Thursday, December 2, 2010

I love that I'm friends enough with people here in Spain that they fart in front of me. :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I absolutely love talking to my parents. Being able to see them face to face really makes me feel as if I'm there with them, and that they're here with me.

At the moment, every night I pop onto Skype and Mum reads me a chapter of Pollyanna. It is so much fun, and I love hearing her reading this book, making me excited about life and feeling glad about all there is to be glad about.

Being away from my friends and family for so long has made me realise how much I love them, how important they are to me, and how life would have much less meaning without them. So, today I am glad for technology; the fact that Skype exists, that I can communicate with my friends and family through so many ways. Skype, Facebook, email, phone, letters, postcards, my blog. I cannot imagine what exchange would have been like when there was no Facebook, no Skype, no internet. It would have made things much more difficult and I would have missed everyone so much more. Knowing that my parents are just a call away whenever I need them is a comfort that I truly can't express.

I believe that God has used this year to talk to me, to help me grow up, help me see the amazing world that he has made, and the importance of family and friends. Being away from what is most important to you, makes you question what you're living for, and who you're living for. God has shown me this year that without him, I wouldn't be here. That it is only through God that I have life. I am so excited and glad for the life that I have, and feel blessed that I am alive. I look forward to each day God has given me, glad that I am in a position and have been placed in circumstances where I can be living for him, serving him, worshiping him in all that I do.

Today, a huge encouragement to me has been this verse:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”
Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

Being here, in Spain, I often forget who to turn to when I'm struggling with something. How great it is to know that we can all turn to God and pray about everything. I have God with me here in Tudela, and I don't need Skype, or Facebook, or my email to reach him. I am saved by him.

So thank you Lord, thank you for all you have given me and blessed me with.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I'm going to leave my photos and videos to say the words that I am too tired to write.

But, I am incredibly glad that today I live in a place where it snows. It excites me beyond words.

I don't know how to upload the videos so you can see them on this post, but here are the links:

Video one of snow.
Video two of snow.
Video three of snow.

My backyard when I woke up.

The park right by my house on the way to school.

This tree kept part of the grass green and uncovered!

The park right by my house on the way to school.

The park right by my house on the way to school.

Snow on the leaves!

Snow on the railings.

I took photos of this park the other day about autumn leaves. What a change in scenery!

Park right opposite Javier's school, on my walk to my school this morning. The kids were all having snow ball fights.

Loving winter incredibly much, and glad that Mum and Dad bought me a jacket in Sweden so I'm never cold, but roasty warm.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Boni, our Spanish Golden Retriever.

Today I have a lot to be glad about!

In Australia I have a dog. Her name is Bonnie. In Australia I slept with her on my bed, and we were the bestest of friends. My parents often were working or at uni or doing what they do, so I was at home by myself often; but was never lonely because I had Bonnie at my side. Bonnie was like my best friend. I love Bonnie. I miss Bonnie.

Meet Bonnie, the cutest dog you will ever meet in your life. Ever.

Being in Spain, I live with a host family, whose pets are a tortoise and a fish. I have missed so much having a dog, having that company that neither a fish, nor a tortoise, nor a cat can give you. I am and forever will be a dog person. My host siblings this year have been wanting to have a dog all year and during the summer there was a point in time when we were going to have a dog, making me so extremely excited! But, exams, stresses and the reality of picking up its poo came about, and in the end we didn't get the puppy.

Every time we came close to getting a dog, I became so excited, so happy, because to me, Bonnie is a part of my family. She is adorable, has her own little personality and I spent so much time with her when I was at home. I wanted another addition to the family like Bonnie, and to experience having a pet in Spain.

For my birthday, Min, one of my best friends, bought me a mini Bonnie dog. Mini Bonnie dog is white, fluffy, miniature replica of Bonnie in Australia. I sleep with it every night, and is just like Bonnie in Australia. Whenever I'm homesick I hug mini Bonnie dog and it reminds me of home!

This afternoon Ana came home from a week long exchange in England. She has been begging her parents for a pet for so long, that they said that they were going to talk to some people about some puppies. I took Javier to music, and then came home and played the piano for a bit, when the door opened and we heard some squealing.


Maria with the puppy.

There was this tiny, (not really) beautiful, little (not really) puppy sitting on our doorstep, with its cute little puppy eyes staring up at us. I couldn't believe it. After all these months, we now finally had one!

As we played with him, he got accustomed to his new home, and we pondered what we were going to call him. I kept on saying, "Awww Bonnie," thinking of Bonnie in Australia, missing her lots. They all looked at each other and all said, "hmm, Boni. Boni." testing the word over and over. They eventually all smiled and decisively said, "Yes. Boni it is." I don't think they really realise that Bonnie is traditionally a girls name, and that it's a little weird (for us Australians anyway) to have a male dog called Boni. Now I have a Bonnie in Australia and a Boni in Spain. Just saying that makes me grin.

Boni meeting Mini Bonnie Dog.

