A Travellerspoint blog

October 2014

Over the Mountains and through the Woods

Current Anxiety Rating: 3 (aka Midterm denial)

sunny 80 °F

Hello all,

As some of you may know, I have been looking high and low for signs of Fall ever since October rolled around. Fall is a beautiful thing! Crunchy leaves; the smell of wet grass; that breezy, crisp fresh air in the morning; delicious McIntosh apples! It is the best! Don't fight me on this. Granada, on the other hand, has been stalwartly ignoring the changing the changing season like a 29 year old on the eve of their 30th birthday. Mother nature seems to be taking the just ignore it and it might go away approach. And with a good deal of success. The past few weeks have been a mix of (don't shoot!) mid-70's to mid-80's, with no rain in sight. This is all very well and good, but I. Want. Fall.

And, lucky for me, I did manage to find it. In the upper Sierra Nevadas of all places. (Which usually, this time of year are covered in snow, so go figure). This past weekend my program hauled about sixty of us up an hour's worth of switch backs to Los Alpujarras, and it was absolutely breathtaking. We arrived in the morning to our hotel and dropped off our stuff before promptly heading off on a hike that lasted about 5 and a half hours (plus a half an hour for lunch). I am not usually the type of person who is like "5 hour hike? Yes. That is my jam." As a general rule, if something requires 5 plus hours of walking, I am out the door before you finish asking me to do it. But when in the Alpujarras...

It was so worth it. I saw grass, I tell you! Actual grass! Whole patches of it! I stepped on more crunchy leaves than I have seen in the last month! It smelled outdoorsy!!! (Side note: Downtown Granada has a tendency to smell like a combination of a gas station and chain-smoker, so pristine, non-polluted air felt heavenly on my lungs). I was a happy camper.

See Evidence of Said Grass, Leaves, and Alpujarras in all its glory:

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After we returned to the hotel, we all basically collapsed into our respective beds and showers, though not necessarily in that order. The next seemingly insurmountable task was trying to get myself to remain conscious for the next three hours until dinner. Also, on a different note, our hotel room was outrageously amazing! The view was absolutely incredible.

Take a peak:

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After the three hours of putzing around and generally griping about being hungry, we all descended on the hotel buffet with the mania of a bunch of wild animals. There was so much food. And I was so hungry. And I had only one face to eat it with. The dilemma of it all. We all ate ourselves nearly to bursting and then waddled back to our room for some well earned sleep.

The next morning we said goodbye to our Fall mountain paradise and were whisked off to Nerja, a town situated right on the Mediterranean Sea. And when I say whisked, I do mean whisked. The bus driver seemed to have some sort of personal vendetta against his breaks or our stomachs because he was hauling and taking those switchbacks like he meant business. We somehow made it there all in one piece, not too worse for wear. Our program directors walked us to the center of town and told us all to meet back there at five before promptly disappearing to have their own fun.

A big mob of us decided to go track down one of the nicer beaches that was a little ways away, and boy was it worth it. It was the perfect beach day. At the end of October no less. The water was calm, it was 80 degrees, and the beach was full of Spaniards and tourists alike out for on last summer hurrah. Though it took me some time to muster up my courage, I gave the ocean another shot. And obviously, I have lived to tell the tale. The waves died down almost completely once you were more than five feat from shore, so I really didn't have to fight much to get out there. The water was a wee bit chilly but so clear and calm. It was wonderful. We made our way out quite a ways from shore and just goofed around and swam until we got waterlogged.

We dragged ourselves back to the beach, egged on by the fact that someone though they saw a jellyfish (it might have been a plastic bag, but without my glasses, I wasn't going to argue) and I just relaxed on the beach for the next few hours. It was a really, a pretty darn perfect day.

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....

I'm off to study for midterms now, but I will be back with another post next week! And, I know I say it every week, but I mean it, thanks so much for taking the time to read :)

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 06:37 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Friend Dates & How I Know I Can Never Be a Private Detective

Current Anxiety Rating: 2

sunny 83 °F

Hey there everybody,

It is Sunday, and you know what time it is? Blogpost Time!

