Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sangria, chocolate con churros, y sol

Thursday, 3:29 p.m.

Today is Thursday, which means it's my Friday. We have Fridays off in order to accomodate our traveling, but I'm not anxious to leave Santander anytime soon, so I'm staying put for the weekend. For now, I'm going to stick around town and explore the city (tomorrow is supposed to be around 75 and I have deemed it a beach day)...I have plenty of time to travel! And I don't really like the unnecessary stress that traveling brings me, so for now staying put is the best idea.

This weekend I'll probably have a glass or two of this:
Sangria is so good, and the only alcohol in the world I can drink without making a face...yes, I know, that's not that impressive considering it's loaded with sugar and fruit, but alcohol is alcohol, right?

And I'm definitely going out for these tonight:
Meet my new best friend (and worst enemy), chocolate con churros. So deliciously decadent and wonderful, but I know they offer no nutritional only live once, right? These are way better than Costco churros (the only churros I've ever had), and with the added chocolate...Oh. My. Goodness. My friends and I have decided to try to find the best churros in Santander...clearly a tough job, but someone has to do it!

And this is where I live:
Adorable, right? I'm terrible with knowing where I am in here, but I think my window is the top middle one? I can't be sure...but it doesn't really matter, because it's the prettiest apartment building I've ever seen.

I hopefully have a lot of this in store this weekend as well:
This was taken on my way home from school today. Every time we pass these stairs we marvel at the view and stop to take a photo or two (very tourist-like of us, I know). It has been so gorgeous today, so we're doing our best to take advantage of it.

This afternoon Sara and I are going to wander the streets for a while before my Skype date tonight...I'm pretty sure ice cream will be involved. Afterward we're going to meet up with some friends for shopping (a very intimidating process here for me!) before returning home for dinner. After dinner we're going to "go out", which for us means another walk, and possibly some chocolate con churros.

Tomorrow Sara and I are planning on starting the day off with a run (to burn off all our desserts) before heading to the beach for the afternoon and evening...throw in a lot more wandering and dessert-finding, plus Skype dates and no homework, and it's shaping up to be a pretty good weekend here in Santander!

♥ abigail

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Una mirada en mi dormitorio

Wednesday, 3:42 p.m.

I have yet to take pictures of the outside of my apartment (my camera is zipped and snapped away in a safe pocket of my super-safe European backpack that is impossible for thieves - and even me sometimes - to get into)...but I took a few of my room and my view on Tuesday. Enjoy!

This is where I sit...please note the sad little message on my computer screen telling me that, once again, I don't have internet.

Despite the lack of internet, this spot does have a pretty good view. Although I'm not going to lie to you...I didn't realize the view was of the street in front of my house. I stuck by hand out the window to take this photo and then realized that it is, in fact, Calle del Sol! I blame the 82 winding stairs for the confusion. These are the apartments I see when I look out the window and the church where my friends and I meet to walk to class.

This is my sweet little bed and closet...if you saw the size of my suitcase you'd be surprised that all my clothes fit easily in here with plenty of room to spare. I think I need to do a major closet purge once I'm back in the U.S. - there is no way I need all the clothes I have back home. I haven't missed anything yet, which I take to be a good sign. The shelves behind my bed have a lot of my host mom's books (in Spanish) and guidebooks from exchange student's past (in English), as well as my toiletry items (neatly arranged, por supuesto).

I hope you enjoyed your tour of my room! I'll try to post more pictures when I have stronger internet - you should see the foods I've been enjoying with my friends (sangria and churros con chocolate and helado are our favorites so far).
♥ abigail

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Culture Shock!

