Travel

Thoughts from Back Home

I can’t believe I have been home for just a few weeks already.  It’s weird, because all at once, I feel like it was just yesterday and also months ago. My life there was so completely different than it is here, that is almost impossible to understand how I could have just been there. I know that I need to write this blog post, but I have been dragging my feet about it, because once this is written, I’ll know this adventure is really over. I don’t really know what I want to say in this post,so I think I will just try my best to sum up what I want to say about my trip in general.

First, I want to talk about Oviedo. I have taken to calling it “my home very far away from home.” The precious jewel of a city, nestled between the mountains and the Cantabrian Sea with bright green parks, obsessively clean streets,and astounding amounts of history. I already miss the cozy beauty of the city. Don’t get me wrong, I live by some beautiful beachy scenes, but I will miss being surrounded by mountains, historic cathedrals, and rolling green countryside. The city itself is beautiful too. The colors of the buildings and streets are amazing, especially when lit up by Christmas lights. I loved walking at night after the rain when there were lights up, because the slick streets would reflect the lights above them and the whole street seemed to be shining. I will miss the vibrancy of Oviedo’s streets. Just walking home from an English class in the afternoon was a fun experience. There are street musicians, people sitting en terraza eating churros or drinking wine, little kids chasing pigeons, old people sitting on benches and gossiping, people watching their dogs play in the park. (Vignette: I was walking through the center of town, and I passed the old man who plays his violin in that area nearly every day. He is very talented. I noticed a family watching him, two parents with a 7 or 8-year-old daughter. Her parents stood on either side of her, each with a hand on her back, where she was wearing a violin case. They watched from a little ways away, and the little girl’s face was filled with such admiration and aspiration. The look in her eyes so clearly said, “I want to do that. I want to sound like that.” And the old man was playing right to her, showing her how it’s done. This doesn’t really fit into what I’m talking about, but it was such a sweet and picture perfect moment that I wanted to record it.) I will miss having that vibe in the streets of my city. It was unlike anything I’d experienced before and I really loved it.
I will miss lots of other things about Oviedo and Spain too. Like the food! While I did miss a lot of my favorite foods while I was gone (Southern food, Asian food, Mexican food, health foods, anything my mom makes), I really enjoyed Spanish foods and drinks. American espresso cannot hold a candle to Spanish (or Italian) espresso. I will miss being able to pop into a cafe or bar and order a coffee for €1. It is the perfect little recharging break. I will also miss their sweet croissants. Why aren’t we topping our croissants with sugar? We’re really missing a huge opportunity on that one. Also, I already miss all the delicious fresh sea food I had. Everything was more fresh over there: fish, meat, bread, produce. It was great. It’s not hard to see how I gained a couple pounds this semester! Although despite that, I still feel healthier than I have in a long time, because I had very little processed food the whole time I was there. We could take some notes from the Spanish on that one too.

I will miss the mobility I had this semester. I already miss living in a place where I can walk wherever I want to go in the city, and I can get a bus or train to wherever I want to go outside the city. In Spain, I could decide during the week that I wanted to go somewhere across the country that weekend, book the hostel and buy a bus or train ticket (or book a BlaBlaCar) and I was off. I will miss having that sort of mobility. I’m not even old enough to rent a hotel room most places in the US by myself. That being said, even though it’s more difficult and expensive than it is in Europe, I do want to start traveling around the US. This country is so massive and diverse, and there’s so much of it I haven’t seen. (High on my list are New York City, Chicago, the Painted Desert, Portland, the Grand Canyon, Maine). Of course, there are so many places outside of the US I want to see too. As I predicted, I have been bitten by the traveling bug.

I learned a lot this semester, both about the world and about myself. Before September, I had never traveled anywhere without my family, nor had I left the country. Now I have traveled to four countries, and upwards of 20 different cities, without them. Now, this was not a completely independent trip. I was still living with a family (who did practically everything for me), and I had an amazing coordinator who was there for whatever I needed her for. But my friends and I handled pretty much all of our travel on our own. I learned that I can plan and prepare well enough to have an enjoyable trip, but still be flexible enough to deal with whatever problems arise without getting all bent out of shape. I learned that hostels can be scary, but usually they’re not. I learned that eating out is really expensive, and buying food from the grocery store is much cheaper. I learned that if you try to speak people’s language a little, they will be much more willing to switch to English (or Spanish) for you. I learned not to believe everything you hear about a place; you just have to see it for yourself to know how it is. I learned not to entertain stereotypes about people from different countries (even though they are sometimes very accurate.) I learned that oftentimes it is better to cut corners and skimp to save money, but sometimes spending a little extra can make your day way, way better (ie getting the occasional taxi, especially when you have luggage, or eating at a little bit more expensive restaurant because it will get you out of the cold and rain faster). I learned never to be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I learned to take a lot of pictures, but not to care about getting the “perfect shot.” I learned that I need a lot less things than I think I do. I learned that wine is awesome. I learned never to leave without having a water bottle, a snack, and tissues. I learned there is a beauty to going to mass in a language you don’t understand. I learned sometimes it’s okay to skip class if it means you get to see the Pope. I learned that people will assume things about you because you’re American. I learned that I’m both better and worse at Spanish than I think I am( I can communicate better that I think I can, but I still make a lot of mistakes and have a lot more to learn.) I learned that good travelling partners are invaluable. I learned that no matter where I am, sometimes the only thing I need to feel better is to talk to my mom. I learned that just texting my parents (almost) every day makes a world of difference to them. I learned that I am so little and the world is so big. I learned that if I want to do something, I can figure out how to make it work. I learned that I still feel a child-like joy whenever I get the chance to see something new and amazing. I learned not to sweat the small stuff so I can get on to enjoying the big stuff. I learned A LOT!

