It’s been a busy couple of weeks!! The second weekend of November, I visited Ballymahon, County Longford, Ireland. County Longford is a rural area in the very middle of the country–my dad likes to call it the “Nebraska of Ireland.” Even though it’s not as well known as counties like Dublin or Kerry, it’s my favorite part of the country, because it is breathtakingly beautiful and is home to all of my Irish family. I spent the summer in Ballymahon when I was 16 and I have such special memories of my time there, so being back four years later was surreal. My little cousins kept laughing at me because I took pictures of everything I saw.
(We spent a few hours at my cousin’s farm. He is in the process of converting it into a dairy farm, so there will be hundreds of cows on the property by January/February. I went to go see some of the cows, but I didn’t get to take any pictures because my phone died:(!!)
Thanksgiving Day- A Coruña, Spain
Pablo, our program director, organized an amazing Thanksgiving dinner for the Holy Cross students so that we could celebrate together, despite being so far from home. We went to the one American restaurant in Coruña, where we enjoyed an authentic Thanksgiving meal– turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pecan pie, and all.
A few days later, the mother of the girls I babysit for (Elena and Lucia’s mom!) texted me a link to an article from La Voz de Coruña. We had made the news!! “A group of about 20 American students gathered in a restaurant in Coruña to eat turkey and celebrate Thanksgiving, the most important day of the year in the US.” Here’s the article: https://www.lavozdegalicia.es/noticia/yes/2019/11/29/thanksgiving-day-coruna/00031575021531631470207.htm?fbclid=IwAR0sZZ4apGPjA2XGp77DJdeXaNzchWKI3WeuH-coOGe5f7aS0662XyfE5g8
I spent this past weekend in Rome, Italy. Two of my grandpa’s sisters moved to Rome in their twenties, so I now have a lot of family there. On Saturday, my cousins Vivian and Noah took me and my roommate to see the city’s most important monuments and eat some really good food.
We visited the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, The Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and many piazzas, markets, and restaurants along the way. (I kept accidentally saying the Spanish word “plaza” instead of “piazza”!)
My cousin Kama showed us a lot of monuments from the years Mussolini was in power. They are marble, regal looking imitations of Roman imperial architecture, and you can tell that they were used as propaganda. I found it a little creepy that the monuments still stand, but Kama said that they are important reminders of the country’s history.
On Saturday night, we had a great Thanksgiving dinner. The food was delicious and there were five different pies/cakes for dessert!! My cousins had their other side of the family over to celebrate, and it was really cool to spend time with so many new people for Thanksgiving.
I have 100000000001 things to be thankful for this year– especially such great, loving family all around the world, who make it easy to call a different continent home. This Thanksgiving was definitely one I’ll never forget!
I try to get a head start on the week by going to the gym in the morning. The gym is a 15 minute walk from my apartment, but you have to walk along the water to get there, so it’s worth it.
Later, I have one of the two Spanish classes that are just for Holy Cross students. Sometimes we ride the bus to school together, which is fun because the ride is extremely hilly (especially once you get on campus- it can feel pretty dangerous).
After class, I babysit two adorable little girls, Elena and Lucia. Their mom wants me to speak English with them, so I try to think of creative games to play that make it fun for them to practice the language. I occasionally speak Spanish with them, which is a lot less intimidating than speaking to Spanish adults, even though Lucia hysterically laughs whenever I make a mistake ;).
At at 10 or 10:30 PM, we eat dinner! Often my entire host family is at dinner, which is a lot of fun.
On Tuesday mornings, I have my History of Radio, Television, and Multimedia class. The content is interesting and I like the professor, but I am the only international student in my class, which has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone!
Tuesday is the only day when I eat lunch with my host family, because I have class all of the other days. I usually eat with my host mom and one or two of my three host sisters. My host mom always makes comida muy rica!
After lunch, I give English classes to Blanca and Inés, who are 12 and 10 and really fun. I help them with their English homework and prepare lessons for them, usually involving American music, TV shows, and games.
Wednesday is my busiest school day: I have the practicum for Radio, Television, and Multimedia (We have to give presentations every week!) In the afternoon, I have the two Holy Cross Spanish classes. One is a culture class and the other helps us improve our grammar and writing and conversational skills.
On Wednesday nights, I have choir rehearsal! Even though it is technically the university choir, there are members of all ages and we sing a wide range of songs- in Spanish, English, German, Latin, and Galician/Gallego. Whenever we sing a song in English, Mary Kate (the other student from Holy Cross in the choir) and I have to read the lyrics out loud to help with pronunciation.