I love dogs. And Boni is no exception. He is a huge puppy, at least from my perspective. He weighs six kilos and is about 50 cm long. He is already two kilos more than Bonnie, and longer and fatter than her as well. I find that hard to comprehend, as Boni is only eight weeks old, and will grow to weigh about 35 kilos, whereas Bonnie is around four kilos at best and is eight years old!

Me and Boni and his cute little tummy.

This afternoon has been so much fun, playing with Boni, getting him to walk up the stairs, trying to get him to stand up without slipping on the floorboards. I feel extremely thankful, blessed and glad that I have been given the opportunity to have a dog, even if it is only for the month left that I have in Tudela.

Taking Boni on his first walk.

I am so very happy to be able to have a dog that I can hug, that I can be friends with, that I can watch grow. I am very glad that I can experience bringing up a 'Spanish dog'. I am glad for dogs, and the friendship and companionship they bring. But I think most of all, I'm glad that Ana, Maria and Javier can grow up having Boni, a beautiful golden retriever as a part of their family, because for me at least, Bonnie and all the dogs I've had have been some of my favourite parts of my childhood, and my adolescent life now.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Something I feel extremely blessed (and glad!) about, is Australian education. Being placed in a different school, in a different country for a year gives you a lot of perspective on how distinct school cultures are in various countries.

Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to go to an American school, experience the life of lockers, cafeteria food, no uniform, cheerleaders, drama clubs. Watching movies about kids in those schools made me want to go to a school like that, instead of a school that had no canteen and a uniform policy of 'no hat no play'. I loved Australian school, but the idea of a foreign school, a school so completely unlike the school I attended was my ultimate dream. I never got to attend an American school, but I have been able to attend a Spanish school whilst I've been here on exchange.

What a difference.

After spending this year in the Spanish schooling system, I feel so incredibly blessed and lucky that I have been able to be educated in an Australian school, with no canteen and uniforms. Spanish school is so unlike Australian school, so different from the school that I had imagined I would attend.

Growing up, I loved school. I always loved the end of the summer holidays, where we would go to Officeworks and buy our new stationary and cover our books in contact. I loved the feel and smell of new backpacks, new pencil cases, eagerly walking to class to see who your classmates would be. Entering highschool, I loved the changes in timetables, the feeling of being a grownup, of studying 'adult' subjects. As I reached year 11 and year 12, my school grade became smaller, we all grew a lot closer to each other, and everyone was friends with everyone. Year 11 and 12 brought a sense of independence, of maturity, respect and a sense of friendship and equality with the teachers. I loved that I was studying subjects that I loved, that I could leave at 10 am on a Tuesday morning. I loved playing netball at school, being on the leadership team, being school captain, doing tutoring for year 10 and 11. I loved being an active part of school and knowing students and teachers and being their friends. Some of my fondest memories are of watching Scrubs every morning in year 11 before school started, with the whole of our grade cramped around the computer screen; making forts and eating yummy food in Extension English classes; drama with our assortment of teachers; toga days in Ancient History; the funness of Spanish; being able to express myself in art. I have so many memories of school, and I learnt more than just the subjects I took.

Coming to school in Spain was a shock.

My class in Australia playing soccer with two of the teachers.

My school in Australia ran onto the bush, so we had a lot of land, with lots of grass and trees. As I entered my new Spanish school, I realised that I had been in an incredible school in Australia. My Spanish school consists of two buildings, and two concrete playgrounds with a fence surrounding it. There are maybe at most 20 trees in the whole of the school, and not one bit of grass. The library consists of about 200 books at most. The fence is huge, and looks like big prison bars, and is locked during the day except at the front gate. It was and still is such a huge contrast of my old school and my school here now in Spain

Oval of my school in Australia.

Courtyard of my school in Spain.

Javier's school. (Notice the fences?)

In Australia, during year 11 and 12, you're able to choose your subjects that you study. In Spain, you're able to choose a stream of subjects, sciences, and humanities. In Australia I studied Spanish, Ancient History, Drama, Art and three classes of English. I absolutely loved them. Here I study Philosophy, English, Spanish, History of Spain, Maths, Geography, Universal Literature and I think something else. I enjoy my subjects in Spain, but I don't understand a lot of the concepts (mainly in Philosophy).

One big difference between Spanish schooling and Australian schooling is the use of substitute teachers. In Australia, if the teacher wasn’t able to come to class, we were given a substitute teacher, and were still expected to do some work, (unless we felt like being naughty and told the teacher we hadn't actually studied the book we were studying - haha sorry Mrs Williams!) whereas here in Spain, if there is no teacher, there is no class. This can become a problem if a teacher is sick for a period of time, because if they are away for a week, the class has no class for a week. Last year (in May or June) my history teacher was sick for about a week and a half, so we had no class during those lessons. This was during a time where they had exams, so it was quite important that they learnt what they needed to learn. It was a week and a half of lost learning time. When I first came, I found it fun, interesting, a novelty, but after being here for 10 months, I can now see how much of a nuisance and disadvantage it is to the kids. Thank you to all substitute teachers that I've ever had! I know that we often don't respect you as much as our normal teachers, but after being here without you guys, I now realise how important you are to education!