I think what I'm experiencing these days is culture shock. I feel completely out of my element, but not in a bad way. Everything here is so different...there's no organized way to explain it all, so I thought I'd make a list of things that are different from back home...
  • The street signs here are hard to find. They're on the sides of buildings most of the times, but not consistently. They're often really hard to spot, so I really only know a few streets (the one I live on, the one near the university, and the one near the water).
  • The meal times are definitely throwing off my groove! Breakfast is usually around 8:00 a.m. (before I leave for school) and consists of hot chocolate, peach juice, and a few tostadas. Lunch isn't until 2:45 p.m. (when I get home from school). I'm so hungry by lunchtime, it's crazy. It's usually a random assortment of fried food, eggs, and potato chips, followed by a piece of fruit. I haven't really had anything I've enjoyed yet. I don't eat dinner until 9:00 p.m., and it usually consists of something small - a weird omelet type thing, a little chicken...I get a little container of yogurt for dessert. I haven't really seen any vegetables since I've been here...I really need to find a multi-vitamin!
  • The store hours are different because they coincide with mealtimes. Cafés tend to be open most often, but everything else is on a pretty weird schedule (to me, anyway). Shops don't open until around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., then close around 2:30 p.m. for lunch before opening again at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. A lot of stores close around 10:00 p.m., but places like bars are open later (I'm not sure how late, but people in my group were out until 5:00 a.m. on Saturday night).
  • The menus in restaurants are hard to come by. Foods they serve are often listed somewhere on a wall or behind a counter, but prices are never listed. Service is much more relaxed (aka slower), and the check takes forever to get to your table. Water isn't offered to you (I don't ask for it either, because some places like to charge you for it).
  • The napkins at restaurants are more like tissue paper. Try to wipe chocolate off your face (courtesy of your churros con chocolate, por supuesto) with that...ouch!
  • Toilets don't have handles like they do at home. Instead they have a button on top that you push. Some of them have teeny tiny (maybe two inches long) handles instead of a button that are like miniature versions of many public restroom toilet handles in the U.S.
  • Public restrooms cost money. I haven't investigated how much because they tend to be pretty dirty. I've seen kids escape the fee by crawling under the turnstile to get inside.
  • Restrooms run out of toilet paper more quickly than they do here. The bathrooms only have one roll per stall, and often it's out. Thank goodness my Uncle Dru sent me over with an 8-pack of tissues! I keep one in my purse and one in my backpack, and have helped a few girls out because of his advice.
  • Parents (and grandparents) push babies around in buggies, not strollers. They are so precious.
  • People dress nicely for everything. Outfits that I've been wearing (that I would consider nice in the U.S.) don't hold a candle to what the locals wear! It seems that right now, no outfit is complete without stylish boots, a classy jacket, and a scarf. Looks like I need to do some shopping this weekend!
  • People walk everywhere. I actually enjoy it. I have a lot of stairs and hills to climb everyday, but I figure the more I walk, the less I have to run! And the scenery here is beautiful. Plus there are so many things and people to see, that even if I walk the same route every day it would be completely different. This city is definitely made for walking.
  • Drivers don't slow down for pedestrians. I'm very careful crossing streets and roundabouts...drivers don't slow down, so sometimes we brave it and sprint across the streets (which of course means that the drivers speed up and try to play "Hit the Tourist").
  • Signs at crosswalks are different. They show how much time you have to wait to cross (I've seen up to 80 seconds), and then when you can cross a little green man on the sign runs. It's pretty cute.
That's all I can think of for now...I'm sure there's a ton more! None of these things bother me, it's just very different than back home and will take some getting used to!

Culturally Shocked,
Abigail ♥

Manzanas o "Manzanas"?

Today we started our actual classes. This morning we got to school and found out which group we tested into for our grammar and conversation classes.

I tested into the "Leones" group - we're the "slower" level. I've never really tested into a slow level of anything in my life, but I am completely fine with this. I know that I didn't do super-well on my test because I was so overwhelmed by Spain in general that I could barely string together a sentence, let alone take a 40-question test plus write short answers and have a mini-interview. I get nervous when I have to speak in front of people who are a lot more skilled than I am at the language (that's why I never shut up in English! Ha :) ), so I think the lower level is a good fit for me.

I feel like I'm somewhere near the head of the class for this level, which is fine by me. If I was in the upper level, I'd be somewhere very near the end of the class, so I think I'll be much happier here.

From 9:15 to 11:00 we had grammar. Today was easy since we just reviewed the present tense, which I know backward and forward and upside down since I've been taking Spanish for so long. We had a break from 11:00 to 11:30 (when I scarfed down an apple and granola bar since I am so hungry due to the size of "breakfast" here), then went to our conversation class (same group as before).

The teacher for this class is hilarious. She's one of those teachers who takes 30 minutes to take roll for a class of 13 students because she asks questions about everyone's names, how they are, then goes off on tangents. She asked me if I was some sort of Latino descent because of my name (which here, by the way, is Ah-vee-guy-eel Seel-vah).

