When Christmas comes knocking

December 19, 2013

How fast time goes, right? I can perfectly remember the day I first set foot in Cristina’s apartment. While all the rest consists of fragmented moments in my memory, I remember every single detail of that day. So many things have happened since then. All the things I’ve seen and done… It’s too much to keep track of everything. In my Philosophy class, one of the returning concepts is that your memory is selective and the things you do remember say something more about who you are. When I look back on the last few months and reminisce about the moments I still remember loud and clear, it’s very interesting to look at these moments from this perspective. Why do I remember those things and why have I already almost forgotten some of the things I wrote about in my blog? I guess having what is actually almost an online diary is very useful to kind of archive the things you’re afraid to forget.

Autumn Barcelona

Sunday, December 8. Kerry and  Anna and two of their Dutch friends and me went to the labyrinth in the Horta Park. After two minutes, we had lost half of our group, but in the end we all survived! The park in itself is beautiful. The only reason I hadn’t been here before was… well, there’s no real reason. It sure is worth a visit when you’re staying in BCN for a couple of days. On a short weekend trip, however, I’d skip it. Parque d’Horta is more than just a maze. There are several gardens, among which there is an amazing Ancient Roman part and a beautiful rose garden. On Sundays, the entrance to the park is free!

Parque d'Horta

Monday evening, December 9. We ‘celebrated’ the departure of Anjelica and Shannon with cava and an American-style dinner. They had their finals this week already, so the despedidas took place at the beginning of the week. On Friday morning, I, however, would be the first to leave. A couple of hours later, Anjelica would fly back to Virginia and the next day, Shannon was off back to Arkansas. They both got home safely, by the way, and seem to have more trouble getting over their jetlags there than they did when they arrived here.  

Wednesday, December 11. Like always, I went to the Starbucks across the street between classes. I’m on a first name basis with the staff there now. Before they ask me if I want the usual, they already give me the code of the Wi-Fi. This time was different, though. I was told that, as one of their most loyal customers, I was allowed to choose one of their Christmas drinks for free. Normally I don’t drink coffee with flavors – I really just like the taste of coffee with some milk – but I wasn’t turning this opportunity down! Plus, I felt kind of special… So I went with the toffee nut latte, but I’m never taking it again. Coffee is coffee and I don’t want any nuts, chocolate or whipped cream to take away the coffee flavor. Natural all the way!

“Thank you for sharing so many moments with us! We thank you for your loyalty by offering you your favorite Christmas beverage for free… Let’s keep celebrating the holidays together!”

Friday night/morning, December 13. I got out of bed at 2.45am, put some clothes on and ate a quick breakfast. I have no problem having breakfast this early. You can wake me up at any time of the night for some cereal. When I worked at Starbucks last summer, I had morning shifts all the time and I never left for work without my 4am breakfast. Once arrived at the job, I just had breakfast again. But I digress… The Aerobus in Barcelona starts driving at 5.30am, so I had to go to the airport by Nitbus, which I had never done before. Knowing me and my lack of the find-your-way-chromosome, I had searched for the right bus stop the day before. Bus N16 stops both at T1 and T2, so this was the one I needed. At 4.30am, I was inside a bus full of people. I know! At this hour! Taking the Nitbus to the airport takes 3 times as long as the Aerobus, because it makes this huge detour instead of taking the autopista.

A Christmas Tree on the water? Really?

A Christmas Tree on the water? Really?

Just to be sure, I had factored some extra time to get to the airport in case something went wrong while taking the bus. Busses and me are a bad combination. Because everything had gone well, I had to wait at a cold airport for an hour. My guess is they save on heating – at Brussel’s airport, they turn down the air-conditioning both for this reason and so that people would  buy more drinks. In the airplane it was cold as well, but once we were up in the air, they turned on the heat. We landed on time. I counted myself lucky, especially because it was Friday the thirteenth! The aeroport bus took me for €3 (single) to Malaga.

An old railroad in Malaga

An old railroad in Malaga

 

This time, I had rented a room with AirBnB again. I was staying in a room with a queen-size bed (yes!) in a young couple’s apartment, where they lived with not two, but five dogs! The female had recently given birth to three more puppies, of which two would get new owners the next day. Mo, the macho, was to be castrated tomorrow as well. No more puppies in the future… Granted, it was great to be surrounded by dogs again. It made me realize anew that I was missing my mom’s dog, Pebbles. You can skype your family, but talking to a dog is plain impossible. Fali, the host, cleaned the apartment three times a day though, so the amount of dog hair was kept to a minimum, which I appreciated. You may know by now that AirBnB is booming business. It’s a perfect solution if you want to travel on a budget without having to couchsurf or stay at a hostel.

