A Year in Review

This is impossible to do….as I sat on the beach one evening with some friends (at 10pm and it was still light!), we were discussing the things we were going to miss and the others that we were happy to leave. It is quite difficult! You’ll see that many of mine are on both lists, indicated with ** and an explanation at the bottom when necessary.

Also, let me mention that this is a list of the insignificant things. I obviously am going to miss all of the people here that have made this experience what it has been. It’s weird saying goodbye to my students for the last time, knowing I literally will never see them again. (Though I thoroughly enjoyed having them sign a Galician flag…some of the messages are hysterical, some are inappropriate, some make no sense, some are chants for sports teams or celebrities, and they cover four different language: English, Spanish, Galician, and Chinese from one girl…it’s awesome). It was even weirder to say goodbye to the teachers, though I DO hope to see some of them again someday. Pobra do Caramiñal has become my home this year. It wasn’t only a temporary thing like in Ireland, where the end was always in sight. This has occupied a special place in my heart and taken a year of my life…I’ll never forget it.

Things I Will Miss:

  • Pimientos de Padrón
  • Buying my produce at the weekly market or little local fruit shops
  • Hanging my clothes out to dry**
  • The friends I’ve made
  • Going to the only Chinese restaurant in 50 km with other English-speakers and having the owner pull out 3 extra bottles of wine to chill when we walk in (no joke. She did this last time we went….probably because the previous time we accidentally went through 4 bottles between 3 of us….)
  • Cheap, good quality wine
  • Free tapas with every drink
  • Speaking Spanish**
  • The teachers I’ve become close to
  • Seeing my students around town every single day**
  • The proximity to the beach
  • The beautiful view and walk to school every morning**
  • Walking everywhere**
  • Greeting people with a double kiss on the cheeks…seems so much friendlier than a handshake
  • Baby Café’s con leche
  • Nutella being cheap**
  • My private lessons and watching them grow
  • Learning how to be patient and help people communicate, celebrating when we finally succeed
  • Being forced to speak slowly (I think you’ll all be interested to see that I DO speak more slowly now…Hillary noticed it when she came to visit, even when I was speaking with just her…a necessary change for me, the ole ‘Motor Mouth’ as my family used to call me when I was little J)
  • Looking out the window of some of the classrooms at school and seeing cows, mountains, the port, and water
  • Going for a run up to the mountain and visiting my dog friends I’ve made
  • Children and people running around the centre and sitting outside of all the café’s just soaking up the atmosphere
  • The laidback-ness of Spanish culture** (sometimes it made me frustrated)
  • My beautiful apartment with huge windows, hearing kids outside playing in the street, and constantly having them open to let in fresh air and sunshine**

Things I Won’t Miss:

  • Rain and humidity…all winter, I never felt completely dry.
  • Awful Internet
  • The lack of peanut butter and hummus
  • Hanging my clothes out to dry**
  • Speaking Spanish when I can’t communicate exactly what I want**
  • Being unable to wear yoga pants or Nike shorts around town without getting looked at strangely
  • Seeing my students around town every single day**
  • Walking to school every morning**
  • All the shops being closed on Sunday and every single day from about 2-4
  • Eating bread with every meal (not so good for the figure, but it’s a staple here…you even use it like a utensil to help you eat)
  • Walking everywhere**
  • Spanish public transportation
  • Listening to American music from last year and being behind on new hits
  • Nutella being cheap**
  • The laidback Spanish style**
  • My apartment with no heat

** — I enjoy hanging my clothes out to dry when it’s a beautiful sunny day and I’m not in a hurry. I do NOT enjoy hanging my clothes out to dry when it’s a shit day (more common), especially since it’s my only option, and I end up with clothes hanging all around my room for the next 3 days waiting to dry.

** — I realized I love speaking Spanish around town…it makes me feel accomplished and it’s more exciting when it’s a challenge! I know I’m going to miss having to use it everywhere I go. With that being said, it will be nice not to have to try so hard to understand everything and to get looked at like a fool when I pronounce something wrong.

** — At first, I hated seeing my students everywhere I went since it’s a small town, nowhere for them to go except the centre, and we all walk everywhere. But after awhile, it can be fun to embarrass them and say hi if they don’t say anything, or just to have groups of kids saying hi to you everywhere you go.

** — Some days I loved walking to school along the water…other days, when it’s windy and rainy and I feel like Mary Poppins about to get blown away while my shoes are getting soaked….not so fun.

** — I’m going to miss walking everywhere because it can be nice…sometimes…other times, I just wish I had my car! Especially so I could have explored more and not relied on our awful buses!

** — Nutella: My waistline is going to thank me for returning to normal eating habits again after a year and a half of traveling and a summer of working in a restaurant all day, every day. Intense summer diet, here I come!

** — I love how relaxed the Spanish are…it’s a “Don’t worry, be happy” type of culture. However, there are some days when it is more than a little frustrating when there isn’t consistency or nothing gets accomplished (this isn’t near as bad as it is in the south of Spain, from what I’m told…I can’t even imagine now how I would have reacted down there!)


