Neither Here Nor There

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Hola, amigos. Españoel lives. Because I got distracted at the end of my time in Spain, I stopped blogging and I’m pretty angry with myself about that. However, I like to regret as few things as possible en mi vida and thus, I hereby revive this blog. I guess I will now discuss happenings in the anti-Sevilla known as Lexington, Virginia…less adventurous, perhaps, but mildly interesting nonetheless (?).

I write this while spending some quality time with my on-again, off-again lover, John G. Leyburn library. It’s the kind of thing where as hard as I resist, I keep coming back to him (Ashanti knows what I’m talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_amicHp6crs). Seems to happen during the last month of every semester. Regardless, I stay posted at my 3rd floor carrel with the occasional break for class, social events, or musical theatre master class with the guy who played Edna in Hairspray on Broadway. But in the theme of this post, that is neither here nor there.

I interacted with this man earlier today.

My life post-Spain has been pretty weird. I have been back in the country for about two and a half months, and although I’m having a lot of GT’s at school, I’m missing my Spanish GT’s (note: the term GT can apply to both “good times” and “gin&tonics”, so it makes for a great double entendre. As I consider myself a good time connoisseur with a penchant for gin&tonics, this applies).

I walk to school every day and get to glimpse the beautiful Washington and Lee colonnade, but I feel a twinge of pain in remembering my morning walks across the Puente de Triana. I’m lucky, I know, to attend such a wonderful institution, but it’s not the same. My heart used to belong wholly to W&L, but my thoughts often stray to that other place I love. My infidelity is hard to reconcile, but I can’t help myself! I love both places for different reasons, and they are filled with different people and different music and different emotions that I crave at different times.

My Sevillano friends (minus Emily) came to visit Lexington a week or so ago. We talked about things that made no sense to other people and kind of reveled in that secrecy. Everyone’s abroad experience is particular to them, I know, but mine/ours is this part of me that I escape to when I need it.

mi familia

I vacillate between my flamenco and dubstep playlists on Pandora. I sit at the Hillel house speaking Spanish once a week with a friend looking upon the quaint Lexingtonian bricks and columns. I have bizarre dreams about my W&L friends walking downtown Sevilla with me, getting café at Bodeguita Romero, roaming Parque María Luisa. I am torn between two places, two lifestyles; in typical españoel fashion, I want everything at the same time no matter whether it is sensible or plausible. I am neither here nor there. But somehow that’s okay. Having two places is, to me, the way it should be. Maybe I’ll end up with five places, or 12, who knows! But for now, my heart is held in tension somewhere over the Atlantic, speaking in a wild hybrid of an American Southern accent and a Southern Spanish accent. Quién sabe.

Plaza de España, Sevilla

The Colonnade, Lexington

Madrid

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YIKES. I have totally dropped the ball on blogging and now I have so much catching up to do. It’s been almost a month since I’ve posted. Luckily, this means I have been having a ton of fun and haven’t had time to sit down and recap. Unluckily, this means I have to make up for some serious lost time now. The memories are still fresh, however, and I have so much to say. So we’ll begin at the beginning…Madrid.

The second-to-last weekend in October, I took the fast train to Madrid early, early on a Friday morning to go stay with a friend from school, see some sights, and foremost, to surprise my mom and grandmother, who were arriving there from the US on Sunday morning to travel a bit before coming to see me in Sevilla. I was hell-bent on making it a good surprise, but as I sat there in the Sevilla train station on the verge of sleep and way too early for my train (sorry that I’m used to the American rule of getting there at least an hour ahead of time), I had to tell my mom. She had gotten a flat tire and was kind of in a mood, and I knew that just telling her would get her excited and make the travel over here easier. I did, and she was so pumped but vowed not to tell my Grandmarilyn. So I hopped on my train and woke up a couple of hours later in the capital of Spain.

My friend Chessy met me at the train station and led me back to her not-so-humble abode to sleep for a little bit before hitting the town. Now I’m not sure what I was expecting with Chessy’s homestay situation…probably something along the lines of mine, a pretty nice apartment where she has her own room etc, but I entered into some sort of opulent, fabulous pre-Franco era time capsule.

Creepy Phone Pic of Chessy's Homestay

Not only did Chessy have a little suite that had come furnished quite a bit better than my homestay, but her Señora was this adorable, tiny woman who tiptoed around the mahogany home and secretly fed Chessy extra fruit against the wishes of her children who also live there. It was absolutely hilarious and elegant and antiquated all at the same time.

