June 28, 2013

¡Madrid Maravillosa!

It only took about 10 minutes in Madrid to realize that I wanted to have much more time there.  I had saved it for the end of my adventure, and now had only a few precious days to spend in this ancient city, lovely and magnificent in its juxtaposition of ancient (cobblestone streets, ceramic tile street signs) and progressive (iPads in every hand, Spanish divas in the latest style and fashion, the urban hustle-bustle everywhere).

The Exploration Begins
Wasting not a single moment, I checked-into my hotel - the lovely, clean, cozy and welcoming HRC Hotel in el barrio La Latina.  HRC is perfectly located!  Easily walkable to Cava Alta and Cava Baja -- two very well-known streets in Madrid, famous for tapas bars -- and also very near Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol.  ¿Listo? ¡Vámonos! I immediately began walking and exploring  the narrow streets of La Latina.

I walked up Cava Alta and down Cava Baja, choosing where I would first sample food and drink.  I chose a little spot on Cava Baja and enjoyed a traditional snack (jamón, acetunas, pan y cerveza - ham, olives, bread and beer!).

Afterwards, I continued strolling for just a few blocks until I arrived at Plaza Mayor - a giant plaza bordered by tapas bars and restaurants, the middle filled with an endless supply of activity.  It was a virtual sea of people, everyone going somewhere, shopping, walking, eating, hombres playing hacky-sack, juggling, playing drums... I found some delicious gelato and enjoyed the "live show."

Just Chillin' at Midnight in La Puerta del Sol
Eventually I decided to continue my exploration, so I walked a bit further, along cobblestone streets, passing shops and stores of every kind.  Lots of gorgeous graffiti in el barrio La Latina.  It was nearing midnight on a Tuesday, yet it felt like noon on a Saturday! Faaaabulous!!  The air was warm and the streets were still filled with as many (if not more) people as in the middle of the day!  A few more steps, and the streets opened into (surprise!) another beautiful plaza.  This one called La Puerta del Sol.  There was so much to see, it was almost overwhelming.  So once again, I settled into a "front row seat" on the fountain ledge, in the middle of the plaza, and became one of the locals.  I sat there happily observing people visiting with one another, walking, shopping, singing, listening to street musicians,

As I was enjoying every moment of this seemingly ordinary evening, reality began to sink in, that the end of my adventure was drawing near.  I could feel my heart growing heavy at the thought that I would soon take leave of this beautiful city, and country, and the people, sites, smells and tastes I had come to love so dearly.  In so many ways, Spain felt like home to me now, and leaving would be difficult and sad.  But, I'll worry about that tomorrow (thank you, Scarlet), because for now, I had this night to enjoy!

The next day I awoke early and had breakfast in the hotel café.  Now fortified, I was ready to embark on my last full day in Spain.  I kept my heart-sick sadness at bay as I skipped through what were now familiar cobblestone streets, back to Plaza del Sol where the Metro station was.  I quickly figured out which train I needed, bought my ticket, hopped on the train (look at me, I'm and "old pro" at this now), and headed in the direction of Real Jardin Botanico (the Royal Botanical Garden).

I spent a few glorious hours in the lovely botanical gardens, before the heat drove me to find some respite in El Museo Nacional del Prado which houses a world class European art collection.  The featured artist happened to be Salvador Dali. ¡Perfecto!  After lingering in the museum for a while, I went back outside to the plaza and was drawn to an artist who had his beautiful hand-made jewelry on display before him.  I began chatting with Gustavo - the artist - who quickly unfolded a piece of deerskin and declared "ahora, tú eres mi amiga; por favor, siéntate conmigo" "now you are my friend; please sit with me."  And so I did!

I sat talking with Gustavo for a couple of hours, entranced as I watched him create gorgeous pendants, earrings, and bracelets.  Lots of people stopped to view and to buy his creations.  After some time, I chose a special stone from his collection and asked him to make it into a necklace for my Mom.  I watched as he wrapped the stone in silver right before my eyes.  I was thrilled, as I thought of how much Mom would love it.  All the while, as I was chatting with Gustavo, my eyes were continually drawn back to one particular stone - a greenish-blueish stone with many other colors poking through as the sunlight hit it.  Somehow, he must have known, because all of a sudden, he picked up the stone, and made quick but professional work of wrapping it in silver to create a most intricate and beautiful pendant.  Then he winked at me, pushed it in my direction, and said "Para ti, mi amiga, para ti."  I was shocked, and honored, and could barely find the words to say thank you.  "Muchisimas gracias, mi amigo!" I couldn't have scripted a more perfect moment.