Ultimately, this year has been a 9 month long roller coaster. I’ve had times where I felt lower than ever before and times when I’ve felt higher than ever before. In the end, the ride has ended at the top of a hill….I’m getting all sentimental and am now sad to leave. I hate goodbyes, but got through them, though if I’m being honest, as I reread some cards from teachers and my students messages on the flag, I did cry a bit. Now it’s time for the next chapter….

Anyways, I made this list about a week ago and meant to keep adding to it and editing it, but now I’ve run out of time!!! I’m waiting in my apartment all packed up and everything cleaned, waiting for a phone call from my teacher to go to her house. I’m spending the night at her place and my flight leaves tomorrow at 9am! (Saturday)…I go from Santiago to Barcelona, Barcelona to Vienna. Once I find the hostel and everything, I’ll go wait at the train station for my mom and grandma to arrive and then begins the tri-generational Eurotrip 2012. I’m sure it’ll be a great time, even though it’s bound to be a completely different experience from backpacking last year! I will try to update my Facebook status and post pictures off my iPod from time to time throughout the trip, so stay posted. 🙂


Dear USA, we meet again for good on June 23rd. Get ready! Love, Courtney

Una fiesta de cumpleaños

Saturday was fantastic. Saturday was simple. But Saturday made me happy. Perhaps it was the email update I read that morning while in bed from ‘Zen Habits’, a blog I follow with inspiring posts about living simply and happily. The post was about “Contentedness”, something I realized I’ve struggled with while in Spain. I am (generally) a positive person, but this year I’ve become quite pessimistic and have forgotten how to appreciate the little things. I’m always upset about this or frustrated with that or feeling lonely because of the other. Yes, it’s been a difficult year. But it’s also been a wonderful year and Saturday was one of those days where this fact was reiterated, especially with only two weeks left.

View from their front porch…I wouldn’t mind it!

I returned home that night after a wonderful afternoon and evening spent in the company of a Spanish family (and extended family and a whole class of kiddos invited over) for a 9th birthday party! The girl, Sara, is one of the sisters with whom I have private English lessons every Friday. I went to the younger girl’s birthday party in December as well, where I met much of the family the first time, and have been over a few times since then.  The family lives on the second floor of the husband’s mother’s home (did that make sense???). A very Spanish style of life…families are close and they often live in the same house, only separated by floors.  I went over a bit early to eat lunch and then spent a couple hours helping prepare for the birthday party…getting food ready, decorating with balloons, straightening the girls’ hair, etc. Bit by bit, the extended family arrived and many children from Sara’s class. This family has a beautiful home (and fabulous view!) with a large backyard, sports court, garden, and more. Although it had rained all morning, we were lucky when 5 o’clock rolled around and the kids could run and play outside all they wanted (though the wind was a bit chilly). I spent time catching up with the family members that were there, meeting new ones, and was the focus of attention for the little girls as they kept coming up to me…”¿Eres Americana? ¡Que guay! ¿Cómo te llamas? Cuurrrnieee…curnay….cutney….ya” hahah. My name is difficult for the Spaniards to pronounce and I’m quite accustomed to answering to “Corrrney” now (with a rolled ‘r’).

Playing double dutch reminds me of my elementary days…they were playing one about liking some boy, which they changed the name every time and when the rope would pass, they’d go “Sí. No. Sí. No” etc and whichever they landed on meant that they liked or didn’t like that boy. haha

The boys playing ‘soccer’ or ‘fútbol’, whichever you prefer.

So much fun!

After awhile, we headed inside for snacks and the kid-friendly champagne. A bit later, the most fun cake ever….made of different types of candy! We had a real chocolate cake for the candles, too, but the kids only cared about the ‘chuces’. At one point, the two sisters were fighting and all the children were chanting ‘Pelea’, but in three syllables ‘Pe-le-a’, in place of ‘Fight, fight, fight’. Isn’t it amazing how kids are the same everywhere you go??? haha. Including with the gifts…so excited for some and they throw aside others. Being the teacher I am, I bought Sara some books and made a cute little handmade card. All the girls gathered around to read my card in English about nine pretty butterflies, but when Sara opened up books, they were all like “mehhh” and ran off to play. hahah. Sara is a sweet little girl, gave me a kiss on the cheek and said thank you, then asked me to take it inside while she continued playing. Oh, kids. 🙂

Adorable little one with Shirley Temple girls and chubby cheeks. 🙂 And the good ‘mommy’ helping her along!

