Thursday, December 10, 2015

Coping with Coming Home

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder since September 15th. I guess I thought the longer I waited, the easier it would be to express how it feels to be back home again.  Turns out those feelings are no less complicated today than they were 3 months ago.  The small oddities of returning stateside have nearly all subsided; I don't catch myself washing my hands in cold water anymore, I'm comfortable again behind the wheel, and I don't notice the ridiculous amount of drug commercials on TV quite as much as before. It's been incredible to be back around my family again, to be able to see my sister's senior basketball season, to spend weekends with my friends in Madison or Milwaukee. The hardest part about explaining the difficulties of what it means to come home is sounding like I don't appreciate these things.  In reality if I didn't have these joys I can't imagine the unconsolable wreck I would be.

Yet the truth is that this transition has still been very difficult for me. Maybe it is the solitude of rural Wisconsin, polar opposite from my life in a pulsing European city, constantly pulling me back into a state of melancholy and causing me to second guess my decision.  It could also be the nagging realization of how little I fit in in the place where I grew up, or how much has changed while I was away, or all that I missed.  And at the same time it's thinking about all that I'm missing in the place I left behind.  The life that still feels so much a part of me but that I can never be a part of in the same way again. It's my inclination towards worshipping nostalgia-- my ability to close my eyes and picture myself sitting at a bar in La Latina, Malasaña, Huertas, a glass of Verdejo and a dish of olives in front of me and the loud hum of Spanish around me. I feel ungrateful that my memories aren't enough.

Sometimes it's like I've checked into life rehab; I've come back to the serene peaceful countryside to "figure out" what I'm doing, what's next, but there are many days that just feel overwhelming for no apparent reason. I have always considered my knack for managing stress as one of my strengths but twice in the last couple months I have felt on the very edge of debilitating panic attacks. Two times more than at any point in my life before. I ask myself "What's wrong with me?" and so I keep doing what I think I should- applying to jobs, working part time in an industry that makes me feel insane and miserable, smiling and making jokes when friends and family ask how it's all going. Because let's be honest: They don't really want to know, and that's ok! It's not that I think they don't care. But I know that they can't understand.  I wonder "When do I get to feel normal again?" and then I think that maybe it's impossible for me to feel normal here in a place I don't fit in.

Maybe this comes down to being forced to grow up and not wanting to. Maybe I'm still just climbing out of the waves of reverse culture shock. Maybe I'm unable to be content anywhere doing anything. But I want to believe that's not the case. I want to be more than content again because content is a lukewarm version of happiness. So I build up on the good days when they outnumber the bad and I just hope for the day when I wake up satisfied with the memories.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 in Review

As per usual, every year I set a NYResolution to write more in my blog...and every year it seems like I get worse and worse with keeping up with it.  But one post that I always try to make time for, if not in my blog then at least in a handwritten journal, is my end of the year reflections.  This year was an especially important year for me in a lot of ways, so here are five breakdowns of my best and worst.

1. Love and Heartbreak
This is the first time I've ever written about my love life on my blog, but as it had such a huge impact on my life and my growth as a person this year, it would be counterproductive to moving on to 2015 to leave it out.  After casually dating (or barely dating at all) basically since high school, in February I met someone who completely altered my life and view on love.  Always being the cynic, scoffing at friends 'in love' or overly affectionate couples in the street, and even worse always dating people I already knew would bore me, I was knocked flat by what I began feeling for this person in just a matter of days.  We had an extremely intense relationship, squeezing what felt like years into months.  When the inevitable end came when he made a last minute move to Germany, I was devastated.  As he left my apartment for the last time, I went from living the highest high of my life to the lowest low with the closing of an elevator door.
After everything I experienced, and now that I am finally over the hump of heartbreak 7 months later, I can finally look back and appreciate it for all the ways that relationship allowed me to live an amazing new experience, and in doing so, make me a more empathetic person.  It's hard to understand people in love when you have never felt it for yourself.  I also see all the flaws that relationship had and understand more now about what I need and want, and what things are non-negotiables.  Despite a lot of hard feelings I had towards this person for a long time, I honestly wish him the best in his life, and I'm ready and happy to close that door.

