Chile: The Black Sheep of the Family

This phrase, the black sheep of the family, is commonly used to describe the odd one out in a manner that can have rude connotations. As someone who is indeed, the weird one in her family (hell, the title of my blog includes the word “odd”), I’ve taken this phrase and associated it with a sense of pride. To be the black sheep is to be unique, different, and in my opinion much more interesting than the inverse. When I use this phrase to describe Chile, it’s done with a lot of love.

But just like me, this place is super weird, and unexpectedly so when compared to the rest of South America. From its advanced economic development to its food and language, the country is a sharp contrast. What I’ve experienced here is not at all what I had in mind when I first arrived at the end of July.

This is not random happenstance though that the country is marching to the beat of its own drum. Chile is a long strip along the continent of South America that has everything you could imagine. There’s a huge range of climates, with different pockets of subcultures going down through the country. People identify with their region maybe more than the country itself at times. On one side is the Pacific Ocean, with the other lined by the Andes Mountains. The driest desert in the world, the Atacama, separates the North from Peru and Bolivia, while the bottom of the country is as close to Antarctica as it gets. It’s fair to say Chile is geographically isolated, functioning nearly as an island.  

Does this sound like any other country you know? HMMMMM maybe a country that’s also quite geographically diverse, basically a giant island isolated from other countries, where people identify potentially more with their region than the country as a whole? I’ll give you a second. I feel strange comfort, and slight unease at times when I notice the similarities between Chile and the United States. These parallels are partially circumstantial for reasons outside of human intervention… but also because other countries have impacted the Chilean way of life through direct actions, including the United States.

If you’re unaware of Chilean history, let me explain a brief period roughly fifty years ago.

The leader during the period of major economic development in Chile was Augusto Pinochet. He was, by no means, a democratically elected leader. I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds of this political matter, but Pinochet’s time as a dictator (a term for Pinochet that’s even debated within the Chilean population) probably helped further the country’s “oddness.” After the Chilean people democratically elected a socialist president, Salvador Allende, Richard Nixon placed a trade embargo on the country, famously saying “make the economy scream.” The CIA bolstered the leaders of the military in opposition to Allende through media campaigns and blatantly meddled in government affairs, leading to a coup d’état (which the CIA was aware of) in 1973 that established Pinochet as the dictator of Chile for the next 17 years.

In that time, he significantly opened the economy by welcoming foreign investment and selling off government run entities. The countries natural resource companies, railroads, and airlines were sold. Huge shares of electric companies were sold off to foreign investors. A lot of these decisions were molded in the image of American free-market policies, with a firm backing from the Reagan government. Chile’s economy and political future were molded from the outside in, despite its isolation from the world. Free market capitalism was a seed that was sewn, grown, and cultured for better or worse. Meanwhile, alongside this economic growth was extreme oppression of expression and civil liberties. People in support of the socialists and communists were exiled, tortured, and disappeared. It was a harsh, divided time in the history of the country that still is evident today when you ask someone how they feel about the dictatorship and they think you’re insane for using that term.

People refer to Chile as the most “developed” country in South America as a result of all these changes. Economic development here has made things incredibly expensive though, and also strangely westernized. I question every day how there can be so many billboards and advertisements with tall, slender, white figures and English words when the population clearly does not relate to either (only 3% of the population of Chile speaks English). A lot of the same exact products I buy in the United States I can find here for the same price, or usually more expensive. Certainly some products are cheaper, but things that shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, like energy, food, and water, are really expensive and this hurts Chile in some pretty blatant ways (more on this in another post).

This country is a capitalist haven, and yet there are open communist gatherings in the town plazas. Chile is NOT the United States, no matter how oddly similar the two are.

Chile’s strong connection to indigenous cultures and their people, but also the environment is so contrary to the Eastern U.S. The country does have a singular culture with national pride and some amazingly friendly people. Chileans love to spend all their time together, even if they’re doing absolutely nothing but sitting on their phones and laptops. They share everything; it’s rude if you don’t share whatever you’re eating with the rest of the people you are with. Can you imagine in the U.S. someone walking around a study room offering everyone some potato chips simply because that’s the polite thing to do? I’d love to make this a normal thing in the U.S.

Chile’s state of isolation has changed. Without the technology we have currently though, I can’t imagine trying to make it into this country. Imagine attempting to cross mountains or the desert to bring goods and products here to sell. Trade was likely incredibly difficult because of the geographic boundaries, so Chileans make use of what their country provides for them, with little outside influence from neighbors; however, of course, excluding the influence of European colonists who came to stay predominantly in the late 19th century.

Being a food blogger, I was most surprised by my perceived vision of Chilean food versus the reality. Honestly, I feel ignorant for my assumptions, but wouldn’t you think that there are a lot of similarities in foods from neighboring countries? I didn’t think about something though…

I’ve actually NEVER seen a Chilean restaurant in Maryland or D.C. I’m not sure if I live under a rock, but think about it. Have you seen one? Is Chilean food a common thing you can find being “reinvented” in NYC by trendy upcoming chefs? Not even.

Chileans certainly do not eat like Peruvians or Bolivians (maybe a little like Argentinians).

Beans, corn, diverse grains, and Colombian coffee aren’t staples here. Those rich flavors of chocolate and vanilla from up north towards the equator don’t populate the sweets and treats of Chile. Their food, at least in central and southern Chile, is heavily centered on meat, bread, and few vegetables. Pastries here are frequently fried, cakes are on the dry side, except for the kuchen, a short-layered tart with fruit and sometimes cream (which is likely only in my area in the south as it’s not actually Chilean but German). Dinner, termed “once”, like the Spanish word for eleven, is usually bread with avocado. That’s right, I eat avocado toast each night for dinner, so I guess things aren’t that different.

I’d like to go into more detail about this in another blog post because it’s just so incredibly interesting what Chileans eat, and I have some theories as to why.

When I arrived in Chile, I nearly thought I’d wasted eight years of my life trying to learn Spanish to no avail.

I’ve realized though , Chilean Spanish is basically a different language compared to the rest of the Spanish speaking world. I studied abroad in Spain, meaning I studied old Spanish. Nothing could have prepared me for this. Just like Americans, Chileans speak incredibly fast and with lots and lots and LOTS of slang. They even have a name for their new constructions of language: Chilenismos (also modismos and simply just new words we don’t even have in English). These on their own deserve blog posts because there are just so many. Their accents cut off the “s” sound at the end of most words. Instead of “mas o menos,” they say, “ma o meno.” I must admit, it adds a certain rhythmic quality to their speech patterns.

I’M SORRY if you don’t speak Spanish maybe you won’t care about this, but I must share: What annoys me to no end is their use of verb conjugation for vosotros, because they also cut off the “s.” Instead of saying “como estas” they say “como estai”and they do this with so many other verbs. I’m constantly confused and honestly, I don’t want to start speaking like this because literally no one else in the world speaks like this. Of course, I still love to say what’s up to my students in this very Chilean way.

It can be entertaining and exciting to learn how to speak like a Chilean, and at the same time I want to pull my hair out because I can’t understand if my students are saying something they REALLY shouldn’t. It’s a balancing act for sure.

I really adore my fellow black sheep. Chile may be alike to the United States and have a troubled past, but the country still maintains a beautiful, warm culture with shared values for the environment and indigenous people. No matter how hard other powers tried to change this country for profit, the people remain some of the most welcoming I’ve come to know (except, I’m also a white female from the United States so that’s probably why I can say this so confidently).

Chile has its thorns just as any rose would, but it’s still a rose nonetheless.