When the kids had finished with their snacks/cake, it was time for the adults and we all sat around, snacking, chatting, playing with the tiny Chihuahua puppy, drinking their homemade wine, and laughing. I had a great time and also realized how far I’ve come! I actually understood the majority of everything around me, even when some was in Gallego, and contributed my own bits, making jokes and all. (At one point, I accidentally said something in gallego, too, making us laugh.) Granted, they are a wonderful family and I felt comfortable with them, but still….had a great time even while I wasn’t feeling well and told one of Bea’s sisters that I had a “catorro”…..she kept looking confused so I explained with a cough and nose sniffle….”catarro”, she exclaimed! “Catorro” doesn’t exist in the Spanish language…oops. And this was the same sister that only three hours past I was talking to about her eye surgery and asking about her “lentejas”……HAHAHA. let me explain for those of you that don’t know Spanish. I basically asked her about the lentils in her eyes. You know, the tiny beans? Yep….I tend to confuse contact lenses, “lentillas”, with lentils, “lentejas”. We all had a good laugh.  I played with the precious little one called “Irene” with those Shirley Temple curls and helped clean up….when it was time for me to go, we realized I probably wouldn’t see them again before I left and they kept asking when I was coming back. When I said I had no idea but hopefully soon, they demanded I make Galicia my honeymoon spot someday when I got married. I also was scolded by Geno’s mother (who owns the house) for not finding a Galician boyfriend while I was here. hahah.

The baby Chihuahua….or little rat.

Attacking the candy cake!

It felt like a family today. In truth, I barely know these people, yet they share love openly, as well as kisses…. (I’ve received more kisses in Spain than ever before in my life, I swear). I sat there at the table as the sun was going down outside over the water in the bay, with the mountains in the background, and listened to the Spanish chatter around me….which naturally turned to ‘fútbol’ (soccer) and whether Real Madrid or Barcelona was better. (I could care less…living in Spain for a year hasn’t made me a fanatic either way!) The craziness of children and adults everywhere, plus a little rat dog underfoot, made me feel like I was at one of my own family gatherings….though perhaps less chaotic to be honest. I don’t think anyone will ever top my family’s get-togethers! 🙂

The masterpiece

That’s my two cents for today. When I started with a positive attitude, I had a fantastic time and appreciated everything for what it was worth. Now to remember to do that every day and every minute, even when things aren’t so easy. That’s the hard part!!!

Love the garden…I want one.

Where the homemade wine happens…the things covered with cloths are used for pressing (they do white first, then reds because of the stain….the big silver things on the left hold the wine and they also bottle them…)

Empty bottles waiting for this year’s harvest in September!

Strike! Strike!

On Thursday in Spain, there is a general strike.  I already know that some of the teachers will not be coming to school and many students will be missing as well. This is not the first time we’ve had a strike in Spain since I arrived. Nor the second time. Or third. Or more….the Spaniards are really trying to throw a fit about the current state of affairs in their country.  The effort is quite understandable. Spain has a current unemployment rate of 23%.1 Did you hear that? 23%!!! Nearly 1 out of every 4 people don’t have a job. I have heard from a few of my students that neither of their parents have jobs, or often just one does (I learned quite a bit about my students’ lives doing one-on-one oral exams with them!)  Perhaps the situation here in my village and Galicia isn’t as dire as other parts of Spain.  Nevertheless, I see the effects of the crisis in this country much more so than in the USA, where many people continue living at the same standard of life.

Want to hear another crazy statistic? Over 50% of young people under the age of 25 don’t have a job.2 Nothing. This includes the waitressing, heavy labor, and other generally ‘undesirable’ jobs in the US that young people can get.  I can’t even imagine not being able to ANYthing when I look for mediocre jobs to get me through the summer…

So who is participating in the strike? Well, the two main unions in Spain have called it, but it’ll be interesting to see how many in the private sector also go along with it.  The “civil workers” are especially angry about the current reforms made by Rajoy, the new president, of the conservative PP (Partido Popular, or rather “Popular Party”).  He has been making huge cuts across the board of the civil workers, or people who work for the government. Teachers are included in this group, as the government has complete control over their jobs, including where they are placed and for how long. Any year up until a teacher receives a permanent position, which is obtained through a points and testing system, the government can tell you, “Go teach at this school. Now you must go to this one.” etc.  What blows my mind is that you can live in Vigo, a southern city in the Galicia region and if the government (“Xunta” in Galicia) tells you to change to a school in Coruña in the north, you have to go. Teachers will have an apartment in one city for during the week and return to their home on the weekends. Even people with families sometimes have to do this!

Anyways, with the reforms come big cuts in the salaries, which is what angers the teachers so much. Furthermore, there have been big cuts in social welfare and laws changed to make it easier for companies to get rid of employees. If you didn’t know, the healthcare system in Spain is free. That’s right. Completely free. You get hurt in a car accident, you go to the doctor, they treat you and you don’t pay a dime (except for perhaps prescriptions, but those are 1/3 of the cost in the USA). Some people do choose to purchase private insurance regardless so they have the choice of which doctors or offices they use, but it depends from person to person. For example, my grant program here provided me with insurance. So when I hurt my foot, I found out which doctor in Pobra that my insurance covered, went there, and even had a x-ray. I gave the doctor my insurance card, signed a paper, and that was that. I picked up my prescription anti-inflammatories, and they only cost €10. I went back last Friday for a check-up and didn’t pay a dime again.  Wild for those of us in the USA, huh?

