Wednesday, June 29, 2011

309 Days of Spain

[Well, minus about 36 days for other European countries.]

The trip home was ridiculous. I have to thank Charlotte a thousand times over for all of her last minute help and even walking me to Fuente de las Batallas with one of my bags to catch a cab to the bus station. This girl rocks. Shout out!

I only slept a bit on the transcontinental flight, but aside from that, I was awake for a long 48 hours, 30 of which were spent traveling. My bags were overweight and painfully heavy to carry, but the kind gentlemen at the Spanish United counter let it slide. Shout out! Plus, I got to fly home with a handful of great folks from my program.

I couldn't help but stare at the progress screen on the flight from Madrid to DC. It was both terrifying and humbling to see our little plane get further and further away from the life I've known for almost a year. I couldn't believe it. Even when we landed, I was stunned.

Then I made it through customs and was shocked at hearing (mostly) English everywhere. I couldn't help but be a little surprised when I bought a pretzel in the terminal and was greeted with a, "Hi, what can I get for you?" in leu of an, "Hola. Dime." I keep accidentally slipping in Spanish words (that have no perfect English equivalent) into conversation. Last night, I said, "bocadillo" to my dad without skipping a beat until the end of the sentence when I said, "Did I just say 'bocadillo' instead of 'sandwich'?" Yep.

I am not hungry when I am supposed to be, I have been waking up between 6 and 7 a.m. because my body is thinking it's 3 or 4 p.m. and refuses to sleep longer. I got painfully exhausted around 5 p.m. yesterday and all I did was unpack. This trip has done a doozy on my body and I know I'll for a while.

But it's still sinking in... Even when I came down to baggage claim in LAX and heard my mom squeal before I even saw her, "Oh my goooosh! There she is!" My dad was bouncing on his heels to hug me. It was surreal. Even after driving on the freeway and stopping in Baldwin Park for In N Out (shout out!), it felt like a dream. Or a test-drive for the real thing.

I think it sunk in a bit more at dinner last night with the whole family. I got to get multiple hugs in from each and see how tall my cousins have become. I ate a Rosie's burrito (shout out!) while I heard all the women at the table interrupt each other and cackle and still know exactly where the conversation is going. I missed that.

I am about to drive for the first time in almost a year today and it's definitely going to be a "go around the block five times" kind of situation before I get near the freeway (no shout out for you, freeway). But I am excited to get on the road and go see my grandpa for the first time in almost a year. Of course, he just got Dish Network and I get to deal with the hassle of teaching an 87-year-old man how to use the remote of complicated satellite cable. Looks like things are sinking right back into the norm.

But seriously. Granada, I miss you already. Casa de los Locos, ya te echo de menos. And every wonderful new friend I made during this experience, I will never forget you. And remember, it's NOT, "Adios," but rather, "Hasta luego." :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hasta luego, Granada!

(Until next time, Granada.)

I am sitting in the upstairs kitchen stealing Internet that is not meant for me (as mine is not working in my sauna of a room), dealing with 41 C heat (that's about 104 F). I have but THREE hours until I catch my bus to Madrid. Let me break down this awful schedule for you.

5 hour bus ride to Madrid.
4 hour wait until I board my flight.
9 hour flight from Madrid to Washington DC.
2 1/2 hour layover in DC.
5 1/2 hour flight to LAX.

By the time I get home, I will have been traveling for almost 30 hours. Sweet baby Jesus.

BUT, you know the moment I get my bags, I am headed straight for In N Out for my double double, fries animal style and a Neapolitan shake. Yeah, it's getting dirty.

I just have a couple more goodbyes and then I am out of here. I am still blinking in surprise and getting the occasional chill (despite the deadly heat). How did this happen so fast? Ten months of my life has just flown away from me and though I have all of these incredible memories and photos and stories and amazing friends, I will never have anything quite like this ever again.

America, see you in less than 24 hours.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

But I just got here.

Lo que he visto... El último.

I posted this note on Facebook, but for those who don't have Facebook, I will re-post it here. I can't believe I leave the day after tomorrow.

Packing a year in two suitcases.

It's funny what makes me cry. Of course, certain goodbyes are rougher (much, much rougher) than others. But they all suck. But it's not just hugging people goodbye that kills me. It's these little things that sneak up on me.

