Things I Learned From Studying Abroad In Spain

IMG_8085

None of the pre-departure sessions given by my university’s study abroad organization could have prepared me for the experience I’ve had while on exchange for four months.

Most people assume that a study abroad or international exchange will be the experience of a lifetime, full of new and exciting adventures that will forever be looked nostalgically upon as some of the best days of our lives.

But nobody can prepare you for the amount of curveballs that will be thrown at you, the unexpected challenges you’ll encounter, nor the countless lessons you’ll have to learn.

I’ve learned a ton of things in this indubitably exciting but at times overwhelming chapter in my life, and so I thought I’d share the top ten things (from the obvious, the difficult, the random, the philosophical, or otherwise) I’ve learned from studying in Spain this year.

1) The experience of studying abroad is different for everyone.

For some people, six months to a year living in another country isn’t the hugest transition for them; perhaps they traveled to a number of places during their childhood and early adult life, or moved out of state or out of country for university.

For others, their exchange might be the first time they’ve left their parents’ home, or even be the first time they’ve gone somewhere other than their home country.

No matter what your preconceptions are about studying abroad, no matter the things you hear, both spectacular and horrific, from other students or friends who have studied abroad, everybody experiences studying abroad differently.

No one study abroad experience is the same, but neither is a particular study abroad experience better than somebody else’s. There isn’t one way a study abroad experience is supposed to be. The best thing you can do is take advantage of the time you have while you’re abroad and make the most of it, no matter the ups and downs, challenges, or hardships that you face.

IMG_4935

2) You have more free time than you can shake a stick at.

Whether you’re taking just one class or a full course load (five classes), you will most likely find yourself with more free time than you have back home. And in Spain, especially, the university environment is pretty lax. There are no classes on Fridays, and there are constantly festivals and holidays and strikes that result in a day off from school, and many a day where professors just don’t show up.

IMG_7042

There will be plenty of days where you literally have nothing you have to do, which can lend itself to a number of things; an impromptu trip on your own or with friends to a new area of the city or a new site you haven’t been to yet; a tapas or ice cream run; or an afternoon or evening or sometimes even a full day inside, doing just about nothing.

So while some of your free days may end up being spent lounging for far too long in your room exploring social media or catching up on TV shows and movies, luckily, in a place like Granada, there are always things to do

3) Homesickness happens

Anyone who’s packed up their lives and moved into a student residence or an apartment in another city, state, or, in my case, country, will have experienced the phenomenon that is homesickness. Usually, after a brief honeymoon period of being in a new environment surrounded by new people just as scared and as hell-bent on making friends as you are, the euphoria fades, reality sets in, and you find yourself missing home. Missing your parents, missing your friends, missing your home, missing the familiar, the comfortable.

And when you’re abroad, like internationally abroad, somehow homesickness feels worse. Whether it be because you’re farther away, because you’re in a place where the language spoken is not your first language, or because you’re in a place that isn’t your home, and one that you’ve only had a couple weeks or months to adjust to, when homesickness hits it can be really tough. Even to the point where you feel down or low or even depressed and you’re not entirely sure why.

But what I’ve been told, and what I continue to tell myself whenever I find myself nostalgic, is that this is normal. Plus, I find that there are few things more special than being abroad and realizing just how wonderful your home is.

IMG_0693

4) Getting sick sucks.

Even regular colds can seem that much more debilitating when you’re abroad. Both physically and psychologically. Just like going off to college and getting sick for the first time away from home, getting sick when your family’s nowhere near you can be hard. And of course even the most benign of sicknesses often result in bouts of homesickness. See 2).

Also, sometimes, as happened to both me and one of my closest friends Lisa, you catch a bug or a virus that you’ve never had before and you have absolutely NO IDEA what it is, and you’re bedridden for a number of days. So not only are you incapacitated for goodness-knows how many days, there’s really not much you can do other than wait it out. Without family. Without the friends around who would normally come to your aid in a time like this. And yeah, it sucks.

But, just like all adversity in life, you get through it, and you get better. And life goes on.

5) No matter how careful you are, you end up spending more money than you intend to.

Food costs money. Lodging costs money, whether it be with a homestay family, in a shared student apartment, in student residence, or in a hostel. Transportation costs money. Cell phone plans cost money. International calling and postcard-sending cost money.

And when you’re going on day or weekend trips, unexpected expenses always arise. You were really tired that morning so you ordered that coffee at that train station. You forgot your water bottle, and the water here isn’t potable, so you had to spend that 1-2 euro on a liter of water. And then there’s the ever-so-occasional (or perhaps frequent) morning where you wake up and think to yourself, where the heck did that 30 euro go…and then you remember you were at a tapas bar or regular bar or discoteca (or a combination of these) the night before.

Long story short, whether you’re studying or traveling abroad, just like in real life, stuff costs money. And it’s all about budgeting, learning how to budget, and continuing to distinguish between a worth-it versus not-worth-it purchase. A cheap flight to the Canary Islands for a weekend? Worth it.

IMG_5159

A 30+ euro night out at a discoteca, buying shots for you and your friends and dancin’ it up like fools? YOLO, right? Maybe once or twice, sure, why not. But every other night? Probably not.

6) You sometimes lose almost if not all motivation to study and go to class.

IMG_8067

Here in Granada, we exchange students already have the luxury of three day weekends, with there being no classes on Fridays (at least in most faculties at UGR). Those three-day weekends are also so very easily extendable into four or even five-day weekends, if a trip seems timely at that point in time. Hence your four-day school week sometimes becomes a two to three day school week, and suddenly you’ve lost all focus as you find yourself in class flight-, hostel-, bus-, Lonely Planet- and blog- (in my case) searching, and then you look up and the prof’s done talking and your class is over and OH MY GOSH WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

(Note: I am not suggesting in any way that this is the scenario for every international exchange student studying here, I’ve just found this has been the case for me…on several occasions).

And then of course there are countless Erasmus events going on NIGHTLY, with enticing prices at popular places, and as you’re in Spain, these parties rage till the wee hours of the morning and then who the heck would want to go to a 9am or even 10am class when you don’t even get home from a night out until 6 in the morning?

While we are here for the purpose of studying, there is so much other stuff going on, so many opportunities to travel and sightsee and meet new people that at least for me, the actual “studying” and “going to school” hasn’t been at the top of my priorities list (for the first time in my life, I might add.)

7) The concept of being on time does not exist everywhere.

The concept of time in Spain is drastically different than what I’m used to in Vancouver and Seattle. Busses are often late. Class doesn’t really start right on the hour. Students show up late. Professors show up late. Actually, professors showing up 15-30 minutes late to lecture is normal…and it’s just as normal for them to carry on well past the class end time to make up for their being late.