Another difference is in exams. In my school in Australia, we had 4 periods a year of exams. These periods normally lasted about two weeks, and the whole of those weeks would be filled with exams, where we would be examined of all we had learnt that year. Here in Spain, they constantly have exams. For example, two weeks ago Ana my host sister had 13 exams. In one week. She's 14. My class had 10 exams last week, two of them being after school. Spanish schooling systems put great emphasis onto the exams, and if you fail as much as three exams for three subjects, you will fail the whole year and be made to repeat. There are about three or four people in my class alone that have failed a year, and are repeating. To me, it's crazy, something that I don't really understand. My class is often so stressed, that all they do after school and on the weekends is study. Then the week is over but they can't relax, because the next week they have exams. By the end of the school year, the class is exhausted and really uses the summer break to relax.

I have found Spanish school extremely difficult to adjust to. I had a very easy schooling life, where I worked, but also had time to relax. I was in a grade that was small, where I was friends with everyone, and we were all close. I have about 180 people in my grade here in Spain, and I can barely remember the names of 30 of them. The differences between my schooling experience in Australia and Spain are startling. Completely different. And it has made me realise how much I really loved school in Australia, how blessed I am to have been brought up in a school where we are treated with respect, and our teachers are our greatest supporters. There is one teacher in my Spanish school that keeps on lowering the grade of my classmates when they are talking to each other or to me about the work they are doing, trying to achieve a better mark and understand the work better. They are extremely well behaved, yet the teacher seems to out to get them (is that how the phrase goes?). I feel extremely saddened for them, as they have to struggle against their teacher to work to the best of their ability, where in Australia, my teachers were there to help me in every way possible. I feel like I had a great relationship with my teachers, knowing I could talk to them about schoolwork but also other troubles I was having. Some of my funnest memories of school are with my teachers that I have had over the years.

In saying all of this, Spanish school is fun. I really enjoy it. But I can now fully appreciate the way Australian schools are run. We may still have a lot to improve on, but coming and living here, and experiencing another education system has made me realise that although flawed, Australian schooling is really good. I think also going to a Christian school; a school based on a faith has been incredibly influential in my life. Being able to express my faith there, being able to pray in class, to discuss matters of Christianity in class, to share something deeper than an interest in Emily Dickinson and Tim Winton, of the Spanish language, the beauty of art with my teachers is something I will always be thankful for.

I suppose this post is to thank my teachers.

So thank you. Thank you to all the teachers I've had, that have taught me not only about Gaudi, Pericles, suffixes and pronouns; but also about the way to live a life for God, to live life honourably and thankfully. Thank you to all of my teachers that have been my supporters, those that have cheered me on and encouraged me in all that I strive for, for going above and beyond in helping me. Thank you to my school for being more than just an institution of education, but for bringing people in that have become my closest friends.

My English class on my last day of school.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pollyanna and Winter Leaves.

A couple of weeks ago, my Mum was cleaning out her bookcase when she found an old copy of the book, Pollyanna, that had been given to her aunty in 1949, making the book 61 years old. All my life, Mum has told me about Pollyanna, and how much she loves the story and the 'Glad Game'. I have watched the movie, but never read the book, so Mum suggested we read a chapter of the book each day. I'm absolutely loving it. I feel so special that I am being able to share something so dear to Mum with her, and I am loving listening to her read the book, putting on voices of all the different characters.

For those of you who don't know what Pollyanna is about:

"Even after having lived the hardscrabble life of a missionary's daughter all her life and seen the loss of both parents, young Pollyanna Whittier refuses to be depressed. Instead, she must be glad about anything she can think of, and it's paid off big time. Now, however, she must go to live with her cold, spinsterish aunt in a town inhibited by embittered, unfriendly souls. Can she use her glad game to win over everyone and transform the town?"

The 'glad game' is central to the book, and my favourite part. Everyday Pollyanna finds something to be glad about, even when there doesn't seem to be much good around her. I am having so much fun reading a chapter everyday, I've absolutely loved it. I was thinking about the time that I have left in Tudela, and how there is still so much that I want to experience and discover. So I have given myself a challenge:

I will play the 'Glad Game' for my remaining 29 days that I have left here in Tudela. Discover and be glad about something new, everyday and document it here on my blog. I plan on putting something up everyday, something that I'm glad about, so that you may get to know Tudela a little more, and start to play the 'Glad Game' as well. My posts may be long, short, even just a sentence, but I will do my best to write everyday!

I love leaves. love the changing of the leaves' colours, the collection of the fallen leaves on the ground, the clean, fresh, crisp air. I love the colours they make, and the way they seem to liven everything up, on a cold winters day. Here in Spain it is still Autumn, my favourite season of the year. I went for a walk this morning, with my gloves, beanie, scarf, ipod and camera. It was a fresh morning, with frost on the ground and covering the cars. I absolutely love this time of year, and the changes that take place.

