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Study Abroad

Feminist Girl in Spain

“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.” –Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl

Today my story looks like this: I heard “Going Down For Real” by Flo Rida in my favorite café over breakfast and danced a little in my chair as I ate my toasted bread with olive oil. (That song will never not be awesome, especially in Spanish cafes.) I got caught in a rainstorm on my way to class and my little black umbrella almost turned inside out. When I got home with wet shoes and tried to plug in my computer, my charger died. I tracked down an Apple store nearby and almost cried at how much my new cargador cost. I got home and Skyped my mom, Skyped Julie. Actually cried. Laughed a lot more and then ate some chocolate. And now I’m here.

Lena Dunham has been in my head a lot lately. I’ve been ripping through her new memoir even faster than I ripped through Season 3 of House of Cards. (Only 13 episodes? What the fuck, Netflix?) If you don’t know who Lena Dunham is and you’re into genius character development/graphic nudity, you should check out her HBO show Girls. Her writing is honest, irreverent, witty, and graphically sexual. Lots of what she has to say makes me uncomfortable. Lots of what she has to say makes me think.

Take the term “girl crush,” for example. I’ve used those words in casual conversation too many times to count, mostly in association with Emma Watson/Emma Stone/Jennifer Lawrence, aka the holy trifecta. I’ve watched that Jenna Marbles video a lot of times. (“I don’t know if I want to be you or be on you!”) Here’s what Lena has to say on the topic:

“I find the term ‘girl crush’ slightly homophobic, as if I need to make it clear that my crush on another woman is not at all sexual, but rather, mild and adorable, much like…a girl.”

Whoa. The nod to homophobia felt accurate, but it was the bigger context of Lena’s observation that struck me most. Mild and adorable. So much was wrapped up in those two words. I had to put the book down for a second.

Girls are expected to be mild and adorable. If we’re not, we get called names. Bossy. Bitch. Slut. How much of my life has been shaped by the expectation of me to be inoffensive, like a girl? How many times have I apologized for asking a question in class? How many times have I swallowed my anger instead of lashing out for fear of looking “crazy”? (If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to discount a girl’s rationale and intellect, just call her crazy the next time she angry-cries.)

Here, I’d like to include a note from Julie (via Microsoft Word bubble comment on an early draft of this post): “It’d be totally cool if you could add another sentence here about how dumb it is that when we’re talking about something and we’re impassioned or upset and someone calls us crazy, we feel crazy. Like crawl-under-a-rock-never-speak-in-public-again-stupid. And all you have to do is tell us to calm down and whatever it was we were saying, no matter how cool or important or right or wrong, it vanishes. It doesn’t matter anymore because we were just being crazy.” She put it way better than I could.

Just now I noticed my voice go up an octave as I thanked my host mom for dinner. Mild and adorable. Do my guy friends have a “thank you” voice? Do they hide their feelings so people don’t accuse them of being crazy? I’m honestly not sure.

The depth of the things I’ve never noticed is hard to wrap my head around. I still don’t always know what to believe or think, but when I find a writer that makes my world feel like it’s expanding and shrinking at the same time and forces me to question my place in it, I feel the need to write about her on the Internet.

So Lena Dunham has been in my head, and she has me thinking about my own story, which might just be the most powerful thing an author can do. I’ve always felt like I have a critically-acclaimed memoir living in me somewhere. (I have this little daydream where Julie and I write a witty nonfiction book together and build a Hannah & Julie empire, complete with fancy pens, signature scents, and a movie deal featuring all three members of the holy trifecta.) But there are a few things about memoir-writing that make me a little nervous.

Names. In nonfiction, changing a character’s name and certain physical characteristics is usually enough to avoid accusations of being a slanderer or a total asshole. It’s not that I have bad stuff to say about a lot of people, but I do have a lot of stuff to say about a lot of people. If I give my friend Pete a mustache and name him Jack, everyone I know is still going to know that it’s fucking Pete. Not sure I’m ready for that kind of transparency.

Interesting-ness. Of course by the time I get around to writing my memoir I’ll have published a few (beloved, imaginative, wildly successful) novels and maybe pushed out a kid or two, but I’m really not sure if I’ll ever do anything memoir-worthy. I don’t plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail by myself or getting pinned by a rock and having to cut off my own arm to survive. I’m way too anxious to try any hard drugs, so the Strung Out Druggie Turned Successful Lawyer/Author/Surgeon story isn’t too likely. I’m not saying I need a gimmick, but I’m probably going to have to be pretty witty to compete with all those other ones.

