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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how do you like your leche?

This morning over my coffee I decided I could no longer put off documenting the café con leche experience that has now become so integrated into my life here.  Not only do I ponder it as I make it, it is the first thing I think about in the morning, as I trudge to the bathroom and wash my face (the only activity that gets done before the coffee gets made; everything else can wait), and it’s safe to say that for at least 10 minutes of my 90 minute classes my thoughts are on whether I need another cup, from which cafetería it’s going to come from (I have conducted my own taste test in the barrio as to who serves the best cup ‘o joe) and how much I’m looking forward to the extra energy.

If you had forgotten: caffeine is a drug.

So what follows are my personal notes/thoughts/observations on the coffee culture here, to give you a sense of how integral it is not just to this cracked-out caffeine fiend, but to the Spanish people in general:

-the drink: café con leche (literally: coffee with milk).

  • This should actually read: leche con azucar, con una gotita de café (sugary milk with a drop of coffee).  When I came to this country I was downing daily a triple-shot, iced americano with a dash of skim milk and sweet’n’low. Pretty much as high octane as you can get, as far as coffee orders go.  But the Spaniards serve their coffee (which is actually all espresso) with more milk than anything else, not only brining the temperature of the drink down to what can be best described as “tepid” but lending it a taupe tint that indicates that the coffee is really playing a secondary role.  I even have friends who go as far as calling it their morning leche, which only further proves my point: the Spanish like their coffee weak.

– the acoutrements: magdalenas [SEE POST: huerto-day, gone tomorrow], pan todada, ensamaidas (in short: carbs).

  • This is not an inherently Spanish practice, I’ll admit, but I have a feeling (or maybe I’m the only one analytical enough to care) that your choice of bread product to accompany the morning café does indicate something about your character.  M., for example, likes his leche with 3+ magdalenas straight from their plastic wrap, claiming that this is one of his favorite moments of the day.  I will give him this, the burnt sugar on top is not only surprising for store-bought muffins, but also super yummy. P. prefers her morning cup with pan tostada, drizzling it expertly with fresh olive oil, nixing the optional dash of salt.  In a rare showing of patriotism, I have taken to a bowl of oatmeal with my coffee, though I must say I do this only so as not to be starving in all of my morning classes. It doesn’t actually do the trick.

-the locale: cafeterías, bares, hornos, en casa.

  • I think by now I have frequented every type of establishment that offers the stuff.  Except for the last one (en casa = at home, which for me has included the seat in front of my computer, M.’s balcony looking out onto his building’s courtyard, in front of the fire at R.’s country house, on S.’s couch in Barcelona), every one of these places is sure to be filled with smoke, and is sure to not open until after 9:30/10 in the morning.  What I love though is how ubiquitous the espresso machine is in Spain, allowing for the wide variety of places to get your daily dose.  It could be that smoky bar around the corner, where old men chuckle and grunt from the bar, pulling on their twelfth cigarette of the day, drinking a beer and munching a big sandwich; or that female-run horno (oven, aka: bakery) right by school, where standing up facing the window, you can take in the panorama of Avinguda Blasco Ibañez as the professors and students hustle past on the way to the university; and let’s not forget Luna Luna, where students bask in the all-white decor, gossiping and glaring, talking about last night’s party or this weekend’s soccer game.

And although I wax sentimental, the point remains the same: coffee is not something to be taken lightly, here.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And seeing as how it is now pushing 2:30 on a rainy afternoon, it seems like the perfect time for cup number 2.

[shout out to Tyler for the awesome photo!]

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my morning

spur of the moment blogging bug. don’t want to read Don Quijote so instead, here’s what my morning is like:

-D[oña] A[dela] cutting squid with scissors as I make my cafe con leche

-pan tostada with olive oil, salt, and a touch of homemade orange marmalade from the lady next door.

-daily skype chat with I. in Paris.

-SUN, not snow.

-shopping lists for afternoon grocery store run, to feed friends at a group dinner tonight.

-Onda Cero radio programs penetrating all the walls of the house.

-job, mp3 and identity searching.

…que tengáis buen día, y’all.

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huerto-day, gone tomorrow.

As I write this, the February sun is streaming through my little window, promising a warmer day than it really is, showcasing this beautiful city as it bathes the streets in pure, white light.

but I still don’t want to go outside.

