Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Top Ten Things to Remember While in Granada

I really am not one to watch David Letterman, but I think that his Top 10 can be used perfectly in this case. Note: this post does not have any of my pictures. Sincerest apologizes.

10. Do not accept the rosemary from the woman on the street. These are not girfts from nice women, but sneaking ways to get money from the tourists. The gitana(gypsy) women hang out in heavily populated tourist areas and hand out small leaves of rosemary. Then, they take your hand and "read your palm". Once they are done "reading your palm" they continue holding on to your hand until you give them money. But, in gitano tradition, coins are a symbol of bad luck. So, you hand over a 5 Euro bill because that is the lowest denomination of paper Euro currency.

9. Time is relative. When someone says, "Just one minute", that really means, "I am planning on taking at least 5 to 10 minutes". And when someone says, "I'll be right there", it translates to, "It will take me about 30 minutes to arrive". For the Type B in me....I feel right at home.

8. Bring comfy shoes. Before you get an image in your head about the perfect pair of comfy shoes, I am going to squash that idea before it gets too serious. I apologize to all of the Keen supporters out there...but, please, keep those shoes back in the States. Shoes are a big deal in Spain. It is such a big deal that even a billion and one shoe stores can stay open...just in Granada. However, do not sacrifice cute for blisters. Maybe some pumas or comfy boots will do just fine. Tourists stick out like a sore thumb with their Keens or hardcore hiking boots.

7. Be ready to get blisters. And then be ready to pay for a pedicure. It truly is inevitable. Even if you walk a lot now, the roads here are different and wear your shoes and feet out differently.

6. No pasa nada. It is a perfect excuse for everything. Late for class, tripping someone on the sidewalk, not having enough money at a restaurant, taking annoying pictures, not doing your homework, and the list goes on. Good way to live life :)

5. Do not get pushed around the on the sidewalk. People tend to walk in the middle of the sidewalks and when in groups, they walk in a long line. They will not move for you. Even the polite hand nudge or the "perdón" will not get people to move. After the first time you push the parent with the huge stroller, or the little kid, or even the grandma to the side, it gets easier.

4. Bring around hand sanitizer. There have been so many times that you go to wash your hands at a restaurant or bar and there is no soap. Sick.

3. For the ladies: learn how to squat over the toilet. There is hardly ever an actually toilet seat in public restrooms.

2. Pañuelos! On the rare occasion that there is toilet paper in the bathroom you are ok, but the majority of the time they expect people to supply their own.

1. Most importantly...watch out for dog mierda! Almost everyone has a little dog here. And almost everyone lets their dogs crap where they please. One would think that the little dogs produce little piles....but I swear that these dogs are mutant or something...little piles are non-existent.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Trophy Moms, Tacos, y La Marcha

I have been wanting to write about these topics for some time now, but I was not sure how to make it PC and totes appropes. These certainly are not horrible topics, but for the good people in this world that do not judge... I am apologizing in advance for the scandalous verbiage that follows.

1. Trophy Moms

As I have mentioned before, Spain is chalk-full of beautiful women and men. They parade the streets in their cute clothes and awesome shoes. Because people walk everywhere here the "parade", as I will call it, starts rather early in life. It is amazing the amount of money that goes in to the strollers here. Most of these bad boys are the Rolls Royce of strollers. Take this example below...I kid you not, this EXACT stroller was featured in a recent flight I took from Mallorca to Granada with a very stylish baby drooling in it.

However, the stroller is only one piece of this magnificent sight. The stroller pusher, generally a woman, is clad in an outfit suitable for anything but a woman pushing a stroller. I would like to call these women trophy moms. It is almost as though the baby purposefully chose a stylish mom to cart them around in. I am very impressed by the stilettos and skinny jeans these women can pull off. I am thinking the men should get out there some days and try to do what these women are doing. Macho, macho, macho...

2. Tacos

I am not talking about those delicious concoctions of beans, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, and pure sloppiness that the USA calls Mexican food, but the dirty south, dirty, dirty vocabulary of the Spanish people.

Curse words, swear words, bad words, C-word, M-word, J-word, P-word, and the list goes on...

These beauties, ahem...I mean, these naughty, naughty words are used in daily conversation. Most have lost all meaning over the years, but they still seem to hold a very special place in the heart of many Spaniards.

