Blog 16 My week in review gets profound

Saturday, July 27, 2013, updated 7/29   Things are clicking into place. I watch television and understand the commercials, movies, and much of the news. They talk so fast! In the beginning I could only pick up words, then sentences, and now I understand the meaning. I am so glad I have a host mother like Lourdes. She is very independent does her own thing often, giving me a lot of freedom. At first I didn’t know what to do with myself in Spain or how to adapt to her costumbres. Being isolated from the English speaking students at Colegio Mayor, I have a much of a richer immersion experience: applied Spanish skills, exceptional food, good company, and an insider’s insight on the culture. I am very independent and not afraid to take myself on my own adventures.   Yesterday, I finally wrote my blog entries about Barcelona and Fiesta de Paellas! Amid the fast pace of events, I wasn’t sure what was right, but I clung to my original choice. I didn’t know the word to describe the feeling. Could it be stubbornness? I described it to Felix in Spanish like so: “I choose a path and keep walking straight on the path no matter what.” What do you call that? No not stubbornness, he corrected me: capacidad de decisión. Through putting the chaos into words and sharing my story with Lourdes and Felix, I appreciate how unique and strong one must be to travel alone, smartly.   Today the first article that I coincidentally encountered in the Spanish fashion magazine, S Moda, was titled “Pasajeras solitarias,” meaning, solitary female travelers. I can’t find the article anywhere online and, besides it’s in Spanish, so bear with me as I relate it to you. The author, Leticia García, says that tourism is ever more popular among solitary female travelers today. In recent years, women have traveled 53% more and they have done it with their suitcase as their exclusive companion.   As the writer Mark Twain used to say… “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”   This quote sums up the broader mind that cultural awareness brings. However in Twain’s world, women were prohibited from travel and García features how women have broken out of the preconceptions of a society that viewed them as housewives and regarded female travelers negatively. Even today, many people believe that women go alone because they have nobody to accompany them. Today (as of 2011) CAP Strategic Research...

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Blog 15 Concurso internacional de paellas 7-25

School’s off today for the national holiday of Santiago! – and I’m headed to Algorta for the Concurso Internacional de Paellas!!! By the way I was not in that train wreck in Galicia, Spain, and I am ok. I am very much an independent person, but if I can go with friends I will. And so, I planned on meeting with a group of university students at the Algorta metro at 11am. I waited for a half hour and then decided to walk to the Concurso internacional de paellas alone, sola. Going unaccompanied and being independent has become a lot easier with practice (i.e. Barcelona). I made friends with an elderly Spanish couple and walked with them most of the way to the festival. They were very kind and friendly. The man offered to take a picture of me, one, in front of the old windmill “molina” and, another, in front of the cliff overlooking the port. We said goodbye and then I walked the rest of the way to the festival where I saw the traditional dance, clothing, and music. Near the entrance, I listened to men playing wood music called “Txalaparta.” They used this all over País Vasco a long time ago to communicate between cities. Then I took myself over to the stage where two men played music – “flute and drum” txistu (la flauta) y tamboril. Adorable Euskaldi children dressed in traditional outfits danced to the traditional music. Llevaban ropa azul marino de arrantzale (pescadoras) de neskas e hicieron danzas vascas – They were wearing traditional navy blue outfits “of the mariners/fishermen,” de arrantzale in Basque. De neskas is Basque for “of children” and danzas vascas are “Basque dances.” It was an event for both families and young people con demonstraciones tipicas de folclore. Euskaldi flags were everywhere, which is understandable. I was surprised by how popular pirate flags are, especially among the young people, Lourdes says it is a sign of rebellion. That seems to me to be similar to the attitude toward pirate flags in the U.S. Cooking the paella is a big deal—but nowhere will you find paella you can buy. This paella is not for outsiders! Each group of people sets up their own tent and cooks their own paella to share with their party. I walked around for about an hour just looking at the people cooking various types of paella, not expecting to eat any. Who did I know? I didn’t belong to any party and came independently. Then I unexpectedly saw Joseba, the Spanish many I made friends with at the beach party that one night in Sopelana. He was with a party of people cooking paella, drinking...