Another company that has a passion for strikes is Iberia.  Since December, there have been 12 days of strikes. Then when I was returning to Spain, there was a strike with Iberia that day as well. I was on one of the lucky few flights from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela that was actually running, little did I know at the time. The pilots are protesting the introduction of a new, low-budget airline under the ownership of Iberia, called Iberia Express. It was set to kick off this past Sunday, March 25th.  The pilots have announced a calendar of 24 days of strikes between March 16th and May 28th .3 Just now, I went to go look up the exact details of these strikes and saw a new article, only a few hours old.  Turns out the pilots called off these previous strikes, but now have planned new ones….30 days from April until July…every Monday and Friday. Thus far, these strikes have caused Iberia to cancel around 1400 flights, costing them €36 million …equivalent to about $47 million!!!4

So what do I think about this strike? Well, in my opinion, I don’t think it will do much good. Spain has been having so many strikes that it’s become a half-hearted effort. Some people even feel it’s become a joke, though naturally there are also those die-hard participants.  Yes, something needs to change…Spain is still sliding down that deep dark abyss labeled “Crisis” and has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union. Is this the answer? Will this cause the government to take a second look at the reforms they are proposing? I don’t think so and nor do many critics. As stated in an article I was reading online, it appears that Rajoy has “expected it and appears completely unworried by it. There is certainly absolutely no indication that he is going to reverse his employment reforms and his movement, with regard to austerity cuts, is extremely limited.” 1

 Interesting, isn’t it, how we have the same things happening in countries all over the world? There’s always going to be problems and people who think they know how to solve them better than the government. And perhaps they do. But right now, it all seems to be a waiting game as we go along for the ride, trying to adapt and make the best of what we have.

Articles to read if you’re interested to know more:

1 http://www.culturespain.com/2012/03/14/general-strike-in-spain-29th-march-2012/

2 http://english.cntv.cn/program/newshour/20120319/115495.shtml

About the Iberia strikes:

3 http://news.airwise.com/story/view/1331637779.html

4 http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/27/uk-iberia-strike-idUSLNE82Q02U20120327



Germany – Part 3 (Final)

The last section covering my trip to Germany…

The remainder of Heidelberg:

 We spent our last morning in Heidelberg visiting more of the smaller neighborhoods that are off the beaten track, before checking out the Universiplatz which is where the Old University is. Apparently there is also the Studentkarzer, a student prison from the past where students were allowed to leave to go to class, then had to return immediately to the prison. I have seen pictures on postcards of it and read about it multiple times, but we couldn’t find it for the life of us! We had the map and saw where it was marked, but either we were blind or it was not well-marked. And it was Sunday, meaning nearly everything was closed so we probably wouldn’t have been able to visit the inside regardless.

By early afternoon, we were on the train bound for Sankt Goar! We took the opportunity to snag a quick nap and get some reading in. (I’m currently reading “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. I’m trying to work my way through some of the traditional literary classics, but some are so incredibly dull that I simply can’t do it. However, this one is good!) Finally, we arrived to our transfer stop, Bingen am Rhein, and as we got out, there was the Rhine River and a castle just hanging out on the mountainside! That was not the last time we would randomly see dilapidated (and other times, restored) castles and fortresses along the river. It was so exciting! Also, as a side note, we were frustrated that no one ever checked our tickets on the train as it was our most expensive trip…I swear, the transportation system is impossible to understand, regardless of the country you’re in!

Sankt Goar:

We arrive at Sankt Goar to the cutest little train stop with old buildings and a church steeple jutting out the top. We had no reservations for sleeping accommodations yet, but we knew of a youth hostel that we had seen online so we set off to find it. As we walk through the streets, unknowingly in the wrong direction, I was absolutely ecstatic. I love the bigger cities, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something special about these sleepy old towns bursting with culture and tradition. It reminded me of Wicklow in Ireland and also a German version of Pobra, where I currently live in Spain. Eventually we reached one edge of town and knew we had gone the wrong way, so we began backtracking and eventually a woman noticed us looking lost and ran across the street to speak with us in English and tell us where the youth hostel was. And on we went….a bit later, we finally see the hostel up on a hill, directly beneath the Rheinfels Fortress/Castle – turned hotel. But then we couldn’t see how to get up to it….a man noticed us (I’m guessing we stuck out with our bags and lost puppies-look), whistled to us, and pointed us in the correct direction. Already the people of this small town were so friendly! 🙂

