Monthly Archives: April 2010

thoughts on hair washing, and other adult things.

a few thoughts for you to mull over as I sit here debating whether to wash my hair or not (some things never change, no matter what country you’re in).

Realized recently, and wanted to blog it for the world to realize as well, how much your world shifts after living in a new place for a year.  This realization was cemented with the whole volcano disaster that started in Iceland and ended up wreaking havoc all over western Europe (as if to say: “Iceland is still here and still important, people!”).  Half of my classmates were stuck in various paradises (Mallorca, Paris, etc.) and couldn’t get home for Monday classes, while the other half were e-emoting via Facebook about their fears that they might not get to return home on May 7.  I realized then that had I been in America, it would have been just another blurb in the international section of the Daily Progress, or just another headline on CNN.com which I never even visit, and therefore would have really meant nothing to me.  Suddenly, however, being in Europe, the event rocked my world (even for just a little bit).

I also have recently been gulping down 1,5L (to use their system) bottles of water due to a rare form of allergies/stress/swine flu that has infiltrated my body, only to realize that the water inside is at room temperature.  This may not seem revolutionary to anyone, but coming from a family that is awoken by the sound of Mom pounding her frozen bottles of water with a hammer on the kitchen counter, it’s quite a change.  During the humid Virginia summer leading up to my departure, I distinctly remember walking around the house (barefoot! another custom I left behind) clutching sweaty Mason jars filled with ice cold well water.  Now it’s bottles of whatever, straight from the store with no luxury of refrigeration.  Again, little things that I used to take for granted, that were completely different (or unattainable) here that shocked me upon my arrival, that now have been adopted into my daily life.  Other culture shocks I’ve gotten used to include: pre-paid cell phones (I’m still a sick texter, however), pharmacies where everything is over-the-counter, buses you must hail in order to ride, no free refills (which has been replaced by the equally appealing free tapa), the metric system (okay, not going to lie, it still confuses me) and the lack of measuring cups, 24-hour time, supper at 930, etc.

Also momentous was my entrance into the adult world, which occurred Tuesday.  Okay, maybe I haven’t entered that world just yet, but I did turn 21.  Kind of [read: really] anticlimactic since I was already allowed to drink here, since I’m 4000 miles away from my family, and since it was a weekday.  But celebrate we did, and reflect on growing old I did, too.  And that reflection brought me to another explanation for why this day was anticlimactic: having waited so long to finally be 21, I realized how little that really signifies.  When I think about how many experiences I’ve had just this year, I am conscious of how many more wait me in the years to come.  It’s a staggering thought.  Ademas, thought about how I’ve matured somewhat, either because it’s the right time to do so, or because I’m in a foreign place and having to adapt, reassessing my values and habits from a new angle, etc.  Realized, for example, that nowadays it is less important to me to have a mega party with lots of flashy presents and party hats, but that it’s more important that nothing really shitty happens.  If the day turns out well, it’s been a good birthday, and that’s really all I can ask for.  Also realized I must be getting older, because youth culture is starting to freak me out.  For example, take “chat roulette”, a topic my friends and I pondered today before our exam.  What is it exactly, you ask?  Not sure I’m the most qualified to answer this, but basically a video chat site that allows you to basically speed date with hundreds of people.  You start a video chat and if you don’t get along or caer bien or lo que sea, you can switch chat partners.  I really have no more to say about this except: ¡qué asco! (DISGUSTING).  The bottom line is not how I feel about the corruption of youths due to their growing dependency on machines or internetzzzz to communicate or interact, but rather that I had no idea this phenomenon existed, why it was appealing, and who was using it (which takes us back to paragraph number 1: how my world has shifted east).

So there you have it, thoughts that have come to me in dreams, or during those long hours I spend lying boca arriba in the center of my little twin bed before going to sleep, my mind humming with scenarios and conversations and romantic notions (a sign that maybe I haven’t fully grown up yet).  Thoughts of a 21 year old, on the eve of her return to the States, to her home, on the eve of her leaving one of the most meaningful experiences of her 21 years of life.

(P.S.- still haven’t solved the hair question.  guess I can’t be all that wise and mature just yet.)

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Filed under spring semester, travel, Valencia

Spring Break ’10: your wish is my command

As I sit here staring at the empty white wordpress box, I’m sighing a breath of relief that this post, unlike all the other things I’ve written this weekend, is going to be in English.  But at this point that’s almost a disadvantage, since my English is now a rare breed of translated Spanglish, or so says my Mom.  Constructions and sentences come out in passive forms with subjects following verbs, etc.  So pardon the jarbled English as I attempt to recount to y’all the Spring Break experience.

