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By meaggymurphy

This last post from Spain was written from a bus between Pamplona and Madrid. I decided to spend the weekend getting a little more familiar with the capital, since I was only there for less than 24 hours the first day I arrived.

I think it's fitting to take the time to look back on the most important thing I learned during my very short 4 months away from GW. Of course, I learned a lot about how Spain operates, it's culture, it's language-the usual things that I'll be able to cite for family and friends when they ask how Pamplona is different from the U.S.
Those things are important, but not THE most important. My biggest "life lesson" has been to always chose the adventure over what you know. What you know will most likely be there when you come back, so why miss out? If you surround yourself on your adventure with people who truly care and have your best interest, there's no reason to second guess your decisions. I have been so lucky, literally from day 1, to have found "guardian angels" in the people that have surrounded me throughout my experiences. People who have opened up their homes, or patiently explained the way things work, or were simply there for me as friends. I think the biggest reason I'm not afraid to take opportunities or have new experiences is because I know I have great people to fall back on if/when I need them.
In the end, studying in Spain has been everything I wanted, and then some. I chose the adventure and I feel content that I'll go home knowing it was a success. It's a little strange to say, but I feel proud of myself. I didn't break down and go running home (it would have been a long run) or waste a single minute missing the safety and comfort of GW. I packed a lot of adventure into this semester, and lived every second of it. Lesson learned!

By meaggymurphy

In the midst of exam study time, I would like to step back and take a moment to make a brief list of all of the things that I have been lucky for so far in my time in Pamplona (Also, this can serve as this year's Thanksgiving "What I am Thankful For" speech that never was). It's nice, every once in awhile, to remind myself of some of the ways that the universe has treated me well/how I have luckily dodged bullets over the past few months.

1. Choosing to study in Pamplona: I got lucky picking "Pamps" (as I affectionately call it) over another city in Spain because it it the perfect place for study abroad; it's not too big or overwhelming, it's got rich history/traditions, it's very authentically "Spanish" (no Starbucks here!), and it's surrounded by beautiful scenery. I gambled a little coming here, but in the end it was a bet that paid off.

2. My housing situation: I feel so lucky that I ended up rooming with three really great girls who are fun, understanding, helpful, and genuinely friendly roommates. I can't imagine how my experience would have been had they been any different.

3. My professors: Although taking classes in Spanish can sometimes be intimidating (presentations and class participation in a foreign language, or any language for that matter, is intimidating!), I definitely feel that I have a great group of understanding professors. Luckily, they all seem to have in mind that I'm here to learn the language and the culture in addition to the textbook material, so they have been very accommodating and always available to answer questions.

4. My health: Apart from one case of food poisoning (never again will I look at Salmon Pizza the same), I have been very fortunate (knock on wood- I've still got over a week to go) to not contract any dire illnesses or break any bones. This is lucky because a)no one likes feeling sick while away from home and b)going to the doctor is an experience I'd rather not have. I guess a pincho a day keeps the doctor away!

5. Spanish culture: One of my favorite parts of this experience has been the opportunity to feel a part of Spanish culture. I've gotten to stop and smell the roses, and I think that this is something that should not be underestimated in importance or impact. I decided to come to Spain for a lot of reasons, but one of the best and most surprising things I've gotten out of study abroad is a different life view that I am lucky to take home with me. I owe Spain a huge thank you for that.

6. My friends: This is last but most certainly not least. Actually, I could write endlessly about them, but I'll keep it short and sweet. I think there must be something in the water here; Pamplona seems to have a high concentration of people with great personalities who have appeared in my life specifically to be their awesome selves and teach me a lot. I've been blown away by how quickly and effortlessly people have welcomed me into their lives, as well as how easily they have become a part of mine. I've gotten to have classes, conversations, experiences, and travels with some of the best people on planet Earth during my time here. They get the biggest shout-out of them all!

