19 March 2012

Venice: Da Sola!

The next portion of my time in Venice was never dull. I can say that with absolute confidence. After seeing Ben and Nancy (not-so-happily) onto the bus, wandering a tiny bit and finding a bite to eat and some coffee, I ventured towards the vaporetto from Piazzale Roma (which actually was not at all where I anticipated, but on the opposite side of the canal and around a corner a ways). It was really a beautiful day and I had decided to go to the islands.

To be honest, I was most interested in the islands of Burano and Torcello, after all the wonderful things I had heard about them: the brightly coloured houses along little canals filled with boats and the one long, quiet path of Torcello.

The boat trip was really incredibly beautiful. It was very cold, but I couldn't tear myself away from the center outside deck. Watching Venice disappear little by little until we were surrounded by brilliant water and sticks poking out here and there, I felt like I was being transported to someplace much, much farther away than just the Venetian Islands.

After stopping at Murano (which, I confess, I did not visit), we finally made it to Burano, a quiet little Italian Paradise Island. Even away from the small network of canals, the light was so beautiful. But venturing in just a little bit, I found myself greeted endless brilliant houses.

I wandered a bit, taking photo after photo of doors, windows, curtains, boats, reflections... Until I was stopped by a girl asking me to take her photo for her. We spent the next 3 or 4 hours together exploring and shooting, shooting and exploring. She had come to Italy from Vietnam for only 2 days for a business conference and decided to take a train up to Venice for a single day. At 3pm she had to go catch her train back. But it made me really think about the people you meet while traveling. Maybe it's just that you don't always know them long enough to know them well, but it is a special friendship. This was particularly unusual, I thought. When I introduced myself, she jumped back in surprise and proceeded to tell me that at her work, everyone had been told to choose an English name, that clients would respond better to an English name than a traditional Vietnamese name. So Linh had chosen Elizabeth.

When "Elizabeth" left to start her long voyage home, I made my way to my next stop: Torcello. It had gotten even chillier by this point, but once again, stepping off the boat, I was overwhelmed. This time by the sensation of being home very far away from home. I walked down the path along the canal. The trees had no leaves and the air was crisp and calm. I was reminded of winter walks in Oaks Bottom with my family. Strangely nostalgic and comforted. I admit that I didn't spend very much time at the ruins, but was drawn to the grass field behind them, next to the water. Large stones lined the shore, away from the old piers where tourists captured the quaint beauty. Again, the light was too beautiful. Heartbreaking and invigorating. Strange.

After some time, the sun started to go down and I made my way back to the boat.

(Torcello photos to come.)

seven o'clock

It's seven o'clock in the evening on St. Joseph's Day, or Fathers' Day. It was a really lovely day: sunny but windy. I went for a run by the river past the many orange groves that lay just outside the city center. And when I came home, I went up to the roof and watched the clouds drifting opposite directions across the sky.

Now I can hear the church bells ringing over Gregory Alan Isakov, floating in my window with the cool spring air. The sun has gone down behind the light yellow steps that are the roof of the apartments that face me. And the laundry gently sways in the soft wind.

08 January 2012

Venice (I)

Well, once again, I have a lot to catch up on. It's now a New Year, I'm back in Murcia, and all is well. My trip to Venice really started off with a kind of a bang. And ended with more of a fizzle, but I guess that's how things sometimes go.

I'd hardly made it to the bus station here in Murcia, and waiting to board, when a man came up to me and asked if the bus was going to Alicante (it was). He was from Milan and was on his way home for the holidays. The bus was almost empty and he sat down in the seat across the aisle from me, wanting to talk. He had a voice like the Godfather. And the conversation that followed... I didn't know what to say then and I don't now. But it was good prep for Italy, and I was happy to get off the bus. And we'll leave it at that.

After a lovely final café con leche and ¨curasán¨ (croissant) at the airport in Alicante, I flew to Madrid and from there to Venice, where Nancy and Ben picked me up at the airport. It´s such a different feeling landing somewhere you´ve (basically) never been before, and being met by familiar faces. I´ve gotten so used to just rushing straight to the exit, that it was a little overwhelming.

The sun had already gone down and there was a cold mist settled over the city. The apartment Nancy and Ben had rented was really sweet: old, but with modern touches. It was three levels, but a very narrow building. We went immediately to a wonderful meal at a nearby favorite of theirs, called Rosa dei Venti, which serves typical Italian dishes (carbonara, all´ammatricciana, etc.), after which we returned to the apartment for some much needed rest all around.

