Wednesday, July 29, 2009

...that went by way too fast...

¡Buenas días!

I just finished finals and it is so surreal. This month has FLOWN by...I cannot believe that I´ve spent the last month in Europe, away from everything I´ve always known. On my way back to the dorms today, everything kind of hit me....all that I´ve done, all that I´ve seen, experienced, tried, accomplished...

First, a quick update about this weekend, because I know I haven´t caught you up recently. Four friends and I went to Salamanca this past weekend. We left Bilbao on Friday after classes and arrived in Salamanca at about 9PM. Ninez (Emily´s host mom) has family in Salamanca, so we met Ninez´s nephew and sister at the bus station. We checked into our rooms and got ready to go out that night. Ninez´s nephew (Luismi) and his brother-in-law (Cesar) showed us all around Salamanca. We had a great time, we got to see all the monuments at night, when they´re all lit up. The Plaza Mayor was amazing, beautiful centerpiece of the city. It´s so alive there.

On Saturday, we explored Salamanca during the day. There are a couple of really old, but very gorgeous cathedrals that are famous. We explored town and saw everything that we had planned on seeing. Later, Cesar, his wife (Monica), and Luismi brought us to their home to have dinner. Monica and her friend, Laura, cooked for us. We ate dinner on the balcony of their apartment building....while watching the sunset in the background. It was picture-perfect. In Spain, people have groups of friends and they will rotate through houses for dinner each we ate with a couple other people from the town too. I have never felt more Spanish than during that dinner [ which is kind of exciting, because my blonde hair tends to give me away as as foreigner ;) ] We carried on conversation with all of them, none of whom spoke any English, other than ´Hello. ´I am continually amazed by their culture...they are so laid-back. We sat down for dinner at 9:30 and left the house around 11:00- they relish their time with other people and they don´t have to eat dinner quickly to go somewhere and do something. Though the dinner seemed longer than my normal dinner, I thoroughly enjoyed that I had extra time to sit there and listen/talk to them.

Like I said, this city has become my home for this month. It´s weird to say that this place, that is 3000 miles from home, has become familiar to me. I am going to miss so much about this culture and the language.....but I definitely cannot wait to sit down with my family and have a huge salad with dressing and a glass of cold milk.

Tomorrow, we are leaving for Paris in the afternoon. I hope to update at some point in Paris, but I do not know how and when I will be able to get Internet.

I do not know how to say thanks for such a trip. It has been way more than just a semester has changed my life. Thanks everyone....your support and updates about the US of A have made it even better.

¡Gracias todos!

Te amo... Lana Nicole

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Una sonrisa grande!

It's been a week, so sorry! It's definitely been a busy week and I wouldn't have it any other way.

This weekend was amazing.

On Friday, my friends and I went out to Sopelana. We got Chinese food and had a really good dinner. We were going to go out that night, but it started to rain instead. We decided to get some snacks and watch a movie. We watched a 'Bug's Life' in Spanish.

We wanted to go somewhere on Saturday instead of staying in Bilbao. We were trying to find something close and cheap. We decided to go to Santander, which is a big city in Navarra. We woke up really early and took a bus to Santander at 930. We walked around the city for awhile, shopped, and ate some delicious Italian food. There was a festival going on in the city, so it was full of people with so much energy! Later that night, there was a bull fight. It was the first night of the series of bull fights these next couple weeks. I do not agree with the bull fighting idea, however, I am glad that we experienced it, because it is a highly integral part of Spanish culture.

And Sunday -- oh, where to begin. It was probably one of my favorite days in Spain so far.

One of my friends, Emily, lives with a host mom who invited Alissa and I to spend the day with them. Ninez, Emily's host mom, and her boyfriend (Reime), took the three of us to see more of the city that we haven't had a chance to see. We drove out to San Juan. It was beautiful; mountains and ocean water stretching for miles and miles. We looked out and saw a church on the other side of the mountain. Ninez pointed to it and said something about it; and none of really made anything of it. We thought she was just pointing it out. We had some waters at the restaurant and walked around a bit afterwards. Ninez and Reime stopped in the middle of the road and we looked over and saw a path. She said "Venga venga" meaning "Go, go" and we were confused. She said the path led all the way to the church that was just a tiny little dot on the other side of the mountain. She told us to ring the bell on the church when we got there and meet them back here after we got back.

So, we started walking... as we went, the cement ended and it was rocky and curvy. We had to go down one mountain, across a bridge, and up another one. It was breath-taking once we hit the other mountain. The steps were all different sizes [Dad, they were definitely not up to code :) ], so me and my klutzy nature, spent most of the time making sure I wasn't going to trip. The church was from the 1300's and still totally intact and standing. We rang the bell and took lots of pictures. The walk back, mostly uphill, was challenging, because we hadn't eaten in a long time.