By meaggymurphy

Blurb: Coffee is one of those things that exists all around the world but tastes different everywhere you go. Spain is no exception, and I've learned a little during my time here about the basic varieties that you'll find in cafes around the country. More than learning the difference between a café solo and a café suizo, I've learned to like the flavor. At first it wasn't easy, but as soon as I stopped looking for the nearest Starbucks, I found myself embracing the way the Spanish do coffee. Keep reading for an account of a coffee-lover's adventures getting her coffee-fix in Spain's cafes! #coffee #cafe #GWU #GWAbroad

I will admit that I was once one of those people who said that they would never drink coffee. I said this throughout high school, when I was young, naive, tea-loving, and unaware of the amazing deliciousness that is a cup of coffee. I was also ignorant of the fact that caffeine is nature's gift to students. Long story short, I jumped off my high horse and into Juan Valdez/Dunkin Donuts/Starbucks (in that order) after my first month in college.

At home, I'm a fan of a strong cup of basic coffee, nothing with flavors that sound more like Ben & Jerry's ice cream varieties than coffee. Coming to Spain, I've gotten used to a whole new coffee language that, thankfully, doesn't include anything called a Cinnamon Dolce Frappuccino. Here, you have café solo, café cortado, and café con leche.

I'll start with the café solo, which is Spanish code for a little espresso shot. If you feel the need to be extra on edge, you can order a café double, which is a double espresso shot. I tend to shy away from ordering these because, well, I don't really have the patience to sip on a coffee that I could easy drink in one swig.

Café cortado is a café solo with a little bit of milk added. The difference between a cortado and a café con leche is the amount of milk; ordering the latter will get you about a 50:50 ratio, while ordering the former is more like 80:20. The theme here is café solo plus differing amounts of milk equals different types of coffee. For example, café manchada is a glass of milk with a dash of coffee for flavor (10:90, I think).

These three types are the most common from what I've seen, but you also get varieties like café americano and café suizo. The americano is café solo with water added and is probably the closest thing Spain has to a "typical" American cup of coffee. However, I try not to order this type because it seems too clichéd, the Americana ordering an americano. Café suizo is café solo with some whipped cream on top. "Suizo" is how you say "Swiss" in Spanish, and it makes sense that they named a coffee that resembles a snow-covered mountaintop after Switzerland. With this logic, what does that say about America if an americano is watery coffee? I'm not sure the implications here are good...

At first, I felt the coffee culture shock whenever I went to get my fix and left slightly frustrated by a coffee that was too milky/watery/small compared to what I was used to. I think I'm pretty easy-going when it comes to culture shock- I don't like to waste time thinking wistfully about foods and traditions I miss about America or trying to recreate them abroad. Coffee was the one exception to this rule because I was always trying to find ways to get my hands on an American-style coffee. However, I have recently decided that instead of constantly searching for a cup of coffee that's like what I'd receive at Dunkin Donuts (which actually exist in this region of Spain under the crafty name "Duffin Dagels"), I should embrace Spanish café. It may be mostly milk and pint-sized, but it's delicious.

Even more than being good, I know I'll always associate the flavor of a café con leche with Pamplona and spending a couple afternoon hours in one of the city's cafes. Good memories definitely make it easy to savor a cup of café español. And to think, I once said I'd never drink it- I had obviously never tried a good Spanish coffee before!

By meaggymurphy

Blurb:My first stop in Portugal has already taught me a lot about Portuguese culture. The positive experience I've had in Porto has surprised me in a lot of ways, especially concerning the people I've met in the country's second largest city. Travelling can be tiring, stressful, and confusing, but in Portugal it hasn't felt like any of these things thanks to the nice people I've had the privilege of meeting along the way. The people are amazing, the food is great, and the city is beautiful- What more could I ask for?

People are nice. That is what I have learned from Portugal so far.  I'm writing this entry from a train between Porto and Lisbon. I made it on the train thanks to some strangers, who offered to call me a cab and then waited with me for it to come so they could be sure the driver got the right directions. It's been like this in every single encounter I've had with the Portuguese. You stop someone to ask for directions, and everyone within a 10 foot radius has to join in with their own opinions and recommendations. The waiters become your friends and joke around with you.

