Venice

Better late than never, right?

On April 3-6 (almost two months ago now, eep!) I met up in Venice with the fabulous Anjali and Asya. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I wanted to go almost everywhere in Europe, but Venice was at the top of my list. I wanted to walk through the windy streets and eat gelato and just be surrounded by good food and beauty.

I got what I wanted. It was drizzling most of the time we were there, but I didn’t care. Also, it wasn’t smelly, which I heard it can be in the summer. Anjali booked us beds in a nice hostel right in the middle of the city with big rooms and nice views. Right when I got there we walked around and got gelato and explored the city. Anjali had these great off-line maps on her phone that she used to help us navigate, so we only got lost a few times. We took lots of pictures of ourselves on different pretty bridges. That night we went to a delicious restaurant and split two different types of pizza and gnocchi. The next day we started to go on a free walking tour, but we were unimpressed so we left partway through. The guide wasn’t really telling us much information. What I did learn from that tour, however, is that there are hidden synagogues in Venice (everyone hates us Jews, I guess) and that some people have private bridges that lead directly to their houses. Yes, their own PRIVATE BRIDGES. Why share a bridge when you can have your own? I was very impressed and immediately wanted one. I decided that when I’m rich my house in Venice will have a private bridge.

Once we ditched the tour, we went right to a place Anjali and Asya had looked up before, Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta to Go. It was in a hidden alleyway (like everything in Venice) so a bit hard to find but very worth it once we found it. The people working there were very nice, much nicer than the Italian man who told us we had to pay extra to eat our gelato at the same place we had just bought it (rude). The pasta was the best I’ve ever had. We literally saw them making the pasta in front of us, and all of the ingredients tasted extremely fresh. Also, the prices were much more reasonable than anything else I saw in Venice. Since it was pasta to go, we took it and ate in San Marco’s Square. We liked it so much that we ended up going back for lunch the next day, and they gave us a discount! Besides Alfredo’s, my second favorite meal was probably the pizza place we went to on the second night. We shared two types of pizza and a calzone, and they were huge and perfectly cooked. The pizza crust was thin but didn’t sag under all of the toppings, and everything was fresh, fresh, fresh.

On Saturday, we met up with my friend, Matthew, from high school, who was studying in Prague and visiting Venice for the day. We took a water taxi to Murano, a nearby island that is famous for its glass-work. All of Venice was gorgeous, but this was probably the prettiest part. The canals were lined with rainbow houses that had rainbow glass inside. I have this fascination with glass-work, and I loved seeing all of the gorgeous creations talented people had made for their shops. There was basically everything glass you could think of, from tiny, detailed figurines to life-size models. We even saw some glass models of musical instruments! I bought a glass necklace, and the woman who sold it to me said her husband made it by hand. Each bead is black and has a different design in it.

In short, Venice was expensive but beautiful, and I’m so glad I got a chance to visit.

Image

Bridge picture

Image

View from the Bell Tower, the highest building in Venice

Image

My new beastie bestie

Image

Eating well

Image

My favorite tourists ever

Image

Murano

Image

Gondola ride (Anjali and I took the loveseat :P)

Advertisements

Morocco!

Only about six weeks after I returned from Morocco, here is my post about it!

One of the many reasons that IES is so great is that they organize a lot of trips for us, such as a five day trip to Morocco. Partly because of my horrible sense of geography and partly because Africa, I never realized how close southern Spain is to Morocco. We got from Granada to Tarifa, very very south of Europe, in about four hours. We probably could’ve gotten there faster, but Spaniards are big fans of leisurely rest stops. From there it was only about a 40 minute boat ride to AFRICA! What really amazed me was how close Africa looked as we were driving there. I was a bit slow to realize that the mountains I was looking out the window at were across the ocean in Morocco. They looked like they were on the other side of a small lagoon.
Once we got settled in Tanger, we hung out and got tea with some Moroccan students who spoke scarily good English. Side note: I didn’t know this before, but in Morocco people learn Arabic first, then French at a young age, and the most choose to learn English or Spanish as a third language. There is a big divide between the public and private schools, so those who go to private schools get a much better education and speak more languages more fluently, and the students we talked to went to private school for at least part of their education. Still, I was impressed during the entire trip at how many languages everyone spoke. It definitely made me feel insufficient with my English and developing Spanish. It also turns out that Moroccans like their tea extremely sweet. The Moroccan student we were with used up all of the sugar in the part of the cafe we were in and asked the waiter for more.

