Going/Leaving Home

I’m writing this a week in advance because I know it’s going to take me a few hours to put my thoughts together, and crying intermittently while writing holed up in my home is not how I want to spend my last days in Sevilla.

So.

I’m leaving Sevilla in a week.

I. am leaving Sevilla. In a week.

I’m not prepared. I mean. I am. But I’m not.

This is the greatest blog ever I know.

I’m prepared in that it’s one of those givens in life and I’ve known that since before I left:

Tom Brady is a dirty cheat, Finding Nemo is the best Pixar movie of all time, and I have to say goodbye to Sevilla.

But I’m not prepared in that….I’m not prepared.

My life has become a before and an after.

Before= I was a junior in college, I called Indy home, and my entire existence revolved around going to Spain.

After= I am now a senior in college, I will call Indy home once more, and my entire existence revolves around returning to Spain (and graduating but minor point).

The problem comes in trying to read between the surface lines of the before and the after and trying to analyze myself as a person in that before and after, trying to put how this experience has shaped me into tangible details.

Who was I before, and who am I now?

One of my favourite lines in musical theater comes from the musical, “Wicked.” Near the end, one lyric reads,

“Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

I don’t think I could choose a more appropriate phrase to describe what has happened to me in these last five months.

As I say goodbye to the city I adore and the places that have become as familiar as those in Indy, I spend more time contemplating the changes that have occurred here:

1. I hold a newfound appreciation for the American university system. Someone slap me the next time I complain about anything to do with school (especially finals). I will never know fear again as I did walking into my final exam (on which rests my entire course grade) for History of Modern Spain.

2. I hold my head a little higher. When you step off a plane in a country full of strangers, you lose the privilege to be shy/quiet/timid/uncertain/passive/insert similar adjective of choice here. I have slept in an airport overnight, ordered food items blindly in German, and sat in an hour-long class four days a week listening to a professor speak rapid-fire Spanish without taking a breath. Nothing can phase me anymore. The confidence I have had to place in myself I hope is here to stay because I kind of like who I am with it.

3. I hold more respect for immigrants. Walking into Margarita’s house for the first time and understanding maybe a quarter of what she was telling me about house rules and how everything worked was nerve-wracking. And she was just trying to explain how the shower worked. I’ve had support at every step of the way while trying to navigate the Spanish language here. I can’t imagine stepping off a plane or out of a car or off a boat and not only not having the support, but having to figure out things like housing, finances, laws etc. immediately in a language that is not my own.

And more.

This has been the most incredible of adventures, and I try to remind myself that being on the constant verge of tears only symbolises just how incredible it was.

The goodbyes started weeks ago as my friends in my program began to leave Sevilla. While I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to stay longer than expected and happy with my decision to do so, it’s been strange to see pictures and posts from friends who have returned to their own “before” lives that we all aren’t a part of.

Some goodbyes have yet to pass. If I’m honest, the remaining goodbyes hurt just a bit too much to write about publicly right now and I dread the “after” more than anything.

Those are the moments when I can do nothing but remind myself how wonderful the upcoming reunions in Indy will be (and in my mom’s case, the reunion that came two weeks ago! :). How much I can’t wait for my favourite smoothie as MoJoe’s and Panda Express’ orange chicken (I’M COMING FOR YOU), for movie nights with my friends aka talking through the whole thing, for hugging my parents good night, for cellphone data (omg 24/7 internet and no interrupted conversations???), etc etc etc.

I remember that as much as I can’t breathe sometimes when I contemplate leaving Sevilla and saying goodbye to the special people here, I’m so excited to say “hello” once again to everyone I left behind.

And I remember that goodbyes weren’t forever when I left Indianapolis and they won’t be forever when I leave here.

I remember that I’m lucky to be living in an age of technology, where a screen can’t replace an embrace, but it’s the next best thing.

More than anything, I remember that I’m so grateful to have had the chance to add Sevilla to the list of cities I call home.

Indy first, obviously.

Mexico City next (and if I’m honest, probably the nearest to my heart as it started the dream that has led me to Spain and given me my travel bug).

And now Sevilla.

I remember that I am insanely fortunate to have three homes now. To have known three cities intimately and formed lifelong connections in each. To have memories attached to so many different places.

Home is where the heart is, so they say, and thus I happily leave my heart in pieces around the world.

Throwback to the first night I spent in Sevilla

Throwback to the first night I spent in Sevilla

Cinderella’s Castle

*wrote this a week ago but apparently never posted it. oops.

With my last exam ending this morning, I bid good riddance to the Spanish university system. Just as a fair warning to everyone at home: don’t even get me started on this topic. I can go on all day.

However, I also bid a fond hello to official vacation (because these last five months haven’t been a vacation…HAHA JUST KIDDING MOM).

But just because today marked my official vacation, didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy an unofficial vacation last week with my mom and cousin in Madrid and Germany. As with Basque Country, these will have to be a series of posts so that your computer and mine don’t hate me for the amount of pictures to be uploaded at once.

