Mi Vida Después de España

Let’s just acknowledge right away that this blog post is long overdue. I was asked nearly a month ago when I arrived home from Spain to write a summary blog recapping how I felt about the time that I spent in Spain. I’ve held off on writing that blog until a month after I got home for a few reasons…

First, there are so many stories I never even told you about. There was the time that I went to the home of my intercambio’s friend who makes the dresses for the falleras. For six hours, I got to pretend that I was a real fallera and was dressed up in two different dresses, was covered in jewelry, had my hair done, and was then paraded around the streets of Valencia to take pictures.

I also received more cooking lessons. I got to attend a pallea master class with my friends from Bible study as well as make a Spanish omelette for a Spanish family. And there were so many more delicious dishes and pastries that I got to eat. Thinking of the bakery across from my school still makes my mouth water.

We took a second excursion as an institute to a few different cities in the province of Aragón, Spain. It was so fun to see another part of Spain that was completely different from our Valencia. The tall apartment buildings and beaches of Valencia were replaced with mountains and forests and groves of nisperos, a delightfully tart Spanish fruit. We visited two cities. In one city, Teruel, we wandered through the streets and learned the legend of the two lovers who had lived there and inspired Romeo and Juliet. In the second city, we explored ancient, medieval streets for about fifteen minutes until the rain came pouring down. We got completely drenched searching for a cafe, and when we finally found one, we spent the rest of our trip sipping hot, Spanish coffee, talking and laughing.

Then, there was the week that I got to spend in Italy. I was so blessed to be able to visit friends of my family in the medieval town of Treviso, Italy as well as travel to Venice and other cities. I spent Easter Sunday at a 300 year old villa owned by cousins of the incredibly kind woman that I stayed with. I ate gelato every single day as well as mozarella cheese. Delicious. I also was staying with an Italian history teacher, so I spent my days learning all about the history of each of the cities that I traveled to: their contribuitions to their country and the world, their culture, and their art and architechture. It was a magical week.

There was the night that Lindsay and I went to the Andalucian fair, celebrated by all the people from Andalucia living in Valencia. We spent the evening eating tapas and watching flamenco for a few hours. It was one of the most fun, peaceful nights that I had in Valencia.

These are just some of the highlights. I didn’t even tell you about the ordinary, every day moments where I could not even wrap my mind around how blessed I was to live with my host mom. Everyone asks me what the highlight of my experience was now that I am back, and I always begin with her. I wish she was here with me now as I type this and we could curl up on the couch with our dinner trays and watch “El Jefe” (Undercover Boss) all night long or sit at the kitchen table drinking tea and talking about our days. She became my second mama in every way. Thank you, Mama Lucía for everything. Thank you for all of your advice, for the hours of laughter, for tea and life chats at the kitchen table, for all the special times we went out to eat, for encouraging me, for correcting my Spanish, and for the week where we ate cheese every single night for dinner. No puedo describir tu impacto en mi vida. Te quiero y te echo de menos mucho. 

I also had such amazing friends. Oh my goodness, how thankful I am that I got to know each and every one of them. There were the girls at Wednesday afternoon Bible studies with whom I shared lunch, laughter, and learned from their wisdom and insight and views of the world. There was my church congregation, made up of young and old, who took me into their family, allowed me to serve and participate fully in their ministry, and with whom I shared some of my most special moments. They are the people who prayed for me, encouraged me, listened to, laughed with, and welcomed me into their homes. I am so thankful for their friendship. I learned so much from them and am thankful for the unique and special role they played in my life during my time in Spain. The last week that I was in Spain, the church sent each one of us off, asking how they could pray for us. Then, they presented us with a book of letters from different members of the congregation at Bible study later that week. It was with these people that I got a little taste of what heaven is going to be like someday, and it was so beautiful.

There was also my intercambio, Prisca. What a generous, fun, person who shared so much of life with me. When I said goodbye to her, I truly could not imagine not seeing her twice a week. (But it’s okay because we have big plans to become business partners and open up a paella restaurant and a churrería in the United States someday). She showed me Valencia from a true Valencian’s perspective and allowed me to participate in the Valencian culture in so many special ways that I never could have even imagined.

I spent my last week in Valencia taking in all my favorite sites and doing all of my favorite things. I had lunch at a fancy restaurant with all of my professors and the girls at the institute. I went to the beach with friends in the early morning to watch the sunrise. I spent lots of time with my friends from church and Bible study. Lindsay and I had one more taza de chocolate in the old city. Mama Lucía and I went shopping in the old city and climbed the Miguelete to get one last look at all of Valencia. I also did not so glamorous things like write really long papers and take five final exams.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover every single thing that I did during my time in Spain…but it is a start.