Over the next five days I experienced a culture unlike anything I had ever seen. Before leaving, our program director told us that the United States and Spain may seem very different, but after visiting Morocco we would see how similar they really are. He was completely right. In Spain, if I keep my mouth shut, I can blend in at least some of the time. I know some of my mannerisms still scream “American,” but there’s nothing drastically different about the way I look, act, or dress from Spaniards. Plus, even though my accent still needs work, I know enough Spanish to get by in most situations. In Morocco, there was no chance of fitting in. We traveled around in a big group, and it was obvious that we were westerners. It was also hard to mask our surprise at some of the things we saw, such as the huge, outdoor markets, some of which were displaying wide varieties of whole, dead animals. One group saw a cow being slaughtered on the side of the road during a bus ride, which you don’t see too much in the US.

For two nights in Rabat we broke up into groups of three to stay with host families for two nights. Olivia, Cecile, and I ended up in a huge house with a host sister who knew some English. When we first entered the house, we thought that she was showing us a lobby to a building. Everything was covered with tile, and there were benches with pillows along most of the walls. The bedrooms and bathrooms (luckily one bathroom contained a western toilet) had doors that closed, but otherwise everything was very open and super gorgeous. We felt like we had entered a magical palace instead of a Moroccan home. On our first night, our host sister took us on a walk around Rabat to show us the city. Parts of it were pretty developed and looked like it had some European influence, while other parts were people selling stuff on top of blankets on the street. It was awesome and overwhelming. Before going to our homestays, we had been warned that people in our host families may not want to have their pictures taken, so we were a bit surprised when our host sister started telling us to “take a photo!” of everything. She pointed to buildings we should photograph and we got pictures with her and with each other. Cecile has at least a couple pictures of us looking startled and confused, not realizing that another picture was being taken. We also couldn’t figure out how many people were living in the house, and who all of them were. We knew that our host sister had a lot of family who lived there, and also friends who stopped by a lot. Whenever we were home people would wave to us and tell us to sit down and eat. Some of them we talked to, or tried to talk to, for a bit. One dinner we talked to a man from Niger who was living in Morocco for a month to learn Arabic. One lunch, we sat with a sweet boy who we were pretty sure was our host sister’s brother but didn’t know any English or Spanish. To make conversation we pointed at the different foods on the table and asked how to say them in Arabic and French. One morning an adorable girl walked by our room and seemed absolutely delighted to see us. She kissed us on both cheeks and talked to us excitedly in Arabic until she realized we had no idea what she was saying. We managed to find out her name, that was ten years old, and a couple of other things, but our host sister wasn’t around and we didn’t really have a way of communicating well. Our host sister’s friend knew some English, and he told us he was a DJ in a club before listing off his favorite American artists, mostly from the 90’s. In the words of Shaggy, he told us he was a “bombastic, fantastic lover.” Before we left, our host siblings told us that their house is our house now, and that we can stay with them if we ever return to Rabat. I really hope that I do.

Though all of the trip was amazing, I think that my favorite parts were talking to the Moroccan students, going to the hamman, or public baths, and having lunch in a rural village. We talked to some students in a big group with all of us on our first day, but on our third day we split up into smaller groups with a Moroccan student for each group. The girl Olivia, Cecile, and I ended up with was very friendly and smart, and spoke beautiful English. She was studying English literature at a nearby university. Her best friend was also one of the students with us, and they talked about all of their secret boyfriends. Dating in Morocco is different than dating in the United States and Spain. Technically, they’re not really supposed to do it, but most of the students we talked to had boyfriends or girlfriends kept on the down-low. Our program gave us money to treat ourselves and the students to juice, so we all went to this gorgeous café and sat outside amongst tropical plants, living it up. After juice, we walked around, seeing a park people went to with their sweethearts and some more markets, talking about differences between Morocco and Spain and the United States. We found out that it’s hard to travel out of Morocco if you don’t have a lot of money, and even the very educated students we talked to had never left the country. The student we talked to wanted to go to California for graduate school, but wasn’t sure if she would be able to because it’s expensive. It made me feel lucky to be American, since I’ve been able to travel to so many different places without much difficulty.