On top of all that stuff, I also gained a deep understanding of Spanish culture, especially Northern Spanish culture, for which I am very grateful. No amount of reading and learning about a place can compare to living there when it comes to understanding the people and culture. I fell in love with this rich, passionate, complicated country, and there is so much of it I still need to see. I will be back. I left a piece of my heart in Asturias.

If I keep talking about how much I love Spain I’m going to get all weepy, so I’m going to move on to thank yous. I want to thank Angeles and Nacho, my host parents, for everything they did for me this semester (even though they can’t read this!). I want to thank Ana, our coordinator, for being absolutely stellar and always going beyond what she needed to do for us. I want to thank everyone at the International Programs Office at Rollins for all the hard work they do to make sure everything goes as well as possible for all the students abroad. Thank you, Catey and Shannon for being the best travelling companions a girl could ask for. Thank you to my incredible family for all you did to make sure I had this amazing opportunity- this would not have happened without your support, and I cannot express my gratitude to you all enough. Thank you to everyone who wished me well, told me they missed me, and who lets me talk to them incessantly about my travels. And last but not least, thank you to all of you reading this!! I started this blog mostly for personal reasons, because I wanted a record of all the things I did this semester, but hearing how much other people were enjoying it really encouraged and motivated me to keep up with it. It has been an amazing experience to get to share all the things I’ve been doing with you all. I have really enjoyed doing all this personal writing, so I’m going to try to keep up with the blog in the coming months. Since I won’t be travelling in immediate future, I’m not sure what I’ll write about, but I’d really like to keep writing, so I’ll try to find something! Thank you again for keeping up with my travels and listening to my ramblings. It has been so fun to share everything with you all.

It is sad to see the sun set on this amazing adventure I’ve had, but I know 2018 and all the years after it hold more adventures than I can even imagine right now.
Mil gracias y hasta luego!

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Travel

Paraíso Natural

Asturias’s tagline is “Paraíso Natural,” or Natural Paradise, because despite its small size, it has both the mountains and the ocean. In the past few weeks, I have experienced just how beautiful Asturias really is. We are lucky to have weekend excursions organized for us by our program coordinator, so we don’t miss out on all of the gems the northernmost province of Spain has to offer. Two weeks ago, the day before my birthday, we went to Los Lagos en Los Picos de Europa and Covadonga. As I said in my last post, this was without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen. And just this past weekend, we visited Ribadesella, and not only did we 15,000-year-old cave paintings, we also went up to a cliff on the sea that is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. They each deserve their own post, but for now I am rolling them into one. Remember, all of my pictures are available on my flickr. You can access the individual albums for these two excursions here and here.

Los Lagos and Covadonga

On Sunday, September 17th, the six of us and our coordinator Ana, piled into a rented van to drive to Los Picos de Europa. This is the mountain range that separates Asturias from the rest of Spain. I knew they were going to be beautiful, but I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. We stopped on the way to see El Puente Romano, which is an ancient bridge.  (The sky looks washed out here, but it was just cloud coverage.) After about an hour of driving, we began our ascent up the mountain (in the van, thankfully). The driver started to look worried, and after about twenty minutes he pulled over to let the engine cool down before we continued up. We got out and walked around while we waited. This is what we saw: covadongareinavista.jpg

I was awestruck. The colors, the staggering heights, and the lack of buildings, as far as the eye can see. I had never seen anything like it in my life. After a few minutes of letting the van cool down, we continued our ascent to Los Lagos. I had already seen enough to make my day, but the lakes took it to a different level.

loslagos1.jpg

I feel like I say this every time, but the pictures really do not do this justice. Standing here, I was surrounded by these gorgeous mountains on all sides, with two lakes. It felt like I was in another world, and like some sort of fictional creature was going to come around the bend. It literally took my breath away, and that was only partly because I was walking uphill in high altitude. Looking at the pictures, I hope you understand why I feel like this was the most beautiful place I have ever been, but you have to take my word for it. It was absolutely other worldly. I could have spent all day here. There was even snow on the mountain top!

snowymountains.jpg
I didn’t touch this photo up at all. I love the textures and depth in it!