I walked around Tudela, aimlessly, just breathing in the cold air, watching my breath float away, looking at the trees and the town I have for this year called home. I have less than a month in Tudela before I go and travel around the south of Spain and Europe. Walking around today made me realise just how much I love Tudela, how much I love the people in it, the way of life, the oldness of it. I didn't know how to feel, because I felt incredibly sad that in 29 days, this would no longer be my home. I may come back to visit it, but it will never again be my home the way it has been my home this year. I walked through my town, through the Plaza Nueva, past my coffee shop, turning left, turning right, discovering new streets, watching the people, feeling extremely content and happy, so glad that I had been given this opportunity, this town, this year. I will leave, and that will be incredibly sad, but I still have 29 days left here. 29 days in which I will be exploring, discovering, falling more in love with this town.

I am glad for the autumn leaves, the frost on the ground, the familiar and unfamiliar paths that are here in Tudela. Most of all, I'm incredibly glad that I still have 29 days to live here, to go and have coffee at my coffee shop, speak Spanish on a daily basis, and be Spanish for these next couple of weeks.

Park near Javier's school.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nan and Gramps.

It was almost 3pm, almost time to go home, and I was daydreaming about how I would be with my grandparents this time in a week, when I got a text from my Gramps saying, "We are in Barcelona. Text back ASAP." I snapped out of my dreams about what we'd be doing in a week, and instead stared at the message, wondering what it meant. Had they changed their minds and come a week early? Were they staying in Barcelona a week before they came to Tudela? Or, did I get the dates mixed up? Not knowing which it was, as soon as the bell rang, I ran out of class, texted them back, and they quickly replied saying they were just picking up the car and would be in Tudela in about 3 or 4 hours. I got my answer: I had mixed up the dates.


I rushed back home, wondering how my host family would cope with the knowledge that my grandparents were coming a week early. Luckily they were fine with it, and I relaxed a little. But I still felt very shaken up. I hadn't seen my grandparents for nine months. Nine whole months. And I was going to see them that day, unexpectedly. I felt like I needed some mental preparation, to get my head around that people so important to me were going to see my town, my host family; my life for the past three quarters of a year. I had expected that I would have another week to prepare myself, but was only given three little hours.

I felt nervous. Showing and bringing people into what you now call 'home' is a little daunting I find. It's incredibly exciting, but also daunting. I wanted to introduce them into my town, for them to walk through it and experience it the way I do. To fall in love with the small little streets, the lady who serves me coffee every day, the river, the Jesus statue. To see my town through my eyes. I felt nervous that they wouldn't see that, or like it. But, I felt relaxed, knowing that they would like it, because it was my town, my life.

At seven I was eagerly waiting for them to arrive.

At seven thirty I was waiting for them to arrive.

At eight I was impatiently waiting for them to arrive.

At eight thirty I called them.

They were lost.

After a few calls and many wrong turns, they finally made it into Tudela, but to the other side. After a couple of minutes, I called them back and told them to go to the main street and I'd pick them up, taking them to my house.

I raced up to the main street, and was hopping about, mainly out of excitement, but also because I was cold, when I saw them. They were driving down the street, so I started to wave and did a little scream of excitement for them to pull over. They didn't pull over. I started chasing them down the street, and they quickly pulled over. I opened the door and gave Nan and Gramps a big big hug. We hopped in the car and started driving towards my house, and they told me that they heard me rather than saw me when they pulled over. It was so lovely to be in their company again! When we arrived home, I introduced them to the family, but as they already had visitors over, we had a quick dinner, headed downstairs and caught up on each others lives. It was so lovely to see them again, and really made me realise how blessed I am to have such active, fun, loving grandparents.

Nan and Gramps outside my house.

The next morning we woke up, had breakfast and made our way out to see the town. We walked along the river, through the old town, to the Cathedral, where the kids do music, and to my coffee shop. We sat down, had a coffee in my usual seat, and had a nepolitana, a chocolate croissant like sweet that I love. It was just lovely to be able to share these little things with them, for them to be a part of such an important year and stage in my life.

Us having a coffee at my coffee shop.

We then walked up to the Jesus statue that overlooks the whole of Tudela. It was a stunning view, and had been something that I had been really excited to share with Gramps especially, because I had seen it to be a place that we could paint together later on. This was followed by lunch at Bar Aragon, a cafe in the main square of Tudela.

Lunch at Bar Aragon.

It felt so normal for them to be there, to be sitting in a cafe that I have spent many hours at, sharing conversation over a beer and lunch. I'm sitting here quietly grinning just at the memory.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing, enjoying each others company, planning the rest of our trip. Nan and Gramps had a week in Spain, so we decided to make the most of the week and the rental car they had. We decided on two days in Zaragoza, a city that I often visit, two days in the Pyrenees, and two days in Barcelona.

