La Vida Nocturna

I nearly suffocated trying to elbow my way through the uproarious throng of bodies occupying every bit of the less-than-ample available space. By the time I worked my flimsy frame to the front of the laughing, drinking, merry-making sea of Spaniards, I spouted my order of un vino tinto y croqueta, por favor just in time before I was swallowed up once again in their deafening waves.

Picture a couple of young, blonde, slightly-naïve American chicas in a bar of mostly older, dark-and-tan locals exuding Spanish confidence… Becca and I were just a little out of place.

But that was okay.

In the company of a Valladolid native who knew all the ropes, I felt that my roomie and I were able to experience the city’s spectacular nightlife scene to the absolute fullest.

So many people have asked me what my favorite part of Spain is so far. I often fumble with my answer, all prior experiences and moments worthy of exclamation seeming to drain out of some invisible hole in the back of my scull. The result is an insufficient response that is more than likely the first semi-interesting thing I can remember.

But now that I’ve had some time to process and reflect, I can definitely say that the vibrant, late-hour culture here is at the top of the list.

While it maintains its stoic, historical façade during the day, by nightfall Valla is a city humming with countless discotecas, bars, clubs, and tapas hotspots. There’s a good time to be had no matter what winding alley you decide to blaze, and the options are virtually endless.

Since Becca and I have arrived here, we’ve discovered a couple of Latin music discotecas. As soon as I knew I’d be able to dance some salsa and bachata, I was satisfied. Being the newbies to the whole dance/club scene here, our first experience resulted in us showing up nearly an hour before everybody else started to trickle in. Thankfully by round two, we got the hang of the whole nothing-starts-until-2-a.m. thing, and arrived at the packed and hopping club in perfect fashion.

And we danced the salsa and bachata to our heart’s content.

I’m not quite sure if I’d have the same opinions about the nightlife if Becca and I weren’t of legal drinking age here. It’s really bizarre to walk into a bar and ask for a drink without anyone even batting an eye. And it’s not like we abuse this privilege—getting drunk is NOT a goal for either of us—but going out with friends, ordering up the local favorite, a vino, a cerveza, or even a shot (just once!) is something I’ve found to be really fun…and maybe a little exciting too.

Cigales con amigos
Cigales con amigos

I’ve also realized that the drinking scene here is completely different from the States…well…at least different than my backwoods, tractor-pulling, flannel-wearing, farm-and-fish community back home. Not only are there a limited number of places to go out, but often people flock to the few joints available with the sole mission of getting drunk. By contrast, the sentiment here is that—while it’s common to go out, have some drinks, and enjoy yourself—it’s only as much as you can safely handle.

Something else completely unique to the Spanish after-dark life is the prevalence of tapas bars. Defined as appetizers or snack-sized foods that come in a variety of forms and flavors, tapas are truly a defining cuisine of this country. Ranging from ham and cheese-topped tostadas, to toothpick-skewered olives, to slices of patatas beneath a spicy drizzle, these tasty bites are best eaten in the company of many. By Friday evening, it’s common practice to flit from one spot to the next, sipping, sampling, talking, and embracing the culture of tapear.

That’s exactly what Becca and I did the night our new Spanish friend brought us out for a night on the town. A lifelong resident of Valla, our escort took my roommate and me under his wing like the two helpless, freshly-hatched chicks we were, and showed us some of the most famed and must-try spots in the city.

The first is known for their croquetas—small, battered pillows typically filled with a combo of meat, cheese, or potatoes. I couldn’t believe it when I arrived in the noisy, crowed hovel—floors strewn with scraps and customers pressed standing against the walls with their food and drink. With the way orders were flying left and right for más vino, otra cerveza, croqueta por favor!—there was no possible way that the bartender was keeping an accurate tab. Everything about the place was complete chaos.

But I loved it.

The next place was just as lively, but rather than a crusty pub, this joint felt almost sophisticated with its gourmet-appearing cuisine and white-clad servers. It’s known for its never-ending list of specialty bocadillos, and I can assure you I was in for a treat when I ordered the one with fried calamari.

Yes, I had a squid sandwich.

We continued on our tapas journey that night and enjoyed every single minute of it. Becca and I felt like true Spaniards, living up the evening with a local and his buds and experiencing a nightlife unlike any other.

Otro vino, por favor.