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Blog 14 Barcelona!!! 7/19-21

I am the kind of person who makes a decision and follows it through to the end and makes the best of whatever happens. Felix, Lourdes’ friend, calls that “capacidad de decisión” or strength of decision. My friend Mary, who wanted to go to Barcelona with me, changed her mind last Tuesday after I had already bought plane tickets and reserved a hostel for 2 on Monday. I booked it because another group of girls I know was going to sleep there and I decided it would be better to stay together. The cancellation fee was 35 euros and I paid for all of it. On Tuesday I didn’t know whether or not to still go; My problem was that I had a roundtrip flight but no place to sleep. Still, I felt that it was my decision to go and nothing was going to stop me from seeing Barcelona and enjoying myself. Capacidad de decision. On Wednesday I connected with another student named Jackie Chan on Facebook who had reserved a hotel for herself alone. She offered to share the room and we upgraded to a 2 bedroom hotel. After the culmination of stress throughout the week, I was not in the best shape for going to Barcelona but I already made up my mind to go and have a good time. I was too headstrong to back down. I flew into the Barcelona alright by myself on Friday at 7:10pm; I took the green bus to the blue terminal; I got on a train and headed for the stop Passeig de Gracia. I got off the train at the Passeig de Gracia stop and tried to find my way to the hotel on foot, carrying that green OAT duffle bag. I stopped and asked strangers for directions multiple times and walked for over an hour. When I finally made it to the hotel, I was surprised to see Jackie walk in 15 minutes later. She was on the 9pm flight and I expected her to take longer to arrive—but no, she took a cab and it only took her 6 minutes. When I considered that my long walk could have been prevented if I too had taken a cab too, my heart sank a little. Nevertheless, the only things that were important were that the place was clean, secure, and right in the middle of downtown Barcelona! Later, we talked about what we wanted to do tomorrow. Jackie wanted to go shopping. “Sure, I’d like to see the interesting/unique stores here too!” I said. “No,” she corrected me: she only wanted to go to the upscale stores (Chanel, Burberry, etc). Louis Vuitton, too? No, she wanted to...

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Blog 13 In planning for Barcelona

Sunday, July 14: I’m going! On the bus on Sunday (July 14), I heard some of my friends talking about going to Barcelona for our first free weekend (July 19-21). My nice friend, Mary, also wants to go. In the evening, I look at the cost of the hostel Pensión Mariluz for 2 people. It sounds like a good idea and it’s a good deal and I want a guaranteed place to sleep asap. I book it, figuring she can pay me back. It is the same hotel Victoria and her friends are staying. – Monday: I am not. In the morning, I am excited to plan! Wewant to go to La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. We might take the East route bus tour and to see them and much more. It looks like the best way to ‘see it all’ or most of it. And, in the process, I’ll see things I want to return to later in the day. I’ll get great pictures of lots of important places and memories to last a lifetime. Later in the day Mary seems really confused about whether or not the ticket is worth the money. We were so excited and Gung Ho about it yesterday but now, she is full of hesitation and doubt. I am fatigued with her concern for doing whatever is cheapest and her sudden change of heart. Although I am patient and kind, it is tiresome. At midnight she backed out and so I cancelled the hostel reservation. I regret the quick decision to get the room and the flight tickets. – Tuesday: I don’t know. It is 1:18am on Tuesday morning. I cannot sleep. The bed is too hard and it is too hot tonight. Mary is unsure whether to take the train (9 hours each way) which might be cheaper, or the plane (1 hour each way). I told her I want to enjoy Saturday without having to worry about leaving. Something may come up during the day that may take time, like: surprise! We get lost or want to spend more time at a certain place. Then what would happen? You could miss the train or cut your time short. We’re only going for a weekend. I’m not spending 16 hours of that precious time sitting on a train. I can only find comfort in remembering the advice of my friend George from Santa Fe, “Have faith in the universe. Things will fall into place. Life will be sorted out.” But this time I feel like I can’t be so naïve and trusting- I have to do something. Whatever it is—it has to be a rational decision. Should I cancel everything and...

