Friday, April 29, 2011

This Post is Not About Me

Many of my posts up to this point have been a tad bit egocentric.  Since, on a daily basis, I find myself in uncommon situations of great confusion and general ridiculousness, it’s extremely difficult for me not to tell all of you, my faithful readers, each and every thing that happens to me.  I know you all enjoyed the little mixup with my use of the word “hombre,” and the detailed retelling of my surprise encounter with a herd of man parts on a nude beach, and how I tried to sabotage Easter with mouth-cementing pierogies.  And how a bird pooped on my shoulder.  Today.  Yup.  But I wanted to share with you some of the most interesting observations I’ve made and factoids I’ve discovered about Spanish culture because that’s really why I’m here!  So get those reading glasses on, warm up those thinking caps, and prepare for your daily dose of edumacation!
First, let’s talk about food (Really, did you expect me to start this off with anything else?).  In one of my earlier posts, A Few Words About Time, Food, and Thanks, I described the daily schedule here and the appropriation of quantity regarding meals.  Lunch, la comida, is the largest meal of the day, especially if you go out or are sharing a meal with friends and/or extended family.  There’s usually an apertif (slices of meat, cheese, cured fish, bread, and oil), a “First Plate” (a salad, quiche, or something else not-too-filling), and a “Second Plate” (the main dish: paella, spaghetti, etc.).  

Jose Antonio, my host father, and I, working a little paella magic.
Following all of that, of course, is my favorite: postre.  I’ll give you one guess what that is.  For most of the lunches I’ve enjoyed out at restaurants or at gatherings, dessert is a large assortment of all different decadent, delicious, and diet-destroying delicacies.  Please note the following crêpe-tastrophe that I had a couple of weeks ago:


I believe I’m still working that one off.  I think it’s also important to note that there is candy and chocolate EVERYWHERE.  They must have known I was coming.  Apparently, there’s a chocolate factory not too far from here where I am hoping the Oompa Loompas will take me in as one of their own and I can drink Fizzy Lifting Drinks, swim in the chocolate river, and chew Everlasting Gobbstoppers to my heart’s content for all of eternity.  If that doesn’t work out, I’m sure I can make myself comfortable in the gift shop.  
Previous to the now-famous Pierogi Incident, I had my first taste of the nightlife here in Alicante and it is hoppin’!  Early on in the evening, however, I learned one of the strangest, but most interesting, things about Spain yet.  We met up with friends in the barrio, the section of the city where all the nightlife is, and they were carrying big bottles of alcohol.  Confused, I asked if the bars let you bring your own drinks.  Apparently, as drinking is not allowed in the streets and drinks at bars are extremely expensive, you can pay a cover to bring your own alcohol and mixers and drink inside the bar of your choice.  I’m still perplexed by this whole situation but it is apparently the most cost-effective strategy, especially if you enjoy the bar atmosphere.  
Just a funny story because I can’t NOT write about it: After leaving the techno-blasting, strobe-light-flashing, people-dancing-on-everything discoteca (which was nowhere near as corny as I had imagined), a not-so-attractive young man struck up a conversation with my friend Nerea on the street.  After many attempts to flee the scene, the chico in question asked for Nerea’s phone number.  Me being the typical American girl, who is used to this tomfoolishness, appropriately answered for her with “867-5309.”  But since I said it in Spanish, and after I’d had a few drinks, it took me about 3 minutes to spit the whole thing out because I was thinking and giggling and I’m pretty sure all the numbers were wrong.  And apparently, no one in Spain knows Jenny’s phone number by heart like we do in the States so my hilarity went unrecognized by anyone but me (sigh).  

