Monday, July 11, 2011

Days 5 & 6: Normal Life

I apologize to anyone who has diligently been following my blog for falling behind a few days in my posts! I decided to combine yesterday and today's events into one entry for convenience and simply because I haven't done anything too interesting since Saturday night. Given that we didn't make it home until nearly 9:00 AM on Sunday, I ended up sleeping most of the day (until 4:00 PM!). I thought that was ridiculously late, but apparently not since Cova didn't arise until around 7:00 PM. We didn't miss much though since the majority of stores here are closed on Sundays. After eating dinner (rice, sausage, and hard boiled eggs with some sort of tuna/tomato/mayonnaise concoction), Cova and I went to the movies with her boyfriend and another friend of his. The choice came down to Transformers 3 and Blitz, another action movie that I knew nothing about. They had me choose, so figuring it would be easier to understand a movie to which I had a point of reference, Transformers 3 it was. It wasn't until about halfway through the movie that I was informed that in Spain this movie franchise isn't very popular. At all. Until then, the other three weren't even aware that Transformers 1 and 2 existed. Nevertheless, I think they enjoyed it. Besides, now they can say that they've experienced a bit of American culture! I expected that I wouldn't understand much of the movie at all (obviously it had been translated into Spanish), but I guess I was underestimating myself. The only parts that I couldn't get anything from at all were either the parts where they discussed very technical or scientific topics, or when they were in combat with the transformers at the end of the movie.

One thing that I'm loving about being young and in Spain is the fact that I am meeting so many new friends. The majority of the people that I've met so far have been extremely nice and patient with me. I've only met one person who didn't treat me well just because I'm foreign. Basically what happened was that he figured out I was American and said a whole bunch of mean and dirty things to me thinking I wouldn't understand him. Unfortunately for me (since it really hurt my feelings), I did understand. But other than that, everyone has been very kind. I especially enjoyed talking with my new friend David last night because while I was practicing my Spanish with him, he was practicing his English with me. Spanglish worked perfectly well for the both of us.

Today was another laid back day. We slept in, had lunch, went shopping, came home, and ate dinner. Really not too interesting. Actually, for me that's a lie. Ever since my plane landed last week I have been itching to see what the Spanish malls and clothing stores had to offer. Finally, today was the day. Of course I had to get used to converting everything from euros to dollars in my head. (It's not that difficult though- just multiply everything by 1.5.) That's when I realized that the majority of Spanish clothes are slightly more expensive than those of America. I'm already frugal enough, and then add to that how much money I've already spent on this trip and the fact that less than a month after my return I'll be entering college. But I've been telling myself that while I was here I would definitely treat myself to some fabulous Spanish clothing. I haven't been saving all my money for nothing! I justified my little shopping spree as being a once in a lifetime chance, plus I knew that I would regret not taking the opportunity to shop in a place so far ahead of America's fashions. Oh, and to all my fashion loving friends and acquaintances reading this, shoulder pads are without a doubt making a comeback. I can't even tell you how many jackets I saw today with them. I'm fine with it just as long as 80's hair doesn't come back as well! Anyway, I ended up buying a jacket, a sweater, a dress, and a pair of shoes, but there were so many other things that I wanted to buy! It's alright though, I'm sure I'll be back to the mall in no time. (I'm living with a fashionista, remember?)

Two days ago I was given what I consider to be a very nice compliment: "You don't seem American." It's true that people (or at least the people I've met so far on this trip) have certain ideas about Americans, and not necessarily good ones. My host parents are very surprised by the fact that I want to try every single food they have to offer. They thought that all I would want to eat when I got here were hamburgers and other typical American foods. When I told them that I can't remember the last time I ate fast food, they were shocked. I think it would be an absolute shame for a person to travel all the way to another country just to refuse trying their cuisine. Besides, I've loved eating so many new foods! Another of my new Spanish friends said that he was surprised when he met me because he thought that all American girls were "fat and gross" (his words, not mine). I'm glad that I can put at least a few people's American stereotypes to rest. With all of that being said, I almost thought it was a joke when I saw we were having hamburgers for lunch today. But no, it was real. I felt like things were back to normal when we ate dinner since it was another dish that seemed much more Spanish than it did American. Baked potatoes topped with cheese and ham or salmon, homemade ham and sausage pizza, bread, and for dessert, meringue. Alright, so maybe that doesn't seem too different from something we'd eat in America, but still, at least it wasn't a hamburger.

