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Dec 21, 2012

I feel like I just went through multiple break ups in the last 24 hours. All my friends have gone off in different directions- scattered around the globe. It’s not the same as a break up, but I still feel that same physical and emotional insensible sadness and injustice over our time that has finally run out. Goodbyes are so difficult. I inherited an unfortunate inability to hide any of my emotions. I feel things deeply and it usually shows.  Sometimes I cry until my face hurts. I also laugh intermittently. It sounds both terrible and ridiculous. I am revealing some odd truths about myself here, ok guys.

My body is aching from the exhaustion of goodbyes. These are some of the people that have changed my life. We’ve shared deep and silly talks, experienced new things, and learned a new language together. You become close without even noticing how deeply these people have burrowed into your life.  Studying abroad offers a unique situation for college kids. Everyone comes from a range of backgrounds and you are united in a terror of the unknown and unfamiliarity of a different country, unlike being a freshman at your homecountry university. We arrived already in a limbo between the cusp of growing up and growing out of being selfish, young, and stupid. I’ve matured here in so many ways, yet I have also been able to get in touch with a childish appreciation and ability to absorb my new surroundings and to do things on a whim.  It has been a refreshingly simple way of living. 

I couldn’t speak or communicate in Spanish before I got to Granada. Getting there by myself was one of the most bewildering and tiring experiences of my life. I cried after I said bye to my parents. It’s a different kind of heartache when you say bye to family. It’s more of a feeling of sadness and fear of facing life on your own.

Now, as I’m pulling out of Granada’s bus station for the last time this year, I am still fighting the tears and trying not to dwell on things I cannot change.  ”Yesterday” by The Beatles just came on shuffle on my iPod. Last night I was plucking it half-heartedly on the ukulele. How I wish nights like last night could happen forever, sitting around in Sam’s apartment laughing, drinking cava (Spanish champagne), and listening to Mary play the ukulele. 

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play, now I need a place to hide away. Now I long for yesterday.

It’s pretty hard to communicate how you’ve changed. I wonder how much I have. Maybe people will see it, maybe they won’t. I’m so tired I don’t want to think anymore. I’ll continue later.

 

Dec. 22, 2012

After two long days of traveling and staying in Madrid, I’m not hurting in the raw way I was yesterday. The last 48 hours was filled with mostly drinking, eating, and sleeping. It’s all we could do to keep our minds off of the past and future. We were on autopilot, just responding to our exhausted bodies’ needs. We tried to stop dwelling on Granada and how anxious we were to be home already after we had said our goodbyes. I envied the people who were already home while we were wallowing in cheery Christmas crowds in Madrid.

 

Dec. 24, 2012

Now I am home, and my sadness has found solace in the comfort of family, friends, and familiarity.  I was so relieved to see them after 24 hours of buses and planes.  Now it’s Christmas Eve and I’ve eaten Mexican food and laid around on the comfortable couch with my family and dog.  It’s the simple things in life.  I’ll forever remember Granada and my experience there, but I know how lucky I am that I also love my life back at home.  Things are neither bad nor good, but thinking makes them so. I’ll be positive and see life as something that is always moving forward, and sometimes on the way you pass through some excellent experiences, but after they end, it only makes way for new and different ones.  Life is travel. Life is what you make it. Life is happening all around you, no matter where you are in the world.  This will be my last Pomegranada post.  Thank you to all my family and friends who have read my posts and about my experiences.  Os amo y gracias. I love you all and thank you.

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After my Grandma and Larry were in Granada, actually before they even left, Mary, Sam, and I had gotten on a bus headed to Madrid Airport at 2 am.  It was the most beautiful bus sleep I have ever had.  When I was little I was always urged to get a good nights sleep the night before a trip. But what I’ve found is that you need to be completely exhausted when you start bus, train, or plane travel.  That way as soon as you sit in your bus, no matter how many children are singing Christmas carols or that your seat only reclines from 90 degrees down to an astonishing 95 degree angle, you can plug in the iPod and fall into a troubled and delirious slumber.  Also, a traveler’s best gear is probably a beanie because a) your hair will produce 8 times the amount of grease it normally does as soon as you step foot into an airplane—I think it may have something to do with the fake air and the delirious sleep—and b) you can stuff it with a scarf or a sweater and it can be used as a small neck pillow to ease the severity of which your head swivels during said delirious sleep.

So we had upgraded to a nicer bus that took us straight to Madrid Barajas Airport so that we ended up in Dublin, Ireland with the whole day ahead of us! We stepped off the shuttle and found the most authentic looking pub off of the main drag and sat amongst a slew of elderly men eating stew and drinking Guinness. We followed suit and raised them an Irish coffee.

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Eat, drink, and be merry!

After drinking nothing in Spain but Alhambra beer with a few glasses of wine or chupitos to break it up, some tasty beer was a treat. I also really enjoy Bulmer’s hard cider, like every other teenage girl in Ireland, as one bartender told me. 

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The city of Dublin is really beautiful during Christmas time.  The Irish really love Christmas. Work holiday parties are mandatory and every pub, bar, and restaurant was filled with Christmas songs (everyone sings along), coworkers, but most importantly electronically lit up holiday sweaters or “jumpers”.  I swear to little baby Jesus himself that one girl was wearing a Virgin Mary light up jumper.  Sam ended up talking to her and without saying anything and with a really precious look on herface, she lifted up a handkerchief to reveal that she had a little baby Jesus in her lap.  This of course all occurred in a large, urban-esque club in a renovated apartment complex.  That night was so bizarre.  The club was called Workman’s Club, and as it describes itself, is sexy and vintage!