Resources:

Teaching English in Chile

Before graduating college in May of 2018, I was dead set on leaving the United States for a while. I don’t mean to hyperbolize but it feels like the sky is actually going to collapse in on itself at any moment and the world will end in a big flash when you live so close to Washington D.C. (again, not to be dramatic or anything). This was quite possibly exacerbated by the fact that I also studied environmental science and policy… If you’ve been following the news/ don’t live under a rock or in a soundproof cave far far away, you know just as well as I do that there’s quite a bleak outlook for the future of the environment and its inhabitants.

Imagine studying that every single day and trying not to go insane or lose all hope in humanity.

It was time for a break, a change of pace. I surely got that when I moved to Panguipulli in the south of Chile. I didn’t just end up here though; there was no grand plan to specifically journey to this remote little town on the other end of the earth. I’m here in Chile teaching English through a program called English Opens Doors that is operated by the Ministry of Education of Chile (sounds super legit doesn’t it?). It’s one of many options you can find online to teach English abroad, but in my opinion it’s probably the best.

Let me elaborate.

There are TONS of programs through many organizations and nonprofit entities that I can talk further about in another blog post if you’re interested. However, I applied for only two specific programs abroad teaching English. There are programs through both the Chilean and Spanish governments, as well as Colombian (it’s currently on hold right now though). Personally, I prefer these opportunities because they are secure, but they’re volunteer positions, so you only receive a stipend, not a salary. I also looked into the website Workaway, which are also volunteer gigs that you have to organize yourself. The Visa application is usually really complicated though and applying completely on your own can be a major pain in the butt.

Additionally, I don’t have a TEFL certificate, and no part of me wanted to pay for any more classes after I walked across that stage and got my degree (at least for a little bit ahhh GRAD SCHOOL).

This ruled out a few options, but not the government programs! I wanted programs that were established, in countries that spoke Spanish, and didn’t require a program fee or some extra costs other than a plane ticket.

So, in the end I chose two programs, one to Spain and one to Chile, both through their governments. I’ve already mentioned the program in Chile, but the one involved with the Spanish government is called “Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain.” Don’t let the official sounding name fool you; this program is not as legitimate as it appears. It may be good news to some of you that you can apply for this easily by simply getting all your documents. It’s first come, first serve for whoever makes an account and nearly anyone qualifies. They don’t even interview the potential volunteers.

For me, this is a huge red flag. It just feels WAY too much like voluntourism.

The program to Spain is not merit based. They don’t give priority to those who have previous experience teaching, likely because you’re only a teaching assistant. It’s a longer time commitment too (roughly nine months) and like everything else in Spain, your stipends come really painfully slow or not at all according to many reviews from volunteers. You’re also 100% responsible for finding housing, transport to your school, and taking care of your general day to day life. It’s still a really great opportunity if you have the time and quite a bit of money saved up, but it wasn’t for me this time. I got accepted to the program, six months after I had applied and already accepted this position in Chile I’m currently serving.

Why did I choose English Opens Doors then? From the start, this program was obviously better managed (just look at the difference in their websites).

 

 

 

 

I applied to EODP as we call it for the VS3 volunteer service, which is a four-month gig but there are other options for longer and they go throughout the year. The application process was straight forward and thoughtful, giving me a bit more confidence that I’d be in better hands. It was a three-step process including a skype interview where I was also able to ask questions. The program promised placement with a host family and a small stipend to cover classroom costs.

Now that I’m here in the thick of it, I can’t tell you how happy I am about my decision. Besides Chile being an amazing country (which I will absolutely get into in further blog posts), it’s also a great program where I have my own classroom, write my own lessons with the guidance of a head English teacher, and make a real difference for kids who would probably have never gotten this extra help with their language skills. My school is a bright, sky blue building in the middle of the city center in Panguipulli called Escuela Maria Alvarado Garay. Every day, I teach 5th through 8th grade different lessons on speaking and listening in English (I’ve even gotten to teach about environmental science!!). I can’t say every day is a walk in the park, but I have some remarkably curious and inspiring students (who also say some pretty hilarious things). I live with a host family in this beautiful town situated between two volcanoes, mountains and it’s own lake. Just simply walking outside for an hour or two reaffirms to me why I studied environmental science because it’s so naturally stunning. Did I mention there are dogs everywhere too?!?!?!

I’m getting a bit off topic, in the same way my students try to change the subject of class each day. I learned how to deal with this and other classroom problems as well through a one-week orientation with EODP when I arrived in Santiago in July. English Opens Doors helped me with everything, from getting my Visa to arriving at my hostel safely, to learning how to manage tough classroom management and life in Chile. Of course, this program is not perfect. A lot of your experience depends on where in Chile you’re placed, but also your willingness to say “screw it” and try something new, or completely embarrass yourself for your students. I’d say daily, I think to myself “this is so freaking hard oh my god,” but equally I am still in awe to have this opportunity. I still have a ton of love for my students, who I frequently call “mis amores,” and the community around me. “I’M IN CHILE. MY FEET ARE STANDING IN CHILE, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EARTH!” This feeling hasn’t faded, and I don’t think it ever will

P.S. Huge, shameless plug → the application period just opened for the next round of volunteer terms and I highly HIGHLY recommend taking a look if you have any interests. I’ve attached the link here.

Also, here is the link to the Spanish program.

Roasted Dill Salmon, Sweet Potato, & Brussels Sprouts

One of the easiest AND delicious meals I’ve made in awhile, this series of recipes will blow you away. It’s so simple, but so good, I don’t know how to explain it.

I’m going to give you these recipes in paragraphs rather than my normal style just to keep it short and to the point. I highly recommend reading before you start cooking, but you do you, maybe you like living on the edge.

This meal is perfect for two for dinner, or just for one loner (like myself) for a lunch and a dinner

So that I don’t get sued, and so that you’re fully aware, the salmon recipe is not mine. I’ll post a hyperlink and give credit where it is due because I’m not a thief (except when I’m stealing your heart with my cooking…. that was such a bad joke just lock me up now).

For the sweet potato:

  • Preheat the oven to 400F degrees and lightly oil a small roasting pan (maybe a tablespoon of oil). Make sure the bottom is coated completely. Take a sweet potato and peel that sucker. Rinse it. Grab a cutting board and cut it into small chunks (not like super small, but smaller than a golf ball). Put the sweet potato chunks into the roasting pan. Sprinkle salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes all over those suckers (more salt than anything). Put them in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan once of twice to turn em. You should be able to easily cut through them with a butter knife, that’s how you know they are ready.

For the brussels sprouts:

  • Preheat oven, if not done already, to 400F degrees and again, lightly oil a small roasting pan with a tablespoon of oil, fully coating the bottom. Take about a 1/2 pound fresh brussels sprouts, rinse them in a colander, and cut off the stems of each little, delicious sprout. Then, slice them in half and place each half flat side down in the pan. Try to pour a little oil on top, then sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. Cook them in the oven, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the sprouts are browned, even slightly blackened on the outside.

For the dill salmon: 

The original recipe is at this link here. I am just reiterating it for convenience, but it’s not my recipe!

  • Preheat the oven to 475F degrees, after you’ve cooked the veggies above. Take some fresh dill and chop up about two handfuls of it (you should take the “leaves” off the stems and put them in a pile, then take a knife and continually chop through them). Put a few large chunks of butter into a roasting pan, along with the dill. Place in the oven and let cook until that amazing mixture is sizzling. Take out the pan and place the salmon skin side up (if there’s no skin, just whatever side is good). Cook for 4 – 6 minutes. Grab the pan out of the oven (peel the skin off the salmon if there is any). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then flip, and sprinkle again, and place back into the oven for an additional 3 – 5 minutes.
  • Serve it with some lemon juice and fresh slices!!

And that’s it! This ridiculously easy series of recipe makes an amazing meal for you and a date, or just for you! Treat yo self.

 

Power Hour Salad

Alright, listen up. You have a limited income (probably, if you’re a college student suffering from a broken lending system that we can’t escape even with bankruptcy LOL FUN), and you may not eat very healthy all the time because of it. That’s okay though, we are going to change that.