I usually start my Thursdays by going to a cafe- my favorite is a bakery called Pandelino, where you’ll always find other Holy Cross students. It has great food and GREAT music.
I have one of the Spanish classes and my Philosophy & Literature class. Learning philosophy in Spanish is challenging, but I like the professor a lot. After class, I tutor Blanca and Inés again.
We don’t have classes on Fridays, so it’s now the weekend!! I like to explore Coruña and visit new places–like Marineda City, a huge shopping mall (fourth largest in Europe!) where there a lot of stores, restaurants, and fun things to do.
We usually go out for a late dinner (11pm-midnight) and get a bunch of tapas for the table. Our favorite restaurant is still Osampaio. We’ve become friends with one of the waiters, Sisto, who always gives us free food/drinks.
After dinner, it’s off to the discotecas!! Happy weekend!!!
At the beginning of November, Alex, Kelly, MK, Maeve and I took a weekend trip to Oporto, Portugal. We were only there from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, but we had a lot of fun.
(Side note: Over the course of the weekend, we learned that knowing Spanish barely helps in Portugal. We would order taxis in Spanish because they could understand us, but they responded in Portuguese, and we were helpless.)
On Friday, we checked into our Airbnb, which was right on the water. By that time, it was already almost dark, but we went for a walk and stopped into a few artisan jewelry and clothing stores. It took us really long to find a place to eat dinner because it was a holiday.* After about a half hour of searching the entire vicinity, we finally found a tiny, quaint restaurant only feet from our Airbnb. We were a little uneasy at first, because the restaurant was empty and the waiters were realllyy excited to welcome us in (“5 people!!!”). Our apprehension disappeared quickly, though, because we had such an amazing dinner. We had white wine, pasta carbonara/pasta with bolognese (Maeve had great octopus), and we shared a chocolate cake for dessert.
The next morning, we went to a breakfast place on the water, where we enjoyed coffee and crepes. We then went to the Porto Marathon Expo (explanation to follow) and ate a very traditional Portuguese lunch- I ordered the Francesinha, a sandwich with thick bread, cured ham, and sausage covered with melted cheese and a thick tomato and beer sauce. It looked different than I had expected, but it was really good! And, of course, we had a bottle of the famous Port wine.
In the afternoon, we did a boat tour along the Douro River. It was windy and rainy, but it was cool to learn about the history of the river and its economic impact on the city. It was very pretty, despite the weather.
We just had to get McFlurries at Porto’s McDonald’s, which is supposed to be the most luxurious McDonald’s in the world. With its fancy chandeliers and stained glass windows, it definitely lived up to the hype.
Finally, we headed back to our Airbnb, where Maeve made us ABC pasta for dinner. We had a little too much fun spelling our names with the pasta and taking pictures–I think we spent more time laughing than eating or talking!
Sunday was a big day. Alex, Kelly and I “ran” the 6k, MK ran the 9k, and Maeve ran the marathon!!! I had never seen a marathon in person before, and it was so fun to watch the runners (who came from countries all over the world) and cheer them on.
Alex, Kelly and I had to take an earlier bus home than MK and Maeve. Luckily for us, the timing worked out and we were able to use the marathon app to track Maeve and figure out that she’d be running right past our Airbnb within minutes.
For me, seeing Maeve run was the best moment of the weekend. We started screaming as soon as we saw her, and even though she was on Mile 24, she had so much energy and even did a little dance as she ran by. Her energy was so contagious, and hours later, we were still talking about how special it was to watch.
*We got to Portugal on All Saints Day, which is why almost everything was closed. We also heard a lot of people speaking Spanish over the weekend. My host mom explained that holidays like All Saints Day are sometimes called “Puentes” (or bridges) because they bring people together.
At the beginning of October, the entire Holy Cross group flew to Andalusía, on the Southern coast of Spain, stopping in Sevilla and Granada.
While in Sevilla, we toured the Cathedral de Sevilla, the (alleged) site of Christopher Columbus’ tomb and a bell tower called the Giralda, at the top of which there is a view of the entire city. We spent time in the Plaza de España and the Alcazar, the royal palace built for King Peter of Castilla. We also went to a rooftop bar, saw a flamenco show, and spent a night at the International Fair, where there were huge tents serving food and drinks from many different countries (very overwhelming and fun!).
