Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All roads lead to Santiago.

I made my last blog post in Denver International Airport, just several hours into my 46 hour journey...yeah, you read that right, pretty much two full days.

Bye, Santa Barbara!
In the Denver Airport. I'll never understand people who wear heels and nice clothing when they you can see, I like to be as comfortable as possible

I spent two full nights on airplanes/in airports, which means I got a total of about six hours of sleep. Because of a thunderstorm in New York City, our flight to Madrid was delayed by almost three hours. We sprinted through Madrid Barajas Airport, but ended up missing our plane to Santiago by 10 minutes (very frustrating). Thankfully, the airline was very accommodating and immediately booked all 33 participants in the Vassar-Wesleyan Program on a flight just three hours later, and gave us vouchers for lunch at a buffet in the terminal.

My boarding passes
My first Spanish lunch--pollo, papas, piña, ensalada, y una cerveza

I was absolutely exhausted, but after arriving in Santiago de Compostela and showering, I got that "I'M FINALLY IN EUROPE!" adrenaline burst, and couldn't wait to explore the city. Santiago was (and still is) the third most holy city in Europe, preceded by Jerusalem and Rome. It's located in Galicia, the northwest region of Spain, about 20 miles from the coast and 90 miles from Portugal. Santiago is the final destination of El Camino, a religious pilgrimage that starts in France. The tradition of the pilgrimage is ancient, and there are still thousands of peregrinos (pilgrims) today--you can recognize them by their backpacking gear and walking sticks decorated with una concha (shell), the symbol of the Santiago pilgrimage.

I spent the first day taking a small tour of the city with a monitor (guide) named Edgar, who's a student at the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC for short--my UCLA alum parents would be furious...) For dinner, we went to two restaurants for drinks and tapas. I love the Spanish style of eating; they don't nickel-and-dime you for drinks, tips, and appetizers. I tried my first tortilla, which is made of egg, potato, and cheese, and is nothing like a Mexican tortilla! Spain is in the same time zone as most of the EU even though it's much more western, and as a result, the sun stays out until almost 10 pm. I'm a little bit in love with the long evenings.

For my first full day in Santiago, we went on a short tour of the north and south entrances and sanctuary of the cathedral.

La Catedral in Santiago, consecrated in 1128

View from a path leading to the north side of the cathedral

At around 5 pm (after the afternoon siesta--another Spanish thing I'm a little bit in love with, it's like kindergarten naptime again!), the group and I walked 30 minutes to the mall area of Santiago. I bought a cell phone and went to my first Spanish supermercado (supermarket)--kind of like a Walmart, except even more disorganized.

My new Spanish cell phone--I seriously miss my BlackBerry
On Sunday, we woke up painfully early and boarded a bus for the city of Tui, about 90 miles south of Santiago, and toured the city's cathedral and fort.

Shrine from the baroque period

On the fort's main tower--notice how there are no safety guardrails! I'm definitely not in the US anymore.

Con amigas in front of el río Miño--that's Portugal behind us!
We drove across the tiniest bridge in the history of bridges (we were in a tour bus and seriously almost hit about three cars going in the opposite direction) to have lunch in Valenca, Portugal. Seriously, how many times in your life can you say, "Hmm...I really feel like having lunch in another country today. Let's just hop across the border!"

Definitely the best view I've ever had while eating lunch
Proof that I've been to Portugal
 After lunch, we had a few hours to wander the streets of Valenca. All the open storefronts with bootleg Hello Kitty tshirts (Portuguese mistranslation: "Charmmy Kitty") were quaint and highly amusing.

Our next stop was a mountain in Santa Tecla, Spain. I slept on the bus and woke up to look out the window and see nothing but the Atlantic Ocean. As shoulder lane. No guardrails. I think if I wasn't so tired, I would have had a panic attack. Thankfully, we arrived safe and sound, and were treated to the most amazing view imaginable.

I dare you to find a prettier view. Seriously.

I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles...

Mi amor Danielle

And of course, we just HAD to recreate the Jack & Rose pose from The Titanic

Las chicas
Halfway down the mountain, there was the ruins of a 2,000 year old Celtic village. I'm used to Santa Barbara, where the oldest building is from the 18th century, so something from biblical times just blows my mind.

The Celtic ruins
The last stop on this 14 hour trip was to Baiona, Spain, one of the first places in Europe to hear about the "discovery" of the Americas, because Columbus' Pinta landed here. We didn't arrive til 7:30 pm, but it was still warm and really light out, so we put on our trajes de baño and hung out at the harbor's beach.

You can see a reconstruction of the Pinta in the upper left corner

It's taken me a good two days to write this post, which only covers three days of my trip. ¡Increíble! Either I need to get better at this blogging thing, or do less with my days. (I think I'm gonna go with the former.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Have passport, will travel.

[In Denver International Airport]
"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?--it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we can lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." --Jack Kerouac
I read On The Road at the beginning of the summer, and that quote has stuck with me ever since. Kerouac perfectly sums up exactly how I feel every time I travel, and especially how I feel when I watch Justin's car drive away from my house or the airport. Travel days are always half tears and half butterflies, and today is no exception.
I have a crazy-long journey ahead of me (though I guess by Kerouac's hitch-hiking-cross-country standards, it's really not that dreadful):
  • 3:45 pm PST: leave house
  • 5:30 pm PST: take off from Santa Barbara Airport
  • 8:30 pm MT: land in Denver International Airport
  • 11:55 pm MT: take off from Denver
  • 5:00 am EST: land in Dulles (Washington DC)
  • 8:30 am EST: take off from Dulles
  • 8:30 am PST: land in JFK (New York City)
  • 6:00 pm PST: take off from JFK
  • 7:00 am CET: land in Madrid Barajas Airport
  • 1:30 pm CET: take off from Barajas
  • 2:45 pm CET: land in Santiago de Compostela
So I'll be traveling from 3:45 pm PST on Wednesday til 2:45 pm CET on Friday...I'm going to need un café negro...or tres.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The final countdown.

199/365 - the difference is time by animal at heart
photo by animal at heart on Flickr.
I leave California in 12 days. I have a 6:30 pm flight from Santa Barbara to Denver to JFK, where I'll spend the last few precious hours with my BlackBerry before I call to cancel its service, buy an overpriced Naked Juice, and board an airplane that will carry me across the Atlantic Ocean for my very first time.

It doesn't feel real yet. I spent an hour or so today writing up a long email to send to extended family members/family friends, explaining where I'm going and what I'm doing. But the thing is, even I don't really know where I'm going or what I'm doing yet. I've been passing the time by doing little things, like buying a ridiculous amount of new shoes (my excuse is that I've heard Spaniards are snobby about shoes), ordering Madrid guidebooks, and speaking to my cat in Spanish.

There's so much to do before I leave: somehow condense all my belongings into two suitcases, order a double-case watch, go swimming in the Pacific Ocean a few more times, see countless friends, celebrate my 3rd anniversary with my boyfriend...these are either going to be the saddest or most exciting 12 days of my life.