I began packing my bags today and it was probably unwise of me to listen to The Weakerthans as I did so. I cried as I opened my largest suitcase to find the hot pink and white metro pass from my very first night in Madrid. Too many Americans racing in the August heat to Plaza del Sol to have that first beer abroad.

I cried when I carefully tucked away the stack of doodles from friends and club promotion cards I had plastered over my wall for the course of the year. Including the little note "Para Laura" that sat in front of the cookies Tony baked me my first week here.

I stacked flight itineraries from amazing trips (the largest stack being all of the many papers from the Italy trip that Fernando orchestrated with Miguel and Arisa. Los locos.) And notes left on my door from Chiara and Giulia, always being some of the sweetest girls I know. Coasters from every Monday night at Pub Quiz with team The Major Ragers.

I folded skirts that I remember wearing upstairs before a long night of Spanish clubbing and asking Natasha and Chelsea over and over, "Is it fancy enough? Is it too fancy? With the belt or no?" Followed by Brandon and Alex's inevitable, "You're wearing THAT?" Every. Single. Time.

I tucked away the mini wooden shoes from Holland that Charlotte gave me and the yen ("buenas relaciones") from dear Yuri.

I cried when I folded that dress I wore that night I realized that Joakim was not, in fact, just someone with whom I could argue, but a truly amazing guy.

And then, the even smaller things got me. American dollars look like monopoly money. My California ID just looks like something from a movie. US wall plugs don't make sense anymore. I have to go back to eating dinner 4 hours earlier than I am used to. Everything is opened on Sundays in the States! I guess I am starting to panic about the whole re-adjustment thing, too.

But when I stop and breathe, I realize what a privilege and gift this whole experience has been. It would not have been complete without every single person I have met here. You all mean so much to me. My little Spanish family. And of course, I couldn't have done any of it without my American family and friends. You guys drove me through this year. Thank you.

Two days left. But I JUST got here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Feria de Corpus Christi.

This week, Granada celebrates Corpus Christi, which basically serves as a plethora of distractions for me and my packing/leaving business. But it's good. Rather than sobbing, I am exploring. Seems like a fitting end.

So there have been processions like during Semana Santa and traditional dances and good galore and even a HUGE carnival!

The other night, Charlotte and I went with a ton of her Dutch and Belgian friends (all hilarious) to Plaza Bib Rambla to watch some Flamenco and other folklore dance like "El Baile de la Boda Gitana." So beautiful.

Then we all made our way to the other end of town for the massive carnival. The haunted house was the best. Charlotte's friend, Yana took a video of Charlotte having a panic-attack and clinging to my arm. It is golden.

And of course, we thought it through and went for rides BEFORE food. As usual, I hunted DOWN some caramel apples and Charlotte attacked the biggest piece of gummy candy I have ever seen. I am so glad I had her to distract me and get me out of my head. :]

Have I mentioned it's 96 degrees here on average? And Spain does not believe in air conditioning or adequate fans. I am melting. Oh and all those stereotypes you have of old Spanish women frantically using those beautiful hand fans in public are TRUE. And I am one of them. Minus the old and Spanish part.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I löööve Sweden!

Now that I have been lectured in the spelling of various Swedish places I have visited and delicious foods I have eaten, I can blog confidently!

Last Wednesday, I took a bus from Granada to Málaga (making a new Spanish friend in the meantime and had an intercambio with him on the bus), flew from Málaga to Oslo, Norway, and was whisked away by Joakim who picked me up and drove me to the ferry crossing the sea and eventually driving into Sweden AND finally! settling in Uddevalla, Sweden. After a full day of traveling, I had zero energy to bust out the camera that first night, but it was hard not to as I was ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the gorgeous, rich forest scenery that passed my passenger seat window on the way to his house. It was breath-taking.

The next day, we woke up and the weather was beautiful. We had breakfast on the back porch and I just took in the clear, crisp air. Here are pictures of his indoor porch and you can see the wooden deck in the back. But the picture is inaccurate of that first morning because I took them when it began to rain the following day.

Delicious little breakfast of pölarbröd with smögenröra and våstkuströra spread. Seafood spreads are just the best.

That evening we went with his parents to Kungshamn where they have a trailer to do what we lazies call camping and what they rightfully call relaxing. I of course, found playground equipment near the amazing ocean views.