Another great thing about Portugal is that even if you don't speak Portuguese, the language is very similar to Spanish. It's really bizarre to have a conversation between two people, one speaking Spanish and the other speaking Portuguese, that can be productive and understandable.
I would like to take a moment in this post to reflect upon the deliciousness of Portuguese food. Half of the time I'm about 50% sure of what I've ordered, but 100% of the time it has been delicious. Porto is on the coast, and they have great fish dishes of salted cod and salmon, as well as shrimp and crab soups. I've noticed that the food is spicier than typical Spanish food as well. And the desserts! Again, I haven't ever really been sure what I'm getting myself into, but generally everything has tasted even better than it's looked.
Portugal is exceeding my expectations so far. It's so close to Spain that it seemed like a no-brainier to come, but I hadn't really considered how awesome of an experience it would be until I arrived. And despite being close to Spain, it's different in many noticeable and interesting ways. Right now on the train, I've seen beautiful ocean views and small, white-washed towns with palm trees and orange roofs. Before I left Spain, a friend of mine who is originally from Lisbon literally made me a PowerPoint (complete with photos) of all the things I should see and do when I'm in the city. I was amazed that she had taken the time to make me something so detailed and helpful, and now that I'm here, I see that she comes from a culture of people who don't mind taking the time to be nice.

By meaggymurphy

Blurb: Most of us get a little nervous before a big presentation in front of our peers/coworkers. This past week, I gave a presentation that was the culmination of lots of research and hard-work, and I think it's safe to say I was nervous. Luckily, there is a happy ending to this story. Also, I got to be reminded of the greatest feeling in the world: walking out of a room after giving a presentation and realizing that you're allowed to breathe again. #GWU #GWAbroad #finals #publicspeaking

The end of the semester, be it at home or abroad, always seems to bring projects and exams along with it. This semester has been no exception, and I have had a series of presentations that started last week and will continue until next week. One of these presentations, for my hardest class entitled "Communication for Development," took place last Thursday and I am over-the-moon happy that it is over, for many reasons.

Firstly, this specific project began in August, a.k.a. about 3 months ago. We were given the task of investigating any topic relevant to communication and media within or relating to the developing world. Luckily, this type of topic is what interests me as an International Affairs major concentrating on International Development and minoring in journalism. I was extremely lucky in that I happened to pick group members who were equally as interested in and dedicated to this type of research as myself. Also, I found two groups members who were very patient with my constant flow of questions (What type of font should I use here? How does one reserve library books? ¿Cómo se dice...?).

In August we began researching media coverage of the chemical attacks in Syria, specifically comparing two Spanish newspaper, El País and El Punt/Avui. We started by analyzing all of the articles about Syria that were published between two specific dates, using a number code to label variables like the type author, the section, and the theme of the article. It was definitely a lot more numbers than I was expecting, and after collecting all of the data, we entered it into a computer spreadsheet and analyzed it. In the end, we had read and analyzed 97 articles.

The conclusions we drew from the study were pretty interesting; for example, El Punt/Avui (which is a newspaper from the region of Cataluña) published more photos with more violent/realistic themes than El País (the largest newspaper in Spain). This was surprising and went against one of our early hypotheses. So, after going through the process of reading, numbering, analyzing, and writing a report came the fun part: the presentation.

I don't really know anyone who loves doing presentations. I certainly don't, but I also don't over-stress about them. This presentation, however, was different. It was in Spanish, which made it more intimidating. Also, after so many hours of working on the report and the presentation itself over the course of 3 months, I didn't want to be the one to screw it up.

So Thursday came, and the first group had done their presentation, and next it was my group's turn. We got up and did the presentation, and 15 minutes after showing all of our graphs and charts and explaining our methodology and conclusions, a project that started when it was still hot and sunny out was finished. It felt amazing to be done, and even more amazing that the professor liked our project.

I don't think I'll ever be afraid to give a presentation again. Talking about something technical in another language was daunting, but I did it and it went well! And luckily I didn't stutter or trip and fall or forget what to say/how to breathe.