Now, I realize that many of my readers (if there are any others besides my parents) will be perusing this from somewhere along the east coast, USA, and will already be shaking their fists at the screen, or at least shaking their heads, in disapproval; current temperature in Charlottesville, VA: 19° F.

Anyway, now for the explanation of why it is so hard to get up and do ANYTHING: I left my heart in the huerto.  This weekend we (me, P., and our newly found friends) whisked ourselves away to the Valencian countryside, where we stayed with our Spanish friends (and strangers) in R.’s “country home”, a villa set smack dab in the middle of the family orange orchard (huerto).  We arrived by train in time for supper, a gourmet meal (prepared for us by someone who was already staying at the house) of sausage, tortilla española, salad, tofu and tomato sauce.  We spent the rest of the evening touring the house (a beautiful, nineteenth century home with three stories, what felt like a bajillion beds, and eclectic decor acquired in Morocco, India, Japan) and warming ourselves by the fire, talking and singing and unwinding from the stress of the week.

The next morning we were kicked out of bed at the ungodly hour of 12:30pm, given the daily ration of cafe con leche and magdalenas (the most dinky excuse for a muffin I’ve ever seen) and plopped into the cars that would take us to the mountain we were scheduled to climb that day.  When I heard that the weekend included a hike I was of course elated, having missed so much the Blue Ridge mountains I’ve grown up with.

...

So the day started in high spirits, the sun shining, fresh oranges in our bellies and hands (the amount of citrus I consumed is a staggering figure) as we walked to the start of the trail.  I probably should have known something was up when the equivalent of a park ranger came out and asked us all for names and cell phone numbers, “si acaso os perdáis o algo…” (“in case y’all get lost or something”, followed inevitably by the phrase “¡no te precupes!”).  Before the excursion really took off even, we stopped for a photoshoot at the monastery in ruins, the deciding it was the perfect moment to do some impromptu yoga, led by V., a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-talented friend we met at the house.  With a fresh set of endorphins flowing through us, we started the trail.  It was a simple gravel path winding up the mountain, like any other unsuspecting hike, but the incline was for sure a challenge for this out-of-“practice” (read: out-of-shape), self-proclaimed mountain woman. I don’t remember the moment when I knew there was much suffering ahead, but at some point this fact became very clear to me.  We were suddenly on the side of the mountain, with no lovely gravel path in sight, just a mountainside covered with thorn bushes and an occasional fern.  Shortly after starting this portion of the hike, the lovely boulders painted with trail markings disappeared as well.  With the Spanish boys up ahead shouting to the American girls puffing behind (“c’mon pilates! let’s stop whining and start hiking!), you can imagine the tension that was slowly crystallizing.  To make a long story short (I think we spent an hour and a half traipsing through the non-trail, hacking at gnarly branches and trying not to trip on rocks), we finally reached the summit of the mountain (called Creu del Cardenal, located at 1700ft, a distance of 3km from the starting point) to take in the view: a panorama of the gorgeous Valencian countryside; the valley down below us to the left, and the Mediterranean ocean lapping gently against the coast to our right.  Legs “temblando como un flan” (literally: “shaking like a flan”, the Spanish equivalent to “shaking like a leaf”), we refueled with more muffins and ensamaidas (the point of this description is to remind you that we had eaten nothing but coffee and carbs some 4 hours before), and I tried to hold back tears caused by the beauty of the place, the love I felt for these people I was with, and the fears that were gnawing at this happiness, asking me what I would be doing with my life in 4 months.  I also just wanted to know how the hell we were going to get down from up there.

The slide down the mountain (I call it a “slide” and not a descent because I think I did more falling, tripping and slipping than actual walking) was relatively uneventful, since we managed to follow the trail the whole time.  But here is where you get an explanation for the lack of images in this post: I dropped my camera.  My beautiful, month-old, “sexy” black camera was eaten by the Creu del Cardenal trail.  And after being wildly upset with myself and with everyone in the world, I started giggling with the thought that when I received it in August, I had no idea it would end up abandoned on the side of a mountain in eastern Spain, after a five hour day in the mountains.  But please, rest assured, I’m still horribly upset.

...