We then drove over to my favorite place in this corner of Sweden, Smögen! The "ö" kind of makes the vocalic sound you use in "Louvre" so I have coined the expression, "I löööve Smögen!" Okay, the Swedes chuckled. Anyway, this place reminds me a bit of a tiny New England beach town in the States, but is still very different. For one thing, the scenery and rocks and are just crazy different from ours. Joakim made the point that years of ice age smoothed them over and gave them that look. I kept forgetting how far north I was. Until the sun didn't set until, like, MIDNIGHT. But seriously, Smögen is lovely. We had dinner with his parents there and ate a ton of råka kråftstjartar (the little tiny shrimp). So delicious!

On our way home, after dropping off his parents in Kungshamn, we stopped by a moose farm! It was closed, but I spotted that sign kilometers away! I adore moosies. Though it was closed, we got to see a TON of elk! They were very cute as well. :] Quote of the night goes to Joakim: "White butts" Pause. "It's like Braveheart."

After the farm, we went back to Uddevalla and did the strandpromenaden, which directly translate to "Beach Walk." If I lived here, I would be much more inclined to run if I could use this trail daily. And mind you, the following picture was taken around 11:30 p.m. and that was the lighting.

And I just thought it was necessary to show you the size of slugs in Sweden. Um, in California they are one fourth as large as these slimy bastards. Gross. And this one wasn't even the biggest one.

On Saturday, Joakim, Mattias (from the Portugal road trip) and I took the train into Goteborg (Gothenburg). We walked around this canal-filled city. I got to see the Fiskhallen (where you can get some incredible seafood). My lunch was a thai pasta dish with a ton of salmon and more of the little shrimp in it.

My favorite part of Gothenburg was an area called Linnëgatan. It was very old and beautiful. The architecture was lovely.

We continued to walk and I looked like the lame American snapping pictures behind my Swedish tour guides. (Worth it.)

We had one more little stop before Mattias went to a football game and Joakim and I checked out all the rea in the stores (summer sales!). We stopped for coffee but Mattias (like Joakim) is a feeder and before went in to grab the coffee asked, "Maybe a cinnamon bun, Laura?" Okay! You convinced me! The cinnamon buns are different in Sweden. They use pearled sugar and it is to die for.

The next morning, I had a more epic Swedish breakfast. I made Joakim hold off on eating just so I could display all the goodies I ate. I can't even begin to name is all, but I can name a couple. Notice all of the pastes in the bottom left of the shot. Mostly caviares. The only Swedish food of which I am not a fan. There is Smögenröra and Våstkuströra (the seafood spreads from my first breakfast), Arboga liver pâté, a milk product in a tube (not caviare) which I used to like but don't actually love called Messmör, yogurts galore, and much much more.

Also, Joakim (and pretty much every other male Swede) seems to think they have the best Kebab pizza and I gotta say, it was pretty bomb.

We ordered one after having coffee at his brother, Jesper's house. The following morning I got to have breakfast with Jesper's girlfriend Malin who is a doll! I loved talking to her. Have I mentioned all of their English is incredible?! It is.

Monday was my last day in Sweden, and it was definitely a sad day. Joakim had to work, but his dad had to stop out at his brother's summer cottage and (I kid you not) bail rain water out of a small fishing boat. But the Krantz family is too thoughtful. They thought of the great idea to have me tag along with his dad and get to see some beautiful parts of Uddevalla and surrounding areas that I hadn't seen yet. The boat was stored in a place called Ranneberg. There was also a large white summer house where Joakim's dad and his brothers used to share for a period of time. It is a Scandinavian paradise!

Then we went to Rödön, a small harbor where they used to have a larger boat (large enough to sleep on). It made me miss my family's boat a lot. But man, it was pretty.

That afternoon, my last meal was, of course, Swedish meatballs, potatoes and lingon berry sauce. Joakim's mom, is a saint. 1.) She raised three boys very close in age, 2.) She tolerated my presence in her home for five days and 3.) Cooked this feast for me. Amazing!

Saying goodbye was beyond crappy. Joakim has been such a special person to me this whole year. And his incredible family and friends didn't make it any easier to say goodbye. But I am so glad I got the chance to visit him in his country and hope that one day he can visit me in San Francisco, and maybe down in Southern California where I can make my mom cook for him. Fair is fair, right? This picture of us was taken in Lisbon, Portugal, but I wanted to post one more of us on here.

Tack, Joakim och Krantz familj! :]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back from Scandinavia.

After flying into Oslo, driving through Norway, entering Sweden, settling in Uddevalla, and flying out of Gothenburg, I am back in Spain.

