Let the waiting begin. I have just situated myself in the lobby of Pans & Company, the only store I could find open, in the Barcelona airport. I still have yet to step foot on actual soil here in Barcelona, but the night is still young. My flight arrived 30 minutes early giving me just shy of 8 hours to kill here at BCN. Unfortunately, the Czech Airlines ticketing counter was closed upon my arrival so my fears about a fake reservation have yet to be quieted. Apart from that the day has been a relative success. I got a 90 on the quiz that I thought I bombed and had an engaging global econ class to wrap off the day at UPO. Scott and I seem to be the only ones in that class that have taken an econ class before so we receive the majority of the professor’s attention and I like it that way. SVQ was uneventful save for me running into Allie again. We first met on the bus on the way to Paris and seem to run into each other at the beginning and the end of our journeys. She is headed to Amsterdam and Brussels for the long weekend, a trip I sadly will not be able to squeeze in this semester. Stay tuned for Prague adventures.
Update from BCN:
Currently it is 20 minutes until 2 and I have a friend to help me pass the time. Manuel is probably in his early 30s and seems to me the typical Spaniard. Short, gelled black hair and he’s wearing a striped sweater and skinny corduroy pants with European tennis shoes. He’s actually headed to Sevilla tomorrow morning to visit his parents. He saw me uploading pictures and asked about my camera. It turns out Manuel does freelance photography so that has given us plenty to talk about. He showed me a program to easily process my pictures with an HDR effect (Google: HDR Photography- It’s cool). He also showed me some finer points in Photoshop, a program wayyy over my head. Finally he gave me pirated files for the movies 3:10 to Yuma and K-Pax. I’m beginning to think I may just make it through this night.
Friday the 18th marked the start of a great stretch for me. In the span of 10 days I will only have 6 hours of class. We left SVQ Friday morning bound for Marrakesh, Morocco. Upon arrival and throughout the entire weekend we found ourselves tacking the words “in Africa” to every phrase. Suddenly going for a walk becomes “I’m going for a walk IN AFRICA!” Strange at first, but by the end of the weekend it felt right. After unpacking in the room my first order of business was to soak up some rays. Kindle in hand I headed down to the pool. Not 100% sure, but I think that was my first and only time to swim in an outdoor pool in February. Pool craving satiated we dried off and headed to the market. A true sight to behold. There were hundreds of people clogging a huge square, each trying to make a buck. Snake charmers, tarot card readers, dancers, musicians, monkey owners, story tellers, blind- all vying for your spare change. We made it past the square into the shops where all sorts of counterfeit products lined the makeshift shelving. The first night I honed my bargaining skills and helped a few people buy some souvenirs. Though I had seen Uncle Ken work his magic in the markets of Cancun, this was the first time I had the opportunity to take the reins, and it’s fun. The best part is the moment right after the transaction when both parties turn away satisfied. The next day we were treated to a city tour by a local and, as a woman, she gave some interesting perspectives into daily life and the role of women in a Muslim country. Her signature move throughout the tour was to end her stories with a swift punch line and then quickly lead the way to the next stopping point. After the tour and a little shopping we circled back to the hotel where vans were waiting to take us to ride camels. My legs didn’t take kindly to the ride as I had an extreme buildup of lactic acid from my first run since being in Sevilla. (Mom, I’m doing my best to stay active- we have been walking a ton- but my knee partially dislocated again so I had to rest it for almost two weeks.. Much better now). The camels were fun, but I don’t feel like I need to do it next time. The next day we went for a hike in the Atlas Mountains before stopping for lunch at a mountainside restaurant. I had a beef tagin and after an afternoon of hiking it tasted absolutely amazing. From there we proceeded to a Berber house where they hosted us for the traditional mint tea. Though not much of a tea fan, I enjoyed it while in Morocco. The last night we returned once again to the market to do last minute shopping and grab dinner from one of hundreds of tents/stands set up in the square. While I was haggling with a man in a woodworking shop a young boy approached the store owner next door and whispered in his ear. At this, the man began piling his wares into his store and then he promptly lowered the metal storefront and left. Instantaneously all of the vendors began packing up. It was at this point I knew we needed to get out. My first instinct was that a police raid was coming and all of the purveyors of “genuine imitation” Ray Ban, Gucci, and Prada were locking up to avoid prosecution. As soon as we rounded everyone up and made it to the main square I knew I was wrong. The food vendors were likewise packing their supplies into antiquated wooden carts and leaving. A mass exodus from the square ensued. People were quickly hopping on their motorcycles and bikes and leaving as fast as they could. Though we did not run, as many did, we quickly made our way back to the safety of the hotel. After a few phone calls, API provided dinner for us in the hotel. For a nightcap Kory and I shared an overpriced bottle of wine in the company of Alana and Megan who followed suit. A relaxing end to a memorable weekend, IN AFRICA.
