More festivals!

This weekend/week is La Mercè festival in Barcelona. The big day will be this Wednesday, most people get the day off and there are concerts, performances, traditional dance, and more castells! These events have been going on since Friday. It is such a different feel to be out on the streets this week. Normally the metro closes at midnight and all but a few of the restaurants and shops are closed by then, but this week the metro is open all night and there are people everywhere! It’s not hard to find food at 3am and the streets are filled with music. Every night they do a firework show by the water, I haven’t had the chance to see it yet but I’m sure I will tomorrow. I know every night when the show starts because my neighbors dog is not a fan!

Each week I see more of the city, and I’m beginning to realize how walkable it is. On Sunday I went for a stroll and I found a street with several Mexican restaurants! I cannot tell you how ecstatic I was to finally find a burrito!! They even sold hot sauce there, which is not so easy to come by in Spain. They don’t eat a lot of spicy food or sauce here, so hot sauce is nearly impossible to find! I have really enjoyed trying all of the food here, especially our home cooked meals. Even when I don’t like something I’m glad I had the chance to try it. That being said, it sure was nice to have a little taste of home yesterday!

photo

Adios,

Elani

Prior to Coming Home…

I had my reservations about traveling to Spain because of how I visualized the culture to be… that being said, I’m pretty sure that the culture of Oviedo was distinct and I can’t say that all of Spain has the same characteristics that Oviedo does. I noticed a lot of similarities in culture between Oviedo and when I live in the USA but there were definitely differences as well. Drinking the local fermented apple alcoholic drink (sidra) most nights as a social custom was of course an adaptation I had to learn to love. I was in awe at how they treat their children in Oviedo. I imagine that it’s not just in Oviedo, but they seemed to specialize in anything baby related so that those kids would want for nothing. The children themselves are beautiful cherubs and always had the nicest clothing….like the way we dress our kids for Easter…but this was an everyday thing for them. I could have spent hours people watching just because of this and looking at all of the cool gadgets they have. Beyond that, kudos to the mothers because they generally seemed flawless as well. Also, I appreciated the fathers’ unrestricted display of love towards their families that I unfortunately don’t see so obviously in the U.S.. These were some of my favorite differences of culture that I observed. There was also a little different twist on fashion in Spain but it obviously meant a lot to everyone….Especially the shoes. It’s very impressive that age doesn’t matter with regards to what highly fashionable shoe a woman (and sometimes man) chooses to wear. Fashion never retires in Spain. However, for me the most surprising cultural difference was perhaps the dogs. People usually didn’t have large dogs but the tiny dogs that they did have went everywhere with them. It surprises me that the dogs have a different personality in general because they were almost all extremely well behaved or trained and they wanted absolutely nothing to do with a stranger. American dogs will wander over to greet someone they don’t know, or at least bark at them…but the Spanish dogs could care less and will not acknowledge your existence unless they see that their human family accepts you into their family. Only then are they the sweet little companions that love unconditionally.

Overall, I believe that I did well in my host culture. It’s a little difficult for me to get a real taste of the culture in just a month and to fully adapt so that was the main challenge for me I think. I felt caught in between because just as I was starting to get the hang of Spanish living, it was time for me to return to the U.S.. I wish I could have stayed longer in Spain, especially to explore more parts of Spain and to experience the cultural differences just in Spain alone. I am really happy that I did get to stay in Oviedo though because from what I heard, Madrid is a very bustling city and I enjoyed the quaint everyday happenings in Oviedo. It was the perfect environment.  I absolutely want to come back one day to my home in Spain and explore the rest of it.

Departed and Arrived!

