Thursday, November 20, 2014

What They Didn't Tell You About Packing for Spain

     I'm back with more advice today! It was really stressful for me to figure out what to bring to Spain because I definitely could not bring my whole closet, but I'd be gone for four months! How do you balance that?! Well, I have some solutions.
     First things first, look at the weather of where you're going. I added Alicante to my weather app about as soon as I knew that I'd be going so that I could figure out what kind of temperatures and climate I would be dealing with. Alicante is in the south of the peninsula, so on the whole it's warmer than what I'm used to. But there are parts of Spain that have snow right now and places not far from here that have Michigan type temperatures. So, that's the first thing I would do, check into the weather of the region you're travelling to because you might be surprised by what you find.
      Now, the good part, what to bring. I'm obviously here in the fall so it's cooling down while I'm here, but it did not start off that way. I wish someone would have told me how hot it would get here because I was not prepared. I know that Alicante is mostly a spring program so the weather is probably opposite to what I've experienced, but I don't think I had enough information to help me not melt when I got here. Alicante is the lowest place in Spain, it's right on the Mediterranean. That being said, it's relatively close to Africa so it gets warmth from there but it's a very humid heat the heat has to travel over the Mediterranean to get here. When I arrived here it was a good 90 degrees most days and very, very humid so I was perpetually moist. Not fun. I had only brought two pairs of shorts and a couple of skirts and dresses--all that I had heard and researched about what people wear here is that they wear pants all the time. This is not completely true. At all. From what I've seen and experienced, the people here dress about the same as we do. So when it was 90 degrees there were shorts galore, skirts, crop tops, the whole nine yards. So, if you're coming in the spring, make sure to pack some clothes that are appropriate for heat. If you're coming in the fall, I would say pack enough warm weather clothes that can last for a month because that was about how long the heat spell lasted.
        The weather now is quite different from what it was like when I got here. Clearly it's November and going into winter so it's colder. That translates into a range of mid 60's to low 70's in terms of temperature. While that sounds lovely compared to the snow that Michigan has, it's not what it seems like. The best way that I can think of to describe this is what it's like in the spring when the snow is just starting to melt but it's still cold outside. It's a deceptive sort of heat. It's warm in the sun but really chilly in the shade. Alicante is also pretty windy because it's right on the sea so that factors into the temperature as well. This cold is kind of humid as well, thanks again to the sea, so it's more clingy. What should you pack? Bring a jacket of some kind. It might sound silly, but it really is necessary, especially in the mornings and the evenings when the temperature can drop into the 40's. Bring things that you can layer as well, so that if you have class early you're warm but if it gets hot in the afternoon you don't burn up. It might not be a bad idea to bring a hat or scarf or something as well to keep the chill away. The difference in temperature might not be a whole lot, but how it feels is very different.
          Most of what I brought was a lot of very plain clothing- solid colored shirts, nondescript jeans, lots and lots of scarves. I brought things that I could wear repeatedly but that I wouldn't get sick of. With plain clothes like these you can wear them a lot of different ways without feeling like you've worn the same shirt 6 weeks in a row. This also helps to keep the weight low in your suitcase because you don't necessarily need to bring as much with you if you have a lot of versatile clothing.
           I hope that this helps for anyone looking at coming to Spain in the future. I was told some of these things, but I didn't believe it until I found myself mall-walking to class to keep my hands from stinging in the cold. I'm headed to Granada this weekend so my next blog will be more exciting than the last few. And it will have lots of pictures, yay! Until next time.

This is what I wore today and it was about 70 degrees. 


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Proper Prior Planning

    This blog is going to be about travel and planning because this week I've gained some knowledge that I think would be helpful to share. This weekend I was supposed to go to Madrid with some friends, but the plans were very loose until this weekend. What made things worse is that we all had a presentation today in one of our classes so it was hard to plan when putting together getting ready to present to the class. In the end we decided we would try to go to Madrid later in the semester, so we have more time to figure this out. So, a couple of things I've learned from this misadventure...
     1) Figure out a plan as early as possible. I know that this might seem really obvious and cliche, but it really helps. Since we were all really flexible about the plans we didn't end up having anything to go off of when we needed to figure out when we would be leaving, where we would be staying, what we wanted to do, etc. No one took the initiative to step up and give a definitive plan for what we would be doing either. This lack of planning was the ultimate reason why we decided to cancel our trip to Madrid (besides all of the homework and reading we need to do).
     2) Get the mode of travel figured out ASAP. Something else that we learned the hard way from this experience is that the price of travel skyrockets when you buy the train tickets, plane tickets, whatever way you want to get where you're going, close to the date you're leaving. With train tickets (or something similar), I would recommend getting them at least two weeks in advance so that you aren't spending 100€ for a round-trip ticket. That is not including paying for a hotel or hostel, food, fees for museums or other tourist attractions, souvenirs etc. Just something to keep in mind. If you're planning on flying, book as soon as you know what you want to do, especially if you're leaving the country. For international travel try and book your flight and hotel and things two months early so you don't end up paying an arm and a leg.
      3) Hotels vs. hostels. Hotels are usually more expensive than hostels, so it kind of comes down to personal preference. Hostels are not necessarily trashy or creepy or scary and hotels are not automatically a luxury experience. Make sure to do your research. A good website to look at hostels is hostelworld.com (one of my friends recommended it when we were looking at places for Madrid) that allows you to look at reviews of the hostels with things like how the rooms are set up and what the hostels have to offer, like tours or classes in dance or cooking (depending on the area). The same sort of rule applies to hotels/hostels as with mode of transportation- book beforehand so it's not super expensive.
       I hope this helps, at least a little bit. I'm not the best at planning things and too prone to procrastination so this experience will help me get my things in order for the next trip that I take.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