Reime and Ninez took us around the rest of the town once we got back from our little journey. We drove to Bakio, a GORGEOUS beach town, to have dinner.

It was so cool to listen and speak Spanish all day. Ninez and Reime asked us why we wanted to learn Spanish and stuff about home and our families. I felt so accomplished being able to, not only understand, but to be understood. I am so certain that no matter what I do with my life, I know I want to continue on with Spanish. I stop and listen to people on the streets (and then realize that I should probably move). It's just so intriguing to me and so thrilling to be a PART of this language. To have this opportunity to clarify my goals is beyond anything I could ask for. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

I am very much looking forward to going home to my family and friends (and food), but leaving this home of 5 weeks, will be extremely difficult. I have experienced a lot of new things (even things I said I wouldn't try), experienced a different way of life, and realized more about my own culture.

Path on the mountain that we took

Miss you all. Abrazos!

P.S. - Thanks for the food, Mom :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finally an update from me :)

Buenas dias!

This weekend was really busy - and this week is going to be busy with a lot of homework too! Finishing 6 credits in 4 weeks is definitely going to continue to be intense, but being here, completely immersed in the language, is MORE than worth it.

On Saturday, we had an excursion to a nearby city called Gernika. To this day, it is still known for the tragic bombing that occured there. Franco, the dictator of Spain during that time, sided with Germany. The city of Gernika was openly against Franco and the crimes he had been committing during his reign in power. Hitler bombed the city to set an example for the rest of Spain not to contradict Franco. Needless to say, the history of the city is one of tradegy and loss. Today, it is a small, quiet town that has been restored...but still holds a powerful message. In the middle of the city, there is a museum called 'El Museo de Paz' that rewrites their history in a message of peace.

I am pretty sure that no other museum that I will see in life will ever beat this museum. The first floor that had pictures portraying peace and tranquility with quotes about peace from famous leaders around the world. There was another room that connected to the main one. It was dark and had only a table, chair, and a single window - a re-creation of a room from the WWII era. There was no way out - and we all thought that there was supposed to be more to the museum. Later they told us to go back in the dark room and sit facing the mirror... we were still really confused. We sat down and a voice recording started playing. It was a woman's voice and she was describing the town and how peaceful it was before the war. She talked about the church bells and the children playing (and we heard the various sounds as well). As she began talking about the war, the room got darker and darker. Lights behind the mirror started to light up, revealing the ruins of the old town....stones and bricks and people's possessions were right behind the mirror.

The lights came on and a door to the rest of the museum opened....but we all just stayed still for a couple minutes because the whole experience was so powerful.

We got lunch and had free time in Gernika later. We then traveled to a small town called Mundaka, which is another small beach town. It was gorgeous, just like all the other beach towns here. How did I get so lucky? We walked through the city and past the beach and then got back on the bus to come home.

On Sunday, my friends and I went to Sopelana (another beach town :D) to spend the day at the beach. It is widely-known for its surfing....and there are some very talented surfers that were just down the beach from us. We spent a couple hours on the beach and came back to Bilbao to finish homework.

One of my very best friends made me a very cool journal to document my whole trip in ... and right now, I am trying to catch up on it :)

It's a beautiful day here, no rain like they had predicted. I have class tonight from 4:45 to 7:30PM. I stayed up late last night, so I'll be in bed early tonight.

Enough of me talking, here are some pictures :)

Alissa and I at lunch

Mundaka harbor with Alissa

Mundaka beaches - this is only a SMALL portion of it...there is a ton more!

Keep emailing me, I really appreciate it!

Paz y amor, Lana Nicole

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Una semana para recordar

Hola a todas!

Sorry for the lag in updates - it's been a busy week. I am currently trying to keep myself awake until my 3-hour Literature seminar tonight.

Yesterday, we started off at 4:30AM for Pamplona to see the world-famous San Fermines festivales - it includes the Running of the Bulls. We didn't watch the Running, due to the dangerous nature. However, we did watch the festival afterwards. I still cannot believe I witnessed it - I was there, I was at El Encierro de 2009. The town is packed and will be for awhile ... people come from EVERYWHERE to see this and the mixture of cultures is thrilling. We met some people from Texas and it was nice to understand someone here for a little bit ;)

We ended up in San Sebastian yesterday afternoon... which is a beach town right on the water. It was of course, beautiful, and full of history. We were going to spend time on the beach, but it was chilly and cloudy by the time we got there. We walked around and explored for awhile.

Classes are going well - we just started and the professors are already talking about our final exams... I guess that's what happens when you're taking a 4-week class.

