Sunday, February 17, 2013

Homecoming, Plentzia, Artxanda

Coming home from Berlin was truly a memorable experience and I’m not even referring to the overnight in France or the 5 hour cramped bus ride (although that also was memorable).  

I walk into the house to see the 3 kiddos on the floor playing some board game with Joseba’s cousin Asier. Both feet aren’t even through the door before I’m inundated with jumping children desperate to give me hugs and kisses. Even Maia… who flashes me dirty looks about 10 times a day because as she has very clearly pointed out many times I am not her “ama” and she only wants to be with “ama”. I really need to go out of town more often.

I tell them I need to shower. I haven’t been in my room more than 10 seconds before I hear a knock at the door. “Ya has terminado?” – Leire wants to know if I have finished..I tell her I need 10 minutes. 2 minutes later I’m standing in my towel about to hop in the shower… knock. Knock. “Yaaaaa? Mary?” (asking me if I’m done again). I open the door to shower her I haven’t even started and she sulks a bit.

I get out of the shower and open the door and there’s Leire – just waiting for me in my room now wearing the sweater/shirt I wore home that day. She has me button the back for her and runs around the house telling everyone she is me. She comes back into my room as I’m putting lotion on my face. She wants some. Then the powder – she wants that too. Then perfume – I give her a dab. Then I begin to blowdry my hair and she offers to do it for me. She is such a doll. Lately she has been my little shadow. Today we realized we had the EXACT SAME top 5 favorite foods… (Now WHAT ARE THE CHANCES…?) haha It’s a very nice feeling to have one of them like me so much. Not that they hadn’t before but as of late – in Leire’s eyes – I can do no wrong.

This week has been pretty chill. Just routine.

I DID meet my Spanish boyfriend this week. After school one day I went to get the girls and brought lots of paper and crayons. I started off making a sign or nameplate for one of the good family friends daughters. BAD idea. Before the end of the night I had made at least… 15. One of the little boys huddled around the entirely too small table for us seemed awestruck by these signs. I made him one and he was beyond excited. He then asked to make me one. His name was Martin and that’s the precise moment I knew we were destined for each other. The next day I showed up to school to get the kids and Martin was there again. His mom told me he was enamorado conmigo and he had tried to bring me a present that day but they’d forgotten it. After Leire tells him that I did her French braids he starts freaking out saying I can draw and do braids!! I’m a true artist according to Martin. I ask if he wants to come watch Brave in the auditorium with us and he cant because he has a hair appointment. We run into him while waiting for Iciar about 90 minutes later and his mom comes over and tells me Martin cannot stop talking about me. This kid is mighty cute.

Friday night I went to an intercambio with Emma – one of the ISA girls. It was fun and I’ll probably go again. Not too much to tell about that.

Saturday I went to Plentzia – a beach town nearby – with Sandra, a german au pair I met at the park a few weeks ago.  We had a great time just sitting on the beach and talking. It was nice because our common language was Spanish so we both got a lot of practice in. Like idiots at one point during the day we put the towel down and sat on VERY wet sand. We both just thought it was cold until we stood up and realized our butts were soaked… For two decently intelligent girls we felt like royal air-heads.

Today (Sunday) I got out of bed in the hopes that the kids would be awake because I had missed them so much. I went out to the living room and bummed around on the pull out couch with them for an hour or so. Then I elected to postpone my trip to the gym to subir la Artxanda with Iciar and the kids. We had a great time. Iciar brought bowls and spoons to make “soups and cakes” with the sand and flowers… Leire and I had a great time putting flowers in our hair and making crowns with them.
Anxiously waiting
On our way to the top!

Iciar and the Kiddos


That was "soup" if I recall correctly

We were all about flowers

Jon and his new dish. 

I was also pretty proud of my latest bedtime story. There was a group of people on a boat who ran into some mermaids… these mermaids were forced to leave their underwater castle because an evil giant squid had taken it over. The mermaids managed to grab their key to the city as they were leaving. This key had magical powers but they didn’t want to the mermaids to abuse it so they hid three diamonds in three different parts of the world. Once the diamonds are back in their normal place the key can unlock the castle and set up a fortress to protect it from the giant squid. The people on the boat had to go to a volcano, a desert, and the top of a giant building to get the three diamonds. In the end everything worked out just fine.