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Because its consists of former apartment spaces, the venue has doors leading into old parlors complete with fires ablaze in the fireplace, big velvet chairs, and stairs leading to all different levels.  Quite the confusion as we all ran through the rooms all night running into one another, meeting people, etc.  The Irish, by reputation and by my account, with sarcasm aside, are about the friendliest people I have ever met. People won’t just give you directions; they’ll walk you to where you need to go. 

We had started off that night doing a pub crawl with the tour guide from earlier and it was so boring that when we ran into one of his friends infront of a pizza place and bar, Mary, Sam, and I ran inside and commandeered the whole pub crawl to go off course and into the bar.  It was probably the best decision we made in Dublin.  There were Star Wars murals and banners everywhere, candles dripping down used bottles, christmas lights, chicken banners, Beatles murals, and punk IPA’s behind the bar. It made me want to open a bar like it in SB. Too bad, no one knew the name and it doesn’t seem to exist according to google. Maybe it was an Irish mirage, but here’s some photo’s to convince you it is in fact real. 

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Our hostel, The Liffey, happened to be a kick-ass renovated building.  It was formerly a U2 recording studio, but now the walls are covered in murals of artists like Sinéad O’ Connor, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and of course U2.  They had free dinner or beer or pub-crawls every night. 

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We met a lot of people from South America, Australia, Africa, and all over Europe.  We also met a terrible American and a creeper from Istanbul who was living in the hostel. One Australian guy in our room asked us in his chonies if we wanted to “clap in his mates” from riding their bikes from Shanghai to Dublin.  We were hungover and down for whatever the day would bring, so of course we went.  We “clapped them in” below the Dublin Castle’s suite where Hillary Clinton was currently staying.  It was another bizarre moment, but it was pretty cool to see the guys meet up with family and friends after riding for six months across Asia and Europe for the Hemochromatosis Societies in the US and Australia. Here’s their site if you want to make a donation http://shanghai-dublin.tumblr.com/. Again, you meet some awesome people wherever you travel.

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We also decided to go on a free walking tour and our tour guide was an ex-archaeologist doing free tours and pub-crawls for tips.  That’s a shining example of how poor the economy is in Ireland at the moment. The tour was excellent and we saw the Temple Bar district, the tower where Tristan and Isolde hid away, and the Hall of Fame. He told us that the Irish say “Craic” (pronounced as crack), which means fun. He said don’t ask people if they had any craic that weekend, because it just confuses people further when you tell them that craic is fun. Overall, we saw a lot of Dublin and a brief history of the Vikings who had settled in Ireland.  We met a very awesome girl from South Africa on the tour and ended up hanging out with her the rest of the weekend.  She was traveling Europe by herself for a month and Dublin was her first stop.  I give props to the people I have met while traveling that are by themselves.  But, truth be told traveling with Mary and Sam was a huge reason why it was such an amazing trip.  It’s a pity that we finally found the perfect traveling trio at the end of our time together.  I’m glad to got out with a bang. 

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The last day in Dublin we somehow arose before the sun did and wandered the streets looking for the bus stop that would take us to the Cliffs of Moher, commonly mistaken as the Cliffs of Mordor.  Anyways, the cliffs were incredibly massive.  They are a natural wonder of the world and run for over 10 miles along the West coast of Ireland.  In the hour we were there we experienced light showers, incredibly strong winds, then completely sunny skies, rainbows, and light breezes. 

No matter how cold it was this weekend, I was just so happy it didn’t pour the entire time! I had just left unusually rainy Granada, Spain to enjoy a sunny time in Ireland.  It was truly bizarre and appreciated.  The one time it did rain we went and saw the British film Sightseers.  It was hilarious and I got to let my feet dry. A win-win really.

I haven’t had my fill of Ireland, yet.  Guess that means I’ll have to come back again!

p.s. Guinness tastes ten times better in Ireland because the keg is drained much faster than in the states. Just a fun fact.  

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How have I changed? What do I know now that I didn’t know 5 months ago?

The best thing I have learned from living abroad is that I can go anywhere. I don’t need anybody to hold my hand, or show me the way. It’s scary but also wonderful to see that no matter where you go there are people who are interesting and friendly, but also as crabby, depressed, eccentric, strange, broke, loud, or quiet as people you already have met in the homeland.  People are people despite their cultural differences.  Yet, the cultural differences are the fuel that feed that burning, yearning need I have to travel.

Sitting in a hostel lobby is a veritable smorgasbord of nationalities, language, and most importantly, fellow travelers. I have found that traveling makes you a kinder person, or at least more patient and outgoing. You’re really never all alone if you can strike up a conversation with a stranger. It can easily be remedied with a simple hello, hey, hi, hola to a fellow traveler. If you’re traveling with friends, make new friends. I have gotten such a rich experience abroad by meeting new people within my program, within Granada and within all of Europe.  

Before I came here by myself, I never could imagine traveling alone. I mean how lonely! how intimidating! But now I understand that the world is easily navigated with the aid of buses, cheap flights, free wifi, couch surfer, good books, a upbeat attitude and a smartly packed bag. I generally feared being by myself, I had thought it would be dangerous, boring, awkward, lonesome, but on the contrary, it’s liberating and exciting. Some of my favorite moments in Europe have been when I was flying solo (literally). As much as its fun to have a neat schedule or to travel with a group, when you’re by yourself, there’s no need to make concessions. You go where you want and when you want. The flexibility is wonderful and life moves at a different pace when time isn’t divided into planned segments. Being a little selfish isn’t so bad.  The amount of time I have had to write and read has been mentally cleansing.  I was starting to feel overworked with a job and full load of classes at UCSB.  Traveling has turned my outlook simultaneously inward and outward.  

Patience is the reward given to the seasoned traveler. America is a society that excels in speed and efficiency (well not in their public transportation). The rest of the world doesn’t rush through meals and the workday like Americans do. Spending hours on trains, planes, buses, and ferries instills in a traveler a sense of resignation to accept that the hours will be long and the destination will be worth the wait. I’ve come to appreciate the time to read, listen to music, catch up on sleep, talk, write, but mostly to think. 

The amount of knowledge you gain through experience can never be replaced by theory. As a global studies major in the states, it would be comical for me to even begin to approach a career in global relations without seeing the world with my own eyes. College had only prepared me with a condensed history of various global regions, but walking through any city around the world provides a much richer history lesson. 

Going abroad seemed like an excellent way to experience Europe. With a program to facilitate housing and class enrollment, I felt secure while I free fell into a new country and experience. Knowing what I know now, a program is unnecessary, but it is comforting. I have met some pretty incredible Americans in ISA and the CLM, but I know that studying abroad mostly has given me the knowledge and confidence to travel anywhere in the world now, without the aid of a middleman or program.

I’ve always considered myself a capable person, but without first hand experience, the world feels too large and strange to wander. In the end, people aren’t much different around the world. Sure everyone clings to their certain beliefs, but are people their beliefs? I don’t think so. I think people are their actions. I want to be a person of action. I want to travel, to prove I am capable, that I am open-minded to new cultures, new experiences.  Mostly, through my actions, I want to find my own beliefs, my passions, and myself.  So although I miss my roots in California, I have left apart of myself around the world.  Someday I’ll have to come back and retrieve it, and see how much I’ve grown. 

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Paris may be a moveable feast, but Spain is typical for feasts that render one unmovable.  Not only has Spanish cuisine surpassed French by the international gastronomic community, but there is also a greater diversity of traditional dishes throughout Spain.  Although breakfast foods are all but extinct here, the Spaniards make up for their skipped morning meal with an exhaustingly large three-four courses late in the afternoon.  Schools, stores, restaurants, cafes, and bars shut close after lunch for a siesta, or an afternoon nap.  Spaniards need this siesta because they typically go to sleep late and rise late.

Recently my Grandma Sally and Uncle Larry came to visit me for a week and it was just as much a gastronomic experience for me as it was for them.  A majority of my meals consist of food in my residence hall, which are delicious, yet repetitious.  I enjoyed showing them places like Pöe, a bar with the most excellent, spicy Brazilian, Portuguese, Italian, Asian, etc. fusion of dishes, which come free with a drink. I almost even bought them a burning hot shot of absinthe!

Unlike how when I visit a café or bar in Granada, we not only received free tapas, but ordered and tried new dishes.  It was great to ordermenu del dia, the deal of the day in restaurants that include a three-course meal and a drink.

Living in Granada exposes you not only to traditional Spanish foods, but also Arabic foods that were introduced when the Arab world extended to the Iberian Peninsula.  I made the mistake of considering the French fries at our meal as American.  Frying foods is a cooking technique introduced by the Arabs.  Fried potatoes are neither a French nor American food.  Not until potatoes were introduced to Spain from the Americas were they fried. 

The most important parts of a Spanish diet are fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables (including lots of potatoes), cheese, wine, and olives, especially olive oil.  As Spain is located on the Mediterranean Sea, they share much of the healthy diet of other regions located on the sea, like Greece, Morocco, Southern France and Southern Italy. Because of the fresh fruits and vegetables, the health benefits of using olive oil instead of other lards, and the low consumption of red meats, it is the world’s most healthful diet for your heart, cholesterol, and overall health. Granada is apart of Andalucía, a region that had formerly outlawed ovens. Wealthy and greedy landowners monopolized the peasant’s access to bread so many recipes call for other means of heating.   Southern Spain still retains many recipes that care fired because of the Arabic influence before Spain was Christian.  It definitely is not the most healthful region on the Mediterranean, but still has many delicious dishes.

Some of the most typical Spanish meals include heavily spiced soups of meats and potatoes, pork, tuna, sausage, pasta, eggs, vegetables, and paella, a pan cooked meal of rice, spices, and whatever else you want; it’s the stir-fry of the Mediterranean. 

 Many appetizers include gazpacho, a cold tomato soup that is made with olive oil, bread, vinegar, garlic, and even cucumber. Spanish tortilla which is an egg-based dish that can be made with potato, cheese, tomato, or put in-between bread slices to make a bocadillo, a Spanish baguette sandwich. 

Of course, when you are out on the town of Granada, appetizers are called tapas, and they are free with drinks.  Tapas range from mini bocadillos, cheeses, to marinated olives, potato salads, to various meats.  The little finger foods mostly include jámon! Jámon is lightly sliced, preserved salted ham that is characteristic of most tapas bars and restaurants.  The large, preserved pigs legs hanging from the ceilings of bars used to be slightly upsetting, but soon enough I came to regard them as a staple decoration in Spanish life.

  Another great part about the Tapa System, is that with every new round of drinks, the tapas tend to get better and bigger.  It’s fortunate that dinners are much smaller than lunches in Spain because no matter how full you may think you are, free tapas are difficult to pass up on, not to mention the waiter’s disappointment when you pass up on free food, but as Mary says,”that’s the problem with tapas for dinner, you just get drunk.”

Of course, a Mediterranean diet is only as healthy as how much exercise one gets also.  Spaniards walk everywhere, well most people do besides Americans.  Although the Spaniards do not run in the streets like in California, down by the river are nice running paths and there are beautiful mountains to hike all around the city.  Maybe now I can justify eating natía, a delicious custard pudding that Papa Antonio in the residencía’s kitchen makes everyday.  I may not be stoked on fried anchovies and fish scales being served, but everyday I am being exposed to authentic Spanish dishes and learning more about the unique Andalusian Gastronomy of Southern Spain.

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Yesterday, Tuesday the 13th, the day of bad luck in Spain, I didn’t realize how important the Huelga Nacional, the National Strike, would be.  Being an American, I’ve only seen strikes happened one dissatisfied worker’s union at a time or crop up in various cities like the Occupy Wall Street movement. In Spain, they have national wide strikes where businesses shut down and citizens, protected by the organization of the police, strike against whatever they wish to, because it is their right to do so. I naively sang out last night “¡Feliz Huelga! or Happy Strike!”, because to me, it was a day off from classes on a Wednesday. 

However, midnight came and found me and a couple friends drinking a beer in a little bar on a busy street called Pedro Antonio.  The bartender locked the front door and pulled the metal, protective door over that as we heard loud noises and shouts from the outside.  The strike had commenced and would continue for the next 24 hours.  Suddenly, the strike became real to me as we were literally locked in the bar. The businesses were shutting down to join in with the strikers and we exited through the backdoor to find the street deserted as the striker’s marching carried them around the corner.   

Spanish citizens have more than a right to protest, they should be refusing to accept the position that their economy is in.  At first, I was unsure how I felt about the strike.  As one teacher has pointed out, what demands have the protestors presented? Is it a strike of discontent? Or are there specific terms that are being pursued by the protestors when they picket.

Personally, I see it as one of the only ways a country’s people are able to create a unified front, both physically and theoretically.  There is general discontent and wide unemployment, but until people make a scene and demand change, the government can and will avoid facing difficult problems.  Going beyond acknowledging the problem, the entire country of Spain today, November 14th, has closed down businesses and not gone to work to make a stance against the failure of the government to provide jobs and a healthy economy.  The visual of the masses’ creating a united front is both frightening and inspiring.  People are passionately defending their livelihoods out of exasperation of the current state of the economy and fear for their futures.  It must give Spaniards a boost of moral to see so many people join arms, despite their differences, and demonstrate that they demand change.

Judging by the crowd that I saw marching down the large avenue of Gran Via Colon in Granada, the majority of the picket signs illustrated demands regarding the education system and equality.  These may seem like vague or general demands, but nonetheless, extremely important.  I guess the reasons there are no specific terms of demands being set by the protesters is because not one person knows what to do to fix the economy.  All anyone can say for certain is that the crisis is affecting everyone in Spain financially.  Students and teachers are experiencing the effects of budget cuts to the educational system.

It is the right of the people to protect the sectors that cannot afford budget cuts, like the education system.  Most agree that the future depends on the educated and innovative minds of the next generation.  Education, culture, and social programs are always the first to go when a state’s economy starts to decline.  Yet, it has been shown that a healthy economy has well-funded educational and welfare programs.  If people have no jobs, they won’t have money, and businesses only thrive if people are spending.  The biggest problem a government faces when the money runs out is where will the budget cuts be made. 

Spaniards, despite the economic problems, have continued to spend money.  Instead of halting all unnecessary expenditures, people still are shopping, drinking, and eating out on the town.   This could either be the result of poor money handling and further in-debt individuals, or it could just help small businesses stay afloat and increase employment during the crisis.  Like I already said, not one person knows how to fix an economy, but when the people come together, the government can’t ignore it. 

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La alba, el amanecer, the sunrise, la aurora, the dawn. 

How many times a year do I see the sunrise? I can count on my right hand.  It is usually because I haven’t gone to sleep yet or I’m traveling in the early hours of morning.  Either circumstance, experiencing the eruption of fresh sky is marred with sleepy eyes and cranky spirits.  Yet, I had caught a full night’s sleep in the Sahara Desert on my little cot in the haima, tent.  We awoke at 5:30 am in the dark, excited that we hadn’t slept in.  A group of Berber men were loitering just outside of the campsite to help us navigate the abyss of dunes. Well, at least at the time we were naive enough to not realize they did not work without pay.  After building friendships with us, they took out trinkets out of their packs and tried to guilt us into buying carvings of camels and geodes.  I understood and pitied their circumstance but I had 20 dirham (2€ or $2.60) left for the rest of the trip and couldn’t afford to not drink water or eat food for the next two days.

