I don’t know what is next. It feels freeing, but it mostly scares the hell out of me.
Buses are difficult and full. Couchsurfing. The Irish love rhubarb. 50 mph winds and 23 miles. Even English is difficult to understand. Backpacks are heavy. Ireland is full of red headed children. You only need 1 outfit for a week. Geniuses don’t drink Guinness. Sheep are everywhere. When all else fails – bed and breakfast.
I began a volunteer requirement for my school a week or so ago. There were a few options that were recommended to us for our volunteer job, one being a comedor social – a soup kitchen. After several attempts to find the place, find someone to talk to, and settle upon which hours I would be volunteering – it was all finally figured out.
I started volunteering at 8:30 on a Thursday night, apparently volunteers are not allowed to choose their time of service. Without knowing what I would be doing, and worrying if I had on the proper attire I arrived. Once I arrived, I stood at the locked gate surrounded by men who were waiting for the comedor social to open. I nudged my way in front of them and sought out the attention of another worker who let me through the heavy iron door. The other workers, 3 or 4 men and 1 woman, had little to say. I felt like the black sheep, with the added weight of not understanding the other ‘naaaaaa.’ I stood around without knowing what to do for several minutes. I ended up carrying boxes from the storage room and setting them in the front of the room. A few moments later, it was time for the comedor to open. A large man stood at the door, more or less the bouncer. One man was asked to leave after having a spat with another man in the room. In only a few minutes the little room was filled with people. It was mostly men of varying ages and only 2 or 3 women. Their clothes were dark and torn, their faces unshaven, and their hair long. After taking in the scene a bit, I was handed a large container of soup and instructed to walk around and fill everyone’s bowl. Then I and a few others, retrieved the bowls and filled the plates with some type of grain and pork dish. Many muslims were in the room, who received the same dish but without pork. The non-pork version, came about from a few workers going through a large container with their bare hands and sorting out the pork pieces. Some asked for seconds, and all ate quickly. They finished their meal with a yogurt/pudding and then left. I finished my night by retrieving the tableware, cleaning the tables, and mopping the floor.
I left feeling as though I had just completed day 1 of punishment for some unbeknownst crime. I also left with a feeling of triumph – I survived.
I made it back to my house and told my señora where I had been. Her response was flooded with “pobrecita”.
My first experience volunteering also happened to be my last.
Funny the way it is, if you think about it.
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong.
A twenty first birthday, a bit of Barcelona, and broken feet.
I spent the last weekend in February traveling to Barcelona. An incredible, enormous city.
I finally spent three nights at my first real hostel. The other hostels I previously stayed at were certainly crossing the boundary of hostel and hotel. Shared bathrooms, metal bunk beds, lockers, and an included breakfast of bags of bread – a new experience. Beyond the accommodations the hostel also took willing youths, and not so youths, to a Mojito bar and then to a club. One of the clubs that we visited, Opium, was situated along the beaches of Barcelona with a patio opening up to the sand.
We spent our days walking across Barcelona; the Sagrada Família, Park Güell, Park Montjuic, Las Ramblas, and along the beaches and ports. When we told others of where and how far we walked, they said that was nearly impossible. The condition of our feet was evidence of the distance, possibly a marathon (all walked in Frye boots thanks to RyanAir baggage restrictions).
Park Montjuic, includes a variety of small quiet green spaces and gardens which overlooks the city as well as the port. Less crowded than other Barcelona attractions, I found it to be calming and beautiful.
La Bouqueria, a famous food market was also a favorite. There were booths set up displaying bountiful fruits and vegetables, nuts, chocolates, eggs, seafood, meats, cheeses, and juices. To be able to shop here daily and prepare meals from this array of food would be incredible.
I spent the first of my spring like breaks venturing to Italy, unleashing a new desire to travel, and regaining an appreciation for maps.
Saturday morning, I said good bye to my señora and I took off down my rock paved road with my little luggage to the bus stop for the first of many ways of transport. Myself, and 4 of my new friends took the first bus to another bus station where we boarded our 5 hour bus to Madrid. Arriving in Madrid we maneuvered our way through the metro system and finally arrived at the Madrid airport. We flew into Rome, arriving at about 10pm. From the Rome airport we only had one option of taking a rather expensive taxi van, 80 euros, to our hostel. Exhausted from the countless ways of transportation and an entire day of traveling we were awaken with the first sights of the Coliseum. The Coliseum, lit up in the night sky, surrounded by a dusting of snow, was a sight I will never forget. The size of the Colisuem, was and still is astonishing – to have a structure that grand in the middle of a city is breathtaking.
