How do I describe one of the most amazing ten days of my life? That’s probably why I’ve put this blog off for a while—what I have to write about is just so overwhelmingly detailed and amazing that there’s no possible way to describe it all and do the moments any justice…but I’ll definitely hold on to these memories for the rest of my life.
Sunday April 1st I left on a coach bus with 70 other exchange students for
We long-hauled 21 hours of transit to arrive in Salamanca
Spain, where we
took tours of the gorgeous old city and got adjusted to not understanding
anything—again. Our next city was Avila,
followed by ,
Toledo, Madrid Barcelona and this city by the Mediterranean
Sea…I forget the name because it was literally a phrase in
Alright, in replacement of my normal blog-post formula, I’m going to write this in list form. These are all the memories I want to hold on forever to and share with you all.
-21 Hours on the Bus
You really haven’t lived until you’ve been shut up with people for that long—and you really don’t know if you actually like a person until you’re smelling their nasty 20 hour old bus BO and you’re cranky. But seriously, I love my other exchange students like a wonderful, wacky, incredibly dysfunctional family. I sat in the very back of the bus with my closest friends, where we had an all-around party atmosphere, with songs and stories and lots of jokes (at the expense of each other). The fact that even 19 hours in we all had sore stomachs and mouths from laughing so hard really says something. And then when it was time for sleep everyone dissolved into a “cuddle puddle” of legs, arms, drool, shoulders, and uncomfortable neck positions. There are far to many pictures of sleeping people.
|Me, back right corner.|
- The First Spanish Rest Stop
Getting out to stretch our legs in
for the first time was definitely memorable. We stopped at a sketchy diner for
lunch at a truck stop. I accidentally ordered a typical Spanish sandwhich of
some sort of odd potato patty with unions. It was cold and floppy and gross,
which for some reason turned into a source of amusement. We also got our first
breath of good Spanish air and scenery—which looks a lot like I imagine Arizona
to look in spring. Not that I’ve ever been, just kind of flat with a lot of
This is a probably good time to mention that one of the most well-used object I brought on the trip was my awesome yellow Frisbee. The first time we took it out was at the first rest stop. Just passing it in a circle is a lot of fun—just a chance to move around a little. We literally played Frisbee in every city we visited. Any moment of free time was immediately followed up by someone glancing over to me and mimicking throwing a Frisbee, which was my sign to get it out of my bag and throw it sneakily at the person until everyone else joined in, and we made a spectacle of ourselves in whatever grand place we happened to be in.
It was our first real view of something typically Spanish and very old (our hotel was in the less historical/cool part of
Like, it was the kind of place that you could easily imagine the three
musketeers dashing in to. All the stone was a really rich red color, too,
because of all the iron in the stone. We went once during the day, left for a
kind of icky meal at the hotel (they served us fries, the nerve. We’re fry
experts and they serves us their nasty fries!) and then returned that night for
free time. We got a chance to wander the old streets of Salamanca
and boire une verre and even dance a little.
-The First Restaurant
We were given free time for lunch. I think one of my favorite things about
was the food. Me and this other girl had heard all about Tapas from the
southerners (my affectionate name for all our friends from South
America) so we went on an immediate search for good, fairly cheap
Tapas. We ended up sitting at a table with four other Americans, only one of
which spoke Spanish (Mexican Spanish, so a lot is untranslatable into
Spanish-Spanish). We tried to order in an orderly fashion, which is funny when
you have no idea what your ordering/how to pronounce what your ordering.
We all ended up with a traditional Spanish dish called Paella. Best. Thing. Ever. It’s basically a stirfry of protein and Spanish rice—not important what protein, apparently, because mine came with pieced of chicken, two mussels, two shrip, a craw fish, beef and some other unidentifiable stuff. We also all got our first taste of the Spanish fruit wine Sangeria and some rather…quirky Spanish desserts.