The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful, clear day. It's incredible how the light reflects off the water in the canals, not to mention the color of the water, itself. After a bit of fortification (for me consisting of a croissant and a cappuccino), we set off to see the sights and sounds. And search for a good map for me, which we found at a nice little bookstore, where Ben also bought a book ghost stories of Venice. (After all my pre-trip anxiety relating to, Don't Look Back, I steered clear of that particular publication and stuck with just my map...)

Since I had more time left than Nancy and Ben, my days of them consisted more of showing me around (and eating!) than actual sight-seeing, which I saved for my last 4 days. I felt so lucky to have them with me, because they really did know the city very well. We wandered around and around and I tried desperately to keep my bearings bridge after little bridge for the next couple days, while they were still around. We went to Piazza San Marco and watched all the people taking photos with the pigeons, then walked along the water. We went to the Rialto fish market, with it's fantastic red banner warning, "don't touch!"

As I mentioned, the primary focus of my days with Nancy and Ben was food and bearings. We ate cicchetti  (tapa-esque open sandwiches, typical of Venice) and several incredible full meals. I will have to check on the name of the place we had dinner the second night, which was amazing. We started off with a carpaccio, was prepared at the table with great style. After cleaning and slicing the initially whole fish, the man (one of the 2 owners) threw some olive oil, salt, fresh lemon juice, and prosecco into the dish and swished everything around. The end result was ultra-thin slices of fish that seemed to melt like butter in your mouth. Nancy and I then shared another fish entree that was also really lovely. After salad, I was introduced to the typical Venetian cocktail called sgroppino, which consists of prosecco (poured from a great height), lemon sorbetto, and a touch of vodka, all whisked together in a bowl until light and airy. I've never tasted anything like it!

Nancy and Ben's last night, we ate at another of their favorites, called La Bitta, which was absolutely amazing - small and absolutely packed with Venetians. The owner was a really funny and charming woman who ran the restaurant with her husband, the chef. I had the guinea foul, something I'd never had before, but was incredible. Once again, however, we found we had eaten entirely too much food (with no regrets), and made our way, meandering through the campos, across bridges, to the vaporetto, taking us home.

And I mentally prepared myself for the next day: Venezia: Da Sola!

05 December 2011

Adios, España!

Well, in about 15 minutes I will be out the door of my apartment, making my way towards the bus station. After much searching and re-searching, I finally managed to get a bus ticket from Murcia to the actual airport in Alicante, instead of Alicante-Alicante. (Not only was it cheaper and shorter, but I won't have to pay for a 20 minute taxi ride!) From there, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to Venice! But now I must make sure I've got everything, so...

A presto!

03 December 2011

El Viejo Puente de los Peligros

Right now I'm standing on the bridge here, watching the sun go down behind the trees. Behind me I can see the sunlight shining softly on the mountains. This bridge connects the city center to one of the "immigrant neighborhoods" and the majority of the many people passing be me are Moroccan, South American (most likely from Ecuador, or gypsies. It's cold out here but so lovely. Photos when I get home...


26 November 2011

Lovely Days

Today is a beautiful day. I can feel the sun shining gently through the window on the backs of my hands as I type. And maybe it's the sun reflecting off that yellow building across from me, but it feels like November. Sunny November.

Last night was a really beautiful night, too. A few days ago, when I went to the police station to get fingerprinted for my Spanish ID (see photo - an adventure in itself), I finally met a few other Auxiliars and one invited me to a small gathering for Thanksgiving at a house just outside of town, in Guadalupe. The streets are dark at night in this village and no one was out, except at a little bar by the side of the road. The house itself is called a "huerta" because it has a lovely orchard in the back with lots of mandarin orange trees. It's very cold out there - much colder than in the city, and the stars shine bright all across the sky. I found a small group of people in the back of the house, standing around a little outdoor wood oven, cooking a couple of small chickens and a pan of Mac 'n Cheese and inside the rest of the party working on the turkey, 2 types of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and green beans, cranberries, biscuits and gravy, stuffing... Everything for a perfect Thanksgiving. Downstairs we sat at a long wood table, all 15-or-so of us. It felt like a clipping out of an Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters catalog. Everyone was so lovely and so warm! Really good people, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of the evening. I have no photos, sadly, but there will be soon, I'm certain.