By meaggymurphy

Blurb:  Visiting a castle is a pretty decent want to spend a day, and I was lucky enough to get to go see an unexpectedly beautiful castle here in Navarra this past weekend. The fall foliage and beautiful weather made the experience that much more enchanting. The town where this castle is hidden, Olite, was also charming and definitely a hidden gem of the region. The only things that were missing from the experience were the dragons and Gandolf. #medieval #palace #spain #daytrip #GWU #GWAbroad

This past weekend, I got to see two things I love: my friend Sara (who is currently studying in Barcelona) and more of the countryside surrounding Pamplona. When Sara visited, we decided to go visit a nearby town called Olite, about a half hour away from where I live. Bus rides around this region of Spain are painless because of how pretty the mountains and roadside towns are; especially now that it's fall, the colors are changing from sunny greens and yellows to rustic golds and reds.

Once we got to Olite, we decided to stroll around and get situated in the little town. We entered a souvenir shop (where it's always ok to be a tourist) and asked where the center of town and restaurants were. The girl working behind the desk laughed a little and said, "This is it!" Apparently we were already in the middle of the town, which consisted of a plaza, the souvenir shop, a couple restaurants, and town hall. So, first thing's first, we sat down at a table in the plaza belonging to one of the restaurants and ordered some lunch.

After lunch, the next stop was the Palacio Real of Olite. At first, Sara and I almost made the HUGE mistake of being deterred by the entrance fee of 2 euros (later, we marveled at everything we had come so close to missing out on). Thankfully, we decided to go in. I had never really realized that I had never been in a legitimate medieval castle, unless you count Cinderella's Castle in Disney World, which I admittedly did before this visit.

This castle was built between the 13th and 14th centuries by King Charles III "The Noble" of Navarra. It's a Gothic palace, with geometric decorations over windows and spiral staircases leading up to one of two towers that overlook the town and the mountains. It's known for the disorder of it's design, but I thought it was more whimsical than unorganized. My favorite part of the whole palace was a square courtyard surrounded by a covered walkway with tall Gothic windows that allow you to see into the garden in the center. However, this wasn't the best part of the courtyard. The most enchanting part was the vines surrounding the walkway because they were bright, florescent red. After seeing all this, Sara and I were kicking ourselves for having almost not gone into the palace. It was one of the most beautiful things I've seen since arriving here in Spain. It get like walking onto the set of Game of Thrones or into a scene from Lord of the Rings.

After running around the Palace for a while, it was time to head back to Pamplona. Looking back afterwards at the pictures we took, I still can't get over how pretty it all was. Everything was perfect- the weather, the castle, the views, and being able to go with my friend made it one of my favorite days! I've written about hidden gems before, and I'll do it again. They're the best because, like the Palacio Real de Olite, they're surprising and always exceed expectations. And, it's never a bad way to spend a day feeling like a medieval princess.

By meaggymurphy

The border between France and Spain is less than an hour from Pamplona, so I knew I wouldn't be able to leave without taking at least one trip there. I got my chance last weekend, and it definitely expanded my view of Spain and the region I live in.
The friends who I went with thought it was the funniest thing ever that I had brought my passport to cross the border... How was I supposed to know that there is zero border control to enter France from Spain?! The ease at which people can move between the two countries surprised me, but it explains the influence that France has had on northern Spain, as well as that of Spain on southern France.
Upon arrival in Biarritz, France, everyone seemed to speak both French and Spanish. The city itself is a picturesque town situated by the ocean, and reminded me of San Sebastian (in northern Spain) for its architecture and vacation-y feel. The restaurant we stopped in for lunch was serving gazpacho and paella, which are definitely Spanish inventions. The second city we visited, Saint Jean de Luz, was similar in that it was a sunny, charming resort town by the beach.
Despite the similarities I saw between this region of southern France and Spain, I was still able to have my French experience. We stopped for crepes, and I refused to reenter Spain without first buying real French macaroons (this caused us a bit of a detour, but our persistence in the search of macaroons was not in vain, and I returned to Pamplona with a bag of the bright, multi-colored sweets). One of my friends speaks French, so she was appointed Designated Translator and I was able to ask her what everything meant. At one point, we were sitting in a square and realized how quiet it was, despite being full of people. Looking around, everyone was sitting at little cafe tables, contentedly having an espresso or leisurely reading a newspaper or eating a crepe. One guy was even wearing a beret! I don't think I've ever seen a scene so stereotypically French in my life. It was nice to sit there in the midst of so much Frenchness and walk away from it hoping to have soaked up some of the calm classiness of it all.
We spent the day strolling around the streets, window shopping and walking by the water. We stumbled upon a wedding party outside of a church, an outdoor concert, and little parks and monuments throughout both cities. It was a very relaxing day of exploring, and I was glad to have gone not at the height of tourist season. It was beautiful, and seeing how close Pamplona and France really are helped me to understand a bit more about the French influences in northern Spain. At the end of the day, I got to check off "Go to France" from my bucket list, although I hope that it won't be my first and only visit!

