Operation Recover Blog: Commence

December 26th, 2010

Hello my poor little blog. You may believe I have forgotten you–forsaken you even. Fear not; I have returned to breath new life into you, and shape you into something more than the stale old bits of my time abroad. Operation Recover Blog (ORB) commences immediately, and with luck and a great deal of self-discipline, my dear blog, you may soon acquire my undivided attention at regular intervals.

Let it be known that ORB does not necessitate long, rambling, thoroughly thoughtful (what a mouthful) entries, but may include handy one-liners, appealing images, amusing videos, and more.

ORB does, however, necessitate regular–hopefully weekly, and at least monthly–attention in some form or another. And so it begins, my lovely little blog.

Thoughts of today in a nutshell:

  1. Using the word “delicious” as a descriptor for non-gustatory nouns is utterly… delicious.
  2. An excellent, singular piece of jewelry can instill the greatest confidence in a woman.
  3. It would be nice to have a boyfriend, or at least a serious flirtation, at this point in life.
  4. Unlikely things that may cause hives: cold weather, old sheets, Dove soap, smell-of-brother.
  5. Old Navy should try less hard to be like its classier sibling, GAP. Just be yourself, man. Also, dressing rooms in the center of the store are awkward.
  6. [Related to #3] Chris Thile, if you are single, I am and continue to remain unattached. In the least, we should together indulge in a nice single-malt, and if you’re nice I’ll even bring my monocle (additional stipulation: you should don a top hat. Or at least a waistcoat and pocket-watch).
  7. The newest Punch Brothers album is amazing. And, for me, strangely heart-rending. I haven’t worked it out all the way and may write a more thoughtful review after more time with the album and my own ruminations. My cursory thoughts:

For some sappy, inexplicable reason the music brings me to tears. Perhaps it is the impending heartbreak behind some of the songs: the heartbreak that goes ignored or unsaid in favor of the “now”–of carpe diem, drink, and sex. Or maybe it’s the pure honesty and beauty so poetically and rendered. Maybe it’s seeing an artist move from naive idealism to something more raw, real, and experiential. There’s more flesh in this album, more pain and pleasure and dreaming than other Thile work. I hate to go all Blakean, but there seems to be a sort of Songs of Innocence to Songs of Experience transition going on here that reminds the listener of the true humanity of the artists and the knowledge gained in discovering that humanity. The result: a deep and inscrutable pang of sadness as human experience overwhelms youthful innocence, but a dawning pleasure in new-found complexity that can only come from such a transition. My initial tears may have sprung from a feeling of disconnect from an artist who has changed musically, emotionally, and philosophically from the one my idealistic, middle-school self fell in love with years ago. But then again, I’ve changed too. And as I listen again, and get to know this new Chris Thile and these new thoughts, I face that inner change and consider the raw humanity in myself–a Kerry that I am only now getting to know, and even then only barely. I hope to get to know her a bit better, share a drink with her, indulge a bit, and see what life has to offer beyond books, movies, and the stark colors of black and white.

A light entry has grown rather deep… shall we swim back to the surface for some fresh air? Shallow waters it is:

– I may get a twitter, even though I’m late on the uptake and possibly joining a quickly fading trend. Bully, I say! I will join anyway!
– I leave for Toronto very soon, and will thus be able to add yet another country to my list of foreign travels this year. What’s more, I will learn what a true “winter” means. I am filled with anticipation and bone-chilling fear.
That is all for now! ORB seems to be on its way to success (*currently knocking on wood*), and do scold me thoroughly if I again return to hopeless slackerdom.



Morocco Mole

May 2nd, 2010

March 6, 2010
Well, since I’m lying in bed sick with some sort of flu, I thought it was a great time to do some updates. Today I was supposed to go to Gibraltar and play with monkeys and eat fish’n chips, but instead, my body decided it would rather catch the flu and stay at home fighting a fever and stomach pains. I’ve been chillin’ in bed since Thursday afternoon. It seems like as good a time as ever, however, to give you a little update!

Last weekend, I just took a little hop over to Africa for 2 ½ days. Yup, that’s right, I went to Morocco!! I left with a big group of fellow U.S. students on Saturday afternoon with a tour group called WeLoveSpain. We took a bus south to the Strait of Gibraltar and caught a super-awesome-deluxe high-speed ferry to the Spanish town of Ceuta on the northern tip of Africa.

