Independent Exploration

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I have never been one to really go out and do things on my own, but I always envied those who did.  I feel like I need to have a purpose to go somewhere alone, such as going to the grocery store for food or grabbing a coffee and then heading home.  Doing something without a purpose gave me anxiety.

Moving to Barcelona on my own was a big step.  What was my purpose? To travel and get paid to do it.  However, this whole idea of exploring on my own was a little difficult to grasp.  Ideally I would have met a bunch of friends by now who would explore with me, but friends don’t just appear out of thin air.  It was my fifth day in Barcelona and I could either stay home or go out to explore by myself… I obviously chose the latter, if for nothing else to avoid the guilt I would give myself for not taking advantage of my time here.

I was to meet my tutor, Roser, for lunch in Badalona and so I decided to walk around my new hometown.  I felt comfortable in knowing that I couldn’t really get lost; as long as I knew where the ocean was, I knew how to get home.2014-09-29 11.19.55

It was a lot warmer out than I expected, so after wandering around a bit I found myself quickly tired and sweaty.  I walked into the first cafe I found and asked (in broken Spanish) for a cold water and a cappucino.  I am still uncomfortable conversing in Spanish (or I guess I should begin referring to it as Castellano), and always feel bad when a shopkeeper says something to me and I just respond with a blank stare.  Sometimes I am so stumped trying to figure out what they are saying that I forget to politely apologize that I don’t speak much castellano. So hopefully they recognize that I’m a tourist… otherwise I just look like an awkwardly rude girl.

imageCappucinos never fail to put a smile on my face and make me feel content.  I slowly sipped on my cappucino and downed my water to help me cool down as I people watched and read my book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” At one point, a classic American song came on (for the life of me I now can’t remember which) and I started smiling and swaying to the music. For a moment I was transported back to America; then I realized no one else in that coffee shop understood what the song was saying. I have had this experience many times since; songs in English are extremely popular here and give me a sense that perhaps I’m not so far away from home after all.

I continued walking around the streets, peering into the little shops curiously.  It really is the small things that fascinate me.  The butcher shops all have large, full legs of various animals on display: thigh, knee, calf, hoof and all.  They shave off pieces  of the meat for customers and package it up which is something so simple yet so unheard of in America, or at least the suburbs of southern California.  We Americans dont’t want to see where our meat comes from; just package it prettily for us and we will be on our way.

I passed by another grocery store that had a closed basket full of snails on display.  Real, live, slimy snails. Crawling all over each other and on the sides of the basket.  I could not imagine someone walking up, opening the basket, and choosing snails for dinner later that night. How do you choose them? “Oh, that one looks extra slimy, I must have that one” or “I like the colors on this one’s shell, it probably tastes delicious.” Unfortunately, I did not see anyone open up the snail baskets so I couldn’t witness how they chose which lucky snails to take home. Maybe next time.

The smells walking around the city are amazing.  You walk down one street and smell some pretty flowers, then down the next and a whiff of sewage and dog shit offends your nose.  Then down the next you smell some freshly baked bread or brewed coffee, then a staleness, and then perhaps a hint of saltwater. Never before has my nose been blessed with so many olfactory experiences.

As I was walking down one street, there was a young man passing in the other direction.  He made eye contact with me and gave the hint of a smile, but I quickly averted my gaze. Why do I do that? How can I ever expect to meet people if I’m constantly coming across this way? I came all the way across the world for new experiences and also to improve myself, and I vow to myself that I will become much more outwardly friendly and extraverted in my time here. Here’s to hoping.

imageAround lunchtime, I met with my tutor and her family for lunch.  We went to a small Italian restaurant and had the menu del dia, which is a prefixed menu for a cheap and affordable price.  I got the caprese salad and a proscuitto and mushroom pizza; it was delicious! Unfortunately Roser’s husband and son do not speak much English. However, it was a fun challenge trying to understand the other’s language as Roser hurriedly tried to translate everything that is being said.

After lunch I ventured into Barcelona on my own.  Maria had recommended I visit La Padrera so I took the metro in that direction. When I arrived, there was an extremely long line and my neck was hurting a bit, so I decided just to walk around the area instead. Something about waiting in a line alone also scared me.

Using the Trip Advisor app, I found my way around Paseig de Gracia and found some of the lesser known buildings designed by Gaudi. I stopped inside a cafe for my first sangria in Barcelona and was surprised to find that their booths inside were all covered in beautiful mosaics in the likeness of Gaudi’s patio areas.

imageAfter walking around some more I found my way back to the metro and navigated myself back home. I was super proud of myself for taking that step toward independence and found that I was happy every step of the way.  Being happy without having someone there to appreciate the experience was a huge leap for me.