In Granada, we spent a lot of time roaming the street markets, where we were able to see the Moorish influence on the designs of the beautiful handmade colored lamps, scarves, and jewelry that were being sold in almost every store. We also did a 3 hour long walking tour of La Alhambra (all of the palaces, the gardens, and the fort) and the Generalife, the leisure patio to which the Nasrid rulers escaped when they wanted to get away from the palace. Our tour guide made sure that we noticed how different the Generalife is from the rest of La Alhambra–instead of the totally enclosed gardens surrounding the large ponds (the Moorish ideal garden) that characterize all of the other patios, the Generalife is more open and contains a single, much smaller fountain.
My favorite part of our trip to Granada was our tour of Sacromonte, Granada’s gypsy community. It is located in the very hilly countryside and it takes a decent amount of walking to find it. The gypsies are thought to have settled in Granada after the expulsion of the Moors by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Gypsy families lived in caves, alongside the livestock that they used to make a living. There is still a sizable gypsy community there, and even though the gypsies don’t live extremely far from the center of the city, they have a way of life and sense of community that is very separate from Granada (our tour guide quipped that they also have an independent government system and follow their own set of laws). However, when I asked our tour guide if the gypsies dislike that tourists are constantly coming in and out of their barrio, he said that they don’t mind it because they make their money off of tourism (I guess there is a delicate balance between their independent lifestyle and their level of interaction with outsiders).
Our tour guide took us to a bar run by a man from the gypsy community, who has become our tour guide’s friend over the years. The bar is located inside of a cave, but the view from the patio was amazing.
There were SO many tourists in both cities, especially in Sevilla. Southern Spain is obviously a lot warmer than northern Spain, but I still find it interesting that historical, culturally distinct regions like Galicia don’t get more tourists each year. I think that a lot of tourists have a fixed, narrow idea of what Spain is, and places like Sevilla and Granada are the cities that best fit within that narrative.
I know that my rambling about the number of tourists in Spain is ironic. But traveling to these more touristy regions showed me how lucky I am to be studying in a region that, to me, feels like a hidden gem. Coruña has beautiful ocean views and is a busy and vivacious city where there is always something happening–but you never see tourists or hear English being spoken.
I am already more than half-way into first semester (time has flown by!!), and I feel so grateful for the authentic, fully immersive cultural learning experience I have had thus far.
I am able to authentically explore all that Coruña and Galician culture have to offer because I attend a Spanish university, have some Spanish friends, and live in the center of the city with my host parents and three host sisters. It’s not likely that I will ever have another opportunity to visit another country and be as immersed in a different language and culture as I am right now.
Sorry for this long winded rant; I just love when experiences provide insight and a broader perspective. 🙂
It should come as no surprise that Spanish food is very distinct from American food. Although Spainiards do eat a lot of carbohydrates and bready foods, they eat fewer processed foods and smaller portions. People usually eat a small breakfast when they wake up, consisting of a piece of toast, a breakfast biscuit, and a cup of coffee. The most important meal of the day is lunch, or “la comida,” which is usually meat/fish, bread, and vegetables. La comida takes place between 2pm and 3pm, and people usually come home from work and school to eat lunch with their families. Finally, Spanish people eat a much lighter dinner around 10pm, which is usually just soup or ham and eggs.
Another interesting thing about the food here is that if you go to a restaurant and order a beer or wine, you also get a tapa with the drink. The tapas are pretty big and can be a plate of pasta, meatballs, croquetas, or tortillas. That’s a drink and a whole lot of food for only about ∈2!!
It’s not just a stereotype–here in Spain, everyone greets each other with two kisses on either cheek. Both men and women partake in this salutary tradition, whether they are greeting old friends or people they’ve just met. One of my professors told us one of her most embarrassing stories: She was visiting a friend in the US, and when her friend introduced my professor to her husband, my professor went in to give him a kiss, and the husband, disgusted, pushed her away. My professor was mortified.
This custom definitely confused me at first, because I never knew who I should kiss and who I should not. Now, I just assume that I should greet everyone this way, so I am generally much better prepared to meet new people (I don’t yet initiate the kissing, though, just in case!)
Classes in Spain are very large lectures and tend to be very loud. For example, in my history class, students have full, loud conversations with each other while the professor lectures, and the professor seems to not notice. Initially, I thought that this was a phenomenon unique to the University of Coruña or to my classes. The other day, however, I was talking to an adult I know from the US, and she asked me what I thought of the “characteristically loud classrooms” in Spain. I find these classroom conversations very frustrating when I’m trying to understand what the professor is saying, but now that I know that they just another aspect of Spanish culture, maybe I’ll be less annoyed by them.
