Saturday, March 26, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
I get really excited by all the foreign culture sameness. I'm not sure why. For an example of what I mean, I'm currently sitting on a train and across from me is a, well, I assume a mother and a daughter. The girl must be about 5? 6? And the mom is reading her a story from a picture book. All of this is in adorable French, of course. The book says something like va au cirque (goes to the circus or at the circus I'm sure). She exclaims and looks at the pictures and makes comments to her mom just like an English child would, except it's all in French. (I know I know... well, duh! You're in France! So of course it's in French.) But it still makes me smile. It's capturing of how despite language barriers, despite cultural barriers, there are things that are simply the same, human reactions that are universal. The same type of thing would happen in Spain – I'd watch basketball coaches drilling their student players on a playground, but in Spanish. It would be the same, but foreign. I'd witness a person calling out to a friend they see unexpectedly on the street, but in Spanish - like someone had switched the language setting for my real life. I'd watch a European looking old man walking in the park by himeslf and think, "he's thinking to himself in Spanish!" And my favorite – when my little five year old students would run up to me to blame one another for doing something. When I first started teaching, I couldn't understand enough to know what had happened exactly, but I didn't need to know. I'd make up my own dialogue: “Teacher teacher! Look! Alvaro did this to my paper!” “No I didn't!” “yes you did!” “Well, Yago called me this name.” “NO!” “Teacher!” One time during one of these exchanges my bilingual coordinator was in the room (my boss). He heard the exchange, said something in rapid Spanish, and then Yago looked guilty and said begudgingly - “Perdona” (sorry). Same body language, same sullenness of any five year old boy who got caught misbehaving. It's all the same, but foreign.
In the last two days, I've spent 11 hours on train or bus zooming through the French country side. Yesterday, I went from Bayonne to Toulouse by train, Toulouse to Carcassonne by Bus (very interesting drive through lots of old small villages that I was happy to see, but wouldn't want to visit).
I spent the night very much alone in Carcassonne. I found cheap lodgings in an Abbey (Notre D'am Abbey to be exact). It was a four person dorm, but I had it to myself. This was a good and a bad thing – Bad because I depend on the places I'm staying to be how I'm going to meet people, so I was a bit isolated. And good because with the whirlwind of people I just left, and am about to meet, I try to appreciate and value my alone time when I get it, so being alone wasn't a big deal. Carcassonne is very picturesque – basically the old part of the city is a full on little castle town with high walls you must walk up to and then through. It's easy to feel like you are in a different century in a place like that. I bought a bottle of wine, and spent the night walking around the old castle city, perching on walls occasionally, and making toasts in Spanish to myself and to the things that I saw. I'm determined not to forget the Spanish I've learned while i'm in France for the next few weeks. I'm listening to Spanish podcasts still. And I have a Spanish book. But occasionally I think I will just have to walk around talking to myself in Spanish too. Llamame loca (call me crazy). As I was walking around the French castle town last night, I heard some people speaking spanish too! And started a conversation, learned they were from Avila (close to Madrid) told them I had lived in Madrid... it was fun. I think I may make it a goal to start up short conversations in Spanish when I hear it being spoken too. My French is nonexistent, so it's nice to be able to communicate with someone not in English.
Now I'm on a train to Lyon. About an hour and half more to go. Lot's and lot's of countryside... a preview of what is to come next week since this is the area I'll be working on a farm starting on the 14th.
Monday, March 14, 2011
The rest of my first day in Bayonne was spent bike riding to the beach closest to Bayonne and cooking delicious food all in a triage of languages. Audrey and I will switch off between Spanish and English (I can pretty much understand it all too!!) and Muhammed and she would speak French. I love French. I love the way it sounds. My new goal is to learn the basics in this language (and maybe Italian eventually too). Not to be fluent, but to be able to say basics like, where is this? I am cold. I want this. How do you say _____ in French? I've already learned a teensy bit from Muhammed when it was just him and me (because Audrey was at a Basque independence meeting while we went on a bike ride). Knowing Spanish certainly helps. French grammar is more difficult than Spanish, but the sentence structures are very similar. Language is so fascinating.