3. La Marcha

As I come to my last theme of this post, I feel a strong sense of guilt at the words I will write. A few things to take note of:

a. I am not participating in illegal activities...in Spain.
b. I have not subjected myself to peer pressure...much.
c. At no point did I have loss of memory or guilt of actions that occurred.
d. Sincerely, truly, sorry Mami & Papi.
e. For my UST readers, I did not run from Public Safety at any point (not that I support that idea).
f. I am only writing about this ¡escándalo! for a purely cultural view of my time here.

I have debated putting this topic up on my blog because of the controversy and illegal-ness in the USA. Most importantly, I do not want to come across as a boozer...that is NOT at all what I am doing here.

So, here goes nothing...

First a little background information:

"La Marcha" in Spain is the night life of the young adults (over 18 years old). It is something that I would even say is encouraged for Spanish youth. People here encourage these activities mostly because it is such a prodigious part of the culture.

There are various activities that can be considered "La Marcha". One of the main activities is the Botellón. The purpose is purely social. People gather at the Botellódromo to drink and chat. The Botellódromo is a converted skate park and it does not have bathrooms. Not the classiest of places, but it is the only place in Granada where it is legal to drink in the streets. People buy their poison of choice at a local "Chino Mart" (which is an Asian owned business) and cart it over. Generally most groups stand in a circle with their drink, mixers, and ice in the center. I must say, it is pretty boring, but because it is not solely an American pastime, I chose to attend.

Another activity is going out for tapas. Tapas is a long tradition in Spain of giving and appetizer with the purchase of a drink. My Señora explained that the tradition started with Alfonso X de Castilla. He was called El Rey Sabio because he was very wise. He knew that some people passing through towns usually only had enough money for a drink, but not food, so he ordered inns and eating establishments to offer food with the drink. Most places would cover the drink with the food. In Spanish, to cover something is called "tapar". Tapa is the derive from that old tradition. Granada is the last place in Spain that still offers FREE TAPAS!! It is fun to go out with friends and get some sangria and have a full meal from the tapas.

There are also many bars scattered around Granada. Most are for the older crowd, but it is still fun to go and socialize. Below is me and my roomie Katie (middle) and my friend Sara (left).

Hookah, or Shisha (not to be confused with Hashish) is another common "marcha" activity. Because there is such a huge muslim influence in Granada, there are many hookah bars. When we go to these places, the hookah is free if you purchase a drink. I always get the Pakistani tea with milk. DELICIOUS! Below I am making smoke rings (thanks Donnie Kneepads).

The biggest "marcha" spot of them all is the club AKA LA DISCOTECA! These are not places for the weak. No true Spaniard goes to the club before 2am. Only the American hotspots have people in their clubs before 2am. The night does end until the sun comes up. I still have not been able to shut the club down here. One of these days....

Below me and some of my friends are at the club Mae West. The few times that I have been there we have left around 6am and the club is still packed and people are still dancing. I think it will be weird to go back to the States and having to start and end the night so much earlier. The night owl in me is loving the late nights.

I truly hope I did not offend anyone with this post. My life has changed so much being here and this is just one part of the change that I want to share with people. Spain is amazing and different and a completely new experience for me. I am looking forward to further immersing myself into this culture.

Word to your mother.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Beauty of Granada

This series of photos have been taken over the weeks I have been here. My roomie and I take walks after lunch sometimes and we run into some of the most beautiful sceneries.

The main form of transportation

The fountains at The Alhambra

Quaint streets

Iglesia de Las Angustias

Beautiful graffiti

This street was featured in the news one night. A significant other wrote I Love You in several different languages along a street to celebrate a one year anniversary.

Stunning buildings

Posters for the Huelga General Sept. 29th, 2010
Fountain along the street

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gatitos, Gitanos, y Guiris

As I have started to become more accustomed to the environment here I have noticed a few things that are kinda funny to me.

1. Gatitos

If you do not speak spanish, gatitos or gatos are cats. There are cats frickin everywhere here! Most of them are annoying, but others are really cute. On our way to a friends birthday party we were walking along the river and you could hear the mews from the cats everywhere. They live in the shadows here...creepy.

2. Gitanos

With the current French controversy and my new found interest in gypsies I thought that this would be a fitting post. Similarly to the cats in this city...the gypsies are EVERYWHERE! I've been trying to sneak a few pictures...but they ask for money if you get a real good one. It has become somewhat of a joke that the perfect gypsy is the one that has a patterned scarf around their head and gypsy looking garb. I am still on the hunt for my perfect gypsy. However, I must admit that it is sad to see a group of people so marginalized in most European countries. What France is doing is only going to stir ethnic issues and cause more problems in the long run.