Making this salad is just another little step you can take to eat healthy and be a little less broke at the same time. It is vegetarian, but it’s packed with protein and the good stuff (I want to stress that a protein-packed vegetarian meal is not an oxymoron. It’s absolutely a thing). So, to not bore you further, here it goes!

The Power Hour Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of cooked grains such as quinoa, barley, etc.** (I used the “Super Grains” blend from Whole Foods, it’s pretty tasty and relatively cheap)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and DRIED!! with a paper towel**
  • A few slices of a red onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 – 3 handfuls of mixed spring greens or baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup (or handful) of cherry or grape tomatoes (I really love zima, they are orange and sweet and ugh so good)
  • 1/3 of a large cucumber or 1 baby cucumber, chopped and seeded if that’s your thang
  • 1 spoonful of hummus, whatever you like (I love this hummus, it’s magical)
  • 2-3 spoonfuls crumbled feta cheese

Optional Salad Dressing**:

  • 1/4 cup of Greek Yogurt
  • Juice of half a lemon (use the other half for tea or lemon water. Be creative, not wasteful)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper (to your liking)

Instructions:

  1. **If you’re new to this: Before you do anything, read that ingredients list and prepare everything! Cut and prep everything so it doesn’t take you forever.
  2. NOW, DO THIS NOW; cook your grains. It’s going to take awhile. Pick something like quinoa and read the package for cooking times. Usually, it will take you about 30 minutes. If you do choose to cook quinoa, try to make sure you rinse it through a fine mesh strainer before cooking. So, get that water boiling before you do anything else.
  3. Once you have begun cooking your grains, get a frying pan, heat it to medium-high heat, and add the 1 tablespoon olive oil. Next, add the onion to the pan and cook until they have a slight yellow look to them (but not browned).
  4. Now to add the garlic and chickpeas! Stir it on up and cook for another two to three minutes. Take off the heat and place into a bowl.
  5. If you didn’t already, cut your veggies!
  6. Take out a large bowl and add the salad greens you are using. Start to assemble everything by adding the tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas and onions (not all of them, save some and make a pita wrap maybe?), the cooked grains, hummus, and feta cheese.
  7. If you would like to add a simple homemade salad dressing, keep reading. Otherwise, mix it all up and you’re good to go!!
  8. For the salad dressing: Get a small bowl. Whisk together the Greek yogurt, lemon, and honey. Next add the oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix it all together and there you have it! You may choose to add other herbs or spices. It’s really whatever you prefer.

Side Notes:

**It may be easier to make a whole cup of cooked grains and reserve the rest for another recipe!! That’s what I do.

**You need to make sure whenever you fry anything with oil that you limit the amount of water in contact with the item. Please make sure after you rinse the chickpeas, you dry them too to prevent yourself from being burned

**I also think this salad is great with tzatziki, which is a lot like the salad dressing above, as it’s a yogurt sauce that is so delicious. It’s a little expensive though, and if you’re not a big fan you could end up wasting it.

Lauren and the Apple Cider Donuts

There are so many other things I need to be doing right now. If I look at my planner right now, I’m probably going to have to pencil in when I’m allowed to breathe….. Yet here I am!

Let me just say, I am very disappointed with this so called “autumn” this year. What an impostor, from the heat, to the cold, to the heat again, or the leaves only changing color now at the end of November instead of early October (I guess I should blame human induced global climate change for that). But also no one was all that excited for Halloween, the greatest holiday of them all. I didn’t even carve a pumpkin!

The biggest travesty though was quite frankly the gaping whole in my heart from the absence of apple cider donuts in my life.

This was not for lack of trying though. Almost every day, I checked the local bakery near my house in Columbia, leaving with nothing but emptiness in my soul (I mean stomach, but they are basically one in the same). All of this culminated to the morning I woke up in College Park and said “Damn it, I need them NOW.” Scrolling through my phone, I found a farm thirty minutes away from me where, apparently, they had some beautiful specimens of these baked cake rings.

After recently complaining about how hard my relatively privileged life was without my favorite fall treat to my good friend, Lauren, who felt the pain of this deficiency as much as me, I knew she would be my date for sure.

Before I explain our journey for these gosh darn donuts, I fully disclose that Lauren is easily one of the most amazing people I know. She’s a kind and generous soul, who is sarcastic as hell, and comforting when you need it most. Lauren won’t hesitate to tell you she’d rather be drinking a glass of wine and petting a dog than dealing with your pettiness though. Her hobbies are the coolest on this earth (SHE’S A CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHER).

Truly, I couldn’t have asked for a better someone with whom to go on this adventure. I picked Lauren up in my messy, but organized Honda accord and drove off with the windows down. Naturally, I handed over full creative control to the concert junkie for the tunes on the radio, as we blasted what I can only describe as upbeat, alternative with a little pop kick to it. As cliche as it is to say, you could feel the excitement in the air between the two of us. After that thirty minute drive to the little farm I had found, and about fifteen minutes of searching the shop, the slender, uninterested goth teenager behind the counter broke our hearts in a little over five seconds.

“All the apple cider donuts were sold by noon today, sorry”

I doubted the authenticity of this apology. I was about to lose my mind as I weighed my options. There were no other places I could think of nearby with precisely what I wanted. Lauren and I were rather inflexible, like a spoiled child at Christmas refusing a off brand toy, on our desire for authentic, apple cider donuts. As we contemplated our options while the sun began setting, we were pacing along the grounds of the farm. Only after about five minutes did I realize how charming this farm stand was even without what we were craving.

A very cute miniature orchard was the perfect place to take basic white girl autumn photos and pretend like that’s what we meant to do in the first place. Lauren is going to hate me for posting these, but she’s stuntin so hard here so I absolutely must share.

We were pretending to pick apples, but there were bees around the apples as we found out half way through photos. I was quite excited as you can see, but Lauren, being a normal person, had a normal person reaction.

 

 

and then for the best part. My artistic spirit drew me to this barn where I started taking pictures as the sun set. I was quite proud of myself at first, thinking I had nailed some great photos (so I thought). After reevaluating, I came to the conclusion that I should give up on doing anything ever again. Sure, we got some good photos of the fake apple picking, hiding our despair and disappointment,

but I managed to ruin that when I realized I took a bunch of pictures of a cat licking its genitals in front of my artsy barn. My artistic soul had led me astray…

It was time to go home. With no donuts and only a few good photos that Lauren still doesn’t want me to post, I felt defeated. And then Lauren said the best thing she could.

Let’s go pick up some wine and binge watch Netflix.

So we did, and I had the brilliant idea of trying to make apple cider donuts at home…. AND I didn’t have apple cider of course. Maybe I need to ignore my artistic soul from here on out.  With an alarming lack of apple cider donuts in my life, the lovely glasses of wine the two of us had, as well as each other’s company was all starting to make up for it. They typically say misery enjoys company don’t they? We managed to whip together baked cinnamon sugar donuts and invite a few others over to  taste our donuts made with a little desperation and tipsiness. Might I just say, we did a damn good job of making it seem like these donuts were an acceptable substitute.

And this is why I date my friends.

Tianxin and La Pupuseria

I think it’s a beautiful thing that a Norwegian/Irish white girl and a Chinese girl can walk into a Salvadoran restaurant to get food without even the thought of how none of this would be possible without being so beautifully connected, especially by food. I mean, all of the waitresses still looked at us like “what are these ignorant non-latina girls doing here?” but still, beautiful.

My date, Tianxin, was a talented and genuine person from head to toe.

She’s truly the whole package and she’s going to hate this firm and direct acknowledgement of her greatness because she’s so unbelievably modest. Tianxin is really quite a beautiful soul. Her artistic talent touches upon every aspect of her life, whether it is her photographic eye, the layout of her entire room from top to bottom, her sense of fashion and minimalist outfits; it doesn’t matter (she’s also super sassy but we will get to that later).

