Whoops. I apologize for disappearing for a couple of weeks there… After getting to Gandia, our days were a flurry of classes, activities, and spending time with the other international students – with meeting so many people in such a short time, I didn’t have much free time that wasn’t used stealing a few winks of sleep here and there. I’ll use this post to recap the two weeks of the Intensive Spanish Language course in Gandia, then update you all on my time so far in Valencia since then. I’m probably going to forget some things, which is all the more motivation for me to update on a regular basis. 😛
[ 21 Jan – First Day of Spanish Course & Welcome Dinner ]
We woke up early to get to school by 8 for a meeting about Erasmus Student Network (ESN) – an organization that hosts various activities for international students. The rest of the course’s activities were coordinated by them and in general their events are a great way to meet other international students. Class started at 9. We broke up into different groups (A1, A2, B1, B2) based on the pretest we took before coming to Spain and retested to make sure we were at the right level. This was a bit nerve wrecking, but I thankfully ended up in the same group, B1. While the tests were graded, we had an hour and a half “coffee break” with an assortment of pastries, coffee, and juice. In general, I got to meet a lot more people, from more places than just Wisconsin and Illinois, thankfully! There’s people here from Sweden, Germany, Austria, France, the Czech Republic, and Holland – to name a few! I’m very relieved that I have non-American friends now, haha. Going back to class, we got a quick overview about the course. The professor, Rebeca, seemed (correctly) like a really good teacher. We were to have 4 hours of class a day and homework every day… yippee.
After class, I walked to the supermarket with a couple of awesome Germans, bought some risotto mix, and made that for lunch. We went back later to look for notebooks and could only find gridded ones, like graph paper. After bringing this up a couple times with different people, it turns out that it’s pretty standard in Europe for college students to write only on graph paper. In fact, lined notebooks are only for young children, when they’re learning how to write. Oh, Europe. It’s funny how so many things are just a little bit different – just a little, but still.
That evening, we had a welcome dinner and party with ESN. Seeing as it was open bar, it was hilarious to watch some of the more… “hydrated” people. Dinner consisted of typical Spanish tapas – patatas bravas, croquetas, calimari, salad – and pizza. Maddie, Alyssa, and I tried to not sit next to each other, but still ended up really close, haha, but also got to eat with Philippe (German), Laurin, and Patrick (both Austrian). They learned quickly about my obsessive need to photograph nearly everything I eat and soon caught on that they had to wait a second before chowing down for me to snap away (I don’t have a problem. *twitch* No, really.). We headed back at a reasonable time (2), but others stayed out and had a great time waking up for class the next day, haha.
[ 22 Jan – Gandia City Tour & Karaoke Night ]
So it turns out that 4 straight hours of Spanish class is not easy to get through! Fortunately, I really like the people in my class and my professor keeps things more lively and relevant than the other classes do.
After class, we made sandwiches and returned back to campus to go on a city tour of Gandia. The schedule said to meet at 4, but when we arrived, we were amongst the first ones there; none of the coordinators even showed up until 4:30 (oops, I mean 16.30!)… ah, Spanish time! After a quick bus ride to the city center, we walked around the city, looking at some statues, part of the old city wall, an old theater in traditional Valencian style, and the palace of Duke Cesare Borja (Whoo, should out to ChoMUN’12!). Our walk was cut short by sudden and vigorous rain, which ushered us into a nearby cafe for a while. It was rather a surprise for the workers there when about 50 people rushed in at once.
Afterwards, Maddie, Alyssa, and I went and got SIM cards and Spanish phone numbers and got to hang out with Philippe and Valentin (Austrian) for quite some time while waiting for this bus. This was pretty awesome and I really hoped that I got to hang out with a lot of the people I met here in Valencia as well.
The scheduled event for the night was karaoke. Though it was a little slow at first, as more people came and the evening went on, it was a lot of fun. One of the highlights was the Maryland Bros (total frat boys), Brendan and Nick singing Backstreet Boys. I got dragged into singing Dontcha by the Pussy Cat Dolls with a few other people (though Madeline and I kept singing “Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like BILL!” instead of the real words, hehe). By the end, a huge group would to on stage for every song; when I went up for Hey Ya by Outkast, there were at least ten people on stage. It was surprisingly fun.
