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Finalities

Well, it is over.  My second semester abroad is finally finished and I am safe and sound back “home.”

I’ll let you guys figure out the quotation marks for yourself.

My semester was actually a teensy bit longer than necessary.  My mother came to get me—er, visit me—and we spent time in three different places:  we explored all the sights and sounds of London, ate our way through Paris (I will never look at Camembert the same way again) and then were dazzled by all of the Christmas markets in Strasbourg.  Then, on December 20th (the day of my twenty second birthday) we flew home.

Granted, I could think of other, more pleasurable, ways to spend my birthday, but at least there was a movie marathon squished in between the uncomfortable seats and the obese woman with the too-loose-for-propriety trousers sitting beside me (seriously, if you’re going to turn around to sleep at least have the presence of mind to make sure that all your cracks and crevices refrain from blistering my eyeballs).

Anyway, now I am back home and in the midst of throngs of Christmas-present wrapping, cookie baking, and family-tolerating (and by that I totally mean loving).  And though I am a little bit jet lagged I will attempt to reflect upon my study abroad experience.  I will try and keep it short though because who wants to listen to someone preach unnecessarily?

As most of you know, this is my second semester abroad.  I have also participated in a J-Term trip abroad so—technically speaking—I have spent an entire scholastic year away from the Hollins campus.  Tours, Paris, and London have all been my temporary homes and in the meantime I have been fortunate enough to visit places like Rome, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, York, Seville, Budapest, Strasbourg, Birmingham, and Dublin and as a result I have twenty-five stamps in my passport.

That’s three more stamps than I have been alive.

I like to look at it, sometimes.  My passport that is.  It’s kind of cluttered but I really do enjoy looking at the stamps and remembering all the places I have been and what I have done.  Those memories will keep me floating until the next time I can do some serious traveling.

You can ask my parents to confirm this but I’ll state it here just because.  I feel like I have grown up significantly since last I was in the United States.  I know I said the same when I left Paris but now the feeling is so much more vibrant now.  It’s wonderful really; finally being able to feel like you’re an adult and not some kid wandering about in a world that’s too grown up.  But no, I realized when I was traveling by myself on my Fall Break, navigating twisting airports, and remembering my French to discover information that I had done a lot of growing up in the past few months—more, I think, than I have in a while.

My college graduation is coming up in five months and had you asked me before what I planned to do after college I would have held up my hands to my panic-stricken face and said:  “I don’t want to think about it!  The future is my F-word!”  I still don’t have any idea what I’m going to do after I graduate college but truth be told I’m not terribly afraid of not knowing.  I have learned that I can handle the unexpected and can do it efficiently.

Study abroad has helped me in ways I cannot imagine.  In truth, I think that it enabled me to find the self I had been searching for since before I’d hit puberty.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants the opportunity to learn in an environment rich in history and culture.  But that’s really just the icing on the cake.  The squishy, moist, chocolaty goodness is the knowledge that going abroad will change you in ways you could not have predicted.  You’ll grow up—and that, more than anything, is worth it.

Espana!

I shall begin this blog the way I began the one about Buda-pescht.

Seville = English.

Sevilla = Spanish.

And since that is what this blog is about I’m going to stick as close to the Spanish-ness as I can, something I feel is very important to me given that I’ve always forsaken Spanish for French during my lifetime.

Sorry Spain.

My introduction to Seville was not what I would have considered the best.  My flight was late getting out and upon arrival in Seville I realized that the time changed ahead one hour.  This irritated me only because I was not supposed to find my way in a city while it was nine o’clock at night, and not eight.

Things got even worse from there.  As it turns out, there is no place in all of the Sevilla airport to change my British pounds to Euros.

None.  Zip.  Nada.

I could not believe it.  Originally, I hadn’t changed my money at Gatwick Airport just in case I had wanted a snack on the plane or in the airport and I mean come one, the Sevilla airport is an international airport, one would think that they would have a place where money transfers could be made.  But nope.

Grumble.

So once this little discovery was made painfully clear I did what any logical person would do next.  No, I didn’t cry—that comes a little bit later—but I went to a nearby cash machine and tried to take out money.

Note the use of the word tried.

See, only a few days ago my debit card had been stolen.  Some punk dickwad (excuse my English) was off gallivanting with my card while I—the one who was actually doing some physically global gallivanting—was without it.  As a back up, though, I have a credit card with which my parents have provided me.  The account is in my name but they pick up the tab and while most reasonable twenty-one-year-old students “studying” abroad would be more than happy to mooch off of mummy and daddy for a weekend mini-break in Spain you’ll find that I am not that type of person.  No, I possess the soul of a fifty-year-old miser and have serious issues with being in debt to anyone, including my parents.

