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!