Here in Coruña, many people do not have cars. Instead of dealing with the frustration of driving on the city’s narrow streets and finding parking garages, many people opt to walk or use the city’s public bus system, Transvias. Transvias has more than 20 different bus lines, most of which run every 5-10 minutes. The bus will take you anywhere you need to go in the city, including the university, which is the final stop on the UDC line. It costs ∈1.20 per ride, but costs less if you have the Transvias bus card.
People in Spain are extremely well-dressed, and rarely ever leave their homes without a stylish and coordinated outfit. University students tend to wear jeans or dress pants, skirts, or dresses to class. Often, the most defining parts of their outfits are their shoes– people wear eccentric, statement shoes like combat boots or really high platform sneakers. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone at the university wearing leggings or athletic clothes. In addition, many people have gelled/otherwise styled hair and often have blonde or bright colored highlights. Many people also have lots of piercings.
Amancio Ortega, the founder of the clothing store Zara, is originally from Coruña, so the store is, understandably, a very big deal here. Coruña is home to Zara’s largest distribution center, which is responsible for shipping clothing products to more than 90 countries around the world. Ortega also owns other staple Coruña clothing brands like Oysho, Bershka, and Pull and Bear, all within feet of each other in the Plaza de Lugo, Coruña’s shopping strip. If you step into any one of these stores, you can immediately see where Coruñans get their sense of style.
Even though Coruña is the second most populated city in Galicia, the lifestyle here is very relaxed. In contrast to cities in the US, where people are constantly in a rush and eat meals quickly before they hurry back to work, people here enjoy the opportunity to “tomar algo” (enjoy a coffee, beer, wine, etc.–not the same as “salir,” which means “to go out” or “to party”). The slower pace of life contributes to the passionate, dynamic (and often loud) conversations that take place at any Spanish gathering.
Let me illustrate: The other day, during dinner, my host mother and two of my host sisters got into a heated argument over whether you can tell that someone in your class is younger than you just by hearing them speak. On one side there was my host mom and one host sister, who believed that younger people carry themselves differently and may be more afraid to speak up in class–and, therefore, it should be easy to tell if someone is younger than you. My other host sister, however, maintained that if you study the same amount and know the class material well, you can’t know the other people’s age only given what they say in class. What started as a casual conversation quickly turned into a passionate debate, with my host mom and sisters yelling, speaking at lightning speed, and interrupting each other. Then, my third host sister got home, and she joined the debate, making the conversation even louder. This lasted for almost 45 minutes. If I had heard the conversation from another room, I would have thought that they were really fighting. I’ve come to learn that this is a normal part of the culture here; people are just passionate about their beliefs and enjoy each other’s company.
People here are very direct. In the US, people are so worried about being polite that they dance around saying what they mean. The Spanish people that I’ve interacted with are much less inhibited. People just come up to me and start talking. They ask where I’m from and what I’m doing in Spain and tell me “You speak Spanish well enough.” They aren’t afraid to tell you what they think. A few days ago, my host mom said, “I’m not saying you’re fat, but you need to weigh yourself,” referring to all of the bread in my new diet here. Another girl from Holy Cross’ host mom saw her nose piercing and remarked, “I like the other side of your face more.”
There are striking cultural differences between the US and Spain, but I think that Spanish people’s authenticity makes it a little bit easier to process the culture shock. They’re never pretending, so you know that what they say is genuine, and, most of the time, comes from a good place.
I’ve been busy with school and extracurricular activities since I last did a blog post, so I have fallen a little behind…A few weekends ago, I travelled to Dublin to visit my roommate, Caroline, who is studying at Trinity for the year.
It was a super short visit (1.5 days!), but it was a lot of fun. Caroline took me around the city and showed me her favorite places to eat, shop, and hang out with friends.
It was cool to see how different her study abroad experience has been than mine. She lives in a flat with two Irish flatmates in the center of the beautiful campus, but she also has the historical and lively city right outside the campus gates. (It was also weird to have to speak English all of the time!!)
I was so happy to see Caroline, and to have the chance to explore a new city!
I have officially been in Coruña for one month! I love it here. It has a population of about 250,000 people, and while it is always buzzing with activity, it definitely feels like a small city. It is very easily walkable, and I frequently run into people I know.
Because I’ve been here for a month, I figured I’d give a mini virtual tour:
People in Coruña speak both Spanish and Gallego, the official language of Galicia. Children learn Gallego in school and there is a public Gallego television channel, but, as my host mom explained to me, Spanish is the predominant language in Coruña. Now, Gallego is the more prevalent language only in rural towns outside of Coruña and among older generations. Apparently, the Gallego vs. Spanish debate is very contentious (both linguistically and historically) and has serious political implications– something I definitely want to learn more about!
