Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sonnets from the Portugese

These pretty purple trees were all over Lisbon. : )

Heyo! Greetings from the Reading Room (at least I think that's what "Salle de Lecture" means) at the University of Geneva... I found this place thanks to my handy little wifi map that my handy guardian angel gave me, but more on that later. I just thought I should let everyone know I got to Geneva safely and say a little about PORTUGAL!!!
OK. I did not expect much from this country. In fact, I wasn't that excited about going. Going to Portugal meant leaving Spain for what I expected to be a lonlier, less pretty version of the same country. Oh, silly ethnocentric American girl.
Portugal was beautiful! Even though it took me two hours to find my hostel, it was the perfect place to stay (somehow, in my frenzy at the airport to make my checked bags the magic 20 kilograms, I managed to loose my entire stack of papers with directions, addresses and the like. Hiccup # 1).
Thanks to Kate and Shiloh from ISA for the hostel recommendation. It was a touch on the expensive side - 22 Euros a night - but they had nice big security lockers, clean comfortable rooms, cozy common areas where I could sit up Skyping until 3 am, and - highlight - homemade nutella crepes for breakfast. Yum!
Actually, food in general was much better in Portugal than in Spain (seafood and cheese and veggies, oh my!). I got to walk around by the ocean (I miss you, charleston beaches), I climbed the tallest hill in Lisbon and saw AMAZING views, and I perused antique book stores (because apparently I'm middle aged). I met some nice people, including one Brazillian girl who said she spoke English her entire trip because the Portugese feel the same about Brazillians as the Spanish do about Latin Americans (which is not well, by the way).
I was really worrying about travelling alone; about not being able to make the most out of my trip or not feeling safe or just being lonely. In truth, most of the time I saw something pretty or interesting, I though "I wish so-and-so could see this," but, thanks to my trusty digital camera, everyone can! (hint hint: look for facebook pictures soon).
I think I underestimated the relaxation factor of being able to go where I wanted, when I wanted. To not feel like I was holding someone else up by deciding that I just wanted to sit in the sun for a bit or feeling annoyed that whoever I was traveling with wasn't ready to go. Don't get me wrong, if really anyone I liked called me right now (difficult as I don't have a phone) and was like "hey, I'm in Geneva, wanna stroll about together?" I would be all for it. At any rate, it's not terrible being on my own. : )

So that's that. Sorry this post is so long. I think, once it gets too dark to be out by myself, I might try to track down some pool hall by my hostel that supposedly has wifi and put up pictures. Or not. It's actually kind of nice knowing that, unless I deliberatly seek out a place with internet access, I'm totally unconnected. Good weather, good food, a good book...what else could I ask for : )

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

El Fin : (

Some other students and I at Bacchus, our favorite neighborhood bar, on my last night.

So, after 4 months of alternating feelings of love and animosity for Madrid/Spain/Spanish people, I finally left : (
I'm writing this from a seaside(ish) cafe in Portugal, and its weird thinking that, when I get on a plane in a few hours, I'm not going back to my daily life in Madrid after a long weekend. Also, unlike the many times I've left Charleston and Columbia, it's VERY strange to know that I might not EVER be going back ( at least definitly not as a student and probably not as a resident).
It goes without saying that (1) I miss Madrid, (2) I learned alot there, (3) I am a better, stronger and wiser person for having spent the last four monthes in Spain. If you would like more reflective study-abroad type feelings, ask me in person : ) Or just read this:

That said, it is worth noting that I will REALLY miss the people I met in Spain! The other students I was able to make friends with were people I never would have met otherwise, and I hope everyone will be able to stay in touch! If any of you ever need a place to stay in South Carolina, look me up.
I can't stress enough how bizarre this whole experience has felt, and how incomprehesible it seems that I will be back in Charleston in little under a month. I can't wait to see everyone there! For now, however, I have a plane to catch! Look for more updates soon, as well as pictures on Facebook from Madrid, Dublin, Lisbon and all further travels!