It was a super classy ferry, and it whisked us across the sea in 30 minutes. Once we were on the continent of Africa (how cool is that?!), we landed in a Spanish town called Ceuta. The super-ferry actually carried all 3 buses used by the tour group, so we all hopped back on the buses for a tour of Ceuta. We drove through the mountains, and right one of the highest points to look down on the city:


Here, you can see the Atlantic on one side, and the Mediterranean on the other. The little middle bit is downtown Ceuta. It was SO windy up there, so I also have some mad-hair-blowing-crazy pics, which are always fun:

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After seeing Ceuta, we drove to the Moroccan border, where our tour group collected our passports and handed them to border control. We all received our passports back, and a nice Moroccan officer (“Welcome to Morocco!!”) walked through the bus checking each of our passports to make sure our pictures matched our faces. Once done, we drove through the checkpoint and into Morocco. The border checkpoint reminded me a bit of the Mexican border… you could definitely tell that you were moving into some “rougher” territory. Morocco is a third world country, and you could see that going in. Well, actually, the first thing you saw going in were rows and rows of Moroccan flags along the highway:


These are set up all around, apparently because the king of Morocco was recently in town. And you know how kings like their flags. Anyway, we drove through the rain and dark into the big city of Tetuan. We showed up at our hotel, checked in, had a bit of dinner, and crashed.

Early the next morning, after some breakfast, we all hopped back on the bus and drove to a small mountain town called Chefchaouen. I should note here that we stayed in Northern Morocco, where it is mountainous and quite green. It isn’t until move further south, near Casablanca, that you start to see that iconic desert scenery, since the Sahara is further south. So, Chefchaouen is seated up in the green and rainy Rif Mountains, a small mountain range that runs just along that northern tip of Africa by the Strait of Gibraltar.
We drove up into the mountains in our big bus, and I tried to fall asleep to keep from getting nauseous because of all the winding roads. When we got to Chefchaouen, the 3 buses of people were split up into two groups to go with two different tour guides. Our tour guide was a very nice man who was obviously incredibly passionate about his city’s history and about cultural exchange. He was so eager to answer any questions about Morocco, Islam, or Arab culture. Also, he was just a cute old man.

We walked all through the little town, which, like Sevilla, was comprised of narrow streets running between the buildings. All of the building walls, however, were painted varying shades of bright, light-blue, to help reflect heat. The color is beautiful, and was so vivid that it’s the image of Morocco that most stands out in my mind even now. Sometimes bright green moss would start to grow along the walls, blending with the blue to create this beautiful mixture of green, blue, and turquoise.

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We continued climbing through the streets (since it’s built onto a mountain, the town is sort of structured in layers; you climb a steep set of stairs to a layer, and then another set of stairs, etc.), and reached the river on the edge of the town. From the river, we looked up the road, and there was a bunch of young men thumping on drums and chanting and dancing. Once they saw us all, the got really excited and started singing for us:


Our Moroccan welcome band! Thanks dudes!
At the end of the tour, the guide took us to a small weaving cooperative, which provides weaving work (carpets, blankets, and scarves) for local artisans. Some of the artisans showed us their work, and then showed us the weavers working upstairs. The blankets and carpets were beautiful, and I had wanted a memorable souvenir, sooo…

I bought a rug! Well, actually it’s a small blanket woven with camel wool, but it’s thick enough to really be a small area rug. It has an Arabic design (other rugs had a Berber design), and I liked the colors because the white and blue reminded me of the buildings in Chefchaouen. Also, the bit of yellow thrown into the design made it TU-appropriate. I’m excited to show it off in the apartment next year!
That was also my first haggling experience. Really, the artisans at this co-op were supposed to sell us the products for fixed prices, and they told us that—especially since it’s a cooperative and not just some street-stall. The products were better made, and being sold by the very people who made them. However, those guys cannot resist haggling; it’s in the blood there. When I was upstairs admiring a scarf, which was supposed to cost about 20 euro, the artisan came up and said in a low voice with shifty eyes, “Which one you like best?” Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the scarf styles, but I expressed mild interest in a red one. “Okay, I make you a deal. 2 or 3 pieces for that. Okay? 2 or 3.” I still can’t figure out if I heard him correctly, because that is a HUGE discount, more than a normal haggle. But I just said, “no thank you” and looked at rugs downstairs. When I asked the young man showing me the blankets/rugs how much they were, he said 35 euro. Then he dropped to 30. I said no thanks, and he asked “How much do you want to pay for it?” I played low and said “13 euro.” He just started shaking his head, and said “Pssh, 27 euro.” I said 18, and then he took it down to 20. I tried to push him to 19, but he was getting frustrated and had none of it. I was going to play the “walk away” move, but it didn’t phase him. From the body language, I read that he really wasn’t supposed to even be as low as 20, and couldn’t go further. I thought “hey why not?” and bought it. Then he tried to convince me to buy 2 for 20 euro: “One for you and one for your mother! This one for your mom!”
Me: “Aw, see, I really don’t think my mom needs more stuff.”
Young man: *Smiling, not quite understanding, still looking hopefully like I’ll take the deal*
I did not take the deal—sorry mom!—and got my rug and left to meet back up with the tour group. Haggle accomplished!