The second reason why I haven’t written this blog yet is because it has taken me this long to figure out what to even say about everything that I learned while I was in Spain. (And honestly, I still haven’t finished processing that experience). Everyone told me that studying abroad would change my life. I had no idea how right those people were. I can truly say that studying abroad has been the highlight of my college career and I count the three and a half months that I spent in Spain among some of the most important and formative months of my life.

I went to Spain with two suitcases, a desire to improve my Spanish, my knowlege of the Spanish culture, and learn as much as I possibly could about everything around me. I came back from Spain with three suitcases and a backpack, significantly improved Spanish, an understanding and a true love of Spanish culture and a feeling of immense satisfaction and disbelief at just how many experiences and lessons I had learned from the people around me. I came back to the United States as a different person.

Since returning from Spain…

  • I have a whole new compassion for people who are new to my country. I am so very thankful for the people in Spain who welcomed me, befriended me, were patient with me, and loved me in spite of the many times I struggled with a language barrier or did not understand an aspect of their culture. I want to be that person for people going through the same thing here.
  • I have such a decreased level of stress. Spain helped me to put my life into perspective and learn to compartmentalize.
  • I tend to live my life on a much more day by day basis. I am trying to remain focused on what is in front of me rather than whatever is months ahead.
  • I am a better listener. When you go to a different country and you are learning a new language, you have to learn how to listen and ask questions in order to really learn. In the process, you learn so much more about people and the language then you ever could have imagined.
  • I am more confident. I know who I am and I like who I am.
  • I have seen so many ways in which God is working all over the whole world in the people that I met and I am so very excited for what He is doing. I have a much more global perspective when I think about my faith.
  • I notice more details. Every week I taste, hear, see, smell or touch something that I didn’t experience in Spain. I get such pleasure from receiving a free glass of ice water at a restaurant, eating a Resse’s peanut butter cup, and seeing the plants and animals that are native to my region of the country.
  • I think in Spanish often. And I often say things in Spanish as well. This has caused two problems. My family often has no idea what I am saying, and I mispronounce words in English all the time.
  • I understand what Jaqueline Kennedy meant when she said after being abroad in Europe, “Being away from home gave me the chance to look at myself with a jaundiced eye. I learned not to be ashamed of a real hunger for knowledge, something I had always tried to hide, and I came home glad to start in here again with a love for Europe that I am afraid will never leave me”.
  • I know just how important it is to have a community wherever you may be.
  • I am immensely grateful that I took risks and opened my heart and shared life with people and learned from them even though I knew time was running out.

These are just a few of the ways that I have noticed changes in myself since returning from Spain.

The third reason why this has taken me so long is that I literally just finished unpacking yesterday, exactly one month after I arrived home from Spain. Everything finally has a place. I have piles of tickets and brochures and hundreds of photographs that I need to develop. My room has little momentos and postcards all over it that are precious to me.

So why did it take me so long to unpack?

Well, in typical Breanna style, I got home and have plugged right back into my life here at full speed. I was visted by three of my dearest college friends at my home in Minnesota within the first few weeks of being home. I got a second job working at the local bagel shop, an item I missed terribly while in Spain, and have spent way too much of my tip money consuming now that I have been home. I spent a week doing elementary clinicals and working with kids who are just beginning their Spanish journey. I just finished another week volunteering with my Spanish teachers at my local high school. It was amazing to work with the two teachers who inspired me to keep taking Spanish and decide to be a Spanish teacher. They have also each been to Valencia on mulitple occasions and their classrooms are filled with pictures of beautiful Spain. In addition to these things, I am taking full advantage of the free movies my brother gets to take us to because of his summer job at the movie theather, enjoying spending time with my own family, reading for pleasure in English and Spanish, and taking an online class. Life is full and I feel so blessed.

I miss Spain terribly, but I am also thankful to be home and applying the lessons that I learned in Spain to my own life here. I still spend time every day thinking about when I will be able to go back and about all the people that have permanent spaces in my heart 4,000 some miles away. I don’t think that will ever change.

Last summer, before the school year started, I chose the following quotation by C.S. Lewis as a theme for my year.

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishnes. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become inpenetrable, unbreakable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

That was my goal for this year, to be vulnerable and love, and I lived it out in Spain. I fell in love with the people I met in Spain as well as the country of Spain itself, and although I miss them terribly, I am so very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to weave my heart with theirs.

I’m not sure what brought you to my blog today. Maybe you’ve been following my journey all along. Maybe you’re considering studying abroad and are reading about my experience (DO IT!!!!). Maybe you had someone else on the same trip that I was on. Maybe you’re just curious. Whoever you are, I just want to say thank you for taking the time to read some of my story.

