Paris and the Bridge of Love (literally)

I went to Paris last weekend and I figured I would make a few comments on my experience there since it seems to have been generally misrepresented by unfair stereotypes (at least from my personal experience).  The main one being that the people would be rude and cold.  However, the people in general were very welcoming, especially the couchsurfer I stayed with and another French girl who was couchsurfing as well (can I just say right here how much I truly love couchsurfing and how great it is? Really, if you just take a second to check it out you can do it anywhere and meet the very best people! Seriously.  Do it!).  They were all very nice and generous even though I blundered around like an idiot and no one seemed snobby at all.  If anything, I envy the French their language because not only does everything they say sound elegant and beautiful, but when they are mad the language sounds like it cuts to the quick in the most furious and beautiful way.  One of my new life goals is to learn enough French to use it when I am really mad haha.  Its a compliment, really!

Oh, and the Louvre has a second entrance in the garden area, just ask where it is to one of the people who are moderating the mile long line and they´ll tell you!  I walked in immediately instead of waiting for 2 hours.

A couple fun facts:  I jumped a turnstile in the metro because there weren´t any machines we saw to buy a ticket (I felt pretty awesome) but we only did it once and because it was necessary :).  Also, the chinese food is very different and although the spring rolls in particular look the same as ours, the French wrap the roll with a peice of mint (the herb) and a peice of lettuce on the outside!  It was actually quite delicious and the Chinese restaurant provided the lettuce and mint.  You may be wondering why on earth I was eating chinese on my first trip to Paris but let me just assure you that I had plenty of the pastries from Paris and OH MY they were absolutely heavenly!  Put everything I have tried in Spain to absolute shame (sorry Spain, you know I love you, it´s just different).

But my favorite part of the trip was definitely when we went to this bridge that had chain link fencing, which looks odd at first in the midst of so many gorgeous and stately buildings, but when you get closer you begin to see hundreds and hundreds of locks littering the chain link- from classic locks you see on sheds to high school locker locks, every size, shape and color was represented in a beautiful myriad of love and I say this because each lock had the name of two people and the date they began their relationship or the date they put the lock on the bridge.  As if this wasn´t all too precious, an older couple asked us, in English, to take a picture of them and they told us their story.  They were in their 50s and had met 25 years earlier and been married 22 years earlier when they placed their very first lock on the bridge and now they were recommiting themselves and put another lock on the bridge as a symbol of that commitment!  Go ahead, grab a tissue and soak in how cute that is!  So needless to say, this little bridge was my favorite part amidst all the art, monuments, architectural masterpeices, etc.  And if I ever find myself without a job, you will be able to find me on that bridge selling locks I will buy from antique and thrift shops, as well as sharpies.  Problem of possible future employment SOLVED!

It was quite wonderful, seriously.  On that note, I leave Paris behind me but, of course, there was simply too much to see everything and I think I´ll just have to return someday.  Oh well, thus is life :)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Siesta Stinks

I realized it was about time to write another post right around when I realized I only have 2 weeks left of my 2 months here!!!  Loquisimo right?  It doesn´t feel like I´ve been here 7 weeks already, but that just goes to show how fast time flies when you are having fun… But since I know you probably aren´t reading this for tacky cliches or gushy lamentations about how I can´t believe it´s so close to over, how about I talk about the time I´ve spent here so far?

