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Home At Last!!!!!

February 13, 2012
The Alcazar

I can’t believe that I’m finally home!!! It still doesn’t feel quite real. It seems like I’m going to just wake up tomorrow back in Sevilla surrounded by my Spanish life again. I really can’t believe how fast it all went. Four months, gone in a blink of an eye. I know everyone said it would go by quickly but I figured they were just being sentimental. But it seems like only yesterday I was dreaming about going off to Spain to make friends and go on wild adventures.

Elia and Cristina on our last day out

My last days in Sevilla were great. I sent everyday with Elia and Cristina exploring all the parts of the city I had not yet experienced. We picnicked at the river, climbed the Toro de Oro and visited the Alcazar and Giralda. Observing the city during these adventures seemed different and almost sad since I knew that they might be my last chance to see the sites that had become so familiar to me during my stay. It’s so weird to think that it might never see any of them again.

My last plate of Churros and an assortment of chocolates

I spent my last night in Spain at Elia’s house. It had become like a real home to me and it made sense to spend my last night among friends . We ate ice cream and talked late into the night. I fell asleep first, to the whispered conversation of my Spanish friends.

Elia and Cris at the sleepover

The next morning around noon I left Elia’s house for the last time. We exchanged quick hugs since she planned to come down to the train station later to see me off, and then I ran home to finish packing. Unlike the very organized luggage and schedule I had when departing from the U.S., this time everything was chaotic. I still had all my clothes and belongings strewn across the floors of my room and bathroom, and I had no idea where my passport or tickets were. I ended up rushing through everything, shoving everything into my suitcase, sitting on top of it to try and get everything to fit, and rushing through goodbyes, so none of it felt real.

I got to the train station with only 15 minutes to spare. I kept looking for Elia and Cristina all over but couldn’t find them. They’d misunderstood me and thought I was coming to their house to say goodbye. So I never got to say an official goodbye to them.

On the five our train ride from Sevilla to Barcelona I talked with two other exchange students, swapping stories and experiences. It seemed strange how many similarities we’d all experienced even though we’d been living in very different parts of Spain.

My beanie baby pig in the hostel

We all arrived at the same hostel we’d stayed at for our first couple days in Spain. It was much less crowded this time and everyone was tired instead of excited. Most of the kids went out to enjoy their last night of freedom but I had a 5 a.m. flight so I went strait to bed.

One more shot of the beanie baby pig

The next morning I was off. It felt so weird and unreal like I’d be coming back to Seville in just a couple of days. I’m still not sure the truth has sunk in yet that it’s really over because the experience is still so fresh in my mind. Sometimes I wake up and in the place between dreams and consciousness I think, ” I should go to the center today.” or, ” I wonder what Elia and I will do after school today.” It takes me a while to remember that all of those places and people are now thousands of miles away.

Over all my stay in Spain was a good experience. I had my ups and downs but more importantly I learned about myself. I learned how strong I can be, to speak my mind, and what things I do and don’t want from my future travel experiences. I am so glad I got this amazing opportunity.

Last week

January 17, 2012

It’s my last week!! I can’t believe it! It feels like I just got here yesterday, but also like I’ve been here for years and years. It’s bittersweet to know that a week from today Spain will be just a memory instead of a part of my everyday life. I’ve fallen in love with Seville and  now it feels like a part of me has and always will belong here. And the thought of leaving it breaks my heart. But also I’ve been counting down the days until everything is formalin again, to when I can wake up in my own bed and see my friends and family again.

I’ve been rushing to do everything I want to get done before I leave, like finish making presents for Elia and Cristina of books filled with pictures we’ve taken during my stay, packing, and saying goodbye to all my favorite places in the city.

The opera Carmen

I had also been dying to see the opera Carmen while I was here. It’s about a gypsy who lives in Seville so I felt it was my duty to see it before I left. I knew that it was playing in town since advertisements for it have been plaster across the city since September. I found a place that sold tickets on one of my many adventures to the center and was really excited to see it.

