The Final Countdown

This is it. One more day until I say adios to Spain and my two families. This trip has been filled with some amazing moments as well as some challenging ones. Thinking back on my stay, I feel like I have achieved something amazing. I came to this country not knowing any Spanish and having to rely on strangers. I can proudly say that I speak fairly well. And those strangers? They have become family. Spain is home to some of the most amazing people you will ever know and I lived with them for two months. I don’t think I could ever thank them enough. When I fly away on that plane I will be leaving a part of myself behind.
But enough mush! I want to share some pictures documenting the must do’s/ see’s/ eat’s of Spain.

What a fascinating country this is! I have had the experience of a lifetime.


Visiting Guernica

Yesterday I was taken to Madrid to see one of the most famous paintings of all time. “Guernica”.
It is enormous, 11 feet tall and 25 feet wide. The whole thing is a monochromatic black and white, owning the room. The painting itself is overwhelming; one must know the history to truly understand it. “Guernica” is a political piece. During WWII, most of the impressionists of Europe formed an alliance in order to campaign against the fascist regime. This was especially true in light of Franco’s takeover of Spain. The impressionists asked Pablo Picasso to join the resistance, wanting him to create pieces to support the Republic. When he agreed, the impressionists were enthusiastic. As the war went on and Franco’s rule became more violent, the impressionists waited. Where was Picasso? They needed his strong presence to rally the people and yet, there was no sign of his contribution. On April 26 of 1937, the Basque town of Guernica was bombed. Franco’s allies, Germany and Italy, rained explosion after explosion down on the people. They used machine guns for accuracy. After hours of continuous insanity, all that was left was a charred shell of a village.
Upon hearing the news of Guernica, Picasso began his response. It took him a month and a few days of working tirelessly to complete the finished product. He described the painting as his “Terror” upon learning of the bombing. The impressionists arranged for the painting to be shown in France, where is was widely accepted. Picasso then dedicated “Guernica” to the people of Spain. He stated that “Guernica” was not allowed to be displayed in Spain until Franco was dead and democracy was restored to the country. “Guernica” lived in New York’s Museum of Modern Art until 1981 when democracy was finally reinstated following Franco’s death in 1975. Spain has had democracy for only 33 years. Think about that for a minute. This country has come a long way in such a short amount of time. Congratulations Spain! “Guernica” is in its rightful place.

Spain: 10 Random Facts

I thought I would give you all some insider facts on Spain… Here we go!

1. Spaniards are excellent parallel parkers.

2. Bull Fighting is actually very controversial here.

3. When someone is attractive, Spaniards say they are “El Queso” or, “The Cheese”.

4. There are two types of universities here, public and private. Public is the most sought after because it is harder to pass the classes.

5. The super markets have a whole aisle dedicated to olive oil. Some brands come in 5 liter jugs.

6. Spaniards talk about sex with everyone. Their grandma, their uncle, strange American girls…

7. Women call a man with an ugly face and good body a shrimp. Shrimp in Spain are served whole, so one must rip off the head before eating.

8. Spain is in a recession right now.

9. Spaniards flip the bird like we do. Put that middle finger to use!

10. Sunflower seeds are extremely popular here. The Spanish are very talented at opening and eating them at great speeds.

Dirty Words, Goose Attacks and Strange Short Men

So my trip to Galicia this weekend was crazy. The title of this post kind of gives that away huh? Where to start… We arrived to at the stone house at 2:30 am. After five hours in the car I collapsed on the makeshift bed and didn’t move for eight hours. The next morning I was ushered to Lugo, the capital city of Galicia. Lugo was founded by Romans and the wall still surrounds the city without renovation. The day was rainy which suits Galicia’s rolling green hills. I walked along a portion of the wall with Pilar and her mother, stopping to take a picture now and then. Galicia is showcased in stone. Everything is built using giant rocks, especially the settlement of Gallego. Gallego is the village where Pilar’s whole family is from. The people in Gallego are all stout and cute. Every single person I met, family or not fit this description. Their dialect was so different from Castilian that I couldn’t understand a word they said. They are also very expressive. When I met some of Pilar’s cousins I was quickly unnerved. As soon as I walked through the door, a chubby and short, little man (shorter than me, I’m 5’4) ran up to me and grabbed my face. “Que guapa! Que guapa!” he said over and over again, which means “How pretty”. It always shocks me how the Spanish are so ready to compliment your looks. His name was Alvaro. He and his wife own a dozen cows and four pigs, all for slaughtering. He insisted on giving me a tour of the livestock right away. He lead Pilar and I down to the pasture on his way to pick up the cows. For those of you who know me well, you can understand how I must have felt at this point. I have a strange-some may say irrational- fear of cows. I will have you know that more people are killed by cows than sharks each year. So there. Anyway, these cows were massive. I got close enough to take a couple pictures and conquered my fear a bit. Next, Alvaro showed us the pigs. The pigs were kept in a stone shed next to the farm house. As soon as he opened the door, the smell proved too strong for Pilar and she stayed outside. Being from Berthoud I have smelled many a farm house odor, so I ventured inside. Alvaro grabbed a rogue goose nearby and asked if I wanted to hold it. I politely declined but before I could get the words out the goose had taken flight and flew into my face. I let out a very unflattering shriek as a wing smacked me in the face. This day had taken quite a turn. After the tour ended, we all headed back to our stone house at the top of the hill. That evening, the cousins visited and we all ate chocolate and drank beer with lemon. That’s when the ever so popular subject came up. This has happened to me twice now, so I figured I should share it. The adults always want to know what nicknames we English speakers have given our, egherm, privates. Every time I would say another nickname, they would shout the word again and again. Their favorite was “Joystick”. Spaniards are very open about their sexuality.