I also want to extend a special thank you to those of you who made this trip possible for me. Thank you Mom and Dad for paying for my plane ticket. Thank you Study Abroad department for all of the work that you put into every single trip someone from Cedarville takes abroad. Thank you donor who sponsered the English, Literature, and Modern Languages study abroad scholarship without which I could not have gone on this trip. Thank you professors for believing in me, for giving me the language and life skills necessary for this experience, and for supporting me in so many ways throughout the entire process. Thank you to those of you who are unnamed for your financial support that make this trip possible. I am still not sure who all of you are, but I am so very grateful for you. You are the people that made my dream become a reality and gave me a gift that I do not even know how to adequately thank you for.

To those of you wanting to know more about my experience in Spain, I would love to talk with you about it! To those of you wondering where the pictures are on this post, I am hoping (hoping!) to go back and write down a few more stories on this blog of my experiences in Spain and will share some more of my pictures then. :)

Thank you again for following along with my journey and for supporting me along the way with your comments and letters. I am thankful for you.

Until the next adventure,

Breanna

 

 

L’ Oceanografic

It all started with Paris, France.

Several of the girls were headed out last weekend on a trip to Paris and Rachel asked me if I wanted to do something. Rachel and I tend to make a crazy plan when other people are going somewhere. Last time, we went to Xativa while some of the other girls enjoyed the islands of Mayorca, Spain.

We figured that since we couldn’t actually go to France, we might as well pick something in Valencia that sounds like it could be French and headed to L’Oceanografic, Europe’s largest aquarium. It is one of the must-see locations in Valencia and many of us have wanted to go since we first arrived. Rachel and I were joined by TK and Helen.

Typically, if we go somewhere new we allow ourselves to have a “tourist day.” This means we dress like tourists and take pictures of everything. This particular day was no different. We headed out with no timeline and no plan. I was expecting to only spend a few hours in the aquarium, but 7 hours later we were still having a wonderful time.

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We started our day in the tunnels of the aquarium. This part reminded me of the aquarium at the Mall of America in Minnesota.

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We then, headed outside to enjoy a dolphin show. We actually ended up going to this dolphin show twice. I had persuaded the other girls to go to the earlier dolphin show because I could not imagine that we would still be at the aquarium four hours later. Well, four hours later we were still there and had enjoyed the first show so much that we went again. TK, who had been to the aquarium before, informed us that there was a dance competition prior to the start of the show and that if you won, you got to pet a dolphin. Now, if you have ever played a board game or been at a speech tournament with me, you know that I am an extremely competitive person. If you are a member of my immediate family, you know that ever since Chris declared he wanted to be a marine biologist when he was a little kid, we have talked about swimming with dolphins. (Although Chris’s dreams have changed, I still want to swim with the dolphins). If you have ever lived with me, remember high school prom, or have seen the videos my brothers and roommates have recorded of me you know that I am a terrible dancer. But, I wanted to pet that dolphin.

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So Gangnam Style starts blasting and Helen and I are dancing to get a chance to pet that dolphin. Let’s just say we didn’t pet the dolphin in the first show. So then, the four of us choreographed  a dance (and I mean choreographed) for the second show. And none of us ended up petting a dolphin. But we had a blast and made fools out of ourselves in the process.

After the dolphin show, we explored the aviary.

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Saw a lot of other marine exhibits.

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Took a picture by a life size replica of a whale.

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Had a deep conversation in the presence of the flamingos.

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Watched some penguins.

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Ran into Dr. Wiseman and his daughter.

Went to every gift shop and found this crazy necklace which caused us all to die of laughter.

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We also found this hilarious advertisement for a genuine American hot dog. And enjoyed some french fries and ice cream to get our energy back up.

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We ended the day with two fun selfies.

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As we walked back home through the City of Arts and Sciences we came across this fun invention. I’m pretty determined to try it before I leave.

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All in all it was a great day with wonderful people! Sometimes the best plans are spontaneous day trips with no agenda. :)

 

Los Gnocchis de Uruguay y el Pan de Alemania

A lot of my most recent experiences in Spain have combined two things that I absolutely love: people and food. Throughout my time in Spain, I have been amazed at how many people from different countries are currently in Spain. Some of the most special people that I have had the joy of getting to know and learn from are my Uruguayan neighbors and a friend from Germany.

My neighbor is an incredible chef. Often times the amazing creations that she shares with us become my meriendas (afternoon snacks) and each and every one of them has been delicious. One night we were talking about cooking and making homemade pasta came up in the conversation. She offered to teach me how to make Gnocchi, a delicious potato pasta commonly made in Italy and South America. I couldn’t believe it. This pasta happens to be one of my favorite pastas as well as the favorite pasta of my mom in the United States. I happily said yes!