As we walked down to meet the van, we were greeted by a herd of goats! They were absolutely adorable. Here is a video of them. So cute! If you don’t hear from me, I have probably moved to the mountains to become a goat herder.

Like I said, my mind had already been totally blown by what I had seen. I actually said out loud that my brain was having a hard time comprehending what I was seeing. It did not feel real. But we were not done! We still had to visit Covadonga, which is an unassuming little pueblo which became famous about a century ago. La Virgen de Covadonga (so, Mother Mary) appeared there 99 years ago, and there is a shrine in the side of a cave there dedicated to her. There is also an absolutely staggering cathedral. This is all just down the mountain where Los Lagos is. We walked into the shrine, and tourists and pilgrims were participating in a rosary, led by a man with a microphone. Looking around the natural cave, feeling the warmth of the wall of votive candles, and reading the prayers hung on the walls, all while hearing the Hail Mary said over and over again in Spanish was rather emotional for me. I don’t know if a place can be extra reverent, but this one was. This is the view from inside the cave.

You can see the cathedral in that picture, and that’s where we were headed next. covadonga and me.jpgThis is one of my favorite pictures from my entire time in Spain so far (thanks for taking it, Catey!). I posted it on instagram with the caption ” i feel small.” And I really, really did. Dedication to Mother Mary always makes me emotional, but this cathedral was really something else. I have already seen so many amazing cathedrals, churches, and chapels since I’ve been here, but something about this church on this day really hit me. While the art and the architecture were beautiful, it’s not that they were significantly more beautiful than the other gorgeous churches here. It was just everything combined that made this cathedral strike me in a special way.  I knelt in front of the tabernacle in the cathedral and was overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s mountains and the lakes, and the conviction and faith of the people who built the cathedral and the shrine. I got teary eyed from trying to comprehend the amazing beauty I had seen, and from realizing how even though it was the best thing I had ever witnessed, it pales unimaginably against the true beauty of heaven. (Is anyone counting how many times I’ve said beauty/beautiful?) I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around how gorgeous things can be on earth, and I am simultaneously overwhelmed by the realization of how much more there is than this. That’s not a bad problem to have, I suppose! This is an ongoing spiritual theme with me since I’ve been here, and I’m sure I will make some sort of breakthrough with it before I’m home. I will try to write about it more coherently and cohesively at some point.

So, long story short, it was an amazing day. It was one of those days where you feel like a better person at the end of it- and it wasn’t even because of anything I did, but because of things I’d seen. People told me that when I went abroad I would see things that would change me, and I’m not sure I understood what they meant until today.

Ribadesella

Honestly, that felt like a good place to stop, but these two trips fit together thematically so I’m going to keep them in one post! Just this past weekend, we went to go see cave painting in Ribadesella. In the cave Tito Bustillo, the oldest cave paintings are over 30,000 years old. The oldest ones open to the public are a 15,000 years old. Again, my brain just can’t comprehend that. I has no way of visualizing that amount of time because I have nothing to compare it to. So, to imagine people living and painting in the dark cave you are walking around in an unfathomably long time ago is pretty cool. The 5-to-7-year-old Mary inside me, who wanted to be archaeologist, was freaking out a little. We had a great tour guide, who spoke very clear Spanish, and made it feel like she was telling a story. (Also, she’s our van driver’s wife! Asturias is very small.) The cave paintings were amazing, and included reindeer, which no longer live in Asturias, and a giant purple horse. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the cave, but they have some photos on Asturias’s tourism website. It was a very cool experience.

After lunch, we took a walk up to a cliff, where there is a chapel dedicated to La Virgen de La Guia, which the Virgin Mary dedicated to mariners. (Mary is everywhere here- one of my favorite things about Spain.) I didn’t take a picture of the chapel because I couldn’t get far enough back from it to take a decent one. It was also closed so we couldn’t go inside. But oh my goodness-this cliff was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. ribadesellapan.jpg(Here for more pictures.) Water, the Cantabrian Sea, surrounds the point on both sides. On my left, I could see the town of Ribadesella, and on my right there was nothing but ocean. You would think I would be used to seeing the water, considering I have lived in Florida my entire life,  but this was different. When you are higher up, the ocean seems to stretch even further into the distance, and from where we were it seemed to go on forever in every direction. I sat on the stone wall and watched with a sense of complete calm, and I was mesmerized by the water breaking over the sharp rocks at the bottom of the cliffs. I took a video to try and capture the ~vibe~ of this amazing place. I’m so happy I have it to look back at. The thick green grass, the persistent wind, the stark black cliffs, and the complete immensity and relentlessness of the ocean created such a peacefulness in me that I didn’t want to leave. There is a very particular feeling I get when I am completely relaxed, and it washed over me as soon as I stepped foot onto the point. It is one of the places I know I cannot see only once in my life.