We walked for a good 20 minutes and perched on the edge of a tall dune.  The moon was still bright and high in the sky.  It slowly was diminishing in size and luster as the sun rose to chase it from its nightly, celestial reign.  The sun had not yet peaked over the ridge, but we felt it and saw how it changed of color in the eastern sky.  The colorless landscape of the desert was also slowing saturating to a bright orange.  We had not yet seen the Sahara by day light.  It was strange to arrive in the dark, but everywhere I looked colors of orange, yellow, periwinkle, pink, and blue grew in intensity and the sun warmed the hills and melted away the tiny stars that had just been scattered across the sky.  It was the beginning of a long and extraordinary day in the desert.

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“The name of the game is Balderdash,” I announced to a packed round table of dusty campers.  There were some unfamiliar faces among the group.  Although the majority of the trip consisted of people from my ISA Program in Granada, there were a handful of kids from Barcelona, Málaga, and Paris that also came with us on the Morocco excursion. The sun had just set over the Sahara Desert and it was the end of Day 3 before we had to shove out and begin traveling back to Spain.

The game we were playing was a simplified version of the original.  One person read aloud one of the bizarre words on one side of the card and the rest of the players made up their own definition.  Then all the made up definitions and the one real one are read aloud.  Sometimes the object of a round is to try to pick the real definition from the phonies, but other rounds its mostly about laughing at all the ridiculous things that people have written. 

First round.  “The word is smatchet,” I read aloud and furtively turn the card over to glance at what the real definition is.  Ironically the definition is “nasty little kid”. I chuckled to myself at how oddly appropriate this word was to start off our game.

I say it’s ironic because we were stationed at a camp in Southern Morocco in the Sahara Desert where the indigenous Berber children ran amuck in the dunes all day and night causing a ruckus. We were the foreigners in their backyard and they spent a good portion of their energy seeking our attention with great lengths of harassment and bombardment.

Earlier we displayed just how foreign we were by spreading out on a flat dune to have a yoga session at sunset.  Katie who is in my program is a certified yoga instructor and we all faced her and the setting sun, ready to follow her lead.  This was too much for the Berber boys to deal with.  Between the disciplined unison of our stretching or the failure to give them our undivided attention set them off.  They danced about us, hooting loudly at our bottoms and heckling as we bent into Down Dog.

We had ridden camels earlier in the day and the ride had awakened the use of forgotten groin and leg muscles.  We were rendered stiff and bandy legged as we sunk deeper into our stretches, coaxing the muscles to forgive us for the previous abuse.  It was comical and frustrating but mostly impossible to be in a calmed, centered state with the children hopping about and sliding down the rows in attempts to knick our water bottles or outrage us enough to give up the stoic yoga charade.

Then we heard the surreal horn of the Call to Prayer reach across the dunes from the neighboring village.  For a few peaceful movements we were facing the magnificent pink sky where the sun had bowed from and we were stretching in unison as Islamic residents of the village were kneeling towards Mecca to offer reverence to their religion. It was a uniquely surreal moment.  There was a ubiquitous feeling of community and I felt a swelling sense of amusement and contentment at the whole situation.  It was beautiful and strange.  The two things I look most forward to in travel. 

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Ronda

Ronda is a small town in the providence of Málaga about a three hours bus ride west of Granada. I hadn’t researched Ronda beforehand; either out of forgetfulness or the fact that our wifi has been increasingly dodgy as of late, but I was all the same contented to experience whatever the day and excursion would offer.

 It was early Saturday morning as the rain poured down in Granada.  Our tour buses pulled out of the drear and towards the far off break of sunlight through the clouds.  A few hours later, it was pleasant to wake up from my half-awake bus dreaming and straightened my neck from the ungodly angle it had been craned into.  We had driven out of the rain and into the verdant valleys and mountains just inland of the coast of Málaga.  The cleanest, downy clouds slowly sailed about the newly showered blue skies.  The rain had also enriched the colors of the earth with wet saturation.  Everywhere the hills and valley were lush and I became a little nostalgic for the Santa Ynez Valley after a December rain (which is, of course, much different than a November Rain).

I’m going to have to find a more accurate word or make up a word for the charm of small Spanish towns.  The feeling of otoño, autumn, had settled in during the last month and the crisp air and the sun bathed everything in a weak orange warmth.  I wondered what it felt like there in the Summer as the tour guide told us that the noble families from Granada, Málaga, and other surrounding cities had their summer homes in Ronda.  Apparently the weather is better in Ronda in the higher elevation, but I still think the coast usually has more temperate weather.  

Anyways, I could just envision Ronda in the July, with the white zinc villas, abundant cacti, and expanding valleys and hills pushing out in every direction.  By far the most impressive natural features of Ronda are the cliffs of the El Tajo canyon which divides the town in two. The red walls of rock part to create a steep ravine that is carpeted by a wandering stream.  As the elevation climbs from the stream, the lush plants become more and more scarce until they give way to dry shrubs and cacti.  The dry lips of the ravine bloom into cobble stones, trees, and antiquated villas. 