A moment later, la Policía, appearing out of nowhere, were hovering over us, and looking sternly at Gustavo.  In one fell-swoop, Gustavo "magically" folded up his blanket, and with it, all of his jewelry, quickly kissed my cheek and whispered in my ear "Hasta luega guapa.  Tengo que salir immediamente. Disfrutes!" "Until next time.  I have to get out of here now.  Enjoy!"  In a flash, Gustavo was gone!  Literally disappeared!  A permit is required to sell his hand-made wares on the plaza, and apparently, Gustavo didn't have one.  With no contact information exchanged between us, and not even a photo snapped (what was I thinking?) I will simply have to remember Gustavo dearly, in my heart, and every time I wear that precious and beautiful pendant. 

The late afternoon sunshine, combined with the tapas bars surrounding the plaza, suggested a cerveza would be a good idea.  So I quickly chose a table and settled in.  I chatted with some folks at a nearby table, and otherwise, just enjoyed the cold beer in the warm sunshine.  Soon after that, it was time to eat (of course!) and the folks at the table next to me invited me to join them (because in Spain, that's what people do!), and we shared tapas and laughter together for a while.

Spanish days are long in the summer months, but finally I could see the sun was beginning to fall behind the taller buildings of Madrid, beckoning me toward my hotel, almost like  Dad's whistle that rang through the  neighborhood on summer nights, signaling it was time to come home.  Tomorrow morning would come too soon, when I would hoist my suitcases into a taxi and go to el aeropuerto, to begin my journey home.  The thought brought tears to my eyes, but I pushed them back, as I was determined to enjoy my last night in Spain.  In Spain.... In Spain....  In Spain...
In Spain, my adventurous spirit soared! 
In Spain, I tried everything I wanted to try. 
In Spain, I traveled everywhere I wanted to go.
In Spain, I met new friends who quickly became mi familia para siempre.
In Spain, possibly for the first time in my life, I could feel and sense my roots, recognizing mi gente, in the gestures, accents and mannerisms of the beautiful Spaniards.  
In Spain, I was showered with sites, smells, tastes and experiences that will live in my heart, soul and mind forever. 

Reluctantly, I boarded the train back to La Puerta del Sol, where I lingered as long as I could, finding people to talk to, things to see, gelato to eat, anything to put-off going back to the hotel, if only for just another moment.  I walked slowly through the cobblestone streets, breathing deeply as if perhaps I could somehow "keep" the smell of Spain in my chest and lungs....  I lingered at Plaza Mayor, taking photographs with my eyes, swearing never to forget a single moment...  ...and for the last time (on this particular adventure, anyway), just as I had done on my first night in España two months ago, I strolled home along the ancient, magical, Spanish streets (las calles de España) that I've come to know and love so well... 
¡Te echaré de menos, España!  I will miss you dearly!

June 19, 2013


El Día Primera
¡Bienvenidos a Barcelona!  Hopped on a plane in Sevilla, and here I am!  My first apartment (for the first week) is on the "main drag" of el barrio Sarría.  After dropping off my suitcases and a quick change of clothes, I set out to explore my new neighborhood.  Before I even shut the apartment door, my new next door neighbor, standing in her doorway, greeted me and immediately invited me to una fiesta happening that very evening!  A barbacoa on the roof of our apartment building!  La gente de España, se quiero!!  I excitedly accepted the kind invitation, and set out on my way.  Note to self: pick up bottle of wine to bring to BBQ tonight.  Little did I know what was in store for me that evening!

As I was strolling along (have perfected the art), learning and exploring the streets of my new neighborhood, I came to a lovely plaza (Placa de Sarría) which also had a quaint, "little" church (giant by our standards in the U.S), where a wedding had just finished. I lingered to watch the bride & groom emerge, all the guests cheering and throwing rose petals. I was thrilled and honored to witness it.