 

As I said when talking about Covadonga, I felt small standing in front of the cathedral. I felt small standing among the giant mountains. I felt small looking at paintings created by people who lived 150 centuries ago. I felt small facing the enormity of the Atlantic Ocean in a way I had never done before. And I love feeling small. I love being reminded that there are things much greater and grander than me, and I am blessed to live in the same world as them, and to have the chance to witness them. I get the same feeling looking up at a very starry sky. It makes me feel insignificant and important all at once. If you have seen any great work of nature or man, I think you know what I mean. It would take a more talented writer than me to precisely define it. But to feel small is to know that the world is big, and that even the most evil and hateful people in the world are also small. And in times like these, that is a very comforting thought.

Travel

Warning: Lots of Words, No Pictures

If you ever want to motivate yourself to write in English, try writing in Spanish for an hour first. It will make writing in English seem so easy! Joking aside, writing in Spanish is becoming more and more natural to me, and my absence here has not been lack of motivation but lack of time. Two weekends ago, we visited Covadonga and Los Lagos, and it was without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever been. When we got back, it was the start of San Mateo, which is a ten-day-long festival “venerating Saint Matthew, the patron saint of Oviedo” (read: an excuse to have concerts, parties, and days off). So we had a short three-day-week, and before I could deal with any photos or write something Covadonga or San Mateo, I was off to Galicia (the neighboring province) for a four day weekend. And now nearly another week has gone by!

I have today off (Note: I wrote this on Friday,  I am just proofing and uploading it Sunday), and I start at the university on Monday, so thing’s are a’changin’ for me here. My host mother is somewhat appalled that I am not taking advantage of two free days (we have an excursion on Sunday so I have to be here) by traveling somewhere. I know I’m young, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and all that, but sometimes a girl just needs two days to explore the beautiful city she lives in and recharge her batteries. I’ve had a little bit of a cold for about a week now, and I just need this weekend to (quite literally) clear my head before university classes start. So, this post is going to be a little bit of a “life update”/culture discussion/reminder that I’m not dead,  and I will update with posts about Galicia and Covadonga soon.

I have been in Oviedo for nearly a month now, and it is starting to feel more and more like home. It is a remarkable place for many reasons, but one the most amazing things to me is that it is small enough that you can walk from one side to the other in less than an hour, yet there is always events going on and things to do. It is such a polar opposite of the sprawling, sleepy beach towns I am used to. This morning, for instance, I went to the absolutely gorgeous Campo de San Francisco to do some writing in Spanish. This park is in the center of town, and is about a 15 minute walk from my apartment.  The weather has been absolutely perfect the past few days (sunny, 70s, breezy), and I wanted to take advantage of it. Not long after I sat down on the bench, I heard one of the many “buskers” of Oviedo start playing his trumpet from across the street. He is one of favorites of the musicians who I see nearly every day here, although between him, the elderly man with his violin, and the tenor who sings English songs with a heavy accent, it’s hard to pick a favorite. (Side note: It is seriously magical to have live music on every corner. It makes me feel like I’m in a movie!) Anyway, after hearing “What a Wonderful World” and “Ave Maria” from the trumpeter, I heard the unmistakable sounds of traditional Asturian music. Asturian music is drums and gaitas, which are bagpipes. Now, before I got here, I was about as fond of bagpipes as the average American, but Asturias has converted me. You might be surprised that there are bagpipes in Spain, but northern Spain has a lot of Celtic influence, and lot of things here have a very Irish/Scottish feel, just like southern Spain has a lot of Arabic influences. The gaitas are played by large choruses, and their reedy sound is surprisingly pleasant. So, I could hear the Asturian music getting closer, and I could see through the trees that there was a group of people in traditional dress giving a little performance, marching through the streets. As far as I know, it’s not a holiday or anything- just your average Friday morning. There might be places in the US that stuff like this happens, but I sure haven’t been there. And so, as I sat in the park journaling about Spanish culture, I was serenaded by a traditional Asturian band. And no one else in the park blinked an eye! This kind of stuff is super normal here. I think this morning is a good example of what it’s like to live here in general.

