Sunday, September 26, 2010

"But man does not create... he discovers." - Antonio Gaudi

It was a weekend of discovering new things, both about the world around me and about myself. Like how much I look like a Spanish woman, which means people ask me for directions. In my 3 weeks here, I have had 5 different people ask me for directions. Or what happens when you bring 4 books in your backpack, as well as a change of clothes, when you will be walking a lot. Turns out your back kinda doesn't like that so much. Also, how embarrassed one can be after tripping over someone's suitcase while you are walking, and they are too. The worst part was I apologized in Spanish, but I think he was British. Another thing I discovered was that while speaking Spanish, most people don't know if you accidentally slip in an English word into the sentence. Luckily, 'breakfast' is known around the world, and if it isn't, most people know I'm crazy.

We also discovered more about the streets of Barcelona, and how ridiculously confusing they can be. and about the works of Gaudí. I discovered how much I admire him as an architect and as a man. The way in which he could create so much symbolism in a space is amazing. He could design a building without straight lines, such as Casa Batlló. He could put so much symbolism in a building that no matter what you look at, it means something, such as La Sagrada Familia.

We left Thursday night. We bought tickets the day before to travel at night, since it is an 8 hour (more or less) trip. We left Thursday night without a place to sleep for Friday night. Of course, I was kinda freaking out. I like to have things planned out and taken care of, so it was a huge leap of faith for me. I knew that God would not let us leave without a place in store for us, but I was still really nervous. 

The bus left at 11 pm. We get on the bus to find that it is pretty full, and to find a couple sitting in our seats; or he was in my seat and she was in Alexandra's seat. Elise's was across the aisle. We had to explain to the couple 4 times, and show them our seat numbers, that they were in our spots. I knew it wasn't their spot, but they just wanted to sit somewhere where they could sleep better. But we got it all figured out. We slept a little on the way there; I am blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere, so I slept for like 6 or 7 of those hours. 

So we got off the bus at Barcelona. We stood there for a bit, trying to decide what to do. I bet we looked kinda silly, smiling and giggling: We were in Barcelona! We had 2 whole days in Barcelona, and just didn't know where to start. To help decide, we went into the station and got coffee and breakfast. A little side note: Donut in Spanish is Donut. And if you want one filled with pudding or chocolate or something, it is a Bismarck. That's right, just like in English.

After some nourishment, we were able to decide to take the metro (subway) to La Sagrada Familia. By this time, it was about 7:30 am. When we got to La Sagrada Familia, it was raining. Hard. The night before it was raining hard in Burgos, so I had been wearing my rain jacket and my beret from Italy. So I pulled those back on, wishing I had an umbrella too. I had books with me (big surprise right) and was worried about them getting wet. We saw that the cathedral didn't open till 9, so we had an hour to kill. Guess where we killed it? Starbucks. I know, I broke one of my own rules. But Alexandra LOVES Starbucks, which I guess they have in Germany, so I decided to suck it up. It was kinda nice having something familiar. So during that hour we looked on Elise's ipod touch to get directions to a youth hostel. We decided to go to this hostel to see if we could get a place to stay for the night. We had tried making reservations, but was unable to.

At about 9:05, we decided to cross the street back to La Sagrada Familia and get in line. It was still raining, but there were these little Indonesian women selling umbrellas for 5 euros next to the line. Something in life that never changes, no matter where you go: people are always there to sell things. :) Elise and I decided it would be a good investment, and it was; it rained off and on all weekend. There were times I asked God to bless that little woman, since at times it llovía a cántaros (Spanish equivalent to raining cats and dogs).

La Sagrada Familia is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. It is very difficult to describe, but I will try. It was like walking into a holy forest of stone. Gaudí himself said, "The purpose of the building is to shelter us from the sunshine and rain; it imitates the tree, as this shelters us from the sunshine and the rain. The imitation touches the elements, as columns were trees first; then we see capitals decorated with leaves. This is yet more justification for the structure of La Sagrada Familia. The...shape of the columns and their great number will give the congregation the feeling of truly being in a forest." 

In Castille, the region I am in, they call stone the 'noble material', and you can tell that Gaudí believed the same thing. Every stone was placed with meaning; every stone had a purpose. Even the statues were carved with deep emotions present. On the Passion facade, the figures almost seem to be crying. The picture at the right is of St. Peter after he betrayed Jesus 3 times. There is one of Judas giving Jesus the kiss of betrayal; the soldiers on this facade are even carved to seem cruel. It is fascinating. This whole facade recounts the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. It is so moving and beautiful.

