18 April 2010

I've been slacking a little bit on the updates, but again this can be attributed to the majority of my time being spent outside the house. The last few weeks can be summed up by saying I've spent a great deal of time in the park, gone to class as usual, and continued enjoying every second of being in Santiago.

The one out of the ordinary thing that went on recently was my trip to Finisterre last weekend. The weather was beautiful, so my friend Brandon and I left Friday afternoon and took a bus to Finisterre. One of our teachers has a house there that she only uses a few weeks out of the year, and she offered to let us stay there. So we spent two nights in Finisterre on a mini-vacation. I watched the sunrise from the patio both mornings we were there. After that we ate breakfast, headed to the beach, ate lunch in a restaurant, spent the afternoon on the beautiful patio, went for a walk, cooked dinner, and went to bed. That was the general schedule of the weekend, and it made it very hard to leave.

Before I have to leave Santiago (less than two months left), I'm attempting to learn a little of the language of Galicia--the province of Spain where Santiago is located--Gallego. I've started studying it along with two friends, and our teachers (who all speak Gallego as well as Spanish) have offered to help in any way they can. It's very similar to Spanish (which means I can more or less understand it even though I speak very little), but I had forgotten what it felt like to start learning a language because it's been years since I started studying Spanish. It's like going back to square one, and this is the feeling with a language similar to one I already speak! It should be interesting to see how much Gallego I can learn before I leave. It won't be an immensely useful language to know because they only speak it here in Galicia, but it's an interesting thing to study.

The end of this experience gets closer every day, so I will be out of the house soaking up Santiago as much as possible over the next few weeks.

01 April 2010

Semana Santa

Ah, it's Semana Santa (Holy Week), which means I don't have class and Santiago is filled with tourists. My travel plans fell through, so I've been in Santiago all week, but it has been a wonderful experience. The only other people not traveling are my friend from Switzerland and my newest friends from Saudi Arabia. I have spent the majority of my week with the 8 guys from Saudi Arabia, who are constantly making me laugh. The one drawback is that when it's just me and them they speak a lot of Arabic. That's not all bad though because I'm learning a little (and by a little I mean very little, but it's a start), and I can always ask whoever is sitting beside me to translate and tell me what's going on. Maybe after Spanish I'll tackle Arabic.

I've enjoyed watching the city celebrate this week with lots of processions and special events for Semana Santa, and I've also gotten to know a different part of the city by spending some time alone here. The weather has been fairly awful, but the sun finally came out today and I'm getting to be outside a little more.

I also made a new friend. I was reading in a cafe and heard a girl ordering in English. It was obvious that she spoke zero Spanish and was not a native English-speaker, so I asked her where she was from. We ended up talking for a couple hours and she spent the rest of the day with my friend Natascia and I. She is from Germany and just finished the Camino de Santiago, starting from Portugal and walking for 12 days. She's here in Santiago until Saturday, so yesterday she went with my friends and I to A Coruña, and she's planning to go out with us tonight. I'm still amazed how much I'm learning about the rest of the world by being in Spain.

It's so hard to believe I have less than 2 months left of my Spanish adventure!

27 March 2010

Saturday Morning at the Market

I went to the market this morning with Antonieta. I had been told Saturday morning was the time to go, but so far I've only seen it during the week, and it's true that everybody goes on Saturday. Basically the market is a lot like the Nashville farmers' market on steroids and with medieval structures to house it. It's set up in several long buildings open on both ends with vendors set up all around. You can buy meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables, and anything else that you might want fresh from Galicia.

We bought some shellfish that were probably still living their lives in the ocean less than 24 hours ago, fruit, and bread (from one of the oldest Panaderías in Santiago). It's amazing how fresh the food is here and the way Antonieta does the shopping for our meals. Rather than buying everything she will need to cook for a week or some other set time, she goes shopping several times throughout the week and picks up the main part of the meals. Everything we eat is fresh.

I provide you with an example of just how fresh: The vendor who sold us our shellfish was set up inside of one of the buildings with all kinds of fish laid out on ice. People choose a fish and the women working take a knife to it and prepare it to be taken home and cooked today. It's amazing.

The other thing I like about the market is that it's such an alive place. It seems like all of Santiago has a chance to interact and live their separate lives more together. I will have to make it a point to go to the market more often just to people watch.

15 March 2010

Springing Forward and Watching Soccer

I haven't written in a while, and I can attribute that to the incredible weather we've had here in Santiago. Spring is in the air!

Yesterday I went to the park after breakfast to read. I came home for lunch and immediately went back to the park to do homework with friends. Not only is the weather incredible, but Santiago has incredible parks. There are multiple places to go, all with a different take on green space.

One of the things I love about living here is that we're never in the house. I spend the majority of my day outside, walking around and getting to know the city, coming home to eat and sleep. And watching the seasons change is proving this place only keeps getting better!

When the sun left us yesterday, I experienced a little more Spanish culture (or the culture of the rest of the world, minus America) and went to a bar to watch a soccer game with some friends. It was fun to watch everyone in the place getting excited at the same time. I'm still not completely clear on all the rules, but I enjoy watching the games and the fans. I'm planning to incorporate more soccer into my Spanish life. If I don't, I'm resisting immersion.

06 March 2010

Un Dia Redondo

Today was un dia redondo, which translates literally to a round day but means a day where everything went well. I spent the day in A Coruña with friends doing basically nothing but having the time of my life. We walked a lot, visited the Tower of Hercules again, and ate lunch at a great little place with a house menu that was cheap.

