Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Last Hoorah!

Well folks, this is it. I'm down to my last 48 hours in Spain. I wish I could provide you with an amazing, poetic summary of my experience but I'm currently at a loss for words. While I am ecstatic to see my everyone back home, it almost brings me to tears thinking about leaving this place/experience behind. So, that being said (as a result of the chaos of finals, packing, and goodbyes) I'm making this post a photo entry to describe the wonderful 9 day trip I had last week to London and Dublin! (The first picture doesn't show up for me and they all loaded out of order, won't miss this crappy internet!) I'm sorry I don't have the time or motivation to write a lengthy description, it truly was one of the most fun weeks of my life. Maybe when I have more time over break I will sign on for a belated update. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this unbelievable journey!! Love you all.

Prison in Dublin, Irleand

Gorgeous view in Cork, Ireland

And again...

Christmas decorations on Oxford Street in London!!

Creative picture huh?

Saint Paul's Cathedral in London

Ohhh London :)

London Eye, I wasn't expecting a giant ferris wheel

Christ Church in Dublin, Ireland

Tower Bridge in London, I didn't get time to go up trip!

Big Ben & Parliament!!

Buckingham Palace, unfortunately no guards were out and it was raining every time we would have been able to see changing of the guards.

View of Dublin from our hostel!!

Bell tower in the center of campus at Trinity College in Dublin

Gorgeous fountain in front of Buckingham Palace

Blarney Castle in Irleand!! Gotta kiss the Blarney stone for good luck :) Terrifying, by the way haha

View walking up to Blarney Castle

Inside the Guinness factory tour in Dublin

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Little Things In Life

As I lay in bed on this chilly Sunday morning, attempting to muster up the motivation to begin homework, I take a little trip down memory lane through my blog. Although I am satisfied that I have successfully portrayed the adventures of this semester, I realize that with only three weeks remaining I have left out some important moments. Sure, every weekend trip has been documented with play-by-play scenarios, sarcastic thoughts, and pictures that highlight the given location. However, as great as those times have been, I did not travel across the world to study in Geneva, or Paris, or Sevilla. I came to Bilbao; I've lived here, studied here, made friends here, learned valuable lessons here, and I seem to have forgotten to write about the little things that have created the full "study abroad experience". So, in the spirit of procrastination, this post is about Bilbao.

My routine during the week is similar to that in America; wake up wishing there was more time to sleep, go to school attempting to process as many of the near-impossible Spanish concepts as mentally possible and focus while the Culture teacher goes on unknown tangents in broken English, head home to eat/rest/do hours of homework/socialize with the roommates/make dinner/more socializing or homework, then off to bed in preparation to repeat the following day. That part of the experience I was prepared for, it's the small aspects of the day (many of which I don't even realize anymore) that differ from home and remind me I'm in Spain. For example, the group of elementary school children waiting at our bus stop every morning that make us look like the most lazy people ever as they are dressed in uniforms waiting for a private bus while we appear to have rolled out of bed and exchange minimal words to each other until the sun rises, as if we are incapable of functioning without daylight, and the public bus arrives only to inconveniently stop closest to the Spaniards. Once on the bus, a shift occurs and we suddenly become the only ones speaking. We are surrounded by girls with oddly dyed hair and piercings, and boys with drullets (our nickname for a popular Basque cut that combines the mullet and dreadlocks - as you can imagine, it's not attractive. I’m still hoping to find a prime moment to snap a picture of one as proof). 

The campus itself is similar to those in America, except less visually appealing; its cement buildings, walkways, and benches give the impression you're there to study and nothing more. But that's just the first half of the day, and the academic side of things; although I'm technically here to study, I've come to realize in some ways I've learned more outside the classroom than in it and these lessons will impact my life more than when to use a conjugated verb in past subjunctive versus pluscuamperfecto (yes, I know the difference in that example and no, for your own good I will not take time to explain haha).  My knowledge of maps has significantly increased; the days of getting lost on the 405 freeway are (hopefully) long behind me after getting turned around numerous times in Spain, France, and Switzerland yet always finding my way safely. My patience level has also improved; it’s amazing what inconsistent public transportation, cultural trends of 3-hour meals in restaurants, and a language barrier can do to someone’s personality! Before I came here I was obsessed with planning in advance and being on time (if not early) to everything; now, however, I expect to find myself much more relaxed when I return to the fast-paced society of the USA.

