Traveling home

January 8, 2013

First of all, I hope everybody had a Feliz Navidad and I wish everyone a happy/successful/healthy Año Nuevo and… O, wait, no. In Belgium children don’t receive gifts on Twelft Night (or Reyes Magos). So, I’ll end with wishing all my fellow students good luck with the exams!

Since yesterday, the Christmas holidays are over for me as well. What have I been doing for the last two weeks, you ask? Well, it all started with me going home for a week to Belgium, and acting like a tourist. I had planned some things, but half of them didn’t happen. Last year, it would have irritated me to bits, but I guess that changed in the last four-five months.

On the other hand, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a Friday night on the couch watching TV as much as I did that night. Catching up with the fam and then… Belgian fries, hot chocolate (the good stuff!) and some Flemish TV-programs! Pebbles, our dog, didn’t let me out of his sight for a moment at first. As soon as I sat down, he jumped on my lap asking for attention. Alternately, he glared at me, with accusing eyes like Where the hell have you been all this time?

My favorite kind of beer!

On Saturday night, I went out with my friends. We were going to go to the café we always go to, but it was already full, so we ended up walking around town until we finally found a café that was open and not completely crowded. I was shocked to see so many places were closed on a Saturday night! Coming from Barcelona, this was a big adjustment. But, in the end, all that mattered was catching up with my friends.

On Sunday, I saw my best friend Aaron again. At last! We had lots to talk about, by my second hot chocolate of the week. At Sister Bean they know how to make a good hot chocolate! Next, I finally got to see the new Media Markt they built in our main shopping street. It’s so weird to finally see it finished after all this time. That evening, I had dinner at De Burgerij, with some B&J’s ice cream for dessert of course!

Me and my best friend at Sister Bean

On Monday, I had planned to go to the Christmas market in Ghent, but everyone canceled. Instead, I went to the cinema in Antwerp – not for one, but two movies! How I love the cinema-experience… There’s nothing like a room full of expectant people, comfy chairs, freshly made popcorn and the newest movies on the big screen. First, we saw a Belgian movie called Het Vonnis (director: Jan Verheyen) which I sincerely recommend. The second one was Last Vegas and listing the main characters, namely Robert de Niro and Morgan Freeman & co, should take you to the cinema straight away. Totally worth it!

On Tuesday evening, I celebrated Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ place. On Christmas Day, I had lunch at my mom’s. Wednesday I went back to the cinema, because I still had a free ticket to go and see Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It was a… special movie. It made me passively participate, which caused me to be tired afterward. Really weird. I have never seen anything like it, either. I noticed that the 3D-technology has improved in the last few years.

I might have told you before about this skating rink they put up on Plaza Cataluña, but I wasn’t really planning on doing that particular activity. Who knows how many times the ice is smoothed out? And I can honestly say I am not the most elegant ice skater in the world. I would just embarrass myself. Nevertheless, I did say yes when one of my friends suggested we’d go ice skating in Leest. It is a lot more fun, because the ice is smoothed out regularly, it is not as crowded and there is music and disco lights to funk it up a bit.

On Friday, I got a haircut, was annoyed by our Belgian bus system – that’s what happens when you always have the perfect subway system at your disposal in Barcelona, where the trains never arrive more than 2 minutes late – and just enjoyed being at home. During this week, I also worked on my two exam papers for my English courses and straightened out my notes of the Spanish courses. I thought I’d better mention this, because I have heard some whispering behind my back about that it must be really easy going to school in Barcelona if you can travel so much and have so much fun and still pass all of your tests and exams. So let’s get something straight here: I have never worked so hard for school in my life as I have this last semester. Before and after school, either in my room or at Starbucks in between classes, or on a bus to Andorra or at the beach in Sitges, I was always working, reading and studying whenever I had some free time. In my modest opinion, it’s all a matter of time management and discipline. Not that I have succeeded perfectly, but if I can read a book on the beach, why wouldn’t I? It sure is more pleasant than in my room. So there.

On Saturday night, I flew back to Barcelona for one night. Upon arrival, I packed my backpack again for my next three trips: Granada, San Pedro and Barcelona. Don’t ask questions yet! Everything will become clear.