Being on time for a social outing, whether it be for tapas, at a house party, or meeting up at a bar or discoteca, usually means arriving between a forty-five minutes to three hours late. There is a wide time frame during which it is acceptable to show up for things. And I’m the girl who’s always on time (in first year university they called me a keener…), so this whole “show up whenever” thing and “hope the party’s still going and hasn’t moved somewhere else” thing is new to me.

So let’s just say I’ve gotten used to the plans I make not actually happening or starting until a good deal later than the originally agreed upon time. And so it goes.

8) Keeping in touch with people back home can be difficult, and not always desirable.

Some friends will want to keep in touch with you regularly while you’re abroad, others won’t. You’ll want to keep in touch with certain people regularly, and you won’t want to with others. Whether it’s iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, SnapChat, Skype, or email, there certainly are easy and convenient ways to communicate with friends and family while you’re abroad. But the reality is we all have lives and sometimes someone’s first priority isn’t responding to that witty text, that long-drawn-out, dramatic Facebook message, or that supposedly hilarious SnapChat.

Furthermore, I have found that taking break from all methods of phone or online communication with people back home can be liberating. While updating your family or close friends on upcoming travels or new, exciting experiences can be gratifying, sometimes it’s nice to unplug and just live without the constant nag of technology.

When it comes down to it, if you’re on a study abroad, you won’t be gone forever. You will at one point in time return to your home, to your family and to those friends you wish you had stayed in better contact with. Nevertheless, more often than not, from that first hug after months apart, a lot of relationships revert comfortably to where they were, as if it had only been yesterday that you’d seen them last.

9) Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

Yes, that’s a quote from the Seattle rapper Macklemore. But it has indubitably been the most important lesson I’ve learned over and over during the course of this trip.

My experience with the University of Granada, for example, was nothing like I expected it would be. With its massive size, its integral role in the city, and its illustrious history, I thought for sure my chance to study in its hallowed halls would be a momentous, irreplaceable one.

However, from the clerical problems I encountered in applying here, to the frustratingly slow registration process and dysfunctional bureaucratic system, to the sometimes lackadaisical classroom atmosphere, for me, UGR did not live up to its favorable reputation. And I’ve spent far too much time letting myself be disappointed about this. If I take a step back and realize at least I ended up in one class I thoroughly enjoy, from the lectures to the required reading to (surprisingly enough) re-reading the material and composing an open-ended essay on it for my final exam, then the unmet expectation I had of the supposedly stellar experience I’d have at UGR doesn’t result in as much as a resentment or disappointment.

An example of an instance where I benefited from this lesson learned would be my trip to Paris. I idealistically assumed that the second I got there I would instantly fall in love with the iconic French city. And you know what? I didn’t. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy myself there, but it took me until my last day there to realize just how dynamic of a city Paris is, to realize that I did indeed want to spend more time there to see if the city would charm me more. I kept an open mind, gave the city a chance, made the most of my experience there, and everything turned out alright.

The Louvre

Which brings me to the last and sort of all-encompassing lesson I learned from four months studying abroad in Europe:

10) One of the best things you can do to make the most of your study abroad experience is to keep an open mind.

One of my dear friends Mika, who studied abroad this past semester in Florence, mentioned this in one of her blog posts, and I agree 100%. Being open, keeping an open mind, is the best thing to do in almost every situation. Whether it comes to meeting new people, visiting new places, trying out new tapas restaurants in new neighborhoods, checking out a new bar or discoteca, or figuring out where to go on your next trip, the single best thing I’ve done for myself in these situations has been keeping an open mind.

When it comes to people, no matter where they’re from, what their beliefs are, or what their cultural background is, more often than not they will surprise you, and you will surprise yourself with the diversity of people you end up meeting, getting to know, and even making long-lasting friendships with.

When it comes to seeing new things, you’ll never truly know how dynamic or interesting a sight is until you get there. And with an open mind, you’ll be surprised just what you take from each an every new sight you visit.

When it comes to seeking out new food and drink, well, that’s sort of a no-brainer. The more places you try, the more likely you’ll find the tastiest tapas and most refreshing and tipsiness-inducing drinks. From croquetas to berenjenas con miel and from the classic tinto de verano, the various Alhambra brand-drafts, to my new favorite, the tinto version of beer, clara con limón, Granada in particular has so much to offer in terms of food and drink, and some of the best things I’ve had in the past four months have been when I open-mindedly sought out new places or was brought somewhere new by a friend (stay tuned on a post all about FOOD!).

And last but not least, when it comes to traveling to a new place or a new country, no matter how much Lonely Planet researching you do or how many blog posts or new articles you read on things to do or can’t-miss spots in that new place or country, you’ll do yourself a great favor if you keep an open mind and rid yourself of any expectations prior to taking the trip. You’ll enjoy everything that much more, or experience less (or no) disappointment in the event that you aren’t blown away by or in love with everywhere you go (which will certainly be the case). 

935474_10151394146892547_1916038630_n

Photo cred Meghan Nolt

Granada was unlike any other experience I’ve had. I am endlessly grateful for every person I’ve met and every friend I’ve made, every place I got to see and new country I got to visit, and for the lessons I’ve learned and changes and improvements I’ve made for myself and my own life.

But I’m ready for a new adventure, a new journey to experience fully, live and learn openly, and embrace without any expectation, prejudice, or preconception. I hope at the very least to take these lessons with me, and always remember, when in a new country, a new continent, or a new environment, one in which you don’t always have control over how things will go:

when you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life

– Eckhart Tolle

With this thought in mind, along with all my other favorite quotes about life and happiness, I can’t help but add a number 11) to the list.

When an opportunity comes, seize it. Live in the moment and make the most of the moment you’re in. Life is short but sweet for certain, so live every day like it’s your last and reach for the sky because tomorrow may never come. The time is now. Chulla vida. 

Advertisements

Tourism in Granada: These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

I have been living here for over two months now, but I have still not managed to explore and experience everything this incredible city has to offer.

Granada may be one of Spain’s smaller cities (it’s the nineteenth-largest, with a population of about 240,000), so while it’s no Madrid or Barcelona in terms of size, the list of things to do here is impressively long.

The following are six of my favorite things to do here in Granada, in no particular order. Yes, all six of these are quintessential touristy things, but in my opinion, no visit to Granada would be complete without them.

1) Visiting the Alhambra

IMG_3830

Touring the Alhambra is the single-most popular tourist activity in Granada. Built in the ninth century as a stronghold and then converted to a royal residence in the thirteenth century under Nazarid rule, this complex stands today as a potent symbol of the seven hundred years of Arabic domination of the Iberian peninsula. A pinnacle of Moorish architecture, this UNESCO World Heritage site cannot be missed.

