Monday, July 4, 2011

The last day

Today was the fourth of July. Tomorrow is my last day in Burgos.  I'll leave Burgos at 10 p.m. and get to Madrid at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, spend the night in the airport, and fly out at 7 a.m. It's going to be a very long trip.

Meanwhile, here I am.  It is 2 a.m. in Burgos and I just got back from saying goodbye to my good friend Yana.  My scrapbook is half-finished.  My suitcase is 4 pounds over the airline's limit. My life is chaos.

Today I went to Covarrubias, Santo Domingo de Silos, and Hacinas with María's sister, Eva.  They were all cute little towns and they kind of reminded me of home.  Hacinas was my favorite--it is the least touristy and the most untouched of all of them. Very calm.

They had a good-bye supper for me at María's mom's house tonight.  They are all coming to the bus station to see me off tomorrow, but it was still so sad today.  They have been good to me and I will miss them so much.

Tomorrow I am going to get up, make cookies, somehow take four pounds of stuff out of my suitcase, run some errands, say good-bye to Henar, her family, and my Burgos friends, and try to enjoy Burgos before I leave.

With all of this craziness, I am left thinking:  Life is chaos, but isn't it beautiful?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ten months of Burgos

So, I have happy news & sad news.

The happy news: I will be home in five days!
The sad news: I will be home in five days.

Spain has become like a second home to me, especially in these past few months. This place holds its own place in my heart and it will be very hard to leave it. On the other hand, North Dakota is my home too and I can't wait to see the empty prairies and my family and friends.

The past few days I have been on vacation in Ajo, Spain, with María, Antonio, and the kids. It is nice to spend time with them, and I am so happy to be at the ocean once again. I am in the process of making a scrapbook of my life with them to give them when I go.

I am not going to pretend that I think the transition home will be easy. When I came to Spain, I expected everything to be very different than what I was used to—I expected to struggle, to be homesick, and to hate this place. Then I got here and none of that really happened. Somehow I adjusted well and didn't go through much culture shock. And somehow, going home seems a lot tougher than leaving it was. Granted, I am not terrified like I was before I came here, but when I left North Dakota I knew I would return. I am leaving this country not knowing when--or if—I will ever come back. I am leaving a language and a family and a second home, all of which I really love. I am scared that I will forget my Spanish and that I will never come back to see this place where I have grown so much. But that's life, right? All you can do is keep on pushing forward.

We'll get home from Ajo on Saturday night. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I will spend packing up my life and belongings and saying goodbye to all the important people here. Wednesday I will be on a plane back to the United States. When I get on that plane I'll leave behind ten months of my life. Ten months of growth and joy and pain and homesickness. Ten months of Burgos.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tortilla de patata

Spain is roughly the same size as North Dakota and South Dakota put together.  For a country that small, it would seem logical that there would be little to no variation between its regions.  Talking to any Spaniard will refute that idea.  Each region of Spain has its own culture, its own traditional foods, and even its own dialect or completely different language.  

Spanish is the official language of Spain but in the Basque region to the north they speak Euskera, in the west they speak Gallego, in the east they speak Catalán, and so on. Of course, almost everyone speaks Spanish, but even that gets tricky.  There are so many regional dialects that it gets a little crazy.  I'll be heading to Andalusia, in the south of Spain, in a few weeks, and all my friends say I won't understand a thing, despite having spent nine months in Spain.

There are a lot of differences between regions here, but there are a couple things that hold them all together:  soccer and the tortilla de patata (potato omelette or Spanish omelette).

Soccer is popular on an international level--I think the United States is one of the only countries where it's not wildly successful. Almost all Spaniards love soccer.  The two richest soccer clubs (teams) in Spain are the Real Madrid and FC Barcelona teams.  They play against each other twice a year in the "Classic" and it's a big deal. Since I'm not into soccer I can't tell you much else.

I can tell you more about the tortilla de patata, however.  It looks like this:


The most basic tortilla de patata is made of eggs, potatoes and onions.  The potatoes are cut into small pieces and fried in olive oil until soft.  The excess oil is drained off and the potatoes are mixed with beaten eggs (usually it's an almost equal egg to potato ratio) and chopped, fried onions.  Once the ingredients are mixed together they are cooked in a smallish (I think) frying pan on medium heat.  The trickiest part is flipping the omelette over halfway through the cooking process.  Once cooked it can be served immediately or eaten cold.

Tortilla de patata is eaten all over Spain.  I don't even think there are regional variations.  Most people eat their plain, but I eat mine with ketchup.  I think Antonio and María secretly think I'm ruining the tortilla de patata, but they don't say anything.