Day 4: Out On The Town

The morning/afternoon of my fourth day in Spain was spent around the city of Oviedo. But instead of just walking around the commercial and residential areas like we did on my second day here, we toured the more historic areas. It was like a different city entirely! The architecture was so beautiful that I just wanted to stay there forever. I love how there are churches and buildings here that are hundreds of years old and the rest of the city is merely built around them. In the United States I have been to a few big cities, but the only one that even remotely reminds me of Oviedo is Philadelphia. They both have a lot of history and neither are concrete jungles full of hustle and bustle like Chicago or New York City.

After walking around for a while and taking lots of pictures with random sculptures and buildings (all of which were incredible), we stopped (and by stopped I mean sat, ate, and talked for at least two hours.. that's just how they do things here!) at a little outdoor restaurant called Casa Ramon where we had lunch. I finally got to try la sidra, an apple cider (yes, alcoholic) that is very popular in Asturias. When the waiters pour it into the glasses they hold the bottle high above their head and the glass down low. This usually resulted in spilling sidra all over the ground, but it was quite fun to watch. I only tried a tiny bit, which is good since it was so strong. I usually only ever drink water or milk so it was very much a different taste. The meal we had at Casa Ramon was HUGE. If I've learned anything about food here it's that bread will always be served, but for me personally it's a good idea not to eat it all. Otherwise by the end of the meal, I will be just about to burst. (I learned this the hard way.) The many courses were as follows: an appetizer-like food that looked a lot like mini corn-dogs, but was filled with a potato-like substance, and bits of ham (it reminded me a lot of a perogie); a bread soaked with some sort of sauce topped with ham and duck fat (but looked like bread with peanut butter & jelly); pulpo con patatas (octopus - tentacles and all! and potatos); sardines and calamari (by now I could barely eat anymore); and finally dessert, a plate of a very sweet flan and another plate of a rice dessert (somehow, no matter how full I am, there is always room for dessert!).

After such a filling meal and morning of walking around in the rain (it was actually the afternoon.. it's hard to keep track of time here), I was happy to come home and take a two hour nap. My host family strongly suggested that I do so, since on the weekends the young people stay out all night (and strangely enough, the parents encourage it). But before I get into this part, I just want to remind everyone that this is not something I normally do. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I make wise choices, am cautious, and like nothing more than to be in control. That being said, the legal drinking age here is eighteen, making it perfectly alright for me to try a little bit of a few typical Spanish drinks, such as Calimocho, a Coca-Cola/red wine mix. But no worries, I didn't even drink enough alcohol to have much of an effect on me at all. But that still didn't stop me from having a good time. Cova introduced me to three of her best friends (whom I got along with wonderfully) and the five of us spent most of the night dancing at a club called Tribeca. All was well until we decided to leave. They had told me that Gijon's transportation system is horrible, but I didn't truly believe it until we waited an hour for a bus that we couldn't even take, then walked all the way across town to take a train to another city where we had to sit on the train station floor waiting for my host father to pick us up. We ended up spending a total of three and a half hours in transit. I was so tired and thirsty by the time we made it home that I had convinced myself that going out wasn't even worth it. Hopefully I'll be feeling more up to it this weekend since we'll be going to Tapia de Casariego solely for their celebration of Saint Carmen!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 3: To Grandmother's House We Go!

I expected that it would take me a few days to get used to the sleep schedule here, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how naturally I have adjusted. I suppose it is in part because the people here stay up very late and sleep in very late so instead of having to change my schedule by 6 or 7 hours, it was really just like changing it 3 and a half hours. And then I'm sure it's also in part because even back in the States, I just sleep whenever I want regardless of what everyone else usually does. And to make things even better, I was finally able to take a real siesta today! It's kind of funny, kind of embarrassing, but everyday up until today I at some point fell asleep in the car. But whatever, I can just chalk it up to being a crazy American.