After satisfying my initial curiosity about the neighborhood, and gathering a few staples for the house (coffee and snacks!), I returned to my apartment and prepared for the party.  Soon enough I heard footsteps going upstairs to the roof, and festive voices, indicating the party had begun.  So I walked up the two flights of stairs and emerged on the roof.  My neighbor's entire family was there - her husband, her three adult children with their spouses and children, and a few more friends.  They were cooking on the barbeque, playing guitar and singing, the kids were playing...  One of the friends quickly became my "escort" and he introduced me to everyone, explaining who was who and how they were all connected.  It turned out that one of the brothers along with two of the friends were in a local band.  

Soon we all sat down to a large feast.  My newest BFF hands me a plate full of unfamiliar, yet delicious looking food and says, with a wink, "Barbecoa de Barcelona!  I don't think you've eaten this before."  And he was right.  He kindly named and described each delicacy on my plate. I listened intently and then quickly forgot (ha!) as I indulged in the yummy feast.  Seated at a table full of amigos nuevos, conversation flowed easily, but for the language barrier.  Ah!  Now that my Spanish was flowing fast and fluently, I had come to Barcelona, where the majority of the population speak Catalan!  Surely it must be very similar to Spanish, you say?  Uh.... not even close!  Ha ha!  Thankfully, these worldly folks are all trilingual, if not more, and they understood my Spanish! 

After eating and drinking until I thought I might have to foll myself home, I was surprised to learn that the now the evening's festivities would truly begin. 

What a lovely first night in Sarría, Barcelona.

During my stay in Barcelona, my bestie Michelle joined me for 10 lovely days, and we surely made every moment count.  We ambled along La Rambla, drank cervezas and enjoyed tapas at many tapas bars, and giggled endlessly as we "learned to navigate" the Barcelona Metro (that's my nice way of saying we got on the wrong train more than once!).

But we took that Metro all over and saw some amazing sights.  Our first big adventure was La Sagrada Familia.  This is an absolutely, must-see, no question about it.  As I think about all the different personalities of people I know, I can't imagine any of them not fully enjoying what might be considered Gauti's most significant work.  As with everything Gauti, it's over-the-top, beyond strangely weird, brilliant, and this one includes the whole religious bent.  The detail of the carvings, and the amount of work it took just to get people in place to carve them, is staggering.  Cathedrals and churches played a big role in this trip.  I was, for unknown reasons, continually, consistently drawn to them.  I think part of the reason is that Catholicism is as much a part of the culture, and way of life in Spain, as it is a religion.  It is, by far, the predominant religion in Spain, and it seeps gracefully and beautifully into everything.  Mother Mary, Christ, crosses, are everywhere.  Delicately adorning every building, fountain, bench, street sign…  Rather than feeling oppressive, it just feels natural somehow.  Perhaps because it's such an ingrained way of life.  The Spanish people are devoted, perhaps more to the history, and long standing traditions, than the actual practice of the religion.  And that's not true for everyone.  Whenever I wandered into a church, on any given day of the week, there were always at least a handful of locals there praying, paying respects, or simply seeking some peace and solace.  I paid attention and noticed that every man wears a necklace or rosary with a crucifix or cross.  They tuck them under their business suits throughout the week, but they fly freely on the weekends.  This is also true in California, where there is also a heavy Catholic influence, devotion and tradition among the hispanic cultures.  

La Sagrada Familia is the Mother (Mary) of all churches.  It simply silenced me.  We spent hours walking all around its outside permitter, which was more like being at an outside museum, went up to the top of the towers where the views of Barcelona were breathtaking, then inside the great sanctuary, which was truly and simply a great work of art, combining mosaic, stone carvings, modern and ancient religious icons and figures.  Finally, because we asked if the sanctuary was ever actually used for mass (it is, only on special occasions), we went down to the crypt, a separate church built on the grounds, underneath the main building, where a full mass was underway.  That was my very favorite part!  A full church hiding underground, with stone walls and cobblestone floors.  There are confessionals surrounding the perimeter and intricately carved statues…  And oh, by the way, Antonio Gaudi is buried down there!!!  