Although newfound stress reduction is a definite plus, it’s important to remember the random moments too. Like the weekend I went to 3 different restaurants, ordered water at each (a simple request in America), and ended up being served coca cola, beer, and a fizzy fruit drink instead. Good for the pocketbook since water is the most expensive beverage here. I know I’m not fluent, but I assumed the word “agua” was a relatively simple term haha Or the time my roommates and I used a knife, hammer, and scissors to open a can of beans because we couldn’t find a can-opener but were determined to create a somewhat Mexican meal. Or the time a group of us got caught in the middle of a festival outside the metro station; not one full of food and dancing, nope we were lucky enough to end up in the middle of people on stilts wearing masks and smacking (yes, legitimately hitting) people with newspaper. (I later found out this is an annual, Spain-wide tradition) Or the time we missed the last metro of the night and were too cheap to pay for a taxi so we spent 4 hours in the metro station teaching each other random dances and swapping funny stories from home. Or the days of going to class in wet clothes because the temperature outside dropped as you were doing laundry so it took 2x as long to dry as usual (aka 4 days instead of 2).

And what about the food? The taunting bakery I pass every morning on the way to the bus who’s just pulled out a fresh batch of bread, the candy store on the walk home with the couple bickering outside and kid stealing tastes behind the counter every afternoon, the Italian restaurant by the metro hidden above a row of shops but with the best view of the suburb, the restaurant on the corner with the most delicious hamburgers I’ve ever had (and single gambling machine that kids under 18 consistently try to use and, like clock work, get kicked out by the chefs), the pizza place that takes hours to deliver but is super cheap, and the kebab stand a few blocks from my apartment who (we recently discovered) is the secret supplier of the Moroccan’s who wander through the city selling inexpensive cd’s.

There are countless more scenarios that pop into my mind, but I suppose the point of all this is after all the doubts of passing classes, complaints of waking up before the sun rises 5 days a week, and bouts of homesickness there isn’t a second of the past 3 months I would change. The people I’ve met, things I’ve done, places I’ve seen, lessons I’ve learned, and new outlook on life I’ve obtained are priceless! That being said I have 20 more days to finish with a bang, here I go!!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sevilla, I'm speechless...

When you picture Spain, what do you see? Magnificent historical sites? Immense parks full of tress, wildlife, lakes, and families spending time together?  Narrow cobblestone streets lined with Spanish style architecture? If any of that comes to mind you’re imagining Sevilla, quite possibly my favorite city in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bilbao; I’ve made amazing friends, learned a lot about the culture/language, and discovered even more about myself and life in general. All together it has been the experience of a lifetime, but this weekend allowed me to experience true Spain not the Basque Country and all I can say is “WOW”.

Okay, I guess I have more to say than “wow”.  This was my first hostel experience and I definitely lucked out; it was in a great location (2 minute walk from the Cathedral/city center), clean, and the staff was very friendly. I also met people from Brazil, Finland, Canada, Australia, England, Portugal, and Korea! Friday’s weather was gorgeous so we spent the entire day touring around. The first stop we made was Alcazar, the coolest Palace and gardens I’ve seen yet! The intricacy of every room was spectacular from the tiling on the floors to the etchings in the ceilings and the arches separating the rooms. I’m pretty sure I spent more time looking at that, and exploring the gardens, than I did reading about the building's purpose. Overall it was great though; Christopher Columbus’ boat (well, a model of course) was there, they had a room devoted to ancient tiles (reminded me of all the tiling in our house in California), and the gardens were really fun to wander through while soaking up the sun we don’t have in Bilbao. From there we hopped in a horse carriage (yes, you read that correctly) and got a ride through the entire city! At one point we went onto the main street and around a roundabout which was a tad unnerving as you can imagine, the horse didn’t seem too thrilled either. We had it drop us off at Plaza de España, which was amazing! It’s a huge plaza in the heart of Maria Luisa Park, also beautiful, with a mote surrounding it that you can take a rowboat around. After enjoying a quiet lunch, where I had churros con chocolate for the first time (imagine churros without the cinnamon sugar and a chocolate sauce to dip them in), we headed back to the hostel to catch a walking tour of the city. Our guide was a from Italy who knew literally everything about Sevilla since the 1400’s; he had quite the personality, and wasn’t afraid to share his opinions. Numerous times he’d tell us a story about something and then go on a little rant, which I found hilarious with his Italian accent and over the top hand gestures. That night for dinner our hostel had a paella cooking class so for 5 euros we got to watch/learn how paella was made and then pig out on it! Absolutely delicious. The hostel also had a “nightlife tour” so we participated in that too, lots of fun of course. My friend studied abroad here last year so everywhere we went I remembered a story she had told me, made it a little more exciting! At the first bar we went to they taught us how to salsa dance! On Saturday it stormed, just as predicted, so we slept in then had a leisurely lunch in town then spent time visiting the Cathedral that took our breath away the first night we arrived. Not that it wasn’t a luxurious structure, full of history and fascinating artifacts, but after seeing countless other Cathedrals these past few months it sort of felt like “just another building” so we made our way through then went and sat in starbucks to escape the rain (a rare find in Europe that you can’t pass up). 

