Countdown to Graduation

Countdown to Graduation
One senior scrambles to cram in all things Carolina before heading out into the real world. 


  posted 3/20/2009

Spring Break [Vol. 3]

I'm a certified beach girl, I'm pretty sure it's in my blood. My mom stays tan all year long and is the most dedicated sun bather I know. She'll even lay out in the driveway whenever she has twenty free minutes. She took me and my siblings to the beach 3 or 4 times a week in the summer and let's just say I was a tan little kid. I tell you all of this, so you can get an understanding of my love for all things sun, sand and ocean as a precursor to my memories of my time at San Sebastian, a small, romantic paradise only an hour bus ride away from Pamplona.

Thursday morning didn't have the best start to it: Crazy Wednesday led to a little bit of a crazy hangover. It was so very tempting to stay in bed, but the beach was calling our names so we dragged ourselves up and headed to the bus station. A ticket to the beach was only seven Euros, which was pretty amazing considering I would have been willing to pay a lot more than that. The view from the bus may or may not have been scenic, because my eyes wouldn't stay open long enough to see. My nap helped and I was excited to see the sun in San Sebastian. We took a short taxi ride to our adorable hotel and then after a little trouble figuring out where exactly in the building the hotel was, we were set.

We talked to the woman at the front desk to ask her what to see and where to eat. And by "we talked," I mean she and Gabe talked while I tried to decipher words I could understand from my Spanish 203 days from two years ago. She told us about La Perla, a restaurant overlooking the beach and we didn't need much convincing to know that was the place to go.

A short 15 minute walk later and we had arrived. The view from the windows inside the restaurant was breathtaking, but we decided we wanted to sit outside to both feel and see the beauty. It cost about 4 Euros extra for outside seating, but it was worth it. Another menu del dia was our option and we took full advantage of the choices. I had a mixed salad with salmon, fish and potatoes cooked in a delicious sauce, and for dessert a goat cheese and banana pie. Honestly, the dessert didn't taste as great as I'd hoped, but how can you turn down something that includes both goat cheese and bananas?

After lunch we walked along the beach, daring to put our toes in the freezing water only a little bit. Surprisingly, there were people actually swimming in the water. I guess after a while you'd get used to it, but one pinky toe was enough for me. There were a couple of different beaches along the coast, so we walked around them stopping on the one with the softest sand to lay down for a bit. We had plans to watch the sunset, but it was getting a little chilly and a nap was needed if we were going to make the most of our night.

After another chat with a different, and if possible, even nicer woman at the front desk, we were off to try some of the finest pintxos (pronounced pinchos) in Spain. Pintxos are a lot like tapas, but instead of ordering them, there are a lot of plates set up on the bar with different treats that you just pick up and put on your own plate and eat standing up. A lot of them were bread with different delectable delights on them such as ham, salmon, shrimp combined with rich creams and sauces. The point seems to be to have something to eat to make sure you don't get too drunk at the bar, but Gabe and I were just interested in the eating part.

The first place we picked had some great choices, but we had heard about another one known for its shrimp toast. Shrimp is my favorite food, so we left some room in our bellies for that. The shrimp was just as good as advertised and we also tried a fried mushroom wrapped in bacon along with some more toast-like concoctions. There was one more place we had heard that had the best ham on the island that we just had to try. I was glad I was wearing a loose-fitting dress by the end of all that, and we hadn't even had dessert yet! (Though, we did stop for some cookies on the way to dinner, you just have to do things like that sometimes on vacation.) I suggested a place we could sit down to eat dessert and we stumbled by a trendy-looking place that seemed like it might have good desserts. We weren't disappointed in some orange slices covered in melted chocolate, but our other choice of sorbet was a strange milk and sorbet drink concoction that seemed to grow on Gabe the more he drank it, though he still wasn't sure by the end of it if he enjoyed it or not.

We tried to walk off some of our gorging, but the wind was making my exposed legs a little miserable. It was probably too cold to wear a dress, but what else was I supposed to do for a romantic evening? Back to the hotel we walked, content with our sun and food filled bodies.

The next morning we checked out, but left our bags at the front desk to get one more day of San Sebastian in. For lunch, we decided to head back to the old part of town for some more pintxos and were greeted by a friendly guy at a nice-looking bar. We filled up on salmon, sardines and croquettes (I promise it was better than it sounds) and politely deferred his pleas for us to try the "dangerous" cheesecake. We then decided to take in some more sights and walked towards the other end of San Sebastian where there was another beach. The area is so small, it's really walkable in a day and we pretty much did just that.

I have to admit there isn't a much better way to spend spring break than walking hand in hand with a good-looking guy basking in the sun and seeing beautiful water and sights around every corner. We wanted a picture to capture the moment and asked a sweet older lady to help us. She was more than willing, but couldn't figure out which way to hold the camera. When she finally got it all working, she cut off most of Gabe's head. I guess we'll just have to try to remember it. We stumbled upon a seafood restaurant and decided to stop for some shrimp and salad. The price was a bit much, but you couldn't beat the location.