That evening was spent with more (new) friends (like C., the guy they kept referring to as “the surgeon”, with a tone of wonder and gravity that suggested he performed all his operations on the moon) cooking and creating (we ate in the in-house art studio, where after dinner we painted a massive collage) and most importantly: RELAXING. I haven’t felt so at ease in months.

Which is why the return home was so brutal; the past few days I’ve wandered around my barrio half-asleep, seeing but not processing, looking but not appreciating, wishing myself back in the huerto.  But with the sun finally back to stay, and the knowledge of what I’d be doing at home right now, it’s safe to say I’m finding contentment, even in the now old-hat routine of classes, meetings, clubs, etc. Because before I know it, I’m huerto-day, gone tomorrow.

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past, present and future.

FINALLY, some new material. It has taken me probably 3 weeks to get this blog fully up and running, just an example of stubborn I’ve been about creating one in the first place.  But let’s face it, an aspiring travel journalist with nothing to share is hardly an aspiring travel journalist at all.  So that’s where this comes in, providing YOU, my future employers (?) (?) (?), my past friends and lovers, my long-time family, etc. with the annals of what exactly I’m getting into this semester.

The first few weeks back (post-European Christmas adventure, post-visit from Mom) were a hard adjustment, but things seem to be falling into place. New friends, new classes (Mass Media, Don Quijote, Civilization and Culture, and Linguistics, to be exact), new activities.  Also, new internships! I just found out that I’ll be working for Valencia’s fútbol (soccer) team doing some translations for their website.  This might prove difficult considering I know very little about soccer (who am I kidding: all sports), let alone its lexicon in English or Spanish.  Pues, vamos a ver…

I will say this about the newness of this semester: with the new crop of students we (the old guard) have been rejuvenated and are on the quest for the lesser-known, alternative places/activities around the city.  This search has led us to many interesting experiences, including the following:

  • taking a day-trip to Sagunto, the old Roman trade city north of Valencia, only to find it completely closed, a crisis we responded to by going on a hike all around the castle.

    Sagunto from above

  • Mexi[can food] Night in a somewhat forgotten part of town
  • the Madhatter’s Tea Party, to which showed up a crop of Spanish Lolita’s, a fashion style that is not only creepy but totally not in accordance with the Alice in Wonderland theme
  • a paella cooking class which began with me almost fainting at the sight and sound of rabbit and chicken being prepared (read: hacked apart violently) and ended with me chowing down on some delicious conejo

On top of these isolated events, I’ve picked up some new routines as well.  Starting with a 2 times a week pilates class, which is not only a stretch physically but mentally considering the language barrier.  I’m also still teaching English to Gonzalo, the adorable 7-year old who lives down the street.  Since winter break he has really come out of his shell, making a once-frustrating weekly appointment into something I look forward to.  Plus, this has given me some indication that I am not as horrible with children as I thought, and that he might actually like me!  A revelation for this child-phobic twenty-something.

So now we’ve covered the past, the present, and onto the future: our first long vacation is Fallas in mid-March, during which of course we’ll all be staying in town for our first Fallas experience.  But in April we’re given 2 weeks (thank you, Catholic holidays!) for travel and time off from school, during which I hope to be in Istanbul and the Grecian Isles (I just love the sound of that).  Obviously it’s still far off, and plans always change, but it’s still something to look forward to.

All in all, things are good in Valencia (how can you complain about a place where there’s 60 degree weather when you know your house is buried ankle-deep in snow and cold and gloom and doom?)

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time flies, and apparently so does paella.

WOW how the time flies.  Two weeks left of my first semester in Spain.  Just as it is in the states, things are getting jam-packed as we near the end: exams to be taken, papers to be written, but also people and places to see and enjoy before saying goodbye.

