Saturday, April 23, 2011

Picnics, Bikinis and Geese Induced Panic Attacks: April 1-3, 2011

The longer I live in Sevilla, the more I realize that I didn’t really know anything about the city before I came. I tend to make assumptions about things in my life, and play them off as true, then confess that I had no clue what I was talking about after everyone realizes I’m wrong. It normally sucks because I love being right, it’s in the top 10, along side chocolate, garlic, cheese, college a cappella and people watching (I have friends…why?). I kind of just went off of the little that I remembered of Sevilla, and my mom’s knowledge when it came to packing and what to expect weather wise. For once, I was right, and it’s glorious. It’s been spring weather since the middle of February and it’s just now starting to get hott. To once again note the difference between Sevillanas and Americans: I wear sundresses and sandals to school, and everyone else is wearing jeans, boots, sweaters and the ever present panuelo. It’s 75 degrees out, I’d rather not die of heat stroke, I’d rather get stared at, it’s the lesser of two evils at this point. Getting back to the point: my friends and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather.

On Friday I had made plans with Virginia, my intercambio. The last time we saw each other I was telling her about all of the American things that she’s only seen in movies (yellow school buses, garden gnomes, cheese fries, and most importantly, prom). She then asked if we wanted to go on a picnic, because she had never done it before, I immediately said yes, because I agree to almost anything that involved food. Hannah, Ellen, Liz and I packed some snacks (we made about 12 Euro worth of Guacamole) and met up with Virginia and her friends Laura (her ever present roommate), Sergio and Andres. We ended up running into our friend Jenny, who joined us. We picked a nice grassy spot along the Gualdquivir River and just hung out, tried to speak the other’s language and talked about slang in our respective languages. Speaking to people from Spain is always funny, because you find out what they think American’s say, and normally it’s semi ridiculous such as “I’m gonna break your face” and “peace out players”. Laura’s lanky and silent boyfriend joined us for about 10 minutes, but brought nothing to the table besides discomfort for the rest of us. It was a nice and very hot day, despite the fact that a family of geese almost attacked us. By attacked I meant they were less than 100 feet away from us and I may or may not have started to cry, because my biggest fear is not flying, or heights or even bugs, it’s birds; specifically geese. After I entertained my friends with my wimpers and running away, we all felt sleepy and full from all the sun/guacamole and went our separate ways. I was wearing a dress, and got some awkward tanlines (a common theme for me in Seville) but I was excited to fix said tan lines in Huelva, a local beach city, where we were going the next day.

Girls on our program have gone to Cadiz before to go to the beach, and we were told that Huelva was closer and cheaper, so about 8 of us decided to check it out. We took the bus at around 10, which would get us to the beach at around noon, then we thought we’d spend several hours and head back around 5. Unlike the beautifully hot day we had the day before, it was cloudy and miserable. We got off the bus thinking we could just walk to the beach, as advertised, oh no, you had to get on anther bus, then walk to the beach from there. We were all pretty disappointed because it ended up being a longer trip than Cadiz, and only 2 Euro cheaper. I would like to say that the weather is what makes me dislike Huelva so much, but alas, Huelva is where dreams go to die. I often say that about Binghamton, but at least the 5th cloudiest city in the country has a couple bars, and more than 19 people. I once encountered a woman who teaches English there and she mentioned that it was the armpit of Spain, not I know what she means. As miserable as this day was, it was a milestone for my life, it was my first time wearing a bikini...ever. I'm not normally a huge fan of showing a lot of skin, and have had weight issues in the past, going so far as to losing almost 30 pounds a little less than a year ago. Spain has not been so great for me weight wise, but I'm using this as a time to enjoy the delicious food while it's still available to me. My two friends, Jenny and Ellen took me shopping to a store that had bathing suits for older women, which is perfect for me because the bottoms actually cover things and the tops actually hold you up. Shockingly enough, it was a very pleasant experience and I think it's because I'm in Spain, and old wrinkly ladies go topless, so I can wear a bikini and not get judged. My poor little stomach saw light for the first time, and I think it was almost better that Huelva is a cloudy, miserable city, because I could have gotten badly burned otherwise.

