Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The End.

As of right now, I have just under 36 hours left here in Spain. One day. Would would have thought that time could and would pass so quickly? (Even though that is just what my mother told me in December)

Am I ready to leave? Yes and no. I'm ready to see my dog. I'm ready to sleep in my own bed again. I'm ready to drive my car and not be reliant upon public transportation. As far as school is concerned, I'm ready to return to IWU and be away from the ever-crazy Fundación. I'm ready to go back to eating dinner before 10 pm. I'm ready to be back to air that smells like spring and not like cigarette smoke. I am ready to be free of the thousands of creepy pigeons that reside here.

Yet on the other hand, I'm not ready to go back to a place where there is nothing to do, especially after 9 pm. I'm not ready to leave behind the little stores where the people know my face and exactly what I want when I walk in - such as the bakery where the lady always calls me ¨cariño¨ (it's like saying "darling" or "sweetheart") or the butcher/deli where they men always flirt and flatter me. I'll miss the fresh produce. I'll miss the museums, the park, the shopping. I'll miss the food. I'll miss the rich culture that surrounds me everywhere I go. I'll miss being surrounded by the Spanish language. As much as I hate the pigeons, I'll miss being entertained by the males doing their funny mating dances that remind me so much of men in bars. Most of all, I'll miss my family here. I'll miss cooking dinner with Carmen every night and having that time to catch up and find out about each others' lives.

Yet I know that the experiences that I have had here will stay with me forever. I'm coming back home more independent, more courageous (heck, I've taken the metro at 1:30 am by myself - if that isn't courage then I don't know what is) and more sure of myself and my Spanish. I know that if God wills to send me to another country some time in the future that I can handle it and be perfectly fine. I know that I can even handle living in a big city if I have to, although if given the choice I sill prefer my small towns. I'm coming home with new friends, new family, new cultural quirks (I apologize in advance for the Spanish colloquialisms that may slip into everyday conversation). As if I wasn't quirky enough.

Good semester? Understatement. Am I going to miss it here? Undeniably. Am I ready to have another experience like this one? If that is what God wants for me, then you bet.

So for now, folks, that's it from Spain. I'll be seeing you at 2 pm on Friday at O'Hare Airport, terminal 5. I expect to see big bouquets of flowers. Just kidding.

Un beso,

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The List

The other day my friend compiled a list on Facebook of things that will make her think of Spain, omitting the obvious things like Flamenco dancers, paella, etc. At any rate, I decided to make my own list and share it here with you. *A few of these are courtesy of my friend*

- So-called "French" baguettes
- Heinously ugly pants (parachute pants, really ugly jeans)
- Heinously ugly men's hairstyles that I formerly thought died with the '80s and '90s (the mullet, rat tails, one long dreadlock on a otherwise shaved head)
- People dressed like Eskimos in near-80-degree weather
- Olive oil
- Futbol (soccer) and crazy soccer fans
- Clotheslines/drying racks
- UHT milk: AKA, milk that never has to be refrigerated
- Smokers
- Tiny dogs wearing coats/sweaters
- Staying out so long that you hear the same songs twice, even though you know there are other songs from which the DJ could choose (The Spaniards' favorite: "My dream is to fly over the high")
- Fish staring at me from my plate
- People who get louder and speak faster when angry
- People who get louder and speak faster when not angry
- Free newspapers (and never understanding how that works)
- Public transportation and being confused by it
- Accordians
- Gypsies
- Crazy motorcyclists weaving through rush-hour traffic
- Motorcycles parked on the sidewalk
- Illegal street vendors
- Oranges
- Terrible customer service
- "Petty" theft
- Terraces
- Discount airlines
- Bizarre alcohol combos (Coke and wine, beer and lemon Fanta)
- Custard-filled pastries
- Having to hunt to find the nutritional information, which may or may not even be there
- Being given said information in terms of 100-gram portions, even if said food is packaged in 225 gram serving-sizes
- Always getting at least one receipt copy
- Television programs starting at odd times (10:20, 11:50, 9:35...)
- Tiny elevators
- People running you over to get down the escalator faster

Just a short list of the many things that, from here on out, will cause me to think of Spain.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Luck o' the Irish

Ah, Ireland! I can honestly not tell you how long I have wanted to go there, and this past weekend I finally did! (Although I'm sure my mother has wanted to go there longer, but only because she's older than me...)

Cassie and I flew out Friday morning and arrived around lunch time in Dublin. (And by lunch time, I do not mean the middle of the afternoon like in Spain - Yes! A country with normal meal times!) It took a while to find our hostel though due to the fact that, unfortunately for us, neither of us has ever figured out how buses work. In any country. Seriously. We thought we were on the main street...turns out we were quite a ways away. Luckily a number of Irish men took pity on us as we stood on the sidewalk looking at our janky map torn out of Cassie's Europe guide book and pointed us in the right direction. I do say a number of Irish men though as each time we were only able to follow their directions for about two blocks before we got confused again...