La Comida

La comida es una cosa necesaria para cualquier cultura, y España no es una excepción. Mientras siempre he estado emocionada para probar el alimento nuevo e interesante, la relación turbulenta que tengo con comida ha atribuido a mis aprehensiones cuando empecé mi vida de Valla.

No soy quisquillosa para comer—es la verdad. Pero normalmente consumo muy poco. Además, para la cena en la universidad solo comía un bol de los cereales de LIFE (los mejores de todas las comidas), entonces mi régimen no era muy variada tampoco.

Becca y yo no habíamos comido cerca de 15 horas cuando Felipe nos rescató y nos llevó al apartamento para el almuerzo. Pero cuando nos sentimos a la mesa de la cocina humilde, estoy seguro que él estaba sorprendido por mi exhibición patética de comer. Con un ceño fruncido, mi padre declaró con una voz de disgusto, “¡Comas como un pájaro!” Y si esto no fuera suficiente, él procedió a expresar sus opiniones sobre mi constitución demasiado pequeño.

Con casi todas las comidas después, sólo comería una porción pequeña de lo que fue puesto en mi plato. No podía terminar nada. Tantos platos y alimentos exóticos, extraños y desconocidos estaban — y está ahora también— causando ansiedad para mí.

La situación de comida sólo empeoró cuando Felipe me retó a mis derroches innecesarios. Me hizo ver cuando vertió mi plato todavía medio lleno en la basura, sus ojos severos en míos mientras meneaba la cabeza.

Pero como he mencionado, nuestra relación ya ha progresado enormemente y para mejor también. En una cena, Felipe y Christina me aseguraron —a la manera española llamativa— que no debo ser preocupada y sólo debo comer lo que quiero o puedo. De hecho, los dos han sido especialmente serviciales. Todavía ellos chistean (de una manera amable, por supuesto) sobre mi apetito de un pájaro.

Ahora, finalmente, puedo decir que para explorar y probar nueva comida española cada día es algo que especialmente disfruto.

En la noche de nuestra llegada, Becca y yo unimos con al resto de los estudiantes de los Estados Unidos en un restaurante local para un banquete de bienvenida. Todos los estudiantes fueron tratados con la como las realezas en este establecimiento elegante y sofisticado.

Plato tras plato de muestreos tradicionales españoles fueron traídos en bandejas de plata. No comí mucho y solo mordisqueé a más de las comidas, pero fue suficiente para experimentar el sabor completo de la cocina del país.

De todo lo que he probado, sin embargo, fue la tortilla española de papas y huevos que era lo más memorable… ¡tan rico! Pero supongo que el vaso de vino tinto seco — mi primera copa legal — también fue bastante fantástico… ¿Y la manera en que agarré con gracia el tallo delicado entre mis dedos?

Creerías que yo era una profesional.

Las comidas en general aquí son muy diferentes que las comidas típicas en los Estados Unidos — y no sólo los tipos de alimentos, pero también el tiempo y la importancia de cada comida. El desayuno no es un gran evento y normalmente consiste en una rebanada de pan tostado y café con leche (el último estándar de café en España). Preparado entre 2.30 y 3 de la tarde, el almuerzo es la comida más importante del día. Usualmente una comida de dos platos, una siesta sigue puntualmente para permitir que los vientres llenos se posan. Puesto que el almuerzo se hace bastante tarde en el día, no se sirve la cena hasta aproximadamente 9.30 de la noche. Mientras que las porciones de comida son más pequeñas que el almuerzo, los tipos de alimentos son los mismos.

En mi familia, casi cada comida incluye una ensalada (lechuga, espinaca y tomate con un aderezo de aceite de oliva) y un trozo pequeño del pan. Pero sin importar del tipo de comida que se sirve, creo que todo puede ser descrito fácilmente con una palabra: fresco. En cambio de muchos lugares en los Estados Unidos, donde las personas usan gran cantidades de sal, salsas y aderezos para añadir sabor malsano a sus platos, cada gusto sabroso y suculento aquí es el resultado de los ingredientes frescos y de calidad.

Nuestro primer domingo aquí—después de la iglesia–Christina había preparado paella para nosotros. El sartén del arroz con azafrán y los mariscos (entre otras cosas) es un alimento básico en la dieta de todos los españoles. Me encanta mucho, y entre los ojos todavía atascados en las gambas y la carne de los moluscos aún enclavado en su cáscara, puedo estar seguro que esta comida es totalmente fresca.