It feels more like home when you can spend a day doing things that aren't particularly touristy with people you consider friends. We're getting to the point where we go back to the same places because we know we like them. We're finding our niches!

Of course, there is still much more to see! We aren't so comfortable that we're content to spend the next three months in Santiago. I'm working on a trip to Dublin during holy week, and it looks like I'm headed to Madrid before that. There's so much to see here, but it feels more like home every day.

Whether we're residents or tourists, we'll always take pictures. You can find them here.

01 March 2010

Toblerone McFlurry?!

While going to McDonald's in Spain would seem to be reverting back to my American ways, I'm glad I walked in today. They have the basic chicken nuggets and hamburgers, and the french fries were absolutely equal to (and as delicious as) the ones in America. But in Spain there are a few different things on the menu. My friend Brandon got a happy meal, and with it came a banana sundae--a creamy banana substance (probably just mashed up bananas, but I can't verify that) topped with ice cream. It was pretty good, but what I got was better: a McFlurry made with Toblerone! I don't know why we do not have this in the states, but I'm considering heading up the campaign to share this delicious dulce with America, or bringing in my own crushed up Toblerone and asking them to make my McFlurry with it. It can't hurt to try.

Galician food is definitely good enough that I don't want or need McDonalds, but even going there is a different experience than I would get at home. Plus, the trash cans say GRACIAS instead of THANK YOU.

27 February 2010

Escuchaaaarrrrrrr!!!!!!! The Songs Constantly Stuck in My Head

If you've got some time on your hands and would like a little more Spanish culture than what I can write about, I offer you the songs of Spain.

We hear a lot of songs when we go out on the weekend and often listen to music in our culture class, and several of these have a tendency to get stuck in your head. It's a trilingual experience because some are in Spanish, some in English, and some in Portuguese.

This one is in Portuguese, and it's called Rap Das Armas. When that Parapapapapa . . . part comes on everybody in the room starts to sing. It's peppy and fun, but my Brazilian friends let me know that it's about guns in the slums of Brazil and that fun sound in the chorus is mimicking gunshots. It was a happier song before this piece of information was shared with me. However, without the English subtitle version I find it enjoyable, in a stuck-in-your-head-all-day kind of way.

And songs that get stuck in your head makes me think of this gem I heard a lot during Carnaval: Humahuaqueño Carnavalito. I haven't heard it since (and I'm not complaining), but it sticks with you. Or at least one word sticks with you: Bailaaaarrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!! The great thing is that there are many Spanish verbs that end in -ar like bailar (which means "to dance" for those of you who don't speak Spanish), so we can yell these verbs and roll the r for a long time like King Africa. It shouldn't be as fun as it has turned out to be.

I have a friend who is a little obsessed with this next one. It's also in Portuguese, but my Brazilian friends tell me it's Portuguese from Angola and they can't even understand a lot of it. It's called Kalemba and it's by a group called Buraka Som Sistema.

These first three are things you hear when you go out, but every now and then in class we get stuck on a Youtube search and end up with new things to laugh at. Exhibit A: El Mamut Chiquitito (The Little Mammoth). It sounds like a kids song, but it is not. It is both horrible and wonderful at the same time. To summarize, the little mammoth wanted to do things that are bad for him, such as fly, smoke, and drink. He is at first unsuccessful in each attempt, but then some friend (a different animal every time) helps him get what he wants and it turns out bad for him in a different way every time (he overdoses, gets AIDS, and eventually dies). It sounds ridiculous, because it is, but if you listen to it you'll be singing it all day (even if you don't have a clue what you're saying). Also, even if you don't understand the Spanish I think the animations will give you a fairly good idea of the storyline.

And finally, I apologize for the animations on this last one because they are inappropriate, but the song is hilarious. One of our teachers encountered this one when she searched for El Mamut Chiquitito. This guy is talking about his girlfriend, and he says lots of horrible things about her, such as she's so ugly that when she emailed her picture it was detected by the antivirus software. But he continually throws in the line "Pero te quiero," (but I love you). The best line of the song is toward the end when he just says, "Fea," (ugly). This same guy has a song about giving a girlfriend breast implants as a gift and her leaving him shortly after.

These songs should not be taken as a representation of Spanish music or culture overall, but it should give you an idea of some of the things that are entertaining me here. Enjoy!

24 February 2010

It's Raining, It's Pouring, and I Just Want to be Snoring

It's been raining non-stop for four days. I don't like leaving the house, and all I want to do is be inside reading and sleeping. We had a few weeks where it rained very little and I got spoiled, so now I'm having trouble adjusting to this monsoon.

Rain aside, things are good in Santiago. I have a test tomorrow (for those of you who ask if I do any work here), and at the end of the week all my Brazilian friends head home. It will be sad, but the next few days will be spent celebrating with them before they leave.

Tomorrow I have an English lesson with a little girl named Blanca. We had our first one last Thursday, and I really enjoyed it. Her mom just wants her to work on conversation, so I'm basically getting paid to hang out with her and play games. It's interesting to be on the other side of things while I'm here surrounded by people who speak very well the language I'm attempting to learn.

Tomorrow there will also be more rain, but I'm trying to forget about that and concentrate on the many reasons I want to go outside anyway.

21 February 2010

My Internal Clock is Confused

By far the biggest adjustment I've had to make living here is the schedule change. I sleep later, eat later, and hang out with friends much later. I would like to think my body would adjust to lunch at 2:30 and dinner at 9 or later, but so far that has not been the case. And on the weekends when we go out, it is a sure bet that not much will be open until 11 and there won't be many people in these places (which is the only way they're fun) until around 1. Planning to meet people at 1 or 2 in the morning is something I'm not sure I'll ever grow accustomed to. For one thing, how do I fill this weird time between dinner and the wee hours of the morning? And when you leave the house at 1 you will of course remain out until very late (or early depending on what you consider the start of the next day). Then there is the question: How do you recover and be alive the next day if you're out until 7?

