Thursday, April 22, 2010

¡Me voy!

I'm off for a month of traveling!!


Vaison la Romaine
Cinque Terra

I will have access to a computer at some points on the trip, so I will try to keep everyone posted! I will see Scott in two weeks and I am traveling with Ashley and Laura for most of the whole time, one or the other or both. I am feeling excited about living minimally out of my backpack for a whole month. I promise to journal and to take tons of pictures. Oh, I can't wait!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

¡Estoy aquí!

Well, well, well… where have I been??

What a fun-filled last couple of weeks! It’s been hot here in Valencia and we have been taking advantage of the bluer than blue skies. A couple of week ago the girls and I went to the beach in the camper of a good friend with his good friends who are now our good friends. This camper is straight out of a 1994 bluegrass festival and it gives me déjà vu to be in it. It has the same smell as my parents old Airstreamer. They cooked us a typical Spanish seafood dish called feddegua. It has a strong delicious saffron taste, but also a STRONG seafood taste. Like it’s straight out the sea. Very, very strong. We enjoyed ourselves immensely on the beach, which is covered of Easter-egg like pebbles. We found green and blue ones and pink and orange ones.

Mom and Lee came to visit Valencia the week after that. What a dream! They are so wonderful and to have them here was something special. Someone can see what I will be talking about the rest of my life. We went out to eat with my friends several times, talking about everything under the sun/moon depending on if it was lunch or dinner. They met my Spanish friends and I took them around my typical stomping grounds. Valencia really showed off for them, we had great weather the whole weekend. It was simply wonderful to see their faces.

And then Semana Santa happened! Ashley and Mary Claire and I had loose travel plans in Portugal so off we went. We took a train ride through Andalusia, which was quite something. The 22-year-old and 12-year-old brothers from Madrid that sat across from us were entertaining, the little one wanting to know about hot dogs and Halloween and The Simpsons. The landscape was intoxicating and ever changing. In Sevilla we learned that the bus to Tavira, Portugal were our friends were was full for that night. We bought tickets for the next day and left the train station in hopes of finding a hostel. Considering Sevilla is the busiest city in Spain during Semana Santa, we were quite lucky to find a room with three beds in a nice hostel for pretty cheap. We saw the Catholic processions, creepy enough with their hidden faces and pointy hats. Sevilla was beautiful during the day and smelled heavenly. The warmer weather had brought the orange blossoms out and there are parks full of flowers around every corner. A crazy woman to read Mary Claire's palm for five euros, a price that included a sprig of fake rosemary. There was a park along the river lined with people and wisteria. We sat in the sun in a floating cafe for an hour or so then hopped on our bus to Tavira.

Another small hiccup. We pulled through beautiful Tavira and into the bus stop. Readying ourselves to get off we noticed that the bus was not exactly stopping. Just kind of circling. And then driving away from the bus stop. Is there a second one? We wondered. Is he going to stop pretty soon, or what? Why is he getting back on the highway? After a slightly confused discussion (the Andalusian accent has a strange absence of the 's' sound for a language full of s's) we found ourselves in the next town up- Faro, Portugal. Faro is beautiful. Marine images everywhere and a sky-blue sky dotted with white puff clouds. Birds and salty air. We stayed there for an hour and a half and caught the next bus back to Tavira. There we met out four guy friends from the UGA program. Diego's family has a little house in the resort town outside of Tavira. It was beautiful and luxurious- a swimming pool, tons of old people, white washed cabins with cats lounging on the balconies, and kitchens! We cooked every morning and every night. The one full day we were there we laid on the beach all day, taking a boat across the little sound to get there. The next day we wandered around in the little ancient city of Tavira which features tulips and a bridge from the time of the Romans. It was a brief stay in resort paradise, but I was exciting to see real Portugal. Lisbon.

Lisbon is so cool. So so cool. The main part of the city is in a valley, flanked by two big hills. One of the hills is topped with an ancient castle surrounded by winding medieval streets. The other hill is the part of town with all the fun bars and restaurants. Every sidewalk in the town is intricately laid tile (apparently a huge city project that kept prisoners busy for decades) and the sky at night is absolutely blue. To be on the Atlantic again! What a history of maritime in the city. It's very crazy to think about Lisbon as the center of the world at one point. We saw Vasca da Gama's tomb. We climbed to the top of the ancient fortress that greeted sailor's coming back into port. We stood "where the land ends and the sea begins." 