En conjunto, mi nueva familia prepara las comidas que incluye un montón de verduras, (especialmente ensaladas y purés), lentejas, pescado y otras carnes magras, por lo menos es un consuelo para saber que tengo una dieta sana y equilibrada durante mi residencia en España.

Y deliciosa.

De hecho, yo diría que la comida aquí es casi tan buena como LIFE.

Casi.

Mi Familia

El inicio de alguna aventura monumental es lo que me imagino que se siente como pasear con los ojos vendados hasta el extremo por la tabla del pirata y sumergirse en las aguas misteriosas abajo—esperando, por supuesto, para encontrarse solamente con profundidades oscuras y turbias y no un tiburón hambriento o el tic-tac del reloj… Salir para la universidad, comprar una casa y finalmente casarse con un novio desde mucho tiempo… todos son ejemplos perfectos y calificados. Pero aunque son grandes y emocionantes, ningunos tienen el mismo cambio alarmante que distingue la experiencia de los estudios en el extranjero.

La llegada a España fue algo totalmente ajeno — en todos los sentidos de la palabra. Becca y yo estábamos dejando atrás la comodidad de nuestras vidas sencillas en los Estados Unidos para integrarnos en una cultura, un idioma y una familia completamente diferentes.

Mientras los dos estábamos desempacado nuestras cosas en el apartamento pequeño la primera noche, la realidad de nuestra nueva vida comenzó filtrarnos en nuestros mentes y corazones abrumados.

Nuestro papá anfitrión— Felipe — es un padre, esposo y — desde hace unos días — abuelo español tradicional. Pero la primera noche, habló poco, criticó nuestros intentos débiles para conversación e insultó mi apetito menos-que-fuerte.

Dinos cómo te sientes, Papá…

Las preocupaciones que habían formado durante los meses de anticipación finalmente estaban traspirando. Con cada interacción torpe y forzada con mi papá, mis miedos peores se cumplieron. Anhelaba conocer a mi madre anfitriona—especialmente porque quería cambiar mi percepción manchada que ya tenía. Pero, por desgracia, Christina no pudo estar presente para la gran llegada de sus hijas de los Estados Unidos. En cambio, la señora decidió estar en el hospital, su atención completamente dedicada a su hija (ahora una madre) y nuevo nieto, Javier.

Supongo que ser una abuela es una excusa razonable.

Para mi alivio, las dinámicas aquí cambiaron rápidamente. Becca y yo comemos cada comida con Felipe, quien — es obvio — disfruta mucho nuestra compañía. Hablamos por mucho tiempo después de nosotros hemos terminado, y ya mi habla y comprensión han mejorado mucho.

¿Y la charla? Nuestro padre prefirió saltar esa. Nuestros temas de conversación oscilan entre personales filosofías políticas y religiosas personales, a las injusticias del aborto, a las explicaciones de las palabrotas en español. Pero aparte de esa conversación profunda, Felipe también le gusta chistear con nosotros. Ahora puedo decir que he experimentado sarcasmo español auténtico en su forma más pura.

A veces Becca y yo tenemos que aclarar palabras y conceptos de los Estados Unidos para nuestro padre y viceversa para las palabras españoles. Una vez Felipe comentó que en inglés, la palabra para llaves (keys) tiene el mismo sonido como la palabra para beso (kiss). Cuando él demostró y pronunció los dos como keeees, Becca y yo no podíamos evitar reír.

Nosotras, por fin, conocimos a nuestra madre, quien es tan lindo como un botón español. Ella es pequeña y tiene pelo que lleva en una horquilla de moda. Ha estado enferma desde nuestro primer encuentro, y no conozco a ella tan bien como nuestro padre todavía, pero cada vez que ella me habla en su voz como un dulce, no puedo evitar sonreír como un tonto.

Con cada día que pasa, la relación entre yo y mis dos nuevos cuidadores está creciendo en fuerza y cariño.

¿Y estas aguas españolas extranjeras las que he saltado? Ahora me siento que es seguro asumir que son carente de todos los cocodrilos que cantan tictac.

Búsqueda de Buena Fe

No creo que un viaje pueda ser considerado como una aventura si todo ocurre exactamente como se haya planeado. Si una persona no encuentra ni un solo sufrimiento o dificultad en el camino, o si la palabra “fácil” se puede utilizar con confianza para describir el grado de sus viajes, el viaje no se habrá convertido en una búsqueda genuina y de buena fe.