Calle Marqués de Larios

Calle Marqués de Larios

IMG_3390

Plaza de la Concepción

It was very cold when I arrived in Malaga, but it didn’t take long before the temperature rose up to a pleasant 20°C. You know, from one minute to the next. I didn’t know this is – the way it always goes in Malaga, so I was walking already for 15 minutes with the temperature suddenly rising from 10 to 20. So I had no choice but to carry my jacket, scarf and sweater with me all day.

The Catedral with orange trees in front of the entrance

The Catedral with orange trees in front of the entrance

The next few hours I did all the touristy stuff that holds something interesting for me. This means I skipped the Picasso and Thyssen museum and visited the amfitheater, Alcazaba and cathedral instead. I also climbed the Gibralfaro mountain. On the internet I’d read that it was a terrible mountain to climb, but I didn’t know what was so terrible about it until I was halfway.  Indeed, the last part was very steep. Good thing that woman coming down on her stilettos had somebody with her to support her. As soon as I had reached the viewpoint on the way up, I was ready to give up. But I had already come all this way… Once I reached the top I found out I had to pay for the entrance. Umm… WHAT?! First they make me climb this mountain and then I have to pay for it? Nevertheless, there is a really great discount for students. We pay only €0,6. For adults it’s a full €6. What made my day instantly better, was my finding a €20-note! Who said Friday the thirteenth is a day for bad luck? There was nobody around that could have dropped the note, so I was the honest finder!

Teatro Romano

Teatro Romano

Panoramic over Malaga from Gibralfaro

Panoramic over Malaga from Gibralfaro

Alcazaba

Alcazaba

On the way down I found an easier route. You only see it when you go down, unless somebody tells you where it is. You skip a large part of the tough walk and it’s a beautiful walk, too.

The easy way down

The easy way down

A woman feeding the birds in Jardines Pedro Luis Alfonso

A woman feeding the birds in Jardines Pedro Luis Alfonso

The 'old' city hall

The ‘old’ city hall

In the afternoon I met up with Bart, a world traveler who was in Malaga for the week. He is a fellow Belgian and we agreed to go for a drink. I arrived perfectly on time at the port of Malaga, where we sat down on the terrace of Kaleido. Bart told me about traveling around in Peru, Chili and Argentina, staying with CS-hosts here and there. He’d seen a big part of the world, so we had lots to talk about. It was also really nice to talk face to face with a Belgian again after so long.

We walked for a little while through the center of Malaga and made a last stop at 100 montaditos. Remember how enthusiastic I was about this place when I went there in Sevilla? Well, I very much enjoyed another jarra de tinto de verano, I’ll tell you that!

Plaza de la Constitución by night

Plaza de la Constitución by night

After the long walk back to the apartment I was exhausted, so after a quick hot shower I climbed into bed to watch a movie. Not even an hour later I got out of bed to welcome Elizabeth home, who had just arrived after a long day at work and whom I hadn’t met yet. That’s when I realized I had a bad, bad cold. I was shivering and had lost my voice. Elizabeth immediately told me to make myself some peppermint tea and go back to bed. Which I did.

El Muello  Uno, the new boardwalk by the port

El Muello Uno, the new boardwalk by the port

The next day, I still had no voice. Just before noon I got the message I’d been waiting for. Bart gave me a reason to get out of bed. We walked by the coast for a long time until we reached the small town called El Palo. It was really warm and sunny that day.

Malaga

Malaga

Malaga

 

The way – all 5km of it – seemed really long, but I’d had a great time. Back in the center of Malaga, we bought ourselves some ice cream. I hadn’t had a lot of ice cream back in Barcelona because it’s outragingly expensive there. In Malaga you get a big portion for the price of one scoop in BCN. Bart and I agreed to go to 100 montaditos that evening with two other Belgians who had also just arrived in Malaga. Talking in Dutch, face to face, had been so long and it seems like my Dutch has not exactly improved in the last few months!

Gorgeous christmas decorations in Malaga!

Gorgeous christmas decorations in Malaga!

Sunday morning, I got up as stiff as a rake, at 6.30am. I wanted to go to the airport early so I’d have some time to buy a coffee at Starbucks. I had a nice chat with one of my ‘colleages’ there, but I didn’t get a free coffee, unfortunately. Eventually, I was almost late for my flight because the airport of Malaga is really complicated. I couldn’t find the security checkpoint. Following the arrows doesn’t help here, because at some point, they just stop giving you signs. Finally, I ended up bumping into Bart, who was late too. His flight departed at the same time, only he’d be going back to Belgium. The rest of the day I spent recuperating in bed. I could barely walk by the time I got home.

