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.

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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!

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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

Where are you going, where have you been?

If you know me, you know that I am someone who has never been anywhere, but who wants to go everywhere. The pictures already up on this blog are from the two places I have been farthest from home (also the only  times I have been on airplane): Washington, DC and Seattle, Washington. I fell in love with both cities and hope to go back to visit both sooner rather than later. Outside of these two experiences, I have not traveled anywhere other than to see family, which has kept me in the southern United States. While I love where I live (even though it is too hot), I cannot wait to see more of the world. Now, I don’t want to sound like the “basic” college student with world maps plastered on her walls and “wanderlust” tattooed on her ribs, but the sentiment is there. Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated with people who come from different places, backgrounds, and experiences than me. I am studying International Relations in school because I want to learn how to help people from different places work together. One of the reasons I picked my college was because of its focus on international education and studying abroad. Before my freshman year started, I got a job in the office on campus which helps students study abroad, and working there was one of my favorite parts of my first year of school.  And so, that is how I ended up in the situation where my first time out of the country will be for three and a half months. Studying abroad has always been a part of my plan, and now I am lucky enough to say that I am actually going. My tickets to Spain are bought, and soon my bags will be packed. I am a little nervous to be without my family in a completely new continent for over three months, but I also could not be more excited. And I don’t want to forget anything about this amazing opportunity, which I why I am going to try to document as much of it as possible here. I also hope it will help my friends and family stay connected to me, so no one forgets me while I’m gone!

This semester abroad in Spain is a wonderful opportunity which many scholarships and generous family members are making happen,  and I absolutely could not be more grateful. I know how blessed I am to be able to do this, and I promise to cherish every second of it, the fun and the challenging moments. I have a feeling that this blog will end up being a mix of me gushing about beautiful places and sharing awkward moments that happened because of my imperfect Spanish. I’m sure that this semester will not only improve my Spanish skills, but teach me a lot about flexibility, international travel, and how to handle myself in unfamiliar places.

I know that this will be the first of many, many travels for me, as I hope to have a career that takes me everywhere. However, I also know that the money for vacationing abroad isn’t going to miraculously fall out of the sky when I get back, and so it might be a little while before I get an opportunity like this again. So, when I am not travelling, I might use this blog to write some lifestyle/opinion/Catholic/whatever pieces as well. If you’re interested in that, stay tuned 🙂

If you hope to travel and/or study abroad, and want to learn from someone else’s experiences/mistakes, then this is the place for you! Hopefully this will make someone feel more at ease before going on their own trip. My third time flying somewhere will be by myself,  across the Atlantic, to a place where I only mostly speak the language, and I won’t be back for three and a half months. If I wasn’t so excited, I might be a little scared! If you think you want to study abroad but are unsure, I hope this can be a “if she can do it, I can” kind of deal. I also want this blog to keep me accountable for sharing and recording all the new things I experience and learn the rest of this year, and I hope you can get some enjoyment out of it too. As of right now, we are just about two months out from departure, and (as you can probably tell) I am already super pumped. I will hopefully write about some packing and pre-departure things soon, so check back often! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog! I really hope you like it 🙂

 

Disclaimer: Despite my borrowing of Joyce Carol Oates’s title, this blog will not contain any unsettling short stories about teenage girls being abducted/killed by people  who are actually the devil. Sorry to disappoint.