Monday, September 16, 2013

A Weekend of Epic Shenanigans

Greetings and love from Spain my friends and family!

It has been over a week since I wrote last, but I swear I've been busy doing other things much more exciting than updating my blog. So I hope you'll forgive me. In fact, the only reason I've decided to update now is because I'm putting-off studying for the exam I have this Thursday. :)

My weeks have been spinning by, each day filled with classes, delicious meals, and an adventure of some capacity. I am learning and discovering at a rate I never have before, and it is incredibly invigorating. The past weekend was particularly notable so I'll describe it more detail beginning with Friday.

Most Fridays after class our program faculty takes us on an adventure of some sort. This Friday we took the metro to the most Northern part of Getxo where we found ourselves at the foot of a mountain called Serantes. Beginning at 2 pm, we hiked up that bad boy for toy hours, chatting and getting to know one another along the way. The sights were breathtaking, and the weather was deliciously pleasant. Upon reaching the top we gathered for a picnic lunch before making our way back down.

That night I met some friends on the beach near my house to watch the sunset and enjoy some drinks. We sat in the sand and talked for about three hours before heading to downtown Bilbao for more festivities. It was a lovely night, but if we're being honest, I still can't keep up with the Spaniards. These people are impervious to alcohol, do not need sleep, and possess a strange hangover immunity. For those of you who know me well, you understand that I am somewhat of an elderly woman in these respects. Fitting in has been a challenge, to put it lightly.

The next morn' I was up bright and early to enjoy lunch at my host aunt's house about an hour away. She and her husband live in a big, beautiful Spanish-style home on acres of land with a fruitful and gorgeous garden to show for it. In fact, this is where my host mom sources most of the veggies for my meals during the week. We cooked together, worked in the garden a little, and then enjoyed a hearty feast of shrimp, iberico ham, salad, fresh bread, and steak cooked over their fireplace. I was introduced to my host aunt and uncle, cousin and her boyfriend. Everyone was incredibly kind and warm, I even got to Skype with my other host cousin that is working in Vienna currently. 

The next day I was invited to attend a wine tasting excursion with my friend Annie and her host mother in the Rioja region of Spain. You may not be familiar with Rioja, but if you've ever had a decent wine from Spain, it probably came from a vineyard in Rioja. We left Getxo around 9 am with a bus of about forty 50+ year old Spaniards. The next portion of my day will go down in history as my most embarrassing moment. Ever. Let me preface this story by saying that I consumed copious amounts of coffee and orange juice with breakfast this Saturday and that I also did not use the restroom before leaving the house. Rookie mistake, I know. Anyway, the ride to Rioja was well over an hour long and about 20 minutes in I had to pee, like really badly. I was a big girl for the next 40 minutes or so but knowing that public restrooms are rarer than gold in Spain, I knew I had to speak up. About 10 minutes away from our destination the bus driver pulled over, Annie's host mom led me out to a grassy knoll, and told me to squat. Mind you, this was a huge festival and there was a line of cars behind me...just watching. I awkwardly started at her, repeating "no," thankfully this word is the same in Spanish. However, she was persistent and made me feel like an alien for thinking twice about such an act. Just then Annie came to my rescue with an umbrella that she used to cover my lady parts while I did the deed. I then boarded the bus where forty 50+ year old Spaniards broke out into a congratulatory applause after which I returned to my seat and died. 

After that business was behind me, we headed onward to the Rioja Wine Festival! The festival opened with a boy and girl from each region of Rioja carrying a bucket of grapes from their vineyard and adding it to a single large bucket. After each region had added their grapes, a selected couple smashed them with their feet. The wine was then served to the crowd. It was a beautiful ceremony. 

After trying three wines at the festival while listening to traditional Basque music and watching Basque dances we boarded the bus again and headed to lunch at a nearby restaurant. There were courses upon courses of delectable Spanish food grown and processed locally. Of course the wine was every-flowing, and the conversation vibrant and lively. Annie and I did our best to keep up with our Spanish-speaking friends, but our brains were fried at the end of our 12 hour day. After dining, we visited a beautiful medieval town with oodles of charming shops, cafes, and homes. 

Without a doubt, Sunday was an experience like I've never had before and am not likely to have again. It was so amazing to learn about and share in the Basque culture than has been suppressed so intensely over the course of the last century. Watching the Basque people sing their songs and speak their language freely was so moving. It's moments like these that restore my faith in progress and equality. Life keeps swimming along here, and I am brought to life each morning with intense gratitude. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Surfer from Iowa

Hello loved ones,

It's been a few days. I think it's about time I post a new entry. I'd hate for you to think I've been up to absolutely nothing! The truth is, I've been quite busy. Ever since I've meet all the students in my program and started classes, my schedule has gotten much more packed-in the best way. As it has been awhile, I will not attempt to summarize all that I've been doing, but pick out some of the highlights instead. Let's see...