-Where-ever the hell we were the second day
It was rainy and we saw a lot of churches. Rohan got in trouble because he was eating an orange in some important catherdral, and I told some girls that the original cross of Christ was the one standing on display in front of the church, which wasn’t as good as Rohan telling BundahBurge that the red stain on the floor was from all the sacrificed dead babies. Keep in mind, we saw about five churches that day which was surprisingly miserable. It was only once we got outside of the “old city” and were able to appreciate the ancient walls over looking the valley (the city was up on a hill) that people started perking up. Again, free time for lunch, where I ate with some awesome friends at a little Spanish restaurant, a glorious lunch of calamari sandwich. After, we, being the people I ate with, mosied over to a small café on the same street where we ordered coffee, or in mine and another girl’s case, Spanish hot chocolate…which is basically like a melted chocolate bar it’s so think, and actually gets a simi-solid layer of cooled chocolate on top. It’s so good, even if it takes 30 minutes and the help of a friend to finish a little cup. My wonderful friend Derek also accidentally smashed a coffee cup about two second after he got it, and about two minutes after the woman working their warned us that the tables were a little sloped, so to be careful about putting our stuff down. The epic thing about him smashing is cup was that the fall literally lasted 20 seconds of crashing, because we were kind of on a second story within the building, so the cup, and then the spoon, and then the plate had to fall two stories and smash. Probably one of the funniest, most embarrassing moments. And then we played Frisbee in the grand place.
their specialties) Avila
Our tour of
started off early and rainy.
The first thing we saw was the impressive and ancient aqueduct system, and,
after a million steps, an absolutely amazing view of the city. We had a very
cool tour guide, and it was a big change from the day before as far as
interest-level goes. One of Avila ’s
“things” is that the houses are all decorate with relief, intricate patterns in
the stucco, which was really beautiful. The day started off rainy, but ended up
clearing up to bright blue skies. Avila
is one of those Spanish cities hugely influenced by muslim culture, so a lot of
the old buildings were this awesome mix of middle-east and Spanish
architecture. We also saw an old Spanish castle with the most amazing view of
the valley…it was pretty awe-inspiring. Avila
At lunch, I had gotten to talking to one of the exchange students from
about the specialty Columbia …roasted
piglet. We tracked it down with some other exchange students and feasted on
suckling pig. Kind of sad, but also very very good. And, you know, cultural.
The restaurant was also situated in a cool kind of basement bar. But I think
the most important part about that lunch was that I ended up hanging out with
people I had never hung out with before, all exchange students from south of
the border. There’s a little segregation between the latino/Latina population
of exchange students and the gringo/granga population. For the Latinos, it’s a
lot easier to speak Spanish amongst themselves, and for us it’s easier to speak
English. This trip to Avila
was amazing for breaking down those barriers. I met so many people I wouldn’t
have met just because of the complete open atmosphere of our exchange student
group. And I LIKE hanging out with the southerners…especially now that we all
have French as a common language! Spain
So, I spent Easter week in one of the most catholic countries in the world. Every church we went into was preparing huge, portable statues for the epic Spanish processions, of which I purposely witnessed one and got trapped by two. These processions are somber affairs, with the Spanish holy people dressed in outfits Americans traditionally associate with the KKK, but it multiple colors and with bright candles. Eerie, dissonant music is played as we witness the death and resurrection of Christ threw statues. I had an odd ability to be literally trapped by these processions. Normally, they make a kind of circle around the church, and I somehow managed to get stuck WITHIN that circle with no escape. A bit alarming.
-The Bad Planning and the Monastery
Maybe it’s just me, but the day that they announced we were going to
being mid-april, I imagined warm weather and blue skies. So I put shorts on.
And then we make a surprise visit to a monastery (burial place of Spanish kings
and their mothers. Important stuff.) that happens to be scenically nestled in
the mountains. Where it snowed.
And I was wearing shorts.
Also, our tour guide was unfriendly.
Our first stop in
Madrid was the STADIUM OF
REAL MADRID. Americans won’t understand, maybe, but that’s like going to see
Fenway or Rigley field in America—kind
of a big deal in Europe. Our hotel had an amazing view
of CITY! To be almost right in the hustle and bustle of Madrid
was awesome. I waved at Spanish people happily from the forth story balcony.
How American, but they waved back. Probably other Americans.
We walked up to the center of
day was gorgeous, blue skies, cool breeze…I had already changed back into
pants. Madrid is one of the most
beautiful cities ever—there’s just vibrancy and movement that’s so SPANISH. We
were all hanging out in this huge open place, with a castle in the background,
sweeping blue skies everywhere, and a huge park, when our grumpy Rotarian (he
had already gotten lost that day and wasn’t in the mood for the absolute gaiety
that the students were up to…basically the whole feeling of MAAADDDRRIIIIDDD!!!!!!!!!!) did some quick organizing that left me, some
friends, and a bunch of southerners dazed and confused and going on a guided
tour of Madrid with grumpy boots.