School starts Monday! I feel like it’s the first day of college all over again. In a new home, in a new town with new roommates… starting at a new school with all new classmates. Which is crazy enough on its own, without the added bonus of being in a country where I don’t speak the language! (Please excuse the excessive use of exclamation marks… I can’t help how I feel :))

I arrived on Monday night with my friend from back home and stayed in a hostel. Tuesday I met my host mom and roommate, Katie from Ohio, at our new home in Barcelona! From the get go I realized I probably should have listed to a few more lessens of spanish before leaving home. Like, maybe all of them! Everyone is so friendly though and willing to communicate using mime and body language. It’s been a crazy week, but so far all is mostly as expected, surprisingly. I guess the one difference is that I wasn’t expecting to be able to understand or communicate so well. Don’t get me wrong, communication is tough; my host mom doesn’t speak english and my spanish dates back to two years in high school. Miming can only get you so far :). However, we get by just fine! She is so sweet and willing to slow down just a bit and chuckle at our poor attempts at conversation. Each day gets easier, and I grow more comfortable speaking the little spanish that I remember.

Today was our last day of orientation and we took a day trip to Tarragona (photos attached). Spain is so beautiful, I’m so glad that I didn’t let my fears (mostly of the language barrier) get in the way of coming here. There is so much history in all of these cities! I forget, when I’m in the US, that some places have such a long and diverse past. Tarragona is a city that was built on top of Roman ruins. New ruins are still being uncovered as the city buys old empty houses and takes them down to see what is underneath. Back when the houses were built they just reused what was already there, turning old roman walls and floors into part of the new construction.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the sights in Barcelona and around Spain for the next three and a half months. I just hope that I don’t forget to do the touristic things while I’m here, as I already feel at home.

La playa

New friends and me at the beach in Tarragona. The sand is similar to our Oregonian sand but the water is much warmer :)

Castell

In Catalonia, the region where I am staying in Spain, they build human towers called Castells. This was a statue of a castell in Tarragona, the man in the foreground is playing music while those in the background form the base for a human tower, sometimes reaching nine bodies high. Children climb to the very top and wave to the crowd. I’m hoping I will see one at one of the several festivals that takes place in September here in Catalonia.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Elani

El Cristo

Finally Maggie, Olivia and I hiked up to El Cristo which is a gigantic statue of Jesus, similar to the one in Rio de Janiero but not nearly as huge. It was the longest hike of any of our lives. We took the long way up which consisted of several wrong terms and some 90 degree inclines. It was essentially a stairmaster for about 3 hours! We were exhausted.. plus the humidity just made things awful. Luckily we made it up there and we could not be happier. We took the rough way up which nobody else in the program had the guts to do and we think it made it wayyy more rewarding. We walked by a lot of interesting and beautiful things that made the trip much better than taking a bus 75% of the way there. We felt like true Spaniards hiking up to the top. About half way through the trip we all decided that we deserved to eat something super fatty and delicious after such a huge hike, a 12.3 mile day, and that place was McDonalds. Of course you do not come to spain to eat McDonalds but after over 3 weeks in a foreign country you want something that resemebles home. Even my host mom mentioned how good it was! So we all gave in and had it the next day… it was FANTASTIC! Plus they use 100% real beef and have some of the strictest food policies here in Spain so the food was even better. I had never been so happy to eat fast food before… or have a drink with ice cubes :) Anyway.. back to the hike. Once we got to the top we could over look the whole city and it was gorgeous! You could see just how compact Oviedo is snuggled behind beautiful green landscape. It was one of the best feelings to stand up there after seeing how far away we had hiked from. The Cristo was even better in person than we thought and the fence right infront of him had dozens of “love locks” hooked onto it that were really adorable. We enjoyed our accomplishment and then had to look forward to the next 2 hour hike back down. It was a great evening spent with new friends talking about everything from boyfriends to beauty secrets. These girls have been the best people to hang out with in Spain because we are always on the same page and it is always a funny and interesting time when we are together.