But for now, since it is such an incredible day and I'm still feeling so thankful for everything in my life right now, it seems a pity to spend much more time here in my room, so I'm going to close this computer and stroll.

Un beso!

12 November 2011

Murcia, Murcia

I suppose it's about time I posted about Murcia, no? Or Spain...or...anything, at this point, honestly. But we'll start with Murcia. In fact, we're going to break it down into manageable, bite-size pieces.

I've been here about a month now and am finally more or less settled in. The only thing I'm still waiting on is my appointment at the police station for my NIE and TIE (residency and work permit), but that's scheduled and once it goes through, I'll finally get paid. Finally.

So far things are going great. A few weeks ago, I found a wonderful apartment with two Spanish girls, Isabel and Mercedes. But I came frighteningly close to living in a dark and dirty cave with some guy I had never met... It was cheap, and there was a reason for that - or 5. This place, on the other hand, is surrounded by gardens, though I only know the names of two: Jardín el Salitre and Jardín la Seda. When I walk out the front door to my building, I'm hit by the smell of...I'm not sure what! Maybe it's the lemon and orange trees, maybe the crushed dates that have fallen from the unbelievably tall date palms, I don't know.

Not terribly long ago, it became Fall. Not in the way that I expected, but maybe somehow even better. The thing is, it's still pretty warm here (at least during the day) and so I was feeling a bit sad at the prospect of missing out on Fall, which I love SO much. But as it is without the change in the temperature, the change in the season lies the light.When I walk through Jardín el Salitre, I can see that the light shines differently through the trees. The trees are called Plátanos de Sombra and are very tall and very beautiful. The bark looks like high-contrast camouflage.

Like I said before, Fall is a different Fall here. The trees only drop a few leaves. As a result, they prune the trees that line the streets so that only the largest branches remain. They look really strange and sad, with no leaves and stumpy branches (for lack of a better word). Now that the dates have fallen from the tall palms, the citrus trees are all bearing fruit: lemons, oranges... And the olive trees have little black and green olives on them, as well.

Through the park there is a small man-made pond with ducks, geese, and 2 beautiful swans and next to the pond a little outdoor café (where I sat once and got hit in the head by a soccer ball...). I have to say that it was significantly less lovely a couple weeks ago when the pond was drained. And at night, too, when the water is perfectly still and black. The swans look like they're swimming through tar.

Aside from the parks, the apartment is also very near to the Corte Inglés, which is very convenient and several old churches (which I suppose isn't so much convenient as different from home - I like passing by them on my way to and from my house). I think I'm really lucky to have found this place.

For now, I'll leave it at that, but I will be back soon with a School/Work Update!


10 October 2011

Mañana Madrileña

Well, it's day one in Spain.* Really strange being back here. It's so familiar (even Madrid) but more like I was here in a dream. It's interesting to see the things I remember...

Last night I arrived (finally) at the hostel. I decided to take the bus instead of a taxi, which would cost €40 as opposed to €2! But there was a fair amount of walking at the end of that bus ride and I got a little bit lost... But eventually I made it. After making my bed, washing my face and generally getting situated, I went back downstairs to buy my bus ticket to Murcia. This did not go as planned. But it did go in typical Spanish fashion: error message after error message. I can't believe haven't even been here 24hrs yet and already I'm off about this! Long story short, I will be heading early to the South bus station to buy my ticket.

When I returned upstairs a girl from DC asked if I wanted to join her to grab something to eat. And though I had considered just going to bed, food seemed like a good idea so out we went. I think the place we ended up at was called Lizarro. We shared arroz con mariscos which resembled a very basic paella. And I had a tinto de verano. It was great. Then we went back to the hostel where she joined people for drinking games and I did a brief stint on the computer before bed.

It was so nice to sleep... I was awoken around 2:30 when everyone came back from the bars, but returned pretty quickly to sleep. It wasn't hard, since the whole way here I only slept a half hour at the very most.

This morning I woke up early with the intention of eating free breakfast at the hostel but... It was not so appealing in the end. So I wandered out. After making a few loops, I came back to Miau, a nice little cafe where I could sit at the bar and not be bothered. I had a croissant ("curasán," apparently) and a café solo largo. And wrote. This.