We headed off the next morning, with bags packed, smiles on, and excitement rattling about. We got to Zaragoza with no problems at all between myself and the GPS assistant, fondly named Matilda. Gramps had a few arguments with Matilda over the issue of speeding, as she would kindly remind him, "You are over the speed limit", to which he would disagree.

After arriving in Zaragoza, we had to move the car, which resulted in a quick tour of the city, due to Matilda giving us wrong directions, stressful city driving and getting our left and right's confused! After a good half hour, we finally managed to park about three blocks away, and made it back to the apartment safe and sound. We headed out, walking through the Paseo de Independencia, through the old town and to the Basilica del Pilar. When it reached lunchtime, and everything was shutting down, we went and bought some food, came home and relaxed for the rest of the night. Nan and Gramps had brought English books, which were like treasure for me, having not read an English book in months. I would wait until Gramps had finally fallen asleep before quietly reaching over and plucking the book from his hands as he slept away peacefully.

The next morning we headed off to the Palacio del Aljafería, an old Islamic palace that I had visited earlier on in the year. On our way, we walked through the old winding streets, filled with culture and made me smile with how blessed I was to be able to walk through this city as a local, knowing it's ups and downs. As we arrived at Aljafería, we saw people holding up signs on the other side of the road, and police. As we went to enter the palace, we were told that it was closed for government business. It was a little disappointing to not be able to go in, but we were still able to walk through the park and see the garden.

Gramps and me outside the Palacio del Aljafería.

We walked back toward the Basilica del Pilar, and had a coffee con churros in a cafe outside of the plaza. It was lovely to just sit down and talk, chat away about trivial and important things, making me feel delighted about the joys of family. We ended up really enjoying the cafe, so came back for dinner as well, as they had a great deal for a three course meal for 6 euros each. Definitely well worth the money and a nice way to finish our little trip into Zaragoza, having dinner right in the centre of the city.

The next morning we got up early, packed out bags and headed out of the city, heading towards Huesca. We arrived in Huesca, a city of about 100, 000 and were pretty dissapointed, so left to go towards Jaca, right on the French border. Leaving the dry and arid country of Tudela meant a completely different style of countryside, which was absolutely stunning.

Rigos de los Mallos

It was filled with mountains, rock formations and green valleys with rivers and was absolutely gorgeous. Something that I loved as well, was Nan and Gramps at each little stop; taking out their cameras, filming, the typical tourists. It made me remember how fun it is it to be a foreigner, to travel and explore. When we in Tudela my host family could not get over the fact that Nan and Gramps walked everywhere, that they didn't use the lift in the house, that they still went on holidays, gallivanting around the world. I don't know if it's just with my host family, or Spanish culture in general, but they see growing old as a curse, that once you hit 45 your life is over. I am glad that I have such active grandparents who are so eager to conquer the world, and that are still living life, rather than just sitting back and watching, thinking their life is over. I want to grow old and still live young, just like Nan and Gramps!
We headed up to Jaca, stopping along the way at a couple of different places, enjoying the spectacular views.

We decided to stay in Jaca, a sweet little town on the French border, at a hotel right in the centre of the old town. That weekend there was un concurso de tapas - a competition of sorts of tapas. For those of you who don't know what tapas are, they are small dishes to accompany a glass of wine or beer. Normally when you buy a beer or wine, you get a complimentary tapa. Some examples of tapas are croquetas, patatas bravas, tortilla de patatas (click on them to see photos). They are extremely delicious, small and appetising, filling you up quickly. Many Spanish people go bar hopping, eating these tapas as their meal. So for dinner that night, we ventured out, went to a crammed bar, had some tapas. They were quite yummy, but we didn't get to choose what we wanted as they laid out their best tapa, and we had to vote. It was a lovely and traditionally Spanish way to end a lovely night!

Jaca by night.

We woke up at about 8am the following day, the Saturday, and left at nine, to find no one out on the streets.

Us on the deserted streets of Jaca.