Rome consisted of walking around the Coliseum (it was closed because of snow – the taxi driver said it was the most snow since 1985 in Rome), touring the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel the Pantheon and a trip to Trevi Fountain (2 coins thrown). Rome is a gigantic city that requires miles of walking which is perfect as it encourages indulgences in Italian cuisine. I may have enjoyed one of the best meals of my life at a restaurant in Rome at Trattoria dell’omo http://www.trattoriadellomoroma.com/ I had spaghetti noodles with mussels. It was seasoned simply but perfectly. In Rome I also enjoyed my first tastes of Italian gelato, my first cannoli (pistachio and it was delicious), and a dish of ricotta and spinach ravioli.
From Rome we took a train to Florence. This was my first train experience in Europe and it was delightful. In Florence we saw the Duomo, it is impossible to miss as it is one of the largest Cathedrals but the exterior of it is rather unfortunate – green and pink marbled tile. I loved walking around Florence, the narrow streets reminded me of the streets here in Granada. There was also a chocolate festival in Florence this week, which may be influencing my love of this city. Chocolate liquors and chupitas, bites of random chocolates, pistachio truffles, chocolate bananas were all sampled and adored. Other culinary delights in Florence came in the form of many pizzas, one in particular which was composed of an array of clams and other shelled sea creatures atop tomatoes covering a thin layer of crust. The last day in Florence we spent walking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo which gives way to a panoramic view of the city. I sat upon the steps, eating a salad I picked up from a grocery store, beneath a clear blue sunny sky, overlooking the city as well as the countryside – a perfect moment. The tranquility of this spot further clarified my new found love of Italy. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to a beautiful city.
I made my way to Venice, aboard my new favorite method of transportation- the train. Once arriving, and eyeing the beautiful waterways and colorful buildings, I instantly regretted only having one night in this city. I spent the short amount of time strolling through the city in my newly acquired Venetian mask supporting the Carnaval celebrations. People of all ages were dressed up in costumes, eagerly being photographed with and by onlookers. To have a gondola ride in Venice would have been ideal but given the frigid February air I was easily able to resist. One day.
As the trip was coming to an end I kept thinking of being back at home and telling of my first European travels only to remember that I was not headed home but my journey would continue on in Spain for a few more months and the sharing of my stories face to face would have to wait. After a long week of traveling it was a bit exhausting to think of arriving back in Granada and transitioning back into my Spanish life and I longed for the ease and familiarity of the states. Arriving back in Granada, I was greeted by weather changing to spring and reminded of my love of Spain.
I navigate through emotions of the longing for the ease of a simple conversation to realizing that in some ways my life will never be this ‘easy’ again.
Knowing that I would be spending the next 5 months living at the discretion of strangers, speaking another language was intimidating. To be intimidated by the language is a valid and accurate feeling but to assume that I would be spending these months at their discretion could not be further from the reality.
Each morning I wake up to breakfast set out for me on the table; a carafe of coffee, yogurt, dried fruit/nuts, and a plateful of cookies if I desire. Everyday I come home for lunch, as is typical for most here in Spain. We eat a variety of things from soup, salad, fish and eggs. Dinner varies too but usually is light and includes some type of salad.
My laundry is washed and folded, my bedroom is cleaned and always stocked with a fruit plate, my bathroom is cleaned, and my sheets are changed. Everything is done for me.
I try to interfere and let her know that I am more than willing and certainly capable of doing this all myself. She insists though that she is my mother here in Spain and this is what mothers do.
A simple ‘thank you’ is far from adequate.
With January now complete – I am left with four months in Granada. I’ve spent my last few weeks drinking lots of coffee and tea, wondering what was being said, and planning my future trips. As I’m finishing my third week of classes here it has begun to feel as if I am more than a visitor now – however there are things which still feel very foreign. In these past few weeks I have learned a bit more of the Spanish language, traveled to a small town on the Mediterranean Sea, and have continued to be surprised by the everyday here in Granada.
I am definitely noticing an increased ability to understand others speaking Spanish. I am also noticing, little by little, my progress to respond and carry on a conversation without having to respond “si” or simply respond with a confused nod or half smile. Still though, it is a bizarre feeling to be in a room full of Spanish speakers and not able to naturally talk – there is a lot of thought involved in even the simplest sentence. Sometime I catch myself saying a word in English – thinking that the person I am talking to will understand, forgetting that they know very little English if any. They may not speak much English here, but there is certainly an American influence here.
Shopping in Spain is much different than in the US. Here – you are rarely acknowledged beyond on “hola” when entering a store. No one offers to help and usually they will be talking on the phone and barely look at the customer who entered the store. Perhaps this is better than the alternative of being suffocated by salesmen – I’m still undecided. Some aspects of shopping here do have a bit of an American influence though; yesterday I entered a store and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in The USA’ was playing. Can you get more American than that?
I also encountered a Domino’s delivery being made yesterday….on a scooter, up a steep rock paved road in the Albayzín.
To know something but to also to know nothing.