Boys. Taking the fear of transparency a bit further, I sometimes wonder what would happen when it came time to write the chapters about boys. I’ve only officially dated one—we were fourteen, we made pizza together once—but I have some great ass stories to tell. From a storytelling perspective, the only thing more interesting than dating someone is not actually dating someone. More confusion, more suspense, more hang-outs that you think might be dates but really turn out to be platonic viewings of Dutch movies about trolls. The idea of one of my ex-flings picking up my future memoir and finding himself in some chapter—with a fake mustache, probably—makes me just a little bit nauseous.

Maybe I’ll get my memoir book-deal one day, maybe I won’t. But I think it’s important to know that I have a story to tell, even if it’s just to myself.

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“American Girl in Italy 1951.” This picture has been hanging on the wall at my house for as long as I can remember. I have no idea who bought it.

I know I wandered a bit from the #hannahandjulieabroad theme this week, but don’t worry, there’s plenty more to come. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy this historical re-enactment of bulls and matadors fighting in La Plaza de Toros in Ronda, Spain.

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No bulls were harmed in the making of this montage.

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Study Abroad

It’s All About The People

The bond formed between people who’ve been plopped into a foreign country where they don’t know a single soul is pretty unique to the study abroad experience, and it’s the stuff of fairy tales. Allow me to explain.

So it’s a Wednesday like any other, no big deal. Except for the fact that you’ve just been traveling for 20 hours, you’ve only slept for about three of those hours, and all you’ve eaten is half a granola bar. You’re looking out the window of your taxi and trying to comprehend that all of the buildings and fields that you’re seeing are in a different country, that you’re in a different country. You arrive at your home for the next five months, a building you’ve never seen before, you’re handed a key, and shown to your apartment. You struggle to figure out how to unlock the door while keeping your suitcase from falling over. You can hear voices on the other side of the wall. The lock clicks and you push open the door, heart racing.

These are the people you’ve been wondering about for the past six months, the elusive people who you knew you’d be living with, but were unable to find any information on. Would they be American, Irish, or from another country entirely? Would they speak English? Would they be future lifelong friends? These were the most common questions I fielded from curious family members, and the ones that rattled around in my mind for months before I left, unanswered. As I walked down the narrow hallway of my apartment towards my new people, I thought I might keel over from the anticipation.

There were four girls perched on couches and chairs in our kitchen/living room, speaking in American accents. Their names were Jen, Erin, Shannon, and Liz, and they were as excited/freaked out by my presence as I was by theirs. Finally, the curtain was pulled back and the enigma revealed.

Now plenty of situations bring people together. There’s the commiseration of waiting in a long and drudgerous line at the post office when you really have to pee. (Especially if you both have to pee.) There’s the inexplicable joy of seeing someone you kind of know in a place you never think you’d see them. (In an airport, at the top of a mountain, in a public bathroom in Europe.)

Then there’s the study abroad experience. The people you meet here are the ones you rely on when you’re starting over. They’re the people standing next to you as you build a life for yourself in a brand-new place. They’re the people you wake up at 4 a.m. with to travel, the same people you stayed out until 2a.m. with the night before.

I had a few moments recently when I told myself that I’d gotten pretty lucky with my people. One was our Tuesday excursion to London to see one of my favorite bands.

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We’d gotten up at four in the morning for our flight, and once our feet touched the ground in London, we were going nonstop. We posed with Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Winston Churchill (and friends.)

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Look, Ma!

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We all thought this was a great idea.

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We imitated statues, to varying degrees of success.

One of our last stops before checking into the hostel at 3p.m. was Westminster Abbey. At this point we’d been awake and wearing backpacks for almost 12 hours, and a little part of me wanted to die. At least, my body did. My brain was too transfixed with what I was seeing to be anything but awe-struck.

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I looked around and my roommates had similar hang-dog expressions on, but when I caught their eyes, they smiled and gave me the same this-is-awesome-I-can’t believe-we’re here face. When I asked the questions, do you guys want to fly to London on a Tuesday? At 6a.m.? To see a band I’m forcing you to listen to? I could only hope for a yes, and immediately, I got it. They followed me across the English Channel, all around London, and even into Westminster Abbey, (a detour I pushed hard for.) And even when we got there, they were just as willing to make the most of every minute, despite exhaustion. That day didn’t end until midnight, after the concert, and they laughed with me for all 18 hours of it. IMG_5444  

The second time was during our Ring of Kerry weekend, which was basically three days of beautiful Irish landscapes, cliffs, mountains, waterfalls, and baby sheep.

