Monday, July 30, 2012

a taste of home

I wanted to bring a taste of home to Spain, so I decided to make an apple crisp to share with my host family.  The grocery shopping turned out to be the most difficult part of this endeavor.  The "supermercado" that my host mother sent me to was set up, not in organized aisles, but more like a maze with dead ends and random placement of products.  I searched through the section where the baking goods are about five times before I finally found sugar, and discovered that brown sugar (azúcar marrón) comes in a carton here (like a milk carton).  I finally found all of the ingredients I needed, and headed home to prepare the dessert.  It turns out that azúcar marrón is not like the brown sugar we have in the States, it was more like sugar in the raw.  Still, I used it to make the crisp topping, and when all was said and done, it came out great!  I served it with vanilla ice cream, of course, and everyone enjoyed it after our lunch :)

On a more exciting note, I am (not so patiently) awaiting the arrival of my sister!  She is currently flying from Boston to Philadelphia, and this evening she'll board her flight in Madrid to land in Spain around 8:30 am local time. Then a 5 hour bus ride will bring her to Bilbao, where I will meet her at the bus station so we can continue our adventures together!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

la vida cotidiana

El viernes terminó el programa de la universidad. Tuve una clase de cultura y política española contemporánea, y una clase de literatura española del siglo XX. Las disfruté mucho y he aprendido mucho de la cultura, historia, y política española. Mis profesores eran estupendos, también. Durante estas semanas pasadas, pasaba las horas entre mis clases en Bilbao. Andaba por la ciudad a las tiendas, y visitaba a veces una pastelería (me encantan los martes, cuando todos los productos cuestan mitad del precio normal!) .  Pasaba muchos días leyendo en el parque cerca de la universidad. Quiero compartir unas fotos de mi vida cotidiana en Bilbao.

The university program ended on Friday, the time flew by!  I took a class in culture and politics of contemporary Spain, and a class in Spanish literature of the 20th century.  I enjoyed them both, and I've learned a lot about the culture, history, and politics of Spain. I was also lucky to have great professors here! During the past few weeks, I've passed the time between my morning and afternoon classes in Bilbao.  I walked through the city to the shops, and sometimes stopped by the pastry shop (I loved their half-priced pastry Tuesdays!)  I spent many days reading in the park near the university. I'd like to share some photos of my daily life in Bilbao, check them out below!

Plaza Moyua - The building on the left is the Spanish government building.
It's one of the few places in Pais Vasco where the Spanish national flag is flown.

Bilbao is nestled in a little valley surrounded by mountains and the ocean.
I love the green hills that rise around the city and can be seen from the city center!

A beautiful church not far from my university.
And my favorite pastry shop is right across the street :)
Musicians at the park in Bilbao. 
The park where I spent many days reading in the shade or the sunshine.

Ever wonder how google maps gets the street view on park pathways?
The google maps bicycle.
I caught a picture of him as he rode by. Maybe I'll show up on google maps holding my camera!

Fountain in the park
Another view of the park

Family feeding the geese.

I think I've mentioned how people dress their kids in matching outfits.
Here's an example, even the mom has a similar outfit!
Unfortunately, I've been sick with a head cold and sore throat all weekend, so I spent most of my time resting and reading. But to look at the bright side, I rounded out my Spain experience with a first hand experience of the medical system.  Andrea brought me to the emergency clinic on Thursday, where I had to explain my symptoms to the nurse and doctor in Spanish. I got some medicine and I'm feeling much better today! Plus I get the souvenirs of my hospital bracelet and a copy of my sinus x-ray.

Monday, July 23, 2012

¡más aventuras!

Looks like I need to catch up on my past two weekends here in Spain!

Last weekend Jessi and I went out with a group of friends we met from Austria who were studying in a computer engineering program at our university.  When I came here, I expected to meet people from Spain, but I didn't think about how many people from other countries I would meet as well!  These guys are all students at a university in Vienna, but they originally came from Germany, Serbia, and Bosnia.  The role language plays in our lives is so interesting to me, as we became friends with this group because they realized that we speak English, and could communicate easily with them (they speak no Spanish). We had a fun night out on Friday in Casco Viejo, the old town section of Bilbao, and then said goodbye to them because they were flying back to Austria the following day.

Representing Bilbao's football club (as in soccer, of course) with our friends...and a random German man.
I spent the following day on a day trip to Santander with Andrea, Milan, and Jessi.  Santander is home to "Palacio de la Magdalena," which was built in 1911 as a summer residence for the royal family.  Today, it remains as a historical monument in a public park, and holds a reception hall for weddings.  After our visit to the palace, we spent the day relaxing on the beach and swimming in what I consider warm ocean water (although those of you who didn't grow up going to beaching in Maine may disagree).
El Palacio de la Magdalena

My study abroad group with our wonderful director, Andrea
It was a blustery morning in Santander!