By meaggymurphy

Barcelona was definitely not the same Spain that I have gotten to know in Pamplona. I knew it would be different as soon as I got there when the first sign I read was in Spanish and Catalán. The architecture of the city was also very different from any city I've seen since arriving here; between the huge marble buildings, the Gaudí houses, and the giant palace sitting on top of Montjüic, I kept having "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Pamplona anymore" moments. I hadn't realized how used to small-city life I'd become until I realized how different I felt seeing everything in the big city.

My other first impression of everything was the Barcelona has a style uniquely its own. Kids walk around with dreadlocks and tattoos, and cafes play tons of rock and indie music. That's to say I saw an alternative culture there that is definitely not the norm in Pamplona. Also, protesting seems to be a favorite pastime of the people living there. There were no shortage of protests over the Catalán independence movement, and that just contributed to a very rebellious vibe that I found throughout the city.
Barcelona also surprised me by how international it is. In the hostel where I stayed, I got to meet tons of people from all over the world. The other thing I realized about Barcelona very quickly is that is a lot more aggressive than what I've become used to. There are tons of crowds, lots of noise, always someone protesting or trying to sell you something. Barcelona, at least after spending time in the relative calmness of a northern Spanish city, was a bit of a reverse culture shock. It was like being in New York, with all the tourists and hugeness, except Spanish-style.
The best part of being in Barcelona was reuniting with friends from GW- some of whom study there, others who study elsewhere in Spain, and even one friend who came all the way from London (which isn't actually that far when you aren't thinking on American terms, I've come to realize). Of all the things I saw, my favorite was a nighttime fountain light show that happens in from of the National Palace every night. The fountain is coordinated to lights and music, and the view of the show with the huge palace in the background was unforgettable. Ah, wait! I also really liked the Park Güell, with all of Gadí's whimsical architecture woven in with the nature surrounding it. And there was also his Sagrada Familia, which was definitely the most unique and impressive (and also least churchy) church I've ever been in. I loved seeing all of Gaudí's works throughout the city because I felt like he left little pieces of his genius behind in every detail of one of his sculptures and every piece of one of his mosaics.
The other thing I liked about Barcelona (which is also something that I really like about Spain, to be honest) is that no one needs an excuse to get together with friends, eat good food, enjoy oneself, and ya está. For example, one day we took a free tour (props to my friend for finding an awesome free tour service) and just happened upon a huge wine/food/ham festival (ham gets its own category, but that is another post for another day) outside of the Barcelona Cathedral. Or at night, every terrace and cafe in the city is full of people and music. For me, that was the best part about Barcelona; it never sleeps, but it never sleeps because everyone is having too much fun. That's what a siesta is for, after all!

By meaggymurphy

I'm learning that hidden gems are the best part of living in this region of Spain. I often get the feeling that people overlook northern Spain... It's not bustling Madrid, international Barcelona, or sunny Seville. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by how much Navarra has to offer. One small example of a hidden gem I recently uncovered is called the Necedero del río Urederra in the Parque Natural Urbasa Andía.