En cambio, un viaje sin adversidad es el que hace un álbum de fotos honrado, pero tiene una falta de calibre de las que se compartirán con gregarismo alrededor de la mesa familiar. Esto es porque la adversidad es como el cabello que se vuelve en canoso: mientras que no es particularmente atractiva, visiblemente significa sabiduría, prueba y experiencia.

Casi inmediatamente después de que me dejaran en el aeropuerto, me di cuenta de que este viaje a Valladolid, España, para este semestre de estudios en el extranjero iba a poder clasificarse como “aventura”. Esto puede ser interpretado como cada factor entre la terminal y el último aterrizaje fue una lucha—total y completa. Al final de todo, me sentí como si fuera un trapo raído y harapiento, después de haber sido arrastrado por los neumáticos rellenos de arena y herrumbre, y finalmente escurrido sin piedad por unas manos callosas y arrugadas.

Y probablemente era un retrato de uno también.

Al menos, salí el aeropuerto con un montón de lecciones y consejos para la siguiente vez. Por ejemplo: una demora casi siempre lleva a la otra; no cuentes con el personal para serte útil — espera el descaro; prepárate para llevar cantidades ridículas de equipaje por extensiones interminables del pasillo (tachonado, por supuesto, con tiendas y cocina de cada variedad sobrevalorada); y por último, haz de la paciencia tu principal virtud y de las esperas en línea un pasatiempo nuevo y atesorado.

Después de muchos retrasos y vuelos perdidos más, mi grupo de tres (y eventualmente 10) terminó en un hotel de Filadelfia, tan exhausto y cansado como los evacuados de guerra. Nuestras esperanzas de llegar a tiempo para nuestra orientación oficialmente se habían marchado, y en realidad, después de todo lo que había ocurrido, ya no me importaba perdérmelo.

Todo lo que podía hacer era se arrellana el cuerpo agobiado y hambriento en el colchón esperando.

Pero si fuera algo que posiblemente podría suplir todas de nuestras desgracias, creo que sería la primera clase, con un valor de $3.500, billetes de avión internacionales a Madrid.

¿No me oíste?

Cinco de nosotras (del grupo más grande de 10) tuvimos la suerte de marcar estas gemas preciosas después de obtener la piedad de uno de los coordinadores de vuelo en el aeropuerto de Minneapolis. Había tenido el privilegio de ir en primera clase antes, pero puedo garantizar que ninguno de nosotros estábamos esperando ese último tratamiento que estaba al final del túnel de la terminal.

Comparado con los asientos de la primera clase en los vuelos nacionales, los vuelos internacionales son algo totalmente diferente. Estábamos en un jet tan jumbo como podría ser, situado en un compartimiento anterior atravesado por tres filas de ancha. Los asientos eran como esas cabinas de restaurante — pero con esteroides. Tenían las sillas reclinables, las televisiones incorporadas (con cada película o programa que una persona puede desear), las mantas gratuitas, y las bolsitas con las máscaras de ojos para los vuelos largos. Nos dimos también un banquete como los reyes. Mi comida esa noche incluyó una ensalada de remolacha asada, quinoa, y queso de cabra y, también, una lista de platos que requirieron que yo hiciera una elección difícil entre el atún con costra de tapenade y los ñoquis al azafrán.

Nos trataron nada menos que como a la realeza.

Después del aterrizaje, pasamos más tiempo en el aeropuerto esperando al bus que nos llevaría a nuestro nuevo hogar en Valladolid. Pero cuando nos escupieron en el suelo de Valla, cinco de nosotros estábamos, de repente, como los venados en los faros.  Nadie sabía cómo localizar a nuestras familias, y francamente, ninguno de nosotros tampoco tenía la fuerza de voluntad suficiente para harcerlo.

Al fin, mi compañera Becca y yo decidimos tomar el enfoque errante. Habría terminado en desastre, pero afortunadamente, había un estudiante de Eau Claire paseando por las calles en el momento perfecto. Fue como un regalo del cielo, un cambio milagroso del destino, del que fuimos finalmente rescatados y escoltados a una casa real española.

Muy pronto, Becca y yo fuimos recibidas por nuestro padre anfitrión. Una vez más, nuestras bolsas de 50 libras al remolque, aceleramos a través de las calles de Valla como cachorros tímidos y temblorosos a los pies de nuestro amo.

Felipe abrió la puerta al apartamento 12, 2° F.

Casa mía.

