Thursday, April 22, 2010

Santiago de Compostela, Burgos, Leon y mucho más!

For the Easter Holidays, I was able to travel to a few different places, in the west of Spain. It was such an incredible opportunity, and I felt like I was able to experience a new and different part of Spain and it's incredibly diverse culture.

Ana, myself and María on holidays :)

We left at about 9am from Tudela, to head off. Our final destination was to Santiago de Compostela, but we were stopping by a few famous cities on the way. I was pretty tired, and feeling a little sick, so I slept for the first couple of hours of our travels. I was sitting on the left seat in the car, with Javier in the middle and María on the right. Javier is adorable, and most of the time I had his head in my lap, or on my shoulder. If not, he'd be yelling or playing games or jumping around, or just generally being loud. This made me both treasure the times when he was asleep - because then it was quiet! - and also treasure the times when he was crazy, because for a little bit I could be a bit of a kid again.

María, Javier y yo in the car... travel buddies :)

I slept for about two hours and woke up to see that we were parked outside an old deserted church that was situated at the bottom of a rocky hill. It was absolutely beautiful, and really old an stunning. We all got out to have a look, and I could feel the crisp air swirling around me, with the smell of nature assailing my senses. Oh, how I missed you nature! It reminded me of Kangaroo Valley, even though it didn't look anything like it. I think it was just the association of green, and bush that made me think of home, and with that Nowra and Kangaroo Valley - especially the drive from our place to Nowra.

Me on the little bridge in front of the church.

We all went and looked around the church, poking around when we heard the sounds of small bells. Looking down, we saw some goats... ¡Que mona! (How cute!) It was lovely to see them, and think to myself, "Well, I'm in Spain, outside of an eleventh century church looking down on some cute goats... when does life get better than this?" It was then that I realised that we were about three kilometres out of Frías, a medieval town.

The town of Frías, the castle just being to the left of the end of the photo.

Frías is a small medieval town in the province of Burgos, in the Castilla y Leon region. It has a population of 314 people, and is absolutely gorgeous. It was full of small winding streets, and full of stereotypical Spaniards. We got to go and see the castle that was in Frías, which is absolutely gorgeous and old. It was so much fun to be able to experience such an old and rich history!

"It was so beautiful but I preferred the town over the castle that was there. Don't get me wrong, I love a good old building, but I love the people that live there more. I loved watching the old ladies chatting, and the men with their berets inhaling their cigarettes and pipes. I loved watching the kids playing with the old dogs, who would rather just lay down and sleep, and seeing the working women walking around with armfuls of baguettes to sell. That to me is the beautiful part of town!"

We had some tapas in a bar that was in the style of a tudor house, and it reminded me of England, and made me love history even more! Ana and María told me that I was lucky, because Australia had so little history. All I could do was look over at the view that was in front of me and give thanks that I was so lucky to experience this thing called exchange. I feel so blessed to be right here, right where I am, in these circumstances. Are they what I expected? No, not at all. Did I expect to be further along with my Spanish at this point in my exchange? Yes, I did. But, God has given me this experience, with these challenges, but, he has also given me these great joys. Like, a family who cares for me, they joy of being a sister, and views like the one below. I have loved so much exploring what this year has in store for me, and I am so looking forward to the coming months, because I have so loved these past two!

From Frías, we moved onto Burgos. Burgos was absolutely beautiful! The Plaza Mayor had pink, peach, orange and yellow coloured buildings. Burgos is in the middle of the north of Spain, right in the middle of the country, and is the capital of the province Burgos, in the Castilla y Leon region. Castilla y Leon means Castle and Lion. This means, that in Castilla y leon, there are A LOT of castles. These holidays I was able to see many, and lots of cathedrals, including here in Burgos.

Me outside of the cathedral in Burgos.

The Cathedral in Burgos, is extremely well-known is on the World Heritage List. The cathedrals are all filled with many rooms, all separated by iron fences. This is to give privacy to the different rooms. The cathedrals are all extremely ornate, and to a lot of people, they hold great religious standing. For me, I felt like it was a bit fake. It cost 20 cents to light a candle, everything seemed more about tradition than relationship. I really enjoyed the artistic side about it, but the huge focus on 'you have to do this to be in God's good books' really started to bug me.