We then had about and hour of free time in the outdoor market. We wandered from stall to stall, trying to look completely uninterested, because if you even looking mildly interested, the vender swarms upon you with ferver, and bombards you with questions like “How much? You like? Tell me what you want! You want blue one instead? I sell you for university price!” NO! THANKS! BYE! It takes persistence to ward them off. I think OFF mosquito repellant could make some money off of a new product to ward off pushy vendors.
I ended up getting some cute earrings, similar to ones I’ve seen at Urban Outfitters, for 1 euro. At Urban, they probably would have cost about $14. Win!

This is a long entry, so I’ll tell you about the rest of my trip in the next entry…

Fri, Feb. 19

May 2nd, 2010

Friday, Feb. 19
I have to say it. I have had it up to HERE with hard-boiled eggs and canned tuna. Look, I can handle one or the other to a reasonable extent (though I really don’t like the eggs), but together… those are two foods that can really make you gag if you feel the slightest bit queasy or icky while eating them. My host mother likes to put these two ingredients in a lot of her cooking (mainly salads), and we’re getting them a lot more now that Lent has rolled around. I have a feeling that this will become part of my Lenten sacrifice. Very well. I accept the challenge.

Today, Christy, Alicia, and I met up at the CC-CS center to research flights for Semana Santa. Christy and I have been trying to plan a trip for the first 7 days of Semana Santa, and then return on Holy Thursday to be in Seville for the end of Holy Week. Christy and I finally worked out a plan, and I’m SUPER excited:
1 to 2 days in Brussels, Belgium
1 day in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
4 days in Paris, France
We’ll be flying to Brussels and then taking a train through Luxembourg and then to Paris. We just bought plane tickets yesterday, and I’m SOOO excited!! I’m also inordinately excited about Luxembourg… before our trip, Christy and I decided that we need to go to a country that people always forget, like Andorra or Lichtenstein… or LUXEMBOURG! Did you know that Luxembourg has the highest GDP per capita in the world? Did you know it was one of the original founders of the European Union? Did you know that Skype’s headquarter is in Luxembourg? Did you know that it’s supposed to look like a fairy-tale-land?

I sold you didn’t I?
Besides seeing that grand little country, Christy and I will be able to visit Kristin in Paris. I’m so so so excited, and am feeling so relieved to have tickets already.
In other news, Christy, Alicia, and I were all simultaneously hit by crippling Oreo cravings, so we made our way down Calle Tetuan toward Corte Ingles. This store is insanity. It’s pretty much the only department store here, and there honestly doesn’t need to be any other ones. It’s like Macy’s and Target had a baby, which mutated because of radioactive-department-store-waste. It has almost everything and is SO overwhelmingly crowded. We made our way down to the lowest level, where the supermarket is located. I have never seen such a hopping supermarket. You would think it was a Nordstrom’s sale. We wove through crazy people and found the Oreos—Eureka!! I had to express some amount of pity, however, because Spain has not yet advanced to the double-stuffed variety. I can only hope they get there.
I bought some Texas BBQ Pringles too, because I just couldn’t resist, and I’ve been wanting snack food. I have a feeling they won’t last long though…

After weaving through the weird, non-refrigerated milk aisle, and passing by some giant pig legs hanging from the ceiling (though this is so common here, it barely registered), we paid and quickly exited the store. Mission accomplished.

