Saying Goodbye- 7 July 2018

Well, I’m sitting on the plane waiting for my flight to leave for Dallas and trying to come to terms with the fact that my month and a half in Spain is actually over. The time passed so much quicker than I expected, and it’s going to be really hard for me to leave the place I feel like I was just starting to get to know. I’ve met so many wonderful people and seen so many places that I had only dreamed I would be able to visit.

Part of me is ready to be back to my routine and my normal food and habits and the people from back home that I’ve been missing. But right now that part is buried under the sadness that comes from leaving friends I’ve only just met, a new family here that treated me like one of their own, and a country that is full to overflowing with beauty and a rich, diverse culture. This experience has truly been unforgettable and studying in Alcalá has impacted me in a big way. If I ever have the chance to come back, believe me when I say I will not hesitate to hop on the plane.

Now we’ve taken off, and I don’t want to take my eyes off the window. I can’t believe this is the last view I’m going to get of Spain.

Maybe my heart feels so heavy because of all of the pieces of this trip that I’m carrying home with me.

…and Graffiti Nights (Part 2)

Along with all of the art in museums and other spaces where the works match the more classical definition of art, Spain is also decorated with a TON of street art. I really like art of any style or media, and I think street art can be a beautiful and powerful form of expression. I always take notice of the graffiti in any city I go to, and it was omnipresent in Spain. Every city I visited was covered with tagging and graffiti. In Alcalá de Henares, where I stayed, I actually got to see the process by which tagging is done, covered up, and redone. Along my route to class there were wide stretches of white walls that were the perfect canvas for the area’s taggers. In the morning I would pass city workers coating the walls in white paint, erasing strings of letters and names. Then later, on my way back from hanging out with friends at the bar or after taking the last train home from Madrid at night I would see groups of taggers out covering the newly white wall with vivid colors. It was a cycle that I watched over and over throughout my month there, with ceaseless working on both sides to have the last splash of paint. Here is a little bit of the graffiti in Alcalá that I actually watched being painted at night (red/orange tag and green/blue tag).

I didn’t see any truly “artistic” or impressive graffiti until my weekend in Valencia. The street art there is absolutely stunning, and I think it’s so awesome that the city’s culture supports this kind of expression. It’s not trashy looking or just simple tagging, but really adds another dimension to the buildings and the streets. I have way too many pictures to fit in this post, but here is a taste of what I saw:

Barcelona also had some very interesting and beautiful art. They actually have a few designated spaces in the city for graffiti, one of which being the Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies (Garden of the Three Chimneys). It is an urban park dominated by large walls where artists can paint without fear of being fined. I happened on it one day as I was walking back from the beach and the blend of styles and themes that I saw was stunning. I actually read online that the murals in the park are painted over once a week, so it seems as though my pictures are the only remnants of the art that was present on the day that I wandered by. The idea of the ever-changing landscape is both freeing and frustrating to me. Frustration from the quality of works these artists produce only to have them covered a few days later, but freedom in that there is a new experience for every visit to the park with new artists and new works to admire.

The culture in Spain is so deeply rooted and complex that one could spend a lifetime there and never discover it all. And the wide range of art in Spain, whether it be in the museums and the cathedrals or on the buildings and in the streets, just opens another window for people to see the culture and the beauty of the country. The richness and diversity of each of the cities I visited made it easy for me to see how so many artists find inspiration in Spain.

I Get Around: Transportation Abroad (and a Beach Boys Song)

How do I love thee, tarjeta transporte? Let me count the ways…

If you didn’t know, I am currently in the middle of a six week trip to Spain studying abroad in a city near Madrid called Alcalá de Henares. There are a few things that I’ve found or learned since I arrived that have made a HUGE difference in my experience, especially related to traveling within Spain so I wanted to compile a list of some of them in the hopes that they might be helpful to someone else. I know that before my trip I spent weeks scouring the internet for anything and everything related to travelling or studying in Europe/Spain, and even after that I still feel like there was a lot that I missed. So, without further ado, here are my biggest recommendations for getting around in España.