Tianxin is also an AVID foodie, who’s cooking at times puts me to shame. It seems an artistic mind and a well trained palette go hand in hand. It’s not hard to imagine two artistic foodies having a good time on a friend date to a poppin’ Salvadoran restaurant.

The two of us go to University of Maryland, making it incredibly easy to get to Washington D.C. However, that’s not where we went, because…..

  1. We are broke college students
  2. We are lazy
  3. It takes too long and we are forever hungry

College Park, Maryland may not be the same type of cultural hub with vibrant, highly rated gastropubs and sushi bars. The vibe is more similar to hungover college students in line for Bagel Place repeatedly saying “I want to die” and “what did I do last night?” (I can’t honestly say that hasn’t been me). But there is a lot of authenticity in the restaurants nearby, especially those with specific cultural fair.The two of us really appreciated this realness… and cheapness. La Pupuseria was the perfect place to be that day.

Authentic Salvadoran pupusas and chicken tamales on a beautiful, hot as hell fall day, were all we needed. If you don’t know what pupusas are, I’m so sorry. It’s not too late for you to enjoy life. Go out and get yourself like three of them at least. So what are pupusas?

Pupusas are corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and usually other ingredients like beans, pork, and even flower bud (which is delicious, I recommend it). Usually these little disks come out with a cabbage slaw,  called curtido, and tomato salsa.

Tianxin and I took a seat in the front of the store, under the TV blaring soccer news in Spanish. La Pupuseria is a small joint, with tables close together making it rather intimate as you can hear practically every conversation or request to a waiter. We went during off hours though, so the place was not bustling to the brim. Unfortunately, upon arrival we were already hungry, on the verge of hangry but nonetheless enjoying our time together, joking around about nerdy artistic things and how we were going to die of hunger soon. The one draw back about La Pupuseria is the food takes FOREVER, hopefully because they are making everything fresh and in that moment that you order.

The best advice I can give you when frequenting a Salvadoran restaurant is to order your pupusas as soon as humanly possible (like before you even walk through the door maybe).

Our waitress approached, and rather excited about practicing my Spanish I was about to order when my date jumped in before I could get a word out. Chicken tamales, pupusas with beans and chicharon (pork, another recommendation). And these were enjoyed along with the wonderful conversation. If the other patrons of the restaurant listened to us, they probably thought we hated one another. There’s no end to the sarcasm and put down fest between the two of us. Tianxin tells me straight when I’m being a whiny b*tch or when I really need to stop opening up my cooking services for everyone on a Saturday night when I’m clearly rather tipsy. This is, of course, only bad in her eyes if she’s not already just as gone as I am. Then it’s the two of us with our wine glasses in the kitchen.

So we chatted along through our meal, but in the end I was still itching to practice my Spanish. If you hadn’t already seen from my blog posts, I really enjoyed my time in Spain which motivated me even further to continue learning Spanish. When our food came out, the waitress forgot to bring two forks. I went up to the counter and said in plain Spanish,

“Tiene un tenedor?” (Do you have a fork?)

She answered in English. All of them looked at me confused, gave me the fork, and watched me walk back to my table, feeling a little defeated and disappointed. As Tianxin can tell you, I didn’t let this go, not even after eating the most amazing five dollar meal I’ve ever had. I don’t think I could have asked for a more perfect date.

And the next day, she didn’t even ghost me.

She even listened to me complain again about my Spanish-less encounter. If that isn’t true friend-love, I don’t know what is.

The Bad Days: Stories You Didn’t Hear from Spain

Traveling is not always as fabulous or fun as Instagram bloggers (covertly trying to sell you products) portray it. Life is certainly never a constant high, and there are aspects to travel, especially long-term trips that have quite deep, sometimes embarrassing lows.

Life is hard, and strange, and also magnificent. It’s still life though, no matter where you are living. I find it kind of strange that people don’t foresee these ups and downs of regular existence as things that continue persisting no matter where you are and what you’re doing.

I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences traveling, many of which I’ve shared with you in my writing. That’s the thing though, I’ve shared the good stuff. I’ve joked around about the misadventures, but life is obviously more than the adventures I have carefully written and presented to you. Of course, travelling is still amazing to experience, and I’m quite privileged to be able to enjoy it. I’ll always remember my time in Spain fondly, but I don’t want to present myself to you as if the bad days never happened.

So, here are some memories from Spain I thought maybe you’d like to hear. I hope you find a bit of humor in them because the last thing I want is a pity party. I only hope they’ll make you feel less envious, but also more aware of what traveling actually entails. It’s not all sunsets and sangria.

  1. I spent my first night in Salamanca in my room, not talking to my host family except for my host mom’s granddaughter, Chloe. This little girl ordered me around and made me do weird exercises she must have learned in class. Chloe then proceeded to draw all over the only paper I had brought for class. I ended up crying that night in bed because I missed Madrid (not home, sorry my loved ones). I think I was also petrified that I did not actually speak Spanish and I’d be discovered as a fraud, which was simply not true.

    *This next one is a bit more personal but I think it’s too worthy of an audience to not include. You can handle it if you’re not a middle school boy*

  2. I ran out of tampons my first day of class in Salamanca.  My host father was not my personal choice, but I had no one else to go to. I asked him to take me to the pharmacy without explaining  exactly what I needed because as expected when speaking another language, I didn’t know the right words. I got into the rather close quartered pharmacy and in front of two grown men, I began trying to explain what a tampon was because I still could not figure out the word for tampon in Spanish. The two of them looked at me like I had two heads, until a big “Ahhhhh” indicated the pharmacist and my host dad came to understand. The guy at the pharmacy actually kept looking at me like a freak, as he was offended and told me to go to a woman’s pharmacy. Super embarrassed, I was red all over and had to go to two other stores with my host father. Periods are a normal part of life as a woman though and we shouldn’t be made to feel this way about an important part of being a human.

    Just in case you ever need to know, the word for tampon in Spanish is “tampone.”

  3. When I was in Granada in the south of Spain, I was walking down the street by myself and this old woman came up to me. She handed me a rosemary sprig and told me “un regalo” meaning “a gift.” I accepted, rather awkwardly and unwillingly, gave a quick thanks and tried to leave. Before I could, she read my palm in Spanish while smiling at me with what appeared to be nearly no teeth. When she was done, I turned to leave and she grabbed my wrist and told me “paga me,” pay me! All I could think was “what the hell is going on, I’m a broke college student even in Spain.” She told me I owed her five euro. A car came down the road in between us. I saw my chance to break free. Just kidding! She proceeded to chase me down the street while screaming at me. Moral of the story everyone, don’t take rosemary or any random herbs from old women in Spain.
  4. what is up with my face here what am I doing

    I went to Alhambra by myself and there were a ton of couples and groups of people. Me being me, I didn’t think much of it until I wanted to take pictures of myself in cool places. I looked like the most miserable selfie taker in the world; perpetually single and taking terrible photos. If I was given the option to for the day, I would have rented a stand-in boyfriend despite being very confident in my independent life. Even the guards asked me if I was by myself, and took pity on me when they found out I was just a small American girl wandering around in one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. Still cool as heck though!! Also, my phone died halfway through my time there, so I had to hide in the bathroom after I found an outlet to charge it. I pretended to do my mascara for a good twenty minutes so I could stay in there.