So I’m hoping that once I become an author I can buy them a really nice beach house in North Carolina.  That might make us even for that whole raising, loving, teaching, providing-for bit.

Hey, at least I’m not going the Billy Collins route with the lanyard.

Psh.  Lanyard.

Anyway, on with my story.  So, I went to the ATM, determined to take out as little as I possibly could and couldn’t remember the PIN.

Yeah.  Talk about a kick to the balls.

So I tried again with a different sequence of numbers and got the same results, only this time in angry Spanish.  Finally, I deemed it necessary to call my mother—who was enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania—and it was only after she burst into a spontaneous bout of tears (sorry mom, had to put it in) that conveyed to me the proper sequence of numbers that I was seeking.

I punched in the numbers, waited for the transaction to go through, and nearly screamed when it told me that under no uncertain terms would my bank allow a withdraw of money to be made.

But you know what?  Looking back, I realize I was quite lucky.  No poliza were patrolling at the moment and I was not arrested for causing an indecent harm to inanimate cash machines.

So I turn back to the sweet Information Desk ladies who had only minutes before printed me out Google directions to my hostel (something else you can’t find in the Sevilla airport are maps of Sevilla.  Insert many random curse words) and asked them what they thought I should do.  Their advice to me was to take a taxi to my hostel just as long as I could pay with my credit card, because surely I could use it to make purchase, if not to make withdraws, right?

Their idea was sound but also terribly lamentable.  I mean, come on, a forty-euro taxi ride that I’d have to pay for using money that didn’t belong to me versus a three-euro bus ticket?  Needless to say that at this point I was engaging in some severe bouts of hysterical my-life-can’t-get-any-worse laughter that I’m sure must have frightened them on some level.  Hell, my eyes were even watering.

With laughter. Not tears.

Not yet anyway.

When I pointed out the thirty-seven euro difference to these ladies and they saw that I was near combustion one of them took pity on me and actually provided me with the three-euro bus fare.

It was here that I started to cry.

For those of you who know me you’ll know I’m not the most emotional of people.  But it was Thanksgiving, I was away from London, away from the United States, away from a sumptuous feast of gargantuan proportions, away from family, frustrated, tired, and sweating like a mo-fo in my this-is-perfectly-normal-for-London-but-in-southern-Spain-it-is-ridiculous long sleeved shirt, jacket, and scarf.  To have this happen to me when I was in such a quandary—and on Thanksgiving no less—was such a blessing.  I will never forget their kindness as long as I live.

So yeah, I might have cried a little.  But no actual tears escaped my eyes.  I just kind of sprung a leak.

Ehem.  Girly moment over.

So I find and get on the bus and of course the bus driver doesn’t speak any English (or French because yes, I pulled that one out too) so I showed him a picture of where I hoped he’d drop me off and he nodded and—with an accent so thick I barely recognized the English—said, “last stop.”

So I was good.  For at least the next thirty minutes.

I was soon dropped off about a thirty-minute walk from my hostel.  Or, at least it would have been thirty-minutes had I known where I was going.  Sadly, I had absolutely no idea so it took quite a few more than thirty, perhaps even more in the range of sixty.  I did not have a very adequate map (damn you airport!) and had to constantly ask for directions from people who spoke absolutely no English.

I will say this about the people in Sevilla though, they are extremely helpful despite the language barrier.  I would come up to random people on the street (generally women of an older variety, because those are the ones who generally know what they are talking about and are seriously non-threatening) and the dialogue would go like this:

Me:  English?

Them:  No!

But regardless of whether or not they spoke English they were still completely willing to help me.  Almost all of them would take my pitiful map, look at the address of my hostel, and then begin pointing, speaking slowly, and making all variety of hand gestures to help me get where I needed to go.

And I am glad that they did.  Because Seville is kind of like Rome in that it reminds you of varicose veins on the leg of some obese geriatric hospital patient.

Okay, moving on.  So allow me a moment to tell you about the Oasis Backpackers Hostel in Sevilla, Spain.

Freaking.  Awesome.

This place the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in during all of my travels abroad.  It was even better than a few hotels I’ve stayed in and certainly way more colorful than any of the big chain ones.

There is a terrace with a pool, there is a bar, there is a kitchen, there is free breakfast, there is free computer access, and there is a complimentary drink upon arrival.  The rooms are done up in bunk style and—unlike many other hostels—when people need to sleep they can actually go to their bunks and sleep.  People actually respect the whole ‘quiet-when-the-lights-are-out’ thing and honestly, I slept like the proverbial lock at this hostel.  A part of me wishes I could have stayed longer in Sevilla just so that I could spend more time in the hostel.