Still on my wish list: visiting the Alhambra at night

IMG_4988

As the sun goes down, the entire Alhambra becomes illuminated in a soft, warm glow against the darkening night sky. I’ve seen it many times from different viewpoints, but never been inside the complex at this time. The night visit, as it turns out, is cheaper than the general visit (8 euro instead of 13); the only difference is that your visit is restricted to either the palaces or the gardens.

It’s a goal of mine to take one of these tours before my time in Granada comes to an end; as if the palacios nazaríes don’t amaze me enough already, I can’t imagine how beautiful they’d be lit up at night.

2) Going for tapas

IMG_3609

Granada is renowned for its tapas culture, and for good reason. A refreshing tinto de verano (red wine with sparkling lemonade or simply sparkling water) or cerveza for 2 euro, followed by a free and positively scrumptious tapa? It’s a pretty hard bargain to turn down.

The tapas range from bite-size morsels, like albondigas (meatballs) or croquetas (deep-fried bites with chicken or meat and cheese inside), to a full plate of a tasty wrap or mini-bocadillo (sandwich), potatoes, and a small salad or pile of olives. My favorite tapa at the moment is berenjenas con miel (pictured above), deep-fried strips of eggplant with a honey sauce drizzled on top. YUM.

Going out for tapas is a quintessential granaino (Granadian) experience; not only do you get to drink and snack on foods from an impressive variety of both traditional to international cuisines for cheap, you get to socialize with friends and immerse yourself in the laid-back yet infectious atmosphere that you will find in just about any tapas joint on any night from 10pm onward.

Still on my wish list: go for tapas along Pedro Antonio and in the Plaza de Toros

For some reason, most the tapas bars I’ve frequented are on Calle Elvira, the narrow and often crowded street just off Plaza Nueva in the centro of Granada. But I have also heard from international friends and Spaniards alike that the street Pedro Antonio de Alarcón and the Plaza de Toros (the plaza outside Granada’s bullfighting ring) also boast a range of delicious tapas and both hip and happening taperías.

Will I make the effort to try out some new tapas joints sometime soon, despite my long-standing love affair with the Elvira hotspots, Babel and Sabika? Absolutely. Wouldn’t miss it.

3) Hanging out in the Plaza de San Nicolás

IMG_5530

With this view, it’s awfully hard not to enjoy yourself relaxing in this Plaza with friends or on your own, sitting on the wall’s edge while basking in the sun, and listening to the laid-back tunes of the locals and squatters that gather together spontaneously in song. Or go for a tinto or cerveza in one of the many outside, umbrella-ed cafés just 50 meters away.

Getting a picture of yourself with the impressive Alhambra in the background is the touristy thing to do in this Plaza; recently, though, I’ve discovered that the Alhambra views from the tower of the Iglesia de San Nicolás (Church of Saint Nicolás) are even better. You get all the illustriousness of the Alhambra with the picturesque Sierra Nevada behind it, without other plaza visitors blocking your view or getting in the way of your perfect shot.

Still on my wish list: have a dinner on a restaurant terrace at sunset

I’ve seen the view of Granada and the Alhambra from the Plaza de San Nicolás at sunset many a time, but I have yet to eat in one of the many restaurants located just off or nearby this plaza. In my opinion, indulging in a meal in the company of friends, while watching the sun set over this breathtaking monument, seems idyllic. Maybe it is uber-touristy, but I for one would like to experience it.

4) Exploring the Albayzín

IMG_5544

Meandering and letting yourself get lost amongst the whitewashed buildings and winding, narrow, and often steep cobblestone streets that make up this historic district of Granada and UNESCO World Heritage site (along with the Alhambra and Generalife) is a recent addition to my list of favorite activities here in Granada.

As a dear friend put it, even if you think you’ve seen everything and done everything there is to do in Granada, there is always another afternoon you could spend in the Albayzín, as it’d be impossible to see all of the buildings, walk down every street, and catch every unique view of the Alhambra and the rest of this city. It’s not hard to be charmed and mystified by this place, and I think it’s best explored and wandered alone. I’ve done this several times now, and each adventure is different.

I’ve been here two months and I still haven’t discovered all of the Albayzín’s hidden treasures, a fact that only inspires me to explore it further. The allure of this place has yet to be lost on me, and I can almost guarantee it wouldn’t be lost on you, either.

Still on my wish list: find and photograph as much of the elaborate Albayzín graffiti as I can

IMG_2543

There is graffiti everywhere in Granada, but I think the Albayzín sports some of the best. Stay tuned for a compilation of my favorite graffiti images from all over Granada!

5) Seeing and visiting Granada’s historic and modern buildings

IMG_5633

I’d marveled at the beauty and impressiveness of architecture before, but I think living in a city as architecturally brilliant and diverse as Granada has turned me into somewhat of an architecture junkie (if there even is such a term). The above image of the Monasterio de San Jerónimo is only one example of the hundreds of images I’ve taken of Granada’s various historic and modern edifices.

Travel guidebooks will list the Catedral de Granada and of course the Alhambra as the top architectural monuments here, but recent self-guided walking tours have led me to discover just how many impressive buildings Granada is home to. While the Cathedral and the Alhambra are certainly must-sees, they aren’t the only architectural monuments Granada has to offer; there are so many more worth visiting should you have the time.

Still on my wish list: find, visit, and photograph as many of Granada’s buildings as possible

IMG_5654

Sounds to me like another great theme for a blog post! In the past week, due to the gorgeous sunny weather we’ve been having, I took it upon myself to go exploring every day, and the list of churches, monasteries, and other historic buildings I’ve managed to visit has skyrocketed. Consequently, I have been rendered speechless and found myself in complete and utter awe more times than I can count.

And you thought only the Alhambra would take your breath away? Think again, folks, think again.

6) Running or strolling along Granada’s rivers

IMG_5443

Paseos are a thing; in Granada, virtually every person of every age and physical fitness level goes out for a walk at some point during the week, if not every day. The Río Genil (pictured above) and the Río Darro are two popular spots to go for such a paseo, and it’s not hard to imagine why.

The Genil winds to the south and it doesn’t take long to find yourself away from the noise of the city and into the quiet repose of nature. The Darro, on the other hand, runs along the western foot of the hill upon which the Alhambra looms; this cobblestoned Paseo de los Tristes is almost always bustling with tourists and locals alike and makes for a wonderful environment to find yourself in on a sunny afternoon.

Still on my wish list: meander as far as I can down the Darro and the Genil

IMG_5871

Sure, I’ve wandered along both of these rivers many times, but the fact of the matter is, they just keep going. At some point I’d like to take an afternoon or even an entire day and run or meander as far as I can along each of these rivers; I’ve heard from friends that the trails gradually become more isolated and ensconced by nature, and I would love to see it for myself.