The Spanish aren't known for their early mornings! We hopped in our car, and headed off towards the east. We wanted to get to a small town called Aínsa, and along the way we saw some gorgeous views along the way. When we arrived at Aínsa we saw that it was a small town on the top of a hill (like most Spanish old pueblos). We drove the car up to the top of the hill, and entered into the quaintest, little village. The main plaza was beautiful, and they had an old horse and carriage that you could take around town. Of course, the lady driving was smoking and talking (yelling) to everyone she passed. Spanish stereotypes are often very similar to the actual people of Spain! We sat outside one of the bars, and Nan and I had a shandy whilst Gramps had a beer. We were chatting along, when suddenly we heard a series of extremely loud bangs. It was incredible - such noises! The were so loud! We realised that there was a wedding, or some event happening, and they were letting off fireworks in broad daylight, in the middle of the plaza. Every couple of minutes another set would go off, seemingly louder than the next. We took this as our cue to go, so headed back to the car to continue on our journey. About ten km away from Aínsa we saw a small township, that advertised food. Being hungry, we decided to stop there and enjoy the view. The town consisted of one hotel/restaurant, and we quickly sat down eager to eat. In Spain most bars have a 'menu del dia' - menu of the day, which is run all day and consists of a first plate, a second plate, a drink, dessert, and bread. I'm a vegetarian, so I haven't had a need for knowing what beef or lamb or veal is called. So, I had a little trouble ordering the food for Nan and Gramps! Gramps wanted Lamb, and I had no idea what it was called. So, I instead called it, "el carne de ovejas" - "sheep meat". Of course, I had to confuse the poor man even more, but getting ovejas confused with orejas. Instead of saying, "I want sheep meat," I said, "I want ear meat." The guy looked at me for a couple of seconds like I was crazy, before realising what I said and correcting myself. As I retold the story to Nan and Gramps we were introduced to a Dutch couple who were also eating there. After chatting for a while, we found out that they were the owners of a bed and breakfast in a small town that we had visited to try and find some food, that we thought was deserted. They owned a 16th Century abbey, that had been restored to become a bed and breakfast. Of course, Nan and I jumped at the idea to be staying in such a historically interesting place. After a little bit of convincing, Gramps agreed, and we headed off to the small town. This town was also situated at the top of a hill, and Gramps was a champion as he drove down the so called 'streets' to finally find the old abbey nestled at the very back of the town. We found out that town was not abandoned, but had 14 or so residents. Small towns, pueblos, were extremely popular years ago, and were populated all the time. As cities became more important, the children moved away to study and to live, only coming back to the pueblos during the summer. This meant that many pueblos died, as there was no one there to live in the houses, as they had all moved to the cities. So many towns are now empty, slowly decaying, as the people move to the bigger cities, whole communities and towns being lost. There are some, now, where people are coming back and restoring their old houses, and using them as holiday homes, meaning some of these dead towns are slowly coming back to life. The small village we were in had 14 residents, some doing up the houses, some retirees, but mostly just empty. The views were spectacular, and we had a quick (!) tour around the town.

View from the village we stayed at.

The abbey was absolutely gorgeous, filled with small doorways, wooden roofing, stone walls. Everything had an old feeling to it, that each thing had it's own story to tell. We were given the honeymoon suite, that had a double bed and a single bed, a living room and a bathroom. I thought it was just stunning, and made me so happy that we had decided to stay there for the night.
My bed in the abbey that we stayed at.

We left early the next morning to start to head toward Barcelona, and took a scenic route to get there. It was such stunning countryside (I seriously cannot remember the word I mean, all I can think of is paisaje!), filled with so many colours and stunning rock faces. I really loved seeing this side of Spain, as where I live, in Tudela, is on the edge of a desert, so it is quite dry and arid. Seeing the greenery once again, made me fall in love a little bit more with Spain, and with the countryside, the wide open spaces.

The water was amazing. Because of the snow, the rocks give way and make their way into the water, turning the water into an opaque green-blue colour. It was mesmerising to look at, and added a surreal type feel to what we were driving through.

Gramps and I on the drive.

We slowly came down the Pyrenees, and as we did, we said goodbye to the mountainous ranges and colourful lakes. I fell asleep, and before I knew it, we were driving into Barcelona! We got a little stressed about finding a hotel, as we didn't have one planned and none of us really knew where we were going. After a couple of roundabouts, pulling over, re-entering highways, we finally made it to a town about twenty minutes out of the centre of Barcelona. We found a hotel straight away, parked and sat down on our beds and sighed, "Aaahhhh." We had made it. With stomachs grumbling, we went and tried to find a restaurant. Being a Sunday, absolutely nothing was open, bar a Chinese restaurant. After a filling meal, we came back to the hotel and rested for the night, anticipating our arrival into downtown Barcelona the next morning.

Matilda is not to be trusted.

Matilda, our handy little GPS, wasn't equipped for the road works that plagues the Barcelona roads. After getting into a little flurry, we quickly became lost, and had to park with our hazards on as I got out and asked a few people how to get to Las Ramblas, where Nan and Gramp's hotel was. After finally getting some directions, we headed off and quickly realised how heavy traffic was, and the difficulty there would be to unload our car of its luggage, try and find a park and check into the hotel during peak hour traffic. We turned on our hazzards, and we all jumped out, throwing our bags into the hotel, hoping that the car wouldn't be hit or towed away. The concierge quickly told us where to park, so Gramps drove the car around the corner to a small lane, and left me to guard it, and deal with any problems that arose while they checked in. As soon as Gramps left, a line of vans came up behind the car and started honking, telling me to move the car. Oops. I quickly hopped out and said that my Grandpa wasn't there, that he'd have to wait for him to come back and move the car. They weren't too happy about that, as there were about 4 vans that were backing up onto the main street of the Ramblas, causing a small traffic jam. They kept on telling me that we couldn't park there, getting more and more agitated, so I quickly called Gramps telling him to come that second to move the car! About two minutes later him and Nan came rushing down, we quickly hopped into the car and drove off. We dropped off the car at the rental place and relaxed over a cup of coffee. We then caught the metro to the Sagrada Familia. This was my third time to the Sagrada Familia, and it was still stunningly amazing to me. There was a heap of people there, so Nan and Gramps didn't want to wait to enter, so we just stood outside and looked. It was really nice to come back and see the Sagrada Familia, as it was something that I had studied in art, and was something that seemed to take my breath away every time I saw it.