Café Cultura

When the server handed me my first Spanish cup of Joe, I thought surely he must have mixed up my order with an invisible American Girl Doll or Barbie at the next table. Realizing that to be impossible, I took up my miniature teacup and, with features set in a clear expression of bewilderment, stared down at the measly ounce of hot, dark liquid inside.

I’m used to downing a king-sized carafe of strong, black coffee each and every morning, so it seemed safe to assume that el café solo would be the Spanish equivalent. But when I received this powerful shot of espresso my first evening in Spain, I understood that the coffee culture here was something entirely different from its USA counterpart.

Hasta luego, travel mug.

Apart from the obvious disparity in volume, I’ve found that the caffeine scene in Spain is unique in other ways as well. I’m sure the ladies in their dapper fur coats would shake their heads and crinkle their brows at the thought of rushing through a drive-up at 7 a.m. for a giant, disposable thermos of piping-hot pumpkin spice or a java chip frappe drowning in whip. Even the way our society consumes a regular brew—from the home or office pot and in hasty gulps throughout the day—would undoubtedly have the citizens of Spain at a loss for words.

After nearly two weeks of residence here, I’ve discovered that Spain’s most popular variety—basically the country’s coffee standard–is the café con leche. Just as the name implies, the concoction is one part milk to one part espresso, and is always served in a small teacup (slightly larger than the solo) with a delicate lactose froth floating on top.

Café con leche
Café con leche

Our host mom whips up this warm, comforting java for Becca and me every day before school. And while it’s certainly the type of drink to have in the morning, much of the population here also has it in the afternoon as well. And at night. And before siesta. And after…

And possibly in brief moments of what-else-am-I-going-to-do-right-now boredom as well.

Basically, no matter where a person chooses to go or explore in this full-of-life, caffeinated country of Spain, he or she can count on seeing at least a few folks contentedly sipping their milky brews.

Regardless, it’s important to be up on the coffee lingo when you enter a café, because if you don’t know what they’re ordering, or—even worse—if you have to ask, then not only will you probably receive an undesired beverage, but you will cause yourself to look slightly a fool in the process.

Though I’ve already described the café solo and café con leche, there are a few other important menu items to keep in mind if you ever happen to find yourself in a Spanish bar or other establishment:

Café doble: double espresso (for the hard-core drinkers among us)

Café cortado: espresso with just a drop of milk (because con leche is too wimpy for you)

Café con hielo: espresso poured over a glass of ice (fancy version of American iced coffees)

Carajillo: espresso with brandy or whisky (because why not get your caffeine and alcohol fix taken care of in one convenient drink?)

Café descafeinado: decaff (a.k.a. what’s the point?)

Café bonbon: espresso with sweetened condensed milk (for those who don’t actually like coffee—just coffee-flavored sugar milk)

Since I’ve been in Valladolid, I’m slowly but surely maturing in my coffee savviness…

Yet even so, I still can’t help but wonder which of my American Girl dolls that one night’s café solo would have suited best.

Yet even so, I still can’t help but wonder which of my American Girl dolls that one night’s café solo would have suited best.

Hola, me llamo Rapunzel

The relationship Becca and I share with our host family—especially our father—has budded into something both genuine and unique. We absolutely love the conversations we have, and—as Felipe let us know—he does too.

I tend to be a tad high-maintenance, and I don’t believe it’s much of a secret to our dad either. So when I told him flat-out that I’d like to be a princess, I’m sure he wasn’t surprised in the least.

A long conversation followed that not only weighed the valors of every Disney princess, but also made an in-depth examination of each one’s redeeming qualities. After several fruitless attempts at explaining the plot of Frozen to Felipe, I gave up on any chance that he’d be familiar with Elsa and promptly settled on being Rapunzel instead. Why would I want to be a snow-creating, tundra-loving queen anyways?

Now Felipe often addresses me by my new title, even saying that Becca and I are las princesas de la casa. And I’m pretty sure this recent christening will prove to work in my favor too—mostly because I think it gives me a sort of unspoken permission to act the part of spoiled diva now and then.

Already, Felipe seems to be bending to my every desire. He knows, for example, that I prefer my salads in a 2-to-1, tomato-to-lettuce ratio and also to always hold the chorizo because Rapunzel does NOT do spicy…

One night, shortly after Felipe bluntly told Becca that she possessed the face of a Viking, my roommate and I tried to explain to him the movie How to Train Your Dragon. When he finally realized we were referring to the flying, fire-breathing creature and not some deep and profound dragon of the soul (don’t ask me why that was his first conclusion), I thought it’d be hilarious to pretend like I actually believed in the mythical beasts.

