Celebrating the Holidays in Bilbao

Once November 1st hits, it seems like all the sudden there are Thanksgiving and Christmas ads and reminders everywhere in the United States. Holiday spirit is always in the air, with Christmas music being played everywhere and people gearing up for the winter holiday season. Well, this year, I obviously have not been in the United States for this. I didn’t really even experience fall the way I’m used to it, because Bilbao has such a moderate climate that there is still greenery everywhere. I also have yet to see any snow here in Spain which is also not a surprise to me. What does crack me up though, is how once the temperature drops below 60 degrees here, people are in all out winter gear…like I mean pouffy, knee length winter coats, scarfs that are almost big enough to be a blanket, and boots that could track through a snow blizzard. 

Spain, however, has it’s own holiday spirit. It isn’t the same as the United States, and in my opinion the differences don’t make it any better or worse than in the US, it’s just different. For starters, Spain doesn’t have Thanksgiving. I mean that’s pretty obvious. Not sure why any other country would celebrate the Mayflower sailing over and whatever the rest of the story is (history isn’t my strong suite lol). But despite there being no Thanksgiving here, my American friends and I decided to have a friendsgiving! You don’t realize how easy the US makes it to buy Thanksgiving ingredients until you start shopping for Thanksgiving ingredients in Spain. In the US, the grocery stores usually pile them all in an aisle, but here in Spain, it’s impossible to find certain ingredients. POR EJEMPLO, for Thanksgiving, one of the dishes I was in charge of was sweet potato casserole. What usually goes on top of sweet potato casserole? White marshmallows. Emphasis on the word “white”. Spain doesn’t have plain white marshmallows, not even in the Corte Ingles grocery store (the grocery store that carries more american food, most notorious for it’s peanut butter). So I had to improvise…Image

Two bags of “Chamallows” shaped like Smurfs, a large pair of cooking scissors and about 20 minutes, and I finally had white marshmallows! Other than that small hurdle, our friendsgiving was a huge success and one of my favorite nights thus far in Bilbao. We all invited our flatmates and friends, and for most of the people there, it was their first “Thanksgiving”! My favorite part of the evening was when we went around in a circle and everyone said what they were thankful for. Most people spoke in their native tongue, and even though I couldn’t understand everything, everyone was saying, it was still a really cool moment. Because we have friends from Spain, France, Italy, Great Britain and the USA, there were a bunch of different languages being spoken the whole night and I loved it. Although it was my first Thanksgiving away from my family, that night I found that I had made a new family in Bilbao :). 

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On the US’s “Black Friday”, I did see something really interesting in Spain. I was up early, grabbing a coffee before school at a cafe where they always play the news in the morning. Anyways, I saw an interesting story on the US’s “Black Friday”, and I have to say, it was a litttttle embarrassing. From the outside, in other countries, Black Friday looks dumb. People shivering in lines at 2am, waiting to get something a little cheaper after eating a huge dinner. Lol. NO PUEDO.

Anyways, shortly after friendsgiving, on December 1st, the holiday spirit came to life in Bilbao with lights up all over the city! There are trees up in Indauxtu and Casco Viejo, with shimmering lights on the main shopping street, Gran Via, and beautiful lights draped along all the streets in all the neighborhoods of Bilbao. Image

Seeing the lights around the city really got me in the holiday spirit! Not to mention that the first weekend of December was a Puente weekend, aka 3 day weekend, so I didn’t have school on Friday. Two of my friends and I jetted off to Madrid for the weekend! After experience the Christmas markets in Madrid and their holiday season, I’ve been back in Bilbao comparing it. I went out into the city yesterday with my friend to check out the Christmas markets here. Well, that was a fail because we forgot about the siesta! But we did end up making it to a few after the siesta was over and for the most part, they are pretty similar to Madrid. Less people and less variety, but all in all, the same things. Lots of jewelry, leather, scarfs, bread, chocolate, etc. Along with checking out the markets and lights, no Christmas season would be complete without a white elephant gift exchange and a party! Last night, I got together with my friends for our Christmas party!Image

There were a lot of funny moments during the evening. With different languages being spoken, there is always miscommunications and mispronunciations and it always gives everybody a few laughs. One of the food highlights (all the food was great) was my Italian friend’s Tiramisu. So so so good. I fell asleep dreaming about it. My flatmate is also Italian and I have come to the conclusion that Italian people get an extra cooking gene that nobody else gets, so there food will always be better and there is nothing you can do about it. 

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I obviously do not have any complaints about this holiday season in Bilbao. I think I’m finally settled here and am not experiencing culture shock anymore (I mean, I still have my moments lol). And, it’s hard to not enjoy being somewhere as beautiful as Basque Country where you can go on a morning jog in December, in 65 degree weather, along the coast and have this as the view….