We spent the rest of the class (until 1:00) talking about how we flirt - s0 funny to do in Spanish! One guy said he flirts by "hacer amor en bailando"...I'll let you google translate that one, but it's not what he meant! He didn't realize it until we were all cracking up. I told the story of how my boyfriend and I "flirted" about apples (it's a cute story, I promise!) and later someone said they ask girls if they like apples...someone got confused and asked if that was innuendo, then I had to tell my story again and explain that I really did mean apples (manzanas) and not, ahem, "apples" ("manzanas").

After that class we had our most boring class of the day - art history. Hopefully it will get more exciting, but I think it might just be because of the teacher. The subject itself seems interesting enough to me.

I am happy to report that I understand everything my teachers said today, without confusion or needing clarification. I think today was a success!

I went home with a growling tummy, which I immediately filled with fried cauliflower (which tastes like mushy broccoli), meat balls, and an orange. I'm going to find some internet at a market near my house tonight, so I'll try to post again, this time with pictures of my room and the view from it - you might be a little jealous :)


Monday, March 28, 2011

A Glimpse of Spain

Today was my first day of school in Spain. This meant getting up at 7:15 to shower and eat "breakfast" (here that means I have a cup of hot chocolate, a teensy bit of juice, and tostadas, which are like little cookies) and get ready before meeting other people from the group to walk to school. It takes about 30 minutes, but is a really pretty walk. I finally have some pictures for you to see...enjoy!

Obviously I had to take a first day of school photo...this is in the entry of my apartment.

After taking my first day of school picture, I climbed down all 82 of these stairs to get outside. I do this several times a day and it really works my legs. I walk so much while I'm here, it's insane.

This photo is part of the view I have on my way to and from school, a
nd the solid proof I'm in Spain! Today was really nice - about 60 degrees and sunny. It's starting to get cloudy (it's a little after 4:30 now), but I'm still sitting at my desk (stealing internet) with the window open.

This is Sara (my roommate at Oregon State) and I on our way home from school today. She lives just down the street from me here (although our streets have different names - her address is on Calle del Carmen and mine is on Calle del Sol).

Hope you enjoyed your first glimpse of Spain!

♥ abigail

Sunday, March 27, 2011


March 27 – 2:22 p.m.

Well, I’m adjusting to Spain a little better now. I’m still incredibly homesick, but much less alone. Last night our entire group had a meeting over tapas, and we were able to meet each other, find out who lived near us, and enjoy the company of people who made us feel a little closer to home.

Sara and I found several people who live in our part of town, so we gained some more people to walk to and from places with. After our group dinner, we attempted to get home “quickly” (one person in the group swore up and down that the route they took to dinner was 10 minutes, opposed to our 45, event though we live in the same part of town). We got a little bit turned around and ended up taking 45 minutes to get home once again, walking somewhat aimlessly through the streets of Santander. Most of the streets aren’t straight, so we ended up backtracking without meaning to several times. Our walk even took us through a tunnel that took 8 minutes and 40 seconds to walk through. I definitely never want to do that again!

After we all went home to check in with our host families, almost the entire group met up at a plaza near the center of downtown to go out for the evening. It’s weird to be able to go anywhere in the city – I’m not 21, so in the United States my “going out” is limited. I don’t really like to drink, and I definitely don’t want to be in a foreign country where I get lost daily and be drinking…so when the group decided to go to a few bars, I went along but didn’t drink.

A few of us grew tired of standing around watching everyone drink (we found an empty bar and it was immediately taken over by us 28 Americans), so we went home for jackets (it got extremely windy last night) then wandered the streets people watching for a while. It’s so strange to see so many teenagers (high school age) out and about at night, clearly intoxicated…it’s also strange when they recognize us as Americans and try to impress us with their English skills (so far we have heard “You have nice boobies,” and “Oh shit!”…it’s funny that those are the phrases they know!).

After we grew tired (we do so much walking here! At least six hours yesterday), we parted ways for the evening. I went home and attempted to access the internet but had no luck…sometimes I get lucky, and I’m hoping to have more consistent access once at school. It’s really hard to not be able to contact anyone (including people here), so I feel like having the internet would be a good tool. Additionally, when I get home around 1:00 a.m., it’s a decent hour for me to get in contact with people back home.

After not having luck with the internet or the phone I bought over here (I have to figure out to put minutes on it, which I should be able to do on Monday), I wrote e-mails to send this morning as soon as I could find internet somewhere then read a little Harry Potter before I went to bed.

I got to experience my second daylight saving’s time of 2011, which was kind of a bummer considering how all this walking is catching up to me.