So there you have it, my favorite things to do here in Granada (as of yet). But, unsurprisingly, there are several other things I still have not seen or experienced yet. The top three (urgent ones) are:

1) see a flamenco show

Andalucía is the birthplace of flamenco. And yet I still have not managed to make it to a show. This WILL happen. Soon.

2) visit the caves on the Sacromonte 

People still live in the caves up there, and both modern and ancient buildings built into such caves. It’s so close by, just above the Albayzín, and I still haven’t made my way up there.

3) visit the Sierra Nevada

I’ve jokingly thought to myself that the Sierra is literally my backyard, a notion which I’m reminded of every time I walk home and see the picturesque snow-capped mountains in the distance. But have I felt that snow, seen those peaks up close at the foot of the ski-hill that I found out yesterday is closing after this weekend? Nope. I’m determined to get up there though, just to say I’ve been to or stood on the Sierra Nevada, somehow, some way. We’ll see if I can make it happen.

The fact that there is still so much of Granada I still have yet to see, explore, and experience reminds me just how lucky I am to get to live here: in a city as special and as dynamic as this one, the amount of new and unique experiences you can have is seemingly limitless.

You can be sure that whether you’re on a visit, vacation, or exchange here, you will never run out of things to do.

No hay mal que por bien no venga

A couple weeks ago, this Spanish dicho came up in a conversation I had with Verónica about the ups and downs of life. While there isn’t a direct phrasal equivalent in English, it’s a saying that’s often liberally translated into English as:

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Right. We’ve all heard that one before. It’s what we’re supposed to keep in mind when we’re down, in difficult or unfavorable situations, or when nothing seems to be going our way.

With every bad thing comes something good.

While I do appreciate the optimism in these sayings, in general I think that interpreting them literally is somewhat idealistic (read: unrealistic). That said, in the eleven days since my last post, I have had an uncanny number of experiences in which good seems to have come directly from or out of bad. There have certainly been some clouds, both literal and figurative, but with those clouds have come an impressive number of silver linings as well.

Example #1: Barcelona (Friday March 1st through Sunday March 3rd)

My trip to Barcelona last weekend, once again with ESN Granada, didn’t exactly start out promisingly. The bus rides to and from the city were excruciatingly long, as well as uncomfortably hot, cramped, and stuffy. Each journey totaled 12 hours or more as we pulled into rest stops every 3-4 hours, just as the regulations of ALSA (Spain’s main bus company) require for the safety of both the bus drivers and their passengers.

Not only were these bus rides long and uncomfortable, but I am also virtually incapable of sleeping on any form of transportation, so by the time we finally pulled into Saint Christopher’s hostel near the Plaza Catalunya in the centro of Barcelona, I, just like everyone else in our group of 55, was thoroughly exhausted and craving sleep. And, as we were quick to notice when we collected our bags and slumped from the bus to the hostel, the weather was drearily grey and rain seemed imminent. Nevertheless, despite our lack of sleep and motivation to do anything other than sleep, we dropped our stuff off and immediately began our walking tour of the city.

However, any sense of relief I may have felt upon our arrival in what is supposedly the most famous, popular, and most visited place in Spain, began to fade somewhat during the first little while on our tour. After being blown away by the cities of Córdoba and Sevilla the weekend prior, my expectations of what Barça would be like were that much higher than they had been before. So while I did enjoy my first afternoon there, I have to say (and I realize how taboo and unbelievable this must sound) that overall, I was significantly underwhelmed by my first impression of Barcelona.

But despite the “bad” of the unfortunately uncomfortable travel it took to get there, the less-than-satisfactory weather conditions, and my initial disappointment in my experience of this Catalan metropolis, it didn’t take too long for little indications of silver linings to show themselves.

A most necessary pit stop for cafés con leche.

For example: a most necessary and thoroughly satisfying pit stop for cafés con leche, with nuevos amigos.

It may not be a Terra Breads latte art bear, but nevertheless, a heart on my Spanish café con leche equaled a smile on my face :)

It may not have been a Terra Breads latte art bear, but still, a heart on my Spanish café con leche equaled a smile on my face 🙂

But what really redeemed Barcelona for me was our Saturday visit to the Sagrada Familia, the magnum opus of Antonio Gaudí, the renowned Catalan architect who worked on this magnificent basilica from 1883 until his death in 1926 (check out the biography of Gaudí and a brief history of the building at its main site here: http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/index.php).

Just like the Mezquita de Córdoba and the Reales Alcazares de Sevilla I’d gotten to see the weekend before, (https://parayana.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/andalucia-la-linda/), this edifice left me breathless. I must be developing an affinity for architecture, because as the new Erasmus friends I made that weekend will tell you, I either become childishly giddy and excited or suddenly silent and awestruck when I catch sight of almost any mildly impressive building. But I think in this case, the Sagrada Familia is much, much more than just mildly impressive…I am not exaggerating when I insist that it was without a doubt one of the most miraculous buildings I have ever seen. 

La Fachada del Nacimiento del Sagrada Familia (the Nativity façade).

La Fachada del Nacimiento del Sagrada Familia (the Nativity façade).

IMG_3489

Detail of the lower half of the Fachada del Nacimiento.

Detail from the Fachada del Nacimiento of the birth of Jesus.

Detail from the Fachada del Nacimiento of the birth of Jesus.

And just when I thought I couldn’t get any more impressed or moved by architecture…

One of the Sagrada Familia's many stained glass windows, plus the awesomely unique ceiling.

One of the Sagrada Familia’s many stained glass windows, plus the fascinating ceiling.

One of my favourite shots of the beautiful stained glass windows.

One of MANY shots I have of the gorgeous stained glass windows.

As these photos and my enthusiasm in this post attest, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia was the highlight of Barcelona for me. One of the silver linings amidst the various less-than-ideal circumstances I encountered and underwhelming first impressions I had in the mere two and a half days I spent there. In the end, however, I would consider my experience in Barça to be a positive one: the conditions may not have been ideal, and the trip may have been too short, but I did get the chance to explore one of the most spectacular buildings I’ve ever seen, to meet and get to know other exchange students, and to realize the necessity of my return to Barcelona, so that I may explore it further and ascertain whether it really is all it’s cracked up to be.

Example #2: my fourth week here in Granada (Monday March 4th-today)

I finally registered for classes this week. That sentence should be followed by a massive “YAY” and sigh of relief, but the day after I registered (three Spanish literature classes and one Spanish linguistics course), I realized a) that I misread the syllabus of one of the literature courses, and that I had already taken a version of it at UBC, and b) that I was dangerously behind in the readings in another one of the lit courses, and furthermore that I most likely wouldn’t receive credit for that particular course at UBC.

And considering that the primary purpose of my exchange here is to study at the University of Granada and get credit towards my Spanish major, taking these two particular courses won’t serve my academic program in any way. So now I have to schedule an appointment to alter my matriculation…which of course we are unable to set up until after March 18th…and so the frustration and impatience with the Spanish university system continues.