Parc Guell
My suggestion: go with the thought that you're going to a Park (after all, that is the name of it, yes?), rather than a museum or a major tourist-site.  While the Gaudi museum does sit on the grounds, it's Gaudi's former home, and so, it's not a huge museum.  But the park itself is quite beautiful, and certainly unique and different from most parks we frequent. The famous mosaic serpentine wall surrounds a lovely plaza and provides a perfect perch for beautiful views of Barcelona.  Paths leading away from the plaza meander along greenery, flowers and trees.  There are benches in quiet spots (perfect for a picnic of bocadillos and cava), and a full outdoor cafe serving yummy ice cream treats, and - of course - cervezas, perfect thirst quenching on a hot day.

La Playa
We only spent one day on the beach, but it was an easy and glorious day in the sun.  Barcelona offers many beaches, each different from the others, so whatever type of day you're looking for, you will likely be able to find the beach to match.  Barceloneta, the first area of beach from the Port, is the most popular, especially among the younger crowd, but also among the tourists.  Restaurants and cafes provide the backdrop all along the Barceloneta beach, making it convenient for midday eats or apré-playa refreshments.  The further away from the port you go, the quieter and less populated the beaches become.  

Montserrat is a monk monastery and a very famous pilgrimage for many.  For Michelle and I, getting to the monastery was a pilgrimage in and of itself.  It's not difficult (as is true for all of public transportation in Spain -- it's quite easy and convenient), but a bit of planning is necessary.  Mainly it requires locating the right Metro train to the right station to get to the right FSG train, which then, finally, goes to Montserrat.  The train ride out of Barcelona and into the countryside was pretty, and as we were approaching the mountain, Michelle spotted the monastery built right into the mountain.  It's not really that obvious.  I wouldn't have seen it.  But as we approached I was struck by how creatively it had been built, and how much work it must have taken.  Once we arrived, we rode a cable car from the base of the mountain up to the monastery.  Way cool!!

I was really glad to be with Michelle especially at this particular place, because she knew some history about it and was able to explain some Catholic traditions and customs as we wandered the grounds.  We first went to the large sanctuary and I think we might have spent close to an hour in there, just wandering around.  There were TONS of people inside, yet, there remained an air of respect and spirituality.  People spoke in hushed voices and certain areas were completely silent.  Once of which was the shroud of Christ, a separate, small sanctuary along the side of the sanctuary. At the front, hanging on the wall was an amazing rendition of the shroud.  Attempting to describe it will only lessen its excellence.  

Another central piece of interest at Montserrat is the Black Madonna.  Again, thanks to Michelle, I learned a lot about the history of this sacred statute found thousands of years ago in a cave on Montserrat, and restored and maintained sacredly inside the sanctuary ever since.

Barri Gotic y El Born
When it was time for Michelle to return to the states, we sadly bid farewell, and I set off to continue my exploration of yet unseen parts of Barcelona.  I was as happy as a pig in you-know-what wandering around the Barrio Gótic (Gothic Quarter) and El Born, two very cool barrios of Barcelona. I visited the National Arts Museum (Palacio Nacional) which is situated way up on a hill (requiring no less than 3 escalators and even more stair climbing on top of that), and provides stunning 360 views of all of Barcelona.  Walking down the back side of the hill took me through _____ Garden and then into yet another eclectic neighborhood, full of cafes and local hang-outs.  My favorite!  By this time, I had officially mastered the Metro as well, which is no small feat, but once understood, proves to be a most efficient, clean and well-planned subway system.  Good job Barcelona!

La Fiesta de Sant Joan 
Topping off and rounding out my stay in Barcelona, was La Fiesta de Sant Joan (that's Catalan for St John), celebrated passionately (and exclusively) in Barcelona. It's one of the biggest fiestas of the year celebrated by all of Barcelona, but not other parts of Spain. It's a huge party with food, music, fireworks, bonfires on the beach, and it goes all night, and then folks watch the sunrise in the morning. The primary ingredient is fire (bonfires, fireworks, you name it),  Parties in all the neighborhoods, on terraces, rooftops, in the plazas etc. Costumes too, the central figure being el diablo!! There is a ceremonial parade with a drum line and el diablo which kicks off the evening's events.  