As we start climbing the hill, we both were getting excited for the location, beauty of this place, and general happiness. As we get closer, however, we realize the building looks a bit dark….I climb up the front steps and read the sign there, then burst out laughing. Christine below asked me what happened. The hostel was closed until March 15th! (Mind you, that was in less than a week…we had just missed it) Apparently they don’t get enough business during the winter season, so they close. We must have somehow missed that notice on the website amongst all the German. So we decide to start searching for a hotel that was within our meager budget. Luckily, the main street of Sankt Goar is bursting with hotels that are more like b&b’s because they are all converted houses and are also restaurants. We stopped in about 5, but they were all too expensive for us. About another 5 were closed or no one answered. Finally, we decide to give one more a try before catching the ferry to Sankt Goarshausen across the river because we knew of a cheaper place on that side. So we stopped at Hotel Eingang…a man opens the door who luckily spoke a bit of English. He tells us the price including breakfast, which was a good price for us, then offers to let us see the room. We follow him up the staircase and he tells us it’s “the best room and the best view, just for us” (or rather because no one else was staying there haha). We look into Room #1 and sure enough, it’s beautiful with large windows overlooking the river, and you could even see the castle on the other side when you were lying in bed. So beautiful at night when it was all lit up! He asked us, “Do you like?” We told him we’d take it, he handed over the old-fashioned key, asked us what time we’d like breakfast and if we prefer coffee or tea!! We were ecstatic. It was much more than we could have hoped for. So we spent a glorious few minutes jumping around the room all excited and laughing like little children, then went out to explore the town.

It was dinner time by this point, but we knew many places would be closing early because it was a Sunday and a small town, so we hit up a café for dessert and coffee first (I swear, this was a theme throughout the entire trip…after the lack of good desserts in Spain, we were in heaven with all the pastries, cakes, etc :)). Then we window shopped a bit because St Goar had some interesting little shops, including a cookoo clock shop! To end our night, we climbed up to the Fortress Rheinfels which used to be the most powerful, most desired one in all of the Middle Rhine region. This is saying a lot for how many fortresses and castles there are. One part of it has now been converted into a Romantikhotel, and we entered in to wander around a bit. We didn’t see one person, though I don’t think we were supposed to be in there…we even found the spa section of it and could have done whatever we wanted! Definitely a lack of security, but I’m guessing they don’t need it all the way up there in the middle of nowhere. We ended our night, exhausted, and hiked back down to the town again in the dark, but at least there were street lamps this time so it wasn’t as stupid. 🙂

For breakfast the following day, it was just the two of us downstairs. We were served bread rolls with jam, butter, meat slices, cheese, orange juice, coffee, and a soft-boiled egg. Funny story—I’ve recently been making a lot of hard-boiled eggs at home and read online about an easy way to peel them by breaking holes in both ends, then literally blowing the egg out of its shell. I decided to attempt it with this egg right as the man was coming up to talk to us. It shot out perfectly and into my hand. I was so proud of myself and held it up with a huge grin on my face to show the owner….he looked at me strangely and goes, “You make good thing??”. hahaha.

Sankt Goarshausen:

Anyways, we decided to spend our day visiting a couple of the other towns before heading back to Frankfurt that night. So on we go to catch the ferry across the river to Sankt Goarshausen. Luckily, the owner of our hotel called their tourist information and asked if we could leave our bags while we hiked up to the Lorelei rock. Being a small town and everyone being pretty friendly, they were fine with it and we even did it again later in the next town. So we climbed up the 400+ steps to the top of the mountain, stopping along the way for explorations into other tower ruins, a converted train tunnel, and more. The Lorelei is a point in the Rhine where it gets extremely narrow and dangerous, and many boats in the past have crashed there. There’s also several legends about a beautiful woman, the Lorelei, who killed herself there because her love left her and now she haunts the men that come through on boats to distract them and they end up dying. Or something like that. If you want to know more, go to the Wikipedia page here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorelei .

Rüdesheim & an embarrassing fall:

A bit later, we went on to Rüdesheim, a bigger and bit more touristy town, but as it was the off-season, it still was pretty empty. We explored there for awhile, though unfortunately many of the museums were closed until mid-March (only one week away!). We did somewhat visit the Museum of Mechanical Music Cabinets, which is essentially a collection of toys that play music themselves. A bit eerie, yet neat. Once we left there, Christine realized she left her phone in the hotel back in Sankt Goar…a 30 minute train ride and ferry ride away. We decide to split up, each catch the train to Frankfurt ourselves, and meet at the hostel there later that night.  I spent my time wandering around and taking in the atmosphere, then stopping into a café for a beer and to write some postcards that I wanted to send before leaving Germany. When I finished, I decided I had enough time to rush to the post office in the town before catching my train. So I began speed walking to the post office, big backpack on, postcards in hand….I notice a woman pushing a stroller on the sidewalk towards me. I go to step down into the street to give her more space, look back for cars, and that’s when it happens.

Down I go.

Postcards go flying, my water bottle falls out of my bag, knees slam the ground and become bruised, face into the street, instant pain in my ankle.