Gaudi has so much of his architecture spread across this beautiful city. This building, which for the life of me I can't remember the name of, is not a huge tourist attraction (in fact, you can't even go inside) but it is a wonder to look at.

Gaudi has so much of his architecture spread across this beautiful city. This building, which for the life of me I can’t remember the name of, is not a huge tourist attraction (in fact, you can’t even go inside) but it is a wonder to look at.

That night, I met the father of the family, Paco.  He did not speak nearly as much English as Maria, but it was an interesting experience trying to communicate through gestures (along with a dictionary and the help of little Francesca). I hope that as the weeks pass the two of us become closer and have an easier time communicating with each other.

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A Rainy Day in Barcelona

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The Gothic Quarter

Plaça Real

Plaça Real

On Sunday, Maria gave me a small tour around the city of Barcelona including Paseig de Gracia, Plaça de Catalunya, Plaça Real and the Cathedral. It was very interesting to see the city from a local’s perspective. It began to rain and puddles were accumulating everywhere due to the uneven pavement.  Poor Francesca kept up as we walked all around the city and then finally stopped for some montaditos at a Basque restaurant called Txapela. I had Maria order for me because the menu was really extremely confusing; it was in Catalan, not Spanish, so I had absolutely no chance of understanding it.

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We had a mini hamburger (good but didn’t compare to a slider back home), a small dish with bocadillo (codfish), oil and spices that was extremely tasty (top right), and piece of toast topped with shrimp, mushroom, and prosciutto… that was probably my favorite! After all of that we were still a bit hungry so we order another montadito, which was a piece of toast topped with a type of scrambled eggs and proscuitto. I was skeptical about the scrambled eggs (I don’t normally like it; I’m weird, I know) but it had a texture I had never tasted and I loved it!

A monument in tribute to the Castellers, or the brave souls who make the human towers.

A monument in tribute to the Castellers, or the brave souls who make the human towers.

We then rushed back onto the metro and went home, deciding to take shelter from the rain.  We played a game of scrabble, one time in English and then one time in Spanish. It was surprisingly difficult for me to play in Spanish… I definitely have a lot of learning to do! I really hope that by the end of this experience I can actually hold a conversation in Spanish and not have to constantly translate everything in my head.

The Cloister of Barcelona Cathedral

The Cloister of Barcelona Cathedral

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Francesca also showed me her book, “Sleeping Beauty,” that tells the story in both English and Spanish. We decided to make it a routine to read 5 pages or so every night, first in English and then in Spanish to help us both with our pronunciation.  I am glad that she has become comfortable with me so quickly and I think the activity is helping both of us 🙂 She is such an adorable little girl, and extremely intelligent! I wish my family had started me learning languages a lot sooner in life.

The Program

As I mentioned in the last post, I met a couple of girls when I first arrived at the meeting place and we went to a local empanada place to pass the time.  When we got back, a bus full of other conversation assistants arrived and everything began to feel more real. There were people from all over the place: England, Scotland, Canada, the US, & even Singapore. After everyone got settled in their rooms the program set up some group activities to help us get to know each other and also tell us a little more about the program.  During lunch, the girl I was rooming with heard a distressed meowing and we found an adorable baby kitten who hadn’t yet opened its eyes.  We were so focused on this little kitty that we could not focus on the activities (although honestly they were pretty boring)! I guess cats are internationally adorable.

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Everyone was eager to get to know the other people but the sad truth was that we were all going to be split up the next day.  Some people were placed in a school as far as 3 hours away from Barcelona city, and the girl I connected with most was going to be about an hour and a half away.  A couple of the schools and cities had been assigned 2 or 3 conversation assistants, but unfortunately that was not the case for me.  We were all scrambling to find people who would be near to us and try to get contact information, despite the awful wifi connection.  As the hours passed, it became more and more real.  For awhile there it did not even feel like I was in Europe, perhaps just a summer camp and I would be home in a few days.

Orientation. And people taking pictures of people taking pictures.

Orientation. And people taking pictures of people taking pictures.