The staff is helpful and multilingual and the people I met there were just as neat.  For example, I met a retired teacher from Boston who was travelling around Spain on a six-week voyage to kick off his retirement.  And guess what?  He saw my Hollins lanyard (never leave the U.S. without it) and actually knew about Hollins!  We spent some time chatting over breakfast and let me tell you, when I retire I hope I can have the kind of adventure this guy is having.

Anyway, I got up the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to take on Sevilla.  I walked on for quite a while, got some of my money changed (thank you various omnipotent beings) and by 11:00am I was ready to go on my very first tour of the day.

My tour guide’s name was Becky and she was from New York City.  Despite a croaking voice and a very sick-sounding cough she soldiered on with us throughout the morning.  Her tour was actually better than the one I later received from the Pancho Free Tour Guide.  Even though she was ill she still managed to give a very detailed and fun history of Spain that didn’t get too specific but wasn’t too broad either.  The Pancho tour guide was perfectly nice but when he spent fifteen minutes on the details of how the English were able to fix and import sherry from Spain I quickly lost interest and ended up leaving halfway through.

I admire Becky though, both because of her tour-giving abilities but also because of the path her life has taken.  When I asked her how she ended up in Sevilla she answered me by saying “Facebook” and then—when she saw just how confused she’d made me—continued to tell me that she had been sick of her job in the United States and had put something out on Facebook asking for advice about what city she should go to.  Someone posted “Sevilla” and she was like “okay,” hopped on a plane, and landed in Sevilla.  And no, she didn’t speak a word of Spanish.

Talk about a dream life.

Anyway, I left her with promises that I would write her a stellar review for her tour (one of the few things I’m good at) and then decided to continue on my journey until my other tour began at 4:00pm.

I spent the time in between in the Cathedral in Sevilla.  It’s kind of hard to miss simply because it is the third largest cathedral in the world after St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in the Vatican and yes, I became extremely smug when I realized that I’d been to all three of them.

Boo.  Yah.

But first let me tell you about what happened when I was walking towards the cathedral.  Now, I like to think that I was looking very un-touristy with my vive-la-France scarf, iPod, and craftily stowed map so imagine how much it bugged me that my good mood was broken by some gypsy woman who saw me and immediately pegged me for a tourist.

Humph.  Whatever.

I knew that something was a bit hinky with the woman when she shoved a sprig of herb into one of my hands and then grabbed the other before I could either give the sprig back or tug my hand away.  She then started telling my fortune in such broken English that I could only distinguish words like “very pretty,” “long life,” “many babies,” and “happy husband.”  Needles to say I started freaking out quite a bit—not so much because of the “fortune” but because she then started to make the sign of the cross on my forehead and invoked a bit of “Santa Maria” into the mix.  I might not have been to church in a while (sorry Grandma) but I knew that having Santa Maria mixed in with all that voodoo hoodoo was not good.  So needless to say that when she started demanding money for her “fortune telling abilities” I shoved the sprig of whatever the hell it was back at her and continued walking.  Honestly, she’s lucky I didn’t shove it up her nose or tell her to shove it someplace where the sun doesn’t shine.

Also, later on that day I met another girl who had actually paid to get her “fortune” told.  Apparently she too was a very pretty girl, will live a long life, have many babies, and keep a happy husband.

Right.

And on a whiny girl side note:  why is it that people only call me pretty if they are related to me, of my own gender, or trying to take my money?  SWF here peoples!  College educated!  Freaking awesome!

Okay, moment over.

The cathedral was enormous and on the inside it was so ornate that my eyes were literally popping out of my head.  I’m not kidding you, I’ll post pictures of the massive organ that was on this baby (odd phrasing that) but I can honestly say that the only other ecclesiastical opulence (that I have seen) that could match it would be the Cathedral of St. Peter’s in the Vatican.  Colossal ceilings, gargantuan columns, altars and pews and religious symbols so richly decorated that would make your head spin—wood carving, marble, metal, gold, silver, bronze, it was all there and fantastically displayed to the best advantage.

Also inside the cathedral is the grave of one sailor known to us in the United States as Christopher Columbus.  Now, most tourists pass this very important site over because his name in Spanish is something like Christof Colon.  So yeah, when you’re in Sevilla next time and wondering why in the world anyone would want to name their restaurants after a colon you’ll now be able to understand.