Next thing I know, the woman with the baby has my arm and is trying to pull me up. I thank her while nearly crying and somehow remembered my German, retrieve my belongings and stand there against a gate for a while trying to breathe and assess the situation. One look at my already swollen ankle tells me it’s injured, though I didn’t know how bad. I’ve never broken a bone so I didn’t know what it should feel like. I decided it was fine, though, when I could move my toes and put enough pressure on it to limp the 10 minutes to the train station (most painful 10 minutes of my life). As I limped hurriedly and tried not to freak out, the clock kept ticking down…I began to worry I wasn’t going to make my train. Right as I arrived to the station, I saw it pull in. However, I hadn’t bought my ticket yet! I went up to the woman and when I pulled out my card to buy it, she told me there isn’t enough time and off the train went.

At that point, I will admit something embarrassing. Yes, I actually began crying. At that moment, all I wanted was to get to Frankfurt and my hostel as soon as possible because every minute that passed made my ankle hurt more. The German woman, who is unused to such expressions of emotion, tried to reassure me and tell me there was another in an hour (which I knew, if I was being logical). After a few deep breaths, I controlled myself and told her the situation. She got me a cold, wet towel and even called her sister who lives in Florida to describe my foot to her to verify it was just a sprain probably. The woman knew what it was in German, but I didn’t understand her. She was wonderful to me until the next train came, at which point I was perfectly fine and had calmed down. In the end, it’s probably better I didn’t make the first one simply so I had that period to relax.

Finally in Frankfurt, I got to the train station, caught my bus, and walked (painfully) to my hostel. Luckily, we had our own room again and Christine hadn’t made it back yet so I had plenty of time to chill out, take a much-needed shower, and prepare my belongings for our trip home.

Frankfurt (the last day):

 For our last day in Frankfurt, we visited some other neighborhoods that we hadn’t seen yet (and which we loved!), walked across the Iron Bridge which has been covered with locks by couples over the years. There’s literally thousands and most are signed or engraved….it’s such a neat sight. I could have looked at them for an hour. Finally, we made our way back to the Römer and Zeil where we had explored the first night, but it was a whole different atmosphere during the day.

We caught the 1 hr 45 min bus to the airport and nearly didn’t make it through security there (I had a liquid that was over the 3 oz that I snuck into my Ziploc bag and luckily he didn’t see as he examined the bag. Christine didn’t have a Ziploc bag at first, which Spain simply didn’t notice. Then both our bags were over the 10 kg carry-on limit. The woman was nice to me as it was just 0.5 kg over and she goes, “Well maybe once you eat your apple, it’ll be under. You’re fine.” hahaha, as if an apple that I had saved for a snack weighed 1 lb….but I appreciated her ‘reasoning’ to get me through. Christine, however, was over by a lot, but she went and ‘rearranged’ her bag, aka: took things out and hid them in a bag which she held under her coat in order to get the bag to under 10 kg.). While waiting, we met a boy from Lithuania who had come to Germany on his own to compete in some karate championship and he had won! He spoke pretty good English and we had an interesting talk with him. Finally, we were on the plane ride home, during which time I made friends with the old man next to me who was from Ourense, a province near mine in Spain, but does business in Germany. We discussed the failings of the education system and the disrespect and “gimme gimme” of kids nowadays! haha. Funny thing is, he thought I was Portuguese, while the woman on the way over to Germany had thought I was Spanish. I don’t know where they’re coming up with these because my Spanish isn’t that great, but it was definitely a compliment! In Santiago, we caught the train to the bus station, waited a bit more, then lastly, the bus to our towns. I swear, it takes more connections to get from place to place here than anything. J

At this point, my ankle felt like it was so swollen it was going to burst, but we got home too late and I had school and private lessons the following day. Luckily, one of my amazing teachers met with me in the evening to go to the doctor. He did an x-ray and luckily nothing was broken, so he wrapped it in one of those semi-permanent bandages that you can’t get wet and gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and said I needed crutches, to which I protested loudly. Unfortunately my teacher also insisted (probably better, I know), so I borrowed some and made a fool of myself at school for the next several days. I gave them up on the following Wednesday, simply because the kind they have here were more painful on my hands than my ankle was! Then this past Friday, I went back to the doctor, he put on a new, tighter wrap and I can take it off in a week and that’s that! It still hurts and I have some crazy weird bruising, but in a week at least, I can start swimming again. I’ll have to baby it before I start running again though. L Very unfortunate. But it is what it is!

So that’s that. This week is the Semana Cultural at school, where we have plenty of activities and other groups of students are on field trips, including a ski trip to Andorra and a trip to Paris! Then next week is Semana Santa (Holy Week) in all of Spain, which is kind of like our spring break from school. I luckily have a friend coming to visit from Warsaw, so I’m getting that all planned. It’ll be so nice to share my life here with a bit of home!