Another week of school has come and gone in a flash. Despite the fact that the trip to the Arab bath house that my friends and I had planned for this weekend fell though, I ended up having a really good weekend. Our host mom was out to town, visiting friends in Madrid, so Jenni and I had the house to ourselves. And we got pretty rebellious. We sat on the couches *Gasp!* We watched tv *Good Heavens!* And we even ate dinner while watching tv *Faints* It was stupendous! And if I was full, I could stop eating. *The Luxury!* (Side Note: And none of this is to say that our host mom is crazy or overbearing. She is awesome and is an amazing cook! It was just nice to have a little more freedom and not feel like you have someone over your shoulder all the time.)

Basically, we just loafed around on Friday. On Saturday, though, we had a mission! One of our friends from the program was going on a date with someone from here that she had been talking for awhile, and she wanted some backup just in case anything went wrong. Essentially, in case he turned out to be an axe murder or misogynist. You know, normal stuff. Now, originally, there was a big group of us that were going to subtly (read: not subtly), follow them around from a distance. Unfortunately, the cold that was going around at the school had other ideas. By the time Saturday evening rolled around, there were only two of us healthy and reporting for duty. It turns out that the only other person who could come was someone I had really never actually talked to and now I was expected to kill four hours with. Cue Alison being socially awkward. Luckily, I had heard she was super nice and we were united by a common purpose...who promptly disappeared into the crowd and didn't tell us were she was. Yay!

So much for keeping us updated. We picked a direction the general direction we had seen her walking and followed vague directions she had sent us, saying she was "headed toward the fountain by the gelato place." Now if you haven't been to Granada, let me explain something. There is practically a gelato place on every corner and fountains are about as common as you would expect in Europe. So the two of us just wound or way through the throngs of people as best we could in the direction she had indicated. We decided to keep walking toward the end of the road and made some small talk joking about how bad it was that we had already lost the person we were trying to keep from getting kidnapped. When the road ended there was nothing that we could really do but wait. After loitering around for about 15 minutes, we finally got word that she was alive and well still and more than that, wanted to abort the plan and just meet up after her date.

That was fine with me. Well, after I ascertained that it was not the wile kidnapper trying to throw us off his trail. I was starved. So my fellow failed-detective and I wandered around trying to find somewhere to eat. We finally did and plopped down and we ended up talking for hours! No problems. It was great to get out of my normal bubble and talk to someone new. Also, she was just super enthusiastic about being in Granada.

It just nice to talk to someone who is so in love with the city. It gave me sort of a nudge and reminded me to be in the moment. I find that sometimes, probably too often, I am counting down the days until I'm home, planning for the future when I should in the present. It is easy to forget at 8AM when you are walking to class what a wonderful place you are in and what a privilege it is to be here. So I am going to give myself a kick in the pants and really try to make these last 8 or so weeks of here count! I am hoping to organize a time for me to volunteer every week and get myself an intercambio buddy (a native speaker who helps you with your Spanish in exchange for help with their English).

Wish me luck! And I will keep you posted on my progress!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

As always, thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 13:43 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Settling In, Part Deux or Dos or Zwei if You Prefer

Anxiety Rating: 2

sunny 74 °F

Why hello there,

Although this isn't another flashy and exciting blog entry about sleeping on airport chairs, this week I thought I would mix it up and delve into the "study" half of study abroad to give you a little sneak peek into life as a student in Spain. As the title suggests, I am finally setting in to the new groove here in Granada. That may sound surprising considering that I have been here for a month and a half (What more could there be to settle into!?) but about two weeks ago, my language intensive month ended, meaning the training wheels are off and we are now being thrust into the exciting and slightly intimidating world of college courses.