We started in Istanbul, one of the greatest cities I’ve ever been to.  I had zero expectations, zero previous knowledge (except that it was vaguely important in the history of the Western world and that it was once called Constantinople) and therefore it never stopped surprising me.  We arrived at night and embarked on my favorite traveling activity: taking a taxi into the city to our hostel.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, there is nothing more exciting than being in a city you don’t know, with the promise of discovering it over the next however many days, speeding along in the backseat of a cramped taxi, essentially putting your life in the driver’s hands.  After said taxi ride we were plopped in front of our hostel, on a very touristy but vibrant street that consisted only of cafes whose top floors were occupied by hostels and their terrace bars.  We checked in with Turkey’s version of Joey Fatone (his interpretation of his looks, not ours) who worked at our hostel and headed out in search of an appropriate first-night-in-Istanbul activity.

One of my favorite things about the city (and I imagine the custom is similar in all parts of Turkey) is the hospitality (I’m sure it helped that we were three young American girls); after the first round of drinks or hookah, the rest seem to show up without even asking, and never show up on a bill.  This was the case, for example, with our new friend H., who would hear us mention baklava and run to the bakery next door to get us some, napkins included.  Or when coming up short on change for your turkish coffee, the man behind the counter would simply smile and say “my gift to you!”.  The catch phrase of the trip, therefore, quickly became “your wish is my command”.

courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Other than bopping around from cafe to cafe, hookah bar to hookah bar, baklava bakery to baklava bakery, we did see some of the city.  Our first full day was spent touring the famous mosques that were conveniently located right behind our hostel: the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) and the Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya).  The first has a much more authentic and sacred feel, requiring visitors to remove their shoes and for women to cover their heads before entering.  It is beautifully decorated with mosaics and painted ceilings, and as you walk under the low, sinuous lighting, red floral carpet crushes beneath your toes and you really do feel you’re in some distant land.  We did not spend more than a few minutes ambling about the place, attempting to catch snippets of other tour guides’ explanations of the mosque’s importance, before making our way across the street to the Hagia Sofia.  We decided it was time, after not fully understanding what the Blue Mosque was all about (except being exceptionally pretty), to hire ourselves a tour guide.  That’s when we met Dede (Turkish for grandfather, the name he requested we give him), whose dentures were so loose and whose spit was so abundant that we didn’t fully absorb what he was saying about the mosque originally being a church, hence the iconic mosaics and Greek Orthodox floor plan.  We escaped his clutches and, considering I don’t remember what happened next, I’m assuming we broke for lunch.  The second theme of Istanbul, if not hospitality, was food.  We were never short of stuffed peppers, dolmas, hummus and a wonderful cross between a flour tortilla, Indian naan and pita, the likes of which will never be found outside of Turkey.

lazy, hazy afternoon at Topkapi Palace

Turkish tulips!

That afternoon we spent mostly tooling around the city and searching for Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman sultans for their 400+ year reign (thank you, Wikipedia).  It was also lovely, with great landscaping (with famous Turkish tulips dotting it’s many flower beds) and lots of incredible treasures (jewels, thrones, etc.), but it was sadly another one of those sites that we were too in need of a siesta to really appreciate.  I think at one point we proposed stretching out on the sultan’s lawn to take a power nap to give us some pep for the rest of the tour that awaited us.  (Siestas have become that crucial in our lives).  After many pictures with mosaics and flowers were taken, we went back to the center of our Turkish universe, Akbıyık Caddesi (Abiyik Street) where we went for supper down the street from the hostel, drinks a few buildings down, and hookah at the hostel.

The next day was spent on a full-day Bosphorous boat tour (the Bosphorous being the strait that divides Istanbul, causing it to reside in both Europe and Asia).

cruisin' down the Bosphorous

We cruised along the river seeing both the European and Asian side of the city, had lunch, went to a mosaic museum housed in an old Greek Orthodox church, visited the Spice Market  (a more local-friendly version of the Grand Bazaar, where all the Istanbul-ers get their teas, spices and tacky silk scarves) and ended the day relaxing on a sunny terrace in Asia, sipping diet cokes with our new Italian friend L.  Copy and paste the evening activity from above and that’s what we did that night.

the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar.