2. Friendship
This year I realized some really important things about the friendships in my life and how distance really, truly makes no difference.  Most of my best friends in the entire world I get to see once a year or less, but every time I see them I feel my love for these people is just as strong or even stronger than the last time we were together.  I also chose to cut a few people out of my life who were once part of my friend circles or who I once even considered to be people who would be my friends for the rest of my life.  These weren't even conscious decisions, to be honest.  It was more so that at some point I didn't even have to think about it to realize these people were just no longer worth my time or efforts.   I also learned that all friendships have their flaws, and you don't always have to agree or get along with even the people you know are your friends for life.  If you can look past the disagreements and still feel a strong bond with a person, this for me may even be the best sign of friendship.

3. Bad Luck
I CAN'T WAIT to be able to write an end of the year post and NOT mention my perpetual bad luck. For the 3rd consecutive year I had something stolen from me here while living in Madrid!  The count so far is one bag, one computer, one wallet, and two phones.  This is why I can't have nice things.

I moved out of an apartment with the world's worst roommate right at the beginning of 2014 into another place with the world's most awkward roommate.  Just to give a small idea, I had a date over for dinner at the apartment one night and while we were eating a nice almost romantic dinner, my roommate came in and brought his own dinner and sat down at the {very small} table with us.  Talk about mood killer.

And of course, to end the year off JUST RIGHT, I broke my ankle about 2 weeks ago.  Anyone who's known me since middle school knows this was a long time coming, however in the last two months I've been doing more exercise than I have since leaving high school, so how on earth I break my ankle walking through a crosswalk I HAVE NO IDEA.

4. An Epic Summer
Sorry, not sorry, but I have to take a moment to brag about a summer for the books.  My parents came to visit for two weeks at the end of June and I loved having them here, getting to show them around Madrid and taking a trip together to Ireland, not to mention having someone else footing the bill for a time.  Then I "worked" tutoring in the mornings for a month, moved out of that awkward apartment and a generous and lovely friend let me crash her place for a few weeks before I went on my first solo trip.  After spending 3 days in Belgrade with my friend Aleksandra, I went to Dubrovnik, Croatia all on my own.  I'd been dying to go to Croatia and I finally got tired of waiting for someone else to accompany me, so in an attempt to also get some much needed personal reflection and mental health repair time (see #1), I pushed my nerves aside and planned a week there.  This was one of my favorite trips ever and I am now 100% convinced on solo travel.  It was so easy to meet other people and I was a lot more open than I would have been had I gone with other friends.  It reminded me about all the things I first fell in love with about traveling, not to mention Dubrovnik met all my very, very high expectations and even took me beyond what I hoped to experience.
Then, in September I attended my friend Mary's fairytale wedding in the French countryside.  Such a love-filled, beautiful, and romantic weekend reconnecting with two good friends from college.  And then I closed off my summer with a weekend in Munich at Oktoberfest - a big checkmark off my bucket list.  It's everything you would expect - boisterous, traditional, and full of massive, heavy pints of BIER...and cleavage.

5. Work 
In a rare moment for me, I came to one very firm decision this year which is that I will not be continuing with BEDA Auxiliares for a 4th year during the 2015-2016 school year.  This has normally been one of my most difficult decisions in the past two years, but throughout the course of 2014 I realized that yes, I am finally finished being a teacher's assistant.  I love my school and seeing all my incredibly funny and painfully cute kiddos, so I know that saying goodbye and closing this chapter in June is going to be very emotional.  As for what's next, that remains to be seen in 2014.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Lands of Bikes & Blondes

Last month I embarked on my 4th consecutive Spring Break trip, this year to Scandinavia (Sweden and Denmark)!  This was the trip that almost wasn't.  My heart had been set since early this Fall on spending 10 days in Turkey but as the months went by, my flight tracking was producing terrible results-- nothing less than 500 euros that didn't include a flight less than 24hrs.  The plan was to reunite with my friend Aleksandra who I hadn't seen since I visited her in Macedonia the first summer I spent in Spain in 2011.  In the end we picked Scandinavia because we both knew a fair amount of people studying or living there that we could meet up with.  I will spare the rest of the details, but in short because of financial reasons neither of us were sure until practically the week of if we would be going, but it all worked out in the end!  The worst part of getting ready for this trip was that as I was packing my WINTER COAT, the weather in Spain was finally moving fast away from "winter".  But in a rare twist of luck for me, we had great weather and only had 2 days where it rained.