Here are some quick cultural tidbits for you, no additional story included:
-The cars are tiny.  Like babies of our cars.  I saw a Jeep here once and that’s about as big as it gets.  Borja drives an Audi and even he has trouble finding parking spaces because his car is too “big.”  Common makes are Renault, Ford (Yup!), Audi, Honda, Toyota, Peugeot, Mercedes, BMW, Seat, Kia, and Volkswagon.  I did, however, get a little treat a couple weeks ago with a Maserati sighting in the city centre.  Mmmmm.
-I had to explain what an automatic car is to Borja’s friends.  Almost everything here is manual.
-It is not unusual to have beer or wine with lunch.  I was at a café this morning, enjoying my most delicious café con leche (Lent is over!), and a couple at a table near me were just there for a beer.  It was noon.  On a Thursday.
-Many, many, many, many people smoke and they have the teeth to show for it.
-Food, in general, is fresher and cheaper than in the States.  For example, you can buy a dozen quail eggs at the supermarket around the corner for 1,50 € (a little over $2.00) whereas I found a listing for quail eggs on Rochester’s craigslist for $1.50...PER EGG.  Also, since the Mediterranean is right here, there are the freshest of fresh fish in markets all over the city and farms growing lots of great produce bring tasty fruits and veggies in all the time.  
-Clothes, in general, are way more expensive.  Believe me, my bank account and I are well aware of this little detail.
-You can walk most breeds of dogs without a leash, though you must carry a leash with you in your pocket.  Imagine my happiness the first time I took a stroll on the beach and there were all these puppies running everywhere!  They all need a home and they can come live with MEEE!!!  No, not true.  They have owners.  And they don’t really like it when you try to adopt their dogs.
As today marks four weeks in España, I really must say thanks for all of the support so far.  I love writing these posts and reflecting on my time here, but the greatest benefit comes after the post is up and the comments start rolling in.  Nothing makes me happier than to hear who is reading and what you think and whether or not that joke I tried to get juuusssstttt right made your day a little bit brighter.  So to all of you, wherever you are, thanks for commenting, for emailing, for facebooking, for skype-ing, and as always, 

Thanks for reading,
Alicia

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The 'P' Word

Well Easter, or Pascua here in Spain, has finally come and gone and I know you are all aching for an update on the pierogi fiasco that occurred here yesterday.  Let me preface this particular post by saying I cannot be held responsible for any expletives you may or may not garner from what you are about to read.  The pierogies made me do it.
Our story begins at 6am Sunday morning when I arrived home from my first real night out on the town in Alicante.  Here is one photo from the evening.  Please jump to your own conclusions about my state of being Easter morning.

So there I was, for two hours, swaying and woozy, sipping the closest thing to blue Gatorade that I could find and nibbling on slices of bread; shaping and molding these perfect pillows of Polish goodness.  And after each one was completed, it got stacked on this beautiful pile of pierogies (stack).  Those of you who are bakers (stack) may already know where this story is headed (stack).  When it came time to plop the pierogies into the pot of boiling water, my perfect pillows of Polish goodness were all pucking stuck.  
After a concerted effort to separate the pierogies and maintain the half-moon formation to no avail with guests arriving at the door, Borja’s mother Amparo and I resorted to just mushing everything together.  So, my precious, long-labored-over pierogies all became lumped-together turd-shaped mushy dumplings; mixtures of dough and filling with no real rhyme or reason to their composition.  When it was all said and done, I had reached a level of frustration I had not yet experienced on my relaxing, beachside vacation here in Spain.  Pucking pierogies.
A few of the "better looking" culprits.
Everyone was very polite about having a “taste” of that nice American girl’s traditional Easter meal.  I’m sure what they were thinking is, “They eat THIS?  Is it really supposed to look like THAT?”  Personally, I think they tasted mediocre but due to their uneven shaping, they didn’t really cook correctly and were a bit...doughy.  I’ll forever have the image burned into my brain of Borja’s wonderful and adorable 95-year-old grandfather (his birthday was last week), sitting across from me at the table, politely and diligently chewing his pierogies as though he had just put an entire peanut butter sandwich into his mouth.  
Thankfully, Amparo made roasted rack of lamb with potatoes and almendras fritas (fried almonds) in addition to and in anticipation of, pierogi debauchery (she is so wise), so everyone was full and happy by the end of the meal.  As for me, I strongly believe that I need to cook a redemption dinner because Spain is seriously messing with my Martha mojo. I’ll let you know how that goes.  There have been so many lessons learned already on this crazy adventure, and yesterday’s was no less important than the rest: from now on, I’m leaving it to Mrs. T.  She’s got it in the bag...or the box, rather.
Thanks for reading,
 Alicia

Friday, April 22, 2011

Semana Santa

A few updates before I get to the good stuff:
-I’m cooking a course for Easter dinner, which is really lunch here, this Sunday.  Mom is begging me not to attempt homemade pierogies but I feel that any Easter without my favorite Polish delicacy is just not Easter at all.  I’ll let you know how this all works out.  If you haven’t heard from me by Monday, you’ll know the pierogies got the best of me.

