Monday, February 29, 2016

The Most Epic ¨How I Almost Missed A (Insert Mode of Transportation Here).....¨ Stories

If you know me outside of the blogosphere, you´ll know that I have a habit of being late. It doesn´t matter what for or why, I am simply always late. The long answer can be found (and deduced) in this blog post but the short answer is this: I love to wake up early and get a head start on the day but I move slow in the mornings (and often over-thinking everything). This translates to me arriving late to almost everything under the sun: movie theaters, restaurants, bus stops, train stations, airports and even my own parents´ or grandparents´ house for dinner, haha. It´s like I have this insatiable desire to see just how close I can arrive to the time before a movie starts without me or before a train decides to leave me in its dust at the station.

I´ve been traveling internationally off-and-on for almost 10 years and you would think that I would have a set routine or schedule when it comes to traveling but I honestly don´t. I have packing a suitcase down to a science yet I can´t seem to do the same for the actual travel part. The most important aspect of traveling (minus the experience itself) in most people´s opinions.

As much as I try to break the habit or simply take baby steps to be more punctual, the whole being late thing seems to go well with my lifestyle so why change? It also doesn't help that the Spanish culture in which I live is more laid-back and most of the events, parties and activities (even movies sometimes!) are known to start late (sometimes 2-3 hours late). One of the most ironic things about this culture; however, is that the trains -all around the country- leave at the exact time the schedules say they are going to leave. And once the doors whoosh shut, not a single soul can get on or get off said train. Or can they...?

(Disclaimer: Don´t try these methods at home or in another country. I can´t guarantee any of them to work. And I don´t want any of you to get angry with me for having tried one and it not working. But you guys still might get mad at me anyway because of how lucky I´ve been when I´m late. And I´ve had plenty of times where I haven´t been lucky - don´t worry.)

Come take a little trip down memory lane with me as I recount three experiences where I should have missed a city bus, a regional bus and then, most recently, a train but didn't!

1. Catching a city bus in Jacksonville, Florida that was running on a detour route and on a Sunday (a slow day)

2. Being the second to last person to board a bus in Madrid heading to A Coruña after a spring break trip with my brother

3. Making it onto a train from Ourense to Santiago at night and after I spent the afternoon at the nearby thermal hot springs.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My 2015 in Partly Foreign Words (Parte Uno)

The format of this post was inspired by a similar one I read in the beginning of 2015 by a former auxiliar and fellow blogger, Jenny Marshall at A Thing for Words. You can check out her post here. I'm in no way endorsing her blog or writing this post as to copy it word for word. I merely liked the style and wanted to thank her for giving me inspiration to come up with a list of words on my own. A list of words that defined 2015 for me and what I've learned throughout the year. And naturally as I made my way through the year, mentally retracing old footprints and adventures past, I realized that I could split this review into two posts to make it more digestible for my readers. So, are you ready to join me on this linguistic journey? Venga, vamos!


Cabalgata in Coruña January 2015


January: cabalgata. Language: Spanish. Meaning: Three Kings Parade


I rang in 2015 with a couple of friends in A Coruña and we went to a couple of bars in and around the beach that night. It was one of the best New Year’s Eve/Day celebrations I’ve ever had but the celebrations continued a few days later. In Spain (and a few other countries), they celebrate the Epiphany (or the coming of the Three Kings or los Reyes Magos) and that day is always January 6th. Most children all around the country wait for the Three Kings to visit their house the night of the 5th and put gifts in their shoes or in their room. To an outsider, the holiday may seem like a second Christmas and it is in some respects. A lot of children are more excited about Reyes than they are Christmas Day - it's true!


Roscón de Reyes in all its glory - with a hidden king figurine and bean inside!


However, the Three Kings Day has its own traditions that make it distinct from Christmas. One of those traditions is to watch a parade of floats from local organizations and see volunteers dressed up as the Three Kings (insert names here) throw out candy for children and adults alike to catch and enjoy. Before my friends and I found a good place to watch the parade, we picked up some chocolate covered churros to enjoy while we waited. And then the following day, I went to the pastor and his wife's house to enjoy the traditional dessert of the Three Kings (sweet brioche roll with a sugar garnish) with hot thick chocolate. It’s no wonder why I got sick that month but thankfully during the middle of the month, I made a vow to eat less sugar for the rest of 2015. Surprisingly I stayed true to that vow for the majority of the year (minus holiday and birthday celebrations) and I'm really proud of that!

Playing new card games with friends on a holiday is also fun!

February: ciclogénesis. Language: Spanish. Meaning: storm with gale force winds (similar to a tropical storm where you will indeed get blown off the sidewalk if you're not careful, haha)

The beach is beautiful in any season and in any weather.

