Fjord City livin’


Although it’s been pretty typical of me to spend most of my time in the Iberian peninsula, sometimes, a girl has to get out of the country. So, in an uncharacteristically brash decision, a couple weeks ago, I decided to head to Norway!


Yay, Norway!

My travel companion for this adventure in late April was Mallory! Mallory is currently studying in London, and is actually not affiliated with Linfield, or anything school-related to me. She is a friend of my best friend, Katie, who currently studies in Seattle. Mallory and I have been acquaintances for a while, however, we’ve never really had occasion to hang out alone together. McMinnville and Seattle are kind of far apart. However, when one is looking for a reliable travel partner, sometimes you have to look a little outside the box. Sometimes the right person is in England.

Anyways, after a split decision to travel *somewhere*, we decided on heading to Norway for a weekend in late April.

To be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about Norway, even now. The place is pretty damn weird.


This BBQ walker was parked right outside our AirBnB

My first day there I met Mallory (who had got there the day previous), and we took a stroll around our neighborhood. I saw the opera house, which was nearby our apartment, and we took a walk around to see the royal palace in downtown Oslo.


The opera house


On the walk to the palace




At the royal palace! You can take tours of the building during the summer, when the royal family isn’t there

It was a lovely day in Oslo the day I got in; sunshine is apparently pretty atypical this time of year.


Congressional building

After our walk around the neighborhood, we *attempted* to eat dinner. However, wouldn’t you know that it’s actually legal to discriminate who you sell alcohol to? The legal drinking age is 18, but we were turned down to buy beer. Apparently, there is a *rule* of debatable existence saying that on weekends, only people 23 and older are able to drink at bars.

If that sounds like complete and utter bullshit, you’ve just read my mind, because it is. But, seeing as we couldn’t fight the system, we eventually found some Thai food (instead of Norwegian stuff, like we wanted) and went home. So… Pick your battles and chose how and when you want to drink. Especially because Norway also stops selling all alcohol at 6pm, even in supermarkets.

This bullshit legislation, from one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world shocked me. I had never been carded before in Europe, before going to Norway. It was unsettling; and as I had just turned 21 a couple weeks before, I had never thought I’d be turned away ever again. But, I suppose there’s a first time for everything.



Our second day in Oslo proved to be more fruitful. After an amazing night’s sleep at our AirBnB (our mattress was magical), we set off to tour the fjord that surrounds the southern part of the city. During the cruise factoids about the city and surrounding area were given.


The photo above is a very similar ship to that of our fjord cruise. The port area in Oslo is very beautiful!



The Norway Resistance Museum and the Akershus Fortress


Tiny Norwegian summer cabins! There is a strict color code to the houses, usually only yellow, red, blue and white are allowed!



Tiny lil’ love chapel, perfect for eloping in.



During this part in our 2 hour ride, it started to snow! The sun was also shining on the other side of our boat.


Mallory and I, enjoying being completely frozen out on the water

After finishing our cruise, which was 100% worth the money, Mallory and I poked around a little bit more, walking around the city again. Oslo is set up pretty strangely; there is no real defined city center… Just a lot of important buildings tossed in with residential neighborhoods and parks.

Very near to the harbor was the Norway Resistance Museum, a former military academy that aided in the albeit futile resistance to German invasion in World War II. The museum also features the Akershus Fortress, a former prison.



The next day, we decided to hit up some famous landmarks, and some fun museums.


We started off with some fuel/light Instagram photoshooting

In the morning, we made our way to Vigelandsparken, a large park with a lot of sculptures. I have to say, I’ve been my fair share of places, and the sculptures Vigelandsparken were some of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.IMG_1673.jpg Like seriously:






The Angry Baby is the most famous sculpture in all of Oslo… for some reason.



Yeah. So that about explains that. We felt arted-out after that experience, so we switched gears, hurried across town to the Viking Ship Museum!!!







This place has to been seen in person to get the full effect. But basically the premise is 3 viking burial ships, all about 1000 years old were unearthed basically entirely intact in the outskirts of Oslo about 100 years ago. There were high-born females in each burial vessel, along with lots of tools and helpful implements for the afterlife. The place is super cool, and very Norwegian!

Afterwards we walked over the the Norwegian folk museum… Which wasn’t very interesting.


Norwegian Folk Museum

Basically the only thing interesting at this place in the church that is boarded off to visitors, and their café.


Ft. more April snow


Pork stew (great), raspberry soda (great), salmon with bread (bad – fish too raw), thin crackers (too thin for me)


Later on, we went to the ultra-hip neighborhood of Grunnerløkka, and hit up the market:



Your guess is as good as mine


Afterwards we stumbled upon a tiny bar run by an american guy; turns out it was trivia night! We ended up playing, doing horribly, then returning to our Airbnb. However, I did have some pretty good ginger ale while we hung around the bar:


Early the next morning we caught our flights back to our respective cities!

Personally, I don’t think I’d ever go to Oslo again; I feel like there are Norwegian cities with much more charm. However, the nature/scenery of Norway is A+++++; it is AMAZINGLY beautiful there. Oslo just isn’t really the city for me.



Más rebujito, por fa


Hi! I’m late posting yet again; isn’t it funny how whenever you’re looking for a lull in your life to catch up, the universe piles on more and more for you to do? It’s pretty annoying, especially when that something to do is blogging.

Anyways, digging in, this catch up post will feature my adventure down into the most Spanish of places in the entire universe, Sevilla. I was lucky enough to head down south to Andalucía to go to the world famous Feria de Abril. Even though I had class, I made a point of skipping it, and making a beeline to one of the most famous Spanish events in the entire world.