-My cold is getting better (thanks for all the well-wishes everyone!) but I’m still a bit stuffy.  I’m hoping that the horseradish I find (fingers crossed) to eat with the pierogies I make (toes, ankles, arms, and eyes crossed too) will help clear up any residual nasal congestion.  
-My beginner level Spanish course was cancelled due to low enrollment (there was one student enrolled...which was me).

-I am now enrolled in...um...intermediate Spanish starting May 10th (please commence laughing out loud at your computers).  I have two weeks to learn the content from beginner Spanish before I begin the embarrassment that will be the intermediate course.  Hurray.  Upside: I can study on the beach.

-Lent is almost over and I have been coffee-free for 38 days, not that I’m keeping track.  Borja is truly enjoying these final hours before my reunion with my long-lost caffeinated friend as he keeps offering to make me a nice, strong cup of café.   He thinks he’s very funny.  I do not.

-Alicante has grown exponentially this week with the onslaught of tourists from Madrid (darn tourists!) taking their holiday vacations on the sandy beaches of the Costa Blanca.  Historically, as has been the case this year, the Madrileños bring the rain and soggy weather with them when they arrive.  So, after three weeks here on the coast, I saw my first Spanish thunderstorm.  Conclusion: the rain in Spain does indeed stay mainly on the plain.  Phew!  I’m glad we have finally solved that mystery!
Alrighty!  Onto the exciting stuff!  Religious education!  
(crickets)
Oh, you don’t want to learn all about the historical significance in Spanish culture of these guys?
Or how hundreds of volunteers carry floats called pasos, each weighing over a ton, on their shoulders for many hours?
Well I am going to tell you anyway!  I love the challenge of educating even the most reluctant pupils and I am just bursting with exciting Spanish trivia!
Here in Spain, Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a very busy time.  From Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, thousands of people crowd the streets to see the processions organized by the brotherhoods of different churches in each city.  Since there are many churches in Alicante, as in all of the rest of Spain, there were between 3 and 10 processions each day.  The processions are similar to parades, though they are a lot slower and not as “showy.”  These are generally pretty somber events as they’re done in observance of Holy Week and are made to specifically coordinate with the events of these days in the life of Jesus.  For example, I saw this paso yesterday, Holy Thursday, in observance of The Last Supper:
There are usually two or three marching bands playing beautiful music with a very heavy bass beat.  This beat dictates the steps of the paso-carriers, called costaleros.  The costaleros are all volunteers who spend many hours prior to the procession practicing going down stairs, turning tight corners, and dipping under the wires that criss-cross many tiny Spanish streets.  The most important focus for all of their hard work is maintaining a slow, rhythmic step that is absolutely in unison.  It was a little bit eerie to see these figures being carried on platforms to this swaying motion.  It gives the impression that the statues themselves are walking...freaky.  

The robes and conical hats adorning the Nazarenos are traditionally worn in the processions as penance for sins committed.  The costume was designed to conceal the identity of the wearer so they do not receive praise from other people for their penance.  Some Nazarenos also walk the procession barefoot, carrying a candle, or carrying shackles and chains as penance.  According to a friend, many people these days wear the robe only for “show” in the procession but there are some that are truly “doing penance.”  Though this particular ceremonial garb may remind you of a different group, the two are unrelated; this tradition in Spain dates back to medieval times.
The pasos themselves are very lifelike sculptures made of wood and plaster that depict scenes from the events that happened between Jesus’ arrest and his burial.  Here are a couple more of the ones I saw between the two different processions:


So I hope your nerdy tank is full with all of this wonderful new information that I have bestowed upon you!  I know mine is just overflowing!  I have a few new posts already brewing and I’ll have those, and my nice big cup of coffee, in a couple of days.  I hope you all have a great holiday and pray for pierogies.

Thanks for reading,
Alicia

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sniffle, Sniffle

Unfortunately, I woke up this morning battling some sort of sickness (Mom would diagnose this as Creepus bonkus, more commonly known as the "Creeping Bonkus") so the usual energy I have for clever witicisms and hilarious jokes (modest, I know, but I'm sick) is just not in me today.  So as I sit here in my pajamas surrounded by a cloud of dirty tissues, with my hot tea steaming and bubbly effervescent stewing, I wanted to drop a quick hello and post some pictures from my visit to downtown Alicante on Thursday.  I'm still doing very well here in Espana, happy as can be, despite the cotton balls that somehow packed their way into my sinuses, and my little exploratory mission on Thursday really got me excited about many things to see in greater detail in the next 2 1/2 months (yup, I've been here two weeks already).  So take a look at the new pics on the 'Photos' page.  I've tried to provide a little bit of info in the captions but this was one of those "see-everything-possible-as-fast-as-possible-and-come-back-later-for-further-details" trips so I don't really know much about what I saw, other than I'll see it again.  So you see, I only saw what I could see.  See?