The next morning we were woken up early and had to pack everything up.  We went through a couple of hours of orientation, discussing our responsibilities and how to get along with the host family.  Then we were all led to this outdoor seating area to await our host family’s arrival.  We all watched nervously as families began to show up, wondering if each group could potentially be our new family for the next 3 months.  We all tried to maintain conversation with each other and feign interest, but it was very difficult because it felt like our fate was hanging in the balance.

Exploring the hostel we were staying at in Barcelona during coffee breaks.

Exploring the hostel we were staying at in Barcelona during coffee breaks.

Slowly people’s names were called as their families arrived.  Within 15 minutes one of the CAPS coordinators called my name and I felt my heart stop briefly.  However, my family had not yet arrived; instead, they were asking me to answer a few questions for then on video.  I found this very strange; why had they asked for me by name and not anyone else out of the other 150 or so conversation assistants? I probably looked like a fool, I was so nervous I was probably visibly shaking.  I decided to take their decision in choosing me as a compliment.

In the end, I was one of the last people to be picked up by their host families. The mother, Maria, picked me up along with her daughter, Francesca.  The father, Paco, was away in Valencia with his other children. We lugged all of my luggage down the street to their car and quickly picked up conversation about our lives and how excited we were.  Francesca was very shy in the beginning, but Maria was amazingly fluent in English and made it extremely easy to hold a conversation.  We soon arrived in Badalona to their flat, a very lovely and modern place with two large terraces with excellent views.

Maria is a very healthy cook, which I was happy to find out.  Perhaps I will not gain weight this trip, but lose! For dinner we had grilled salmon, a salad, and a zucchini and carrot soup that was surprisingly delicious.  I am so thankful that this family has opened up their home to me, and I really look forward to this amazing experience. I was also introduced to Maria’s mother, niece, and nephew.  Later in the day, we met my tutor from the school and had a coffee as we discussed some of the basics of the school.  It was so interesting to walk down the streets of Badalona… although it is a big city, Maria seemed to bump into at least 5 families she knew. Big city, small town vibe.

I am very happy to have been placed into such a welcoming family and to be in such a convenient location 🙂 I can’t wait to see what this adventure holds next!

Made it!

Today is my third day in Barcelona. It has been both an exciting and exhausting adventure so far.  As I have mentioned before, I am a horrible packer and I brought way too much stuff with me… My carry on alone was extremely heavy even though I thought I packed it really light. I have marks on my shoulders from carrying it all over the place.

I ended up taking a taxi to the hostel in Barcelona city; I didn’t want to mess with the train because I was already sweating bullets from lugging everything around. I made it to the hostel and as I dragged everything inside I could feel everyone’s eyes on me… I looked like a fool bringing that much stuff into a hostel. Once I got my keys I also had to carry it all upstairs since there was no elevator. When I made it to the room, a woman was trying to sleep in one of the beds. She woke up due to the noise and introduced herself; she was from Austria. I asked if I could turn on the light so that I could get situated but she said no… awkward.  So I tried getting out the stuff I needed in the dark and while also trying to be quiet.

It felt uncomfortable leaving my stuff in the room with a complete stranger but I didn’t really have a choice… I smelled awful due to 24 long hours of travelling and desperately needed a shower. I took all of my valuables with me and headed to the communal shower.  To my dismay, towels were not provided.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  I decided to air dry afterwards. Once I was dressed, I went downstairs to contact friends and family then started the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and enjoyed a well-deserved cerveza.

Despite my exhaustion, I barely slept that night. Two guys came in right after I had gone back to the room and were sleeping on the top bunks of the bunk beds. Every single movement created a loud noise.  Not only that… all of these people were strangers.  It was very unsettling. I slept with my arm over my purse and a watchful ear toward my luggage.

Next morning I caught a cab to the residence where I was to meet the program.  I was one of the first to arrive which was great because I got a room pretty much right away.  I also met some interesting girls who were also in the program.  One was going to be a French conversation assistant and she was from Canada, and the other was from England.  I had one girl already in my room and we soon became friends.  She was from Ohio, so it was nice to be able to speak with someone else from the States and compare our experiences in coming to Barcelona. We ended up going as a group to a local empanada place as we waited for the rest of the conversation assistants to arrive.

From my experiences so far, I don’t really think that hostels are my thing but I will definitely be trying it again.  I never even lived in the dorms in college so this was definitely an experience I was not used to, especially in a foreign country. Perhaps after this year of travelling around and having a home base I will be more comfortable with the nomadic lifestyle and living out of a backpack. Or at least I hope so… time will tell.

