Running, Travel, & Notebooks

Archive for May, 2012

A Great Big World (With lots of Places to Run to)

If I could, I would tell you that my fingers were miserably broken and that I couldn’t type. If I could, I would tell you that a black hole opened up in the center of the Earth and swallowed my laptop whole (I just barely managed to get away!). If I could, I would tell you that I had temporary amnesia and forgot how to write or that I had a severe case of writer’s block. Instead, I’m going to be the honest Abe that I am and tell the truth: I’ve been living my life in Spain and simultaneously neglecting my blog. I was a writing-machine for a few months! How could I be so careless? Well the cycle ends now; it’s blog time.

Since the last time I wrote, I’ve been to Avila (a little town about an hour northwest of Madrid) and Sevilla (a city in Andalucia in the South of Spain). As my days here get more and more limited, the more and more we are trying to fit in. Avila was a spur-of-the-moment kind of trip with the girls. UEM students had a two-day break in the middle of the week, one day for Labor Day and another day in celebration of the community of Madrid; hey, I will take what I can get. When you’re traveling to so many cities, after a while, things start to blend together and much of what you see feels familiar. When you see something different, it helps you better remember the city. There’s usually one or two things you can pin-point that are highlights and those things are the poster child for your trip. Thusly, each trip can be associated with one or two words.

La Muralla!

Word association for Avila: Wall, World Maps. We hopped on a metro and a bus to get to Avila and spent the day walking around, exploring. Unfortunately, many of the restaurants and shops were closed because of the holidays, so we went to one of the few restaurants that were open to grab bocadillos and coffee that we drank from mugs that had maps from throughout the world. Maybe it was the delicious flavor of the coffee or the ambiance of the cafe, but I remember those world maps. I was Brazil. Now if only I spoke Portuguese!  As we sat sipping and chewing, we saw a parade out the window with people donning giant costume heads of famous Spaniards while people surrounded them, watching the show. It was definitely one of the more interesting sites to see. From there, we roamed, taking in the sites of the cathedrals and buildings. Avila does boast an ancient wall, called La Muralla that we got to climb. It encompassed the entire city, and from the top, you could see the city skyline. Walking on top of the wall made me feel like part of the city and it was an adornment that was very unique.

Word association for Sevilla: Waffle, Italy. Strange, I know but let me explain. Less than a five-minute walk from our hostal in Sevilla was the Metropol Parasol, the world’s largest wooden structure. Essentially, it is a giant canvas that looks like a waffle. I could have slabbed some butter and syrup on it and had the biggest breakfast ever. Out of everything I have seen in Spain, this structure was definitely the most modern and it was just completed in 2011. It gave a very contemporary vibe to the city and contrasted dramatically with my established notion of what Spain is like, as did my association with Italy. During the free-walking tour we took on Sunday morning, we came across La Plaza España, which suited perfectly what I picture Italy to look like: high arch-ways, pointed buildings, fountains, and two mini-rivers with boats going up and down them. The architecture was stunning with artwork mixed into the walls and bridges and scenes painted on bench-areas where people could sit. We also learned that part of Star Wars: Episode II was filmed in that exact plaza. It’s crazy to think that we were walking in the same spot where they shot a major motion picture. As for the rest of our Sevilla trip, it was perfect. We saw La Giralda, or a high tower with bells on the top and the Catedral de Sevilla, where Christopher Columbus was buried. The weather held out, our hostalwas colorful and breakfast was included, and we even got to see another flamenco show that far exceeded the first one I saw. Sevilla is apparently the heart of the flamenco world, and the dancers have more passion than I’ve ever seen before in my life. It was written in their every move and every expression. You could see the sweat dripping off of their faces. It was also nice to talk to some of the other people who attended the show; two of them were from Canada and backpacking through Spain for three weeks. Another guy we met on our walking tour was in the military for ten years and had just started going back to school.  Everyone has a story.

Waffles for breakfast anyone?










The Plaza!










As for Madrid, itself, I’m still trying to complete my “Madrid Bucket List,” where I wrote down everything I want to do before I go back to the States. I knocked off the bullfight, where we saw six bulls get killed by matadors on horseback. It was sad to see the bulls die, but you have to take it as an art form, because that’s exactly what it is. It is an integral part of the culture. I also managed to knock off going to a “football” game and saw the last one of the season! Real Madrid. v. Mallorca. Afterward, there was a huge celebrations to commemorate Real Madrid winning the division. They covered the entire field and set up a stage and had the whole stadium shouting “Campeones!” It was exciting to be part of.





