Thurs., Feb. 18

May 2nd, 2010

Thurs., Feb. 18
I know more real Spanish people now!!!
Tonight was the Intercambio meet-and-greet at the CC-CS center, and it ended up being SO much fun. It had some definite awkward beginnings but worked out. Everyone made their way to the patio at the Center where there were tapas, wine, beer, and soda. Each person had to wear a name tag, so everyone was awkwardly stealing glances at other people’s chests to see names and find their intercambios. Awesome.
Like I said, in the end it worked out, because it seems that all the Spanish intercambios are really cool people. My intercambio is a woman in her late twenties named Irene who works in business. She’s super nice, and easy to talk to. During the fiesta, however, I ended up getting into a conversation with a couple CC-CS girls, and a Spanish intercambio named Alberto. He is working on his master’s thesis in business at the University of Sevilla, and learned English from an American teacher in France. (And he said he would soon be going to San Francisco to learn French… I still don’t understand.) He was hilarious, and good company. He explained the Spanish way of life to us: sleeping, drinking, having a good time, and never arriving on time. He then explained how several guys at the fiesta were going to light up some “hashish.”
Me: Wait. Weed? Here?
Alberto: Weed! Yeah! We Spanish smoke a lot of weed… it’s really cheap in Morocco!
I did not know this. I thought it was just the drinking and the cigarettes… but I have to say it makes sense. Why are people always sleeping in? Late? Relaxed? All, “no pasa nada!”… it’s the weed. (This reasoning made Alberto laugh.) Alberto explained smilingly, “Spain is… how do you say… a country of vices.” And then he smiled broadly and helped himself to some more white wine.
We also started talking to his friend Pablo there, and he told me how Pablo was a professional sleeper. Pablo looked very proud after this statement.
Well, we continued to laugh, chat, eat tapas, and drink. (Don’t worry—just one tinto de verano for me, and then Fanta after that! It was a school night after all.) At the end of the fiesta, my intercambio Irene and I went to go look for her Mexican friend who was waiting for her by the CC-CS center. They had met in Rome when they were both learning Italian there, and he was visiting her in Sevilla. I ended up striking a conversation with him, and it was insanely refreshing. His accent was so familiar! We talked about a lot of the differences in Spain-Spanish and Mexican-Spanish, and had some good laughs (check out the word “coger”).
It was a fantastic night, and I’m SO happy to have really spent some fiesta-time with some españoles!

February in Sevilla, Part Dos

April 3rd, 2010

What other amazing things happened in my first month?
I started my Sevillanas dance classes! Sevillanas is a style of flamenco (flamenco comes in something like 18 different flavors, usually from different pueblos or for different occasions) that developed in the pueblos outside of Sevilla, and is a partner-dance. There’s a lot of hand-twirling, foot-stomping, and looking-haughtily-back-at-your-partner, so obviously it’s a good time. Getting hand-movements to match footwork, however, is ridiculously difficult for me to figure out. It’s definitely going to take more practice. I love the class, though!

I visited the Alcázar, a palace here in Sevilla that was first a Moorish palace and then a palace for the monarchs of Spain. It has beautiful Moorish architecture and its gardens are absolutely gorgeous, filled with orange trees and fountains. It is actually still used as a residence for Spanish royalty, one of the few ancient buildings in the world still used for its original purpose. In fact, when we visited, Prince Felipe of Spain was in residence! Knowing that, I couldn’t resist being a rebel and swiping an orange from the gardens… yeah, I took a royal orange from the Alcazar. What now?


Christy’s and my friend Tiffany from TU came to Sevilla from Granada (where she’s been studying for the academic year), so we took her out for tapas one weekend. It was so refreshing to see a familiar TU face, and was nice to catch up! We went to a restaurant/bar called Taberna Colonial, a place quite close to the CC-CS center. We all ordered some tinto de verano and then tackled some traditional tapas: patatas bravas (or con salsa brava; it’s actually Catalonian but is served everywhere) and solomillo con whiskey. Patatas bravas are fried potatoes covered in two sauces—a red tomato-bell-peper-based sauce that’s a little spicy, and an aioli that is pretty darn close to Ranch dressing. SO good. Solomillo con whiskey is a dish with filets of pork loin sautéed with whiskey, olive oil, and with roasted garlic, and is served over a bed of fried potatoes. Yes, it is as good as it sounds.
We were still hungry, so we decided to ask the waitress what she recommended. She came back with a gigantic place of MEAT. As she put it on the table, I could only think of Dr. Perry’s rendition of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire: “UGH. MEAT.” (as Stanley tosses a steak AT Stella). A picture:


Yeah, just a plate of beef and pork. And we LOVED it. Plus, it made our waitress seem extra cool; instead of seeing 5 girls and thinking of bringing salads or something “light,” she breaks out the meat-plate. That’s what I’m talkin’ about! I don’t want a wimpy salad!

Sunday of that weekend, it was our TU friend Laura’s birthday, so we went out to a small restaurant/bar called Café Tomate (or something like that) where we had our first taste of vino de naranja (orange wine). We originally intended to go to this little bar next door called La Goletera, (or el Peregil, can’t remember which), which is a local favorite and is renowned for its orange wine and strawberry wine. It was so small and crowded, though, that we just hopped next door to Café Tomate, which was also serving orange wine. Café Tomate was okay, but I feel like we could have gotten more for our money. The orange wine was so unique, and quite tasty. I’m pretty sure it’s a dessert wine, because it’s quite viscous, dark, sweet, and strong. More than one glass could lay you out. At first, it had a slight cough-syrupy aftertaste, but I didn’t detect it after a while. I’d like to try the vino de naranja at La Goletera, though, just to see if it’s different (and since the place is a local Sevilla fave).