Maria surrounded by all of our collective baggage, getting coffee before navagating the Metro to the airport.

In the airport, after taking my last ever Metro ride. Notice the two giant suitcases and backpack. I feel like a turtle with all my stuff constantly on me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Exit Strategies!

Ok, so I now officially only have a week left in Madrid. I am so sad to leave! This semester has been really amazing and [insert generic feelings about studying abroad here].

But for reals, I am somewhere between living in a country I love, visiting a whole bunch of new places, and going HOME (yay), so I guess I'm pretty lucky.

With that in mind, here's my plan for the next month!

May 30th - leave Madrid and fly to Lisbon, Portugal
June 2nd - leave Lisbon and fly to Geneva, Switzerland
June 5th - leave Geneva and fly to Berlin, Germany
June 9th - leave Berlin and fly to Tuebingen, Germany (by way of Stuttgart) to see SARAH!
June 23rd - leave Tuebingen and fly to London
June 29th - fly out of London and back home!!!

At some point during the week I'm in London I hope to take the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, but by then I might be too broke/burned out on traveling. Between the time I leave Madrid and the time I get to Tuebingen, I'm going to be travelling on my own, so that's kind of scary. Don't get me wrong, it's always nice to have a little alone time in a new place, but 10 days seems like a long time to be by yourself. My plan is to stay out all day and see the sights and then go back to the hostel at night and read/talk to people back home/figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I'm nervous about being on my own (as well as carting around all the stuff I've accumulated this semester), but I think it will be an amazing experience! I can't wait to see Sarah (and hopefully my friend Caitlin from USC in London), and I know it's going to be an adventure!

That said, I really miss home and I know that I will be really upset to leave Spain (not to mention all the wonderful people I've met here!), so we'll see how that goes! Look for new updates in the next few days/weeks, and I'll see everyone after the 29th of June!

Girl Freak-Out Time

On a completely unrelated note, I just had a terrifying moment whilst writing that blog post. I am in my lovely, albeit messy (see picture in earlier posts), bedroom in Madrid. Like many European cities, most homes in Madrid don't have air conditioning, which honestly isn't that big of a deal (at least not in my residencia, we were in a bar last night that felt like Columbia in the summer). I just leave my giant window open when I'm in the room.

Anyways, the world's most giant flying bug just buzzed into my room, causing me to go into shrieking girl time. Emily and I, being the bug-fearing geniuses that we are, trapped it in my room with the lights off, and then lured it down the hall by turning on and off hall lights (OK, so maybe we accidentally did this, point is, it's gone). I suppose it could have been worse, Emily said she once got a cricket and trapped it in an Aquarius bottle in order to release it back into the world.

If this were a different kind of blog, I would explain how this bug is a metaphor for facing you're fears or something, but this was really just a story about a bug and how I enjoy unnecessarily over reacting to them.


Pretty Irish park!

A few weeks ago Kendra (one of my roommates) and I took a weekend trip to Ireland, which is still my favorite country in the world (think your country's better? Invite me over and I'll let you know). This trip was especially fun for two reasons: for starters, I had been there before and knew a little bit about the history, culture, etc. (Poor Kendra had to sit through many a lecture and tidbit, but she listened like a champ). Secondly, we took the train to Belfast (which is in Northern Ireland, so not even the same country) for a night. It was my first time seeing Northern Ireland! It was beautiful. We ate amazing food, met some people from around the world (Canadians! Frenchies! Irish! Oh my!), saw a beautiful country, bought some stuff with shamrocks on it, drank more Bulmer's than I care to admit,and generally had a lovely time. I miss it and I can't wait to go back!