Another part of Burgos.

The Plaza Mayor in Burgos.

From Burgos we moved on to Leon. Leon is in the north-west of Spain, and is home to about 130, 000 people. Leon was beautiful, as was Burgos and Frías. There is something other wordly to these old, medieval, unique towns. It's something that you'd never find in Australia, and it completely blows my mind when I see them. I hope I never grow old of seeing these places. For me, I can't really describe them as anything else apart from, 'beautiful', 'gorgeous', because I don't have the words to accurately describe them. I know that 'beautiful' and 'gorgeous' falls short. These towns are captivating, they are their own little worlds. I often feel like I've fallen into a fairy tale when I step into a church or a cobble stoned road. I often can't comprehend that I live in a town with a church from the eleventh century, or that I live right on the longest river in Spain, or that I am here for a year. So many times these pieces of information feel out of my grasp, and because of this, they are indescribable. So, I replace the proper words, words that would justify the beauty of these places, with 'beautiful' or 'gorgeous'. So, when I say these words, I mean much more than them. I mean stunning, unique, like a fingerprint - not one the same anywhere else. When I am in these places, I smile, and it can't be wiped off my face. Because, I am an exchange student. And I get to experience only what other exchange students experience. A world full of adventure, language, excitement, change, wonder. A world full of challenges. A world full of change. I wouldn't have this year any other way.

The Basilica in Leon

We went to look at the Basilica, which was absolutely stunning. We were lucky enough to also see another procession, like the ones we had seen in Zaragoza. It was really different. There was a lot more focus on the brass instruments, so it felt more like a band, than just drumming. In fact, there were hardly any drums, mostly brass instruments. Gramps, you would have loved it. They were all really great, and it was really fun to watch. As Leon is a smaller city, all of the floats were carried by shoulder, which was really exciting to see, as most of the ones in Zaragoza were on wheels. It added a lot more importance and I think culture to the procession, having them on the people's shoulders.

One of the floats in Leon, during the procession.

The brass section in the procession in Leon.

From Leon, we moved onto Ponferrada. We got there at about 11pm, and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had the best salad there, that I've ever had. (Of course, barring Dad's salads!) It had raspberries, mulberries, apple, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, nuts, onion, balsamic vinegar and oil dressing, cheese, and some other stuff. I could have eaten it every day of my life, so so so good. We finally got to bed at around 12:30am, and woke up at 9:40am, which to my family is an early morning!

We had a lovely buffet breakfast, which was really yummy - Mum, Dad, think of the resort we stayed at for Dad's ball two years ago... the name escapes me. It was so good. We made our way to Ponferrada Castle. Again, it was really beautiful and really interesting, and I loved getting to know some more about Spain.

Ponferrada Castle and the kids and I

We continued to travel toward Santiago de Compostela, and finally arrived in Padrón, which is the town we stayed in, which is about 20 kilometres out of Santiago de Compostela. We didn't want to go into Santiago de Compostela that afternoon, so we went to Carril instead.

Carril is a seaside town in the north-west of Spain, about 50 km from the Portuguese border. Carril was absolutely gorgeous. I was so excited and kept on squealing, "Mar! Mar!" ("Sea! Sea!") Ah, it was so lovely to see the ocean again, and be able to smell it. I love the smell of the ocean, and I loved walking around the town and seeing all of the fishermen and people wandering around. It reminded me of so many things; of Sausalito in San Francisco, of Woy Woy, so many memories associated with that pungent smell of salt water mixed and fish. So many family memories, so many lovely memories that made me feel relaxed, happy and at home. I know the next time I smell that smell, I will be reminded this time, of Carril, and the beauty of that place, and the excitement and wonders of exchange.

The town of Carril

The seaside at Carril.

Me sitting at my 'Spanish seafront'

I figured out how to make panoramas :) Not sure why this is so small though?

Another panorama of Carril, with Ana, then María and then the two of them.