Outside of Lisbon is a little dream world city called Sintra. We went for a day trip and loved it so much we came back the next day. It was the ancient summer destination of royalty of Lisbon and no wonder. Candy castles and the most beautiful moss-blanketed, secret-hiding, flower-blooming, stone-bridge-crossing, sequoia-surrounded-swan-pond park in the world. We were in heaven. I felt like a fairy princess. It was an authentic magic land. We could have stayed for days. 

Back in Valencia we showered (finally) and prepared for a short journey to Jérica, a little city north of Valencia in the Catalonia province. It felt like out west. Big orange cliffs, bright yellow flowers, tiny bubbling streams. There was an old barn with an old truck filled with an old crop of dried out lavender. We rubbed it all over our arms and neck and we smelled fantastic. We returned yesterday. We only have 10 or so days left in Valencia, my heart starting to break a bit. A good distraction is planning our month-long-voyage for after the program. France, Italy, Formentera, Andalusia, oh my! 

I have missed writing on my blog, but I assure you I have been journaling like a mad woman. All is wonderful, blissful, perfect.

Monday, March 15, 2010

El viente

This isn't real! The last couple of days have been completely unreal. Unreal! I had the best birthday of my life and am thrilled to be twenty.

Las Fallas is something indescribable. A bizarre and wild exhibition of lights, people from all over the world, discotecas in the streets, costumes and ninóts y hay un montón de gente  y verbenas and fireworks and petardos y ruido y locura y salir de fiestas y amanecer y las falleras y las amigas y una energía atenta y una ducha de las cenizas. My friends pulled out all the stops for me and bought a huge headdress for me to wear on my birthday nights. I felt special, special and I think I laughed for about eight hours straight with all of my friends. During the day we went out to lunch with friends and went to the beach and celebrated and celebrated and walked around the city marveling at the craziness. Walking around during Las Fallas is so absolutely bizarrely wonderful. Every plaza, big and small, has a brightly colored structure called a falla that is made of plaster and are usually five stories tall. They are intricately detailed and bulbously stylized. They are realistically rendered and creepily cartoonish. They are supremely precarious and architecturally constructed. Indescribable. Every one hundred yards you see another one, each more bizarre and wonderful, and there are over 300 in the city. Continue walking around... There are street vendors every where selling pañuelos and buñuelos and churros and helados and muñecas and patatas. People screaming and laughing and carrying on. Valencia is the second most advanced producer of fireworks in the world behind China. At two o'clock every afternoon there is a mascletá in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Thirty minutes before two o'clock people are moving as if pulled by a magnet to the center of town. Here the falla is paid for by government money (not private organizations of citizens like the others) and is the masterpiece of them all. There are over five figures, each dancing or looking crazy-eyed. The plaza is packed with people all anticipating for the fallera mejora (the most beautiful and kind woman in the city, supposedly) to say over the microphone, "Senor pirotecnic, pod comenzar la mascletá!" La mascletá is the loudest thing I will ever hear. It's synchronized NOISE. It is so LOUD. Smoke takes over the plaza and ashes rain down on your heads. It starts off slow and builds until the ground is shaking and your brain vibrates in your skull and everyone around you is in disbelief at what is going on. Your heart rhythms are changed. It sounds like one thousand cannons at the same time. It's strangely therapeutic. Indescribable. And it happens every day with increasingly amount of fervor each day. Today was the first day of it. Continue walking around... There are impromptu bands playing flutes and banging cymbals. Every cafe is packed and people are dressed up and excited. There are children wearing bandanas and dogs running around everywhere. People throw fireworks at will all around you. Indescribable. Continue walking around... At night there are random and open street parties with a live d.j. You can follow the sound of music around the neighborhood until you find one. People in the balconies above these streets come out and dance. People from all over and all affected by the energy of Las Fallas. Tonight is the first night of the giant firework show in el rio that happens every night at midnight. Just indescribable. 

Nineteen was great. What a great year! I lived in my own house for the first time, cooking and cleaning and paying bills and loving every minute of it. I discovered medical anthropology as a passion and pursuit in future education and career. I was constantly surrounded by wonderful warm souls of my friends and family. I have matured and grown and started developing a worldview influenced by living outside of my country for the first time. I have come to appreciate and love the culture I come from. There is something so fun about 19. But 20. I have been waiting for this one. I feel like I am going to love this decade of my life, and I am really going to take full advantage of it. I have big plans and ideas for this decade. What an absolute treat that the biggest party happening in the world right now started it all off!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Un día muy español

I had the most by-the-book Spanish day yesterday.