Also. It rained a lot in Granada this week. Having been a Canuck for the past couple years, this shouldn’t have been a problem…but when you don’t bring rainboots, when the only pair of boots you did bring are days from falling apart, when you manage to lose your only rain jacket in Barcelona, and when you refuse to spend money on an umbrella after the one you most recently owned bit the dust, the rain becomes a bit more of an issue. In the end I did cough up 3 euro for a bright purple umbrella from a tiny little convenience store, but let’s just say the rain and the aforementioned circumstances left me with little motivation to go anywhere this week other than school.

The silver lining of this somewhat frustrating and uninspiring week? Along with one of my dearest friends from back home, who’s been studying abroad in Paris all year but came to visit Granada this week, and another UBC acquaintance who’s also studying here in Granada, I managed to rediscover as well as experience anew much of what this city has to offer, from the bustling cobblestone streets of the Albayzín and the centro, to absolutely tantalizing tapas and tintos at a number of Granada’s most popular taperías, and at long last, the brilliance and splendor of the Alhambra de Granada.

And so it was, on Friday afternoon, the only fully sunny day this week, that Lauren and I went to the Alhambra for the first time. We stayed as long as our tickets permitted us, from 2 until 6pm, and managed to see and explore the entire complex.

granada-map

A map of the city of Granada, with the Alhambra complex on the right.

Our self-guided tour took us, in the following order, to:

1. Generalife, described on my Granada tourist map as the leisure area of the Islamic monarchs who ruled over Granada took up residence on the Alhambra between the 13th and 15th centuries;

Patio de la Acequia, Generalife, Alhambra.

Patio de la Acequia, Generalife, Alhambra.

Detail from the Patio de la Acequia

Detail from the Patio de la Acequia.

2. Los Palacios Nazaríes, or the Nasrid palaces, the royal residences upon the complex of the Alhambra, and in my opinion, the most spectacular architectural component of the entire Alhambra complex (and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard);

Arch and column detail from los Palacios Nazaríes.

Arch and column detail from los Palacios Nazaríes.

Patio de los Leones.

Patio de los Leones.

I cannot get over how incredibly stunning the Arabic calligraphy is, ubiquitous on the various surfaces and walls within the Palacios.

I cannot get over how incredibly stunning the Arabic calligraphy is, ubiquitous on the various surfaces and walls within the Palacios.

More arch detail from the Patio de los Leones.

More arch detail from the Patio de los Leones.

3. The Alcazaba, the fortress or defense fortification complete with the impressive Torre de la Vela, the watchtower;

La Torre del Homenaje (the Keep).

La Torre del Homenaje (the Keep).

La Torre de la Vela.

La Torre de la Vela.

4. The Palacio de Carlos V, the palace of Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor, built in the 16th century in the years following the surrender of the Alhambra to the Catholic Monarchs Fernando and Isabel, and the end of Islamic influence in and control of southern Spain, after more than 700 years.

One interesting façade of the Palacio de Carlos V.

One façade of the Palacio de Carlos V.

Columnar detail from the Palacio de Carlos V, a prime example of Spanish Renaissance architecture.

Columnar detail from the interior of the Palacio de Carlos V, a prime example of Spanish Renaissance architecture.

All in all, my experience of the Alhambra was everything I expected it would be, and more. And unlike my experience in Barcelona, the purported wonder, awe, and bedazzlement of this particular site was apparent the instant Lauren and I began our tour. While my fourth full week here in Spain may have gotten off to a rough start, Lauren’s visit, with the added bonus of a marvelous experience at the Alhambra together, made for a most excellent silver lining to make up for all the frustration and annoyance with the weather and matriculation-related issues (and for all intents and purposes, the clouds) I was dealing with earlier in the week.

Example #3: FOOD; from boring bocadillos to tantalizing tapas

Another reason why I need to go back to Barcelona? I didn’t get a really good sense of their cuisine in the short time I was there. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the food there is a bit more expensive than here, so the majority of my meals consisted of the cheapest and most substantial food item I could find, which was a bocadillo for 2-3 euro, what I consider to be a tasty but relatively boring sandwich of (usually) jamón ibérico or serrano (cured ham) and cheese, and nothing else. While I’m a huge fan of jamón ibérico, after three days in a row of bocadillos, let’s just say I could go for a while without another one of these plain sandwiches.

But I thank my lucky stars for Lauren’s visit, as Maddy (our other UBC friend) and I seized the opportunity to take her out for tapas…multiple times, of course. And since she’s been studying here since September, Maddy has had the opportunity to go to more tapas bars and therefore knows some of the best places, all of which we made sure to hit up. Here are some of the tapas highlights from this week:

A falafel meatball with a sort of curried salad, and berenjenas con miel (deep fried eggplant with honey) at  Sabika on Calle Elvira

A falafel meatball with a sort of curried salad, and berenjenas con miel (deep fried eggplant with honey) at Sabika on Calle Elvira.

A giant falafel sandwich with hummus, tomatoes, onions, sprouts, lettuce, and some type of aioli sauce from Sabika.

My beautiful friend, Lauren, and our giant falafel sandwich with hummus, tomatoes, onions, sprouts, lettuce, and walnuts from Sabika.

Continuing the falafel trend the next day, on a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and a garlicky aioli sauce, plus fresh, homemade potato chips. And of course olives. From Babel, Calle Elvira.

Continuing the falafel trend the next day, this time on a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and a garlicky aioli sauce, plus fresh, homemade potato chips. And of course olives. From Babel, Calle Elvira.

And last, but certainly not least, churros con chocolate from Framezzini in Plaza de Bib-Rambla.

And last, but certainly not least, churros con chocolate from Tramezzini in Plaza de Bib-Rambla.

It’s been eleven days full of eating, exploring, and trying to stay dry (and optimistic) despite the poor weather, but despite being a week with various setbacks and frustrations, it’s been full and I’ve been keeping busy and (for the most part) keeping up with school, new friends, and family and friends back home. So whoever coined the phrase, no hay mal que por bien no venga, and “every cloud has a silver lining,” maybe they did have a point, in the end.

Whether or not something “good” always comes out of every “bad” thing, maybe it’s just the thought that counts. Maybe the dichos are just reminders that when life gets you down, or when things in life just don’t seem to be going your way, there always comes a point when things will start looking up. This came true for me both in Barcelona and during my fourth full week here in Granada; things weren’t as optimal as I had expected and would’ve liked them to be, but good things did follow and seem to balance out any bad that might have been.

It seems to me that to expect constant, consistent “good” would be unrealistic; life is full of ups and downs, and the most important thing we can do when we find ourselves down, is to try and get back up again.