After hanging out with the students for the afternoon, we regrouped and headed over to the public baths. From the people we talked to, it seems like it’s pretty average for Moroccans to go to the baths about once a week. I hadn’t showered in a couple of days, and was really looking forward to getting clean. There were three rooms, one cooler, one more temperate, and one hot. We got buckets that we could fill with hot and cold water, a glove to scrub ourselves, and some brown, liquid soap meant to exfoliate our skin. Before the hammam, we heard that when Americans go their skin comes off in white rolls that the locals call “spaghetti.” I was both disgusted and intrigued by this information. At first I thought I wasn’t scrubbing myself right, because I wasn’t getting any off, but it turned out I just had to be more patient. I got spaghetti. After not showering for a while, it felt really good to shampoo my hair, and when a Moroccan girl we went with poured warm water over my head it felt like he best thing ever. After the baths I felt very clean and fresh, not to mention closer with my group. We then got henna tattoos on our hands and forearms, which our group leader said would last longer because we had a new layer of skin after scrubbing off our spaghetti at the baths.

The next day we left Rabat and drove to a rural village to have lunch. The area we went to doesn’t get much tourism, and we stuck out even more than we did before. The people who welcomed us into their home for a meal were probably the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. A Moroccan named Simo came to translate for us so we could have a discussion with them. Over a lunch of fantastic vegetables and cous cous, the best food we had on that trip, we could ask the Moroccans whatever we wanted about their lives. Simo told us that we could ask anything, and that if he thought it would offend them he would phrase it in a way so that it wouldn’t. A woman who lived next door was there and very talkative. Simo told us that she said she was so happy to be there with us, and that she wished that she knew English so that she could talk to us better. She thought that we were smart, educated, and kind, and told us half-jokingly that she had children she could marry us to. It was very sweet and also heart wrenching to hear them talk about their lives. The village only has elementary school for the children, which is only twice a week at most, if the teachers show up. After graduating, the kids with enough resources can leave to continue to get educated elsewhere, or work on the farm with their families. The neighbor told us that all of her children are studying in the city, and while she misses them she wants them to get educated and live better lives, since farm life is hard. We asked all of the people there if they would like to go back to school if they could, and they said that they would love to. When we asked about their family lives, the neighbor said that she felt lucky with her husband, since he didn’t abuse her, was kind to her, and gave her the freedom to travel as she pleased and visit her family. The difference between what consists of a good in that village and in the United States was particularly striking and really made me think. Also, how happy they were with whatever they had, and how generous they were, welcoming us into our homes and feeding us, telling us to come back, talking to us so much. One Moroccan described them perfectly, saying, “They have almost nothing, but they’ll give you whatever they have.”

It was particularly strong in the village, but everywhere we went in Morocco people we very warm and welcoming to us. It was strange being in a part of the world (besides America) where people liked Americans so much. At first I thought they were messing with us, but it turns out that a lot of Moroccans really like Americans and American culture. I had no idea before, but it turns out that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, and they are very proud of that. Also, American music is played everywhere. I am still not used to going to countries where the average person doesn’t even speak English and hear popular American music playing in every store we go into. It was particularly surreal in Morocco, going to this completely unfamiliar country but still hearing the same music that I hear at home. Also, I know I keep repeating this, but I have never met such generous people. On our walk in Rabat with our host sister, we ran into our host sister’s former teacher. Within five minutes of talking to him, he had invited us, completely sincerely, to his house for dinner and to go to the beach with him and his family the next day. I have never met people like that before, and I don’t know if I ever will again.

On a less deep note, the food was awesome in Morocco! We ate lots of stews with chicken and vegetables, and most of the time everyone ate out of the same big pot. And with their hands! We had bread with every meal, and what you’re supposed to do is take a little bit of bread and use it to pick up food. Some people had trouble and used a fork, but I’m already constantly fighting the urge to eat with my hands, so for me it was an easy transition. After the cous cous at the rural village, my favorite meal of the trip was probably breakfast on the last day. We had a huge buffet with three different types of bread, different dipping sauces, pastries, fresh squeezed orange juice, and hot chocolate. Moroccans know what’s up.

So, in a nutshell, that’s my trip to Morocco. I hope someday I get the chance to go back.

Image

View in Tanger on our second day.

Image

Riding camels on the beach

Image

Getting dressed up and serving tea with our host sister.

Image

The guard doesn’t look impressed.

Image

View from the rural village

Image

My henna

Midterms and Semana Santa

So, this is my Spain blog, but I haven’t really been in Spain that much recently. I just finished a crazy month or so of midterms and traveling. Okay, so the midterms weren’t that crazy. You all know what tests are like, so I’ll assume that you don’t want to hear about me studying different types of Islamic arches or the subjunctive. Study abroad is really glamorous, guys.