Our final day was great for food, bad for wallets.  We set out to conquer the entire Grand Bazaar, the most intense shopping experience since Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.  Everything is bought after a ten minute haggling session, with each member of the group having her own style: I said nothing, as my wallet had been stretched to the limit, while E. speculated, consulted with us, and then purchased (only to later find her adorable Turkish glazed bowls were made with lead paint, a troubling issue she tried to explain to the salesman which he could not understand.  “EATING FROM THESE COULD KILL ME” also fell flat), and P. got angry, an emotion I have never before seen her express.  Our final night in Istanbul was spent, to no surprise, in the hostel bar, making and saying goodbye to new friends, with little sleep gained before our 7am shuttle to the airport.

Then onto Santorini, Greece. 

Probably a complete 360° from Istanbul.  The island is tiny, with a few adorable towns dotted here and there along the main road, all of which we passed on our way from the airport (even smaller than C’ville’s, if you can imagine that) to the “villa” we were to stay in in the northern town of Oía.  But to keep us in check, the Universe, after having sent us such luck during our time in the near-Far East, had us dropped off at Villa Abyssanto, a name which it does not bother me to slander.  We had no idea we were headed not to a cliff-side Grecian hideaway but to a grassy plain at the northern tip of the island, on a road more deserted than my own in the U.S. on which lived local yokels and their adorable dogs, without any street lights or sidewalk, on which we were expected to walk for 1km to reach the quaint but pequeñito pueblo of Oía.  These three princesses were not going to have that.

Lena's house. but seriously.

As soon as we could, we booked a room in the nearby town and capital of the island, Fira, and after having argued and asked for a ride from the not-so-kind man at Villa Abyssanto, settled into our new Greek getaway location.  Although the island is just as lovely as all those stock photos seen online and really was the site of the filming of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, it was a bit too touristy for me. I missed the cultural stimulation of a big city, standing in line for museums and the prime peoplewatching.

highlight #4: donkey ride

Some of the highlights from Greece, however, included moussaka, climbing a volcano, baked feta, riding a donkey up the stairs from the Old Port of Fira, and tanning on a black sand beach.  Even if I was Spring Break-ed/tourist-ed out by the end of it (the climax of trip being a 12-hour plane, train and automobile ride home to Valencia), I know those highlights might never be completed again in this lifetime.

The sunsets were also pretty bitchin’.

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Filed under schmoozing, spring semester, travel

ya te lo contaré…

Imagine that this post was “pressed” (to use this websites lingo) a week ago. Which is hard to do since it includes post-Spring Break reflections.  But the idea was to write this up and publish it before the trip, its title (“I’ll tell you later”) signifying my current obsession with “things to come” [the future].

Have unintentionally started listening to my Summer soundtrack, which revolves mostly around DMB, dotted here and there with G. Love, Bloc Party, Grateful Dead and other eclectic tracks.  Regardless, it means I’m unintentionally entering Summer mode, with the following thoughts and memories dancing in my head each night as I lay down to sleep, or on the endless train/plane rides I just completed:

  • zooming around in my trusty PT Cruiser, said Summer soundtrack blaring, windows down and sunroof open, regardless of the weather.
  • strolling the Downtown Mall with M. and company, which this year promises to be full of study abroad stories, good beer and as always, laughter.
  • mornings spent pacing the stalls at the Farmer’s Market, accompanied by caffeine on ice and followed by a home-cooked meal with whatever I found that day.
  • planning my life with W. behind the desk at the boutique job on the Corner, in between bites of chicken salad on sesame or tuscan bean salad.

In short, my return home has finally become something to look forward to, not something that brings me to tears as it did in, say, November.  This change is due mostly to the fact that I know my stay in the states is not permanent; I was selected for one of the teaching jobs in Spain I applied for.  Starting in September, K. and I will be teaching English in a yet-to-be-determined location in Andalucía, Spain (the southern-most region of the country).  So when I run out of Summer thoughts to distract me, I simply fast forward to thoughts about the return to Spain.  And although the pull towards C’ville is currently at its strongest, as I sit here listening to my newly acquired Spanish music, I realize how strongly I want this place to be my future.

But for now, looming ahead of me, as ominous as the grey clouds that are rolling past my window, is this: exams, papers, and finishing my college career. So whatever’s playing in the background, what’s to come, cómo saldrá, is still unknown. Ya te lo contaré.

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Filed under spring semester, travel, Valencia