It was cloudy and kind of cold, but we spent the day anyway. I honestly think Huelva took some of my tan away from me it’s just that miserable. But then again, a bad beach day is still a beach day, therefore, I shouldn’t be complaining. I’m going to miss this carefree life. The real world is not ready for me yet.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"How can you tell I'm American, my clothes?" "No your clothes are fine, it's the fact that you look afraid when you walk down the street"

There are many reasons why I love Spain. Many of the them are half joking, because the culture of Spain and the United States is so vastly different. Here are some things I’ve noticed.

1) Beer:

Beer is basically like juice here, in the sense that it’s a drink for any time of the day. In McDonalds I see parents with their kids enjoying a cerveca. Today, there was a run at the University, and there were no water stands, there were however, Coke and Cruzcampo stands. That’s exactly what you need when you just ran(granted, it was around the school, I think the slowest time was about 3 minutes) is an icy cold Cruzampo. I like the mindset of these people.

2) Fashion

The fashion in Spain is infinitely more elegant than the fashion in the United States. Apparently, if you wear sweatpants to class, the teacher will give you a worse letter grade because it is disrespectful, I would have failed college by now if that were the case. Sandals? Are you kidding? We aren’t cavemen here in Sevilla, we wear 4 inch stilettos to class. Oh yeah, because that’s practical. Short’s are only acceptable when worn with tights, even fishnets. In America, a woman with tights, fishnets and heels would be a hooker, in Spain, it’s fashion!

Sidenote: babies under the age of 3 are almost ALL in shorts and brightly colored tights, even the boys. It's awesome.

3) Public Displays of Affection

PDA in America does not fly, the most anyone will do is hold hands, maybe a peck depending on who you’re with and your level of intoxication. It is not uncommon for me to walk through the park and see two people furiously going at it, even go so far as to be straddling the other…in a park…in the daylight. More power to you, honestly, Mozel Tov, but don’t look at me like I have 5 heads if I’m looking at you. You’re the one devouring your significant other, not my fault.

4) Food

Food is a social time in Spain, and it meant for enjoyment, you do NOT get any food on the go, unless it's a bag of jamón flavored chips (yes, ham chips, I kid you not). Coffee to go exists here, but is only really acceptable at Starbucks, which is really only in Spain for Americans anyway. If you ask for the check before you're done with your meal, the waiter will ask you if you didn't like the soup, in very broken English. I would know, because that happened to me last week, all I wanted to do was pay, and he was disturbed about the fact that I didn't lick the bowl of the soup I ordered. A person never eats or drinks by themselves, and there is never a thing as too many tapas, which is something I can get very used to.Peanut butter is super hard to find and 4 euro, that is not something I can get used to.

5) Overall demeanor:

As you can see from the title of this post, I once asked one of my Spanish friends, Alberto how he can tell I was American. I wear scarves, I try not to wear flip flops and was doing my best to fit in. What he told me is that Americans almost always look frightened when they walk down the streets. I started to wear sunglasses so no one could see the fear in my eyes, and it worked for a while. Now I've pretty much figured out how to act like a local.

a) Walk with a purpose, you should look like you know where you're going, even if you have no clue.

b) Look ahead with that icy Spanish stare, like you could turn anyone into ice, because sometimes I think Spanish women can.

c) Don't rush, this is Spain, people can and will wait for you, 15 minutes late is early here, walking with a purpose and walking fast are two different things.

d) Never, ever move when someone is walking toward you, walking in the streets here is a huge game of chicken, and the other person has to lose. It's frightening, but if you move pre-maturley, you'll look like an "extranjera"

Monday, March 28, 2011

6am flights, Pubcrawls and Gaudi: 21st Birthday weekend in Barcelona

Weeks ago my 2 apartment-mates and I planned a trip to Barcelona, which happened to fall on the weekend of my 21st birthday. The cheapest flight home we could find was at 6am Sunday, my birthday. Every American's 21st birthday has an expectation of drunken antics, which is what I wanted mine to be, and my being drunk on an early morning flight back to Seville is not something I thought I could handle, but I was assure everything would be fine. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Our plan was to spend about half the day in Barcelona on Friday when we landed, sleep in a hostel, then store our stuff in the hostel, go out Saturday night, grab our stuff and run to the plane. It shockingly, all went according to plan.
Friday afternoon we landed around 2, and got to our Hostel around 3. We had a very pleasant walk down La Rambla until we actually got to the street of our hostel, which was flooded with prostitutes. Correction: it was flooded with old prostitutes, at 3 in the afternoon. Needless to say, we were NOT liking Barcelona very much. Our hostel however, was not anything like the street it was on. The actual block and the blocks after were not ridden with hookers, so we did feel safe there. The hostel was nice and clean and had very helpful staff, it was a very nice surprise and a great first hostel experience. Once we put our stuff down we set out to get something to eat, where we stumbled upon a fantastic pasta place and made some new friends, who told us what sights to see/clubs to go to. The rest of the day was spent walking, and by rest of the day I mean until 2:30 in the morning. We walked all the way to La Sagrada Familia, which was breathtaking, and before that wandered around the city with some of my friend Hannah's friends and saw the Gaudi houses. We then took the hour trek back to the hostel, ate, got ready then walked down to the beach to go to Icebar. After an hour walk, and realizing the bar was open for 20 more minutes and 15 euro, we cabbed it home to get at least some sleep before the most insane day ever.

