10 July 2008 (I think…written from the air)
I am flying somewhere between Singapore and Australia…probably closer to the former since we didn’t take off too long ago. As I am not sure exactly which day it is in which part of the world, I am going to call it July 10th in order to acknowledge the day that is missing otherwise. I don’t have a window seat so I can’t distract myself with the scenery below. As I feared there is a whiny child behind me. he is quite a naughty kid–he whines to his mother, hits her, won’t follow the rules of the aircraft (doesn’t want to wear his seat belt, stows his footrest etc) and he keeps putting his feet up and kicking all of the seats in front of him. I don’t remember being such a disobedient child, although I am sure I was a pain in my own way.
I’ve already finished a 500+ page book that I managed to track down at Heathrow Airport. Only one out of the four or five book shows had New Moon by Stephanie Meyer. This book was my reward for getting through my assignments in Spain. It took all my will power not to buy the e-book and devour it immediately after I finished its prequel Twilight. Thanks Kait for gifting that to me. I definitely enjoyed it. So now I’ve finished the book and I have no desire to watch any of the moves that are playing. I use this time to write the events of the past week and a half or so. I already posted the plan before I left and I am happy to report that everything went incredibly well! So far at least…the itinerary I posted extends past today, after all.
Somehow I managed to pack all my things up and throw away most of the things I didn’t need. I didn’t want to do it so it was really hard. I just wanted to chuck everything and start from scratch in Australia. I was still throwing things out even after I got back from my vacation with Ana the night before we were set to leave Valencia–Ana back to Ablacete and I to London. It was a stressful night. But as usual I have gotten ahead of myself. I must start at the beginning of the new month. On the first of July Ana’s mom picked us up in the car that barely fit all of Ana’s stuff. Ana had never experienced moving out of university before. I had moved all my things except for a select few items of clothing and toiletries that were stored in a backpack lent to me by Alba…given actually. I had a long coffee date with Alba (the woman from whom I bought my passover matzah) on the 29th and it was good to sit chatting for the afternoon. Anyway I had my stuff for the week in a backpack along with a bottle of wine each for Ana’s mother and Ali. The backpack was heavier going out than coming in. I wish I could say that for my luggage right now. I think Ana’s mom liked the wine and I definitely felt at home in her house as we loafed around in the heat playing with her adorable dog, Noa. The second night at Ana’s house I taught Ana, her mom and her sister how to make matzo ball soup because Ana LOVES it. It didn’t come out all the well but they said they liked it anyway. I got lucky the first time I made that soup because it came out just right. The next time the matzo balls were to mushy and this last time they were too firm…I’ll get it right again one day.
It was seriously hot it Albacete…although not quite the level of heat that Valencia provided and I’m sure nothing to what I will experience in December in Australia. Yay for infernos! Ana and I did take walks but really only on little errands, not really to sigh see. Ana’s little sister Laura was smart enough to get herself invited somewhere with a pool. The relaxing in Almansa felt good and homey. Ana and I watched Beauty and the Beast in Spanish. I’m going ot see if I can get my hands on more Disney movies in Spanish. They’re very fun to watch. So after passing two blissfully uneventful nights being unable to believe we no longer had to study or do anything in particular we got on a bus to Albacete proper (Ana lives in Almansa, which is just outside Albacete) in order to catch the train to Oviedo.
There seems to be some kind of problem with Google Maps lately. I will try to get a better map once this problem is resolved.
Oviedo is in the region of Asturias and the city was actually, at the very start of the Reconquista, the capital city of what would become the country of Spain. It was once, in otherwords, an extremely important place. The train ride there from Albacete was 7.5 hours long!! Ana and I tried to read but the old couple across from us kept engaging us in hearty conversation. Mom’s former host sister, Alicia and her husband, Bernardo, met us off the train. I immediately liked them especially because they spoke so clearly. It was also great to go around with Ana who, of course, understood everything and has really got the hang of communicating with me. Perhaps I should take a minute to explain more clearly why we went to Oviedo. My mom studied abroad in Spain when she was 21 in 1975 (sorry for revealing your age Mom. I wouldn’t have if the year hadn’t been so historically significant). Of course, 1975 is the year that Francisco Franco, long-standing dictator of Spain, died and the current king, Rey Juan Carlos, took control and changed the course of Spanish history. Spain was a very different place when my mom was there and has since rapidly undergone many social revolutions. I highly suggest looking into the history of Spain. It’s a very interesting place. There is so much more to it than the, Inquisition, Armada and the imperial conquest of the Americas.