The other 3 doorways on the Nativity facade are Faith, Hope, and Charity. Next time I go to Barcelona I will show pics! But, I love this facade, because, again, the joy is seen in the statues. They are just so happy that Christ is on Earth that they can't hide it! I just love the detail present in these too. It is so amazing. It is almost as if the emotion, the joy or sorrow, was carved into these sculptures, almost infused. You cannot go to this cathedral and see these statues and not think or believe or know that there is a God.

One of my favorite things was the Rosary Chapel, completed while Gaudí was still alive. I LOVE this chapel, as it is full of meaning. The words to the Hail Mary are carved around the whole chapel, with corresponding statues/carvings to the words. Once I noticed that, I was just in awe. Gaudí obviously lived his faith in his life, and couldn't help but transfer all that to his designs. You can tell that La Sagrada Familia was his opus, his life's work.

After visiting the museum of La Sagrada Familia and the gift shop, we decided to follow the directions we had written down before to get to the youth hostel. We were all hungry and I, for one, was just focused on not being grumpy. The whole way I was praying that God had a place for us. We found the hostel without any problems. Turned out that either she had a 6 bed mixed gender room with 3 beds free, or a 4 bed room in which we would pay for the other bed so no one else would be in there. After a discussion, we decided to go with the 4 bed one since it was about the same price and this way we had our privacy and our own bathroom.
It turned out to have a great view and was very nice. We changed clothes, put some stuff in the lockers, and then went out to find food. After lunch of pasta and patatas bravas, we took the metro to visit the Casa Batlló.

 Situated in what is called 'The Apple of Discord' (Manzana means both apple and street block in Spanish), Gaudí was commissioned to simply redo the facade and do a few other small designs to the house. He ended up designing one of the most beautiful, whimsical buildings ever created. There are no straight edges in the house, except in the attic for dispersion of light. I don't even know how to describe it. The thought that went into each doorway, each window, each material used, even each piece of glass for the mosaic: Gaudí stood across the street from the Casa Batlló to tell them exactly where to place each piece. It has been likened many times to water and anything to do with water. Such as the main light fixture in the living room, which resembles an eddy or whirlpool. It is also called 'The House of Yawns', since the balconies on the facade look like they are yawning.

By the time we went through the Casa Batlló, it was like 5pm, and we were pretty tired. We walked around for a bit, went to see the outside of Casa Milá, wandered around the area. We visited the Casa Asia, built at about the same time as the Casa Milá as a center for knowledge and getting to know the Asian culture better. Finally, we took the metro back to our hostel. We got out and then proceeded to get lost for an hour; when all we had to do was simply walk down one street a little farther than we did. It was during this time I was grateful for that little umbrella-selling woman (side note: the Spanish word for umbrella is paragua, which literally means 'for water'. I love it!)

We were so grateful to be back in our hostel. Once we got to the room, we decided that after such a long day, we needed a sangria. So we went down to the bar/restaurant to enjoy a little rest and relaxation (the sangria wasn't that good. I wanted a beer, but they had only light beers). I got on the computer to FB people to tell them we made it okay, and was totally confused by the Spanish keyboard. I get spoiled with my laptop. After a bit, we went back to the room. After a little chill/shower/reading/talking time, we crashed. As we fell asleep, there was a beautiful thunderstorm outside. It made me so happy.
I don't think I moved at all that night; I woke up in the same position/place in which I had fallen asleep. We were exhausted.

When Alexandra's phone alarm went off, I thought it was part of my dream. When Elise's watch alarm went off, I heard it but my body didn't move and my mind didn't register it. Finally, when Alexandra kept saying, "Buenos dias, chicas!" I finally woke up. We kinda took our time getting ready and getting everything together. We went down to breakfast and enjoyed our meal. We checked out and left the hostel at about 9:30. Elise wanted to see what this weird tower thing was, that we could see outside our window. (Left is a pic of it from the night before). We walked over to the tower, and upon leaving, we still couldn't decide what it's function is! Finally, we took the metro back to Casa Milá, to actually visit this time. We stopped to get a coffee at this wonderful little place (can't remember the name..something with San Francisco or something) to relax for a bit; and get directions. Barcelona is a confusing place! Probably because it's so big :P

It is beautiful, but in a different way than the Casa Batlló. Whereas the Casa Batlló is more whimsical and fanciful, Casa Milá, also called 'La Pedrera' (The Stone Quarry) seems more...well, stone-like! From the outside anyway. The inside is beautiful. It has more abstract references to nature, such as the carriage doorway to the right. It has been likened to a turtle's shell, butterfly's wings, or cell tissue. Also, the entryway's ceilings are all painted with beautiful murals. I wish I had more pictures of those; next time I guess.