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Saturday night was both my roommate Shannon’s birthday, and my friend Bridget’s. We walked out of our hotel towards town in Cahersiveen, Country Kerry in search of birthday debauchery. We didn’t realize how small this town was until we got to the main street and realized that little to nothing was going on, but soon found a small pub with live traditional music. Within five minutes of our arrival, the man singing was taking our requests, and we were dancing with the locals. The average age of this pub was about 70, and the dancing was closer to ballroom style than anything we were used to. But we were welcomed like old friends, and we laughed into each other’s shoulders the whole time.

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“We just danced with old-ass Irish ladies and it was pretty fun.” -Matt.

That weekend we were the first ones to the top of the mountain and the last ones to get back to the bus, every time. There were a few times each day that I felt lucky to be with people who knew how to make the most of standing on a rainy, windy mountain and dancing with elderly people on clumsy feet. Jen, Erin, Shannon, Matt, Tobin, and Zach, this one’s for you guys. #hannahandjulieabroad.

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Study Abroad

My Body Hurts and This Place is Awesome

Hannah (8:44 am): Running on 3 hours of sleep, about to go tour all day and train home again tonight

Hannah (8:45 am): Might die

Julie (8:46 am): That sounds like the study abroad experience in a nutshell

Julie (8:46 am): PUSH THROUGH YOU GOT THIS

Before I came abroad, I had a lot of poetic notions about traveling through Europe. You eat chocolate croissants on cobblestone streets and listen to the strange music of new languages and discover tiny restaurants with strong wine and warm bread. You get to see the world through new eyes. I mean, just google “travel quotes.” You’ll see what I mean.

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Nothing like some white words against a mountain backdrop to make you want to get up and flee the country, am I right?

I love a good “not all those who wander are lost” graphic just as much as the next guy, but I think there’s an important aspect of traveling that so far has not made it into any inspirational quotes: Your body will be supremely uncomfortable 60-75% of the time. (I’m not sure what that would look like in white cursive against a mountain, but it’d probably be less poetic than those other ones.)

My program took an absolutely fantastic trip to Barcelona this weekend. All fifteen of us—sixteen including our program coordinator—piled onto a train at the Granada Train Station at 9:30pm on Thursday night. Then we sat on that train for eleven hours, arrived in Barcelona at around 8:45am, and tried to go about our days like normal human beings.

The thing you should know about overnight trains is that they are the worst. If you pay extra you can get a claustrophobic little bunk or a seat that reclines all the way down with big cushions. We study abroad students were unwilling to pay for either of those things, so we were in the “coach” class with the rest of the peasants. (Guaranteed we had more fun than those bastards in first class, anyways. I was kind of hoping for a lively dance scene like in Titanic, but everyone in our car mostly just slept.) It was like being on a bus, if that bus had lighting like an abandoned mental hospital and drove for eleven hours straight.

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It’s a testament to how awesome all the people in my program are that I can say I actually had fun on that damn train. Not the whole time—part of the time was just as miserable as it sounds—but we found the dining cart and ordered a few beers and played card games and ate Pringles. Six or seven or eight hours later, we were in Barcelona.

Thoughts While Exploring a Foreign City Immediately After 12 Hours on a Train:

  • Holy crap, this is great, I feel great. Somebody sign me up for an Iron Man or something.
  • This city has all the things! Cathedrals! More cathedrals! I love traveling!
  • Hm, I’m a little tired. I guess that’s to be expected.
  • Damn, my feet hurt.
  • How long have we been walking? An hour? Seven?
  • You’re telling me we’ve been walking for ten minutes? And we can’t check into the hostel for another THREE HOURS?
  • Alright, coffee. Coffee coffee coffee.
  • My body feels a little tingly. Am I drunk?
  • Okay I’m definitely not drunk. The ground might be moving though.
  • Only another 16-17 hours until I can go to bed. Solid.

Your face gets hot, your legs get heavy, and you almost definitely can’t poop after twelve hours of snacking on train cafeteria food. But none of that really matters.