This trip felt almost surreal to me. The scenery was unbelievable, the culture was interesting, the people were open to foreigners (something Basques do not enjoy doing), and the company was perfect! I went with my friend Lauren, who I've traveled with before, but also Angela and our personalities were perfect. There was no bickering, no stress, just three days full of laughter. The fact that things weren't ridiculously expensive and we didn't get lost helped I'm sure, but I haven't laughed as much as I did this weekend in forever; exactly what I hoped for a weekend away. Now it's back to reality, if you can even call this life "reality". Lots of tests and projects coming up in the next 27 days. Here's a few pictures! I took 116 so I'll try to pick the best :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ohhh the Swiss...

This past weekend I went to Geneva, Switzerland with two friends. Having been strongly urged by my Mom to book the trip, we sucked up the fact flights were over $100 more than any other we had planned and set out early Friday morning. In my mind, "early" is around 6 or 7am, my alarm went off at 4:30. We hopped in a taxi at 5:15am and got to the airport in time to check in and take a flight from Bilbao to Brussels. Towards the end of the hour layover I took a little stroll, only to find out our gate had been changed without warning and was currently boarding. Barely making it, I was off to Geneva! When I arrived it was a little colder than I had imagined/packed for but I figured if that was my biggest issue of the weekend I was going to be perfectly fine; this turned out to be a prime example of "careful what you say". We tried to buy a train ticket but the machine ate our money and didn't supply change, got lost for 5 hours due to faulty directions/our lack of French speaking skills, and ended up having to pay 45 francs each to be allowed into our room because the reservation was incorrect (not my doing, thank goodness). By this point it was now 5:30pm and getting dark so we had officially lost out on an entire day of touring around. Determined not to let it get us down we went to the grocery store and purchased some bread, meat, and cheese and set off to eat dinner by the lake. Although we couldn't really see where we were, I could already tell I'd love this city; regardless of the stressful day that had just ended.

On Saturday we took a bus to Chamonix to see the town and glacier on Mont Blanc. Again, more lessons were learned; like the fact Chamonix is actually in France not Switzerland so our francs (the only currency we had on us) would not be accepted - we should have done more detailed research, but since the hotel encouraged the trip it would have been a nice detail to slip in. The city is gorgeous! It sort of reminded me of Flagstaff in the sense that it has a small downtown area and is completely surrounded by snowcapped mountains. I found out it was home to the first winter olympics, and there was a farmers market going on so that was fun to wander through. Once it warmed up a bit it was time to take a train ride to the top of the mountain to see the glacier. I had no idea what to expect, but was blown away! After taking time to walk through a crystal cave and have a little model shoot on top of some boulders it was time to head back to Geneva to get our souvenir shopping done, and have a nice dinner in old town.

