Thursday, April 22, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
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
Friday, March 12, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
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.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Have you heard of Agua de Valencia? It’s really one of the more delicious drinks ever invented. Ashley, Laura and I discovered this Friday night. Fresh squeezed orange juice, white wine, and vodka. The bar around the corner is famous for it, and one can see why easily. It comes in a big glass jar and lots of pulp sticks to the surface of the container as you pour it. I had the best time with Ashley and Laura. We sat around a table for nearly three hours. We laughed over everything and talked about how surreally incredible the trip has been so far. We danced and sang the words to the funny selection of American songs that came on. We talked to the people next to us, and met a really cool girl from the city of Buñot, where the largest tomato fight in the world takes place every summer.
The next morning, Ashley and I met Ken, the old man tutor, at the café for a Spanish lesson. It was so funny to talk to him about the things we noticed around us, the differences and similarities, the people and their customs. He nearly fell out of his chair when we started talking about grits. He hadn’t heard the word in over fifteen years, since he was in Atlanta last. He missed them even more than we did. He asked funny questions to prompt us speaking, like “Where does the universe end?” We asked him something we had been wanting to know. The young people hold a certain unexplainable reputation about American girls. They think we are crazy. We ask them what kind of crazy, and they cannot explain it. Ken says that American girls, and guys for that matter, have a tendency to think more. He was not insulting in any way to the Spanish, but was just stating it as a cultural fact. There are things about the Spanish culture, like their strict eating times, that are cemented into daily lives by tradition over dozens of generations. Everyone eats at two o’clock in the afternoon, everyone. When do we eat in America, he asked. When we are hungry, we answered. He said that’s what makes us crazy! I never really realized this about America. I have so much freedom and liberty on a daily basis that I don’t even think about. Strict cultural binds do not hold me back from small things that are simply second nature here, like when to eat, or from big things, like career choices. I have the option to think about anything I want at any time, and I could even write it down and then publish it if I wish. I can take any classes I want and groom them to fit my own personal goals. If independent thinking is what makes me a crazy American girl, then sign me up for the loony bin.
MTV Valencia Winter was last night. The Arctic Monkeys played. I had no idea how big they were in Europe. I haven’t heard their name in the states in over five years. There were at least 20,000 people at the free concert they gave. Masses and masses of people. The stage was in the middle of the architecturally modern and space-ship-like complex I wrote about earlier. There were five of us in my group, and we were actually really close to the stage. There were giant TV screens and the light show was incredible. Apparently the lead singer is half of the biggest celebrity couple in Britain and most of Europe. This was one of the coolest places I ever seen a concert. We were surrounded on our sides by two giant white stunning buildings, with their undulating lines. Purple lights shone on them. Behind us was the giant sculpture that looks like a mix between a sail boat and a harp. Beyond that more buildings. I can't imagine what it would be like to play there, considering how incredible it was to be in the audience. It was so interesting to see the differences between huge concerts here and huge concerts in the states. The chatter you hear between bands sounds different. The people are so much shorter, we felt like giants. The fist pump is a classic move to accompany any dancing at American shows, and here everyone holds up one finger, pointing up, while dancing. Another very strange thing: the Spanish people speak English with a British accent. We had noticed this before when one of our teachers spoke English. But it was more pronounced than ever when the crowd started chanting “Auu-teeck Moon-kees! Auu-teeck Moon-kees!” Definitely one of the best concerts I have ever been too and I don’t even particularly like the music.
This morning the park was lively. Sunday mornings are perfect for going to the park. In Athens it’s really hard for me to go running because of all those hills, but here it’s nice and flat and everyone is running and the park is so nice and there is so much to look at and I feel invigorated by it. There is a main path through the park but there are four or five subsequent paths running parallel to the main one. It’s quite a task to navigate. Is one for dog walkers? Is one for bikers? Is one for people with children? The fact that there is a set pattern is obvious, but the pattern itself is not clear. There is construction going on in the plaza I run through to get to the park. The chaos of the machines and the vibrations from the jack hammers on the marble sidewalks have caused oranges to fall from the orange trees that line the middle of the plaza. Many of the fallen ones bust on impact with the hard ground while others get stomped on by the people working their way to the other side of the construction zone. You can smell the oranges from 200 feet away; their scent fills the air around the plaza.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
How do the animal parts look today, Austin?