Usually Felipe catches on to my sarcasm pretty well. But I could estimate—by the way he knit his eyebrows close to touching and left his jaw slightly agape—that he had concluded there to be something seriously at fault with the education system in America.

Today Becca and I joined our host dad for the second time to his church here in Valladolid. The sanctuary is ornate and absolutely gorgeous, and the sermon is clear enough for the two of us to gather its central message. Last week we told Felipe we were going to memorize the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, and I’m pretty sure that made him pleased as punch.

So today when we left for Sunday 1 o’clock service, I no longer felt like a pitiful, orphan puppy dutifully following its master like I had that first night.

Instead, when Felipe took us to church (and a museum too!) earlier this afternoon, I—and I’m sure Becca too—felt more like prize show dogs being shown off by a proud parent.

His two princesas.

Para Explorar

¡Buenos días Valladolid! I am proud to say that I’ve officially survived in foreign territory for over a week—one I can guarantee was packed even fuller than my bursting-at-the-seams checked luggage. In less than ten days, I’ve managed to cover ample ground, exploring, observing, and taking in more of the Spanish culture and experience than I ever imagined possible in such a short time.

But for now—just a glimpse…

Becca and I live near Valladolid’s most beautiful and prominent park, El Campo Grande. We’re basically situated 100 meters from the columned gate entrance of this enchanted, fairy-tale garden. Apart from its grand central walkway, a spider-web network of several smaller, intertwining paths of dirt weave throughout the park. Every day on our way home from class—or really on any venture to and from the heart of the city—Becca and I are bestowed with the wonderful privilege of passing through this gem.

On these breathtaking strolls, sunlight dapples through the low-hanging boughs overhead, the moss-coated limbs drooping lazily as if in eternal siesta. Among them lie those dirt walkways that sprawl in every direction, which lead to various fountains, statues, and other hidden treasures. Sometimes a peacock or two will meander by, getting close enough to properly show off its brightly-colored quills. I never know exactly what I’ll see when I pass through the mystical land of El Campo Grande, but one of these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to stumble upon the Cheshire Cat basking in the napping boughs.

Becca and I have been especially diligent about maximizing our exploration here in Valladolid. On many occasions already, we’ve left our small apartment and ventured into the city without any particular route or destination in mind. Often our journeys will take us towards the city’s grandest commercial hub, La Plaza Mayor. Flanked by streets brimming with eateries and vendors of every variety, its perimeter of stately auburn buildings contains a large inner courtyard complete with a towering statue of a man on his steed.

After a week, I have to say my roomie and I have become experts in the field of direction inquiry. I’m notorious for getting lost and for my blatant lack of navigational skills, but Becca’s not so much better herself. It doesn’t help that the ancient European streets never run in straight lines, but rather bend and wind in multiple directions until they’re leading in the complete opposite way. Sometimes one of us will be smart enough to remember to bring a map along, but if not—or if the poorly-marked street signs fail to trigger our memories—then the two of us flop like fish out of water until some kind Spanish savior can return us to familiar seas. I’m pretty sure the two of us have managed to secure our spots as lost-most-times-in-one-week MVPs.

In fact, in this city of over 300,000, we’ve succeeded in asking the same exact man for directions on two entirely separate occasions. The phrase, “at least you’ll never see them again” means absolutely nothing.

But regardless of whether Becca and I merely stray a tad off our desired course or we’re headed down the complete opposite route altogether, we never fail to wind up at our destination.

Sooner or later.

Together, my roommate and I have already explored and discovered countless shops, cafés, streets, museums, and discotecas. One night, for example, we effectively viewed over 100 Dalí originals, spent only three Euro despite the mind-blowing deals of Rebajas (a country-wide, extreme clearance sale of everything at all stores—blinders highly recommended), and modeled the posh and trendy fur coats that are all the rage among every dame here over 50. A Spanish mujer without one of these in her closet is akin to an American teen girl without her for-every-occasion pair of Uggs.

In celebration of this particular evening of success, Becca and I decided to try a traditional Spanish favorite—churros con chocolate—at a famed joint called El Castillo near our apartment. The warm batons of cinnamon and sugar were served with hot, creamy chocolate dipping sauce…sweet, rich, delicioso.