  • GET A TRANSPORTATION CARD

Most cities in Europe, especially in Spain, have some sort of transportation pass for students under the age of 26 that allows you unlimited access to the public transportation system for one month. In the Madrid area the tarjeta transporte gives you free rides on the city buses, the metro, and the train. It costs 4 euros for the card and 20 to charge it for the month and in my 3 weeks here I have gotten my money’s worth at least 5 times over. (For instance, one round trip on the train from Alcalá to Atocha, one of the biggest stations in Madrid, costs around 8 euro. I’ve made that trip at least 10 times now, and that doesn’t even factor in the money I’ve saved on my trips on the bus and the metro). It has made traveling back and forth between cities and within Madrid such a breeze for me. Also, the public transportation in Spain is actually wonderfully clear and well-run. It’s easy enough for even the most clueless of travelers to figure out where they need to go before they miss the next train. And that leads me into my next piece of advice:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help

People, for the most part, are generally good and helpful. And when you’re in a country you’ve never been to trying to navigate trains and buses and confusing streets and strange buildings, someone who knows the area can be a huge help in setting you on the right path. I don’t know how many times I would have walked for miles in the wrong direction, hopped on the wrong train, or stood around helplessly for hours if I hadn’t decided to ask someone for help. It can save so much time finding a friendly face to tell you that you need to take the C-10 train to make your connection to the bus station (which is actually just now pulling into the station so you’d better sprint if you want to catch it), or that the cell phone store is actually completely opposite of the way you’ve been walking aimlessly when your foreign SIM card has locked you out of your phone (again). I’ve asked people on the street, popped into stores or restaurants to ask workers, and even stopped and chatted with a couple police officers; across the board, everyone I’ve talked to has been amicable and extremely helpful. And even though I’m not great with strangers and don’t particularly like asking for help, it has made a big enough difference that I don’t even hesitate to do it now.

  • Use the language (or learn it!)

I love languages. Like, LOOOOVE them. So for me, being able to use what I’ve learned over 6 years of Spanish classes in the real world to communicate with people is just awesome. I don’t think my experience would be even half as beneficial and memorable if I didn’t have the ability to hold conversations with store owners and neighbors and people on the bus, learning about their lives and their country and their culture directly from them. It has also made my relationship with my host family much stronger than that of some of the other students who don’t speak as much Spanish. The ability to talk about topics that go beyond surface level, or even just to be able to make jokes with each other has allowed us to become more comfortable around each other and form a solid relationship. Plus, the vocabulary I learned in the classroom is nothing like the words I’ve needed in real life, and if I hadn’t come here I never would have known how much I was missing by only using the language in the classroom.

But even if you travel to another country with a beginner’s level or no knowledge at all of the language, learning it while you’re there can still make a huge difference. For the most part, people respect that you’re trying to learn and use their language and will help you out if you’re struggling. It’s also a sign that you respect them enough to try to speak to them in their language. Plus, the best way to learn a language is by immersion. What better way to become immersed in a language than by travelling to a place that speaks it and learning from natives in a real-world setting?

  • Find people to travel with, but also do stuff on your own

Meeting new people in a country you don’t know can be slightly terrifying. But finding a group of friendly faces who also love traveling and are excited to go see places and experience new things can really enrich your trip. Having people to explore the city and take weekend trips with, or even just having a group to go to a restaurant or the bar for a night of talking and laughing instead of sitting at home has made my experience a lot more fun and helped me to feel more comfortable here. But I also spent last weekend alone in Valencia after I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t already have plans, and it was honestly amazing. I didn’t have to depend on or wait for anyone and I got to see and do only and all of the things I wanted to (well, the ones I had time for). I also felt very independent and really enjoyed solving my own problems and making my own way around the city. The memories I made over that weekend are something that I will always have, and something I’ll have that I did for myself and myself alone. It was really liberating and almost relaxing in a sense, exploring on my own. I also would never have been able to visit Valencia had it not been for me going by myself, and Valencia is AMAZING. I loved the city and the sights and the beach and the people, and I definitely would have spent at least a week there if I could have. All this is to say that it’s great to meet people and travel in groups, but I also now see the merits of traveling solo and definitely understand why so many people take trips alone around the world*.

