Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Can't be Spain....

Galicia: the most North-western part of the Iberian Peninsula. While its people speak a different language and have a distinct diet and its coastline and weather resemble the UK - it should and will always be considered SPAIN. 

I can finally say "I've been to Galicia!" I was in shock most of the time, constantly thinking "I can't believe I'm in Spain." I can't believe it took me so long to visit Galicia; after experiencing 5 cities in 4 days, I returned to Valladolid with lots of ganas (desire) to return to Galicia's beautiful green countryside sometime in the near future.

My weekend started off with an overnight visit to Salamanca to have dinner with my sorority sister, Erica. Erica is studying in Salamanca, living with my old host mom, Lourdes! We had a nice dinner at A'Tarantella, the restaurant where I had my 21st birthday dinner in 2008. Just after we sat down, our waiter came to the table... I recognized him from before, but I wasn't going to say anything as I didn't think he would remember me. BUT, instead of taking our order, he said to me: "Tu no eres nueva aqui....te recuerdo - tienes una cara que no podia olvidar." (You're not new here...I remember you - you have an unforgettable face.) He continued with, "Estabas aqui con una amiga se llamaba Gina." (You were here with a friend named Gina.) So, yes, Nicola remembered us - so crazy! After, we got drinks with a few of Erica's friends at Irish and visited some of our novios - typical. 
Amigos in Irish. Erica, Jorge, Oscar, Yo
Early the next morning (ok, a few hours later) I boarded the bus with 40 Erasmus students. My friend Jamal was one of the organizers so I thought it would be fun to go, even though I didn't know many people. I'm so glad I did! While I wasn't Ms. Social Butterfly, I did meet many great people and we enjoyed each others' company for the long weekend.

Usually the weather in Galicia is rainy, wet, cold... when I woke up on the bus 6 hours later, all I thought was "Holy, fog." Seriously. Directly above us, there was a massive dark cloud and fog as far as you could see. I was sad to see the weather was so horrible... but after a few turns and coming out on the other side of the mountain, all I could see was SOL!!!! That's right: 4 days in Galicia with sunshine and warmth. Happy Thanksgiving to me! 