Alright, I'm done.  I promise I'll be back to my normal self soon with more retellings of the absurd and uncanny situations I am bound to find myself in, but until then, please enjoy the photos and as always, thanks for reading.

Alicia

Thursday, April 14, 2011

...And Then Things Got Weird

WARNING: This post not suitable for children.  Please do not include as part of your evening bedtime story line-up.
I woke up this morning determined to do battle with yesterday’s epic crepe-tastrophe (more on that this weekend) and after two weeks of the same running route, I needed a change of scenery. Borja’s family lives on somewhat of a point here in Alicante and the Playa de San Juan makes up one side, while the Cabo Huertas is the other.  I hadn’t yet made the uphill climb to the cliffs above the Cabo Huertas and thought I’d use this morning’s motivation to do a little discovering.  I ended up at a beautiful point overlooking a turquoise-blue-water, calendar-worthy coastline with only a fisherman in sight, and decided I’d come back with my camera later in the day.   
After making lunch at home for mi familia de espanol, I packed a bag of artsy goodness (sketchbook, camera, tripod, etc.) and headed out in search of those beautiful blue waters.  When I reached the cliff, I threw my jacket over my arm, found a path, and began to make my way down the precariously craggy rock formations, all the while keeping my eye on that gloriously rugged coastline.  It did get a little bit stumbly at times, but nothing too bad.  Mental note: short skirt and leggings not suitable for all-terrain sightseeing.  
Top of the path to the beach.
This is a more mild section of the beach path.
When I got much closer to the water, it quickly became apparent that I was one of the few people who were women...or wearing any clothing.  Let me just show you how I came to this realization:
“Oh this coastline is just gorgeous....(walk, walk)...How would I say that in Spanish?...(slide down rock wall)...Bonita?  Precioso?...(brush off skirt)...There’s more people here than there were this morning...(stumble)...Wait...(walking stopped)...Is that a...?...Yeah, he’s naked...(walking slowly)....Eh, no biggie...(chuckle)...He’s probably the only one....(trip, stumble)....I’ll just avoid that are--wait...(walking halted, looking around)...Oh. God. ...They’re everywhere.”
It’s amazing how quickly a leisurely evening outing can turn into a desperate scurry to get-the-hell-outta-there-outing.  The long and short of it (sorry, couldn’t help it, I just crack myself up...get it?) is that I had to either find a more “clothed” section of the beach or head home...quickly.  And just as I decided that I best just turn around and call Borja for neglecting to inform me of the...um...wildlife, I realized that I’d dropped my cell phone.  The one that was in the pocket of my jacket.  That was currently hanging upside down on my arm.  Yeah.  Somewhere amidst the columnal cacti, the fallic rock formations, and the...water, my little phone was lost. 
So now, please use your imagination to picture me, dear, sweet, Alicia, stumbling around a beach full of male genitalia, head down, eyes shielded; trying to retrace my steps through all those precariously craggy rock formations to find my little phone.  All the while mumbling to myself something like, “Stupid idea....never again....penises....it wasn’t like this this morning.”  A half hour later, the phone in question was located at the very beginning of the path I took to get to the beach.  Of course.
When I got home and recounted my story to Borja’s parents, they informed me that the nude beach is only a tiny section of the miles upon miles upon miles of other beautiful beachy coastline.  And somehow, I found it.  Huh.  So the moral of today’s story, boys and girls, is that things like this really only happen to me.  
But you guys nude, I mean, knew that already, didn’t you?
Thanks for reading,
 Alicia

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Day at the Beach...Again, Part 2

While I was writing yesterday’s post about my day at the beach with friends, I quickly began to realize that the whole thing was evolving into an ode to my newfound volleyball skills.  Hence the ‘Part 1.’  I contemplated saving ‘Part 2’ for a random day far down the road, just as a surprise to all of you (I need to keep things interesting, you know), but decided that I’d just finish up my telling of Saturday’s fun in the sun today.  