First, we decided to visit the terrace/roof since the workers said that it would be closed if it rained again. I was like, no! We are not missing this opportunity! So we went to the terrace, with all the famous stairwells, chimneys, and ventilation towers. They have been likened to many different things, but I like to think that most of them had faces. I do wish that the sky wasn't so dreary and sad when we were there, it would have made picture taking that much more fun for me!

After the terrace, we went through the museum in the attic, and then through one of the apartments that is open to the public. None of the ceilings have a straight edge; everything is met in a curve. I love it!

After we went through the whole house, the girls wanted to do some shopping. I was tired and my backpack weighed as much as a small child. So while they shopped, they would leave their stuff with me. I was like, I feel like a mother. But I was okay with that. They didn't complain when we went to my stuff, so the least I could do is let them shop.

Then we went to a restaurant called TapasTapas. It. was. delicious. I loved it. Tapas are basically little servings of whatever you order. So like the mussels I ordered was perfect. It is the perfect, and cheapest, way to try a bunch of different things. I had mussels, a delicious salad of grape tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella cheese, the local manchego cheese, and we all shared paella. It was a great restaurant, and we want to go back.

Our last place we visited was Parc Güell. We were only there for about an hour and a half, and you definitely need more time to see everything. Plus we were exhausted, and the child in my backpack was gaining weight. It is gorgeous. I love how Gaudí really utilized nature and symbolism behind everything.

Finally, we headed to the bus station. After eating at McDonald's (yes, I broke two of my own rules those two days), where I had a happy meal, of course, we boarded the bus home. We met a nice teacher from Peru who was learning English. It was kinda fun teaching each other words for different things. 

There were only 9 people on the bus, so it was nice being able to stretch out and doze. We got back to Burgos at like 4 in the morning. I walked home since I live so close to the bus station; it would have been silly to pay a taxi to take me 2 blocks. As I neared my house, I could hear how many people were still in the 'party plaza' as I like to call it. I walked up to my door, only wanting to go to sleep, to find a couple making out in my doorway. I was like, okay fine. I walked up, unlocked the door while they stared at me, and just walked in. I was like there is no way that I am going to let a horny couple keep me from my bed.

A weekend of discovery, a weekend of learning, and a weekend of fun.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

I feel I must blog right now. Not because something exceptional happened, but because the ordinary did. Or maybe it is extraordinary, but something hard to describe. It is the first time that I can say I am okay with being here. As of right now, I have no doubts about my abilities in Spanish, teaching, worries about the future, how I am interacting with people here, or doubts about myself. I am content.

It was an ordinary day. I got up in time to go to class AND was cheerful about it (okay, maybe that's exceptional all in its own). I caught the bus and got a place to sit. I arrived on campus in time to drink a coffee with two friends from Germany before my "Spanish Literature of the Medieval Age" class. I was nervous since I didn't know what to expect with the teacher, as she seemed a little...uptight. However, she is pretty cool. She helped us international students feel welcome by having links to help us understand Spanish lit better.

Also, something I found amusing: I ended up sitting next to a Colombian boy, who ended up having stars in his eyes for me once he found out that I am from the US and that I speak more than 2 languages. He wanted to keep talking to me in class, but I ignored him since I was trying to understand what the teacher was saying. He seemed disappointed when I didn't need to take his copy of the text since I had my own.

Anyway, after this class we had a break, so Elise showed me and a girl from Romania how to get copies of things. Her name is Mary, and she seemed confused that I was from the US. She said my accent made me seem like I was from Russia! Thank God for my Ukrainian background.

Then we had Spanish Grammar: Sintaxis. I love this class, but it is hard to understand at times. We spent an hour today going through the differences of 'lo','la','le', which are for the direct or indirect objects; among other things.

Then I took the bus back down to my awesome area of living: El Centro. I went to a bookstore to get a book for class. They didn't have it. I was like, Oh great. It's going to be one of those days. But I went to another bookstore (one I like better anyway) and they had it! YAY!