There is a lot of debate about if it is actually Mr. Columbus’s body that is buried in the cathedral in Sevilla.  When he died, Columbus asked to be buried in the West Indies.  But since Spain eventually lost all of its colonies overseas they had to keep reinserting his body elsewhere.  Several resting grounds later, he allegedly ended up back in Sevilla.  The people in the town were so proud of their new acquisition until the places that had had him previously started saying things along the lines of:  “aha!  You think you have his body but in reality we switched the corpses and he is buried here!”

Yeah, because that’s totally respectful.

But finally the Spanish government decided to fight dirty—or science-y, if you will—and got a DNA test done on what was left of the corpse.  They used DNA from the certified graves of his sons and grandsons and, voila, 10% of the body that is in the coffin belongs to Christopher Columbus!

Ten.  Percent.

Oh, but let’s not forget that someone in another city (I can’t remember the name) then started claiming that they had the real body and that it was his brother in the cathedral.  They said that the DNA only matched because the double helix’s between siblings is so similar.

So, in conclusion, no one really knows whom exactly is inside of that coffin.  Just be sure to take a picture of it anyway.

You know, just in case.

There is also a tower attached to that cathedral.  The tower, like the cathedral, was originally built by Muslims as a mosque but when the Christians came to Spain and began destroying all other Muslim institutions they decided that they kind of liked the mosque so voila, ‘twas changed into a Christian cathedral.

You know, until an earthquake knocked it down.  But you know what didn’t fall down?  That’s right, the Muslim tower.

At the time of the earthquake, the Church tried to propagate stories about how angels descended from heaven to hold the tower up and allow it to serve as a symbol of Christ’s constancy and blah blah blah blah blah.

Personally, I find it hilarious that an earthquake destroyed every bit of a Christian cathedral but didn’t take down a tower that had once served as a Muslim minaret (the place where someone would make the call to prayer five times a day).  But there is a science behind its stability.  The tower didn’t fall was because it has a very strong and reinforced base, a design that was most likely inspired by the Romans and carried out by the Moors.  The large concrete blocks at the bottom kept it steady, stable, and standing despite the massive quaking of the earth.  This was a fact that my Italian (second) tour guide was all too happy to point out.  In fact, he spent several minutes waxing on about the importance of the Romans to all the architecture currently in Seville.  He did this throughout the tour and I couldn’t help but think “seriously?” whenever he started up again.  I mean, did he realize that the Romans ruled almost two thousand years ago?  And that since then Italy has been on the wrong side of two world wars and is right now in the middle of a financial crisis?  I mean, sure, they had the Renaissance but even that can’t really make up for a government currently run by technocrats.  Seriously, how long can you continue to wave that Roman pride flag around and actually have it mean something?

Moving on.

I was able to go up the tower with little to no difficulty.  At the time it was built it was the largest structure in the world and is still the largest structure in all of Sevilla.  You’d think that getting to the top of the blasted thing would be extremely difficult but in reality it wasn’t so bad.  There are no steps inside the tower and instead there are thirty-four ramps that take you to the top.  Granted, you do get to the top a bit winded but it is a whole heck of a lot better than climbing stairs all the way up.  In fact, Legend has it that the guy who went to the top to make the call to prayer used to ride a horse to the top.  I’m not sure if I believe it but I think a horse could have done it.

If it had been a very tiny horse.

The day was then consumed by my restless walking around the setting Sevilla sun.  I saw the bull-ring, the Golden Tower, the river, several churches, the Jewish quarter, the Alfalfa, the Alcazar, and so many other beautiful things that I can scarcely recount them all.  Sevilla is a wonderfully colorful city.  Pastels and painted trim overtake buildings that by all rights should be gray and grim.  The streets too are lined with orange trees that actually had ripe fruit ready and waiting to be picked by anyone who cared to reach up (I wouldn’t recommend it though; the species is one that is designed to look pretty, not taste good).  I returned to my hostel exhausted and sad that tomorrow was going to be my last day.

They don’t call it a mini-break for nothing.

The next day I dallied as much as I could in Sevilla before taking the bus to the (stupidest of all) airports.  I checked in (amazing how airports no longer make me nervous) and prepared for my flight back home.  I slept a little and after a plane ride, a train ride, a tube ride, and a bus ride I was back at my home stay, ready to get a good night’s sleep and start the next day by working on end-of-the-year projects.

All in all, I would rate my trip to Sevilla as a success.  It was just what I needed before the end of the year.

Oh, just in case you’re wondering, out of fifty-four stamping boxes in my passport I have only twenty-four that are empty.

And yeah, I plan to have those gone soon enough.

Me in York

Me In York (Again)

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