First of all, let´s get something straight.  When I think about siestas, I think about Mexico and how much I loved my naps there after lunch.  Spain should not be too different considering my love for naps has not altered; however, I must say that siesta time here (from roughly 3-6) sucks.  Almost all the stores close, everyone disappears to some secret siesta place outside of us foreigner´s knowledge, and we are left bewildered in the middle of a shopping square in Tarifa with nothing to do but sit on a bench watching some pidgeons try to eat little pebbles.  This minor hatred for the Spanish siesta originated from our trip to Tarifa two weekends ago.  We left for the 3 hour bus ride with grand ideas of surfing on the beach of the southernmost point of Europe, shopping a bit, and riding horses down the coastline but came back disappointed because it was so windy everywhere that, when you actually went down to the beach, the sand hit your legs as if you were being pelted with tiny shards of glass thanks to the intense wind.  Also thanks to the wind, there was no surfing and the horseback ride was mediocre because I had an old horse who did not want to go faster than a walk and was not amused with my suggestion to get anywhere close the water.  But overall, I got to see the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the same time, saw a few kitesurfers (which was impressive), and beyond the boring siestas we had a pretty decent time.

The next weekend (last weekend), went significantly better, including Granada, Spain where we saw tons of historic monuments from the most famous Alhambra to the very important Cathedrals.  The view was gorgeous, giving a huge white city nestled near the mountains with the Alhambra and Nasrid Palaces grouped together at the top of one of the mountains, overlooking everything else.  While walking on Saturday I was even given a free ring from a guy who was making jewelry out of metal.  We talked for a bit and I ended up buying another ring besides the one I was given because I felt slightly obligated, but the jewelry was very beautiful and obviously one of a kind.  But one of my favorite things about this famous Spanish city was the free tapas!  Saturday night we went on a bar crawl through Granada and many of the bars gave you a tapa (like appetizers) when you bought a drink so essentially all we paid for was the alcohol but we got dinner included.  A glass of wine was still only 2 or 2.50 euros, which is extremely cheap compared to the United States barbarious 4$ a glass prices.

So what have I been doing during the weeks?  Well, the other girls in my apartment and myself have been cooking almost every night and we try to make it to the living room to watch Sex and the City in Spanish every weeknight from 9:30-10:30.  And on Thursday nights I have begun going to an intercambio where people from Malaga and foreigners come to exchange their knowledge of their language and improve another.  So last week I talked to a guy who was originally from Madrid and this week I was randomly paired with three people from Malaga so we talked in English for an hour and then in Spanish for an hour.  The Andalusian (the province, like a state, we live in is called Andalucia) accent is difficult to understand with some people so I definitely struggled occasionally but I like to think I´m getting better ha.

Finally, one last note, the people in Spain LOVE LOVE LOVE the lottery!  Everyone participates and pays at least $20 euros for a ticket and hopes they will win.  I think the people as a whole are very hopeful in general.  I like it.  I like Spain.  Oh, and the Malaga soccer team plays Real Madrid this Sunday and guess who will be right there in some place watching it with the locals?.  Yes, I like soccer too.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

¡Vale!

Vale!  This word, almost pronounced with the v sounding more like a b (sounds just like saying ballet), is used for everything, kind of like how everyone uses bueno in Latin America.  If you have a pause, insert a vale, if you agree with someone it´s vale, if you like something vale, if you want to change a subject vale.  I think you see where I am coming from.  Also, thanks to the great Spanish accent, I feel as though I am relearning Spanish a bit because instead of z´s making an s sound, they make a th sound.  The language sounds extremely different, but these odd qualities justify why my accent sounded so weird to all of them.  Also, fun fact (and forgive me for the language but I´m using it with the intent to educate), the word for ass, culo, in Latin America is used here everyday as the common term for butt.  You can only imagine my surprise when one of my professors was talking about hose and said, in Spanish, that there are certain expensive types that suck your stomach in and push up your ass.  Yeah.  Pure shock.  You may be wondering why we were talking about hosiery in my class?  Well let me tell you why!