I've noticed my problems with the schedule have multiplied since I found friends who are actually from here. When I'm with the other international students we tend to get home a little earlier; we all work around the Spanish schedule with meals and things, but often we are home earlier. When I go out with my Spanish friends we meet no earlier than 1, and we never get home before 6. Immersing myself in this culture is wreaking havoc on my sleep schedule!

I predict I will adjust to this around mid-May right before I come back to the states and have to start over. I won't have a clue when to be hungry or tired.

16 February 2010

Santiago Sweet Tooth

Maybe it's a location issue that causes this to stick out to me, but I have noticed there is a high concentration of candy stores in Santiago. The kind of candy stores where everything is in clear plastic bins and you fill a bag full of the delicious, colorful sweets that strike your fancy. I know of at least 3 stores within 100 yards of each other that basically carry the exact same candies, but apparently competition isn't driving anyone out of business. My personal favorite is called Pecados ("sins" in English).

The high volume of candy very close to where I live (and on my way to and from any place I might go) is both wonderful and dangerous. I fear I might develop an addiction that carries over to America where Belmont students have recently opened a new candy store. I may need an intervention when I get home.

Hang It Out to Dry

While day to day chores and things around the house here in Spain are not particularly different than in America, one huge difference is the lack of dryers in this country. When you wash your clothes they go straight from the washing machine to a large drying rack (or outside in some cases). There are pros and cons to this system:

-Nothing shrinks. Ever.
-You can really only do about one load of laundry a day.

-Drying clothes take up space in your house.
-You can really only do about one load of laundry a day.

All in all I don't mind the drying system one bit, but it has been an adjustment. It's just one of the things you don't think about when contemplating what life is like in another country.

15 February 2010

El Lunes, Vamos en Pijamas!

I'm not sure what I'm going to do when Ash Wednesday hits and I have to go back to school and give up staying out all night in costume. Carnaval is still going strong here in Santiago. Tonight my friends and I are going out in pajamas, mainly because the girls I've been with are sick of painting their faces to look like cats, nobody wants to wear heels, and it's entirely too cold to go out in a small, sparkly dress. I have thoroughly enjoyed being out of school but still in Santiago during the week; this was a prime time for travel, but staying here has paid off.

Tomorrow is the big day, the culmination of the Carnaval festivities, including a parade. Lent begins Wednesday, and life will go back to normal.

13 February 2010

Carnaval: Day 1

So far I am loving Carnaval! Last night everyone in the street was in costume, and everywhere we went the people were dancing and very loud and exciting. It's like Halloween in the sense that everyone goes as whatever they want to be. There were a lot of groups of people who coordinated and dressed the same, including a big bunch of ladybugs, Duff beer girls, and several American football teams.

I went out last night with an American friend and two Spanish girls he knows from work. We had a blast and were out until about 7am. I'm not sure this place sleeps much during Carnaval, but I'm glad the fun lasts a little longer. So far I haven't been out to see the daytime activities, but I can hear some sort of concert happening sitting here in my room.

I probably won't be able to readjust my sleep schedule after this is all over, but I'm looking forward to enjoying every second of Carnaval. And tonight I will be dressed as a flapper!

12 February 2010

Catch Phrase and Carnaval

Learning Spanish is one huge game of Catch Phrase; it's all about circumlocution. If you don't know the word for something, you have to describe it, and this is done with varying degrees of difficulty. This game-like nature of learning is why I love the language exchange we have here on Thursday nights. I get to talk to Spanish people who describe things to me in English when they don't know the word, and then they return the favor and assist me in my descriptions and identification in Spanish. The great thing is this keeps the conversation going because it's like chasing one rabbit after another. It's the same in my classes when someone doesn't understand a concept. Either the teacher will explain it or ask one of us to do so, but every description is a test of vocabulary. When I come home I expect to be the Catch Phrase queen, so be prepared to lose if you aren't on my team.

And on the topic of language exchange, I will soon begin making money to speak English, one of my favorite things to do. I will be working two days a week with a 12-year-old girl, simply speaking English. I met her and her mother yesterday, and in the 30 minutes I spent getting to know the family I could tell it's going to be fun. On top of that, I'm waiting for an email from a lady who wants someone to speak in English with her 3 or 4 year old. It will basically be playing with the little girl and only speaking English. The prospect of income and getting to know kids who actually live here in Santiago and are growing up in this city and school system that are so foreign (literally) to me is exciting.

As for foreign things, I will soon experience my very first Carnaval, the festival leading up to Lent. Since Wednesday night I've seen a few people dressed up here in Santiago, but tomorrow we're planning to go to Ourense where the festival is a little more elaborate. We don't have classes Monday or Tuesday, so I will be trying to participate fully since this isn't something we have in Tennessee and is very different from Mardi Gras. Everyone dresses up, people throw flour (I'm still not clear on why), and there are parades, along with many other things I'm looking forward to experiencing. But more on this once I figure out exactly what Carnaval entails here.

09 February 2010

Saying Adios

One of the things I love most about taking classes here in Santiago is that I meet people from all over the world. Our common language isn't one we know well, but it's amazing how much we can communicate and how much I'm learning about other places and cultures. Coming here helped me to understand a little better how big the world really is, but being here and spending most of my time with people from Brazil, Japan, China, and Switzerland amplifies that realization.