    super awkward girl
  5. This story is sort of scary and I highly recommend to all my friends, specifically females, that when you are in any foreign country, take note of every person in your hostel room if you can. I was at my hostel in Madrid, not Sungate One of course, but another one. The guy who was sleeping in the bunk bed above me came down and tried to get into my bed right after I had gotten back from a bar crawl. He was definitely intoxicated (absolutely not an excuse EVER) and tried to grab me and kiss me. I pushed him away firmly and told him to go the f*ck to bed. He realized I was American and said to me “I’ve never been with an American” and all I could think so say was “Well you’re certainly not f*cking going to tonight.” It was terrifying, and I should have told management or simply left, but I was drunk and not thinking straight. I figured if there were other people in the room I could scream if he tried again and someone would surely help. No one should ever have to think like that though. The next morning he apologized, but it was probably one of the worst experiences I’ve had travelling.
  6. I realize I haven’t yet written about Barcelona, but that’s probably because I didn’t do much there. There were few adventures because I spent a lot of time in my room writing papers. On the fourth of July, I spent the entire night reading for class the next day. I think the real kicker though was having the laundry machine break down while my clothes were in it. I paid two euro to use the washer, only for it to not drain OR rinse the soap out of my clothes. I had to rinse each article of clothing individually and hang them all up. A maid at the student housing unit told me the dryer actually worked, so I took all my lovely five hundred articles of clothing and stuffed them into a …. BROKEN DRYER (the maid was wrong) only to take them out and hang them all up again. I hated Barcelona for a couple of days honestly after that.
  7. My final story happened in Tres Cantos, a city I visited when I was 16 for an exchange program. I went out with a group of guy friends, one of which I’m very close with (Javier). The club we went to cost fifteen euro, LAME but not all that surprising considering ONE drink in DC costs fourteen dollars. Anyway, I started dancing after getting a drink, and everything was going really well until I tried dancing with one of the guys. This to me is a casual, fun thing that both men and women can enjoy without overstepping boundaries right? WRONG. One thing to know about dancing with a person in Spain is that it means you’re interested in JUST them. You don’t dance with someone unless you like them. My American ignorance was shining bright when the guy tried to stick his tongue down my throat and I pulled away, nearly running out of the club. He ended up sitting down for the rest of the night, upset. Javier explained it all to me. “Don’t dance unless you like like them.” I guess I won’t be dancing with anyone then ever again.

There are definitely more stories, more depressing or weird things I could share with you. I personally believe if you can’t take the good with the bad, don’t travel. This is life; it’s not like you can simply escape everything in a beautiful place. I learned that really quickly, but I would still go back, still continue seeing the world.

The pile of bad things I just shared take nothing away from my immense pile of good things I share with you and keep for myself.

Halloumi Veggie Sandwich

I think one of the greatest downfalls of the United States (besides our blatant inaction to pass legislation on a comprehensive plan to address climate change) is our lack of halloumi cheese.

It’s quite surprising how many people survive without it. After you try this sandwich, I guarantee you’ll be on the phone with your senator asking for more readily available stock piles of this wonderful ingredient.

This sandwich was created in my friend Paul’s kitchen when the two of us were hungover and hungry. If I can make this with a wicked headache and little coordination, you can easily make this for a great lunch to go or Sunday snack. This tastes amazing hungover, and probably even better with a better night’s rest and a couple advil (or is that the hangover that’d be improved….)

My recipe makes two sandwiches, but obviously you can make just one, or six, or ten…. totally up to your digression. I must reiterate though that I’ve given you fair warning; you’re going to fall in obessesive, maybe unhealthy, love with halloumi.

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices of sturdy bread, multigrain is good
  • 4 pieces (small rectangles) of halloumi cheese, Trader Joe’s has it!
  • 1/2 a medium onion, sliced
    • 1/2 tsp paprika
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 slices of veggie bacon (or real bacon if you’re freakin lame)
  • 2 or 3 radishes, thinly sliced (this shit is hard, just do your best)
  • 1 small tomato, sliced how you like it
  • Mayo
  • Hot Sauce (optional)

Directions:

  1. Toast that bread up really nicely, however you like it. I recommend just lightly browned.
  2. Take a medium pan, heat it to medium-high heat and place the halloumi cheese in to cook. You’re going to want to brown it on both sides, a nice golden color. About 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
  3. In the meantime, mix together the onions with paprika. Take the cheese out of the pan, heat the olive oil, and proceed to cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  4. Take a separate pan of good size and place the veggie bacon in with a little bit of oil. Cook according to the directions on the box (it’s super easy).
  5. Prepare the sandwich by spreading hot sauce on one slice of bread and mayo on the other. Take the halloumi cheese and place it on one side, then proceed with the veggie bacon, tomatoes, radishes, and finally the onions.
  6. Oh my gosh, you’re done! and you have an a-mazing sandwich; one worthy of your dreams and admiration.

Granada : Alhambra, Tapas, and a Small World

I’m broke, and yet here I am in another beautiful city. Is it luck? The cheap bus tickets in Spain? My mom? (Thanks mom)

As you know, I’m studying abroad in Spain for the summer, spending most of my days in the beautiful city of Salamanca, where there are drinks the size of my head for four euros and I can dance the night away… nevermind the heartbreaking amount of coursework I’ve got.

Fortunately I only have class Tuesday through Thursday, with some weekends open for travel. At the end of June was a perfect weekend to travel, and I initially thought an international trip was in order to Porto, Portugal. The city is famous for it’s amazing port wine and sites, including this beautiful bookstore that inspired J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Sounds like a good plan right? Except, as I mentioned before I am a bit short on funds. I waited till the last minute to get a bus ticket, so unfortunately it was just not happening.

Meanwhile, the girls in my program were making extravagant plans for Rome and Paris. I didn’t want to crush their dreams, but you can’t do Paris in a day (at least not comfortably). With nowhere to go, I thought maybe I’d just stay in Salamanca. It wasn’t all that fun going to a bar or club by yourself though, and that’s all my little town had to offer in terms of excitement. I decided I must go somewhere, so I called an Australian I met in Madrid (the cute one, yes), and followed his advice all the way down south.

Granada was the place to be apparently.

It was quite easy to get from Madrid to Granada by bus, through companies like ALSA. The ride was more or less five hours, which usually can be incredibly a bore but I can’t offer any complaints. The views of the mountains that enveloped and twisted around each road were awe inspiring. Moments like those in life turn my ego on it’s head. I can’t stress how small you’ll realize we are all compared to this beautiful natural world.

Alright enough poetic jabber… After arriving and walking through the dry heat and winding streets, a little pathway to Morocco stood in front of me. This narrow strip was bustling with shop keepers, selling bags, hookahs, dried fruits, and pants that looked like they were stolen from Woodstock (Yes, I did buy a pair of hippie pants). A bit confused, I walked up the street looking for my hostel. Mid way through, I turned down a corridor and finally, made it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By recommendation, I booked Oasis Backpackers Hostel for my long weekend free of homework, full of vino and amazing food. The hostel had a nice, chill vibe just like many others I’d enjoyed in Spain. I can’t say I was enchanted necessarily by the atmosphere, but it was a good place to stay for a fair price.My first night there was rather tame, but to be fair I was exhausted from the five hour bus journey and sweltering heat. The next morning I had to wake up at 5am. Why such an ungodly hour you may ask?

ALHAMBRA THAT’S WHY

Ok so what is this? As a lover of architecture, history, and all things odd and artistic, I was already unsurprisingly aware of this beautiful ancient city within a city. Alhambra is a palace built thousands of years ago, known worldwide for just how brilliant and extravagant the entire structure appears. Dare I say, Versailles has nothing on this.

I bought tickets through my hostel a week before heading to Granada (this is absolutely necessary, it’s sold out months in advance) for a specific entry date. Only the universe understands why I chose such an early entry date, but I was allowed into the Nasrid Palaces at 8am. It recommended online that I arrive half hour early, soooo I woke up at the exact moment sunlight peaked over the horizon, showered, dressed, then started my journey to Alhambra. It took me a half hour to hike up the winding stone roads and through the deep green gardens. I must admit though, my time getting to Alhambra was not a stroll, but rather a rampant, frightened expedition to find where I could enter. I got lost at least three times, but I did indeed make it.