Later in the month, I took a tour of the Catedral with CC-CS. I go to Mass there every Sunday (thus rendering Mass extra epic), but this time I actually got to see all the parts of the cathedral, rather than just the main altar. It is an enormous space, with small chapels all around. The bell tower, called La Giralda, is a conglomeration of cultures and historical periods: the bottom 2/3 is a former minaret, then the top part is Renaissance and Gothic architecture. After the Reconquista, instead of tearing town mosques and minarets, the Spanish-Christians decided to make their message extra-clear and build cathedrals on-top-of/around/within Moorish buildings. We climbed up the Giralda, which is made a little easier in that it is constructed with ramps instead of stairs, so that a man on horseback could ride up and call out prayer (when it was a minaret).

One weekend this month, we also took a CC-CS trip to Córdoba, which is another small Andalucian city that was at one point the capital of Arab Spain. It is known particularly for it’s Mesquita-Catedral—a cathedral built inside of and somewhat around a mosque after the Christian re-conquest of Spain (again, the whole Spaniards-rubbing-the-conquest-in-the-Arabs’-faces thing). The city is also known for it’s old Jewish barrio and synagogue, as well as the Alcázar there (though the one in Sevilla is bigger and better!). We saw all of these things on our tour, and the Mesquita-Catedral was especially amazing, with the mix of Muslim and Christian architectural design. Incredibly impressive and beautiful. Besides that, my other favorite part of the day was the walk through the old Jewish neighborhood. We walked through all these narrow streets, lined with bars, tiendas, and little balconies overhead. Córdoba is known for all the flower pots that line the walls of all the streets, and you could see all the flowers begin to bloom along the way. In May, they have a festival in which each person opens up their patio to the public and shows off all their flowers and greenery. You can tour through each patio, linger for some music, food, drinks, and socializing, and move on to the next. I’m hoping to go and see that come May! The city overall was delightful and quaint, and I enjoyed the sunny day there (after there had been so many days of rain).

Beyond that, I have a few individual entries form February days (which shall come shortly), and an entry on my amazing trip to Morocco at the end of the month! More to come.

February in Sevilla

March 24th, 2010

Notes of February: not many problems adapting, got into the Spanish groove, rained pretty much the whole time, but besides that no nasty winter weather at all, and lots of fun experiences. Continue downward for things that stood out in February…

We started classes at the center—the Intensive Period classes, which are all basically just Spanish vocabulary and grammar classes to refresh all the material before the more content-heavy classes (like literature and anthropology).

I had my first linguistic complement in the taxi on the way to meeting my host family for the first time. I was asking the taxi driver about the city as we drove at death-defying speeds through the ridiculously narrow streets, when he told me “You speak Spanish very well!” Point 1 on the chalkboard.

I met my host mother, who’s name is Maria Jose, but everyone calls her Pepi (it makes sense in Spanish). She’s a very nice woman, with a wry sense of humor and a very strong Andalucian accent. She’s maybe in her 60s or so, and enjoys wearing light blue eyeliner and lots and lots of rings and bracelets all stacked on each other. Communication went pretty well the first day, and since then, it’s been pretty much dandy! Also, after a few weeks, she told me that I was speaking Spanish well! Point 2 on the chalkboard.
Here’s a pic of my new room here, and my new roommate:


And here’s the cool view outside our window:


Some friends and I got totally lost in the town center amongst the senseless, narrow streets. We were supposed to find the CC-CS center on our own, and ended up getting completely lost. A street can start in an easterly direction, then go absolutely north, and you can’t even tell when you’re on it. You could call the Centro of Sevilla the Kendall Hall of downtown areas. I’m pretty sure there are no right angles.

Despite getting lost, the centro is incredibly awesome. The main street, Avenida de la Constitución, allows only the train to pass through and foot traffic—no cars or buses. In the evenings, when everyone goes out, the street is flooded with people and all sorts of silly types. I’m working on a list of the characters I’ve seen, and will hopefully get some pictures. Here’s a sample–the Peruvian pipe players who dress in Native American garb and play such classics as “My Heart Will Go On,” “Chiquitita,” “Fernando,” and “Land Down Under”:


Avenida de la Constitución also happens to pass right alongside the Catedral. So, to get to school, I get to walk next to the world’s third largest cathedral in the world. Win. All along the street and in the centro in general there are restaurants, bars, and pastry shops. They stud every corner, and I’ve been having a hard time just choosing a place to try. They all look so good!
The cento also includes Plaza Nueva, where there are always people walking and chatting, kids playing, and skateboarders and bikers doing fun tricks. Also in the plaza, a bunch of individual merchants set up their tents and sell scarves, pashimas, jewelry, hats, and other things (like Hookah and picture frames and candy), and sell them for great prices. 2 scarves for 5 euro… deal!