My first winter in the infamously rainy region of Galicia did not disappoint, though it wasn’t as rainy as most winters usually are. Or at least that’s what the locals told me. In the fall I learned the word temporal and quickly learned that those always bring a lot of wind into the area along with a lot of rain. You know, the kind of rain that will last all day and all night.

Some cities even look more beautiful in the rain I've learned....

What I did not expect (or prepare myself for) was to see hail at any time during the month of February! Yes. I’ve seen a lot of weird weather in my life thus far and I’ve lived through three or four tropical storms (no hurricanes, however, thank God) that have brought tremendous wind and rain but I didn’t expect this. The air during a temporal or ciclogénesis is warm but the hail is so cold and if it hits you just right, it can almost cut through your skin like a sharp knife. (Or hit you smack dab in the middle of your face if you don’t properly take cover as you walk up a hill in it, haha)

Rain is still rain though - and it's often rained on me a lot here!

The strength of the winds in these types of storms is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced either. A friend and I were walking to a cultural center to see a local documentary on the Camino de Santiago and took the side street where it’s located. Little did we know that we would pass a couple of open spaces (where there are no tall buildings) and that the wind cut sharply through us even to our bones and almost pick us up and carry us away. And that gust of wind was so cold, too! I hardly ever say it's cold here but that time I was cold! Dressing in layers was something I learned from living in Florida except in the case of Galician towns and cities, putting more clothes on your body can only help you, not hurt you! haha
At the end of the month I went to see a different kind of precipitation:
snow!

March: melhor. Language: Portuguese. Meaning: better

I always recommend people weight lift olive oil bottles to rid themselves of jet lag!

I’ll let my pictures for this word say more than what I can express. Needless to say, this month was one of my best months abroad last year. It was full of cultural and linguistic experiences and a special visit from my older brother!

Spring had also finally arrived to rainy Northern Spain. The trees were starting to sprout new leaves, flowers began to bloom and birds began to stick around longer and sing us melodic songs in the mornings. And, for my brother’s sake, most of the month was sunny and dry. Except the afternoon we finally were able to go see the castle in Coruña it poured down rain. What made things worse was that we had to fight with nature to try and save our respective umbrellas from the cruel and gusty winds.


Luckily he had plenty of Spanish and Portuguese coffee to keep him warm
 (and alive)!

Nevertheless, we survived and had a great time together, save for one little argument in the middle of the historic center of Toledo. :P One of the best times during that month for me personally was being able to act as an interpreter and translator for my brother in the beautiful and charming city of Oporto, Portugal. (It was the second visit for me but the first one with nothing but rain and cloudy weather!) Thank God he already spoke Spanish and didn’t need much help in Spain. Whew...


A beautiful view of Toledo from the main street

In Portugal, he forced me to use my sometimes broken Portuguese to ask questions and get directions or get clarification from locals. At times, I came in really handy for the both of us and I was glad that I could help my brother in this way, after he had helped me countless times before. It was also good practice for me but what I shouldn’t have done was translate the Portuguese we were hearing and reading to BOTH English and Spanish. I got a bit carried away with the interpreting and after our second day there, I fell into my bed at the hostel completely exhausted and slept with my clothes on that night, haha! The reason why I over-interpreted was because I was simply so excited for my brother and me to be in Portugal and hearing the language together for the very first time.



So much love for Portugal and all their hand painted tiles!

It really was o melhor.


April: pa’lla. Language: Andalú -dialect of Castilian Spanish. Meaning: over there

In Córdoba in front of a restaurant with an exceptional name (¨translation: go over there, way over there!)
I started the month of April off in the Central and Southern parts of the country. It was actually the second month in a row that I was in the enchanting region of Andalucía, where my love affair with this country first began.

Andalusians are the butt of most of the jokes Spaniards make—not all— and it is usually the first region that comes to a Spaniard’s mind if you are talking about regional and linguistic differences with them. Regardless of their reputation and dialect, it is one of the few places in the world where I am happiest and feel like I am at home. Every time I’ve returned to Andalucía, whether it's Sevilla, Córdoba, Málaga or any other city or town, my heart soars and I turn into a little girl who is eagerly awaiting Christmas morning. I absolutely love this part of Spain and always will. (I didn’t choose to work there due to complications and rumored delays with paychecks—and those rumors are true.)

Whenever I miss the south I make or go order a traditional breakfast like this one:
tostas (toast) with tomate (pureed tomato) and olive oil with tea and fresh squeezed orange juice.

