Category Archives: spring semester

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 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pharmacies where everything is over-the-counter, buses you must hail in order to ride, no free refills (which has been replaced by the equally appealing free tapa), the metric system (okay, not going to lie, it still confuses me) and the lack of measuring cups, 24-hour time, supper at 930,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.)



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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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

done and done.

Tonight is a night of cobalt-blue velvet sky, as are many in Valencia, with a warm spring breeze hanging in the air, making it possible to leave the house wrapped just in a light sweater.  The streets are dirty but the city is sweet with the promise of spring, and the summer that follows.

Fallas ended 24 hours ago.

The visits made by I. and S. were absolutely uplifting, and absolutely necessary.  The presence of two of my favorite people in what is likely my favorite place was a surreal event, considering the fact that the three of us have not been in a room together since CH graduation 2008.  I. arrived from Paris a day late due to a canceled flight, and we spent the night doing what we here call a “low-key barhop,” allowing me to introduce her to some of my favorite tapas and copas that can be found in the city.  The next day S. arrived from Barcelona where she had spent the previous week of her two-week spring break, lovesick for a Dutch fellow-hostel guest that she had encountered there, with stories of discotecas and languid mornings after.  I. returned au nord on Sunday, leaving me and S. to conquer the week-long fiesta that awaited us.

Day 2: la mascletà

In stark contrast to S.’s wild ride in Barcelona, our days started as early as 11am, so as to get in some tourism/city wandering before the hoards of people attending the daily mascletà descended upon the city, making it impossible to move, eat, etc.  One morning was spent at the Mercado Central, selecting the freshest and best items for an afternoon picnic in the once-river-now-park (appropriately called el Río) before heading to the famous mascletà (see previous post), where the ground shook and between sips of red wine and shading our eyes from the glaring sun we both had moments of realization that we were in Spain, experiencing this completely foreign thing, sharing it, knowing that we’d always have that between us.

Other days consisted of more park lounging, photo shoots, “day drankin'” and typical Fallas activities: late night firework shows that blow McIntire’s 4th of July out of the park (no pun intended), semi-spontaneous street concerts (M. and his musician friends played a 2.5 hour samba/brasileña/salsa/reggae set outside of one of my favorite bars tucked away in the old city), lots of buñuelo consumption, and taking in the marathon parades (two parades, each lasting seven hours) of all the falleros (those who pay and participate in all the Fallas activites; basically, the members of the clubs that make this fiesta possible) dressed to the nines in their traditional gowns and suits, S. and I sitting so close we could touch these people, commenting on our favorite dresses and favorite characters in boisterous English.

And now all that’s left is filthy streets lined with leaky porta-potties, firecracker wrappers and beer cans, the pictures we took that make me so happy, and a few extra pounds from all the ridiculous food items that entered my body over the past week (at least there was no headcheese).  Also remaining, ever-present and looming over me, is what’s yet to come: I finally purchased return tickets, and will officially be back in the States on May 12th.  The prospect is horrifying, yet comforting; Daddy says he’s already bought me a coming home present, and the joy in Mom’s voice when we remember this fact is so palpable, even from the other end of the Skype line, that I know there’s some good in it; after all, I do miss home a little.  And in some two to three weeks K. and I find out about these English teaching jobs that we applied for, which would allow us to come back next year and stay just a little bit longer, hopefully leading us to other jobs, and in my case, to fulfilling that dream of living (I mean really living) and starting a life in Europe.

So all in all, Fallas was just as incredible as promised.  Valencia has yet to let me down.

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¡en falles, no falles!