Things in Bilbao are good. No, Great. My life isn’t as fast paced or as exciting as it was in Sevilla but I love my routine and I love these kids – ESPECIALLY when they like me back. I’m so happy I chose to do this… but WHAT on earth am I going to do when I have to leave. 


I arrived in Berlin and somehow managed to meet Rachel and the other Aggies at the hostel within about 45 minutes. I was pretty proud of myself for being able to navigate that. I’m straight EXHAUSTED when I get there but I man up and get dressed and try to make myself look at least somewhat presentable.

Our first day was somewhat of a fail. We started at the Brandbenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate was aspired by the Acropolis in Athens. It has had been very significant in the history of Berlin and Germany at many different times.

It has a monument on the top. This monument depicts a four horse chariot driven by a woman. The woman was originally named Irene or something like that. During the Napoleonic wars the French stole the monument from the Prussians and took the sculpture to Paris to use as a trophy. Less than a decade later the Prussian army took the sculpture back and renamed the woman on the sculpture Victoria. Now here comes the best part. Apparently (according to our tour guide) the French and Germans have historically always been at each other’s throats. So the square surrounding the Brandenburg gates is named Pariser Platz or Paris Square. They renamed the sculpture Victoria after all their troubles with the French. So that now the Germans will always have “Victory over Paris”. The Brandenburg Gate was also the site of Hitler’s march when he rose to power. The Brandenburg Gate was also squeezed between the walls when East and West Berlin were still divided.

Rachel and I at the Brandenburg Gate

After Seeing the Brandenburg gate we walked through part of the Tiergarten (the oldest public park in Berlin… which is HUGE – apparently close to the size of central park in New York.) to see the Reichstag – or the Parliament building. We were told the one of the positive things (of the very few) about visiting Berlin when it was as cold as it was is that during the summers men like to walk around stark naked in the Tiergarten and “not the kind of men we would like to see”.

The Tiergarten 

We scheduled a tour to go to the Reichstag that Sunday but decided to go to the Sauchenhausen Concentration Camp instead. I wish I had been able to see it but I wasn’t. After the Reichstag we had planned to take a walking tour but due to the fact that we had 10 people we had to come back the next day and pretend not to know each other so we could still go on the tour “for free”.

The Reichstag  
There is so much Graffiti all over Berlin - this is just a random little alley we passed on the way to the Jewish Museum

After that we went to the Jewish Museum which was interesting. As much as I love museums… I don’t particularly enjoy them because I don’t feel like I remember much from them. I enjoyed the Jewish Museum because it was laid out VERY interestingly. On the bottom floor there were 3 different axes (Continuity, Emigration, and Holocaust)– each representing a different period or theme of Jewish history. The axes were also not leveled so we were always either walking up or down a hallway which I didn’t realize at first.

My favorite part of the museum was this one area where there were thousands upon thousands of steel sculptures of faces representing holocaust victims.

Another area of the museum is the Garden of Exile where 49 concrete pillars were erected on uneven ground, which is supposed to disorient people and give them a sense of instability. Foliage grows from the top to represent hope.
The Garden of Exile at the Jewish Museum

After the Jewish Museum we were all pretty beat so we headed back towards the hostal and went to a brewery for dinner. I ate a Turkey steak which was really great but my meal totaled 16 euro and I didn’t like the sides… Oh well. When in Berlin…

That night we went to bar/disco called White Trash Fast Food. It was a little too smoky for my taste but the name alone was enough to get me to go in. It was fun.

The next day we went on a tour of the city with this AWESOME tour guide from Manchester. He was very witty and had lots of little anecdotes to tell us. He was extremely detailed with the history of the city. I never realized how many of todays most impressive inventions and scientific findings and products came from Germans. He pointed out – although we were all very aware already – that whenever people think of Germany they only think of Hitler and the Holocaust which is very true… but he went past that – trying not to dawn on it too much and continued to tell us all these amazing things that Germans had done.