Unfortunately, Spain is only a temporary home for all of us. Our program works on a month-to-month schedule, and at the end of each month we lose a few students and gain a few more. The new people are wonderful, but it's hard to let go of the people you spent the last month with. We're all in a new place where we hardly know anyone, and although we speak the language, it's very different from being in our home countries. We became friends very quickly because we spend so much time together and are all in a similar situation. That made it all the more difficult to lose our three Brazilians this week. Our class seems to be missing a little something. Unfortunately, that is the nature of our program, but we also have three new students who I have already enjoyed getting to know and with whom I am looking forward to spending the next month.

It's going to be difficult to say goodbye to more people over the next four months, and I can imagine that leaving won't be easy for any of us. Although I will hate to see these great friends go, I'm glad I got my one or two months with them.

Plus, if and when I go to Brazil (because these Brazilians make it sound like such a wonderful place), I've got a place to stay and friends who speak Portugese.

08 February 2010

Saturday and Sunday in Santiago

It's been almost a month since I got to Santiago, but this past weekend was the first one I spent in the city. I was excited to see what it was like to be here on a weekend, and of course the city didn't disappoint.

I'm sure Friday is a great night to go out, but unfortunately I did not experience this because here Thursday is also a great night to go out and I had to sleep on Friday to recover. However, Saturday during the day was wonderful. I went to about three different parks and did a lot of walking around the city. I found a few great spots to read and a few more to run in. My friend Juliana and I had lunch in a restaurant with typical Galician food, and Saturday night I went out with several of the other international students. Sunday morning I went to the cathedral for Mass. It is absolutely incredible and a beautiful thing to watch. I had lunch with a friend and we came across another park neither of us was familiar with.

Santiago is very alive on the weekends with plenty of people in the streets. It's such a different world because people--young and old--typically don't go out until at least 10, so when you're walking around at 1am there are still plenty of people on the streets. It's very strange to see a group of people who are at least in their 60's walking around so late, but I like the fact that everyone participates in the nightlife here. I was very happy to remain in Santiago for the weekend, and I've got 4 more months and much more to discover about the city itself in the midst of all the traveling I would still like to do while I'm here.

And as for going out late, living here is completely changing my internal clock. I usually go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn when I'm at home. I was getting up at about 5:30 on average last semester, but here getting up early is a struggle. We go out so late that you have to take advantage of a nap, and getting up early is not only difficult but pointless. The city doesn't wake up until about 9:30 or 10, and it's a slow process. It's a different world in some ways, but I'm adapting and learning to wait until 11 to go out (which is what time I'm meeting my friends tonight). I'm also trying to overcome my American tendency to be on time (or 5 minutes early) to everything.

04 February 2010

Siestas, Saucers, and Fresh-Squeezed Juice

There is so much to love about the way Spaniards do things. While I have come to terms with the fact that living here is temporary, there are a few things I love and want to bring back to America with me.

First, the siesta. It's not so much the sleeping (although it's a definite bonus) that I love about the siesta. What makes me really happy is the fact that people find it more important to have a chunk of their day set aside to rest than to be working and making money. Coming home to a home-cooked meal every day at 2 is a wonderful thing. You have time to rest if you need it, and it doesn't come at the end of the day when you're too worn out to enjoy it. Also, instead of hating the afternoon and its tasks, you're energized by the couple of hours relaxation and ready to tackle whatever it is you have going on later in the day. Some people do not like the fact that most of the stores around here close during the siesta, but I support this. If I need something I can get it later when things open again. As far as I'm concerned this forces people to enjoy some free time, and sleeping is optional.

It's not just the siesta either. I'm convinced that coffee in a cup on a little saucer is superior. I don't know what it is about the plate, but I love it. In some ways it's another device to slow you down. You're not getting your coffee and running to your next task; instead, you sit down and enjoy drinking it, often times while also enjoying the company of others. People take time to eat and drink here rather than eating or drinking just because they have to in order to survive. It doesn't appear to affect getting work done, and if you ask me everyone just seems better off because of it.

The fact that everything closes in the middle of the day and coffee breaks are meant to be long might give you the idea that Spaniards are lazy. This is a false impression, and I offer you orange juice to prove it. I'm sure if I looked for orange juice in a jug/carton/some other container in the store I could find it, but I can say that in the almost 4 weeks I've been here I have ONLY seen fresh-squeezed orange juice. In restaurants and at home, if someone is drinking orange juice, it came from real oranges right before they started drinking. It's a little more work, but there's something about it coming straight from the orange that just makes it better.

This is only my impression, and I don't know how the Spaniards themselves feel about their lives. But what I'm learning here is that it's possible to enjoy life in the midst of work and being busy. It doesn't really make a difference here if they take a break from about 2-4:30. Things still get done. People still work hard and efficiently. I hope when I get back to the states I can start a siesta movement (or at least work my own schedule out that way), and I am sure I will be drinking my coffee with a saucer underneath my cup. I don't drink much orange juice here or anywhere, but I plan to live with a fresh-squeezed mindset. Work is important and unavoidable, but it isn't all there is to life. Spain is showing me you can have your job and your siesta, the equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

01 February 2010

El Camino de Santiago

I'm back from the longest walk I've ever been on in my life! We set out Thursday morning from the cathedral in Santiago and started walking to the end of the world, Finisterre. Before we left we stopped in at the cathedral to hug the apostle Santiago (Saint James for the English speakers), as is the tradition when you're in Santiago. Post-hugs we posed for a photo in front of the cathedral and hit the trail with backpacks and little else. There were six of us--three Americans, one girl from Brazil, a guy from Japan, and one from China. The trail is well-marked with conch shells and yellow arrows. It's almost impossible to get lost, so we started walking and fell into a sort of rhythm.