Saturday was amazing. We started off with a free tour of the Gothic quarter, where we got some cool history of the city, and saw the other cathedrals and squares that you may not see on your own. After a delicious vegan lunch in the Placa de George Orwell (also know as "placa de trippy" known for it's nighttime drugs) we took a metro to Parc Guell, the park that Antoni Gaudi designed. It was literally like walking into a Dr. Suess book, I was on cloud nine. The rest of the day was spent people watching and shopping around Las Ramblas before my birthday dinner in la Placa Real. It was about a 40 minute wait, but the line was worth it, the food was wonderful, and the sangria knocked us all on the floor. We ordered half a liter, which is a good sized pitcher, Hannah and Ellen each has a glass and a half, I had four, which I think was a great start to my night.

We decided to go on the pubcrawl that was offered by the same company that ran our tours, it was only 12 euro for entrance to each bar with a free shot, and it was near our hostel, so we could leave early and get to the hostel. The pubcrawl was really fun, we made some new friends, including 2 Canadian med students studying in Dublin, a guy on his spring break from Georgia and our German tourguide.

Speaking of Germans, as soon as the clock turned to midnight everyone who knew it was my birthday yelled and screamed as I took my first shot as a legal eagle. Two German men immediately started talking to me, and gave me some of their beer, because they knew how important the 21st was in the US. One of them, Danilo, taught us how to say "do you have a phone number" in German, which is clearly something I'll need later in life. The rest of the pubcrawl was a blur of shots, pictures and random European people singing happy birthday to me, I couldn't have been happier. At around 2 (well 3 because it was daylight savings time) I was lead to the hostel where we got our stuff, and then was lead to the bus to get our plane. After a little sobering up, I made it through the flight in one peace, and was awake just long enough to walk into my apartment door at 9:00. 21st birthday well spent.

And now, a very long sidenote. Why I love hostels:
Sometimes my friendliness walks the line of friendly and creepy, I like to know everyone's life story as soon as I meet them and I will remember you the next time we meet, even if our first encounter was brief. The great thing about hostels is that everyone is either alone, or with a small group of people, and are normally new to the city you're in. Everyone is friendlier than they should be, and asking someone where they are from and why they're in your hostel is normal and accepted clearly I was in heaven. I love learning about people, which is why I want to go into Psychology, that way I can get paid to be nosey. We met some interesting people in our hostel, the woman who worked the desk was from Sweden and was just traveling around before the settled down, there was a boisterous girl from England who was in Barcelona "on holiday" and loved hearing about life in NY. I have a feeling I'm going to be a cruise person when I get old, because I'm gonna want to sit at the assigned table and pry information from the other guests. For now, I'll stick to youth hostels.

Irish Step Dancing, Mezquitas, and Food babies: St. Patrick's Day Weekend

My program to Sevilla is very different than other programs I've encountered. Because we are a program through a school, and not a separate company, we are significantly smaller (14 as compared to 80-150 in other programs). What I've also noticed, is that other programs go to several excursions, such as weekend trips to surrounding cities. Our program director, Miguel says that our orientation (Granada and Marbella) was our excursion, but we did do one final trip as a group of us, a day trip to Cordoba.
We were all excited for this trip until we heard the two most important facts:
1) We left at 9:30 in the morning
2) We left at 9:30 in the morning, AFTER ST.PATRICK'S DAY.
This facts were not good.
Americans, and American college students specifically find any excuse to drink, and an Irish Catholic holiday is one of those days. The night before (a Wednesday might I add, apparently I'm a weekday drinker, who knew) we ran into our friend Toba (Russel Brand and Borat) who told us about an Irish pub very close to us, so all 14 of us, for the first time all semester got ready and went out together. O'Neals is a pub right by our house, which is great because normally all of the good bars are a solid 20 minute walk away. The bar was filled with abroad students decked out in green, and Spanish people trying to figure out why this holiday was important.
We didn't stay very long, just enough for me to have my pint of Guiness and to convince people that my friend Amanda, who irish step-danced for the entire bar was actually from Dublin.