The opera started at 9:00 pm and I had no idea where the theatre was so I had to take a taxi there. It was the first taxi I’ve ever taken by myself and I was really scared. It didn’t make things better that I had no idea where I was going so when. So when the taxi driver pulled into a dark warehouse parking lot I was sure that I was about to get murdered. But it turned out that this “major theatre” which would host this highly acclaimed opera was a tiny, little theatre in a warehouse. I was pretty disappointed. I kept looking around thinking, “really? It looked much bigger in the commercials”.

The opera was nothing like I thought it would be. I’d done some research on it before I went so I’d know what to expect. I learned that it was a French Opera that featured flamenco dancing throughout. What I went to was nothing like that. It was almost entirely flamenco dancing. I kept waiting for the singing to begin and when it finally did I was surprised. I’d expected French opera songs. Instead I heard the soulful, grating voices of Spanish flamenco singers. They used the singing more as an explication and narration between dances than the main spectacle.  The dances where amazing. All done in the typical flamenco style filled with passion, fast feet and hands that moved like spiders. The dances were accompanied by an orchestra of trumpets and drums that were so loud I could feel their vibrations pounding in my bones.  The production was amazing! There was even a part where a horse came out and pranced around  the stage like it was dancing! I’m so glad I got to see it.

Reflection of newspaper building

On Friday Elia and i took her little cousin Gisella on an adventure around Seville. We let her choose which way she wanted to turn,and what roads to go down until we were completely lost! After doing that for a while Elia decided to take us to the Guadalquivir river which is where Elia and Cristina had taken me on my birthday.  Getting there took a while, especially since we were accompanied by a five year old who kept asking us when we’d get there. So after what seemed like hours of walking we finally arrived at the river.

Photo shoot!

It was as beautiful as I remember. With tiny waves lapping at the banks and the city lights reflected in the water. People lit little bonfires on the riverside and played music and talked. And dog walkers and joggers passed us by. The three of us danced along the river side and had Photo shoots and sang. It was really nice.

Jumping!

After about an hour or so of river enjoyment we went  to Mercadona to pick up some ingredients for some American treats I promised to make for Elia.  We pushed Gisella around in a shopping cart since she was basically falling asleep on her feet. It  was a challenge to find all the ingredients we needed, especially since I wasn’t 100% sure on the words for some things but we managed to find everything OK.

The view from seta

I was really sleepy so I bought a chocolate frapachino to perk me up. I offered some to Gisella too since we wouldn’t be able to carry her back to the bus because we had huge grocery bags to take back.  Bad idea. Gisella went  a little crazy. Life lesson for everyone out there… do NOT give a five year old coffee. She basically pulled us through the streets and wanted to run everywhere. so, I’m not proud of this but, I bribed her that if she behaved I’d buy her a chocolate covered waffle once we got to the seta. This was partially to calm her down and partially because I wanted one too =). Either way it worked out nicely.

Goodbye to night time Seville

When we got to the seta we decided to go up to the top of it so I could say goodbye to night time Seville. So as Gisella ran all around the rams on top of the mushroom, relieving herself of all the left over coffee buzz, I looked over the city. All the old buildings are illuminated from the sides so they seem to glow in the dark. And I could see all the lights in the houses, and out to the river and the bridge.

I won’t forget this beautiful city!

There was a slight breeze that blew the smells and sounds of Seville to me and I felt all my love for this beautiful city welling up inside of me and I felt an overwhelming sadness knowing that I’d be leaving so soon.

Gisella covered in gofre chocolate

Eventually we left the seta and took Gisella to buy her promised gofre. I’ve gotta say the melted chocolate on top of it was the best I’ve ever had! It was totally worth the wait. Gisella apparently  didn’t have the same opinion because right after she finished she said she would rather have had a Kinder Buena instead.