Abandoned Cities, Saint James’ Way and More Strange Short Men

Still in Galicia, my next two days went as follows:
The next morning I woke up to a ruckus of voices down below in the kitchen. When I came down the stairs to investigate, I was greeted with some cheese cake and a fluffy dog named Chispita. As I stood against the counter wolfing down my breakfast of champions, more family entered the stone house. As a foreigner in Spain, I am painfully aware of when someone new enters the room because this means I will have to meet them. And that means I will have to kiss them. I have to mentally prepare myself every time. Which cheek will they go for? Should I dive in or should I let them come to me? I was soon swarmed by a group of stout men, each one of them grabbing my cheeks and shouting “La chica Americana!” I felt like Snow White with the seven dwarves.
Next we all marched into Portomarin, a town nearby the village. Portomarin is known for its narrow escape from nature a few years back. A reservoir flooded into the river of Mino which then flooded the entire city. The people saved the Romanesque San Pedro church stone by stone. You can still see the numbers on each stone. Driving on the bridge over the Mino, the ruins of the old city can be seen peaking out of the water.
That night, we went to Alvaro’s and had good Spanish dinner. Lots of pork. Alvaro’s wife never sat down, always asking if anyone wanted more or just giving more to them anyway. It was very sad to say goodbye to those two when we left for the evening. Alvaro grabbed my face one last time to wish me “Un buen viaje,” meaning a good trip.
The next morning, we were off to Madrid. On the way we stopped by O Cebreiro, a refuge for the pilgrims hiking the Saint James Way. Galicia is famous for being the final destination of the Saint James pilgrimage.
Hikers from all over trek to reach the city of Santiago Compostela where Saint James is buried. There is a Portuguese route and a French route as well. O Cebreiro was first founded by the Celts before the Romans took over. As you walk through this little village you can hear Celtic music playing, luring the tourists into the gift shops. Pilar visits the church of O Cebreiro once a year to light a candle at the alter of Santa Maria. I think it’s a nice tradition.
I have to say that Galicia is my favorite destination so far. Well worth the awkward kissing.

My Mushroom Adventure

This weekend I was roped into an unexpected adventure. This is almost always the case because I can usually understand only seventy percent of what is spoken to me. I know something is going to happen to me but I don’t know when or how. This time it happened to be foraging for mushrooms on the Puerto De La Morcuera Mountain. I went with Pilar and her husband’s parents. They are very jolly in that elderly Spanish way, grabbing my hand and laughing at some joke I didn’t get. They do this to make me feel included and it works very well. We reached the trail head and split off into groups. Little did I know, this would be the coldest day of my life.
As Pilar and I hiked up the steep ravine, I began to notice how magical this forest was. It truly belonged in a story book. The stones were covered in a vivid, green moss and the sunlight seemed to sparkle down through the tall trees. Pretty darn ethereal. There were two kinds of “Boletas” that we were looking for. Some type of brown one and a bright orange one. That is the extent of my knowledge. I happened to find two giant brown ones at the very beginning of the venture.
I was super proud, not going to lie. Then things changed… It became wet and windy. Suddenly my sweater and fleece coat weren’t enough. Pilar and I hiked even farther up, not having any more luck. Somewhere along the way we lost track of our basket and gave up looking for it. With numb toes, we finally made it back to that van only to discover that someone else had the keys. It was miserable. All the while I was thinking, “I’m a Coloradoan, I should know better”. Moral of the story, never go mushroom hunting unprepared. Mushrooms are sneaky little bastards and you will receive no pity.