The next morning, we all rolled into the lobby a little woozy and as ready as we could be to go to Cordoba, a city about 2 hours away from us. It's most famous for their Mosque, which has huge candy-cane striped arches, and has a Cathedral inside it from when Ferdinand and Isabel took over Spain.
Once again, Luis was our tourguide, and the girls on our program giggled through his very informative tour. My favorite part of the day was lunch, partially because of the AMAZING food we had, and partially because we found out more about Luis and Rocio, the people who have helped us most on the trip. Rocio, who gave us tours on Friday mornings has 2 doctorates, one in theatre and in art history, she also has written many books and hosts her own series of lectures online. This is the woman who I've been calling "tour lady" for 5 weeks, I feel silly. Luis, whom I've spoken about many times has his post-grad degree in art history and has written one of the best books on Velasquez. This poor man is brilliant and has to deal with 14 giggling girls every week, what a trooper.

The dinner was delicious, and I ate my weight in croquetas, Salmorejo (thick cold veggie soup topped with jamón) and a monkfish/shrimp kabob. I didn't eat again until the next night's dinner.

I cannot believe how this is flying by, this next month is going to be crazy

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Glitter, Botellon and 300 Minnie Mouses (minnie mice?): Carnival in Cádiz

For those of you who don't know me, my favorite holiday is a tie of Thanksgiving and Halloween. Presents don't mean much to me, I really only like food and costumes, especially costumes that are just an excuse to wear way too much glitter. This past halloween I walked down the stairs of my house dressed as a "greek goddess" and the first response I got was "What are you? Why is your chest sparkly?" I also somehow made up some excuse to be sparkly as a pumpkin. Moral of the story: I effing love glitter, probably more than an (almost) 21 year old should.

When I found out that Spain, specifically the city of Cádiz was known for Carnival, I was ecstatic. Here is a holiday that, unlike halloween has a somewhat wholesome purpose (trick or treating and such), the point is to dress in costume and drink in the streets. SIGN ME UP! Also, to my utmost joy, the cheapest costume in "Fiestamania" was pink fairy wings. Tell me a fairy that wasn't sparkly? It was my JOB to be covered in glitter, Carnival was already my favorite holiday and it was still a week away. I got to the bus stop with some girls on my program to see a sea of pirates, hippies, matadors, fairies, and one orange tree. The group of 10 coach buses (about 400 people, probably more) made their way to Cádiz, about a 2 hour drive from Sevilla.

Basically, Carnival is a huge party in the street. Thousands of people dressed up in insane costumes are walking around the streets with their respective botellons (outside drinking). It was a madhouse, and it was an experience that I'll never have again, and probably never forget.

Before I list my favorite costumes of the night I feel like I have to say this. My friend Kaitlin, who is turning into one of my closest friends on the trip dressed up like Minnie Mouse. She ended up a free day trip with the tour group we went on, because she made her own costume (ears, etc). Besides that, she met about 40 minnie mouses (mice) because there were huge groups of girls all dressed in the same costume, and ALL minnie mouse! Los españoles le encana Walt Disney.

Favorite/Most Popular Costumes:
--Scrambled Eggs
--The Ghost Busters Crew (complete with a guy dressed as a logo!)
--Duff Man (yes from the Simpsons)
--Ronald McDonald
--Green Army Men

That's all for now! This weekend we're going back to Alfalfa, an area with outdoor bars and to a club to see a local band play.

Hatsa Luego!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My experience in Morocco and their various homeless men...

I thought that when I came to Spain, I could just hop on a train or bus and go anywhere I wanted in Europe. While that is kind of true, it is more difficult to travel then expected, especially because we got to Spain pretty late in the game, and prices went up. The one place I always said I would go was Morocco, but only because I wanted to brag to people that I was so close to Africa.
I am so glad I went to Morocco.