He took us to the Holocaust memorial which I was very impressed by and enjoyed a lot. It was made to be interpreted by whoever is experiencing that therefore the architect did not really explain what he wanted or expected people to feel when walking through it.

We also went to Hitler’s bunker – or the ground above Hitler’s bunker – or let me re-phrase this… He took us to a parking lot. The Germans did not want to revere or remember Hitler in anyway therefore although they couldn’t destroy the bunker (although they apparently tried many times) they did seal it off completely and at street level it only looks like a parking lot.

He took us to many places where there had been stands off in Berlin and where the buildings were riddled with bullet holes which was very cool. He also explained to us how after the war – all that was left in Berlin were the women and that they practically rebuilt the entire city all on their own. They even constructed the airport I flew into in some ridiculously short amount of time (Maybe 6 weeks or something? I do not remember).

After our tour we headed home to eat and went out – just the girls just time. We tried to get into some club our friend had told us about but because most of the girls weren’t 21 we couldn’t get in. The whole time in line Rachel Westmoreland was practicing how to say “We are Five” … It sounded something like “Vee haven foonfh” I don’t know why but I found that hilarious. The bouncer calls us up and before she can even get that out he says “How Many”. We’re very foreign looking apparently. But after that little rejection we head to the club next door. It was incredibly smokey. There were three different rooms for dancing and each one was very different. The first one was the smallest and least rowdy and was playing lots of 80’s music. I would’ve liked to have stayed there but the people were just standing around. The second room was very different each time we went in but ranged many different genres. The third and definitely most popular room – like I found much of Berlin to be – was just … grunge. We danced to… Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach… and many other overly hardcore bands. We were all pretty exhausted and we knew we were going to Sachenhausen the next day so we left around 3 I think.

The next morning half of us headed to Sachenhausen – a concentration camp right outside of Berlin. It was one of the first ones and was pretty small. It had 2 zones – one for “normal prisoners” then a much nicer zone for political prisoners. It was quite depressing. I imagine it would’ve been much worse had more of the original camp still been standing. We also didn’t get to spend near as long there as I would have liked because we were in such a hurry.

For Bathing

A flyer pointing out Jewish features

One of the uniforms from Sachenhausen

One of the Bunkers

After that we went to Mauer Park. On Sundays they have a huge market with lots of stalls filled with all sorts of random stuff. We were again in a rush – so much so I forgot to take ANY pictures but it was extremely fun and I am very glad we went.

Then we headed to the Bauhaus Museum for all the architecture kids and finished off at the East Side Gallery which I knew was going to be my favorite place in Berlin. It is a 1300m segment of the Berlin Wall (one of three still standing segments) and it is filled with artwork. We didn’t get to walk the length of the wall so I returned Monday before my flight left.

Flying home was a HUGE pain. They tell us (in English and French – Brussels Airlines) that we are going to have to go to Bordeaux because we cannot land in Bilbao. Apparently the airport lies directly between two mountains so landing there when there is wind/storms and it is dark is very dangerous. Apparently a few weeks ago during a landing 8 people were injured and someone broke their leg. I have no idea if this is even true but here enters the random/very talkative/slightly obnoxious Venezuelan man sitting behind me. He’s ALL ABOUT stories. I could not get a moment to myself after I answered his first question. I heard all about his travels, his feelings towards Brussels Airlines, his family blah blah blah.