After class, three friends and I went to the open market by the beach. Endless stands full of flowers and clothes and underwear and mismatched shoes and kitchen supplies and sketchy objects. I bought a beautiful floral scarf for one euro. That afternoon several of us attended a bull fight. An actual, Spanish bull-fight. There are bull-fights all week for Las Fallas. I did not know how queasy it would make me feel, but I suppose all of the years at the hunting club in Moncks Corner as a little girl prepared me sufficiently. It felt so traditional, so Spanish. The people of my generation in Spain, and most people, pay no attention to this sport and it's supposedly a bit antiquated. The crowd was full of old men smoking cigars. But the colors and the energy! Tickets were divided into two sections: sol y sombra (sun or shade). We had sol tickets. 

The first fight: Before the bull is released, four or five men in sparkly outfits and tight, tight suits come out with pink and yellow capes. Their bright uniforms look fantastic against the backdrop of bright yellow dirt, especially when the sun grabs the attention of one of the millions of sequins they wear. The gate is opened. The massive animal charges out at full speed straight toward them. Huffing and puffing and angry. They divert his attention with their capes and then hide behind a little wall until the bull is distracted once again by one of their comrades on the opposite side of the ring. Waving and calling and confusing the bull. A man on a blind-folded horse comes out next, the horse's saddle is decadent. The bull rams against the horse as the rider stabs the bull's back with a spear. Cue the matador. The matador's back is arched dangerously because his chest is so full of pride. He is the sparkliest of them ALL. He carries two pipe looking things I soon realize are knives of some kind. The matador stomps and saunters into the middle of the ring, getting the attention of the tiring bull. The bull perks up and charges quickly towards it's shiny target. The matador jumps quickly, stabbing the two stakes into the bull's back, then instantly darting away from the angry bull. The other men come out with their flags to distract the bull once more. The bull is stabbed four more times in this manner, dark red blood thickening on it's back. It is completely weak and confused by the time the matador returns to the ring with his red cape. And so it begins. The elegant dance between them. He waves the red cape, the bull charges and they spin and it continues. There is a rhythm. The matador daringly drops to his knees and flourishes his cape as the bull charges around him, back and forth. The bull occasionally drops to his knees as well, but not to impress the crowd. The bull does it because it's tired and bleeding and constantly confused. Soon the matador is handed a sharp sword and a fresh red cape, which he whirls around a few more times before facing the bull. He lines up his silver sword dramatically with the center of the bull's back and lunges it deep between the shoulder blades. The bull stumbles and falls, but gets back up. The other men come out to wave their capes around it's head until the bull collapses completely. One of them finishes the job by stabbing the bull in the head. A chain is wrapped around the horns and two horses drag the dead, stiffened body off the ring. We watched three bulls get killed. Occasionally the matador would miss or mess up or something, and the bull would be stabbed repeatedly. The crowd would get angry when this happened. It's hard to watch after a while. Really hard to watch. It's very easy to be on the bull's side. I enjoyed the spectacle for the energy, the colors, the tradition, and the bluntness of it all. But it's safe to say I will not become an afecionada. These were also amateurs. If it had been the elegant Pedro Romano from The Sun Also Rises, it might be a different story. But there it was: The Famous Spanish Bull-Fight. 

Then I went to a fútbol game! A big one. Against Germans. A friend let me borrow her Valencia CF scarf and we were off. One of our teachers, Celia, who is wonderful, came with us. We were sitting very, very high up. We got there a bit after kick-off, thus we had to rush in. Flights and flights of stairs and the energy was palpable from everyone trying to find their seats. There was so much noise coming from within the stadium as the players were introduced. People were cheering wildly as they climbed up to their seats. We came out of the stairwell and into the stadium where I finally got a view of the field. The field is shockingly green, the stands shockingly full and excited, and the players shockingly far away. I got really into the game, cheering along with everyone and reacting appropriately when I didn't know what was going on. Che Xe Bo! Che Xe Bo! We tied the Germans, 1-1, but supposedly away goals count for more, so we lost. What a game though, full of excitement. We met up with all of our friends and went out on the town. A very, very Spanish day. 

I was woken up today by random loud explosives on the street, as I have been every day this week. Apparently it's only the beginning. Bring on Las Fallas!

Other news: I bought my tickets to go to Portugal for Semana Santa! Our friend's family from the program has a beach house right on the southern coast and Ashley and I plan on spending time there before hopping towards Lisbon and Porto. Also bought a plane ticket from Paris to Rome for very cheap to meet Scott in Italy this May. What a dream... a ticket from Paris to Rome to hang out with one of my favorite people in the world. ¡Que suerte tengo!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Düsseldorf und Cologne

I get along with Germany very well!