Once I came home, I was going to take a nap, but was too hyped up on the 3 coffees I had. (Side note: Coffee here is totally different than in the states. It is more concentrated, like espresso.) So I read for class, talked to a friend on FB, and after eating with my host mother, cleaned, talked to Ryan online, read for class, and got a few more things done here!

So today I had been feeling kinda down. I miss my family and friends, and my boyfriend. After talking to my friend online, I was even a little more sad. This person is doing a long distance relationship too, but it is only across 2 states; and he tried telling me how difficult it is! I was like, yeah I know it is. I really wanted to say, Oh yeah! You try being in a foreign country with NO LOVED ONES around you and trying to maintain all your relationships back home, not to mention the one with your significant other. You try only sustaining your emotional self with emails, FB posts, and Skype; and the odd, but totally appreciated, letter or package. Then you go to classes that are in a whole other language, and you tell me how hard all that is. But of course, I didn't say any of these things. A person doesn't need to hear something like that when they are having a hard time. So I tried to be understanding and helpful; I hope I succeeded.

On top of all this, I was feeling frustrated with myself too. I feel/felt like my Spanish should be improving faster. I still make mistakes and have a hard time understanding some people.

So I was kinda feeling down and out on my way to the bus stop. Every Monday and Wednesday I go to a little neighborhood and speak English with a 12 year old girl to help improve her English. It also helps me tremendously since I learn new words and concepts. I was also concerned with her too, since I wasn't sure if I was helping or anything.

Well I get there and she is happy to see me. We go up and talk. She is telling me about her classes and asks me what a word was in English. I forgot! I could not remember! That helped my spirits a lot, since it means that Spanish is kinda settling in my brain, and not just staying overnight. Then, after walking down the stairs I run into her mother. She has really cool parents; I think they are art teachers or something. Well she hands me a bag of freshly picked apples from their backyard. I was like OH! And then she says that the reason there are holes on them is because there aren't any pesticides or anything. I got so excited, since Dad is an organic farmer. AND then she said that they will pay me next week.

So I was content when I got to the bus stop, but the best part was to come. When I sat down, I decided to snack on one of those apples. They taste JUST LIKE the apples from Grandpa Haich's orchard. It was perfect timing, since I have been having dreams with him lately and have been missing him a lot.

I took the long way walking home from the bus stop, since it was such a beautiful night. I also took some pictures of life in Spain. Just random ones.

I am so happy right now, I just had to share. Thanks for reading. :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't let schooling interfere with your education. - Mark Twain

I love this quote from Mark Twain, since it seems to embody my week; as well as my time in Spain.

Monday I got to campus on time; even a little early! I ran into Alexandra and her roommate on their way to class. I didn't have a class yet, so I joined them. We are allowed to 'try out' classes here to see if they work. We went to class and waited. And waited. And waited. No class. *sigh*

So I went and got a coffee in prep for my next class. There was class, but we ended up starting about half an hour later because the class before us was watching a movie. But this class is always interesting. However, today, the prof had us do something, and NONE of us knew what was going on. But we plugged through and got through class.

After that, I didn't have anymore classes for the day, so I came home. During lunch with Begona and Irene, we found out that in the paper that morning, there was an ad for cheap plane tickets. I had just been reading more about all the towns that Gaudi had built something in or renovated something. I was able to buy a ticket to Palma de Mallorca, a little island off the coast by Barcelona, for only $60. He restored the inside of it. I am going by myself for only a Saturday/Sunday just to see the cathedral, and the other sites, of Palma de Mallorca. So I am really excited.

Tuesday I woke up and realized that I forgot to set my alarm. I woke up only 10 min before the bus would arrive at the stop. I threw some clothes on and ran to the bus stop. The bus was late. I get to the classroom with only minutes to spare, only to realize...yes, you guessed right. There was no class. I was upset. I was not feeling well, had to hurry all morning, just to find this out. So I went home and went back to sleep. I just rested the whole day too. Was not in the mood to do anything.

Wednesday we bought tickets to go to Barcelona. Yes, you heard me right. Alexandra, Elise and I are taking the night bus to Barcelona. Will get there at about 7 am. Then we will be there till Saturday night, when we will take the bus back to Burgos. Will get back at about 3. That's right. In the morning. Hopefully I will learn more in Barcelona these next couple of days than I have learned all week!