In Sweden, I spent 2 nights with a friend from Moldova who studied at UWEC for a year (as the story goes with 99% of my friends abroad).  She is doing her masters in Lund, a tiny University town across the sea from Denmark.  It is very small and cute and I quickly realized you could see everything there was in 2 hours.  That wasn't too helpful when I was trying to spend an afternoon out of her dorm to give her some time to focus on her thesis.  After 45 minutes listening to a choir and orchestra rehearse in the town cathedral, an hour wandering up and down the same empty streets (at a snail's pace...I think even the Spanish would have been whizzing by me), and 30 minutes sitting on a bench reading a magazine article about new condom design ideas... I was cold and bored and needed to return to social interaction.  Swedish people, at least in Lund, are exactly how you imagine: BLONDE. EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON.  I have never seen so many yellow-white blonde heads in my life.  Blondes on bikes, blondes on bikes, blondes on bikes.  The biking culture is amazing.  More on that in a minute.

Lund streets

Stayed warm and entertained listening to their rehearsal

Seas and seas of bikes!

Aleksandra arrived on the 2nd night and the following morning we headed to Copenhagen.  We stayed at the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel, an excellent place that I would recommend with flying colors.  They offered an amazing breakfast buffet for around 50 krone, which is the cheapest breakfast you will find in the city, and you cannot beat the selection they offer.  If you've stayed in youth hostels that offer breakfast, you know that the selection is 9 times out of 10 annoyingly underwhelming.  This would have you fooled into thinking you were staying in a 4 star hotel.  There was also free dinner each night, plus a great social area mixed with a bar/restaurant and very friendly and helpful staff.

I can say I knew nothing about Denmark, and Copenhagen, before I went.  We joined the free walking tour (which I am now a loyal fan of, despite my "no plan" travel philosophy) and I got a speed lesson on Danish culture and history.  The main thing that I am (still) fascinated and in love with is the tax system.  Pay attention, my American readers.  According to our guide, the LOWEST tax bracket pays around 39% income tax, while the highest could be somewhere around 60.  Yes, you read those numbers correctly.  How un-American!!  Those high numbers guarantee that EVERY SINGLE PERSON has access to FREE higher education and FREE health care.  Free. Everyone. Forever.  Recently, the government took a poll of the Danish people asking if they would like their taxes lowered, to which the majority said no.  Learning this information made my American blood boil...because I was thinking about the crippling affects the trillions of dollars of student loan debt is having on my generation and the negative effect that will inevitably leave on the economy.  Not only that, but recently I had a conversation with my mom about the lack of care my grandpa is receiving at his assisted living home.  I said to her "If you can get him on a plane, send him here.  It's free."  Isn't it amazing that the "freest" nation on the planet leaves its people in invisible chains?

Sash and I in front of New Harbor in Copenhagen, one of Hans Christian Andersen's points of inspiration

Rosenberg Castle in Copenhagen

That's a REAL Danish pastry
After a couple days in Copenhagen, we took an hour ferry ride to visit Aleksandra's friend, Sandra, in Aarhus, another small University city in the north of Denmark.  Aarhus was great.  We got a chance to delve into the bike culture by using the free bikes they have placed throughout the city center.  Bike lanes back home have nothing on the Danish bike lanes.  They are very well designed and you do not feel unsafe at all riding side by side motor vehicles.  On streets that have higher traffic, there are separate lanes off the road and also apart from the sidewalk so you have no real fear of pedestrians becoming obstacles either.  We spent one whole day biking to the deer park, the beach, around the city, as well as a couple trips to and from Sandra's apartment (4km from the center).  This was the first trip I think I can safely say I got in better shape, especially compared to my trip to Munich where I wouldn't have been surprised to not fit in the airplane seat on the way home.