I passed my final exam for the language month therefore I was eligible to take the Hispanic Studies courses. Way back in May or June, I selected my classes for each possible level I could test into, each with different requirements and electives; for Hispanic Studies, I got to choose four electives and I was assigned one mandatory course. I don't remember if I ever filled you all in on what classes I selected, but I am taking "Teaching Spanish in Bilingual Schools," "Contemporary Spanish Literature," "History of Spanish Music," "Image of Women in Spanish Literature," and a required writing/speaking intensive class. All taught in Spanish, of course. I will be taking these five classes from now through the end of December. (Which is weird because that means we only have ten weeks left! What?!)

As of this weekend, I have officially survived my first full week of school! EEP! The first week was immediately followed by a four day weekend, so I don't have a whole lot to be stressed about. Overall, I am definitely enjoying my classes. They work a little differently here than they do at home as one would imagine. First, there are the basics: At Lawrence, I take three classes for an hour each if they are on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or for two hours each if they are on Tuesday and Thursday. Here though, I am taking five classes that are two hours each, but I only take each class twice a week. We also have most Fridays off. One major change as a result of this new schedule is my commute. Since I started my five classes, it has doubled from about 40 minutes (walking) to and from class to closer to 80. Every day. Very foreign for someone who was used to griping about walking the five minutes across campus to the cafeteria. (Though, to be fair, when I complain, it is usually below zero outside) And what's more, I like it! The insanity! I think the "Europe" is getting to me!

The two hour classes, though, have taken some adjustment, mostly just to train my ears to listen for that long in a completely different language. It can be overwhelming at times! Especially when most of the class seems to have caught the joke your professor muttered offhandedly in Spanish and I totally didn't, leaving me to frantically mutter to the person next to me, "What did she say about socks?" Fortunately, this hasn't been too much of a problem, I think, in part because I have been in Spain for long enough now that my proficiency has improved somewhat. Also, classes are currently in the exposition stage, getting us all grounded in the various histories, theories, and terminology that we will need as a base before we are off to the races, so that can be a bit boring and make the two hours drag more than usual. I shouldn't complain, though, because it is infinitely more interesting than sitting in one class for four hours, five days a week learning about grammar like we did in the intensive month.

Another bonus is that I have significantly less homework and major projects for my five classes than I usually have for my three at Lawrence. Two of my five professors don't even give finals, and in all of my classes, I only have one major project or paper each for the whole term. Very different from what I am used to!

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I am going to truncate this post here, mostly because I can't think of what else to write about regarding school, but also because I gave you that mammoth of a post last week. If you guys have any questions about study abroad classes that I didn't answer, feel free to ask me in the comments! Thanks for reading and happy Monday!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 01:58 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Planes, Delays, and Automobiles

Current Anxiety Rating: 2 ... Trip Anxiety Average: 4.5

sunny 75 °F

Hello Everybody,

First off, sorry for the long hiatus! I am still alive and well. Don't worry! As for the reason for my long absence: I went on a trip last weekend to Bilbao and Barcelona and didn't get back until midnight the night before my first day of school. Thus, lacking sleep and sanity, I judged it best to wait until this weekend to regale you all with the tales of my trip. While I was gone, I kept travel journal which I present for you now as semi-coherent account of my trip! I hope you enjoy it! (Also it is sort of long, so bear with me!)

...

11:30PM--September 26th: Malaga

I am currently in the Malaga airport, waiting to go through security...which we can't do until 4 am. Yes. Four and a half hours from now. Don't worry though. I slept for 20 minutes on the bus ride here, so obviously I am going to be fine. Upon arrival, we were informed, to our surprise, that we wouldn't be let though security until three hours prior to our flight. So here we sit. We have taken refuge at Starbucks, the only restaurant in the airport that doesn't close, an American embassy of sorts. Even so, I am under no illusions that I will get a good nights sleep. This is probably not the best news in the world since the day before I left, I was walloped by the beginnings of a cold, which is definitely still alive and well. Sinus pressure, stuffy noise, headache, sore throat. This is what we in the business call "The whole nine yards." (What is the business to which I am referring you ask? I don't know. I got about five good hours of sleep last night and my brain is pulsating like a Spanish discoteca, so I am kind of just blathering what ever pops into it)