La fiesta in my barrio took place exactly 200 meters from my house (that's less than a 2 min walk), maintaining the consistent, magical serendipity and buena suerte I've been enjoying these past 2 months. The neighborhood civic center plaza was transformed into a festive venue with no shortage of decorations and fanfare.  A full bar and stage were constructed.  There were tons of people - young and old, families, kids, everyone!!!  After mucha comida (y cervezas, sangrias...) the late-night crowd kicked into high gear, and we were treated to the cool beats of a local Barcelona band. Um, how happy was I? My favorite!!!  I was ecstaticly dancing the night away to the tunes of the band that kinda reminded me of my very favorite local SF band, who shall remain anonymous, but todo la gente know who I'm talking about!  ;)

The next day, it was time to say adiós to Barcelona, but not before a quick Metro jaunt, returning to Barceloneta, and specifically to La Xampanyeria, a wine bar that is famous for its delicious cava (something like Spanish champaign) and mouth-watering bocadillos.  The scene is rather like a typical deli counter in Brooklyn or Manhattan, where you have to navigate your way through the sea of people, and gracefully nudge your way toward the counter, so that you can scream your order to the guys making the sandwiches and pouring the copas of cava.  But once you've done so, you can hang at the counter, eat, drink and be merry to your heart's content.  As I mentioned, this was a return trip for me, because once was simply not enough.  And this time, I left with a few bottles of cava to bring home with me!  ;) 

Thank you Barcelona, for a fun, delicious, multi-cultural and memorable experience!!  And now, onto Madrid!!

June 9, 2013

Final Days in Sevilla

The last week of my enchanting and magical time in Sevilla, I was blessed to live in Javier's and Alicia's amazing apartment which was in el barrio La Alfalfa, situated in the very midst of el centro, Sevilla.  Javier was my second home-exchange partner, and was living in my house in Oakland for the month of June, while working on his graduate thesis at Berkeley.  His girlfriend, Alicia, who graciously showed me around Sevilla in the early part of my trip, was away in Brazil during my stay in their lovely home.

The apartment is quaint and
eclectic, French doors in every doorway, and windows too, opening to the fresh air, Spanish tile on every floor....  ancient and historical detail everywhere.  Just AMAZING!  The best part was a gorgeous rooftop terraza (terrace), where Alicia and Javier have a lovely, blooming garden, chaise lounge, table and chairs...  I enjoyed several sunny evenings there with a glass of wine. 

The sweet apartment is actually in the back portion of a convent.  The convent is currently operational, however, the back portion of it was renovated into apartments many years ago.  The bedroom shares a wall with the convent, and every morning and evening, I could hear las monjas (the nuns) singing vespers!  It was breathtaking!  Think: Sound of Music!  What a beautiful and unexpected surprise!  So, whenever I heard them, I took the cue to stop and pray, along with them.  It was so comforting and healing!!

Sadly, my time in Sevilla has come to an end. I am truly, deeply sad to leave this charming, enchanting, magical city, which so gracefully combines ancient history and tradition with modern technology and conveniences. Sevillanos stand firmly on tradition, with much pride and passion. The Andalucian people are the warmest, most welcoming I've ever met. The friends I've made in Sevilla have touched my heart forever, and are surely friends for life. One last stroll through el centro left my heart aching for more, and I know I'll be back very soon.

For my final two nights, my friends all put together a little farewell celebration, which included caracoles, muchas cervezas, a ride on Kiko's Harley Davidson (EEE!), and – yes, once again – Karaoke! This time - because now I'm and "old pro" - I found myself doing my best Carly Simon impression, singing “You're So Vain.” Don't ask!  I believe Kiko has the entire thing recorded, and I offered quite a substantial sum for him to delete it, which he flatly refused. Incidentally, Sinatra's “My Way” is a huge Karaoke favorite in Spain, in both Inglés and Español! Folks truly get quiet and pay homage to the song, and the entire place sings along.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye. There were endless hugs, kisses, tears (not just mine!), and promises of staying in touch and future visits. I have insisted the entire crew come visit me, and I look forward to returning the warm welcome, and to showing them the best parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. With a heavy heart, I returned to my apartment where my packed suitcases were already waiting by the door, and cried myself to sleep. But the next morning brought the beginning of la próxima aventura – Barcelona!!  Stay tuned...


Cruz's parents own a beach house in Mazagón, and generously offered it to our not-so-little crew for the weekend. Eight of us had a blast in the sun and water and danced the night away at a club in the little town.  