The sun was getting warmer and warmer on our backs, so we had the brilliant idea to go back and get our bags to change into our suits and get some full-body sun while laying on the beach. We had to sneak back into La Perla to use their nonpublic bathrooms to change, but you just have to do things like that while traveling. Granted, the wind was a little much sometimes, but the sun was amazing and I laid in my bathing suit until it was absolutely unbearable. The tide was coming in quickly, but we weren't ready to leave the beach so we hopped on some steps that jutted out into the sand to avoid the icy water. The sun was setting and our time was running out, and though we didn't want our escape from reality to end, we walked to the bus station on shoes squishing from the sand and water.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat in Pamplona (well, quick for Spain) and decided to have a chill night, already wanting to reminisce about our amazing couple of days. We looked up train and bus times for our trip to Madrid the next day, and though we knew we should get to sleep soon, we had to catch an episode of The Real World online before we hit the hay.

posted 3/19/2009

Spring Break [Vol. 2]

Last time I left off we were about to eat dinner. You should see eating becoming a quick theme in this recollection. We had what was called a Menu del Dia, which I found out was pretty common and pretty awesome. It's a set menu that has choices of appetizers, entrees and desserts with wine and bread included all for one set price, and usually a good one. It was there I had some of the most delicious (and probably richest) salmon of my young life and enjoyed some pretty tasty red wine. It was kind of crazy to me that it all cost 11 Euros when it would seem to me that might only cover the cost of wine alone. I was thrilled with that, or maybe that was just the wine.

Eating in Spain is definitely a different experience than in America. I've actually been to Spain (Barcelona) before, but it was only for a couple of whirlwind days and it was in a much more touristy area.  First of all, you don't even think about eating dinner until around 10 p.m. I knew that before I went, but still it was a little disconcerting to be having my first bite of dinner in the pitch black of night. Second of all, and my favorite of all, eating out is not just something out of necessity, it's something to be thoroughly enjoyed, which means long dinners where you sip on your café 'til the last drop and the check isn't something expected right after you finish, it's something you ask for after a couple of hours of enjoying each other's company. Because I had great company to share and a delicious meal in my stomach, I was content to do just that.

But, soon I realized that pesky jet lag was back (combined with a heavy dinner) and it was off to sleep. Gabe woke up early to go to class and I had thoughts of waking up to do some blogging, but the bed (however uncomfortable it was, and it was uncomfortable –

I have scabs to prove just that) was just too warm to get out of. When Gabe got back from class, we took off in search of Yamaguchi Park and in search of food. Two p.m. is the worst time to do just that, as everyone is taking a siesta. Luckily, we found a corner kebab store playing some intense Bollywood style music and had a quick bite. The park was beautiful, and I'm a total sucker for a park (or really any area that has a little grass and pretty trees). I had brought my Frisbee to Spain with me for moments just like this, so we disced a little bit before we had to get back for him to go to class again.

After Gabe made up some spinach and vegetables for dinner, (he said it's easy to not eat greens in Spain, so he makes a concerted effort to get some leafy vegetables in his diet) we headed to a friend's piso to hang out and help with a project. The crowd there was awesome in terms of diversity. From what I remember Australia, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, England and America were all represented, and I'm sure I'm missing some. The university Gabe goes to is one of the best in Spain, so it attracts a lot of different types of people. I loved being around such a diverse group, and it was funny to me that we played the same drinking game as I did almost every weekend freshman year. I guess college kids are really pretty similar in all countries.

A lot of us took off around 1 a.m. to a bar for what they call in Pamplona crazy Wednesday. Every Wednesday a bar is chosen for a big party and a theme is picked to make it more fun. This week it was tropical and other than a few Hawaiian shirts, I didn't see too many patrons abiding by the theme. Again, going out in Pamplona is a lot different than Chapel Hill, considering we didn't even go out until 1. As far as I could tell there wasn't a last call in Spain and I know Gabe often gets home as late as 5 or 6 a.m. and it's nothing unusual. The bar itself wasn't anything too different than what you would see in Chapel Hill with two rooms and two bars and big-screen TVs with surfing movies in the background. What was different was the amount of languages you could make out over the dim roar of the bar. In addition to the nationalities I had already met, we ran into some of Gabe's friends, including Italians, Taiwanese, Dutch and some more Spaniards. It was a whirlwind night where I was kind of shifted from person to person before I could really talk to anyone (which was often an issue because of the language barrier anyway), but it was refreshing to see all those different types of people in one place. It's easy to remain in the Chapel Hill bubble and that's about as far out as you can get.