I learned that it is a Uruguayan tradition to make gnocchis the 29th of every month. On March 29 my neighbor came over and together with her husband, my host mom and grandma we made the gnocchis. Two plants of basil were plucked to make a delicious pesto. We steamed and mashed potatoes and added flour, salt and pepper. My neighbor began to kneed a huge bowl of dough and gave me a smaller one to work with. It was messy and fun! When the dough was ready, we formed it into the gnocchi shape with a special tool. (You can also use a fork). 

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I had a hard time getting the exact movement right to form the gnocchis. But, after awhile, it became easier. After I had made a plate worth of gnocchis, my neighbor finished forming the rest. It was no small task. We made enough gnocchis for seven people and still had some left over in the end. As the gnocchis were being formed, my neighbors and I talked about Uruguay and the different words and animals that they have there. I learned about different types of ostriches as well as interesting birds and mammals I had never heard of before. I even learned how to say platypus in Spanish: ornitorrinco.

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When the pasta was formed it was time to boil it. We dropped them into the top and when they floated to the surface of the boiling water, they were ready to be eaten. The steaming, hot pasta was scooped onto plates and garnished with basil pesto and fresh Parmesan cheese.

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We all sat down to the table to eat, along with some other friends, and realized that we had forgotten an important part of Gnocchi day! It is a tradition in Uruguay to put money under each plate for good luck. I quickly dashed off to my room to search for coins to place under the plates. Once everyone had their money, we enjoyed the warm gnocchis with a fresh salad.

 

My neighbors are incredibly kind people who have shared their amazing experiences with me. Just the other night, I enjoyed learning more about South America, Spanish and food. 

This week, I received a baking lesson from one of my host mom’s friends from Germany. I met her one of my first weeks in Spain and we had a conversation about how much my mom and Grandma love German bread. She offered to teach me how to make it. This week we were finally able to make it work. 

We made a Butter Strutten, a bread common in Northern Germany, that was absolutely delicious. The process took about four hours and was an absolute delight. 

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First, we made part of the dough and let it rise.

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Then, we kneeded in butter, salt, and sugar and let it rise again.

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After the second rising we pressed it into a pan and sent it into the oven to bake.

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Soon after removing the bread from the oven, we brushed the top with lots of butter. 

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This bread is commonly eaten with butter and ham. We didn’t have any ham in the house, so we made a quick run to the grocery store to eat the bread the right way. We spread butter over the warm bread and topped it with the Spanish jamon serrano. Then, we made a dinner out of it with my host mom and grandma. 

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As we waited for the bread to rise, I learned about Germany and her life. It was absolutely fascinating. She also gave me tips for my upcoming trip to Venice, Italy! (I’m leaving in six days to spend a week in Italy with a friend of my family)! It was such a special time of learning, laughter, and fun!

Whenever I learn a recipe, I keep my little red notebook (thank you Kate!) by my side to write down all of the steps and tricks as we are doing the process. I’m excited to make them when I return!  

Mi Primera Paella y la Tortilla de Patatas

This morning has turned out differently than I expected it to. I woke up ready to head out to the Lladro (a famous Spanish ceramics artist) Museum for a free guided tour of his factory, private paintings collection, and special works of art with some of the other girls from the Institute. Prior to leaving, I asked my mom if there was a faster way than walking to get to the museum. She advised that I take the bus, but after leaving later than I wanted to and seeing how many stops the bus was going to have to make, I decided that it would be faster to walk. 

Mistake Number One: Never believe that you can walk faster than a bus.

Anyway, I start out walking. Google Maps estimated that the trip of several kilometers would take one hour and two minutes. Great. I had one hour and twenty. My goal was to cut that down to 45 minutes. I thought about bringing a map with me just in case the written directions were confusing, but I decided against it.

Mistake Number Two: Think that you don’t need a map when you are going to a new location.

So I started walking. I was proud of myself because I was making great time. I found the right streets. And then I arrived at the end of the street and encounter a round-about that has some streets labeled and some unnamed. I couldn’t find the next street I needed, walked around looking for it, and finally decided to take a nice long one that seemed like it was going somewhere. 

Mistake Number Three: Trust that every street sign that appears on Google maps will also appear in real life.

I kept walking. I ended up next to an onion field and other fields of flowers and vegetables. I even found some roosters. But I could not find any of the street names that I needed. So I called one of the other girls to let them know I wasn’t going to make it to our tour, and turned back towards home. 

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Next time, I’m taking the bus.

*Disclaimer: (Yes, I probably should have asked someone the name of the street that I was on. Mistake number four).

So now I am back home and have decided to spend the time that I was going to spend at the museum updating my blog with several entries of what has been happening in the past few weeks. 

