All the small things and Thanksgiving without a turkey

Have you ever had a moment in your life where you just feel happier than ever, like you could just burst because you’re so full of emotion? That you’ve finally realized that things have fell into place, that every single moment is being encapsulated in your brain? That you can finally let go of all the crappy things, all the plans you’ve made and just let your life take its course? Geez, I sound ridiculous, but I have done an incredible amount of smiling this week. (An incredible amount of working and partying, too, resulting in seven hours of sleep between Thursday and Friday nights, but anyway…).

I had one of those moments on Thursday evening. I met my boss Elizabeth from WLS at a bar for a coffee and we sat for a while waiting for David, my other boss. I could have been using that time to sleep (which I really needed), workout, clean the house…but I was happy to have a friend and drink a really strong cafe con leche. I completely forgot about the millions of things that needed to get done by the start of the next week, and it seems I’ve adopted the “mañana, mañana” attitude of the Andalusians – I’ll do it tomorrow.

WLS was collaborating with FARBEN, a cultural integration company run by a German man named Mattius, and helping out at a short film festival in the town of Sanlucar la Mayor, about 10 miles outside of Sevilla and just a few south of Olivares. David’s mom drove the three of us, plus two little Ecuadorian boys she babysits, to the venue. Sitting scrunched between David and the little boys, Michel and Carlos, listening to Spanish pop music and Elizabeth singing them, staring out the window at a beautiful country with beautiful people, I was instantly happy. Something inside of me just felt right, like everything in my life had finally started to add up. I had a rough summer, but I made the right decision in coming here because I can finally push those things out of my mind. Here, I’ve established myself and have numerous friends. I love my job, good and bad things. I delight in the little things, like being able to sing the words to a Spanish song in the car or in a bar. People at bars and shops know me from my frequent visits. Every single day brings a new person, a new place and a new reason for me to be happy. I couldn’t imagine not having done this. Working a real job is not for me at this moment; I can work later.

Speaking of the future, I met with my coordinator, Nieves, last week to discuss how things were going at IES Heliche. Martin often feels that his students aren’t learning anything because they’re so noisy. He asked if I had the same problem, and I do to an extent. He then proposed switching classes and schedules at the end of the term next month. I won’t let him do it. I’ve started to feel really comfortable with my students and the teachers, and I finally understand their level, how to plan an effective lesson and how to find the classroom I’m going to. I have to say I’m lucky – I get to teach in a small town that’s SO Spanish it’s really Spanish, my coworkers are supportive and funny, and I’ve found it’s a really good fit for me. I mentioned to Nieves that I’m dreading the end of the curso because I’ll have to go back to the US, at least until the start of the next year. She gave me a puzzled look, and I told her that I was heavily considering coming back another year and resuming my job if they’d let me come back. Really, I want to delay the real world another year and be Spanish a bit longer, and I want to see how the bilingual program plays out. Nieves gave me a hug and said, “Yes! Yes! We’ve been so impressed with you and Martin and the students love you both! Please come back!” Why would I go anywhere else? Even with the long commute, often before the sun comes up, I look forward to going to work. Why would I want to break up the flow I’ve got going?

road to the fort that sits off the coast of Cadiz, the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe

After an all night party in Huelva after a Thanksgiving dinner with chicken, Eva and I went to Cádiz, braving 12 degree weather and a rain storm to see the coast. It amazes me that it was her first time outside of Sevilla in three months or so. I’ve already been to two other countries and several other cities! I was happy to spend time with her, though, because I really will miss her when she goes back to Germany next month. And it was wonderful seeing Cadiz – it’s just two hours from Sevilla, but it feels worlds away. More exotic, more laid back, more colorful. Spain is a country that’s much more complex than people imagine. Just as the US changes character from north to South, East to West, Spain is the same. The differences between Castilla y Leon, where I studied, and Andalusia, where I live now, are endless. But I like the change. That’s why I cam to Spain in the first place – a change and a challenge.

All week, I taught my kids about Thanksgiving. I joked around with them that I was thankful for sunglasses because Spain is sunny and manchego cheese because it’s three times as expensive in the US, and they laughed. But I am incredibly indebted to Aubree for letting me know about this program, lucky to have a great piso with really great roommates, to have a family that supports me through this even when they miss me, to have found some really nice friends, to be able to travel and experience new things and let go of all of the negativity I had all summer. In the four months between graduating college and moving here, I always saw the coming year as a big wall. I didn’t know what was on the other side, nor who. It approached quickly and grew bigger and bigger. There was a lot of uncertainty in whether or not I would be happy here and whether or not I made the right decision. But it’s clear now that I have. I have to take the good with the bad, deal with the dog poop on the street and questioning my Spanish skills constantly, adapt to not having an oven or hair that behaves. If nothing else, it makes for a kick ass story.

