Category Archives: reflections

School’s Out!

It’s official- my time at Nebrija has come to a close. As I sit in the biblioteca (library for those unfamilia with español) one last time, I can’t help but reflect on my “studying” in Spain.

my non-picturesque university

Before coming, I was really nervous about taking classes in Spanish and just for the coursework in general. Thankfully, all four of my classes count towards my Spanish major (or else I probably would not have been able to study abroad because the Spanish major at Miami has soooo many classes!) and they ended up being a lot easier than any class I have ever taken at Miami.

I only had classes on Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30-2:30 and so I felt like I was almost never actually at school. We rarely had taxing homework, and the only times it got tough would be when I had to study for a test. Not necessarily because the test material was hard, but because I literally forgot how to study.

All of my friends from other universities feel the exact same way about their “studying” abroad and in a way, it’s nice that the university understands that you are here to take in the culture instead of cooped up with your head in the books the entire time! That’s how I like to think they look at it anyway.

Even so, this past week was spent attempting to study, making me even more antsy to get home for the holidays! Thankfully, I just got my final grades and it looks like I am in the clear, all without doing very much work at all. Needless to say, hopefully I can remember how to be studious once I get back to taking actual classes in the spring.

One thing I learned is that Spaniards always look for a reason to celebrate. So how does the faculty like to mark the end of classes with the students? Via cookies and champagne! Yes, even if it is 12 o’clock in the afternoon, you can bet that we all just toasted to another semester being over and the drinks were flowing as long as you were drinking. And, ya know, even if it wasn’t that hard of work, everyone deserves a little bubbly now and then.

And now for the event of the year!

What: Suitcase Showdown

Who: Me, my belongings, and 2 suitcases

When: Now until 9am tomorrow morning

Where: My room to the airport

Only time will tell who reigns supreme…

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The moment you have ALL been waiting for.

Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting…

¡Mi Señora!

For the ever curious, here is a picture of my host mom (grandma?) and me taken tonight before dinner.

Seeing as our time is quickly coming to a close, she made sure to remind me that we needed to take a picture before I left. This came as a relief to me because I have always wanted one but did not know how to go about it. I knew that it would have to be a predetermined night, as it would be imperative (to her) that she’d be dressed properly with neat hair and flawless makeup. So when I saw that she had been out earlier today (for her daily thirty minute walk… aka the only time she leaves the house) I asked if we could take one that night so that it was taken care of!

Five things about Flora:

1)    She is an eighty year old widow who lives with two cats, she also has eight kids and many grandchildren who all live close to her

2)    She must always be listening to the radio or have the television on, be it in the morning, during siesta, or whilst she sleeps

3)    Her hearing is no good at all

4)    She is a chain smoker

5)    Her typical day goes like this: wake-up, listen to radio whilst eating breakfast, watch television, “marchar” aka walk across the street and back, eat lunch, siesta, eat snack, watch television, eat dinner, watch television, go to sleep

While I was (and still am) a bit intimidated by her, she has truly been a wonderful host and I feel lucky to have been placed with her. Sure, it would have been nice having Internet, but I learned to cope and after talking with other kids about their host families, I feel like I did not fare badly at all!

I am officially embarking on my last week in Madrid. Christmas shopping is almost complete and now I am just getting a bit nervous about the weight of my bags on the way home! Before I can fret too much, I have two tests, an essay, and a presentation to get out of the way that I just want to get done with! Even so, it is so surreal to think that this time next week I will be sitting in my own bed blogging away!

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Food, Glorious Food!

If you have not realized already, I’m a pretty big foodie. My favorite thing about travelling is always trying new foods, browsing food markets, and making sure I do not miss trying out a local specialty! So it only seems appropriate for me to do some food-reflecting. Lemme tell you, these lists were not easy. I decided to only limit myself to the top 5 for each category in no particular order but each one of these lists could be a lot longer.

So without further ado…

Favorite Spanish Food

  1. Garbanzos con espinacas This is one typical example of a first course of a “Menu del dia”. It’s basically spinach and chickpeas blended with some flavors that makes for a very hearty and tasty dish.
  2. Pisto con huevo A type of vegetable stew with a tomato base and a nice egg on top.
  3. Tortilla Española This is the Spanish version of an omelet. It’s a lot like a quiche but without the crust and can be plain or with things like onion, pepper, meat, etc. One of my favorites had cheese, ham, and pineapple!
  4. Croquetas De jamón y queso or just plain, these things are an amazing mix of whatever ingredients you would like and bechamel (basically flour and milk) then fried to perfection.
  5. Patatas Bravas The secret to these fried potatoes is the red sauce that you see drizzled atop. It’s usually a little bit spicy and makes this typical tapa to die for.

Best Meals Outside of Spain

  1. Salmon crepe at Café in Versailles The best crepe that I had while in Europe. It consisted of salmon and egg inside and the top was drizzled with a creamy sauce that included chives. It was amazing!
  2. First night in Lisbon I do not have a picture. But man, this seafood dish was spicy and the most flavorful dish that I had the entire time in Europe.
  3. Italian night in Sevilla The family and me hit up a Rick Steve’s recommended restaurant after a flamenco show and it was amazing. I got a salmon dish that was baked inside a crepe that was then layered with tomato sauce and more cheese than you can ever imagine. It  was piping hot and so filling but I could not stop eating it!
  4. Homemade meal in Germany From the pumpkin soup to the homemade tiramisu at the end, this meal was amazing. The stuffed pork we had was perfectly tender and accompanied by one of my favorite German foods- spaetzle!
  5. Paella in Valencia The most famous place for paella in the world is Valencia, so naturally we had to make sure we got the best and I can assure you that we did! Everything about this massive rice, seafood, and chicken filled dish was savory and we did not leave one piece of rice in the pan!