When I finally arrived my heart sank and then nearly dropped out of my chest as I read the sheet of paper I got from the hostel to redeem my ticket I needed my passport…. I had forgotten my passport.

I panicked, partially because my Spanish wasn’t all that magnificent and from my hereditary anxiety. Of course, who’s the first person you call when you’re young when something goes wrong? My mom answers her phone (mind you it’s 1am back home).

“Mom please please pleaseeee can you send me a photo of a photocopy of my passport?”

and of course, she saved my young, stupid life. I arrived at the window to claim my ticket, a little nervous that my slapdash, pdf of my passport on my phone would not suffice. If you’re from the United States, you know how strict businesses can be about IDs.

“Oh that’s fine, any form of ID is fine”

You’ve got to be kidding me. I spent nearly half an hour on the brink of crying, calling and waking up my poor mother at 1am for you to tell me that all that stress was for nothing? Let’s just say I didn’t tell my mom this part of the story.

This frustration and stress vanished as I entered the gates of the palace. It felt like what I imagine first entering Disney World as a child for the first time feels. It was simultaneously an explosion of color from the various plants in the gardens, and beautifully crafted monochrome buildings. The most mesmerizing view was of the rest of Granada from inside Alhambra.

I made my way through the dirt, dry paths lined with towering green bushes to arrive eventually in front of the entrance to the Nasrid Palace. My mouth hit the floor when I walked in, and it was just the beginning. As I weaved from room to room, it was hard not to notice how the palace was so intricate and planned in every aspect.

Nearly all walls were covered in Arabic scripture. If you happened to gaze up, you’d wonder if they were attempting to portray heaven. The ceilings were certainly crafted and carved to look as such. Tiles and stones ran along the bottom of walls as if waves of color followed you with each turn. Towards the end were the gardens, nearly a destination of their own. I couldn’t help but take pictures of every tree, every flower, every view overlooking Granada.

It was one of the most magic places I’ve been in my travels. Others seem to think so too, as it’s definitely a romantic spot for couples. I was alone though in this adventure, quite happily so. The guards noticed I was by myself and congratulated me on being independent and adventurous, and all in Spanish. It’s a little less thrilling to go to out for the night by yourself. Granada is known for it’s vivid night life though so of course, as lame as I felt, I set out by myself to the first tapas bar on my personal list.

If you don’t know what tapas are, it’s probably because everywhere else in the world is nowhere near as chill as Granada. Tapas are small plates, like tastes, of food that usually come free with a glass of wine or beer at a bar.

However, this wonderful custom of handing you free food with your drink is nearly exclusive to Granada. In other parts of Spain, like Madrid and Barcelona, you have to pay for each tapa, which can be a major rip off when you add up how much each you’ve paid vs. how little food you’ve gotten. It’s the perfect scam that trendy tapas bars in the U.S have utilized to, in my opinion, give people as little food for as much as possible. Still, I recommend having a good, long tapas night with friends even if you can’t happen to make it to the south of Spain for the night.

Tapas bars are everywhere in Granada, with varying types of dishes in each location. There was so much to try, so many glasses of wine to drink, and so little money to be spent. I managed to make my way to three noteworthy places that I wanted to name drop just in case you’re ever in the area:

  • Bodegas Castaneda – the wine was a-mazing, the tapas were divine, and there was no where to sit in this bustling little restaurant within walking distance from my hostel. I recommend getting here early, and staying as late as you possibly can. One draw back to this place is that you don’t get to choose what you want as your tapa, but HEY free food, who’s complaining?
  • La Riviera – This place is always packed and for good reason. La Riviera is a classic bar for tapas and good drinks. I can’t say the food was inspirational, but I spent two nights here with good food and even better company. Oh, and there’s tons of English speakers here so if you’re feeling homesick, drop by.
  • Bar Poe – THE BEST TAPAS. I was having some intense withdrawals from spicy food since arriving in Spain. This little bar was my remedy. Surrounded by young travelers, the solo bartender in the middle of the island counter had us all covered, in whatever language we spoke. Tintos de verano (wine spritzers) went around the table along with dishes like Pollo en salsa Thailandés (Thai Chicken), or Portuguese Salt Cod. I cannot recommend a better place to be.

If I fed myself solely with tapas I probably would have survived, although constantly tipsy for how easily I become intoxicated off very little wine paired with how much food I require to feel full. However, I was rather excited to try the nuts and dried fruits whose aromas danced through the shops near my hostel. I also had some bomb falafel and split a chicken shawarma with a guy I met at the hostel. Quite possibly one of the best things I ate was the paella from Oasis Backpackers Hostel. It’s a classic Spanish dish of rice with various seafood. Once you’ve tasted a well-made paella in Spain, you’ll never want to leave. Of course, this was one of many bowls I enjoyed that dinner.

I’ve taken you through my journey to Alhambra and the food of Granada, but I haven’t explained why the world is so small.

As I’ve stated, I went to Granada alone. I was a solo traveler, and I had forgotten how boring that can be. Besides seeing Alhambra, there was really not much more to be done other than go to the mountains (which I couldn’t do because I forgot my sneakers) or eat. It can be better to be alone if you’re also adventurous. Putting yourself out there is easier if you aren’t traveling with a partner or friend. Being alone meant that I absolutely had to talk to someone at the hostel, and that happened to be Heather.

Oasis Backpackers Hostel had a gorgeous rooftop that overlooked the city. I spent a lot of my time up there, reading and enjoying the dry heat. Everyone else and their mother had the same idea as me, crowding the rooftop and chain smoking cigarettes in dead silence. My second night there, I was looking up at the stars, enveloped in dead silence and tobacco smoke. There was a girl on a couch across from me and a young looking kid sitting in a chair off to the side of her. Heather wasn’t smoking, rather sitting on her phone and pretending none of us existed, mimicking everyone else concentrated on their screens. Bored and annoyed by the silence, I finally said something.

“Do you speak English?”

Her head popped up and smiled.

“Yeah I’m from the US!” she replied.

I was a little excited, after speaking only Spanish all day. I asked her where she was from. Maryland.

“NOOOO WAYYYY,” I yelled much louder than I thought I had.

Of course, she picked up on the fact that I was, indeed, also a Marylander. Turns out, she’s from the same town as me, and went to high school right down the road from mine. We could have easily met at home, yet Heather and I were destined to meet thousands of miles away from it.

Her story was much more interesting than mine; a love story that brought her to Ireland and then all around Europe. She met her boyfriend, an Irish rugby player, two years ago and they never stopped talking. The long distance relationship just wasn’t going to cut it anymore though! So she moved to Ireland to attend grad school for computer science. This girl was living the dream, traveling around Europe with her love. I was lucky enough to bump into them in Granada.

Unfortunately though I wasn’t that lucky, as I didn’t get to see her for more than two days. The two of us parted ways with a smile and a wave goodbye. I had classes and she had an adventure to continue.

Granada was truly a magical city.

Salamanca: The Youngest Oldest City and A Love Story

It’s been difficult switching between English and Spanish, so I’ve been lazy and inattentive to my blog. Sorry everyone, avoiding English is easier than delving into these long posts. Plus, who can really get anything done with Despacito playing everywhere over and over and over again?

It’s not pure lethargy that’s kept me from posting. I am swamped with papers and readings in Spanish that all require a significant chunk of my time.

“You’re not actually studying though are you?” my friends would jokingly say to me.

Believe it or not, studying abroad actually requires you to, ya know, study abroad.