Coruña is on the Northwest coast of Spain, and the city’s beaches are some of its main attractions. It was September when I arrived in Coruña, so my friends and I made sure to go to the beach a few times while the weather was still nice. The two main beaches, Riazor and Orzán, are a 10 minute walk from my apartment. Orzan’s currents are notoriously rough and unpredictable, so many people prefer to go to Riazor. Both beaches are beautiful, though, and a great way to relax and enjoy time with family/friends.
Coruña also has a very vibrant Old Town, with lots of shopping plazas, bars, and restaurants. My personal favorite places to eat are Mesón de Pulpo, which has the best octopus in the city, and O’Sampaio, where we Holy Cross students frequent on the weekends to enjoy octopus, huevos rotos con jamón, tortilla, and, of course, sangria.
The Plaza de Maria Pita is the most famous plaza in the city, containing many tapas bars and restaurant terraces, the palatial Town Hall/El Ayuntamiento (which is especially beautiful at night), and a statue of Maria Pita, la heroína coruñesa who defended the city against English attack in 1589.
Coruña is perhaps most well known for the Tower of Hercules, which is the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world, dating back to the 2nd century AD. Mythology holds that the sons of King Breogan, the founding father of the Galician Celtic nation, could see the Southern coast of Ireland from the top of the tower. They were so mystified by its beautiful shores that they sailed to Ireland and never returned to Galicia. Legend says that Breogan’s descendants are the ancestors of the current Irish people.
Coruña is home to the Universidade da Coruña, a large, public university with almost 24,000 students!! The campus is hilly and very spread out–we need to take a bus to get between different campus buildings! Students at UDC choose carreras (careers) upon their acceptance and take classes that follow a specific track determined by the university. Because they take classes in only one subject, students spend most of their time in the specific building that corresponds to their carrera.
Finally, Coruña has very vibrant and fun nightlife! Coruña has a bunch of clubs located along the port and they have beautiful terraces that overlook the water–the perfect place to talk to people and take a break from dancing! In typical Spanish fashion, people don’t leave for the clubs until around 1:00 or 1:30 am and they often stay out until long after the sun rises. One day, my friends and I were waiting at the bus stop to head to an early class when we saw a huge crowd of people walking home from the clubs, looking exhausted and with high heels in their hands!
I hope you enjoyed this (very brief) tour! Coruña is a beautiful city, and I am so glad I get to spend a year here!!
I have been in Coruña for about three weeks now, and I love it here! My host family is amazing, there is so much to do in the city, and university life has been very interesting.
I got an email saying that this week was “International Education Week” at Holy Cross, which was organized to help welcome international students and celebrate global diversity on campus.
It was so strange to be studying abroad halfway across the world and suddenly receive this notification from Holy Cross, where I definitely took easy communication for granted.
I didn’t realize how limited my Spanish vocabulary was until I tried making small talk with my classmates on the first day of school. I was trying hard to make good impressions, but I felt like all I was communicating was that I’m dull and dumb.
On Wednesday, I had to give a 20 minute presentation for my History of Radio, Television, and Multimedia class. I was especially self-conscious about my Spanish because I didn’t want my four group members to wish that “la americana” wasn’t in their group.
The presentation ended up being fine, and a few of my group members even complimented me for being so calm while presenting (I did not feel calm!!!!!).
I definitely underestimated how out of place I would feel as the only international student in most of my classes, but I’ve also been touched by the number of people who have come up to me and told me to let them know if I ever need help with anything.
It’s so funny how being pulled out of your “normal” and put into foreign contexts can help you better understand the experiences of people on your own campus. I never considered just how uncomfortable international students at Holy Cross may feel studying on a snowy hill west of Boston, and how brave they are for deciding to spend all four years (!!!) of college in a different country. I’m glad that Holy Cross dedicated a week to welcoming them onto campus, and I hope they’re beginning to settle into their new home and experiencing those little acts of kindness that can go a long way.
Last week we visited Olite, located about an hour south of Pamplona, where we did a wine tasting at the Ochoa Winery and toured the Palacio Real. The medieval town surrounding the palace was beautiful and quaint, and the palace itself was ginormous. We spent almost an hour walking through its sprawling halls, and enjoyed the gorgeous views of the town below from its many towers.