Admittedly, when I returned to Belgium I really felt like a tourist. I wanted to capture everything in a photograph: the train station, the people, the Kriek I ordered etc. Things just seemed… different, although they were mostly teh same. And then, just when I had finally acclimatized again and didn’t want to take pictures of everything anymore, it was time to return to Barcelona. I was slightly less happy about this fact than I had been in the past, because this time I was returning just to take exams. Not exactly great prospects. That’s why I didn’t mind at all waking up early the next day to hop on a plane to Granada, where my dad was supposed to pick me up. He’d gone to Spain earlier than me to check on the house he’s building there.

As soon as we had checked in, we headed for the city center. It was very cold. Granada is situated more inland and lies at the base of the Sierra Nevada. Lots of walking again. This time was different, though. I didn’t have to keep attention to where I was the whole time, which gave me more time to notice my surroundings. Very soon, we ended up on a terrace and ordered a menú del día. Afterwards, are city tour started for real! Through the Plaza Campo del Principe, we walked towards La Alhambra – the one thing you simply have to see when you go to Granada. Wellll, I saw it. But we didn’t get in. Apparently, you’re supposed to make a reservation months beforehand. There is a day limit of visitors allowed inside. The next few days were completely sold out as well. But not to worry – we’ll have plenty opportunities in the future. San Pedro is not that far from Granada after all!

Instead of walking about in La Alhambra, we walked around it. We stumbled upon Paseo de los Tristes where nice bars are lined up next to each other, all of them enjoying the view of the castle on the hill. From there we walked up another hill that took us to some miradors, or viewpoints. In the meantime, the sun had started to set and it got even colder. The walk, however, was totally worth it again.

The view of La Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolas

These people know San Nicolas is the best viewpoint in Granada!

That evening, we went to a tapas bar – is there anything else, though?! Soon we got talking with a Dutch couple. It turned into an evening of wine tasting, devouring tapas and champagne and sherry to top it off. I had never had sherry before, and I don’t think I’ll order it again any time soon! The next day, dad and I discovered the rest of Granada. We started with tapas at Enrique and strolled casually through the city.

Tapas at Enrique

The next day, we drove into the Sierra Nevada. If I’d thought it couldn’t get any colder, it did. There was an icy wind on the top of the mountain range. The original plan had been that we’d go skiing in the Pradollano, but because the snow prospects weren’t fortunate, we left our skiing gear at home. Nevertheless, we decided to go up into the Sierra to see what it’s worth.

This evening, too, we got acquainted with a Dutch woman. We had been walking around the city, looking for a place to have dinner that was open and had a free table on New Year’s Eve – and, preferably, anything but durum or Libanese food. There was one tapas bar, not too far from the square where we’d be going to watch the fireworks. This is the way celebrating New Year’s works in Spain: with every chime that announces the new year, you eat 1 grape – if you can count, that’s 12 grapes total. The thing is… I don’t eat grapes. But I was going to try it anyhow, because this was a tradition I had actually been looking forward to. Here’s a hint: be prepared for the chimes. You have no idea how fast you’ll have to eat those grapes!

The square in front of the city hall and the streets that lead to it filling up with spectators

Everybody celebrates NYE, even seniors dancing on the bar

What is left behind on the streets after a bunch of New Year’s revelers has passed through

The next day, we left Granada for San Pedro del Pinatar, so I, too, could see the progress on the house. On this note, I’d like to digress on the three feelings I distinguish between when it comes to ‘coming home’: there’s coming home to my family in Belgium, the place where I have lived all of my life. It also feels like coming home, when I go back to my room at Cristina’s after my city trips, but I know it’s not for forever. And lastly, there’s the ‘coming home feeling’ in San Pedro. It is very strange to fall in love with a Spanish town that almost nobody has ever heard of. I think you must go there to understand, just like I had to when my dad told me about his plans for the first time.

After two days, it was time to go back to Barcelona – well, at least in my case it’s ‘going back’. We would spend some more days here together, dad and I. It was weird. I quickly passed by Cristina’s place to get some new clothes, just to leave so I could stay at a nearby hotel. Another weird thing was that I took the lead now.

The first night, the plan was to have dinner at Tickets, but they appeared to be closed and by coincidence, we ended up at Casa de Tapas Cañota, which is kind of a sister to Tickets. Reading the menu in itself was fun! Even more: their croquettes de jamón are the best I’ve ever tasted!