Andalucía, la linda

This past weekend, it became abundantly clear to me that Granada isn’t the only city in Andalucía that has the capacity to awe me and leave me breathless. After my whirlwind, less-than-24-hour stints in the cities of Córdoba and Sevilla, it’s as if the travel bug within me has been sparked anew, to such an extent that rather than putting the majority of my energy and focus into my classes, I’ve been obsessively researching and compiling lists of all of the places in and around Spain I want to visit sometime in the next four months.

I knew prior to arriving in Granada that I wanted to make the most of my weekends and see as much of Spain as I could, but now that I’ve actually been somewhere else outside Granada, the potential for me to make another trip happen is now that much more conceivable and exciting.

My Andalusian mini-adventure: Córdoba until the afternoon of 23 February, Sevilla until the evening of 24 February

My Andalusian mini-adventure: Córdoba y Sevilla entre el 23 y el 24 de febrero.

The bus ride, other than being uncomfortably stuffy and humid, was relatively uneventful and got us to Córdoba sometime after 10am on Saturday. Mumford & Sons is quickly becoming my favorite travel music, except the transportation it accompanied this time was unfortunately not as smooth nor as comfortable as the BART in San Francisco (read more about my San Franciscan day trip here: https://parayana.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/sea-to-sfo-and-back/).

Nevertheless, this English, Grammy-award winning indie/folk band comprises a large part of my ever-expanding “INDIE” playlist, which also includes Imagine Dragons and Of Monsters and Men. Like my travel bug, it appears my interest in discovering and listening to new music has spiked since being here, and thanks to the suggestions of good friends and of course the Internet wonder that is YouTube, I’ve been able to expand my music library quite a bit. Suffice it to say my “INDIE” playlist provided the perfect soundtrack as I watched the Andalusian countryside roll by outside the windows of our tour bus.

In any case, it was quite a relief when we finally pulled up on the southern banks of the Guadalquivir, got off the tight and stuffy bus, and made our way across the Puente Romano through the cold morning breeze into the centro of Córdoba.

La Torre de la Calahorra (right) and El Puente Romano crossing the Guadalquivir

La Torre de la Calahorra (right) and El Puente Romano crossing the Guadalquivir.

El Puente Romano, with the Mezquita de Córdoba in the distance

El Puente Romano, with the Mezquita de Córdoba in the distance.

From there our experience of the city started off with a bang: a visit to and tour of the exceedingly impressive Mezquita de Córdoba, now a Catholic cathedral and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but formerly an Islamic mosque (for more historical and background information: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/spain/cordoba-mezquita). While I feel like I’ve always had a decent amount of appreciation for art and architecture, I did not expect to be as moved as I was by the stunning interior of the Mezquita. The following pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice. This is just a tiny sample size from my massive pool of Mezquita photos, but these are some of my favorites.

The Mezquita; this and all subsequent photos taken without flash, from my iPhone 4 camera

The Mezquita; this and all subsequent photos were taken without flash, from my the camera on my iPhone 4.

IMG_2782

The ever-repeating striped arches.

Again, the image really doesn't capture this awesomely majestic architecture

Again, the image really doesn’t capture this awesomely majestic architecture.

I also found myself extremely intrigued by the appearance of Arabic script carved into the walls, arches, and the pieces on display in various corners of the interior. I was also reminded of my dire need to finally visit the Alhambra of Granada, which like the Mezquita features surfaces upon surfaces of inscribed and carved Arabic script. I’ll get there, I know I will; and based on my experience at the Mezquita, I’m expecting to be just as if not even more moved by the beauty and precision of the architecture.

One of several inscribed slabs on display within the Mezquita

One of several inscribed slabs on display within the Mezquita.

The sheer precision here just astounds me

The sheer precision here just astounds me, and reminds me of the frieze sculptures I studied in my Greek and Roman Art and Architecture course at UBC last year.

Like I can't even begin to describe to the feeling of awe the varieties of architectural styles and features left me with

The juxtaposition of the Moorish architecture with the Christian, Renaissance additions is truly remarkable.

As I’m reflecting on my visit to the Mezquita now, I realize that I haven’t been that moved by a historical monument or edifice since my visit to Rome in 2009, where the wonder of the Sistine Chapel almost brought me to tears. What I’ve learned from experiences like these is such a simple lesson, but one that I think is extremely important while traveling in foreign countries, especially ones with histories as rich as Italy and Spain: see the sights. I remember being a kid and thinking it was such a chore to have to go and visit a museum, or take a tour of some historical monument, but now I realize sights like the Sistine Chapel and the Mezquita de Córdoba top the lists of historical sights to see for a reason.

So when in Rome, do go to the Forum and the Colosseum and the Vatican. When in Granada, do go to the Alhambra and the Albayzín and the Mirador de San Nicolás. When in Córdoba, do go the Mezquita, and, like in any city, do explore the roads and streets less traveled to experience the city from an angle different than that of a tourist. This seemed like the next best thing to do following our Mezquita tour, so together with my new exchange student acquaintances, Sarah and Meghan, both Montana natives, I set out on a spontaneous little meander through the centro.

La Torre de la Malmuerta

La Torre de la Malmuerta.

While we wandered it was siesta time, so this part of the city was almost entirely silent

At times it seemed as though we were the only ones on streets…then we remembered it was siesta time…only then did the silence make sense.

One of several cathedrals we encountered on our way

One of several cathedrals we encountered on our way.

And what do you know, there are Roman ruins in Córdoba too

And what do you know, Roman ruins…

Before we knew it, our afternoon in Córdoba came to an end and we made our way back to the busses. A view of the Puente Romano, Puerta del Puente, and the Guadalquivir, in the warm afternoon sun, made for a gorgeous last image of Córdoba to take with us.

Overlooking the Guadalquivir once more

Overlooking the Guadalquivir once more, this time from the north bank.

The Puerta del Puente, resembling a triumphal arch

The Puerta del Puente.

Last Córdoba shot from the south side of the Guadalquivir

Last Córdoba shot from the south side of the Guadalquivir.

Three hours, and a more lively bus ride later, we came to Sevilla. What can I say about Sevilla…well, for one thing, after barely a day there, I already want to live there. Where Córdoba is small and tranquil, Sevilla is alive and busy and bustling, much like the bigger cities I’ve grown accustomed to living in. So as it happens, I felt instantly comfortable in and excited by the fast-paced yet simultaneously laid back atmosphere of the centro of Sevilla.

We checked into our hostel (the 55 of us filled up every room) and headed out for a group dinner on the third floor of Los Coloniales, supposedly one of the best restaurants in Sevilla. Our first course was some sort of delicious scramble-like dish with eggs, potatoes, chorizo, and cheese, followed by two second courses dishes, one of chicken in a thick, flavorful sauce of crushed almonds, and one of their platos típicos (which I sadly didn’t get the name of) of solomillo (pork sirloin) with mushrooms and onions. I’m not sure if it was the best food I’ve had yet here in Spain, but it was definitely quite tasty.

