U.K. 2010

From the Lowlands to the Highlands

August 1st-23rd, 2010

Trip Conception, Goals, and Planning:

In my second year of university, I became friends with a Scottish exchange student named Allan. We both loved walking, so we hatched a plan to meet the next summer in his country to try a long distance trek. As the date grew closer, we invited another good friend (Lucia from Chile), selected the Great Glen Way for our walk, and added in stops in London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, as well as a visit with Allan’s family in Lockerbie.

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Considerations/Advice:

Cost: My budget was approximately $1,800, of which airfare was $700, other transportation was $310, and accommodation was $340. One pound was worth almost two dollars, but things were priced as if they were equivalent. While we looked to save money in general, and we able to stay with Allan’s friends on a few occasions, we did splurge on several meals out and cultural events in Edinburgh. I’ve had less expensive holidays. In general food and souvenirs were quite pricey, but a few things, such as bus transportation, were surprisingly reasonable (8 pounds from London to Carlisle, 10 from Inverness to Edinburgh).

Thinking Ahead: We reserved hotels several weeks in advance. While there was occasionally an empty bed or a walk-in that found some room, in general the hostels were pretty full in the summer and we were glad we’d booked ahead. Few of the places in the Highlands had websites, so Allan had to call and make the bookings over the phone. We also pre-booked our Megabus routes and our Edinburgh Festival shows.

Timing: We travelled in August, which except for the midges is a lovely time to be in Scotland. It’s supposedly high tourism season, but nothing was really crowded – we passed few people on our walk, and even had our own little beach on the island of Iona.

Food: All three of us like food quite a bit, so we splurged a bit in this category from time to time, and got to try a wide variety of dishes. In London, we had upmarket chocolate and delicious Greek and Indian food in their respective neighborhoods, in Lockerbie Allan’s mom made us Kipper, British-style Curries and Pan Haggerty, and on our walk across the Highlands we had Fish and Chips in Oban, Haggis in Gairlochy, and Blood Pudding with Tatty Scones in Drumnadrochit. In general I loved Scottish food, which surprised me given its reputation. A cheap and hearty favourite were the Meat Pies and Bridies from Gregg’s – a store you can find on almost every block in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Getting Around: We alternated between trains and Megabus for the longer distances on our itinerary. Megabus is a nice cheap option when available. We took a package tour of the innermost Hebrides (buses and ferries included), used the city buses to get around Edinburgh, and walked the Great Glen Way on our own feet. Some of the things we did around Lockerbie with Allan’s family may be difficult without a private car.

Language: I could joke that in the Highlands the accent is so thick that it’s hard to understand, but except for one or two instances, there were no real issues with this. Gaelic was more present than I expected it to be, but a tourist will never need a word of it. If you speak English, you’re good to go.

Other: When the weather was good (about half the time) it was glorious. When the weather was bad (the other half of the time) it was abysmal. It rains often and hard in Scotland, but definitely not all the time.

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Itinerary:

Lucia and I arrived in London on August 2nd, met up with Allan and spent the next two days seeing London. We saw Kings Cross Station, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, and the British Museum, as well as the Greek and Indian neighborhoods, where we had some delicious meals.

On the 4th, we took a bus up to Allan’s part of Scotland. We spent the next day getting ready for our journey north and taking walks around Allan’s village and it’s abandoned castle. The 6th saw us on a train to Oban, gateway to the Hebrides, and we spent a few hours in Glasgow on the way. The next day, we toured the Islands of Mull and Iona, where we had a white sand beach all to ourselves.

On August 8th, we climbed Ben Nevis, the U.K.’s highest mountain, and the next day started out on the Great Glen Way. We went from Ft. William to Gairlochy (8/9), to South Laggan (8/10), to Fort Augustus (8/11), to Altsigh (8/12), to Drumnadrochit (8/13), and finally Inverness (8/14), facing torrential rain, fairies, and the Loch Ness Monster on the journey.