Traveling was the more exciting part. Since late March, I have traveled to Morocco, Venice, Paris, London, and Amsterdam in that order. I am going to write about Morocco and Venice, but this post is just about the my most recent trip where Rachel and I went to Paris, London, and Amsterdam for Semana Santa (our version of spring break).

Paris:

On our first full day in Paris, (Friday, April 11th), we went to Versailles. In case you didn’t know, Versailles is HUGE! We went into the main palace, which was pretty big itself…and then realized that there are about a million more palaces. Marie Antoinette had her own special summer section, possibly for her secret lovers, apparently. Also, the palaces were dwarfed in comparison to the grounds. We took a wrong turn when going to explore the grounds and walked a couple of extra miles with some sheep. It also turns out that Versailles has its own functioning farm still, with animals and everything. Very cool. Rachel and I took a lot of pictures of ourselves with flowering trees and sat by the lake for a bit.

The rest of the time in Paris we spent in the city doing a lot of the touristy things. Our hotel was in Montmartre, the artist section, which had a lot of cool stores and great restaurants. We went up the Eiffel Tower, which freaked me out a bit because it’s so high up, but the views were awesome. I also met up with my friend, Kosta, from Quidditch, for dinner and catching up. It was great to see him, plus he could translate the menu for me. We tried to see our friend, Mikayla, from Scripps, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. On our second to last day we met up with Anjali and Asya, who are also on their break. We saw the Louvre, which we could get into for free with our Visas, and got giant crepes for lunch. We went to a park and saw ponies and a French band preforming American popular music, which really entertained me. Later, we saw the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Minus the expensive prices and the pollution, Paris was a really awesome city, and now I want to learn French so I can go back and appreciate it more.

London:

Next, we took a train to London to meet up with the amazing Selene, who let us stay in her flat and also came to the station to pick us up when we got in. The first thing we did was go to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross to get our pictures taken. We then went to get Asian fusion food, which is hard to find in Spain and which Rachel and I had been craving. Over the next couple of days we shopped around a bit, went to Speedy’s from Sherlock for lunch, rode on double decker buses, saw some touristy places such as Big Ben and the Globe Theater, and went to the Borough market where we split black truffle oil ravioli, scallops, and a scotch egg (egg cooked inside meat with cheese) and sweet potato fries. We also went to afternoon tea at a place Anjali recommended (thank you, Anjali!), which had great food and a funky atmosphere. On Tuesday night, we saw the musical Once, starring Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who. The play was amazing, and afterwards he came out so we go a picture with him and an autograph!

On Wednesday, we visited the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone and some other cool artifacts, the British Library, so Rachel could see some Jane Austen manuscripts, and then to the Harry Potter Studio Tour! The tour was probably my favorite part of the trip. We got to see a ton of the sets where Harry Potter was filmed, including the Great Hall, Privet Drive, and Diagon Alley. There was a huge room with a ton of the sets and costumes, and some of the owls from the films and people in charge of costume design were there. There were also gorgeous paintings of scenes from Harry Potter by visual artists and a huge model of Hogwarts. Honestly, it was a pretty emotional experience for me. I felt overwhelmed (but in a good way!) at how much work went into creating the world of Harry Potter, and also like I had finally made it to Hogwarts. Rachel and I took lots of pictures, and I limited myself to a Hogwarts thermos at the giant gift shop. After the tour we got Indian food at a great place Anjali also recommended (thank you, Anjali!)

On Thursday, I went to visit Anna at Oxford. She and Selene helped me figure out public transportation so I didn’t get too lost, and I got to see at the front of the top deck of a double decker bus both ways. Anna and I walked around Oxford, and she showed me lots of pretty gardens and buildings with huge, pointy fences around them to keep people out. It was really nice to see her and catch up, and hopefully I provided a bit of a distraction from her dissertation stress. After, I met up with Selene and Rachel again for Chinese food to get our last Asian food fix for a while. London was really super fun, and Selene was an AMAZING tour guide the entire time we were there. She was definitely a huge reason why the trip was so great for us.