It was quite cool in Oviedo…both temperature-wise and in the fact that is is an intensely interesting place. Bernardo and Ali took us immediately to get a cup of the famous sidra which is typical of Asturias. There is a whole culture surrounding the sidra which we would translate as cider and is analcoholic drink made from apples. The waiters pour the sidra from high above their heads and the height of the fall seems to matter more than the amount of cider that makes it into the cup. They give you a most the bottom quarter of a special cider glass that you are supposed to drink in one go, leave a little at the bottom of the glass to throw on the ground after you’ve chugged the majority. Ali and Bernardo live just off of the street where all the sidrerías are located and the whole area smells of the bitter sweet drink.
After our sidra we went back to Ali and Bernardo’s beautiful apartment that smelled so good and held a very cushiony mattress just for us. They really did go all out for us during the four nights we stayed with them. They treated us like daughters right from the beginning and would not let us pay for anything (even though we tried). Ali cooked us delicious meas, wanted to pack us lunch…they really would have made excellent parents, but they have no children. Bernardo was full of excellent suggestions of things to make sure to do in Oviedo and he even asked his niece, Aida, who is Ana’s age and an engineering student, if she would take us out on the Friday we were there to experience the night life. She did and was extremely nice about showing us a good time.
Ana and I ended up going to Gijón for just a day trip and it was a good thing we didn’t stay there overnight as we were originally planning to do. Asturias is COLD and definitely did not suggest going to the beach…although the beaches of Gijón are quite pretty with their windswept, rocky, Atlantic feel. Ana had never been to the North of Spain and in Gijón she put her feet in the Atlantic for the first time. Gijón has a small but extremely well-put-together aquarium. I can say with great confidence that it is one of the best I’ve ever seen. We also went to the train museum, which has old train cars you can board and explore, before we walked to the old section of town to eat our lunch. It was siesta and all museums were closed so we decided to pack it in and have a bit of a rest before dinner. This was Saturday and that night Bernardo and Ali took us out to sample typical Asturian cuisine. Ana said that Asturian cheeses rival her region’s manchego cheese. It was all delicious washed down with sangría made of the sidra. Isaac, who is Ali’s sister’s son and was about eight years old when my mom stayed with them, joined us for dinner as well and was fun to talk to. After dinner we all got a dirnk and Bernardo, Isaac and I had a conversation about politics. I did reasonably well considering it was in Spanish and I really have not been keep up with the state of world affairs. On the way back we walked around the statues that populate the streets of Oviedo and we took pictures with all of them. Then we went to bed feeling like we had a very productive day.
Sunday was the day that Ana and I finished the things we hadn’t done yet. We had gone through the cathedral on Friday already (which was magnificent and beautiful, but as usual held little real meaning for me) but we had to leave the Museum of Bellas Artes before we had seen the special El Greco exhibit so we went back on Sunday. The reason we left the museum early on Friday was because we were going to get our hair cut at Ali’s peluquería (beauty parlor)! Ali cut our hair excellently (and for free!) and touched up my bobbed style so it looks ultra Spanish right now.
So back to Sunday, we finished the Museum of Bellas Artes and then we went to an exhibition of Oviedo that ran through the city’s twelve centuries of history. We met up with Ali and Bernardo in the middle of that and I have to admit I was relieved when their presence sped up the second half of the museum considerably. It was interesting but I lost my stamina for absorbing long passages of history in Spanish most of which had to do with monarchy and Christianity. Ana thought I was bored. After the museum we walked around the giant market in the old section of town and then walked through the park ending at Oviedo’s famous and historic bakery. Check out the pictures–I’ll be posting soon. After yet another delicious meal and a siesta at Ali’s, Bernardo drove us up the mountain Narancos which holds preRoman ruins (REALLY cool), sweeping vistas and a giant statue of Jesus that is not unlike the one in Brazil/Portugal. I got carsick driving on the mountain but I think only Ana knew. Ali thought I was just tired. On the way down we stopped at the shopping mall because it was Rebajas which is the giant period of sales in all shops all over Spain. I didn’t get anything but it was fun.