The next day, I took my dad to Poble Español and we ended our day visiting Mare Magnum, the shopping center in Port Vell, and, after a stroll by the Mediterranean,  Carpe Diem Lounge Club where I lived a decadent night – but that’s the point of CDLC, after all. A thought kept going through my head while we were there: would somebody actually order that €11.000 bottle of champagne on the menu?!

The main square in Poble Español

A graffiti artist in Mare Magnum

A corner in Carpe Diem Lounge Club

And then, finally, the big day arrived! The day I would attend my first ever footbal game in Camp Nou! (You know I actually mean soccer, right? It’s just not natural for me to say…) I had given up on the hope that I’d ever see the stadium on the inside, let alone during an actual Barça game, but it did happen! Lucky me! That Sunday, FC Barcelona won 4-0 from Elche. I am not really interested in watching football – I mean, soccer – I’d rather play it myself, but even I can’t ignore the magic of Camp Nou.

That night, something quite disturbing caught my attention… I had never seen this much restaurants and bars closed on a Sunday! And then I remembered: the night of January 5 is when the Spaniards celebrate Reyes Magos, big time. To them, it’s the same as Saint-Nicholas day to the Belgians. Only, Spanish style, they celebrate it even better. The kids get all the attention… and loads of presents. Fortunately, Ciudad Condal was still open. This tapas restaurant is an institution in Barcelona. Everybody ate here at least once and many people wait in line every day to grasp one of the coveted seats. It took us a long time before we finally got a table. Good thing I wasn’t hungry… But the food was delicious!

The next day, around noon, I showed my dad around El Born, where we – just like I always tend to do – had lunch by the church. I’ve told you about this church, it’s the one where everybody wants to get married (like my professor’s sister did). Afterwards, we picked up our stuff at the hotel and it was time for my dad to go home to Belgium and, in my case, to Cristina. I was pretty tired, again. Living the Erasmus life will do this to you. I was actually looking forward to curl up in my bed and watch a movie, but when I opened the front door to the apartment… a horse toppled over. HUH?! I opened the door a little bit further and saw I had hit a horse on a stick, which had fallen into a mountain of toys. I couldn’t hide my astonishment at first, but quickly I realized that it must be her little nephew who’d come over. And it seemed I was right: Cristina had invited over her friends and family to celebrate Reyes Magos. So much for curling up in bed…

I had barely taken off my backpack when I was invited for cava, fruit salad, chocolate and the typical cake they have on this festive day. In this cake, two little plastic objects are hidden which have their respective purposes: there’s a king, which means you get to wear the crown for the rest of the day and the other thing is a bean, which means you have to pay for the cake. After that, it is common for the adults to drink some carajillo together. This is black coffee with a splash of rum or brandy. Of course I had to try this (to the amusement of the spectators), but it was a little too strong for my taste…

The most eye-catching at the party was little Rai. He was the only child there and on a day that children are spoiled, he got all the attention. No surprise the little guy went crazy! He was literally shaking and screamed while running here and there, all round in his “Spider-Knight” costume (i.e. the suit of Spiderman combined with a knight’s helmet, sword and shield). In the end, Rai is a super fun, little boy of three years who has everyone wrapped around his little finger. I called him Rei Rai (King Rai). I have to admit, though, that I was happy was he had finally gone home and I could relax in my own room.

Rai was even allowed to play soccer inside Cristina’s little flat!

And yes… Yesterday, I started studying for my exams. It’s going smoothly. I have almost studied everything for the first test and I have time to repeat everything tomorrow. Friday is going to be the only day I have to get up early, because it’s my only exam taking place at 8.30am. So for now, no more traveling for this girl. The only flight I’m taking is the one that will take me home and I haven’t booked that one yet, because I still don’t know when that will be.

I know it’s weird, but yesterday I was actually kind of looking forward to start studying – maybe that’s why it’s going so well – but today, I’m already getting sick and tired of it. LOL! Friday’s exam is the only exam I actually have to pass to get my credits. For my other exams I only need a 3 or 4 out of 10, so no stress there. It also makes studying easier, because the pressure isn’t as high. I know I am doing it just for myself.

I wish you all good luck with the exams and your New Year’s resolutions!



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