The Necedero del río Urederra in the Parque Natural Urbasa Andía

One of my friends recent ly acquired a car, which opens up a whole range of possibilities as far as traveling around the region goes. Along with another friend, we decided to take the 40 minute drive to this national park that allegedly had a beautiful, crystal-clear river called Urederra. It felt nice to drive into the mountains (but not so nice once we started climbing the winding roads and I realized I had the misfortune of being in the backseat, a.k.a. the whiplash seat). Once we arrived, it was a short walk through a little, mountainside town of about 20 adobe houses to arrive at the park entrance. At this point, we were joking nervously about how the weather looked like it was about to change for the worst and we were stuck without an umbrella. We decided to chance it, and I'm glad we did.

The walk consisted of a dirt pathway winding through the trees, with sweeping views of mountains and valleys before the forest became more dense. Soon the trees broke and we were looking down upon the most breathtaking river I've ever seen. It was a shade of blue, luminescent and clear, that I didn't know existed outside of the Caribbean. As if the color wasn't enough, there was also a waterfall cascading over the rocks. At first, myself and the two other girls were speechless; as soon as we could talk, we couldn't stop gushing over how beautiful it was!

Continuing on, every view of the river Urederra was more picturesque than the last. Trees growing on the riverbanks extended their roots into the turquoise water, and we could see clearly the rock formations arranged under the crystal cover of water. We stopped and had a picnic (my friends had packed me an extra sandwich, which I thought was really sweet!) and took it all in. Places like the Nacedero del Urederro, which are so unexpectedly and naturally beautiful, kind of temporarily stun you by how perfect they are.

I joked that I would build myself a little cabin right next to the river, and I was only half kidding because I can't think of a better view to wake up to every morning! After a couple hours of continuing down this path (and encountering surprisingly few other visitors), we reluctantly decided to head back to the car. In almost no time, I was back at my apartment, still in shock over the beauty of everything we'd seen.

This day trip was definitely my favorite that I've taken so far here in Spain; I got to see a place that exceeded all of my expectations with great company, and in the end it didn't even rain! I left Urederra feeling extremely lucky. I felt lucky to have found this hidden gem, lucky to have found good friends to share these experiences with, and, most of all, lucky to live here in Navarra!

By meaggymurphy

The best parts of studying abroad are the firsts- first visit to a new city, first conversation after meeting someone new, first time trying a new food. The "firsts" and the "newness" of everything is exciting, especially the firsts that you don't see coming. My favorite, and perhaps most unexpected, "first" since arriving here in Spain has been the addition of a PUPPY to the apartment where I live (I say PUPPY because it's super exciting and deserves to be in all caps).

One of my roommates decided that she was ready to become the proud owner of a dog and went out and bought one.  Luckily, myself and the two other girls I live with are dog people. Or, at least, I was pretty sure I was a dog person, having only ever owned cats in my life. Hence, the big "first" of living with a dog.

Curro, the cutest dog in Pamplona

The dog's name is Curro, which can either mean "work" or "cocky." It's kind of a cheeky name, but it suits the little guy. He's extremely playful and adorable, but also a lot of work. For example, he's not exactly potty-trained yet, and his favorite activity is taking paper out of the trashcan and ripping it to shreds in the living room. But just when you're about to get angry, he looks at you and tilts his head to one side as if to say, "What? I'm a puppy, I'm too young to know better!" So I usually end up chastising him and quickly going back to thinking he's the cutest thing ever. He knows it, and prances off to find something to chew on or a new hidden corner to do his "business" in.

Curro is, without a doubt, the most popular dog in Pamplona. When my roommates and I go to have a coffee at the cafe across the street, he always comes and all the students returning from classes at the university stop to say hello. Curro sits patiently in everyone's laps and allows himself to be petted and fawned over. It's a hard life, obviously. He'll probably end up being the most spoiled dog in all of Spain, between living with four girls and constantly receiving attention from everyone. But he's just so darn cute!

In addition to being cute, he is extremely intelligent. We have decided that he will learn all of his tricks in English and Spanish, in an effort to stimulate him intellectually. I have been given the task of teaching him English, and he is a very adept student. I'm sure he'll be bilingual in no time.

Curro (though technically not my dog, but we can pretend since we live in the same apartment) is my favorite "first" that I have experienced so far in Spain. I am now positive that I am a dog person, but even more than that, I'm a Curro person.