Pray for us!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. -Benjamin Disraeli

I like to look at and see EVERYTHING around me. I have always been like that. I love looking at the details of things, like wood grains, carved staircases, and cobblestone streets. Hence, I have a fondness for museums. It is only there that you are expected to see everything, and stand and examine it. I also love watching the people at the museums. You have the old people, who just wander around, looking at the paintings with a practiced eye. Then you have the professors/teachers with their students, standing in front of something with their hands on their faces, trying to find something original to say that people have been saying for centuries. There are the families with their children, parents running after them, "DON'T TOUCH!", while thinking Don't break it! I would have to sell you into slavery to pay for it! Then you have the weird people like me, who look at the floors, the ceilings, out the windows, watch the people, and then turn around and see what the big deal is about.

Alexandra and I met at about 12. We went to one of the offices of tourism to get a schedule of when the museums are open. We also picked up the schedule of the buses to Barcelona for the next weekend, a bus schedule for Burgos, and I got a mass schedule as well. The nice thing is that even though she knew we weren't from here (I guess natives of Burgos probably don't go to the tourism offices, huh), she didn't speak English when she didn't think we understood. It helped our confidence so well, especially when she complimented us on our Spanish.

After receiving a compliment and options of things to do, we went to the Arch of Santa Maria. Built in 1553, it was an arch of triumph in honor of the visiting of the Emperor Carlos V. In the central part, all the statues are important people from the history of the Castille-Leon area. On top, the Guardian Angel of the city is topped only by Mary, the patron of the city of Burgos. Inside, there is a museum that brings together some of the most representative elements of the city's history. There is a replica of the sword of El Cid, a BEAUTIFUL Mudejar ceiling, as well as modern art from artists of the city. There is a nice view of the cathedral through stained glass windows. One of the best things I saw was this mother trying to teach her children about art. She ended up just following her young son around, telling him not to touch things. It was funny.

After this museum, we went to another one near the Cathedral. The Museum of the Altarpieces is in the Church of San Esteban, which is the perfect place for a museum of religious artifacts. The altarpieces are from churches in the area. It was beautiful. I loved the church too; the architecture was AMAZING.

After San Esteban, we decided to go eat. I was starving. We went to a little cafe/restaurant in the Plaza Mayor. I had a nice, dark beer and a hamburger with fries. I wasn't able to eat that much, since I am not used to heavy food such as this! Then we walked around for a bit, until we were both too exhausted to continue. I came home and took a nice 2 hour siesta. I love Saturdays.

Sunday, I woke up at noon and looked at the mass schedule that the lady at the tourism office gave me. There was a mass at 12:30 at the Church of San Nicolas, so I booked it. The little church is gorgeous. I think I am going to go there every week that I am in town; though change it up once in a while just to do something different.

The rest of the day consisted of resting. We had lunch at 3-ish, which consisted of a DELICIOUS roasted chicken, french fries, and salad. Dessert was a local cheese with walnuts and honey. It's so good.

I spent the day relaxing and getting ready for classes for the next day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience. -Francis Bacon

This week was a week of frustration; but also a week of learning more about myself and the Spanish culture. Also, I learned more about how God is teaching me how to trust Him with simple things like classes and understanding more about those around me.

I had high hopes for Monday. I thought "First day of classes in Spanish. I am going to make new friends and learn some awesome stuff!" Well, I was so tired the night before that I set my alarm for 9 instead of 8, when my class started at 9. It would have been fine if I had heard my alarm, because then I could have gotten up for my second class, which was at 10:30. But, since I slept through it, I woke up at 11:30. My host mother came in to check on me and make sure I was doing okay and not sick. Sick only of not being able to get up in the morning. Same me, different country I guess.

Instead, Elise and I went shopping. She still had not yet received her suitcase, which the airline had lost, so she needed clothes; and badly. I needed a few things too, but I didn't buy/spend as much as I could. :P But she found what she needed/wanted, which was the only reason we went.

The next day I made it to one class: Grammatica Espanola: Sintaxis. It is a very interesting class. However, the bus was late, so I was late to class; and extremely embarrassed. I didn't have coffee in the morning either, and so I was extremely tired. Made for a good first class ever in Spain.

After that class, Elise and I tried to go to another class, but that whole set of classes (1st year) don't start till the 20th of September. *Sigh* Wish that was posted somewhere on the plan. Instead, we decided to go get some coffee. We went to the Cafeteria that I went to all last week during the Intensive Spanish course. I walked in and saw Alexandra! It was so nice seeing a familiar face. So we all talked about classes while drinking coffee. Then we decided to go to el centro, where I live. All three of us took the bus down there, and it was packed, as usual. We decided to go sit and have raciones and drinks. Elise hadn't had a drink ever in her life, and she had just turned 21, so she wanted to try one! So we went to The Book, an Irish pub in the same plaza as my house. I had calamari and my first *real* beer in Spain (my first dark one). Elise had a sangria and Alexandra had a glass of wine. It is customary to drink alcohol here any time of the day.