In this spirit, a few of our Spanish friends organized a rather large fiesta in honor of Franco’s death which occurred on the 20th of November.  This day is not recognized nationally by any means, and it was barely even mentioned in school, so the fact that we attended a celebration of this was somewhat out of the ordinary.  It took place in the “OVNI CUADRADO” art gallery (which translates literally to the “Square UFO” gallery) that my friend Carlitos, a more than middle aged artist, runs.  More than a second apartment than an actual art gallery, its walls are covered in murals, out of place photos from magazines, and string lights.  General kitch is the theme.  After an interpretive dance performance, a few of our friends hit the stage to play some music, at one point asking me to come up and sing some jazz!  “When in Spain,” you could say.  The final spectacle of the night was just that: a live-action cooking show in the center of the dance floor, with Carlitos himself making an enormous paella right in front of our eyes.  Dressed in a sailor costume, and accompanied by a mock “faellera” girl (the equivalent of a “Little Miss” from American beauty pageants and parades) he started adding oil, peppers, garlic and onions to the pan.  All seemed to be running smoothly as he flung, dramatically, a passel of octopi and mussels into the mix, but things suddenly went south.  The paella pan starts tipping over (the physics behind this are still unclear to me) and seafood broth sloshes everywhere.  A close save, and a sigh of relief.  But again, it tips, this time definitively so, making the whole plate slip off the table and flip over, depositing sea creatures and green peppers everywhere.  It starts to smell.  Carlitos gets out his mop.  The police show up downstairs because of a noise complaint.  That’s when we made our exit, remembering the “Paella Bingo Show” party (as it was called) as one of the strangest events of the semester.

There seems to have been a lot to celebrate during the past few weeks, because shortly after the paella fiasco we were treated to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner at our school.  It was not easy to get off Skype with my parents, Aunt and Uncle after catching them at the start of the Thanksgiving festivities at home.  And I remember walking to the school thinking: this will not be fun.  It will just make me sadder.  But as the case often is when I start complaining required events, I was very pleasantly surprised (Mr. Kahuda: some things never change).  The supper was held in our school in the library, where the study desks had been converted into dining tables, beckoning us with a spread of various meats, cheeses, and drinks.  After a short moment of private reflection to think about what we are thankful for this year (there are so many things I don’t know if I could name them all.  But for me: this entire experience, Skype, the health and happiness of my family, the loving presence y’all provide me when you respond to these, Adela my Spanish madre, a break from economic hardships, etc.) we started to chow down on the incredible buffet that had been prepared: turkey, stuffing (actual bread stuffing! I couldn’t believe it), various potato dishes (but sadly, not the roasted garlic mashed potatoes my mom whipped up this year), veggies, canned cranberry sauce (brought straight from the US by a friend’s mom who was visiting) and sweet potatoes.  After supper we were served roasted pumpkin and whipped cream, an excellent and believable replacement for the pumpkin pie that cannot be found in this country.  Overall, it was a great night, and I was so happy to spend it with my new group of friends, my new family.

l'antiga universitat

More things gastronomic! This time the topic is cava, Spain’s equivalent to France’s champagne.  A few days after the Thanksgiving feast, a few friends and I met up to go to the first cava tasting held in Valencia at the old University of Valencia campus.  Stationed in the central patio of the building were dozens of wine makers and their work.  For 5€ we received four tastings of our choice, accompanied by various crackers and cheeses that were being promoted as well.  Not knowing anything about wine, my general plan of attack was to go over to any station manned by jovial-looking Spanish men and ask them: “¿cual es tu favorito?” (which one is your favorite?).  Using what I learned from the one wine tasting I’ve been to in Israel (a locale not exactly known for its wine), I swirled and swished and enjoyed myself thoroughly, crashing by 2 hours later at the extremely early hour of 12:30am.

Now that you’ve gotten the culinary side of things, it’s on to sports: the program also provided us with FREE tickets to a soccer game this weekend to see Valencia CF go up against Lille FC from France.  This activity was made possible by one of our professors who used to play for Valencia (or the minor leagues, we think) until an injury made him quit and dedicate himself to his second passion: writing poetry.  He is a personal friend of many of the players, and not only got us the great seats for free, but a special chance to go on the field after the game, meet the players and ogle.  Despite the rain and cold, it was a great night, made only sweeter by the promise that the next day some of these very fine jugadores (players) would join us Americans for a drink.  And they did just that.  Sort of.  We showed up last night at the meeting spot, a noisy bar that overcharged, ogling again in wonder at so many attractive athletes in one small space.  Although my friends and I did not end up leaving the club with any marriage proposals, it was still fun to rub elbows with these guys for a few hours.  And at least I can say I gave Mata (the #4 ranked soccer player in the world currently) the obligatory dos besos (two kisses, the typical European greeting or goodbye).