The next day I went to Elia’s house to make American treats with her. I’d promised her we’d do this a while ago but since I’m such a procrastinator I left it for my last week here. I’d been dreading cooking again since my pie incident back in November. But I’d promised Ellia so I gritted my teeth and got to work. We were planning to make chocolate chip cookies and bananas foster. So we got all our ingredients out and got to work. I’ve found that the hardest part about cooking here is the difference in measurement. They don’t have cups or teaspoons or anything like that. Also they don’t really have mixers so we were basically doing everything pioneer style with a spoon or our bare hands. Elia loved everything about it, although we spent most of the time arguing. In the end our first batch of cookies burnt but the second batch turned out OK. After the cookies we made bananas foster which was a bit harder. I had never made it before and so I was just guessing most of the time. It ended up too spicy and too mushy. But it was a ton of fun to make and that’s what matters anyway.

Me eye balling cookie measurments

 

Mixing with hands is icky

 

Tadah~

 

Bananas Foster!!!

 

Yummy!

I’ve made some really great memories this week, and on this whole trip. I’m so happy I came to Spain!

Cordova

January 17, 2012

It’s getting towards the end of my exchange and I’ve been rushing to get everything I want to do done before I leave since I don’t want to leave Spain with any regrets. It feels like I’m under a lot of pressure.

I’ve been dying to go to Cordova since I was 13 when my 7th grade history teacher described it as a place of knowledge and light in the midst of the dark ages. And seeing the Mezquita, a mosque converted into a Catholic church, was my entire reason for coming to Spain. So when I heard that the 2nd Bachillerato Class was going to Cordova on a field trip I jumped at the opportunity to tag along.

The day didn’t get off to a good start. I woke up late and ran to school. When I got there I was told that the class had already left for the field trip. So, on the verge of tears, I ran out to the street in a last ditch effort to find them. By some crazy stoke of luck I wandered down a side street where I found the bus waiting for me and so I hopped on it and we were off.

I slept most of the hour and a half drive to Cordova, but when I woke up I was in my dream city!  We all got off the bus and it was freezing cold! I had always thought that Seville was cold in the morning  but it couldn’t even compare to the cold in Cordova. I was shivering the entire field trip, and seriously started worrying about hypothermia. But aside from that Cordova was amazing!

After getting off the bus the class and I crossed over a huge stone bridge, empty except for a few small groups of tourists and the occasional street musician, into the city of Cordova. It was beautiful and windy and it seemed that as I crossed the bridge I was being transported through time back to the golden age of this amazing city.  We went into the Mezquita, which I had promised myself I’d visit during my stay in Spain. It was amazing and huge! The first thing that I noticed was the overwhelming smell of incense. The odor, mixed with the red and white striped arches and stained glass windows made me feel like I was somewhere old and exotic, which when I think about it now, I realize that I was.  The Mezquita beautifully blended the Muslim and Spanish-Catholic cultures.  In only three feet I went from seeing beautiful Arabic mosaics to statues of saints and velvet bound bibles. It seemed like these two religious spirits under one roof would repel each other, but instead they morphed into a breathtaking display of faith and culture.

Next we left the center of Cordova and drove up into the mountains to visit the Indiana  Al-Sahara. It used to be the city where the Caliph, who was the leader of the Muslim community lived for about a hundred years. The ruins set my imagination on fire imagining how amazing the city must have been a thousand years ago. Everything was huge and intricately carved so even though only a few columns are left standing I can still imagine how beautiful it must have been in its hey day.

Once we finished exploring the ruins we got back into the tour bus and drove home. I was completely exhausted and slept pretty much the entire ride back. I guess you use up a lot of energy when your traveling dreams are coming true.

 

The bridge into Cordova

 

The arches

 

I’m in my dream!

 

The stainglassed window

 

The city of ruins

 

I’m in a little cave!!!