Enough on the centro, more on my first month in Spain…

I had my first Spanish-restaurant meal at a place called Sevillanas. Jenny, Christy, Alicia, and I went and ordered the favorite local drink—tinto de verano. Basically it’s red wine with either lemon soda or orange soda. And it’s wonderful. Though the locals tend to drink it mainly in the summer, we still enjoyed it, and we felt better about it than ordering the stereotypical sangria (which, however, is amazing anyway). We also ordered some paella mixta and pollo con salsa (chicken with sauce). The Spaniards don’t like to be very specific with their food… the sauce is whatever they feel like making, but they never describe it (white wine sauce, garlic sauce, etc.); just… “sauce.” Sometimes when I ask my host mom what’s in the dinner she says “carne,” which means… “meat.” Right. Very specific. It was a nice meal, and our waitress was super friendly. She had no problems working with our minimal Spanish, and had a great sense of humor.

Had my first run-in with possible crime… at Sevillanas, some rascally young fellers were lingering behind our table (we were seated outside next to the street), and were kind of whispering and laughing quietly. Christy and I had our backs to them, and immediately felt suspicious. We tried to casually move our purses onto our laps more securely, and were feeling so tense with the boys just lingering behind us. Then, our fabulous waitress came to our table, took our plates, and with a suspicious look towards the boys, left this note on our table:


It says: “Watch your purses, with the boys behind you.”
We were so on it! And thank you, amazing waitress for looking out for us extranjeras (foreigners)! The boys moseyed along, and we finally breathed a little easier. Close but no cigar, hombres.

More in the next post!

I do solemnly swear…

March 24th, 2010

… that I am up to no good. Just kidding. I do not in fact own a Marauder’s map. But what I DO solemnly swear is to post the blog entries I have been writing in Microsoft Word for the past month and a half.

I’ll try to post as many as I can now, but I have class early tomorrow and will have to get some shut-eye. And, immediately after, I am catching a flight to Brussels! Christy and I will be spending a day and a half in Brussels, a day in Luxembourg, and about four days in Paris starting tomorrow, thus I will be digitally and physically MIA for a week.

But seriously. Blogs WILL happen. They MUST!

And so to begin, observe the next entry…

Seville At Last

February 26th, 2010

My first international travel experience is now over. And I am so relieved.

Heathrow was kind of awful, not because I got lost or had a bad interaction with someone (in fact everyone was absolutely polite and helpful—gotta hand it to the Brits!), but because I was so tired and it was so huge and overwhelming. The main part of Terminal 3 is literally a mall, with a Harrods and Swatch and Dolce Gabbana, and even a T.G.I. Fridays, and tons of other stores. There are hundreds of people milling around, and all of them are speaking a different language or at least a different dialect, and that kind of thing just kind of hits you in the face when you are terribly weary from jet-lag. I ended up sleeping off and on in the main lobby, waiting some 4 hours for my flight.
I realize I forgot to recount another bit of the Heathrow experience. This happened after I got the main shopping area of Terminal 3:

I looked at my boarding pass and saw the unlabeled number/letter, “8A.” I assumed it was the gate number, and went off early to find out where it was, so that I wouldn’t be rushing. I wove through the crowded corridors, reluctantly passing by a stuffed-terrier at Harrods that seemed too cheesy to pass up, and got into the main hallway that led to the gates. I walked onward, passing by gate 7, and looked up at the sign pointing me to the next hallway: “Gates 9 to 11.” Huh. Maybe 8 is just in between, so they didn’t label it. I walked forward, and the next large door I saw was labeled “Gate 9.” I must have missed something. I’m tired, so it’s totally possible. I turned toward an authoritative looking figure standing by the bathrooms and asked him for gate 8. He looked at me frankly, and pointed at gate 9. Then he looked to the sign behind me that said “Gates 3 to 7” and pointed to that. And stared at me again, in a way that obviously said, “DUH.” He pointed me back down the hall, and I moved onward. I once again hit Gate 7. I think I walked back and forth from 7 to 9 about 5 times, before I became completely sure that there was no Gate 8. Then I wondered if this was Hogwarts sending me a message through my boarding pass… maybe there IS a Gate 8, but you have to be a wizard to get in. The Platform 9 ¾ of Heathrow, you could say.

