Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Señora

Ladies and she is...who you've all been waiting Señora. While her complete name is Mari Carmen Villalobos Gonzalez, most people just call her Mari Carmen. Apparently that was too long for me and since day one I have just called her Carmen. I love this lady. She is completely responsible for my weight gain too, and I don't even care. It took me FOREVER to get a picture of her because she always wanted me to wait for a day when she looked better. Finally, I put my foot down and just took one.

I live in the house with Carmen, her 16-year-old daughter Julia (pictured above), her son Jose Antonio (Jotín for short) and his wife Joanna (from Colombia), my roommate Erica from California, and myself. We are like the most culturally diverse 6 people ever. Carmen goes to La Iglesia Prosperidad, the church where I go on Sundays, and has been an Evangelical Christian for about 2 or 3 years (converted from Catholicism). Some other people on the program seem to have conflicts with their Señora about laundry (some girls only have had it done 3 times this semester so far!), food (other girls don't get fed on the weekends and just go out to buy their own food), and awkward relationships (some Señoras tend to only see this gig as a job, and don't address the students or try to get to know them).

But I am having a great experience with Carmen. Even though she does the whole laundry and cooking thing perfectly and faithfully, it's how we have become friends that is the best part for me. She asks me about my personality, my faith, my school, and my interests. She also tells me that I need to be careful of who I look for in the boy department. One time she said: "You think bad boys are attractive, like every other girl, don't you?" And I replied, "Well, sure, a little. I guess you could say that most girls do." Which then led into a 30 minute lecture to "set me straight." Ha. Done and done. She also loves looking at pictures of my family (she says my dad is "MUY guapo", very handsome) and thinks it is an amazing thing to have a whole family, cousins and all, of Christians, on both sides. She says I am very lucky. Which I guess I am. But I am very lucky to have her as well. She rocks.

(and I couldn't's a CLASSIC clip of George Costanza contemplating being the "bad boy" to get a girl named Anna:

Monday, March 28, 2011

¡Visca el Barça! Weekend in Barcelona

Just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Barcelona with my friends Bre, Nathalie, and Nicole! This city is awesome. We got there Saturday at about noon and packed a lot of stuff into a day and a half. My favorite part of this place is the architecture - I could just stare at the buildings and be happy. We visited the Sagrada Familia (a Gaudi cathedral that will be under construction for the next 50 years at least due to its extensive building plans), a huge open air market with amazing fruit and food, Park Guell for the view, Las Ramblas (a famous street with artisans and culture and stuff), the Pablo Picasso museum, Plaza Espanya, tons of designer stores that we had NO business entering. (Dolce and Gabana, Chanel, and Valentino? Ha.) I am the newest addition to the Gaudi fan club also, in case you were wondering. I love how his buildings use stone and yet make it look like it was formed out of silly puddy or play-dough, almost straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Unreal. We had an interesting trip back to Sevilla. Our flight left at 6 am, but the metro train to the airport stopped running by midnight. So we arrived at the airport at 11:30 and spent the night there - talking, playing cards, half napping with our heads down on random cafe tables, and giggling out of tiredness and our state of delirium. Got back to the city center of Sevilla at 8:45 am, with just enough time to walk STRAIGHT to my school in time for my 9 am class. After a night of no sleep and a 3 hour stretch of class, let me tell you that my 4 hour siesta this afternoon was PRET-TY sweet. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Allow Myself to Introduce...Myself.

I figured it was time for a post that wasn't just pictures and adventures. Don't worry - more of those to come. But yesterday I was talking to someone about how this semester has definitely broadened my horizons. I've had to grow up in a lot of ways. I've changed in a lot of ways too, almost so much so that I hope I won't have to reintroduce myself to everyone at home. People generally know me as a picky eater, needing to be around people at all times, an English speaker, and not having a fabulous sense of direction. And, last of all, according to my Dad, I need to constantly be working on my "situational awareness." (Classic.) I've had to face my fears of speaking in Spanish, come here alone and make new friends from complete scratch, find my way around a million metro stops and bus systems for airport transportation and travel, walk everywhere and navigate around Sevilla, and to me, the most significant, is TRY NEW FOOD. Here is a list of stuff that I have eaten in completion for the first time in my life:

1. Kalamari. Not only the fried variety, but also a cooked one that looked like a literal mini-squid in its entirety. Tentacles and all hanging off my spoon. The texture is squishy. And gross. But I did it.
2. Salad with iceberg lettuce. For me, this is a big deal. 
3. Pasta stuffed with spinach
4. Cooked spinach. No, did not get stronger afterward like Popeye, just grossed out.
5. Garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) 
6. Bleu cheese. Smells like a foot.
7. Deep fried "Fishsticks" except not really sure what's in there. I think a lot of seafood matter. You just don't ask.
8. Squash vegetable soup
9. Deep fried minnow/anchovy-like fish, not sure exactly what they are. Ate the head, scales and everything.
10. Tomatoes. Served plain. Ugh - this one still gives me goosebumps when I try to eat them.

