As the holidays are finishing up I feel incredibly lucky to have had such an incredible few weeks. Finishing up classes and saying goodbye to Granada just before Christmas was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do so far on this trip. I survived finals, but saying goodbye to my incredible host mom and host sister, the 40 ILACA students, my new friends in Granada, and the beautiful city of Granada was no easy task. However, I was lucky enough to be invited to spend the holidays in Almería with a friend of mine who I met in salsa classes.
When we arrived in Almería we were greater by a large and delicious lunch of “bolas”… balls, similar to meat balls but with bread and other things. I was told this was a traditional New Years Eve meal for their family, but because her parents would be working this year they were eating it early. The rest of the trip seemed to be centered around food and family, and I felt lucky to be a part of a traditional Spanish Christmas. There was a ham leg in the kitchen that we slowly worked our way through by eating a little bit every meal an snacking on it when coming home late at night. On Christmas Eve we went to a suburb of the city and had dinner with her moms side of the family. They were all welcoming and more than willing to include me in the holiday tradition as we ate plum stuffed turkey, lasagna, seafood stew, and of course bread and ham. They wrapped up dinner by singing some traditional Christmas songs and waking up the 9 month old baby to join in the fun.
On Christmas day we ate lunch with her dads side of the family, just as loud, fun, and inviting. If I didn’t know better I would’ve thought they were arguing at the table as they yelled at one another between bites of food, but that’s simply the Spanish way. I got to try “caracoles” which is kind of like a snails ceviche and was actually quite good, along with the ham, fish, beef, and chorizo. This meal finished off with 2 giant boxes of desserts, one was pralines, the other bonbons! I was so full I couldn’t possibly eat another bite, but found room for a few more chocolates before we headed out.
Along with the traditional family meals, I got to meet a number of Alba’s friends from Almería and really get to see what it’s like to hang out with Spaniards. Up until this trip in Almería I was baffled by the night life of Spain (you’re not supposed to start heading to clubs before 2 or 3 am and can often be out until 8), but I now understand slightly better how this works. You start by taking a good siesta (2 hours) in the afternoon. You wake up around 5 or 6 pm and head for coffee with friends. You then go and grab some tapas for dinner between 9 and 11, and then head to a park or a friends house to hang out, chat, or occasionally play jeopardy games. Then you have a drink and finally go dancing. You hang out at the dance club until you’re bored and then go eat breakfast and head home where you sleep until 12. While I now understand the schedule, I’m not sure I could maintain it for any large period of time, but I’m told it’s uncommon to go out all the time.
The time spent in Almería was amazing for so many reasons… I was able to experience Navidad the Spanish way (or at least part of it since it technically goes until January 6th), I was invited to stay with a friends family and shown incredible generosity and hospitality by people who I hardly know, I got to delve into the Spanish lifestyle, and I think I learned more Spanish in 9 days than throughout my entire program because I never had an off switch.
I then headed to Barcelona for New Years Eve, and stayed in St Jordi’s Mambo Tango Hostel, which had an amazing staff and was relatively close to all the action. On New Years Eve Barcelona has an event which was referred to as the “Magic Fountain.” The fountain in their main square is turned on and colorful and there is music. Even better they have human pyramids where something like 20 people bunch together on the ground then 10 people stand on them, then 7, then 5, and so on. This was topped off by a fireworks display just before 12, followed by the eating of the 12 grapes at midnight in order to have a lucky year.
Finally on New Years day I headed to Prague and was reunited with one of my best friends. She is now on her way to Spain for the same program I just completed, but first we needed to meet up in an international location Her family hosts professional paddlers from the Czech Republic every year and they showed us around the city and took us to Plzen, the original home of Pilsner beer. We toured the factory while there, saw the cathedral, and were treated to a delicious home cooked meal of traditional Czech food (potato dumplings, meat, and sauerkraut). We were invited to stay with the family of one of the boys who visits every year. His mother was an incredible cook and baker and gave us each 2 jars of homemade jam to take with us. The table had a cookie tray in the middle with about 10 different kinds of intricate cookies, all of which his mother had made for the holidays. This trip has also been characterized by a lot of eating… I’ve been full since I got to the Czech Republic and I’m pretty sure I’ll stay that way until I leave.
So I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to share my holiday season with incredibly generous and kind people from 3 different countries (my friend from the US counts too :))!