It’s officially fallas season here in Valencia.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city flourish in the way that V-town is currently: beautiful blue skies (lies), churro stands popping up on every street corner, mascletà every afternoon in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento (basically, a firecracker show that draws an enormous crowd, leaving you dazed and deaf), colorful lights lining the side streets and alleys proclaming which casal that turf belongs to (the one outside school, for example, is la Bicicleta, and during the second half of my Quijote class on Monday we were entertained by the struggle that was ocurring right outside the classroom window to mount said lights).  It has breathed new life into the city as it awakes from the “harsh” winter (it rained a lot).  Downtown’s colorful buildings are brighter, fountains are spouting water once again, people are taking to the streets for their almuerzos or late-night botellón.  It reminds me of why I love this city.

it's explosive.

So to kick off fallas business, P. and I ventured to the first official event, the Cridà, which took place on Sunday, the last day of February.  We followed the enormous throngs of falleros (those who build and fund the fallas) to the Torres de Serrano, one of the two remaining portions of the walls that once surrounded Valencia.  From the balcony of the towers, the fallera mayor and the fallera menor (basically, “Miss” and “Little Miss Valencia”), joined by the mayor and various other head-honchos, peered down upon a seething crowd, undertaking the task of giving Miss Valencia the keys to the city for the week.  P. and I, stuck behind an ancient magnolia tree, sipping our lukewarm Amstel’s, linked arms and let ourselves be llevar-ed por la corriente (for those of you not fluent in Spanglish yet: “we went with the flow”), cheering with the crowd (which we deduced ocurred any time the word les falles was mentioned) and humming along to Valencia’s anthem.  The ceremony came to a close with the traditional words being shouted by the fallera mayor: “¡¡senyor pirotècnic, pot escomençar la mascletà!!” (which in English translates lamely to “Mr. Pyrotechnician, you may now begin the firecrackers!”.  Just doesn’t have the same ring to it), followed by the most bitchin’ fireworks display I’ve ever seen.  Valencia is known for its pyrotechnics, and I now know why; just when you thought you were at the grand finale, that they could do no more, that you had seen the coolest they had to offer, it got even better: fireworks that dotted the entire sky, beneath which stood us two americanas, oo-ing and ah-ing and “¡anda!”-ing.  I returned home with a sore neck and a smile.

And with the coming of Fallas comes the coming of visitors.  Another reason for excitement: I. comes in from Paris to escape the grey the first weekend prior to fallas-fest; S. concludes her grand tour (glottal French accent implied) of Spain here, staying for the entire week of debauchery and fire; and K. rolls in on a train from Barcelona for the last weekend of the event.  It’s thrilling to know I’m just a week away from seeing some long-lost loves, and mind boggling to think that the world can be so small, even on this side of the Atlantic.

As for the rest of things, well, just ask my Dad.


looking for more info and updates about Fallas? click here!


Filed under schmoozing, spring semester, travel, Valencia

turn on, tune in, drop out.

And now that the past week/weekend has been recounted, onto something totally unrelated: music.  Unlike I., I have not broken down and purchased extra storage space for this blog, and therefore cannot put those cute little music players into my posts, which are most aesthetically pleasing.  Instead, I have to resort to old school tactics of sharing music with y’all: YouTube videos.  So if you have the interest or the patience, here are some of the songs that currently make up the sountrack of my life:

  • Depedro : Te sigo soñando
  • Peret (here with Billy Idol) : El muerto vivo
  • Joan Manuel Serrat : Mediterráneo
  • Joan Manuel Serrat : Tu nombre me sabe a hierba

Apart from the above temas I have now been introduced to, I have also taken up the habit of listening to the radio, a media form I have always been infatuated with.  I discovered Radio 3 (described in the previous post as the union of NPR and Charlottesville’s 91.9 WNRN) in my Mass Media class, for which I was required to listen to and comment upon a Spanish radio program.  I was skeptical, since the snippets of radio I’ve heard around my house have not been all that interesting, or, let’s be honest, discernible (what happened to that bilingualism from the post below?).  Between the talk radio D.A. listens to in the mornings, and the incessant techno that I put on while primping (for lack of knowing where to find something better on the radio), I have not been overly impressed with Spanish radio.  But Radio 3 has converted me: its shows are witty, easily comprehended, and include some great music from all over the world (American bands include: Grizzly Bear, Wilco).  And then of course there’s the joy I get from using and promoting archaic forms of anything (in this case, communication.  Others include using pen and paper to take class notes, reading instead of watching TV, you know).