The first night I got here my host parents took me out for pintxos (tapas) and drinks. We went to like three different restaurants so they could show me around our city in the process, and let me tell you: this place is phenomenal. Just four blocks from my house is a the incredible Getxo coastline, it is lined with gorgeous green bluffs (most with their own hiking/biking trails) and tons of beautiful beaches down below.

Allow me to offer some insight about the heaven pictured above. Those photos were taken in Algorta, a neighborhood of the city where my apartment is: Algorta. However, my university is in Bilbao, a slightly larger city about 15 minutes inland by car. Bilbao is known as the wealthiest city in Spain and the 3rd safest city in Europe. The Nervón River cuts it down the middle into a old and new side, the river flows into the Bay of Biscay (pictured above). Bilbao was a lower-middle class industrial city until 1975 when Franco's regime fell. When democracy began to spread throughout Spain, the city began its rather quick transition into a financial center and conglomerate of world renowned architecture. The director of our program showed us this video, I think it tells the story pretty well. 

Thankfully we also started class last week as this girl was itching to do some learning. Our program directors and faculty have been amazing so far. They have been accommodating in every way. My professors are kind and patient, but also run a tight ship. Tardiness is not accepted and there is quite a workload for each of my classes. I appreciate this as I am here to be challenge and to grow. At least once a week our faculty members take us on some kind of cultural visit. After our second day of orientation we walked around the financial district of Bilbao and also saw the regenerated area of the city where the Guggenheim now is. 

I've also started surfing! I'm able to go as much as I'd like under mid-October when surf season ends and believe me, I'm taking full advantage of it. I've been like five times in the last week, and I still want more. It's such an awesome hobby. I've learned so much about the ocean and how to work with it, as well as the limits and positioning of my own body. Surfing was actually introduced to Europe in Gexto during the 60s so theres a pretty intense surfing culture. My instructor has been so effective. Most lessons I get one on one attention and very close to it. I was standing on my board after 1 lesson! This guy is good. Best part of all? There are NO sizable sharks here, they are like 2 feet tops. Phew. Best, best part of all? I have an excuse to hang out here five days a week:

My Spanish is coming along quite quickly as my host parents do not speak english. I can't wait to see how much I can learn over the next 3 months. The possibilities are exciting. I am learning, I am understanding, and I am truly, truly happy here. That's all we can ask, right?

More later, thats all for now!


Sunday, September 1, 2013


I will preface this entry by saying that I am a tad tipsy at the current moment. This is the direct result of having an amazing host mother that will not take no for an answer when it comes to red wine. Alas, I am coherent and able to right as "well" as any other day so here it goes...

After checking out of my hostel this morning, I hopped on the first metro in the direction of Algorta, my neighborhood in Getxo. After transferring here and there on the metro and tackling countless sets of stairs with my many suitcases, I was more than ready to settle in upon reaching Algorta. However, in true Jenna fashion I was roughly tough hours early. I seized this opportunity to sit down at a cafe and enjoy some Spanish tortilla for lunch. I spent the remaining hour and half reading until it was time to meet my temporary parents.

Lo and behold Angeles and Juan were waiting outside their apartment for me to arrive. I was greeted with kisses and smiles. They were so accommodating, immediately taking my bags from me and leading me on a tour of their home. I must say, I couldn't have gotten any luckier. Their apartment is homey, clean, and beautifully decorated. Angeles told me to unpack and asked if I wanted anything to drink, to which I responded, "coffee." This is what I got...

So yeah, I'd say things are going pretty well. My room is painted a tranquil shade of blue, and they have truly thought of everything. I've got a desk, oodles of closet space, and the coziest bed I've laid in in at last a week. My desk even has a calendar on it and a dish of chocolates (pictured above). These people are saints. Here is the rest of my room...

Pretty sweet, eh? After I'd unpacked, Juan and Angeles led me on a walk around town. I had told them that I like to run so they showed me this perfect trail along the beach just a couple of blocks from their house. We then headed to a spot on top of a bluff over looking the coast. Like all of the views in this blessed city, it was breathtaking. Next we hiked through town to Puerta Viejo, the oldest part of Getxo located right in the center. They bought me wine and tapas at three different restaurants and we chatted the night away. It's been a day and I can already feel my Spanish improving quite a bit. They speak just slowly enough for me to understand but fast enough for it to be challenging. Literally everything about this housing situation thus far has been perfect. I am immensely grateful. Below are some photos from our walk around Getxo.

Tomorrow marks our first day of orientation and lots of assessments of our Spanish aptitude, etc. God help me. As for tonight, I'm happy and grateful to have a place to call home in what perviously felt like another dimension. Phew.

Until next time,

P.S. Spanish cultural note 101: NEVER SAY GRACIAS. Especially not to friends/family. My host mom informed me it is only normal to say gracias in the streets to strangers who do you favors. Boy, have I looked like an idiot my whole life. C'est la vie.