I was in Salamanca with other University of Maryland students, a group of some great girls and Jeremy (the only guy on the trip). From the charming cafes and tapas restaurants, to the beautiful river, and the perfect Spanish of the Salamantinos, I couldn’t have asked for a better city in which to live. For four weeks, the lot of us enjoyed everything the “Youngest Oldest City” had to offer.

Now you may be wondering, what in the world does that mean? “Youngest Oldest City?”

Salamanca is a city in the Castile and León region, about two hours away from Madrid. It was founded in the 10th century, before the United States was even a concept or country. The Universidad de Salamanca is nearly the center of life in this town, and in 2018 it will turn 800 years old (just slightly ancient). Students are still in attendance, and naturally with any college town the population tends to be made up of youngsters.

This incredibly old city is full of college students, and it’s a beautiful, strange mixture.

Along with all the landmarks, like libraries with globes that don’t include North America for lack of it’s discovery, cathedrals towering over the city in marvelous fashion, hidden gardens and views, there’s a college style night life. Streets are lit up in the middle of the night by bars with drinks as big as my head and discotecas (dance clubs) that close as the sun rises. During the day, my fellow students and I were cultured students studying at one of the oldest universities in Europe. By night, you could see the Americanas with dancing through the plaza, drinking Aguas de Valencia, and passing around jokes in Spanish.

And queue the love story.

I’m not talking about falling in love with Spain or Salamanca. I’ve been in love with this country for quite sometime. This story is about “new love.” It all started like every modern romance does, with TINDER. I figured I might as well try. Being an American constantly surrounded by other Americans doesn’t help any of us practice truly speaking like a Spaniard. What better way to find native speakers than to get asked out to a romantically lit cafe? Of course, this story doesn’t include any Spaniards. In fact, my date ended up being an American from Puerto Rico.

Salamanca, and other cities in Spain have these locations in the city centers called plaza mayor. Out of all that I have seen, Salamanca  has the most beautiful. It’s incredibly simple, just an open square with restaurants and stores surrounding the opening, but I absolutely love it. People gather there to hang out or celebrate, like when Real Madrid won right after I arrived in Salamanca.

I made plans with the Puerto Rican to meet in Plaza Mayor near the elephant, an almost obscene sculpture who’s rear end occasionally blasts mist into the air. It’s quite a romantic place to be.

I got on my best dress, with matching Adidas sneakers and dark red lipstick. Even if I just wanted to practice Spanish I still wanted to look good doing it. I waited in front of the farting piece of art for my date, while my two other amigas were looking out for me at a bar nearby (I didn’t want to end up as a missing person on the nightly news). As I sat there waiting, I noticed a really handsome guy, fidgeting with his phone as if he were waiting a message. I could tell he kept looking over at me, maybe waiting for a date of his own and hoping it was me. After about ten minutes of waiting, the cute guy, a Mexican rugby player, turned toward me, jumped over, and took a leap of faith by staring a conversation. Just as he started talking, my date was walking towards me. All I could think was

“Oh no I’m so awkward what do I do?”

I kept talking to the Mexican with my date now to my left. It was a sandwich of uncomfortable love affairs. I finally said to the Mexican

“This is my date! but hey, you should come with us to meet my friends…”

I invited a complete stranger on my date with a complete stranger. Not that strange right? The night was fun filled actually because of it. I took the two of them to meet my friends at the bar, and we all traded stories and drinks. The Mexican informed us he had one night left in Salamanca, and that he was glad to have made friends. At the end of the night, my date walked me home and I wasn’t feeling much chemistry between the two of us. It could have been the lack of romance tinder kindles, or the rugby player that intercepted me right before my night was to begin.

Next night, I made no plans with any dates. All I wanted was to dance and enjoy my brief time in Spain. I dressed again in a cute dress with sneakers, ready for the bars of Salamanca but they surely weren’t ready for me. Off I went into the night, straight to the plaza mayor. When I arrived, my friend informed me she invited the Mexican along for the night. Apparently, he hadn’t actually left.

I saw him out of the corner of my eye and ran over. That night in plaza mayor there was a vibrant light show in the middle of the plaza as part of a week of artistic expression in the city. He was standing on the steps of the elephant where we first chatted, watching with everyone else. His name burst from my mouth, followed by his immediate swivel towards me and a smile flashed across his face.

I wanted this night for myself, but he easily convinced me otherwise when he asked me if I wanted to get a beer, or rather a cerveza, in his smooth accent.

He took my hand and asked where I’d like to go, ending up in a nearby bar in the plaza. My feet dangled, his firmly planted on the ground, as we sat at a high table by the window. He spoke little English, so the entirety of the conversation was in Spanish. We leapt from topic to topic, discussing the new star wars movies, politics in the U.S, Mexican poetry, and his rugby career. After about an hour, we left to look for the others girls and to head to another bar with the intention of staying out for the rest of the night. No one appeared, and I was rather disappointed to miss my friends. The feeling disappeared after turning around from the bar to a kiss.

Yep, I was smitten.

From bar to bar we went, then to a discoteca and another bar. We danced the night away, hand in hand. He was kind of cheesy in a really sweet way, but I couldn’t resist the way he said “beautiful.” We walked through youngest oldest city, holding hands as if this was as natural as the passing of time.

By 4am it was time to say goodbye. It felt like the night was only just beginning, but I knew it was time to go. A final kiss and an “hasta luego” were exchanged. I don’t think I’ll see him again, and I think I’d rather not. I love this memory for what it was at the time, not what it could be in the future. The  ephemeral nature of my state of being in these memories makes them ever much more significant and preserved in my mind. That’s one of the best, and most depressing parts of travel, but I think life as well.

Enjoy it while it’s there.

I knew it wasn’t love, not really. That was the night though I fell in love with Salamanca. Even after the boy was gone, I’d walk down those streets and picture what I wish the future could be for me; forever enjoying the dark and wondrous nights of such an old and beautiful town.

Of course I continued to enjoy the city with friends and on my own. All of us went for tapas and wine. There were surely many more nights of Aguas de Valencia, discotecas, staying out until the sunrises, and also helping to make sure incredibly inebriated people are alright. Days were spent at the parks and pools, soaking up that Spanish sun and pretending like I wasn’t the palest person within a five mile radius. There was time to explore and time to practice Spanish with impatient shop keepers. I felt like I was a child, finding all the sites only an adventurous and curious child could find. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I walked to class as if I had always lived there and always would. By the time I left, I was tempted to tell everyone “Soy de Salamanca! I’m from Salamanca!” and that was surely my joke with my friends in Madrid.

Madrid: Sungate One Hostel & All the Sites to See

On Memorial Day in the U.S, I sat in the airport waiting for my flight, feeling incredibly stupid for not only mistaking the time of the flight but also for forgetting my adapter AND euros at home. In the end it didn’t really matter (it cost me quite a bit, don’t be like me). At that point, I was stressed out of my mind. My own fault; I packed literally three hours before my flight KNOWING I should have packed two days before.

Do you really expect anything else from me?

I was on my way to Frankfurt, Germany, then to Madrid,  Spain (my intended destination for 6 weeks wooooooo). So why Frankfurt first?? WELL I wanted to get the cheapest flight, and I thought:

Heyy, do you know what would be a great idea? Saving 100$! by sitting in an airport for 8+ hours in a country where you don’t speak the language and you can’t check your bags until right before the flight so it’s not like you can go anywhere or sleep or rest your mind and thoughts or anything…. great idea!

When I booked the flight I didn’t know it’d be that bad; oh how young and naive I was two months ago. The first flight was god awful physically, and a bit of a mental strain as I didn’t sleep AT ALL for a good seven hours. I totally had a good reason:  I sat next to a Canadian professor of music theory who was going to learn German intensively over the next 8 weeks; who I also instantly clicked with. We sat there drinking wine and enjoyed rambling on about Trump, the environment, the white savior complex, etc.. The conversation cost me my sleep, and therefore my sanity, for the next day and a half until I finally arrived in Madrid at 10:30 pm (22:30). It felt like I had just gone through finals week all over again.