Amsterdam:

On Friday morning, Rachel and I took two trains to get to Amsterdam. We thought we had everything planned, but when we got to our hotel it turned out that they had lost our reservation and didn’t have a room for us. Luckily Rachel had printed out proof of our reservation, so the owner frantically looked up places for us to stay. Options were limited, which Rachel and I knew when we were looking for places to stay in Amsterdam in the first place. Finally, he found us a room on a boat the captain was renting out. It turns out the boat is about two miles away from the city center, as opposed to the hotel we thought we had right in the center of the city, plus it wasn’t too nice. Our room barely had room for a tiny bunk bed, and there were a bunch of drunk, rude, Dutch people also staying there with us. We were not impressed. Still, we had a place to stay, and the city of Amsterdam is really incredible. It wasn’t like anything I had seen before. There are a lot of canals, and a lot of people have their own boats. Biking is also huge, so whenever we crossed a street we had to watch out for bikers, who do not want to stop for anything, along with cars. There was a carnival going on while we were there, and Rachel and I went on this giant swing ride with a great view of the city. Prostitution is also legal in Amsterdam, and girls can rent out windows to wait for customers. It was cool and a little strange to walk down the alleys and see them. We also had great food while in Amsterdam, from a Thai place Rachel found on Yelp to a traditional Dutch dinner we had on our last day (including goat cheese croquettes, different types of mashed vegetables with a sausage link, and tiny, puffy pancakes with butter and powdered sugar). The tulips were blooming while we were there, so we took a day to go frolic in the flower fields and of course take lots of pictures. On our last day we saw the “I Amsterdam” sign and the Van Gogh museum before returning to Spain late Sunday night.

Whoo okay I’m going to stop for now before you get sick of reading. I’m going to try to figure out how to post pictures from the trip on my blog so stay tuned. Venice and Morocco coming soon!

A Brief Update

So, I obviously haven’t been that good about updating. I’ve been wanting to, but there’s so much going on every day and I feel like I have so many other obligations and I feel so tired by the evening that it never happens. I think I’m going to stop making false promises about posts and just write when I can.

This post is just going to be a short blurb about the main things I’ve been doing, and then a poem that attempts to summarize my experience in Spain so far. Sometimes I think better through prose, but sometimes poems help me organize my thoughts better. Hopefully they’re organized in a way that makes sense to other people.

So, short blurb: Study abroad has been awesome and is also going by scarily fast. I can’t believe it’s almost halfway over! There are still so many things I want to do while I’m here! At the same time, I have been doing a lot. Rachel and I went to Switzerland last weekend, which was very expensive but also very worth it. Activities included seeing a giant flower clock, the UN headquarters (we didn’t get the tour but we saw the building!), an exclusive visit to the Swatch exhibit, and of course lots of chocolate and cheese consumption. In case you didn’t know, Switzerland has really good chocolate and cheese. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to Morocco with IES, the weekend after I’m going to Venice with Anjali, and the weekend after that Rachel and I are going to Paris, London, and then Amsterdam. I am very excited for all of these trips, since I haven’t really been to Europe before and I want to take full advantage of being here. At the same time, I know it’s all going to go by so fast, and I really do love being in Granada. I feel like I’m appreciating it more and more every day. We keep finding great new tapas places (I had an octopus tapa the other night) and meeting more new people and learning more new customs and phrases and facts. At the same time, I’m a little frustrated with my Spanish. I’m not improving as much as I’d like to, and I feel like there’s always so much to learn. Also, whenever I’m tired (which has been a lot, lately, because of school and other shenanigans) all of my Spanish completely disappears. I’ve been trying to practice more, though, and hopefully it will start improving more.

My host family continues to be adorable. My host granddaughter went to a princess party the other day, and they bought her a puffy pink princess dress and tiara, which she modeled for me. My host brother and father are going to their place in the countryside most weekends now that it’s sunny, and yesterday they asked if Rachel and I wanted to go with them sometime! We said yes, and I hope it works out. I want to see their olive trees and horses.

Classes are also pretty good, except for psychology, which is sill boring, and Islamic art and architecture, which is interesting but a bit over my head. For theater last night we saw three mini-plays which were only about 10-20 minutes each, and our teacher bought us all tapas.