We left the club around 3 to take the walk back to his piso. It was then I realized the perks of traveling with a guy. Before when I had studied abroad, I had only traveled with girls and walking home at 3 a.m. from a club was not really a smart thing to do. Crazy Wednesday was a success, but we would also be paying for our fun the next morning when we got on the bus to head to San Sebastian (a gorgeous beach town that might have been my favorite part of the trip, but I still can't decide). Tune in for my next entry, where I will make you jealous of the amazing beach and will try to make lying on a beach for hours sound interesting.

posted 3/18/2009

Spring Break [Vol. 1]

If you've been wondering where your faithful blogger has been and dying to know what she's been up to, then your wait is over and your wondering will soon be answered. If you didn't even know I was gone, well then I should try to make myself more missable! I left for Spain on Monday and while I had plans to blog while I was across the Atlantic, I must admit I found some better ways to occupy my time. I'm going to use this blog to help me remember one of the best weeks of my life and to share with you what a senior such as I does on her last spring break. For this reason, I'm going to blog for a couple of days on this as I want to make sure not to leave anything out.

Monday started out innocently enough. I woke up early to get some cleaning and last minute packing in and to make use of my apartment pool. It was 80 degrees and I wanted to take advantage of it, not to mention I figured the folks in Spain had a head start on their tans and I didn't want to stick out too badly. Those genius plans were abruptly interrupted when I got a call from Continental Airlines around 11 am. The caller said something about rain and delays and problems, but my mind was too busy racing a mile a minute to really pay attention. All I heard was that I needed to get to the airport as soon as possible to catch an earlier flight to Newark. I took a fast shower, drug my roommate out of bed and told her to step on the gas and get me to RDU. "Wow you got here fast," the woman at the counter said. I had been having nightmares all month about my Spring Break plans following through, so I was not playing around. "You told me as soon as possible," I said. "So, that's what I did." They put me on the earliest flight possible and I left Raleigh four hours earlier than planed. The flight itself was pretty horrible because the man in front of me had the least amount of self-awareness of anyone I had ever encountered. He recapped his entire life for the guy next to him at a volume usually reserved for rock concerts. He was apparently going through a breakup from his fiancé and needed to vent, the only good part about it was that I wasn't the one sitting next to him. By the end of the flight I had learned how much money his father had in his 401K when he died and what small town his grandmother was from in Italy. Needless to say, I was ready to get off that flight. Though there was a cute moment when the kid behind me asked him mom, "Mommy, why was Tyler Hansbrough crying last night?" The cuteness of that question and the memories it brought back almost made me forgive the little guy for kicking my seat the entire time, almost.

So, that left me an extraordinary time to hang out in Newark, my least favorite airport to date, but at least I was going to get to Madrid on time.  As I was standing in line to board, the smile on my face was bordering on scary. I was just so excited to see Gabe and get my trip started after almost a month of anticipation. I tried to sleep on the flight there to dissuade jet lag, and though I slept a lot, it wasn't exactly a restful slumber. Luckily, there was no one sitting next to me (I didn't think that ever happened!) so I curled up in a ball across the seats. One mystery meat dinner and a couple of "House" episodes later, I had landed in Madrid and it was Tuesday morning.

Most of my nightmares and fears about the trip centered around something happening where Gabe would not be able to pick me up from the airport. I had no way of contacting him if that happened, so I was scared to be stranded in a foreign country with a far too heavy bag (did I mention I may have slightly over packed?) The plan was for him to pick me up in baggage claim and on my way to customs I could see through to the baggage area and no Gabe! My fears were going to be realized, I just knew it. Turns out, no one is allowed in the area except passengers and Gabe was waiting for me right outside the exit. I won't get into the details of the gushy reunion, but let's just say it was a hug well worth the wait.  Like a gentleman he carried my bag and didn't even make a comment about the weight of it. We were off to the train station to catch a ride to Pamplona (where he is studying for the semester.) We got to the train station around 10:15 am and the train left at 10:30. We weren't sure if we could make it, so we opted to take the next train that left around 3. We walked around the train station a bit which was actually pretty cool as far as train stations go because there was a man-made vegetation area in the middle with adorable turtles. But, you can only be entertained by such slow moving animals for so long, so it was back to the sitting and the waiting. The time didn't exactly fly by and it was hard to be patient when I was thinking of my whole trip ahead of me, but finally our train pulled up and we were off. Another three hours on the train where my jet lag kicked in and I tried to find a comfy position to sleep in. I finally found that position about 15 minutes from Pamplona, so my slumber was short lived.

A short taxi ride later and we arrived at Gabe's piso (Spanish for apartment) and after a little bit of chatting with his roommate, a nap was in order. Good thing Spaniards don't eat dinner ‘til late anyways. We left his apartment around 10 and headed to get some dinner. Food in Spain was one of my favorite parts of the trip, but since this post is running long, I'll end it with that. Next, comes the actual exciting details of my trip and not just the traveling logistics.

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