Alemania Part Two – Frankfurt & Heidelberg

As promised, here is the next part of my trip to Germany last weekend. Some of you also know it was my 23rd birthday yesterday…woo hoo!!! I didn’t have school, but I did go to my private lessons, got drinks with a few teachers, and then met with another teacher for dinner & drinks in Santiago, where I again ate “pulpo” (octopus) and let me tell you…it’s possibly my favorite Galician food! Trust me on this one. Anyways, on to my 23rd year of life…we’ll see what it brings!


Frankfurt (the first night):

After arriving in Frankfurt and having our first awkward, “I don’t speak German” moment on the bus, we reached our hostel and found out we had a room to ourselves! We were quite excited and were getting all settled in when suddenly the blinds between the panes of glass started magically lowering! I freaked out, thinking we were somehow triggering it. Finally it stopped and we laughed about it…then they moved again and snapped open horizontally, causing us to freeze again. haha. We later concluded they were triggered automatically by the sun shining in because in about ten minutes once the sunset passed, they went up again. Oh Germany, your advances never cease to amaze me!

I had read about a Thursday evening Farmer’s Market in a main square along the Zeil (the biggest shopping avenue; apparently comparable to 5th Avenue in NY, though I considered it to be more clothing stores in a mid-price range…there was another street with all the high-end designer shops). The market was so neat! Basically tons of Germans everywhere drinking beer (or other alcoholic beverages) and plenty of options of bratwursts and other typical foods. You could stay there and eat (which we ended up doing for dinner), or there was also the actual ‘market’ portion with produce stands, cheeses, meats, breads, etc. Similar to Spain, there were plenty of sausages hanging everywhere, but sure enough, I didn’t see one pig leg for jamón! I will say this for Germany…they have some of the most amazing different breads that I’ve ever had in my life. I swear Christine and I each ate our weight in bread that weekend and then some. Another thing I noticed while we walked around at the market…I felt so short! In Spain, most people are smaller and especially the women. My height of 5’2”, which is fairly short in the US, is normal in Spain. But now in Germany, I was short once again! Everyone was towering over us and we definitely stood out like a sore thumb.

We spent the evening wandering the area and also checking out what is left of the “Altstadt” or “Old Town” of Frankfurt, which is mostly a metropolitan city now. It’s also interesting to note that everything was pretty deserted by 11pm. Granted, it was a Thursday night, but in Spain, everyone would still be out for tapas and drinks including the children! Over the course of my time in Germany, it was fascinating to compare their culture to Spain and the USA. Many times, I did feel like I was back home in the states because it’s similar in a few ways.  On our way back to the hostel that night, we missed our stop on the metro because we couldn’t get the darned doors open! So we had to go down one stop, then backtrack on the next train…a police officer approached us and tried to ask what we were doing. I don’t think he really understood our explanation as he just waved us away.


On Friday, we headed to Heidelberg which feels very much like a German Bloomington (obviously I loved it).  It was a beautiful city, with an incredible Old Town, more bikes than you’ve ever seen in your life, and a gorgeous old castle/fortress overlooking everything which glows at night. We were wandering the cobblestone streets of the Altstadt and made our way to the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) when we turned around and there it was, up on the side of the hill! My pictures of it on Facebook simply don’t do it justice.

For dinner that night, we were planning on doing something traditional, but it was cold and we got sick of searching in the cold without a plan…so we somehow ended up at a place that was supposed to have a South of the border theme. The best part? We were there in the 6 to 8pm Happy Hour special and I got a strawberry daiquiri half off….then a steak fajita salad. It was the most un-German and un-European thing you could get, but we quite enjoyed that night as it has been forever since we’ve had anything like that! (I continued to see sushi places everywhere, too, but I never ended up satisfying that craving. haha)

Walfisch – The best breakfast I’ve ever had in my life:

 In my hours of research online before the trip, I had found a recommendation for this restaurant called ‘Walfisch’. Apparently it’s so popular for breakfast that you have to make a booking ahead of time, so the woman at the hostel helped us make that call and we started our Saturday off right. We spent much trying to decipher the menu, then both ended up ordering the recommended “Sugar and Spice” breakfast. Best decision of my life. We each got a cappuccino, cup of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, and a whole basket of different breads brought to our table first. (from pretzel rolls to plain croissants to chocolate-filled croissants to cranberry things to other unidentifiable, but delicious things). We had to restrain ourselves to wait for the actual food before touching the bread. Okay, okay….we may have nibbled a bit first.  Then came out perfectly cooked vegetables (eggplant, red & yellow peppers, mushroom, tomato, slice of mozzarella all drizzled with a balsamic-y type sauce) and served with amazing tzaziki. Then for the “sweet” part, a crepe filled with all fresh fruit (blueberries, pineapple, mandarins, strawberries, apple, & melon). Then of course, a serving of Nutella and strawberry marmalade for the bread. It was an exquisite breakfast. I’m salivating just thinking about it again!

