Fingers, Flamingos, and Local Fun in Spain

Hi,

Things have been moving very quickly in Spain. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve realized that I only have one month left here and a lot of things I still want to do. So, I’m going to keep this post short.

The author, pictured in a pink shirt and blue shorts, standing in front of brightly colored apartment buildings. A mural of the buildings is also behind the author.
Villajoyosa is a costal town full of brightly-colored buildings. It’s one of the most beautiful and calm towns I’ve ever been to in my life. And with my pink shirt, I fit right in.

So what’s happened this last month? Well, let’s start with my finger. A little over a month ago, I was on a class field trip for my Tourism and Food Culture class. We were at a local restaurant and had just finished making traditional Spanish tapas. As we were enjoying our delicious creations, the classmate sitting next to me wanted some water, so I grabbed the jug to pour her some. When I turned to put the jug in front of me, it collided with my wine glass, which shattered on impact. 

A rock cove on the island of Tabarca. The cove forms a circle around the turquoise water. Some white buildings are in the background along with the blue sky.
Out of courtesy for the casual reader, the author has decided not to include any images of his wounded finger. Instead, this blog will only include pleasant photos…such as this one, taken of a cove on the island of Tabarca.

I don’t know exactly how the glass cut my finger, but either way it was a messy situation. Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d been cut. It was only when one of the chefs asked if I’d been cut that I looked down at my bloody finger. Quietly and quickly, I rushed to the bathroom to avoid a scene. 

A saltwater lake with a slight pink tint. White foam from the salt covers the shoreline.
The pink saltwater lake of Torrevieja. Although the water wasn’t very pink that day, the foam from the salt was really neat…and fun to step in.

The restaurant employees tended to my finger very well, helping me cover up the wound and giving me sweets to prevent dizziness. But after about 15 minutes in the bathroom, they told me I’d have to go to a medical clinic nearby to get stitches.

Thankfully, there was a clinic just down the block where I was able to receive emergency services. I had a really cool Cuban doctor and while he stitched my finger up, we talked about our countries. Also, it was funny to see him giving instructions to a young medical student, who was having trouble opening the packaged materials for the procedure. The procedure was very quick: anesthetic, four stitches, pay, fill out the claim form online, and get reimbursed fully by the insurance company (included in my study abroad program). So, despite the brief but intense burning pain of the anesthetic, it was quite an enriching cultural experience.

A flamingo walks in a saltwater lake. The flamingo has a white body with pink tail feather and feet. The water is a brownish-red color.
A wild flamingo in one of the saltwater lakes of Santa Pola. It was difficult to get to the lakes, but the trip was well worth it.

On a less gruesome note, I’ve been doing lots of traveling nearby. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve been to Villajoyosa, the island of Tabarca, Torrevieja, Santa Pola, and Alcoi. Among my favorites to visit was Villajoyosa, a precious coastal town of about 30,000 people with colorful buildings and a laid back beach vibe. I also really enjoyed hiking in the mountains of Alcoi with my Japanese flatmate. Last weekend, we spent over four hours soaking in the views and wildlife. The next day, I went with an American friend to Santa Pola, a coastal town full of foreigners and retirees. There, we visited some saltwater lakes, where we saw WILD FLAMINGOS! Although we had to walk through brush and play frogger on a busy highway, the flamingos were well worth the pain. 

One of the most special parts about studying abroad is being able to spend a long period of time in a foreign community. With time and effort, you start to become part of the community and make meaningful friendships with the local people. I think that short trips, like the ones I’ve done these past few weeks, are really great for experiencing new things and interacting with your local host community. Oftentimes, you can gain really interesting cultural insights and see many fascinating things nearby. Plus, with local travel you’ll save lots of money, time, and energy!

A panoramic view of the city of Alcoi from above. Many light-colored buildings compose the landscape. Some mountains are in the background, along with some white clouds.
The city of Alcoi, pictured from the mountain trails. We saw many mesmerizing views and even vultures in a nature reserve.

With that being said, I’d also encourage future study abroad students to do the occasional long-distance trip. Local travel is great, but to get a more complete picture of your host country’s landscape, culture, and history, I think it’s important to spend a weekend or two in other areas. 

It’s a bit late here and I’m tired, so I’ll sign off for now.