I arrived at the airport and immediately jumped into a taxi after getting my overstuffed duffel bag (not a good choice, why would I pick a bag without wheels!). Again, no sleep to be had there. I chatted with the taxi driver in Spanish for maybe a minute; he insisted on speaking English, which I much appreciated. After nearly 24 hours of travel, I don’t think I was making any sense in English, let alone another language. We chatted about Madrid, the crazy accents across the country, Salamanca (where I’d be studying), and the FOOD. Tapas, paella, jamon, patatas; the stuff of dreams. My stomach yearned for food in the back of the cab after the last four airplane meals.

FINALLY I arrived at my hostel, Sungate One. I could not believe how in the middle of everything I was, right next to Puerta del Sol. I walked up to the door where a couple was sitting smoking. “You need a code, here let me help,” one of them said to me. Up the stairs I went with my big ass bags. It was about 11:30 pm by that time. Promptly upon arriving to the front desk, Christopher, a pretty fine looking guy at the hostel, welcomed me and immediately asked me if I’d like to go out tonight with everyone. “We’re leaving in five minutes, but we will wait for you! It’ll be a good time,” he said with utter confidence. How could I say no? “You can check in tomorrow, it’s no problem at all.” Chris (another chris? dos? yes) showed me to my room. (Btw, both chris’s were really cool. Everyone was just really cool.) I shed my bags and slipped into a cute outfit, fluffed my hair, and ran downstairs.

REMINDER: I hadn’t slept in over a day, nor had I eaten dinner or anything in the past 10 hours.

It seemed the entire hostel was going out, residents and workers (of course not all of them), our chaperones, but also party mates. Walking at night in Madrid is beautiful, even when you’re jet-lagged and slowly losing your sanity. The lot of us, maybe 16 people, made our way to this Irish bar about 8 minutes away. The bouncer came over, grabbed our wrists, and put a stamp on each; reduced drinks courtesy of Sungate One. I couldn’t believe my luck, but not because of the drinks.

You know when you meet people that are like you, and not necessarily similar in appearance but in intentions and values and etc. That happened! I love when that happens. Everyone I was with was SO friendly and actually wanted to talk and meet each other. It felt like home and in that moment, I knew I’d want to stay as long as I could.

So that night I spent a lot of time chatting with Americans from all over the country, Australians with thick but adorable accents (one who was super cute just in case you were wondering), Native Spaniards, Canadians, a Brazilian and a Turkish guy; oh, and this Chilean dude that I genuinely thought was French (still am not convinced, even when he speaks perfect Spanish). The first round of shots was free, and they just kept coming. After an interesting conversation about Brazilian rap and about an hour and a half of drinking, all of us poured out of the pub and ventured to a reggatone club.

All I can say is: what. an. experience.

I listened to a lot of reggatone when I was in Honduras so it wasn’t anything new in that sense. This place was comical, but honestly it was what you made of it. If you wanted to have fun and you like dancing like no one is watching, you’d love it. That’s exactly what I did. I danced with everyone I could, in every way I could. Get a few drinks in me and I’ll do the chicken dance and then fail at twerking in front of everyone; it doesn’t matter. Life’s not long enough to wait to have fun right? And everyone did the same honestly. I didn’t realize it then, but that was one of those nights that made Madrid for me.

I wasn’t thinking that the next morning with my grande resaca  (hangover). At least my surroundings were incredibly nice for the price I paid (about 22$ a night). I had my cozy little bed in a room with three other people. Each of us had a locker that also functioned as a nightstand. I dig the minimalist style. Walked to the bathroom to brush my teeth, take a long shower, and see the damage of the previous night. First of all: YESSSS the bathrooms were clean, the shower was actually hot, and the hairdryer worked (even worked well). Already off to a good start. I walked downstairs after getting dressed to have my morning ruined and made at the same time. Secondly: they make free breakfast churros and chocolate, sometimes crepes and pancakes. I overslept and missed them. UGHHHH “It’s fine, I’m fine, Everything is fine.” I was lying, very upset. Chris promised me I’d get it next time. God the people who work there were just so nice. It was alright; I was actually fine this time as I ended up going out to this amazing churro place right around the corner. That’s where my day of sight-seeing began.

“Don’t forget to write your name down for dinner if you want it!” someone yelled after me. Oh third: dinner is free, but it’s so good you’ll want to tip.

Totally isn’t my photo don’t sue me Sungate One I love you

Ok, I know you want to know the name of that churro place. It’s called Chocolateria San GinesOH MY LANTA was it good. Javier, an old friend of mine, and I split two of those beautifully fried desserts, dipping them in this thick melted chocolate for breakfast. *Just so you know, this is normal in Spain. We aren’t rebels (or at least we weren’t being cool kids there). He tried to get me to chug the rest of the chocolate when we were done. I would have gone into a diabetic coma.

The store was around the corner from the Palacio Real de Madrid. Quite a beautiful place to be, with gardens along the side that were small but still beautiful. Right next store is this grand cathedral known in English as the Almudena Cathedral. If everything is gold and extravagant for the most part you know you’re in a cathedral in Spain.

Palacio Real de Madrid
Almudena Cathedral
Javier thinks he’s cool

These are some of the most popular places to visit if you come to Madrid because they are not only beautiful, but Have a lot of interesting history behind them. You could definitely take a tour, but I recommend just finding a Spanaird and making them explain everything to you like I did! Haha totally feasible right?These weren’t even my favorite places though, besides Sungate One and churros because duh.

I truly think the best places to see in Madrid are as follows in no particular order because life doesn’t make sense anyway:

 

Templo de Debod
  1. The Templo de Debab – literally an Egyptian temple that was given to Spain as a gift from Egypt, really super cool. You come across it and you’re like what??? Why? How? Oh well,still cool! They built it brick by brick right there!
  2.  Parque del Retiro de Madrid – I laid and took a siesta (a long ass nice nap) here and watched the boats go by on the lake. It was honestly the most relaxed place, a little like a tame Central Park. I would come back to Madrid just to go here again honestly because also, #3 is in this park.
  3. Palacio de Cristal Madrid – it’s literally a glass palace like structure. Super beautiful and so full of light. When you’re there, it feels like you’re in a movie. Really. Super serious.
  4. The top floor bar of El Corte Ingles (this popular superstore, right next to Sungate One actually!) – You don’t even have to buy anything or get a drink. Just go! Javier knew that at the top of the store there was this beautiful view of Madrid. I thought I had seen the city, but not until I saw this. I would have really enjoyed some vino right then and there but I’m broke and life isn’t fair.

 

So those are some of the sights to see and places to be in Madrid. I personally think the best times I have are going out with friends at night, cooking with others, and just taking a walk and getting helado. I don’t think you have to spend a lot of money to enjoy a city like this.

Just do this:

  • Get a bed at Sungate One
  • Walk around the city
  • Get some churros and chocolate, helado, and some delicious ass tapas
  • Go to the top of every building you can and enjoy the views
  • Make plans for the night and don’t you dare come home before 1 am

My Summer in Spain

Hello all you lovely, freshly baked cupcakes!

If you don’t know me, you haven’t had the pleasure (or as some would call it, annoyance) of my non-stop gush of how excited I am to be spending this summer in Espana! I’ll be taking Spanish classes and finishing up my Spanish minor. If that doesn’t sound dope to you, IDK what will….

Anyway, I’ve actually already left. I’m typing this in another country AND YEAH THAT’S SUPER AWESOME TO ME. The people in the Frankfurt Airport probably think I’m a nutter.

As per request, I’m going to post about all the amazing food and cultural interests during my time here. I just hope my host family is ready for my help in the kitchen!

Ciao for now