While we were sitting there, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I was like, Oh great. Now someone knows I'm an American and wants me to say something in my weird accent. I turned around, prepared to say Howdy or something, and it was my host sister, Laura! I was like OH! What a nice surprise! So she sat with us and chatted. Her and I decided the day before that she was going to take me shopping for a few things, so she just waited for us to finish.

Once Elise left for the bus and we got Alexandra on the right path to home, we did some light shopping. Then we came back home for lunch. After lunch, I took my siesta. I think my host family thinks there is something wrong with me that I drink so much coffee but can still sleep as much as I do.

I woke up Wednesday morning in a good mood. I heard my alarm clock, had enough time to talk to Ryan online for a bit, and sit and chat while eating breakfast with Begona. I got to classes on time too!

It turned out to be a frustrating day. For more people than just me, it turned out.

I found out that there is something else that frustrates me more than someone not understanding what I am saying in Spanish. Two people decided that I was not understanding what they were saying in Spanish, and hence switched to English. I was able to understand them just fine, they just weren't being very clear in what they were saying. I wanted to punch them in the face. I wanted to say Don't insult my intelligence by thinking I am like other Americans who expect you to explain things to them in English. I know what you are saying; don't pretend otherwise. I was so insulted and upset (plus I was pms-ing at the time too), that I went to the cafeteria during break, ordered a coffee and drank that while writing out my frustrations in my journal. Then I went to my second class of the day.

However, I seemed to have dressed too warm for the weather. During class, I was dying from the heat. It is this little room the size of my room here, but they still manage to squeeze 12 students and 1 rather large teacher in it. Once he released us from our agony, I left because otherwise I was going to die. I came home, changed into summer clothes (instead of the fall ones I was wearing) ate a little something, and took a quick nap.

Begona took Laura and Irene to Vitoria (where Laura goes to college) for orientation in the morning. They had left soon after I did, and they were there the whole day. I thought they were gone so long because of shopping or something, but their car ended up overheating or something. So they had to take the taxi home.

When they (finally) got home, Laura heated up some leftovers for me while her mom was getting the car in Vitoria. I ate a plate of spaghetti, a bowl of veggies, 2 pork fillets, bread, tea, and hot chocolate. I'm sure she was like, "Mom! She is eating us out of house and home! What else do I feed her?!" When Begona got home, she came in to my room to chat a bit, as she usually does. She said with a little smile, "Laura said you were hungry and ate a lot!"  "Yeah, I don't know why, but I was SO hungry." "Well, you didn't eat much of anything that I had left for you!" "Oh...yeah...that would be why."

Thursday rolled around. Went to campus, but NO one was there. It was like a vacation or something and no one had told us. So Alexandra and I were like, you know what? Fine. So we took the bus back down to the center of town (where I live) and drank coffee, window shopped, and talked in Spanish. It was nice that even though we didn't have class, we still learned from talking Spanish with each other and with people on the street. It helps a lot to speak with another person who is learning like I am, and isn't a native speaker. I probably learned more words this week than any others, since I had to look them up to be able to understand things like 'Sales (rebajas)' , 'Size (talle)', 'Earrings (pendientes)', 'Watch (reloj)', 'Necklace (collar)', 'bracelet (pulsera), and 'Scarf (foulard [which is french as well]), as well as various numbers.

No class on Friday as well (getting to be ridiculous), so Alexandra and I decided to meet up again. We ran into Elise, who had some errands she needed to run. So we went with her. She finally got her suitcase back, which had been lost on the flight or something. So she needed to get things that weren't in there, like a coat, shampoo; those kinds of things. After all that, Alexandra and I decided to meet up the next morning (saturday) to go to a few museums and see the sights.

View next post about the weekend. I think I need to learn to keep up on these things more, so that they aren't so long!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”- James Michener

I decided that instead of trying to think of something clever to put as the title to each blog, I am going to use a quote that accurately describes the post. And boy, does this one describe this past weekend!

I tried new food, joined in customs, went to mass, and met new people. It is a challenge to live this quote though, as sometimes it is just easier to stay where I am comfortable.