But I ended up being happy I did that and not going off with other friends,
because, again, bonding with people I normally don’t talk to. Also, one of my
new Columbian friends taught me how to salsa dance in the streets of Madrid
to a traditional Spanish street
band. Who gets to say that?! ME! I get to say a Columbian guy taught me to
salsa in Madrid. Although Salsa
is hard because he refused to let me do the “stupid people” step, and jumped
right into complicated maneuvers.
|From the balcony|
I should start by saying I lost my wallet in a Paella restaurant in
And, despite that, it was my all-time favorite place ever. Literally the most
beautiful city in the world. It’s about three thousands year old, and has been
claimed by multiple different peoples and religions through-out its history. It
basically on these miniature ragged mountains carved out by a huge river, and
everything has this sort of mixed Spanish/muslim feel. Everything is just
layers upon layers of history…I mean, 3,000 years is a long time to be
established. In New Hampshire,
1/10 of that time is considered ancient. We saw and old Jewish house of
worship, built by Muslims in the Muslim style, converted to a Christian church.
God, just remembering driving into Toledo
and seeing the houses from across the river gives me chills.
The Paella was really good, despite losing my wallet. There was a ridiculous amount of options as far as proteins to have your paella made with, so me and 10 other exchangers pulled two tables together, ordered two pitchers of Sangeria, and ordered a bunch of Paella. It was awesome.
-Not Sure How to Title This One
Our second night in Madrid we had a bunch of free time (the first night we had been taken on a failed two hour forced march to the Hard Rock café Madrid…not to eat there, just to see it. There was some language confusion between rotary and us…when they asked if we’d like to go, we assumed they meant for dinner. Nope.) I explored some of the out-door shops, and then a large park by the hotel with some friends. The point of the story was we ended up in a dried-out fountain eating chips while we were surrounded by a lose peacock. Only in
Our hotel was literally on the boardwalk. We could see the
sea from our balconies. Rotary gave us free time, a curfew, and a reminder that dinner was
at 8. I would say about 80% of the exchange students got their beach gear and
headed straight for the sea.
I can now say that I went swimming in the
Mediterranean on Easter
Sunday, played Frisbee on the Spanish beaches, sat out on the beach late at
night with some of the best company of multilingual friends ever.
For the record, I think only about five people got in the water. It was pretty cold.
While I have you here, I’d like to talk about some other important life events.
On March 17th I went to a huge techno concert called “Sensation White” where everyone dresses up in white and dances all night. I spent an amazing night, but I did expect it to be a little more, well, cultural than it was. I think I met more Americans that night than in the rest of my exchange in
combined. I even met a physiology major from UNH! I had so much fun though, and
danced for seven hours straight—maybe that will start burning off the waffle
Three days after I returned from
I changed to my final host family. My how time flies! All is calm and cool at
my last family—I’m very happy with them. It’s odd how normal it has become for
me to live in someone’s house who I barely know.
I went on a weekend trip with 10 Belgians from my class to and adventure camp, where we slept in Teepees, did kayaking, tree-ropes courses, underground pitch-black mazes, archery, gun shooting, night hiking…pretty much everything cool you could imagine. I actually was able to bond with my class a little bit more, and I really felt like an accepted member of the group which was wonderful. Also, they started calling me “Maman Audrey” because, with out me, they wouldn’t have been able to do the weekend…you have to have an adult with you over 18 to rent the teepees. Them being 15 and 16 and one or two 17 year olds, I was the “adult” of the weekend. At 19, sometimes the age difference is obvious, but sometimes not at all. They told me how they got this impression from me that I lived deep in the woods back home, to which I responded that I kind of did. They don’t have a lot of rivers and lakes in
so my comfort with the kayaks surprised them I think.
|....yeah. that's my frisbee...|
I got my official exchange student sweatshirt! Only problem is we accidentally got…um…mixed up. The sweaters are yellow, with black writing. On the front, we have the black Cock de Wallone (rooster) and a black Lion de Flandre (roaring lion) sante-ing (cheering) together. Problem: The lion de flandre, in all black, with out it’s normal red tongue and nails (because it’s expensive to add another dye when buying sweatershirts) actually means the OLD lion of flanders. Not the official one. The old one. Which now also happens to be the symbol of the separatists movement to divide flanders from
Well, merde. We’ve only had one girl be harassed for having a separatist lion,
but I think most of us will hold off wearing them proudly until home.