 

Well, I think that pretty much covers the main tips I think people should consider when thinking about transportation abroad (even though I know there are plenty more things I could talk about that would turn this post into a novel). Above all, I think the most important idea connecting these tips is to not be afraid to go somewhere new and explore as many places as you have the chance to. You have the rest of your life to stay in for the night or sleep late. Use every minute you have abroad wisely. It will be over before you realize it.


Just a note from the title: “I Get Around” is an old Beach Boys song that got stuck in my head while writing this post. It has nothing to do with Spain but it’s very catchy 🙂

Also,

*little disclaimer: I do not want to discount the potential dangers of solo travel, especially for women. When I was in Valencia (and really the whole of my time here) I definitely stayed very alert the whole time I was there and had plenty of lines of communication with people both here and back home who knew where I was at all times, as well as having the emergency number for Spain (112) and the US embassy’s information on me at all times.

Tips

I kind of already did a kind of “what to bring post”, but I guess this is more of a “what to know” when traveling abroad. Besides the obvious things like copying your documents, have extra cash, etc. that Education Abroad covers really well, these are my super quick, probably super well-known, travel/study abroad tips:

My first is figure out a way to have a three-day weekend… or more when you are figuring out your schedule at the beginning of the year. It can be harder than you think, and I actually ended up not taking one of the classes I originally planned to just to get that three-day weekend. Honestly though, you are studying abroad and this is probably the biggest chance you’ll get to travel which I personally found more important than taking fluid mechanics on time. Because I ended up having way more time, I got to do a lot more traveling than I thought I would.

Going on with traveling, you probably all know about skyscanner, but if you don’t, you really need to! I booked almost all my flights through this website, and I honestly still use it for domestic flights now. It searches all of the typical search engines, and a couple of not so common ones. I actually booked my flight on a less known website that skyscanner showed me, and I think I saved a couple of hundred dollars that way! Long story short, this is a great travel tool.

Although flying is really cheap in Europe the absolute cheapest way is to travel by bus (if you aren’t doing the eurorail thing). I went on a trip from Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia and the total bus cost was just at 61 euros. I would always use GoEuro for bus purchasing, and it was always the best deal I could find.

In Spain, and probably other countries too, they have Erasmus groups that put on trips and activities every week. Their trips are usually well organized and you can get to know other people that way from all over the world. Pricewise they are pretty reasonable as well. They have big trips to Portugal, Morocco, and Ibiza so of course it would be cheaper if you plan a trip to go there yourself and do all of the work, but I think it is usually a pretty good deal, especially for the day trips. My favorite was paddle boarding in Javea.

More general tips are always start early, and don’t be afraid to ask people around you. These are definitely common sense things, but for me in some situations, I think I needed a reminder. For the starting early, I am mainly referring to flights and in cities you are not familiar with. In Paris, there was a point where my friend and I were actually running down a street to try and catch a flight because some of the transportation system that day wasn’t running (we ended up making it). And most of the time the people around you are more than willing to help if you just ask. I am still thankful for a girl named Flor who helped my friend and I through the subway system in Paris. There were plenty other Flors in my experience abroad because I learned to just ask.

We made it!

Mis restaurantes favoritos en Valencia

During my time in Spain, I found my go to restaurants after a month or so. These places were all really close to my apartment and were all reasonably priced, especially with the menu of the days. I absolutely love that Spain does menu of the days. The menus always have amazing things for cheaper prices and it comes with a dessert, which is arguably the best part half of the time.

First there is the food on campus. There isn’t exactly a specific restaurant, but food on campus is so inexpensive and always pretty good. The cafés in the Agora, the main square, are where I always get my cortado and tostadas. For both of them, it costs around 1.75. It is great. There is also a place across campus that has huge bocadillos for only 3 euros and you can get a 3 course meal for 5 euros, bread and drink included. Not sure how they make any money, but gotta love the cheapness.

Pan de Azúcar is a good place to eat at because it is pretty cheap and is directly across from my apartment. I can see people going in and out from my window. This place has great crepes and appetizers and is always a fun and lively place. The prices are also student friendly, so this has always been a good choice.