A Day in the Life of an Auxiliar de Conversación

One would think that, after two months, I would be used to the Spanish schedule. When I have conversation hour with teachers, they always ask me why Americans eat early. I ask why they eat so late. My mother tells me I can’t be lazy and take siestas during the day because I won’t sleep at night. But the problem is, I don’t sleep at night and have to wake up so early to get out to Olivares, that no siesta means I can’t function and I nearly fall asleep cooking dinner (making a sandwich, that is).

Here is my typical day. For example, Monday.
8am – wake up, shower, eat some yougurt.
9:15am – catch the M270 bus to Olivares. This one is the directo, and it gives me enough time to make copies and say hello the wonderful lady who works in the consejería.
10:30am – Teach my first class
11:25am – Recreo slash breakfast time, when the other teachers and I go to a bar and have some toast and coffee or orange juice.
11:55 – 2 – Finish teaching and catch the bus or find a ride
3pm – Arrive home and eat quickly
330pm – Leave for my other job
4-7pm – Publicity route/odd jobs at We Love Spain
8pm – Gym/Spinning class
10pm – shower and eat with Melissa
12am – bed

I don’t even get time for a siesta! The Spaniards tend to eat a light breakfast, a huge meal when school or work is over for the afternoon, and a small meal about 10. Sometimes I don’t end up eating anything until nearly midnight. I have to sneak in a nap when I can!

I’m also not used to the going out schedule here. On Thursday, I met some of my coworkers at a wonderful tapas bar in Triana called O’Tapas Abahaca. We ate fantastically, then went to a hip bar on C/Evangelista for more drinks before crashing a closed bar for mojitos. It was closing in one 1 a.m., about the time last call might be in Iowa City. But the night was just getting started.

I went and met two friends at a bar in Alfalfa, a really popular part of the city for botellon (illegal party where people just buy bottles of alcohol and mixers and ice and sit in the street and drink – you can actually buy a “botellon pack” from a store around the corner from where I live). When Espuela closed, we went across the street to Nao. When Nao closed, we went down the street to Berlin. I met Melissa at 3 am figuring I would go home since I had to work the next day at 9 am, but she convinced me that staying up would be better than going to bed. So we stayed out until we could ride the city buses home 6 am. I used my bus pass at 6:33, an hour before I would have been rolling out of bed to get ready to teach. One of the conversation partners and I were practicing the past tense and she asked me what time I went to bed, as she and I had tapear-ed. I said, I haven’t and she said, “Estás loca?!” Yes, I am crazy. I almost fell asleep while Eva and I had dinner with her brother in Alameda that night!

Last night, Kate and I had a botellón, and we didn’t even go to a disco until 2 am! It all seems a bit crazy to me, and then I sleep the next day, but not enough to actually have energy to do anything. Today, I’ve cleaned my room and made myself a sandwich. I don’t sleep, but my life is hard, right?


Melissa tells me I know the city better than she does after just a few weeks, but I really enjoy just walking and listening to the sound of Spanish on the streets and kind of laughing to myself about the tourists with their maps out, trying to find their way around Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter. Yesterday, I was out doing a route for my new job at We Love Spain, a company that provides cultural interaction activities, excursions and parties for tourists and study abroad students. It was nearing dusk, so the sun was blinding. I had to find two language schools that are kind of wedged between Los Jardines del Alcázar and the rest of the barrio. It’s got narrow, winding streets and it’s easy to get lost because of all the small alleyways (hence mine and Helen’s hour-long trip to find a museum a few months ago!). I am happy to say I have a great sense of direction, but just finding little plazas and fountains and small restaurants is something I can’t get sick of. The streets were built to hide the sun, so they’re shady and breezing and wonderously beautiful. I have a job where I just get to walk around and talk to people, and get free excursions. That almost makes up for only getting 100 euro a month!