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Blog 12 Santillana del Mar & Santander

Today, Sunday, July, 14, I went on a private excursion that Jen and Dr. Sainz organized for the UMW students. Others could join but they had to pay, and so only a few others went. I am extremely proud and it is a privilege to be a UMW student here because we get access to special experiences. We rode in a private bus from place to place. No traveler would have been able to do this more efficiently. – In the morning, we went to the neo-cave Altamira. First, we toured the museum and artifacts of our human and extinct relatives. Second, we toured the exact reproduction of the cave of Altamira. It has extraordinary cave paintings and an incredible story. I remembered learning about the caves of Lascaux…… You need to check this out: Mom and Ken could have spent a whole day here and bought a lot more from the book store. I bought several beautiful magnets with depictions of the cave paintings and a TVE La España Prehistórica (like a DVD but TVE is a European version). I figured I’d ask my computer-genius grandpa to help me convert it or find a way to play it. It would be a real treat for me and my grandmother to watch this interesting documentary (with English-subtitles for the rest of the family). – Next, we visited the medieval village of Santillana del Mar. I did a lot of looking and not buying. There was a variety of leather goods and food products but I just wanted to inspect the variety. Check it out: – Last we went to la Playa del Sardinero in Santander, but I decided to see downtown since I got my share of sun yesterday. Since it is Sunday and all the shops are closed, I ambled through the picturesque town with my girfriends, Jayne and Nikki, for two hours. Words cannot explain the perfection of this local beach and quaint town: – Lourdes came home five minutes after I did. I showed noticed the bottle of red wine I bought yesterday an told her how I spent all of yesterday at the San Sebastían and today at Santillana and Santander. “Oh those are my favorite beaches and the two most beautiful!” she noted my slight sunburn and congratulated me on my rewarding weekend. – Things to look forward to this week – Tuesday: Las fiestas del Carmen de Santurtzi – So my host mother just told me about the annual Las fiestas del Carmen de Santurtzi. It is happening this Tuesday. I wonder if there is any chance we could go before the group dinner. UMW Dinner Party – Let’s get...

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Blog 11 San Sebastían

In order to counter-act the fact that I didn’t go to last Wednesday’s excursion to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls or to the beautiful beach town of San Sebastían, I went to San Sebastían today with two girlfriends. We spent the whole day walking around and having fun at the beach. Even though I went to bed at 4:30, I woke up after 4 hours of sleep to prepare for another fun-filled day. I made breakfast, thought ahead, and packed a sandwich for lunch. Lourdes is away the entire weekend helping her sister take care of their mother so I am queen of the house until she gets back. This is proving to be quite a responsibility considering the accumulation of challenges: Visiting a foreign country; watching out for myself; being unaccustomed to the apartment, food, and appliances; doing it solo this weekend. Reminder: I am an adult now, I can do this. I met Ela and Jiaqi Chen – interestingly, pronounced like the name of the famous Chinese actor “Jackie Chan” – at 10:30 at the San Mamus station, bought a bus ticket, and learned that there are assigned seats. Lucky me, I sat next to a friendly man named Carlos who showed me maps of the town with his smartphone. He gave me all sorts of important tips and information about the city. I pulled out that Eyewitness Norhern Spain book yesterday on the bus when I sat next to Carlos. We talked about some of the attractions, like the churches, etc. He told me which attractions “merece la pena” (literally, merits the pain, means worthy of going). I’m so glad my mom got it for me! Advice he gave for San Sebastían: “No merece la pena entrar dentro. Lo bonito es pasear.” Don’t spend time going inside, the beauty is in walking through the town. The girls and I followed his advice and walked through the town first and, after getting good and worn out, laid out on the beach. The most valuable item that I packed is a pair of tennis shoes. I cannot illuminate enough how amazing downtown area is. We walked the astounding streets and treated ourselves to gelato, fine chocolate, pintxos, and shopping. I am buying a lot but it’s my money, this is Spain, it’s “rebajas” (the month of discounts), and I value these gifts to myself. I have always been slightly frugal and I feel like I deserve to splurge now. I am having the time of my life this summer. I don’t let challenges get me down, and instead, see them as opportunities to grow and be a better person. I’m gaining confidence in all areas, for example,...

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