If you're not early, you're late.
So, this past weekend, I spent some time in Valladolid and visited my friend Alba. I met Alba in my junior year of high school when she came as a foreign exchange student for a couple months. She left early, but we've stayed in contact every now and then since. Sometimes we'd talk about "Well, some day you'll come visit me in Spain!" but before we get to how that was realized, let me take you a little further back, back to more of my high school experience.
It starts with marching band. (Any Lakota West Marching Firebird can tell you that like, 85% of their high school experience begins with either friends or experiences including marching band.) It all turned around and spat itself at me in an extremely ironic way this past Friday.
So I'm lounging around, writing an email to my Spanish professor from last semester. He wanted my gung-ho-est general opinion about how things are going for me in Oviedo so he can share it on the department newsletter. I'd been wrapped up in business for the past week because of our trip to Barcelona and didn't have the time to breathe hardly from the moment since I got off the train and went to classes this past week. (Actually, Monday I really couldn't hardly breathe and was sick out of my skull, but that's an entirely different story.) And, of course, if this was going to be going into the department newsletter, I better make sure I know what I'm saying. So I get back from my hectic morning consisting of class, train, teaching in Gijón-- which is always more terrifying and tiring than it should be, but there you have it-- and then the rush back home with the knowledge I've got three hours tops to get my stuff together, eat, and send off this email.
For the most part, I've got it down, but I keep looking over what I write as I write it and look up words that every now and then elude me. I'm talking with Jess in one window, have some botting going on in another, and life seems good. I'm vaguely aware every now and then that I have a train to catch in a while, and every now and then I become more and more aware of that fact. It becomes a near-paranoia, "omfg, don't you -dare- miss that train!" And I keep writing. I've got a couple of big paragraphs now, and I look down, and it's all of a sudden 5:20. Or so my botched math tells me. (I still have my computer on Ohio time, and my phone is on 24-hr. Somewhere between the two, I was extremely equivocada.) So I shut everything down super sudden-like, and off I go. I scramble to get my bags together, can't seem to fit everything I want, run around like a chicken with my head cut off and finally run out the door, up the street, up Calle General Elorza and I'm giving it all I've got. I've got like ten pounds swinging around me and I'm freaking out and none of these flipping crosswalks are going fast enough. I come up toward the big round-about on General Elorza, run across the street when there's a pause in traffic, look up the hill that separates me from Estación Uria and think "I'm sunk."
There's a hotel that's right there. So what do I do? I tap on the window of the front-most taxi and I'm like, "Dude, my train leaves in 7 minutes. I have to get to the station." and he's like, "Gurrrrl, you crazy." and we merge into the extreme amount of traffic around us (did I neglect to mention it's rush hour?) and...
Sit. We promptly sit. For the next four minutes. I've already pre-emptively paid him and he's like "it's all chill" since we're just going up to the next street. I'm out 3.85 and time's ticking. Finally the light turns green and we go and to (what I thought was) my greatest stroke of luck in a long time, all the lights ahead of us are green. We come up the taxi-way toward the station and we stop behind a bus that's waiting for people to pass the pedestrian crossing. It takes approximately 20 seconds. 20 seconds too long for this girl who's freaking out and thinking she's about to miss a train that'll be in the station for approximately two minutes before it leaves. So what do I do? I tell the guy I'm going for it. He's like, "wait wait wait" because the traffic's slowly inching forward, but I'm already gone, I shout a "gracias!" over my shoulder, the taxi literally comes up beside me while I'm running up what's left of the hill, run across the front parking lot, and people part for me like a sea because I've got that look on my face, and they perfectly understand "oh, someone's late for their train" and I get inside, I pause ever-so-briefly to consult the departure screen, and...
Wtf, where's my train?
I look at the list and nowhere is Valladolid mentioned. In an hour, however, there is a lovely train headed to Madrid-Chamartín with my train number on it. Ay dios mio.
So what's a girl do when she realizes she's made a fool out of herself to her host mom (who was trying to rush me out the door, also thinking I was late because I'd neglected to tell her the exact hour I was leaving to begin with), the taxi driver ('nuff said), and a plethora of people who are all looking at you to see if you'll make it to the train you clearly appeared to be running late for? Well, of course, walk into the café and talk with the guy who works there who you've already spoken with earlier today about your impending second traintrip and 'fess up to him, "Hey, look what idiocy I've committed!"
The guy laughs, asks if I at least got my tickets all right (because that was our earlier conversation; I don't have a printer at home to print my tickets and asked him if there was somewhere I could print them here, he directed me and was like "NFI if that's right, so tell me later) and I settle down into the corner in the café to read for a while and wait for my train. So I take out my phone and continually check it, like, every three minutes. I'm hopeless. And a little knee-jerky to boot.
About a half an hour before we leave, I notice a huge group of people gathering for the train so I sit down near them and read some more before realizing they're all in some semblance of a line. That becomes clear when they put up the queue for entry onto our train. I scurry in line, wait some more, then when it's finally my turn to show my ticket, I scramble to get it out.
Unsure if I was being blonde at that point or if I was really that much of a mess. (Smartass peanut-gallery comments, please be withheld.)
Anyway, I get on the train, the trip's uneventful except for the brilliantly amazing amount of SNOW(WWWWW!) that I kept seeing, not to mention frequently kept taking pictures of, an overpriced sandwich mixto, cola cao, and some zumo(It would have been a decent buy for 6.40 if the two drinks weren't the size of a Dixie cup) and subsequent conversation with the guy who was running the cafetería, I arrived in Valladolid, met up with Alba's parents (super-genial, by the way. They were the best. I felt bad for Alba's dad because he didn't speak like, any English at all, and me, Alba, and her mom talked in English a lot.) and went for PIZZA.
Wut wat wat? Pizza in Spain? Surely, not like the not-pizza you keep complaining about, Amber.
No, no, no. Btdubs, if you ever are in Spain and see a NovaPizza anywhere, get the Campesina. It's delicious. By the way, never ever ask for a go-box in Spain unless you're at a pizzería. It just doesn't fly otherwise.
The next morning, Alba and I hitched a ride with her parents up into town. Valladolid's a lot bigger than Oviedo, and it has its own suburb area near Parque Sol (or Parquesol.) That was where we were at, and it's about an hour's walk from there into downtown Oviedo. Eesh. I was super-grateful for that ride.
We meandered inside Campo Grande, the park in the center of town. The first encounter with animals we had was a white duck and a gray duck that were near a turned-off fountain in this plaza-like picnic area. The ducks decided that the area was theirs, and they subsequently ran us off.
We rerouted ourselves and went past a birdkeeping area where they had all sorts of pretty colorful little things, and not to mention a few grumpy roosters who seemed like they were pissed off that nobody was around to hear them crow. Then, while we were walking a little further, we came across peacocks. At first there was only three, and then five, and then about thirteen overall just chilling in this one area. I came up and saw them and was about three feet away from them. How cool is that? They were the most chill birds in the entire world. I wanted to pet one, but Alba and I agreed that was probably a bad idea.
From there, we walked in a circle trying to find this lake, and then it turns out we'd walked right past the way to it when we left the peacocks. It also turns out the lake was mostly empty. But the funny part to that definitely had to be there -was- a bit of water left, and there was a rectangular shape near the center of it that wasn't frozen and had quite the lovely assortment of birds in it. It was really cool to see. (Not to mention it was like they were swimming in a swimming pool.) There were a couple of swans, some ducks, some birds I couldn't quite identify, and one that was chilling with its head in its down and looked headless if you looked at it from the wrong direction. I freaked out when I first saw it, not gonna lie. There was also this group of tiny brown ducks that were walking across the ice and the little ones went along just fine, but one of the larger fell through the ice down to it's belly, went O_O and then wiggled and hopped back up on top of the ice.
Speaking of birdfaces, I learned a lot of interesting noises they make, too.
Anyway, from there we went walking across town. We made it to el Derecho, the law builidng that Alba learns at. It's really, really old and it's cool. Alba's mom told me later on that if you count all of the lions that are on the front door (if you intend to go to law school) before you matriculate that it's bad luck and you won't get in. We stopped at a rugby bar that's right across the street that I guess is really common for the students to hang out at during the schoolweek. On our way back toward the bus we would take back down to Alba's house, we passed by the plaza Mayor, plaza Madrid, and a few other places of note like the shopping street. Not gonna lie, though, my favorite thing to see was definitely the carousel in the middle of the plaza Mayor.
Once we got back, it was a quick change of clothes and then a 40-minute car ride across the Castilla-León countryside to come to a town called Palencia (NOT Valencia, like I heard the first five times they mentioned it...) where Alba's aunt and uncle live. They were all getting together for lunch to celebrate a birthday that had happened this past week. Her aunt's an artist and the house was littered with her works, which were really pretty, and I got to be acquainted with Alba's grandma and grandpa who were really, really sweet (and didn't speak a word of English, which was good practice for me. They were surprised how well I knew Spanish with the way Alba kept speaking to me in English).
We sat down for lunch which consisted of shrimp (with head, feelers, shell, and tail, btw o_o; (which I bravely tried two of)), pimientos rellenos (bell peppers stuffed with some kind of fish, in a creamy sauce, that I tried after much goading), bull's tail (I think? It was some kind of meat that was extremely hard to eat, judging by how everybody was tearing it apart and then eating a little at a time like it was crablegs. Didn't try because I was starving, and at the same time came out) some kind of lamb. It was what I had walked in on Mari cooking when we first got there, and omg it was delicious. After Alba told me I was silly for not just picking up the bone and eating it like that, I dug in with vigor. There was also a salad and some kind of tuna-filled pastel that had a spread and kiwi and strawberries on top, but I didn't have either of those.
There was café, a bit of cava (Spanish champagne), a toast to good health for everyone, and then out came the birthday cake. It was rocking two sparklers on top along with a singing candle, and I feel pretty bad, but I can't remember who's exact birthday it was. I want to say I saw Mari blow out the candles, but that seems silly to me that she would have gone through all that trouble just for her own birthday party. Anyway, one was basically a pastel that reminded me of the one I had on los Reyes Magos that's unique to that (or maybe that's just how the Spaniards do their pastel, in a flaky super-layered-but-still-thin sort of way) and was absolutely filled with whipped cream and then the other one. The other one was flipping fantastic. I didn't realize it until I dug my spoon in that it was ice cream, the entire thing. Three different layers of ice cream cake.
Needless to say, it was delicious. From there, we passed the rest of the afternoon chit-chatting, fooling around with Carnaval wigs, telling stories, and then eventually going out for a bit of café and to visit a chino place that some people wanted to go and see.
When we got back, there was enough time for an hour-long nap before it was another change of clothes and back on the town again. I finished off the last of our leftover pizza (I'd had the other piece right before we left for lunch, just in case) and then we ran to the bus only to be 15 minutes early. (Are you sensing a trend here? I mean, I'm glad we're early, but jeez.) To tell the truth, though, the bus actually ended up being late because the streets were all sorts of clogged due to Carnaval, not to mention the fact that it was Saturday night.
We finally got off that claustrophobic overfilled bus and met Alba's friends Sandra and Annabelle, and the four of us went on my first barhopping adventure ever. I talked some with Sandra in English to help her practice, and Annabelle was too shy to chance saying something wrong so we chit-chatted in Spanish. We didn't stay in any one place too long, but my favorite definitely had to be los 7 enanitos. It was a total surprise to walk in some place that was themed to the Seven Dwarves, but it was a pleasant surprise. There were a couple people there dressed as princes and princesses and whathaveyou for Carnaval, too, so it added to the mood.
We stopped by a bocadillo place next door before we moved on and some guys walked in, overheard me speaking English to Alba, and was like "omfg! ware u from!" and turns out the guy was from Gijón, studying in Madrid, and was passing through with his friends for the night on the way to some Carnaval adventure in yon-nearby city. He was also slightly drunk and far more fascinated with the United States than any Spaniard I've met thus far. After he turned around for about half a second, I got Alba and her friend's attention and we slipped out. ._." Thank god for that. I don't think that guy would have ever stopped talking.
We went in and out of a few more places, one where the floor was so sticky I literally almost couldn't lift my feet up and it destroyed my knees and then the last called Soley2.0 which was pretty awesome. They had a DJ who sucked at first, but after I requested Party Rock Anthem (and said LMFAO when he was like "wut?") some better music came on. And eventually LMFAO came on, but it was "I'm Sexy And I Know It" but whatevs! I was absolutley pooped and my sinuses felt like they were about to explode, so I finally confessed I was tired and we left, went in search of the night-bus back to Parquesol and off we went.
I was so tired, I could have slept forever this morning. I think Alba could have, too. But I remembered Alba's mom, Maite, saying something about a festival happening, and Alba was like, "Yeah, they'll probably get up at 11 or something." So I set my alarm for 11, got up at 11:11 (For luck, right? No, no, you got me, I just hate waking up.) and went downstairs. Turned out Alba wasn't up yet, and when I ran into Alba's dad and told him I was chill on breakfast that raised red flags, he fetched Alba's mom, and then tried to get Alba up, and I escaped the whole ordeal by going "I need a shower!"
Random Spanish vocabulary lesson of the day: estropear. It means to ruin. Example: Amber, don't buy strawberries, wash them, then put them in a plastic bag for the rest of the day. It will ruin them. This can be applied to flowers and umbrellas, and from there probably about everything else you could ever possibly ruin as well, and it's finally stuck.
We finally got on the road (this time without Alonso, Alba's younger brother) and went to a small, ancient town called Toro where they were having a mostly-kid-friendly Carnaval celebration. It was pretty funny. They had human bowling, where you rolled a painted giant workout ball at some 'bowling pins' and they would decide whether or not you'd hit them. There was also themed whack-a-mole (which was surprisingly hard, it turns out that the hammers' oversized poles were made out of wood, so no matter how hollow it was, after so long it was still kinda heavy.) and other assorted shows including an air-guitar band filled with kids and various parades that happened every now and then.
We eventually left and went further into the countryside. By the way, you know you're in "wine country" when that's literally the only thing you can see...
We pulled into the pueblo of San Roman and promptly made a hairpin turn back out of it down some dusty road, up the side of a hill, and stopped. Pulling in right behind us were Alba's grandparents. We'd arrived at their bodega, which roughly means a wine cellar, but it's a place where they make wine, too. Theirs was a lot larger than usual, and to me was a sight to see. Alba's grandpa explained to me each part as we walked down inside, from the bathroom with running water that was installed some time ago, to the absolutely-ancient old grape-presser that he'd left in there a; because it was huge, and b; because it was kind of cool. It went all the way from one side of the place to the other, practically, and the hall finally went down a few steps and opened on the left to stairs down into further darkness, and on the right to a big open area with a long table, and a HUGE barrel at the very back of the place. There was a woodburner on the right side in the middle of the wall, and to the right of that, dressers and cabinets and whathave you filled with all sorts of dishes. On the left wall, near the entry, there was a recess in the wall with some mini-barrels with spouts that actually held alcohol inside them. The one that Alba's grandpa filled my small glass with was clear, surprisingly sweet, but still quite alcoholic. I had very little.
We started a fire, I was shown the lowest part of the bodega which had all sorts of kegs and casks of various sizes, some filled and some not, and the machine they installed that now makes the wine all on its own. When we went back up, I went and got Alba and we walked outside, up the hill immediately beside the entrance to the bodega and got a good look at everything that was all around. It was amazing. There's not much at all to say in the way of trees in Castilla-León, but the landscape is really breathtaking nonetheless. I couldn't get over how pretty it was. The bodega industrial we were in had a bunch of other smaller bodegas scattered all over the hills. There were small little house-like structures that were actually the chimneys for each one, and a picnic area with a couple of established tables down in the valley between the hills. Alba told me that when her grandpa had been alcalde -- the mayor -- of San Roman, they'd had a party once a year down there with a whole bunch of people.
When we went back inside, we sat down to eat. Lunch was pretty simple, but I enjoyed it a lot. It was salad, chicken fillets, breaded chicken fillets, bread, a little slice of a creamy tortilla and wine. I'm glad I poured myself very little of the wine to begin with; it was incredibly strong. I mixed my fair share of Fanta with it to null the taste, and it did, but the mixture never quite mixed all the way and the wine always somehow remained and surprised me when I got to the bottom quarter of the glass, despite how I kept refilling it and swirling it to encourage a better spread. Then, an entire chicken was revealed. And I know this is going to sound pathetic, especially given what the rest of the lunch is, but oh god did I jump on that. It was good. Everything was more or less cold, but it was a good meal nonetheless.
Alba's grandpa told a story about how one time him and some of his friends when he'd been about eight (either that or it was him and eight friends, and either way, I'd believe it) had fit into the large keg that was at the back of the hall, made themselves merry and started dancing inside and accidentally somehow rolled it off and gotten themselves stuck until someone came to rescue them. He told me how it was very common for people to have meriendas and get-togethers in bodegas and for friends to come and eat and dance and make merry. It was repeated that most are usually smaller than this, and then there was mention that he also had two others that were more the appropriate size. To me, that's all very wow. I asked if it was common in all of Spain for people to go to bodegas for meriendas and he managed to respond in an entirely serious way that it was really only a thing they did in places that they raised vino and uvas in general. It might have been the stupidest question I asked all day, but at least we were making fluid conversation.
Dessert came in a mixed fruit cocktail (non-alcoholic, though still very strong-tasting), a cheesecake with a strawberry spread topped with strawberry pieces (which I believe might have been the leftovers of my ruined ones...) and orejas. Orejas are ears, by the way. Turns out we had sugared dried pig ears for dessert. Who knew. I tried it! I didn't like it all that greatly, but I tried it!
After lunch, we spent a little while in San Roman back at Alba's grandparent's house. They had an old house, and the only working calefacción was a fire that was turned on under the stone tile in the living room, which couldn't stay on for super long for obvious reasons. Out back they had a garage, two motorbikes, a tractor, a randomly placed pen full of roosters, and a workshop where Alba's grandpa makes wooden stuff. They had a large stone patio that they told me they host parties on in the summer, and everyone eats a great big table that they put out. Standing there in the lukewarm sunlight in the middle of winter, I could imagine it, and part of me really wants to come back some day to see it. Their small cat, Tuco, (a pet-name that means Small-Nose when they say the full one) was adorable and I found myself playing with him out back. He cracked me up and reminded me of a toddler. After I'd been playing with him, I went back inside and we all had some fusion tea (Alba's mom had lost her voice, so she had some oregano with honey. Fancy that, never knew that cured hurting throat. I'll have to try that sometime) and when that was finished, Alba's grandpa came back in and sat down on a bench that the cat was on. He'd just wandered in, too, and was wired pretty bad. He immediately latched on to his sweater and tried to bite him playfully and all Alba's grandpa did was go, "Tuco, control yourself." in a really, really soft voice and he calmed down. It's going to sound odd, but that was the sweetest thing.
We all sat around and watched TV and chitchatted for a while before Alba's grandpa brought out some semi-dried grapes for us to try. I did, and it turns out uvas from that area are extremely pulpito-y. In other words, they have a lot of seeds. Aside from that, I petted Tuco and loved on him because he was adorable and really well-behaved after he settled down, and then eventually moved over on a row of chairs I'd lined up to lie down for a little while. Everybody was really sleepy and Alba and her grandpa had already nodded off, while Alba's dad was in the other room taking a proper nap since he was the one who had to drive and he was really tired.
Then, we drove back, I grabbed my already packed bag on got on the computer for five minutes before packing that, too, up and we left for the station. We got there about a half an hour early, but that was no real big deal. In other words, it means Alba's dad barely had time to find some parking space and come back before we all marched together down the stairs, underground, and up again onto Vía 2 where my train was going to come in and take off from. Reflecting on the whole weekend, I was really touched by how kind and accepting and how, without hesitation, they brought me with them practically everywhere this weekend. Not gonna lie, I got a little misty-eyed when I was telling Alba so. It felt so nice to be hanging out with a family all the time (and even to be able to cheat with English when the need arose), to be asked questions and to ask them in return freely and to see people gathered around a table and chit-chatting and laughing the day away, or to just be chilling all there together like a family. To be a part of that... I think that's better than any silly Carnaval adventures I missed out on this weekend in Avilés, and it's not one I'll easily forget.
So, to Alba (and family), if you happened to fish this up on my Facebook and a; haven't gotten frustrated with things I probably misheard/misinterpreted and therefore misrepresented and b; didn't give up on this thing halfway through because this is some novel you've pretty much already lived, know from the bottom of my heart how much this weekend meant to me, and let me tell you thank you again for it.
And to everyone else who might happen upon this, I -finally- got my group picture I wanted out of the whole excursion, even if it happened a mere four minutes before the train arrived:
En fin. Oh, and by the way, if you're wondering "Where is that great Barcelona post you promised?" Well, yeah, let me tell you that Barcelona was enchanting for the first day and a half I was there, and the latter half... well, not so much. And the trainride back, which I would have written my little spheal on, was dominated by angry and uncomfortable sleeping. Long story short: We went on a tour around the city, went to Sagrada Familia, I went to an awesome italian restaurant with super-thin-crust pizza, went to a fancy club that one of my classmates got us into and had an -awesome- night out, followed by a too-soon-early rise, a trip with me, Nithya, Alex, and José around all sorts of different parts of Barcelona, seeing the parade that was going on, being stopped and interviewed by Bodaclick for their "Te quiero por..." segment, stopping by a mercadillo and being distracted by a group of talented street-dancers and translating what they were saying to a Texan family who was visiting Barca for the weekend (but actually lives in the UK right now), and then a failtastic night including a walk to the wrong bar on the wrong side of town, a ridiculously expensive taxi-ride that was induced by failtastic drivers who didn't bother remembering the directions of the bar we were going to, or bothering to put them in his GPS, and then not being able to go to the promised Dow Jones bar before it closed, followed by a slightly somehow better scenario of walking up and down la Rambla twice for an open McD's after abandoning the rest of the group when they went barhopping again, and then the next morning a failed attempt at going to Parque Güell as a group, and I ended up going by myself, which was nice, then I came back and slept like a hobo in the hotel on a couch in the back of the lounge for a maybe an hour before our trip back, then the fitful and practically sleepless trip back, followed by the tired, sore, and motion-sick filled day after that... Yeah.
Like I said; the first part great, the second part not so much.
En fin! For real this time.