) and around the Tower of London. Dreary weather once again, but I still managed to get some decent pictures!

At the Tower Bridge
Our next touristy destination was Abbey Road to take a Beatles impersionation picture. No one really warned us just how dangerous this would be. There were touristy surrounding the intersection waiting for their chance to go pose, but the cars on the road really did not appreciate having to stop and wait for people to get the perfect shot. In between honks, we ran in the road to get a picture. Luckily no one was hurt in the process. Only downside was that I was looking out for cars and thus wasn't looking straight ahead like I should have been.

On Abbey Road

Signing the wall outside Abbey Studios where the Beatles recorded
After another successful sightseeing day, we headed back to the flat and played cards for a while. We cooked 2 pizzas and a delicious salad for dinner, and afterwards cuddled up for another movie (this time The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo...much better than Footloose). 

We slept in pretty late on Monday before heading to the grocery store to pick up some food for lunch on the plane. After budgeting all weekend, I had 3 Pounds left to my name. I didn't want to have to take out more, so I spent it wisely on bagels, hummus and a banana. We left a card with some money in it for the roommates and caught the 2:00 bus back to the airport without a problem. The british security stopped to check both Marissa and my's bag and confiscated her peanut butter (which was a birthday present from Natalie) and her hummus. Luckily they didn't find my hummus, so I was able to sneak it on. 

Once we landed back in warm Sevilla, I had a moment of realization that my last RyanAir flight was over with. Although this is certainly something to celebrate, I also felt a little depressed. Then came the realization that the half of UNC's program that don't take classes at the university had already headed back home. All the trips we've planned and all the good times we have had are starting to come to an end. We only have one big trip left (to Lagos in 2 weeks), and then after a week or two of finals, I'll be back stateside. I start to wonder where all the time has gone, but then I look back at my 2,000 something pictures I've taken and I remember. All the memories, experiences and life lessons I've learned here are invaluable. This semester abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I can't imagine not having taken. 

Well enough of me rambling I suppose. This weekend our parents go to Prague to celebrate Pilar's 40th birthday, and the kids are staying at a friends house. I could not be more excited. I love having them here, but a weekend or two away is always nice :)