We left the second week of May, which was especially significant since that was almost a year to the day from the first time I went to Ireland. Dublin felt so much smaller the second time, but I still felt like the Irish are the friendliest people in the world and I hope to go back for longer some day. The first time I went was the first time I ever left the States, so going back provided quite the opportunity to reminisce over the last year. Quick, take a second to think about everything that has happened to you in the past year......Ok now stop thinking and continue reading. Good job. : )

Me in Ireland last year. Same coat, different Kathleen.
But seriously (sappy summing up in the style of "Scrubs" or "Sex and the City," this last year has been really rough in a lot of ways, but I have gotten to do so much and I am so grateful to be where I am now. Hope all of y'all feel the same way!
By the way, when we were in Belfast we got to see one of my favorite bands, Frightened Rabbit. They were amazing! Check them out here:

The opening band was a local group from Belfast. They were basically a sequined choir of hipsters, but were actually really fun.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Raza en España: Dos Cosas Interesantes.

(Why am I starting with a picture of the Obamas and Oprah at Williams- Brice last year? Because I can)

Sparing you any sort of surface-level analysis of the ethnic makeup of Madrid (therefore also carefully avoiding terms such as “melting pot” for the benefit of all involved), I noticed two really interesting things a few weeks ago.

A few Sundays ago I was walking through el Rastro, Spain's giant open air flea market. Amid the stalls selling Real Madrid scarves and cheap jewelry I noticed a vendor selling Spanish, American and Confederate flags (see below). I honestly do not understand who in Spain is in the market for a Confederate flag, and, when I first noticed it, I had to look twice to make sure I wasn’t just seeing things.

The second event occurred when I went with my women’s studies class to see “Los Abrazos Rotos,” the latest film by Pedro Almodóvar.

Before the movie started, where previews would have been in the U.S., they played a montage of black and white photographs from the American South under Jim Crow laws. A predictably melancholy song was playing in the background, and it was a bit disconcerting to see something so specifically tied with the U.S. in front of a completely Spanish film. The only explanation I could think of at first was that this was the beginning of a preview for a movie in the vein of “Remember the Titans,” but then the sad music gave way to a much brighter song and a giant, smiling photo of Barack Obama was displayed on the screen. There was a tag ling at the bottom that I can’t remember, but I think it said something along the lines of “Change is finally here.”

Maybe the Barack Obama spot was paid for by some independent donor and maybe the Confederate flag, like Che Guevara and the CCCP logo before it, has just become a slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion statement. Maybe this is an example of the whole “when the U.S. sneezes Europe gets a cold” school of thought. I don’t know. I just thought I’d share those experiences and see what people thought!

This blog sponsored by "Los Abrazos Rotos" (the "Broken Embraces" is the English title) Go see it!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Because Emily and Sarah made me feel guilty about never updating...

Greetings from a sunny Friday afternoon in Madrid! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posting here and keeping in touch with everyone back home, but hello everyone! I hope you’re (y’all’re?) well. On the world stage, it was an eventful April: a Supreme Court justice retiring, a global flu pandemic, a Portuguese Water dog all made headlines. On a more personal note, I’ve had visits from family and friends, went all over Spain, and spent many an hour enjoying life in Madrid. I have tons of stories to tell that I won’t be able to fit in this blog, but I’m going to try.

Last night I celebrated my 21st birthday, which was amazing, since Madrid is a really exciting city nightlife-wise, especially compared to where I’m from (no offense, South Carolina). However, it was tough celebrating without everyone I love back home – I miss you! Plan on celebrating when I get back in June.

At any rate, I’m feeling a little under the weather, so I’ve pretty much spent today being lazy and wandering around the city, and now I’m going to go sit in the park and blog about April! So, there’s that, and check back soon for updates!

I’ve done so much this semester, it seems impossible that I’ve only been here for three months. I really wish I would have been more diligent about keeping up with this blog – it’s hard to put in cute little anecdotal bits when you only update once a month. Anyways, I’ll do my best to keep up!

True Story: This is what my room looks like right now. So, you see, the real reasoning behind updating my blog is to put off cleaning.