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View from our 8-person hostel suite

When traveling, my body is the least of my worries. It’s really just this vehicle that I have to keep alive in order to see what I want to see. Drink water, wear comfortable shoes, eat enough gelato to stay full until dinner. We took an overnight train both ways and still had a fricken awesome weekend. Barcelona didn’t stand a chance.

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We took a bus to Montserrat and saw some amazing views. Hunter noticed I had a camera.

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Elora and I tamed a lion at the Columbus Monument.

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This one's for you, Jules!

This one’s for you, Jules!

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Elora pointed out how much the stadium where FC Barcelona played reminded her of the Quidditch World Cup, I couldn’t think of anything else for the rest of the game.

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So yes, physical discomfort is a huge part of traveling on a budget. But honestly, being a little at war with your body sometimes doesn’t take away from the travel experience. If anything, I think it adds to it. The exhaustion reminds you how far your body’s moved. The ache in your legs reminds you how many steps you’ve taken through a new city. The indigestion reminds you that you should really pack a few more fruits and vegetables the next time you get on an overnight train.

It’s better than white cursive over a blue mountain range. It’s the real thing. #hannahandjulieabroad

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Study Abroad

Reverse Dog Years

At this point, it’s probably not a surprise to you twelve dedicated readers that Hannah and I sometimes leave writing these posts until the last minute. In fact, we’ve been banking pretty hard on the fact that the East Coast is five hours behind in order to get these posts out on time. At least, I have.

Somehow, it’s one a.m. here in Cork as I begin to write this entry. All hopes of Hannah being able to proof-read for me have gone out the window, as she’s an hour ahead of me and probably planning to get up early and do responsible-people-things. Things that people who start blog posts at one a.m. don’t do. Damn you, Hann.

The thing is, I didn’t mean to put this off until now. I always look forward to writing for the twelve of you, and since I’ve gotten to Ireland there’s never been a shortage of things to say. I mentally plan my post all week, jotting down phrases that keep turning up in my head. And I’ve got plenty of time to carefully craft and revise multiple drafts. So much free time, oceans of it. So why is this happening at 1am on this technically Tuesday morning? I have a few theories.

Mainly:

This semester is a worm-hole where time is elastic.

Somehow, I’ve been here for almost two months. When I got my schedule after the first week, I realized just how much free time I had and almost had a heart attack. There was so much free time. I had classes but no homework, no job, no responsibilities for any clubs, no homework. This place felt like summer camp, only rainier. I probably spent an hour each day wondering what I would do with all of my new free time.

You guys, I don’t know where it goes, but the time goes by in a hurry. You blink and a week is gone. You glance at the calendar and it’s already March. You tell yourself all day that you’re going to write this post, and then it’s 1 a.m. “I’ll see you next month,” Hannah told me the other day, “Which sounds like a lot, but that’s like 10 minutes in study-abroad-time.” And it’s true. We’ve taken to calling it reverse dog years.

Adjusting to a lifestyle of ample leisure time was tough at first. I didn’t realize how much I depended on being busy until I landed in a place where I didn’t have any time commitments. I felt like a lazy alien at first, but now I’d say I’m a pro at being unoccupied. So good, in fact, that having more than a few things to do plus classes completely puts me out. Last week I had to go to the grocery store and write a paper, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off.

I’m not lazy all the time, though. Another theme I’m noticing about study abroad is that life seems to switch back and forth from opposite ends of a spectrum rather than finding a happy medium. I’m either having a relaxing week, getting plenty of sleep, or I’m flying to London at six a.m. on a Tuesday and running off of four hours a night. I don’t crack a book a month, then have an exam and an essay due within two days. I’m either starving or stuffed, overly prepared or a complete mess, but always aware of how lucky I am to be living this semester. I’m never too busy to slow down and marvel in the fact that I’m actually here.

So that brings me here. It’s approaching 2 a.m. now, and I didn’t get around to writing about anything that I had originally planned. Since I last wrote I’ve been to London, watched people eat gross things until they puked, and held a baby lamb. But another hour has sped by in reverse dog years, so I’m going to say goodnight to you all.

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Nailed it.

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Ran across a busy London street to take this picture with Winston

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“Should I get naked?” -Erin

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“Yup, right there! Perfect.”

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Totally forbidden photos at Westminster Abbey

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Abuelo Pepe stole me away for a quick photoshoot on his deck in Almuñecar.
Study Abroad

Chatting in Spanish

chat, chatting (v): to talk in a friendly and informal way.

