Last Thursday, September 11, was the National Day of Catalonia. The day long festival pays tribute to the defeat of Catalonia during the war of Spanish Succession. Three hundred years ago, Catalan lost its independence to king Philip V of Spain. This year they gathered in the shape of a V up two main intersecting streets, they want the right to vote in November for their separation from Spain. I had the pleasure of joining in the festivities, it was amazing to see so many people from all over Catalonia gather in Barcelona to show their support. It is inspiring to see so many people standing up for themselves and their freedom as a nation. Ara és l’Hora, Now is the Time!
If you want to read more about the day and their fight for freedom click here.
The view from where we ended the day, where the two roads met forming the bottom of the V.
I must say I did feel like an impostor most of the day, wearing my red and yellow flag cape along with the rest of the natives. I suppose as long as I kept my mouth shut nobody had to know I didn’t really belong.
Que vagi bé,
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 listened 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.
New friends and me at the beach in Tarragona. The sand is similar to our Oregonian sand but the water is much warmer 🙂
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
This day will be hard to beat.
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.
Flying over Oviedo
I arrived in Oviedo, Spain yesterday and am surprised of how much the climate and trees remind me of Oregon, at least there is some part of home resemblance. Since the jet lag was awful I went to bed at about 7:30 pm which means I was up at 2:30 this morning… yikes. I am excited to be there but nervous at the same time. My host family talks incredibly fast and I am worried that I cannot process in Spanish that quickly or know all of the words they are using. I am feeling a little discouraged because I want to communicate but am not anywhere near their level. I feel very fortunate to be here and I can already tell that this month is going to go by extremely fast.. I just hope I can keep up!