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The Sunday after Las Fallas, I was invited by my intercambio to her friend’s house to have paella. Paella is the national dish of Spain and it originated in Valencia. I had heard from a friend from Spain that the best place to have paella is in the home of a Valencian. I was beyond excited to try it.

Valencian paella is different from the typical paella that appeared in my Spanish textbooks. Paella is often made with many different types of seafood. Although you can order this type of paella in Valencia, the traditional Valencian paella is made with chicken and rabbit.

After church that morning, I met up with my intercambio and we headed over to her friend’s home. When we walked in, there was a huge pan of paella simmering over an indoor fire. It smelled and looked absolutely delicious. 

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When it was finished, we put the pan in the middle of the table and we all ate out of the same pan with spoons. This particular paella was seasoned with multiple spices and contained rice, green beans, chicken and artichokes. We enjoyed squeezing lemon over the top which made it even more delicious. 

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It was a beautiful afternoon. We sat around the table together sharing wonderful conversation and food. 

That same day, my host mom’s mom arrived to stay with us for awhile. I had been dying to learn how to make the delicious Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish potato omelette) that I had been enjoying for weeks and had heard that Grandma has the best recipe. A few days, she agreed to teach me while she made the tortilla for dinner that night.

Grandma took the time to teach me step by step how to make the famous potato omelette and explained to me the ways that make her tortilla unique. 

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I enjoyed spending time with her in the kitchen, learning her secrets and listening to her stories. 

And my mom wasn’t kidding about Grandma’s tortilla de patatas. It was absolutely incredible.

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These are the moments in Spain that I love more than any museum. There is nothing more special while studying abroad than being invited to share in traditions that have been taking place for years in this country with amazing people. 

 

Las Fallas 2014

Well hello there! It’s been awhile since I last blogged. And now I have so many things to tell you about Spain that it is impossible to fit them all into one blog post. So over the next few days (hopefully!) I will try to update my blog with recent happenings of the past few weeks!

A few days after my visit to the castle at Xativa, one of the biggest festivals of the year in Spain, Las Fallas began. I have never experienced anything like it and it may have been one of the most fun weeks of my life. Think Christmas, New Years Eve, and Fourth of July celebrated all at once and you might be getting close to how amazing Las Fallas is. Here’s a look at the many festivities that I was able to participate in.

Las Luces de Calle Sueca, Calle Cuba y el Convento Jerusalem

The day after Xativa and a few days after Fallas, I headed out to see the light displays in the city with my host mom. (I think that I had asked her every day since my arrival when they were going to turn the lights on). So when the time finally arrived, I was beyond excited. There are three streets that are known to have the best lights in the whole city and nearly everyone in the city goes to see them. Along the way we stopped for the best buñuelos (pumpkin fried dough covered in sugar) in the city and roasted castañas (chestnuts).

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When we arrived at the best displays, I had no idea that in addition to the beautiful light displays there was also a light show in two of the neighborhoods. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before and the music ranged from a traditional Spanish ballad to Bohemian Rhapsody. It was such a fun environment. Everyone was outside enjoying the evening with friends and family. There were candy stands and food stalls all along the streets. It was an amazing evening and a good taste of the incredible moments that were yet to come.

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Los Castillos

The actual week of Fallas they have a fireworks show (un castillo) every night. And when I say fireworks show, I mean fireworks show. Valencian fireworks are known for being some of the best in the world. Each show lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes and nearly every firework that I saw was a shape or color that I had never seen before. I have always loved the Fourth of July, but I must admit it is not going to look quite the same after this.

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Unlike a fireworks show in the States, the Valencians tend to be very quiet when they are watching fireworks. One night I could hear a group of girls with North American accents exclaiming, “What is this? This is crazy!” as they watched the fireworks. I think they echoed everyone else’s thoughts that wasn’t from Valencia that night. We’ve been missing out on real fireworks.

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The Castillos began between 12 and 1 am every night. I went with a group of friends from church and school and we had a great time. Thank you to the boys from church who walked us home every night to our front doors!

Las Fallas

Las Fallas refers to the sculptures that are made by each neighborhood. I read an article that this tradition actually started with something akin to spring cleaning. The Valencians would put out everything they didn’t want into the middle of the street in big piles and burn it. This tradition has evolved into creating sculptures which tend to critique some aspect of society and burning them at the end of the week instead.

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I could not believe how big and beautiful many of the sculptures were and also that they were about to be burned in just a few days. My host mom and I spent eight hours viewing nearly all of the important fallas and those in between. (There were over 300 fallas sites in the city).