Ok...this gypsy is pretty close to being perfect.

3. Guiri

Americans are not called gringos here! But...dang...they should be! Guiri is a name for all of the foreigners here. I must admit it is hard to spot an American here...but there are so many popular hang-outs the Americans have adopted that it is not hard to find one. The first few weekends it was easy to pick out the guiri's because - like freshman college students - they hung out in large packs and roamed the city with their perfectly coiffed hair and slacks. Some of the more popular locations for this foreign group are the Chupiteria (they like their cheap shots), the Botellon (good place to socialize and meet other guiri's), and Granada10 (American music galore). Guiri's know that they are being photographed so I only was able to take two from some of the more common stomping grounds.

At a local bar called Hannigan's...its Irish, go figure.

At Granada10

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Death Breath & Chatty Cathy & Bizcas, Scooters, Graffiti, Colón, and My Señora

As I am starting to acclimate to my new home I have come across a few interesting people/places/things AKA "nouns" so far. Each one is unique and interesting all at the same time. For sake of organization I will make a list of each of these "nouns" I have in the title.

1. Death Breath & Chatty Cathy & Bizcas

These three things are the people that are in my intensive Spanish class.

Death Breath is so friendly and helpful, but as her new nickname explains...she has breath of death. Because we sit on the side of the classroom, her direct air movement is in my direction. Barf...

Chatty Cathy is also very nice, but everything that is written up on the board she whispers "quietly" to herself. It is a small frickin classroom and me, sitting 2 seats over, can hear all of her "internal" conversation. I honestly wonder if she can't hear herself.

Bizcas have become entertainment for me over the past few days. These girls obviously have a huge stick up their bums and its called entitled spanish learning slooots. Whenever anyone, mostly me, makes a mistake in class their eyes roll around in their heads as though they are not even connected. I feel like going up to them and letting them know that if they keep doing that they are gonna go cross-eyed - hence the name, bizcas.

The building where my Spanish class is held

2. Scooters

With a population of about 230,000 people, there must be about double that amount driving around. I would have thought that the advancement of technology would also translate to the scooter world, but I think I was wrong. These things emit toxic gasoline smells, they sound like a billion flies, and they cause their drivers to drive absolutely horrible.

I have only been in this city for one week and I can't even count the times I have looked both ways on the street and then found my self jumping back because some dummkopf came out of no where.

This is a photo of a dumb scooter that hit the back of a car. I think I captured the emotion of the driver quite well LOL.

3. Graffiti

The city is pretty much covered with tags and some rather crappy artistic murals of graffiti. I think it makes the city looked much more run-down than it is, but it also adds character. People tag the funniest things and add the weirdest stuff to advertisements and signs.

My favorite tag was on suggested stretches in the Garcia Federico Lorca Park. All around the park they have signs that have stretches on them...and all of them are tagged. It might just be my immature humor, but they are all really funny. These photos are taken from the street close to my house and the park.

4. Colón

After elementary school I thought it wasn't popular to think Christopher Columbus was cool...apparently Spain did not get the message. The main meeting spot for our AIFS group is at the Plaza Isabela la Catolica (photo below). My professor talks about Colón as though he saved the New World from savages. It always makes me laugh.

5. My Señora

To my luck I was placed in a vegetarian house. My roommate and house mother are strict vegetarians and I...waver...Besides that, I am loving the much broader vegetarian food my Señora makes that I never thought of. As I am getting to know her better I have come to the conclusion she is a hippie. She does everything almost all-natural and her exercise consists of Yoga and Tai Chi. During one dinner conversation we talked about the effectiveness of positive thinking. At another dinner conversation we discussed the techniques of breathing and how it rejuvenates the body.

I haven't been able to sneak any creeper pix of her yet...but hopefully one of these days. She is the cutest thing and comes up to my shoulder.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My New Home

My initial reaction of Granada was mixed. The city has a gasoline smell, it can get very hot, and it is kinda dirty and smelly at times. I am not used to the lack of foliage and just plain ol' grass. There are apartments everywhere and buzzing scooters whipping around corners. Women are beautiful and tan and all the men look like models. There is no air conditioning in most places and people are frugal with their electricity. People hang out at bars and outdoor restaurants and not their homes. It is a common greeting to kiss on both cheeks. The accent is heavy and people are very direct. To get from one side of the city to the other you have to walk. There is no carpet in the homes and you have to wear flip flops or slippers everywhere. Most people look very european and there are hardly any foreigners.