By the 15th, we’d had enough of the adventurous life and headed south to Edinburgh for some culture. We toured the castle and old town by day, and took a ghost tour of the catacombs and cemeteries by night. We were there for the Edinburgh Festival, and participated by going to see a decent play and truly dreadful opera.

After Lucia went back home on the 18th, Allan and I went back to his house for a few days to relax and enjoy nearby sites like Hadrian’s Wall, New Lanark, and the Devil’s Beeftub before heading out on August 22nd.

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Posts about this trip:

(Check back on this section from time to time – I’ll continue to put up new links!)

Journal Entries:
Does the British Museum Transcend Liberal Ethics? (London, England – 8/2)
The 5 Weirdest Objects in the British Museum (London, England – 8/2)
Moffat Toffee and the Devil’s Beeftub
(Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland – 8/21)

Photography: Flowing out to Sea

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Japan 2009

Three Weeks of Japan Mania

July 15th-August 5th, 2009

Trip Conception, Goals, and Planning:

I’ve always been interested in Japan. Video games, sushi, manga, samurai, and most recently the Japanese language have all held my fascination at one point or another in my life. Growing up, I lived across the street from a wonderful Japanese woman, and we used to get together to drink tea and discuss cultural differences. And finally, in my Freshman year of college, I was fortunate enough to be assigned a Japanese roommate. Actually, my dorm housed no fewer than seven Japanese students. So, before the year was out, my friend Laura and I had resolved to travel to Japan, visit our friends, and see for ourselves the multifaceted wonders of this easternmost country.

We built our plans around visiting friends and utilizing the unlimited rail travel afforded us by the Japan Rail Pass. Luckily, Laura and I had similar interests concerning Japan and what we would like to get out of the trip. Japan is a large country, and one could easily spend a month or more exploring a single one of it’s many different aspects: the bustling, chaotic metropolises, the painfully beautiful countryside, the traditional culture of geisha and samurai, the modern one of technological wonders, manga, and kawaii (cute). And is it better to go go go, packing as much as you can into a few short weeks, or to relax and enjoy the decadence of hot springs and fantastic views of Mount Fuji?

Laura and I decided to try for a balance, and I think our itinerary reflected that quite well. On the other hand, our itinerary did have certain weaknesses, mostly in the form of lengthy train rides and our budget limitations. We stayed on Japan’s main island, Honshu, the entire time, but reached almost to the furthest ends of it.

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Considerations/Advice:

Cost: Our budget was approximately $2500, not including food or souvenirs. The main costs involved were airfare ($800 round trip), the JR pass ($600). The JR pass was expensive, but so are the bullet trains – with our itinerary, the pass saved us literally thousands of dollars. We saved money on accommodations by staying with friends in Tokyo and staying mainly in hostels otherwise, so we paid between $25-50 on a normal night. Our two splurge nights were the Ryokan on Miyajima and the temple on Koyasan, at $100 each. Other included costs are bus and subway tickets and admission to museums, temples, shrines, hot springs, etc. Food costs are, of course, highly variable and are therefore not included, (with rare exceptions such as the meals included in the temple stay), but you can eat very well in Japan on even the tightest budgets (see Food for more information.)

Thinking Ahead: The main thing we had to do before we left was order the JR rail pass. You cannot get a JR pass once you are inside of Japan – you will have to order and receive the pass before you leave the U.S., which depending on where you live can be a bit tricky. We ordered ours online through this travel agency, and they took a few weeks to arrive. We bought plane tickets about three months in advance, and reserved most of our accommodation ahead of time as well – recommended if you want to stay in the cheapest places, as a lot of the best value places are small and might fill up.We were only unable to visit one of the places we’d hoped to go – the Ghibli museum, which apparently requires tickets reserved quite some time in advance.