Yesterday I happened to fall asleep in the car on the way to Cova's Grandma's house (Cheres' Mom). She lives in an adorable village about a half hour away called Salas. There are only about on thousand people who live there but apparently a lot of people stop while traveling through to other cites. At Grandma's house we ate a typical Spanish lunch consisting of black rice and squid (arroz negro con chipirones), bollo de chorizo (which reminded me of a homemade pizza roll- french bread stuffed with sauce and sausage), tortilla (potato omelette), and bread. (Can it just be assumed from now on that this is served with every non-breakfast meal?) Meals are served in multiple courses here so I have learned that I must pace myself while eating because unless I'm eating dessert, I have no idea how long until the meal is over.  Speaking of dessert, yesterday we had something that I can best describe as cream cheese and cranberry sauce, but that's still not exact. After lunch we walked around a bit. Salas is very historic so it almost looked like a place out of a movie: crumbling buildings, cobblestone roads, old buildings and churches interspersed with everyday shops and cafes. With the beauty and the tranquility of Salas, I can only hope to retire to a similar place someday. After spending about 2 hours exploring churches, climbing an old tower, and stopping to chat and drink coffee with a group of old folk downtown (one of whom spoke some English with me!), we drove up one of the mountains and saw a famous cemetery and yet another church. I'm getting used to the scenery here in Asturias, but still, every time I am viewing it from atop a mountain peak, it takes my breath away. Of course I've been taking pictures, but my camera just doesn't do it justice. Last night in the evening we (Cova, Cheres, Ramon, and I) went to the opening of a bar in Lugones called Lennon's (it was dedicated to The Beatles - a lot of people here seem to love them). I had my first tapas and a drink called Mosto. It was a non-alcoholic grape drink that reminded me a lot of apple juice. After already eating so much yesterday, I was assuming that the trip to Lennon's was our dinner: small but satisfying. I really shouldn't assume anything while I'm here! The real dinner was served a few hours later at home (something similar to flattened cordon bleu and french fries) and then we all watched part of Harry Potter 3. (In Spanish of course!) I know I've said this before and I'll say it again, but I'm more and more comfortable with all the Spanish spoken around me (and by me sometimes too!) with each day that passes. Finally this morning when I woke up I wasn't dreading getting out of bed and facing the day. Oh, that reminds me... We had the best breakfast ever this morning! Since the parents didn't have to work today, Cheres made hot chocolate and churros for us! Yum!

Since it's Saturday night (currently 9:30 PM), pretty soon Cova, a few friends of hers, and I are going to go to Gijon (another nearby city) to do I'm not exactly sure what. Visit some clubs and bars? Whatever it is, I'll be writing about it in my next post!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 2: Getting to Know Oviedo

Remember how in my last entry I was saying that the Spanish was coming along pretty well? Apparently I spoke too soon. It wasn't until today that I had spent any time with my host sister (Cova) and her friends. With slang and the rapid speed at which they speak, teenage girls are already hard enough to understand. (Of all people, I should know.) Then add into the mix that they're speaking any language other than English... Needless to say, I was lost. I know these things come with time, but it's frustrating only being able to make basic conversation. I'm hoping that by the time I return home, I'll actually understand what's going on around me no matter whom I'm with or what the circumstances. But in the meantime, I guess I'll be content with just learning as I go. Speaking of learning, in the last few days I have realized that I've been under the wrong impression about some aspects of the Spanish culture. For example, I wrongly assumed that Spaniards eat significantly less than Americans, everyone here is on the cutting edge of fashion, and that they're all very thin. In reality, I have not been hungry once since I arrived; the clothes look, for the most part, similar to those in the US; and there certainly are people of all different body types here: big, small, and everywhere in between. But as with every rule, there must be exceptions. In fact, because of an exception to one of these, my day today was off to a somewhat awkward start. Like I expected I would, I slept in this morning. I figured Cova must have too since she spent a while still in her pajamas while I took my time getting ready. Over an hour after she had woken me up, she asked if I was ready to go (we had plans to go to the mall and meet some of her friends). It was at this point that I realized that she wasn't and had never been wearing pajamas. It turns out that she actually is on the cutting edge of fashion and the pants that appeared to me like pajamas are actually just a trend. Of course I wasn't about to let on that I thought the outfit she had picked out for the day was the outfit she had slept in, so I just played it off as being too tired to function properly. Oops!