Buenas noches,

David

Travels in Tarragona and Granada Spain

Traveling!!! It’s one of the most essential and exciting parts of studying abroad. Each trip presents loads of opportunities for seeing more of your host country and the world. During these first six weeks of my study abroad journey in Spain, I’ve done lots of traveling. Here are a couple of the cities I’ve visited in Spain:

Showing a view of the city of Tarragona. Taken from the top of a Roman circus. There are ruins in the foreground and modern buildings in the background.
A view of Tarragona from atop a Roman Circus, which dates back to the 1st century.

-Tarragona, a city of just over 100,000 people in the Cataluña region of Spain. An hour away from Barcelona, Tarragona is by no means a well-known city. Most people that I’ve talked with here in Alicante say they’ve never been to Tarragona but they have visited Barcelona multiple times.

However, there’s a lot to do and see in Tarragona. First of all, there are various Roman ruin sites that are spectacular (Tarragona gets its name from “Tarraco,” the ancient Roman city). With my flatmate from Japan, I went to a Roman circus, an amphitheater and an aqueduct. 

This photo showcases an illuminated tunnel in the Roman circus of Tarragona. The light emanates from the bottom of the tunnel walls.
An illuminated tunnel in Tarragona’s Roman circus.

Each ruin site possessed its own intrigue and unique features. The circus, built in the first century, featured illuminated tunnels that were breath-taking. Although the amphitheater didn’t have any tunnels for us to explore, it was just minutes away from the beach, which gave us a really nice panoramic view.

A view of the Roman amphitheater of Tarragona. A handful of tourists walk on the amphitheater. Gray clouds cover the sky. The ocean is in the background.
Even though it was a cloudy, Oregon-like day, we enjoyed the beautiful oceanfront views of Tarragona’s Roman amphitheater.

And then the aqueduct. By far my favorite of the ruin sites in Tarragona, the aqueduct is located just outside the city. We took a bus and then had to hike some nature trails to see the aqueduct, pero valió la pena (but it was worth the pain). Despite being built in the first century and no longer serving any aquatic purposes (the river is dried up), the aqueduct of Tarragona remains a very sturdy and symmetrical piece of Roman architecture.

The author is pictured beneath the arches of Tarragona's Roman aqueduct. The sky is blue and there are trees in the background.
Likely built during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the Roman aqueduct of Tarragona is a sight. Its symmetricality and enormity are mind-bending (I felt tiny).

Oh, and did I mention that we walked across the aqueduct? And that, yes, it was perfectly legal? Walking across a two-thousand year old aqueduct/bridge/whatever-you-wanna-call-it is one of the coolest things I’ve done abroad and in my life. 

The rails on top of the aqueduct are clay-colored. Down the middle is a narrow pathway. In the background is a forest of trees.
Walking atop the Tarragona aqueduct. Despite having been built nearly two thousand years ago, it remains structurally sound for tourists to walk on.

In Tarragona, my flatmate and I also visited a Gothic cathedral and the central market. Both were enormous and offered us glimpses into Catalonian culture and history. The cathedral featured impressive works of art from the Gothic and Renaissance eras. One of the most impressive features of the cathedral was a gigantic organ that stretched all the way to the ceiling. The outdoor garden was also delightful, with fountains full of turtles and koi fish to entertain us during a mask break.

The organ of the Tarragona is brown and accompanied by two paintings on the sides.
The organ of Tarragona’s cathedral is enormous! Some very wealthy folks must have paid for it…

Later that day, we visited the central market of Tarragona. In Spain, nearly every city has a central market with local food and vendors. The markets also tend to be of significant historical value, so they can be really good places to learn about the city. In the central market of Tarragona, there were lots of meat products and fresh produce, but I ended up buying a bag of candies. Apparently the candies weren’t from the region but they were delicious anyways.

The Central market of Tarragona, as viewed from outside. The windows are tinted black and the walls are brown. Has an arched design.
I bought some delicious candy at the central market of Tarragona.

-Granada, a city in the south of Spain that possesses a unique blend of Moorish and Andalusian features.  Last weekend, I visited Granada as part of my study abroad program’s itinerary. So, with 18 other Americans and our program director, I squeezed into a travel bus at 8am for a four hour ride–just the beginning of a non-stop trip that was fascinating but energy depleting.