Timing: In late July and early August, the weather in central Japan is considered miserably hot and humid, so it wasn’t the most crowded or expensive time to be there. Since the weather was pretty comparable to summer in our native Missouri, we coped pretty well with the heat, although it did feel good to escape north and to the mountains on some days. It rained often, but usually lightly, so we just carried small umbrellas with us at all times. Two things we were able to do specifically because it was summer time were part of the Matsuri Gion festival in Kyoto, and a fireworks summer festival in Tokyo. Lots of people go to Japan for cherry blossoms in the spring or the fall colours, so things are more expensive during those times. Generally, central Japan is scenic in all seasons, especially gardens that are landscaped to showcase the different parts of the year, and also relatively mild most of the year, although some things might be harder to do in winter.

Food: Japan has lots of lovely, delicious food. If you like trying new things, it will be a paradise for you. However, if you have any dietary restrictions, you may end up eating basic things like rice and steamed vegetables, because Japanese food often includes lots of seafood and meat (beef, pork, anything is fair game), even if only for flavoring. If the restriction is merely pickiness, try to have an open mind. My friend Laura went there hating all seafood (luckily she really, really likes rice), but by the time we left had discovered she quite liked dried salmon and many kinds of sushi. Eating in Japan can be extremely expensive or extremely inexpensive. Konbini convenience stores offer a variety of filling and tasty hot/cold meals for about $5, and you can fill up on Onigiri for even less. Even sushi can be had for very reasonable prices!

Getting Around: Most of Japan’s transportation systems are fast, reliable, and remarkably easy to understand given the language barrier (see Language). We found that people were extremely willing to help us if we were lost or just unsure about which buses to take or where to get off the subway. Bullet trains are fast but expensive (to a lesser extent, that goes for all trains), buses can be slow but are often necessary. There is very little room for luggage on any of the public transport, especially getting around Tokyo and Osaka by subway, so pack as lightly as you possibly can – sometimes we had to carry our suitcases in our laps, upright. If you relax, getting around can be half the fun, but if you are in a hurry, it can make you miserable. We enjoyed using a wide variety of transportation during our trip, including private cars, taxis, bullet trains, express trains, local trains, buses, cable cars, funiculars, aerial tramways, bicycles, ferries, subways, and, largely, our own two feet.

Language: There’s no way around the fact that the language difference in Japan is substantial. You won’t even recognize place names on most signs, because they are written in Kanji symbols. Japanese is a language totally unrelated to English, which uses no less than three forms of writing. Many Japanese people, especially those outside of the big cities, and even those involved in tourism, speak poor or no English. Given all of this, however, the language situation is as easy as it could possibly be. Maps and instructions are often very visual, with pictures to help you with the words. People are extremely willing to help you and creative in reaching understanding even when you can’t understand a word they say. My advice is to carry a piece of paper with the names of all the places you are visiting in Kanji, so that you can refer to this or show it to Japanese people if you get confused. Also, carrying a phrase book is very highly recommended – you will not look stupid for whipping it out, (usually when you do the people you are talking to are far more embarrassed about their English ;_;),and since Japanese is pronounced phonetically, you will probably be understood without too much trouble. With all this said, Laura and I both had some slight understanding of Japanese – enough that with the phrasebook, we could usually put stupid sentences together and even understand some basic questions, commands, numbers, etc – and segments of the trip, such as going north to Mutsu or staying with the monks on Koyasan, would have been quite a bit more difficult if we didn’t know any Japanese at all.

Other: We got all of our yen from ATMs, but finding ATMs that take American cards can be a bit tricky with one lifesaving exception – 7/11 convenience stores. These are prevalent, but stock up on cash when you can, since almost no businesses will take your cards.

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Itenerary:

We left the US on July 15th and arrived in Tokyo on the 16th. In Tokyo we stayed for three days with my former roommate, Mayumi, whose apartment overlooked Tokyo tower. The first full day was a daytrip to Kamakura, where we saw our first shrines and temples, including magnificent Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the Temple of Hase Kannon, and one of Japan’s most famous Daibutsu. The next day, Mayumi and another Japanese friend, Mitsuki, showed us the city of Tokyo – the Tsukiji Fish Market, Asakusa, Shinjuku, and Harajuku… then we changed into yukata for a fireworks festival followed by karaoke.