Another impromptu wandering around the centro led Sarah, Meghan, and me to this absolutely delicious gelato places called La Abuela. For 3 euros, I bought a massive serving of coffee- and Ferrero Rocher-flavored gelato. And, honestly, it was probably the best gelato I’ve had outside of Italy. And that’s just one of the reasons why I have really come to love wandering aimlessly around new cities: you stumble upon things you never would’ve encountered otherwise. And what better things to stumble on than the Swiss fudge in Córdoba and the gelato in Sevilla? I’d say our meanderings served us pretty darn well.

The view from our hostel room taken after our gelato binge. Buenas noches, Sevilla

The view of the Plaza Mayor from our hostel room taken after our gelato binge. Buenas noches, Sevilla.

The highlight of our Sunday in Sevilla was our visit to the Reales Alcázares, an illustrious palace and formerly a Moorish stronghold, and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once again, while they do not do the palace justice, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

One of the entrances into the palace from the central courtyard

One of the entrances into the palace from the central courtyard.

Once again, I was mesmerized by the Arabic script carvings

Once again, I was mesmerized by the Arabic script carvings.

And so...

And so…

...as you can see...

…as you can see…

...the marvel of it all...

…the marvel of it all…

...including the marvel of this little fella...

…including the marvel of this little fella…

...is pretty obvious.

…is pretty obvious.

We then headed to the Plaza de España, famous for being featured briefly in two of the Star Wars movies. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of the Star Wars movies, but I suppose those who remember seeing this plaza in the movies found it exciting to see the actual plaza in person. Once again, Sevilla left me at a loss for words. This plaza is so unbelievably extravagant and impressive (I really should find another word to describe all of the amazingness I saw this weekend, but I just can’t…), I could have spent hours wandering around the square and taking pictures of every little detail, it was that miraculous of a sight.

La Plaza de España, only part of all its glory

La Plaza de España, in only part of all its glory.

The bridge that crosses the moat-like river that circles the whole of the plaza

The bridge that crosses the moat-like river that circles the whole of the plaza.

A view of the plaza from the second level of the building

A view of the plaza from the second level of the building.

Our afternoon in Sevilla ended with another paseo around the city, this time via a loop along the river (the same one that runs through Córdoba, the Guadalquivir).

The Betis strip of taperías and discotecas, from the Puente Isabel

The Betis strip of taperías and discotecas, from the Puente Isabel.

According to a scene from Homeland, when a couple places a lock on a fence (or in this case, a bridge handrail), it signifies that their love will last forever...not sure if the same applies here, but there were dozens of locks, some of which had what I assume were the lovers' names

According to a scene from Homeland, when a couple places a lock on a fence (or in this case, a bridge handrail), it signifies that their love will last forever…not sure if the same applies here, but there were dozens of locks, some of which had what I assume were the lovers’ names.

The only downside of my Sevilla experience? The Cathedral was closed that Sunday when we were there. The sight you’re supposed to see when you’re in Sevilla, the must-see of Sevilla, was closedWe did find that out entrance was open, but you couldn’t walk through the entirety of the Cathedral, so we took as many pictures as we could but grudgingly left when there was no more to see.

What do you mean, la Catedral de Sevilla esta cerrada?! Oh well, guess I have to come back to Sevilla before I leave Spain. Not a bad deal

What do you mean, la Catedral de Sevilla está cerrada?! Oh well, guess I have to come back to Sevilla before I leave Spain…not the worst thing in the world.

It's just so BEAUTIFUL. Stunning. Can't even imagine how gorgeous the rest of the interior is...

It’s just so BEAUTIFUL. Stunning. Can’t even imagine how gorgeous the rest of the interior is…

I mean, come on. WHY WON'T THEY LET US IN?

I mean, come on. WHY WON’T THEY LET US IN?

One of the few interior shots I managed to get

One of the few interior shots I managed to get.

And what better way to end a full day of walking and sightseeing than some tintos de verano? I certainly can't think of one

And what better way to end a full day of walking and sightseeing than some tintos de verano at a charming little tapería called Huelva Ocho?

So how was my weekend? It was pretty fantastic, to say the least. But being back in classes this week has been tough for me. Because I now won’t be able to officially register for classes until next Wednesday, my schedule is thus as of yet up in the air, making it hard for me to establish some sort of routine, and, like I said earlier, making the concept of trip planning that much more appealing than course work. What’s next for me? A three-day trip to Barcelona this coming weekend, and then a dear friend of mine is coming to visit next week, and in that time I hope to visit the Alhambra at last…and what can I say, I’m ready to be wowed.

But to wrap up this whopper of a blog post, I leave you with this final thought: like other high school and university bathrooms, there is an absurd of amount of quotes, complaints, and musings scrawled in pen on the doors of the girls’ bathroom stalls in the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Those of you who share my taste in TV shows will understand my excitement and dire need to snap a picture of this gem when I came upon it on Monday:

No caption necessary.

No caption necessary.

That’s right, people. Season Three of Game of Thrones starts March 31st. And you better bet I’m going to find a way to watch it. (WATCH THE YOUTUBE TRAILER, it looks so sick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzI9v_B4sxw). So there you have it. My brief Andalusian tour was an opportunity I am extremely grateful I took advantage of. Game of Thrones is coming out in 32 days…I am absolutely PSYCHED.

And as for this upcoming weekend? Bring it on, Barcelona. See you in a couple days.

Nossa, nossa…

I guess I’m not surprised that after two crazy nights in the past week at one of Granada’s hottest discotecasMae West, “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” is stuck in my head (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcm55lU9knw). Nossa, nossa, assim você me mata…the Brazilian singer Michel Teló certainly knows how to conjure up a supremely catchy tune.

My first experience at Mae West was a spontaneous one, following the Ruta de Tapas (essentially a tapas crawl) organized by the Erasmus Student Network last Thursday, Valentine’s Day. For the cool price of 6 euros, we went to two taperías at each of which we were given a drink (cerveza or sangría) and of course a tapa. My favorite tapa of the night was from the first place: I swear it tasted like chicken macaroni and cheese in a deep-fried, bite sized morsel, two of which were skewered on a kebab stick and served in a cup with delicious garlicky sauce at the bottom. Sounds weird, looks weird, but it was darn good.

Ida María and I with the strange but delicious tapa.

Ida María and I with the strange but delicious tapa.