Things I’m Excited to Get Back To (I don’t think these really need explaining)

  1. Hummus
  2. ANY and ALL Mexican food
  3. Greek Yogurt, Frozen Yogurt AND Smoothies
  4. Veggie Burgers (accompanied with Sweet Potato Fries)
  5. Peanut Butter and Chocolate combination items (like cookies!)

Best Ways to Satisfy a Sweet Tooth (this list was about 50 things but I managed to narrow it down to 5)

  1. Hot Chocolate from Demel in Vienna Seriously best cup of hot chocolate ever. It was like they melted a candy bar, mixed it with the best milk and topped it with delicious whipped cream. Perfect way to escape the frigid Austrian air!
  2. Napolitana de chocolate from Mallorquina in Madrid I still believe this is the best way to spend one Euro in Madrid. Perfect combination of dough and sweet chocolate that is great at any time of day.
  3. Gnutella and Banana Crepes (Paris does them well, but any place is just fine!) Melt in your mouth goodness that can be found at stands any time of day. 
  4. Dried Fruit from food markets (like la Boquería in Barcelona or Naschmarkt in Vienna!) My favorites are strawberries and mangos but this stuff is better than any candy in the world. I could eat it all day long!
  5. German gummy bears Words cannot describe how perfect these gummy bears are. The flavor is juicy, the chewiness is divine, now if only they could stick around for longer! (Or delivered to the US!)

And one love that deserves a category all to itself:

SWISS CHOCOLATE From Milka to Lindt, you have to love it allllllll!

Welp, now I’m hungry!

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Sweatin’ it in Spain

So as I mentioned yesterday, my gym membership is officially up! When I first got here I signed up for the three month deal they had going, knowing that I would want to be working out while I was here. Thankfully, that was a good move because not only do I have way too much time on my hands at all times, but I am not quite sure how I would avoid gaining 100+ pounds without it. Overall, it turned out to be a nice place, I loved the Pilates classes (although they are a lot easier than the ones at home- here the focus is more on stretching and not so much the work-out), I tried spinning for the first time (quickly realizing that my knees were not built for it), and I worked with a personal trainer and finally got over my machine-phobia.Don't those primary colors remind you of doing toddler gymnastics?

Spending time in the gym also gave me lots of time to experience and reflect on Spain’s attitude towards exercise, leading me to assert that it really is a lot different than back home! For starters, to see girls working out is very odd. I cannot tell you the number of times it was about 15 men and me in the weight room. But, oddly, I did not mind. (Which is funny considering at school, I refuse to enter the fratboy-infested area with all the weight machines due to intimidation!) Instead, I took a bit of pride in it (and I’m pretty sure they found it less strange because they could tell that I was American). Good news is that I took my folder with my workout regimen in it to maybe keep up it up in the states if I can find the courage! I really did like lifting and working my muscles though and not only doing cardio all the time because I do feel like the two go hand and hand and it made me stronger!

The walkway to the gym!

However, what women can do without reproach is Pilates and the stretching classes. This is where you will find old ladies who chat like you’ve known them for years and twenty-somethings trying to fit some sort of exercise in their routine. Like I mentioned before, a lot are easygoing stretching classes with some emphasis on resistance training so I do not think you can rely solely on these classes for “exercise.” I always liked going to Pilates though and found it was a great way to stretch and relax.

To be honest, my gym was rather stuffy and not the most comfortable place to spend the day and so at times, I would run outside in the park right by my house! I established a wonderful loop that I can run once or twice depending on how I’m feeling. Here I experience similar things though and sometimes get strange looks from old people sitting on benches and very rarely see other women running (but lots of men!) A few of my friends have even been called out while running themselves. The other day, one was forced to stop by men impeding her path, only to be told “You run too much,” and then allowed to carry on her way. Another one of my friends was mocked while walking home after a run by boys our age, I guess since it really just is not that common?!

Now don’t get me wrong- there are lots of women who do work out, but it is definitely more of an exception than a rule. I think everyone else just considers their exercise in all the walking we do everywhere. That, and I have found Spanish people are very proud of their diet- they think that it is the healthiest and best food in the world even it only revolves around olive oil, potatoes, bread, and  ham. So maybe they don’t think they need  a reason to work out when they eat so “healthy?”

Even so, for me, working out is not only a tool to lose weight and maintain physical fitness, but more importantly, it’s really makes you feel better and alert for the whole day! I can always tell a difference after I work out and it’s something that you cannot get just from walking.

So there you have it, my little take on Spanish culture and exercise.

In other news, I got my advent calendar filled with yummy Spanish chocolate and Taylor and me put up a tree in her apartment today whilst listening to Christmas carols!

My advent calendar! (Ignore the flash)

Our lovely Christmas tree

Now my dilemma for the day… if I go to Vienna tomorrow do I:

a) Eat all the chocolate for the 4 days I will miss beforehand

b) Bring the chocolate in a baggie and eat one piece a day

c) Wait until I get back and eat all the pieces at once

HELP!

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