Archive | December, 2010

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas

18 Dec

With Christmas only a week away, I’ve packed my bags, charged up my American cell phone and I’m ready to head back to the U.S. I’m so excited to see my family, my friends, the snow and everything else in Cincinnati, but a little part of me is sad to leave Spain during such a beautiful time of the year.

Here, all the streets are decorated with lights, there are street markets open with gifts and theres even a whole market devoted to belenes, or nativity scenes. And I’ve learned that the holidays here are celebrated a little differently than back in the states.

Papa Noel, or Santa Claus, isn’t as big of a deal here. And many kids don’t even get presents on the 25th, but instead receive gifts from the three wise men who come on the night of January 5th. I will be back just in time to celebrate Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos, but for now I’m concentrating on my trip home.

I’ve got an overnight bus ride, 3 airplanes and 4 airports to navigate, but I’m sure the 24+ hours of travel will fly by!

My Lesson of the Day: It’s a little strange to take a vacation to home.

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La vida es una locura!

16 Dec

For someone who only works 12 hours a week, I sure have done a good job at finding ways to occupy my time other than writing in this blog. And I was doing so well…

Anyways, I guess I’ll start off where I left off: the puente.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, there are these things called puentes, which litterally translates into “bridges” although it has nothing do with real bridges or water. A puente is actually a long weekend (think bridging two holidays into one gigantic 5-day weekend holiday and yea, you’ve got yourself a puente).

Anyways, this bridge, as we’ll call it, was a time of firsts:

My first trip to the costa del sol, which is the southern coast of Spain that boarders the Mediterranean and is lined with one beach town after the other. Only when I say beach town, I mean a large, resort-driven, overpopulated-in-the-summer city where the rich and famous of Spain and Europe go for vacations.

My first couch surfing experience. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the website, couchsurfing is a website where people can set up profiles and find open couches to sleep on anywhere in the world. It is aimed at people with similar interests: travel and saving money. And it is a good way for people to meet fellow travelers. The idea is that you make your house available (while you’re there also) for someone to stay and, in return, you can travel to other places and stay for free with other couchsurfers. Now mom, I know what you’re thinking: this sounds sketchy. But it’s really not. It’s just a good way to get to see places with a local guide. And don’t be concerned, my profile says I’m only available for coffee and not for letting someone sleep on my couch. In the end, we used couchsufing one night in Malaga and we stayed with two really nice guys. There were four of us, and none of us ended up sleeping on the couch – they had beds and spare rooms to accommodate us. I highly recommend the site, and I might do it again (although I won’t tell you until after, mom!)

My first casa rural. Casas rurales (or rural houses) are part of the new boom of rural tourism. The idea is that instead of spending your vacation in some high-rise resort in a crowded town, you can escape to the countryside. We headed one night to Alpandeire, a small little pueblo blanco in the middle of the countryside. And when I say small, I mean small. This town had one store, one church, maybe a few bars, and the narrowest streets I have ever been on. The town clung to the side of a mountain and was absolutely beautiful with its white-washed buildings and quiet streets. We stayed in a studio apartment for our most relaxing and quiet night of the trip.

My first pueblo blanco. Along the southern part of Andalucia lie many beautiful, white-washed villages known as the pueblos blancos (or white villages). These pueblos are absolutely beautiful and we were lucky to visit a few. My favorite was probably Zahara de la Sierra, which is perched high upon a mountain with stunning views of the lake and mountainous terrain in the distance. Despite the terrenchal rain that we encountered, the city was beautiful.

My first glimpse of Africa. From the sea-side town of Tarifa, which is the most southern tip of Europe, you can easily look out across the ocean and see the mountainous terrain of Africa on the other side. Although we didn’t take the expensive ferry ride across to the continent, I can at least say that I have now laid eyes on Africa. In addition to the views, Tarifa has a beautiful beach and probably the most laid-back atmosphere along the Costa del Sol. From this city, you can look West and see the rough waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and then glance East to see the calm waters of the Mediterranean. The rough waves and windy coastline make Tarifa the windsurfing capital of Spain (and maybe even Europe too?).

My first trip to the UK (well, sort of). Along the southern tip of spain lies the UK territory of Gibraltar. A peninsula within a peninsula, Gibraltar is only 3 miles long by 1 mile wide, but it is a totally different world from Spain. The peninsula offers classic english pubs, pounds (the currency), and fish and chips. Oh and did I mention they speak English? Or rather Spanglish, which is one language I happen to be very fluent in! However, the biggest disappointment of the trip just happened to be in Gibraltar, when we realized that people don’t actually drive on the left side of the road like they do in the UK. But we did see some cars with the driver on the right side.

My first encounter with a wild monkey. I can’t mention Gibraltar without mentioning the famous rock of Gibraltar and its monkey inhabitants. The city of Gibraltar (which is home to about 30,000) is all spread out below and around the huge rock. But as you drive up the steep, narrow road  you enter into the territory of the monkeys. Legend has it that as long as the monkeys remain on Gibraltar, the territory will remain British. That theory was almost put to the test during WWII when the monkey population dwindled to just 7. However, Winston Churchill ordered that more monkeys be brought over and the population now rests safetly at somewhere around 300. The monkeys roam the rock freely and we went up at night in hopes of catching a glimpse of one, which brings me to my next first:

My first realization that I’m afraid of monkeys. Ok, in all seriousness, I wouldn’t say that I’m completely terrified of the furry primates. But by the time we ventured up to the rock, it was completely dark out and we were the only four people along the narrow, non-lit streets. The views of the town below, of Spain, and of Africa were amazing, but before we could fully get out of the car, a huge monkey jumped up on the wall in front of us to check us out. The sucker came out of nowhere! There was no fence between us and he was a little bigger than the cute, cuddly, tiny monkey I’d been picturing. Needless to say, I freaked out for a second. Did I mention that it was completely dark out and that no one else was around? We couldn’t see very much, but we could hear the rustling and the squawks of monkeys nearby, followed by the sudden glimpse of one that dared to come close. Although the monkeys were very cute, I think I’d prefer to see them again in full daylight.

While there were probably many other firsts that I experienced along the roadtrip, these are the main highlights I can think of. And now that I’ve explained my trip of 6 days, 11 citys, and many kilometers, you can now understand why I’ve been catching up on sleep and not writing in my blog.

My Lesson of the Day: You’re never too old for firsts.

 

The Puente

3 Dec

This weekend we have a puente, which literally translates to “bridge” but actually means long weekend. And the Spanish take their long weekends seriously. We’re not talking about a typical 3-day-weekend here. We have off Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, giving us a 5-day-weekend and the perfect ammount of time for a road trip.

To where, you ask?

We’ve decided to rent a car and set off on an adventurous (possibly too adventurous) trip farther south to the Malaga and Cadiz provinces of Spain. First we’re heading to Malaga capital, the home of picasso and one of the more metropolitan cities in Spain. From there its off to Ronda, an old town high in the mountains with famous bridges and views. Then to the ruta de los pueblos blancos (the route of the white towns), which is a string of small white-washed villages perched precariously against a background of lush green. Then to Tarifa, the southern most tip of Spain and the windsurfing capital. From there, we head to Gibraltar, a Brittish territory famous for the rock of gibraltar and its monkeys (and we have to drive on the left! yikes!). And then its back up along the Costa del Sol and back to good ‘ole Jaen.

Check out the full map:

My Lesson of the Day: Just talking about this puente is wearing me out! I think we’re going to need to stock up on coffee and redbull?