We packed a picnic lunch and headed down to the Playa de San Juan around noon to celebrate the birthday of Daniela, a new friend.  We spread out our beach towels, dropped my supply of Fanta Limon into the communal cooler, and hit the v-ball court.  After the now-famous “Epiphany Inducing Volleyball Game of 2011,” I took my first dip in the salty waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  The water was pretty fria but it felt great after playing in the sun on a near-90 degree day.
After a walk along the shore, I settled down with some of the girls and we commenced another great English/Spanish/Charades conversation (I have these often).  The day just continued like this; laying in the sun, eating our picnic lunches, and planning a dinner date for that same evening.  When we all said goodbye around 5, I was extremely excited to be a part of this new group.

After another excellent win by Borja’s basketall team, we met back up with a smaller group of my new friends from the morning for dinner and drinks.  We ate at a restaurant in downtown Alicante where you order from a list of 100 baby submarine sandwiches and a sampling of different appetizers.  Each little sandwich, or montaditos, cost between 1 and 2 euro a piece and everyone ordered at least three or four.  I got three: chorizo with brie, ham with something like a salsa, and tortilla (potato frittata) with aioli.  The chorizo was my favorite but all three were stupendous.  I also had my first clara which was an unexpectedly delicious combination of light beer and 7 UP.  Like I said, unexpectedly delicious.

We then headed to El Coco Loco (it looks like a cave inside...no kidding) for some cocktails and candy.  We talked and talked for a couple of hours and my face was aching from laughing and smiling before the night was over.  We made plans for another beach day sometime this week after Borja’s exams are over.  There’s always something to celebrate here in Spain!  We said our goodbyes with besos like old friends and I look forward to meeting back up with these friends again soon!

On a completely unrelated topic, I went to a Spanish supermarket for the first time and I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back again because of what I found:



After I showed this to Borja and asked if I should be nervous about hungry Spaniards, he said, “Yeah, when I told them you were coming they didn’t say ‘Oh, cool,’ they said ‘Mmmm, delicious.’”  I’m sleeping with one eye open from now on.

Thanks for reading, and hope they don't make soup out of me,
Alicia

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Day at the Beach...Again, Part 1

I knew this trip would be one of self-discovery.  I’d uncover things about myself that I’d forgotten or that lay unknown, buried deep underneath all the events of the past.  I’d make mistakes and learn lessons that I wouldn’t forget for my entire lifetime.  I’d search my soul and come out of this knowing exactly who I am.  Yesterday marked the first of these mind-blowing, life-changing, well-on-my-way-to-"finding myself" epiphanies.  I learned a valuable lesson:  I’m not too bad at beach volleyball.  

New friends and I (white t-shirt) mid-game.
Before you all start signing me up to practice with Team USA, let me just add a little disclaimer.  I was playing with some new, wonderful friends, and the other girls weren’t exactly experts at the sport.  Ok...soo...they were pretty bad and combined with the random 10-year-old boy on the other team, they made me look stellar.  Why, oh why Alicia, should we even care about your beach volleyball-induced ego boost?  So glad you asked.  

Athletics and I have a long, traumatic history together.  A love/hate relationship really.  Thanks to Mom’s gift for general clumsiness (Love you!), and inheriting virtually none of Dad’s athletic abilities, let’s just say that I somehow managed to always come home scratched and bruised after a long game of sitting on the bench.  Despite my lack of talent, I just kept coming back.  The thrill of competition, the family built out of great teamwork, and that feeling that comes from good ole fashioned blood, sweat, and tears always somehow had me reluctantly signing up for high school sport humiliation.  

Fast forward a few years and now I don’t associate myself with any one sport in particular.  If people ask me if I play anything, I generally tell them that I dabble.  I’m a dabbler.  I enjoy all different sports for fun or exercise but I don’t claim to be successful at any of them.  So when Borja’s group of closest friends asked if I wanted to play beach volleyball out in the warm, Spanish sun, I went through my usual checklist:

Chance of breaking a limb? Low (it is sand and I probably wouldn’t hit it from a high height, as say, from a horse)
Chance of other injury? Mild (sand in the eyes or a ball to the head are both quite possible)
Chance of making a fool of myself in front of people I don’t know and would really like to impress as they are Borja’s closest friends and I’ll be seeing a lot of them in the next three months? Extremely high, but what else is new?

“Alright! I’ll do it!...I mean, si!” because I don’t know how to say “Alright, I’ll do it,” in Spanish.