And now, I am holed up in a cafe, drinking a café solo and eating a croissant as big as my head. Café solo is espresso, and I am addicted to it. Brewed coffee is not a thing here, so the only coffee you can get is espresso, or café con leche, which is espresso with milk. And since I don’t drink milk, I have had an insane amount of espresso with sugar since I’ve been here. I have found one cafe that has soy milk, and I enjoyed an giant, creamy coffee there last week ( I will be back). Luckily for me, I really enjoy the taste of espresso, so it hasn’t been a problem for me. The cafe is full right now, but not with people getting lunch, even though it’s 12:45. Between 11 and 1 is the time to “tomar un pincho y un café,” which basically means snack time. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day here, but it doesn’t happen until 2-3:30, which means that a snack is almost imperative. Sometimes, I just have a piece of fruit (they are really into fresh fruit here) with my coffee, but other days I have a proper pincho. This is basically a small(ish) sandwich with any type of filling. My favorite pincho is jamón serrano y tomate, which is amazing thinly sliced ham and a little tomato on fresh bread. Yum. But today, I opted for a croissant. The croissants here are huge and dusted with sugar, so it’s hard to say no to them. I haven’t payed the bill yet, but it will probably be about 2.50€. Food here is very cheap, which is nice, since a lot of the culture here revolves around “tomar algo” with your friends. Tomar is a verb which means to eat or to drink, and algo just means “something.” So if you ask your friends if they want to tomar algo, it can mean anything. Do you want to go get a coffee, some ice cream, tapas, sidra, etc. So, it’s nice that snacks and drinks are more or less affordable. That being said, it does add up, which is one of the reasons I actually have a job here!

I’m not sure it’s fair to actually call what I’m doing a job, because it’s not really work. It’s very common for international students to tutor Spanish children in English for about an hour a week. My host mom has lots of friends with little kids, and so I am “tutoring” English to several families. It is super fun. They start learning English when they start school here, but a lot of parents like to make sure their kids have extra practice, because it’s such an important skill to have. The smallest kids I have are 4 and 5, and I play with them in Spanish, while pointing to things and saying the English word for it. They are very sweet. I have a seven-year-old girl who speaks not only excellent English, but great French. She makes me feel inadequate! Then I have some boys who are between 9 and 11, and I’m helping them with their science homework, because apparently it’s common here to take science class in English, while your other classes are in Spanish. And then I have some teenagers  whose English is way better than my Spanish, and we just talk about whatever we want for an hour. Like I said, it’s a pretty sweet gig, and it pays for my espresso habit.

This is turning into a bit of a novela, so I better wrap it up.  Life here is so different, as I think you can probably tell from the little bit I just shared. I promise to update again soon with pictures of the beautiful places I’ve been recently. If you read this whole thing, I hope you enjoyed it! I am going to try to write about the culture and lifestyle here more often, and hopefully a little more focused, and less rambly than this was. Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

Travel

Avilés y Gijon

As  much as I love Oviedo, it isn’t the only beautiful city in Spain. Asturias is full of gorgeous cities and towns, and I got to visit two of them this weekend. As you may remember from my last post, my Saturday was rather sub-par. However, my Friday and my Sunday were amazing. On Friday, two friends and I traveled to Avilés in the afternoon to see what there was to see, and on Sunday our entire group from Rollins went to visit Gijon with our program coordinator. Both of these gems are less than half an hour ( and €5) from Oviedo by bus.

NOTE: Apparently, WordPress only lets you upload 3GB of photos until they make you pay for it, and I’ve already used 25% of that. I want to keep sharing as many pictures as possible with you all, so I’ll be making albums on my flickr, and linking to those within my blogs. It’s annoying, but at least this way I can keep sharing photos!

Avilés

Aviles looks a lot like Oviedo, only slightly smaller. When Camille and Catey and I first arrived at the bus station, we started walking the wrong way into the outskirts of town and were disappointed. But then we turned back around and found the beautiful city center, and took a TON of pictures. (<- click hyperlink to get to my flickr)  We saw the beautiful “Iglesia Vieja de Sabugo,” but it was closed so we couldn’t go inside. However, we did get to go in the absolutely breathtaking Iglesia de Santo Tomás de Cantorbery. It is one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen. The pictures of the interior really do not do it justice. aviles catedral afuera

All the stores were closed because it was a holiday, so I want to go back to Aviles when it’s busier! It is a gorgeous little city.

Gijon

On Sunday, our program coordinator, Ana, took us to her home city of Gijon. It’s actually bigger than Oviedo is, and it is a coastal city. I love the mountains of Oviedo, but it felt good to be by the ocean again! We debated on which city is prettier, Oviedo or Gijon, and although Gijon is beautiful, I think Oviedo wins out for me. Gijon doesn’t have an ancient part of the city like Oviedo does. That being said, Gijon is definitely nothing to sneeze at.  Anyway, when we arrived, I was so sad to see that I had forgotten my SIM card for my camera, so I took all of these pictures with my iPhone. They came out better than I expected, but I had to worry about battery life and storage, which I never do with my camera.