This post is long overdue so I apologize to anyone back home trying to keep tabs on me because I never seem to have a respite here in Spain (even my siestas are in jeopardy due to a class schedule change). My Parisian experience begins long before I ever set foot on French soil. After taking a few nights off from the bar scene in Sevilla due to a persistent cough (to this day lingering), I made irrevocable promises to a few members of the elite 8 that I would in face go out with the crew on Thursday night despite my morning flight to Paris. To prepare Kory and I paid a visit to Alcampo, a grocery store mated with a strip mall, where we stocked up on ron, refrescos, y dos litres de San Miguel. We proceeded to meet the crew at our favorite botellon spot, the torre del oro. The “tower of gold” is an old military watchtower overlooking the Guadalquivir river which runs through downtown Sevilla. For those not familiar, Botellon is essentially American “pre-gaming” with a twist. Basically, before going out to the bars or clubs college-aged students meet to socialize/drink in the streets. You can tell it is a weekend night when the subway is full of youth toting grocery bags sagging with cheap, boxed wine while dressed to the nines. Though technically illegal, the police turn a blind eye to botellon in a few locations throughout the city, namely el torre del oro. From there the group migrated to Buddha, a 4?, 5? story dance club that was a favorite at the beginning of the semester. After getting caught up in the music and dance all plans for “an early night” were stifled. After all was said and done, I made it back to the apartment at 5:15. Between Kory and I, we had 3 alarms set to ensure that I woke up for my flight. Miraculously, I managed to walk across the room to turn off two of my alarms in my sleep and neither he nor I woke to his. You can imagine my horror when I woke to complete silence with the sun shining through my window at 9:13. 32 minutes until my gate closes. Frantic, I finished packing, stood in the shower only long enough to get wet and flew out the door. With my backpack lashed to my practically shaking body I bound down the street towards the still rising sun. I hailed a taxi, “al aeropuerto, ya estoy tarde, ten prisa por favor”. Fingers crossed I walk into the terminal knowing I have missed my check-in window by six minutes. To my dismay, the Ryanair ticketing counter is already dark. My heart sinks as I know that my plane is sitting at the gate, but without a validated boarding pass I can’t so much as go through security. I jog through the airport and happen upon a Ryanair information desk. The smiling woman must have seen the fear in my eyes for she promptly stamped my boarding pass and told me to have a good flight. After rushing (Read: skipping) my way through the security checkpoint I once again set out on a run through the terminal to gate 10, naturally the furthest one. To my relief there is yet another smiling Ryanair attendant who checks my boarding pass and ushers me towards the tarmac. One of the last to board, I deposit myself in the aisle seat, second from the last row. I briefly chatted with the young Spanish couple in my row before they fell asleep on each other. Only after I had “insert(ed) the metal clasp into the buckle” was I able to take my first breath since waking. Despite a short night’s rest, sleep would not find me on the plane, but I was able to put a serious dent into my latest book, Rabbit, Run. (Now completed. Currently splitting my time between a Prague guide book and The Crossing- the second in McCarthy’s border trilogy).From BVA I hopped on to a shuttle to downtown Paris. Waiting in line to buy a metro ticket I was mistaken for a Parisian, and I instinctively told him in Spanish that I don’t speak French. The Romanian puzzled by my Spanish then asked if I spoke English. It is fun being surrounded by such a mix of languages, cultures. We complained about the length of the line and the inefficiency of one ticket machine at the metro stop. He had just arrived in Paris and had 3 large bags in tow. He is working towards his PHD in Economics and will be there for the next six months. We went the same way on the metro and when I reached my stop we exchanged “well wishes” and I headed for the sortie. Once I made it to the street I heard Kate calling my name. Locked in embrace we almost got hit by cars as we were in the middle of the crosswalk. We stopped at a café and for the first of countless times on the trip I made Kate order for me. After the much needed coffee we walked towards the Louvre’s pyramid and waited for Jeanluc. He picked us up from the median and whisked us off, leaving the city in our rearview. At 1.98m tall he is a towering figure, especially in Europe, but he is far from intimidating. After relaxing for a bit I continued my European tradition of gorging myself at dinner. His wife made delicious ribs with lentil and carrots from what I recall. It was amazing, but I was perplexed as to why the ribs weren’t dry rubbed- The Rendezvous is French right? After the main course we naturally had to sample cheeses to go with our wine. I’m not sure that I had ever been to an actual wine cellar in someone’s house, but it’s definitely something I could get used to. After the cheese we finished off with an apple turnover that hit the