Friday, after my intensive Spanish class, I walked back home all depressed; missing my family and friends deeply. It was Friday night, and I had nothing to do other than sit on my computer or read. My host family was out seeing their respective friends, and I was just here. Back home, it would be the night that Ryan and I would go to the Turf and throw some darts while talking, flirting with each other, and enjoying each other's company. The though made me deeply homesick. I just wanted to be home.

However, God had some gifts in store for me. At supper, which is like 9 or 10pm here, my host mother, Begona and my host sister, Laura, and i were sitting at the table talking. Begona starts out a conversation with, "Dokie, would you like some work?" "Here? In Spain?" She kinda smiled, "Yes, here in Spain." "What kind of work?" I'm thinking something like selling pamphlets to tourists who don't know better or going along the river and saving baby turtles or something like that. "My friend, Elena, called me and is wondering if you would speak English with her 15 year old daughter so that she can practice what she learns in school." My heart jumped at the opportunity. After saying a silent, grateful prayer to God, I agreed. Since I teach in the States, it's perfect for me! Such a beautiful way for God to show me how much he takes care of me, even in unexpected ways.

The other gift came soon after. Laura, who is 20, suddenly asked me if I would like to join her and her friends to go out the next night with them. It is more of a cultural thing here to go out to bars, not to get drunk (I guess it depends on the person), but to be with friends and enjoy yourself. The Spanish people are very social, and love being with friends. Every night, one or all of them go out to see friends or have a drink or something. I agreed, since I want to experience all aspects of the Spanish culture. My first thought, though, was typical of a woman: "I have nothing to wear."

Saturday arrived, and I got ready to meet my new friend Polina to see some sights in Burgos together. I agreed with Begona to be back by 3pm to celebrate her birthday, which was on Tuesday. I found Polina near the Cathedral, and we decided to go inside and do the whole pay-for-entrance-to-see-beautiful-architecture thing.

It was totally worth it. Once I figure out how to post pictures, I will. If you are my friend on FB, there are pics on there too. This Cathedral, the most Gothic in Spain, is probably one of the most beautiful ones I have seen. Not overdone, it allows its architecture and richness in wood to display its beauty.

After going through the cathedral, which took about an hour and a half, Polina and I decided to have a little lunch. I knew I was eating at like 3, but it would be a while and I needed to eat. So what did I order? Calamares en su tinta. I knew it was squid, but i wasn't sure what tinta meant. I found out soon enough. It's squid cooked in its own ink. It was delicious, and a great experience, but I am not sure I will have it again. But I had a beer to wash it all down.

Apparently, it was Try New Food Weekend, and I missed the memo.

After walking around with Polina for a bit, I went back home at like 2 to shower and get ready for lunch. I knew that Begona's sister, brother-in-law and their two children were coming, so I didn't want to smell.

After getting ready, I went into the kitchen to see how it was all going. I got to watch them prepare the meal, which was fascinating. Earlier in the week, Begona taught me how to make Tortilla con patatas, or Tortilla espanola, which is kinda like a potato quiche, but so much better!

Anyway, I digress. Lunch consisted of fresh róbalo (sea bass), ensalada con queso de cabra (salad with goat cheese), thinly sliced pork with manchego (cheese with sheep and cow's milk [my favorite!]), bread, and white wine. I got to watch her cut the fish open (with the heads on!), clean them, and prepare them! It was fascinating. I loved it.

It was good for my Spanish too, since I got to keep up with the conversations and hear the different way people talk. Plus the two kids, Maria (8) and Jorge (6), are SO cute. Once they realized that I am not scary, they practiced their colors, numbers, and days in English. It was so cute.

After all this and cake and coffee, I needed a nap hard core. I slept for 2.5 hours. It was amazing.

I went with Laura to her friend's house at 11. I thought it was late, but that's okay. I wanted to do something different. We went, and sat at her place for like 2 hours talking. I guess we were waiting till the crowds died down more at the bars and stuff. We finally left her place at about 2, and by that time I was so tired. But I was going to keep plugging through. I told them that I was tired, and after once place I was going to go home. We went back to our Plaza, which is like party central apparently, and went someplace that serves mojitos, since they know they are my favorite. It was so crowded and smokey that we quickly downed the drinks. The bar was right next door to our place, so I said good night and came up to go to bed.

The next day, we left the house at like 10 to get to a monastery for Mass. They aren't practicing Catholics, but they know I am, and they knew that I would love it. So they make sure that I get to go to church and know mass times etc. It is so nice that they respect me like that. Anyway, we got there about an hour before Mass, so we got coffees and sat and chilled in the sun for a bit. It was SO hot on Sunday, like in the 90s.

