Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Argument for Places With Bad Weather


This past weekend, I was taking a more-than-slightly damp walk through El Retiro in Madrid with a fellow former assistant teacher who was in Galicia at the same time as me. As we squished along, we started reminiscing about the rain in my favorite community in Spain. As I know very well by now, the rain in Spain does NOT fall mainly on the plain! The rain in Galicia was a constant companion, and I came to find its presence more comforting than anything else. The big rainstorm here on Saturday was one of only a handful since I arrived in this desert last August, and it made me think about how I really miss chilly, cloudy days.

I know people think I'm strange for saying this, but I love places with bad weather. I can't tell you how many arguments I've had with people who've tried to insult the various places I've lived in my life (which, with the exception of Alcalá de Henares, are all known for their not-so-stellar weather). They ask why I wouldn't want to live somewhere like the south, where there is sun and heat and beaches. And I say, "Bleh."

Why? Well, first of all, I hate hot weather. Anything above about 25˚C (77˚F) is too hot for me and makes me super uncomfortable. But if that weren't enough, I have all kinds of reasons I like bad weather. Some of them are superficial, like the fact that I think winter clothes are cute, and that I like winter sports better than summer ones. 

I was a figure skater for 15 years, after all...

However, I also have more philosophical reasons, things that I think touch on the core of my personality type. 

Everywhere I've ever lived (Spain, France, the USA), people have told me about their theories that people from the South are very open to strangers but that they're also kind of fake, and people from the North are difficult, cold and unfriendly at first, but once you make your way into their hearts, you'll be friends forever. Is this true? I can't say for certain, although my confirmation bias and the fact that I am a born-and-bred northerner says YES, 100%. 

What I do think is true about the people from these northerly latitudes is that they are forced to be more resilient. When it rains every day for 6 months, you don't whine about it, you just get boots and an umbrella and go about your business anyway. When your car is buried in a snow avalanche, you shovel it out as best you can and drive much more carefully to work. Little things like weather don't get these people down! 


And when you're used to bad weather, you don't complain about it so much. It's a fact of life, not something to mope about! And in fact, there is a great deal of beauty to be found in stormy weather, which you only begin to notice when you're exposed to it repeatedly, day after day. 


For me, at least, there are few things more magical than a blanket of snow over a field, like an empty canvas waiting to be filled in, or trees painted white by frost. Both of the places I've lived in the USA are great winter wonderlands, and I loved them for it.


I am equally enchanted by fog rolling over green hillsides, creating an air of mystery and romance. Fog patterns were a topic I became intimately familiar with in my two years in Galicia, and I loved going through foggy forests, then climbing the mountains to see the mist from above. 
Cañones do Sil, Galicia

Bad weather on the ocean can also be breathtaking. One of the most amazing moments in my life was watching the grandes vagues (big tides) come into St. Malo. The storm created quite a show, and I've rarely felt so much reverence for the awesomeness of the natural world around me as when the ocean soaked me from head to foot and then broke in the windows of the restaurant where I'd been! 

St. Malo, Brittany

I'm either a very moody romantic or Mary Mary quite contrary, but I like being forced to sit inside wrapped in a blanket with a steaming hot tea on a cold rainy/snowy day. I actually feel guilty when the weather is too good, because I don't like being outside all the time, especially not in the heat and sunshine! Sometimes I'd rather appreciate the beauty of raindrops winding their way down my windowsill. I also enjoy falling asleep to the pounding of raindrops on my roof. There are few things more soothing!

Vigo, Galicia

Lots of precipitation has another plus, which is that it turns everything it touches a vibrant shade of green. No, really! I swear, the plants in Galicia are on another level compared with those in other places I've lived. That was good, because when I did feel like going outside and appreciating nature, it was really worth my while! 

Near Santiago, Galicia

And when you're used to bad weather, you're more able to handle it when you encounter rainy or snowy skies on your travels. You know exactly what to do to keep yourself safe and happy when you need to, because you know all the tricks to living in a place with difficult weather. It never takes you by surprise, like it might for those people used to perpetually warm sunny days!

Near Edinburgh, Scotland

Lisbon, Portugal

Clouds also create an awesome backdrop for photos, since they make the rest of the colors pop so much. I like going out and taking photos on yucky days because the moody clouds look so pretty!

Near where I lived in St. Malo, Brittany

Gorgeously moody skies in Bilbao, Spain

I also think that going through lots of bad weather really makes you appreciate the good weather more when it does come. I remember when I was studying in Maine, every year the first day that all the snow had melted off the university mall and it was above 40˚F (5˚C) about three-quarters of the campus was sitting outside studying or playing frisbee. What would be considered end-of-the-world cold in other places was a cause for celebration in a place where two months before it was -30˚ (~F and C, how weird is that?) and we'd had a warning that if we stayed outside for more than ten minutes, we were at risk for frostbite. If every day were sunny and warm with perfect temperatures, you would never get to feel joy at the return of the sun in spring! 

It's so cheesy, but the bad weather makes you appreciate the rainbow that comes after so much more than if you saw one every single day. Or at least, that's what I think. 

Especially if it's a double rainbow, like this one in Liverpool, England!

So there you have it, I've pled the case for the greatness of bad weather! I know most of the world will never agree with me, and I'm sure I'll have arguments about this for years to come, but this is my opinion and I'm sticking to it! 

And you? Do you have more of a sunny disposition, or a moody cloudy one? 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sometimes I Wish I Weren't an Anglophone

It feels blasphemous to even think this, let alone say it out loud. It's almost like a dirty secret, one that I'm ashamed to admit. Of all of the blessings I've had in my life (and there are many), one of them that has most deeply affected my path in life has been the fact that I speak English as my first language and that I come from a rich and powerful nation. My passport currently opens doors for me with no visa required in around 160 countries, and my native language is the lingua franca of basically the entire world.

And yet I sometimes wish I didn't speak English as my first language. 

I don't mean to sound like an ungrateful brat. I'm aware of how much speaking English has helped me thus far in life, and I do realize that I actually make a living just speaking my native language. (Of course, I know the grammar as well; that helps!) But there are moments when I wish I could trade in the status of "native speaker of English" and just speak it well as a second language instead.

Being a native English speaker, especially in Spain right now, means that I am a hot commodity. Spaniards are desperate to learn English, the one thing that they all seem to agree will protect them against the country's current staggering unemployment. Well, either that or it will allow them to move to some other country to work, whichever happens first. Professionals want to learn English to get a better job, and parents want their children to learn English so they will be employable someday too. And all of these people agree that there is no one better to learn from than a native speaker. After all, our pronunciation is perfect, right?

A few weeks ago, in the shared car on the way back from Galicia, we were all talking about our careers, and one of the university students in the back mentioned that he was trying to learn English. The driver threw out the idea that he should try to find a language exchange partner to improve. Unimpressed with the idea, he said "ya tengo un nativo," I already have a native.

Something about that sentence really rubbed me the wrong way, although I kept quiet about it in the moment. He has a native already? Not a friend who helps him with English, not a conversation partner, a native. As though all native English speakers were different models of the same device. What are we, like the latest bit of technology, a talking English machine? A walking interactive dictionary?

It's frustrating enough that just about every time we go on public transit, the people around us are really obviously eavesdropping to see if they can understand a little of what we're saying, as though we were a live-action roleplay for their English exam. But of course, I've learned the hard way that trying to make new friends here when you're a native English speaker can be a minefield as well. Whether it's online or in person, it's really annoying to be talking with someone in the language of the country I moved halfway around the world to be in, only to mention where I come from and have them palpably brighten.

"Oh, you're American!?"
"Wow, I've always wanted to travel to New York City! I'm trying to improve my English, you should help me! Let's get together again sometime!"

If they haven't already, cue them switching to (usually terrible) English on me and me plastering a fake smile on my face and saying "yeah, maybe..." while thinking to myself "NOT!"

Rereading that exchange, I know I sound like a real jerk for not wanting to help these poor people who just want to learn my native language. But is it so wrong of me to want people to be my friends because of who I am, and not what language I speak? Am I a jerk for being annoyed that I've had that same exact exchange, almost word for word, hundreds of times in my five years in Europe?

And most of all, is it a crime to not want to teach English for free when I know I could get paid to do so? Helping people with their English is my job; I do it all day every day with my preferred age group for good money. When I get off work, I just want to relax and think about other things besides explaining when to use the present perfect versus the simple past. I want to talk with people and just have fun. I really do not want to give free English lessons to adults! The way I see it, people asking me right off the bat to help them with their English is like if I were to meet a shopkeeper and immediately ask him if he could give me things for free from his store. No, probably not, right? So why should I have to feel bad about not wanting to help everybody with their English all the time?

 And the thing is, I've been on the other side of the whole 'trying desperately to learn a language' thing, and there have been lots of kind souls who have helped me. So I do often feel guilty for not wanting to return the favor with everyone I meet.  But doing so makes me feel used, like a tool rather than a human being with interests and feelings. I don't mind helping my friends occasionally with their English, but that's because our friendship is based on things other than my native language and their desperation to learn it.

The other annoying part about these people switching to English on me like this is that I feel like since I'm the one who moved halfway around the world to learn another language, I should be allowed the chance to practice that language when I'm not at work. I do often tell people this, and most people are gracious enough to take the hint that I would prefer to speak in their language with them, but some others are really persistent about always trying to practice their bad English on me, and that's when I start to get really annoyed.

There are, of course, ways to practice languages that are of mutual benefit to both parties, like language exchanges. That way, I would be helping the other person with their English, and they would be helping me with French or Spanish or even Galician. I've done a fair amount of these, and they used to be really helpful. In French or Galician, they still might be. But in Spanish, as conceited as this sounds, I feel I've moved past the point where I really need to have someone correcting me all the time. My Spanish is at a level of C1.4 according to the Common European Framework (one microstep away from C2, or totally bilingual, argh), which I know since I took the practice test put out by the Cervantes Institute just the other day. So, I really feel like I'm on a tier where I don't really need language exchanges, because the benefit to me is much smaller than the effort I would need to put out in helping others with their English. Maybe I just need to find partners whose English is at the same level as my Spanish, but those are fairly thin on the ground in Spain. Anyway, I'd rather just have regular conversations in Spanish with people here, without worrying about giving equal time to both languages. Does that make me selfish? Maybe. But like I said, I moved halfway around the world to speak Spanish, so that's what I want to do!

Funnily enough, this was almost never a problem in France. Maybe it's because they're so stereotypically snooty about speaking any language other than their own. Or perhaps it's because they're embarrassed that they have the worst English in Europe (apart from Russia, the Ukraine and Turkey, which...are not really Europe, not to me). Hardly anybody ever forced me to speak in English, although they made an awful lot of mean comments about my French at first. But at the same time, they love to take English words and franglais them because c'est cool. I don't know, France is bizarre. But at least I got to practice a helluva lot of French while I was there!

If I weren't a native English speaker, I like to imagine that I wouldn't have these problems. People wouldn't give me so much unwanted attention for my native language. I would probably be really happy to speak English, because it would be a chance for me to practice too. I could feel proud of my English, as something I'd worked hard on, rather than something I was basically born with. Alas, earwax that will never be the case. For better or for worse, English is and always will be my first language, and I can't escape the fact that the downsides come with the enormous advantages. I guess I'll just have to learn to concentrate more on the benefits of it, like the fact that when I go to Prague for two days, no one expects me to learn Czech, and I get to just speak my first language the whole time with no problems.

I do have to say, as well, that even as I was writing this I was feeling the obnoxiousness of my privilege. "Waaah everyone wants to learn my native language to improve their lives, and I just want to either be left alone or make a profit off of them and they won't let me!" Also, "Waaah people won't let me practice a second language that I'm only learning because I think it's fun, when in truth I have no real pressing need to learn any foreign language because I'm a native speaker of the world's lingua franca!" I know, poor poor me.

But I would love it if people would see me for who I am, instead of as an English machine. That would be pretty awesome. Just sayin'.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My Lately

I've been super super superrrrrr busy lately. As usual, I guess, but I feel as though my free time has been down to almost zero, what with one thing and another. It's that time of year when everything is beginning to come to a head--my students are about to take their official English exams, my master's thesis is due in less than a month, I'm searching for jobs for next year and doing interviews, and the weather is starting to be nice and I just want to sit around outside!

April flowers bring May...I don't know what!

I also want to make some plans for the future, but that's very difficult to do when I have no idea what the future holds after I graduate and finish my current teaching contract at the end of June. Maybe I'll find another job soon, or maybe I'll have to keep looking for a while. I don't know how many times I've talked about how I'm tired of this uncertainty. I really want some more stability in my life, to not be constantly jumping from one job to another! Still working on making that a reality.

In the meantime, here are some things that have been running through my head and my life lately.

Recently, I've been...

Reading: De tempête et d'espoir: Saint-Malo by Marina Dédéyan, which is a novel in French about the town where I used to live in France and a girl living there in the 1700s. I got it from the English coordinator at the school I used to work at, and I've been trying to finish it since about September. It's really good, but reading in French is so haaard, waaah! It probably didn't help that I took a break to start also reading the After Cilmeri series, by Sarah Woodbury. This series is right up my alley, as it's about some contemporary Americans who time travel back to Wales in the 12th century and end up involved in local politics. I read 6 books in two weeks, I got so hooked!

Listening to: Kendji Girac's Andalouse, which, yes, is awfully mainstream for what my taste usually is, since the singer comes from basically the French equivalent of The Voice. But it's in French AND Spanish, and it just makes me wants to dance! Good danceable music is hard to come by, and I'm not too much of a snob to listen to anything that gets my toes tapping.

Worrying about: Where I will be living and working next year. Applying for jobs is incredibly stressful, and I will be relieved when I have this all figured out! Then I can start planning some more fun stuff in my future, like trips!

Writing: The final draft of my thesis. I just want to finish this and turn it in already. I'm so over dedicating my weekends to writing and editing this one paper!

Trying: To stop drinking coffee and to meditate before bed every night. I recently decided that I wanted to reduce my intake of milk and sugar, as well as caffeine, so during Lent I gave up "necessary" coffee (meaning I only drank it on the weekends, for pure enjoyment, rather than when I was tired during the work week). I noticed that I actually started to feel MORE alert after awhile of reducing my caffeine intake, and so I've developed the theory that caffeine depletes my energy supply even faster because it makes me super energetic for a short time, and then even more tired afterwards. I'm back to drinking coffee occasionally now, but toying with the idea of going back off it again. I've also started meditating before bed every night, which has multiple benefits, like making me think more positively, appreciate the small things around me, imagine a great future, and also relax and fall asleep more easily. The one small glitch with this is that sometimes I fall asleep before I finish the meditation, but at least I'm no longer laying awake at night worrying!

Watching: Not a whole lot besides rewatching How I Met Your Mother in French, but I'd like to get caught up in Mad Men so I can watch the rest of the final season as it airs!

Eating: Loads of fresh asparagus and strawberries. It's crazy to me that what I consider "early summer" (June) foods are already in season in Spain! Not complaining though, especially at low low Spanish prices!

Craving: A Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. This isn't even something that I eat that often when I'm home, but my GOD do I want one right now, probably simply because I can't. There are tons of types of other pizza, but nothing that compares to a good deep-dish.

Missing: My family. This is constant, of course, but I just saw some lovely pictures of their trip to Florida a few weeks ago, and I really wished I could have been there. And visiting my friend's family in Galicia made me think about how nice it is to see the people you love, and how it's been a really long time since I have!

Wishing: The (free) food at in the school's cafeteria were more varied. I shouldn't bite the hand that feeds me (literally, ha), but I do wish the menu in our school's lunchroom featured more than the same couple of meals repeated over and over ad infinitum.

Feeling: Mostly content, as I try to not get caught up in the little annoyances of life and try to just appreciate the ride.

Grateful: That I just had a visit from a dear friend from Germany. It had been over a year and a half since I'd seen her, and it was great to catch up. Plus we're both kind of in transitional phases of our lives right now, so it was nice to talk about that to someone who totally gets it!

Waiting for: My four-year-olds to finish recording their CDs of the songs we've been practicing all year, so I never have to hear those songs ever again! I'm pretty sure being made to listen to the same ten children's songs in bad English at least 3 times a week for 9 months constitutes psychological torture. They may be forever stuck in my head!

Excited about: The fact that there are only 10 weeks until graduation. Only two more master's classes, handing in our thesis, and that's all she wrote! I'm excited, and of course a bit nervous to see what's next and if I'll be able to apply everything I've learned in the real world.

Loving: My students. I've really loved getting to know them on an individual basis this year, since I've been able to spend so much more time with my classes than I ever had in any of my jobs in the past. I'm so proud of them every time I notice them making progress, and I love that feeling.

Notes like this don't hurt, either!

Wanting: Time to both speed up and slow down at the same time. I can't wait to be done, and yet afterwards there is a big question mark, and that's more than a little terrifying. I know things will work out as they always do, but sometimes I worry anyway.

Hoping: This transitional stage is one of the last major ones I have to go through in the next few years. All the stress is starting to give me wrinkles!

Planning: A trip to Catalunya in a few weeks for my first-ever blogging conference!

What's your lately like?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Eu amo Galiza

For the first time this Easter holiday, I stayed in Spain. I've been working way too hard the past few months to plan a big elaborate vacation, and I found myself without any desire to travel. For someone like me, who normally thrives on voyaging as far and wide as possible, my dearth of desire definitely meant that I'd been doing too much. 

Still, I'd been a little bummed at the idea of spending my whole vacation sitting around Alcalá. I needed a break, albeit one simple to plan, and so I was happy when my Galician friend who lives in Madrid announced that she was going to go home to see her family for the week, and that I should come with her. 

Not one to wait to be asked twice if I want to go back for a visit to my favorite part of Spain, I jumped at the chance. We immediately booked a Blablacar (car sharing) for the next day, and I went home to get my things together. 

We had to be up bright and early the next morning to meet our fellow passengers, which meant that I spent much of the first part of the voyage dozing. But a few hours later, I woke up to the cry "Estamos en Galicia!!" 

I looked out the window to see that we were in those beautiful green mountains that I love so well, looking down on valleys full of toxo (toe-shoh) in bloom. 


Toxo is a prickly plant that to me, represents Galicia. It happens to be the very first word that I learned in galego and didn't already know in Spanish (and I still don't know, or care to know, the translation in English). It's everywhere on the hillsides there, and most of the time it just looks snarly, but in the spring the toxo blooms, and all of the mountains erupt in yellow. Looking out the window at the toxo, I was suddenly transported back to my daily car trips to and from my work in A Cañiza, when I became intimate with the many species of plants on Galician hillsides, and when exactly each one of them is in bloom. When topics of conversation are short, and you have to share a car with the same people for an hour and a half every single day, you learn a lot about nature and the weather! 

Upon seeing the toxo on the hillsides, I suddenly had a feeling of being back home. This year in Spain, I've been fighting a feeling that this isn't where I belong. I felt deceived, because I thought that the love I'd once had for Spain had disappeared. But upon entering Galicia again, I remembered that it wasn't exactly Spain that I'd fallen in love with back in the day, but Galicia. It wasn't until I lived in Vigo that I felt like I could see myself staying where I was long-term. Vigo is the only city I've lived in, to date, that I have felt that way about, that I've really loved. 

So even though it was my friend's house and family that I was visiting, rather than my own, I had the distinct feeling that it was miña terra galega too. I know my Galician friends are laughing at my having written that, but it's the truth. From the moment I got out of the car in Ourense, I felt more at ease and relaxed than I have in months. 

Of course, it didn't hurt that the very first thing we did was visit Ourense's thermal hot springs, which was almost as pleasant on a sunny spring day as on a rainy winter one, although I did get slightly sunburnt. 

Next up was a walk in the woods near my friend's family farm with her little cousins, which also made me feel like I was back at home. My family has a farm out in the middle of nowhere too, and I spent a lot of time in my childhood taking walks in the woods, checking out the different plants and animals, so I could almost imagine that I was back with my own family, going on an adventure. 

When we got back to my friend's village, it was tapas time. Except our tapa of pulpo was nowhere near enough to satisfy my octopus craving, so we decided to order more. "Una media, o una entera?" my friend asked me. Ha! As if there were any doubt in my mind. We gobbled up our entire ración in less than ten minutes. Soooo good. 

The next day, after my first filling Galician meal, being urged by mothers, aunts, and grandmothers to eat máis, máis (more, more!) fish and soup for several hours, we headed off to Os Cañones do Sil (the Sil Canyons). I'd visited them before, in autumn a few years ago, and while the colors were less brilliant this time around, I still loved looking at the vineyards built into the hillsides. 

While the others took a dip in the river, I lay back and relaxed, softly humming "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" (by Otis Redding) to myself. Sometimes certain songs just FIT specific moments of your life, and for me right now, that one is it. 

In the next few days, we traversed Galicia diagonally, heading mostly through areas that were unknown to me, visiting things on a whim, in typical road trip fashion. 

Sometimes, when you have no particular destination in mind, you run into interesting things, like this graffiti by Gallegos who want independence from the rest of Spain. 

One of our detours was to Sobrado dos Monxes (an apparently famous monastery on the Camino de Santiago), which had one of the most beautiful façades I've ever seen. The details worked into the stone were just astounding, and I can't imagine how much time and effort that must have taken!

Finally, on the fourth day of our trip, I got to see the ocean again! Despite not having grown up near it, I'd lived near the ocean since 2007, up until this year, and my time in the desert in Alcalá has made me yearn for it. Something about the sound of the waves and the infiniteness of the water stretching out beyond the horizon tugs at my heartstrings. Maybe it's knowing that my family is on the other side of that ocean. Maybe it's the endless possibilities of places I could get to over that sea. Maybe it's the impossible numbers of creatures living in the water. Maybe it's how mysterious and unknown so much of the ocean is. Whatever it may be, I feel a pull towards the sea, so I felt good being near it again. 

We walked down to this little spot on the coast, and I crawled up those stairs on my hands and knees (yes, vertigo) to get to this point. I immediately grabbed the ladder for dear life, as the wind threatened to blow me off my feet and into the waves crashing below. Terrified? Just a bit. 

I feel like these pictures speak for themselves. What more could you wish for in life than a place like Galicia? It has crystal blue waters, lush green hillsides, blooming flowers, the nicest people you will ever meet, delicious and abundant and cheap food and it is relatively undiscovered by foreign tourists! Ain't nothing better than that. 

By the end of that day, all of my deep feelings for Galicia had come rushing back. There's a special word for the deep longing Galicians feel when they live away from the province and miss it. It's called morriña. Once again, my gallegos are going to laugh at me, but I genuinely think this is what I've been feeling. The rest of Spain just doesn't measure up to my beloved Galicia, it can't! I've gushed on and on before about my love for this corner of Spain, and that may never go away. 

I was excited to get to do one new thing this time around in Galicia. Since I'd never before stayed in Spain during Easter, I'd never gotten to see its famous processions. While these aren't generally as big of a thing in Galicia as in the south (say, Sevilla), in Ferrol they have some pretty famous ones, and I got to check them out. I was particularly impressed by the barefoot carriers of the Virgin. 

And, stereotypical American, I felt shocked by the men dressed in outfits that looked like they came from a KKK meeting. 

I only had a little more time to soak in all the oceany goodness that I could, so I spent it wandering along beaches as much as possible. Gee, I wonder why they call this part of A Coruña a costa da morte (the coast of death)??

I told my friends I planned on gaining 10 pounds of delicious Galician cooking during this trip, and I was not disappointed. Calamares, pimientos de padron, pulpo, caldo gallego, licor café, and so many other things. My Easter lunch consisted of goose barnacles and albariño with my friend's abuelos, and I could not have been happier about it!

Just before catching my Blablacar back to Madrid, I finally got to do one of those things that you intend to do for years while you live near a place, but never find a good moment for. There's this weird bridge in Ourense that I'd always meant to climb up and get a picture of, but I never did, so I was happy to finally get a chance during this trip!

Overall, my spring break voyage back to Galicia was just what I needed to feel rested and refreshed after a difficult few months. I'll probably never get over my morriña, wishing I could move back to Vigo, but as much as I might love it there, I have to accept that that ship has sailed, and it's time to move on to greener pastures...and perhaps come back to visit as often as my wallet allows me to!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Fave Photos So Far in 2015

Am I the only one having a hard time believing that 2015 is already more than a quarter over with? 3 months gone, just like that! And while I've been posting a lot more frequently in here this year than I have in the past, there are still some moments that have escaped me. I'm a pretty busy gal, for all that I wish I could be doing more! 

So this post is about the unseen moments so far in the first quarter of 2015. These are the things that I did that I never got around to mentioning to anybody, that I took photos of and then forgot to share! Yes, sometimes I forget that I took pictures that I meant to post on the internetz. Oops. 

I kicked off the year in France, and one of the first things I did was see Marseille for the first time. Honestly, I'd heard pretty bad things about it, and my impressions mostly confirmed them, although there were some factors going against my having a good time there (like a not-so-great AirBnb host, for one!). Still, I did see a few things worth taking a pretty photo of!

These are the calanques of Marseille, something I never knew existed until they were right in front of my eyes. This moment was also amusing because I didn't actually know what that word meant at the time, just that it was the thing before I laughed when later I looked it up and went "ooohhhhh, FJORDS!" Fjords in general rock my socks off, and these were no exception. 

For all its nitty-gritty-ness, Marseille did show me a few beautiful moments, like this one when I was walking down the street at sunset. 

Have I mentioned that I love sunsets? The next night, I went to a park on top of a hill to watch this one over Marseille's old town. I loved watching the full moon rise over the mountains, too! 

Here's a pic from a random day wandering around Madrid. Most weekends in 2015, I've been heading into la capital because...Alcalá de Henares has started to bore me. It's pretty, but there are no young people here! I need friends, after all! Since one of my best Galician buds lives in Madrid, we hang out a lot, and this picture was from a day when we decided it would be nice to walk around El Parque del Buen Retiro (or just Retiro, for short). The crystal palace there is beautiful guessed it, sunset light. 

Another weekend, we headed off on a last-minute Couchsurfing adventure to Cuenca. I honestly knew nothing about Cuenca, other than having seen the name in guidebooks, but I was blown away. I fell in love with the way the houses were painted so colorfully! I love bright colors, and living in a city like this one would make me feel so much more cheerful! 

I soon learned that the actual reason Cuenca is famous is not for the brightly-painted façades, but the casas colgadas (hanging houses). Cuenca was built on the edge of a canyon, with some of its houses teetering over the edge. I have a growing fear of heights (thanks, Mom), so you wouldn't catch me living in one of these houses! They're really stunning though, when seen from the safety of the ground. 

Despite all appearances, I do like going into the great outdoors. Another chilly winter weekend, some friends and I caught a bus to Cercedilla to do some hiking in the mountains. We got slightly lost and ran into some bulls, but were rewarded with pretty views, at least! 

Finally, one day all of a sudden a few weeks ago, spring arrived! The temperatures shot up about 15 degrees (Celsius), and it was warm enough to go out without a coat. I love when I first see the flowers blooming, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. 

Taking advantage of the nice weather, I decided it was high time to go running outside again. The only problem was that, after a whole winter mostly cooped up inside, I got a bit too overenthusiastic and ran until I got lost somewhere in the hills near Alcalá. Oops. The views of the snow-covered Sierra were pretty, but walking about 5 miles back without a water bottle during the hottest part of the day was not fun. Thus the story of the day I accidentally went hiking!

I've been taking full advantage of the many little day trips possible around the region of Madrid. Another weekend, some friends and I headed out to Segovia, a nearby city that has a Roman aqueduct. I'd been there before, of course, but there are always new things to try in an old city. This time, I stumbled upon some delicious artisan beer at a festival, and tried suckling pig (cochinillo) for the first time. 

Did I mention already that I'm obsessed with sunsets? I've taken I don't know how many pictures of this particular view. I just love that illuminated fountain with the sunset light.

Finally, at the end of March, it came time for a well-deserved spring break. My next post is going to be all about where I went and how I felt about it, but here's a teaser picture. For some of you, it may be just that much easier to guess my destination now!