Side note: I am obsessed with the color palette of Spain. In Oviedo and in Gijon, I love how the buildings are painted, and how it blends with the landscape around it. I want to bottle those colors and put them everywhere in my life. (See the featured image on this post)

pan fave

We walked up a hill/cliff to get the best view of the water. You’d think I’d be used to coastal views, but this was really gorgeous. It felt like the color saturation was turned up- the water was the bluest blue and the grass was so green. The structure in this picture is a built to make the wind “sing.” If you stand in it, the sea breeze makes a really cool humming sound.

Whenever we go somewhere with Ana, we get meals paid for by Rollins. Since lunch is the biggest meal of the day here, we eat really well when we’re with her! “Menu del día” is very popular here, where you get your choice of first course and second course, plus a desert, bread, coffee, and a drink of a fixed menu for a fixed price. It’s an insane amount of food. The first course is not a small salad or appetizer- it is enough food for a meal all on its own. We ate in a delicious restaurant with an amazing view of the water.

We were also lucky enough to be there during a holiday for a local neighborhood, so there were all sorts of colorful decorations up- including a dragon! We also got to go to a really cool aquarium (acuario in Spanish), where we got to see all sorts of cool animals, including jellyfish, sharks, sea turtles, and a penguin. It was a great day.

 

Sorry that this post was a little delayed- I wanted to figure this whole picture thing out before I uploaded. I can’t believe that our second week of class is already over. This semester is really going to fly by, so I’m trying to take advantage of every day. The Festival of San Mateo kicked off last night, and we have another excursion tomorrow, so I will write again soon. Hasta luego 🙂

Travel

I know that I know nothing

Today was one of those days that, as my dad would say, built character. If I’m going to share how cool everything I’m doing is, I think it’s only right to share the not so cool parts too. Everything has been going pretty smoothly since I left the US, so I was due for a day of complications. And even today hasn’t been so bad, just a little frustrating. And really, I feel like it’s probably good for me to survive a day of mishaps and see that everything turned out fine in the end. I apologize for the lack of pictures today, but if you keep reading you’ll soon realize why today didn’t have many photo ops.

As I mentioned yesterday, the 8th was el Día de Asturias. Apparently, they pick a different Asturian town in which to celebrate this day each year, and it just so happens that this year it is happening in Llanera, which is only a 15 minute drive from Oviedo. According to the promotional materials, there is traditional Asturian food and drinks, dancing, live Asutrian music, demonstrations of traditional sports, and a market with Asturian goods. Well, my friends and I thought that sounded pretty fun (and very Asturian), so we decided to take the bus to Llanera. Just yesterday we went to Avilés (pictures to come) on the bus,which is about 30 minutes away, and it was super simple. So, thinking that we knew exactly what to do, my friends (Camille and Shannon) and I walked into the bus station and bought tickets to Llanera. The line was from Oviedo to Avilés with stops, which seemed simple enough. So we get on the bus, and we stop a few times in Oviedo to pick people up. And then we’re driving and driving, and I start seeing signs for Llanera. So I said to my friends, “The next time we stop, I think it’s us.” I figured there would be sign, or the bus driver would announce it something. When we went to Avilés, the bus had stopped at the station and the sign had said, “Avilés,” so I figured Llanera would be something similar. But the bus just kept driving, and driving, and I stopped seeing signs that said Llanera. So we asked the bus driver the next time he stopped and he said, “Oh no, we passed Posada de Llanera way back there. But I go to Avilés and then turn back around, so you can just stay on the bus.” We felt pretty silly, but to our credit, it wasn’t like there was a map of the stops or anything that said where we were, so unless we knew what Llanera looked like ahead of time, I don’t know how we were supposed to know where to get off. So we went to Avilés and back, and there was traffic and lots of stops, so what was supposed to be a simple 20 minute trip turned into a 2 hour journey. And for some reason, the bus driver kept apologizing to us. I guess he felt bad because he had seen our tickets, but didn’t let us know about the stop? I don’t know, but at least he was really nice about the whole thing.

So after 2 hours, we finally got off at the stop in Llanera, but the festivities were no where to be found. We asked someone where the fiesta was, and she told us that it was in Lugo de Llanera. As it turns out, we were in Posada de Llanera, and the festival was in Lugo de Llanera, which was almost 2 miles away. These are both very, very small towns. At this point, I was starting to feel like the festival was going to have to be really good to make all of this worth it. We got a coffee and discussed our options on how to get to Lugo de Llanera. We figured we could walk, because it was less than two miles, but as we were finishing our coffee it started to rain, so that was off the table. Luckily, there was a taxi sign right across from our cafe, and we were able to take the short taxi ride to Lugo without any problem.