I took a little trip for a few days to visit Tarifa, a gorgeous, little coastal town on the southern-most tip of Spain. This is a popular spot for kite surfing, and colorful kites filled the air along the coast. I enjoyed a lazy day strolling around the city, visiting its beautiful iglesias, chatting with the locals and enjoying yummy local food in the evening. 

The next morning, from the port of Tarifa, I jumped on a ferry, and 30 minutes later, I was in Tánger (Tangier), Morocco. I headed toward the medina quarter, continuously saying “NO!” to the many “enthusiastic,” fairly aggressive, but harmless locals who are eager to sell their wares to the obvious tourist. I began to consider that perhaps doing this solo wasn't the greatest idea. I figured I could continue saying “no” all day, but that wasn't really what I was hoping for...  So, I stopped at a cafe to rest and re-charge, and spied a local cutie who spoke Arabic fluently, and Spanish horribly. I approached him, introduced myself and said "You and me – today! Take me to your favorite restaurants, shops, cafés, beaches... Show me the best parts of your city, and then I'll get back on the ferry and wave bu-bye!!!" Well, it was all in Spanish, so maybe not that exactly, but it was close. Anyways, Andrés was happy to oblige, and we had the best day EVER!!!  I never would have seen half of the cool stuff I saw without him.  Walking along the medina quarter, the beaches and other neighborhoods with Andrés, no one bothered me at all. Perfect!!!  And despite the fact that we had a pretty substantial language barrier, we muddled through quite well, with lots of laughter. I tasted the most delicious Moroccan food, enjoyed the best green tea I've EVER had, played with a camel on the beach (seriously), and strolled along the medina quarter with eyes wide open and camera-ready! Andrés was an excellent guide and sweet as can be. He wouldn't let me pay for anything all day (might be a cultural thing, not sure), and was very protective, but made sure I saw and experienced everything!  At the end of the day, he refused to consider anything other than escorting me back to to the dock, and stood there waving goodbye until he saw the ferry safely pulling out of the port.  People!!  Wow!!  I love them!!!  I am continually committed to being right about my belief that people are good, and I continue to be validated!  :)

May 26, 2013

¡Karaoke, Caracoles, Rafting, y Mucho Más!

Un abrazo de Sevilla!  

Wow, I've been so busy with new friends and having wonderful experiences, that I haven't taken time to post in a few days. The good news is, this post includes a kaleidoscope of events.  

Last weekend was busy.  Friday night, Cruz and I took a Bachata class!  The dance studio was packed with students eager to "get their bachata on!"  Singing and dancing is very big here. Anyways, the class was one hour, and went by so quickly that I was more than a little disappointed when it ended. I was reminded that dancing is truly a universal language. Que bueno! As dancing has always been my first language and comes as naturally as breathing for me, I was quickly kicking up my heels enjoying every bachata beat. 

From there we went to a karaoke bar. Yes, you read that correctly - karaoke. Now, before I proceed, let the record show - and those of you who know me well, know this is true - I've never sung at a karaoke bar. It is simply
And we're not counting things like “Breakthrough” or “Gatherings,” which are not karaoke.  Anyways, no one in the U.S. could ever (or will ever) get me to do karaoke, but these people I've known for 10 minutes somehow convinced me. And worst of all, I was made to sing (there was nothing voluntary about it), are you ready? … “Hotel California” !!!  Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the song (love it), or “The Eagles" (one of my favorite bands for sure), but c'mon -- Cali girl in Spain singing "Hotel California?" Reeeeally? Does it GET any more cliche? LOL!!  Alas, much to my dismay, it was a big hit with the crowd at the bar, and I seem to have survived the calamity just fine!

After Karaoke, Cruz and I came back to "our neighborhood" (she literally lives around the corner from me, which has been very fun and convenient!), and met a bunch of other peeps at a fun bar just down the street from our apartments. Sevillanos say American music is "the best" and so, you're never more than one song away from Michael Jackson, AC/DC, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, or... ...well, you get the idea. It's a bit of a bummer for this Chica. On any given day the song "now playing" on my iPod is from my playlist called "La Musica Latina," and here I am in Spain dancing to "Back In Black" and "Billy Jean."  LOL!  