From left: me, Carmen (a real live Spaniard who would speak to us!!!), Maddie, and Mariah

I took an 8 hour BlaBlaCar ride to Sevilla, and was able to meet up with my friend Mariah (former roommate and occasional travel companion), who lives and goes to school in the city. We use the same program (Spanish Studies Abroad), but our schooling is pretty different. Additionally I was able to see a high school friend, Rachel (who goes to Pacific University in Forest Grove). It was nice to see both friends, radically different from where I first met both of them.

Anyways, a lot of my time in Sevilla (only about 48 hours) was spent walking around on the cobblestone streets, admiring women in their trajes and wondering if I had somehow walked into a dream… Sevilla is fucking BEAUTIFUL.


A picture I stole from google

They call it the jewel of the south for a reason; and just reading about the place is impossible to describe. There’s something about the place that feels like it was transported out of a fairytale… Something that seems so purely Spanish, like it fell out of the pages of Don Quixote. But there isn’t an air of stuffiness or antiquity. But it isn’t just the buildings, although the the architecture is lovely, if not very typical Spanish.

Like any other place in Europe, Sevilla is old. But it has a magnetic sort of  charm; there’s just something in the air there, something special that really differentiates the place from others I’ve visited, and I have visited a lot of places in Spain.


Additionally, the people who inhabit Sevilla are equally lovely. Much nicer than anyone from the Comunidad Valenciana.

Every Sevillano that I encountered was a ton of fun; very welcoming, if not very hard to understand… The accent in Andalucía is fast and loose, and really hard to understand if you’re not from there. For Americans, I’d say it’s most like a cajun bayou sort of twang, with lots of abandoned word endings and loose pronunciation. For me, I felt like I was suddenly in the middle of people talking to me with their mouths full… Even though there was nothing there. It’s just how they talk.

Anyways the city was nice, however, the Feria is the real reason for this post: it was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever been to, but in a good way. In your head, if you can conjure up a mix of a state fair in the US, combined with a very traditionally Spanish celebration, complete with dancing, food and live music, you have Feria.


Walking in is the Alumbrado, which is the gate to get into Feria



The trajes are pretty hard to get pictures of in person, but they are so lovely. Before going to Sevilla, I always thought that these get-ups were so tacky; however, when you end up surrounded by hundreds of different types, in a rainbow of colors and patterns, your attitude changes. The majority are absolutely lovely and the opposite of tacky. It just depends on the dress. My all-time favorite was a canary yellow traje, with the woman wearing an enormous purple rose in her hair.

In some circles, it’s gaudy; in others, it’s traditional.


Anyways, once you get inside, it’s a fucking madhouse, trying to get somewhere to drink and dance.

The little house-type things seen in my video are called casetas. There are both public and private, as well as some that are representations of local businesses. Usually, the families that own them are quite wealthy, so it pays to have friends in high places. We ended up at some private one, because Mariah had a friend of a friend who knew the owner. Which was nice, I felt pretty fancy being admitted into a private caseta.

Once getting inside, we tucked in for a couple pitchers of rebujito, the drink of the Feria (sherry + sprite).



There was a complete menu and bar in the back of our caseta

We drank, and we ate a little. However, eventually, it started raining. Like in Alicante, it hardly ever rains! Just my luck though.

However, Spaniards, in their continuous worry over melting in the rain, funneled into our caseta, effectively trapping us for the next couple hours. There was nothing to do, since the outside was muddy, and no where to move to, since all of the seats were taken.

However, after about 2 hours, we were able to spread out once more, as the rain let up.


The view from the dining area, right behind the music!




The dancers in this video are dancing the sevillana… Which has four parts, and a story, but I know none of it. It is quite sensual though.

Eventually, Mariah and I decided to head out, to try and go to another friend’s caseta. So we set out walking… And it rained.



And it rained some more


Really, it was kind of depressing, especially seeing all of the pretty dresses get all muddy. However, it was still very fun!

Also, since Mariah’s friend never responded to us, and the rain was falling steadily, we decided to head in early that night. Although it was a lot of fun, I was ready to leave. It would have been so much better if the weather would have stayed nice! However, nothing to do about it. It was still lovely.

The next day, I packed up my bags, got into another BlaBlaCar and hit the open road.



If you’ve never been in Sevilla, I suggest you go. It really is one of those cities that needs to be seen to be believed. It really just magical. Sevilla wears her years like a lustrous patina, and there is so much culture and history to be enjoyed there. The people are fun, welcoming, the drinks are pretty good, and the atmosphere was light-hearted and fun the entire time.

The Andalucians know how to throw a party, and the Feria de Abril is a shining example of that.



North, South, and back again

Continuing the saga, after leaving Portugal, the group of boys and I returned to Madrid to send Junior off, back to southern California 😦

Our starting place for this journey was the city of Vigo, which is nestled up in Galicia; the city was very beautiful, and looked very interesting; it appeared to have rolling green hills, and barrier islands off its rocky coastline. However, we didn’t get to explore much, as we only arrived during the late afternoon and left very early the next morning. As a collective, we marched off to the train station in Vigo, for our train taking us back to Madrid… Like I just said.

In Spain, the train system is really quite neat. In each region (better to say each autonomous community), there are the Cercanias (short line trains), the Alvia (long distance, medium speed), and the AVE (long distance, high speed). Getting from Vigo to Madrid took us the better part of 6 hours on the Alvia. Not bad, but not great either. They say that they’re building the high speed AVE from Santiago de Compostela to get to Madrid. It’ll only then take about 3 hours. Which is neat. Additionally, the word ave in Spanish means bird, which I like. It does feel like you’re flying when you’re zipping around that thing. During our train ride, the boys slept intermittently, and Junior and I played the stupidly addictive game called CrossyRoads, while drinking Colacao all the while.

Eventually, we got to Madrid, and checked into our room at a nearby hotel. Junior and mine’s room was decked out in an enormous California king bed. It was also very comfy.