People Watching

        The homework is starting to hit me a little more now, so that's why there was a bit of a gap between this blog and my last blog. I'm gonna try to keep up this blog as much as possible though! I have some trips coming up soon (Madrid and la Alhambra later this month) so that will liven this blog up a bit.
        Today's topic is about the people of Spain. It's November, I've only got a couple of months left here in Alicante, so it's safe to say that I've noticed some things about the people that live here. While they might seem closed off at first glance, they're actually really nice and accommodating. That is something that will never cease to amaze me. The first week I was here I was obviously nervous and unsure of what to do and I went to a restaurant by myself. I didn't know how things worked at all, but the waiter was really nice and helped me order what I wanted. I also had a very good experience with a lady when I was ordering flowers for a friend's birthday this past week. She was very patient with me and helpful (I had never ordered flowers before in English, so I was really proud when I could do it in Spanish). It could be argued that these people were only nice to me because they were selling things. I'd like to be optimistic and just say that they are nice people.
          My classmates have also been really nice as well. In two of my classes I have group work to do and my classmates are really nice about helping out. One of the group members offered to help me with a completely different class, saying that I could use their notes from when they took it and any saying they would help me with anything I might need. In my other group, they take time out of our work time to explain some of the words and technical terms of the class so that I can understand the class more and help them with the work. I love how willing they are to help because it would be so easy to ignore me and let me flounder. This is something that I will be very conscious of when I get back to the United States. I want to pay it forward and help students that aren't from the US just as the students here have helped me.
           On a related side note, the people here are also very affectionate. There is the standard greeting of kissing people on the cheek, but people are also very expressive when they speak. So if someone is speaking to you they might reach out and touch your arm or shoulder. This is new to me because that's not one of the ways that I express myself, I respect the "personal bubble", but I've gotten used to it. This kind of communication creates a lot warmer environment for talking and interacting and it makes you a lot more invested in the conversation, I think. Besides this interaction when people are talking, I've also noticed a lot more couples hold hands or are at least touching when they walk down the street. They are more public with their affection, though not necessarily in a bad way. It's so interesting to me because I don't see this (or at least I don't notice it) in the US. I've seen couple of all ages holding hands or having an arm around the shoulders of their partner as the walk down the street here, and I think it's sweet. It's something I wish there was more of in the US.
            That's just a little look into what I've noticed of the people here in Alicante. It's something interesting to see and I will continue my people watching to see what other differences I can notice.

Have a great week :D

       

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spanish Spanish

    So, I'm almost halfway through my stay here in Spain. It's crazy to think about, but my stay here is almost over. There's so much that I still want to do and I'm only just realizing all the things that I will not be able to accomplish. Oh well, that just means that I'll have to come and visit sometime :)
   This blog was inspired by my ever so lovely friend, Sam Falsetta who is currently studying in Chile. She is also blogging for CMU (go check out her blog! Here's a link: http://bit.ly/1utgIE8) and she did a blog about the differences between bathrooms across countries. I don't really have anything to add there, except that I was surprised when I went to Belgium and I had to pay for the bathroom! It was a little strange.
       What I do have to comment on is her ¿Dónde está el baño? This is great advice- for Central and South America. But in Spain? Not so much. Here, bathrooms are called aseos. There's a distinction between a bathroom that just has a toilet and a sink (like a public bathroom) and a bathroom that has a shower and/or a bathtub. A baño is the one that has a shower and/or a bathtub and it's called that because that is where you bathe yourself or, in Spanish, bañarse. That was something interesting to find out when we got here.
     Something else that's different between Spain and the rest of the Spanish speaking world is the verb cojer. In Spain it is similar to the verb tomar which is "to take". Now, if you go around saying this verb in Central and South America, you'll get some strange looks to say the least. Without going into too much detail, cojer is a sexual reference in those parts of the world. So, just be aware.
       To end on a better note than the last example, we're going back to food, my favorite subject. So here, there are two different terms for sandwich- bocadillo and sándwich. While these two words have the same meaning in English, they are two different things here in Spain, though the difference isn't too extreme. A bocadillo is a sandwich that is made with French bread (and it makes sandwiches 1,000x better) whereas a sándwich is just like a regular sandwich from the States. If you want to know more or if you need a refresher on bocadillos I definitely talked about them in my food blog :)
      These are just a few things that I could think of that are specific to the Spanish of Spain. There are some more technical things like how they use the verb form vosotros when talking about a group of people instead of ellos/Ustedes, which is viewed as more formal. Bocadillos are a lot more fun to talk about, though.