Mass was beautiful. The Benedictine Monks sang chant and it was beautiful. However, I need to find a mass book in Spanish, since it was SO hard to follow, what with the acoustics and people and stuff.

After mass, we went to Lerma, a little town about 45 min from the monastery. We ate so well, and had so much! We had Ensalada Ruso (like a delicious fishy pasta salad), foccacia bread, croquettas (little balls of bechamel [gravy] and ham), morcillas (blood sausage with rice), a plate of different cuts of pork, potatoes with egg and ham, and cheese. It was all so good, but made us all SO tired. After tea, we headed back here, where we all crashed. We were exhausted.

I am so blessed to have such a wonderful host family. Begona just came in and asked if tomorrow night, I would like to do the "Ruta del Luz" which is like a route around town at night to see all the churches and historical buildings by night. I am SO excited. They have the same interests as me, and I love it!

More later, need to go to bed here.

It hit me yesterday that I will be here for 5 MONTHS, without seeing my loved ones for the most part. Constant homesickness, or constant missing of friends and family, has set in.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reflections on Week 1

I have now been here a whole week and this is the first time I have been able to sit down and actually type things out. It probably helps that the Internet has been weird; that way I actually read, study, and journal. I mean, what a weird concept…getting something done when there is nothing else to distract you!

Monday I had to get up ‘early’ to get to orientation by 10. It was difficult considering a) I’m not a morning person; and b) I didn’t sleep well the night before. Probably didn’t help that I had slept so much on Saturday night. So I was exhausted. One of the first things I did was make my Dunn Bros coffee I had with me in my French press mug. When I was taking it to the car with Begona, since she was driving me to school, she was like, “They will know you are a foreigner with that, since no one does that here.” I thought, well it isn’t like I stick out already. But I managed to drink it all on the way to class so I left it with her. She came with me on campus and then waited with me till they took us for the meeting. I am so blessed to have such a great family to live with while I am here.

At orientation, I got lost mentally. They do things so different here. You don’t sign up for classes until AFTER they start on the 6th; you go to them first and then decide if that is a class you would like to attend. So this week I need to go online and figure out how to pick out classes.

After orientation, they told us where to meet for the intensive Spanish class which would be at 1. Since I had like 3 hours to spare, I walked home and ate and rested for a bit. Then I walked 30 min back to campus. It is a beautiful walk through parks from the Plaza Huerto del Rey. I don’t mind walking, since everything is beautiful and I love watching the old men and women talking and taking care of their grandchildren.

The class was 5 hours long of only Spanish, with grammar and vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. I learned some expressions on Monday, and that night I was up late with Begona, Irene, and Laura and we were talking and laughing about all the strange expressions. Like how in Spanish instead of saying a long weekend they say it’s a bridge, and when it’s a break in school more than 4 days it’s an aqueduct; and the ones they love are ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ and learning something by heart.

I was the only American in class. There were 3 Italian boys (one of whom took a liking to me for some reason), 2 from Portugal, 2 from France, 1 girl from Russia, and like 6 from Germany. I was really lonely at first because when we had breaks every 50 min, everyone would go separate into their own language groups and speak their respective languages. I can understand what they are saying, but I don’t want to be pushy or anything. That is more American :P After a while though, they could see that I am social and like to talk, but am not pushy or anything. Wednesday I made a point to help Alexandra, a girl from Germany who is also studying Spanish like me. She didn’t know where something was so after class I walked with her to find it.

After classes, I would run a couple errands or take a different route home; just to do something different. The weather has been GORGEOUS, so I love just walking around and looking at stuff and people.

Some things have been frustrating though. Like I feel like a carnival attraction when I go out, feeling like everyone’s eyes are on me. It is frustrating not being understood and not knowing the right words off-hand to clarify myself. It is difficult not knowing exactly where I am going or what to do.

One of the more difficult things to adjust to is that people don’t just go to a coffee shop to study or anything. They go to socialize and that’s it. It is very difficult to adjust to being at home a lot if I want to read or be on my computer. I am a social person, so it is difficult to not be around people.

I am FINALLY adjusting to the time difference, and the difference of meal times. Took long enough. I would either be really tired or really awake. If I was tired and tried to take a nap, it would be for like only an hour. But today I was able to take a 2.5 hour long nap, and it helped so much!

Will blog about the weekend tomorrow. Need to sleep for my first day of classes!