So here we are sitting on a plane headed into Bordeaux. I’m thankful I have some money left so if I do have to get a hotel or something I will be okay… As we land this large and very rambunctious group of Spanish people from Bilbao start to cheer and clap. I’m thinking “Well, okay… I guess I AM glad we are alive etc…” Then we sit on the plane for about an hour. 30 minutes in I hear one of the women from Bilbao talking on the phone saying “Oh You’re here? Okay we will be out ASAP we are still waiting on the plane for some reason”. At first I think to myself – man Bordeaux must be much closer to Bilbao than I had thought. That’s when I realize… This huge group of Spanish people (who have been standing the past 30 minutes on the plan ready to get outta there) have NO IDEA that we aren’t in Bilbao because no one announced this in Spanish. It was pretty hilarious…

They take us all to a hotel – it’s really nice. I skype my parents then fall asleep. I wake up – eat the awesome breakfast – and here comes Mr. Talkative again. I’m trying to avoid him because I do NOT want to me stuck sitting next to him on the bus for 5 hours to Bilbao. I tell him I am going to go use the phone. I go straight to the hotel doors and think to myself – the bus will come – I will run out there, hop on it, right up front, and pretend to be asleep and no one will set next to the obviously foreign girl. Well what do ya know? Mr. Talkative comes up and says “I don’t know what you were planning but do you want to sit next to each other?” DAMN. And if you know me then you know I can’t just flat out be mean to someone… so I say yes. Now Mind you all – had he not sat by me I would have 100% had my own seat… even he probably would have because he was not a tiny little thing. Half way through I actually had to even ask if we could put the armrest down because my body was cramping from leaning so far right towards the window the whole time. For the record this man was VERY nice but… what poor luck that was.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Brussels: Bryna, Waffles, Beer, Frites, Chocolate.

7 February 2013 

Last Thursday I went to Brussels for the night. I scheduled a flight to Berlin that had a 17 hour layover in Brussels so I could see Bryna who is a friend I met through Abbie last time I was studying abroad and also see Brussels again. I wont lie… the order of importance concerning that trip was… 1. Bryna, 2. Waffle, 3. Brussels. So Bryna picks me up from the airport and drops me off at her apartment. I was tired so I took my sweet time getting ready while she went back to work. (She is an accountant for Deloitte and probably one of the most brilliant people I know; she also happens to be a damn good time so it’s always fun to see her – We’re going to plan a trip or two together).

We meet when she gets off work at a Starbucks near the in the Central Station (How American of us – it’s easy to recognize in our defense).... When she was describing it to me she told me to take the train to “Garrison Trahl” – which is how I interpreted her French accent. I get to the metro alone and think – what the hell there is no Garrison Trahl on here and about two seconds later I see “Gare Central”. I obviously know zero french. I meet her friend Charles who is absolutely fabulous… and we set off for dinner. We go to some typical Belgium place which was GREAT. I got some type of dumplings dish with great sauce and mushrooms and of course French fries or “Frites” as they say in Belgium. For anyone who doesn’t know Belgium is famous for its frites, waffles, beer, and chocolate. I had all of which while I was there… in about a 4 hours time frame.

Typical Belgium - Waffle Shop

Typical Belgium - Frites Shop

random painted wall about AIDS etc... near the Gran Plaz. 
A typical outside seating area around the Grand Plaza. I have been to Brussels three times but the weather was pretty crappy all three times to I still have yet to even want to sit outside a cafe/bar like this. I imagine when the weather is better it'd be pretty enjoyable though.

One of the buildings in the Gran Plaz

After dinner we go to Delirium – a very famous bar in Brussels. I had some type of cherry beer then a Chimay blonde – both of which were great. There was a band playing – or at least setting up when we got there. After about 2 hours the band was finally ready and it was the most eclectic looking band I’d ever seen. A man with long silver white hair halfway down his back who looked to be about 60. A 40 ish year old Latin man who had his hair slicked back very tight into a ponytail. And a 20 something year old very nicely dressed boy. Despite some strange renditions of popular 80’s songs they were really good. I think even more than we enjoyed the band though we enjoyed our own performances and renditions of fan favorites in the back of the bar. I think the random foreigners around us would agree that was more entertaining as well.

Bryna and I at Delirium!

We didn’t get home til about 3:30 and I had to be at the airport at 5 for a 6 am flight. That – my friends, was no fun - BUT I made it to Berlin safe, sound, and in time to leave with the rest of the group. That blog post to come soon.