There are some things, like Santa Cruz, I won’t get sick of. Like the way people live on the streets. Or the shoes stores. Or bodegas that are gritty and crowded. Or hearing the flamenco school down the street clapping and singing. Or getting standing ovations from my students. Or how beautiful the countryside is when you’re riding the bus and the sun comes up. Or how fresh goat’s cheese can taste. Or the sound of the semana santa bands playing near the river. Or the sunset over the river, for that matter. Or how good I feel after spinning class, drenched in sweat and barely able to walk. Or seeing someone I know on the street in an enormous city. Or finding the old ramparts when you’re drunk and you run up and take pictures. Or having someone ask you for directions in Spanish. Or a really good tinto de verano. Or finding cheap plane fares. Or the way Nieves laughs and her whole body shakes because she’s really laughing. Or going out with coworkers and having a coffee and not paying. I could seriously go on forever. There’s a lot of things I like about Chicago, but being here makes everything so new and different and interesting.
After some time, people and things start to wear on me. I was willing to scratch my eyes out if I didn’t leave Iowa City any sooner. I had to wait 12 days to graduate and leave. When I’m back in Wheaton for more than a few days, I’m ready to head back to Iowa City. It’s a very strange paradox. I’ve been here in Spain for two months already, and I seem to just be wandering around in amazement that I could be fortunate enough to live in a city that’s centuries old and that is more and more beautiful every day. I’m already anticipating SEVERE reverse culture shock when I get back to the States (that is, if I ever get back…)

The Art of Spontanaiety

If you know me well enough, you’d know I am TOTALLY and hopelessly Type A. I’ve got a regiment for everything and rarely stray away from it. I believe in planning (Hello, whole summer before I came to Spain?!) But being in Spain has made me slow down and just let things flow they way they’re flowing. After all, Helen and I may never have been invited into the workshop of a jewelry maker for a demonstration if the museums we wanted to visit in Toledo wouldn’t have been closed. Eva and I wouldn’t have met the people we stayed out with all night if we wouldn’t have chosen the penultima (second to last) beer with the engineers from Zaragosa over our beds. And Kait, Lynn, Jessi and I wouldn’t have found ourselves in the company of less-than-stellar characters if we would have allowed ourselves to stick to the schedule. Spain is not lazy – its economy has improved and its governmental institutions are more reliable than ever. But the people here take long lunches, close up shop as the midday heat gets unbearable, and know how to relax and let go. This year just might have prevented me from going over the deep end, and it was certainly memorable.

At my orientation in Granada six weeks ago, I hooked up with an old friend from my study abroad program, Jessi. She introduced me to two friends she’d met in her town of Huelva. The four of us clicked right away – Jessi is the love of my Spanish love times two, Lynn and I have a ton in common because she’s from Iowa City and completely enamored with Spain, and Kait has all my favorite traits of Jess, Liz and Lisa rolled into one. We like to joke around that we could easily destroy a small country. All of our attempts to get together since Granada have failed, so I was ecstatic that the girls were making the hour-long trip to Sevilla from Huelva. They arrived late, so we got the party started right away with a bottle of vodka and some diet coke imitation. I soon found out how to play the brainchild of Kait and her best friend, Stephen. It’s called Slapshots, and it totally puts Circle of Death to shame. It’s dangerous, too. We all poured ourselves a shot, grabbed our cameras and took turns downing the voddie and slapping one another. It’s supposed to take away the potency of the shot and replace a chaser. It’s stupid and reckless, but it makes for lots of good pictures.

We headed to Cancun, where our friend Nacho works. The girls wanted to get away from Huelva and all of the people there, but it turns out all the Erasmus students were here for an excursion. As soon as we walked into the bar, we were met by all of the people I knew from Huelva – Alvaro, Giorgio Armani, Salvo, along with some new people. They’re all great, and we got free drinks from Nacho. Life was good. Alvaro took us to some dumb disco where we couldn’t talk our way out of a cover charge, but someone got sick and we found a taxi home. On the way, Kait stepped in dog poop and got it all over my comforter, and we found out that there is NOTHING to eat in Triana at 4:30 a.m. Only we thought it was 1:30 a.m. Oops. Jessi passed out right away upon arrival and Lynn and I made grilled cheese and ate ice cream with our fingers. I think we had a nice conversation…