The next morning, at about 4am, we were pulled from sleeping, to head to the airport. For poor Junior, it was the last leg of our adventure together in Europe 😦

I had very much enjoyed having Junior here – I was so entirely stoked that he was even able to come visit me… I don’t think he realizes how much I truly appreciated the gesture of him literally crossing continents for lil old me.

There’s just something about this guy. There’s something about him that’s just inherently good… If you were to ask me the best thing about this guy I’m with, you might expect me to say that he’s handsome, or that he’s a muscular guy, or that latin men make me swoon. All of the above are true; but really, the best thing about Junior is that he is kind. He’s the yang to my yin. In Spanish culture, call this kind of person a media naranja – your orange half. I’ve used this term before a long time ago, but someone’s media naranja is basically like your other half. It doesn’t always have to be romantic, like my situation is, but people’s media naranja comes in the form of another person that complements the characteristics that their friend/partner has.

This is the case with Junior and I. He’s the kind of person that other people are drawn to, almost magnetically. He has a sort of quiet, calming energy about him that I think a lot of people are intrigued by subconsciously. I am. He’s a thoughtful and very perceptive old soul.

In other words, nothing like me.

But there’s something in both of us that click. I don’t really know what it is, but I’m glad it’s there.

Anyways, like I said, early in the morning, I had to say my final goodbyes to Junior until this summer. It was sad, but I’ll see him very soon. I actually have plans to do an internship down in the San Diego area this summer! However, that’s a different story for a different time.

Anyways, after Junior left to take the bus to his separate terminal, we wildly scrambled to get to ours on time. But, it typical Spanish fashion, we barely started boarding by the time we were due to take off… My extremely uptight-about-flying brother and father practically stroked out this entire ordeal.

But eventually… We were able to board our plane! To where, you ask? Gran Canaria! A couple days prior, the boys and I had discussed what to do with a couple extra days that they were here. We decided on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.


The flag of Gran Canaria
Located in the Canary Islands, Las Palmas is the capital of the islands. Their location is exotic, but honestly, I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about this place. Like, there is NOTHING there to do. They say that the beaches are nice; however, the water was so rough the entire two days we were there, that it wasn’t worth it.

Leaving our mark in some tiny cafe in town
But I mean really… The pictures above are all I have to show for my time there. Really, the place is so incredibly sleepy. It’s kind of incredible how not exciting it was!

Anyways, after the quick southern detour aside, afterwards, we headed back to Madrid, so that the guys could catch their flight home… And since the boys never woke me up to say good bye, I woke up around the time they were boarding, without getting to see them one last time.

Anyways, taking that little slight in stride, I forged onward, to the girl-power vacation I would be taking by myself. As any female can confirm, being around boys for a long, uninterrupted period of time is exhausting. So, taking that in mind, I set of for my next ‘Fin Goes Rogue’ adventure.

Thrilled to *Go Rogue*, ft. Asturian countryside

Thing is about Asturias, is that it kind of reminded me of what being in Switzerland would be like. Lots of snow-capped mountains, babbling brooks and plentiful amounts of cows dotting the landscape. From my seat on the train, I truly felt like I was heading to a true, authentic Spanish town; not ones that are marred from outside influence like Barcelona or Madrid. It felt especially Spanish because seemingly half a convent’s worth of nuns shared my car with me.

Asturias seemed to me, so pure and simple; the idyllic countryside and sunshine really were breathtaking. It’s a shame that photos never truly catch the majesty of nature. All we get to show are relatively cheap representations of the awe-inspiring stuff that we see with the naked eye.

Try and look past my giant hands, and soak in all that Asturian goodness. It was amazing!
Upon my arrival to Gijón, I was so worn out from being around other people that, after I checked into my hotel, I turned into a hermit and didn’t leave my room the entire rest of the night.

But, I did manage to get a nice picture of the beachfront real estate that my digs were situated in before I migrated to bed:

Not pictured: the crisp sea breeze

The next day, I woke up and promptly took advantage of the Snapchat geotag offered by Gijón… In addition to a delightful filter that transformed me from bad bedhead,IMG_1350.jpg to a poster child for lubersexuality/a John Snow impersonator.

I know nothing… about Asturias
After my impromptu photoshoot, I laced up my shoes, and went for a nice, long walk! I had the luck of having some pretty incredible weather while up north… Apparently their climate is much more similar to that of the PNW.

So, while out and about, I got to really embrace the sunshine, and enjoy the lack of windows impeding my nature embracin’.

Asturias is the land of hard cider; this art installation is empty El Sidrero bottles


Lunch was a goat cheese salad + red wine

My one day to catch a good lunch in Gijón allowed me to grab a seat at a nice place near the town harbor. An local guy served me, and was very intrigued to know all about me, and how an American made her way all the way to Asturias. The guy was very proud of the fact that he had visited Miami many times, due to a friend who is a pilot for American Airlines.

Later on in the day, after taking a siesta, I decided to continue enjoying the sunshine. I hit up a local park, one that also looked over the water.

This monolith probably means something… But seeing as there was no plaque, I couldn’t tell you what.
Additionally, in this park, I found a little hidey hole in a rock face.

I wanted to climb in and explore, but I figured that’s probably how people go missing. So I desisted.
For me, the best view of the park was that looking away from the water. I loved to be able to see some real TREE COVERED mountains! That also had snow!


Living in Alicante makes me really miss vegetation and real weather.


All in all, Gijón is a very lovely city. The people were extremely friendly, the cheese was great. It’s a shame I had less that 48 hours to enjoy it’s beauty. It’s one of those places that I could see myself retiring to… It’s a sleepy place, but has a sort of worn-in charm that felt nice.

The next two stops in my journey were extremely short, and cursed by some pretty miserable weather. I returned to País Vasco (remember Bilbao?), and later to Zaragoza, in Aragón. However, in both places there were high winds and driving rains… Something not very conducive to exploring.