Today my day was spent around the city of Oviedo. Cova and I met up with 2 of her friends and we all went to one of the shopping malls in the city. None of us did any shopping (I would have liked to, but unfortunately I have not changed my dollars to euros yet), but we did eat pizza in the food court. I know you're probably thinking like I was: pizza is pizza. But here it's slightly different. The crust is much chewier, the sauce is runnier, and they only use some sort of white cheese (but I'm not sure which). After  lunch we went up into the mountains (where I noticed a lot of people biking.. one of which practically ran me over), saw the Statue of Christ and a very old castle (circa 9th century) turned church turned tourist attraction. And to finish off a very long day of exploring, we walked through another mall (but this one being of very interesting architecture), and saw the city up close. I'm starting to realize that I really like it here. It's a big city, but still quaint. At about 8:00 PM we came back home and had fish, baked tomato and pesto, homemade ham and pineapple pizza, and bread for dinner (it was a huge meal!) and fruit for dessert. Yes, it's true, they consider fruit to be dessert here. Seems crazy by American standards doesn't it?

There are so many things that are different here than they are in the United States! I think I'll just keep listing them as the occur to me throughout my stay in Spain.

-Outlets, light switches, street signs - they all look so funny to me!
-9 digit phone numbers
-There seem to be more roundabouts here than there are actual intersections. And with all the mountains in this city, there are a lot of tunnels too.
-Bidets... the whole concept of these just confuses me.
-The females here really don't shave their legs. Or underarms.
-They actually listen to a lot of American music. (But they don't play the radio edits; I was a little alarmed at first to hear the real lyrics to some very popular songs.) (I consider this to be different since our popular music is mostly sung in our official language.)
-Dinner is usually eaten between 9 and 10 PM.
-Anyone who wears flip-flops is just asking to be called a tourist. (Luckily I was warned not to bring any!)
-Rules of the road are different: many cars are parked on the sidewalks, cops direct a lot of the traffic in different areas or during busier hours of the day, and in some parts of the city the speed limit is different depending on what lane you're in.
-Metric system. Meaning kilometers per hour, degrees in Celsius (this got to be confusing when I was asked what the weather was like in Wisconsin), measurements in milliliters, liters, kiloliters, etc.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My First Day

What a relief.. I have survived my first day in Spain! It is just after midnight here but my body is telling me that it isn't even dinner time yet, hence my being wide awake (or maybe it's all the coffee I've had today..?). I don't mind too much though since I will get to sleep in tomorrow and I have a lot that I can do with my free time now: unpack, reorganize, etc. It's amazing how even after I packed everything so nice and perfectly laid out in my bags, I can't find anything in them now after they've been thrown around so many times in the last day. That's alright though, I'm sure everything will end up finding it's way to the floor anyway just like in my bedroom at home.

Today after getting off the eight and a half hour flight from Charlotte, NC to Madrid at 6:40 AM Spain time, I met up with my host family and went straight to the airport cafe and ordered a coffee. What I ended up with was coffee with milk and sugar that tasted very much like it does back home, maybe even a little better. What surprised me about it was the sizing, or maybe I should say how my host family perceived the size. When the barista poured it into the mug for me I was thinking that it was the perfect amount of coffee: just a little bit. So I found it pretty funny when my host mom & dad said something about how huge my mug of coffee was. I guess when it comes to Americans and their food/drinks, more really is more. We then went to downtown Madrid and did some sightseeing. What surprised me the most was probably how many American companies (or just companies that I recognized) had billboards, shops, restaurants, posters, etc. around the city. It made it feel a lot more like just another city rather than a whole new world, which is what I was expecting it to feel like. I was also surprised by how comfortable I felt being thrown into a place where everyone is speaking Spanish and I have to speak it too. Until I Skyped my parents about an hour ago, I hadn't spoken more than five words in English since my plane landed. Of course I don't understand every single word that is spoken to me, but I've been able to figure things out just fine. I think that that's pretty impressive for my first day in the country.