The first day we walked a little over 20 kilometers to a town called Negreira. The weather was perfect, and we made it to Negreira at about 6pm, still excited about the walk at this point. We checked in at the albergue, basically a hostel specifically for pilgrims on the Camino, and headed into town to eat something. Besides our group there were two guys from France, a girl from South Korea, and one guy nobody talked to staying at the albergue. There was plenty of space because not many people do the Camino in the winter.

After a good night's sleep we set out for the next town. It rained a lot on the second day, and we didn't make it near as far as we had hoped. We were aiming for a town called Olveiroa with a public albergue, but we had to stop in a place called Maroñas where there was a private albergue. The public albergues cost 5 euros a night, and you can't sleep in them unless you have the credential for the Camino. Every time you stay somewhere you get a stamp on your credential as a form of proof that you completed that part of the Camino. If you do 100 kilometers, you get something called the Compostela that is like a certificate of completion. The private albergues also have stamps, but the cost varies. This one was still cheap at 10 euros a person, but we didn't have heat. We nearly froze.

Day three we were warm as soon as we started walking because we had been so cold in the albergue. It rained off and on all day, but this was the day we hit some of the prettiest (and most difficult) places on the Camino. The way the towns were spaced we needed to walk about 33 kilometers. We were already really tired, but we needed to make it to a town called Cee so that we could get to Finisterre on Sunday. Day three was mostly climbing large hills and crossing rocky, muddy paths. It was the most difficult day by far, but when we got to Cee we were incredibly comfortable.

The albergue in Cee was closed, but a lady at one of the places we stopped to eat told us about a reasonably priced hotel in Cee. It was called Hotel Larry, and the man who runs the place is arguably the nicest man in the world. We were the only people staying in the hotel, and it had an attached restaurant where we ate a delicious dinner. During and after dinner, there was a group watching a soccer match between Real Madrid and A Coruña, all fans of Coruña. Sadly for them, Madrid won. I heard every swear word I know in Spanish (and several new ones) strung together in one sentence.

Hotel Larry was one of the highlights of the trip, but after two showers, sleep, and breakfast we were back on the Camino for the last 16 kilometers to Finisterre. We got to the town of Finisterre around the middle of the day, but of course the "end of the world" is on the other side. So we walked and walked and walked. We were worn out, but the last leg of the trip runs right by the ocean and has an incredible view. We were so close.

Our ultimate goal was a lighthouse on the point that is considered the end. In case you were wondering, the world ends on top of a very large hill. Within two kilometers of being finished I was regretting ever having started because I was so tired. It was that moment where you question your sanity. We got there at about 5pm and realized we had finally found what we had been walking toward for four days. It was a breathtaking view. We just sat and watched the sunset.

Those four days are kind of a blur in my mind, but it was an incredible trip. The trail goes through tiny towns--some with medieval structures still intact--through the woods, up small mountains, and right by the ocean. We saw a little bit of everything. We had time to think, time to talk and get to know each other a little better, opportunities to meet new people, and as always a chance to practice our Spanish. As great as it was, I'm glad to be back in Santiago, clean, dry, sitting down, and wearing makeup. But I've now been to the end of the world.

You can go on your own version of the Camino through the photos here and here. It's much easier on your feet this way, but the pictures can't quite do the scenery justice.

27 January 2010

Gearing Up for a Weekend Pilgrimage

Tomorrow we don't have class, and because we're all trying to see as much as possible and long weekends make that happen nobody will be attending on Friday either. This four-day weekend makes just enough time to try a piece of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage starts from wherever you want it to start, although there are several recognized routes (if you google "Camino de Santiago" there are lots of places that can hook you up with all the information you need to do it yourself), and ends at the cathedral right here in Santiago de Compostela. Kind of. The people who make it to Santiago can consider themselves finished, but there's more if you want to go farther. The route continues from here in Santiago to Finisterre (Latin: Finis Terrae), also known as "el fin del mundo" or the end of the world. Back in the Roman days they thought there wasn't anything left once you reached this point. Pilgrims who continue on to Finisterre typically observe three rites: burning their clothes (a part of their old lives before the pilgrimage), bathing in the sea (a symbol of cleansing, like the fire), and watching the sunset (a symbol of death and resurrection because the sun goes down and is "reborn" again the next day).

Tomorrow morning I, along with a few other students, will set out for Finisterre. The pilgrimage is done on foot (although you can bike it or ride a horse), and we'll be sleeping in albergues every night. Albergues are little hostel-type places located in cities all along the Camino de Santiago. In every town on the Camino there is a public albergue that costs 3 euros for the night. There are also places to clean up and eat something along the way. You're not completely roughing it, but these places are not hotels by any means. The route is marked by yellow arrows, and we'll follow them to the end of the world! Sadly, none of us have enough clothes to burn them when we reach the end and it's way too cold to bathe in the sea, but we'll still be able to consider ourselves cleansed. It will be right at 100 kilometers, and we'll take a bus back to Santiago.

I'm looking forward to being a pilgrim (Spanish peregrina), and we're just hoping it doesn't rain for all four days.

25 January 2010


It's incredible where you can go and what you can see in one weekend when countries are small and close together. This past weekend we took a trip to Porto, Portugal.