This morning I met up with Sara and some of our new friends to find the university so we don’t get miserably lost on Monday. It’s a good thing we did because we definitely took a route that was not practical. There were way too many stairs, and we ended up walking back and forth for way too long. After we finally found the school, we wandered the streets again before heading home for lunch.

Right now I should be taking a nap, but I’d rather be taking advantage of this internet I’ve come across!

I’ll try to post photos as soon as I start taking them…I’ve been really terrible about it because I’m trying not to look too touristy, but I’m pretty sure in groups of Americans I’d look like a tourist anyway.

I’ve been getting a little more comfortable speaking Spanish with my host mom, and I’m starting to understand how things work around the house (like the windows and the locks and the light switches). Hopefully things continue to improve like they have been! Thank you all for your love and support.

Hasta luego!

♥ abigail

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Arrival (and meltdown) in Santander

Well everyone, I made it to Santander safe and sound. I'll try to get around to posting picture soon. Right now I'm too stoked about the fact that I found internet in my apartment to try and move at all to do much of anything.

This post is mostly about the journey's not that interesting, but I don't want to forget anything about this trip!

At 5:30 a.m. (PST) on Friday, I started my journey to Santander – a journey that would lead me closer to confusion every step of the way, both literally and figuratively, over a 24 hour period.

I left my aunt and uncle’s house at 6:00 a.m. to go to the Seattle airport. After meeting Sara (my roommate at Oregon State), we started our real journey. Our first flight was from Seattle to Philadelphia. We left Seattle at 8:45, and arrived in Philadelphia at 4:40 p.m. (EST).

On that flight I accidentally broke a sink in the bathroom…I completely blame the sink because I swear I am not actually strong enough to break something with one hand. But I digress.

Our next flight left Philadelphia at 6:40 p.m. (EST) for Madrid. On this flight, Sara and I were cramped beyond good sense into our teensy-tiny seats. We arrived in Madrid around 7:00 a.m. (I’m not sure what time zone…but we definitely felt as if we had skipped over Thursday completely.)

This flight took us a little closer to confusion – more Spanish was spoken, and we were leaving the land of cell phone reception, no fees for debit cards, and all the comforts that English offers us.

We then went to our next gate and boarded a small plane for Bilbao around 8:15 a.m. (small is a relative term here, it still seemed pretty big to me). We boarded without too many problems – although there was slight confusion on when we boarded, since there were no back-up English announcements to the Spanish ones. I slept this entire flight (only an hour long), which somewhat helped me prepare for the journey ahead.

We got to Bilbao at 9:15 a.m., and immediately set off to find a city bus to take us to the bus station. I finally (bravely, I might add) asked a woman if the bus line we were in would in fact take us to our desired destination, and then we felt a little better about what was going on.

When we reached the bus station, a little more confusion set in – we had to figure out where to purchase tickets, where the bus was leaving from, and where to wait for it.

We had an encounter with a strange German man who took a liking to us – poor Sara got so much smoke exhaled into her face because this man had no sense of personal space and a love for his cigarettes. And singing random lines from popular songs by Michael Jackson...but again, I digress.

Eventually we boarded the bus to Santander, had a relaxing hour-and-a-half journey (for me anyway, I am thrilled by my ability to sleep on trips) to our home for the next few months.

Of course, we weren’t there yet – we arrived at the bus station in Santander, found a spot where we had Internet to update family and friends of our arrival, then set off to find a taxi.

The taxi took us to Sara’s apartment to drop off her bags, then we started what we thought would be a few-block trek to my apartment…it turns out that our houses are on the same street though, just with different names, so my apartment turned out to be about six down from hers.

We quickly dropped off my bags and set off to find a place to purchase phones so we could call home. We had no luck, since by this time it was almost 3:00 p.m. – the time shops close down so everyone can go home for lunch and a siesta.

After this quick trip (which took us to the paseo, the waterfront walkway only a few blocks from our house), we went our separate ways to join our host families for dinner...and that's when my freak-out started.

I began to panic - what was I doing here, so far from home and everyone that means the most to me? So far from understanding everything going on around me, so far from the comfort of having internet acces, so far from being able to contact everyone I need to at the push of a button.

I began to convince myself that I needed to go home - and now. I tried to nap, but couldn't fall asleep because I was too busy calculating how long it would take me to get back to an airport, thinking about whether or not I'd still get financial aid if I withdrew, figuring out how I'd navigate the confusion that is Spain by myself.