To give you an idea of how long I have been traveling and how much this has cost me financially, I can tell you this: by the end of my Erasmus semester, I will have travelled around for 42 or 43 days at an average of €12/day. In this price is included: transportation (bus, plane, taxi (when inevitable) and subway) and accommodation. Food, drink, entrance fees, souvenirs and the like are not included in this price because I consider it part of the budget of my regular daily expenses. Travelling shouldn’t be expensive, but enriching. I can certainly say I have learned a lot from my travels and they were worth every penny and every moment of exhaustion. I have learned more about the way the world works, a world I knew and a world I have still to discover further, but most of all, I got to know the real me.

To give you an example: I am the type of girl that wants to plan everything. I like to make lists and want to know everything before it even happens. This urge to control everything is something I have learned to control better. But it is a part of who I am, and sometimes, this part of me still gets the upper hand. What I have learned, though, is that that doesn’t always happen for negative reasons: for example, sometimes I get so excited about going on a new adventure, I start packing my backpack a week early. So it is actually my infinite enthusiasm that is to blame. Another thing I learned is that the word ‘adventure’ has more than one meaning. The stereotypical adventure travel is the kind where you, figuratively speaking, risk your life doing extreme sports, causing you to feel this addictive adrenaline rush.

I get this rush already from setting foot in a new country or city where I have never been before, don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language and am completely dependent on myself. Everything is new, everything is beautiful, everything is yet unknown and it is up to me to discover it all, examine it, try it, taste, smell and feel it. And afterwards, when I get home, I feel the adrenaline leave my body. All those energetic days with lots of new experiences have left their mark. I fall back into my routine, everything goes as usual. It doesn’t take long before I want to feel that rush again, no matter how tired I was or still am, no matter which blunders I have committed – which, hopefully, nobody saw – and no matter that I don’t want to climb another hill or mountain. Adventure is calling me! I can honestly say I have never felt so alive as I have the last couple of months. And especially in the beginning, during my first month in Barcelona, and during all of my little excursions – whether I had to reach them by bus, train or plane. There are so many clichés that may sound cheesy, but actually have some kind of truth to them – like, ‘people who travel’ run away from things or ‘people who travel’ don’t want take responsibilities. I don’t want to pretend to be the all-knowing world traveler, but I have been allowed to glimpse at what it is like to be one of those ‘people who travel’ and I have to admit it tastes morish!

Of course, I also had some classes I still had to go to. That it was the last week of school, however, was pretty obvious. There was almost nobody in any of my classes! Today, I didn’t go either because I didn’t want to interrupt the students giving their presentations with my incessant coughing. I had to leave my last class on Wednesday early because of it.

Tuesday night. There was a small Christmas party at La Oveja Negra (which means ‘black sheep’). The other Erasmus girls where there too and they all brought some of their friends from back home. The Dutch girls where here as well. We had a great time saying goodbye before everyone went back to their home countries for the holidays. I had cava sangria for the first time, which I like a lot better than the regular wine sangria. We didn’t take one of those sangria towers that the place is known for. Want me to tell about another blonde moment that happened to me? Anna and Kerry, who are both British, told me to meet everyone at La Oveja Negra at “half nine”, which to me means the same thing as 8.30, but for them it’s the usual way of saying 9.30. In other words, I wasn’t late, but half an hour early!

On Monday and Wednesday, after our Philosophy class, Fran (the guy who tutors me) and two Italian Erasmus students and I went to Nostrum to grab some lunch. You can buy food here for 1, 2, 4 or 6 Euros only! And with Frederico’s loyalty card, we got amazing discounts on top of it! The best thing was that we could sit outside on the terrace. The heating poles weren’t working, but it was still just warm enough to eat outside – yes, in December! Bliss!

Wednesday night, I took my friends with me to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity event. I had received an invitation from Annalisa to attend the exclusive premiere of BCN- The Series, where we would be the first to see the pilot. It had been two months since I’d last seen Annalisa, but she had kept me updated about the progress she was making. When she invited me to the premiere, of course I’d said yes. It also turned out to be some kind of couchsurfing reunion. I saw so many people I recognized! There were about 150 people there, who were entertained by a live concert of the band Mood, which wasn’t that bad, actually. They made the soundtrack for the series as well.  All in all a great evening. And wine in a beer glass. Because, why not?

Today, Thursday December 19, I’m counting down the hours until I am allowed to get on an airplane again – the one that will take me home. I only went outside to print my boarding pass – I had to endure the rain because of it, hmpf – and for the rest I mostly worked on my bachelor thesis to make my deadline (which is tomorrow). Thirteen hours from now I’ll be on that plane back to Belgium. It’s about time! Of course, I wouldn’t mind if my home university allowed me to study in Barcelona until the end of the school year, just like the school of Anna did for her, but that’s not gonna happen for me… But no worries, Barcelona isn’t that far away from Belgium!

I’ll see you all very soon! Happy holidays!

 

 

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