On the beach!

Santander coastline

We didn't miss a beat last weekend, and went out on Saturday night after our trip to Santander.  The "fiestas" were going on in Santurzi, a suburb close to Getxo (where we live).  There were carnival rides and sideshow games, churro stands, and crowds of people hanging out and dancing in the streets and outside of bars.  I went on my first ever ferris wheel ride (somehow I've gone almost 20 years without ever having been on a ferris wheel, don't know how I managed that!) and then walked around town and got churros.  After pushing our way through the crowds, we decided that it really wasn't our scene after all, it turned out to be too dirty and crowded for my taste.  Nevertheless, we were glad we experienced the fiesta, because we really don't have anything like it back home.

Me and Milan on the ferris wheel!

A sideshow game to win entire legs of ham - only in Spain
A week of classes, with evenings out with Andrea for a Spanish movie and chocolate con churros, was followed by another exciting weekend.  This past weekend also turned out to be especially musical.  We kicked it off on Friday night with a concert at the Guggenheim Museum.  We saw the group "Cocorosie" which is made up of two sisters and their band.  The sisters are originally from the US, but formed their band in Paris.  The music is a very unique blend of pop, blues, opera, electronica, and hip hop, and uses a variety of instruments from a traditional concert harp to folk instruments like wooden flutes. Check out the video below if you'd like to listen.

On Saturday morning, Jessi, Milan and I took a bus to San Sebastian.  We were lucky to have much better weather for our return trip to the beach city.  After we found our hostel and got settled in, we went shopping in town and out for a lunch of paella and fresh fish.  We spent the afternoon at the beach before returning to the hostel for dinner.  We met the other guests at the hostel, who were all from Germany, but were not all traveling together.  They invited us to go out with them that night to the jazz festival - there was a concert right on the beach!  The band was "The Waterboys," a Celtic rock group. We had a great time dancing to the music, and met two Irish guys on the beach who were doing the jig to the fiddle solos.  I preferred this music to the music from Friday night, listen below!  After the concert, we went for a nighttime dive in the ocean.  It was fun at the time, but probably not my best idea from this trip seeing as I then had a long and cold walk back to the hostel in my soaking wet dress. Live and learn :)

Sunday was a beautiful beach day in San Sebastian, and we returned to Getxo last night with lots of great new memories!

Sunday, July 15, 2012


This past week, has been the week of the festival of Sanfermines in Pamplona, a celebration of the city's patron saint, San Fermín.  Every morning of Sanfermines begins with "el encierro," (the running of the bulls) at 8:00 am, followed by parades and "las corridas," (bullfights) later in the day.  The streets of Pamplona are filled with crowds of people dressed in the traditional white clothes with red scarves and belts.  Pamplona is a party 24/7 the entire week, with people hanging around and drinking in the streets all day and all night.  Our university group went to see "el encierro" on Wednesday, which meant we had to leave Bilbao at 4:30 am for the 2 hour bus ride so that we wouldn't miss the action.  We got seats in the arena where the bulls and crazy participants run to, and saw the people flood into the ring followed by huge charging bulls.  After the bulls are herded out of the ring, a young bull is brought out to run around the crowd and charge people.  It is a very unusual form of entertainment, but definitely a big part of the culture here.  Another Sanfermines tradition is to eat churros con chocolate after el encierro.  Sticks of fried dough dipped in thick, rich hot chocolate - of course this was my favorite part of the Sanfermines festival! We spent a few hours walking around the town visiting a flea-market area and watching a parade of "gigantes y cabezudos," which are giant puppets that people walk around with a sponge attached to a stick and try to whack kids on the head with it.  I think that would be considered borderline child abuse in the US, but here, it's just part of the fun!

After enjoying the festivities in Pamplona, we headed to San Sebastian. This is a city known for its beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and cloudy that day, so we couldn't enjoy the beach, but we walked around visiting shops and got delicious gelato before returning to Bilbao.

Milan and I in the arena before el encierro

el encierro 
¡churros y chocolate!
gigantes y cabezudos

Sunday, July 8, 2012

the view from the top of the world

On Saturday, I spent the day on an excursion with my university group to Gernika and Mundaka. 
Gernika (or Guernica) is the historical capital of Basque country, and is known for the tragic bombing it suffered during the Spanish Civil War on April 26, 1937. There, we visited the Gernika Peace Museum, which commemorates the bombing of Gernika, and aims to promote the "culture of peace."  We also visited the General Assembly House of Biscay, which is the home of "The Tree of Gernika," an oak tree that stands as a symbol of the Basque People.