On that Friday, we meant to get around to the Museo del Prado, but after a very elongated lunch of amazing paella, stuffed eggplant, frozen yogurt, and white wine, it just didn’t happen. We spent the day with Katie, Chessy’s friend who came with her when she visited me in Sevilla, and walked around the city, seeing the Puerta del Sol (main city center), the Plaza Real (which reminded me of St. Mark’s in Venice, minus the pigeons), and the streets of Madrid. We stopped in at Zara and made some key buys and then headed home to prepare for the night. We didn’t hit the town until around midnight, typical Spain, but went to a tapas place with one of Chessy’s friends Cesar and his friend that to this day remains one of the best meals I’ve had while being here. Everything was absolutely DIVINE– we let Cesar, a native Madrileño, order for the table and that was a great call. “Going with the pro” is a way better call than “going with the flow” when it comes to tapas orders.

at Lateral

After a long and lively dinner in which we discussed the credibility of psychics to no end we went to Cesar’s cousin’s birthday party. Obviously I felt a little rude infringing on a birthday party where I didn’t know the host and barely knew his cousin, but this whole weekend was essentially my mooching on awesome Madrileños so it was just the beginning. We got to the bar, realized all drinks were free (thank you cousin! feliz cumpleaños!), and had a great night dancing. The scene was a little male-heavy, as Spaniards don’t really have groups of girls and guys who are friends like we do in the US, but I enjoyed meeting them and hablando por los codos en Español.

Katie and I at the party we weren't invited to

The next day, Chessy and I enjoyed lunch at an American-style place that had NORMAL SALADS!!! This was a gamechanger– almost never have I found a true salad here (don’t be fooled by “russian salad”, it’s peas and carrots and mayonnaise) so I was thrilled. After lunch, we headed out to the countryside with Cesar for what I was told was a bullfight-themed party. A spot-on description, and thank goodness I abided by the dress code and wore all white because I would have otherwise felt like a total extranjera. The “all white” look (with red bandanas or scarves) is what everyone wears to the running of the bulls in Pamplona…a little bit of cultural information I got after wondering why I was breaking the American South’s rule of no white after Labor Day.

We arrived to see the entire, enormous party gathered around a bullring. Yes, the host family had a bullring at their country home for events such as these. So everyone was enjoying cervezas and sangria and watching the Spanish equivalent of fraternity boys play with a baby bull.

"bullfighting"

 

 

 

 

It was apparently the host’s birthday, and she walked out into the ring in a full “torera” (bullfighter) costume and took pics with the bull and her boyfriend. I was cracking up but everyone else thought this was totally normal.

Just your average Bullfight party

After the “bullfight”, we moved to the patio of the house for drinks, dancing, and hors d’oeuvres. However, I think the hosts grossly underestimated the amount of attendees and we missed the food, so Chessy and I were chowing on some trail mix-esque stuff in bowls the entire night to keep up with the amount of “geentonics” we were being served.

Scrounging for dinner

It was an absolute BLAST. There was a great DJ and I got to meet what seemed to be a lot of Madrid’s young banking population. I was glad not to get into politics, as I can guarantee we are on opposite ends of the spectrum in Spain or elsewhere, but it was a great test of my Spanish listening skills to try and have so many conversations over the loud music that was also not in my first language. I feel so lucky to have gotten to have that experience as a total extranjera moocher, it was lo más divertido.

Fabulous weekend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, I woke up and tried to BBM my mom but it wasn’t going through so I just guesstimated the time it would take to get from the airport to their hotel and showed up. I guess there are no confidentiality laws or anything in Spain because I asked the front desk to go up to my mom’s/grandmother’s room and they happily gave me the key without identification..! I went up to Grandmarilyn’s room and put my bag down and waited. When I heard their voices, I opened her door and said hello; my mom immediately came rushing to hug and kiss me, but my Grandmarilyn just stood there COMPLETELY dumbfounded. She just kept saying “Oh my word. Oh my goodness” over and over, hahaha it was phenomenal. We had a great day of more paella and the Royal Palace together, and I was sad to leave them, but left knowing I’d see them in a few days on my own turf.

Price girls

I absolutely ADORED Madrid- the architecture, the big-city feel, etc., and would love to spend more time there in the near future. For now, I have to go to class. So it looks like more posts are on the back burner (or front burner?) for tonight. My English isn’t great these days, sorry.