The next morning, we had plenty of things to see in Sevilla, as it is a town with centuries of history – Visigoth, Arabic, Roman, Christian. The girls had me take them back to La Habanita, a fantastic Cuban restaurant that I go to salivating because their food is that good. I just had a simple salad, coconut chicken and rice and queso de cabra and just about died because I was so happy to be with great friends eating great food. From there, we walked through Alfalfa, El Centro, Plaza Nueva and finally to Avda. de la Constitucion in the center of town. The first thing I insisted they see, as it was Jessi and Lynn’s first time in Sevilla, was the Catedral. Originally the site of a mosque, the Christians knocked down the structure in the 11th century and built a monstrosity on top of it. It’s now the third largest Catholic place of worship in the world. Now that the miner’s strike is over, the facade that I always thought to be sooty with age is cleaned off and gleaming. It’s quite striking in the middle of the afternoon, and the sunlight lit up the interior. The only part left of the original mosque is the Giralda minaret tower, a dizzying climb up 35 ramps to the top. From here, you can see all of Sevilla.
I was trying to rush the girls to see the Alcazar before it closed that afternoon, but Lynn spotted another attraction that she wanted to see first – a group of bards known as tunos. We stopped to listen a bit to the dozen or so men in a myriad of ages who were dressed in velvet jackets with puffy sleeves, black capes with ribbons decorating them like a prized thoroughbred and orange sashes. I didn’t know then that these men were of less than satisfactory character, so we accepted their invitation to head to the next bar to have a beer. The group was walking around the city center trying to promote their festival the upcoming weekend in which all of the facultades would face off against one another. I have to admit I wasn’t sure whether or not we should go, but who resists a beer and the pleading looks of friends?
We headed down Mateos Gago, a lively main fare in Barrio Santa Cruz that is impossible to walk, let alone drive down. Bodegas and souvenir shops line the street pulsating from the Giralda and Plaza del Virgen de los Reyes towards Menendez y Pelayo, and people often spill into the streets after work gets done for the day. Despite being heavily touristed and overpriced, Bodega Las Columnas somehow retains an authentic flair. While the bards sang traditional songs in a circle, we danced as tourists (we are NOT tourists any longer!) took our pictures and stayed behind the barricade that had been set up in front of the bar. The beer never tasted better, and my Spanish never sounded better. Jessi kept telling me she felt like she was in a movie, and I kept asking, “Is this really happening? What is going on with my life?” I chose to do this, to live this life and become an adult overseas, and while it hasn’t been easy, I’ve begun to take things in stride, to let things happen naturally. My gut told me it may not have been best to let these random men take us to a bar, but part of me couldn’t resist.

After a few songs, the men stopped to talk to us, and we befriended all kinds of characters. Jose Maria tried to be the ladies man, but the 18-year-old Lynn was after was much cuter and likeable. One man, who told us his name was Jennifer because he made a very beautiful woman, joked around with us about anything you can think of. Paco was lo más guapo of the group and actually very interesting. I don’t even remember half of their names because they weren’t as memorable or didn’t call my cell phone a bunch. Jose Maria told us that his group chose a very special person to serenade only twice a year, and asked if we wanted to be that group. Lynn immediately found a piece of paper and got a few phone numbers, but they told me they wouldn’t come until 1230 a.m. “Me da igual,” I said, writing down my address and explaining to JoMa where I live.
We stayed at Las Columnas, drinking and dancing until we were almost too tired to see before we stopped to tapear on the way home. The men requested whiskey and that we clean up, so we stopped to get booze and took turns showering before the men arrived. Christine came with Alfonso and a friend from home, and the tunos showed up at 1230. They were supposed to come at 12, but we know how Spaniards are with time…They sang a few songs and danced around before we invited them up for drinks. They continued to play songs, crammed into my little apartment and drink.

I was still deeply in love with Paco, who was playing Elvis songs for me, as well as “Sweet Home Chicago.” The men were all so friendly, albeit dangerous, and we played a game. It’s called “Sexy Bones,” and Paco played a song on his guitar that went like this: “Seeeex-eeeeee bones, sexy bones, sexy bones.” Jose Maria started taking off his clothes and encouraged me to do the same, but I had been running around playing hostess and telling people to go smoke on the balcony to drink myself.
Alfonso, the boyfriend of a friend, came into the kitchen and tapped me on the shoulder. “Cat, hay policia.” I told him to shut up, but had a bad feeling in my stomach because he wasn’t drinking. I checked the peephole and, sure enough, two short policia were standing in the door, ticket book ready. I told everyone to shut up and opened the door. Immediately, any lightheadedness I had been feeling evaporated, and I took responsibility. I had to explain to the men that, in my country, many times neighbors will come and ask you to be quiet before calling the cops. I had to present them with my NIE, or my foreigner’s number, and they wrote me a ticket but didn’t charge me for coming. When they left, I was upset and in shock. How could I cause so much trouble in Iowa City and never get a ticket, but land one in Sevilla when I’d been here for just a few weeks? Paco said to me, “It’s not a good party until the cops come. Let’s go somewhere because the whiskey is gone, anyway.”
One of the men, Bernardo, owns a flamenco bar in Triana on C/Pureza. We walked there in the cold, but had cold beer waiting for us. Inside the tiny bar (think the size of BoJames, IC people), there was a man playing guitar and a woman singing flamenco hondo, the most heartfelt and passionate kind of flamenco, from a couch in the back. Women dressed as if they had gone to a wedding swayed and clapped to accompany the singer, and it turns out they were celebrating the marriage of two men (freaking sweet). Paco invited me to dance Sevillana with him, and though I don’t quite have the hang of it, it was fun to just stare intensely at a really good-looking man and have everyone’s eyes on you. I probably looked like a freak, as I kept repeating the one move I’d learned, but it was amazing. I’m starting to feel like a really sevillana. Having all the regular things to deals with like an adult – bills, rent, cell phone, groceries – is a little thrilling, and making friends in Spanish excites me more than anything.