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Ejercicio en Espana vs. Estados Unidos

So the first thing I did in Spain (even before opening a bank account or getting a metro card) was join a gym. Throughout college, I always found myself at the gym late at night (shout out to OSU for having gyms open until 2am!) and running half and full marathons at least once a year. So I knew once I got to Spain, I wanted to keep working out. I’ve been here for almost two months, which has given me enough time to try a few different workout classes and spend enough hours at the gym to really notice some differences. So here’s my top 5 differences between gyms in Spain and gyms in the US that I’ve noticed. 

1. Locker rooms: In the US, people are more private in the locker rooms. Here in Spain, women literally have conversations in the locker room completely naked and it doesn’t phase them.

2. Cleaning machines: In the US, after you are done using any machine the first thing you usually do is head over to grab a wipe to clean it. Here, nobody cleans machines after they are done using them. There isn’t even the option to clean the machine after, as there are no paper towels or wipe dispensers anywhere.

3. Metric system: This is obvious, but I totally didn’t think about it before I came. The weights are in kilograms and the treadmills are in kilometers/hour. The first day I walked into the gym and went to get free weights, I stood in front of them for a solid 5 minutes picking them up to see how they felt to me lol.

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4. Cycling classes: The cycling classes here are awesome! It’s like being in a discoteca. The instructor is like a DJ. They mix different songs together but also change the lighting throughout the class. There is literally a disco ball in the middle and it is awesome!!! In the US, in the cycling classes I have taken, the instructor leads you through different hills or intervals and motivates you. However, here, the instructor leads you through different songs. For example, there will be a song with a faster beat, so you pedal faster, etc. It’s really cool and makes the class go by quickly. Most of the music is also American, which is nice for me. So even if I don’t understand everything the instructor is saying, I can understand the music :)

5. Equality: In the US, especially at the gyms at OSU, there is always a clear divide: girls are more in the cardio area and guys are in the weight area. Here, it’s equal. It’s nice because at OSU when I would go to the gyms, I literally never went to the weight area because all the bros were there and it was honestly intimidating. But here, it’s fine. I don’t feel out of place if I want to lift weights (which I don’t really like to do anyways lol but if the rare occasion comes where I want to lift a little, it’s fine).

I’ve also been trying different fitness classes and I will say that I took a yoga class and it was the most unrelaxing yoga class of my life because I had no idea what I was doing–not because I’ve never taken yoga, but it was sooo hard in another language! I can understand conversational spanish when people are speaking directly to me, but following the instructor in the class was a mess! As I’m still learning spanish, I still need it to be spoken slowly and clearly to understand, but in yoga classes it’s too hard to hear the instructor. I’m not kidding when I say everyone was in a downward facing dog and I was like 5 poses behind. The lost American in a class of Spaniards….that was me lol. So I think I stick to classes based on music, like cycling and zumba, until my spanish gets better!

But I have noticed that exercise is a priority here in Spain (specifically, Basque Country, not sure about the rest of Spain). In Bilbao there are bicycle trails along the roads and sidewalks and many people run and cycle along the river every night. Also, every fitness class I’ve ever been to at the gym is completely filled. While everyone here enjoys partying and going out, I’ve noticed that most people equally enjoy exercise and staying fit! 

The Spain Struggle

I haven’t been keeping up with the blog for a multitude of reasons. A few being that I’ve made some living changes, gone on a few trips to other cities, picked up teaching private lessons, all of which have left me with not too much free time. The main reason, however, is that I haven’t really felt like posting another blog post about a cool city I visited or how awesome living abroad is. Because sometimes, living abroad really isn’t that awesome.

So here it goes; my first post that doesn’t make my life seem like a fairytale. If you follow me on Instagram, it looks like a float around, trying new foods, drinking lots of wine and exploring European cities, which is true. But what I don’t post about is the times where I am struggling at the police station to get my residency card, or the times I am sprinting for the bus to commute to work in the rain, or the times where I head out into the city and realize it’s the siesta so everything is closed. Those times are what I like to call The Spain Struggle. I think The Spain Struggle has become more evident lately, as my honeymoon stage with Spain is officially over. The glamour of living abroad has worn off and I’ve quickly realized that living abroad is very different from traveling abroad.

Somebody posted this picture in the Auxiliares de Conversacion Facebook group under a discussion thread about “How to Battle Homesickness”, and I instantly realized I was living this picture:culture adaptation

If you every talked to me before I left for my trips, I had so many ups and downs it was uncountable. One day, I would be so excited for Spain and the next I was thinking “What the hell am I doing?”. Then, I arrived and Bilbao and it was amazing! New friends, new foods, cheap wines, traveling, the beach, etc…what could be better? I was in the honeymoon stage, and it lasted a solid month. What a great month it was! I went to Vitoria, San Sebastian, Paris (will write about it soon) and even wrote about my favorite things about Basque Country! So what’s my problem now? Why am I out of the honeymoon stage?

