I can’t believe I am currently working on month number five of my exchange! The past few weeks have been filled with Holidays, friends, family, and no school! For those that go to countries that celebrate Holidays around this time of year, it is the best time to really learn more about the culture.
So far, I have celebrated Navidad (Christmas), Noche Vieja (New Year), and dia de los tres reyes magos (Three King's Day). It has been so much fun and definitely the highlight of my exchange so far. In my last journal I talked about how there are lights all over the city and music in the evenings. Well, that doesn’t even compare to the actual Holidays themselves. There are bands playing, parades going on, life size nativity scenes in each neighborhood, bounce houses, ice skating rinks (so scary, I’m terrible at anything ice/snow related), and so much more.
Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) it is usually spent with your family at home. So, my family and I had a lovely dinner and skyped my host sister in Canada while we were eating. I also took it upon myself to put up our Christmas tree and other decorations. It was a lot smaller than I’m used to. Back home the normal Christmas crew includes about 20-30 people, no less. However, having a very intimate Christmas with my family was really nice.
The same went for Christmas day; everyone in Spain is with their families and relaxing at home. Many, like my family, found themselves munching on Jamon and holiday sweets throughout the afternoon. Soon after came New Year's Eve! This being an even bigger deal than in the U.S, and so much more fun. Like Christmas, we had a nice dinner and then prepared for the countdown to midnight. In Spain, you eat twelve grapes, one for each chime of the clock at midnight. Then, you celebrate the new year with champagne (called Cava in Spain) and head out to spend the night celebrating. It was by far the best New Year' s Eve I have ever had.
Once Christmas and the New Year came and went, my family and I took some time to explore the region of Murcia together. It is difficult to take trips because of school and soccer, but we found some time to do some really cool stuff. First, we went a bit north of my city to the border of Murcia and Alicante. We went to this awesome mountain that has a spring at the bottom. People come to wash clothes, get drinking water, or just enjoy the fresh air.
My family and I had our car FILLED with water bottles because this is where we get our drinking water from. It is fresh, natural, and free. It was so nice to be able to sit and talk to the people who live there. Often, people aren’t quite sure why I’m with my host family because I tend to stick out a bit with my horrible accent and blonde hair. However, my parents like to tell people I’m their temporary kid just to watch them be confused. After, we went into the very small town to a winery. There were actually quite a few wineries in the town, but this one had giant barrels of wine with huge hoses dangling from the top. We also managed to bring several jugs home with us. It was really cool to be able to visit and learn how they make the wine.
The business had been in this family for years and they were so passionate about their work. They were so excited to know that I was so interested and intrigued by the process. It is the little trips like this that always teach you the most. You don’t always have to go to the biggest cities, or the most famous monuments. If you really want to learn about the culture, take the time to talk to the everyday people you may not have noticed before.
Another really awesome trip was when my family and I drove up to the mountains on the east side of the valley. Here you can find the cathedral dedicated to the Patron of Murcia. Each region has a patron. In Murcia, we have the Fuensanta and the Santuario de la Fuensanta in the mountains. This cathedral had the most amazing views of the entire valley. I could see where I lived, the cathedral in the city, where I go to school, everything. This cathedral was built in the 1500s, with the most recent parts being added on in the late 1800s.
In addition to the cathedral you can follow the roads on the mountain to castle ruins, a convent, an abandoned orphanage, a wildlife rehabilitation center, and many cafes for the much needed coffee and snack breaks. Along the mountain you can find cyclists, horseback riders, runners, and the occasional horse and carriage. People come from all over to spend the day here and enjoy all there is to do. I will definitely be returning to hike more of the mountain.
On the way home from the mountain, we went by our friend’s Panaderia. Let me tell you, there is nothing in Spain that I love more than a good bakery. Well, they only make bread, but it is my favorite thing in the entire world. The bread here is so good and they bake in these huge wood fired ovens. I love visiting the bakery because it is so warm and smells so good. Also, you can always find the best people in places like these. Normally In smaller towns like the one I live in; the people all know each other and are very close. So, there is always the usual crowd of old men smoking their cigarettes and playing dominos outside the bakeries and cafes. I love being able to talk to them, and they like asking me things about America and if the food in Spain is better (which it kind of is).
So, spending the days hanging out with friends and family, exploring Murcia, and relaxing by my living room fireplace has proved to be the proper way to enjoy the holidays in Spain. Over the next month or so I can look forward to some really cool Rotary trips, starting school again, and maybe even some warmer weather. But most of all I am looking forward to my impending trip to Barcelona! However, that is for another journal.
Also, shout out to all the new outbounds back home! I hope y’all are getting really excited because the day you leave will be here before you know it. Also, I know of only one person coming to Spain, but anyone please feel free to contact me through email or facebook if you have any questions. Same goes for all the other outbounds, the best way to prepare is by talking to those who have experienced exchange before. Until next time!!!!