Since my bus was at 1:30, I had some time to enjoy Madrid, so wandered down the street and found myself in front of the Botanical Garden (entrance only 2.50!) and so in I went! It was nice, but not super impressive, to be honest. The entire time I couldn't help thinking about how many beautiful gardens there are in Portland. But I do understand that this one serves a slightly different purpose... There were many beautiful trees (such as the pomegranate tree, which I have never seen before) and the Tree of Giant Orange. Singular. I did feel myself drawn to the piney areas and especially the Oregon zarzamora (blackberry), which apparently really belong in Oregon, cause these did not look especially appealing at all.

I then went up the street to the Retiro, feeling super nostalgic and wanting something familiar... I wandered through, looking for the places I remember seeing with Mimi when we had that amazing picnic a couple years ago. It took me awhile to find anything familiar aside from (appropriately enough) el Bosque del Recuerdo. But finally I made it to the pond (with very little time left before I had to head back and get ready to schlep all my things to the bus station somehow). I tried to record a small video of people passing by because there was a man playing a trumpet really beautifully. However, I'd hardly started the video when some man came up and started talking to me. He kept making "Dad jokes" and told me about the monument we were looking at. In the end, it was a nice exchange, though I admit that at first I kept waiting for him to say something creepy. . . Ha.

Since my bags were so cumbersome, I decided to take a taxi to the bus station. After eating a familiar-tasting bocadillo de tortilla (nothing beats the blandness of potatoes and eggs on a white baguette), and café solo largo, I found my bus and prepared for the long ride. Five and a half hours. With one unnecessarily long break in the middle at what should have been a deserted truck stop from some movie.

However, before terribly long, we were pulling into the bus station in Murcia and I could see Marta (my soon-to-be intercambio partner and personal guide through Murcia) waiting for me. . .

*Only half of this was actually written on that first morning. But I promise to catch up quickly!

18 September 2011

¡venga venga venga!

I can't believe  I am writing this right now, but it's almost official (as soon as I get one very important package in the mail): España... ¡YA VUELVO! 
I'm supposed to begin working n an elementary school in Murcia (Capital) on the first of October. Of course, as falls perfectly in line with my past experiences and many of the previous griping posts here, I am still waiting to receive my visa (and more importantly, my passport) form the consulate in San Francisco.
I guess it's better in a way, though. I am so happy here, and still sort of trying to process the fact that now that I have things more or less figured out and have found a group of people here in Portland that I really love, I am off, once again. But I know that these changes are good for me. I am hoping that in the weeks (hopefully) before I head out, I will finally succeed in getting back on track here. In that vein, I shall make a list, which I shall call "Pre-Spain MB Goals" (I know, creative.)

Pre-Spain MB Goals:
1. Catch. Up.
2. Pre-Spain preparations
3. Spain wish-list (places? things? actividades?)
4. ...so far that's it - we'll see how it goes!

Up next: Now that it feels like fall, time for summer!

05 January 2011

if you cut me open...

Incredible days. Really indescribable. But here goes a desperate attempt.

New Years Eve I spent primarily on the train back down from Seattle/Tacoma, where I finally got to see H again (for three whole hours!!). Really, driving through Seattle from up north and down to Tacoma, I'm convinced there can't be anywhere more beautiful. I only wish that I could have taken photos buuuut that could be asking just a little too much with the Cascades surrounding, the lakes sprawling, Mt Rainier growing, and Seattle punctuating. However, on the TRAIN I managed to take, ohhh, about 7 million photos...

Coming back to Portland, I found the same crisp, clear weather - my very favorite. I couldn't help but wander through the city taking photos at every turn. Here are a few...

11 December 2010

beautiful days

Remember when the Pearl District was all industrial and its warehouses were GASP warehouses?? It wasn't really that long ago, was it? But since the transformation, I find myself drawn there constantly. And now I work in the Pearl and have the pleasure of wandering through it on a daily basis. Because I have to. Wonderful. And now the fruit of my wanderings...

09 December 2010

milk stretch

That's right, you stretch it. You don't foam or froth it. I confess that these last couple weeks, I've been wondering why my latte foam is not how I want it to be. Today I figured it out. 

On another note, the weather these days has been incredible. As I sit here now it's absolutely pouring. Several hours ago it was clear and there was just a sliver of the moon visible. And before that more rain. And before that sunshine and rainbows. Rainbows in the exact same place as yesterday's rainbows. Really.