While dancing and chatting with some friends, we were cordially invited to a barbacoa (BBQ) on Sunday afternoon, which we happily accepted.  There were LOTS of new folks there, and I truly feel like I have ~30 new friends now. Warm, welcoming, kind, funny, wonderful people, who eat, drink, dance and sing with great passion!!   A barbacoa in Spain includes totally different food from an American BBQ, and everything tastes delicious here!  Incidentally, I sent my gluten allergy on a separate vacation, and have been gloriously indulging in forbidden foods, like beer and bread!  So far so good, and YUM!!!

A few nights later, a few of us got together for "La Ruta de Caracoles," which is kinda like bar-hopping, except with food (caracoles, to be exact). Of course there was beer too. What are caracoles you ask? Good question.  They're Snails. Yep, snails. There's really not a more elegant way to put it.

Yesterday, we went river rafting. It was my first time, and I had so much fun. It was only class III (I think?), so pretty tame, but plenty of sunshine, laughter and fun. And at one point, the raft guides dumped our entire raft into the water “for fun.” They're lucky they were cute! Jejejeje!

Today was a relaxing day - a run along the river, laundry, and planning for the coming week to visit nearby cities, pueblos, beaches, etc.  Más aventuras!  Stay tuned....

Lots more photos on Facebook!

Abrazos y besos!

May 16, 2013

Más Amigos Nuevos

I truly feel like I am "HOME" here.  There's a quality of familiar and recognition I feel.  I don't have exact words for it (in either language!), but it's a palpable feeling.

I was sunning by the river on Tuesday, when some folks who were walking by, stopped and said "¡Hola! ¿Que tal?"  They sat down with me, and we proceeded to chat for a couple HOURS!  The Spanish was flying fast, which was pretty challenging, but I was able to keep up.  There is virtually NO English spoken.  While there are lots of tourists in Sevilla, a large portion of them are from Spain.  Sure, there are plenty of American and other English-speaking tourists, and so, the shop owners, and wait staff at restaurants and bars, can speak some English, but as soon as they hear me speak Spanish, that's it!  The "Mexicanish" I've become so accustomed to, and have been speaking the last  14 years, is far from the Spanish spoken here in Spain.  I was raised hearing and speaking "Spain-Spanish" so it's coming back, but sheesh!  "Use it or lose it" ain't no joke!

People are genuinely friendly, open and generous with their time.  A few nights ago, I met with another new amiga, Alicia, who is Javier's novia (girlfriend).  Javier is studying in the U.S. for the summer on a grant, and will be living in my house in June.  So, Alicia contacted me and offered to meet me and show me around Sevilla.  How sweet!  And she is just that!  I thought I had pretty much covered the city a dozen times, but I got the best treat -- a walking tour through the eyes of a local.  Alicia took me off the beaten path and showed me historic buildings that I had not yet seen.  Of great significance to me, was the el Barrio de La Judería (what used to be the Jewish Quarter centuries ago).  After our walking tour, Alicia took me to one of her favorite restaurants and we shared dishes I had not yet tried.  Authentic and delicious!!

The weather has been lovely.  Perfect spring-like temperatures (mid-to-high 70sºF / ~24º-26ºC) and sunny!  Yesterday, though, it rained for a bit, and then the skies cleared and the sun shone until it set.  I took advantage of the rainy-day opportunity to pay bills, and get caught up on other such "stuff" while I watched Spanish soap operas.  LOL!!   Sounds silly, but it's a great way to practice Español.  When the skies cleared, I had a lovely run along the river-walk in the evening.

I must confess it feels good to be among lots of peeps who "look like me," although, there is not necessarily a single "look" here.  The Spaniards are as varied-looking as we Americans are. Alicia says I look like a local.

...And I sense a very deep and solid level of "live-and-let-live" among folks here, a seeming lack of judgment or tension about all the varied lifestyles.

Incidentally, I sent my gluten allergy on vacation as well (not here).  I've been drinking beer, eating bread and other "forbidden foods," and so far, so good.  Speaking of allergies, though, the pollen / plant / hey-fever symptoms are as alive and well here as they were in the Bay Area. I'm not "suffering," but it's just annoying enough to be taking allergy relief stuff.

Photos of Alicia and a few pics from the roof of my building ...  More photos on FB!

Hasta pronto!