Getting cozy with the freely roaming deer in the Aarhus Deer Park
Bike time!

We watched a Viking club train for their Viking fighting competitions

Sun, cookies, and some coffee is really all I need for a great vaca

If it weren't for the weather and what I perceived to be a cold and closed attitude from Danish people, this would be a top destination for me to relocate to.  I think it's amazing that people are willing to overlook a percentage on their tax form because they can see the bigger picture of the benefit that comes from a nation full of well educated and healthy people who care about helping their neighbor without needing to know what's in it for them.  I can think of one big blob of land to the west that could really learn something from that.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lisbon, My Love

In December I took a semi-impromptu weekend trip to Lisbon, Portugal with my friend David just before Christmas.  After an intensely busy month and the holidays just around the corner, I was exhausted and thought a trip was the last thing I wanted to do, but I had already committed and it was the first trip David and I have done together, so there was no way I could justify backing out.

Best. Decision. Ever.

At one of the many city lookout points
Lisbon is, in a word, AMAZING. Cheap food and accommodation, breathtaking views, bursting with romance, and full of the nicest people.  To get there we opted to use BlaBlaCar, which is a ride sharing website where people can post trips they are taking by car and find others who need a ride to the same areas.  David has used it several times for trips to the south of Spain, but for me it was the first time and I would 100% recommend it to anyone. It was the same cost as taking the bus, but saved us almost 3 hours, the company was better, and it's obviously a lot more comfortable.  My parents thought I was practically hitchhiking when I told them and looked at me with their "You did what!?" eyes, but I tried explaining that it's a legitimate and reliable website and I'm not as crazy as they think.  UWEC and many universities in the states have similar "ride boards", which I used more than once while in college to get a little extra gas money for trips to Madison.  
Arriving fairly late on Friday night and starving, our goal after locating our hostel was to find food.  In typical bad tourist fashion, we ended up eating at an Italian restaurant (in Portugal) but simply out of pure desperation.  Being unsure whether or not the Portuguese culture stays up as late as the Spanish, we didn't want to risk restaurants closing while we tried to find something Portuguese in a place we had never been before, so we went straight to the first thing we stumbled on.  But we can't be as bad as the couple sitting at the table next to us...who were Italian. C'mon guys, really?

On Saturday, the weather was sunny and glowing making this already enchanting city even more beautiful.  Add the Christmas decorations from rooftop to sidewalk and it was next to impossible not to fall in love with Lisbon.  David and I have really opposite travel styles, which I was nervous about when we started the trip because incompatibility when it comes to travel can ruin even the best of friendships.  Luckily I was mentally prepared, and am a very flexible traveller despite my anti-tourism attitude, so we spent the entire day doing not one but two of Sandeman's Free Walking Tours with a splendid Spanish guide from Granada.  I definitely recommend if not Sandemans then any kind of walking tour in a city you have limited time in.  It cuts down the time you waste trying to find things on your own.  I'm usually a big fan of wandering, but the fact is when you have a lot to see and only 2 days to do it, a walking tour lets you see all of it through someone who knows exactly how and where to go.  Plus it helps you become familiar with the city to make your own exploring easier afterwards.
That night we made a reservation at a restaurant called Chapito after it was recommended to us by one of the guys in the car from Madrid and also our tour guide.  

Located on top of one of Lisbon's many hills (it's not known as the City of Seven Hills for nothing), it's a bar and restaurant inside a clown school. Yes, a clown school.  From the outside it doesn't look like anything spectacular, but once we went inside through the jewelry store, we were greeted by a mysterious woman offering free samples of chocolate liqueur "love" potions.  Once we escaped her (which was hard because those potions were damn good and her voice was so enchanting...), dim mood lighting by dangling chandeliers and garden lights, wooden stairs and open air seating (for the summer) led us inside the restaurant where we were seated next to the windowed patio overlooking the city.  After we got over the shock of the menu prices, we spent our first hour justifying them by commenting on the amazing view.  The food was equally as satisfying.  We went for the dinner hour, but if I could have a do-over, I would definitely love to go at sunset.