We left Santiago Friday afternoon and were on the train for a little over 6 hours. We had to change trains in Vigo, and we arrived in Porto around midnight, 11 in Porto because they're one hour behind. After we checked into our hotel and ate something we slept because it was a long trip (and every one of us was out late Thursday night). Saturday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, and I set out with Juliana to get to know Porto.

We did more walking in Porto than actual visiting places, but we went to several different churches, took a tour in a boat, and ate at Adega do Conde, a wonderful little restaurant we liked so much we had lunch there both days. Saturday evening Juliana and I took a train to Aveiro, about an hour away by train. Aveiro is much smaller than Porto, and it's beautiful. I want to see it in the daylight because we went back to Porto that night and only saw everything in the dark.

Sunday morning we got up and headed toward the beach and El Castillo de Queso (which is the name in Spanish, I don't know about the Portuguese), which translates to the castle of cheese. It was a little fort very similar to the castle we saw in A Coruna, but smaller. After that we went to one more church for a tour, walked a little more, and ate again at our restaurant. Our train arrived in Santiago just after midnight.

I had absolutely no concept of Portugal before this trip, but it is a beautiful country, and I'd love to return and see more. And for you to see, there are pictures.

21 January 2010

TGIF, Because that Means Weekend Trips!

Yesterday's presentation was short, sweet, and simple, so there isn't much to report on that front.

After the presentation however, there was a conversation exchange where Spanish students and us international kids got together just to chat, which was much more exciting (and came with forewarning). The Spanish students wanted to practice English, and we of course want to practice Spanish, so we went out just to talk. Along with another girl who is in my class, I made three brand new Spanish friends who I'm looking forward to seeing again. They didn't know each other before this, so we were all starting from scratch, but everyone was extremely friendly. The experience of learning and asking questions from a peer rather than a teacher is much different.

This afternoon we're headed to Portugal, and we'll return on Sunday. I'm curious to see what it's like not speaking the language at all.

Short Notice

When class started this morning our teacher was telling us about an event this afternoon when international students would be giving presentations about their home countries. In the middle of this plug one of the people from the International Courses office showed up and asked for me and Jon, the other Belmont student. She pulled us out to ask us if we would talk a little bit about Belmont at this same event. She told us we could do it in English, so we had absolutely no reason to say no, but we still aren't sure what we've gotten ourselves into.

20 January 2010

Comida Brasileña

I'll never be hungry again.

I think I've said this after almost every other meal since I got to Spain. There is so much I want to try and so often it tastes so good that I can't stop. My current cuisine-induced coma, rather than being Spanish, speaks Portuguese and comes from Brazil.

There are four Brazilians in my class and yesterday we made plans for our whole class and our two professors to go out to lunch today at a Brazilian restaurant. They have eaten at this place before and verified its authenticity, so they made sure we got a full Brazilian experience. The owner of the restaurant is from Brazil but married to a woman from Galicia. He was incredibly friendly and took very good care of us. Instead of ordering from the menu we all had the same very large, typical meal (I can't remember what it was called, nor could I spell it if I could remember). There was steak of some sort, rice, black beans, and lots of special touches that actually make those things Brazilian to accompany them. Along with that we had signature Brazilian drinks and desserts that got passed around the table so everyone could try. It was all delicious, but now I feel like I'll never be able to move again. I'm not entirely sure how I managed the walk home.

Having classes with other international students is great because we learn a little bit about every country. I'm getting more of an idea of what it's like to live in Brazil, Japan, and China while learning to speak Spanish and living in Spain. Last night I even experienced multicultural karaoke when we went to this wonderful little karaoke bar and the people I was with sang songs in three different languages.

There are so many places to see, things to try, and languages I would love to learn. But now, it's time for a siesta.

19 January 2010

Blending In

Apparently I look like I live here. I got stopped by someone on my way home from school this afternoon who asked me if I was familiar with an organization similar to planned parenthood. I need to talk to more people, so I told her no and began to listen. After she explained what the organization does she asked me where I was from. When I told her the US, she told me I looked Spanish and everything else she had to say really didn't matter if I'm not a local. She asked me a few questions about where in the US I was from and how I like Santiago before we parted ways.

It's nice to know I don't stick out like a sore thumb.

18 January 2010


The pictures from A Coruña are up after much protest from Facebook. They don't quite capture it the way I saw it (which is why there are so many), but I hope you can get an idea of how beautiful it is.

You Can't Run with an Umbrella

I've gotten used to the fact that when I leave the house, no matter what the weather is doing, I need to bring an umbrella. If the sun is out I still grab it before I head out the door.

When I left for class this morning it was sunny and the warmest it's been since I arrived. During our break between classes we all stood outside in the sun like lizards on a rock to escape our cold classroom. When I went home for lunch there were a few clouds, but I'm accustomed to that change by now. Unfortunately, the weather pattern was upside down for my plans. Walking in the rain is nothing; everybody here just puts on their boots and grabs an umbrella. But I really wanted to run this afternoon. I knew, as always, rain could come at any moment, and the sky wasn't promising, but I gave it a try anyway. Ten minutes into my run it started to rain, and when I got home I was soaked.

Even with the rain, Santiago is a great city for running. There are parks everywhere, and unlike Nashville they have all the sidewalks you could wish for (because everybody walks). The scenery is incredible, and you don't need to plan a route because it's small and you can just head back towards home at any point.

My first run in Santiago was not ideal weather-wise, but I look forward to more, rain or shine!