We spent the first day in Santiago, the famous final city on the "Camino de Santiago" - a pilgrimage many people do in Northern Spain. The Cathedral is outstanding, gigantic and beautiful. We spent the day eating traditional food in a typical mom-pop restaurant - the first tastes of Galician bread, broth-based soup, and fresh cheese! Anastasia, my Russian roommate for the weekend, and I explored the center of Santiago before taking a much needed siesta to rest up for the night.
Exploring tiny streets. We ate at the restaurant at the end: Entre Ruas (Between Streets)
Santiago: classic archways. The arches are from when people use to throw their "crap" outside their windows...
They built the archways to protect people from getting crapped on. No joke.
Tarta de Santiago made of almonds: yum!
Part of the massive Cathedral: Santiago
Erasmus students usually do three things: study, party, sleep. In Galicia, their activities changed to: site-see, party, sleep. While I don't usually party and site-see, (I find it impossible to really take in the beauty of a city when I'm tired...) I was able to do both. We went out for tapas and spent the night dancing to Nossa! Nossa! Assim você me mata... a new popular Portuguese song. It became the theme song of the weekend as we changed the lyrics to "Salamanca, Salamanca..." or "Galicia, Galicia..."
Anastasia y yo
Day two was spent visiting the Hercules' Tower on the beautiful coast in La Coruña. We went for a homemade meal that a señora cooked for us! WOW! To start, we had a big bowl of soup - nice, warm, broth based soup with spinach and potato. Next, I tried Pulpo gallego (Galician octopus) for the first time. And, again, WOW! it is wonderful - with just the right amount of paprika! We also had Pimientos de Padrón - typical peppers from Galicia. (Unos pican y otros no! Some are spicy and some aren't!) As if we couldn't eat more, we had a nice helping of veggies and a big piece of meat. Incredible! Why can't I cook like this? I don't think I could live in Galicia, I'd go out for dinner all the time.
El Torre de Hercules
wonderful background!
green green green!!!!
Jamal y yo
I was here.
I swear, this is Spain!
La Coruna had an amazing Plaza Mayor that didn't resemble any Plaza Mayor I've seen in Spain before. The whole city was covered in beautiful windows that also don't resemble "Spanish windows".
Unique Plaza Mayor Walls
Plaza Mayor
Galician Sopa!!!
Pulpo gallego.
Celtic Sea
Viva Salamanca!
We arrived back to Santiago for the evening...went out for another huge meal - no seafood this time - just sausages and steaks. We drank typical wine from bowls and ate more wonderful bread. After, we went out for "quemada" a typical Galician shot that is cooked and set on fire... then, we went dancing again. I went to a typical bar with some of the locals and when I entered, they said "don't be scared, it's just Galician music!" And, what kind of music was it? Celtic. I felt like I had walked into Riverdance: The Bar. We had such a fantastic night/morning that ended around 7:30am, giving me just enough time to pack my bag, shower, and get on the bus for the next adventure awaiting us!
Dancing to "Nossa! Nossa! ...
FINISTERRE -- "The End of the Land"
Really, at this site, you can't see anything in front of you - just the sea. It's marked 0,0km on the Camino de Santiago. It's the beginning of Spain and the end of Spain to the North! We were able to relax and walk around to see the lighthouse and views from all angles. We stopped in a village nearby and had some of the best paella I've ever had - you could taste the freshness of the mariscos (seafood)!
Camino de Santiago
Sea + yo
Farro de Finnisterre
Que tranquilla.
Port where we had lunch - so colorful!
I'm not a fan of Vigo... it was rather gray. I guess when it rains so much in a place, the buildings lose their color; it was as if all the buildings were awaiting their paint-job. It was depressing. We hiked to see an old fort, which had nice views of the boats collecting mussels far below. We went for drinks in a disco called "Twenty". It was spelled the American way (not "Tuenti") because it's an American bar! A huge American bar. It had tons of memoribilia from the States - old tram cars, gas pumps, license plates, Harleys, Taxi cabs... the Europeans were blown away with all of the "stuff", while us Americans were like "Hey, it looks like Applebee's!" Either way, it was exciting to see St. Louis and Budweiser things all over, made me feel at home. 
Viva los EEUU.
Who knew there were palm trees in northern Spain?
Las Americanas.
Colorless streets of Vigo.
This city is a very popular city for Spanish holiday get-a-ways! It has an amazing Parador/fort with nice views of the port. We spent our time exploring the walls, eating and visiting the sea.
Parador of Baiona
scary ledges...
Parador/Port of Baiona
Panoramic view; Baiona
Cíes Islands off Baiona's coast
the weekend was all fun and games.
Baiona + Cíes + yo
We arrived back to Salamanca around 10:30pm. I stayed overnight and returned to Valladolid early the next morning just in time for classes.

Oh yeah, that American holiday.... While there was neither turkey nor football at my Thanksgiving this year, we did have pulpo and the beach! I was thankful for 4 days of sun in Galicia, new friends, spending time with an old friend, and finally checking Galicia off my list of "Places to Visit".

Saúde, Galicia! Grazas por un fin de semana marabilloso. (Gallego for: Cheers, Galicia! Thank you for a wonderful weekend.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Switzerland Splurge.

I checked another country off my list of "Places to Visit" - SWITZERLAND.

One of the reasons it will be difficult to leave Spain [whenever that day comes] is due to the massive amounts of puentes celebrated here. No, I'm not talking about bridges; it's more like when a holiday falls during the week, they just take off the other day too -- hence, Bridge/Puente Break. A holiday on a Tuesday means no work Monday either! And, as an added bonus, because I am an auxiliar, I also get Fridays off, giving me a grand total of 5 days to go exploring/6 days if I leave on a Thursday. This blog is dedicated to the 6 days I spent in Switzerland on my last Puente break in November with a good friend I met in Salamanca in 2009, Erin Melwing.

Switzerland's 5 Cs: Chocolate. Cheese. Cows. Canyoning. Caro (expensive).

Swiss Francs are like Monopoly money. While worth more than the Euro, everything has a higher price, so the exchange rate wasn't actually in our favor. However, this didn't complicate our trip: we just gave in. We splurged. And, I am so happy we did. 

Incredible view in Interlaken.
A visit to the supermarket left us pondering these funny tubes of mayonnaise and ketchup.
Bad translation = funny!
Switzerland loves its flag.
Cheese fondue.
Interlaken bier.
Swiss Chocolate.
Even the walkways were pretty.
Shutters of every color.
Fall in Switzerland!
Erin and I; Alps in the background.
Another typical photo of my feet.
Beautiful sunset.
Interlaken, a beautiful town at the base of the Swiss Alps, where the world's people go to do outdoor activities like skydiving (jumping from a plane? no, thanks!), para-sailing (cheaper in Florida), white water rafting (off season...), bungy-jumping (free falling? NO WAY!), and canyoning (jumping into freezing cold water/sliding/repelling...).  Like other adventure seekers, we spent Saturday CANYONING!