Well, it’s because the first month, I felt like a tourist. For me, traveling has always been a short term thing, knowing I was going to arrive back home in Ohio after “x” amount of days/weeks. While I did move away for college, I was only an hour and a half from home, so I could easily drive home for the weekend, or even night, if I wanted to. But here, I am across the Atlantic ocean, in another country. I can tell I’m experiencing culture shock because suddenly, I feel more American than ever. I want peanut butter and a coffee to go and jimmy johns to deliver and soy milk…..

Anyways, The Spain Struggle is definitely real, but I’ve learned the best way to combat it is to think of everything as less of a struggle and more of an adventure. Maybe I did have to go out of my way to San Sebastian to get my NIE card, but I also discovered an adorable cafe and spoke with the barista (in Spanish!) who encouraged me to move to San Sebastian this summer. I’ve also learned that while it is important to try to adapt to the other culture, it is okay to have days where I just want to watch Netflix, in English, all day and only talk to my American friends and hug people when I meet them instead of doing the “European kissing both cheeks” thing. Like everything else in life, adaptation takes time and is a process.

Thankfully, I do have American friends here in Bilbao that make me feel like everything I’m feeling isn’t crazy, and my friends and family at home in Ohio are amazingly supportive and make me feel like I never left when I speak with them. Even though some days feel like I’m taking two steps back and one step forward, I am learning to embrace the set backs and just allowing myself the time I need to adapt. I guess that’s one thing I have in common with Spaniards, giving myself as much time as I need. They always say here “calm” or “don’t worry”. So I guess in some ways, I’m adapting to the culture more than I think :) 

Top 5 Things About Basque Country (so far!)

So I’ve been here for less than 2 weeks, but I’m already really enjoying being in Basque Country! It seems like I’ve been here longer than I have, but I’m getting into the swing of things. I feel like I’ve done so much in the 11 days I’ve been here. I’ve been to the coast of Spain, Vitoria, gone out in different neighborhoods in Bilbao, spent time in countless cafes, and even made a few friends (woo!). Since I’m clearly such an expert now (11 days living some where makes you an expert, right?), here’s my top 5 things about Bilbao so far (and they all start with P because I thought that would be cool**): 

1. People: Before I came here, I read that people in northern Spain weren’t as friendly as the ones in other parts of Spain. From my experience, everyone has been SO helpful and friendly in Bilbao and around Basque Country. My spanish isn’t very great, and there have been a few times in the city where I’ve been trying to do something on my own (like opening a bank account, finding a store to unlock my phone) and even though I was speaking in Spanglish, people were more than happy to help me. A guy at a store even drew me out a map of Bilbao and told me where all the stores that unlocked phones were and how to get there. I was a little nervous that northern Spain would be similar to Italy for me, but it has been the complete opposite.

2. Pinxtos: No words necessary.5things1

3. Plazas: I love the plazas throughout the city. During the day, people take their morning breaks in the plazas and walk through them to get to work. During the night, they are filled with people of all ages drinking and enjoying themselves. The other night, we went out in Casco Viejo to Plaza Nuevo. Plaza Nuevo is a big square plaza, surrounded by bars. There were people in their twenties like me, but also older people, babies and even dogs at the bars. It was so fun to bar hop in the plaza, and be able to take your copa de vino with you  (no open container law in Spain!).

4. Public Transportation: There are multiple ways to get wherever, whenever in the city. There’s a tram, tons of bus routes, a (really, really clean) metro and a train. Also, Bilbao isn’t that big so you can walk pretty much anywhere within 15-30 minutes. But if you don’t want to walk or want to go to another town, it’s so easy to hop on the metro or take a bus. Everything is also really well labeled.

5. Places: There are so many cool places around Bilbao and within Bilbao itself. Bilbao has different parts of town, like Casco Viejo, Duesto, Indauxtu, that all have different things to offer. You can take the metro from the city and be on the coast within 30 minutes for less than 2 euros. Or you can stay in Bilbao and sight see at the Guggenheim, visit a plaza, walk along the river, shop, take the funicular for a city view, go to a cafe etc. It’s a really cultural city to be in and a really unique part of Spain! I can’t wait to keep exploring! 5things2Instagram

After my adventure in Spain is over, I’ll make another top 5 (or 10 list) and see if things have changed! Adios! 

[**Side note: If wine began with a p, that would have been on the list too. Pwine isn’t a word though. :( ]