I love to chat. I really do. Chatting over drinks, chatting at dinner, chatting in between classes—it’s a great way to pass time and get to know people.

Now, I’m going to stop right there. At least half of you are already thinking about how much you hate chatting. You’re remembering that awkward dinner party you dragged your girlfriend/boyfriend to last week, because your co-worker from your new job invited you and how bad could it be to hang out with some cubicle buddies outside of the office? But it was awful; all anyone chatted about was the weather and 50 Shades of Grey and your date got too drunk and threw up in the trash can and now no one in the office wants to chat with you at all. Or something. And if that is indeed what you’re thinking, I’m sorry you had such a rough Wednesday night, but stick with me here.

I love chatting not for the mundane weather talk and generic questions, but for the a-ha! moments of things found in common. The guy with the weird mustache from your Psych 101 class quotes a line from your favorite comedian. The girl who works in the cubicle next to yours mentions a friend you’ve known since kindergarten. You and some kid across the room make a pun at the same time. The a-ha moment usually ends in a high-five, a shout of joy, and/or a shared look like holy crap, we are AWESOME. (If you’re looking for an a-ha moment, stand next to me at a party and mention any of the following things: second-string Harry Potter characters, mogul skiing, Christopher Nolan movies, dystopian fiction, feminism, Louis CK’s stand-up career, English as a legitimate college degree, this blog.)

The thing is that up until about a month ago, all of my chatting happened in English. I have to say I never realized how convenient that was.

Being a naturally chatty person in a country that doesn’t speak your native language feels a little bit like being trapped in a glass box. The box could not be in a better location—you’re in the middle of this amazing Spanish city filled with gorgeous statues and apartment buildings and mountainous views—and you can see everything around you perfectly. You can hear everything. The food’s great, too. But every time you have a thought that’s more complicated than my name is Hannah or I would like some more bread please, it’s difficult to share with the people outside of the box. You have to think about what you want to say ahead of time, pull out a dictionary, and make a little conversation plan before you speak. Even then, sometimes the glass is too thick. The people outside furrow their brows and look at you like you’ve just asked them to dance with their pants on backwards.

This is my first time living in the glass box. Words have taken on a new weight. I’ve realized that my opinions aren’t nearly as important as I once thought they were. I can say zero coherent things for an entire day, and the world will just keep on spinning. Who knew, right?

In spite of my mediocre grasp on the Spanish language, my inner chatty self still loves to try to whip up conversation. So I make a lot of toddler-like observations.

  • “Que frío!” – How cold it is today! This one slips out a lot, even though the “frío” here doesn’t hold a candle to the “frío” back home in New Hampshire. (Stay strong, guys!)
  • “Muchos perros, no?” – Lots of dogs, huh? We were walking to our car from Tia Estela’s house in a neighborhood outside the city and a tiny dog started barking at us from behind a gate. Then a lot of other dogs started barking. I felt the need to comment.
  • “Es muy… malo.” – It’s very…bad. This one comes up a lot when discussing the intricacies of Spanish politics.
  • “Que rico!” – Very rich, or very delicious. Uttered every day around 3PM when Beatriz conjures 2-3 plates full of bread/meat/fish/tomatoes slathered in olive oil, and even in English I’m not sure I could come up with the words to tell her how grateful I am.

Sometimes I’m not even sure what my host family could say in response to my riveting commentary. Sí Hannah, there are a lot of dogs here! They usually just nod and smile, because they’re wonderful and understanding. They’ve definitely gotten comfortable correcting my Spanish. And the other night, I gave my host dad a little English lesson myself.

“Fart?” Javier asked at the dinner table, trying the word on for size.

“Sí, fart,” I answered, with extra emphasis on the hard English “r.”

“Fart,” Javier said again. He pointed to the bowl full of sautéed cauliflower in front of me. “This food has mucho farts,” he nodded. “Mucho farts.”

It was a relief to learn that even the glass box couldn’t keep out the farts.

We had a spoon-on-nose competition at lunch the other day. Javier and Beatriz got serious.

We had a spoon-on-nose competition at lunch the other day. Javier and Beatriz got serious.

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Ana and Aunt Estela won.

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(Note: The table is also a giant heater thing.)