We arrived in Lugo and it was still raining, so we zipped up our raincoats and put our hoods up and prepared to be wow-ed by this amazing festival celebrating Asturian culture. We rounded the corner and saw…. a craft fair. A cool craft fair, at least, but a craft fair all the same. It turns out that the sporting events were in a different place all together, and the dancing and other events were either only happening yesterday or not until tonight. There was a guy singing on a stage though, and he was pretty good. So at least there was that. We could have just gone home, but we had traveled over two hours to get to this craft fair so gosh darn it we were gonna enjoy it! So we poked around the various stalls selling jewelry, pastries, bread, and purses, all the while being battered by wind and intermittent bursts of rain. After a while, we pulled out the sandwiches our host moms had packed us, and ate under the overhang of a car dealership because it was dry. We tried to wander around Lugo a little more, but it was nearing the part of the day when the streets empty out because everyone goes home to rest. Plus, we were pretty soggy and tired, so we just wanted to get back home.

We had bought “open return” tickets from Posada Llenara to Oviedo, but as I said,  now we were almost two miles from Posada. We figured we could probably catch the bus here in Lugo, and then pay the difference, or  act lost enough that the bus driver would just let us use our Posada tickets to get back to Oviedo. We tried to ask a security officer lady where the bus stop was, but we said bus station on accident, and she told us the nearest one was in Posada Llenara. This left us thinking the only way to get home was to get to Posada Llenera and then catch the bus home. The sky was clearing up, so we decided to suck it up and walk the nearly two miles back, because it was a pretty walk and why not? Well, about five minutes into this journey it started to dump buckets of rain on us. And just then- we saw a bus stop! We thought this was perfect, until we realized that we have no idea what the bus schedule is, and we can’t seem to find one online. We decided to back track to Lugo because there was no way we were walking in this weather. (Keep in mind that this place is literally only 15 minutes by car from my apartment in Oviedo, so if we had been terribly stranded or lost, my host family could have come picked us up. )

So back to Lugo we went, now even soggier and more discouraged. We ducked into a cafe and got another coffee so we could ask the waitress for some help. We explained our situation and she let us know that there were a few bus stops in Lugo de Llanera, but because it was the weekend there would only be a two or three buses coming through all day, so it would be better for us to just take the train. The train station was right down the street from the cafe, and once we were on the train it would be 8 minutes to Oviedo. She clearly felt bad for us very damp, obviously foreign girls, so she even explained how it wasn’t a manned station, so we would have to buy our tickets at a machine, and she explained how to get to exactly where we needed to be in the station to catch the right train. She was great. (It also occurred to me in this moment that this valuable information could have been given to us by the security officer, and it would have saved us a lot of time. But whatever.)

So after drying off a bit and gathering our spirits, we headed to the train station, where we bought tickets and made it to where we were 80% sure our train was going to come. There was a train schedule posted, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to any of us- even Shannon, whose Spanish is nearly perfect and who has been riding public transport all her life. We waited about thirty minutes and took some pictures around the station to kill time.

backpacktrain
Sponsor me, Vera Bradley

Luckily, some grandparents with a baby showed up and said they were going to Oviedo, so we were reassured that we were in the right place. As the station started announcing that a train was coming that we were fairly certain was ours, more and more people came to the station. As the train arrived, we asked the people next to us if they were going to Oviedo too, and they said yes. So now we were 99% sure we were in the right place. So, finally, we got on the train to come home. We almost got off on the wrong stop, but we didn’t. We made it to the Oviedo stop and managed to actually get off the train, which was definitely an improvement from our bus ride. Luckily, the train station is very close to both Camille and I’s apartments, so our long journey was over.

The funniest thing about all of this to me is that we were only trying to go fifteen minutes from home, and yet we ended up making a complete mess of it. On top of that, it wasn’t even worth the trouble, as the festival wasn’t really anything. When I got home, I told my host mom that there wasn’t really anything to do in Lugo de Llanera. I elected not to tell them about our bus mishap because I think they would probably just make fun of me, plus I really didn’t feel like trying to explain it in Spanish.  She had been the one that told me about this festival thing in the first place. When I told her that it was kind of a bust, she said we should have gone yesterday like she suggested, and gone to Avilés today instead, and then it would have been fine. So basically, “I told you so.” We went to Avilés yesterday because I didn’t want to change our plans twenty minutes before we left, but I guess I need to become more flexible and willing to do that. Switching the days of our trips probably would’ve been way better, although we would have missed our stop in Llanera regardless. Oh, well.