17 January 2010

A Coruña

If Santiago weren't cool enough, I now know I can take a half-hour train ride to another wonderful, beautiful, exciting city. Yesterday along with my classmates I took a train to A Coruña, another city here in Galicia. We arrived at about 11, found a good map, and took a taxi to a part of the city where there were several hotels. Then we checked in, dropped off our bags and set out for whatever we could find. Most of the notable sites were in the same general area, so we started walking that direction.

Within two minutes we could see the ocean. The road runs along the water with a huge sidewalk, and below the sidewalk are rocks that go right up into the water. Every 100 yards or so there is a park, or a staircase, or a beach that goes out to the ocean where the water is crystal clear. It was too cold to swim (which didn't stop these two crazy guys we saw who stripped down to their underwear and jumped in), but walking along the beach was great. I saw tons of people running, and I don't blame them because it's the perfect place. There are plenty of parks to spare the knees the sidewalk, and the whole time you can see the ocean and places built in the 1st and 2nd centuries. I may have to go back sometime just to run.

We took a street car toward La Torre (tower) de Hercules, a giant tower built by the Romans centuries ago and the only working Roman lighthouse in the world. When we reached the end of the line on the street car we were at El Castillo de San Anton, an old castle/fortress which is now an archaeology and history museum. We toured the castle, which dates back to the Roman and Iron Age periods and then headed to the old city of A Coruña for lunch. The seafood in A Coruña is supposed to be exceptional, so we asked for directions to a good place for seafood. I don't even really like seafood, but I ate a sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) and salmon because it felt like a necessary part of the trip. I haven't converted to liking seafood, but I was satisfied with my meal.

After lunch we headed toward La Torre. Before we got there we found a park full of monuments--the amount of green space beside the water in this city is astounding--and decided to head through it to La Torre. We were in this park for a couple of hours because it was beautiful. There were several different paths and it's completely acceptable to walk on the grass, so we took our time and enjoyed the ocean. When we finally got to La Torre it was closed, but we agreed the walk was worth it. We headed back to the hotel where we had dinner and rested our weary legs (we did a lot of walking, and that's saying something considering we already walk everywhere).

After breakfast this morning we headed back to La Torre to go inside. It was a hike up the steps, but from the top you could see the ocean and the city, and it was well worth the trip back and the walk up the stairs. After La Torre we walked to the Ascensor Panoramico Monte San Pedro, a huge elevator-type lift that takes you up to the top of Mount San Pedro, offering another panoramic view of the city and the ocean.

After the lift we had lunch and headed to the train station to return to Santiago. The train ride itself is beautiful with views of the country and little houses sitting on hillsides in green fields. It's like something out of a movie (as a matter of fact, I feel closer to Harry Potter every day I'm here and I might as well have been headed to Hogwarts). A Coruña was wonderful, but coming back to Santiago was a reminder that we just left another exceptional city.

Another bonus: this entire trip was cheap. It cost about 10 euros to get there and back, most of the places we visited cost about 2 euros (one had free admission on Saturday), and my hotel room cost 15 euros after splitting it with 2 others. Including food and taxis, the entire trip was under 75 euros.

I've officially been here a week, and it still seems unreal. I'm looking forward to more weekend adventures.

As always, there are pictures. In fact, everything I saw seemed like something I wanted to share so this trip has an entire album all its own. The photo album is currently under construction because Facebook doesn't like the pictures. There will be a link when I get that figured out.

15 January 2010


Today I learned that it's very difficult to teach someone to play a game in another language. Games have a very distinctive vocabulary, and if you don't know what to call the pieces or the elements of the game, it's difficult to instruct someone else in how to play.

This afternoon Nicolas had a game of Chinese checkers. The instructions were in English, and Antonieta could understand all of them except a key preposition. When they asked me to explain, I was at a loss. We got there eventually, but it was a new exercise for my language skills.

Games seem to be the theme of the day, because tonight I played poker with my classmates. Two of the guys from Brazil knew how to play, as well as me and the other American student. It's hard to explain what's in a hand and which ones you want to have, and that's the easy part when compared to discussion of betting.

What I've learned from all of this is a) games are universal, and b) it's difficult but not impossible to explain them in another language.

Tomorrow we're going to A Coruna, a city very close to Santiago that I've heard lots of great things about. Look for pictures in a few days!

14 January 2010

People LIVE here! !Que suerte!

I can't believe some people actually live here. They aren't visiting, they aren't staying for five months, they live in this incredible city. It's like living in a fairy tale.

Today we went to El Museo do Pobo Galego and learned all about the history of Galicia, the region in Spain where Santiago is located. Galicia is completely different from southern Spain where I went the last time I was here. It's not what you think of when you think about Spain, but there is so much history and so much culture in Galicia.

The museum is in what used to be a monastery, and it was beautiful. Surrounding the museum is one of the coolest parks I've ever seen, El Parque de Bonaval. We took a tour of the park after the museum, and I took too many pictures because everything I see is photo-worthy.

After the park, we went to a little cafe for drinks and tapas before going to a concert in El Auditorio de Galicia by El Real Filharmonia de Galicia. The music was really good, and there was a student discount, just the way I like it. I love going out with the other people in my class because I learn so much. It helps that they're fun to be around too.

This weekend we're traveling. I don't know where we'll go, but I'm looking forward to it, and I'll be there with my camera.

And I thought being in a new place where I don't speak the language would be the scary part.

If I don't make it back from Spain it will be because I got hit by a car. The cars drive really close to the people in the street. In La Zona Vieja, there aren't lines on the road, and people just walk wherever they feel like (and cars do the same). Every driver suggests with his or her vehicle (with the incentive of living) that pedestrians get out of the way. Where there are clearly defined lines on the road and sidewalks, I still fear for my life. If a crosswalk is not at an intersection with a redlight you just cross and hope the cars will stop. If you're not assertive they don't slow down. It's like they're testing you.