La Ofrenda

During two of the days of Fallas each neighborhood brings a flower offering to a statue of the Virgin Mary. With their flowers, they create the dress of the Virgen. My host mom calculated that there were probably over 30,000 people representing their neighborhoods with flowers. Young and old, men and women, were dressed in traditional Fallas outfits to bring their offering to the Virgen.

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I snapped some pictures of them as they made their way through the city streets. I only briefly saw the completed Virgen when hurrying through the streets of Valencia to watch the fallas burn.

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Churros y Chocolate

I don’t this needs much of an explanation. But let’s just say, I had so many churros, bunuelos, and chocolate that I thought I wouldn’t be able to ever eat them again. (I enjoyed a nice cup of Spanish chocolate two days ago, so I’ve already proved myself wrong).

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La Carpa del Barrio

Every neighborhood (barrio) has a tent (carpa) where the paying members of the fallera group of the neighborhood gather to eat and spend time together during the week of Fallas. My host mom received tickets to have refreshments from a Fallas tent and took me, Helen, and our wonderful neighbor with her. We asked if we could see inside their tent and were given permission.

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I had seen so many of the tents from the outside all weekend long, so I was thrilled to actually know what went on inside. Inside I found decorations and people enjoying spending time together. Nothing too significant, but my curiosity was satisfied.

Las Mascletas

Las Mascletas are firework shows that happen during the day. Rather than focusing on the light display, the focus is on the sound that the fireworks make. Every day there were mini mascletas in the neighborhoods as well as a huge one in front of the Valencian government building.

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It was so loud that you could feel the vibrations and had to plug your ears. It was also incredibly impressive.

La Crema 

The last night of Fallas was the night I had been waiting for. The night when “La Crema” (“the burning” in Valenciano) occurred. I got together with a group of friends at 10 and we headed out at 10:30 to see the various Fallas burn. We didn’t really have an agenda, we just wanted to find one burning.

I thought that it would be easy to see many fallas burn, but I discovered that people typically only watch a few. Each falla has to burn at a different time to allow the firemen to arrive to ensure that nothing outside of the falla catches on fire. The falla is filled with fireworks that shoot off into the night sky and announce that it is about to burn. Prior to burning the falla, more fireworks are strung on the outside and a flammable liquid is poured over the surface of the falla. When the firemen are ready, the fallera of the neighborhood lights the match and starts the falla on fire.

After seeing one, we were hooked. The flames were as high as the apartment buildings and the heat was incredible. Some of us made it until 3am, often times running through the streets of the old city to try to catch the burning of another falla. In total, I saw five fallas burn and saw two more burning on my way home. Needless to say, my concept of a bonfire night has also been forever tarnished.

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________

When I woke up the day after Fallas, I could not believe how the city had transformed itself. People had stayed up all night and were working into the morning cleaning up the remains. By the time classes ended that day, you could hardly tell that Fallas had just happened.

It was an incredible week full of spending time in community, witnessing amazing artistic talent, and growing to love this amazing city and the people in it even more.

Mi Día Favorito

I’m sitting in the kitchen with my ever-present companion at my side: a steaming cup of Respirar hot tea which I am hoping will help rid me of my nasty cold that has been developing all week. I’m finally done with all my midterms! Finally. And I don’t have to go to school again until next Thursday because Fallas is finally here! About every minute, I hear the pop of a firecracker outside reminding me of the spectacular fireworks show I am going to see tonight at 1am. (Yes mom, my camera battery is charging as we speak).

Today, before I spend the next several days out in the street enjoying all the festivities of Fallas, I wanted to take a minute to fill you in one of my favorite days in Spain which happened last Friday.

It all started with Paris, France. I was sitting in the basement of the school, listening to some of the other girls plan a trip to Paris when Rachel and I decided that we should plan an adventure too. So, we got busy on our computers looking up little towns and came across Xativa, Spain. We knew absolutely nothing about Xativa, except that they had a castle. That was good enough for us. We decided to leave at 7:30am last Friday morning and spend about twelve hours exploring. Lindsay decided to come too.

And so the adventure began.

I woke up at 4 am, checked the weather, got ready for the day and headed to the train station around 5am to buy my tickets. I had never ridden a train before in Europe and figured that it was probably like an airport, and that I should get to the station more than an hour ahead of time. That makes sense right? Wrong. Trains in Spain are like buses. You don’t need to be at the station until about 20 minutes before your train is scheduled to leave, and if you really want to have an adventure you can get there about ten minutes before departure and still make it on the train.

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So I sat in the beautiful train station taking pictures and watching the trains come in to and depart from the station. Sometime that morning, I had pressed the wrong button on my phone and locked it. I couldn’t use it to make any calls and the number that I needed to unlock my phone was sitting on my nightstand, forty-five minutes away. I realized that this meant I had no way to contact Rachel or Lindsay and no way of knowing when they were planning to arrive at the station.