It’s Becoming Real

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It has been a long but exciting week. My work schedule was a little crazy in the beginning; I was working 3 morning shifts in a row (starting at 6am) by myself which left me with only 3-4 hours of sleep every night since I have a hard time falling asleep before midnight. I also don’t like morning shifts because all I want to do when I get home around 3pm is take a nap.  Those shifts were also extremely busy; constant running back and forth and dealing with problem guests.  However, the positive side of that is that the shifts went by pretty quickly.

I was able to go and hang out with one of my colleagues and a mutual friend on Wednesday night and had a blast.  I had been a little down about working so much and other random life stressors, but this washed all of those worries away.  We went to this really cool western bar and had s’mores and a 3-foot thing of cotton candy; went to play pool; chilled by the pier and got to see a mother seal teach her baby how to swim in the waves; and then drove down to this beautiful lagoon I had never been to and watched the waves crash over the jetty.  It was such an amazing night! I didn’t even make it home until about 4am.

The next day I went with my mom to our local wine country.  I’m so glad I made it there before I left for Europe! I got to revisit some of my favorite wineries and we went out for a really nice lunch and had lobster mac n cheese.  Now I can compare California and Spanish wines 😉

After my last day of work on Friday, my colleague took me out for drinks.  She was so incredibly sweet and got me a going away gift of fluffy socks, an awesomely patterned microfiber pillow case, and a little stuffed kitten to remind me of her.  I’m going to miss her so much, and she just helped remind me that there are good people out there and that I will be missed. Its not how many friends you have, but how good your friends are to you.

This weekend I also got to see Chris for the last time.  We went on a Sunset Wine & Fondue cruise which was a really cool experience and then the next day did a painting class (my finished ‘masterpiece’ shown above).  He was incredibly sweet to me and I enjoyed our time together.  He tried giving me a parting gift of a photo he has of him as a baby with his mom and dad; one of the rare photos he has of his mom.  He said he chose that so that I knew he intended on seeing me again when I get back. I couldn’t accept it, though, just in case worst case scenario my luggage was stolen or something.  We parted on good terms and it’ll be interesting to see how things go from here.

Well, tonight is my last night in the good ol’ US of A! I spent today doing some last minute shopping (an extra adapter, SD card, exchanged money, etc.) and am about to go to one of my favorite places for happy hour right on the water. I can’t believe how close I am to leaving! One thing that is slightly worrisome is that the program told me I’d be getting the host family information 8-10 days before the program start date on the 26th… however, today is the 23rd and I leave the country tomorrow and still haven’t heard anything. Luckily they responded to me pretty quickly and apologized for the delay; hopefully I will receive that info tonight!

This is all so surreal… I think I’m a little numb to the reality of it all.  Two days from now I will be in Barcelona on my own! What an adventure I’m about to embark on…! 🙂

The Pressure Before a Trip

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Any trip can put pressure on your life.  You want to make sure you pack everything you need, that all accommodations are taken care of, that you get all the work you need done before the trip, and, in some cases, make sure you see friends/family before you leave.  And that’s just for short trips (say, 2 weeks).  So the pressure is really on for this 9 month journey of mine.  I feel like every day that passes there’s a new struggle I need to deal with.

This new added pressure is with my boyfriend, Chris.  The fact that I’m stressing myself out at all is kind of bothering me because I made a promise to myself never again to let a guy drag me down, especially while I’m on a trip.  Pretty much every vacation I’ve ever taken has been weighed down by some pointless relationship drama… and what’s the point, really? A few years from now I’ll probably be moved onto something new anyways and I’ll wish that I didn’t let something silly like that affect my experiences abroad.

Anyways, about a week ago Chris and I had a conversation about how things should be between us while I’m abroad.  I expressed that I’d definitely like to keep in touch the way we have been and resume things where we leave off when I get back from Europe.  I also said that I was totally fine with him hanging out with women in my absence, that I just didn’t want to hear about it. He said the same in return.

Well, last night he asked me if any of my friends thought it was crazy that we were going to try a long-distance relationship for the 9 months I’d be gone. I replied no, considering the agreement we had come to a week ago.  He asked what I meant about agreement and the conversation just went down hill from there.  He started asking about whether that meant hookups and whatnot and I told him that I didn’t expect him to put his life on hold for 9 months and that he was free to do whatever, that I just hoped he’d be in a place when I came back to resume the relationship.  That didn’t go so well for him.  He said that if I were to become intimate with anyone else while abroad that we’d be over for good, that he couldn’t handle it.  And I guess that isn’t really a drastic idea but at the same time it puts me in an awful place.  This guy has been really good to me, but should I really tie myself down for 9 months while I’m abroad? Especially since we’re in a relatively new relationship. I guess I’m hesitant about that because in my last relationship, I wasted my 2 years in college on a guy who was obviously wrong for me.  I don’t want to waste even more time (especially while living my dream abroad) if this could potentially not work out in the long run.

