Rest & Recharge in Spain

After an extremely hectic and tiring week, we returned from Belgium to Madrid.  Originally, my cousin and I had actually planned to walk a part of the Camino in the Northern part of Spain.  For those of you who have never heard of it, the Camino is a 500 mile trail that runs from the edge of France to Santiago de Compostela, with an optional additional hike to Galicia, one of the western most points in Spain.  We were planning to do about 200 miles of the trail, but my cousin had gotten increasingly sick starting in Morocco.  There was no way she was going to be able to hike 15 miles a day with a huge heavy backpack.

Unfortunately, I had already bought the train tickets to Astorga, where we were supposed to begin the hike, and I lost out on that money.  Missing a train was no news to me as I had missed my flight from LA to Madrid in the beginning of my study abroad, a few trains in Milan and Naples, and a flight in Corfu, where I was stranded on the island.  I was no stranger to missed transportation, and I had honestly grown accustomed to it.  If you are ever traveling, know that something WILL go wrong.  If something doesn’t, then, you’re either extremely lucky or you’re not traveling right.  That is the beauty of it.  Traveling forces you to get completely out of your comfort zone, adapt, change, re-evaluate, and for some reason, still love it.  Those were the times I was able to see my own strength and flexibility, and learn valuable life lessons.  In hindsight, they were some of the most memorable memories from my time in Europe.

Anyways, the morning of our departure, my cousin awoke and croaked to me that she would not be able to do the Camino.  I briefly considered doing it alone, but one woman had disappeared on the trail a few days prior, and my aunts adamantly refused.  Although I was disappointed, I was also relieved.  I had not trained or prepared nearly enough for the hike, and I was extremely tired from our non-stop travels.  It also gave me an excuse to return and complete the entire Camino in one go.  This gave us an opportunity to rest and recharge in Madrid with my family for a few days as well as see some more local sights.  We were able to show my cousins around Madrid and visit Segovia, a Spanish city with a famous Roman aqueduct.

Since I was not doing the Camino, and I still had two weeks in Europe, I made other plans to visit some more countries.  Kim, my cousin, was still going to be in Europe for a few more days, so we planned to visit Porto, Portugal together.  After she left, I made plans with one of my really close friends from my Spain program to go to Ireland for a weekend.  Finally, I had three days left before my flight back to LA, so I spontaneously decided to visit Paris alone.  Stay tuned for my next post about our time in Portugal!

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Stumbling Upon Feria de Abril

My school semester in Spain had ended, but my time in Europe was only beginning to come to a close.  I had one last amazing trip planned before I headed back to good ole’ Los Angeles.  I was still planning to visit at least three more countries, and an entirely different continent.  My cousins had come and met me in Valencia, and we were going to leave for Sevilla the next day. I had fallen in love with Sevilla the first time I visited, and I was so excited to be able to show my cousins around.

After the most depressing goodbye to my roommates and our apartment, I headed over to my cousins’ hostel.  I showed them a little more of Valencia before we had over to catch our train to Sevilla.  We were running a little late, and I had to lug around my huge suitcase and backpack because we had moved out of the apartment.  Imagine three tiny asian girls walking around with a huge purple suitcase, three backpacks, and two duffel bags.  It was a nightmare.  In our rush to get a taxi, I completely tripped over my suitcase and face planted straight into the floor.  It was not a pretty site.  Thankfully, a taxi driver saw us and loaded our pitiful bags into the trunk.

Sadly, we had to have one more mishap before we could get to the train station.  We were wearing big backpacking backpacks, and they are hard to put on.  For that reason, my cousin wanted to just keep the backpack on inside of the taxi.  Unfortunately, as she was getting into the car, her bag caught the rubber siding of the door and ripped it off.  We could see the taxi driver visibly trying to hold back his anger.  He fiddled with the rubber siding for another 10 minutes before we were finally able to get to the train station.  We threw money at the driver and rushed out of the car hoping that we did not miss our train.  To our dismay, when we got to the station, we saw that our train would be twenty minutes late.  That was no problem, except the train didn’t actually show up for another hour and a half.  They say bad luck happens in three’s, and there was our three.  The ride was already supposed to be seven hours, so we did not appreciate the delay.

Once we got on the train, we started to feel hungry so my cousin bought some ham and cheese sandwiches from the snack area in order to curb our stomachs.  I don’t know if it was the ham or the cheese, but something was definitely wrong.  Let’s just say we spent the whole train ride clenching our buttocks in hopes that none of the putrid air inside of our stomachs would escape.  RIP to the people behind us.  It did not help that the train kept having technical difficulties, so the ride was stretched to a grueling nine hours.