Ryanair is a necessary evil. That's the airline we used to fly to Germany. Tickets are so cheap, 40 euro round trip, but you get what you pay for. The seats don't recline and they don't turn the lights off for night time flights. Also, the destinations they fly to aren't exactly what they claim to be. For example, the flight into "Düsseldorf" is actually a flight to a small airport an hour outside of the city. So we flew, then took a bus to the train station, then took a train into town, then took a taxi to the hostel. It was like Richard Scarey's book on transportation. I was expecting a boat ride at some point, but luckily we did not have to go that far. 

We are so accustomed to Spanish hours that we assumed things would be open at one o'clock in the morning when we got there. However the area around our hostel was completely deserted. We thought no one lived there! It was dark and cold and we could not tell how beautiful the city was quite yet. We went to bed relatively early and got plenty of sleep for the next day. 

It was snowing when we woke up. Germany is absolutely frigid cold right now. Looking at the map, I realize that Düsseldorf is the highest latitude I have ever been to. It's more or less at the same level as Quebec. The city is wealthy and everyone was wearing fur coats and shiny shoes. Most everyone was tall and beautiful and blonde and so German looking. The language is so fun to listen to, so strange and funny even. It is like hearing English, but harder and smooched together, and pronounced wrong, or something. We kept reading signs out loud just to hear ourselves trying to speak it. We walked though the Hofjardin, which is the oldest public park in Germany. Germany is very green and very gray this time of year. Giant trees and statues and lamp posts throughout the park. Ponds and tons of birds, swans and ducks, and other little colorful birds. Winding pathways around drooping green trees. We walked through the park to the Altstadt (Old Town). A lot of the city was destroyed during WWII, but this part of the city is preserved. Picturesque, movie-set-like, Germany. We walked all around, trying to stay warm, and we stumbled, more or less, on the Rhine. The mighty Rhine! It flows quickly and quintessential German towers and houses line the opposite shore. How surreal to have been standing on the bank of the Rhine. 

We ate a bratwurst! I covered mine with Sarachi sauce! It was VUNDERFUL. The Altstadt is known for being the "longest bar in the world"; there are over 500 pubs in a small area. After lunch and resting we went to the Rheinturm, a 240 meter high TV tower. At the top you can see for miles and miles, with factories in the distance; the Rhine bisects the panoramic view. The glass is slanted outwards and it is quite terrifying to lean against it. We grabbed refreshments and relaxed up in the sky for a while. Afterwards, we walked through the city to the ritzy shopping district. Germany's Next Top Model is filmed in the city and hosted by Heidi Klum. There are pictures of her scantily clad on every corner. It made you cold to look at her in the frigid weather. We wandered upon an open air market with flowers and flowers. German tulips! Some man gave us a free truffle and I bought honey soap. We rested up at the hostel in the evening and went out on the town that night. Some of us got Thai food for dinner. My system was craving the spice, and green curry hit the spot. There was a surprising amount of Asian influence here, many restaurants and Asian themed bars. I saw the image of Buddha many more times than Christian images. That night we ended up at a really incredible club that used to be a train station. It was lined with aquariums and the music selection was incredibly fun. They played Motown (??) and The Roots. 

The next morning we packed our things and checked out of the hostel. We got on a train to Cologne, which is only about 30 minutes away. We accidently got on the express train, so it took us about 10. We lucked out! Right when you get out of the train stations, you see IT. The cathedral. The imposing, terrifying cathedral. It took six centuries to build. It miraculously survived 14 bombings during WWII, but it was not completely unaffected. The entire facade is charred black. The towers were topped with snow and the sky was dark. Literally breath-taking. The structure is massive. The main room inside is a giant arched room with stained glass lining every wall. One has to look straight up to see all of the ceiling, your eyes follow the curved arches for seemingly miles. The sun was shining through a particular stained-glass window. It had thousands of squares in rows and columns, each of a different rich color. It looked like candy. The colored light on the opposite wall danced when the sun was out, disappearing for minutes at a time when the sun went behind a cloud. Ashley and I watched for a long time, waiting for the sun to come out so we could take pictures of the ocean-like lighted wall. I sat at a pew for a long time, soaking in the spirits. 