On the 19th, we left Tokyo early for northern Japan. We reached the Shimokita Hanto, the peninsula at the northernmost tip of Honshu, and lodged in the city of Mutsu for two nights in order to visit sulfurous, ash covered Osore-zan (Fear Mountain), the traditional Japanese gateway to hell and place of lost souls, during the Itako Taisai Festival, when blind mediums are said to summon the spirits of the dead.

On the 21st, we woke up early again for the longest train ride of the trip, heading back south and west, through the mountains to Takayama, a lovely town full of old, preserved houses, purple wisteria, and the heady scent of sake. While in Takayama, we took a bike tour up through the Japan Alps (during a solar eclipse, no less!) to see an amazing set of waterfalls, then continued on to Kanazawa, home of one of Japan’s three best gardens, as well as an old samurai district.

The 24th found us in Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan. This is where Memoirs of a Geisha was filmed, and it is home to an overwhelming number of temples, gardens, and shrines. Over two days, we saw Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Sanjusangendo, the Kiyomizudera, the super modern train station, and even a bit of the Matsuri Gion festival.

On the 26th we continued to Hiroshima to visit Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Dome during the most sobering day of our trip. Then we took the ferry to nearby Miyajima, waited out the tour groups to see the Floating Tori by twilight, spend the night in a traditional ryokan, and climb Mt. Misen in the morning.

On the 28th we woke up in Osaka and spent the day in Nara, a former capital of Japan, famous for herds of tame deer and the world’s biggest wooden building. On the 29th we paid a quick morning visit to Himeji Castle before working our way up to Koyasan, a mountain covered in temples (including one housing Japan’s largest rock garden), and actually spending the night in one. We woke up at 6 for morning prayers, ate shōjin ryōri, traditional Buddhist cuisine, and very narrowly escaped having to sleep in the ancient graveyard!

On the 31st we headed to Nikko, with it’s golden shrines, the original ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkeys, and the grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of Japan. The hot spring resorts and fantastic nature in nearby Chuzenji and Yumoto made this the most relaxing part of our trip.

On August 2nd we returned to Tokyo, with just enough time in the evening to see Tokyo Disney Sea. We stayed for the next few days with Mitsuki, and she and Mayumi continued showing us around Tokyo, including a visit to Akihabara electric town, some cartoon merchandise shopping, a skybus tour of the Ginza business district, museums in Ueno park, and, in Yokohama, a world-fair type celebration of Japan’s 150 years of being open to the western world. The last night of the trip, the four of us watched Ponyo and burned hanabi fireworks in a little park, sad to say goodbye to Japan.

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Posts about this trip:

(Check back on this section from time to time – I’ll continue to put up new links!)

Journal Entries:
A Night View of Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan – 7/17)
Sanjusangendo (Kyoto, Japan – 12/8)

Photos: A Sushi Feast, The Smallest Corner, Buddhapada in Kamakura

Notes: Onigiri, Six Funny Things about the Japanese Language, Yuba, Late Night Okonomiyaki

Six Funny Things about the Japanese Language

Japanese is a fun language to study, for travel purposes or to enjoy Japanese culture from afar. Because the language and the culture are both quite different from those you may be familiar with, it can be a funny experience to study Japanese as well! Here are a few things that always make me laugh when I’m studying or using Japanese.

1.) If you want to say you ‘love’ something, as in, you ‘really like it’, in Japanese, you use the expression ‘daisuki’. This is made of two components: Dai (Big) and Suki (Like). Big Like!

2.) Japanese people worry a lot about being polite, and in Japanese this includes using different words to refer to things you want to honor, and things you want to be neutral, or humble about. Sometimes these ‘honourable’ version of words simply add a prefix. Other times they are completely different words. And sometimes there are even more categories than this, showing different degrees of honor!  For example, when you talk about your boss’s car, you should probably say okuruma, instead of just kuruma.

3.) One way this manifests itself is in the names for family members. Obviously, you can’t use the same word to talk about your mother or your friend’s mother. You want to show your friend’s mother respect, but since you are talking about your mother in connection to yourself, it would be rude to honor your mother (and, by connection, yourself!). So your friend’s mother is (anata no) okaasan — (your) mother, and my mother is (watashi no) haha — (my) mother.

4.) The Japanese word for Manufacturer is Meikaa. Sound it out. This is an import word. Television Manufacturer is Terebi Meikaa. Sound it out!

5.) Japanese uses different sets of numbers to count things with different shapes. These are called counters. For example, one is ichi, but one year – issai, one bird – ichiwa, one dog or cat or insect – ippiki, one person – hitori. Although there is a ‘place holder’ counter for use when the counter is unknown, and some counters are not in common use, unique counters exist for such things as: paragraphs, footsteps, nursery trees (and stocks), bows during worship at a shrine, cannons, and theatrical acts.

6.) These numbers themselves can be made up from two different original systems – Chinese and Japanese. The basic words for four, seven, and nine, however, are problematic. Four is Shi, a word which also means death. This is unlucky, kind of like our number 13, so they replace it with the euphemism Yon sometimes (and in some cases you HAVE to say yon, such as Yoji (four o’clock)). The same goes for Ku, which means suffering and it often switched out with Kyu. Seven is Shichi, which Japanese people sometimes worry gets lost floating around next to shi (four) and ichi (one), so they sometimes say nana instead!

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

Japanese is a fun language to study, for travel purposes or to enjoy Japanese culture from afar. Because the language and the culture are both quite different from those you may be familiar with, it can be a funny experience to study Japanese as well! Here are a few things that always make me laugh when I’m studying or using Japanese.

In Ochagavía

Plaza in Ochagavía

Ochagavía, Navarra, Spain – December 8th, 2010

For lunch on the second day of our road trip, Marketa and I stopped in Ochagavía, the most prominent village in Navarra’s Salazar Valley. We walked alongside the river, admiring the traditional architecture and taking pictures like crazy. Then we found a reasonably priced sidrería (Cider-house) to eat at. Marketa ordered “cow’s face” as she called it – some sort of cheek meat, while I ordered traditional Basque meatballs, Basque pate, and cuajada for dessert.

Marketa saw some Kukuxumusu merchandise in a store window in the plaza, so in we went. I was ecstatic to find several animated movies from my childhood – in Basque! Red-faced but determined, I asked the lady behind the counter for Haran Sorginduaren Bila – also known as The Land Before Time. She was very sweet. “I see you like cartoons, just like me!” she said. As she was scanning the movie, though, she realized that it wasn’t just in Spanish, but in Basque! I told her that was why I was buying it, because I was studying Basque a little.

At that, she went out to the street and called in her friends. “This is an American girl, studying Euskera!” she announced. All of them were pretty impressed. “You’re doing what we could not,” they told me. “We’ve tried to learn a little bit, but we’re too old now, it’s too late, we’re the lost generation.”

“Our grandparents spoke Basque, our parents understood it. But then came the Franco years… It skipped us. But now the children are learning again! And even you, an American!”

/A Semester in the Basque Country of Spain

Night View of Tokyo

A view of Tokyo by night, taken from Toranomon.

Tokyo, Japan – July 17th, 2009

We filled our arms with cans of juice and beer and took the elevator to the top of Mayumi’s building. Our tour book recommended several places for a good view of Tokyo – from where I was standing, this one was hard to beat.

We were shocked to be able to see Tokyo Tower (think: Japan’s Eiffel Tower) from the little rooftop garden. Laura’s sharp eyes also picked out two Ferris Wheels, and Rainbow Bridge, which Mayumi hadn’t realized she could see before.

We tasted Japanese beer, saw the electric energy of Tokyo shining in the night, listened to the bugs hum and buzz in the bushes around us. And I wondered; those poor, lost bugs – how did they get here? How did we?

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

The Smallest Corner

Where: Kamakura, Japan

When: July 2009

Camera: Canon Powershot A550

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A small city, a small street, a small corner beside a shop. What do you find there? In the United States I would expect maybe beer bottles and cigarette butts, maybe a trash can, maybe, at best, a potted plant or a bit of a store window.

Instead, in this little corner of Kamakura, about four square feet of ground space, there is a lovely cabinet displaying some art, some ubiquitous and frighteningly realistic Japanese plastic food models for the restaurant behind, and the smallest bit of landscaping I think I’ve ever seen. The ground cuts away swiftly into a tiny pond, and a tiny tree rises above.

I almost don’t know which impresses me more: the scale, or the flawless blending of practical, artistic, and introduced natural beauty.

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

Mexican Walmart

Unrefrigerated Milk

I love visiting grocery stores in other countries. So much is the same, that it makes what’s different really stand out. Some things that surprised me as a visitor from the U.S. were unrefrigerated milk in big cartons and new flavors of microwave popcorn (caramel, jalapeño, chile with lemon!) and ramen (seafood, cheese, and more chile with lemon).

Pan Bimbo! - Bimbo Bread!

There was also some sort of meat roasting on a spit in the back, the toasted rice drink Horchata, (which my Spanish teacher hated!) and my personal favourite, Bimbo brand bread, now pre-toasted for your convenience!

/Cancun, December 2007

Spain 2010

A Semester in the Basque Country of Spain

August 23rd-December 19th, 2010

Trip Conception, Goals, and Planning:

Pure pragmatics led me to Pamplona. I was studying Spanish and Journalism, and looking to study abroad. The program at the University of Navarra Pamplona was the obvious fit – the only Journalism program taught in a language other than English. When I thought about it, though, I realized that I wouldn’t have chosen to go anywhere else. As I began to make more solid plans, I asked my Scottish friend Allan to go there with me a week ahead of time, so we could see Barcelona and Valencia and attend the Tomatina tomato fight in Bunyol before my classes started. And once I was there, of course, I went on dozens of day trips and weekend trips all over Spain (particularly the north).

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Considerations/Advice:

Cost: This trip was unimaginably expensive. Just kidding, but as it was an entire semester away it’s a bit more complicated than normal to sum up the costs. Essentially, I was paying my home university normal tuition, as well as a study abroad fee. It cost me about $1300 to get to Pamplona from Florida, and back again. Apartments in Pamplona usually run 250-400€ a month. Grocery costs are roughly comparable to in the United States. When I took weekend trips, hostels usually cost about 25€ a night, and transportation varied but buses were about 35€ roundtrip to Madrid or Barcelona, 15€ to San Sebastian, Vitoria or Bilbao, 20€ to Zaragoza, etc. My biggest splurges were the Multiaventura canyoning experience, at 125€ (overnight, with meals, equipment, instructors and transportation included), and the U2 concert in San Sebastian (tickets were 60€).

Thinking Ahead: I started applying to study abroad almost a full year in advance. Getting a VISA was tricky and took a few months and a lot of paperwork. I got my apartment lined up ahead of time, but it was difficult and I shouldn’t have bothered – it’s much easier to arrange once you arrive, if you’re brave enough to show up without a place to go. I didn’t really book anything more than a week ahead of time. The MAJOR exception to this was for Tomatina – I booked the hostel in Valencia several months in advance.

Timing: Since I went to Pamplona for the Fall/Winter semester,  I got to experience the leaves changing colour, the first snows, the Christmas season, etc. Tomatina takes place the last Wednesday of August, so that works out perfectly if you’re planning to study in Spain during the Fall. We had really lovely weather in Pamplona until quite late in the semester. As I see it, the big disadvantage of going in the fall is that the weather gets worse instead of better as time goes on, you make travelling friends and decide where you want to go.