I hope that’s enough for now to satisfy any curious souls. Here’s the poem:

Identity

There is an indescribable beauty to the Spanish countryside

Olive trees spaced over delicate hills

Blue mountains fading

Clusters of white houses

I look out through the bus window and feel something like longing

Though I don’t know for what

To be part of it, maybe

To lie in the grass and watch the dregs of the sunset

Instead of going back to the city

To grasp the moment of perfection

Instead of watching it slip away

Someone from band told me that I seem “less American” than the other Americans

And trust me, it wasn’t because my Spanish was better

It makes me wonder if I’m gaining a Spanish identity

Or just losing my American one

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t the words in Spanish or English to describe what I’m feeling

No actions that show my emotions

I know part of Spain is lodged within me

At least in the form of the food

We’ve adapted to the Spanish diet

Growing food babies of baguettes and cheese

Olive oil on everything

We learned how to eat oranges with knives

To appreciate wine

And to expect tapas to come with it

I’ve tried to adapt to the culture

Avoid eye contact with strangers

Two kisses, left then right, to greet friends

Don’t accepts papers offered on the streets

Guard bags against pickpockets

Try to fool people into thinking I’m Spanish

At least before I open my mouth

But still I feel I’ve learned so little

In so much time

Words I thought I knew slipping away when I need them most

Missing the key phrases in conversations

Failing to grasp the subtleties of interactions

No matter how hard I try, there are always words I can’t say or understand

Thick accents concealing the meaning of speech

Jumbled tenses

I do better when I’m hiking in the mountains with friends on weekends

Speaking in garbled English and Spanish

Exclaiming at the beauty through wordless sounds

Taking pictures but mostly soaking it in

That’s when I’m at my best

When I think about the mountains I feel

Impatient for the weekend to come so I can go back

As much as I love the urban beauty

It just doesn’t complete me

The way those hikes do

Doesn’t fill me with the same longing

Doesn’t make me want to sit and think

I want to hike with others

I want to hike alone

With others to try to talk about it

Alone to try to understand it

To think about how I can become more Spanish

Instead of less American

To form two identities

Instead of my current jumble

For now I’ll go to class

Learn the tenses

Learn the words

Talk with others

Think alone

Until the right words come to me

Classes and Spanish Life

I’m back! I’m really going to try to be better at updating from now own. My goal is at least twice a week, not every two weeks.

I’ve been busy in part because classes just started. Well actually, I guess now we’ve had two full weeks of classes, which is crazy. I can’t believe I’ve been here almost a month! Anyways, for the most part I really like my classes so far. I’m taking the required Spanish grammar class, watercolor, cross-cultural psychology, Islamic art and architecture, and I bothered the teacher of Spanish contemporary theater until he let me into the class. All of my teachers are really adorable and hilarious Spanish people who I like a lot. My Spanish teacher always a big smile on his face, uses the Simpsons in all of his examples, and is pretty much universally adored. I just hope we do something besides the past participle soon. In watercolor we’ve mostly been drawing apples and vases, but on Monday we went to this gorgeous garden to draw. The teacher cracks me up, and I’ve been learning some art terms in Spanish. My psychology teacher seems really nice, but unfortunately the class is pretty boring so far. It feels like an extension of orientation, where we talked endlessly about cultural differences and culture shock. At this point we more than get it already, and no one’s saying anything new. I’m hoping it will get better, though! Islamic art and architecture is really interesting, but at times it’s a little over my head. I have about zero background knowledge on the subject, and it’s a lot of new information. Plus, I’m still figuring out how to take good notes in Spanish while getting all of the lecture. But I like it a lot! We meet twice a week, both times on Wednesdays. In the morning we have a lecture, and in the afternoon we go visit a site. Yesterday we went to the museum at Alhambra and learned about the Islamic art there, which was very cool. Theater is taught by the program director, who, as one girl put it, is everyone on the program’s platonic crush. He’s the perfect teacher for theater, since he’s very dramatic and engaging and easy to understand. We also go see eight plays for free. Last week we saw this amazing show performed by a very buff Australian Aborigines woman, which luckily for us was mostly in English! Tomorrow we’re going to see a play about a meat factory that is also a political commentary, I think? I’m hoping it will make more sense when I see it.

In other news, I belatedly celebrated my birthday last weekend. Our platonic love (program director) recommended this amazing felafel place, where we got gorgeous bowls of humus and pita and hands down the best felafel I’ve ever eaten. I also bought a chocolate cream cake with nuts and three different layers and a chocolate shell that went all the way around it. The man working at the restaurant not only let us eat the cake there, but gave us a knife and forks and plates and played happy birthday for me. Afterwards, we hiked up to this club on a hill with a great view of the Alhambra. The walking was rough, not only because it was a steep hill we were climbing in dressier clothes but also because of all of the food bouncing around in our stomachs. We heard that girls could get in for free for Valentine’s Day, but we found out when we got there that you were supposed to write on the wall of the Facebook event first to get in (whoops). Luckily they still let us in. There were a lot of Americans there and a lot of American music, which felt weird after getting used to Spanish, but it was very fun. Unfortunately, I got sick the next day, but I’m mostly over it now (I hope).