I wrote out an entry in my journal with all the important phone numbers I'd need - my advisors here and at home, financial aid, airlines, etc., so I could contact them once I found a phone. I even went as far as to repack my suitcase so I'd be ready to leave.

Sara and I met up at 7:00 to wander the streets again, and I told her I needed to go home. She didn't take it well at first...and who would? I clearly had not given the city a chance at all. She wasn't thrilled as I wrote e-mails and tried to get in touch with people (all without a phone, which further stressed me out), but eventually saw that I really was just homesick and sad that I couldn't talk to my family. She began to cheer me up as I began to acknowledge that the likelihood of me being able to go home soon was smaller than small - last-minute flights are incredibly expensive, and I definitely don't have an extra $3,000 lying around...not to mention so many people invested so much in me going on this trip.

After I talked myself through those logistics of money and potentially losing financial aid and having to navigate by myself, I realized that this experience won't be so bad.

Will it be challenging? Yes. In more ways than one - I know I'm going to miss my family and friends every day. I know the language is going to be difficult to grasp. I know I won't know exactly what is going on at all times. I know I won't be able to talk to whomever I want to talk with at every moment of the day.

I'm hoping that I'll overcome these challenges - sooner than later would obviously be best, but it's all a big process I suppose.

Sara and I decided that I need to stay busy right now. This morning we wandered around the city and finally got phones (I was able to make a quick call to Jonny, which helped me feel better about being gone. And family, I would have called you first but it was 2:57 a.m. and I figured none of you would answer). Later this afternoon we're going to take a walk to find the university and try to get our bearings in that regard.

Tonight we have a group dinner, so hopefully that will make me feel better too. In times like these, I really prefer to be surrounded by's hard when I don't know where anyone lives and have no way to contact them! Tonight I hope to get to know some other people on the trip a little better and get to explore more of the city with them so I don't feel quite as alone.

Also tonight I hope to figure out how to use my phone card so I can actually call my family, which will help me feel even better about being so far away.

I knew I'd be homesick on this trip...I just didn't know it'd be this bad. I freaked out several people (Kendall, mom, Jonny, my advisors) by telling them I wanted to come home, but I'm hoping once I get settled in and start school and have more things to keep me occupied (as well as more available internet and ways of getting in touch with people), I'll start to feel smaller pangs of homesickness.

Any encouragement would be great - thanks to everyone who has sent me e-mails through this process...even when I don't have internet, if I've received them I can read them (and I read them over and over again, just so you know), and it encourages me to really try to enjoy myself. If anyone else wants to send me such e-mails, I wouldn't be opposed :) (

Hopefully I'll start taking more pictures here and be able to share a post with them soon. I'll also give details about my host family and all of that fun stuff.

Thanks for all your love and support!

♥ abigail

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Leaving on a jet plane...

Could I possibly use a more cliché title? I doubt it.

But it's true...I'm sitting in the Seattle airport right now. My plane for Philadelphia leaves at 8:45 a.m. We arrive in Philadelphia at 4:55 p.m., leave there for Madrid at 6:10 p.m., arrive in Madrid at 7:00 a.m., depart for Bilbao at 8:45 a.m., arrive at 9:45 a.m., then bus our way to Santander, then take a taxi to our homes for the next few months.

Is anyone else tired yet?

I think I'm finally getting excited...this trip has been something I've been thinking about since November, so the fact that it's actually here is kind of a difficult concept to grasp.

The worst part (right now) is that I have to go on three separate planes, which for means six separate bouts of nausea (every take-off and landing, without fail)...luckily I've stocked up on dramamine and plan on sleeping for a good chunk of the flight.

Wish me luck!

♥ abigail

Monday, March 21, 2011

This Week

I leave this week.

This. Week.

You wouldn't know it if you took a look at my room...

Toiletries are strewn everywhere. Piles of laundry are taking over my floor. Suitcases and bags lay half-packed, waiting to be zipped and buckled and lined up neatly by the door.

Tomorrow afternoon, I head up to Corvallis to take care of some final things up there. On Wednesday, I go to Beaverton to see my grandma and favorite cousin before heading to my aunt and uncle's house in Seattle.

On Thursday morning, I get up bright and early and go to the airport...

I depart for Spain at 8:45. I stop in Philadelphia, then fly to Bilbao, then bus my way to Santander...I take a cab to my apartment, then there I am!

Oh goodness.

The nerves are setting in...deep breaths!

♥ abigail