[ 23 Jan – Cooking Lesson & Tandem ]
This evening, we had a cooking lesson with a charismatic chef at El Varadero (the bar we’ve been going to this whole week). He taught us how to make paella, preparing a huge portion in a pan big enough to curl up in. It looks like a simple enough process, while still flexible enough to make it taste different every time. The chef was particularly entertaining, singing to us a song about breaking his leg while he waited for the rice to cook. We got to eat the paella afterwards (delicious!) then spent some time playing games like Boom Snap Clap and other silly hand games from when we were about 10. The Europeans seemed to be amused, particularly as we made them join in. We went back to the apartments and returned soon for a “tandem,” where we had to speak entirely in Spanish for an hour, aided by our choice of Agua de Valencia (definitely not water) or mojito. The rest of the night, we just hung out, talked, or awkwardly danced at the bar. We made some observations about differences in American and European dancing, and decided that European dancing is much classier and laid back.
[ 24 Jan – Salsa Lessons ]
We dressed up the evening and headed to El Varadero for salsa lessons. The instructors started off with basic steps, then we moved to dancing with partners and things got more complicated. It was certainly quite the work out! It was funny goofing up, seeing as I have two left feet, and commiserating with other people as they too struggled to spin or mambo (aka shimmy awkwardly). There were some people that were actually ridiculously good, like the Czech boy that insisted that since we were dancing with him, he would decide when we spun, not the instructors yelling out directions. Overall, it was quite entertaining.
[ 25 Jan – Fun with Water Heaters ]
I’m not quite sure what else we did this day, but the most exciting thing was our water heater conking out. After class, our trio was watching Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (fantastic, go watch it if you haven’t) because Maddie hadn’t seen it. Towards the end, we heard a dripping sound in the kitchen. Assuming it was just the tap, we were surprised to see that it was our water heater leaking. Maddie ran to inform the office (which was fortunately open) and they sent up the super, an old man with a plastic bag with something that looked like a scruffy blonde wig and a tub of chocolate paste. He took one look at it and said, “Kaput. Need new. Clean your kitchen.” Surprised by the last command, we complied as he shut off the water. We spent the next hour and a half or so giggling as we heard strange grunting noises from the kitchen. It was replaced and didn’t give us any more trouble for the rest of our stay, but was certainly an amusing way to spend the afternoon.
[ 26 Jan – Apartment Hunt: Part 1 & Cocoloco: Part 1 ]
Today was set aside as a time to go into Valencia and look at apartments, seeing as most of us were otherwise homeless for the next five months… kind of a problem. I had messaged an agency called HelloFlatMate the evening before to set up an appointment to see a few different flats. I woke up early and after missing the first bus and barely making it to the train station in time, I got a call on the train moving my 11 am appointment to 15.00. Frustrating, but typical for Spain, I suppose? I instead wandered around with a couple of other people, successfully directing Madeline and Sarah (‘murricans!) to a flat viewing (albeit an hour late) without getting lost or any other major mishaps. Bam.
I left those two to grab lunch with my mentor from UPV/Erasmus and one of his friends. We went to a place near Plaza Xucer and had a Spanish menu (pre fixe), consisting of a sort of gazpacho (actually pasta with meat, not soup!), a very fishy dish with shrimp, and chocolate cake. I was a bit nervous speaking Spanish with them, though he seemed to understand everything I said. He’s also learning English for Erasmus, though, so we ended up speaking in both languages. He’s extremely friendly and offered a lot of information about student life, good areas to live, and other such relevant things.
At 15.00, I went to the first flat and ended up meeting Maddie, Alyssa, and 5 or 6 others from the course. So this big gang then went around looking at different apartments. Generally, they were pretty mediocre and the only one I liked was at the higher end of my range, plus Alyssa really, REALLY liked it. Generally, all 10 or so of the apartments we saw were, in my opinion, a bit pricey for what they were – probably because of the agency’s extra fees. In terms of roommates, a lot of the rooms weren’t booked, so roommates would be random, or there were a mix of girls and guys, also internationals for the most part. Anyways, Alyssa ended up going with the place she adored, which was perfect for her because it’s located on the corner across the football stadium. Maddie found a place she liked as well, about a five minute walk from Alyssa. In fact, of our group of 9 people, everyone picked one of the rooms we saw, apart from me and Laurin. While the others went to go sign their papers, the two of us and his friend Sebastian went to see a place he had seen earlier, where they were looking for a guy and a girl. The location and price were good and the rooms were large, but it was an older place and kinda dark. The guy renting was also talking to several other people, so ultimately, the two of us returned after like 12 hours, empty handed (aside from the beer and bananas we bought for the train ride home…). I felt a bit better after talking to other people that weren’t in our group, because a fair number had also not found flats. Overall, the experience was exhausting and more stressful than I had anticipated.