But the weekend shenanigans don’t stop there.  That was two days ago, whereas yesterday, on my way to the train station to catch a train to Madrid for the long weekend (we have another one of those lovely “puentes” which gives me 5 days off!), I got the call that the friend I was going to meet there has come down with the swine flu!  Needless to say, I did not get on that train.  Instead, I high-tailed it back to the school just in time to see the bi-annual theater production the students of our program put on.  This year they did Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre (Blood Weddings), a tragedy that was interpreted by the students here and that was lightened up by such scenes as when Death comes out from stage right, catches the eye of her best friend playing a widow, and they both burst out laughing.  You could call it a “loose” interpretation.

Besides that, I’d say y’all are all pretty well caught up now.  Things are for sure winding down now, and the general tone at school is getting pretty sentimental.  It seems so strange to me that only 4 months can bring people together and make them so close, but it really has.  I love the friends I’ve made here, and the group dynamic in general, and I don’t want to lose any of that!  But I can tell that the change is necessary and for the better; if things were to stay exactly as they are I think on some level I’d be bored.  I’m glad to have a few core friends staying next semester, to help with the transition (we’re doubling in size, for starters!) and a few months here under my belt.  Who knows what the next half of this year will bring!

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Filed under fall semester, travel, Valencia

post Post-Its: Halloween ’09

“I didn’t really feel like I was in Spain, until just now”

Not sure if I agree with this statement, said by one of my friends our first night in Barcelona, as we wandered the streets full of the excitement that comes from being in a place for the first time.  But I will say this: if you can only visit one city in Spain, Barcelona should be it, hands down, no question.  (Ok, maybe Sevilla too).  It represents the whole country so well: it’s such a vibrant city, just like the Spanish people, with streets overflowing with art, music, tapas and vino, all the things I’ve come to love about the country.  But it has its own distinct character too, being the capital of Cataluña, a very unique region with lots of its own history, tradition, and even its own language (Catalan, of which Valenciano, spoken in Valencia, is a derivative).

We got the idea for this trip from a few other people in the program, who were headed to Barcelona for Halloween after hearing that this city really knew how to celebrate the holiday (which gave it a certain appeal because as a rule Spaniards don’t recognize it).  The plan was only made sweeter by the fact that one of our Spanish friends, Sabata, has an apartment there since he teaches part time in Barcelona.  We agreed that us Americans (specifically: Emily Anne, Angela, Preetal, Shannon, Julia and I, all girls I’m really fond of) would come for the weekend and crash with Sabata and our mutual friend Rafa, who also lives here in Valencia and would join us for the visit.  The whole trip didn’t really cement until a week before, with us scrambling around buying train tickets and costumes.  But it was totally worth any hassle it caused.

After classes on Thursday, we hopped on a four hour train north to the city.  When we arrived, Sabata and his roommates were waiting for us with open arms, ready to show us around the city despite the arrival time (actually, midnight in this country means suppertime has just ended, a fact I still can’t get used to).  The apartment could not have been in a better location: right by the port, just a few blocks from the Cathedral of Barcelona (which of course we all mistook for Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia upon seeing it at night) and a 10 minute walk to Les Rambles, the city’s “main drag”.  So after a personalized tour of the area near our apartment that included lessons in sculpture (did you know when someone is sculpted riding horseback on a horse with one leg raised, it means he died in battle?), architecture and Catalan, we came home and crashed, excited for the day of sightseeing ahead of us…

me 'n' Paco (who is quite possibly in the running for love of my life.)

…but we got a little distracted.  The plan was to nail down our costumes (we had planned to go as Post-It notes, which only requires a colorful shirt and a marker for people to write on it) before checking out all of Gaudí’s incredible architecture and maybe some Miró.  No such luck; after dragging Paco, (one of Sabata’s roommates, and probably the nicest and most patient guy in the world) around for the whole morning in search of said costumes, we called it quits in favor of tapas and sangria, returning back to the apartment ready for our siesta.  There we found our friend Rafa (a freelance translator/writer/publisher), finally awake at 2:30 in the afternoon, perched in front of his laptop doing some work.  When we sat down and he picked up the guitar to play for us, we knew it was over; we weren’t going anywhere that afternoon.  We lazed about for a few more hours, enjoying the opportunity to be as fully immersed in a culture as it gets, and then headed out to the beach (5 minutes away!!) to watch the sunset.  There more lazing about ensued, as the night grew bluer and bluer while the lights of the city grew warmer and brighter.  We decided to thank the boys for their hospitality by preparing a supper for them of pasta and pizza, and for after-dinner drinks we girls made Agua de Valencia, the typical cocktail of our town.  Then it was off to a concert that one of Rafa’s friends was putting on in the city that night.  We managed to almost lose one from our group, Emily Anne, in the subway; the doors in Barcelona’s underground close QUICKLY and DO NOT REOPEN for anyone or anything.  The concert was good but we had far too much energy to sit still and listen, so we headed out in search of somewhere to dance.  This failed, however, and we abandoned the plan in favor of, you guessed it!, lazing about at home playing guitar and telling stories.  Definitely can’t complain about that.