I figured I was repaying for the amazing weather that I got while in Asturias. However, after many, many hours on the train, I once more was able to swing back around to port, to Alicante. It was a long time coming, but after two weeks consistently on the move, it felt great to sleep in my own bed.

It was quite the adventure, those two weeks. A lot happened: a huge delegation came to visit, we circumnavigated the country a couple times, and drank a lot of wine. It’s always so good to see people you know while studying abroad… A lot of the time you feel pretty invisible, pretty cut off from the things you take for granted back in your real life. And while my life here in Alicante has been a huge learning experience, and has demanded me to grow in many ways… But you never quite get over missing the people who are *home* to you. It isn’t the walls of a house that makes a home; it’s the people inside it, and their laughter and presence that makes it one. At least, that’s the way I see it.


A great Oportounity



Let’s talk about Portugal! Spain’s neighbor to the west, and a country that literally never comes up in conversation! Seriously, it’s like everyone has forgotten about poor Portugal. However, I’ve visited, and everything still appears to be in one piece. The Portuguese are just kind of doing their own thing, apart from the rest of Europe. Not really sure why or how that is though, since they are also apart of the EU.



In late March, the rag-tag team of adventurers (Sam, my dad, Junior and I) packed up camp, and drove the 2.5 hours to the city of Oporto (Porto), in northern Portugal. The drive was lovely, green, and full of toll roads. Not sure why that is, but… Well, yeah. It’s annoying, that’s about all I can say.



The Galician Cultural Center in Santiago de Compostela

Once we got to Porto, Google Maps, in all it’s ridiculous glory, had us completely turned around. It made us attempt to go down extremely narrow and harrowing streets… Something that practically made my high-strung brother shit his pants in worry. I was more bewildered by all of it; it was a bit of a mess, but we ended up at a nice AirBnB, right near the Douro river.


This view was about a 10 minute walk from our house!

Basically, our time in Portugal was spent exploring various parts of the city, eating a lot of seafood, and generally being confused by the Portuguese language.


The weird thing is, is that Junior and I found out by accident that we could understand the local language fairly well; not something I expected, but it was neat to find out! We had to respond back in Spanish, but I have to admit, it was fun to see Junior struggle for the first time in his life communicating with someone from a different culture. A lot of the people we spoke to didn’t speak English, or Spanish… So he got a taste of what it’s like for me to literally struggle with every tiny task while out in public.

It’s a LOT of work trying to navigate a world that does not accommodate you; so many people (Americans) get to breeze by in life, having everyone else accommodate to them. Yes, a lot of people speak English abroad, but most of the time, those people are never around when you really need help. Removing the language cushion is good. Now, if only my dad and brother could’ve actually experienced it, instead of having everything done for them…?

Anyways, like I said, there was lots of eating and exploring done during our couple-day -stay in Portugal… I’ll leave you with the pictures of my meals:



Human teeth on a fish?! What!


A couple tentacles and potatoes for dinner


Additionally, one night we went to some restaurant down by the river, and unsuspectingly were seated underneath something that… well… yeah.


We don’t know how we lucked upon this either. It was very large, and hanging like some sort of perverse Christmas decoration directly from the ceiling.

Anyways, long wooden items aside, Porto is a very pretty city:




The one organized activity that we partook in while in Porto was to visit the Sandeman distillery, across the river in the city of Gaia (which is more of an extension of Porto than its own city). Porto has many bridges open to pedestrians, so it was no large feat popping over and going on the tour. Our tour consisted of seeing the port wine storage facility, learning a bit about the distillation process, and later, sampling two different types of port: red and tawny.




Our guide was a cute little Portuguese girl, who had her first English-speaking tour with us!


Seeing as the barrels have to be kept cool, indoor water fixtures are key to maintaining proper humidity and temperature. 


The barrels are ENORMOUS – way too big to get in a picture, especially with low lighting. But this picture shows how much port is left in this 20,786 liter barrel!


Another barrel containing tawny port

However, seeing as the Porto/Gaia area is right on the riverbank, there have been a couple floods in Sandeman’s past.


The flood of 1962 reaches about a meter above the ground 

Side note! There is white painting lining the halls of Sandeman to allow worker’s to be alerted quickly in case of a leaking barrel. 


The flood of 1909 reached about 2 meters off the ground. Yikes!

It was too dark and dank to get a picture, but many of the smaller, more floatable barrels are connected via chain, incase of another flood. Even if the facility at Sandeman is breeched by water once more, there’s little chance of losing too much product.


My lovely father modeling the tawny port, which tastes a lot like honey; the red is sharper, and more woody. Personally, I didn’t particularly care for either one!

Additionally, we hit up the Serra do Pilar monastery, a pretty former-religious establishment, perched atop of the Gaia side Douro.


A picture I stole from online


We lucked upon having pretty amazing weather!

To get there, we took a ride up on the teleférico – a cute little transport that took you up above the Gaia side of things, up very close to the monastery’s doorstep.




From the car, you can see all the buildings below that used to be Sandeman storage units. Now they’re either houses, businesses, or abandoned.


Our last day in Porto brought us to the edge of the Atlantic! Before driving back to Spain and the city of Vigo (in Galicia), we took a cable car from nearby our house to go explore west. From the old-timey cable care, we were dropped off at an area where we were able to get a nice look at the estuary where the Douro meets the ocean. It was a nice day, but it was also horrifically windy! The waves hinted at a coming storm, as they were unruly and rough. Afterwards, we made our way back up to Vigo.

While Porto was interesting and pretty, I don’t think it’ll be a place I’ll visit again, intentionally. I would be open to visiting Lisbon; but further down the line. The food was wonderful, and the scenery was lovely. However, the people were a mix of kind and downright rude. Additionally, there isn’t a lot to do in Porto, besides tasting port and lazing around by the river. But some people like that kind of thing. Personally, I’d be more interested learning about somewhere else.