And on top of all the entertainment these discoveries have provided me with, I’m also comforted to know that at least if and when the iPod finally dies, I’ll have some form of music to keep me company…

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reflections on reírse

Sunday morning of a three-day weekend, and on my second cup of coffee.  In the background, a tango music program on Radio 3 (the Spanish equivalent of NPR and WNRN all in one).  Mentally looking ahead at the week and it includes midterms, midterms, cramming, caffeine, midterms, and then hopefully a weekend jaunt to Barcelona.

But now for a glance backwards at the past few days:

T. came to visit from Lyon, France, after many months of us attempting to travel together but never succeeding in it (why?, you ask?).  Showed him as much as I could between classes, English tutoring with the niño, applying for various post-grad jobs in Spain, pilates classes (a few of my normal weekly activities).  In reality, we mostly just ate well and café hopped, comparing and contrasting our study abroad experiences.

What stood out to me about his time in Valencia was that he does not speak Spanish (not 100% true; he did a great job ordering his meals and thanking people, and even spent days solo in Barcelona, and survived!), and therefore I would have to take a minute and translate for him when necessary.  Interesting to me because he was my first true non-Spanish speaker to visit me (Mom don’t even deny it, you speak de puta madre, as M. says), and it showed me how integrated this language has become to me.  When I hear it spoken, or when it’s spoken at me, I’m no longer mentally translating, finding the English equivalent, constructing my own response two minutes before I have to give it.  Spanish and English now seamlessly glide back and forth in my brain, living in [almost] perfect harmony.  I think this is called bilingualism?

Another pleasant product of his visit was the pain in my side from laughing so hard.  Whether caused by K.’s flawless impersonations and performances of classic YouTube videos or T.’s own inability to extract a snail from its shell during a lunch of paella valenciana, I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in the past three months.

Also humorous (only in retrospect) was my bus ride Friday afternoon, which I was [un]fortunate enough to experience all my own, with only my [quasi-defunct] iPod to keep me company.  After dropping T. off at his hostel, I decided to be productive, break a €50, and recharge my bus pass.  After having done so,

I hopped on the first number 10 bus I saw, knowing I was getting on at one of the stops at which I usually get off (meaning it was going in the opposite direction of home), thinking (completely irrationally) that riding it for the full circuit would only delay my return home (which I was greatly looking forward to, as it included a siesta) by less than thirty minutes.  A circuit, implying a circular trajectory, it is not. Instead, route 10 is an enormous line extending from my neighborhood to the southern outskirts of Valencia (specifically, ending at the tanatorio municipal of Valencia) crossing a major highway before returning in the opposite direction towards my house (which at this point is now 45 minutes away).

bus route 10

I think the worst part was the realization that, at every stop we made, moving farther and farther from my ultimate goal, the corresponding number 10 bus was on the opposite side of the very narrow suburban road, meaning once the line was finished (and after a five minute break for the driver) we’d be repeating the route, making the same number (a bajillion, to be exact) of stops before I saw my house again.  Thinking of my mother, and already plotting how I’d describe this adventure in the blog, I had a brief moment of laughter, especially in light of the fact that the correct place to have gotten on the bus, at the very beginning of the whole ordeal, was literally one block away.  It was my laziness and exhaustion (the same things that were making that nap so enticing) that lead me to take the wrong bus; I was the only one to blame here.  The irony (is it actually ironic, or some other form of humor?) was just too much.

(SEE MOM! I am capable of laughing at myself.)

And with that, the weekend comes to a close, leaving me with only the prospects of a paella lunch in thirty minutes, and a day of empollada (cramming) for the various exams and papers that await me this week.  But if I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times over: no pasa nada.

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