Later that night, I cooked them beer can chicken (where you stick a can of beer into the cavity of the chicken, and then put the entire thing into the oven. They hadn't seen anything like it before. Muhammed was a bit confused. I'm afraid it turned out not as delicious and moist as i'd been hoping, but it certainly wasn't bad. I blame the ovens of Europe, which are different than American ovens and hard to get the temperature right. I went to bed feeling quite pleased with life and these opportunities that keep popping up!
The next day, Sunday, we went for hike on one of the many mountains in the Basque countryside. We drove through fields after fields of Basque countryside with red and white houses to get to the hike. It reminded me a bit of the Maui upcountry side which I love so much. I could tell Audrey had the same feeling of pride and connection with the Basque countryside that I do for my Maui countryside. The hike was beautiful, with a lot of uphill, a lot of green, and a lot of fresh air. I think I needed it after all that Madrid city stale air I've been breathing for so long. Along the hike, we ran into some wild miniature basque horses called “pechukas,” and I would often hear the bells of a local flock of long haired sheep running along the mountainside. It was all quite cute and enjoyable.
I ended up staying with Audrey and Muhammed for one extra night, Monday night. I spent the day of Monday in Biarritz, a beach town close by. Biarritz is rather glam, and caters mostly to it's beach relaxing tourists. It's very different from the cobbled, old streets of Bayonne. I mainly spent the day walking along the coastline, and spent about an hour lying on the sand with my shoes off, enjoying the surprisingly good weather, still cold, but only needing a light jacket or so. It's the first time I've gotten to lie on a beach since I left Maui. I've missed that.
Both Audrey and Muhammed were such lovely people, sharing their time, their food, their cultures with me – often in a triage of languages. They went above and beyond as couch surfing hosts. I really appreciate the time I got to spend with them, and the peak I got into their lives. I did my best to be an excellent house guest and to share what I could of my cultures and experiences in return. I hope I succeeded.
Already I'm hearing more French about me than Spanish, a language I know hardly nothing about (I can barely count to ten in it). I'm used to being able to ask for whatever I need now. But France? I won't be able to do so. I'm about to go to Bayonne, the capital of French basque country where I will stay with a couch surfer named Audrey and her husband whom I've only communicated to in Spanish so far. We are going to meet in front of a cathedral that I'm not exactly sure how to get to... I'm going to follow the spires. I had to text her to say my train will be arriving an hour later so I must meet her an hour later. She responded saying (in Spanish) that only her husband will be there, will have her phone, and that he only speaks French (I speak NO French!) I have seen a picture of audrey. She's blond and petite. I've never seen a picture of her husband, but I know he's Muslim and named Muhammad... This whole situation seems almost ridiculous. I'm going to go meet strangers in a strange city in a strange location where i don't speak the language and don't know where anything is. Yes, this sounds like a great idea (and it sort of is in an adventurous sense). But I know my best option is to stop worrying and to wait and see how it plays out! And then switch to plan B if necessary. I know by now there is always a hostel, and always someone somewhere who speaks English and can direct me to said hostel. So I shall be fine. But I'm certainly, though amusedly, nervous. In addition I still have little idea where I shall be going and staying the night of the 7th and 8th though it shall be somewhere in France. Toulhouse or Montpellier perhaps?? This is nuts.
Traveling is such an exercise in being ok with the unknown and trusting that all will be ok. I like it this way; it keeps things very interesting, but I need to often calm down the part of me that's less ok with the unknown and wants to freak out, and tell myself it will be ok. Cus with the right attitude, and a little street smarts, it will always be ok. But that's why I'm doing this! To learn to feel confident in every situation.
Also, I arrived at the station here with no one around but about two dozen people standing in line for the "toilettes" I found this a bit odd. Perhaps there are no restrooms on the train?
Sunday, March 13, 2011
ahhh the public displays of affection of Europe, well, I'm assuming Europe. I know it's at least of Spain (and France). The number of affectionate couples going at it throughout the streets of Madrid is strikingly different than the "social norms" of the US. America is so "behind closed doors" about affection. To make out on a street corner or a subway car is hardly done, and something that opens the couple up to the stodgy judgments of those who are passing them. But in Spain, these couples are shameless of their affections. I can't even count of the number of cuddling snogging couples I've watched out of the corner of my eye as I ride the metro, or as I walk down the street. And I've long since stopped being surprised at the shamelessness of couples in the park passionately groping each other under a tree or next to a fountain in the parks here. As I write this I'm watching an adorable couple make out before me, before she must say goodbye and get on a train and leave him. I've asked Spanish friends about it, and they don't even notice - for them it's just how things are, a fact of life; they are kind of confused by how it's NOT normal to me. And personally I like this difference of European norms. My romantic side sees these kissing couples as an example of art and life entwining - of people not just trying to mirror real life to create art, but real life people creating art by having real expression. Plus, all these couples sharing their affection... i think it's just cute.
so photos will be coming
I'll have to update this post later with more information of where these pictures are.