It’s so hard to believe that I have 23 days left in this country. It feels like just yesterday, I was arriving here, without any notion of how things work or how to get myself to my house from the bus station. Now, a little over four months later, I am seasoned and a bit wiser. I’m not fluent in Spanish yet, but I’ve come so far that I surprise myself sometimes. I love being in public now and hearing the chatter around me and knowing that I can understand about 80 percent of what is being said. I love daily meals with my host mom and host sister and not having to cook or clean for myself. At this point, I am torn. I’m ready to go see my family and loved ones again because I miss them. At the same time things have changed at home that I’ve heard about but have not really had to deal with. I feel distant (not just physically) and separated from these changes and I know that going back with probably be a slap in the face. Then, there is the issue of this fantasy life coming to an end. I feel like I’ve been on a semester-long vacation with a few classes thrown into the mix. In these few months, I’ve grown and seen, I just feel like there’s more to see and grow with. Hopefully, that’s the spirit that will stick with my well into later life and hopefully I will continue to do crazy things like this that allow me to see the world.

This weekend is my last out-of-country trip, and I’m pleased to say that I  have high hopes for it. I’m Paris-bound and thanks to my amazing aunt and uncle, I will be taking a river-boat cruise fully equipped with fine cuisine. I feel so blessed to have the people I do in my life and don’t know what I did to deserve the kindness that people have been showing me. Every package I receive, every message I get, and every time I hear that someone reads my blog, it reminds me that I have people back home who love and care about me, and to me that is such an invaluable feeling when you’re all the way around the world. It reminds me that no matter where I go and or what I do, I always have someone out there who cares about me. I do wish that I could stay in this country longer but in the end, half of my heart is in New York.



“In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle”

On April 13-15, Crystal, Rory, Taylor, Cora, Geminis, Carlos, Karen and I decided to take an exotic vacation to the lovely island of Mallorca. Mallorca is one of the Balearic Islands in the east of Spain, which are hot spots for tourists from all over Europe, especially Germany. My initial thought was that this would be a great weekend to spend on the beach, taking in the sun and relaxing. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were predicted to be terrible for the entire weekend. That, of course, wasn’t going to stop us. We woke up bright and early to catch our flight at 11:35. We flew with Ryanair again, which is the cheapest way to get around Europe. It’s basically a “no-frills” airline, which means that they are immensely strict with baggage and try to sell you everything from travel insurance to clothing to make a little extra money. I have a very limited budget, so Ryanair has been the way to go. I have learned to pack lightly, though. That means one backpack with things stuffed in as tightly as possible, reusing clothing (gross, I know), going without accessories and fitting all my liquids into a small Ziplock bag.

When we got to the airport, our flight was delayed, so we hung out on the floor of the airport, talking about and in Spanish, English, expressions, traveling, and everything else we could possibly think about. Geminis, Carlos, and Karen are from Mexico, and they really want to learn English. I’m from the United States, and I really want to learn Spanish. Thus, a new system was born: I talk to Carlos and Karen in Spanish, only, and they respond in English. We correct each other sometimes (in the nicest way ever), and help each other learn. It’s the perfect system, and I like to call them “mis profesores,” or teachers.  They have a ton of patience when I try to talk, and I feel so comfortable talking to them, which is quite a feat seeing as I am intimidated by some of the Spaniards when they speak. I think the key thing I’ve learned is to let myself be dumb. I’m going to make mistakes and I’m likely to sound like a child, but practice is practice and I will never turn that down. Not to mention, my Mexican friends are so nice!

