Monday, July 21, 2014

The great unknown and new beginnings

         At the very beginning of this year's summer break, just after finishing my junior year of university (my busiest year yet), I broke up with my boyfriend of three years, cut all my hair off and left the country. If I tried to term this quick succession of rash actions something as lighthearted as "spontaneity," I would be lying to myself and my closest friends would call me out on it immediately, since they know how much I depend on a schedule. This was not spontaneity by a long-shot; this was panic. 
Had I been asked by someone about my plans after graduation this time last year, I would have spoken pretty confidently, yet vaguely on plans of grad school, moving to some city, and maybe even a hint to an engagement ring. Having just come off the high of an incredible Spring semester abroad in London, I was comfortably banking on going with the flow for the next few years and ending up somewhere, preferably NYC or my newfound hometown of London, with my significant other. We had dated since high school, survived a long-distance relationship for about a year, and then an even longer-distance relationship while I was abroad, so I believed that we would beat the odds and be high-school sweethearts forever. We even wrote letters to each other with pens and stamps and everything. What a show of devotion and love; what a story to tell our kids; what an accomplishment. 
What went wrong?
To be utterly and annoyingly honest, I do not know what changed, but for some reason, I began to notice an unquenchable restlessness in me after coming back from London. The comfortable vision of a future that I had in my mind was losing its charm, but I ignored the loss of luster, because after a three year long relationship, being together forever is basically a done-deal. The itch to be rid of the pains of college life, and move on to bigger and better things was insatiable, and I was both nervous and excited for whatever my future would hold. I kept myself busy, while waiting for "real life" to begin by throwing myself into every school club and organization that remotely interested me.
Later on in the school year, I had a bouldering accident which left me on crutches with a badly twisted ankle. I was feeling pretty lame, in every sense of the word. For about two and a half weeks during the last month of the semester, I was hobbling around my small college campus, running late to classes and meetings and missing out on some pre-summer outdoor activities and traditions because of both my temporary handicap and chronic frustration with the lack of order in my schedule. 
Just as I had begun to get back into shape; just as last minute finals projects and papers were in critical need of being finished; just as I was about to move up in the proverbial food chain and take on some end-of-the-year responsibilities for all the clubs I had gotten involved in, I was forced to take a pause.
I had not registered said pause in my carefully written out plans, and this is what prompted the panic. It gave me the time that I did not know that I needed to put a magnifying glass up to my penciled-in future; I mean, what else was I supposed to do while sitting in my room, elevating my ankle all day?
I saw the things I hated the most, like lazy complacence, settling/settling down, and maybe even a quick fix to a hidden fear of dying alone. In a brief moment of clarity, I realized that what I had set up for myself and what I thought I had wanted for the past three years, was really not what I needed at all. The idea of "real life," as real as marriage, a job, having kids, potentially beginning right after graduation frightened me like a wide-eyed puppy, hiding under the lawn chair on the Fourth of July. Instead of getting married young, settling on a place where both my significant other and I could work, and starting grad school or a real job, I wanted to travel, explore, and figure some things out for myself; by myself. It still makes me uncomfortable to say it out loud, but the relationship that I had cherished for so long seemed to be holding me back. I panicked, because I did not see a way out of it; not an easy way, at least. 
The thought of the possibility of maybe breaking up with my boyfriend was frightening, because where would that leave me? The love, dedication, and time we shared was priceless, and as cliche as it sounds, he had become my best friend. Three years of history, trust, and a whole lot of learning, about love, each other, and ourselves was not something I could easily part with; and it never occurred to me that I would want to or have to, until now. The possible doom of a regrettable life weighed on me so heavily, and all I could think of was the choice that was in front of me. 
Never have I ever broken up with a guy before in my twenty year old life; luckily, after a long talk over lunch at a popular cafe, complete with a complimentary serving of tears and a little bit of fumbling over the words that needed to be said on the side, the deed was done. My now ex-boyfriend took the news surprisingly well, since he had "kinda sorta" been feeling the same way too. He told me that I was brave for being the one to bring it up, and that we would work on still being friends after the allotted amount of time and space that we both needed from each other was over (little did I know about the rarity of the validation of those words). 
We said goodbye as acquaintances, and as I walked away from the cafe alone, blotchy-red, and with mascara stained cheeks, I did not know how to feel. Deep down, I was relieved, but I was also incredibly nervous and lost. The future was rolled out before me, white as a clean sheet of college ruled notebook paper, and I was now one hundred percent in control of what to do with it. 
After a brief period of guilt-ridden grief, filled with P.S. I Love You, hermit-like tendencies, and social media fasting, I came to my senses and stopped feeling sorry for myself for having done the right thing. I cut off the long ringlet curls I had kept for my entire college career and let their absence represent a kind of "starting over." My focus then went to the rest of the summer ahead of me; time and space away to be on my own was exactly what I needed, so I traveled to Spain with my family to do some hiking, touring, and a little bit of finding myself.
At the present moment, I am studying abroad in Madrid at a Spanish institute, making new international friends, practicing my Spanish, and trying not to let grammatical mistakes shame me into silence when in conversation. The new wave of independence has left me thinking of possible future plans that I never would have considered before; they make my heart reverberate with adrenaline and nerves. They are the kind of nerves that make you jittery, out of sheer excitement and anxiety over the limitless unknown. 
I do not know if I will end up being a yogi in Seattle who rides a bike to work and sells homemade jams, or an internationally renowned wildlife photographer, living in Edinburgh with a string of lovers around the world, but I do know that if there is one thing certain in this great unknown, it is that I am in control of my destiny. I can make my future what I want it to be, with a clear head, some hard work, and a little bit of bravery to face all of the things that cannot be planned for.    