A street in the Arabic shopping district of Granada. Traditional dresses and rugs are in the foreground. People are walking on the cobblestone street with tall buildings looming over them.
A street in Granada famous for its Arabic stores.

Fatigued and looking for rest, we arrived at our hotel. However, most of our rooms weren’t ready! So we had to scramble to store our belongings in the rooms that were open before heading to the Royal Chapel of Granada. 

The Royal Chapel of Granada from the outside. Blue skies and white clouds create a dreamy effect over the Chapel.
The Royal Chapel from the outside. No photos are allowed inside, but you can see the tombs of Spain’s most famous monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand.

Things went more smoothly on our tour of the chapel. We were able to see lots of artwork (including original works of Botticelli) and even the tombs where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were buried hundreds of years ago. And outside the chapel, a woman was singing what appeared to be an Arabic hymn. The experience was surreal.

After visiting the chapel, we had a little down time, so I wandered around the Arabic shopping district. In the stores, I saw lots of lamps, earrings, necklaces and other shiny items from different parts of the Arabic world. I also stopped for some tea and a dessert at an Arabic tea shop. ¡Qué rico!

That night, most of the group went to see a flamenco show. I bought my ticket late, so I had to go solo to another show. While I was a bit bummed to not have any company, I soon discovered the joys of solo traveling. On my way to the flamenco show, I heard some music coming from the main plaza. And to my delight, lots of people were dancing there! So, I joined them for a bit before resuming my journey to the flamenco show. Considering all the spectacular things I experienced in Granada, my favorite was dancing with the community that night in the plaza. 

People sitting at tables enjoying a flamenco show. The light centers on the stage, where a man in dancing with a gold colored vest and guitarists are playing.
If you ever find yourself in Andalusia, go see a flamenco show!

And then the flamenco show! The one I attended was in a restaurant and man, was it intense! There was loud singing, powerful string strumming, fiery dancing and toe tapping, and by the end, one of the dancers was spraying the audience with his sweat. Thank goodness I wasn’t near the stage!

The author wearing a beige shirt and pants in front of the illuminated Alhambra during nighttime.
The Lookout Point of Saint Nicholas. La Alhambra and the city of Granada were beautiful from above.

After the show, I met up with one of my classmates at the Lookout Point of Saint Nicholas. From there, we were able to see La Alhambra illuminated and city lights. It was so beautiful, but by the time we got back to the hotel it was already Sunday and we were completely exhausted.

We woke up at 8am to eat breakfast and clear out our rooms. Then the highlight of our trip: La Alhambra. 

The author wearing a maroon jacket in front of an arched lookout point at La Alhambra. In the background is vegetation and a palace.
The views from La Alhambra are breathtaking.

Words cannot describe how perfectly beautiful La Alhambra is, but I’ll do my best: flowers, green shrubs, water fountains, views of Granada, Moorish palaces that were built hundreds of years ago. Our guide said that the water was an important symbol of life for the Moorish royals–a point made by the presence of water all around us. Gorgeous. And the garden,  the butterflies, the architectural designs, the views…Argh!!! Sometimes words are just insufficient so I’ll leave you with photos and sign off with that.

Red, yellow, and pink flowers at La Alhambra. Tall green shrubs in the background.
Although most of the gardens were installed in the 20th century, they are spectacular.
A square ceiling from the underside. Little yellow dots provide beautiful contrast with the brown of the ceiling.
The Sultan’s roof features impressive symmetry and lighting techniques.
A building's reflection in the blue waters of a rectangular fountain.
Water, a symbol of life for the Moors, is everywhere at La Alhambra.
A clay-colored and speckled pattern on an arched wall of La Alhambra
3 hours of La Alhambra was not enough. If you visit, don’t blink because you will miss lots of details!

Hasta luego,

David Magnello

 

Ah, the Little Differences Abroad!!!

In my last blog post, I talked about gratitude. And just to be clear, I’m still grateful to be able to study abroad in a country as beautiful and historically rich as Spain.

But with spending more time in a foreign country, you take notice of the little differences. While many of those little differences are exciting, oftentimes they can be confusing and stressful.

By talking about these little differences, I’m not trying to scare you out of studying abroad. Rather, my intent with this blog is to portray my experiences in the most authentic way possible. Part of that includes talking about the challenges that I face.