The group–photo taken by Karen










Anyway, the flight was pretty quick and painless. One minute we were asleep, the next we were there. When we touched down, it looked like it was going to pour. The skies were black and ominous, and the air was thick with moisture. We started on our way to get to the hostal, and someone flicked a switch in the heavens. The rain came down in waves. Two buses later and slightly damper than before, we arrived our destination: Hostal Ritzi, a small hole-in-the-wall dormitory with a friendly staff. They had free wi-fi and a cozy waiting area with a bookshelf full of books in varying languages. Our rooms were standard with beds and a sink, though the pillows were flat and the rooms not the cleanest. Overall, though, it wasn’t a terrible bang for our buck, but it wasn’t exactly the Hilton Hotel. I shared a room with Geminis and Crystal; they shared a bunk, and I had a free-standing bed against a window with peeling paint. The rest of our friends stayed upstairs in an old apartment that they turned into rooms, and the space was huge. After recovering for about an hour, we headed out to explore the town. Right around the corner was this huge tree that branched out in many different directions. We named it the “Tree of Life” and started singing The Lion King as our theme song for the weekend. Furthermore, there were ice cream places on every corner, so obviously we indulged a little bit. We stumbled across the “Plaza Mayor” of Palma, Mallorca, saw one of the cathedrals, and paid four euros to go into La Almudaina, the city palace. They had preserved some of the most important artifacts and put them on display, one of which was the “Roman Baths,” which consisted of a series of ceramic jars. I’m so glad we evolved from that. Thank you technology for indoor plumbing. One of the rooms in the palace opened into this huge porch that overlooked the sea. Right after that, we strolled along the sea, taking in the view.

Eating some ice cream :) The view
















That night, we went out for some drinks and explored a little closer to the hostal. Down the street from us was a park with an  upside-down playhouse and some giant bird that we played on. We’re not creepy or anything.











The next day, we had brunch at an outdoor restaurant and gulped down our café while trying to shake out the fatigue. From there, we went to find the train station, where we were going to take a scenic train ride to the town of Soller. The train was built in 1895 and hasn’t changed at all since that time. It was made of fine wood and moved about a staggering 30 miles an  hour. The view, however, was lined with mountains and wilderness, and we had the windows cracked slightly to feel the breeze in our hair.  The woods were thick and the mountains sprinkled with snow. As we were chugging along, I thought about grandpa and his love affair with trains, his basement full of collectible trains, and the beer that was always in his hand. If you gave the man a beer and sat him on that train, he would have been in his glory. It’s crazy how the smallest things can remind you so much of someone and bring back fond memories, while simultaneously creating new ones with new people.










After about an hour on the train, we arrived in the small town. The first thing we saw was a small cafe and a ticket window. We had to take a tram from the train into the actual city of Soller, but we had a bit of time to waste before it actually left. We walked around and saw a fountain and a market, and stopped off for more ice cream. I was hoping to find joy in that ice cream cone after the tragic loss of my camera, which committed suicide and jumped out of my hands. Now, I am sadly camera-less and have to rely on everyone around me for pictures 😦 My hands don’t quite know what to do when I see something beautiful now! RIP camera,  you were good to me for many years.


Anyway, we spent the rest of the day walking along the beach and looking at the pure blue water. It was too cold to go in, but we sat on the rocks and talked for quite a while. Crystal even managed to save the environment by fishing bottles out from under a dock. Someone should give her an award.

Picture compliments of either Crystal or Cora

Picture compliments of either Crystal or Cora









The next day, the weather was awful and my feet got soaked to the bone. I had to wrap bags around them to keep them dry, a trick I picked up from my mom many years again as the adventurous child of a concerned mother. Needless to say, going through customs was fun when I had to take those bags off. Before we actually headed back, though, we took an adventure to Las Cuevas de Genova and ended up getting lost when no one quite knew the exact location, even the bus driver. When we got there, we realized it was a behind a restaurant and our tour guide was a cranky old man. That didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves, however, and the caves were still cool to see.


Photo compliments of Carlos!










By the time we finished with everything and flew home, it was late at night and we were all exhausted. As always, it was worth it to tackle another part of the world. As of right now, I have plans to go to Sevilla, Barcelona, and Paris, which will conclude my trips over here, because time is running out so quickly and so are my funds! I feel like just yesterday we were arriving here, and now, we have just over a month left. My other friend who is studying here has even less than that, and with this realization, I’m trying to fit everything in that I can. Next weekend, we are going to a soccer game and a bullfight and today I went inside the Palacio Real, which was incredible in every way. I was impressed by the dome ceiling which were adorned with different scenes. Gold lions lined the corners of many rooms, and everything was appealing to the eyes. Let’s see how many more experiences like that I can fit into my time here 🙂