However, sometimes, it’s best to just kick back and enjoy the view, appreciating where life takes you.

Escaping to Galicia


If you’re heading up north, Santiago de Compostela isn’t the most lively place, but I find it to be one of the most beautiful. The rolling green hills and abundance of cows dotting the landscape is something near and dear to my heart… I always forget how good it feels to be around greenery. Also, they happen to have some killer seafood in Galicia, and that isn’t a bad thing at all. Santiago de Compostela is actually pretty cool, if a little sleepy.


A lovely placemat of Galicia that all of us were clamoring a copy for… The waitress was very confused at our behavior.

Anyways, to continue my log of what I did over spring break, after spending a couple days in Alicante with all three of us together, my dad, brother, and boyfriend (Dan, Sam, and Junior, respectively), packed up all of our crap and headed to the Alicante airport. There, after a delightful (read nightmarish) encounter with RyanAir representatives (anyone who has ever dealt with them knows how snobbish and horrible they are), we boarded our flight, and were on our way up north!


It was too damn bright out on the tarmac for me!

An hour and some change later, we arrived at the other end of the country!

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 3.17.50 PM.png


Unfortunately, we only had a single day to spend in Santiago, before making our way down to Oporto, Portugal. So, we were only able to explore our neighborhood a little. However, when you’re in Santiago de Compostela, the main thing to do there is go to the cathedral. And I’ll detail our experience there in a minute.

Upon getting to Santiago, as lead interpreter for the group, I was forced into asking our AirBnB host where a good place was that they recommended for dinner… However we were immediately shuttled down to a place across the street that had some pretty unfriendly waitstaff, but good food.


The dining area was interesting.

Speaking of food, like I said, Galicia is known for their awesome seafood. Especially their octopus and squid. If you’re ever in the area, branch out a little and try it! If you’ve ever thought that octopus/squid is gummy and rubbery, you’ve never had it prepared correctly. Galician food should make you want to cry happy tears, not sad ones.


Tiny garlicky squids with potatoes. Yum!


After eating, we took a short stroll down to see the cathedral.



Gardens outside the cathedral


A kinda-cool panorama fail outside the church (which is behind the camera)

Since I couldn’t quite get a picture that captures the scale of how big and grandiose this place is, so I stole one off the internet:


This huge-ass cathedral, in which construction was started in 1060, is said to be the final resting place of Saint James the Great, one of the Apostles of the main dude himself, Jesus Christ. After his beheading in Jerusalem, it’s said that his remains *appeared* to Galician fisherman (funny how that kind of thing doesn’t seem to happen anymore) in 44 A.C. He was promptly buried, and then somehow forgotten about until the 3rd century, when it was rediscovered by the hermit Pelagius.

Long story short, Pelagius got the word out, and eventually, the then-king of Asturias and Galicia, Alfonso II ordered a construction of a chapel on-site. Eventually the chapel was converted into a church, and later into the cathedral that we now know today.

This church is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Cite, as well as one of the best-known end-destinations for religious pilgrimages. These pilgrimages are known as the Camino de Santiago OR the St. James Trail. They’re the same thing. However, the paths are most commonly referred to as the Camino de Santiago. Also, I think there’s a movie about one of the trails that stars Martin Sheen?


Basically you start at 1, and make your way to Santiago de Compostela, in which the cathedral is the finish line!

Pilgrims are required to have booklets that are to be stamped along the way at monasteries and other churches, to confirm that the pilgrim is making the trek for real.


Additionally, there’s some interesting symbology synonymous with the Camino… Pilgrims are encouraged to wear shells on their clothing, to show to the world that they are on a religious pilgrimage.



The concha (shell), denotes that you are on your way to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Additionally, the signage throughout the paths are marked by more shells, yellow arrows, and even raised metal shells embedded in the ground to lead the way.


Shell on the side of a building in Vigo, Spain (Galicia)


On the sidewalk in Gijón, Spain (Asturias)

Anyways, once you get inside the cathedral, after an extremely long walk to get there, you get to go inside, and turn in your booklet to a church official, then all of your sins have been absolved. So that’s nice for them.

For the non-religious/lazy who are visiting (i.e. us), you just get to experience a lovely gothic church and marvel at the 900 year-old craftsmanship. Junior especially enjoyed this place, and even had a bit of a religious experience there. But that’s his business, not ours. But I can confirm that he liked it.



Since the church was so massive, it was hard to get any good pictures. Sure, I took a lot, but you can’t really grasp the scale of how enormous this place is through pictures. Or how pretty.

However, the church is beautiful, and I recommend going. I even had the opportunity to go up and hug a statue of Jesus encrusted with priceless gems. Even though I am a non-believer, I can appreciate the beauty that the church offers, as well as some of the parts of the bible. But! This isn’t a place for me to wax religious. Enjoy some more pictures!




Junior being a smug miracle 😛

There are lots of interesting nooks and crannies in Santiago. Again, a lot of my pictures didn’t really turn out to show that, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The fact that it was overcast the entire time was to blame, mainly. Also my photography skills aren’t that great.






The complete lack of drinkable water in Alicante is explained! ALL of it is in Santiago de Compostela!

And that’s about it! 24 hours isn’t quite enough time in Santiago – it would be better to spend about 48 hours there, to get a better feel of the city. However, everything was so beautiful, and so green, that I think it would merit returning in the future. The Galician people that we ran into were friendly enough, although I could tell that they were fairly suspicious of a gaggle of non-pilgrim Americans being in their city.

Makes me think that Santiago de Compostela isn’t exactly on the tourism map… But after being in Alicante for so long, I honestly have no problem with that. The more tranquil the better.