And so that was my disappointing and rather soggy day. Despite all the trouble, I think it was still a valuable experience. For example, I learned I made the right decision in bringing waterproof boots and a long rain coat. I learned that sometimes I don’t know as much as I think I do about a place, situation, or pubic transport system.  And as my host mom told me, any time I’m out and about here it’s good, because I’m learning the language, culture, and customs. And even more than that, today I learned that things can not go to plan (again and again and again) and no one dies or is even in danger. Sure, we were inconvenienced, but we were never in peril and we made it home just fine. So I think today was important, because difficult days are just growing pains in travelling, teaching me to be more flexible and how to roll with the punches without falling apart.  (Also shout out to Shannon and Camille for being troopers and not falling apart either. )

My host mom is confused as to why I don’t want to go out tonight. I told her that I walked ten miles yesterday, and that today was tiring, and that I’m going to be busy tomorrow too, but she told me that young people should be able to walk 8-10 hours without being tired. Maybe I just can’t keep up with the young people here, but I think I’ve done enough exploring for one day. I’ll be back at it again tomorrow.

PS: As I’m writing this, the rain is subsiding and there is one of the biggest and most vibrant rainbows I have ever seen right outside my window. Take from that what you will 🙂 look away train

Travel

A Photo Tour of Oviedo

Today, September 8th,  is El Día de Oviedo, which means we don’t have class and everything is closed. So, I am using this time to post pictures of all the magnificent things I’ve seen in Oviedo in the week that I have been here. I want to write about how my day-to-day life is here, the culture, the food, my host family, etc. but I have too many gorgeous pictures to do that right now. So, I am going to post all of them here, and then write about culture a little later. I took all of these pictures with my pocket-size Sony point and shoot my parents got me for this trip, and I am very please with how they turned out! Although, I think it might just be that Oviedo is too beautiful to ever take a bad picture. So here, in no particular order, is a photo tour of Oviedo.

To start out, here is a group of performers doing traditional Asturian dance. Shannon and I came across this our first full day here. The Celtic influence here is easy to see.

dancerkids (1)dancers closedancerline (1)

This is the view from my bedroom window: misty mountains from my room

This is park right outside of Shannon’s homestay: el parque (1)

This is the Campus de Milan of the University of Oviedo. Right now we’re taking a Spanish review class at the Centro Britanico, but from October on our classes will be here:

campusdemilan2
All the buildings on campus look like this!
viewfromcampusfar
The view from campus. And I thought Rollins was beautiful! 

A short walk from campus is Iglesia de San Julián de los Prados, which is classic prerrománico Asturian architecture. It was built before the year 900!prerromanico frontprreromanico back

And here’s a picture of an old lady feeding pigeons near the church. There are pigeons literally everywhere here, and they have absolutely no fear. They will basically land on your head if you’re not careful.

la mayor con palomas
“Feed the biiirds…”

On Wednesday, we went on a tour around la zona antigua (so, the really old part) of Oviedo with one of our Spanish teachers. This is one of my favorite plazas we saw. This sculpture is called “La Lechera,” which means milkmaid. Sculptures like this one are everywhere in Oviedo, but something about this one and the color and styles of the buildings captured my heart.

Another one of my favorite plazas is “La Plaza de Paraguas.” Paragua means umbrella, and as you can see, the plaza is named for the giant umbrella in the middle of it. Last night, they screened the Charlie Chaplin movie “City Lights,” by putting up a big screen under the “umbrella.” They had a live pianist to play the score to the movie, and it was honestly one of the coolest experiences I’ve had here. The plaza was filled with children, families, and older people. Dogs were running and little kids were running around, and everyone was having a great time. It is a beautiful plaza.

Here is a collection of other pictures from our excursion into la zona antigua:

And of course, the most famous building in all of Oviedo, La Catedral:

la catedralIMG_2669.JPGI haven’t been inside yet but I can’t wait to see it! The outside is truly breathtaking.

And finally, here are some other pictures from around the city:

Most of the buildings pictured here are very old, but there’s lots of new buildings in Oviedo too. The older ones tend to catch my eye more and so that’s what I have pictures of, but there is a lot of modern architecture too. The building I live in is very modern and chic. I will try to take more pictures of those kinds of buildings too.

I have more pictures to share, but I think this is more than enough for one post. Before I go, I just want to share my favorite picture I’ve taken since I’ve been here:

la catedral a lejosI love that the huge cathedral is omnipresent in Oviedo. The narrow, crowded streets are alive with shops and cafes and people, and some of the buildings are old and some are new, but La Catedral shines over all of them. This is a truly special city, and I am so looking forward to spending the next three months here.