Since it's hard to have pictures of grammar, here is a picture of French fries.
They might be my favorite French fries that I've tried in Spain. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Beautiful Belgium

From the train near Brussels
       Belgium. I don't think I have enough words to describe Belgium. I went with fellow blogger Damaris (check out her blog if you haven't already!) to Belgium this past weekend. There was a festival on Thursday throughout the province of Valencia so we didn't have class. She used her long weekend to visit one of her friends from high school and she was kind enough to invite me along.
Kortrijk near where
 we were staying
       Wow. I didn't know what to expect when travelling there, I was just hoping to have a good time. I was a bit nervous when we were flying out because it was just me and her, we had put together the plan ourselves and we had to hope for the best. There wouldn't be anyone to meet us at the airport on the other side, we had to take a train and to get where we needed to go. It seemed like a lot, but we made it, no disasters of any kind. So we went to Kortrijk, which is kind of in the upper left hand corner of the country (I'd google a map to see where it is in relation to everything else). It's about two hours from Brussels by train. We go there at about 8 at night and let me tell you, it was refreshing. Belgium is a lot like Michigan this time of year, so it seemed, and I loved it. I never thought I would miss the cold crispness of fall, but I did. It was nice to feel the nip in the breeze. We didn't see that much of the town that night, but we wandered around and got to know the town more on Friday. I don't know how to describe it except that it was everything that I expected Europe to be, which might be cliché or stereotypical, but I loved it. The streets were cobblestoned, the houses were skinny and packed tightly together. Lots of little shops lined the streets. Lovely. It was interesting to compare it to Spain. Maybe it's because Alicante has a higher population density than where we were in Belgium, but it's very urban with apartments everywhere. There's also the fact that it's in the south of Spain so the climate is very different from Belgium which is in northern Europe.    
Cathedral near the
 train station in central Brussels
         Friday was very relaxed, Damaris's friend had a class so we got to go adventuring. Yesterday, we went to Brussels for the day because our flight back to Alicante this morning was at 6:55 am, which was really early especially since we were staying two hours away and we found out that the trains didn't run all night. We decided the best plan was to go to Brussels early in the day and then camp out in the airport overnight, which is exactly what we did.
       Brussels was awesome. There were beautiful buildings everywhere. I don't know a lot about architecture or anything, but the styles seemed to range greatly. I think the best thing that we saw is called Grand Place. It's this huge plaza that is surrounded by beautiful old buildings. Most of them also had gold leafing on the outside, it was incredible.
       I really don't think I've done Belgium justice at all, but I can't think of anything to express how much I loved it there. I fell in love and I fell hard. Thank you, Belgium, for exceeding my expectations so greatly. I can only hope to be able to make it back there in the future to see more of the country. Two days was definitely not enough. I'll end with some of my favorite pictures from the trip to try and explain what I can't. Until next time :)


Abandoned house in Kortrijk
Close up








Brussels

In a plaza in Brussels










French fries are the way to my heart :)