Some succulent duck leg
Wine is a girl's best friend

The following day we ventured a little farther out of the center to Belém so David could take pictures in front of his precious historical monuments, like this one: 
The Belem Tower never looked so sexy
For me, it was all about the pasteles de Belém, custard filled pastries topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar.  In fact, it seems that Belém is famous for these delicious little delights.  The pastry shop Pasteis de Belém is named for them and they have been a staple since the mid 1800's.  A coffee and sweet treat for only a couple euros you say? Where do I wait in line?
No, I did not eat all four myself...although it would have been easy
 We had planned to spend our last day taking the train out to Sintra, a small village with an incredible castle (Palacio da Pena) straight out of every kid's Disney fantasy.  I was looking forward to this the entire weekend.  So of course it would rain.  The heavy fog made it almost impossible to appreciate the colorful towers and intricate design and I won't lie, I complained about it like a pouty brat the entire time we were there.  Give me a break-- I spend a lot of time with toddlers.  If you click the link, you will understand my disappointment.  Here's the best photo I could manage:

I fell head over heels for Lisbon.  It's the Mediterranean lifestyle without the harsh personalities you sometimes find in Madrid, not to mention exponentially better views.  And let me assure you as a girl who never fantasizes about weddings or proposals, if either of those things are in my future, the latter better happen in Lisbon.  It's the only way to the former.
Lisbon, my love, I will be back soon. Wait for me.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Minds and Prejudice

TODAY it has been one month since I left Madrid and even typing that out it still doesn't seem like that should be correct.  Time stops here in Kendall, Wisconsin.  It's like the minute you cross the state border line you move into this twilight zone where nothing changes and the days blur together so much so that you can't remember if you've been here for a few hours or 30 years.

That being said, being back home has been pretty nice so far.  I spent my first week in California visiting Kelsey, and Erin came out too, so we had a nice little sister's vacation.  I definitely felt the pangs of culture shock jumping so quickly from Madrid to the hustle-bustle lifestyle of Los Angeles.  The tall buildings, the need to drive everywhere, and the overall immensity of the city itself had me feeling overwhelmed and suffocated.  I just wanted everything to be slower, easier, smaller.  We spent 2 days in San Francisco, which was beautiful, but I only wished that I wasn't suffering from USA shell shock so that I could have maybe enjoyed it a little bit more.  The highlight was definitely being in town the weekend after the Supreme Court repealed Prop 8 and said bye-bye to DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and we sat on the San Fran courthouse steps as couple after couple went inside to celebrate their love and get married.

After getting back to Wisconsin, there was absolutely no need to wish for slower, easier, or smaller. I definitely knew I wasn't in L.A. or Madrid anymore while I was waiting for my baggage at the Madison airport and a group of people started to form around a girl about my age who had a cat on a leash.  There were 'Ohhhs' 'Aaahhs' 'How'd it get so small!?!' and one old man even dug out his digital camera so he could get a video.  Then of course they all started a conversation and became best friends after.  And that, folks, is how you know you've arrived to the Midwest.  You can also tell by the never-ending green rolling hills and corn fields and trees surrounding you on all sides.  And the humidity.

I've always loved the view out our kitchen window
Drake enjoying the tranquility of his country life

Being away from home always makes me feel more appreciative of the things I have taken for granted, like how absolutely beautiful it is here in the summertime, or how calm small town life is (and it's not so bad for a short period of time), or how happy and free I feel when I'm reunited with my best friends, or how much I enjoy hanging out with my parents and sister.

But I've also realized that small town mentalities are something that I have the hardest time readjusting to.  I have been so lucky in my short lifetime to have been exposed to lots of different kinds of people from many different places and to have seen all that I have.  I don't think this makes me better than anyone or smarter, but it's clear after just a few conversations I've been involved in with people now that I've been back home that my mind is much more open.  My biggest struggle is knowing when it's appropriate to just keep my thoughts to myself or when it's better to say "No, this is wrong, and here are some things I've experienced that can show you why.." For the most part I say nothing because I recognize when a conversation can be a discussion and when it turns into pounding your head against a brick wall.  In the end it just solidifies my desire to see even more and to live a life free of prejudice and judgment.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

People, Places, and Things. But Mostly People.