So in this blog post, I will be describing some of the little differences I’ve encountered here as a study abroad student, as well as some of the strategies I’ve used to navigate these sometimes challenging situations. I should also note that some of the little differences are enjoyable for me and that even if they aren’t, at least the experience will help me build up character and understand more about our planet.

The author, pictured in a beige stiped polo, doing a silly pose beneath a mushroom statue, which has a ladybug statue on top.
Alicante’s weird mushroom street. Talk about little differences!

Here are some of the little differences I’ve encountered thus far:

1. Spanish Hours: As with many other little differences that I list here, this one maybe isn’t so “little.” Let me explain: Many Spaniards wake up early, go to work, and then around noon take an hours-long break (la siesta). Then they finish work at night, eat dinner, watch TV or socialize, and go to bed late.

How has this impacted me? There have been times where I’ve gone to a store around siesta time only to find out that it’s closed until later. This happened my first week here, so I wasn’t able to buy a SIM card until day four…Which means that I didn’t have any internet on my phone (which is really hard when you’re trying to navigate a new city and can’t use Google Maps!!!).

Thankfully, my host family and classmates helped me navigate the city the first few days. And now I know to go to stores in the morning or late afternoon. Not around siesta time.

The author, pictured in a pink shirt and smiling, eating a vegetarian paella dish, which includes rice, mushrooms, green veggies, and red fruit.
Eating vegetarian paella on a night out in Tarragona with my Japanese flat mate. Most paella has meat, so it was a real treat for me to try the famed Spanish dish. It was rich with mushrooms, rice, veggies, herbs, and fruit.

2. Food: As I just mentioned, Spaniards eat dinner really late (9 or 10 pm). Also, they usually only eat three times a day, which means that you better eat a lot for each meal and hope that you don’t get cravings between meals.

 

In general, I enjoy the food here. My host family prepares most of my meals, but I also go out with friends to eat. My host family eats dinner at 9pm, so that was definitely an adjustment for me. I had to let my body adjust to the meal gap between lunch and dinner, which took some time. Even now, sometimes a craving will hit and I’ll buy my own snack.

 

 

3. Mechanical stuff: In Spain, things work differently than in the US. Some of the mechanical differences I’ve encountered include vending machines, electrical plugs (bring a plug adapter to Europe), keyboards, and so many more! Maybe it’s partly because I’m a mechanical klutz but things are definitely built differently here. Many other international students have described in agony to me their struggles with apartment keys. I encountered this problem the first time I tried entering my apartment and had to ring the doorbell because I couldn’t figure out how to open it. My host mom showed me again how to use the key and I haven’t had any problems since.

A European electrical outlet with two holes. Pictured on a white wall.
Wall outlet. Bring a couple plug adapters and charge adapters to Europe. You won’t be able to charge your precious devices without them!

Ah, but the keyboards! I’m still trying to adjust to the Spanish keyboard, which has a bunch of symbols that I don’t know how to use. I’m used to typing in Spanish on my own computer but I struggle when I have to use a desktop keyboard for my internship. Slowly but surely I’m getting better at using the Spanish keyboard. I only started my internship last week, so the keyboard is still a struggle.

I’m not even going to talk about the vending machines (I know how to use them now). Next little difference!

4. Cultural misunderstandings: Again, maybe not such a little difference but it happens often so I’m putting it on this list. Some of the cultural misunderstandings can be attributed to language. Spaniards talk really quickly, so sometimes it’s hard for me to understand them. Since I’m more used to Latino colloquialisms, some of the Spanish vocab (“alubias” instead of “frijoles” for “beans,” and “aseo” instead of “baño” for “bathroom”) were confusing at first. Visual cues and speaking Spanish constantly are some strategies I’ve used to adapt.

A hilarious language misunderstanding happened on my third day in Spain. I was eating lunch with my extended host family when someone asked me if I wanted some “keh-choop.” I looked at everyone with profound puzzlement as they repeated the word over and over again, trying to clue me in on the word. Then they showed me the bottle of ketchup. Keh-chup! Keh-choop! Same thing, just different pronunciations. How embarrassing!