While this has merely been a brief preview of just one our countless, adventure-filled evenings, more tales will surely be on the way.

Watch out Valla.

For las chicas en el extranjero.

La Comida

Food is a necessary staple of any culture, and Spain is certainly no exception. While I’ve always been excited to try new and interesting cuisine, I’ll admit that the somewhat rocky relationship I have with food attributed to my initial apprehension as I embarked on la vida de Valla.

I won’t say I’m a picky eater—truly I’m not. But I normally consume very little, and considering that my supper every night in college consisted of a single bowl of LIFE cereal (basically the best food invented), it’s fair to say my diet was none too varied either.

Becca and I had eaten nothing for close to 15 hours when Felipe rescued us and took us back to the apartment for lunch. But when he sat us down at the humble kitchen table, I’m sure he wasn’t expecting my pitiful pick-and-prod display. With his thick, hairy brow resolutely furrowed, my dad declared in a voice of distaste, “Comes como un pájaro!” And if telling me that I ate like a bird wasn’t enough, he proceeded to express his opinions on my apparently too-small frame.

With almost every meal that followed, I would only eat a small portion of what was put on my plate. I just wasn’t able to finish. Trying so many unfamiliar, strange, and even exotic foods and dishes was—and honestly, to some degree, still is—causing me particular anxiety.

The meal situation only got worse when Felipe actually called me out on my unnecessary waste. He made me watch as he poured my still half-full plate in the trash bin, his stern eyes glued to mine as he disappointedly shook his head.

But as I’ve mentioned, our relationship has already progressed immensely—and for the better too. At one meal, both Felipe and Christina assured me—in the Spanish manner of great bravado—that I shouldn’t ever worry in the least and to only eat what I wanted or was able to. In fact, the two of them have been especially accommodating, even joking around (in a friendly way, of course) about my bird-like appetite.

Now that things of that nature have been cleared up, I can easily say that exploring and tasting new Spanish fare each day is something I actually enjoy.

On the night of our arrival, Becca and I joined the rest of the study abroaders at a local restaurant for a welcome banquet. All of us students were treated with the utmost regality in this clearly fancy and sophisticated establishment. This was most definitely not your kids-eat-free-Tuesday family restaurant.

Dish after dish of traditional Spanish samplings were brought out on silver platters. Again, I did a lot of nibble-picking, and some things may only have received a lick, but it was definitely enough to say I was able to experience a comprehensive taste of the country’s cuisine.

Of everything I tried, however, it was the spongy, potato-egg Spanish tortilla that was most memorable…¡tan rico! Although I do suppose the glass of dry red wine—my first legal drink—was also pretty fantastic…and the way I gracefully gripped the delicate stem between my fingers?

You’d think I was a pro.

Meals here in general are a far cry from the typical fare in America—and not just the types of food, but the time and importance of each meal as well. Breakfast is never a big to-do, and it normally consists of a slice of toast and café con leche (the ultimate standard of coffee in Spain and another topic altogether). Prepared between 2:30 and 3 in the afternoon, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Often a two-course meal, a siesta promptly follows in order to allow sufficiently-filled bellies to settle. Since lunch occurs so late in the day, supper isn’t served until around 9:30 at night. While the portions for this meal are smaller than lunch, the kinds of foods remain the same.

In my family, nearly every meal includes a salad (lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes with a light olive oil dressing) and el pan—a long baguette served plain and broken up for each to have a small slice. But regardless of the type of food served, I’ve found all can be easily described with one word: fresh. Unlike a lot of places in the United States, where people rely on large amounts of salt, sauces, and dressings to add unhealthy flavor to their dishes, every savory and succulent taste here is the result of the fresh, quality ingredients.

On the first Sunday following church, Christina had prepared paella for us all. The shallow pan of saffron-infused rice topped with shellfish (among other things) is a staple in every Spaniard’s diet. I think I would’ve enjoyed this delicacy regardless, but between the eyes I had to pry from the shrimp and the mollusk’s meat still nestled in its shell, I could be sure and for certain that whatever I was consuming had been freshly fixed.

As a whole, the meals my new family prepares include plenty of veggies, (especially salads and purees), lentils, and fish and other lean meat, so at least it’s a comfort for me to know I’ll be eating both balanced and healthy during my residence in Spain.

And it’s delicious.

In fact, I would say some of the food here is almost as good as LIFE.

Almost.