spot. In my homestay my “postres” consist of oranges, bananas, or yogurt, so an actual dessert was much welcomed. After dinner Jeanluc and wife outlined on the map some places we needed to see and it was very informative for those who spoke French. Haha I picked up on random words and studied the map intently, but I left the details to my personal translator. We woke up early and decided that the best way to get a feel of the real Paris was to walk around. The one thing that truly sticks with me about the city of lights is its distinct smells. The scent of baking bread would waft spill out into the streets from a panadería (I forgot the French word and don’t have internet here). A little further on and the smell of chicken on a rotisserie would hit your nostrils. And perhaps my favorite of all was walking past the floral shops where you could both admire and smell the fresh cut flowers. This sequence of bread, meat, flowers repeated all day throughout our travels and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We hit many of the obligatory sights, but the Louvre still remains on my to-do list for Paris. Each time I have been to Paris was in the winter and the city though alive just seems grey. After walking through the some parks and seeing beds that will surely be in full bloom this spring, I decided that I need to come back. Maybe this time I’ll make it to see Mona. We finished off the day by gorging ourselves once again, this time at a Thai restaurant. We were given a bowl of noodles and then left to our own devices in front of a large bar stocked with all kinds of meat, veggies, and spices. Once satisfied with our concoctions we handed the bowl over the counter to a chef who seasoned and cooked our dishes to perfection. On a full stomach we took the long tram ride home. The next morning, quite the opposite of many tourists, we finished off our Parisian weekend at the Eiffel Tower. There Kate and I said our goodbyes and I left for Sevilla, perfectly contented.
As I sit in my pseudo twin bed with a sore knee and congested head I am finally able to reflect on the events of the past 17 days that have landed me where I am now. I apologize for the lack of cohesion that this post will invariably display because my documentation of these happenings has been limited to pictures and a smattering of memories etched into my brain. After a sleepless night on the plane I claimed my bags and was whisked off to Hotel Moderno without a hitch. In order to fight off the tempting nap I grabbed my camera and headed out. I made it to the Prado and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the works of artists that we had studied in my Spanish classes. I got to see everything from Goya’s Pinturas Negras to Las Meninas de Velazquez. I also learned that the plaza where my hotel is situated is the exact same plaza as the one depicted in the painting the 2nd of May by Goya some 200 years prior. This was my first real wakeup call of the trip about the history that encompasses you here in Europe. Fading fast, I left the Prado and drank my first café con leche of the trip. Instantly hooked. For those of you not familiar, Spanish (European?) coffee more closely resembles espresso, so pair it with milk and you have my second favorite beverage of the trip, just edged out by water (Stay tuned for dehydration stories). From there I met with Sara Weir, Jane Ann, and their enterouge and we shared dinner and a few drinks. The next night I shot up a flare on the API Facebook page and Eddy answered the call. A fellow southerner, we bonded over the sheer number of northeasterners on our program and explored the city a bit. Neither of us would then realize that we would soon become a part of the conglomerate now affectionately referred to as the “electric eight” or one of many variations thereof. As the rest of the students filtered into the hotel, I set about shopping for boots and anything else that caught my eye. After striking out on the boot front, I spied an incredible jacket in Corte de Ingles-An olive, waxed cotton jacket by Barbour that would be a little less conspicuous than my bright blue Patagonia fleece, and it was even on sale. Problem: Even a 30% discount it is hard to justify buying a jacket that retails for 470Euro- Whoops. The search continues. Despite the jetlag, and perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone was raring to go out on the town. We quickly learned the best way to attack the bars of downtown Madrid is to follow the ever-present promoters to their respective bars and reap the special benefits (typically a free shot or drink coupons) then move on the next promoter/bar. No matter where we went, the night always seemed to end at Dubliners. A free shot with every pint purchased, plus the company of my new found Brazilian friends kept us there longer than we should have stayed. Another overarching theme of the semester that we first encountered in the capital was the prevalence of gypsies. Though most likely not actually gypsies, we encountered a host of men who would wander the streets of Madrid at night lugging plastic grocery bags of beer selling the “natty” equivalent at a premium, but reasonable price compared to those at the bar. Only Jared proved brave enough to buy one and it made him, along with room 216, a favorite among the Hotel Moderno staffers.