3:30AM--September 27th: Malaga

Woooo...So I have gotten a total of about an hour and a half worth of sleep on five Starbucks chairs (See below) that comprised by bed. More comfortable than the floor, but I don't think the Holiday Inn will be adopting it anytime soon. I am hoping that I will be able to sleep a bit more when we get through security. In other news, it is raining in doors. The skylights in the airport are currently functioning as an impromptu water feature and the airport staff seems less perturbed than one would imagine, but that could be because it is almost 4AM and they are all half asleep. Also, the kindly gentleman at the Starbucks gave me some free hot water, so I am now in the process of making some tea to soothe my throat. Hopefully it will cool in time for me to drink some before we go through security!

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(That's Leah and I sleeping in the Malaga airport. I'm the one on the right)

1:55PM--September 27th: Bilbao

I am currently laying in a bed! You read that right! An actual bed. I am probably minutes from kicking consciousness to the curb for a few hours, but lemme catch you up on what happened between my last entry and now.

We made it though security with only minor delays and immediately made our way to another American sanctuary of peace: Burger King. (Interestingly, Burger King seems to be bigger than McDonalds abroad. Who would've thunk it?) You may laugh but at 4:15ish in the morning, running on an hour and a half of sleep, the empty booths of Burger King were a beautiful sight indeed. All three of us laid out end to end on a long wall booth and I was dead to the world for another hour and fifteen minutes or so. I can only imagine what we all looked like. A half an hour after waking up and one over priced salad later, we finally received our gate information, and twenty or so minutes after that we had all piled into the plane like sardines. I hadn't really felt any jitters of anxiety until we got on the plane and were waiting to take off, but luckily, my sleepiness got the best of me before I could spiral too far. I immediately fell asleep for the duration of the flight, or at least until our captain announced that we were almost to Bilbao. And by almost, he meant twenty or so minutes away but potatoe, pot-A-toe. After the mad rush to disembark, we made our way to the exit and managed to find the correct bus to take us into town. Upon entering the city, the bus breezed right past the Guggenheim which looked all wonderful and mysterious, rising out of the early morning mist. It was a very cool moment, let me tell you.

Shortly after that, we disembarked from the bus and found that locating the hostel from there was a bit more challenging. We meandered around a bit but find it we did. We didn't linger long there, though. Also, as it turned out, in our dorm for 10, we are evidently the only ones booked for the weekend. So you know what that means!? You get a bunk bed! YOU get a bunk bed! EVERYBODY gets a BUNK BED! To think, yesterday, I had no beds and now I have two!

Anywho, after getting our bearings and dropping off our packs, we decided to knock out the Guggenheim. From our hostel, it took about 15 or 20 minutes to walk there but the view was amazing. The architecture of the building is truly jaw-dropping (See pictures below!). When we got there, we were a little disappointed to find out that the second floor was closed off leaving only the first and the third, but we got over that pretty darn quickly. The exhibits were super cool and the ones on the first floor were interactive. By the time we got to the art through ages section, though, I was fading fast (bear in mind we had been there for about two hours and were all running on max 3 hours of sleep). So we boogied out of there to grab some lunch and some sleep back at the hostel. On our way back, we found a grocery store that sold Bocadillos (sandwiches on baguettes) for only one euro! And my heart, stomach, and bank account all rejoiced together. So we headed back to the hostel with our loot, and that brings us back to right around now!