– fin

When visitors come a-knockin’


So someone’s coming to visit you in Alicante, huh? Good for you! That probably means that you’ve put in a decent chunk of time abroad, and your family and/or friends are going to be your reward for working hard. I know as well as anyone: this experience is fucking HARD. So hard, and a lot of friends and family don’t quite realize that. We aren’t on vacation over here; we’re fighting a 24/7 battle to stay afloat mentally, physically and emotionally in the sea that is study abroad. Doing this stuff is so entirely stressful, especially when you have a foreign language component added in. But when the people we love come to visit, I think it makes it all momentous struggles and shortcomings we power through worthwhile.

Recently, the main man in my life, Junior, was able to come visit me for about ten days at the end of March. It was his first time leaving the US! Very exciting for all involved.



One of his favorite parts of Spain seemed to be the snacks. Also Colacao.

For any of you who don’t know, he’s a Marine down in Southern California, and the fact that he was (legally) able to get away from base and come visit is something akin to a miracle. The Corps makes it almost impossible for their Marines to leave the country, unless one completes about a trillion pieces of paperwork and attends a handful of different classes and seminars. Thanks for sticking it out, Junior!

For those of you who don’t know him personally, Junior truly is a wonderful guy. Yes, he’s a big and burly Marine that can yell and look intimidating; but he is also one of the most well-intentioned, kind, observant, and silly people I know. And if you’re not sold on him yet, while he does know how to break an arm in three places at once – more amazingly – Junior can calm and cuddle a baby like no one’s business. He’s pretty neat.

So, when he came to visit, and then finally arrived in Alicante, I was over the moon. Also, one shout out and a BIG up-yours to the French Air Traffic Control that went on strike that day, causing him a delayed flight and having to spend the night in Madrid.

Realize that when your guests get to their final destination, they’re going to be exhausted. Even though you’ll want to immediately take them out and go explore, they will want to take a nap. For people coming to Alicante from the west coast, it’s about a 17-20 hour excursion getting from point A to point B.

So let them rest.


And when they finally come-to, take them out for a good square meal. While you may be accustomed to Spanish cuisine and would be fine with a bocadillo, you’ll come to find that a lot of people have no clue what Spanish food actually consists of, and are curious to try it. Take your guests to a place where you can get comida de cuchara – soups and dishes that are hardier than what you normally get at your host parent’s place. Also, stocking up on snacks at your hotel room/AirBnB is a good idea.

Some major hits I had with Junior (and later in the week with my brother and dad, after they arrived):


Mini Mince Croquettes_30_1.1.795_326X580.Jpeg






snatts cheese.jpg


Frutos Secos (cocktail nuts):



Pulpo a la fiera (Galician style octopus with potatoes):



But be careful with seafood and dishes featuring meat – Europeans have no qualms including splintery bones in their food. While the practice does add flavor, it’s hazardous to us Americans who aren’t quite used to that kind of thing.

A great-looking paella can be riddled with small bones that are almost invisible to the naked eye. Stuff like soups, lentils, and practically any dish with a sizeable meat presence are also pretty likely to have bones somewhere. So be careful out there!


Spanish food doesn’t have the good kind of bones.

Additionally, with seafood, oftentimes things like fish or shrimps/gambas/langostinos, the animal is cooked and served whole, and dropped off on your plate. Be careful, and be ready to have to work for your dinner.

Also, the fresh produce grown in la Comunidad Valenciana couldn’t be a better quality, or cheaper. I recommend taking your guests to a market (like Mercado Central) or a gypsy-run fruit and vegetable market, like the Mercadillo de Benalua – which has its own post dedicated to it, HERE. Both places are seriously so cool, and are worth the hassle. One of my favorite aspects of Spain are its marketplaces!

The strawberries are to die for and are cheap (fresas or fresones, depending on the size of the berry). But keep in mind that the oranges are always amazing as well… And are the grapes…And the persimmons in the fall and winter. Or the pomegranates! Yum!

Also, don’t forget to encourage your guests to try different drinks while abroad. We all know you’ve tried them, so spread the love!


Eating and drinking in Europe is fun because there are so many obscure options out there. My brother is notorious for sticking to a couple brands of beer in the US – but in Spain, hardly any of his normal brand is available. Alcoholic options that were a hit were:




Local red wine (vino tinto)

Spanish beers (all light beer), including but not limited to…


from Galicia


from Madrid


from Andalucía


from the Canaries

Honorable mention:

 if you happen to be in Portugal…


However, if you’re not picky, the way to order whatever’s on tap is to ask for una caña (canya).

Non-alcoholic options that are fun:


Fresh squeezed orange juice (duh!)


Horxata Valenciana (akin to Mexican horchata, but with a completely different flavor profile)


Carbonated water, if you’re into that kind of thing. Some people can’t get enough of the stuff. Personally, I hate it.

Anyways, once you’ve fed and let your visitors rest, you know the places you have to take your guests:



Hiking up to the castle served us both fine!




The University of Alicante, if they want to. The boys and I didn’t make it up there, but when my mom and Rosy visited, we took a peek.

And if you need more places, don’t be afraid to ask your host family or teachers for recommendations as to what to do. Also, if you’re lucky enough to have one or a couple, ask your Spanish friends! I would totally, if I had any. But I don’t. Regardless, there’s a lot out there that you don’t know about, and local knowledge goes a long way!

Conxa, in her eternal wonderfulness, basically brought out my entire host family to dinner one night:


…And this was all the day before we went out on a boat together! It was billed as a fishing trip, but ended up being more of a sailboat ride up the coast near Benidorm. Sam, Junior, my dad, Conxa and I were pretty savvy sailors.





The trusty Skipper


Heading down to go pee on the boat! Trust me, you always want to pee on land, if you have the choice 😮

Conxa then took us all to see the overwhelming tourist trap that is Benidorm, and managed to get a very awkward most-of-the-family photo:


I also highly recommend travelling within Spain/the Iberian Peninsula with your friends/family. I think a lot of people don’t quite realize the HUGE variety that this place has to offer.