 

The columns

Feliz Dia de los reyes

January 10, 2012
Los reyes climbing into a house to deliver gifts

Feliz dia de los reyes! So according to Spanish tradition on January 6th the three kings Merchor,Gaspar and Balfasar bring the Christmas presents to the children of Spain, just like they did with baby Jesus so long ago. They are like the Spanish versions of Santa Claus, although globalization has also brought St. Nick to Spain.  Dia de los reyes  is celebrated with parades in the street, the exchanging of gifts and  eating a delicious cake with thick creamy hot chocolate for break fest. It’s the first fully Spanish holiday I’ve ever experienced and I absolutely loved it!

Santa does it too!

I finally gave my Christmas/Reyes gifts to my host family. I found it kind of difficult to find something perfect for people that I feel like I’m still getting to know. I was sorta a procrastinator on buying gifts this year since I was so busy enjoying Spain, so I had to rush all over in a Christmas daze to finally get the right things for everybody. My host mom is studying Anthropology so I got her a translation of a book by my favorite anthropology/psychology author, Clarissa Pinkole Estes. I remembered talking to my host dad about he wanted to learn English so he could read Shakespeare in its  original form. I got him a really beautiful bilingual copy of Shakespeare sonnets in English and Spanish, which I’m very proud to say that he loved. My host grandma has a real sweet tooth so I got her a box of chocolates. And for my host sister I bought a gift basket of lotions from the body shop which is like the European equivalent of Bath and Body works. Everyone else exchanged gifts on Christmas so I was a little late but it seems to have turned out ok. I loved seeing how happy everyone was to get their gifts.

The next day everyone woke up early and we had a delicious breakfast of hot chocolate and Rosco de los reyes. It’s hard to describe what it tasted like. It’s shaped like a giant donut and made of a flaky cake with thick whip cream in the middle and covered with glaze and sugared fruit. It’s so sweet an rich, especially when paired with home made hot chocolate. This hot chocolate was thicker, and not quite as rich as the others I have had so far. It was like drinking warm chocolate pudding. The Rosco comes with little prizes hidden inside of it. The person who finds the surprise hidden inside becomes the “Rey” or king of the day and gets to wear a golden paper crown that comes with the cake.

Rosco de los Reyes

 

Hot chocolate

 

Candela es la Reina!

After breakfast I went over to Elia’s house to watch the Cabalgata. It’s this big parade put on by the town where children and people dressed as the three kings ride on floats and throw candy and toys at the crowd below. It’s crowded and loud and a bunch of fun. Treats seem to rain down from the sky to be caught by expectant hands waving in the air. The floats are decorated in different themes and it’s a lot of fun.

Pictures from the cabalgata 1

 

Pictures from the cabalgata 2

 

Pictures from the cabalgata 3

I’ve never experienced anything like Dia de los Reyes. I hope I can come back to Spain to celebrate it again!

Feliz año nuevo!!!

January 3, 2012
A little girl waiting for the camle rides to begin

And the Christmas spirit continues! It’s one of the things I’ve learned to love about Spain. Back in America Christmas spirit ends promptly on December 26th, but here, because of dia de los reyes it continues until January 6th. The streets and houses are still decorated with lights and reyes and caroler’s still sing in the streets.

Procesion of camels

The center is still decorated and Christmas sales are still huge (unfortunately so are the holiday crowds). There are petting zoos and even camel rides for little kids. And everyone is still full of holiday cheer. It feels like Christmas  will never end! Which is fine with me. I love all of the happiness and anticipation in the air along with all the bows and lights. And did I mention the camels? It was the first time I’d ever seen one in my life! I spent some time talking to their handler and each of them had deserty names like Palm and Sahara. Kids get to ride them in a little caravan around the plaza. Watching their little precession walk off into the (not so far) distance made me wanna travel to the desert and be part of a real caravan across the Sahara.