Thousands of international students come to Sevilla and the rest of the region to study each year. Not everyone –foreign or national—can understand the way the locals speak, let alone learn how to speak Spanish well but I was one of the fortunate ones who succeeded. I originally thought the accent was ugly and that the Andalusians had a lisp but I changed my tune after I met some of the most wonderful people from different parts of Sevilla and Andalucía. The accent suddenly became beautiful to me the more I spent time with those beautiful people. It’s funny how quickly opinions can change in a such a short period of time.

Now English speakers can understand a little bit of what this wonderful part of Spain says!


Now, I won’t lie and say that I understand every word that comes out of the mouth of an Andalusian person. In fact, the more time away I spend from the region, the harder it is initially to tune my ear back to the accent. Which is why I have to listen to Andalusian singers or watch TV shows or videos with Andalusian actors sometimes. (Or talk to some of my Sevillian friends!)

I love how diverse Spain is and how cultural surprises are almost around every corner. What’s more, I love how you can live in one part of the country and then move to another part of it and have a completely different experience. And, as I love to play around with my native language, I love that the Andalusians do something similar with their own accent and dialect.

May: igrexa. Language: Galician. Meaning: church

This rose garden reminded me of the roses that would bloom in
my mother's flower beds at my childhood home. :)
 
 April brought thousands of rain drops (en abril aguas mil) in Galicia but we all reaped the benefits later on in May. The weather was fantastic and flowers were blooming everywhere – especially in the rose garden at my school that year.

I also made it to my first ever soccer (football) game and saw Real Deportivo play
(and save their spot in their league). :P

I also personally had one of the best surprise trips of my life that month. And it involved visiting a friend’s church (which I had originally thought was only his grandparents’ church) one random weekend in a nearby city. The weekend three friends and I visited the thermal baths in Ourense for the first time was the weekend for Mother’s Day in Spain, the baptism of an English language assistant at the church and part of a four day weekend for us working in Coruña. And to top it off, I met an old friend of my Galician friend in the States and surprised the pants off him when I dropped my friend’s name at a lunch we were invited to. As much as I want to chalk it all up to coincidence, I can’t bring myself to that conclusion. It truly was an amazing –albeit short—and culturally enriching weekend. I couldn’t have orchestrated a better weekend and I know that it was only through God working behind the scenes that it happened.


Funny thing is, when my friend and I entered the church, I was nervous that everyone there only spoke Galician, including the pastor. And my other nagging thought was that, “What kind of impression will I make on my friend’s grandparents if I can’t even speak their language?” I was really worried for nothing but the name of the church was indeed in Galician so what’s a guiri (foreigner) supposed to think?

June: hoguera. Language: Spanish. Meaning: bonfire

Does this look fun or crazy to you?...
The month of June ushered in some fantastic weather and a couple of opportunities for me to travel around Spain. And it was also the month that cities all around Spain celebrated the infamous Dia de San Juan. I personally had been hearing about it all school year from teachers, friends, church members, shop keepers, my students, random people who struck up conversations with me (or vice versa) – you name it: anyone who had seen it at least once before took it upon themselves to spread the word.
This wasn’t a small celebration in the city, they celebrate things BIG in Coruña! The official holiday is June 24th  but on the night of the 23rd, crowds of locals and visitors alike gather on the beach to light bonfires –some of the biggest I’ve EVER seen!-, watch fireworks, go to concerts and hang out with friends and family. Unfortunately nowadays, it’s a big outdoor cocktail party or rager for young people. It’s become (or maybe it always was?) an excuse to drink a ton with your friends and then jump over small bonfires for good luck.


Because alcohol and fire are two safe things that go together, right? Didn’t think so, haha.


It was fun to jump over a little fire myself for good luck - as a part of the festival's tradition

It was certainly an experience and one I’m glad I had. I may go to another San Juan festival again or I may not after having lived to tell the tale. Plus, the poor city workers of La Coruña are tasked with the difficult job of cleaning up the beaches after the big party. However, they do get a little bit of help from the animal kingdom. What I did not realize was that the day after San Juan is a smorgasbord for any seagull within flying distance of the region. I didn’t see all of the seagulls feasting on all the “deliciously” disgusting trash that party-goers had left but I saw the thousands of tiny little seagull footprints that were left behind. It was quite a sight to see the beaches all lit up with the bonfires but it was equally impressive to see the party cleaned up the next day. What I really didn’t like on either day was that the entire city filled up with smoke from the bonfires and it took a full day for it to exit the city.

I also paid a visit to the city where I would be moving to for the next school year -
Santiago de Compostela :)


So…maybe I’ll stay clear of Coruña this upcoming summer. We shall see what happens!

(Stay tuned for part two...)