Students come here from all different walks of life, from large groups of loud, boisterous, unbelievably annoying 17 year old Italians to 60 and 70 year old men and women who want to learn another language.  The in-betweens were more of what I was expecting upon arrival (students like myself or people in the business world who need to learn Spanish for their job) but I am starting to truly enjoy the diversity, not only in background but age as well.  The biggest downfall to this system is that so many of the students leave after only 3 or so weeks so already a few people who I have become very close with and who arrived the same week I did are leaving this weekend!  Luckily I have high hopes of seeing them again before I leave Europe by traveling to their country or meeting them somewhere, but who is to say?  There´s never any guarantee.   But back to the hose!  Our class has 7 students right now, all of which are females and every day we have one hour of conversation.  Well one day our teacher asked what vocabularly we needed to improve on and one of the younger girls said vocabulary for shopping, so that is where the hose story came into play haha.

Maybe you are wondering what I have been doing since I´ve been here?  Well let me give you a short summary.  I´ve been eating TONS of gelato (MMmmMmMMMm), walking up a mountain almost every day, I moved into an apartment where I live with a close friend and a few other girls, we go to the beach quite often or the pool at the school depending on how lazy we are, and we do step-aerobics at least twice a week.  I know, it´s such a hard life for me right?  Well let me make you feel a little bit better… it´s still around 80 degrees during the day here and sunny.  I know, what a rough life I have!

Fun Fact:  Ingrid, friend from Norway who I now live with has taught me 2 very important Norwegian things that I feel like I should share with you.  1st: fie fawn is the best phrase in the world and I´m sure that is not at all how it´s actually spelt.  2nd, and possibly more importantly, when you boil an egg bring the water to a simmer and boil the water for EXACTLY 7 minutes and 15 seconds then let it cool a bit.  After this, cut the egg in half and put a little butter on a spoon and some salt and pepper on the egg and scoop the egg out of the shell.  You will thank me for the rest of your life for this little recipe; guaranteed.

Beyond all of that, I have almost been here exactly 1 month (crazy right?) and this weekend we are going to Granada to see the Alhambra, the 7th wonder of the world I believe.  I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world.  VALE!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

First Impressions of Espana

I don’t have much time to write, which may be better for all of you considering how much I think I could write on the week I have been here so far, but I will try to touch on the most important things that have happened since I’ve been here.

I arrived in Madrid after a 9 and a half hour flight, which was fun.  Luckily I had already set up a place to stay through couchsurfers.org, which is this great website where you can find people to stay with who live in the country or area you are going to and the jist of it is that you ask to stay the night(s) on their couch and they can accept or decline you based on if they have room or patience available.  Well I stayed in Madrid for a few days and was blown away by the huge buildings, masses of people, and most importantly, the coffee!!!  It was absolutely delicious and while it was bitter, the quality was unmatchable and I had to appreciate and love it just for that.  The food itself here in Spain is not quite what I expected.  They have lots of baked goods, wine, cheese, and coffee, but not many fruit or vegetable dishes or drinks (and if they do offer them, you pay quite a bit for them).  They also have tapas here which are essentially appetizers.  I can’t post pictures right now because they are on my camera but the tapas are like a small portion of what we would order in the states, so the idea is to order multiple tapas and have a little bit of everything.  Being the indecisive person I am, this type of eating is PERFECTO for me!  Also, the great thing about couchsurfing is that the people tend to be very nice.  My host bought me dinner the first night and gave me a set of keys so I could come and go as I pleased.

After a few days in Madrid, the first of which I slept away because of the 7 hour time difference, I took a 6 hr. bus ride down to Seville, a city I had heard a lot about.  In Sevilla I had set up a couchsurfing host as well called Mehdy, and thank God I did because in case no one ever tells you, Sevilla is a complete maze!  After wandering around the bus stop for a while trying to find street signs that were nonexistent, I came to a hotel and asked for a map, which became my best friend while I stayed there 4 days.  Mehdy was actually a tour guide so we (a British girl named Sian who was also couchsurfing and I) learned a bit about the history of some of the many famous buildings.  We were also told that the reason the city looks like a maze is because when it was built it was meant to confuse intruders if it was ever attacked so the home team would have the great advantage.  Let me tell you, it is still confusing foreigners to this day and there are a GREAT amount of tourists and foreigners staying there.  It didn’t take away from the general ambience, but it was quite different than, say, Madrid.  Sian and I took our first couple of days in Sevilla walking around to different restaurants, finding the bull fighting ring (there wasn’t an actual bull fight happening though), going to the art museum, walking up and down the canal, and generally soaking up the laid back atmosphere of a beautiful city.  Another fun fact, Sevilla is full to overflowing with horses and carriages!  They are everywhere because there are so many tourists, but all the horses looked healthy so I had no problem with it.  Everyone has to make a living somehow.