After leisurely enjoying the rest of our cappuccinos (and letting all that food digest!), we visited the Neuenheim market which was filled with locals. My favorite part? All of the hard boiled eggs that they’ve dyed for Easter! We then headed up to the castle. Unfortunately the funicular was under maintenance, but we headed to the top and enjoyed the beauty of this now run-down castle up close, as well as the view over the whole city and river. There’s one corner tower of the castle that has been broken and literally just fell apart to the ground. We asked about it and the woman simply told us, “Oh the French tried to blow it up. And failed.” haha.

A pitch black hike:

Our day slipped away from us and next thing we knew, it was late afternoon and we still wanted to visit Philosophenweg, which is the area where all the old-time philosophers and poets went for inspiration up on the side of a mountain. Furthermore, I was bound and determined to continue hiking up to the top, ‘Heiligenberg’ or ‘Holy Mountain’. At the top, I knew there was Thingstätte, a Nazi amphitheater built by forced labour, and the remains of an old monastery built in the 9th century and abandoned in 1500.  We knew it was a bit of a hike up, but we decided to move quickly and try to make it before the sun set.

About halfway up, we questioned if it was a good idea as we were following a dirt path in the woods, with only random rocks at junctions to help guide our way. However, we decided if we were this far, we were going to try to make it. So on we went.

We reached the top at twilight…the pictures of the amphitheater are absolutely awful, but it was neat (and horrible) to imagine the time it was built and also to stand at the stage and top of the steps to test out the acoustics. They were incredible. By the time we reached the monastery ruins, it was pitch black and you couldn’t see too much. I really wanted to explore the steps down to some rooms beneath the ground, but even with our cell phones giving light, it was way too dark and freaky. So we decided to turn back. There wasn’t a car left in the parking lot at the top and we realized we now had an hour hike back down through a pitch black forest and not much to guide us.  That’s when we told ourselves that this was a bad, bad idea.

But, the only thing we could do was start moving, and so we did. Let me tell you….I have an active imagination and my heart did not stop pounding that entire hike back down. You couldn’t see where you were walking, absolutely NO one was around or knew where we were, animals kept rustling in the bushes and leaves around us so you could never quite tell if they were moving toward you, and to be honest, I didn’t even know what kind of animals they had in those forests. I was imagining wolves and all sorts of crazy things. For some reason, I thought it would scare them off to talk loudly, so I just kept saying all sorts of ridiculous things to Christine with an obnoxiously loud voice. Then we were quoting ‘Wizard of Oz’…you know, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my”?? hahaha. Then we began singing “Row your Boat” in a round to distract ourselves from all the noises around us. Definitely one of the scarier experiences in my life….when we finally reached the bottom and near civilization, it was the best feeling. We definitely did not make the smartest decision when we set out about 4 hours prior.  So everybody, take this as a lesson for you! ha

An amazing couple & free dinner:

 After such a panicked adventure, we decided we had earned some beer(s)! I had read about a place called Vetter’s that brews all of their beer in the house, so we headed to the heart of the Altstadt where it happened to be. The seating in these types of places is community—huge tables where several different groups of people sit. We ended up with a group of Germans who also spoke perfect English and helped us out with our ordering. I got their homemade wheat beer, but as a “radler”, which means it’s mixed with some sort of Sprite-type stuff. It was great! Similar to a “clara” in Spain, which is pretty much the same idea. For my second beer, though, I tried just the wheat by itself and it was fantastic. Especially since I haven’t had much beer since coming to Spain, as they mainly have lighter ones like “Estrella Galicia”, which is good but not too exciting. An interesting fact about the ‘radler’ – the man was explaining to us that some part of the word means bicycle, and the drink was invented so that those who rode to the bars on their bicycles were still sober enough to bike home after. Sounds like something we’d need in Bloomington, ehh? I think some of my friends can understand that one!

Once that group left, we ended up with an American couple who was serving their National Guard duties in Kosovo. They were from Wisconsin, both helicopter pilots, and this was their first year actually getting to live together since they were married! We spent a good hour and a half laughing and joking with them, when we decided we were absolutely exhausted and wanted to hit the hay (and hope the rhythmic snoring squad in our hostel dorm wasn’t still there). When we received our bill, the woman ripped it out of our hands and told us they’re taking care of it! We naturally protested and she goes, “No, I remember what it was like staying in hostels. Plus, this is our tax-free money from Kosovo. We’re paying. We’re going to stick around and have another beer…you guys have a good rest of your trip.” They were such an interesting, funny, amazing couple….we thanked them profusely, promised to pay it forward, and headed on our way.  This is the best part of traveling, I think….the people you meet, the bonds you create, if only for a short while, and the memories you will now have for forever.


With that being said, I’m going to save Sankt Goar, the Rhine, and the remainder of Frankfurt for the next post.  (And yes, luckily our hostel dorm on the second night was not interrupted by (as much) snoring nor anybody who came in at 3am, turned on all the overhead fluorescents, then took their sweet time getting ready for bed, while keeping awake the 9 other people in the room. Yes, this all happened the first night.)

Until the next one!