3 hours later

3 hours later

WOW

WOW

Mass in Spain

Today my friend Maggie and I attended a mass service at the giant cathedral here in Oviedo. It was a really fascinating experience and I am so glad we took the time to go. I am not catholic but Maggie is so she cued me on some of the things we were supposed to do even though neither of us really could translate the exact words of the mass. We were able to follow part of what the priest said and that is what counts. It was such a unique experience and I hope we can get the chance to go one more time before we leave. I really enjoyed being in a cathedral with so much history and being apart of a service that is so different from what I was raised in. This was a once, hopefully twice, experience of a lifetime. After that we went to the market and picked up a few random items for our friends and family back home. Including an old 1800’s Spanish book for my collection, S.H.I.E.L.D. comics in spanish for my boyfriend and an old skeleton key to add to my collection. Then Maggie and I had some tapas and enjoyed watching a little bit of spanish VH1 in the restaurant. It was a busy day but at the same time really relaxing. I still cant believe how lucky I am to be here and I know these next two weeks are going to fly by.

Maggie and I getting ready for Mass

Maggie and I getting ready for Mass

Los Lagos de Covadonga

One of the best trips we have taken happened yesterday. We went on a bus and stopped in three different spots in Covadonga. The first stop was in the the town itself where we saw a really old and huge bridge that  stole everyone’s attention. After that we went about half an hour straight up a mountain that consisted of one small road that had to be shared between two lanes of traffic. Most of the people were afraid of heights so when our huge tour bus went up the mountain they were not doing so well. I loved it. Getting a chance to overlook the whole mountain and the tiny stone houses was fantastic. We stopped there and saw one of the huge lakes, took a ton of pictures and had lunch. Then we explored around that area and got closer to the old houses and were amazed that people had actually lived in something so basic and made out of random rocks. The fields were also filled with free roaming cows and sheep that we could go up and pet if we wanted. It was an extremely unique opportunity. It was almost like stepping back in time. Finally we went back down the mountain and stopped at an old Cathedral that was built into the side of a mountain complete with a “lucky fountain” and actual size lion sculptures. It was amazing to see this gorgeous cathedral both built into the mountain and hanging over a drop off. This was something I have never experienced and doesn’t even compete with things back home. I love the old sculptures and history of Spain.

Lion sculpture at the Cathedral

Lion sculpture at the Cathedral

Hail Asturias

Hail Asturias

Gijon

We went to Gijón the other day and had a chance to tour the city for a few hours and it was amazing how similar the landscape was to Oregon. It was beautiful and a great experience. AHA takes us on some of the greatest excursions that really show you the thrill of this area. I hope to get another chance to see the coast before I leave but your days fill up so quickly. When we went to the city we got a chance to walk up this huge mountain area and over look the ocean, town and see the huge sculpture that they call “King Kong’s Toilet” because it is a huge round sculpture right at the edge of the hill overlooking the water. When you stand in a certain spot you can hear the ocean echoing inside and it is like putting your ear up to a seashell. It is amazing being here and I can’t believe how well I have adjusted to walking almost 9 miles in a day and communicating so much in Spanish. It was a great trip to the beach and I can’t believe how fortunate I am.

Maggie and I at the pier in Gijón

Maggie and I at the pier in Gijón

First week done, three to go

After my first week in Spain I have done way more than I thought I would and have experienced a lot of the culture and I couldn’t be happier. We started school on Wednesday and only have class until two in the afternoon which leaves the afternoon to explore the city and really enjoy everything the city has to offer. The professors are really nice and are excited to have us in class and help us improve our Spanish, which can be a little difficult when you don’t know how to say something in Spanish and they do not speak any English. It is the best way to learn though. Our whole group also got the opportunity to go to an Espicha which is a tradtiional welcoming party in Aust. not all of Spain. We stood around big long tables and ate a bunch of different Spanish dishes specific to our area, they were delicious and some were a little unexpected. We were also treated to red wine and sidra, which lead to a lot of us drinking a little more than we should. After the Espicha my group of friends and I went “bar hopping” around Oviedo which was a ton of fun. We met a lot of interesting people and danced to some fantastic Spanish music. In the United States our bars close down by 2:30 but here in Spain the party can go until 6 in the morning, luckily I made it home around 4 am and was exhausted.