And also, we found peanut butter! Spain does sell it, you just have to look. Needless to say, I have been snacking on Ritz's and peanut butter since then :]

Pictures from yesterday ::

Bull ring after the run

The group in our 'En Encierro' attire (all white, with red belt and/or scarf)

It's tradition to have 'chocolate con churros' after the Run

Adios for now, family and friends.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

You know it's a good day when you bring sand home from the beach with you...and I have had a very good weekend.

On Friday, we visited the Guggenheim museum which is a staple of the Bilbao community. The importance of that museum is far greater than I had realized. There was an economic crisis in Bilbao in the '70s and '80s and the Guggenheim foundation generated funds to build the museum and therefore, attract tourists and re-fuel the economy. During our tour, our director told us that without the Guggenheim, we ultimately would not be studying in Bilbao right now. I am not a history person at all - but I am grateful for this kind of history. The museum was extremely cool and most of the exhibits were largely interactive. I enjoy interacting with art instead of merely looking at it.

Our directors planned a concert for our group later that night. We left the Guggenheim, returned to the dorms quickly, and left for downtown Bilbao. We stopped at Burger King (we are REALLY good at finding American food) beforehand. The concert was great and a large majority of our group was there. It was fun because we got to talk to a lot of Spanish people and practice our Spanish again.

Saturday :: 4th of July :: we were all homesick for 'fuegos artificiales' (fireworks), hamburgers, and a celebration. We started the day off at the mall because it was raining. Someone told us about an American pub that was really close to the Universidad. We decided that there was no better day to go than on 4th of July. We were thrilled to find burgers and fries on the menu - so the four of us got a side of fries and a burger. The waitress was kind of snickering throughout our order and we just thought it was because we were trying (and apparently not succeeding) at ordering in Spanish. She came back with four HUGE plates of fries...and we started to realize that she was laughing because we ordered a ton of food without knowing it. Our burgers were probably 12 inches in diameter- we had to move our drinks and the ketchup off to fit all of the plates on the table. In the end, I think the waitress had more of a laugh about it than we did, but it was a good meal :)

Today, we all slept in late and ate lunch separately. We met up at a Metro stop in Nerugi which is a suburb of Bilbao. We walked about a mile to the beach. Nothing is open on Sunday in Spain, so people either go to the beach or stay in. The beaches and the boats were gorgeous. We are planning on going back in the near future. Two of my friends live in Sopelana, which is another suburb that is known for their beaches. After we stopped in Nerugi, we visited Sopelana and their beaches. It is surrounded by mountains and it was a perfect night for a walk on the beach. I definitely think I walked off that burger from last night ;)

I am thoroughly enjoying it here. I am drawn to new things and exploring all these new cities and places is thrilling to me. We got lost a couple times, but every wrong turn is just an opportunity to see new things.

Tomorrow is the first day of classes para mi. Wish me luck!

Paz y amor, Lana

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Settling into Bilbao

I am still in awe that I'm actually here. I feel as though I am walking through postcard pictures all the time. To see pictures is one thing, but being here and being surrounded by such beauty is unbelievable.

I am going to give you a couple of highlights from the last couple days because this week has been really busy.

Yesterday, we had orientation, followed by lunch. We found out during orientation that it wasn't to be our normal lunch. I usually very much enjoy meeting new people and talking with them, however, when there's three different languages being spoken, it changes things a lot. We were given cards with numbers on them and all the other students studying at the Universidad were given them as well. During lunch, we had to find the other numbers of our group and speak in only the language we were studying. I found the people in my group and each one of us was from a different place around the world. Most of us were studying Spanish...and the others were studying English. We would speak in Spanish and they would respond in English. We ended up having 2 hours for lunch - and we mingled with other groups. I talked to people from Spain, France, England, South Africa, all over the US, etc within a two-hour span. It was probably one of the coolest experiences here so far - I definitely felt good about the fact that I could carry a conversation in Spanish.

Today, we had another orientation and a tour of the Universidad. We took excursion to Plentzia. The river travels through Plentzia and meets the ocean. It's gorgeous and the beach is gorgeous, needless to say. We were surrounded by mountains and the city. The weather wasn't very good, we missed the rain though. One of the directors of the program organized a soccer game on the beach - I was one of four girls playing, but Spain is all about soccer, so of course I had to play. We had locals come and join our game (they definitely were better than us). I definitely enjoyed interacting and communicating in Espanol.

The Spanish language is so intriguing...I could listen to it all the time. I am beginning to think in Spanish and writing this in full English is challenging my brain right now.

I will try to remember to post some pictures of my dorm room and the view from my window soon. My battery is charging right now.

Save some peanut butter for me =]

Siempre, LNS