It was only after the weekend and trying to believe that the night really happened, that I learned how dangerous tunos are – they don’t sing because they love music; rather, tunos sing to attract women and have an excuse to drink. I was almost embarrassed when I told people about my weekend and let Melissa know about the ticket (I think she was more upset that someone used her hairbrush, though). This is evidence I need to stop making American friends and have Spaniards guide me! But I suppose it doesn’t matter, because in the moment, I was letting loose and letting things happen like the people do here. No one has a plan, and while this can be hard for me, I’m finding it’s making me a bit more relaxed and lazy. Nothing is ever set in stone. I don’t even really know what I’m doing next weekend because too many things are thrown out as ideas. When I come back to the States, I think I’ll be a whole new person. But isn’t that the point?

Little Victories

When you’re a TEFL teacher, or even just a language assistant in my case, you come to learn that the little things make your job really worthwhile. And in a place like Olivares, where a survey to poll favorite classes ends up failing because the kids don’t like school or see its importance, this is especially true.
Yesterday, I had two classes of 4ESO to teach. Both classes were working on past simple irregular. I was so excited to (cheat and) find a great song with a ton of examples of past simple irregulars like “found” and “woke” and “was” to use. The song is an old favorite of mine, Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss” as it reminds me of my first boyfriend, Nick Pohl. I downloaded the song, put it onto a blank CD, copied the lyrics into Word, blanked out the irregular past simple verbs and came up with some warm up activities. I was ready to face one of the tougher groups – the young groups don’t behave, the older groups don’t participate, and 4ESO doesn’t behave OR participate.
The activity went like this: In class, I asked the students if they like American music. They all screamed, “YES! YES TEACHER!” I figured as such, as most music on 40 principales is American pop. I then asked what American singers or groups they liked. Most came up with Rihanna, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. “Good,” I said, “all good examples.” I wrote the name of the band on the chalkboard and asked if anyone knew them. They didn’t, so I told them they ere a very famous group from the 1990s, then played the song. In the cloze activity, students were to listen to the song once through to get used to it, then listen a second and third time and try to come up with the words for the corresponding blanks. For example, “When I _____ (to wake) up, the raining was pouring down.” I then gave the students a little time to check their books or ask their classmates for help before we went over the song as a group and decided which verbs were irregular and why. I still had some time left over, and, being a super prepared teacher, I asked them reading comprehension questions. But something as simple as, “What happened to the girl?” Are too much. I need to break down the question into, “How many people are in the song?” and “Where are they?” for the students to begin to understand that there is a car accident. Since this group of 4ESOC is a bit more advanced, we even got to talk about driving safety, since they are about 16 or 17.
In 4ESOB, we didn’t get quite that far. I’ve found that if things are a bit off from a rule or exception, there are a million questions. Most of the time, I don’t have the answer. And when I asked what happened to the girl, it took me 5 minutes to solicit an answer of “She died.” I got everything from “Ella le dio luz a un bebe” (She gave birth) to “He killed the man in the other car” before Silvia stepped in to help. I practically rejoiced when the students understood.
When I only get one hour every other week with students, it’s really hard to measure their progress. But my job here isn’t to produce fluent little students – it’s merely to help teachers establish a curriculum and to practice their English. I’m fortunate to have 7 hours in the classroom actually working with students. And I love that they ask when I’m coming or come up to me and say one simple sentence and run away giggling. It’s fun. In some ways, I wish I could just travel and pick up odd jobs and meet new people every day (which is why traveling alone is so freaking fun). Here in Sevilla, I’ve got a contract and I’ve got to start a life and worry about making rent and keeping up with friends when it costs 53 cents a minute to call. But I like the stability and I like being established. In fact, I got an internship with We Love Spain, a student involvement group, and my pet projects will be talking to volunteer orgs and setting students up with opportunities to get involved while they’re here (can we say, my thing exactly?). I think it will also give me the chance to meet new people, even if they’re only here for a little while like Jost.
For the December puente, I’m off to Brussels, Belgium for a weekend because I found 4 tickets, roundtrip, for 106 euro TOTAL. For four of us. I love Ryan Air. Maybe one day I’ll be rich enough to buy every airline and provide low-cost tickets to everyone to any destination because this world is too big to only see part of it. For now, I’m just fine wandering.
And now, I leave you all (in particular Matt Kyhnn) with a picture of a swan from Galway as big as a smartcar. Un abrazo.