So yeah, sometimes I have to deal with the fact that I can’t be chatty for a few hours. But I am so lucky to be here, in this place, with these people. And every day the walls of the glass box get a little bit thinner. Words come faster. I only have to ask Beatriz to repeat herself twice, instead of the usual three times or four. Poco a poco.

The Spanish a-ha moments are coming guys, I can feel it. I’ll let you know when they get here. #hannahandjulieabroad

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Study Abroad

On Fainting And Becoming An Immigrant

Most of the time, Ireland is a magical wonderland. You can sit on the top floor of double-decker buses and watch as they almost run over old ladies. You can buy a champagne-sized bottle of cider for 4 euro. They put milk and sugar in their tea. So I thought that maybe, just maybe, going to the Immigration Office would defy the American stereotype of public offices. Maybe there wouldn’t be a huge line that moved at glacial speed. Maybe everyone in line wouldn’t look like they wanted to kill the people behind the desk and/or themselves. Maybe the slow hands of justice wouldn’t be so agonizingly slow here!

Nope.

Public offices are as beige and monotonous in Ireland as they are in the States. But when I walked into the Garda office in Cork at 9 on a Friday morning, I was excited. I was also sleep-deprived and hungry, maybe more so than I was excited.

Before Hannah went to Spain she had to get a Spanish student visa. She woke up one weekday morning before 7 am, drove to Boston, and waited at the Spanish Embassy for her name to be called so she could present her paperwork. When she told me where she was going, I cringed at the words “Spanish Embassy” and wished her luck like she was walking into battle.

So when I found out that I didn’t need a visa to study in Ireland, I almost high-fived myself. Yes! One less thing I have to worry about. Eventually I found out that there is another entire set of hoops that you have to jump through in order to be legal to live in Ireland for five months. The procedure includes trudging down to the Immigration Office and presenting your passport and an array of other documents to someone behind a desk, taking a mugshot-style picture, and forking over 300 euro.

Before that day, I believed I was pretty invincible. I have a pretty good immune system and managed to come away from a mono scare unscathed. Much like Hannah, I assumed that fainting only happened to other weaklings and not me, obviously. But after an hour and a half of waiting, just before it was my turn to present my documents, I started to feel dizzy. My hands tingled. Then all my limbs tingled. I felt warm, and the edges of my vision blurred and turned black. My roommates maintain that my face was a beautiful combination of pale/green. They immediately sat me down, fed me water and gum (which was sugar free and probably didn’t do anything to help me, but hey, it’ the thought that counts), and even asked a man behind the “general queries” counter if he had a granola bar I could eat to get my blood sugar up. He laughed at them, but technically it was a general query. I felt pretty lucky that morning that I had found such good people here.

So I didn’t end up actually fainting, but I had fun for the rest of the day wondering what would have happened if I did. Would they have turned me away? Maybe Ireland would have deemed me unworthy; clearly I couldn’t handle it. But I fooled them and walked away with my brand new ID card and a feeling of accomplishment. So, as of this week I am an official student immigrant, legal to live here until the end of May. I was issued an Irish Immigration Card with a photo that makes me look like a very serious ghost.

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I feel more legitimate already. Maybe soon people will stop pointing out that I’m American as I walk down the street.

Probably not, though.

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We stole our friend Tobin’s idea, (shout out to Tobin,) and are now collecting badly-placed leaning/pinching pictures. We’re determined to have no actual decent pictures of us by the time we leave Ireland.

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We also have Photoshop-gifted friends who are planning an album of us walking away from buildings that poorly-photoshopped-exploding.

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And for old time’s sake, here’s a Julie-Doing-Yoga-In-Weird-Places. Wish you had been there to photograph it, Hann. #hannahandjulieabroad

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Study Abroad

Poco a Poco

To say I went skiing yesterday would be an understatement.

“Skiing” is a thing I do a lot at home in New Hampshire. It usually involves frigid temperatures and scratchy turns and familiar trails and old friends. I know where the lodge is and my helmet plays my music through the earflaps and all signs on the mountain are in English, which is a convenience I’d never really noticed before now. Skiing is home.

Yesterday my friend Hunter and I took a bus to another bus to the Sierra Nevada—a ski resort tucked into the mountain range of the same name. You can see the peaks of the Sierra Nevada from almost everywhere in the city. They’re one of Granada’s most striking features, and the skyline makes for a pretty magical walk home from class.