So now I am in Malaga, right by the sea, living with a host family that includes a mother and her two daughters (ages 11 and 17).  Everything is going well so far.  We had our first day of classes and I think everything will work similar to Mexico where we go to class from 8am to 2.30p and then on Tuesday and Thursdays we have an extra couple of hours of class.  The walk from our host family to the school is about 25 minutes and it is up and down big hills, so I hope to be returning to the States with thighs and buns of steel!  However, I will only be with the host family for the first two weeks and then I will move into a student apartment, which are supposed to be closer to the school.  So far I am the only American here… everyone from Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, and every other country has their own language so it is an out of body experience in and of itself just being around the students!  I feel more immersed in Europe than in Spanish haha.

I did have one little setback to my master plan today… I always heard how cheap it was to fly around Europe through Ryanair but I was looking at plane prices and it is quite more expensive than I had previously thought when you include taxes and extra fees.  This kind of breaks my heart but I’m sure the weekends will still be exciting!  Oh, and everyone thinks my Spanish accent is weird, and they don’t appreciate most of my vocabulary because apparently it is always a bit snobbish or hickish.  So I have to learn new words to replace old ones from Costa Rica or Mexico.  I guess I’ll do what must be done lol.

Hasta Luego!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dios Mio! Last Mexico Post

Goodness gracious!  So much for keeping up with posting… This is more difficult than I thought it would be.  I have a lot to touch on but I will try to be concise to prevent debilitating boredom : ].

*I have to say that one of my very favorite terms in Spanish is Bonbon (like the chocolates).  They use it like we would use “sugar” or “honey” but it technically means marshmallow!  How great is that?  Could you imagine saying “Hey marshmallow” to anyone you knew?.  I can’t.  I find that I’m one of the only people who truly loves this fun fact, but I thought I would share haha.

The Mexican Road Rules

1. Don’t dare slam car doors upon pain of verbal death.  Always make sure to close them lightly or you will get chewed out by a taxi driver who believes that one slam will put his baby car into a coma.

2.  Do not expect a right of way to pedestrians, just try to run when everyone is watching so they will slow down.  Same goes for cars- most people will not let you in but if you just start pulling out it roughly translates to the U.S. equivalent of a blinker and a “it’s your turn” wave.

3.  Speed Bumps are EVERYWHERE but thank God because I am certain that there is nothing in the world as effective as a speed bump to slow down the multitudes of crazy-fast (yet surprisingly safe and efficient) drivers on Mexico’s streets.

4.  You need a Volkswagen.  Beetles are preferable, but if you drive a VW you will be one of every two VW cars on the road.

Check this baby out!

Mexican Men: The Expressionists

One thing I noticed while in Mexico was the amazing amount of facial and physical expressions Mexican men, in particular, use to illustrate stories, describe thoughts, and argue perspectives.  If I could have video taped my host father Javier during one of his nightly “talks” about “los problemas mundiales” or my teacher Paco when describing food he enjoys you would understand the great trouble these men go through to get their point across!  From Javier’s wiggling of eyebrows to suggest mischievousness to Paco’s mouth contortions when enunciating a particularly delicious word, these men amused me to no end!  Below are a couple of pictures with each of them but unfortunately, they do not make as many fun faces for the camera as they do during conversations.