Going to Neuschwanstein Castle, aka the castle that Disney based his Cinderella one off of, has been on my bucket list for years. At first, we thought we would only be able to climb up to take pictures from the outside, but wouldn’t be able to get tickets to go in (as online ticketing was already sold out two days in advance). But thanks to unseasonably rainy/cold weather, there were still tickets left for the very last tour of the day inside the castle, and so dreams really do come true ;)

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As stated, it wasn’t the best weather ever (for the entire vacation really), but after Austria I’ve learned to appreciate low-lying clouds and the mystic air bad weather can lend any location.

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San Sebastián: Camino de Santiago

My second greatest decision ever was to sign up for a guided hike along the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James. This is a pilgrimage that can begin in Portugal, Spain, or France, with several paths within each starting country, and ends in the town of Santiago de Compostela. Our guide told us the pilgrimage takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the pilgrim’s starting point and pace.

The French Way is the most popular, but we walked along the Northern Way, which runs from Irún (in France) to Santiago de Compostela, with stops in, where else, San Sebastián, Bilbao and smaller towns. We actually walked the camino backwards (towards Irún) and then deviated slightly to hike down into the inlet town of Pasaia to get a light lunch and a bus back into town.

Our guide (the indefatigable Tomasz once again, who told us that he’s pretty much a one-man show for tours in San Sebastián) said that the Northern Way is not as straightforward as it goes along the coast, thus, the hiking is harder. Let me be the first to tell you that my legs definitely felt that by the end.

We ended up hiking about 6km high up on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was gorgeous and slightly terrifying at times. But worth it.

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Tomasz said that he does a hike like this 1-2 times a week. This is near the start of our hike. We had to climb up a million stairs at the very beginning and that’s when we knew we were going to be TIRED by the end. but hey! Doesn’t the city look so pretty in the background?

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Tomasz was super afraid we were going to fall off a cliffside the entire time.

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This is a rowing team practicing for an upcoming race. Their coach is in the small boat beside them yelling. It was rather funny.

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The last set of stairs we climbed down to get to Pasaia

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Old aqueduct to get fresh water into the city

San Sebastián: The Food

Pintxos are to Basque Country what tapas are to the rest of Spain.

However, instead of sitting down and ordering tapas from a menu, bars and restaurants have all the pintxos on plates along the counter. You simply walk up, ask for a small plate, and then pick and choose what you want, and then pay for what you’ve chosen. Typically you eat 1-2 pintxos at a bar before moving on, meaning that many people will go to several bars over the course of a few hours with friends.

This was slightly intimidating as I was on my own and while I’m really comfortable and at ease with traveling alone and sight-seeing alone, I hate eating by myself or trying to figure out food etiquette in a new place (weird, I know).

Booking a food tour for Friday night was the best decision of my life.

There were only five of us on the tour: three australians (who were not traveling together funny enough) and two Americans (Story time: the other girl told me that she was working for an IT company for several years and was getting sick of it and needed a break from life. When she told them she was going to quit to travel, they decided to let her go on vacation for three months and then OFFERED HER A JOB TRANSFER TO LONDON for when she was done so that she could stay in Europe. This=my dream only without the IT company part and without the being stuck in America for a few years part. So basically really just partially my dream).

But the highlight of this tour (aside from the food I promise I’m getting there) was Tomasz, our guide. Tomasz is the best tour guide I’ve ever had for anything ever in any city. He’s Polish, but married a girl from Basque (they met at a Russian language class in Moscow) and now lives here giving tours as the owner/sole employee of the San Sebastian “franchise” of an Australia-based tour company. Tomasz studied history at the university and thus, this was not so much a food-only tour as a history and culture tour and worth every single penny I dished out for the experience.

Case in point: He didn’t want us to spend time at the bars tasting the very original pintxo when as he said, “there are much more interesting types.” So his wife MADE THEM FOR US and we stood along the railing by the beach listening to Tomasz give us background information on food in San Sebastián and eating his wife’s homemade pintxos before we even stepped foot in a bar.

We went to three bars, and as part of the tour, got 1-2 pintxos per bar plus a drink.

However, we first stopped along this nondescript building:

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Tomasz explained that if there was a building that looked like a bar, but just had a name and date, it was actually a gastronomy club, for which San Sebastián is famous. These clubs were male-only for decades and were a place for men to “escape” their home lives and COOK. It’s only been recently that women are allowed in the clubs, which are used for social occasions and family gatherings, but to this day, the only woman allowed in the kitchen itself is the cleaning lady. Take that gender stereotypes!

Then on to the bars!

Bar #1:

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Traditional Basque white wine that was more like champaign but delicious all the same

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Tuna and watermelon tartar with mini-breadsticks and flakes of algae. Surprisingly delicious and Tomasz wisely didn’t tell us what it was until after we tried it. And then after we all loved it and he earned our trust, we didn’t hesitate the rest of the night.

Bar #2:

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Walking there!

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Brie covered in poppy seeds with a tomato jam/sauce/I’m not sure but it was delicious. All of us except Tomasz agreed that it would’ve been perfect if the brie was only topped with poppy seeds, not covered on all sides.

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Wine from the Rioja region and pig cheek. Red wine isn’t my favourite but this was pretty good. And the cheek was excellent.