Despierta Mi Alma

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“Lend me your eyes I can change what you see, but your heart you must keep totally free” -Mumford & Sons, “Awake My Soul”

Today I had the pleasure of sitting and drinking coffee with friends between my two morning classes, a diversion I enjoy most weekdays. What set this day apart, however, was the crisp feeling of a Spanish morning enveloped in revolution. Today at Bar Regio was different. About three weeks ago, my friends Emma, Emily and I were discussing cultural differences between the U.S. and Spain and expressing our frustration with the complacency of American youth. As youth movements rage in other parts of the world, it sometimes feels as though Americans think about the same things but just don’t act on them like I believe we should. As a politica of sorts, I have my own opinions about the Constitution, and believe strongly that the first amendment that allows for assembling and petitioning is to be used as freely as the rest. People get riled up about their rights to vote and bear arms, but where are the people exercising their right to gather together and ask for something better than what they have now? Up until now, they have been a bit quiet; now they are all over the United States’ major cities proclaiming they are the 99% of the population that wants some reconfiguration of the 1% that earn their livings on Wall Street. Though many have said this movement is disorganized and confused, I think that whether gathered for one reason or 150 million, the fact that they have gathered says something big. At coffee this morning, we talked about the influence the Middle East has had on this movement and the way that social media is impacting big media– people are now influencing people in a way that people haven’t since “the media” began its reign of American thoughts, ideals, and culture in the 1950’s.

As we watch Occupy Wall Street merge with the Indignado/15M movements of Spain (Spaniards angry and protesting about the unemployment rate and meager wages of young college graduates/the coalition of banks and corporations with the Spanish government), I have mixed emotions. I want to be a part of it…me with my own wish for poverty policy reform that would impact income inequality distribution…but I also feel as though joining in from Spain would be pretty phony. I am proud, however, to see people standing up for something in the country I love against the “bipartisan”, deadlocked government and financial system that I see as busted. As a politics major who hates antagonism, I am beyond frustrated with the US government…but this is healthy. This is my right, and I’m exercising the hell out of it! I am in Spain and can look at what’s going on with a bit more of a critical eye. This isn’t to say I don’t love the US of A…it’s my ultimate jam…but I think we need to think critically about what the founding fathers meant with our Constitution and how we can modernize it so that we might be able to truly collaborate and find some kind of middle ground.

Call me idealistic. It’s not offensive to me in the least, and I have always thought people’s attempts to negate movements as “too idealistic” don’t have a valid argument. After all, it was some pretty idealistic, fed-up-with-their-governments Europeans that got together and took a boat over to that formerly massive, empty land that we now call the United States. As a current ex-pat, I have the right to be idealistic. How does history move on without idealism? Those who made our country great were united behind many ideas– they wanted more space, less religious persecution, escape from former sins. But they were also united behind one idea: that there was something better to be had. Right now, despite economic crisis and a disgruntled general public, I am proud to be an American. My soul is quite awake here, I am seeing things a bit differently, but my orgullo is intact as can be.

Catching Up Pt. 2: Spanish Visits of Late

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One of my goals for being here is to get to see a lot of Spain. That sounds really obvious, but this is the only country in Europe whose language I speak, and I have learned so much about it that I feel like I need to really do it justice and see a good bit of it while also soaking up all that Sevilla has to offer. That being said, I love getting to show off this city to my friends…so I hereby extend an open invitation to any friends interested in seeing Sevilla in all its glory. Come one, come all–it’s a must-see.

I had my first (but hopefully not last) round of visitors a couple of weekends ago when the two other W&L girls in Spain joined forces to venture to Andalucía. Bucklee and Chessy are two friends from school who are studying in Barcelona and Madrid respectively. When the idea was posed that we make trips to visit each other, I was in. I obviously want to see both of those cities and to have someone living there to show you around is the best way to do it. They came together and Chessy brought a friend from her program. We had an awesome weekend eating tapas, walking through the winding streets of the city, seeing the Alcázar and catching up.

On Friday night, we started our evening at my #1 sandwich shop, Cien Montaditos. This place has 1 euro “montaditos” (little baby sandwiches) that are wonderful. We followed this with a few tapas with some friends from my program and ended the evening with about three hours sitting on the river at a makeshift bar and hablando por los codos (talking a whoooole lot).

Myself, Chessy and Bucklee tapeando

Saturday Chessy sadly had to skip out as she wasn’t feeling well, but Bucklee, Katie and I took on the Alcázar. I had already been with CC-CS as part of our intensive period, but there will never be a time when I will turn down a trip to see it again. It is legitimately one of my favorite places I have ever set foot in, and I could walk around for hours upon hours without feeling the tiniest hint of boredom. The Alcázar was once an Arab fortified palace, but when the Christians regained control of the city, los Reyes Católicos (Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella) spruced it up and even lived there for a little bit. It’s amazing because the architecture is almost completely Muslim, but in the midst of a mindblowing tile wall, there will be a depiction of Castilla y Leon (the castle and the lion, symbol of the unification of Spain/Christian monarchs).