Picasso's painting "Guernica" represents the chaos and anguish of the bombing of Gernika.
It was painted for the 1937 World's Fair, Paris.
image from:

Gernika is located in the Urdaibai Reservation, an area which also includes a beautiful natural landscape.  Our coach buses climbed narrow winding roads to a restaurant on the summit of a mountain where we ate lunch.  The ride was quite nerve-racking as these roads ran along the steep mountain slope and did not seem bus-friendly at all.  The view from the mountaintop was incredible, and my photos do not do it justice.  I felt like I was on top of the world!

We finished the excursion with a visit to the beautiful coastal town of Mundaka.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Arte, cultura, comida

First off, I hope everyone back home in the USA had a fabulous 4th of July!  It was just another day of classes here in Spain.  Although one American student made quite an entrance into my 8:30 am Spanish Culture and Politics class, arriving late and wearing an American flag t shirt. 

I spent my afternoon at the Guggenheim Museum here in Bilbao, just across the river from the university.  We saw an exhibit of David Hockney art, which was great! There were many colorful oil paintings of landscapes, but the most interesting part was Hockney´s use of technology in his artwork.  Some of the works on display were done on an iPad, and there was also flim footage on display recorded on multiple cameras and displayed on a grid of 18 screens.  The other exhibits in the museum are pieces of modern art.  My conclusion from viewing these works: confusion.  I really don´t understand modern art.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to explore the museum!

Some cultural notes I´ve observed here:
 - It seems that people tend to dress their children in matching outfits. I see this from time to time in the US, but here, I see it multiple times a day.
 - Breakfast is NOT "the most important meal of the day".  I usually have coffee and toasted white bread with jam.  Totally fine, but it doesn´t hold me over until the late lunch hour, and as my mom will attest, I get irritable when I´m hungry.  Yesterday I set out in search of a mid-morning snack with a craving for Greek yogurt. Apparently grocery stores here only sell yogurt in 4-packs; no single servings. So I resorted to going to McDonald´s in the mall food court where they serve "yogur griego con frutas" (Greek yogurt with fruit). Yay! The irony is that I rarely ever go to McD´s at home, and that´s where I ended up in Spain.
 - Speaking of breakfast, the coffee here is very good, and very strong. "Café con leche" is popular, coffee with steamed milk similar to a cappuchino.
 - It´s common to hear a mix of Spainish and American music playing at restaruants, shops, and grocery stores. One song will be Lady Gaga, and the next will be some Spanish pop song.
 - Spain seems to be more environmentally conscious than the US. Recycling is obligatory, and there are HUGE recycling bins outside on the streets where we would normally just have trash cans.

For anyone who would like to try something from the Spanish kitchen, here´s the list of ingredients for the first "cena" I ate here.  This is the dinner that we eat around 10 pm, and is usually a lighter meal, especially during summertime. It´s a great fresh summertime dish, enjoy!

Ensalada (salad - but this isn´t your typical American salad!)
 - pasta (bowties, etc.)
 - patatas - sliced cooked potatoes
 - manzanas - apples peeled & sliced
 - cebolla - sliced onion
 - pepino - peeled and sliced cucumber
 - pimientos - peppers
 - atún - tuna
 - cangrejo - crab meat
 - gambas - shrimp
Combine and toss with "aciete de oliva y vinagre" (oil and vinegar). Season with salt.
A salad of "lechuga y tomate" (lettuce and tomatoes) was served alongside our ensalada.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Spain had an exciting night last night for the Eurocup finals against Italy!  I watched the game with Begoña, and it's awesome to be in Spain for their historical win!  The 4-0 victory makes Spain the first team to win three championships in a row: Eurocup-World Cup-Eurocup.

This was the end of a very busy and exciting weekend.  On Friday, I went out with Jessi and Milan to "Casco Viejo," the old section of Bilbao, to experience the nightlife.  We met a group of locals about our age, who invited us to go out dancing with them.  We had lots of fun with them, and it was great to be out with people from the area who know the best places to go!  In Spain, the party lasts all night long.  Typically, people return home between 5:00-7:00 am on weekends.  It seems rather exhausting to me, but we had a great time with our new friends!

Jessi, Milan, and I with our new friends from Bilbao.  
Except the guy on the far right - he's their friend visiting from Belgium.