At any rate, we finally arrived at our hostel and took the afternoon to visit the National Gallery, which was free (it was apparent why), get the best Chai Tea Latte I have ever had, flirt with the two guys working at the coffee shop and explore Trinity College in the rain, hitting up a couple of pubs in Temple Bar later that evening.

A few words about our hostel: It was not until the middle of the night on Friday that the words "12 person mixed dorm" actually connected in my brain when I woke up to the sound of a man coughing. It was at that point that I became concerned about the shower situation. The reason was this: there was one bathroom for the 12 people, with one toilet (luckily with a stall door), one sink, one shower that had a clear glass door (no curtain, nothing to block you off from the sink or toilet area) and no lock. As I was the first one up I was able to shower quickly with no issue of men walking in on me. Unfortunately poor Cassie was not quite as blessed. That's all I'll say about that.

Although they did serve a really good breakfast.

So Saturday we had reservations to go on a bus tour through Wicklow County. I was so excited to be getting out into the countryside; granted, we gave up seeing the touristy sites in the city, but I really have probably seen enough castles and cathedrals to last me a lifetime. I wanted to see some of what God created. It was amazing. The tour stopped at DunLaoghaire (Dun-Leery) Harbour just outside of Dublin, a coffee stop in Avoca where we had the best Pear and Vanilla scones with the best raspberry jam, a stop in Sally Gap where a number of films have been done (and at which point our bus driver/tour guide was handing out shots of whiskey...), a lunch stop and a tour of Glendalough, a 6th century monastic settlement. Glendalough included such things as this incredibly old cemetery (they didn't start labeling the graves until 1720 and there were a ton of unmarked ones), the remains of a church built in the 600's and one of the only buildings left in Europe with a stone roof. And the oldest Celtic Cross standing in Europe (erected in the 800's or the 8th century, I can't remember which. Either way, it's really old). Did you know that the Celtic Cross has never been acknowledged by the Vatican because the circle originally represented the sun, as the sun god was one of the pagan people's main gods and pretty much all of Ireland was pagan before they started converting them to Catholicism (the point of the monastic settlement, in fact). Now you know. Oh, and we drove through the peat bogs. I had never seen a bog before (and really, where would I have?) and it was pretty cool, though I did find the idea of a bog hole kind of freaky. It was sad that the heather wasn't blooming or else everything would have been gorgeously purple. But it was still amazing as it was. All of it. I have never seen such shades of green in nature before. God's creation blows my mind.

That night we spent a large chunk of time camped out at this tea and coffee place (a different one from before), then decided to call it an early night. Sunday brought a wee bit of shopping, napping in St. Steven's Green and walking around the city a bit before flying back to Spain.

So to sum up why I am in love with Ireland: Gorgeous green everywhere. The Irish people really are some of the nicest you will meet. Their scones rocked. Loads of tea. Peat bogs make the world a more interesting place. Lots of sheep and brown bread.

On a slightly less jolly note, this will be my last weekend in Spain as we fly home next Friday morning. At least one final blog to come before then.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Semana Santa

Ok, so I know I've been a bad girl and did not blog while Momma and Daddy were here (outside of Momma's guest blog), but I was not able to put my pictures on my computer and, as you will see soon, pictures were necessary to this blog.

Since I'm now attempting to cover 10 days here, I'll just give you a list of the top 5 highlights of the week:

5. 2/3 of the family ending the week with the stomach flu. Yeah, I know, not exactly a highlight. Saturday I had it, Sunday Daddy got it. And poor Momma was stuck in the hotel room with us, wishing she could run away. Lots of reading time, anyone? Boo, hiss.

4. Interesting taxi rides. As previously mentioned in Momma's entry, on the way to the hotel from picking them up from the airport, we ended up with the one old fart in Madrid who did not have a GPS in his taxi and had never heard of either our hotel or the street it was on. So what does he do? Pulls out this book that was like an index of every street in Madrid. Now, I'm not entirely sure what this book was supposed to do to help him, as I never actually saw a map, but we did find the hotel, so it must have done something. Later in the week we had to take another taxi due to the metro being broken and ended up with some guy who was very interested in asking me all about who I liked better, Bush or Obama? The Spanish are quite interested in our politics, though I don't think they are quite as gung-ho about their own.