My version of the tortilla de patata :)

One of my goals before I leave is to learn to make this delicious staple of Spanish life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Holy Week

In Spain, Holy Week means a ten-day break from classes as well as processions all week, leading up to Easter Sunday.  Although I spent a large portion of my Holy Week attempting to do homework, I did manage to get out of Burgos for awhile.

On Saturday, the 16th I went to Bilbao with my friend, Yana, who is from California.  After the two-hour bus ride we walked along the river in the sunshine to our destination:  the Guggenheim Museum.  The Guggenheim was amazing, with sculptures and statues outside and really interesting contemporary art inside.  Apart from being a really cool museum, the Guggenheim is worth seeing just for its architecture. The building's architect designed it so it would evoke the image of a boat, and he designed the curves to seem random.  After the Guggenheim we took the tram to the old part of town (el Casco Viejo), had lunch, and wandered around a bit.

The Guggenheim Museum!

Sculpture outside the Guggenheim

"Puppy" statue--the colors are real flowers

Aside from sightseeing, being in Bilbao felt like coming full-circle.  I flew into Bilbao in August when I came to Spain and had a minor meltdown in the bus station there, after missing my bus to Burgos.  I was scared and clueless and suffering from a language barrier.  Going back to that same place in a different context made me realize how far I've come since then.  I sat there and told myself, "I've got this now." And I do.

The bus station where I cried on my first day in Spain.

Yana and I also visited Asturias, a region in northern Spain known for its natural beauty.  We took a five-hour bus ride the morning of Holy Thursday and arrived in Gijón, a port city, at about eleven.  I loved Gijón.  The first thing we did was look for a place to sleep.  We settled on Hostal Manjón and went out to explore the town.  In the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) we found an open-air market with artisan and organic products.  I was in heaven. I bought a honey/hazelnut spread and Yana bought some pastries made with walnuts and spelt wheat.  In Asturias spelt wheat is gaining popularity as a "health" food, so all the artisans use it in their products.  Content with our purchases, we headed to the beach...

The bus station in Gijón

The artisan market!
 The beach in Gijón was beautiful.  It was a little chilly out, but we took our shoes off and walked along the shoreline for 45 minutes.  We saw surfers and an old couple holding hands while walking in the surf, and then headed to lunch.  For lunch we ate fabada (a traditional Asturian dish made with white beans and meat) and fish soup.  To drink, we tried sidra, an Asturian apple cider.  It was kind of strong and not sweet at all, so not really my cup of tea.

The beach :)

Yana at the beach

An old couple holding hands at the beach

In the afternoon we wandered around and at dusk we saw a Holy Week procession.  After the procession we bought pizza; it was supposed to be for breakfast the next day but we couldn't wait and ate it for supper instead.

Friday morning we took the bus to Oviedo, only half an hour away.  We saw the cathedral and an archeological museum, and decided to look for lunch.  Also, it turns out that Oviedo has a lot of statues. As we wandered around, we came across an exposition where they had 40 types of Asturian cheese, along with wine, cider, salad, and bread made from spelt wheat.  Yana loves cheese, so she wanted to do that before lunch.  After some convincing, I agreed to try the cheese expo, thinking that we'd just grab lunch afterwards.

We paid our euros and walked into a big room with a long table covered with plates of cheese.  Trying the different types was exciting but scary for me--I hate blue cheese and was always worried about eating some by accident.  After about twenty types of cheese, we were both looking forward to the end.  Forty kinds of cheese is a lot.  Dessert was cheesecake :) We left the cheese expo in a cheese-induced stupor, but completely content. Lunch never happened.

The bus ride to Oviedo

The cathedral


Thinking fisherman..

Thinking fisherwoman..

We spent the afternoon hanging out in a park, watching a male peacock trying to court a female, and then got on the bus back to Burgos.  We got back at 11 p.m., just in time to see the end of the Good Friday procession.

Statues in the park


On Easter Sunday I was at home with Antonio, María, and the kids.  We had my favorite food for lunch:  arroz a la cubana (Cuban rice).  It is white rice, tomato sauce, a fried egg, and fried banana, all together on a plate.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but it is absolutely delicious.

Staying in Spain for Holy Week (as opposed to traveling Europe) was a hard decision for me. I wanted to travel somewhere else in Europe, like Germany or maybe Budapest, but in the end I am glad to have stayed here, relaxed a little, and traveled as well.