We also participated in our first Juevinxtos (Jueves=Thursday + vino=wine + pintxos) Thursday is the best going-out night in Pamplona, and in typical Spanish fashion, the clubs don’t get busy until 2 or 3 am, and people don’t return home until around 7 am! It was very cool to see the bars and the discotecas at their most vibrant states.
One day, instead of holding class, our professors took us to the city center for a pinxto tour. After watching a performance of “Flamenco on Fire” in front of the Ayuntamiento, we were tasked with going to different pinxto bars and interviewing as many waiters, bartenders, and customers as we could find about the historical and cultural significance of pintxos to Pamplona. Despite our good intentions, most people did not want to be recorded/have anything to do with us (oh well!) A few people were very friendly, though. One particularly spirited man, when asked about the difference between “pintxos” and “tapas,” very sternly said, “People eat tapas in Spain. This is not Spain.” He later told us that he was born and raised somewhere in the Basque Country—which is very close to Pamplona/Navarra and has its own, very distinct language— It’s funny to see that no matter what country you’re in, there are rivalries and even serious tensions between different regions (not just in America, haha!!)
Last Saturday we went to Zarautz, and we spent the entire day at the beach. The waves were the biggest and most intense waves I have ever experienced. Ironically, it was one of the few moments in the last few weeks that I was able to actually slow down and fully appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to study abroad in Spain. There were six of us, and we were getting knocked down by every single wave and then hitting each other, kicking each other, and rolling on top of each other underwater. When we finally came up again, banged up and with salt water in our eyes, noses, and mouths, we had a split second to breathe and make sure everyone was okay before we were submerged again. It was terrifying and physically exhausting, but it was in those absurd, coming-up-for-air moments that I felt more present, even more connected to the people around me, and even more appreciative of all the little moments of joy Spain has offered us so far. It was exhilarating, and we stayed in the water for hours.
Pamplona has allowed me to adjust to living in Spain, get used to speaking Spanish 24/7, try new things, and meet so many amazing people. Muchas gracias por todo, Pamplona! Next stop, A Coruña!
I am writing from Pamplona, Spain, where we’ve been for a week. Our days have been packed with classes, fun cultural excursions, and lots of amazing food.
We are taking an extensive Spanish language and culture course at the Universidad de Navarra to prepare us to live in our host cities. The university is absolutely gorgeous, with a lot of trees, rolling hills, and beautiful architecture. The language barrier is difficult, but the class has definitely helped me work on my grammar, learn new vocabulary, and become more confident speaking Spanish with native speakers.
We have spent a lot of our time walking around and exploring the city. The Old City (or the “Casco Viejo”) is especially beautiful, and its cobblestone streets are always bustling with people. On one walking tour, we stopped for sangria and then drank it in the middle of the street (eating and drinking in the street is very common here because the bars are so small!) We’ve spent a lot of time shopping in the Old City and even took a Rumba Flamenco class!
On one of our first days in Pamplona, we had a tour of the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, one of the main sites of the annual “running of the bulls.” The tradition began in the 14th century, when men would speed up the process of transporting bulls to the markets by using various fear tactics. This practice quickly evolved into a competition, as young men tried to race the bulls to their pens. We learned that the bulls are raised on farms in southern Spain and transported to Pamplona when they are about five years old. They are then forced to run the encierro and are killed (they usually are stabbed around 20 times before they die).The extreme physical and psychological abuse of the bulls obviously makes the event very controversial, and some of our tour guides even said that they are so against it that they refuse to attend.
We also visited San Sebastián, a seaport city located about 10 miles from the French border. It is the capital of the province of Guipúzcoa in the Basque country–all of the street signs are in both Spanish and Basque! We hiked to the top of a mountain trail called Sendero de San Teresa, from which we were able to see the entire city. We then ate tapas for lunch (or pintxos, as people in Basque country call them) and went for a refreshing swim in the ocean.
This weekend, we drove to Loyola, where we toured the Sanctuary of Loyola, or the birthplace of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus. We went to mass in the basilica and enjoyed the picturesque views of the Montserrat mountains (which brought back special memories for us Holy Cross students!)
We also went to Bilbao, which is about three hours north of Pamplona, and toured the Guggenheim.
It’s crazy that we’ve only been in Spain for a week–it already feels like we’ve been here for months! I’m very excited to continue to improve my Spanish before I move to Coruña and meet my host family. Every single person who we’ve met here has been so kind and encouraging when we speak Spanish, even when what we say makes no sense!
¡Hasta luego (or “sta-lo-go” as people say it here)!