Getting on the train in Madrid to San Sebastian was a bit of an ordeal. I, as usual, left the house ten minutes later than I was supposed to, and then almost got on the wrong direction of metro in Madrid towards Chamartin station. Luckily I caught myself in time, but I missed the first metro I could have taken and had to wait for the next one... making my already tight time schedule to make the train even tighter. But I made it! I was the last person on the train, and the doors literally closed after I had entered, but I did make it!
Five hours later, leaving the train at San Sebastian was a much more leisurely process. As I walked next to the river by the train station, towards the ocean I've been missing so much, admiring the architecture so different from Madrid's.... I wasn't really sure how to process the change I'd just made in my life. What the @#$ was I doing and where was I? As I checked into my hostel (feeling awkward as I made small talk with Gordon the hostel worker as he quickly circled sites and bars of interest on the map of San Sebastian knowing i'd retain little of the information) I felt even more unsure of how to process this change I'd just made from sedentary to traveler. I was going to have to meet new people, put myself out there constantly, adjust to knew places all the time... it seemed so daunting and tiring! I just wanted to run away! So I did – I ran to the ocean, sat on the sea wall, ate an orange, and took some time: getting my bearings, taking some breaths. I felt better. I went to an awesome little cafe and got a veggie burger (something quite difficult to find in Madrid). I felt even better. I wandered around the pedestrian, europeanesque streets of the city, went to the supermarket and saw that the prices of food in San Sebastian were cheaper than Madrid, and didn't only feel better, but felt excited. I was someplace different! I was seeing things different, I was meeting people different, I'd be experiencing all the small things different again. I feel really glad that I made the change that I made.
The next day and a half was a whirlwind of people, food, and sites, including visiting a big statue of Jesus towering over the town from a hill top, and enjoying the random festivities occurring all over the city since this weekend was Carnival. I'm deeply in need of a long night of sleep, but it was a good time for sure.
Some of the people I met in San Sebastion that I want to mention. Firstly, my new Canadian friend Eaman who was in the same hostel as me. I got to know him at first because he had cooked too much pasta and offered to share it with me (free food while traveling is always awesome). We ended up spending the next day together walking around the city, visiting Jesus, and eating pinxtos at the delicious pinxto/tapas bars in the city. Eamon was about a week a away from finishing a 2.5 month mostly solo travel through Egypt, Morroco, (unexpectedly Germany cus he had to evacuate first Egypt, then Morroco for the political upheavals going on in those countries currently) Spain, and Portugal. I'm not exactly sure what Eaman does back in Toronto, but it has something to do with relationships/social relationships/social work. These are something very important and central in his life. We talked a lot about life relationships, and how important they are. Eamon is particularly close to his sister and his mom, but does a good job keeping in contact with many of the people he finds important in his life. I find this admirable, since it's something I'm always saying goodbye to people/wishing I could keep in better contact with people (although it does take two sometimes, and I will not assume all of the guilt of any of the relationships I've neglected.) He also believes that one can have an infinite number of important relationships with people, which not everyone thinks. Some people chose to only focus on the relationships they have and won't open themselves up to meeting new people/developing new relationships. I believe that I stay open, and that one can have an infinite number of important relationships too, but I also think that some of my views of this, what it means to keep in touch, what it means to be an important relationship could use some molding... thus the traveling =)
Another interesting person I met in San Sebastian was this girl named Alexis (also Canadian) She's 25, and currently working at EU hostel in San Sebastian (a hostel which said they'd be interested in hiring me on for the summer too, and the hostel gives a lot of opportunities for their employees to make money while working, so there's a good chance i'll be doing that for this summer. Alexis is an artistic and transitory girl. She studied carpentry for a time, is about to do a blacksmith apprenticeship in Barcelona, and then will probably return to San Sebastian for the summer. We spent the night talking to each other about a crazy number of things. She's basically spent the last 5 years traveling. She'd occasionally go home, but was living for 3 months here, 5 months there, etc. Like me she can't seem to stay in the same place because she can't seem to find a place that fits. But then what does that mean? She's thinking now maybe she needs to let the place and the people come to her, and stay put for a while. Whereas me... I spent the last six months staying in the same place and now want to roam more. Well, maybe I'll be seeing her again, and staying put again for a time in San Sebastian this summer. It's a lovely city – beautiful, interesting culture, amazing food, and a lot of great natural beauty around it. Vamos a ver.