As I sit here this morning trying to find the right words to accurately begin and end this post, I can barely believe I've officially finished my first extended stay abroad.  It's been exactly a year since I was offered my "job" teaching English in Spain, and 10 months since I moved here.  I have just two more days before I get on a plane and head back to the states for the summer, and I know how important it is for me personally to get my reflections on the last year of my life down in writing before the magic of the first year abroad vanishes into the comfort of being home again.

There are almost too many things I want to write about today.  School, travelling, culture shock, friends, food, transportation, weather, all the negative, and all the positive.  But as I look back on the last 10 months of my life, one thing stands out to me no matter where I was or what I was doing:


I am and forever will be a people person, so naturally this is a huge part of how I experience life.  We as humans have such an incredible ability to impact other humans in ways we mostly will never realize because something insignificant to one person can mean the world to another.  It sounds cliché (don't worry that fact is not lost on me) but it's still true nonetheless.  People shape our views of culture.  They change our feelings either positively or negatively about an entire country.  How many times have you said, or heard from another person, "Well I have friends from *insert any state or country* and they are all *insert generalizing phrase*"?  We all do this and we always will, and while of course it's dangerous to generalize and stereotype, this fact should help us all remember that we are individuals but we still represent a whole.  It's always my goal, knowing how many erroneous (but, yes, sometimes true) stereotypes exist about Americans, that wherever I go I try to change at least one person's mind about what Americans are like.  If I succeed in doing that, I can go home feeling accomplished.

But anyway, I am getting away from myself a bit. People.  My interactions with people here in Spain in my first couple of months were what made me so negative about the new life I was living, while they were exactly the thing that made me fall in love with Dublin the minute I got into my taxi from the airport.  Yes, when you make friends with people, that always changes your mind, but the split second conversations you have with a cashier at the grocery store or a person you ask for directions on the street can have just as much of an impact on your impression of the society as your close friends will.  This was something I started to learn really quickly, and it made me reflect on what it's like at home too (something that usually happens when you travel) and I began to feel more and more proud of being from the Midwest and the fact that we are generally such nice people. Specifically for the fact that even if we are having a bad day, you will rarely encounter someone in a store or on the street who won't smile and say hello to you.

This brings me to another thing that I learned this year to a larger extent than I ever have in the past, and that is the striking differences between people in my own home country.  Most people who know me, know that I've spent most of my twenties making friends with people from different parts of the world.  I left college with just as many foreign friends as American, and I even kept in touch with more of the people who lived halfway across the world than the ones who lived on the next block.  So when I came to Spain that was my expectation: avoid Americans, make all best friends with Spaniards and inevitably all other foreigners in Madrid.  But to my surprise, I spent a majority of my time with other Americans.  Anyone else would probably feel bad about this, but considering my track record, this is somewhat of an accomplishment.  I met people who ACTUALLY lived in New York, hadn't just visited for a band or choir trip or summer vacation.  Someone who ACTUALLY lived and worked in Washington D.C. and hadn't just gone there for the Safety Patrol trip in 5th grade.  A Harvard grad who was ACTUALLY not a stuck-up, hoity-toity asshole.  As we spent more and more of our time together and became close friends, it was amazing to me just how different our lives were.  And the same for them when I would describe growing up on a farm in rural Wisconsin and most times didn't understand how that would be weird to anyone else since almost everyone I know from home grew up on a farm or at least nearby one.  In a lot of ways I am most grateful for this experience because it was something I never expected to gain out of living outside of the U.S.