The Sagrada Familia

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch, meaning that my time with them was nearly up. We walked along Las Ramblas and quickly found a restaurant that satisfied our tastebuds. We reminisced over a couple of beers, and I realised that not seeing my grandparents for another four months was going to be easy. I had already spent eight months without them, these next four months would go quicker than I could imagine. We left the restaurant with full stomachs and full hearts, as we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before I left for Tudela.

Nan and I at the restaurant with our 'shandys'.

Before I knew it, it was time to head home. I said my goodbyes, and headed off to the train. I was grinning the whole way home, feeling extremely blessed for the family I've been given. Talking to them, a month later, they now know where I mean, when I tell them I'm going for coffee at my coffee shop, or going for a walk to the bridge and back. I had the most lovely week, exploring and discovering an aspect of Spain that I hadn't seen before.

It is now November, Christmas is coming soon, and with that, winter. It is currently around 5 degrees outside, and rainy, and I'm about to head off to school! With only about 80 days left of my exchange, I'm really getting ready for my trip home, and my travelling that I'm planning on doing later.

Romans 3:4-5

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fiestas Del Pilar

Fiestas are a big deal in Spain.

I often feel like Spanish lives revolve around fiestas, hoping to go to as many fiestas as they can in a year. I often ask one girl in my class what she is doing doing for the weekend, and she often replies with, "Well... there are fiestas in my town, so..." I often am asked what the fiestas in my town are like. When I tell them that my town, my dear Glenbrook, has one big fiesta a year, during the Spring, that starts at 8am and goes through till 3 pm, they stare at me like Australians are crazy. Spanish fiestas are something that has to be experienced. They have this great sense of celebration running through their blood, through the soil of their land. There are fiestas for the smallest of things, and the smallest of towns, and the last three, four, five days. They are filled with long nights, no sleep, patriotism, and lots of noise. Fiestas are not something that they do to celebrate their lifestyle, their culture, their country. Fiestas are their lifestyle, their culture, what makes their country so unique and different.

Two weeks ago was the Fiestas del Pilar. As I have already explained in previous blogs, Pilar is the saint for all Hispanics, and is situated in the Basilica del Pilar in Zaragoza. It is celebrated as their national day, or I should say, week. I was lucky enough to go to Zaragoza for seven of the nine days that it was celebrated.

Basilica del Pilar in Zaragoza.

We arrived in Zaragoza on Saturday afternoon at around lunchtime, where we had lunch with the Yaya, the grandma. After spending a good couple of hours feasting on good food, and relaxing, watching the autumn leaves dance in the wind, we headed off to the apartment, and were bombarded with noise. I read in a book I bought about Spain, that youth suffered from hearing impairments more than a lot of other countries because of the noise they make. In school, out of school, during fiestas, there is always something going on. (Except for Sundays!) There is always a constant noise - music, yelling, singing. The apartment that my host family has is situated perpendicular to the main street in Zaragoza, where all of the different things were going on. Surprisingly, I slept quite well! The next few days were spent relaxing in the mornings and going out in the afternoons, watching everything that was happening. There was an abundance of music, from all over South America, dancers from around the globe, markets, food, lots of things to keep us occupied. On my adventures out into the celebrations, I immediately noticed that all the teenagers were wearing the same things.

They all seemed to walk around in groups, wearing what looked like painting overalls, that were painted on, drawed on, written on. It was so unusual for me, as everyone (in Spanish everyone is said as todo el mundo, which directly means the whole world... little bit of trivia!) I saw was walking around looking the same. When I asked María and Ana about it, they said that that was what everyone wore all the time. This baffled me as well. I soon began realising that they, too, wore matching jumpers that often had their name printed on it, or the name of their cuadrilla, their group. After some more investigation I realised that they didn't actually wear it all the time, as in every day, but only during fiestas.

Something that is different to Australia, and I assume a lot of other countries, is their markets. In Australia, my favourite part of a market is the food section. There are often food markets, or lots of little stalls with different types of food at Australian festivals. I have so many fond memories of going to markets, and having lunch there; a spring roll from the stand with all Chinese food, an Egyptian pancake from that small stand in the shade, a smoothie from the fresh fruit stand, some Thai noodles from another stand, a garlic naan bread for afternoon tea. I associate food with markets, with festivals. A conglomeration of food from all over the world, a variety of tastes, an array of colours. In Spain, it isn't like that. They sometimes have some food stalls, but one stall may sell a leg of ham, another cheese, another chorizo, and another sweets. But they don't often sell meals, or things that we can try, small portions of things. At Zaragoza, they had some food stalls that sold things like jam or honey, that you could try, so I went along and ate the tiny pieces of bread dipped in honey, the spoons filled with different combinations of jams... It sufficed, but made me miss an Australian aspect of markets and festivals.