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I waited and waited and waited. 7am rolled around. The train started boarding. There was no sign of Rachel or Lindsay anywhere. I decided to board the train and figured that since I had bought my ticket that morning, perhaps I had bought the wrong time. I figured I would wait for them at the station, and hoped that they would board the train without me.

About ten minutes before the train was supposed to leave, I was looking out my window and saw Rachel and Lindsay running at a full sprint past the train I was on. I had no way of warning them because my phone was locked and they were running so fast that by the time I could have gotten of the train, they were gone. I pressed my nose against the window hoping to see them turn around and silently praying that God would help them get on the right train.

The train took off from the station. Without Rachel and Lindsay. I looked out my window again and noticed them sitting happily on a different train. Oh no. I had no idea where they were going and I later discovered that they were wondering where I was too.

I arrived at the train station in Xativa and discovered that there was another train coming to Xativa from Valencia about five minutes after mine. Thankfully, they were on that train. (We later discovered that they were supposed to be on my train). We headed into Xativa with literally no plan and ready for an adventure.

The rest of our day was spent…

Sipping tea and chocolate at a cute cafe.

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Visiting the tourist office.

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Climbing up a mountain and old castle walls. (That tiny black dot on the wall is me).

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Spending 4 1/2 hours in this beautiful castle. Hardly anyone was there, so we felt like we had it all to ourselves.

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Eating Magnum bars and having great conversations in the local park.

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Shopping and exploring along the winding streets of Xativa.

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Stepping inside an apartment building to view this gorgeous ceramic staircase.

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It was a wonderful day of relaxing, great conversation, breathtaking views, learning, and fun.

We arrived to the train station at the end of the day exhausted in the best possible way. And we all made it back on the right train to Valencia.

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Memorias en España…Highlights of the Past Few Weeks

Hola from Spain! The past several days since I have last posted have been full of adventures, learning and fun! And school. A whole lot of school. (Which is the main reason why I haven’t posted in so long). Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to…

School

A typical morning for me includes waking up to yet another day  of glorious sunshine, hearing the wind blow through the palm branches, and thinking about the many places I can go exploring later on in the day. I attend classes daily, but I am rarely stressed about school. That’s one of the things I love about this program. Yes, we go to school and it can be challenging, but our homework load is small so that we are able to go out and fully immerse ourselves in the incredible language and culture around us. However, in these past few weeks school has been at the forefront of my mind. At my particular institute, if a teacher misses a day of class then we have to make up that day at a later time. So, for the past two weeks I had classes until 9pm some nights. But, thankfully, we have finally made up most of them just in time for…

MIDTERMS! Yep. This is the week of midterms. I had four of them this week and will have my last one next Thursday. I am so glad to be done with the majority of them!

My favorite moment from the past few weeks of school was  one of my grammar classes. We were supposed to be discussing preterit vs. imperfect, but instead we spent an hour and fifteen minutes listening to our professor’s lecture on different types of bull festivals in Spain. Thankfully Ruby captured a picture of this moment which I have included below…

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Las Fallas

Las Fallas is something that is nearly impossible to explain without actually experiencing it for yourself. Since it is just beginning, I’m still not exactly sure what to expect. It is one of the largest and most famous festivals in Spain and it happens right year in Valencia! In the next few weeks one million extra people will descend on the city to take part in the festivities. If you would like to learn more about Las Fallas you can do so on this website (it is in Spanish, but you can watch some videos of recent fallas happenings and see pictures):  http://www.fallas.com/index.php/es.

The city is currently being transformed with beautiful lights and chocolate and churros stands are everywhere! I rewarded myself for spending a day inside studying for midterms with delicious churros and chocolate! The main events of Las Fallas are coming up in two weeks (and I don’t have school, so I can enjoy them all!), but a few have already happened which you can read about below.

La Exposicion de la Ninot

People spend a significant amount of time making these creations, called ninots, which are all burned each year at the end of Fallas on March 19. Well, all of them, but two. The city has an exhibition of the special ninots in the days leading up to Las Fallas. Everyone who visits the exhibition can vote for one ninot from the children’s division and one ninot from the main division to save from the fire. These two ninots are placed in the Museum of Ninots in Valencia forever.

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A group of us went and decided to see what it was all about. There were so many people at the exhibition. There were also so many ninots. The ninots ranged from political critiques to popular children’s cartoon characters. We even found several Despicable Me minions. At the end, we each voted on which ninots we wanted to save. Here were my choices. I picked the first one because I love the movie Up. I picked the second because it included some of the items I associate now when I think of Spain: oranges, colors, and ceramics. I also thought it was absolutely beautiful.