3. Almost seeing ancient torture instruments. Tuesday we took a day-trip to Toledo, which was far more tourist-packed than it had been in January. We took the train, only we all got on and sat down without considering that we probably had assigned seats on our tickets. Luckily we realized that we were dip-wads in the wrong seats before anyone else any rate, while in Toledo we kept seeing these signs for this exhibition of ancient torture instruments. I really wanted to go, but kept getting poo-pooed by a certain parent of mine. We did try to find it before we left but that labyrinth of a town foiled me just like it foiled me at 11 pm in January.

2. Picnicking in Retiro Park. I'm pretty sure Momma would live there if she could. Now, Retiro is quite huge and there were about a million people milling around, yet what amazed Momma and Daddy (and me at some point, though I've gotten used to it) was how clean the park still was even after an entire day of literally thousands of people walking around it. Also, they were having some sort of special sculpture exhibition, so I of course took the opportunity to pretend to be a number of statues. Unfortunately the pictures are on Momma's computer, so you won't get to see me looking oh-so-attractive. A let down, I'm sure.

1. Santa Teresa's dead finger. Yes, you read that right. Wednesday we took a train to Ávila, a little town in Castilla Leon. This time we knew to look for our own seats. Anyway, this town´s main saint was St. Theresa - she apparently lived there for a large portion of her life. I encourage you to Google/Wikipedia her - she was a totally bizarre woman. As a child she and her brother ran away in the desire to be martyred by the Muslims. Their uncle caught them and brought them back home before they succeeded. Anyway, in Ávila, there is the Convent of Santa Teresa, and next door is this little room with a variety of items that belonged to her, including the ring finger of her right hand. Yes, there in a little glass - no formaldehyde or anything - sits her 400-year-old finger. Apparently once she became a saint they decided to exhume her body, cut it up and divide the pieces between her admirers. I guess this finger sat by Franco´s bedside for a number of years. What a freak. Anyway, you were not supposed to take pictures of it, but if you think Momma and I were going to pass up having pictures of the dead finger, you´re crazy. We were delighted. Disgusted, yet delighted.

I love my life. I also love that my parents were equally entranced by this finger as I was. Or at least Momma was - I think Daddy was more entranced by how entranced we were.

Other events of the week included touring the Royal Palace, shopping, and seeing a Semana Santa procession (interesting in and of itself). Good week - nice to relax and get to see Momma and Daddy.

Less than three weeks left here! So hard to believe.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Julie Chronicles

¡Hola! This is Julie. I’m borrowing Stephie’s blog so that I don’t have to make my own! We arrived Friday morning after a long plane ride, highlighted by no sleep and a long layover in tacky JFK airport that clearly has had little done to it since Kennedy was shot. Somewhere along the line, we lost Thursday night and flew into Spain as the sun was rising. I had a window seat, and as I looked out on the terrain, my thought was “gee, those clouds are pokey clouds” and then I realized that I was looking at mountains. Ok. Apparently, I’ve never flown over mountains. As we approached Madrid, we saw perfect squares of little green dots, which reminded me of polka-dot swiss fabric, and then realized that these were groves of olive trees. They were very cool looking. I also remarked that as you fly into Madrid, you realize that there are NO houses. None. All that you see are lots and lots of apartment houses intermingled with other buildings. Anyway, we arrived safely on the ground around 9 AM and happily greeted Stephie, who was waiting patiently for us. We then got a taxi and somehow found the one taxi in Madrid who did not have a GPS system and did not have any idea where our hotel was. We finally found it (and he graciously turned off the meter while he figured out where he was going), and checked ourselves into our home-away-from-home for the next ten days.

I had gotten a burst of energy by this time, so Stephie, Jerry and I headed out to see her school and pick up her clothes from the apartment. We found a place to eat that had great food! Apparently, Franco was this poopy, mean dictator that everyone hated, but one thing that he did was declare that the restaurants had to make a daily menu that included for one low price an entree, a drink and a dessert to save people money! So, for that alone, Franco deserves a gold star. Anyway, I got a dinner with veal, Russian potatoes, and some other good stuff, dessert and a Coke! Now, if you are a Pepsi person, you won’t like Madrid, because they serve Coke. Considering that I think that Pepsi is awful, I’m pretty dang happy that when I order a Coke, I get a Coke. PLUS, it’s served in a bottle! I was so happy. It took me back to when I was a little girl and would go to the mill on a Saturday morning, and have Daddy pull out a Coke from his machine. Jerry and I decided that something happens to the taste when it is canned. They serve it cold in the bottle with a tall glass of ice and a lemon slice. Delicious!! Then, a yummy dessert! The downside is that you are pretty dang stuffed, and you really don’t need that dessert, but you’ve paid for it, so you feel obliged to eat it. Plus, you walk it off hoofing it everywhere. So, it’s like not even eating dessert, calorie-wise.