Host Family: Me, Javier (host dad), Tere (host mom), Taylor, and Beat

Our Class: Paco (teacher), William, Myself, and Taylor

**Fun fact:  Everyone else in the world believes there are 6 continents but we were taught that there are 7 with North and South America being separated.  Interesting…

Beyond that, I felt entirely safe in Cuernavaca (just as safe as in San Jose, Costa Rica) and I feel as though the small classes offered at UnInter and the amount of people who only spoke Spanish helped me immensely in improving my speaking and conversational skills in Spanish :].  Now on to Spain…!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Las Desafortunadas – Mexico Parte 1

Buenos!

I thought I would be able to write in this blog every week but here almost a week and a half has gone by and no posts.  Terrible.  Okay, so I’m in Mexico and everything feels very familiar here in Cuernavaca because it reminds me so much of San Jose, Costa Rica.  The colorful buildings, swarms of people, and the spirit of the two cities are incredible.  I live with a host family, Javier and Tere (roughly 60 years old) who treat myself and my 3 housemates with the utmost respect as if they were our own grandparents.  Javier especially enjoys talking to us at dinner about the state of the world and gives us tips for how to improve ourselves and the places we go to.  He feels like a second grandpa on occasion.  That brings me to the meals!

Blue tortillas with chicken, potatoes, and cheese

We have a simple breakfast at 7:20a (Javier bought me some pineapple marmelade, what a dear!), then Tere drives us to Universidad Internacional, our school, where she also works in the office.  We have class from 8-2p then return home for a substantial lunch around 2:30p.  Usually there is a little siesta time after lunch and we don’t eat again until 8p or so when we usually have something simple like a sandwich or a quesadilla.  I did get food poisoning last Thursday, but I am luckily over it by now.  While I don’t think Mexican food is necessarily my cup of tea, I can appreciate it for what it is.  My stomach didn’t have the easiest time with it at first, but its learning “a trompicones” (little by little).  Most of the meals have handmade corn tortillas, soup, and/or some kind of cheese- very different from my typical diet.

This past weekend we went to a silver mining city called Taxco on Saturday, which was beautiful but I was still a little weak from the food poisoning so I couldn’t admire it as much as I would have liked.  It was high up in the mountains and the road to get there was very curvy, but vividly scenic.  Then Sunday we went to the pyramids of Teotihuacan, which was phenomenal and also breath-taking but unfortunately I have to wait to upload my photos until I get home to my computer.  I felt much better since Sunday so I was able to appreciate the pyramid and walk up it, over 250 tall steps I believe, to the top which had a little piece of metal that a lot of people were kneeling to touch and then standing up and raising their hands to the sky, which is believed to bring good luck.

Touching the piece of metal on top of the Pyramid of the SunAfter touching the metal, people rose their hands to the sun to absorb good energy

I keep saying “we” with reference to my housemates, one girl from Washington, one from the Bahamas, and a guy from Switzerland.  Beyond them, I have met a few beautiful Mexicans and people from all around the world.  Just today I met a woman who works at the school and speaks Italian fluently because one of her parents is from Mexico and the other is from Italy.  I tried switching over to Italian but I was surprised to find that I could not remember anything beyond buongiorno and piacere!  I guess if you don’t use it you really do lose it, so I am going to try to start listening to more Italian music or something.

Finally, just as a shout out to those of us from the St. Louis area, I’ve been sharing our love of gooey butter cake and toasted ravioli, hopefully it will catch on :].  I was going to make a gooey butter cake for my birthday on Monday but the oven in our house does not work haha, ni modo (oh well).  I feel like my brain is more melty than a gooey butter cake actually.  All this Spanish everywhere has helped me a lot but I keep forgetting words in Spanish AND English.  Like the other day I couldn’t think of the word for “decision” in English or Spanish.  It was terrible.  But I think the melting process is maybe just so I can mold my brain into a bilingually functioning thing?.  Time will tell- hasta luego…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment