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Archive for June, 2012

Good Riddance (Time of your Life)

The clock on the bottom of my computer screen reads 3:15 a.m. as I begin to write the final post of my experience here in Spain. It’s hard not to get sentimental during a time like this, and right now my emotions have reached nostalgia after rolling through a wave of more dramatic sentiments. This is the last time that I’m going to be sitting on this couch in a four-story house in front of a Spanish television. This is the last time that I’m going to be living the life I’ve carved for myself here, and it’s the last time I’m going to be thinking these thoughts amidst a country so dynamically different from mine. Maybe I shouldn’t jump that far ahead, because I still have high-hopes for future travels and plans. I’m not the same person who arrived in Spain five short months ago. I’ve learned so much about the world, society, and life by living here. When I first arrived, I was scared stiff, my eyes furiously shifting back and forth trying to take in my surroundings. I was clueless about public transportation and sadly ignorant about a lot of things that were going on in the world around me. Now, I have no doubt that I have grown so much as a person and have learned more about myself than I ever would have by living for years in the United States. I will never forget the memories I’ve had here, the friends that I’ve shared every special moment with, and even the times that have tried my patience. Each experience that I’ve had here has contributed to who I am in this moment, and I will forever carry Spain with me as I move on with my life.

Before I left the U.S., my uncle told me to set goals for myself and I did. The two most important were 1) to learn the language and 2) to see things that startle me. Five months later, I’m happy to report that I’ve done these things beyond my wildest dreams. The language aspect is often a touchy subject with me, because I came here hoping to make myself fluent. I’ve struggled every day with the language barrier that existed and with my inner critic telling me that I wasn’t doing well enough. On several occasions, I have felt like an idiot standing before native Spanish speakers, trying to pick out words and phrases that I was familiar with and then trying to shape my own thoughts into those in the Spanish language. On several occasions, I’ve broken down and been mentally exhausted from the effort it has taken to try to learn this language. On several occasions, I have gazed upon the face of someone who hasn’t understood a single word I said despite my finest attempt at saying it. This has humbled me, because I know that dreams don’t always easy and that goals are not easily accomplished. With this, though, came those few moments of sheer bliss such as when I had a conversation with someone as if were entirely in English or when I cracked a joke in Spanish that made everyone laugh. These fleeting moment have made it all worth it, and in the end, I may not be one hundered percent fluent, but I’ve gotten so much better at saying what I need to say. The words don’t come out perfect. Sometimes they are broken or distorted, but they come out, and finally, people can understand me! I never knew how amazing it was to have the power of language until it didn’t come easy, and now I have such a newly found respect for anyone with any type of disability that prevents this.

Beyond this, I’m so proud of myself for reaching the level I have. It’s not perfect but it’s something, and for that reason, alone, I can smile. As for the second goal, it almost goes without saying (please forgive the cliche, but it’s now 4 a.m.). I aimed to “see things that startle me,” and, in retrospect, that one was accomplished almost on a daily basis. Every time I learned something about the Spanish language or set foot in a different city, it left a unwavering impression on me. The first impressionable moment occurred when I was sitting in the Valley of the Fallen for the first time, my feet dangling below me as I sat perched on a wall overlooking the mountains. Despite the bitter cold that kissed my face, the view overtook any worry or concern I’ve ever had in my life. In that moment, I knew my goal had been accomplished, though so many other factors also accomplished the same thing. Everything I’ve realized about communication, everything I’ve seen, has all startled me and shaped me.

This past week has been full of doing everything I possibly can while in Madrid and saying my despedidas (farewells). Last night, for instance, was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever faced in my life. Crystal, Taylor, and I went to an Italian restaurant with our Mexican friends as a final goodbye dinner. We ordered all the food in the world, chatted about life and our future, and laughed, all while the gravity of our impending departure weighed down on us. Each person made a speech to the group of 10 of us, and we talked about the memories we’ve had, the traveling we’ve done, and the friendships we’ve formed in two separate languages, depending on the person. After, we went to Madrid, walked around, signed each others’ Spanish flags and ate churros. On the bus ride back, the tears streamed. We overtook the back of the bus and each sat there, talking little and thinking a lot. Our friend, Ivo, played the song “Good Riddance” by Green Day on his iPod and everyone sang along, not quite ready to say goodbye. It was a bus ride we’d taken together many times before and the seats and windows were familiar to us all, but something was different. When you know that moments are limited, you tend to take in a lot more, and that particular moment seemed so distinct. Taylor sat there rubbing my back as she prepared to leave and when we approached her stop, I watched her hug Crystal and remembered all the classes we’d had together and our roles in each different trip we’ve taken. She hugged my quickly and was gone. My eyes filled with tears as she left the bus and I peered out the window to see her disappear into the night, an image cemented in my memory. My friend Carlos grabbed my hand and when I looked up to see that he too had began to cry, my heart broke. Carlos is such a sweet person and he would rather freeze to death than see you shiver once. Him crying made it real. I looked over and saw my other friend Karen trying to hide her eyes, and I laughed at my own strategic placement of my sunglasses to hide the tears. After those last moments together, our lives would forever diverge and we’d all move on to different experiences. We came together through an experience so distinct and unique in comparison to other experiences, and while we talked about having a reunion, part of me worries that I will never see them again. We’ve shared so many beautiful moments together, and no matter what happens, I will always carry them in my heart.

I’m trying very hard to see the positive in everything, and as they say, all good things must come to an end. Life can be so bittersweet sometimes. Agridulce. I’ve been removed from my life back home and while I have some inkling about what is going on, I’m going to again be thrown back into the mix, hopefully as if nothing ever changed. I hope that things are the way I remember them and that my “hellos” will be as strong as my despedidas were. I’m sad to leave this experience behind me, and perhaps the saddest thing is not knowing when I will be able to do something as equally life-changing. My program director told me that from here, it’s up to me and that I can pretty much form my own future. I know she’s right, and I know this is one taste of an entire dish that I have for my future. I’m going to miss walking the streets of the city that I’ve come to call my own and I’m going to miss eating meals with the family that has become so dear to my heart. Equally, I’m excited to see my family, friends, and boyfriend and to share stories with them about everything that I’ve done and hear their own stories. I’m not quite sure I’m prepared to decipher my own feelings on leaving, beyond me labeling it as “bittersweet,” but I do know that no matter what happens, Spain will hold a special place in my heart. As the Spanish say, “No es adios, es hasta luego.” And now, Buffalo-bound.

“You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back. You’re going to wish this days hadn’t gone by so fast. And these are some good times, so take a good look around. You may not notice now, but you’re gonna miss this.” -Trace Adkins

“Here’s to the Night”

A majority of our time is spent in constant motion. Americans are eternally obsessed with progress and moving forward, which often leaves relaxation and enjoyment in the lurch. With that being said, there are those few rare, fleeting moments that happen in life that silence all the background noise and strike you with their perfection. It’s almost like being pinched and feeling no pain. You’re moving along and living your life. You’re going, going, going, thinking about what you have to get done, thinking about all that things that have or have not gone right in your day, worrying about this, debating that. Your mind is racing. Then all of the sudden, something pinches you and you’re brought back down to Earth to see what is right in front of your face. It doesn’t have to be some grand epiphany about the universe, nor does it have to be something that forever changes you and your mentality toward life. Sometimes, its just an image that sticks with you forever, no matter how insignificant it seems to others.

For me, that moment happened  yesterday in Madrid. It was so simple, and maybe it won’t make sense to anyone else, but to me it just seemed so undeniably perfect and memorable. We made a trip into Madrid to grab a bite to eat at our favorite restaurant, Cien Montaditos, and then to watch a movie. By the time we finished, it was around around 1 a.m., and we dropped our friend off at her apartment and went back to the bus stop to wait. We had time to kill, so I brought my friends to this one spot just down from the bus stop that overlooked the entire city. The four of us, Carlos, Geminis, Crystal and I, sat on top of a cement wall, our feet dangling over the side. Spread out before us was Madrid: a long river, a ton of buildings, a few trees, and lights that lit up the city skyline. Two specific trees glowed purple because of the lighting and the river reflected the different colors. The night was still and none of us talked, not because we were incapable, but because there was no need to. Earlier, we had been talking about how our time in Spain was running out and how we’d all miss each other, but in that moment, with eight legs dangling below us, everything suddenly became real. There I was, sitting among people I’d become so close to in just 5 short months, taking in the view of a city that I’ve come to call home, even if it is only a temporary one. Two of us on that wall were Spanish-speakers and two of us were native English-speakers. Each set of us came from very different backgrounds, with very different stories and very different futures, but it didn’t matter. Somehow, we’d all managed to overcome whatever language barrier existed between us, and we’d become friends. Somehow, through it all, we’d all established a way of communicating with each other that was quite imperfect– but worked. In that moment, it wasn’t the communication, but the lack thereof: Four of us sharing the same view, each of us thinking our prospective thoughts, knowing that time is running out for our experience here.

I have endlessly been asked how I feel about the fact that I have a week until I return home to the United States of America, to New York. Truth be told, I’m not sure how I feel about it. To date, this semester abroad has been the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. Since high school, I knew I wanted to study abroad and that idea never faltered in my mind, but in all honesty I was terrified a few days before I came here. I wasn’t sure what to expect with my host family, the university here, the language or even the country, itself. It was the first time I’d ever ventured into something so boldly unknown and new. College was one thing, but living in a foreign country for six month? Tan diferente! I can’t sit here and tell you that it was all candy and butterflies. I struggled at times with the language and the culture shock and with feeling so different from everyone, but I can tell you that it was the best decision I’ve made so far. I’m not the same person who arrived here five short months ago; I’ve grown so much. I’ve seen things beyond my wildest dreams and learned how to deal with adversity. Granted, I’m still young and I have so much more to learn in my life, but I think this was a good stepping stone. After taking this semester abroad, I now know that if I set my mind to something, I can do it. As for the going home aspect, I’m excited. I get to see so many faces that have been absent in my life for five months. I get to eat all my favorite foods again, and I get to go back to the familiar. Living outside your comfort zone stimulates growth, but having something familiar keeps you grounded and sane. I do wish my experience here was longer and that I had more time to perfect my Spanish and travel Europe, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that it can’t last, and I know that this will not be my last life experience.  I guess from here, it’s time to go home and see what comes next.

A Weekend in le Paris

In my time here, I’ve eaten the finest Spanish cuisine, mingled with the natives, taken a ride on the London Eye, t0ured the Guinness Factory, and taken a scenic train ride through Palma, Mallorca, among other things. In the first few months alone, I saw more and experienced more than I had ever planned, both in and outside of Spain. So what else could I possibly add to this dream come true? Paris, of course. Last weekend, I finally made it to the city that I always promised myself I would see would see, and it was incredible. As of now, it has officially topped the list as one of my favorite cities and is tied with, if not better than Madrid (Yes, I’m slightly biased because I live do live in Madrid).

We started our trip last Thursday by spending the night at the airport. Our flight left at 7:20 a.m., so to avoid confusion with the metros and buses, we just went the night before.  We brought a soccer ball and some food and camped out on the floor, mixed among numerous other people. It kind of looked like a homeless community in a way with everyone clinging tightly to their luggage, trying to steal a few hours of shut-eye before the day broke. Needless to say, Hali and I only got about an hour of sleep. I guess that’s what you get when you are struggling college student trying to travel the world. That’s always where the best memories come from, though<3

Yes, this really happened.

 

 

 

 

 

By the time we actually got on our flight, we were exhausted and passed out the whole way to Paris. Ryanair flies into a place just outside of Paris called Paris Beauvais. It was a little over an hour away and the airport is in the middle of nowhere and looks like a warehouse. A few random machines and bathrooms were literally just thrown inside of a building and we had to take a tour bus to the actual center of Paris. Again, we slept the entire way, fitting in as much sleep as we could; beds are a thing of the past, anyway. At the bus stop, we took a metro to Joinville Le-Pont, where our hostal was located. Despite my attempt at being very well-organized and prepared, we got a bit lost and relied on others to point us in the right direction. We arrived at Hostel Hipotel Paris Hippodrome and were exhausted from the traveling. For a hostel, our room wasn’t terrible, but it was small and the air conditioning didn’t work. For the price we paid, however, they had an elevator and a TV in each room, so I’d say it was worth it. Hali, unfortunately, had to sleep on a pull-out mattress that was insanely small and came out from under the double bed I slept on. It reminded me of a motorcycle with a caboose. Hali just looked so small!

Munching on some Doritosss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To recharge, we took a quick nap before heading out to see the sites of Paris. Our first stop was a restaurant for some food because we were literally starving to death! Needless to say, communicating was interesting. All we knew how to say was “Bonjour” and “Merci,” so to actually order, we put on our best smiles and pointed to the pictures on the menu. Thankfully the waiter got the jist of what we wanted. We smiled again and said, “Merci,” in the best French accents we could. Sadly though, my accent was awful. I think we’ll stick to speaking Spanish. Our food arrived, and true to the stereotype, it was delicious. Paninis, crepes, the whole sha-bang was perfect, and It wasn’t  just because we were hungry.

From there, we made our way to the Louvre, or the famous museum in Paris that is considered to be the most highly visited. The architecture was beautiful and adorned with statues, fine trimming and fountains. We learned on the walking tour that we took later that weekend that for a while the royal family used to live at the Lourve and when they moved to Versailles, they converted it into a museum, as they do with most things that pass their expiration date. The Louvre has a grande entrance way that leads to a small plaza, and then you pass another entrance way to make it to the main Plaza. There, there are three glass pyramids that contrasted directly with the old-style architecture and make the area more unique than most places I’ve seen. We took our tourist-style pictures and went inside for free. Oh the joys of being a student in the European Union!  The Louvre is home to one of the most famous paintings in the world: The Mona Lisa, and though it was a lot smaller in size than I thought it would be, it looked exactly like the pictures. We had to battle crowds of tourist to get through to see it for a few seconds. There were also some pretty cool Egyptian displays with mummies and artwork which also caught my attention. The museum was so big though, that we couldn’t possibly see it all. After a few hours, we headed out to our next destination: El Torre Eiffel (whoops, the Eiffel Tower).

Rory and I next to one of the pyramids in the plaza of the Louvre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egyptian display

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second we caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, it felt like Paris or everything I’ve ever known about Paris. In the distance, it looked small, but up close, it was anything but small. After about an hour of walking toward it, it kept getting bigger and bigger, until it soared above us. We got there at exactly the right time, because we took our pictures before it lit up and took more just as they were turning the lights on. Everyone gathers around for that and the plaza was filled, and a wave of “awws” overcame everyone the second they hit the switch. It was a site to see, and at one point, the lights even blinked. Hali, Rory, and I were all in shock at the fact that we were actually standing under something that we’ve spent our lives hearing about. Paris: the city of romance. That’s certainly the truth.

Feeling brave, we decided to climb the Eiffel Tower. The line was long to take the lift, so for the low, low price of 9 euros, we climbed the stairs half way up, then took a lift to the highest point. We did this all despite Rory’s overwhelming fear of heights, and Hali and I were so proud of him for doing it! We climbed the stairs for about twenty minutes; it was quite a hike, and some people even stopped on the landings to catch their breath. I was taken back by how many older people were taking the hike, though they took their sweet time. New goal set for me: to be that adventurous when I’m old and gray. Anyway, even from half way up the monument, you could see all of Paris. It was night, so everything was lit up and contrasted with the night sky.The scenery was truly beautiful but even better from the top. You could see the Triumphal Arch, which saw close-up later, and the River Seine, which were both mixed into the Paris landscape. It was crazy to think we were actually that high up, on top of a monument in the middle of Paris.

Eiffel Tower at night.

Me of top of the Eiffel Tower

View from the top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, we took a free walking tour with Sandeman’s New European Tours. They are honestly some of the best tours I’ve ever been on in my life, and I’ve followed them religiously in every major city I’ve gone to. So far, I’ve been on their tours in Sevilla, Madrid, Dublin, and now, Paris. All the guides are “free lance,” and they basically give these tours on their own time for tips only, but I haven’t had one negative experience with them. Our guide in Paris was Naomi, a university student from Scottland who came to France to better learn the language, a story with a strangely familiar ring to it. She had a fiesty sense of humor and knew a lot about French history. We walked all around Paris for three and a half hours, listening to everything she had to say, and though we were exhausted at the end, we learned a lot. We passed the River Seine again and crossed over some of the famous bridges, lined with locks that people put on them. Apparently couples who come to Paris buy locks and write their names on them. Then they go to the bridges, lock them onto a certain spot and toss the key into the river. This is suppose to symbolize their love lasting forever…well or at least till the end of the trip 😉 All jokes aside, though, Paris truly is the city of romance.

That night, the three of us were blessed enough by my aunt and uncle to take a dinner cruise down the River Seine, and it was so amazing. We departed from under the Eiffel Tower, aboard a glass-encased boat. We were dressed in our finest clothing, ready to eat the finest cuisine, and the atmosphere was so elegant. Our waiter seated us all and brought us all wine, water and bread to tide us over before the cruise began. He also stopped back every now and then to explain some of the sites that we were passing and gave us some background about the city. I was very surprised to learn that there is another Statue of Liberty in France, and though it is a bit smaller than the one back home, it definitely reminded me of New York. Our first course arrived, and it was Asparagus and shrimp soup, followed by mashed potates, then duck. I was so proud of myself for trying different foods and am happy to report that it was all delicious. It was all the better because we topped it off with coffee and desert, a chocolate creme cake. As we ate everything, though, we got to take in the beautiful sites at night, see everything lit up, and even listen to a live band that was playing some amazing songs. It was truly incredible, and to end the night, we left the ship and layed under the Eiffel Tower, just relaxing after our meal. The whole thing was perfect, and I cannot thank Aunt Karen and Uncle M enough for their amazing gift! Thank you guys for making Paris a dream come true 🙂

Dressed up and lookin’ classy 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rory and Hali, all cleaned up and looking nice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mashed potatoes yum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And dessert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View from the boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our last day in Paris, we got up early and checked out our hotel. We had a nice breakfast and went inside of Notre Dame Cathedral. The inside was beautiful and mass was going on when we were there, so we got to see how big of a celebration it was. The stain-glass windows and statues showed an acute attention to detail, and it was a nice way to wrap up our trip. We had a little time after that, so we got some Starbucks and sat by the Louvre before our journey back to Madrid. Though it was only for a weekend, I feel like we definitely fit a lot into our time there. My only wish was that we had enough time to go the Palace of Versaille, where the royal family used to live. It is suppose to boast some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. I can’t complain too much, though, because it was definitely everything I wanted and so much more! ❤