 And you can imagine my surprise when I wasn’t too terrible.  I might go as far as to say that I was kinda good.  I won’t be graduating to any advanced teams anytime soon and don’t be thinking you’ll see me on the news: “American Volleyball Sensation Sweeps Spanish National Team...By Herself!”  But I held my own.  

So you’re still wondering why I’m even telling you about my miraculous undiscovered v-ball skills?  Well, the answer is pretty simple.  I got a little boost of confidence on a day when I was nervous about meeting people who I hoped would eventually become close friends of mine.  And it turns out that I probably didn’t even need it because they’re great and I can’t wait to continue our adventures together.  And why not find a more talented group of people to challenge myself as a growing beach volleyball starlet?  Because I almost cried laughing during this game with new friends on the beach, having a great time together, and just enjoying the day.  And that’s really what it’s all about.


Thanks for reading,
Alicia

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Few Words About Time, Food, and Thanks

After my last post, Beaches and Besos, where I referenced that everything before noon is considered “early,” I’ve had a lot of inquiries into my daily schedule, and the average Spanish schedule, here in Alicante.  I’m not too well informed about the typical “workday” here in Spain as I am not a member of the workforce here, but everyone is usually out of the house by 9.  I am, however, altogether too well informed about the times of the meals here and this is generally what divides up the day for me and everyone else.
Breakfast is usually very small.  Tea or coffee, a piece of toast with olive oil or butter, and maybe a piece of fruit or yogurt.  For me, I have a piece of toast and a banana and spend the morning running, sunbathing, and reading (it is a vacation, you know).  
Everyone leaves their jobs at around 2ish and heads either home or out to a cafe for lunch.  Lunch is the main meal of the day here and the “lunch hour” is typically 2-3 hours long.  Lunch choices vary widely depending on the type of restaurant and the kind of food served.  For example, at a cafe at the University today, I had selections from the Menu del dia.   For me, it was a big plate of peas cooked with ham, hardboiled eggs, onions, and olive oil (say what you will, it was delicious), with croquetas (something similar to mozzarella sticks), french fries, Russian salad (similar to potato salad), and a piece of bread.  And of course, Fanta Limon, my new favorite beverage.  The entire thing cost 5 euro (about $7.00).  Borja got spaghetti, a green salad, a hamburger, fries, bread, and a Coke for the same price.  Some very nice new English-speaking friends I made last week gathered some more super nice English-speaking friends and we had a whole big English lunch together.  This was pretty exciting for me since I generally don’t talk/understand much when I’m in large groups of people and everyone in this group was making a strong effort to speak my lingo as much as possible.  Sooo friendly!
The “lunch hour” may or may not include a brief siesta time.  This usually doesn’t happen during the week (at least for everyone who is not me), but rather more on the weekends.  For some reason, this part of the daily routine is the part my body has most embraced.  I’m generally drowsy and bleary-eyed around 5pm and my unlimited siestas have been causing problems with my sleep schedule.  I’m trying to break this habit by skipping siestas...at least until the weekend...which starts tomorrow.  
Working Spaniards may stay home for the rest of the evening, or go back to work until 6 or 7, depending on their job.  This week, I’ve spent my afternoons either at the University with Borja or putzing around the area surrounding the high rise that I’m living in.  Once I get a better handle on the public transportation (bus and tram stops right outside my building), I’m hoping to spend the afternoons adventuring, photographing, writing, blogging, etc., from different neighborhoods in the city.  The sun doesn’t go down until close to 9 so this stretch of time will be perfect for explorations.
Somewhere between 9 and 10 we have dinner.  This is a much smaller meal than lunch and is usually a salad or another side dish and a small serving of a protein.  We had salmon one night, steak, pork, and chicken on others.  
Bedtime is 12 to 1am on weeknights.  Last weekend we “relaxed” and didn’t go out with friends too much so I wasn’t up past 2.  This weekend, however, is full of different opportunities to truly experience the Spanish habit of coming home around 5 or 6am.  I’m definitely going to need my siesta then.
As I adjust to my new schedule, new food, new friends, new language (this list could seriously just keep going), I’m constantly reminded of what a lucky girl I really am.  After a week in Alicante I’m looking forward to the opportunities, experiences, and sunshine ahead of me.  While I face forward, I’m always thinking of all of you who are behind me, writing, calling, skyping, facebooking, emailing, commenting, supporting, loving, and in general, just sending good vibes my way.  I appreciate it more than I’ll ever be able to say.  
Thanks, as usual, for everything,
Alicia
Check out the ‘Photos’ page for a few quick shots of the University of Alicante and the neighborhood around my building!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Beaches and Besos