On Saturday, we met Andrea in Bilbao for a "Bilboboats" tour along the river.  We enjoyed a relaxing riverboat tour with some nice views of the city.  We were joined by a group of guys out for a bachelor party, and the groom-to-be was dressed as a female lifeguard complete with a long blonde wig and a bright red bathing suit!  I returned home to the news that Begoña had had an accident on her bicycle while we were out, and was at the hospital.  Her friends brought her home Saturday night with her foot tightly bandaged.  She somehow cut off her little toe while riding her bike, and had to have it reattached!  She is doing well, but she's upset that she can't bike, go to the beach, work in the garden, go out kayaking, etc. for the rest of the summer.  Her friend Ana has been here with us to take care of her, but Begoña doesn't like to sit still!  Please keep her in your prayers for a quick recovery!

Me, Jessi, and Milan on the Bilboboat tour.

Saturday night was another night out.  We went to Sopelana, another suburb of Bilbao for las "fiestas de Sopelana."  During the summer, the towns around here have all night long parties in which people go to bars, and hang out along the streets and in the parks.  The metro was filled to the max with people on their way to the fiestas, and when we got there, there were fireworks, and we went to a park where a stage was set up with a band playing live music.  The entire town was one big party, and everyone had a great time!

On Sunday, Michelle, another American student, moved into our apartment.  She is studying at another university in Bilbao.  I brought her into the downtown of Getxo to show her around, and later we walked down to the beach.  It'll be nice to have another friend here in the house!

Today we had a meeting for class placement at the university, and began our afternoon classes.  I had some time before my literature class began, so I set out in Bilbao in search of a "heladería" (ice cream shop).  Using my infamous ice cream radar, I quickly located a shop selling all-natural Italian gelato!  The two servers there were very nice and offered to let me taste a few flavors before I settled on a mix of rich dark chocolate, and chocolate-hazelnut flavors!  ¡Qué rico!  I left the shop and said "hasta luego"  (see you later), but the server corrected me - "no, hasta pronto!" ( no, see you soon!).  I'll probably return sooner rather than later, but I really shouldn't make a habit of stopping by every day in between my classes...

With classes in mind, I suppose I should go do some homework.  I almost forgot I'm in Spain for a study abroad program - key word: study :/

Sunday, July 1, 2012

fotografías de Madrid y Toledo

Jessi and I in Plaza Sta. Ana, Madrid. Our first tapas! We ate calamari and "patatas bravas" which are pan-fried potatoes with spicy sauce similar to Buffalo sauce.
Jessi y yo en Plaza Sta. Ana, Madrid.  ¡Nuestras primeras tapas! Comimos calamares y patatas bravas.

Me in Puerta del Sol, Madrid with the Oso y Madroño statue, a symbol of Madrid.
Yo en Puerta del Sol, Madrid con la estatua del Oso y Madroño

Jessi and I at the Royal Palace in Madrid. Beautiful view!
Jessi y yo al Palacio Real de Madrid. ¡Una vista muy bonita!

Me in front of the Royal Palace.
Yo en frente del Palacio Real.

An outdoor bookshop on a side street in Madrid.
Una libreria al aire libre en Madrid.

This is a street puppet in Madrid, it seems to be a common form of street entertainment there. A person crouched inside controls the head that looks like a camel. 
Esta es un títere de calle en Madrid. Parece que estos sean un tipo de entretenimiento de calle allí. Una persona esta dentro, y controla la cabeza que parece un camello. 

A view of the Toledo Cathedral, a massive Gothic style cathedral that took over 300 years to build.
Una vista del Catedral de Toledo, un gran catedral de estilo gótico. Había 300 años de construcción. 

Part of the ceiling in the Toledo Cathedral.  It is designed to symbolize the light of heaven.
Parte del techo del Catedral de Toledo.  Es diseñado como un símbolo de la luz del cielo.

The beautiful and ornate altar of the Toledo Cathedral. There are various sculptures of the life of Christ.
El altar hermoso y ornato del Catedral de Toledo. Hay varias esculturas de la vida de Jesucristo.

A street of Toledo. Notice how narrow it is! This is a very old city, and certainly not designed for cars.  We had to step up against the walls to allow cars to pass. There are canopies over the some of the streets because there were parades there for a celebration, and they walked beneath the canopies as a symbol of royalty that always walked covered from the sun.

La Iglesia (church) de Santo Tomé in Toledo. El Greco's masterpiece "El Entierro del Señor de Orgaz" is inside.
La Iglesia de Santo Tomé en Toledo. La obra maestra de El Greco "El Entierro del Señor de Orgaz" está dentro.

The main square in Toledo called "Zocodover" (from a Muslim word) was the marketplace of Toledo.
El centro de Toledo se llama "Zocodover" (de una palabra Muslo) era el mercado de Toledo.