Connecting the two sides of the city is one of three famous bridges.  The tallest at 390 feet is the Puente Nuevo.  Its long stilt legs of stone reach to the bottom of the canyon and a long since been used prison is hidden beneath the bridge’s road. The perfection of the great arches makes you wonder how the stone was cut with such precision without modern tools and how they even managed to place the stones so high in the air.

I can’t quite recall who told me this, but some guy told Mary and I the other day that their father calls the Puente Nuevo, pardon my french, The “Fuck” Bridge.  

I hope you made the same face we both did when we heard that.

We both looked extremely quizzical and inquired, “Umm why???”

He replied, “..because when you look over the side, you say “oh fuck!”

Well yes, that is the gut reaction that one experiences when you look over the bridge. I was just relieved that the bridge wasn’t some famous place of public fornication. 

Enough of that crassness, Ronda was a special place for many artists and writers including Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway.  In his novel, For Whom the Bells Toll, Hemingwaydescribes the execution of fascist sympathizers during the Spanish Civil War.  The sympathizers were killed by being flung from the tall cliffs of an unnamed rural, mountainous town in Andalusia. The novel never mentions Ronda, but it is thought that it is based on actual events that had happened there.  I hadn’t even wanted to imagine watching a body fall from that height, but the tour guide indulged us with the information as we stared into the canyon.  I could almost imagine how loud their voices would have echoed in horror as they fell.  Nowadays there is a largely unimpressive garden located on the cliffs that is dedicated to Hemingway and the cultural significance he brought during the time he lived there and what he had written about the town.  

Well, in all my blogging, I fail to mention how much the travel abroad experience actually has to do with meeting new people and spending thousands of hours stuck on buses and in tours with them.  You meet some pretty amazing people on your trip.  We’ve all together endured the tour guides that we couldn’t understand, the bus speakers that squeal at intolerable pitches, some good beers, some terrible hangovers, some questionable bocadillos, sandwhiches, and all in all some great memories.  It sounds a little cheesy, but seriously, you meet some great people that have come from all over the country with the same goals in mind. WIth all the laughing and enjoying myself, I almost forget I’m 5,000 miles away from home.  The excursions with ISA have whisked us off to some fantastic Spanish adventures, but the next excursion will be to explore a new continent and culture in Morocco.

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I haven’t been writing as much lately, probably because I’m becoming accustomed to living here.  Walking to school each day past the familiar landscape isn’t as exciting as it was two months ago, but that doesn’t mean I’m not encountering new things all the time.  It’s just that encountering the novel has become my new norm.  I was inspired by every monument, crooked street, view of the Alhambra, painting, etc. but, it took leaving for a long weekend to make me see Granada again, as I had the first time.

I went to Barçelona for the long weekend in the middle of October with Mary and Michael from my program in Granada.  We met up with my roommate from UCSB, Kelsey, who is studying at UC Paris. She brought a band of faux-Parisians to spend the weekend in a large and bright yellow apartment in the heart of Barça. If you will be traveling with more than three people in Europe, I would wholly recommend renting out a short-term apartment.  It’s not very common to do in the States, but in Europe, it’s a cheap alternative to hotels and a more accommodating option to hostels.  Due to a double booking, we got a free upgrade to an even bigger and expensive apartment, which was great because we had seven people and needed the 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.  It was an excellent mishap that we happily benefitted from.

 

Our Apartment

Not knowing what to do when we settled in, we resorted to getting tapas and a caña of beer, something Granada has programmed into our routine after feeling the first pangs of hunger beginning.  Yet, Barça is not famous for its free tapas, in fact Barça is much more expensive across the board.  Nonetheless, the beer and the tapas were the same excellent quality.  Maybe the beer wasn’t Alhambra brand, but it hit the spot just the same after traveling the night before for 7 plus hours.

This was the beginning of a very relaxed weekend for the most part.  Unlike most weekend vacations, this was a five-day trip, so there was no rush to see every tourist spot in 24 hours.  But as it happened, all the must see spots happen to be the most bizarre and wonderful architectural works of art of Antoni Gaudi. 

 

Sagrada Family

The Sagrada Familia is an unfinished Cathedral that is unlike any I have ever seen.  From far away, three huge cranes look like they are dribbling wet sand into columns that rise higher than the apartments that surround it.  Come closer, and you will see the infinite detail of the façade, which hosts carvings of religious scenes, fruits, saints, and ambiguous rounded cement designs. On the Nativity Side of the cathedral small spires hold up colorful bushels of fruits and vegetable mosaics.  In the center of the taller spires is a Christmas tree swarmed with doves. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up going inside because soy tonta, a kind way of saying, “I’m an idiot” in Spanish, but also because it was very expensive, even for a reduced student price.  Here’s a virtual tour that I took in the comfort of my bed, for free ;)  http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/docs_instit/vvirtual.php?vv=2

Sagrada familia- Nativity Side

The Casa Batlló is the one place Mary’s dad told her she had to go to in Barcelona.  He’s an architect, so I figured whatever house Gaudí designed must be worth it. He uses almost no straight lines in the entire house, making curved doorways, room shape, windows, and ceilings. Not only does every room in the large house have its own wildly different personality, but also the rooms of the top floor are smooth, white walls that all lead into each other like caves.  He also used thousands of mosaics throughout the house, on the façade, on the patio, and on the roof.  The roof’s many chimney arms of mosaic structures and the roof tiling are reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss book. Antoni Gaudí’s work is the physical manifestation of dreams and the mind of a deeply imaginative man.