Like yes, it is only the size of Texas, but there’s a lot going on in every nook and cranny of this place. Like you want an arid desert but also want beach? Ta-da, you’ve got Alicante. Rich cultural experience including free tapas? Granada. Quirky, winding streets combined with killer architecture? Barcelona. Deep blue waters and tropical? Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. No-nonsense and cosmopolitan? Madrid. Rolling hills mixed with industrial? Bilbao. Want a sleepy and picturesque seaside town? Gijón.

It’s pretty neat! You name it, Spain probably has it somewhere.


In my next blog post I’ll show some Semana Santa pictures, and talk about our group adventure into Galicia, in the rainy north of Spain, and beyond! Stay tuned!

– fin

Las Fallas 2016: the 24 hour nightmare


The springtime celebration of Las Fallas in Valencia was billed to be a great Spanish festival, but for me, it was more akin to a post-apocalyptic survival scenario. It may look fun in videos, but from experience, I can say that it is a nightmarish scenario that I don’t recommend attending for 16 hours straight.

Think about it: endless hours in a concrete jungle, no free place to sit down, no wifi to communicate with anyone, rain, firecrackers and fireworks exploding at random, enormous crowds, and tall burning structures in the middle of streets… What could go wrong?


Basically, Las Fallas today has transformed into a week-long celebration of various Valencian traditions, culminating in the burning of wooden effigies.There are religious elements, but I’m not entirely sure what they are. But I do know that there is an entire day dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Her dress is entirely ‘made’ of bouquets of flowers! This plaza smelled wonderful.

I only went for one day, the day that the statues were burned. However, before getting into my horrid ordeal, I’ll give a little background as to what Las Fallas is.

Las Fallas was originally created by Valencian craftsmen, as a way of burning their unused materials. However, over time, the celebration turned into more of a form of ritual burning, complete with stylized effigies of disliked people in the community/country. Fallas is known for the its biting satirical edge, and no one is safe from its wrath. However, from what I saw at the festival, politicians are the most vulnerable to being roasted – figuratively and literally – by the Valencian community.


Typically, one statue is funded and built by a neighborhood in Valencia each year. The statues can range in price from a couple thousand euros, to multiple millions. The price doesn’t seem to be an issue for most citizens, and no one I spoke to seemed to make the connection that they were literally burning their hard earned money.

And for what? 3 minutes of fun watching it burn and having their tax dollars clean up the ashes first thing the next morning? For a country that seems to have such a deficit/spending problem, a celebration such as surprises me.



Anyways, so with Las Fallas, with each neighborhood who builds a statue, there are also smaller ones for children that are burned at an earlier, kid friendly time (10pm… Yeah, I know). The Ayuntamiento of the city gives out prizes for the best Fallas created.


This year, the Calle Cuba won first place.

There are parades and other Valencian-centric festivities. Many of the citizens, at some point during the week dress in the traditional Valencian clothing to celebrate their heritage.





Now. Let’s get to my story.

So, I signed up in February for the group outing with the UA to go to Las Fallas. I had heard from everyone that it was marvelous, and so worth going to. So I was excited going in! I didn’t do my homework as to what the festival involved, but figured it was fine.

So, on the Saturday of the burning of the Fallas (March 19th), I woke up bright and early to get on the bus to Valencia at a plaza near my house. 8am wakeup calls in Spain are rare, especially on the weekends. I should have been suspicious then. But I wasn’t.

The bus ride took us two hours, and after a lengthy stop at a gas station, we arrived in Valencia around 11am. Once we got there we were more or less dumped off to go roam the streets until 12am until the Fallas were burned. Then at 3:30 AM the next day, we would be recollected and driven back to Alicante.

Thankfully for me, I decided to glob myself onto a group of girls in my program: Tori, Sage, and Marshall. All girls that I am friendly with, and share the tram ride to school with often. Sage had a friend in Valencia who agreed to show us around for a couple hours.

So we walked. And saw Fallas.


And walked more. More Fallas.




You get the idea.


Until about 2pm, where we went to a main square to see something called Las Mascletas. This mini celebration within Las Fallas, that is a 5 minute firecracker and firework display, probably commemorating something that I don’t know about. Anyways, there isn’t much to tell about this thing… I was in a sea of a couple thousand other Spaniards, sandwiched into the middle of the street. The main event happened about a block away, but it was so packed that you couldn’t get any closer.

Just a couple thousand of my closets friends in Valencia to see Las Mascletas

If you’ve ever seen a fireworks display for the Fourth of July or New Year’s, Las Mascletas is kind of like that, except less impressive, because there are buildings in the way. Also, it started to rain just as the first firecrackers went off. So basically I could only hear the fireworks, and see the smoke, because as soon as one raindrop fell, every Spaniard had their umbrella out like they feared the rain more than unpredictable small explosives.

Anyways, after the underwhelming display of Mascletas, we went back to doing… Nothing. Lots of walking around. At one point we turned into a bar to be able to sit and order a drink, and we were already completely exhausted. Mind you, this was like at 3pm. There were still 12 hours left to be in Valencia. We had no set plans, except for viewing the burning of the Fallas at midnight, and the light show at 8pm.

So we walked.


And saw Fallas.




And walked around some more.


And really, once you see about three Fallas, they all start beginning to look the same.
Cut to 8pm, where it was time to go file into another packed street and see the light show. There was an illuminated tunnel that lead to the 1st place Falla.

The tunnel entrance

The show was cool, but after it ended, I almost got stuck in a stampede. So many people were trying to get in to walk through the tunnel that there was a jam, and no one could get through at all. Given the Spanish custom of having no sidewalk etiquette, nor any conception of space,  no one could get through, because not one person would move.