I am excited to blog all about my Swedish adventures. It was such a beautiful and heart-warming (if not body-warming) country. The trip itself was perfect. I adore the Krantz family and all they've done for me.

However! I have only stopped in to let you know that I am back in Granada safe and sound and busy as ever. I do plan on blogging in detail about my trip (with pleeeenty of pictures) but to be honest, I need to get the proper spelling of most of things I saw and ate this past week. Haha. But trust me, I am pretty skilled in the Swedish language.

Keep your eyes peeled for a very thorough blog soon. :]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Portugal and a car full of Swedes.

The Portugal road trip was an incredible success. And I am now fluent in Swedish, if you were wondering. And am crazy tan. My road trip partners were Joakim, and his friends from home, Fontanelle, Mattias and Sebastian.

On Monday, we all piled into the tiny Seat Ibiza that we were granted at the rental station (although we had requested and were told we would receive a Ford Fusion. Lies.). And drove straight into Portugal. After a few pitstops, our first real stop was in Lagos, Portugal. That place is paradise. It's the kind of scene with turquoise water and red cliffs that you see on the front of postcards. We immediately crashed on the beach for a couple hours before wandering around aimlessly to find a hostel or pension.
Sebastian and Fontanelle about to be attacked by the sea gulls' nest they found at the top of that cliff:

We planned on camping, but rain was a possibility the nights we were in Lagos. But thanks to my fluency in Portuguese (hah) I spotted a "Pensao" which looks like "Pensión" which means "Pension" in English and there we stayed for a cheap 11 euros a night per person. That night, Joakim and I went out for tapas and were stoked to find the majority of the menu was seafood. Here are our tapas of muscles with a light tomato sauce and cheese with fig sauce:

The next day was not perfectly prime beach weather. So we find the tourist office and asked the kind lady for her suggestions for wineries in the area to try a wine tasting. I was cracking up as she spoke with her Portuguese accent which sounds totally slavic to me. "Vell, you vill go in dees direction and vill see a road called vreresh gov." It was a crack-up. The vineyard was amazing though. It is called Quinta do Frances (the man who runs it is a French doctor) in the city of Silves, Portugal. They grow only red grapes and create two types of red on site. They buy grapes from other nearby vineyards for their rose and white wines. We got the full tour.
Joakim and I in the vineyard:

The store and tasting area:

The fermenting process:

It was all very enlightening really. We really liked the second red wine and bought two bottles of it to drink on the beach later that day...

That night we had dinner at a recommended seafood place in Lagos. It was a difficult decision between tuna fish steak, cod, cuttle and more. So we all got one of each pretty much. Clever us.

After two nights in the lovely Lagos, we drove up the west coast and took a pitstop in Sagres. This is the peninsular, rocky point of Portugal that people thought was the edge of the world prior to Columbus' exploration. Pretty neat!

In the evening, we stopped at a quiet beach town between Villa do Bispo and Aljezur. We found another pension last minute which was perfect and still very cheap at 20 euros. The day we spent at that beach was the day I got in a really bad fight with the sun and got a good start on my epic bikini tan.

The next day, it was the trek up to Lisbon. We got into the city at night and found out it was a weekend of a huge fiesta. It was their version of the Fourth of July as well as a day for San Antonio--the patron saint of marriage.

So we ended up eating dinner a little plaza, where a family was bar-be-cuing for the people around. We were the only tourists for blocks and blocks! The next day, we began some heavy exploring in the hot Lisbon air.

Our hostel hosts were incredibly nice. First of all, the entire hostel (Alfama Patio Hostel) was completely green and eco-friendly. All kinds of recycling and compost, water conserving showers, fans instead of air conditioning. And they even had a Portuguese water dog who lived there! So cute. They suggested the best pastry place in all of Portugal which happened to be at the other end of Lisbon by a metro ride. It is called Pastelería de Belem and it was incredible.

The following day, we went sightseeing a bit more in the city. I absolutely love this place. It was like San Francisco with the intense hills and cable cars and surrounding beach. But it was still distinctly European. I loved it.

The last night, we had a massive BBQ at the Patio Hostel. We had chicken, pork, pasta, salad, bread, and liters upon liters of sangria. Perfect way to end the hot week.

And now I have less than 24 hours and I fly to Sweden. Well, technically to Oslo, Norway and then I get picked up and driven to Uddevalla, Sweden to stay with a lovely family. :)

Here we go again!