 

Stairway

Front of Casa Batlló

Roof

As if Gaudí could top the cathedral and the mansion, we trekked up to the northern hills of the city to the Parc Güell.  Supposedly, the park was intended to be a type of utopian neighborhood away from the factory smoke of Barcelona in the early 1900’s.  The houses were never built, but Gaudí still designed and built one the most amazing municipal parks in the world.  It may quiet possibly be one of my favorite spots in the world.  The uses, as always, his infamous mosaics, smooth, rounded style architecture, and oddly shaped caverns throughout the park.  The entrance brings the visitor into a both a calming place, as a park should be, but also into a dream world.  Bright colored mosaic tile cover benches, ceilings, buildings, and a decorative salamander.  As if this place could be anymore more perfect, a spectacular view of the entire city of Barcelona and Mediterranean Sea can be seen at almost every point in the park. I only regret the amount of tourists, but that can’t be helped.

 

Entrance to Parc Güell

At night, we ventured to a bar called El Maritchi that is owned by my favorite Spanish artist, Manu Chao.  He sings in Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, and Catalan and sings about poverty, love, loss, Latin America, and social issues.  I expected nothing less than super, mega guay (cool) from a bar where Manu gives virtually private shows on random nights during the week.  It would have been 10 times cooler if he had graced us with his presence, but he did not and we still really enjoyed his bar.  There was a guy that brought his acoustic guitar along to strum and sing in the corner, and all night peopel sang along with him.  It was a small, colorful, and cozy place where at least 5 different languages were spoken.  We talked to some locals, some Romanians, some Frenchmen, and some Spaniards throughout the night, so I still got to exercise my Spanish speaking skills.

 

In all, the trip made me both incredibly grateful to have seen all the architecture and works by Gaudí, but also incredibly relieved that I had studied abroad in Granada.  Although Barcelona is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city, I prefer the smaller size of Granada, the large student population, and the Andalusian lifestyle.  Also, Catalan is a language that is incredibly unfamiliar to me and living in Barcelona would not have forced me to speak as much Spanish nor to change my lifestyle as drastically.  But, I’ll never regret visiting Barcelona, a beautiful Mediterranean city.  

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 Praia de Amado

Southern Portugal is, for the most part, a quiet countryside, interrupted by telephone lines, street signs, or a small village.  Yet, the countryside abruptly ends where colossal cliffs plunge into the dark ocean.   Although it has been millions of years, it looks as if it could have been yesterday that the continent of North America departed from Europe’s side and the cliffs are still exposed and ragged where the landmasses tore.

We arrived at Praia de Amado, the beach of the lovers and found that we were the first to step on to the untouched beach.  The night before, the light rain had churned the sand into a fluffy, unbroken surface.  We walked towards the water, revealing the warmer, dry sand beneath the moist surface.  We burrowed our feet deeper to escape the morning chill.

The vibrant colors of the coast alone are imprinted into my memory.  It has the bright green shrubbery of coastal, tropical plants, the oranges of Lake Powell and the North American desert, and the clear, aquamarine water of Nicaragua. The most shocking has to be the contrast of the earthy, orange clay of the cliffs with that of the many blues and grays of the sky and ocean. Its beaches are freckled with stones of subdued turquoises, purples, oranges, greens, and reds.  This pallet appeals to me and is constantly reoccurring in my paintings.  My hands ached in the forgetfulness of leaving my pastels in Spain while I had a full, lazy day to spend at one of the most striking coves I had ever visited. The sky was an angry mass of a thousand hues of gray and heavy with the possibility of rain.  It was already pouring in Lagos, where we were staying the weekend, but it subsided as we drove north.

The culture of cool and plentiful waves in Portugal beckons a drove of Volkswagen buses to park among the cliffs like rainbow cattle.  The buses unload surfers, their boards and the smell of marijuana and hobo pies. The hippie, surfer bum lifestyle is alive and well in Portugal and Spain and there’s something very peaceful and appealing about a simplified way of living.  Answering to simple needs results in simple joys.

 

Life is complicated in many ways, and mostly from our own doing.  Even though I feel like I am constantly encountering new information and experiences here in Europe, I also have the time to think, write, reflect, and enjoy the thoughts in my mind.  In California, the mentality is very can’t stop, won’t stop. I am forever filling my extra time with activities, projects, reading assignments, shifts at work, making plans with friends, driving here, biking there, going to class, and thinking about money.  I feel like for the first time in years I have been able to sit, breath, and fully relax.  It has been a physical and mental process of purging stress.  Thank goodness for siestas.  I even think Spanish and Portuguese clocks tick slower.

Even on vacations, a mentality I immediately adopt is to see everything I can within the short period of time.  The first two days of Portugal were packed with tourist attractions.  We went to two different beaches, on a sangría boat tour of the coast, wandered through the center of the town of Lagos, and saw the cliffs of Soa Vicente and the point where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. The cliffs were once thought to be the edge of the world when the world was flat. It was an incredible place that was enjoyed for a whole 15 minutes and then it was back on the bus. The last day’s lack of activity was essential in balancing out the amount of energy I expended the first two days.