Ana and I caught the bus to Madrid at 7:30am on Monday. Bernardo drove us and Ali packed us lunch the night before, but didn’t get up to say goodbye. She and I said goodbye the night before, although I didn’t completely realize it at the time. Ali came into the room where I was packing up my stuff and gave me a BIG hug and said that she really enjoyed having me to stay. She didn’t say much, but the way in which she said it made me realize the sincerity with which she meant her words and her reluctance to see me go after such a short amount of time had passed. Still, even after four nights I felt like Ali really is one of my aunts…I really like acquiring honorary family and I promised Ali and her sister Paquita (via phone since she was in Cádiz at the time) that I would come back and visit. I’m going to do everything in my power to keep my promise too, because really, I think Spain came together for me in the last week that I was there. I didn’t feel a real connection to it in all the time in Valencia except for Ana, of course, but now that I have Ali and Bernardo to think about, I really feel that I will be coming back because I feel like I have a home to which I can return.
The trip back to Valencia was LONG on the bus. We stopped in Madrid to change buses and the soonest transfer was full, so we had to wait an extra hour before we could get a bus. We read the books from which the old people on the train distracted us on the way up and ate lunch, so the time went quickly. Upon arriving in Valencia we made our way to Luza’s apartment and I started rearranging my things for the flight the next day. I was stressed out and hungry so we went to a Chinese restaurant with Lisa for dinner and then came back, watched some movies for the pajama party that was supposed to take place but ended up sleeping in our old apartment because Chiara was there studying for an exam and there were enough beds for us to actually sleep in one. It was a hectic and confusing night and not the way I wish I could have spent my last night, but at the end of it I got to sleep in my old room with Ana in Paula’s bed and we talked until we fell asleep.
The next day was Tuesday and it was time for me to go to the airport. I was too nervous to even eat that morning so I just made sure all my stuff was packed up and paced around talking to Ana and Chiara until I had to go. Jess came by on her way to her summer class that morning to see me one last time. She is going to Mexico next semester after spending the next few weeks in Spain. It was good to see her again. Around 11:30am I decided it was time to get a move on. Check-in for my flight opened at 12:20 and I wanted to be the first one there so that I would have less trouble with my heavy luggage. I ended up being the second one to check in and that is when things started going right–from the very beginning 🙂 Even though I had 16 kilograms too many, the guy checking me in only charged me for 8. Then I met up with my German friend Gabe (the guy with whom I broke into the castle at Sagunto) who was arriving in Valencia at exactly the same time I was leaving it. We had a welcome/farewell coffee in the airport before I went through security. It was a pretty cool coincedence and it was goodto see him one last time. Only after I cleared security did I begin to feel like I could maybe eat something. I bought an apple and some rice pudding that I still couldn’t finish. The plane ride to London went well, my baggage did not get lost and I got it to the Left Baggage area in the correct terminal without a problem. It was a sunny day but it took nearly two hours to get to the center of London. I really wanted to take advantage of the rare sunshine, so as soon as I checked into my hostel I went out to walk along the Thames until the sun began to set. I saw a lot of stuff and took some beautiful pictures but obviously did not really take any tours. It was nice just to enjoy the sunshine in preparation for sitting on long plane rides. I saw the Tower Bridge, Tower of London, London Bridge etc etc. I wasn’t trying to work too hard for London. That isn’t why I was there. I’ll really see London another time.
The next day was rainy so I decided to enjoy the dryness of the hostel as long as possible before going outside. I had my umbrella with me because I knew where I was going when I left the airport, and I really only had four goals for the day: See the Globe Theatre, eat a bagel, find New Moon, and get to the airport on time. By the time my plane took off I had accomplished all of these things. When I checked in at Heathrow the lady at the desk told me I was really only allowed one bag but since I didn’t know and one of my bags was so small, she would let me slide. That was the second airlines person who really tried to make my life easier. Things were still going right. The first leg of the flight from London to Singapore went well minus the naughty kid and the second leg from Singapore to Sydney I wrote most of this entry. Now I am on the plane from Sydney to Brisbane sitting between two business men. I saw the sun come up from Sydney Airport–my first dawn in Australia. Once more, my luggage was not lost, I had no problems clearing customs in Australia or checking into my flight transfer. There was almost no one on my transfer and the guy who checked me in even suggested I get on an earlier flight to avoid the delays that had been common in the recent days. Third airline person who was nice to me and made my life easier voluntarily. I can’t believe my luck so far. If the rest of my semester goes this smoothly, I am in for a real treat. I’m tired and sleep deprived and I’m sure I’ll suffer from jet lag very soon, but I’m very happy and excited to be here.
Stay tuned for pictures. I’ll post them as soon as possible. As always, thanks for reading.