I think I'm different in a few other ways too. One little way is the fact that I don't care as much if people will like the clothes I buy (Spanish girls will try anything style-wise), so if I like something, I get it without worrying if others will. I desperately want to grow my hair long to look more Spanish. I also have found that I am much more go-with-the-flow in group situations than I thought - my Type A side has mellowed out a little. One big way is that, being completely sans comfort zone, I've had to learn to rely on the Lord and own my faith for myself. It's a lot easier to "coast" in your spiritual life when you can hide behind familiar church services, school praise and worship, Bible studies, Christian friends and family, etc. Not that those things aren't wonderful - I just think coming here was an extra shove that I needed.

While these things are cool, I am still the usual me, por supuesto. In fact, I am not one of those people who will come back and tell you that Europe is just so much more cultured than the midwest. I happen to  love Wisconsin and Chicago and can't wait to see them again. I think I always will feel like that.

...and Mom - don't get any funny ideas with the above list. Your cooking is perfect as is.
...and yes, the title is a quote from the original Austin Powers. I went there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

¡Real Betis contra Salamanca!

Yesterday I made one of my semester goals complete: watch a soccer game in Spain (c'mon the country has got the best soccer in the world). I LOVED it. Sevilla has two teams: Sevilla FC (the technically "better" team, but the people here say it's more of a bandwagon/rich people's team) and Real Betis (the team of the people!). I think a pretty good parallel would be that Sevilla FC is to Real Betis as the Yankees are to the Mets. A bunch of friends and I went to the Real Betis vs. Salamanca game and we won 1-0. It was close; we missed a PK in the first half (plus countless blown opportunities) and the ref didn't allow a Salamanca goal close to the end of the game on a pretty controversial offsides call. Either way, we had an awesome time and got to sit in front of some diehard fans (listen in the video) who knew all the team's songs. And for no extra charge, they narrated the game for us with some foul language in Spanish. I mean, they're passionate about their soccer. Couldn't be any worse than those Cubs fans in Miller Park every summer. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hey Good Lookin', Whatcha Got Cookin'?

Here's another food post! Erica and I love this meal. Definitely top 3 for me. It's just a lot of rice and chicken, the whole thing really sticky, and yellow for some reason from some sort of spice or something else  (I couldn't figure out what it meant in English) and served steaming hot. It tastes awesome. (Check out the salad everyone - yes, I took that voluntarily.) When I asked my Señora what the meal was called, she said "arroz y pollo." Rice and chicken. I know, profound.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Paris in Videos

Took a few videos along the way this past weekend. First things first, the Mona Lisa:
Then we found some dancing. Not sure that this style is original to Parisian culture, but was still cool:
The tower itself, and my yellow umbrella. (Clara DeMaster, I thought of you whenever I carried it. Seemed like a "Clara" item):
And the tower again at night, my favorite time to see it. ¡Me encanta!:

Monday, March 14, 2011

An American in Paris

This weekend I went to Paris with 9 others from my program - it was incredible! The French have definitely scored some brownie points in my book over the last few days. We fit SO MANY ACTIVITIES (that was for you stepbrothers fans) into very little time. We visited 3 museums: the Louvre (the Mona Lisa's home), an impressionist museum with lots of VanGogh (Musée d'Orsay),  and a contemporary museum with Picasso and friends (Centre Pompidou). I am a nerd this way and love art museums, so needless to say I was in heaven. Bonus for us = free admission for people with student visas! I didn't pay a single entrance fee all weekend. Apart from the museums, we went on a sweet 3.5 hour walking tour of the city led by a hilarious tour guide, saw the Eiffel Tower (3 times), saw the Arc de Triomphe, went inside the Notre Dame cathedral during Sunday morning mass, saw the Moulin Rouge, went to La Basilique de Sacré Coeur de Montmartre (a pretty church), ate street hot dogs and probably 73 crepes, and navigated the crazy but really efficient metro system. Fun fact: I found that I have absolutely no ability to look at a word in French and figure out how to pronounce it. I hope you enjoy the pictures - I am sorry that there are lots of them, but I couldn't help myself. I think this was my best weekend yet! 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

No Gain, No Spain

Here it is - the inevitable confession: I am THAT kid. I went abroad and am gaining weight. I guess I have decided to make this my No Carb Left Behind semester. We're not talking Oprah-esque fluctuations, but still. Apparently I have inherited my dad's world-record speed eating abilities, and it doesn't help that every meal is complete with a bowl of fresh bread in the middle of the table. It's an inconvenient truth of my life that I knew to be somewhat inevitable with my time here, but I am having a hard time accepting the facts. The Spaniards have a way with being completely straightforward, and when I told my Señora that I was afraid I was getting fatter, she goes "No Anna! You are still the same! Well, except for that little extra on your cheeks...and maybe your butt...but still. You are beautiful both ways." Ha.