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La Crida

La Crida means “The Calling” in Valenciano, the language spoken in the province of Valencia. On this night, a large portion of the city turned out to celebrate the start of Fallas. There was a spectacular acrobatics and light show on the Torres de Serrano (towers that used to be a gate to the city) which was followed by a speech by the Mayor and Fallera Mayor of Valencia. (Fallera refers to the girls who chosen to represent their neighborhood during Las Fallas. Of all of these girls, one older girl (the fallera mayor) and one younger girl (the fallera infantil) are chosen to represent the entire city. Falleras are present at all major Fallas events and I see falleras from all over Valencia walking around town in their traditional dress and hairdo).

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The night finished with fireworks. I learned that Valencia is right up there with China for amazing fireworks. There were shapes and colors that I have never seen before.

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There were so many people in traditional costumes, gathered together with their neighborhood to celebrate the night. It was impossible to see from where I was standing where the sea of people even ended. When it was over we walked through the Rio where people were throwing firecrackers, singing and dancing. Alyssa and I got caught up in the music and danced on our way out of the Rio. Afterwards, we searched for a cafe to order a Fallas favorite, bunuelos (fried pumpkin dough balls sprinkled with sugar) and cups of chocolate. I am happy to report that I finally finished my entire cup of chocolate!

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GBU, Church, and Bible Study

I love my Wednesdays at GBU studying Hosea with people from all over the world in Spanish. What a blessing they are to me! We had an international Sunday at church last week and I read a scripture passage in English as well as brought some zucchini bread to share. It was a great Sunday filled with worship in multiple languages!

Here’s a photo of the GBU girls!

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La Fiesta de Tapas

Thankfully my host dad Enrique reminded my host mom and I from Germany that last Sunday was La Fiesta de Tapas. We headed out to the beach and enjoyed sampling many different tapas. Some of my favorites were a bunuelo de mozarella (deep fried mozarella ball with ham and zucchini) as well as duck (yes for those of you who know how much I love ducks…I ate one and I liked it) on bread with crispy onions. Mmmm delicious. It was a beautiful afternoon with my host mom.

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Intercambio

These past few weeks I have finally been able to get together with my intercambio, a native Valencian who is learning English. We meet twice a week to help the other person in our native language. On Mondays we practice Spanish and on Tuesdays we practice English. My intercambio is incredibly kind and fun! We’ve spent time exploring the old city of Valencia, learning English words in the grocery store, and chatting over tapas and coke in a local cafe. (Sidenote: something I love about Spain is how people eat their salads. You put them in the middle of the table and everyone dips their fork in the same bowl or plate). Next Monday we’re spending the afternoon on the beach, and in a few weeks I will be going to her house to have homemade paella (the national dish of Spain) with her family. I have heard that the best way to experience paella is in the home of a Valencian. Valencia is actually where paella is said to have originated. I am SO excited! We’re also planning on going out to order octopus one night too.

El Museo Muvim

Two of our professors took us to an amazing museum one weekend that highlighted different periods of Spanish history through a multi-media dramatic presentation in Spanish. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the museum. It was visually stunning, and an amazing way to learn about history.

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Some of my favorite moments are the little things that I do on a daily basis. Whether it is chatting over tea in a cute cafe, spontaneous trips to the historical district with my camera, or laughing with my host mom as we share stories about our days, these are the moments that I treasure.

I feel so at home here. I recognize and chat with some of my neighbors. I know my way around the city. I’m involved with a great church. I absolutely love my family.

My host mom and I have decided that I’m not coming back to the United States. She’s going to kidnap me and I’m going to stay here forever. Except…now you all know…so we’re going to have to come up with a new plan.

I think two people have reminded me this week about how little time that I actually have left in Spain. I’m tempted to just plug my ears when I hear that and wander around the city until every little detail is permantenly cemented into my mind, and I can carry it with me forever.

Coming to Spain has truly been a life-changing experience. I cannot wait to see what the next few months have in store! As for today, I’m planning on heading out to see some beautiful neighborhoods all lit up for Fallas with my  mom this evening! (Expect pictures and posts about that soon!) And my mom bought me a scarf and a personalized Fallas pin to wear to all the events.

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Hope all is well wherever in the world you may be!

Lots of love from Spain,

Breanna

P.S. Thank you Mom for organizing the most incredible mail blitz ever. And thank you to all of you who have sent me cards and letters. I have had so many letters pour in over the last few weeks, and each of them have been such an encouragement and a blessing to me.

P.P.S. Yesterday, I experienced my favorite day yet in Spain. I explored this beautiful castle and there are so many great stories and pictures that the day has to have its own blog post. But in the meantime, here’s a picture.

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