On Sunday we had to be at the airport by 2pm and since we weren't able to tour the city on Friday we woke up early to get a head start. This was by far my favorite day of the weekend! We saw the United Nations, the flower clock (a garden of flowers arranged in the shape of a clock that actually keeps time!), the Cathedral where John Calvin started the Protestant Reformation, and the lake (we took a boat shuttle too)! It's a tie between the UN and the lake as to what my favorite was; I've gotten really interested in international business while I've been here (and seeing all the flags hanging together was great) but there's something about Lake Geneva that sticks with you after walking around it. It's so vast, lined with gardens and boats cruising it. There was also some sort of military/political march going on but even after researching it online when I got home I have no clue what it could have been for. For those of you who don't know, I'm terrified of birds - geese to be specific. Since I'm not around them on a daily basis (duh/thank goodness) it's just become a joke between family and friends. However, as I was walking the lake my friends and I came across a flock of them and they wanted pictures with the unusually large, feathered creatures. Not knowing my dislike, they encouraged me to get a picture too and I decided it was a good idea to get over the fear. False. Worst idea ever, why I put myself through that is beyond me hahahaha For the next 20 minutes I kept turning around waiting to see one chasing me down, yapping it's beak ready to peck me. Some things never change.

Overall it was a fantastic weekend and regardless of the excessive hit my bank account took, I don't regret any of it! I have three more trips coming up and school is in it's final sprint so it's going to be a very hectic (but exciting) month for me! Hope everyone is doing well :) Here's some pictures -

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oops, Back to the Blog...

Hello everyone,

Sorry for the delay in posts, I’m not sure how so much time has passed but things are definitely picking up speed! Unfortunately my mom is gone, but I immensely enjoyed her 2-week stay! After our weekend in Paris we spent 3 days in Bilbao (I had to get back to the “study” aspect of “study abroad”) and she wasn’t feeling well so some down time was nice. The hotel we stayed at was absolutely amazing; it was right on the beach and called High-Tech which we soon learned was a fair name because the room was decked out in modern décor. We meant to take pictures but as with many things, time slipped away – I found a room key in my backpack the other day and jokingly told a friend I wanted to sneak in to do some belated documenting; I’m not really going to. The only minor-downside was the lack of restaurant options; we kept going back to the same place (which was fine with me because it had a great view and good food) but we ordered the same pizza to split each time so I regret not being able to show her more variety. She did try various tapas (or pintxos as they are called in Basque Country) so go mom!

Anyway, the second weekend we decided to rent a car from the airport and take a leisurely trip up the coast, ending in Bordeaux. We were given the option of a Spanish gps system or paying extra for an English speaking one; logically we chose the English one in hopes of lessening our stress level the first time on European roads. While our intentions were good, the Brit (nickname my mom gave it because it had a British accent) had other ideas. Along the way were told to turn left (into a brick wall), turn right (off the cliff, into the ocean), go down a dead end street, take the 7th exit on a roundabout that only had 5 exits, and make a u-turn onto the train tracks. I know driving is different here, but I’m pretty sure those requests are hazardous in any country! Being who we are, we made the best of it and tried to laugh most of it off. The first place we stopped along the way was Biarritz, France because my Dad has been there and said how great it was and my mom heard of a chocolate factory that sounded neat. Unfortunately, when we got there it was pouring rain so we had to stay in the car during our little tour, but the town looked really cute and we saw a surf competition going on! If I had more time here I definitely would have liked to take at least a day trip back to spend some time walking around and seeing all the beautiful beaches. The chocolate factory didn’t seem to exist, at least not where the Brit insisted it was, so we gave up and continued on to Bordeaux.

By the time we made it to Bordeaux the trip had taken much longer than anticipated and with the chaos of wrong directions we were both a bit frustrated. Not wanting to ruin the mood of the rest of the weekend we forced ourselves to go get some dinner and explore the city, definitely a wise decision! We had a great meal and ended up taking a bike tour through the entire city at night! It was amazing, the lady who gave the tour spoke perfect English (there were French people on it too but they didn’t seem interested so it was 85% directed towards us) and we saw everything lit up which was great! Having a much better outlook on Bordeaux we set out Saturday morning to reserve a wine tour but unfortunately our plan to “wing the weekend” didn’t work out because nothing was open until Sunday morning so we spent the day relaxing, walking around, and then got dinner at the fair – amusing people watching!  Sunday morning we woke up early excited to have a tour of a winery in a medieval village then do a tasting, however that’s not exactly how it went. The drive out there was entirely fogged in so we couldn’t see the scenery and when we arrived in the town it was all closed up because it was a Sunday morning, everyone’s lazy day worldwide. We walked around for a bit and found these little cakes that are specialties of Bordeaux – oh my gosh, I could eat them all day for the rest of my life! They were created long ago when wine makers had a bunch of egg yokes left over (the last step of wine making was to ferment it through egg whites) and didn’t want to throw them away so these cakes were envisioned. Best dessert I’ve ever had, hands down, which is saying a lot because I’m not a big sweets person. The “wine tour/tasting” aspect of the day was much simpler than expected because all the vineyards are apparently on the outskirts of town and all that was open was a small shop but we still got to taste a few wines.