Full from our tapas and bebidas, our group ended up back at Pub Gavanna again for the ESN-organized game night, which, with cheaply priced drinks, turned quickly into a dance party, complete with a limbo competition, more salsa, as well as group renditions of Gangnam Style and other dance numbers apparently hugely popular on YouTube (which I as of yet have never heard of nor do I remember the names of…I always tend to be behind on these YouTube sensations).

It was after over an hour of dancing that it dawned on a small group of us to head to a discoteca, and one of the Gavanna bartenders suggested Mae West, so that’s where we headed. I’m not much of a clubber, so my input on Mae West may not be trustworthy, but seriously I was SHOCKED at the size of this place. There are three separate dance floors in different rooms, all with creaky wooden floors and old carpeted hallways and staircases connecting bar and dance areas, and there were times during the night where virtually the ENTIRE space was packed tight with club-goers. And just like my good friends back home told me, the Spanish women were dressed to the nines: sky-high heels, tight dresses, makeup and hair all styled to perfection. I honestly can’t even begin to comprehend how they go clubbing and dance for hours in such get-ups. Suffice it to say I was quite content in my leggings and boots.

So my Valentine’s Day coincided with my first Spanish discoteca experience, complete with expensive cover, jam-packed dance floors, overwhelmingly loud music blasting from the speakers, and hours upon hours of dancing. The word that comes to mind to describe it is epic…but all in good (and safe, don’t worry mom and dad 🙂 ) fun.

And then came Saturday…EL DIA DEL PARTIDO. My first Primera División La Liga game between Granada and Barcelona. My friends Juan and Guido can attest to my outrageous enthusiasm up until, during, and after the match. I’d gotten to see Barça play once before when they came to Seattle to play the Sounders, but this was before I became more obsessed with the team overall and as such I wasn’t too familiar with the squad, other than Messi.

I sat alone in a corner seat (the three of us had purchased our tickets separately, and it was merely on happenstance at the Ruta de Tapas that we discovered we all had tickets and consequently made plans to meet up beforehand), but close enough to make out all my favorite players, including Messi, Iniesta, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, Piqué, and so on. The big names David Villa, Puyol, and Xavi didn’t play, but as I ascertained from some spectators sitting near me, due to their upcoming Champions League game (plus Xavi’s injury) those three wouldn’t play, and likewise Iniesta only played the last 20 minutes. Barça won 2-1, but Granada really fought hard and the stadium went absolutely nuts when Granada scored first. I managed to restrain my enthusiasm with both Messi goals, but you could tell even the crowd was in awe of his prowess, especially with his gorgeous free kick and second Barça goal.

Juan and I outside the Estadio Nuevo los Cármenes as the crowds started to gather

Juan and I outside the Estadio Nuevo los Cármenes as the crowds started to gather

THE BARÇA BUS. Yeah, I kinda flipped out when it drove up.

THE BARÇA BUS. Yeah, I kinda flipped out when it drove up.

Aaaand the Granada bus.

Aaaand the Granada bus.

Sunset at the stadium

Sunset at the stadium (blurry, but still pretty).

Picture taken in my "OH MY GOD I'M ACTUALLY HERE" excitement.

Picture taken in my “OH MY GOD I’M ACTUALLY HERE” excitement.

MY BOYS. Ok so not really, but can't a girl dream?

MY BOYS. Ok so not really, but can’t a girl dream?

The majority of my pictures of the actual match are blurry, but still, you get the idea.

The majority of my pictures of the actual match are blurry, but you get the idea.

It was a dream of mine before coming to Spain to go to a football match…but I couldn’t have imagined getting the chance to go as early into my trip as I did, nor that my first ever professional Spanish football match would include BARCELONA of all teams. I am so happy I took advantage of the opportunity and went. The ticket was on the expensive side, but it was well worth the price.

Football was followed by Mae West again later in the night, the original purpose of which was to find Ida’s jacket which had somehow disappeared in the wee hours of Friday morning. What was supposed to be maybe an hour of dancing (to make the paying the cover to get in, worth it) turned into a all-out dance party between just the two of us, sans-alcohol, sans-group of other international students, just hours and hours on the dance floor. Let’s just say we stayed later than I’ve ever stayed at a club or discoteca, including my discoteca experiences in Quito, Baños, Cuenca, and Montañita, Ecuador…but of course we made it home safe, gotta love those night busses 🙂

Sunday ended up being a very special day, one in which we celebrated Alejo’s second birthday. Several friends and family members of Verónica and Fernando attended, a long with a couple of Alejo’s little friends, and it was a pleasant evening full of delicious pastries, excellent conversation, and frolicking along with Alejo and friends.

Alejo getting more than a little excited with the candles

Alejo getting more than a little excited with the candles (Verónica and Fernando are seated on his right).

PURE JOY.

PURE JOY.

Half camera-ready, half not so much...

Half camera-ready, half not so much…

The funniest and cutest part was that my little hermanito couldn’t blow out the candles…when encouraged by his parents to soplar, to blow them out, instead of blowing out, the little bicho (bug 🙂 ) sucked in a bunch of air through his scrunched-up nostrils, but of course with the help of Verónica, Fernando, and Fernando’s brother, Alejo was able to blow out the candles after we sang a version of feliz cumpleaños…and then we repeated the process about ten more times, relighting the candles and shortening the various versions of feliz cumpleaños so that Alejo could delight in “blowing them out” again and again. Now THAT’S a way to have a good hard laugh.

"Blowing out" the candles :)

“Blowing out” the candles…

...followed by a giant YAY, YAY, YAYYYY!

…followed by a giant YAY, YAY, YAYYYY!

And what followed this fun night of hilarity and celebration? The first day of school! Although we can’t register for classes until next week, we international students can attend and check out as many courses as we want. So, both yesterday and today I went to six classes, several of which didn’t actually come to pass as the professors didn’t show up…and apparently, this is entirely normal, as well as a frequent occurrence. Additionally, much to my annoyance, classes start and end late…there appears to be no such thing as passing period, in that the professors take their sweet time wrapping stuff up until a couple minutes past the next hour, which means all of us newbies are left to run around in a panic trying to locate our next class. But after a couple rounds of that, you get used to it, and you come to realize that EVERYONE is late, even the prof, so scrambling to get from class to class isn’t really necessary. 

I’ve got a couple more courses left to check out tomorrow, then hopefully by Thursday or Friday I’ll have a concrete list of which ones I want to take. I need to take a minimum of three, but I will probably register for four, if not five, and in the event that becomes too much work I have as late as March 22nd to drop a course.

The transition is thus still in motion, as I’m continuing to get accustomed to bussing to and from campus each day, preparing snacks for the day, familiarizing myself with the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras building, and grappling with class scheduling and selection…but come next week, I’m looking forward to finally getting back to that school routine I know and thrive in, and from there, to start planning more sightseeing activities and weekend trips around Spain. To say I’m stoked would be an understatement.