family portrait.

Saturday we finally managed to do a bit of tourism.  The whole gang (Spaniards and Americans alike) hopped the metro to the Park Güell, one of the many legacies Gaudí left to the city; the park is carved out of the side of a hill, making it a great place to take in views of the city.  Right as you walk in, you’re greeted by two small “houses” (one now serving as a gift shop) that look like they’ve come straight from the pages of Hansel and Gretel.  But instead of candy they’re adorned with mosaics, glistening with color in the afternoon sun.  We found a spot to picnic towards the top of the hill, feasting on freshly purchased bocadillos, fruit and chocolate, talking both in English and Spanish of cuss words, UVA traditions and other cultural oddities.  I truly felt like a kid again, skipping around the park (keep in mind I don’t get much time in the great outdoors in the metropolis that is Valencia) with my friends, snapping goofy photos and taking in the spectacular views of the city below.  The day ended with some last minute Halloween shopping, at which point it became clear I was not destined to be a Post-It Note but a leopard (the amount of leopard print clothing in the dollar store we stumbled upon was staggering).  After a quick siesta we geared up, made sure the boys had an acceptable amount of costume on (they all took a liking to my eyeliner and their costumes therefore were decided on how the makeup was employed: black-lined lips? “Mom” tattoos?, and so on).

Our friends were right: Barcelona knows how to throw a good Halloween party; everyone in the streets was dressed up, ready to share with us what they were, curious to know what we were, etc.  It’s amazing how many foreigners were out and about (ourselves included); we probably heard more English that night than Spanish.  And I’m not often a proponent for nights out that end at 6am, but I made an exception this time.  Overall, a successful American holiday celebration in Spain.

With only a few hours in the city left on Sunday, we high-tailed it to the remaining Gaudí grandeurs (I’m already planning my next trip back, since we didn’t have the chance to go into any of the buildings! They’re so impressive from the outside that I can’t imagine what beautiful things are inside).  What an incredible feeling to get off at the “Sagrada Familia” metro stop and literally step out, look up, and there it is.  Dripping with ornate stonework, built to represent the wild beauty of nature, this cathedral is truly awe-inspiring.  Exactly 100 years old this year, it is still being built; can you imagine how Gaudí must have felt, not ever having seen his own work completed?  Despite the distraction of cranes and scaffolding that surround the building, it’s interesting to see parts of the structure that are completed, while other identical parts are still being built.  We then strolled down to La Pedrera (wish I could tell you what this was originally, maybe just an apartment building that now serves as a Gaudí museum) and Casa Batelló (again, another apartment designed by Gaudí).  With only minutes to spare, we hopped on our train home, weary travelers ready to return.

This week has provided no similarly spectacular stories, since it has mostly consisted of getting back exams (I could rant for hours about the disadvantages of the Spanish grading system in which, all my teacher’s assured me, an 85 is “muy muy muy bien!”) and straightening out credits and classes with UVA from overseas, since I have pretty much determined that I’ll be graduating by the end of this summer.  Which is an exciting prospect, despite all the bureaucracy, because of what next year may hold for me: an internship here in Spain? In D.C.? a semester of living at home and working so I can travel/live somewhere new and different? (but like they say: you can take the girl out of Charlottesville but you can’t take Charlottesville out of the girl).  I feel like the world really is at my fingertips, and I’m just glad to be overwhelmed by possibilities rather than dead ends.

Other than that, next weekend I head to Paris to visit one of my closest friends from high school who is also on a year abroad program.  So more travel news to follow.

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