One thing I do know for sure, I'm not in Minnesota anymore.

Whatever my initial and continuing reaction of the city may be, I am loving the change. I do not feel like a tourist in this city and it is starting to feel like home. Surprisingly, the language switch came very easily for me and I do not feel foolish making mistakes.

My Señora is patient and always eager to correct and help. She makes the most wonderful mix of Italian and Spanish food. Her accent is easy for me to understand because she is from Argentina and has a much more neutral accent. My roommate is awesome and we get along great. The three of us have a great time at our hour-long lunches and dinners.

Walking everywhere has given me a new appreciation for motorized vehicles and my bike. It was only yesterday (Sept. 4) that I developed my first blister.

The life here is amazing. Most people have lunch at 2pm. We eat at 2:30pm because our class schedule. After lunch, because it is so hot outside, people generally take a siesta or just stay indoors. Most of the time I sleep for an hour or three and wake up to go run some errands or go for a walk.

Dinner starts at 9pm - sharp! This is usually a smaller meal, but every time I am full up to my ears!

Life here goes until the sun comes up the next morning. When my roomie and I returned from a night out with friends at 1:30am my Señora seemed worried.

Below are some pictures so far of my life here :) enjoy...

My desk/armoire

My armoire

My bed

Our room

The view from my window

Another view from my window

View of River Genil below my window

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The First Time English Sounded Like a Foreign Language

After the seven, almost eight, hour flight to London I was feeling cramped and nervous. I had yet to see anyone with an AIFS luggage tag and while waiting in the customs line I only saw asian students going to another program.

Once I got through customs/baggage claim it felt like the tunnel of love walking through all of the families waiting outside of the secured zone. I searched the crowd hoping to find a sign or person that was from AIFS and I finally spotted an AIFS representative. I went up to the younger looking man and told him I was with AIFS. He responded, but I honestly thought he was speaking a different language. Umm...bollocks.

I finally understood his directions and I came to meet him behind the guard rail. I met a few other people from my program, but the majority in our flight arrival group were going on the Salamanca trip. After about 2 hours we finally went outside to meet our fancy Mercedes coach that brought us to the hotel. At this point we still had not received a room because other guests were still checking out. Most of this day is pretty blurry to me. I was exhausted and cold and had no idea how to get anywhere.

After a quick nap my roomie and I explored the area close to our hotel went to the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum. Later on in the day we met up with a few other people in our program and took the tube(subway) to Leicester Square for dinner.

London was starting to become a great experience and I couldn't wait for the next morning for our 3 hour tour of the city.

We started the tour early in the morning and visited all the major places of central London. I took over 400 pictures alone on the 3 hour tour, but I will post a few of my favs.

St. Paul's Cathedral

London Bridge

Buckingham Palace

After the tour we were dropped off in Covent Gardens to explore the rest of the city. My friends and I stayed here for about 2 hours then took the tube to the British Museum. At this point most of us were really tired so we saw the Rosetta Stone and walked over to the Impression Room and sat for almost an hour. Afterwards, we REALLY wanted to ride one of the red buses so we found one and hopped on.

For a while we were riding around the city, then most of us in our group fell asleep. After the jet lag and busy day of walking we were like zombies on the bus. It probably looked odd seeing a bunch of students sleeping with their heads bobbing around on a city bus. We got to the end of the line and took the bus back to a tube station.

It was my goal for the night to find a place that had fish & chips. Didn't matter where or how much, but I needed my frickin' fish & chips. With a slightly larger group we made our way to a place called Waxy O'Connors close to Picadilly Circus. The door of the Pub made it seem like a hole in the wall, but it was an underground pub that went about 2 stories deep. I found my fish & chips and feasted.

After dinner another girl and I broke off from the group and took the tube further east to King's Cross; the station where Platform 9 3/4 is set. When we got there we could not find 9 3/4. There was also a mother and daughter there looking for it. We finally found a train attendant and he directed us to another area where there was a cute little set of the platform.

Our night ended after we got some ice cream in Leicester Square and went back for a few hours sleep before our 6:30am flight to Malaga.