Buck and Katie at the Alcázar

Not to mention the gardens. They are incredibly beautiful, and have peacocks roaming around. I am usually skittish around birds, and I was when I saw the mama peacock with her babies behind her being quite territorial, but I couldn’t help but love the male peacock. Their colors are extraordinary, and getting to walk around the gardens was so calming. Just another one of the many ways that Sevilla has put me under its spell.

the three of us in the gardens

Hola, Señor Peacock

We went to the Plaza de España afterwards, and then began a marathon evening at Cien Montaditos. When you get a great table you really can’t let it go there because it’s such a popular spot. Chessy felt better and even made a friend in the hostel that she brought along with her when she met up with us. We also met up with a recent W&L grad who just started to teach English here. Always love to know another General. Saturday night ended up to be chill as well, but I do love to just sit by the river every once and a while and enjoy the scenery.

Plaza de España

The weekend was great; it was fun to catch up with friends and even more fun to see more of this city while showing them around.

This past weekend, I headed to Barcelona. Although I’ll be going back at the end of the month with my mom and grandmother, this trip was to see friends, as many of my friends studying abroad elsewhere traveled to Barca for the weekend as well. I was lucky enough to get a spot in the Pepa Hotel, also known as Bucklee’s homestay, for the weekend. We had a ton of fun seeing friends and, yet again, taking a leisurely pace and not being too, too touristy.

On Friday, we walked around the neighborhood she lives in, the Gothic District, as well as the very popular Las Ramblas that I had seen only in the wee hours of the morning when Spencer and I had our little layover en route to Oktoberfest. For lunch, we hit this amazing market that had just about every type of food imaginable. I was especially impressed with the wide selection of fish. I don’t know who exactly buys entire fish like that, but they were cool to see (less cool to smell).

El Mercat off Las Ramblas

Friday night we met up with Parker and Mary Spencer for dinner at a fun tapas place, and then got what Parker had researched to be the best gelato in Barcelona. Bucklee has her own opinions, but this place was pretty amazing. We met up with more friends afterwards and began at Rosa Negra, which is apparently Spain’s attempt at Mexican food and drink. We then moved on to a bar called Dow Jones, where the drinks change prices depending on their popularity and at one point in the night, the “stock market” crashes and all the drinks are cheap. This analogy is less funny right now because of the euro/dollar exchange rate and the overall economic situation in the world, but it was a fun place.

gals at Rosa Negra, Spain's attempt at "Mexican"

The next day, we did more of the hanging out thing and I took a recommendation of my aforementioned foodie friend Maddie for lunch. The place is called the Xampinieria (sp?) and it is literally a hole in the wall with no seats. Everyone has to stand up, but the deals and the food/drink are unbeatable. I had one of the greatest hamburgers I’ve had in a long time and got to try some cava along with it (Cataluña’s version of champagne). A perfect Saturday lunch, if you ask me.

Hamburgers and Cava, nom

We then sat along the beach and walked around some more, then prepared for the night ahead at Sensation White. Sensation is a humongous house music concert/light show and from what I heard, it was amazing. I, however, had my phone stolen and had to leave very soon after arriving, but I had a great time getting to see my friends beforehand.

Barcelona has a very different vibe than Sevilla…it is so much bigger and Bucklee had to remind me to watch my purse and be on the lookout all weekend. You can’t  win them all, though, and I had a great time otherwise. I am so excited to go again and see the touristy stuff– the Park Güell, the Sagrada Familia, the Picasso museum, etc. Buck was a great hostess, as was her adorable madre Pepa! Spain is a country that is so different depending on the region, and getting to get out of Andalucía for the first time was well worth it.

Team Hofbrau does Oktoberfest

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I want to begin this post by first acknowledging my current situation. I am sitting in a turn-of-the-century Spanish villa, listening to two of my friends collaborate on the piano and guitar while I look out the window at a white and yellow patio replete with hand-painted tiles and beds full of varying shades of pink flowers. Sometimes I forget to stop and breathe and look around me but every time I do, I am so thankful to be here.

However, the time has come to recall another incredible European city: Munich, Germany. Yes, I did Germany on my Eurotrip, but this was far different. The crew was 18 strong, running the streets of Munich and enjoying all that it, and its famous Oktoberfest, had to offer. There is no way to exactly do justice to the weekend we had together, but I will do my best to recount it and reassure myself, which isn’t difficult to do, that my sacrifice of any other birthday/Christmas present from my parents was worth it*.