Today, the three of us headed to Plaza Major, the Royal Palace and other cool places. We shopped and just generally wandered around. Another wonderful meal, which we all three got Paella and then the second course was a leg of lamb, followed by flan for dessert. All for about $15 each. A country that loves carbohydrates, lamb and dessert! And the pastries!! Clearly, my goal of returning to Metamora fatter and more broke is coming true!

I wish that you were all here with us enjoying this trip, but since you aren’t, I’ll eat a pastry for each of you! Stephie will write more soon. Adios!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Musings from across the pond...

(Yes, I realize that is usually used in relation to England, but I still find it applicable here...)

Some things I've been thinking on recently:

1. No matter what the weather is doing, the Madrileños are complaining about it. I seriously thought that this was just a cold weather thing, as it truly was colder than the average winter when we arrived. Yet they continued to complain about the cold when it got to be 40 degrees...50 degrees...55 degrees...and then when it hit around 60 or 65, they started complaining that it was too hot. I also thought for a while that this was just a Carmen thing, but it appears that it is fairly widespread.

I would like to point out, however, that when they are complaining about the heat, most of them are still dressed in long pants, layered long sleeves, and perhaps a scarf and boots to top it off. Seriously, put on some sandals and a t-shirt. It truly does wonders for the heat factor.

2. Spanish has taken over my brain. Clearly this is more of a me thing than a Spain thing, but recently it has come to my attention that I no longer know how to spell a variety of words in English - I can only seem to come up with their Spanish spellings. This isn´t too bad until I try to message my poor mother and she has to continually tell me how to spell things correctly...

3. While Spanish drivers are crazy, they actually do give pedestrians the right-of-way. Any time there is a cross walk but no light, the pedestrian always has the right-of-way. Randomly cross in front of a car in Peoria, even at a cross walk, and prepare to be road-kill.

4. Though the drivers can be trusted, the motorcyclists cannot. You know in those movies about big cities how they´ll show some motorcyclist weaving his way through traffic, not staying in any real lane, or driving up on the sidewalk like a crazy-person? Turns out, that actually happens.

5. The dogs here are better behaved than the children back home. I may have mentioned this before, but there are lots of dogs in Madrid, most of which are tiny, wear sweaters when it is cold, and frequently get walked without leashes, yet never stray from their owners. What is more, the owners will go into a store or restaurant and leave their dogs waiting for them on the sidewalk outside, where they sit patiently, without moving. This continues to blow my mind.

Momma and Daddy countdown: 4 days!!!!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Canterbury Tales

Sorry, couldn't resist the obvious title.

This weekend brought a nice long break for us students: Thursday was a national holiday celebrating some saint (please do not ask me to remember which one) and, simultaneously, father's day. Thus, no classes. And for whatever marvelous reason, we did not have classes on Monday either, giving us all a 5-day break. Woot! So I took this opportunity to fly up to England and visit my friend Sam (we went to middle and high school together, he now goes to ISU) in Canterbury, where he is studying for the semester.

I have to say that it is a testament to our friendship that I made the trek to Canterbury to visit him. Not only did this trip require a flight to London, but once at the airport I had to hop on a train to the train station, then from there take an 1 1/2 hour train ride to Canterbury. Exhausting.

The weekend gave me the chance to recover though. Apart from seeing the Canterbury Cathedral, we spent the majority of the time relaxing and simply seeing a bit of the city. On Sunday, Sam, myself, and his friend Jessica (also an ISU student studying there) decided to take the bus to Whitstable, a little town on the coast. Now normally this would have been a 20-30 minute bus ride, but because it was Sunday, there was only one bus that had to go to every bus stop in England, thereby making the trip last over an hour. Once there, we walked along the beach, ate some traditional English food (and some ice cream...) and generally lazied around. It was when we decided to catch the bus home that things got interesting. We got to the bus stop about 10 minutes before the Sunday bus was scheduled to come. As we are sitting there waiting, this bus drives by us without stopping. We didn't think too much about it until this English couple came up all distressed that the bus had driven by without stopping...and it was then that we realized that it had been the bus we needed and that the next bus would not come for another hour. When we finally got the next bus (and all of us with full bladders, though we could not find any open public bathrooms, darn Europe), it ended up being the longest, bumpiest ride in the history of the world. We literally crawled off the bus over an hour later, all of us with headaches and feeling rather sick. The other passengers did not appear to be faring any better.

Yet despite the worst bus ride of any of our lives, I had quite a nice time in Canterbury. It was great getting to catch up with Sam and just spend a weekend relaxing and not worrying about a schedule or homework or anything else.

Momma and Daddy countdown: 9 days!!!!!!!!!! =)