I went there with 8 other girls on my program through DescoverSevilla (a travel company based in Sevilla for study abroad students), and for 180 Euro, we spent 2 days 2 nights in Morocco with food and travel expenses included. Our hotel was in Tangier, where the ferry was, and we spent one day in Chefchaouen and one day in Tétouan.

I live on Long Island, and have been to Manhattan more times than I can remember, and I tend to pride myself in knowing how to dealing with homeless men, and in turn, I make myself sound like a "New Yorka". I came to Sevilla, and started dealing with Gypsies, who will read your palm for 40 Euro. Neither of these hold a candle to the men in Morocco. We left the hotel and were swarmed by vendors all selling silver bracelets, leather bags and various "moroccan" items. One man even had a mirror and would put it up to you whilst saying "YOU LOOK NICEEE" in his best Borat voice (which was probably not an act).

Chefchaouen, about a 2.5 hour ride from our hotel is beautiful, with it's white washed buildings and bright blue doors. It was basically what I expected, with many winding little streets, and semi-dirty children playing in them. As a group of 30 Americans, we got stared at, and cat called in at least 3 languages, but it's to be expected. I felt a little uncomfortable walking the streets, not because I felt unsafe, but because I felt badly about being an abroad student, touring this city, while there was poverty all around me. At the same time, I think it was very good for me to see it. We were supposed to go shopping there, but we got to the square with the shops after our walking tour, and were told that there was a "peaceful protest of about 500 people" that was going to happen, so we all scurried to the bus for an early departure. Apparently, 500 people don't even live there, but no one wants to be "one of the 45 American students caught in the violent outburst" on the news, so we booked it home.

The next day we went to Tétouan, which I found to be very similar to the last city, "well, you've seen once Moroccan city you've seen them all". We went to a Berber Medicine shop, where we showed us all different kinds of spices and teas, and where you could get massages from men who were, to quote my friend and former housemate, Jamie "dangerously close to cute" for only 3 Euro. We also went to a rug store, where very pushy men tried to make you buy beautiful rugs, for like low low price of 100 Euro. The interesting thing about bartering, is that they give you a price that's about 4 times the amount that the item is actually worth, so you have to offer them a laughable number so you both come out happy.

I'm not a huge shopper, but I did want to get something from all the crazy shops we went to, I ended up getting a bracelet for 300 dirham (3 euro) and 2 wooden camels for 500.

It was actually the first thing we did, and it is something I never thought I would do. Although, it was much like pony's rides a a circus or a rich kid's birthday party. You get on the Camel, and a man pulls you around for 5 minutes. Although, unlike the circus, the man pulling the Camel kept yelling "OH SHEET, OH SHEET, OHMYGOD, TAKE A PICTURE TAKE A PICTURE". The Camel was bumpier than expected, but have very gentile personalities, and erred on the side of adorable.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Blanket and Me

This isn't really a post about anything terribly important, just something I thought about today. The temperature here is significantly more pleasant than it is back home, and even though most of the days are in the mid 60's and sunny, it's winter. People are bundled up in winter coats, I've seen babies in snowsuits a la "A Christmas Story" and I walk around in a sundress and flats. Needless to say, I get stared at and I'm immediately pegged as an American. And despite the fact that it apparently the dead of winter, the heat in my apartment is never on, and it does get pretty chilly at night. Our third day in Sevilla, we went on two missions. Mission 1: Get Phones. Mission 2: Get an extra blanket. Luckily for us, there was a fabric store two fronts down from the phone store, and we all got 3 Euro fleece blankets.
I love this blanket. I wasn't really one for security blankets as a child, and I had stuffed animals that I slept with (bear and doggy, I'm really original), but I didn't sleep with them until an embarrassing old age like people I know. This blanket has become apart of my everyday life. I don't know what I would do without it. For such a cheap blanket, it keeps me incredibly warm, and I also know where it came from, so I'm not afraid to have it near my face, like the blanket that came with my apartment. I am afraid of one thing, washing it. We have a washer in our apartment, but no drier, and we still haven't figured out the word for fabric softener, so all of our clothing is air dried, and get's stiff once washed. So not only will I be without my little blue wonder-cloth for at least 3 days (because things NEVER dry), it would also be like sleeping with a burlap sack. I don't think I'll ever wash this blanket. Which also means, it will just have to stay here in Spain, because it will get burned once I come back to the cleanliness that is my home on Long Island.