Hopped up on Hops in Ireland

Pints of Guinnes at the Gravity Bar at St. James’ Gate, Dublin

Smart people would travel to Ireland, land where the holiday originates, for Halloween, but I chose to stay in Sevilla and go to a party and out to the bars with friends here. The next morning, I had to catch a bus to Málaga to take a plane to Dublin to visit my buddies Matt and Brian from school. Eva came into my room just after 8, meaning I was up over an hour late. I threw whatever I could find into my backpack, brushed my teeth and went; no shower, no breakfast, no sense of how I was going to deal with a hangover and traveling 12 hours to get to the Emerald Isle.

Despite feeling like I was going to get sick every ten minutes as I sat on the 2.5 hour ride into Malaga, I enjoyed seeing Sevilla transform into small towns, then again into a bustling port. The countryside is beautiful, just much different from the natural beauty you may think of elsewhere. Andalucía is hot and arid, with pueblos blancos cropping up between mountains and acre after acre of olive trees, perfectly placed in rows. I was happy to see the sea and get to Málaga, though I had a lot of time to kill.

Once on the plane to Ireland, feeling a bit better after some food and caffeine, I relaxed. I’ve been anxious to go to Ireland since my 100% Irish grandmother traveled there about 10 years ago. I got off the plane in Dublin at 5:30 (it was already dark) ready to cry, from both exhaustion and excitement. I’ve never traveled to a country where I’m from, but I feel much more connected to my Irish heritage because of my grandma. I fell in love with the country in the busted up airport terminal – the way the signs looked, the way the people talked, the different traditional food. I went to the tourism info booth to ask for a map and how to get to the city the fastest, and the women was just so friendly, giving me all kinds of pamphlets and discount information about all the things I planned to see. She even walked me out to the bus. The driver was more friendly, and told me exactly where to get off about 45 minutes later on Dame Street. Just seeing english and watching pub after pub pass by the windows on the right side of the street was exhilarating. Without having done ANYTHING in Ireland I wondered why I hadn’t moved there to work. Perhaps next year?

I got off the bus on Dame St., a block that stretches along the River Liffey from Trinity College down into the suburbs, full of pubs, cafes, businesses, embassies and the like. I stayed in the area known as Temple Bar, a sort of hippie area full of lively pubs with music filling the streets and people wandering back and forth. By now, it was 7:30 and the nightlife on a Thursday was starting to heat up. I checked into Barnacles Temple Bar, a fantastic hostel with big beds and plenty of them. I asked the man to direct me towards a pub crawl, as I was only in Dublin for a night and didn’t know much about the nightlife or even what else the Irish drank besides Guinness and whiskey. He told me I had 20 minutes to make it back to Trinity College for the famous Backpacker’s Pub Crawl. I hastily threw my pack onto my bed, changed clothes, made myself look a bit better and practically ran to the college.

I was met by Matt, a senior from Indiana U studying at the International Business school of Dublin and three people traveling from California. Generally the pubs are a bit larger, but apparently the Dubliners were recovering from a crazy night out for the holiday. So the five of us trekked on to enjoy fine Irish beers and a few shots of aftershock. Our first stop was a bar modeled after a viking ship with ice cold pints. I had a Carlsberg, muchhhhhhh sweeter than a Cruzcampo that I’d be served in Sevilla. We all got on (yes, I speak British English now) well, and I was so happy I didn’t feel any sort of regret or shyness for being alone in a European capital. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to stay in the hostel all day. We walked the Trinity College grounds to the small bar on campus, packed with students from all over the world. Most of them braved the cool night o sit outside on the steps or on worn picnic tables overlooking the footy and rugby fields and the ancient buildings. Matt and I split a special – 4 20-oz. Bavaria beers. Not fantastic, but for 4 quid I could have gotten one pint of Guinness or two of Ireland’s equivalent of Keystone. Cheers. I met some Spanish kids, too, so it was a worthwhile stop.

Our next pub, a much bigger one playing American music, afforded us fantastic strawberry beers and other non-traditional flavors, and stupid Adam bought me a tequila shot that I didn’t need. Finally, we went to a “club,” which looked like Friday’s on the inside and had overpriced drinks and American pop. I was very angry at the prices, and sufficiently pissed (as in drunk, not mad), so I stole a bar glass and we all ran out into the street. I then realized I hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours, but figured nothing was open at 2 am. I came upon SPAR, the most glorious creation ever. The store is kind of like Walgreens in that it sells snacks, magazines, small groceries and has a 24-hour deli. The nice waiter gave me a bucket of chips (as in french fries) and I sat on an alley and ate them before sleeping in my clothes.

I woke up the next morning even more exhausted than when I started the trip, but I had to do a lot of sightseeing in a short time. I did see Trinity College in the day time, which looks much like MU Ohio: very stately, with leaves turning colors and falling to the ground, full of students all over the lawns, which are intensely green. In the Old Library, an impressive long corridor full of old, dusty books and relics from Ireland’s long history, the Book of Kells is housed in a dark room. It’s a huge manuscript (I think) written in Irish with delicate drawings and swirls. It was kind of cool, but not worth 7 euros to be there for only a short time. I stopped in the tourism office to book a room in Galway and was off to explore Dublin castle. In this now-parliament building, every Irish president has been inaugurated since independence. The grounds are full of cars and garda, or policemen, but it’s stone walls and courtyard were beautiful against the clear blue sky (nothing I expected!). I skipped a free museum with apparently an astonishing collection of Irish history to head to Christ Church, one of the most famous parishes in the city. It was originally a wooden heap meant to worship secularly, but has been rebuilt in stone and stands in the center of the city. It’s beautiful inside and outside, and its crypt holds all kinds of beautiful excavated tombs and silver pieces.

The highlight of my day was for sure seeing St. James’ Gate, otherwise known as the Guinness brewery. The city is famous for its merrymaking and pub life, and the brewery tour is not a disappointment. Walking up High Street, I could smell the factory at work, turning out millions and millions of pints. Though beermaking had been around for centuries before Arthur Guinness started making his special dark brew, he is believed to have honed the art. Everything from the amount of water used to the barrel making was perfected under his care. The factory tour is set from the ground up, and even the elevator looks like a giant pint glass. I’ve been on brewery tours before, but this one was incredibly entertaining while still being informative. I learned how the hops were grown, how the brew was mixed, how bottling worked. From the first floor, you were then able to taste the perfect mini pint, learn how to pour a perfect pint (tilt glass at a 35 degree angle, pour to the top of the harp on the glass, let sit for two minutes to separate, then top it off with a thick layer of foam), wander through advertisements through the 300-year-plus history, find out how to cure a hangover, and top off the trip on the last floor in the Gravity Bar. From the seventh floor, the bar serves free pints of Guinness in a round room with floor to ceiling windows, offering fantastic panoramic views of the city. The beer tasted incredible when doubled with how magnificent and rustic the city looks. Despite being big (I think about a quarter of the population lives there), it retains its charm and warmth. I loved it immediately but had one more thing to do before I left town for Galway – try Irish stew.
Having a perfect pour at the Gravity Bar

I walked along the river on the Quays (pronounced like “keys”) as the weather started to turn cooler and found a small, dark pub that served stew and cold beer. I was one of the only people in the bar, so the tender told me to just have a seat at the bar. I didn’t think twice, figuring it was just the Irish being friendly, despite this being an older gentleman who asked me if I wanted to stay an extra day at his home for free. Just being nice. As it turns out, Nick is from Turkey and has been living in Dublin for three years. I ate delicious Irish stew, a filling broth full of meat, carrots, potatoes and rosemary and drank a sweet tasting Carlsberg and talked to a man from turkey. It was quite wonderful. I wandered a bit through Temple Bar before picking up my bag from the hostel, finding a bookstore to stock up on English language books and go to the bathroom again (it’s the beer here, I SWEAR. It’s practically a diuretic!!) and finally to the bus station. I caught a national bus to Galway, on the other side of the country, at 4 pm. Sadly, it took a bit longer than expected due to immense traffic jams in the capital, and it was too dark to really see the countryside. But it was fun watching the small towns pass by quickly, much like driving through the pueblos blancos down here in Spain.