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(Guggenheim from afar)
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(View from the back patio of the Guggenheim)
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(Cool reflective Guggenheim sculpture)

2:56PM--September 28th: Bilbao

Hey there. It is right around 3PM and we just got back from poking around the Casco Viejo section of Bilbao. The Casco Viejo is the oldest section of the city of Bilbao and it is located about half an hour plus walk from our hostel. It has some of the same stone and metal architecture typical of Granada but it is infinitely more colorful. Instead of just the whites and browns, there are vibrant reds and oranges and blues splashed across the buildings! Even though it was sort of an overcast day, it just seemed so bright and alive. (See photos below) There were tons of little shops selling knickknacks and tons more fruterías and panederías than in the new section of the city (fruit and bread stores respectively, so right up my alley). There were also tons of people out and about because it was a Saturday morning. We weaved about taking in the amazing architecture and snapping tons of photos along the way. I really do like Bilbao. It is so lush and green compared to Granada. Don't get me wrong, Granada has the Sierra Nevadas right there, but for me, the dry climate and the city overwhelm it and block out that outdoorsy feel. In Bilbao, there are green spaces everywhere and the mountains are ever-present around the city, like a beautiful verdant backdrop. It reminded me a lot of home and made me fond of Bilbao very quickly. Today is also my one month anniversary of being in Spain, and it is exciting to spend it exploring more of it.

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(Evidence of aforementioned greenery)

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2:25PM--September 29th:

I am currently sitting outside and enjoying a lovely afternoon in Bilbao, my last in fact (or at least for now). I can't believe the last two days have gone so fast! We left our hostel this morning at around 10 after some breakfast and we grabbed a few more 1 Euro bocadillos for some cheap lunches on the go. We then set out to find our bus stop. It was along the same route we took the previous day to get to the Casco Viejo, so the general area wasn't hard to find, but selecting which of the 4 or so (marked and unmarked) bus stops on the plaza would take us to the airport was a little more difficult. After some general surveying, we ducked into a cafe for a snack. We stopped at Café y Té which is basically the equivalent of a Panera Bread in the United States (or a St. Louis Bread Co., etc, what have you). Not super exciting but cheap and it meant we could use the bathrooms. Weeee! We sat an snacked and talked there for over an hour killing some time before we were finally turned back out onto the plaza to puzzle out which was our stop. It took some doing but we were finally able to find out after asking a bus driver (Imagine!). With that settled an it only being around 1PM, we decided to kill some more time sitting in the plaza. This only lasted so long before we got antsy once more and decided that we would trek back to the grocery store with the cheap bocadillos to buy some more for our lunch in Barcelona. Fast forward about 30 minutes of walking time and 10 or so minutes of buying food time, and here we are. We decided to have our lunch down by the river that runs right through the middle of Bilbao. There were some shady benches (on such we are occupying now) and even a bit of a breeze. Not exactly sure how we are going to kill the next three and a half or so hours until our bus without pain to our feet or wallets but we shall see!

7:32PM--September 29th: Bilbao

Waiting again, surprise surprise! This time to fly to Barcelona. We held out as long as we could before finally deciding that we had had enough walking around with our packs. Around 4PM or so we caught a bus to the airport. We have been putzing for...about three and half hours. About an hour ago one of the planes to Barcelona got delayed. It was an earlier flight than ours though by the same airline, so we are just a little nervous. Our flight isn't supposed to leave until 10:30 and we will arrive at 11:30PM in Barcelona, which is late enough as it is and we aren't real excited at the prospect of trying to find our way to the hostel even later. Two flights to Malaga are also delayed so we are a little apprehensive, crossing our fingers that the same doesn't happen to us too.

9:50PM--September 29th: Bilbao

Well, of course we got delayed.

1:30AM--September 30th: Barcelona

We have finally made it to the hostel and gotten settled in. Our flight was delayed, though only by a half an hour but if you add bus transportation time to that we didn't end up getting here until almost 1AM. Naturally, as soon as I got on the flight, I passed out and slept for the duration. After the plane landed, we all disembarked and were taken by bus to the terminal. We managed to find our way with the rest of the masses to the bus pick up section-y thingy. We ambled on up there ready to be home and the bus driver told us that tickets cost 5.90 Euros. Uff-da! But at that point what could we do? They knew it, we knew it. So we paid the fee and plopped down. We got dropped off at a plaza near our hostel about 20 ish minutes later, at night, in Barcelona, and I was definitely sure I was going to get stabbed, or stolen and sold...Just kidding. Sort of. It might have been the sleepiness talking. Luckily for me, neither of those things ended up happening and the worst thing we had to endure was the cab driver's withering stare when we asked for directions. We made it to the hostel and got paid up and shuffled off to bed.