Grand Place

A view from higher ground



Grand Place at night

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Food Blog

    Things are starting to get busy around here! My classes have settled into place, I've actually got homework to do... I'm going to have to remember how to do school again! But I'm not going to talk about school right now. I'm going to talk about food.
      I love the food here. I haven't found it to be super different from the food in the US, but it's definitely more healthy. There is always a vegetable element to the meals here, whether it's a salad, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes or green beans, there is some type of vegetable. I like how that is incorporated into the meals here, it's such a healthy option and I hope that I keep up the habit when I come back to the US.
This is some of the ham I
talked about that tastes like jerky.
      Something else that I love about the food here is the meats, specifically the ham. There are a bunch of different types of ham here, that I don't really know the difference between, but from what I've tried, it's all really good. There's this one kind that tastes kind of like jerky, but it's not dried or anything like that, it's just how the ham is treated. Something else that goes along with the concept of meat is how it's shown in the stores and markets. They have the legs of the meats (cows, pigs, etc.) that hang behind the counter of the meat section/market stall. They just hang there. I think it's really cool because that's not something that you see in the US. It's so different to see the meat still attached to the leg instead of seeing it neatly packed into a Styrofoam container with shrink-wrap. It's the same way with the fish,  a lot of the time it's the entire fish sitting out for the customers to see. It's so cool to me.
This is a kinda crappy picture
of the street market I saw.
        Going off on another tangent from this one, there is a really cool street market not far from me that is on Thursday and Saturday mornings that has everything from food, to clothing, to cloth, and other random odds and ends. I walked around it last Thursday and I was amazed. They had so many different fruits and vegetables and they all smelled so good! And the prices seemed really good too! Maybe one of these days I'll buy some stuff from there to try since they have such a variety that I don't get to see as much in Michigan because of the difference in climate.
This is a chorizo bocadillo from a cafe.
        To end, I'm going to talk about the sandwiches they have here. In Spain they call them bocadillos, and from what I've tried they usually come on a sort of hard, crusty bread with whatever you order. They come with all kinds of meats, like ham, chicken, and chorizo which is a Spanish sausage, but they also come with stuff like salmon, calamari, and potatoes. They are really good and I would eat them every day if I could! Sometimes they come with tomato pressed into the top of the bread, leaving the juice and flavor behind, and that is something that originates from Cataluña, which is the province north of Valencia, which is the province that has Alicante.
        Moral of the story: the food is really good here. I still miss a good, fatty burger and a milkshake, but I know I'll be able to survive here just fine :)


Monday, September 22, 2014

Exploring Alicante

      So last week was the first full week of classes here- joy. It was so much different than anything I was expecting. It wasn't too too bad, most of the days I only had one or two classes so my brain didn't explode, but Tuesday was killer. For some reason, I thought that having three classes back to back, all two hours a piece (so 6 straight hours of class) completely in Spanish was a good idea. Last year, I could hardly keep up with two classes, an hour and a half a piece, back to back in English. I don't know what I was thinking. At least with this schedule I don't have three 8am classes a week. I like to sleep. Anyway, Tuesday was really bad. About halfway through my second class I was exhausted but there really wasn't anything I could do about it since I had another class directly after my second class. I had heard people talk about getting a headache from too much Spanish and getting really tired from trying to understand it all the time, but I hadn't experienced that so I thought maybe I had managed to escape that fate. I was wrong. Tuesday was the day it hit me. After a certain point, my brain just sort of checked out, it had been overloaded and just wanted to nap. I was lucky because those classes were sort of the beginning classes where they basically read the syllabus to you and explain what the class is all about. I can go back and read the syllabus later so I won't be missing much. Tuesdays will be my hardest days for sure, but I know that after a couple of weeks I should be able to cope better than I did last week.
This is the plaza de la estrella (plaza of the star)
 near my house where I meet up
with people to go exploring!
          I was also lucky last week because my class on Wednesday was cancelled so I had a free day where I went to the beach and was able to unwind a little bit from the overload of the day before. The rest of the week went rather smoothly and I'm pretty sure that I'll be fine moving forward, I'll just need some time. Most of the end of last week I spent with other people from CMU and we wandered the city, getting to know it better. I went to the beach an astonishing two times in one week (and managed not to get totally burned!) and I got to experience a bit of the nightlife as well. It's crazy how different that can be from day to day. All the restaurants are open late, since dinner is typically served around 9 or 10 here, so there's usually a pretty good amount of people out. But on the weekend, there are people everywhere, wandering from place to place. It's so different to see so many people out around midnight because in Michigan everything is closed and people are sleeping! It's really cool though that the city still thrives after dark.
This is a really cool
fountain by Damaris's house. 
            Over the weekend I also got to visit the apartment of Damaris (who is also blogging for this trip, you should check it out!) and I got to meet her host family as well. It was cool to see what different apartments look like here. Mine is sort of square shaped whereas hers is a skinny rectangle that goes straight to the back. I had also never been to that part of Alicante, it's so much quieter than where I live and there were a couple of really pretty parks. Damaris's host mom was kind enough to make a paella for lunch when I visited and it was really good. It had yellow rice, chicken, red peppers and garlic. Paella is a pretty iconic dish in Spain so it was really nice to be able to try it!
               That's about all I've got for now,  hopefully this week of class won't hurt my brain as much as it did last week!

This is probably my favorite place that I've found in Alicante.
It's a beautiful plaza that gets all lit up around 8pm.