Professional blurry iPhone photography

Semi-professional blurry iPhone photography

Skiing those peaks sounded like something out of a Warren Miller movie, so Hunter and I (mostly Hunter) researched bus prices, ticket prices, and rental prices. They were totally reasonable, so we did a little jig, packed our bags, and headed into the snowy unknown.

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We had no idea what the mountain was going to look like. We didn’t even know how to say “ski lodge” or “helmet” in Spanish, which we didn’t realize until we got to the mountain and tried to rent helmets/find a place to put our bags. The ski lodge was nowhere to be found, which was a problem I’d never before encountered at a ski resort. There were restaurants, there were tourist centers, and there were rental shops, but the small town at the base of the Sierra Nevada seemed completely devoid of plain-old ski lodges. I started to wonder if lodges were exclusively an American thing. (But where do people pee here? Do they all just carry their sandwiches in their coats?) Every sign we followed that claimed to lead to a “cafetería” actually led to a parking garage, and everyone we asked just kept saying “arriba! Arriba!” while pointing upwards. Did they want us to lug all of our stuff up the gondola? Did they want us to jump off the roof and stop asking them dumb questions? It was tough to tell.

Finally we decided to leave our bags with the friendly dudes who worked at the rental shop. They laughed at our confused American-ness, but in a nice way.

And then we were off! To the Telecabina Al-Andalus!

(Note: Actual professional photography. My iPhone did not take this.)

(Note: Actual professional photography. My iPhone did not take this.)

The Telecabina Al-Andalus is what we in New Hampshire would call a gondola. In New Hampshire, the gondola line is a pretty tame, boring ordeal. You wait in an organized fashion. Your hands get cold. You turn a corner realize you probably should’ve just taken the regular chairlift because the line is so damn long. In the end a dude scans your pass, gives you a nod, and directs you into a gondola with a number of people that has been deemed safe by the mountain powers that be.

Boarding the Telecabina Al-Andalus was absolutely nothing like that.

There were no lines. I don’t mean the place was empty—the boarding area was packed, there just weren’t any lines. We were all one crowd of bundled people funneling towards the gondolas as they passed. People pushed and cut in front of other people. As we got closer to the gondolas themselves, we realized that there was no dude with a scanner to load us calmly into the vehicle. The number of people per gondola depended solely on how many could squish in before the doors closed. This was an every-man-for-himself kind of situation. The locals didn’t seem bothered.

Hunter and I pushed and perdón’d our way onto our first Spanish gondola ride without losing each other or our limbs. When the doors closed, all we could do was beam at each other from across the crowded cabin. We made it! We’re here! This is happening! I would’ve taken a picture, but there wasn’t enough room to reach into my pocket.

And then, we were here.

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Skiing is squarely in my comfort zone. To be doing something so familiar in such an unfamiliar place was jarring at first. Hunter and I were blindly adventuring through an enormous foreign mountain on equipment we’d never used before, surrounded by people who spoke only Spanish. It was a little scary at the beginning. But around midday, the wind on the upper mountain let up, the sun came out, and the skies cleared.

And we figured it out.

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We rode this pommel lift up to an ungroomed trail that still had a few inches of powder left over from the last snowstorm.

We found burgers and beers for lunch. (The burgers had guacamole on them. As if the day wasn’t incredible enough already.)

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We skied until 5pm, because the sun actually shines on the Sierra Nevada until then. The snow was soft.

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hann & hunter on mtn

in front of aguila

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skyline 1

And then we après’d.

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Neither of us could stop smiling. Holy crap, this is still happening! And there’s hot chocolate! And more beer!

When our bus left at 6:30, we were tired and euphoric. The bus route from Granada to the Sierra Nevada is a lot like the train route from the regular world to the North Pole in The Polar Express—you’re on this narrow road built into a mountain pretty much the whole time, and every turn feels like it could be your last. On the way home, we got to watch the sunset.

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I looked out over the city and thought of something my host mom had said on the first day I arrived in Granada. Poco a poco. Little by little you’ll learn the city, she told me, little by little you’ll understand the language. The brown-eyed old man who worked the desk at the Centro de Actividades Deportivas had told me the same thing a few weeks later, when I tried to register for a yoga discount that didn’t exist. Poco a poco, he’d laughed.

Before, we’d only seen the mountains from the city. Now we’ve seen the city from the mountains. And it’s a pretty damn nice view. #hannahandjulieabroad

in front of sierra

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