This seemed highly unlikely (also, I wasn’t going to try running into a wall, because I already looked crazy looking around or a nonexistent gate), so I asked an old man (another authoritative looking figure) who was reading a newspaper. He looked up and said, “How much do you want to bet that that’s your seat number?”
I wanted to cry just then. Stupid. Before I could get to the crying part, he got up, and very kindly asked to have a look at my ticket, and walked me to the TVs showing flights. He proceed to explain how not all airlines are prompt in issuing gate numbers, and how I had an hour or two before I would know mine:
Me (still wanting to cry and feeling dumb and tired): “Sorry, this is my first time travelling internationally…”
Man [British accent, of course]: “Now, now, see we sorted it out! No need to worry! It’s sorted! Now, go back to the shopping center, and look about, and buy some nice things, and enjoy yourself!”
Thank you, nice, old, British man. You stopped me from having an embarrassing outburst because of a non-existent gate. (But seriously, Heathrow. No gate 8? Is that a joke?)

Anyway, it was then that I decided NOT to look around, because I was tired and grumpy and completely overwhelmed, so I sat in the waiting area and dozed. It felt great to be in England, but after 6 long hours in a crowded, foreign, international airport, I was done and ready to get to Spain. But don’t worry, England, I’ll be back, and I’ll see more of you than your ginormous airport!

Around 9 or 9:30, I finally arrived at Sevilla airport. I luckily did not have to figure out the correct way (in Spain) to hail a cab, since they were all lined up in front of the airport. I grabbed one, told the driver my address, and tried not to fall asleep on the way.Looking at the window, I noticed how contemporary everything was… that may sound weird to a lot of people, but when we are shown pictures of Sevilla, we see pictures of the old buildings in the center of town, bordered by cobblestone streets. But driving away from the airport, I noticed how similar it looked to the U.S. Everyone has this idea that Spain and Europe are absolutely different from the U.S. in everyway, but we were driving down a standard highway, flying by billboard after billboard, neon-sign after neon-sign. And at a breakneck speed. This reminded me a LOT of Houston.

Lesson of the evening: in Sevilla, red lights are merely a suggestion.

Anyway, the cab pulled up to the Plaza de Armas Hotel, and the driver helped me with my bags and asked for 30 euro. I was told it would cost no more than 24, but I didn’t have the energy or willpower to fight it. I thanked him, and he smiled, with the slight look of a lecher, and said something that included “Eres guapa” or something along those lines. My first brush with a creeper! I was so tired, I just gave him a confused stare and walked away to the hotel.

Made my way up to the room Christy and I would share. I knocked, and she opened the door with a big smile and a big hug. Home! It was such a relief to see someone I know, especially after traveling alone through so much unknown territory.
Travel accomplished.

London Calling…

February 20th, 2010

… but I’m not picking up, ’cause I have a flight to catch and refuse to attempt navigating the labrynthine streets alone.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010
, Heathrow Airport, 11:15 am (London Time)

First song listened to in the U.K.: BBMak’s “Back Here.” I think that’s totally appropriate.
My flight arrived at London-Heathrow at about 9:45 am, London time. Not gonna lie, I had a little spaz as we were flying in, when I looked out the window and saw the Houses of Parliament and London Eye along the Thames. So awesome. However, I also noticed that the layout of London has no rhyme or reason. I imagine giving directions goes something like this:

“Oy, mate, just take Pall Mall to Haymarket, but don’t take Shaftesbury, or you’ll be halfway to Kent. Keep on down Regent until New Cavendish, and pop left there. Do a full circle, but not twice, or you’ll end up in Shropshire, and we all know how those folk are, eh? *Chuckle* Put on your right signal but turn left at Ladbury. You’ll be tempted to pay respect to the nice old woman at the corner, but don’t say a word or she’ll take to you and knit you socks for the next 50 years. Get out, hop on one foot, and get back in your car. You should be in Queensgate. Go straight, and once you’re at Sutherland, reverse your car three meters, and turn right. From there, go which ever way you want, because I can’t even remember which side of Porchester my house is on…”

Anyway, I can’t imagine navigating anywhere in this city. Which is why I’m still in the airport instead of seeing the city, and will be for about 2.5 more hours. A little background: I have a flight on Vueling airlines (a small airline owned by Iberia) to Seville at 5:35, but Continental doesn’t have a connecting agreement with them. Therefore, I had to go through Immigration, get my bags, pass through Customs, and navigate my way from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3 (in the world’s largest intercontinental airport) for my Vueling departure. So, here I wait in Terminal 3, since Vueling doesn’t start checking bags until 1:35 pm:

dscf5752.JPG     dscf5753.JPG

Navigating Heathrow so far has gone by without any hiccups; however, if my dad hadn’t drilled into my head my route (and printed out about 4 maps of the airport alone), I probably would have been hopelessly loss and brimming with tears.
Immigration took only a few minutes; hardly anyone was going through. Plus, the immigrations official was a very charming man, and oh-so English (note, the following transcript is best enjoyed with a British accent in mind):

Official: “And… how old are you?”
Me: “I’m 21…”
Official: *Understanding nod, followed by slightly apologetic expression* “Now… I’m not accustomed to asking a young lady her age. You just looked 18, and we like to take care of our underage travelers.”

