Monday, May 30, 2011

playas and ñamñams

Peering out through the open window is always a thrill; a reminder of where I am, six stories high, wind breezing in through drawn curtains, light filling up my quaint room with a comfortable glow. Every morning I wake up and look down below, at cars strewn in organized haphazardness across the narrow streets, at the tops of people unlocking shop doors for the morning, at the now-familiar sights of bikers expertly whizzing through leafy trees and autos, just to make sure it's all still there.

That it hasn't all been a dream.

That I'm actually in Valencia.

The last time I had left the country, aside from for Canada, was for Italy. That was about 3 years ago this summer. Since then, I've missed the thrill of waking up somewhere new and beautiful, a feeling that I thought I'd never have again. I remember the utter depression that struck me once I got off the plane and returned home, not for being back, but rather for leaving it behind. And I still have dreams of cerulean blue Mediterranean beaches, walking past local vendors and buying as much produce as possible to carry, visiting fish markets permeated by the smells of brine and summertime...these are the memories I have of Sicily, and the ones that I missed the most when I came back home.

[I really am madly in love with Italy, in case you couldn't tell.]

Taken while visiting Peñíscola.

And yet... that feeling has returned.

And I haven't been happier in a long while.

Spain is a country I've wanted to visit since, close to, the beginning of high school. I've been studying Spanish for about 9 years now, which to me is somewhat of a surprise, since when I first started taking it I didn't realize I would love it enough to continue. And now, it's become a part of my life, in a way. So after coercing the parents [and agreeing to pay half], I've escaped to Valencia for one month, to hone my speaking abilities and experience a new culture.

It's been a little under a week since we stepped foot off of the airplane, but I already feel as though I've been here for months. Though there's something to be learned every day, after hours upon hours of walking through narrow streets and lush parks, I've become pretty familiar with our home in the city. My host mother is one of the most adorable women I've ever met [Particularly after watching the recent final match between Barça and Man-United in which I remember her repeating at least 10 times how guapísimo Messi is. Mind you, this woman is 56 years old.], and the apartment that Liz and I are living in is just as lovely.

Valencia is rather famous for its sweet orange trees.

My day-to-day schedule during the week is pretty static; wake up at 7am, shower, eat a simple breakfast of cornflakes and milk, walk the 2 1/2-ish miles to University with Zach, study linguistics for 2 hours, take a 3-hour lunch break at my favorite cafe, study contemporary art for 2 hours, and walk the 2 1/2-ish miles back home with Zach and Liz. From around 8:30-5:30, I'm in the campus area, and after 5 my schedule is pretty up-in-the-air. Currently, filled with [additional] city-exploration, but perhaps in a week I'll have more of a routine.

If I want one, of course.

Which I'm not sure that I do. I enjoy the spontaneity and freedom to do whatever I please in the evenings, particularly if a small siesta is involved.

The routine is different from what I'm used to, but it's becoming easier to adapt. Nevertheless, it's the eating schedule that's most different. I had known of it prior to visiting, after taking Spanish Culture & Civ last semester, but studying is nothing like experiencing.

Basically, the Spaniards eat three main meals per day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Snacking is highly uncommon, and I don't even think the concept of "grazing" exists at all. Some people will take a small merienda during the late afternoon, but that's typically a very small snack or coffee. My eating schedule normally goes as follows:

  • Breakfast of cornflakes and milk at around 7:30, before I head out. Aside from cereal, I'm not very familiar with what's typically eaten for breakfast. I would assume coffee and perhaps a pastry of some sort, or toast and jam or butter, but since I'm the first in the house to wake up, my mom lays out the cereal and milk while I'm in the shower and then heads back to bed. I don't mind it at all; it's light and filling enough to tide me over until lunch...
  • ...which is normally enjoyed sometime around 2. During the school week, though, my second class starts at two, so I eat sometime between 11 and 12, normally at my favorite cafe.
  • Finally, dinner in Spain is eaten quite late, around 9-10. Our mom usually serves dinner a bit earlier, around 9 [and sometimes 8:30], since Liz and I aren't as used to eating as late as 10. But we've begun to adapt more, so I'm thinking we'll be enjoying late dinners for the remainder of our visit.

It's not so much the lack of grazing [since I seem to eat constantly] that's bizarre for me, but the spacing between meals. Upwards of 6 hours between breakfast and lunch, depending on when you wake up, and around 7 or 8 for dinner. I usually need to take a merienda after class, and that typically consists of some fresh fruit.

I can't complain too much, though, since the food is delicious.

My typical lunch: coffee and a bocadillo.

Actually, better than I anticipated. I'd heard many stories from students who have visited Spain in the past about how they didn't really enjoy the food, but I find it a perfect balance of light and decadent. Not decadent in the sense of being rich, but decadent in the sense of being wholesome.

Especially the bocadillos. I cannot get enough of my mother's bocadillos. They're always mouthwatering, and keep super well in my bag for the few hours that I'm in class. A bocadillo is more or less a sandwich, but made with the most delicious Spanish bread you can imagine. Since it's such a crusty loaf, it never gets soggy the way sliced bread tends to. Plus, mom always changes up what's in it, so it's always a fun surprise. Thus far I've had turkey and cheese [today, in fact, and I think it was manchego cheese, for which Spain is also very famous], tuna and tomato, chicken, and tortilla de patatas.

Cuenca, the most adorable pasteleria in Valencia.

The coffee isn't required, but I can't resist. Zach and I always head straight to our favorite cafe, Cuenca, after linguistics is over and pass an hour or so there, him with a postre and me with a café con leche.

And sometimes, I dare to order a dessert myself.

I dream of the day when I can make desserts as elegant as this.

I love the cafe, because it's exactly what I'd like mine to look like [if, of course, I open one, which I sincerely hope to do sometime in the future]. Full of every pastry you can imagine, fun bocadillos and empanadas, and an variety of amazing coffees.

[Are the coffees delicious because they are actually delicious? Or are they delicious because I'm in Europe? It's hard to say.]

Nonetheless, I usually have to remind myself to stop staring at the assortment of treats so that I don't look like too much of a glutton, but it's hard to resist.

One of the many glass cases of pastries.

There's a list of foods that I absolutely must try while I'm here, and you can bet that I'll keep you updated when I do. But for now, I've only got 20 minutes left until contemporary art, so it's best I end here.

Until later,
¡ciao, queridos!

PS: Yes, ñamñams is, in fact, the Spanish version of "nomnoms." I basically could not stop grinning like a fool when I first heard.


Thanks so much for reading!
I'd love to hear your thoughts :)