We left Madrid not a minute too soon bound for Toledo and ultimately Sevilla. About an hour outside of Madrid we stopped at El Escorial, a monastery, and my ABC (another bloody church) tour officially began. Though I sound a bit jaded, I cannot express the awe that I feel when I stand in the middle of these immense cathedrals. I cannot fully relay the majesty of these buildings with my camera, but the shutter is depressed incessantly regardless. For me the true beauty lies not in the gold flake, stained glass, or the paint that has long since faded, but rather in the sheer size and scope of these buildings. When I see modern day scaffolding outside working on renovations, I shudder to think about those craftsmen who originally erected it hundreds of years ago. Without the use of modern day cranes, tools, I cannot fathom how they made such enduring structures.
From there we arrived in Toledo under the cover of dense fog. We roamed the narrow, cobblestone streets past innumerable shops promoting their own unique take on the famous Toledo sword/blade. I searched for a replacement for my small knife that was a casualty of this summer’s Chattanooga lake trip, but once again balked at the steep price tag of the few winners I found. I’m in no rush. We toured a cathedral that had been converted from a synagogue during the “Catholicification” of Spain around 1492. By the time we left, the sun had burned through the fog leaving us with a stunning panoramic view overlooking the city. We boarded the bus, went through the city wall and headed south.
Once in Sevilla the days begin to run together so the following events will not necessarily be in chronological order. The busses arrived in front of the API office to groups of expectant families. Chaos ensued. Limited space coupled with 80 over-packed American students threw all sense of order out of the window. After Kory and I tracked our bags down we began the task of finding the elusive Isabel. All told we spent over an hour from arrival to the time we finally met up with our abuelos for the semester. Mama y Papa are the epitome of a retired Spanish couple. Isabel is armed with dark hair, a sly smile, and beautiful face which gives me the impression that there lies a man-eater in her now overweight and aging body. Papa dresses with the same classic looks one might expect from an older European. Dress pants paired with an oxford shirt and sweater under a longer wool coat has been his outfit of choice in this cold weather. And to top it off, he dons a fedora on top of his thin, snow white hair. His infectious giggle reassured Kory and I in the beginning as it took time to break through Isabel’s initially cold exterior. We live in a modest apartment on the outskirts of downtown Sevilla. Though certainly not a prime location for our weekend escapades downtown, I’m warming up to it since my commute to school is about 10 minutes versus the 50 or more of some of our companeros. The sometimes hour and a half walk back from the bars has given Kory and I ample time to wallow in self pity about our lack of internet, our shower quota, and other current inconveniences that will certainly become habits I’ll be hesitant to break upon returning to the states. Already, I have started to enjoy my lack of internet and cheap communication. No longer tethered to my phone or laptop I have gone out exploring, sat and talked with mama y papa, and rekindled my love for reading. Love my kindle. (As a side note, for anyone who wants to pick up a masterpiece, do yourself a favor and find a copy of Blood Meridian by my boy Cormac McCarthy. A true artist.) Public transportation has also forced me to slow my pace down a bit. Though Christina will testify that I take forever to get out the door, I pride myself on punctuality. I have found that the bus schedules mean little to nothing here, and the bus will come when it comes. I arrive early to the stop, and rather than tap my foot and crank my head at the sound of any large engine that might be my bus, I read or make small talk with those standing around. Being driven from place to place is a nice respite for my battered feet, and will be something I’ll truly miss upon returning stateside.
Though this topic really fits in with the aforementioned adaption to the slower Spanish pace, I feel as though the siesta needs its own space. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love my sleep. Of all the adjustments I have made to survive in Europe, the addition of a daily nap has been by far the easiest. Okay, not really an adjustment as much as now my habits are culturally acceptable. It once again forces a change of pace on us Americans and our ‘always-on’ culture. Coming from the land of 24 hour Walmarts, something just seems off when I walk through the streets at 16:00 to find very few stores open. Even when I have no intention of buying anything, I can’t help but feel constrained by the hours. I have come to find it’s a small price to pay for the feeling you get as you peel back the sheets and slide into bed at 15:00 with a belly full of tortilla Espanola. I’ve talked enough for now. More to come soon. And please, share with me your thoughts and questions!