Eventually the police came to unclog the masses, and at that point people were getting angry and starting to push one another. Meanwhile, I was holding tight onto the other girls, doing our best not to get smashed and/or separated in the mess of people. After about 15 minutes we were able to get out…

It was a pretty horrible experience, and I don’t consider myself claustrophobic. It took a lot to stay calm with hundreds of people pushing you off your feet and taking you wherever, like a rip current.


I see now how places like Black Friday shopping and crowded stadiums can quickly diverge into dangerous corridors where people get trampled. I feel like things were quickly escalating in that situation, and I’m so glad we never got to full blown panic or violence. It was pretty scary… Even for a fully grown adult like myself. There were tiny Spanish children and babies that had been taken out by their parents, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them.

After that awful crowded mess, we attempted to make our way out and away from the wild crowds. However, we promptly got stuck in another crowd vortex, this time trying to get across the street. The problem was, was that the Fallas are constructed in the middle of the narrow streets, leaving little room for hardly any foot-traffic to pass around. Everyone was trying to get somewhere else, and again, things practically dissolved into pure chaos before our eyes. Shouting, pushing, elbowing… It was bad. I got a couple good elbow jabs to my back, and more than once I was pinned against two other people.


Eventually, we got out from the second traffic jam, and made a beeline away from all things Fallas related. At this point there was about 6 hours until we were scheduled to go home, and we were pretty miserable. We had nowhere to sit, our backs were aching, and my ears ached dully from all the firecrackers that had been set off in such close proximity to my head.

After having a series of small heart attacks thanks to the firecrackers – that were being set off at random by small, unsupervised children – it eventually got to be 12am… Thank god. We found a smaller Falla (because we had had ENOUGH of large crowds), and packed into the narrow street to watch it burn.


Then we finally got to see some fire.


Then, there were only two hours left.

We spent those two hours, after stopping into a Burger King for food for the girls, by looking around for benches and places to sit. However, the city workers of Valencia had taken and temporarily removed many of the bus stop and city benches. However, those who hadn’t been removed where soaked in water, thanks to the steady drizzle that had finally overtaken the heavy clouds.

It was raining, the streets were a sea of wet garbage and beer bottles, and many of the Spaniards had resurfaced drunk and rowdy, ready to drink and fight. Shouts were coming from all directions, and police sirens could be heard on a constant loop at varying proximities to our location.

It was as close to purgatory as I think I’ve ever gotten in this world.


By 2:00 am, we had found a couple other members of the UA group, ones who had been similarly splintered and orphaned by the large crowds. They were similarly miserable, which was, in a way, comforting.

We waiting outside the Plaza de Toros in the middle of the city until 3am, when we were scheduled to walk back to our buses, lead by a few useless ‘guides’ provided by the UA.

Eventually, we got on our bus, and I have never felt as worn out as I did then in my entire life. Bus seats, while practical, aren’t usually the most welcoming thing… However, at 3:30 am, after 16 hours of walking on concrete, it was as good as sitting in a cradle made of the softest Tempurpedic foam.

With our sights set out on Alicante, the three UA buses finally, mercifully left the godforsaken hellscape that is Valencia during Las Fallas. We all were so grateful to leave, I practically starting weeping.

Then, I did weep… Because 20 minutes after leaving Valencia, our bus broke down on the side of the road.

That’s right. Just our luck, right? Well, along with an engine problem, the heater went out. So at 4:00 am, we were a shivering mass of 60 students, trying to sleep until our replacement bus arrived to save us.

Instead of arriving in Alicante at 5:30 in the morning, we rolled in at exactly 8:00. Our excursion lasted almost an entire day…. And I don’t really have anything else to add except for how amazing my shower felt when I finally got to my host parent’s house. It was indescribable. Then, crawling into bed in fresh pajamas? Also amazing.


The rest of the day I stayed in bed, too worn out and sore to do much of anything.

If you happen to be a future Alicante study abroad student, the one thing that I can say about Las Fallas is do your research. Fallas is a LOT.

Additionally, I see absolutely no reason to go with the UA group… Perhaps look at other available options. I’m being serious when I say that the excursion could have been cut in half, and you wouldn’t miss anything. It’s a pretty miserable thing, being there and being so uncomfortable for so long, with nothing to do. Mental preparedness will get you through a lot better than I got through. I now feel so fed up with Valencia, because I didn’t know what I was going to be doing there, that I feel like I’ll never be able to return and be comfortable in Valencia.

However, to wrap this up, I should mention, that most of my recounting was just reflecting my personal experience. I’m sure some people had a completely bitchin’ time, and want to go back in the future. I do not ever want to go back; and that choice is mine, and mine alone.

La Fallera, the symbol of Las Fallas

Honestly, I have nothing to complain of. I went; I saw a famous Spanish festival, something that people come to from all around the world to see.

Also, I still have my life.

While I was shivering on a broken-down bus in the outskirts of Valencia, thinking that things couldn’t be worse, in the other direction, up the coast near Tarragona, a different bus crashed into another car and flipped over.

Thirteen people lost their lives. Thirteen study abroad students, just like me. Thirteen girls. Thirteen souls that I very well could have brushed shoulders with along the street, only hours earlier; thirteen people, any of which I could have sat next to at café, trying to shelter myself from the discomfort of outside; thirteen people with family and friends and pets and hopes and dreams and fears. Thirteen people who definitely did not deserve to die.

Their fate could have easily been mine. But it wasn’t. So really, although my experience at Las Fallas wasn’t the best, I should be happy that I’m still here to recall it, to share it with my friends and family… Because there are thirteen souls out there can’t, not anymore. Their lives were tragically cut short, and I’m still here.

I’m fortunate to be able to share my story.


Even when things seem shitty, checking your privilege is a humbling experience. If you’re of a praying disposition, pray for the victims and their families. If you’re uncommitted, send good thoughts their way. Neither one can hurt, and I’m sure they need all they can get.

– fin