Friday, July 18, 2014

Madrid: popular sights to see

I have been studying in Madrid for two weeks now and am living in the Universidad barrio, close to Calle de la Princesa and Gran Via, the main shopping and entertainment streets in the city. I have gotten to know my immediate area pretty well, but am going to try to use the next two weeks to explore a bit more of the city. 
The photo above shows my hallmates and I posing with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Plaza de España. The figures are characters from Miguel Cervantes' most famous novel, Don Quixote. This spot is popular among tourists but the Plaza is a nice place to pass through on a hot summer day. There is plenty of shade, and my friends and I found a clothing and accessories market there, last Thursday. 
Last week after class, my friends and I ventured to Parque del Oeste, in the north west of the city, and we just happened upon the Rosaleda de Ramón Ortiz. This huge rose garden features roses from all different parts of the world.
Not all the roses were in bloom when we visited, but the garden was still beautiful nonetheless. 
Right next to the Rosaleda, we found a cable car, or a teleférico that would take us all the way to the other side of the parque, near the amusement park in Casa de Campo. I had never heard of this cable car, but I was glad that we spent the €5.80 to venture to the other side of it and back. The farther half of the park, on the outskirts of the city, is very arid and has many hiking, biking, and walking trails that cut through it. I would not want to hike there in summer because of the heat, but perhaps it would be nice on a cloudy, cooler day. 
We passed over the Manzanares River, seen above. 
And below is the fantastic door to my residence. They don't make 'em like this in the US: 
My friends and I have done more sightseeing than just this, including Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Casa de Campo, but we have found it hard to get around Madrid in the afternoon, when we get out of class, because it is SO DAMN HOT all the time. I have heard that this has been a very mild summer thus far, but it is definitely hotter than what I am used to. We were able to visit the Prado and Reina Sofia museums, which are pleasurably air conditioned, and we have also become accustomed to spending a lot of time resting in cafes, adorable restaurants, and laying on the wooden floors of our bedrooms, trying to escape the heat.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Ibiza is a small portion of the Balearic Islands, off the eastern coast of Spain. The tiny island is located in the Mediterranean Sea. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Ibiza for a few days of downtime. My family and I took in the sun, the clear, cool water, and the seafood.   
Oh, and also the mojitos. 
The part of Ibiza that I stayed at is called Es Canar, and we visited two different beaches and also ventured around the small resort town. 
Our first day was spent at Calanova beach, which was stunning and beautiful. There were rocks that rose up out of the shallows and waves were constantly splashing onto them. It made for a few great photos, if I do say so myself. 
We also visited the beach at Calamartina, located close to the world-renowned Hippy Market, which takes place every Wednesday. Some of the vendors live at a camping site close to the beach. 
I was able to go paddleboarding on a not-so-sunny day in paradise. I loved being able to see the clear water beneath me along with some coral reefs and fish. There were people scuba diving and wind sailing as well. 
I had a really great time in Ibiza. Usually, Europeans go to Ibiza to party, and as you drive from the airport, you can tell that there are a lot of clubs that specialize in getting young people drunk and playing loud music. It depends on what part of Ibiza you decide to go to, but the area where I stayed was full of families but also still had some nightlife. It was a nice balance. 
Here are some more photos for you to enjoy and grow jealous over:

Valencia: oranges, horchata, the sea, and the holy grail

I was in Valencia about a week ago, and am just getting around to uploading my photos and blogging about my experience there. My family decided to visit the eastern coast of Spain after touring from place to place for the three weeks prior. Valencia is on the Mediterranean Sea and boasts a unique city and stunning beaches. The city is known for blue skies, oranges, and horchata, a drink made from tigernuts, which are similar to almonds.  
We indulged in the beaches for a few days and took some time to take in the sun and relax. The bus ride from the center of the city, where our hotel was located, took about forty five minutes.
We visited Las Arenas beach:
By the way, something prospective tourists should know about Spanish beaches prior to vacationing is that all Spanish beaches are 100% top optional... in other words, men and women can both be bare chested/breasted and it is totally legal. Not all women go to the beach sans-bikini top, but a good amount do, so this is just a forewarning incase that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable. 
After enjoying some time at the beautiful beach and getting to swim in the Mediterranean Sea for the very first time, we then decided to tour around the center of the city on foot. We also took a bus tour. 
Above is Valencia's train station, Valencia Nord. Below is part of a muraled waiting room inside the train station. 
Right next to the train station is the bullring, which was a sizeable building with a statue of a young matador. 
These purple flowers literally lined a bunch of the streets we were on; they were too pretty to pass by without stopping to take a photo. 
The bus tour took us all the way out near the beach and we were able to see the unique aquarium building. The aquarium itself sounded like a very interesting with shark tunnels, penguins, and many different kinds of fish. I love sea creatures, but have recently been turned off by places that keep sea mammals in tanks and offer dolphin shows and similar things.
Anyways, we indulged in some seafood, since we were right by the Sea... Below are some sardines, pulpo (octopus), and we even through in a salad with goat cheese (not of the sea). 
I'd just thought I would share because this meal was utterly delicious. Notice the suctions on the pulpo's tentacle. 
After our lunch, we went to visit the Cathedra:
This cathedral holds, what is believed to be, the Holy Grail, or the cup that Jesus Christ used at the last supper. Scientists have confirmed that this is the most probable relic, out of all the other cups that have been supposed to be the Holy Grail. 

Ávila and Segovia

Since I am a bit more than a week behind on my posts, here is a brief update on where I am and what I am doing: At the present moment, I am back in Madrid finishing up my first day of classes at the institute, where I will be studying and improving on my Spanish for the next month. 

Prior to going to Madrid, I visited the cities of Avila and Segovia for a day. Since they are so close to Madrid (only about an hour or two away), I may be visiting them again, later in the month. 
The city of Avila is known for being the home of St. Teresa of Avila. Here she is below:
There is a church in the city that was built over the area where she was born. When we visited, we also stepped into a museum near the church, which had relics of St. Teresa, including pieces of cloth, the sole of one of her shoes, and her ring finger, with a ring attached!
We stopped at an open air market in Avila's main square, and I bought some hazelnuts from a dried fruit vendor. I could live on nuts and dried fruit if I had to, so I waas glad to have found and bought a nice snack to last me through the end of the trip. 
We had to say goodbye to Avila too soon, due to our busy schedule, but the city was really beautiful and perfectly small. The walls that wrap around it make the city very intimate. 
My parents and I grabbed a quick snack before getting back on the tour bus to go to Segovia. The almond pastries were almost too cute to eat (the key word is "almost"). 
SEGOVIA is best known for its Roman Aqueduct: 
It is really incredible to see in person. The aqueduct was built in the 1st century and still stands today (obviously), even though it is not held in place with mortar or anything. 
After awe-ing over the aqueduct, my parents and I ventured to the other side of town to explore the castle, or the Alcazar de Segovia. 
We did not quite have enough time to go through the entire fortress/castle, but we did take the time to climb the 152 spiraling stairs to the top of the tower, which can be seen below:
The next two photos were taken from the top of the tower. They show the view of the city, and then the view of what lies outside the city:
It is quite a contrast! Outside of the city, there is a bit of a forest, and then very arid plains. 
The city itself is charming, and one food dish that Segovia is espeically known for is... suckling pig. This delicacy is not something that I would really enjoy, since I do not like the idea of half a baby pig being on the plate in front of me with its cute, little ears and tail still in tact. However, I have heard that the meat tastes very good, once you get over the initial shock of the dish.