Beaches

Borja and I have taken a few walks along the Playa de San Juan in the evenings and this is becoming one of my favorite rituals.  Walking down the beach lined with palm trees, both planted for aesthetic purposes and naturally grown, I can’t help but be grateful for being here, enjoying the sun, the warmth, and the sea.  People of all ages walk this stretch of beach in the hours of 6-9pm, after siesta and before dinner.  In Spain, this walk is called a paseo, and is meant to be a leisurely stroll.  No one moves too quickly during this time, unless for exercise purposes, and it almost feels like a moment in slow motion.  You wouldn’t think time was really passing here except for the dying light.  Individuals, couples, groups, families, all literally strolling along the beach.  Some in conversation, some silent; but all just enjoying.

The line of palm trees on the Playa de San Juan
One of the views from the beach
La playa at night
After five days of enjoying another thing, the Spanish food, I decided today would be the perfect opportunity to get back to running.  Since the beach is only three blocks away and now a familiar place for me, I threw on the sneakers, turned up the ipod, and headed out.  Of course I didn’t get too far, as heavily laden as I was with my recent massive intake of carbohydrates, fried everything, and beer.  But I got to see la playa at another hour.  Being as early in the morning as it was (10am, but here in Spain, anything before noon is early), the beach was pretty vacant except for a few fellow runners, some early-morning sunbathers, and my new favorite discovery, the gorgeous pack of Spanish men who work for the city of Alicante and spend their morning sprucing up the beach.  So...10am everyday sounds good.

Besos

Since this is my first time in Europe, I’ve become acquainted with the custom of besos, or kisses.  Whenever I am introduced to someone, meet up with friends or family I’ve already been introduced to, or even just say good morning or goodbye to my Spanish family, we exchange besos, a kiss on each cheek.  Obviously we don’t do this in the Estados Unidos, and I was a little nervous about it.  How do you know which side to go to first?  What about the germs?  And, is this going to be awkward?  Turns out: the left, they’re more like “airkisses” so no germ issue, and sometimes.  

Despite the potential for middle-school-dance-awkward-hug/kiss-encounters, this is perhaps one of my favorite things about Spain so far.  There is a familiarity in this custom that just makes me happy.  Everyone is usually excited to meet me since I am la chica americana (who would have thought Western New York would be so exotic?), but exchanging besos is like meeting an old friend all the time; it makes me feel welcome here.  And so far I haven’t had any sort of homesickness (Sorry, Mom), but I think anything that makes Alicante seem a little bit more familiar, and a little more like home, at least for the next three months, is always welcome.

Thanks for reading,
Alicia

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hambre vs. Hombre

Hola from Alicante, Espana!  I arrived Thursday, the 30th around 7pm and have been going like a whirlwind ever since.  It's been so busy with the sunbathing, and the eating, and the siestas.  I'm just kidding...a little.  Here is a map of Spain and the location of Alicante:

Alicante is located on the Costa Blanca along the Mediterranean Sea.


And here is a little glimpse of this neighborhood of Alicante out my bedroom window at 8 am:

Notice the palm trees.

More photos to come in the future.  Anyway, everything is going very well here so far.  Flights were good, Borja's family is amazing; so hospitable and welcoming.  And I've gotten myself all signed up for a Spanish language course at the University here.  This is very exciting since the language gap here is quite large.  Borja is fluent in English, thank goodness, and I can communicate pretty well with the rest of his family between their little bits of English, and my teeny tiny tidbits of Espanol.  When Borja's not here to translate, it usually turns into a game of charades with some English and Spanish thrown in.
I'd been doing some research for my trip by watching Mario Battali and Gwenyth Paltrow's PBS series Spain: On the Road Again.  Basically, Mario and Gwenyth, and two other companions, drive around Spain and eat.  Sounds like a good time to me!  Anyway, I had often heard the phrase on the show "Tengo mucho hambre," meaning, "I have much hunger," or, "I am very hungry."  Having had 2 hours of sleep out of 26 hours, when Borja asked me if I was hungry, which I was only a little, I replied, "Estoy pequeno hombre."  Translation: I am a little man.  He got a good laugh out of that one for about...two days.  Hope you did too.

Thanks for reading,
Alicia