Shish Mahal is another restaurant that is probably a 2 minute walk from my apartment. This place is a little nicer and therefore pricier, but if you go during a week day lunch time period it isn’t too bad because of their menu of the day. I have never really had Indian food until this place and I am constantly surprised with how good the food is.

100 Montaditos is actually a chain throughout Spain that you can find in any decently sized city. The thing about this restaurant is that it has deals of Sunday and Wednesday when their entire menu is €1. I think in the end it only saves you about €3 euros per meal, but the amount of times we have ended up going here I am sure we saved quite a bit.

Bastard’s Café. My one true love. Ok maybe I shouldn’t be that intense, but this is hands down my favorite restaurants in Valencia. This is again a 2 minute walk from my apartment, which is so good yet so bad because I go there so much and spend money. It’s now basically the end of the semester and I think at least half of the staff recognizes me. I always take my visiting friends here when they visit and they all love it. I will miss you Bastard’s.

 

Salud

While food is extremely important in the Spanish culture, I would say drinks are just as important. Now here is my short list of some of my favorite drinks in Spain. I know I have missed some for sure, but here they are:

Sangria is probably the most typical Spanish drink you hear about, and I must admit it is for good reason. You can find it on any menu and there are plenty of options in grocery stores to choose from. If you don’t know, Sangria is red wine mixed with fruit juice, and in summer often provides a great refreshing drink in the hot weather.

 

With my tostada I usually have a cortado. A cortado is an expresso shot with a little bit of hot milk poured on top. My taste in coffee changed over the months I was in Spain and this is what I landed upon. I cannot drink really sweet coffee or a lot of coffee now. Even a small caramel macchiato from Starbucks is usually too much for me to drink, so this caffeine packed small drink was perfect because it is not sweet or harsh due to the small milk and can be finished in probably 5 or 6 sips.

Gin and Tonic is strangely a very popular drink here. Or maybe it’s just more of an unexpected popular drink to me because in the plaza near my apartment, there are 2 bars that have half their menu dedicated to the drink. I am very thankful for that as that was one of my favorite drinks before coming here. In one of the bars, they have a list of all the different gins and all the different tonics they have and you choose which ones you want. It is great!

Tinto de Verano is not as well known around the world as sangria for a typical Spanish drink, but it is still extremely popular in Spain. This drink consists of red wine and sprite or a sprite like drink. In my book, tinto de verano beats sangria by a long shot. It is usually not as sweet as sangria but is still a great drink in the summer. This was sold at one of my favorite restaurants in Spain, and I would always get it when I was there.

Finally, something I have loved in Spain was there orange juice. Oranges are grown in Spain, so they are extremely fresh. In the Mercadonas, they have an orange juice machine that squeezes it for you right then and there. Normally orange juice is not my favorite thing, but it is impossible not to like it when it is that fresh.

Buen Provecho

In Spain, food plays an important part in the culture and daily life in the big cities as well as small. The typical custom is that stores and businesses close between 2pm-5pm to enjoy a rest that is mainly spent at various restaurants. Businesses have complete opposite schedules than the restaurants which open from 1:30pm-4:30pm, close, and then reopen from 8:30 – 11:30 every day. Spain has 4 normal eating times starting with desayuno, almuerzo, comida, and then cena.

There are many typical Spanish foods that are well known and many that aren’t as “main stream” that make up these important parts of the Spanish life.

To start with the most typical ones:

Paella is probably the most well-known food from Spain. Paella actually originated in the Valencia area from a small town called El Par Mar. This place is just a 30min bus ride from the city center of Valencia and offers some of the best paella you can find in Spain. Many restaurants offer paella valenciana that has a variety of fish or other things thrown in the pan, but true paella valenciana has chicken, rabbit, and special types of green bean and a white bean. This was definitely one of my favorite dishes while in Spain, especially because is originated in Valencia.

Also an extremely well known dish, tapas are an easy and fun way to try half the menu with a group of friends without breaking the bank or over stuffing yourself. Tapas came from the Andalucía region of Spain, so it is typical to get a tapa with your drink in some bars in that area which is always a plus.