The River Liffey from Merchant’s Quay

I got to Galway and my super sweet hostel about 8:45 and immediately called Brian. He and Matt, former coworkers of mine, moved to Ireland about 2 months ago with BUNAC to work for four months before heading to the UK. They traveled for a bit, got a job doing fundraising all over the country and meeting really awesome people. They moved to Galway, one of the fastest growing cities with a population of over 70K, just a week ago or so. Galway is so Irish – green squares, colorful buildings, small specialty shops, claddagh all over the place, and old pubs serving the greatest beer in a really cozy and homely atmosphere. Brian was actually staying in my hostel while he works as a kitchen porter, so he met me in the lobby. He had shaved his head and I hardly recognized him!! I can’t explain how nice it was to see a familiar face, even if it was a hairless Wolken. He introduced me to Emma and Toast, two chuggers, or fundraisers, who he worked with at the company. They were friendly and both interesting. We ate at a Chinese restaurant for the Canadian Grace’s birthday. Man, I missed having flavorful food and enjoying it with a big group of people. We went to the pub they’d been frequenting, the Spanish Arch, because their buddy works there, and just had a bunch of pints and caught up. It was relaxing and a really nice change to Seville. I could wear any kind of clothing and not have to wear uncomfortable shoes and still have entrance to any place I wanted. Brian and I shut the place down waiting for Matt to get off work, then found our way to SPAR (they gave me a shepherds pie like thing…strange) and hung out until about 4 am. I could barely keep my eyes open, but I loved listening to the guys sprinkle their speech with Irish slang like “grand” and “chippers” Funny stuff.
The next morning Matt had time off, so we explored some of Galway’s sights, which aren’t many. We walked through a small market sampling soda breads and watching people barter, stopped by St. Nicholas’ Church and the Nora Barnacle house, walked along the canal to the Cathedral (which looks like every other one), then hiked through the Claddagh, a traditional Irish fishing village. Next we walked along the Galway bay toward Salt Hill, just catching up and taking our time. As there was little else to do before Brian got off work at 3, Matt and I shared a plate of curry chips (I AM IN LOVE) with Rebecca, who we ran in to, then sat in Galway’s oldest pub and had a Guinness a piece. Rumor has it that Matt runs on Guinness, and his new catchphrase is “Guinness is good for you!” We met Emma and Brian, then Toast and Lyndon, and went to another pub for another pint (this time, I got a Blumer’s, a tasty cider that has a crisp aftertaste) before grabbing dinner at this ultra swanky eatery called the Living Room. My food was as basic as it gets, even by Irish standards, but it filled me up in preparation for a night of traveling.


Since the guys had to go to work, I hung out in the hostel with Toast, Emma and two other former Chuggers, Bec and Danny. Although not the most exciting thing to be doing on a saturday night, it was nice to relax and get to know people. That’s my favorite part of traveling – I learned a lot about Australia and veganism and perceptions of Americans from the four of them. When it was just before midnight, I had to leave to catch my bus, but it made me sad to leave these new people who were so friendly and interesting. I actually got a little sad to go back to Spain and back to a semi-real life (yeah, I know, working 12 hours a week is not a real life. But in Ireland I had no responsibilities or lesson planning!). I wanted to get more curry chips from McDunah’s, the most famous chipper in the country, but the place was just boarding up, so I settled for curry chips from SuperMac’s, a huge fast food chain. Not quite as good, but I knew I wouldn’t be eating until I got back to Malaga about 11 am the following morning.

Matt, Brian and me having pints at another pub

I walked back through Eyre Square in the center of town, grabbed my pack from Kinlay House, and walked to where the bus picks up at 115 am. I was konked out almost immediately after sitting down and woke up at the Dublin Airport with a little drizzle. In contrast to the longggg queue in Malaga, no one was in the queue in Dublin, and I had checked in, gotten through security and gotten to my gate at the end of the last gate in about 20 minutes. I kept dozing off and would wake up with a start thinking someone was going to take my stuff .I’m cool. On the plane, I got a little sad to be leaving Ireland after such a short time, but I was looking forward to my own bed and a hot shower and reliable appliances. I woke up just before we got into Malaga and saw the mountains and the pueblos blancos spread out amongst the olive trees. I was happy. Too bad the Agente de Pasaportes wouldn’t let me back into the country. Apparently my visa is only valid for one entry, which happened in Granada on Sept. 13. I tried to fish out my NIE, but it was not with me, so I had to wait until practically all of Malaga moved through the line. I tried to keep from crying, but I was so tired and ready to be back in Sevilla that I couldn’t help it. The guy took pity on me and let me though but warned me that they may not be so nice next time. I got a bus to the bus station, a bocadillo de queso and a bag of doritos to make me feel better and a bus back to Sevilla. I also passed out that whole time, too. Once I got back to my piso, Eva was there to greet me and give me a hug and tell me how much she missed having me at home. I wish she was staying in Sevilla!
Long, yet fantastic, weekend. The boys and I agreed we all made a great decision to come here and that we were fortunate to be safe and happy and have great friends so close. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else right now that teaching and learning and smiling all the time. I would travel the same way in a heartbeat. We’ve got another puente in a month…I’m thinking about asking for an extra day off and going to visit Jessica in Prague and stopping in Brussels or something? Or Vienna? Or anywhere else? Love it
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...