Favorite lines from the activity from Henna our guide, (1) "Ok, stand at the edge of this ledge... turn around. You know planking? Well, you're going to do a backward plank. I'm going to push you off this ledge. Ready? GO!  (2) You're going to jump off of this ledge into that waterfall. When you surface, you will be pushed against that rock wall because the current is very strong, but don't worry, that's normal. You'll just have to swim behind the waterfall and I'll get you. I promise, I will get you."  

So, as you could imagine, the day was full of surprises around every turn of the canyon. I went repelling for the first time, jumped off cliffs, and wore my first wetsuits - yes, we had two on because the water was freezing. I was a nervous-excited type of scared, but it was a one of a kind experience that I highly recommend to anyone! Since we went the last day of the season, I have no pictures or videos of me actually canyoning, here is a video of what I would have looked like!

View from the bus on the way to the canyon, overlooking Interlaken.
Tegan, Me, and Erin after canyoning in Saxten, Interlaken, Switzerland!
After our adventures in Interlaken, it was time to head to Switzerland's capital city. Since we were there on a Sunday, nothing was open. Well, we didn't see anything open in the old town anyway. But, we were fooled. What appeared to just be a second entrance to the train station/bus station, was actually an underground world that never slept! Supermarkets, restaurants, shops...everything you wanted! 

However, I am happy to say we found this paradise after we spent all of the early hours exploring the city center, above ground. We made trips to the rose garden to have a beautiful view of Bern, to the parliament building for a light show (twice), the bear garden (yes bear, not beer), to see the famous clock tower... besides cheese and chocolate, we had a wonderful chicken curry Indian dish for lunch (with the worst service ever), and attempted to go to the cinema only to find out it was 17Francs. NO THANKS! I could see 3 movies for that price in Spain - or buy loads of chocolate....which is precisely what happened.
Astrological Clock.
Trying to be artsy.
Beautiful Bern.
Bear Garden next to the river.
Roll. Werk? Bern.
There were all these cellar type things on the main street, most were stores.
Bern: up close.
Autumn leaves.
Bear Garden statue looks awesome in moonlight.
Main street by night; clock tower at end.
Love these movies. (Just not in Switzerland)
In the rose garden, we had a mini-photo shoot with the city and sunset behind us... We had many bystanders who were probably judging us, but it didn't stop us.
Overlooking Bern.
Fun hair flips.
Enjoying the view.
The light show we saw was so incredible, that we saw it twice. Since the movie was out of our ESL teaching budget and Switzerland doesn't party into the wee hours like Spain, there wasn't much to do at night, except watch the light show! We anxiously watched while we ate Tolberone McFlurries from McDonald's. Yes, I ate McDonald's - but TOLBERONE McFlurry - now, that can't be passed up.
Our last day was spent where our first night began: Geneva! Two things that are awesome in Geneva: free transport card for buses/trams during your stay and free transport card good for up to one hour when you arrive at the airport. Seriously, cool. After a horrible walk into Geneva's "Red Light District" that looked like a scene straight out of the movie Taken our first night, we used our transport cards to go the opposite direction on our last day. 

First,  we went to visit the United Nations Headquarters and the Red Cross Museum. By tram, we continued on to the center of Geneva to visit the Cathedral. From the Cathedral there is an incredible view of the city - and the famous geyser/fountain thing in the lake nearby. We drank Dr. Pepper, Mezzo Mix and Fanta Mango... had some pizza, and called it an early night back to the hostel to watch a movie (that was free of charge!) 
I've been to the UN Headquarters! Woo!
United Nations Protest.
Red Cross Museum, Geneva
A nice day for a walk in the park.
Bike friendly.
Fall in Geneva.
How pretty!
Everything was written in French or German. Geneva was very French.
View from the Cathedral.
We spent Halloween here with goodie boxes I brought from Spain.
Unfortunately, puentes don't last forever and we had to return home to the Iberian Peninsula. But, I left Switzerland so happy. Just the train rides in that country had astonishing views you could never get tired of looking at...
Swiss Lake.
Swiss Cows.
Swiss Alps.
Thank you, Spain, for allowing me 6 day breaks now and again so I can travel and check more countries off my "Places to Visit" list. Where to next?