Chris and I were due to go on a wine cruise on Sunday and then a painting class on Monday for a last hoorah before I leave.  Now I’m wondering if that’ll actually go through and hoping that this situation turns out for the best.  This added drama definitely isn’t helping anything.

On a more positive note, my grandma finally decided to bury the hatchet and be nice to me again.  I think she realized how little time I have left and now she’s rushing to try to make all of my favorite foods before I leave.  She made her famous potato salad and green enchiladas yesterday (yum!) and she plans on making tortilla soup sometime in the next week.  It is a very sweet gesture of hers, I just wish she would’ve warmed up to me sooner. Realistically I don’t know how much time I have left with her in this world and it’s too bad people only realize what they’re missing when its gone.

Luckily I have a lot of my stuff already packed so it won’t be a last-minute rush (which is usual for me).  My only concern is the luggage situation.  Before I booked my flight, I called the company I booked through (OneTravel) to see if they offered free checked bags and they told me yes, two were free.  So I booked the flight.  However, when I go to the airlines website (Norwegian) it says they charge for all checked bags, and the max weight was 20 kg (or about 44 lbs).  I contacted OneTravel again and they insisted that it was 2 free checked bags up to 50 lbs.  Lets hope they’re right.  I’m going to TRY to only have my bags at about 40 pounds each, but realistically (knowing me) both bags will probably be teetering on 49 or 50 lbs.  I’ve always been in the habit of over-packing, so I’m sure this 9 month trip will definitely challenge my packing abilities.

Stress: A Positive Feedback Loop

stressSometimes your mind and body just work against you.  Stress is a funny thing; if you’re stressed about something, your body reacts negatively.  For instance, let’s say you have a hard time sleeping or have nightmares when you’re stressed out.  That stresses you out even more.  Then because you’re even more stressed you get, say, a canker sore, which stresses you out even more. And so on.  I mean, seriously, why can’t the body react positively to stress and stop the cycle?

I am SUPER excited about going to Spain, but also extremely nervous.  Just this last week I have gotten a lot of information with regard to the specifics of my trip, such as the city I’ll be living in and also the fact that the host family might not speak any English at all. Whenever I mention any of this to friends or family, they say how crazy it all is and how freaked out they’d be.  Which makes me feel awesome, for one, but also a little more nervous at the same time.  Time seems to be pasing by quickly as well; I only have 1 more week left at my job and then just a few days until I board a plane and say adios to the USA.

The other day, my dad sent me a video he had made for me (he’s really into video editing).  It was a cheesy video of him wishing me luck and also showing a lot of the stuff there is to do in Barcelona, along with tips such as watch out for pickpocketing.  I was laughing the whole time but just a few minutes in I was also crying; it was so thoughtful of him to spend all of that time making the video for me, and here I wouldn’t see my dad for another year.  It was an emotional rollercoaster of sadness overtaking happiness.

I’ve also been a frustrated with the rest of my family.  Unfortunately I’ve never been all that close to any of my cousins, aunts, or uncles due to family drama, and didn’t even have anyone besides my mom and dad at my high school graduation.  I guess I shouldn’t have expected much, but I haven’t heard from any of them in regards to my trip.  Not even a “Let’s have lunch before you go!” Furthermore, my grandma (who I live with) has been in an awful mood the last two weeks and hasn’t spoken a word to me.  It’s like… does no one realize that they won’t see me for a long time?

Anyways, I had a nighmare last night.  I don’t remember all of the specifics, but the theme of the dream was lonliness and abandonment by both family and friends.  I woke up weeping.  I knew I was stressed but damn, dreams like that really don’t help anyone out.

I’m doing by best to make the most out of my time left and look forward to a brand new start.  I know it is going to be a challenge to live abroad, especially at first, but I look forward to it.  I may even have the opportunity to extend my time there and stay another year.  This is a time for me to start brand new; reinvent myself and my way of life.  Meet new people.  Appreciate what I have and explore what life has to offer me.  Step out of my comfort zone.

I’m ready.