If that truck weren't parked it would be dodging people. These people don't even flinch.

I'm still learning how to cross the street with confidence, like a local, but crosswalks could be the most terrifying thing I've encountered so far.

13 January 2010

If plane tickets weren't so expensive, I would only shop in Santiago in the future.

As if there wasn't enough to love in La Zona Vieja of Santiago, I found even more in La Zona Nueva today. I haven't spent much time there yet, so after lunch when everything opened again I set out for the Plaza de Galicia. Antonieta told me there were lots of stores there where I could find really cheap stuff. She wasn't kidding. After I went a couple places on my own she showed me two streets that run parallel to each other and pointed out all the places where I could find good prices. It's absolutely incredible what you can buy for very little. The cheap clothes aren't out of fashion (at least not in America), and they are plentiful. There's an entire store called Rebajas (Discounts). I tried to restrain myself and only bought a few things, but I'm sure I will be back. It will be a challenge not to go broke in la Zona Nueva, but at least I'll have an entire new and wonderful wardrobe! (Anyone who would like to contribute to my Santiago shopping fund can feel free to send me an email, facebook me, or leave a comment. I'll make it easy for you.)

Day 2 of classes went really well. The other students in my class are really wonderful, and it has been a pleasure to learn about Brazil and Japan along with Spain. I hadn't anticipated the added bonus of some extra culture with classmates from other non-Spanish-speaking countries. The more I talk to them the more I want to travel. But for now I'm really happy where I am. I'm learning a little more about Santiago every day!

12 January 2010

!Hola de Santiago de Compostela!

There is so much to say about what has happened since I left Saturday morning, but I will try not to ramble and hit the highlights.

The three flights were very long but altogether uneventful. I met a really nice old couple from Texas on the way to Newark. They were headed to Tel Aviv, but they're plane was delayed so their layover turned out to be as long as mine. They, along with the book Straight Man by Richard Russo, much people watching, and walking around the gigantic airport, kept me entertained during my 10 hour layover. On the flight to Barcelona I sat in a row with another American student who watched a movie the entire flight and a man who spoke only Spanish but did not seem interested in talking to anyone in any language. I spent those 7 hours trying to sleep since I still had very little to occupy my time. After a 2 hour layover in Barcelona I finally made it to Santiago de Compostela.

Someone from the school picked me up--she had a little sign with my name on it, just like in the movies--and took me to my host home. I live in the part of town called La Zona Vieja, which is the old part (think centuries old). It's absolutely beautiful. All of the buildings are made of stone, as are the streets. It's almost like being in a Harry Potter book in Hogsmeade. There are shops lining the streets, and people live in little apartments above the shops. We live above a little Fujifilm store where you can get pictures developed or buy a camera or film. You actually have to go into the store to get up to the apartment. It's really cute and very cozy. My host family is small--just Antonieta and her 10-year-old son Nicolas. They have been wonderful to live with so far. When I went up to my room, my friend Alex who lived with Antonieta last semester had decorated a bulletin board with pictures of friends from home. It was a little touch of the US, and it was a welcome comfort.

When I got here it was snowing, which is rare. It rains a lot, but they rarely see snow because it doesn't get cold enough. Because it doesn't usually get cold enough to snow, every building I was in was freezing. It has started to warm up since Sunday when I arrived, and today instead of snow we got the typical rain. It will rain for a little while, then the sun will come out, then it rains again. Everyone here just deals with the rain. People still go out with their boots, coats, and umbrellas and brave the weather.

Santiago is a small city, so everything is within walking distance. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the university where I have my classes, and any sort of store I could think of is close by. So far I have walked a lot, and I have enjoyed being able to do anything I want without needing a car.

As far as school goes, yesterday we took a placement test and were separated into two classes. There are 8 people in my class: 2 Belmont students, 4 students from Brazil, 1 from Japan, and 1 from China. It's a unique experience to learn about people from other countries in a language that is secondary to everyone involved in the conversation. In the morning we spend 2 hours studying grammar and then have a 30 minute break. After the break, we come back and change teachers for a class focused more on conversation and learning about the history of Santiago and Galicia. We go home for lunch at about 2:30 (Everything closes down in the middle of the day and people go home to eat. It's fantastic.), and then some days we meet again around 4:30 to see or do something in the city. For example, this afternoon we met in one of the plazas by the cathedral and our teacher took us on a tour of the cathedral and its plazas, giving us the history of Santiago.

Speaking solely Spanish is a very strange experience, but I really enjoy it. It's often frustrating because I can't always say what I want to say, but I have already seen improvement and it's only my third day here. I am looking forward to a great semester!

If you would like to see the photo album so far, you can click here.

!Estoy Aqui!

I'm here! But I just now managed to get on the internet and my computer is dying. Expect a full update very soon.

07 January 2010

The TEXtravaganza

I found out my visa was ready Monday and spent the last two days going to Houston to retrieve it. My wonderful friend Sarah came all the way from Florida to see me before I left, and she was able to make the trip with me, thankfully. We drove to Houston on Tuesday morning, spent the night, picked up the visa Wednesday morning and got back to Tennessee Wednesday night. It was about 14 hours of driving each way, but I am now authorized to be in Spain as late as July. We christened this trip the TEXtravaganza, and if you would like pictures and a play by play you can click here.

The big day is almost here. My plane leaves early Saturday morning, and I will be in Spain on Sunday and starting classes Monday!