I was completely worn out, but still got talked into going out for a bit, on account of the fact that we were headed to Cocoloco, a club for which Gandia is renowned. We stopped first a bar called Ukelele for a “Ibiza white party,” then walked over to Cocoloco, which could only be described as a cesspool of people. The club is located along the beach and had received too many noise complaints so were planning on shutting down and moving inland. Before this happened, however, they were hosting 4 large closing parties, the third of which was held this night. The club itself spanned quite some area underground and was something straight from the screen of Gandia Shore (like Jersey Shore, not joking). I left pretty soon after, but not before waiting at with Lennart to get his coat check and catching an eyeful of the black lacy thong worn by the guy in front of us in line. ’nuff said.
[ 27 Jan – Winery Tour & Wine Tasting ]
Apparently, when Maddie first woke me up this morning, I started sleeptalking to her in Spanish… I hope this is a sign I’m on my way towards fluency, haha. My Spanish has definitely improved since being here, even if it’s just in understanding other people talk. Anyways, when I was rewoken (after barely 3 hours of sleep) I decided to get up and go on the day’s activity anyways, porque ¡siempre yolamos juntos! (yolar – to YOLO. It’s a thing.) We took an hour long bus ride to a winery and took a tour of the facility and then participated in a wine tasting. I’m really glad I went, because this ended up being one of the most fun days so far.
We started off taking a tour of the wine-making facility. Both white and red wine can be made from the same grapes, depending on whether or not the skin is included when the grapes are crushed and later fermented. Inside the facility, there were several large metal contraptions used to mash grapes, ferment the resulting paste, and ultimately, produce young wine. This is then stored in large barrels in a cellar and tasted with a certain frequency to determine when it is ready to be bottled (sounds like a fun job, eh?). Somehow, Maddie, Alyssa, and I ended up deciding that “banana bombing” was a thing…. like photo bombing, except with bananas. I blame the sleep deprivation. Regardless, it led to some pretty hilarious moments. We ended the tour with a wine tasting (great idea on an empty stomach…), where we tried an extremely dry red, a dry red, and a syrupy sweet white. Our guide told us how to properly taste the wine, though I don’t think anyone actually listened. We ended up standing near the Maryland Bros, which was a ton of fun. Afterwards, we had the chance to buy some wine before boarding the bus and going to a nearby lake for a picnic.
Overall, it was a great day, but I was still a bit stressed about not having the apartment situation figured out yet. Good thing sleep deprivation is wonderfully distracting!
[ 28 Jan – Apartment Hunt: Part 2 ]
After class, a few of us decided to go back to Valencia to apartment hunt again, in hopes that we would be able to actually move in somewhere after our course ended this week. This time, I went with Lennart, Philippe, and Laurin. Being the responsible old man (okay, 24-year-old) he is, Philippe had called 5 or 6 places so were just going to tag along with him and see what happened. (Side note. Except for the Dutch girls, the Europeans are generally older than us; most of them are around 23, maybe because of when it works best to study abroad and maybe because they often combine Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees into one program?) I went in with the mindset that I would commit to a place that day, either one I saw then or on Saturday, because I was running out of time and really didn’t want to trek back to the city another day during the week. On the train ride there, we ran into two other girls from our course that were going to pay their deposit. They said the lady they were renting from had several nice flats, so we called and met with her first. I liked the three places she showed us, particularly the first one, which had three empty rooms and one Portuguese guy. The next place we saw had a double bed, so both Lennart and Laurin were interested, Lennart because he’s tall and doesn’t fit in a normal bed and Laurin because his girlfriend is studying in Madrid so would visit a few times. On the way to another place we saw, we met two students who said that they had a place with 3 empty rooms and that we could see it in a bit. They are both from Mexico and the guy was leaving the apartment and the girl was looking for one elsewhere. Anyways, we met them after seeing the place we were headed to and they took us to this nice place I really liked. The students that showed us the place were friendly and the girl insisted we find her on Facebook. The only person living there so far was a French guy we didn’t meet. Anyways, after leaving there, I wanted either that one or the first one we saw. Philippe was of the same mind, so we both decided to go with the last one. I’m super duper excited to live with Philippe, aka Chilippe, master of the Running Man (seriously, it’s his signature move!). We called the owner and arranged to go back and pay the deposit later that day. Meanwhile, we walked to another place Lennart had seen Saturday that also had a double bed. Things got a bit awkward when Laurin and Lennart both said they wanted the first place with the double bed we saw earlier. They made me flip a coin to see who would ultimately get it – Laurin won – and who would take the one we were at then. Overall, it ended up working out and everyone was pretty much satisfied with what had been decided. Laurin went to go pay his deposit and the rest of us went to my place so we could pay ours. We met the owner for the first time, a super sweet old Spanish lady that had lived in France for 7 years and in this flat for 30 before moving out and renting it out. The room I picked is a cute little room with a comfy chair, carpeting, and AC in addition to the standard shelving, desk and bed all the rooms had. The other one I was between was a bit larger, but mine is cozy and I like how it’s a bit isolated/separated from the other three rooms. We’ve also got a bidet, so we’re pretty damn cool. My favorite part was the closed terrace area, which will be great to just sit and drink coffee or read. There’s still an open room, but otherwise it’s me, Philippe, and the French guy, Robin. Our landlady and her husband drove us back to the train station where we met Laurin and returned to Gandia. Essentially, this day was the opposite of Saturday and went really well.