HOWEVER. I am not going to freak myself out about this. While this type of thing usually sends me into a panic, I am just going to do my best to enjoy the time here and get back to normal when I get back home. Me and Beyonce will just have a few more similarities for the time being that we used to have. And my new mantra, given to me by my friend, the always wise Karyn Koopmans, is: "No Gain, No Spain." If I was obsessing over every 4 or 5 pounds that came or went, I wouldn't be enjoying myself. So to all of you students abroad (actually, just college students in general) who aren't in shape, let's run together this summer.
Just for fun, here is a picture of the whole group in Toledo last weekend! You can click to make it bigger.  Sweet view. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Here is the first food post! You are looking at my daily breakfast, cerca 8:25 am. And people wonder why students who go abroad gain weight. On the top right you see a mug of ColaCao. Basically, their version of Ovaltine. It is delicious, and it is pretty nice to have a hot cup of goodness to wake up to. On the top left you see a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. I kid you not, my Señora gets up every morning and uses three oranges to go with my breakfast. I'm not sure that I'll be physically able to go back to Tropicana. And then, of course, el pan. The bread. Looks like this this particular morning was a half-Nutella, half-fake butter day. Mmmm. Sometimes I switch it up to raspberry jelly. Something I miss immensely: PEANUT BUTTER. But alas, last week I found it at the grocery store in a TINY I bought some and added it to the cabinet here. The brand has nothing on Jif, but I'll take it. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pit Stop

So when you're on a road trip and you need to take a break, you stop somewhere like Culver's or a gas station, right? Well, apparently in Spain you get to take pit stops to see landmarks from before the 16th century. This weekend, the whole group went to check out the beautiful city of Toledo (about a 5 or 6 hour bus ride). On the way, we stopped to see the windmills from Don Quijote. My friend in this video, Megan, is one of the few taking a class that covers Don Quijote, so they were pretty excited for this spot.

(Shoutout to Alex and Heidi: I think your one professor's saying has seeped into my subconscious. "So there you have it." Can't help myself.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Canary Pit-chas

(In case you were wondering, the title is meant to be in a British accent. Just for fun.) Here are some pictures of this past weekend. While we spent a lot of time at the beach, I did not spend too much time taking my camera out in that location. Reason? Let's just say the people at the beach are VERY comfortable with their physiques. TOO comfortable. [And before all you annoying "SCORE! Nude beaches in Europe brahh!" types get to high-fiving one another, let's consider exactly WHO is going topless on these beaches. Not the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model lineup, I can tell you that much.] Blech. Best left to the imagination, OR just not at all. Even so, great times were had by all! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sing Like A Canary

I just returned from my first official travel weekend! Ashley, Nicole, and I flew to the Canary Islands and stayed on Gran Canaria, the "big" island, in a hostel overlooking the beach/ocean. Not too shabby. The flight was interesting - an extremely loud Spanish man with a grating voice took it upon himself to narrate his stream of consciousness for the rest of the passengers. I couldn't quite catch his main rant on video in time, but here's a little taste of that experience:
But once we got there, it was worth it. We spent a lot of time at the beach and hiked up the plateau for some great views. (More pictures to come). We stayed in a small beach town called Puerto de Mogan at Volver Hostel, which is built into the side of the mountain. Our stay there was a huge reason why we had such a great time. We met people from all over the world: A German hippie girl who makes pottery, a German student couple, a British girl, a Swedish dad traveling with his three young sons, an older lady from Iceland, a Palestinian woman who lives in London (she says she is so thankful for the freedom she has found there), a Cuban waiter one night for dinner (with a few choice words to say about Fidel), an Italian lady, and a Canadian guy traveling with his French girlfriend. The last two were especially nice to us and filled us in on travel tips about Paris for our future excursion there. The last night we sat up on the roof and talked with them for most of the night. The owner of the hostel is a German girl who is super artsy and original - the hostel is definitely one of a kind. We loved the decoration, the shared kitchen and living space, and the incredible view. Here's what it looked like: