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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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two months of travels

The past two months of my life have been a cycle of packing and unpacking my suitcase, being home just enough between trips to work a bit and do laundry. Poor me, I know. At the end of March I had a 17-day Easter break, was back for a few weeks to catch my breath, and then my parents came to visit. Over the span of 7 weeks, I traveled to Germany (twice), the Czech Republic, Austria, Portugal, southern Spain. and all around the Basque Country of both Spain and France. It was exhausting, enriching and enlightening.

I started out my 17-day Easter break travels in Berlin (more like BRRRR-lin) where temps were at century record lows and winter was still in full swing. The ground was completely covered in snow and ice, which I found out the hard way upon having a full-sprawl wipe-out my first day there. I guess after two years away from the snowy Midwest winters I have lost all my winter-coping skills. Anyway, I had a lot of fun with new friends and old, drank a lot of good hefeweizen and ate plenty of good food. Berlin is such an international hub and also very modern and hip, so you can find just about any kind of food you’re in the mood for. I opted for mostly Mexican food because it’s my favorite and, contrary to popular belief, Spain is quite lacking in that department. I’ve been deprived. Anyway, I made sure to try Berlin’s best currywurst a couple times too:

currywurst? More like curryBEST!

currywurst? More like curryBEST!

After Berlin was a short trip to Prague. The temps were equally bitter, but nothing can get in the way of Prague’s beauty. With it’s colorful buildings lined with gold, spires and more spires and a huge castle overlooking the city from across the river, it takes you in immediately. It’s like everyone says–you just have to see it.

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Approaching Prague’s main square

After a few days to warm up, re-pack and re-charge back in Bilbao, I headed to Europe’s westernmost city: Lisbon, Portugal. WOW. Maybe it was just the contrast effect from the huge temperature upgrade from my previous trip, but Lisbon just seemed so warm, so alive and colorful. It’s a beautiful, friendly city with tons of character. I can see why so many travel bloggers rave about it. I don’t fall in love with every place I go to the point of saying “I could live here,” but I did feel that way about Lisbon.

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We took the highly-recommended day trip out of Lisbon to the magical wonderland called Sintra. Yes, it’s recommended by every travel book and site you’ll ever see about Lisbon, but it is NOT overrated and is absolutely a must-do if you’re in the area.  A short train ride zips you out to this fairy-tale village, literally filled with castles and gardens. If you do only one thing there, catch a bus from the center of town up to the Pena Palace and spend the day exploring the castle grounds and enjoying the view.

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checking out the view of Lisbon from atop the Pena Palace

After Lisbon, it was southward to the beach town of Lagos, where the views are breathtaking and the fiesta is fantástico. Check out this video I made of a day spent mountain biking and hiking around and outside of the city:

From Lagos we headed back over the border back into Spain and visited Sevilla where my friend Allison is now living and teaching English. It was my third time in Sevilla, but staying with a friend who was very familiar with the city was great to experience the city in a non-touristy way, checking out some really alternative, local hangouts and getting in on lots of live music.

I spent the middle of April  back in Bilbao working and regrouping a bit, and then my fantastic parents arrived! We had the most wonderful 11 days together. Within their first day here, we checked out a Galician seafood festival, had lunch at one of Bilbao’s most legendary restaurants, shopped, met with some of my private lesson students for coffee, checked out some Bilbao Athletic Club fútbol action and went pintxo-hopping. I repeat: that was all within their FIRST DAY here. They are troopers. The next day, we rented a car and embarked upon a Basque Country road trip. We started with lunch in beautiful Biarrtiz, France, stopped for dessert (Grand Marnier crepes!) in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, then back to the Spanish side of the border to spend the night in San Sebastian. As a nice capstone for our road trip, we spent the afternoon hiking out one of my favorite places on earth: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It was my mom’s second time doing the hike, and my SIXTH!

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lunch and laughter in Biarritz

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe...just can't get enough

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe…just can’t get enough

After our road trip, we spent a couple more days here in Bilbao and my parents even came to work with me one day. They met all of my students and it was such a cool experience for all involved. The next day, we jetted off to Munich, the land of our not-so-distant ancestors. I love Germany. This was my third trip there, and it just keeps getting better. I definitely feel a connection to the place.

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Munich’s main square: Marienplatz

During our time in Munich we also visited a place that has been on my bucket list since I was 16 or so: the site of the former Dachau concentration camp. It was a sobering experience to say the least. If you make it to Munich and want to do the Dachau tour, I highly recommend this company.

The chillingly ironic message on the gate into the Dachau camp: "Arbeit Macht Frei (Work will set you free)"

The chillingly ironic message on the gate into the Dachau camp: “Arbeit Macht Frei (Work will set you free)”

We also took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria and took a countryside “Sound of Music” tour. As the reviews said it would be, it was pretty cheesy but a lot of fun, and a great way to see the countryside outside of Salzburg.

Mom and I outside the famous gazebo from the Sound of Music

Mom and I outside the famous gazebo from The Sound of Music

Salzburg city center

Salzburg city center

My parents and I then headed back to Bilbao for the remainder of their stay and thankfully had some brilliant sunshine (finally!) on their last day in the city.

A beautiful day in Castro, a small seaside village outside of Bilbao

A beautiful day in Castro, a small seaside village outside of Bilbao

The past few weeks that have followed all of these travels have been almost equally busy and fantastic, but those are stories for another day…

Hasta la próxima!

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North Dakotans have feelings too

While those of you back State-side enjoy one of the warmest winters in recorded history, Europe has been experiencing quite the opposite: lower-than-normal temps and some of the heaviest snowfall on record.

Places that don’t normally see any snow all year have been witnessing steady snowfall through the past week, from here in Bilbao all the way over and down to Rome.

some of my students enjoying a rare opportunity to have a snow fight during their coffee break

You can check out some great photos of the frigid winter all over Europe by clicking here.

For the purposes of this post, there are two types of people in the world: those from notoriously cold locales (such as North Dakota) and those from mild or warm locales. We will call them Frosties and Toasties, respectively. Sometimes a Frosty such as myself goes to live in a Toasty place. But even Toasty places have their colder days. On days like those, this conversation occurs thousands of times between Frosties and Toasties all over the world:

Frosty: “Brrr! I’m sooo cold!”

Toasty: “Pffft! Whaddya mean, you’re cold!?! You’re from (insert name of Frosty locale here)! This is probably “t-shirt weather” for you!!!”

Frosty: “Umm, not exactly. I mean it still feels cold to me just like it feels cold to you…”

Toasty: “Nah, you should be used to it! You probably have thicker skin!”

I’ve experienced this conversation on numerous occasions in my life, but it has occurred with record-breakingly high incidence over the past week or so, and it’s really starting to get on my nerves. It seems I’m the only Frosty for miles around, and all these Toasties just can’t believe that I would be able to feel the cold like they do.

Yes, I’ve felt -40 degree wind gusts several times in my life. Yes, I’ve shoveled piles and piles of snow and scraped ice from my windshield hundreds of times. But you know what the difference is between cold back home and cold here? The exposure. Back home, we’re prepared and equipped for the cold, and we limit our exposure to the outside air (house–>car –>work–>car–>house) because it can be truly dangerous to be out for too long. I would venture to say that my exposure to cold has been, overall, higher in the past week than in any week of North Dakota winter in my life. Though the temps may not be as low here, I feel overall less equipped for lower temps here and am exposed to cold for much longer periods of time. Why?

1. I walk everywhere. A few years ago, I got a new car and had an autostart system installed. I started my car from my bedroom, waited 10 minutes or so, walked outside and into a nice, pre-warmed vehicle. Then I drove to where I was going, got out and walked another minute or so in the cold before I was back in a nice, warm building. I was only in the cold for a minute or two at a time.

As mentioned in a previous post, I now average about 3 miles on foot each day just in commuting and errand-running. That means that even if I’m power-walking, I’m out in the elements for at least 40 minutes each day.

2. It rains a lot here. Rain makes you wet. Being wet makes you cold a lot faster.

3. The heating systems in buildings here pale in comparison to those back home. The school I work at is miserably drafty, especially on Mondays after the heaters have been off all weekend. Then I come home to my very typical Spanish apartment with one tiny heater on the wall in each room, right below the window. Most of the heat, then, goes up and out the non-insulated window. On some days, it seems the only moment of the day that I’m sufficiently warm is when I’m in the shower.

To my Fellow Frosties: keep fighting the good fight. We’re tough, sure, but we feel the crappy, cold rainy days just like anybody else.

To the Toasties: You mean well, I’m sure. This repeated convo is just part of normal small talk that occurs between two people who grew up in very different climates. Just think about it next time you jump down a Frosty’s throat for making a comment about an unusually cold day. You’re most likely not the first person to think of these comments, and they get old fast.

Whatever your background, if you’re like me, you’re just looking forward to the day very soon when the weather will turn and we’ll be soaking up the sun once again 🙂

Playa Ereaga, Algorta, Spain (October 2011)