Sevilla is really far away from Munich. I think as an American I had some preconception that everything in Europe is close…kind of like as a Southerner I feel like everything in the Northeast is close…which is kind of true…regardless, I was wrong. It took a lot to get Spencer and me to Munich, and we quickly learned the ways of Ryanair– claiming that airports are “in Barcelona” or “in Munich” when in fact, they simply AREN’T (nota bene: never fly in to Reus, Memmingen, or Girona. Thank me later). Spencer and I flew on Thursday night into the real Barcelona airport, but because we didn’t get in to Barcelona until midnight, we didn’t want to spend the money for a hostel and elected instead to experience some of Barcelona in the wee hours of the morning and take the earliest train to Reus to sleep in the airport. I don’t necessarily regret this decision, as I felt about as young and free as I have in my life thus far walking Las Ramblas at 3 AM and seeing its characters, but catching the 6 AM train to Reus was rough. Luckily we got there and slept on benches in the airport for four hours preceding our flight to Munich. Arriving in “Munich” and realizing you are actually a 1 hour 40 minute, 20 euro bus ride from real Munich wasn’t a highlight, but we arrived, dropped our stuff at the awesome hostel that all our friends booked together, and were off to the mecca: Oktoberfest.

We walked/ran in, attempting to figure out where the rest of the crew was located, and stumbled upon them in the streets. I LOVE a good chance meeting, and this was of the most epic proportions. Seeing all of my friends’ smiling faces after a long summer apart just thrilled me, and after a bunch of hugging and “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’RE HERE!” “No, I can’t believe YOU’RE here!!”, we got our bratwurst on and headed into the Hofbrau tent. Little did we know this would become our ultimate spot for the weekend.

the Mousetrap reunited at Oktoberfest

Friday night was pretty casual, a lot of catching up and hearing everyone’s experiences in their respective places (St. Andrews, Paris, Rome, Florence, Barcelona). We headed back to the hostel relatively early after a great experience on the high swings…who knew Oktoberfest had carnival rides?!? In the words of Gage, “This is like a grown-up’s Disneyland”. Yep.

Gage ready to ride the swing with her 12 year old German counterpart!

 

 

 

 

 

We woke up bright and early (a la 6:30 or so) to start our marathon day on Saturday. We had heard horror stories about standing in line and not being able to get a table inside the tents, so one group got there extremely early to secure us a table and the rest of us showed up as soon as we were able. As we filtered into the Hofbrau tent around 8:30 AM or so, I began to realize the intensity of the situation. There were going to be EIGHTEEN of us…and people were scouting hard for tables. I politely declined anyone trying to edge in on our territory and we all squeezed in. Never have I ever had a stein of beer at 9:30 AM…until October 1, 2011.

Props to the moustache-- Spencer and I starting the day

 

 

 

The key was pacing the beer intake, and for the most part, we did our alcoholedu training proud. I can’t even explain the energy of the Hofbrau tent…we were singing constantly (Country Roads, anyone?), making friends with our neighbors, and having just the best time of our lives.

Hofbrau tent

After sitting/standing on our table for a good 5 hours or so, Jack and I took a breather to get some food and ride one of the carnival rides that gave us an INCREDIBLE view of almost the entire city of Munich. After that, it was disco naptime. Some chose the Hill of Fallen Oktoberfesters, I however chose my hostel bed. We recharged and got back to Hofbrau at night for some dancing, some “I Love Rock’n’Roll”, and some more good times.

a good bit of Team Hofbrau at night

When the Hofbrau closed at 11 PM, we created a human chain (that’s right, we actually held hands and walked out of the fest in a long line so as not to get separated) and got back to our hostel/some late night pizza. Post-pizza, it was decision time. Were we going to call it quits, end on a high note, and prepare for our long journeys ahead the next day, or keep going? Wild guess as to what the consensus was. Spencer has a friend from Munich who was an exchange student at his high school and he directed us towards a disco that he and his friends were going to. After emerging from the metro in a homely-seeming neighborhood, and being led by a fearless and self-assured Scalzo, we somehow made it to this disco which was nestled between office buildings.

What a perfect ending this was to our weekend. We danced among a ton of Germans, all wearing their lederhosen and dirndls, and got to jam to music we hadn’t heard in quite some time (read: the kind of music that played at our middle school dances). We had a blast and all made it home safely to the hostel and later to our respective study abroad locations.

I feel so lucky to have had this experience with so many of my friends– we had an amazing group and everyone’s happiness surged together to create a high-energy (minus naptime), unforgettable weekend. As my great friend the Coach warned me a week in advance, “You better bring your camera, because I’m going to want to look back on this weekend when I’m 45 and tell my kids about it”.

Cheers, Coach.

Profound truth. Great travel with great people in a great city.

*Thanks Dad, a very Happy 21st Birthday and Merry Christmas to me!