Getting a little less typical are the bocadillos that are an easy find wherever you go in Spain. The most traditional is the española, which comes on a small baguette type of bread with Spanish tortilla, a mixture of potato and egg. This is kind of a combination of typical food, but they come together so much it was hard not to put them together. Bocadillos can have tons of different things on them and there are a few different types of tortillas as well, but my favorite and the most typical as I said is the bocadillo de tortilla española.

Patatas bravas are another one of my go to dishes. They are chunks of potatoes that have been fried and topped with a mayonnaise and salsa brava or with aioli sometimes. This is usually a starter at restaurants or at least a tapa that can be selected.

Becoming a little more obscure, tostada de tomate was something I didn’t discover until I was more than half way through my study abroad experience, which honestly kind of sucks. This turned into my go to snack on the university because it was so good and so cheap. This is basically a toasted baguette sort of bread with tomato sauce put over it. I would sometimes get it with fresh cheese as well. One of my absolute favorites.

This is my small list of favorite foods that I have enjoyed while being in Spain. I know I have missed some and there are other Spanish foods that I have had here not on this list, but they are not my favorite. Everyone should try all the typical Spanish foods, but these are my must tries for anyone going to Spain!

 

English as a First Language

These past months, the friends I have hung out with are from other countries and they speak English extremely well. While their level of English is impressive, there are a couple of words and phrases that I always get asked about since I am the native English speaker in our group. It seems that I have turned into the human dictionary if they don’t know how to say something. I have always been excited to help, but after multiple questions I begin to get confused by my own language because I do not have to think about the basis of their questions. For example, trying to explain when to use good or well in a sentence. I don’t think I ever actually learned that in school but just from listening to my parents speak.

Also, I have found that foreigners make many of the same mistakes in English. One consistently being “Can you explain me this?”, which just needs a “to” and a little rearrangement. As I become more familiar with Spanish and have talked with my friends about this, most languages use similar orders that encourages the “explain me” mistake. There are many others, but I have found that is the main mistake I have noticed.

¿Hablas Español?

Coming to Europe I knew that English was the most learned language, but I did not realize how many people really knew it. In every country I have traveled, English was a requirement in school – or at least seemed like it because of the level of their language. While I could usually find someone who spoke English in the different countries, I started to notice the difference between those countries and Spain.

I feel as if the majority of Spanish people do not know much English at all. I guess I expected that coming over, but in my intensive language course I took at the beginning, everyone spoke fluent English. It might just be my region of Spain, but I can only count a few people who could have a simple conversation in English. While that has been my observation so far, I know my conclusion about this can be very wrong since I am sure everything is extremely subject to region. I just found the level of language in different areas an interesting topic especially in comparison to the US when barely anyone I know learns another language in school.

Fallas

Fallas is basically a month long festival here in Valencia starting March 1st. It ends with the burning of the different statues that each small neighborhood makes. A short description of Fallas would include Mascleta, a type of firework that just makes sound, in the main square, fireworks being blown up in the street by children, and the Falleras walking around with a small band behind to announce their entrance. This festival was by far one of the most memorable events I went to.

With every passing day, the energy in the city increased exponentially. The final nights had 30 minute long firework shows, mini dancing clubs that were set up in tents on the streets, and the final of burning of the statues. This festivity and my experiences with it could take up pages and pages. The only thing I can compare it to in the US would be a mix of 4th of July, a state fair, and a Thanksgiving Day parade plus burning stuff. Even that description still doesn’t describe it because of the importance of religion and the traditional dresses that cost thousands of dollars worn in all of the events.

One of the neighborhood statues that was later burned.

Falleras giving roses to fill up Mary.

 

The main burning in the city center.

Fallas was a fun experience, but I must admit it was nice when it was over. With being woken up at 8 in the morning with our neighborhood’s Fallera’s march, staying up for night festivities, and the kid’s fireworks that would always sound like a shotgun even if you were expecting it, I was slightly relieved when March was over. I actually learned later that my roommates from Spain left for the weekend! All-in-all it was a great experience, and I would be down to come back and visit for the festival… but maybe not the whole month again jaja!