Overall the weekend was a success! The occasional moments of frustration were certainly outweighed by the scenery, bike tour, and food. I never thought I’d be one to rave about the food in so many places, but now that I’m not allergic to dairy I’m loving it! It also helped that my mom and I would just wander aimlessly and find the little hole in the wall places. I’m bummed that she is gone and it went by so quickly, I feel like I have way more I wanted her to see in Spain. I’ve decided it just means we have to come back, hopefully my Dad can make it too!

My second of three Spanish classes officially ended today, I’m in denial that it is already November; only 15 days of class left! This weekend I am going to Switzerland, next weekend I am going to Sevilla in Southern Spain, Thanksgiving weekend I am going to the Canary Islands, then the following weekend I’m off on my 8 day trip to England and Ireland – aka things are just getting started!!!! I will try not to let this much time go by before I post again. Hope everything is going well in America, I suppose I’ll be there soon….

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paris Adventures!!

Alright, now that I'm settled into the hotel, have the internet semi-working, and am back in the swing of school I think it's time to update everyone on part 2 of the crazy week - PARIS. Making it from my apartment to the airport was a piece of cake: 20 minute metro ride to the bus station (where the fiasco occurred the day before) then 20 minute bus ride to the airport. I had never been to the Bilbao airport before, but it's awesome! I believe the architect of the Guggenheim also designed the airport because they have the same artsy feel.

The flight was a little over an hour so we were landing before we knew it and I was beyond excited!! We flew into Charles de Gaulle so we hopped on the train into town; immediately I realized why my friends who have been before said their main complaint was how dirty Paris is and I appreciated Spain's immaculate cleanliness so much more. After about a 40 minute trip full of grumpy people (the stereotype of rude Parisians was proven true numerous times) we stepped out of the station and into Paris!! Surprisingly we found our hotel rather quickly (for those of you who don't know - before this trip I was embarrassingly horrific at directions, I've improved greatly thank goodness) and headed out to dinner. This trip was one of many firsts for me. No longer being allergic to dairy opened up a world of possibilities for me, and where better to experiment than in Paris with your mom?! The first night we had a calzone for dinner and tiramisu for dessert - both I thought were delicious. During the weekend I also tried creme brulée, a napoleon (the pastry), and a few different cheeses. My mom suggested we walk to the Eiffel Tower so I figured why not, good way to start the trip. I assumed we'd have to walk for a ways (she knew exactly where we were) so as we left the restaurant and turned the corner BAM there it was!! Even better, it was sunset so it was an absolutely magnificent sight. I was in awe. We did the tacky tourist thing at the bottom, taking tons of pictures, and then headed to the top!! What a wonderful first night :)

The next morning we planned to take a tour bus around the city. Although the weather on Thursday told us it would be in the high 60's - low 70's and sunny all weekend, Saturday turned out to be a lovely 34 degrees and we were the farthest thing from prepared. After buying scarves and mittens we found the bus stop expecting to wait 10 minutes; 30 minutes later we saw a little note on the side saying that particular route was out of order until October 31st. Frozen to the bone we went to a cafe to warm up and figure out where to go. Brrrrrr. Once we finally hopped on the bus we got to see a ton of amazing buildings; my only complaint is that it made numerous stops for 5 - 10 minutes each so instead of being able to ride all four tracks (each track covered a different part of the city, you could hop around as much as you wanted) we only completed one in 5 hours - being completely chilled probably didn't assist our outlooks either. That was a bummer, but it was still great to see all the big name places before we traveled solo on Monday. Sunday we went to Versailles and took an audio tour which was fantastic!! We got out to the gardens just as all the fountains were turning on so it was perfect to walk through. Monday we planned on renting bikes to get around Paris, but after seeing how crazy/dangerous the drivers were we felt it was best to just walk. We took a tour through Notre Dame, saw the military academy, walked above the Louvre (it was a 3 hour wait to get in - no thanks), went through some gardens by the opera house, and went partially into the Opera house then turned around because there was a very long wait/it was more expensive than we expected and by that point we were sort of worn out. That night we went up to Montmantra (spelling?) for dinner and to see Paris from above. In my opinion, the perfect way to end the trip!!