Anyway, after being advised by the Immigration official that I must see Córdoba and Granada (“which are rather close in proximity, I believe”), I moved on to baggage and passed through Customs without any trouble at all. I wandered over to the train platforms to take the Heathrow Connect from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3. Oh okay, one hiccup here… I unnecessarily spent 7.15 quid (I love saying that) on a ticket.:


[What message are they trying to to send with “STD ADULT”? Isn’t that a little presumptuous?]

I saw a ticket booth, panicked, and thought I needed one. Turns out it was for London-Paddington, and interterminal transfers are free. I’m keeping it for posterity, though. My first purchase with pounds.

Took the train and got out at Terminal 3, and I was unclear on whether the elevators or the escalators would take me to the right place. Figured they’d spit me out in a similar location, but I was feeling the escalators. This is the part where I felt like in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (the movie). The building is all grey and white concrete and metal, no adornments at all, with painfully bright fluorescent lights, and surveillance cameras everywhere. And apparently it takes 5 escalators (or was it 4? I started losing count.) to get to Terminal 3 proper. I went up and up in this massive concrete building, every the floor the same… real building, or Terry Gilliam set? Both perhaps?

Well, that’s about it for my London adventure so far. I can’t wait to finish all this traveling hassle and get to Sevilla and see Christy. However, I’m getting a little terrified of having to communicate in Spanish… I feel like I forgot all of my vocab. I’ll manage, though. For now, I’ll sit here and enjoy listening to the various English accents around me. Cheers for now!


February 12th, 2010

Hello, lovely, lovely readers!! Apologies for woefully neglecting this blog; I’ve been going non-stop for the past week. But I have time now, so I can throw a KAGILLION updates at you! I’ve been recording thoughts and little experiences since I left Houston, so I’ll do a little entry for each of those days I missed. Let us start with my journal entries on my flights…

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
, Bush Int. Airport, 6:40 pm (Houston time)

After about an hour of waiting at the gate, I’ve finally boarded my first flight ever across the pond. Harry Connick Jr.’s dulcet tones are humming through the airplane speakers as I wait for take-off. I feel rather lucky tonight—there’s hardly anyone on the plane. I have a window seat and the rest of the row to myself. This bodes well for sleeping.

Speaking of sleep, I felt a little bubble of excitement as I approached my seat, because I noticed that each person gets a complementary blanket and pillow! See, this one time when I was little, when I was on a flight with my parents, a flight attendant gave me a little pillow for free. I was obsessed. I thought it was so awesome, the best freebie ever. After that, I always hoped I’d get a pillow on a flight, but never did. Basically, I lost all hope in the airline industry. I mean, you charge me for a second bag, but don’t even have the decency to give me a soft cushion for my tender head?! Absurd!

My faith is restored. I, in fact, get two pillows since the seat next to me is open. Actually, I’m not completely sure about that. They might charge me $50.00 for the extra.

I just noticed that I’m sitting next to the right wing of the plane. I’ll let you know if I see any gremlins. Hope I’m spared that spectacle, because I’d hate to have a William Shatner moment (or a Bugs Bunny moment depending on your reference point).

So, this flight was delayed 30 minutes originally, and we’ve been waiting in the plane for a fair amount of time. People are getting antsy. Luckily the captain came on the speaker to explain the delay:
“Hi, this is your captain! I guess you noticed how… we’re not moving.”
Thank you, Captain Obvious (maybe that’s actually his name…).

In other news, I sat across an Englishwoman with two kids in the airport while waiting for the flight. Is it sad that just hearing her speak made me happy? I love accents. A Welsh man came and chatted with her, and I tried to keep it cool and pretend that I wasn’t gleefully listening to them speak.

Plane is moving! Finally! I’m off to Europe!!!


Later that flight…

Just asked for a Wallstreet Journal. Don’t really want to read it… but everyone else is reading a paper and I feel I must blend in…

Oh! Safety video! The BEST!

Enjoying Mr. Flight Attendant’s sweater combo: navy v-neck sweater, blue button-down, and a striped, silk tie in light blue, navy, and light yellow. He looks oh-so classy. Also, he just did an elaborate pantomime to the flight attendant behind him and doesn’t know I’m watching.

Cheers for now! Take-off!!