Bar #3:

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Another reason why this tour was a good choice: While bars put most of their pintxos on the counter, most also have a few “off-menu” options that you just have to know to ask for. Tomasz did know, asked, and we received.

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Version of a Spanish tortilla=on menu

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Hi Tomasz! Also just side note that men in Spain often wear their wedding rings on their right hand (as demonstrated by Tomasz here).

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Crab mousse with a shrimp garnish=decidedly off-menu

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Hard cider

Then on Saturday night, I went out bar-hopping with an Australian girl from the hostel(seriously don’t know if there was a flight deal or something but most of the English I heard in San Sebastián was with an Australian or British accent). I was grateful for the company and she was grateful for a translator as she spoke no Spanish aside from “hola,” “gracias” etc. However, I sadly seem to have no pictures of this outing saved on my computer right now (check back for possible updates). Among the pintxos I had were a ham montadito (small sandwich), flat bread topped with grilled octopus, and cheese topped with jams.

San Sebastián had the best food I’ve had in Europe by a mile. I’d honestly go back for the food (and Tomasz’ hilarious attempts at sarcasm. But really. If you’re ever in Basque Country take his tour. Here ends the unsolicited advertisement).

Next up: Camino de Santiago!

San Sebastián: The City

This is the first of a three-part series on my two days in San Sebastián in Pais Vasco.

First, a story on what it took to get to this coastal city in the first place.

As mentioned in the Bilbao post, I booked this vacation last minute. That plus the fact I had a final presentation Thursday evening and couldn’t leave until afterwards meant that flights to a beach town for the weekend were outrageously expensive. So ever the scrooge, I looked for and found an overnight bus that left later after my presentation and arrive the next morning. While a 15 hour bus ride didn’t seem like a ton of fun, it was a quarter of the price of a flight and I figured I would sleep most of it.

Haha. Ha. Ha.

Let me please say for the record that ever since That One Time The Volcano In Mexico City Spewed Smoke Everywhere And Delayed My Departure By Three Days, me and transportation/traveling between cities and countries have not gotten along. My flight to Spain was the most uneventful travel I’ve had the entire semester.

This bus was no different. Between a random festival parade (feria dresses, horses etc. Why Sevilla. Why.) and a victory celebration for Sevilla’s soccer team, the bus arrive in Sevilla almost 30 minutes late. Not a big deal.

However, we then stopped in Cordoba about two hours later (a scheduled stop) at which point we were told that we all had to switch to a different bus because ours was broken (not scheduled). This new bus already had people on it and had barely enough seats for everyone, thus, most people couldn’t get their original seat numbers back (I was one of the lucky first ones on and snagged my ninth row window seat up again thank you very much).

This was around 10:30 at night. We finally take off again, I eat my sandwich that Margarita packed for me (love her) and start settling in to try to sleep. The guy next to me turns his light on to read at midnight (You, sir, are assigned to the lowest level of hell). I start to doze off and oh hey another scheduled stop!

What was unscheduled was the Guardia Civil (the national police force) arriving to randomly search our bus. Which meant that at 1:30 in the morning, everyone had to get off the bus with their luggage (both on the bus itself and from the storage area underneath and stand in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere while the police searched the bus. The Guardia Civil (thorough that they are) then decided to “randomly search” luggage on an individual basis. I say “randomly” because they 1. Picked four men and 2. Three of those men were African.

So after that fun little lesson in subconscious racism in Spain, almost an hour later we were back on the road. We stopped three more times about 2-2.5 hours apart. Each time, all the lights on the bus came on which=no sleep which=fairly grumpy me.

But then we made it to San Sebastián and who even cares about the Guardia Civil when your hostel is a 2 minute walk from this:

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La Concha Beach (Kontxa in Euskara, the Basque language)

I spent the day wandering San Sebastián’s old town (Remember that aesthetic I talked about? Here it is).

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I then went to the San Telmo Museum, which is a museum about Basque culture and history and was fascinating. The museum had a modern facade but the different exhibits surrounded the courtyard of an old Dominican monastery.

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The exhibits were mostly dark (aside from the paintings) so it was hard to get good pictures, but here is a sample!

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By Jose Maria Sert, an artist from Barcelona in the late 1800s/early 1900s. This is a canvas painting. There are several smaller ones on the sides of the former chapel.

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One of my favorite paintings I saw. “Dos Mujeres de Tafilalet”

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Old flag

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Former children’s schoolbook

I also hiked to the top of Monte Urgull next to the museum and got some amazing views from the old fortress.

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View of Monte Urgull from the beach

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Zurriola beach on the other side of old town from la Concha is not for swimming, but for surfing due to the larger waves.

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Statue of Jesus Christ at the very top of the mountain

More random pictures! San Sebastián was just gorgeous.

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I was really proud of myself for capturing this with the cathedral in the background

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The sun finally came out for good late in the day on Friday

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I went out Saturday night to watch sunset, because I’ve decided to make it my goal to purposely watch it in as many new places as possible.

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Early sunset. I love how you can clearly see the Jesus Christ statue on Monte Urgull in this picture

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Just a few minutes later.

Next post: FOOD!

And as always,