Overall my Paris experience was amazing!! We hit some speed bumps due to lack of communication from our hotel and the fact neither of us speak French but I wouldn't change a second of it :) My mom cracked me up - she knows a bit of French so she would use a few words here and there when necessary, but then she'd randomly throw in some Spanish or German on accident and it caught me off guard every time. So funny! Great first trip of the semester and so glad my mom was able to be there!! Unfortunately my camera died on the top of the Eiffel Tower and my mom left her camera cord in America (ironic since my dad/her husband is a photographer) so I have a few photos from the first night but won't have any more until she gets home and emails them to me.

waiting in line halfway up the tower, our first clue to how cold it was going to be the next day...brrrr...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Part 1 of a Crazy Week

Phew...what an absolutely insane, but wonderful, 6 days it has been!! My mom arrived in Bilbao on Thursday afternoon and we spent Friday - Monday in PARIS!! I wish I could say "I picked my mom up at the bus station Thursday and we had a casual evening before our trip" and move on to the Paris details, but if you know our family you know nothing is ever that simple. So, this post is devoted to the fiasco of her arrival and my next post will include info/photos of our Paris trip.

Alright, let's rewind to last Sunday evening when I made my weekly phone call home to finalize details of my mom's trip to Spain. At that point we concluded she'd arrive in Madrid on Tuesday morning, spend 2 days touring around, then take a BUS up to Bilbao Thursday morning. I emphasize the "bus" aspect because it will become very relevant later. On Wednesday night I received a short email from her saying she would be on a bus set to arrive at 12:45pm at Bilbao AB, but she didn't know what "AB" stood for so she asked me to check before I headed over after class. To me, "AB" stood for "Abando" which is 2 metro stops down from the bus station, and as far as I knew only held trains. Telling myself to stay calm, I went into my program office after my midterm Thursday morning to get some clarification. The moment I said "AB" they said "Abando" and the moment I said "no, a bus" their faces turned from "aww we're so excited a parent is coming" to "ummm that's not possible, you have a serious problem". Very settling, right? They were very helpful as usual and called the bus station who said there were 2 busses coming 30 minutes before and after the time she wrote, but none scheduled at the exact time. Basically, I was told to hurry to the bus station and wait just to be on the safe side. I completely disregarded the train station since in the past month of planning the word "train" had never come out of my mom's mouth. So there I am, sitting anxiously at the bus station at 11:30am expecting to wait for 30 minutes. The noon bus pulls in with a large "Madrid" sign on the front window so I jump up, only to be disappointed she's not on it. I assume she's on the next bus so I don't worry. However, when the next bus should have been posted, it wasn't. I went to ask the information desk (let me tell you, I got some great practice with my Spanish during this time) and they told me no bus was scheduled until 1:15, but once that came around and I went up to ask again a different worker said 2:30. At this point I start to panic because I didn't have my computer, I didn't have a phone, and my mom doesn't speak Spanish/has never been here before. Trying to stay as calm as possible I decide to wait until 3pm (it was now 2pm) and then go to the train station just to double check - even though I was told over and over again she was going to be here based on the information I had. 5 minutes later, as I did about my 100th lap around the station, out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom standing next to a Spanish man and was SOOOOO relieved. It turns out while she thought she was taking a bus since that is what she researched in America, her hotel somehow booked her on the train and she had no way of telling me so she had to get herself from the train station to the bus station and hope I was still waiting there. CRAZINESS!!!!! Totally and completely not how I expected/wanted that day to go, but in the end it was all okay. I took her back to my apartment and then we went out for lunch and a little tour of the area then had a wonderful dinner and went to bed in preparation for Paris. Photos and trip stories will be on the next post!