Ferris wheel at the Christmas fair

Cristina and i went to the Christmas fair on Tuesday. It’s at the same plaza where the Ferria de naciones used to be . It’s kinda weird going back there now. I got so used to the Ferria de naciones that seeing the Christmas fair there threw me off. It was still a lot of fun though there is a Ferris wheel, ice skating rink and a toboggan hill. Cristina, her friend Bella and I reserved a spot for ice skating and went to have a snack while we waited. Cris and I got chocolate covered gofres as usual and Bella got a candied apple.

Bella eating her candy apple

After our snack I decided to explore the fair. It was tiny! There were 3 food stands and a drawing to win a car but that was it. It was way different from the enormous ferria de naciones where I used to get lost so after the shortest on a regular basis.

Cristina and I at the ice rink

So after the shortest “exploring” adventure of my life it was time to ice skate! I love ice skating so much. It’s cold and wobbly and fun and once you get the rhythm down right it feels like you’re flying. They played music and flashed colored lights on the ice so it felt like a party.

Later that week was noche vieja (new years eve). Everybody got all dressed up and we ate a huge meal that was eerily similar to the one we’d eaten the week before for Christmas eve. Vivi, my family’s exchange student from last year came to Spain for the holidays. She’s  from  Germany and is really nice and popular and her Spanish is amazing! I hope I remember all my Spanish after I’ve been home a whole year like she has been.  After dinner we crowded around the TV “para tomar lasuvas “. It’s a Spanish tradition to eat 12 grapes on the last 12 seconds of the old year. If you do you’re ensured good luck for the coming year. I ate every single one, so this year should be a good one for me!

 

Candela and her boyfriend Tony

 

Wally taking out teh seeds from his grapes in preparation for las doce campañas

 

Vivi and me on New Years Eve

 

My host family and me on New Years Eve

Feliz navidad!!!

January 3, 2012

Feliz navidad! So this Christmas has been unlike any other  I have ever had. There wasn’t a tree or carols or Santa Clause but it was still pretty amazing.

Butcher cutting meat

I went grocery shopping with my host mom and grandmother for food for noche Buena (Christmas eve). Spanish grocery stores are a little different from the ones back home. We bought a lot of typical Spanish ingredients which included pâté,6 bottles of olive oil, shell fish and lots and lots of pork.

Attack of the dried pig legs!

The store, or at least the meat and bread departments are more one-on-ones in America. The meat is in see-through coolers and you tell the butchers what kind of meat, how much you want and how you want it cut.

 

Host father cutting from a dried pig leg

Then they take dead animals that still retain their original animal shape (Which is something I’ve never encountered in the U.S.) and chop it up into ready to cook little bits. It’s fascinating and slightly uncomfortable to watch .  I had just gotten used pig legs hanging in bars and then I was surrounded by animal-shaped meat! I mean, I know that meat is dead animals but the actual animalness isn’t usually encounterable back home.  You see slabs of meat and are told , this is from a cow, or pig, or chicken, but in Spain it’s hard to remove yourself as much since there are times where you’re eating pork that you just watched getting cut off a dried pig leg that your family keeps in the laundry.  It makes me reevaluate my meat-eating habits. But to tell you the truth, the ham you cut right off the dried pig leg is the best!! And it’s the only pork I like.

After loading up three shopping carts with food my host mom,grandmother and I headed back home.

The next few days were dedicated to cooking  and getting everything ready for Christmas eve.  The next door neighbors came over to eat dinner with us.Before they came we exchanged Christmas gifts . I freaked out because I knew that most of Spain exchanges gifts on Dia de los reys (Jan 6th) and so I wasn’t done with my Christmas shopping yet. But my host family assured me that it was OK. I got a pretty dress, llamador de angeles and leg warmers. Candela got clothes and a guitar,my host mom got perfume,my host dad books, and Waly got clothes.