As I prepare to leave for the summer, I can't help feeling a push and pull of contrasting emotions.  Knowing I'm coming back again for another school year makes me feel like there's nothing really to feel sad about because I will be back again in a couple of months.  At the same time, I've been watching as all the people I've grown close to in the last 10 months leave one by one and go back to their lives in the United States, Canada, Germany, England, Norway... and knowing that I will come back next year to just one or two people I met this year makes me incredibly sad.  Yes, the city will be the same and all the restaurants, clubs, and cafes I love will be here, but when you take the people out of the place, the place becomes different.  I would be lying to myself if I said it will be easy to meet new people here when many of the things we will do together will be overshadowed by my memories of doing the exact same things with people who are gone.  Picnics in Retiro, people watching in Sol, Bar hopping in Malasaña.  There will be chances to experience new things with the new people I meet too, and that is exciting, but there will always be a special place in my heart for the people I met my first year here. Because as I've come to learn, 

It's not where you are, it's who you're with.   


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Puente of Couches

Ever heard of the website  If you are a twenty-something who has lived or traveled abroad, probably you have.  It's gained a lot of popularity in the last 2-3 years or so and is far more fancy now than it was when I first joined in 2009.  For the rest of you, here is a blurb from their website to give you an idea:
When I first heard about it, I thought it was an amazing idea. It spoke to me.  I started fantasizing about all the crazy, cool, and kooky people I could meet.  Maybe some hippies in Amsterdam.  Wise and seasoned travelers in Budapest.  Some fellow expats in Berlin.  Sitting cross-legged on a bean bag sipping tea with my host(s), strolling around a city and getting the low-down inside scoop from a local, sharing stories, travel experiences, and insightful epiphanies about the world and all its mysterious glory.   Yeah, actually I did a lot of fantasizing about hippies. 

So after 3.5 years of being a Couchsurfing member, I finally did my first couch stay in Barcelona, accompanied by my friend Meagan, during our 5 day weekend.  Let's just was interesting. Santiago was his name, but he went by "Santi".  He kindly met us at the metro nearest his apartment and the minute I laid eyes on him I knew we were in for an awkward weekend.  On his CS profile, it says that he is 32.  Maybe he is.  Or maybe he's been 32 for the last 8 years. ¿Quién sabe?  But, as Aaliyah told us, 'age ain't nothin but a number'.  This guy could be cool! After all, his profile said he was a DJ and he had as many reviews as I did from people who had stayed with him and they were all positive.  Unfortunately, a cloud of awkward pauses and forced conversation fell over us the minute we began the walk from the metro to his apartment. 

Me: Hi! Great! Thanks so much for letting us stay!

Santi: *Stares**Smiles**Reveals to us his brace-face*         

Me:  Cool.. So...Do you speak English? 

Santi: *Awkward laugh* Yes.  A leettle beet.

Meagan: Are you from Barcelona? 

Santi: Yes.


He made us a salad for dinner when we got to his apartment and showed us the two separate bedrooms that we could stay in (we chose to sleep together in the room with the bigger bed).  Over our dinner salad, he brought out a large manila folder full of brochures and maps, and he had even printed out a packet of discounts to various sights throughout the city.  We appreciated the gesture, especially after we figured out that he didn't have any suggestions of his own. 

Meagan: So where are some great places to eat? What's your favorite spot?
Santi: Hmmmmm....umm...hmmm.. *looks at a brochure of restaurants*..I don't know.. I don't go out much.

You kind of have to question someone in their "30's" who has lived in Barcelona their whole life and has not one single suggestion for a restaurant to check out or special place that might not be on a tourist map but is well worth the visit.  So after not being able to stand the stifling dinner conversation any longer, we retired for the night to rest for a full day on Thursday. 

On Thursday we spent the whole day out. We waited in line for the Sagrada Familia (Oh yeaa bein' a tourist!), walked to and through Park Güell, searched high and low for a worthy Kebap stop, shopped, photo-oped, and dropped.  By 8pm we were exhausted, but unfortunately the downfall of not staying at a hostel was that we couldn't go back to the apartment until Santi got back from work at 8:30... So when he texted saying he would be later than he thought, we weren't really sure what to do with ourselves.  
After watching an Asian family play soccer in a plaza on rollerblades, we finally decided to go back to the apartment and wait out the pending arrival of Santi over a drink at a nearby bar. 
By the time he returned from work and we were back in the apartment, it was almost 10pm.  Meagan and I had thought about going out that night, but Santi kept referring to things in "we"s... 
'Yes there is this club we can go to...' 
'Yes I wanted us to go to this place...' 
'WE can go to this area...' 
Being new to the Couchsurfing thing, we weren't really sure if that was the exchange for staying for free or not. Did we have to hang out with this guy?  What's the nicest way to say no or play the foreign card without him giving me a bad review?  In the end, it worked in our favor that we had been out ALL FREAKING DAY and we had no energy to party and bullshit anyway. 