By the time we arrived in Sevilla it was almost 10 pm.  We were starving and tired, and our AirBNB was completely out of the city.  Our taxi driver informed us that we would have a hard time finding taxis because the Feria was that week.  I had no idea that the Feria was happening, and we were thrilled to be able to experience it.  To give a little bit of background, the Feria de Abril is a festival in Sevilla that happen a few weeks after Easter.  An entire part of the city is transformed into a fairground with carnival rides, booths, games, and casetas.  These casetas are huge tents that organizations, clubs, or wealthy families sponsor and organize.  Inside the tents are dancing, food, and people to chat with.  The festivities occur every night and last until six or seven in the morning, for a whole week.  We were able to stroll around after our dinner and see everyone in their costumes having a good time.  I even bumped into some people that I met in Lagos the previous weekend.

It was great seeing just how joyful and festive Spanish people can get.  I don’t think that any other country has more festivals, parties, and celebrations as the Spanish. Unfortunately, we were too intimidated to try to get into one of the casetas, so we just had to observe from afar.

After we had enough, we trudged back to our apartment where we would get a measly five hours of sleep before we had to be back on the road for Morocco.  It was just the beginning of a very enjoyable, extremely tiring travel marathon.

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Five Things I Learned from Five Months in Spain

It had finally come.  The last week of our semester in Spain.  I never thought that I would become so close with a group of girls so quickly.  I guess that is what travel does to you.  It pushes you past your boundaries, gifting you with an indescribable bond with your companions but also forcing you to become fiercely independent.  My time in Spain was coming to a close, but the lessons I learned there would forever be a part of me.  I learned so much, and I have come to love and understand the Spanish culture. There were a few things that really stuck with me even as I write about it a month later.

  1. Life is not a race. American culture is so focused on speed.  Get my food as fast as I can.  Become rich as young as possible.  Get the latest iPhone before everyone else.  Living in Spain really allowed me to slow down and put things into perspective.  In Spain, it is completely normal to just sit around for two or three hours drinking coffee, talking to friends, and watching life go by in one of their many beautiful plazas.  I have never been to a more relaxed European country.  They actually worked to live instead of how many Americans live to work.  Although this may not be the best philosophy given their crumbling economy (but who is to say our economy is much better), I still realized the importance of slowing down and relaxing.  When I look back on my time in Europe, I realize that my favorite moments were the ones where I was not bound to an itinerary.  They were the moments that just fell into place at their own pace.

  2. Make time for the things you love. The Spanish are known to have some of biggest, loudest, and longest parties in all of the world, and I can’t deny that I indulged in these while I was there.  Now that I look back, I didn’t just enjoy it because I was able to dance my socks off.  I am young and still free of responsibilities.  This is the time to indulge yourself and spend time doing the things you love.  For me, that was being able to dance the night away with a group of amazing friends.  Back in America, I hardly have any free time as I work two part time jobs, volunteer, and still have hours of studying to do.  The free time I had in Spain made me realize what I really enjoyed doing.  Taking photographs, exploring, singing and discovering new music, dancing, and meeting new people.  Identify the things that you like doing, and make sure you go out and actually spend time doing it.  You won’t live forever. If you work hard, you deserve to play hard.

  3. Don’t forget about your family.  Spanish people really care about their families.  They make sure to come home every day from work and eat lunch with their families.  Of course their work schedule is completely different (they have a two hour lunch break), but it just goes to show how the importance of family is ingrained into the culture.  It is completely different from Americans where families typically only spend the nights together, if even that.  Filipinos have a similar family bond as the Spanish, and I am grateful that I grew up in that culture.  I try to remember as often as possible to show my love and support for my family.

  4. Indulge yourself, where it counts.  There was a week in Spain where I completely let myself go.  It was called Fallas.  I ate churros, buñuelos, drinks, and other crappy food for the whole week.  I do not regret it.  That is what happens during Fallas, and I wanted to immerse myself in the festival.  What I do regret is the whole month after where I still ate junk food and did not exercise.  My body is still not thanking me for that.  I am extremely happy that I was able to enjoy Fallas to the max, but I should have been more disciplined and gotten back to a healthy diet after the week was over.  The point is don’t deny yourself a once-in-a-lifetime experience, whether that be food, or an activity, or anything else that you are second guessing.  Don’t be afraid to let yourself go for a little bit, but don’t overdo it.  Everything in moderation.

  5. Never stop exploring. Even as I started to get comfortable in Valencia, I forced myself to keep looking for new things to do, both touristy and off-the-beaten-path.  My favorite part of being abroad was actually my uncomfortableness with my constantly changing surroundings.  It forced me to evaluate and adapt my usual way of life.  Siesta time? No open stores? I guess you’ll be hungry for a few more hours. Next time, eat earlier.  Lost and need directions? No one speaks English? Work on your Spanish.  I was constantly forced to put myself out of my comfort zone, and it made me grow in ways that I never even realized.  Never stop exploring. Never stop adapting. Never stop pushing yourself.   This is how I believe I’ll be able to not only survive in this lifetime, but thrive.

I’ll end this post with some pictures from my last week in Valencia

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