Also, my wonderful friend, Abby, from home is visiting this week! She’s staying with our friend, Rebecca, who is on IES for the entire year and is living with Spanish students in an apartment. Yesterday was Rebecca’s birthday, and she had a great party at her apartment. Abby is unfortunately leaving tomorrow morning, but tonight we’re going out to dinner at the felafel place we went to last week.

Time to take some cold meds and wake up a bit before I go out. I’ll try to write again soon!

End of Orientation

Whew, I haven’t been that good about updating. I feel like I’ve been busy every day, and when I’m not busy I’m exhausted. But today has been a pretty chill day. Besides sleeping in really late, all I’ve been doing is watching TV (including The Simpsons in Spanish! Who would’ve thunk it?). So, I don’t really have an excuse not to write at the moment. I’ll start off but elaborating on my past excuses for not writing more sooner.

Granada has been amazing, but also very physically and mentally draining at times. I’ve found out that Granada being a walking city is 100% true. There are always a lot of cars on the (narrow) roads, but there are also always people on the streets. Rachel and I walk to the IES building every day, which is a little less than a mile away. In my orientation class, we went on walks around the city most days. I’ve also been running with some friends in an attempt to work off all of the food I’m consuming. In addition, I’ve also taken several unplanned walking tours of the city (and I’m sure there are more to come) which add to my commute (by about two hours the other day). To Spanish people, this is completely normal (well, besides the getting lost part). A “short walk” to get somewhere is about 30-45 minutes, and they never seem to get tired. I’m hoping this means that soon I’ll be completely used to walking everywhere, and I’ve already started to get used to it. I do really like walking, and Spain is a gorgeous place to explore by foot. However, at the moment my feet are constantly hurting and it’s been raining a lot, so I’m always glad when I can sit down indoors. I’m hopeful that both the weather will get better and that my body will toughen up soon, though!

Also, Spanish people stay up LATE. We eat dinner around 9 or 10, and if you want to go out, discotecas only open at 11:30 or 12 at the earliest. There was a lady’s night on Wednesday at a discoteca nearby, where women got in for free and got free sangria and beer and food before about 1 or so. For the most part it was pretty fun, but the party didn’t really pick up until around 1:30, so the next day I was pretty exhausted. Even with a built in siesta, I don’t see how Spanish people stay up so late and get up so early. They’re probably just made out of tougher stuff.

It can also be hard to speak in Spanish so much. Most of the American students talk in English to each other (though lately we’ve been trying to talk in Spanish!) and all of the orientation leaders speak English, but it’s still a lot of Spanish. We speak in Spanish at our homestay, Spanish in restaurants, Spanish in class, etc. Most of the time it’s okay, but when people start talking really fast for a long time I can’t understand them that well. Also, when I’m tired my language skills are shot. Even at my best, I can’t always say exactly what I want to, and it can be frustrating trying to get my point across at times. I want to make Spanish friends, but after extended Spanish conversations I feel stupid and tired. One orientation leader told us that right now we’re “mentally retarded” in Spanish. While that’s not the most PC way of putting it, it comes close to how I feel sometimes.

All whining aside, Spain has been a beautiful and culturally rich experience so far. Everywhere I look there are great views and unbelievable architecture. I also went to a band practice on Thursday with Rebecca, who’s in Granada for a year. The practice was fun and pretty laid back, and it was nice to be part of a band again. I was feeling pretty tired and overwhelmed on Thursday so I didn’t talk to that many people, but I’m hoping it will be a good way to keep playing music while in Spain and to meet new people.

We also had a trip to Ronda and Sevilla on Friday and Saturday, where we walked a lot, saw more beautiful views and sites, and a flamenco performance. I also had part of my 21st birthday in three Spanish cities. It was a good trip and Rachel got me some funny socks, but I was still feeling sad that I wasn’t in the U.S. for my birthday. 21 isn’t really a big deal in Spain, since you can drink from age 18 and the attitudes about alcohol are more relaxed in general, and I was wishing that I was home so that I could celebrate with my friends. That aside, I’m pretty happy to be here. Classes start tomorrow, and I’m excited!