It also reminded me of Shirley Valentine and how she 'sat down on a Greek seafront'. I told my host family that a Spanish seafront would do for me. How lucky am I to be able to experience such beautiful wonders as this? Carril is famous for their clams, so we had a dish of them, and it cost us about 50 euros! But, oh were they worth it. I feel so proud of myself. Something I promised myself was to try everything while I was in Spain. If I had been in Australia, I wouldn't have eaten them, but I ate them, and they were delicious!

José Antonio y María Antonia at our table, looking at the sunset.

Javier was feeling sick at this time, so we went back to Padrón. In Spain, each town celebrates a week of fiestas, and this week was Padrón's week. There were rides, markets and so much music! It was so much fun! We walked around, looking at all of the things, and Javier went on the trampolines, while María and I went on the dodgem cars. In Australia, the dodgem cars all travel in the one direction and everyone wears seatbelts. Here, in Spain, there is no such thing as seatbelts, and one direction? More like ten. All I can say, is that it was so much more dangerous, and so much more fun than Australian dodgem cars!

While we were on the dodgem cars, Javier decided to throw up everywhere, so that cut our night short. We quickly ate some dinner and went to bed eagerly awaiting the next morning.... Santiago de Compostela...

Monday we went to Santiago de Compostela. For those of you who don't know, Santiago de Compostela is a city that is extremely famous, as it is often the ending point for the famous walk, Camino de Santiago. Santiago was a Saint, and was buried at the sight of the church in Santiago. Around his burial site, the cathedral and then the rest of the town was built. For many people, the Cathedral of Santiago is an incredibly religious and sacred site.

Me at Santiago de Compostela.

We got to Santiago de Compostela at about 11:30 am and I was speechless. It was so amazing to be able to see this site that so many people walk to - from 1km to thousands of km. I think my favourite part was seeing the people who had finished arriving at the destination. I could see their bodies change into relaxation and their smiles on their faces were incomparable. A lot of the time I prefer the people to the sites, because the people tell me so much more. I love looking at people and seeing how they react to things, and seeing locals walk around their town. I felt a stirring within, and knew that I wanted to do this. Go on a walk, a long walk, and end up somewhere. Something about carrying your life on your back for any amount of time, walking through the wilderness, meeting people, buying foreign foods, experiencing life on foot. Ahh, I cannot wait to do it. I read a book before I left for Spain called, "A Slow Journey South", which was about a couple who walked from England to Africa. When I read it, I knew it was something I wanted to do. But now, being able to see the end result. It is on my list of to-do's.

Us at Santiago de Compostela, with the Cathedral in the background.

Santiago de Compostela has an important date - the 25th of July. I think this is the day of Saintiago, and when this date falls on a Sunday, a special door is opened for the year. This year, the 25th of July falls on a Sunday, so the door was opened. Everyone told me that I was extremely lucky and blessed to be able to walk through the door. We walked through the door, and then walked up to the statue of Santiago. Everyone hugged and kissed it, before moving on to listen to the church service. It bugged me a little - everyone hugging and kissing the statue, as if it was going to save their lives.

"I find that so many people in Spain hold too much importance on the physical and the 'religion' and not enough focus on the relationship. The reason this church is so famous is because the body of Santiago was found here. It hink it's stupid! But everyone hugged and kissed the statue and then we went to the church service. It was so lovely to be a part of a church service. Sure, it was cold, and... it didn't feel passionate; but it was still me and god. That's all that matters. nothing else matters for anyone as long as they believe that Christ came to die in place of them - 'For God so loved the world he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will never die but have eternal life.' Nothing else then, not the pendants, saints, popes, Santiagos matter. All I hope, is that my family has found that."

Inside the cathedral.

After exploring the church, we had lunch at a restaurant - paella, and a lobster and rice dish. I had so much fun cracking open my lobster and sucking out the meat. I felt so accomplished of myself for doing that and having fun, and not turning my nose up at it. I think that exchange has taught me many important things - one of those being able to adapt. I have to say that the Spanish food wasn't my favourite at the beginning of exchange, but each day it really is growing on me.

Me with my lobster.... yummy!