 

In the weekend that I went to Portugal, it became autumn in the Iberian Peninsula.  No longer would there be the carefree, sweltering heat of idle summer.  I already miss the lackadaisical weekends watching the surfers bum about on the beach.  But then again, there is something appealing about the cozy security of a warm bed and a house when there’s a storm outside.  Comfort and stability balanced with the unknown and adventure.  I think that’s the best way to explain studying abroad.

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My awesome Papa made this picture. Una granada en Granada.

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Mi mente, my mind, is in the perfect and cloudless azure sky of Andalucía. Living in Granada is like vacationing in a tropical paradise, but with all the comfort and stability of home.  I haven’t written anything about my program yet because all I have been doing is thinking, writing, and desperately trying to communicate in Spanish.  I am overwhelmed by what feels like months of experience and new knowledge from only one week!

Instead of slowly inching into immersion, we have plunged straight into the heart of Granada.  Most of the thirty or so American kids in my program live in El Centro, or The Center, which is one of the oldest and most visited neighborhood in the city.  It also has the densest accumulation of Tapas Bars along with the Catedral and my language center.  Like I have mentioned, I feel like my decision to study in Granada has felt like more than a happy coincidence.  The roommate I have been set up with by my program may as well have been my best friend for years.  It’s the little chances in life that make the greater impact.  I don’t think my experience here would have been this enjoyable if it hadn’t been for Mary, my roommate, and I getting along so well.  From the minute she walked in to the room straight from the Madrid Barajas Airport, starving, sleepy, half-delirious, dragging a years worth of clothes in three bags with a ukulele on her back, did we know that we were going to be good friends.  We have hardly done anything apart- which is partly due to the fact that she got the key to the room and I accidentally got the key to the kitchen door- but also that we have similar tastes, school schedule, spanish speaking level, and similar lifestyles.  In short, my program, ISA, has an excellent system of pairing roommates.

Mary and I and two other girls share an enormous 4 bedroom apartment with purple, blue, and yellow walls.  It’s super funky and more than big enough.  Two more girls are moving in next month, but after that there will still be one empty bedroom.  Our residence hall is run by Senora María Jesus and her husband Papa Antonio, and Francis is the awesome older woman we always talk to at dinner.  Everyday Antonio cooks and serves us steaming, heaping plates of fish, pasta, paella, mayonnaise, mayonnaise, mayonnaise, soups, french fires, and more forms of fish.  They definitely focus heavily of big huge filling meals here with two-three courses every time.  Normally I wouldn’t be able to finish such big plates of food, but there’s really no breakfast served and Spaniards don’t eat lunch until 1:30pm at the utmost earliest.  Then they don’t eat dinner until 9 or 10pm.  So if you don’t eat your lunch, you will be hungary two hours later and must suffer the intense afternoon heat with a growling stomach also.  Us kids file into the dining room and we ask Frances and Antonio, “¿Como se llama, (How do you say..) peach? spoon? no more mayonnaise?” and they give us advice on which clubs are the best and which roads usually have gypsies waiting for you to walk by so they can mug you.  It’s the best of both worlds, where I’m not in a home-stay and I’m not living on my own in an apartment.

My Spanish teachers at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas have been genuinely the best language teachers I have ever had.  They prompt the class to speak to each other instead of just listening to complicated and wordy lectures where half the words and meaning are lost in the process.  We have two classes each day 4pm-8pm. The first two hours is more grammar focused, then another teacher comes and it is more culturally focused.  Overall I really have enjoyed it and its only been the first week!

Spain, and most of Europe, addresses drinking much differently than America. The drinking age is so much lower and people drink a beer or two at lunch or even when they’re on the clock.  For this reason, alcohol is a reason to get people together and not the main focus.  Granada offers free tapas, or small appetizers, complementary with beverages to both encourage business but also to keep people from getting really drunk.  So even after dinner, we have been going and getting another full meal of free tapas for the price of 2-3 Alhambra beers on tap.  A huge focus of the local culture is to be out of the house and with family or friends.  Getting a beer or just a stroll around Granada’s streets is the best way to pass a hot summer night during the week.

However, since its been our first week here, our entire program has explored the best and worst of the bars, and the lamest and the most exciting of the discotecas at all hours of the night and into the morning.  Here, it is normal to sleep in late and stay out even later.  It is so hot in the summer that people sleep in, take a siesta in the afternoon after a big lunch, and then drink and dance til 6 am when the air is more bearable.  Even the little old ladies go out drinking late with their friends until the middle of night. The Spaniards definitely focus on being happy, something I commend them on in many aspects.  Yet, with their economy tanking and many becoming unemployed, I am beginning to see that some smiles may not be so genuine and many are feeling the economic strain.

There is not one thing that makes Granada so inviting and wonderful.  It’s the sum of the whole that combines the mysticism of the past, modernity, and the pride of Andalucía. Spaniards have proud certainty about them, even if it is just a façade.  They have customs and a rich history that is deeper than the foundation of the city.  Their focus on food, drink, sleep, customs, family and friends are extremely important, even in the face of an unsure economy. I never want to forget that. Gracias España, for reminding me of that.

Photo Set

Photos of Granada I finally got to uploading!