We paid the 1 euro to climb up the main tower of the cathedral. A claustrophobia inducing winding staircase, over 500 stone steps depressed in the middle from centuries of patrons. Up and up with an occasional glance out of a window at the tiny people below. Up and up and up. We got to an outdoor platform and looked around. Through the gothic stone cathedral parts you could see the incredible city below. In the middle of the platform was a metal staircase, slick with ice and snow. The frigid wind was blowing and you could see the earth forever below you. We challenged ourselves and climbed up. I am not usually affected by heights, but I was gripping HARD on the railing and I got jelly legs. It was completely worth the skipped heartbeats to be on top of the tallest cathedral in Europe. 

We bought tickets to get on the touristy bus that would take us around Cologne. It's "Hop On, Hop Off" and their is a headset telling you all about the various attractions and history of the city. Oh, there is the oldest Protestant church in Germany. What's that? It's the remains of the ancient Roman fortress that surrounded the city. Surreal, surreal, surreal. We hopped off at the Chocolate Museum, Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. There was a large factory and chocolate tasting and drinking hot chocolate white sitting on the Rhine. Just lovely. 

We hopped back on the bus and crossed over the Rhine at sunset. The bridge we crossed over was the original site of the first bridge built in Cologne, in 300 AD. 300 AD!! 300 AD!!!! I can't believe it. Ancient Roman houses remained, narrow because the people were taxed based on the width of their house. 90% of the city was destroyed during WWII, but what remains was enough to give me a pit in my stomach from the feeling of ancientness. The sun would occasionally line up perfectly between the two towers of the cathedral. 

We rested at a pub where a bachelor's party was taking place. Drunk Germans are entertaining and even more friendly than sober ones. He was dressed in woman's leiderhosen and a giant blond wig. He has a tray around his neck with tiny scrolls of paper. He told us to pick one and open it. Some of them had a winning message, in which case you had to take a shot with the groom-to-be. We got back on the train/bus/taxi/airplane combo that night. We had to spend the night in the airport because the last train was at midnight, but our flight did not leave until 7 in the morning. Honestly, it was was pretty miserable. There were hardly in seats in this tiny airport and the floor was cold and their was this obnoxious kid's ride that played a creepy melody every three minutes. We were all entirely exhausted and I think I died on my bed for about 9 hours straight on Sunday. I woke up to eat dinner and to write in my journal, then slept straight through this morning. 

Germany is wonderful. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

¡Me voy!

I am off to Germany! I have packed a lot of layers, apparently it's supposed to be pretty chilly. What will Germany be like?! I would like to eat a bratwurst and go to Cologne, this much I know. 

Went to an incredible Picasso exhibit earlier this week. What a crazy man. We saw his California Workshop series, about 30 paintings of the same exact view of his workshop, but in different colors and moods and some of the things on the desks were rearranged. I loved it. 

¡Me voy!

Monday, March 1, 2010


So. Barcelona.

My journal from the bus ride there:

**Orange trees ignored in craggy meadows, as if they were weeds in a garden. Other scruffy trees with the beginnings of flowers- white, purple, yellow, muted colors. Some trees get in line following small creeks that undoubtedly widen where I see a village in the distance.  Mountains cone out of the landscape, small white dots for houses are sprinkled in clusters. The mountains remind me of those in New Mexico but smaller. They are out of nowhere and covered in what looks like sage. But this is a completely different part of the world and these mountains are on a completely different set of tectonic plates, related like puzzle pieces. There are small stone buildings near each of the towns, churches perhaps. A man on a motorcycle is riding along the ”frontage road” of the highway, a hilly dirt road leading into the mountains. Mountains are to the left of me and large green agriculture fields are to the right. What are those isolated stone huts in the center of the fields? They look ancient. A steep and small cliff wall acts as the fourth side to a wooden fence; black and white cows are the residents. There is a small herd of sheep going somewhere along a side road. Some stray to eat leaves off orange trees. Then out of nowhere- the blue, blue sea. Mountains seemed to unveil it like a stage at the beginning of a show. Sparkling waters show themselves occasionally, each time a shocking reminder that I am bumping along the Mediterranean, the ancient center of human activity. I can hardly believe I am going to Barcelona, the quote unquote coolest city in the world.**

I need more time there. Only one full day was a joke, a cruel tease! I feel like I barely dipped my pinkie toe in and I want to be at least waist deep. The main difference of Barcelona to Valencia is the amount of people. At five o’clock in the evening in Valencia there is a good handful of people out, but many of the stores are closed and people are returning to work from siesta. At five o’clock the streets of Barcelona are packed. People everywhere, down every side street, and all going somewhere. Our hotel was right in the main plaza of the city, which probably had a lot to do with it, but there was a strikingly large amount of people out and about. The hotel we stayed in was nice. Really nice. My friend Mary Claire somehow ended up with a really swank room on the highest floor by herself. Ashley and I quickly moved our things into her room. The view! Wow. I felt like a rock star waking up the next day with our windows open to early morning Barcelona outside. Friday night we all ate dinner together and went to explore a bit of the city. The winding streets around our hotel were hip, restaurants and thrift stores and bars and nice jewelry stores. We met a friend of a guy in our program who is currently studying in Barcelona and he showed us around a bit.