Of course the week before i actually left Madrid I felt a little crazy. I'd wake up in my comfortable bed, in my comfortable flat, in my room with all of my belongings around me so easy to find and use. And I'd go to work and earn a comfortable income, hanging out with lovely people and meeting more daily.... why and how could I leave all this for the unknown and discomforts of living out of a suitcase?
But I've left, and now I do know something - I know that I'm Excited with a capital E. I'm more excited than I've been in months of what's to come, I'm nervous too of course, but that's to be expected with so much stuff unknown, and one thing more than I know is that this is without a doubt what I want to be doing right now in my life, therefore what choice do I have but to see where this all leads and roll with the punches as they come? And I'm grateful that I'm able to do this at all! How many people get to pursue what they want?
my itinerary so far (subject to change):
March 2 - leave Madrid for San Sebastian
March 2-13 travel around Basque country and France... Lyon, Bayonne, San Sebastian...??? where else?
March14-25 work on a french farm in Provance
March 26-28 Barcelona
March 29 – April 2 Help out at a place close to Barcelona
April 3-May2 work on a villa in Lanjaron, close to Granada. South of Spain!
May – visit madrid, spend time with my visiting family
I'm definitely on that road again...
See, around the end of November, and middle of December I began to feel very stuck, unsatisfied and unhealthy with my life here - i didn't like the way my jobs, my apartment, the city, my schedule was making me feel: stuck, very lonely, and like a bad person for resenting what I had, but not being able to help it. And, there was this tiny voice inside of me that kept saying - "this place isn't right for you! You don't want to be here!" Which was a bit nerve-wracking since I had spent the last 4 months making Madrid into my home, and I don't know anything else. Where else could I go? How else could I support myself except by teaching English?
With these thoughts swirling around my head, I left for Alicante for Christmas, and then Belgium for new years.
Alicante was fun. It's a small city located on the south west coast of Spain. I spent Christmas weekend there with my roommate and her family. Her parents and brother only speak English, so that made for a fun challenge. I swear, just in these three days of lots of Spanish, my Spanish and my confidence with the language improved a lot. The last day I was there, Lara had already left so it was just me and her spanish speaking parents. After lunch, they explained to me for an hour about the different agriculture products in Spain and the regions - and I understood everything! Definitely a learning benchmark =) Other highlights from my Spanish Christmas: homemaid authentic paella cooked by Lara's mom; getting to wake up and go for runs on the beach (how I missed the water!!!); a traditional marisco (seafood) christmas dinner of steamed crabs, lobster, and shrimp; speaking to Lara in English at the Christmas dinner about people present at the dinner table because no one else could understand us (I'd always wondered what it was like to be the two people who were speaking the language no one else understood. Now I've done it! And yes, those people are probably talking about you); Lara's mom teaching me how to cook a Spanish Omlette (Spain loves their potatoes and oil); learning (again in spanish) how to open walnets using two fingers from one hand, and the fist of the other. All in all, it was a lovely relaxing, food, culture, and Spanish filled weekend =)
I got back to my apartment in Madrid from Alicante at 2:30am(plane delay)... then went back to the airport at 2pm the next day with my friend Christine to fly to Belgium for the week.
Belgium was also a fantastic experience. We did couch surfers, meaning instead of staying and paying for hostels, we arranged ahead of time to stay at the homes of strangers-soon to be friends. I know this may sound sketchy, but it really isn't so bad. The couchsurfing website is really well run. You have a profile that has all the information you would basically put on your facebook page, you can verify your location and identity, couchsurfing keeps track of all communication sent on the website, and hosts/surfers can put review of each other online after they have stayed/hosted there. It's hard not to at least see if you can trust someone who's picture you can see, favorite quotes you can read, location is verified, and has 25 reviews of satisfied couch surfers who have stayed with him/her before. We stayed with 4 different hosts in Belgium All of them were lovely, and made our stay in Belgium better. I would couch surf again in a second.
Our first hosts were a couple living in Ghent. The guy was Belgian (from Ghent) and the girl was from Indonesia. They had met through couch surfing when the guy was traveling around Asia for a year. They were sooo nice! They picked us up from the train station, gave us a map of brugges to explore, took us out for delicious Belgian beers and fries (we took them out to dinner the next night). We had our own room with separate beds. It was the best first couchsurfing experience we could have asked for. We stayed there three evenings in general.
During the day, Christie and I explored Brugges and Brussels. Brugges has to be one of the most picturesque European little cities in Europe. It's very beautiful. It has lots of canals, and architecture that reminded me of San Francisco townhouses - except older and made out of stone. I've never seen SO MANY chocolate shops in one town in my life - there was literally one every three shops. Mmmm delicious. We went on a brewery tour, which was cool, but a bit difficult to understand, and FREEZING, but came with a complimentary beer afterwards (yum). We ate mussels and french fries for lunch - it came in a bucket and is the traditional food of Belgium (double yum), We walked around the Brugges christmas market with cups of steaming Gludeken in hand (mulled wine - love at first sip. Especially for Christy), and we went to the best little pub I have ever been too. It was soo adorable and cozy, and had about 300 belgian beers to choose from. All were between 2.50-4.50 euros (well priced I think) and would come with a plate of good cubes cheese when you ordered them. The place was so full, that we ended up having to share a table for four - not that we minded. We sat with a couple from Argentina who were studying abroad in Padua Italy. I love Europe and it's multi-culturalness =)
Brussels, which we explored the next day, was also lovely. We only stayed around the center of the city. Apparently the rest of it isn't too much to look at. But the architecture!!! So beautiful. Brussels had a HUGE christmas market that was blocks full of small wooden stands selling their wares, and foods, and such. Many booths full of huge cheese blocks, other booths full of sausages of sizes and colors, others with really good jams, others with incense - there was a lot! And you never knew if they were going to speak dutch or french at you. Normally they started with French, and ended up speaking English (again - I LOVE Europe and it's multi-culturalness). We didn't buy much at the market, but it was so much fun to look at everything (cups of hot wine in hand of course... have i mentioned i also love Europe's lax alcohol attitude?)
After the market, we wandered a bit and ended up at the famous mankenpis (sp wrong) statue - a statue/fountain of a little belgian boy peeing into the fountain's pool. It's only about 2.5 feet high, surrounded by tourists, and very funny. Just across from that was the pub we wanted to go too - called the puppetry pub of all things! It was covered in marionettes (sort of creepily so), and statue replicas of the makenpis dressed up in different costumes from around the world and eras. So funny. Again this pub had hundreds of beers to chose from. All strong, all delicious. mmmm. After beers, we split some famous fries to share, and went back to our hosts.
The next day we explored Ghent - which is very beautiful again, and it definitely the city I would choose to live in if I lived in Belgium. It was pretty similar to Brugges, but bigger. We walked around for hours. And then laid by the canal for about thirty minutes, tired, but enjoying the ambiance. Some tourists took pictures of us. We had our big winter coats on, laying on the side of the canal. Not something you see much i guess. Later that day, we took the train to Leuven - a less known city in Belgium and met our second host: a 23 year old Spanish dude from Segovia studying Education in Leuven named Jose. Jose was very nice, very hospitibal, but sort of shy. Most of the time we spent in Leuven, he stayed in doors, and we just wandered the city by ourselves. There isn't too much to say about Leuven. It's a pleasant city, smaller than Ghent, not as picturesque as the others we'd been to, but still very pleasant to wander. I'd try to engage him in conversation (english and spanish, and it would end after a couple of sentences.) We spent New Years with him though. It was very international. We went out for Italian food (weirdly enough - i had a lot of italian food in belgium. I haven't had it once in my months in Spain, but had it 4 times in Belgium). The dinner company was from China, India, El Salvador, Spain, Belgium, and America. This is also who we brought in the new year with two, standing in a crowded Belgian Square. Afterwards, we danced the night away at a Belgian gay discotech (why not?!). It was definitely my most international New Years by far. Though i sort of missed the Hawaiian house parties of yesteryears.
Christy went home, and I alone went to my next host - a couple again. This time in Mechelen. The girl was from East Germany (the wall had come down when she was one. She was currently studying to be an interpreter. Very interesting profession) and the guy was from Belgium(his family had owned a bakery outside of Brussels for most of his life growing up, he has three brothers.. interesting stories! But.. I'm going to keep this writing to my story because it's already long enough). This couple was So nice! The first night I showed up to them making me dinner- spegetti with sauce cooked by Fred's mom - really good! Then they drove me to Brussels that evening so I could see the atomium (which is an atom sculpture like the size of the eiffel tower! I had no idea how tall it would be!) And then we went to a not much to look at, but totally local pub - Fred's favorite where he knows everyone by name. Naturally I loved it. The next morning we had a huge breakfast spread of bread and different types of jams (they have a honey jam and a jam that tastes like gingerbread in Belgium). i also made them Egg-in-the-hole's, which they had never had before and really liked. It was really cold those days, so I didn't really leave their apartment much - just caught up on emails, watched their adorable cats, slept, watched movies, ate. It was a nice change after spending the last five days wandering outside all day. One movie we watched was called Good morning Lenin - about a boy and his mom and their relationship during the fall of the Berlin wall. We watched it in German with English subtitles - What great company to watch that sort of movie. They kept commenting about what was accurate, what wasn't, etc.
My last night in Belgium I spent in Antwerp at the apartment of this Italian guy named Luca in his company and his roommates. Oh they were so funny - had me laughing the whole time. Luca was very italian. He loves old Italian movies, would say romantic Italian things like, "let's go together and watch the stars," and he cooked me Italian food (more italian but by an Italian!) He was nice enough to walk around and show me the city even though he's seen it all before and showed hundreds of surfers he's hosted the city before. Antwerp is very picturesque, but again, kind of similar to the others. There is this one street that totally looks like castles. And apparently it has quite the art scene. I'm still trying to figure out if Luca (who is from Naples) is involved in the Mob or not. He and his roommate kept joking about it, and I have a sneaking suspicion they might be a bit based on truth. Anyway, very funny time, very memorable and nice once again.
couchsurfing, I think, is awesome.
I went back to Madrid the next day, and had about 5 days off before I had to start classes again. What my travels had taught me, in addition to being fun, was that yes - I want a change. I want to travel more. I don't want to be stuck in Madrid. Not to mention my largest most lucrative job is ending at the end of February, so I'd need to find more work, and I tried, but no one is really hiring. So, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do, but I was certain I needed change, and I started researching my options - wwoofing (working on Organic farms,) which led me to another site called HelpXchange which has thousands of posts of people looking for help on farms, hostels, au pairing, house maintenance, animal caretaking - everything in exchange for room and board. So that's what i've decided to do! I'm going to travel around Spain first working at different places for a few weeks to a few months at a time, earning money where I can, but not spending much because my room and board will be taken care of =) I have about 2000 euros to do this on, and I'll figure it out as I go along. My first place i'm staying sounds lovely - here is the link.www.lacasadelviento.com I am going the beginning of March, and staying until probably sometime in April. Then I'll figure out what to do next. I really want to live with an all spanish speaking family for a couple of months, so I'm looking and contacting hosts for that sort of opportunity as welll. i'm also looking into options to help out at and stay free at a hostel over the summer, probably in Greece or Italy.
I've been much happier since I've made this decision to leave Madrid. I'm so excited to meet new people, learn some gardening skills, be outdoors again, see other parts of Spain and Europe! 6i know I'm doing the right thing. Madrid is a lovely place, and maybe I'll come back and teach again in the fall. I have no idea right now. But if I do, I'm going to get an apartment closer to the center, and find jobs that are more block hours and conversational. That would make a big difference I think in comparison to the place I'm living and places I'm working now. Well... we shall see what the future will bring. Wish me luck! Cus I'm nervous, excited, and needing it.
love you and talk to you soon!