7:40PM--September 30th: Barcelona

To carry on this century (read: days) old tradition of writing in airports, I shall relay to you the enthralling tale of our adventures in Barcelona as I wait for my flight back to Granada. Despite the fact that we had less than 24 hours to check out Barcelona, Jenni and I had a really awesome time. We started our morning off with some breakfast at the hostel which they gave us free tickets to the night before (I suspect our bedraggled appearance made them feel bad for us or maybe they could sense we just paid almost 6 euro for a bus ride...). Naturally, being the penny pincher that I am, I squirreled away inappropriate amount of fruit from the buffet into my pack. No shame. We then saddled up and began making our way to the Picasso Museum! As we left the hostel, it was drizzling slightly but as we continued to walk it started to rain harder. Not necessarily a downpour though. That would be too obvious. It was more of just an insistently average amount of rain for the entirety of duration of our 40 + minute walk that slowly drives you crazy...So that was fun. And we didn't find the Museum in one go. With our map soaked just enough to be just south of helpful, we kept asking passersby to point us in the right direction. After asking about 4 different people, we finally made it. We had made the smart decision to buy our tickets online so we got to skip the enormous line forming outside the museum and go right in.

The museum was located in a really beautiful old building and set up Picasso's works chronologically, so you could see how his style gradually started to change. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any pictures so I can't show you any of my favorites, but trust me, it was incredible to see in person. After we finished at the museum, we decided to check out a free tour we had heard about at the hostel. Finding the plaza was a bit of a mess once again because we hadn't taken the most straight forward route to the Museum and our map wasn't in the best shape, so we meandered about until we found it. I wasn't so sure about the tour at first because we had been on our feet by that point for about three hours and the tour itself lasted at least 2.75 hours, but with some encouragement, I agreed. I was definitely glad I did. Our tour guide was this bouncy British guy Billie, completely zany and enthusiastic in that way that is infectious and endearing. He was definitely a little bit crazy though. He lead our group of about 20 or so people around the city, regaling with stories of dancing Jesuses, virgins in trees, and decapitation. So there was something for everyone. We really did end up seeing a lot of the city while we were there, and despite the less than stellar begining to the day, I really enjoyed myself, thanks in large part to our tour guide.

After the tour, he pointed us in the direction of the nearest bus stop back to the airport and we headed off to grab a little snack and be on our way. We made it to the bus (which again, required 6 euro as well as the promise of our first born child in the form of payment...or at least it felt like that). And now, here we are! Relaxing in the Barcelona airport! And hoping my plane doesn't get delayed!

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8:10PM--Septembr 30th: Barcelona:

Of course, we got delayed.

Note: This was the only real time that my anxiety kicked in. And it wasn't so much anxiety as in captial-F freakout but more like irritability combined with some mild anxiety because I had class the next morning. My first class of the new term. At 8:30 AM. And my host mom had dinner waiting for us. And we still would have to catch a bus into Granada and walk home. I was also just overstimulated in that way people sometimes get after vacations, after tons of new people, new places, shared spaces, and lack of alone time. In the end, we were supposed to get home around 11PM but didn't end up getting back until practically midnight. I wolfed down dinner and threw myself myself into bed.

...

Phew! So that was my trip in its entirety. Overall, my trip was really amazing and a huge success considering it was the first extended trip I have gone on without the help of our program. Thank you for listening to me blather on about it and I hope you come back to listen to me blather on some more next week!

Afectuosamente,

Alison

Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*

Posted by TrixiStella 11:25 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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