The next morning at ten we had a bus tour of the city. The streets are so beautiful. The buildings are so intricate and big and old and the iron work is grand. I wanted to explore each street we crossed over. We stopped at Tibidado, the mountain that looks over the city. Our view of Barcelona was capped by fog. It was kind of haunted looking with mountains looming in the distance and the delicate city below. I was thinking about how many generations of people had come to this city to work, to fish, to trade, to raise a family, to explore, to discover, to meet people, to travel.  Humans from all ages of time, even from before our own species, have been drawn to this location. It makes me feel SO SMALL, like a tiny pixel in time. 

Next we went to Parque Guell. This park, oh this park! I could have spent ages there. Gaudí was a genius to say the absolute least. My teacher told me he was an introvert, honest and humble, and profoundly religious. He lived minimally and was considered a great man. He must have had the craziest dreams; his works make Dr. Suess illustrations seem plausible. Winding lines, tiled surfaces, unique perspectives, mimicry of nature, but not a nature I have ever seen. It was, for the lack of better words, totally psychedelic. And these things were built almost a hundred years ago. Can you imagine seeing these things one hundred years ago? His visions were so unreal, but they were there in front of me. I want a giant quilt made of all the tiles in the park. Incredible.

Then- La Sagrada Familia.  I still feel like that was not real. A massive and intricate and elegant and mind-blowing structure. To think of the relationship Gaudí must have had with his God to have created something like this makes my mind see stars. And it’s not even finished! He died before the project was completed, but he knew that it would never be finished before he died, so he left many plans and drawings. The people who are working on it now know WHAT they are supposed to do, but the cleverest people cannot figure out HOW to do it exactly. The finished product seems light-years away when looking at the plans. The head of the organization in charge of finishing the cathedral has no clue when it will be done. Hopefully in my lifetime. My words cannot begin to describe what I saw and it is daunting task to attempt to do it justice at all. A must-see for all.

That night we all went out for dinner and to test out the infamous night-life of Barcelona. The whole group ended up at Razzmatazz, a discoteca so immense that it has it’s own subway stop.  Five separate clubs all attached, each with different music and atmosphere and about 2000 people. So overwhelming! People stay there until 8 in the morning, but after about two hours we had definitely had enough.

Barcelona has a strange feeling about it. Absolutely incredible and lively and beautiful, but completely bizarre. I think it is telling that Gaudí is responsible for the city’s masterpieces, because they can also be described as completely bizarre. Beautiful, but bizarre. It is a port city and we were in the middle of the biggest tourist area, so I did not feel like I was in Spain at all. I did not speak Spanish the whole time. People everywhere and people doing strange things. I was never scared, but taken aback and shocked plenty of times.  For me, Barcelona is somewhere incredible to visit, but I don’t think I would want to live there. Valencia has so much to do and see, but it can be calming if you need it to be. Barcelona is seemingly never calm. I would love to return and see the other areas of the city.

Valencia is starting to feel like spring. Rebirth and renewal! Las Fallas officially starts on March 14 (my birthday!), but in reality it started today, the first day of the month of Las Fallas. Plans for this giant festival begin the day after it ends the previous year. Lights have been up for two weeks or so, spanning across every street. Construction in Plaza de la Virgin ended yesterday and I am seeing that plaza properly for the first time. The sky is bluer than I thought possible and the sun shines brightly all day. I heard several people whistling in the street on my way to school this morning. I can already tell there are more people than usual in the city and there is a palpable sense of anticipation for the upcoming festival. Las Fallas is religiously based, but it also celebrates the arrival of spring. The city is changing; I can feel it! It is making me think of spring at home and family and Easter and church and what we would be eating after church and what dress Scottie will be wearing and it makes me miss home a bit. I got a package today from Ann and I am utterly thrilled! A pillow and CHEEZ-ITS and candy and vitamins and boots! Wow!

All is beautiful in Valencia and I feel whole and happy and blessed.