I really enjoyed the entertainment aspect of the Fiestas del Pilar. All along the Paseo de Independencia, the main street, there were musical groups from all over Spain and South America, as well as dancers and percussionists. I spent a great deal of time watching these groups, listening to famous Spanish songs being sung in Spain, by Spanish people. It was really amazing and caught me off guard, making me think, "Wow, here I am in Spain, hearing these songs that I learnt the Spanish colours and days of the week to." This group on the left were really great. There was a cafe right next to where they were playing, so I'd bring my diary along, have a coffee and relax listening to them play.

One dance group. As you can see, there were lots of people that came along and watched.

Percussionists playing to a crowd of people.

These celebrations go on for the whole nine days, but the main day, the day that is celebrated all over Spain, and not just in Zaragoza, is the 12th of October. The 12th of the October is the day where the people offer flowers. Inside the Basilica del Pilar, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary. She is sometimes given a dress to wear over the statue, and she will only wear that dress once. The dresses are extravagantly made, and are very beautiful, with strong colours and delicate stitching. She has thousands of dresses that have been made for her. Many people offer flowers, and the flowers end up making the dress of an enlarged statue of the Virgin Mary.

The 12th of October was an incredible day, that showed a great insight to the history of Spain and how they dressed. Everyone dresses up on the 12th of October, in traditional dress. This is a tradition that goes back around sixty or seventy years. Sixty years ago, the Spanish wore different clothes, obviously, than today. They had clothes for working, for going out, for church, for weddings, for at home, etc..., and for fiestas. The clothes they wear today, are the clothes they wore for fiestas. Each province wore a different style dress, but they stay true to the clothing back then. María and Javier dressed up on the 12th, with tradtional Zaragoza clothes. María wore a necklace that was fifty years old, a scarf that was 125 years old, a skirt that was decades old... everything that she wore had been worn first by a relative during those times. I was blown away by the completely different style of clothing it was, and the accuracy it held to what they really did wear.

Javier and María in their traditional dress, with their flowers to offer.

There were thousands of people offering flowers, all dressed up in the traditional clothing, and I loved it!

Each different province has a different traditional dress, some which have become quite famous that you may recognise. I highly recommend you looking up on Google the traditional dress of Andalucia and Cataluña, so you can see the variety in the traditional dress. It was fun to be able to know where people had travelled from by the very different way they all dressed.

This photo is of the Virgin Mary and her 'dress' of flowers. As you can see, a lot of people didn't dress up as well!

I really enjoyed being able to see another different part of Spain, and participate in another one of the innumerable fiestas!

I have been kept busy since then, as my grandparents from Australia have visited me! We went on a little trip, which you will soon hear about.

Apart from that, I have been attending school, and have been really enjoying it. Saying that, I really feel restless. It is such a weird feeling, knowing that I have three months left of my exchange, which will go really quickly, and then I'll be in Australia. I am beginning to understand how little time I have left, and how I need to keep grabbing everything my exchange has to offer with both hands. Exchange is not easy, but I think I've been given an extremely incredible year. Here I am, in another country, living a culturally different life as a local, speaking a different language and gaining a second home along the way. Some days are great, where I don't have trouble speaking, where I feel like I'm progressing everyday, and other days where I feel like I haven't improved at all and that I should just pack up and give up. The excitement of the adventures, the family, the friends that await me in Australia are so alluring, that I need to tell myself often to focus on the now. On the today. On Spain, and what it has to offer. Before I came to Spain, I was petrified of the whole year aspect of the exchange. I thought that a year would mean that when I came back everyone would be gone, that everyone would forget that I existed... that if I left, I wouldn't come back to the same Australia. I can't say that nothing has changed and that it'll be like I never left, because I don't know that yet. I don't know what going back will be like. All I know, is that there was no reason to be petrified. There is no reason not to go for the year. I will have Australia for many more years to come (I hope!), but I will only ever have Spain, this experience, this time of my life once. That is a blessing that I still don't comprehend. This year has been the perfect year for me, filled with so many good times, so many challenges, so many events that have made me grow up a little. So many times where I've realised how much I need God in my life, how I need to follow Him, and celebrate the life He has given me. Life here in Spain has shown me a new type of celebration, a new type of joy, a celebration that is as old as this country, a joy that is as strong as its people. A joy that I pray I've been able to bring into my life, so that when I come home in February, I'll be able to have a little bit of Spain and the people I love dearly with me. There is a warmth here, that I love. A passion for life, a sense of 'eat now, work later', that both infuriates me and makes me laugh. Spain is filled with contradictions. Spain makes me angry, frustrated, but also content and joyous. Australia will, hopefully, be seen with news eyes. Eyes that have come from a country that celebrates everything, enjoys everything, that loves everything, that is passionate. I hope I will be able to see Australia with these things in mind.

Sometimes I wish I could bring Tudela back to Australia. It would make things so much easier.