It was a great first week that included a lot of new experiences including gelato, classes in Spain, walking 7 miles in a day, food I have never heard of that tastes delicious, the clubs and nightlife of Spain, a traditional Espicha, Sidra, shopping in Spain and connecting with my host family and new friends. I cant believe how amazing Spain is and I cant imagine what is going to come in the next 3 weeks.

The traditional dancers and band

The traditional dancers and band

Day 3

Today is my third day in Spain and we had our first real school outing today. It was an amazing trip to a Cathedral and Museum, to be in a place with so much history and art was simply amazing. This was a trip of a lifetime and I feel very fortunate that AHA sends us on such exciting trips that are a real core aspect of the city. After the Cathedral we went to a local bar that served us a traditional cider that is poured way different than I expected. The server holds the bottle up by her face while holding the glass as far away from it as she can, and then she pours. It is definetely a drink that you pour outside since quite a bit of it gets all over the street, but it was amazing to watch. This morning also included a stop in Oviedo’s old school building that was built in 1608, where we listened to the heads of the program and they explained random aspects of the summer to us. It was all in Spanish which was a little hard to understand at some points, but ultimately it was a great experience to listen too. Being in that building was equally as fantastic, to think that has been around and in such great condition since 1608 is a fantastic accomplishment. Later my walking buddy and I spent the afternoon walking around the city for an hour, getting 15,000 steps in one day is hard work! It was a good day making new friends and spending time with the established ones. I also had a great day with my host family where I got to talk and listen in Spanish and understand quite a bit. Having time with them over meals is really special and important for my learning. It doesn’t hurt that the food is FANTASTIC!

Beautiful and fascinating

Beautiful and fascinating

This day will be hard to beat.

Day 2

Today was my second day in Spain and it was very different to navigate than I originally thought. We had our first meeting at AHA and my host family walked me to the school and we were instructed to find our way back to the house if the host member could not walk with us, this made me quite nervous. Luckily my instructor set me up with another group of girls who were going to the same general area that I was, otherwise I would have been fully lost and confused. Even though my “walking buddy” and I got a little bit lost, we were able to rely on the help of strangers to find our way. It was great to know that the people were so friendly and willing to help out two American girls who had no idea what they were doing! I will admit that it was a beautiful city to get lost in, completly different than the city I live in. Evenutally we made it back about an hour later than we were supposed to, but with few streets labeled and it being our first day, our host families weren’t to upset that we were late for “la comida”.

Later in the day I got to meet two more “sisters” and their nephew, who was adorable. It was great to see them interact with the baby and get a chance to observe their caring nature and hear some slow Spanish. After the baby and the sisters left I got the chance to go out with my “madre” to “El Centro” which is in the center of the city and houses tons of shops, apartments, offices and restaurants. It was amazing to see so many people out and about walking and eating in the patios. My madre told me about all the stores and the four major churches that sit along the outside of the center. I tried to follow what she said and I was happy that I understood about half of the conversation. She is very understanding and wants to talk to me as much as she can and try to help me understand the area, which is really nice and helpful. I ended up helping her with a little bit of her shopping and even that was an experience different than that in the United States. The main department store that we were in had associates everywhere, most of them without name tags, which made it hard to tell that they were employees, and tiny little random kiosks spread throughout the store that were not closed off to the customers. You could walk right up next to them while they ring up your stuff and most of them did not even have a place to set what you wanted to buy. It was very interesting but a quick process.

After our shopping and my guided trip around town I came home to very tired feet and and understanding of why they eat dinner so late, you are STARVING after walking all around the city. Now it is about 9:40 at night and we are about to have “La Cena” and I am very excited for it. Everything I have had to eat here has been amazing and they are such talented chefs. I want to learn all that I can about their amazing culture and I am glad I am here.