Food: Spanish food is quite good, especially if you like fish, ham, eggs, olive oil, potatoes, and tomatoes. The north of Spain is famous for Pintxos, their delicious take on tapas. Things like Tortilla Española (a thick omelette full of soft potato), Paella de Mariscos (a boiled, then baked rice dish with seafood and lots of saffron), Patatas Bravas (chunky fried potatoes served with garlic mayo and spicy sauce), and Croquetas (croquettes filled with bechamel and microscopic pieces of chicken or ham) quickly became my daily bread. For sweets, I recommend Colocao (hot chocolate American style – easy to order in any cafe) with Garrotes (also called Napolitanas, basically chocolate bread)… or, if you want to get fat fast, Chocolate (thick Spanish style  drinking chocolate) with Churros (deep fried pastries coated in sugar). There aren’t a lot of good ethnic restaurants, but if you’re craving something different it’s easy enough to find the ingredients to make your own Asian or American food. Tiny Asian markets are common, and if you’re willing to pay a premium, you can find almost anything in the grocery section of the huge department store, Corte Inglés.

Getting Around: Bus is usually the way to travel – they’re cheaper and much more common than trains in Spain. As long as you’re following the beaten path, there are buses galore and life is easy. Of course, getting to natural areas and tiny villages is a challenge without a car. Flying is sometimes a surprisingly decent option for crossing Spain, if you look online for cheap rates.

Language: Catalan, Basque, and Galician are very real, but a foreigner will never need to know a word of them. If you know Spanish, you’re all set, and people are usually reasonably patient with you. Trying to get by with just English is a good deal harder. It depends on where you go, but Spaniards aren’t as multilingual as Northern Europeans in general.

Other: I was extremely impressed by Spain during my stay there. What struck me the most was the diversity of what it had to offer  – the Spain you hear about most often in America really only represents old fashioned Madrid and Southern Spain (and modern Barcelona, to a lesser extent), and in Europe they think of Spain as nothing more than a giant beach. But in Madrid I found palaces and museums to rival those of Paris, in Asturias and the Basque Country sheer seaside cliffs and quaint villages like you’d expect from Ireland, in Galicia the last functioning Roman lighthouse, and the last fully intact Roman walls, and in Navarra – you have to see Navarra yourself to believe it.

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Itinerary:

I flew with my friend Allan into Barcelona on August 23rd, and did a little sightseeing there before heading to Valencia for the Tomatina tomato fight in Bunyol on August 25th. After another day relaxing in Valencia, we moved on to Pamplona, where I would spend the next four months. We also squeezed in a day in Puente la Reina, a small town nearby, before Allan went back home.

International Orientation was August 30th, and on the 31st the new students took a trip to San Sebastian for a day in the sun before classes started on September 1st. As September went on, I snuck away long enough to return to San Sebastian, as well as visit the Basque Country’s other two capitals, Vitoria (where we toured a cathedral under construction) and Bilbao (home of the Guggenheim). I also joined my university’s Club de Montaña (Mountain Club), and our first excursion was a canyoning adventure in Aragon. I saw September out with a surfing trip in Biarritz.

In October, I traveled further and longer before it got too cold and finals too close. Club de Montaña took us for hikes in the Pyrenees and in the Selva de Irati, and I saw the U2 concert in San Sebastian. I visited one friend down south in Alicante and another for her 21st birthday in Madrid. I took my longest trip in the last days of October, when I went couchsurfing in Gijon, Asturias before meeting friends for a long weekend in Galicia.

In November and December, I started to settle down and into life in Pamplona. Still, I found time to visit Zaragoza, walk a bit of the Camino de Santiago, and take a few road trips around my home state of Navarra before I had to go home on December 19th.

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Posts about this trip:

(Check back on this section from time to time – I’ll continue to put up new links!)

Journal Entries:
Sea, Sky, and Sculpture in San Sebastian (San Sebastian, País Vasco – 8/31)
Bilbao – Bigger, Brighter, Better (Bilbao, País Vasco – 9/12)
Fresh Bull Eggs and Googly Eyes
(Bilbao, País Vasco – 9/12)
The Guggenheim (Bilbao, País Vasco – 9/12)
The Witch Caves of Navarre (Zugarramurdi, Navarre – 12/7)
In Ochagavía (Ochagavía, Navarre – 12/8)

Photography: Vitoria of the Bean Eaters, The Castle of Olite, Cumbres Borrascosas