Random, but Laurin has been to India twice and has gone all over the north, so we spent half the train ride back trading stories. Also, the three guys I was with all speak German so they accidentally started talking to me in German several times – I might end up picking that up because so many of my friends here are German/Austrian, haha.
[ 29 Jan – Bayern Castle Excursion ]
After class, we walked a trail up to hike up to Bayern Castle. The walk was gorgeous, amongst groves of mandarins and clementines and, at one point, through a muddy, wet tunnel under a highway. The hike was scenic as well and I thought several times about how much Amy would have enjoyed it. We climbed amongst the ruins of the castle for some time, taking pictures and enjoying the scenic vistas. The castle had been an important one, as demonstrated by the little that remains of it; when the area was sacked, important castles were torn apart, whilst the lesser ones were preserved. The entire hike was roughly 10 km there and back. I always forget how much I actually enjoy hiking; hopefully there’ll be more opportunity to do it around Valencia as well… it’s not like Illinois is particularly suited for it. 😛
[ 30 Jan – 100 Montadito’s ]
This was a pretty chill day. ESN had nothing planned because we had our final exam for the language course the following day, so they were encouraging us to study (hahaha). Instead, we went to a restaurant called 100 Montaditos, a chain that has a promotion every Wednesday and Sunday for 1 euro bocadillos and jarros. Some of the combinations got very interesting… for example, towards the end of the night, I convinced Michael to order one creamy duck meat bocadillo and one ham and chocolate one, served on chocolate bread. While the texture of the creamy duck meat (okay, duck mousse or pate or something real like that) was pretty unappetizing, Michael enjoyed his ham and chocolate a litttttle bit too much. We decided that we’d definitely try and make this a regular thing when we got to Valencia.
[ 31 Jan – Exam Day & Potluck! ]
Final exam, whoo! The exam itself wasn’t too bad, it just covered some things we hadn’t actually learned – hey, look! A similarity between the American and Spanish school systems! Following this, I felt oddly energetic, so went back to Bayern Castle with Maddie, Alyssa, Madeline, Christian, and Dominic (Germans – who have already been here a semester), none of which had gone with the big group on Wednesday. It was fun going back with a smaller group, and we had more time to just relax and talk to each other (I learned more German phrases, hehe). On the way back, I decided to go for a short run to/on the beach. Upon reaching there, I found several of my classmates burying one of the Austrians in the sand. I went for my run and came back to find a few people still there, so I just hung out with them for a bit. When we got back, the Dutch girls had coordinated an apartment-wide potluck, so around 30 to 40 of us crammed into one or two flats and ate together – lots of fun. There was another karaoke night that night as well, but I was tired so ended up sleeping instead of going to that (lame, I know).
[ 1 Feb – Farewell to Gandia & CocoLoco: Revisited ]
The first half of class today was reviewing the exam and receiving our grades and certificates for passing the class (I passed, whoo). The second half was a bit more terrifying… we watched a movie called Airbag and ultimately decided that it was as if Tarantino made a Spanish version of while horny and on acid. Basically we spent most of the time pretty damn confused, but we think that if we saw it with subtitles, it would actually be entertaining (we had to watch it with no subtitles at all, not even Spanish ones. 😦 ). To celebrate our laziness/the last day of class, a bunch of us headed to the beach after lunch and just saw there for a few hours. It was very comforting to think that back home, it was so cold that people’s mustaches were freezing (s/o to Dan!), while we were lounging in the sun, getting sunburned (in Maddie’s case).
In the evening, we went to Tiki Bar and then CocoLoco again. This time, there were less (scary) people and overall, the night was a lot of fun.
Well, there ya go, all caught up on on our fun times at Gandia Shore (no, but really, go watch it). Working on catching up on the rest soon! >_< I’m also not going to do a day-by-day log anymore, except for trips out of town/country.
(HAHA. Just found a setting on here that automatically “Mustachifies” any faces in a photo. I guess mine isn’t recognizable as a face (typical), but I’m going to leave the rest like this because it’s pretty darn funny.)
– from Feb. 12