Table set for Christmas Eve dinner

After the gift exchange we started on dinner. The Spanish really take their food seriously, especially around the holidays. We had a five-course meal complete with meat, salad, seafood and soup. First we ate  dried pork, salami and nuts; next was giant shrimp, crab and mussels; after that salad with Rockford cheese, lettuce and corn; then came the build-your-own-soup where we were served  broth and got to choose between rice, hard boiled eggs,pork, pulled chicken  and croutons that we added to the broth.

By the end everybody was stuffed but was able to find a little more room to fit a piece of delicious chocolate flan cake.

I never think I’ve ever eaten so much in my life! The dinner was a lot of fun . We laughed and talked  late into the night. I can’t wait to see what we do on dia de los Reyes!

 

Everybody eating

 

Lupe and Candela

 

Lupe,me,Candela and my host mother

 

Chocolate flan!!!!

A calm week

December 27, 2011

Things are going pretty slow here now. Everything is in routine go to school: come home, homework, nap, sometimes going out with Elia, come home, go to sleep, repeat. It’s almost boring, not quite since I’m still on a huge adventure, but calm.

The care package content

I got a care package from my mom about a week ago. It had some birthday presents and candy. I’ve already finished all the candy :) but not by myself. The starbursts, airheads and nerds were special for Elia since she’s been proclaiming her undying love for them since I got here. Also because my mom is smart she sent me warm clothes since she knew how cold it’s been here. It’s silly, everyone thinks my new clothes are sooo cool since they’re from America even though there is nothing particularly different or special about them. But I understand because I feel the exact same about Spanish things!

Elia has been sick a lot lately and she decided to change schools. She’s gonna go to a vocational private school so she can learn how to become a photographer. She’s so excited and I’m happy for her but I’m really going to miss hanging out with her at school. Luckily we still see each other a tone outside of school.

Last weekend I went with her to the bus station to pick up her boyfriend  Rafa. He lives in Madrid and comes down to see  her about once a month. He’s really nice and always patiently puts up with Elia and my combined weirdness.  Elia and I had to take two busses to get to the bus station.  We got a pizza and ate it “American style” (Which apparently means on the bus). I’m still not 100% sure how that’s American but it was fun. Rafa’s bus was really late and so we danced around and sang Disney songs together (I sang in English and Elia in Spanish) in a bilingual duet that was practically impossible to understand. The people in the bus stop thought we were insane but it was still a tone of fun.

Rafa’s bus got in way too late to be able to catch a public bus back home so we took a taxi! It was my first time being in a taxi and I felt so cool and grown up! I tried to talk to the taxi driver to share how excited i was to be in a taxi for the first time but he was tired and didn’t really feel like talking.

Rafa and Elia decorating the tree

The next day I went over to Elia’s house and we decorated her Christmas tree. This is the first time I haven’t decorated the tree with my family and it was hard. But it was fun too because Elia was so into the decorating process. Rafa on the other hand just wanted to play video games so we made him take pictures. The tree turned out looking beautiful and shiny. I don’t think my host family is going to put up a tree so I’m glad I got a chance to help Elia with her’s.

My churro face

Elia left a couple days later for Madrid, which is where she’ll be celebrating Christmas, so me and Cristina have been left to hang out on our own. We went to Nervion (a mall) to look for dresses for noche viejo (new years eve). We didn’t have much luck but we had fun wandering around. The mall is all decorated for Christmas. Outside they have santa’s village set up and outside of which was a hot chocolate and churro stand . They are still amazing even after having eaten them a ton by now.
Fake snow was blowing all around, which didn’t seem too exciting until some fell on me and turned out to be wet. I got so excited thinking that it was actually snowing! But it turned out that the fake snow was made of teeny, tiny bubbles! Personally I think it’s even cooler than real snow. I would have never thought  to do that but it makes sense, it looks and feels like real snow when it’s falling and it doesn’t leave a huge mess behind!  I watched the kids play in it for a while and then caught a bus home with Cristina.

 

Look! Snow!

 

Little kid playing in snow
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