Another point of cultural misunderstanding: In Spain, people can be quite intense and persistent. You might say no to something and they will continue to press you for approval. A couple of weekends ago, my host sister asked me if I wanted more dessert. I said no, but she kept pressing me. Not wanting more food is seen as a sign that you don’t like the food, so I had to tell her that I enjoyed the dessert but that I was full.

Being firm and direct with your communication is key in Spain, especially when you want or don’t want something. Many times, I’ve confused store clerks with indirect communication, making the transaction more tedious for both of us. So…the direct communication part is something I’m still working on.

5. History: Spain is rich with history! There are so many castles, monuments, and cathedrals to explore. I recently got back from vacation in Tarragona (a city near Barcelona) where I got to visit several Roman ruins. Next weekend, I’ll be going to Granada on a trip sponsored by our Alicante University program. And in Alicante, I’ve visited the Castle of Santa Barbara and two bomb shelters from the Spanish Civil War.

Showing the Castle of Santa Barbara from below. The castle sits atop a hill, with wispy white clouds and blue skies above. The foreground is green with vegetation.
The Castle of Santa Barbara in Alicante, pictured from below. We had a group trip to the castle on the first week of our program. There’s so much history everywhere in Spain!

The details from my trips will be the subject of my next blog post.

Hasta entonces (until then),

David Magnello

Grateful in Alicante, Spain

Gratitude.

On a windy afternoon, as I stroll along on the sand of Alicante’s Playa de San Juan, I can’t help but reflect on this past year and a half.  Lockdown-inducing pandemic? Check. Study abroad cancelled not once, but twice? Check. Natural disasters? Check. Political and social turmoil? As long as humans are around, absolutely.

Yet, in this moment I feel grateful. Many other feelings–contentment, sadness, joy, and anger–from this past year arise but gratitude is the one that sits at the forefront of my thoughts.

Showing the author at the beach with some other American students. They are standing on the sand with the sea and some people behind them.
At the Postiguet beach in Alicante with some other American students. This beach was a bit crowded but if you take the tram for 15 minutes you can get to the San Juan beach, which is much more quiet and picturesque.

Until I landed at the Madrid airport, I doubted whether I’d be able to study abroad this semester. During our five hour layover in Madrid, my Linfield peers and I breathed a sigh of relief not only because we knew for sure that we were going to study abroad but also because we got off that darn 11 hour flight.

Ahh, but gratitude! Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I must return to you, Gratitude! Otherwise, the people reading might get bored.

So let me tell you about what I’m grateful for here in Alicante. First of all, a wonderful host family. My host mother and her adult son, both of whom immigrated to Spain from Argentina about twenty years ago, are very kind and helpful. On Sundays, my host mother’s daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and their fluffy dog come visit. Last Sunday, we celebrated the quinceañera of one of their relatives in Argentina by filming a video in which we had music, balloons, and a special appearance by the grandson dressed as Harry Potter. It was so much fun!

Another thing I´m grateful for: delicious food. As a vegetarian, I was a bit worried about my options but my host family has been very accommodating. Honest communication is key! Telling your host family what foods you like and don´t like is essential, but it´s also important to try new foods. Here I´ve fallen in love with tortillas de patata, which more closely resemble potato sponge cake than the tortillas we eat in the Americas. My host brother says that tortillas de patata are a hot topic of debate among Spaniards, as about half of them prefer their tortillas with onion while the other half go “sin cebolla.” Personally, I like both so hopefully I can broker some peace while I´m here and add that to my resume.

There´s also a lot to do and explore here. Last week, we climbed the castle of Santa Barbara, which sits on a hill overlooking the city of Alicante. Built by Muslims in the 9th century, the castle of Santa Barbara has undergone a series of damages and renovations. On some of the walls, you can even see cannonballs wedged into the stone! Sadly, some of the modern aspects of the castle include satellite antennas, which provide signal to Alicante´s residents from atop the castle. Nonetheless, the view from the castle is spectacular and worth a photoshoot if you find yourself in Alicante.

View from atop the castle of Santa Barbara in Alicante, Spain at sunset. Captures  the sun setting amid clouds.
View from atop the castle of Santa Barbara in Alicante, Spain.

All of these events bring me back to gratitude. I´m so grateful to be able to study abroad this semester (and to be able to swim in ocean waters that won´t give me hypothermia!).

Hasta la próxima (until next time),

David Magnello