After lunch we got to have a tour of the Church, which was very interesting. Mainly because it was in Spanish, spoken by a Galician. Spain is like every English spoken country placed in the one continent. Each province represents a different country. Andalucia is like a bogan accent, no one likes it, and people can't really understand them. Castilly y Leon and Navarra (biased!) is the best Spanish... so proper English, the poshest of the posh. Galicia is more like America. Each region has a different accent. So for me, someone who struggles with my own region's Spanish, I certainly struggled with this lady's accent! Especially because Galicians are known for speaking ridiculously fast.

It was great, because we were able to go onto the roof of the Cathedral, and I thought to myself, "How many people get to do this in their lifetime? How lucky am I?!" I felt incredibly blessed.

Me on the roof of the Cathedral.

The next couple of days, we spent going through small towns, stopping in O'Grove, a fishing village, where we went on a cruise. I got to talk to my parents while I was on it, which was so so lovely! We also stopped off at another seaside town, though I can't remember its name, to watch them unloading the fish. Unfortunately, we were 12 hours early, as they did it at 6 in the afternoon, not 6 in the morning! Alas, I saw the most beautiful sunrise, and I felt so excited to be up so early.

The fam and I on the cruise.

Talking to Mum and Dad on the cruise.... HELLO!!
Javier and I :)

The Sunset we saw.

The trip back to Zaragoza was really beautiful. I was awake for all of it this time! It was so interesting to see the views change from green to yellow, to brown, back to green. It was absolutely beautiful. We stopped off at a truck stop and played some soccer, while watching the sun set, before arriving in Zaragoza. It was Wednesday, and I was desperately wanting a shower, as I hadn't had one all day... except the gas in the piso wasn't working, so I couldn't have a shower. We spent from Wednesday to Saturday night in Zaragoza. And I didn't have a shower!!! It was horrible. I had bird baths everyday, with just cold water. But my family didn't have a shower at all. To me, there couldn't be anything worse.

The beautiful countryside... yellow this time.

Sunset we saw on our way to Zaragoza.

I also had to buy some clothes while I was in Zaragoza... and it was incredibly stressful, because I was the only one buying clothes, and none of the clothes (jeans) fit because they were all too long, so I tried on kids jeans but they all had elastic instead of real jeans. It really made me not like shopping. But in the end I found some, and there was a small amount of time that I enjoyed it, when Ana, María and I were trying on hats and sunglasses. I am really enjoying bonding with my 'sisters', and I'm really enjoying be able to say sisters. I love having sisters. They make me miss my sisters in Australia - Jas and Katherine. How much I love them and miss them. I can't wait until I return and I can hang out with them again!

Ana y María trying on glasses, scarves, and hats.

I also got to go to the movies three times while I was in Zaragoza. I saw Nanny McPhee, How To Train Your Dragon and The Bounty Hunter. I loved How To Train Your Dragon, and really liked Nanny McPhee. The Bounty Hunter was alright, but a lot harder to understand!

On the Friday I was feeling a bit 'homesick' but for Tudela. I just wanted familiarity, computer, movies, home. That feeling that your home, you can shower, you can do whatever you want. I prayed to God about it, and then on Saturday we went to a park, called El Parque Grande. The Big Park. And it was the biggest answer to prayer. It was the perfect morning. I was there with my host family, we were all hanging out together and having fun. The weather was perfect, twenty degrees! María and I hired a bike and rode around the park, and I was just so content. There were cafeterías around in the park, so I sat down and had a coffee, reading Harry Potter in Spanish, listening to the Spanish mingling around me. I felt like God was showing me that I didn't need Tudela, or a computer or movies, because God would supply for me. And he has supplied this amazing year abroad full of tastes and smells and sights and languages that makes my heart beat fast in excitement. God showed me that all I needed was him. And what a great encouragement that is!

Me riding the bike around El Parque Grande.

María riding the bike in El Parque Grande.

That is the end of my holidays, but not the end of my adventures. :) A blog about the past two weeks will hopefully be up tomorrow or Saturday (hoping that my blogger works). Also, I've had different people comment on the colour of my background. Do you prefer a white or black background? Please use the comment box to let me know....

Love you all x x

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