I am always glad to see new places and try new foods.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Jesús María

Today was my last day of "teaching" at Jesús María Elementary School. I was with the third grade. They have been the worst group overall--there is no way to control them, and today was no different. It's ironic because they're so sweet and interested, but at the same time they just can't stop talking or focus for more than a minute. It was a frustrating last day but before I left they all mobbed me and gave me hugs, which made up for it.

Since chocolate chip cookies are super American, and since all the Spanish people who have tried them have loved them, I decided to make some for my students.  So--tonight from 7 pm to midnight I made three batches of chocolate chip cookies, and ended up with almost 400 cookies. There are around 300 students.  I'll bring them the cookies tomorrow morning and the rest I'll share with Antonio, María, and the kids, and with my Spanish friends :)

Being done at Jesús María is, like most endings, bittersweet.  I enjoyed going there more than I expected and found out that I might actually enjoy teaching. However, going there took a lot of time, and I need that time now in the three weeks before finals. 

I am glad to have had this experience, and I will miss riding my bike there and feeling the uncontainable energy that only children have.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Standing on the rooftops, everybody scream your heart out. -- (lostprophets)

Month seven has come and gone! I officially have a plane ticket back to the U.S. and three months left in Spain. Going home will be unbelievably bittersweet. The last month has been a really great one here.

I spent ten hours in Jesús-María elementary school, talking in English with the elementary students. The administration set it up so that I will spend 20 hours there over a two-month period. In total I'll spend two afternoons (two hours) with each class from first grade to sixth grade.  I'm not going to lie--the first couple of weeks I didn't enjoy it that much.  I'm not a teacher; I was nervous and unsure of whether I was connecting with the kids or if they understood me.  Insecurity.  The past weeks have been awesome, though, and the kids have been so excited to have me there.  It has brought a lot of energy to my life and I will be sad when it my time is up at the end of April.

Spring has arrived in Burgos! Friday it was 70 degrees; the locals assure me it's not usual for it to be that warm, but I am quite happy with the normal 40-60 degree range.  The trees are budding and the grass has stared to grow again. Friday I asked María if she planned to plant anything in the window box-type things she has outside.  She said no, and told me I can plant whatever I want there. They're pretty small so I think I will plant lettuce and maybe some mint or herbs.  I have absolutely no gardening experience (except pulling weeds-ha) so I am excited for this little experiment.

Friday, another exciting thing happened--I got a bike.  The university here has a bike-loaning program; you pay a deposit to borrow a bike and they return the deposit if you return the bike in good condition.  Friday I went and borrowed the last bike they had. I am excited about no longer being dependent on the bus system and will be using it a lot to go to Jesús-María.

The downside of all this greatness is, of course, the massive amounts of homework my teachers have been assigning. I am also aware of the proximity of finals--they're still two months away but I have a feeling they're going to creep up on me. Latin has been boggling my mind but I've learned a lot in the past few months. I'm kind of burned out on studying but only have two months to go.

Judging from the first few days of April, it's going to be a wonderful spring.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Today is the greatest day I've ever known" --the Smashing Pumpkins

February 28th marked the end of my 6th month in Spain and a seemingly new chapter in my life.  It's funny to me, but after six months here it finally feels like my life is changing.  The first six months in Spain were nice, but now I can see that I was just maintaining, trying to stay afloat. It took me all of that time to adjust to being here. Now I feel ready to face anything that Europe can throw at me. So I booked a flight to Rome, and arrived this afternoon.

Going to Rome has been something I've wanted to do for years.  I made plans to go during Christmas break but they fell through at the last minute.  I'm vacationing alone for the first time in my life, and going into it I was quite nervous.  I'm not really alone, though, because I am fortunate enough to be staying with the School Sisters of Notre Dame in their generalate house. Their hospitality is overwhelming to me. I have my own bedroom and bathroom in the basement of the house and am welcome to join them at all of their meals.  It is late here now, but I am looking forward to exploring Rome on my own terms tomorrow.

Another amazing thing that happened: I got accepted to "teach" English at an elementary school in Burgos.  I applied two weeks ago, feeling absolutely unqualified, and was stunned when I got accepted. It's not actually teaching; what they want is a native English speaker to come in and talk to the kids.  So, every week for two or three hours I get to go the the Colegio de Jesus-Maria and talk about pretty much whatever I feel like. It's supposed to be culturally based, so I'll talk about North Dakota (yeah, repping the home state!) and the US a lot.  I'm starting to make some powerpoint presentations with lots of pictures and trying to think of ideas to interest little kids. The classes will range from kindergarten to sixth grade. So, anyone with ideas for fun, possibly educational kids' activities, send them my way!

With that, it's time for sleep, and tomorrow = Rome.