While we were still in Madrid, we ate lunch in La Plaza Mayor. This is the place that I was most looking forward to going in Madrid so I'm happy that I got to see it. The meal consisted of calamari, bread, potato omelette, a variety of meats, cheese, and olives, and water to drink. It was very different than the American food that I'm used to, but it was delicious! After lunch, we left Madrid and headed for "home" in Oviedo (northwest Spain). Five hours later (and a nap that I tried so hard not to take..), we were driving through the mountainous terrain that is Asturias. I'm not a very big fan of altitude changes, but that doesn't take away from the fact that
the scenery was absolutely beautiful! We ate dinner here at about 10:00 PM. (Spanish lasagna, bread of course, and melon with cured ham on it.. No I'm not joking about that last part!) I also gave my gifts from Wisconsin to my host family tonight (books of Madison and Wisconsin, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Starburst, and Godiva hot chocolate to the family, Badger T-shirts for the ladies, a Wisconsin Badger flag for my host father, Badger jersey for my host brother, and a quilt and American Vogue for my host sister). They were thrilled, so I felt pretty good about myself. After that they all went to bed and so now I'm sitting in my new room wondering if I'm ever going to fall asleep at a decent hour. I guess I'll just have to wait and see!

The Departure

I had to occupy myself somehow while I was waiting in the airport. This is what I ended up doing! (But I didn't have internet access at the time, so that's why I waited until now to actually transfer it from a Word document to this site.)

I'm sure that at least a few people reading this are wondering why it took me so long to set up the blog that I said would be put together a week ago.  Well, all I can say is that preparing for a month in another country is definitely not simple.  I knew packing and preparing everything that I needed would be difficult and time consuming, but I had no idea how much stress it would bring.  Even when I thought that I had run all the errands I needed to run, packed everything I would possibly need, said all the goodbyes that were necessary, and made enough lists to keep me sane and organized for the rest of my life, there were still things that last night I realized I was forgetting.  That's right, last night was my last night in the US (well, at least until I return in 4 weeks) and the last chance I had to get everything done.  Fortunately, I haven't (yet) realized anything hugely important that I forgot to do or bring, but I'm expecting that sometime in the next few days I'll have a realization that the one thing I had to remember was the very thing I forgot. Until then, I'm trying to stay worry free. By now I'm patiently waiting in gate E7 at the Chicago O'Hare Airport waiting for my first flight (to Charlotte, NC) to leave. I found my way here with plenty of time (about 45 minutes), but it would've been even longer had I not gone to gate F8 and waited there first. I've only ever flown once in my life and that was when I was 10 and on a family trip to Disney World, so I'm sure that whatever happened was my mistake although I don't know what it would've been.  I looked on one of the boards displaying all the flights and it said that the 12:10 US Airways flight to Charlotte was at F8. Once I got there it took me about 20 minutes to realize that the people waiting there were waiting to board a flight to Philadelphia at 11:45. Knowing I wasn't in the right place, I checked my boarding pass (which I probably should have done in the first place) and sure enough it said E7. I'm not exactly sure where I went wrong, but I'm glad I ended up in the right place. We should be boarding soon, but I don't know how soon since apparently there is something on the plane that needs to be looked at. I just hope that I get to Charlotte in time to catch my next flight to Madrid. I can only imagine all the problems that would come from missing that flight… Anyway, I'm very happy to have my laptop with me so that I can entertain myself while I wait. When going through security I nearly forgot it in one of the plastic containers; what a horrible start to my trip that would've been! Luckily, the security people are much more alert than I am (as they should be).  But even these minor airport mishaps (What can I say? I'm new at this!), didn't even phase me in comparison to how I felt when I had to leave my dad at the security check. Even writing about it now is getting me all choked up. I didn't think that I, a legal adult, high school graduate, and incredibly independent individual would get so emotional when I had to leave home, but it's been difficult. Hopefully when I arrive in Madrid and meet my host family I will feel better. It's not that I'm dreading being in Spain, it's just the thought that no matter how miserable I possibly get (which I'm not planning on, but still), I'll still have to be there an entire month. But on the flip side, I could find that I absolutely love it there and never want to return home. I'd much rather this happen than the first possibility. Alright, well as much as I would love to type and type and type until I arrive in Madrid, I think it's wise to conserve the battery on my computer. The next time I write anything, I will be in Espana!