On Friday we hit the beach.  I felt a little guilty since I think the same moment I was getting sunburnt, people back home were swiping snow off their cars.  In May.  I'm so sorry everyone.  I'm not much of a beach bum since I get bored so easily but I managed to entertain myself enough to stay sane while Meagan napped. Watched some German guys work out. Finished reading The Bell Jar.  Drank a gin and tonic.  Marveled at the speedos and topless tanners.  It wasn't so bad.  At 7pm we reluctantly returned to the apartment where our dear friend SANTI was waiting.  And we walked in to a full on party baby.  Well...okay there were no people.  But the apartment was bumpin.  "Oh yeah, I'm recording a session.." Santi said oh-so-nonchalantly.  He is a "SOULFUL" DJ, after all.  It was our last night so we had decided that this awkward 'we' going out situation was going to be a little hard to avoid this time, but if we had to do it, might as well do it when we were leaving the next morning.  We kindly made the plans, masking our hesitation with smiles and by "enthusiastically" writing down addresses (I can teach you, if you're curious how that works). 

At 1am we arrived to the designated spot. "Dime Barcelona".  It looked like a hotel.  I'm talking top-notch, refined, the place you stay when your parents are paying.  If your parents are The Hiltons.  It was set-up like a fine dining restaurant, and we looked around and at each other unsure if we were at the right place. The hostess at the door looked at us and hesitated before asking slowly...
"Hii...What are you looking for?"
I looked at my phone GPS, back at Meagan, and then back at the hostess with this look that said 'please tell me we are wrong'
"...Dime...Barcelona...?" I responded.
Our hostess looked on us with a sad, pitiful look, paused and asked:
"Are you here...for the "soulful" party..??"
We said without a hint of excitement or conviction: "*sigh* Yes."
Her look told it all.  We knew then and there we weren't any place we would ever have freely chosen to go.  She stepped aside and told us to go downstairs.

Once downstairs, it took a millisecond to gauge that the average age of the clientele in this club was about 50.  We quickly ran to the bathroom.  It was a really nice bathroom.  There was an attendant, surely laughing to herself at these two girls who must be someone's grandchildren trying to figure out how the faucet works.  The sinks were all fancy like from the future or maybe from one of those mansions they used to show on MTV Cribs.  At least I got to see that.  Anyway, Santi found us and said "Oh great you're here! Follow me..".... and led us straight... To. The. Dance. Floor.  In that moment I stopped and looked back at Meagan, telling her with my eyes "WHAT?!?... HE WANTS US TO DANCE WITH HIM?!"... We both stopped on the edge of the disco inferno and when he turned around and saw that we hadn't followed him seemed bewildered. Ho! But whatever could be the matter here?  Luckily I was sunburned, so I feigned this painful look and put my hand on the back of my leg and gestured "Ohh the sunburn! I'm in so much pain! I can't dance"
So Santi sauntered into the crowd, got his groove on to the 'soulful' tunes, while Meagan and I sat on a lounge chair in stunned silence at the situation we found ourselves in.  After 20 minutes, though, Santi came back and, after failing to get me to dance again (I mean.. what?), asked if we wanted to leave. Yes. Yes please yes.

Leaving on Saturday morning was a sigh of relief.  I have heard from a lot of friends great stories about their Couchsurfing experiences, so I am still positive about it and will definitely give it another try.  And Santi really was a nice man.  Just maybe not a good fit for two chicas in their mid-twenties.  Maybe better for him to host divorcées or soulful aficionados. 
Better luck next time.