Monday, April 12, 2010

Forget Vicky and Cristina...this was Campbell Family Barcelona!

(Spanish family meets American family…lunch with Carmen!)

My dad has always been a do-it-himself kind of guy. Whether it be his insistence to take our whole family into northern Michigan backcountry every winter to chop down a Christmas tree, or his ability to catch, gut AND fillet a fish himself, he likes to feel self-sufficient. So, it was no surprise that before he left for Spain, he bought a ‘learn Spanish in 10 days’ audio kit—guaranteeing him all the essential skills needed for a 10-day vacation in Spain. Trying out a few of his favorite new phrases on me before they left (the main essentials being ‘Where is the bathroom?’ and ‘I’d like another glass of wine, please’), his progress (when not aided by google translator) seemed promising.

When I met my family in the airport of Sevilla however, it seemed any sense of Spanish confidence my dad had before leaving had immediately been shattered upon entering good old España. One of the first stories I heard was about a restaurant in the Madrid airport, where my dad attempted to order a milkshake. After it was clear the waitress didn’t speak English, my dad repeated, slower and more deliberately (and have no doubt, still in English), ‘MILLLLKK-SHAAAAAKE.’ The third time, he resorted to getting louder. Needless to say, upon arriving in Sevilla, he let me take over most of the talking, resorting to only ‘Sí’ ‘Gracias’ and his personal invention ‘perdito’ (his term of affection for everything and everyone.) I knew it was going to be an interesting vacation.

We spent our first 3 days in Sevilla—diving head first into the crazy Semana Santa activities, where the small winding streets are packed shoulder-to-shoulder with masses of elegantly dressed people watching the processions pass by. During Holy Week, each church in Sevilla (55 in total) puts on a procession, where they dress church members in Ku-Klux-Klan-like apparel (a Catholic tradition which symbolizes repentance and grief), design elaborate floats dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Jesus (some weighing over 4,000 pounds and carried by about 40 men), and march through the streets for up to 9 hours. Kids as young as 5 march in these processions (it’s quite the honor), and many of the older, braver participants walk barefoot (as an attempt to more closely emulate the hardships Jesus faced before his crucifixion.) Some processions start as early as 9am, and others don’t even end until 7am.

Apart from the processions, the Campbell family conquered all of Sevilla’s cultural landmarks, including lots of yummy meals and a much-needed morning of relaxation and massages at the Arab bathhouse. We continued onto Barcelona Easter Sunday, where we met Anne, and began our weeklong whirlwind of adventures. We made fast friends with the world-famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, as we toured the Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, and Park Guell, 3 of his most renowned projects. Gaudi's unique style seems to combine gothic art with elements straight out of Candy-Land, all the while producing a perfect harmony with the surrounding natural elements. We continued onto the '92 Olympic Stadium and the Picasso museum, where I surprisingly learned that Pablo was quite the ladies man (managed to have 7 mistresses throughout his life AND 'relations' with a 24-year old shortly after he turned 70! Who would have thought.) We finished off the week window shopping, relaxing on the beach, and dining at a 5-course dessert restaurant (where my lucky mother got the selection that came with both bacon AND beet ice creams…mmm mmm.)

I sadly said goodbye to my family and returned back to Sevilla yesterday, only to have spring break round two begin this Friday. I’ll be spending the week in Italy, and despite my lack of Italian skills, I figure that with pizza, pasta and gelato galore, one can’t really go wrong. The gordita’s about to make her reappearance Italian style.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oh, Portugal, That’s Where I Want to Go…

…To get away from it all. I know, I know, that’s not how the Beach Boys sing it. But Cocomo was too far away for a five-day spring break trip, so Spain’s friendly neighbor Lagos, Portugal had to suffice. Unfortunately, our 6 hour bus ride did not entail ‘getting there fast’, but as soon as we stepped foot in Lagos, we certainly were ‘taking it slow.’

Spring break while in Spain? It seemed too good to be true. It was a break from THE break. But nevertheless, 6 friends and I took advantage of our one-week vacation for Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla to soak up some sun on the gorgeous beaches of Portugal.

To put it simply, I fell in love with Lagos. The long stretches of sandy beaches and caves were perfect for relaxing and exploring during the day, and the center is packed with bustling little restaurants and bars for the nights. With a population of only 11,000, we were already running into people we recognized on just the second day. Unfortunately, this included our bartender from the night before who was prancing around the beach in a banana hammock, but let’s focus on the positive. This included…

1. Having my first real hostel experience! This particular hostel scored bonus points because we came the first weekend of the season, so they threw us a party with free sangria and Portuguese Easter cake (aka bread with a full hard-boiled 'easter' egg in the middle…including the shell. We found this out the hard way...) But all in all, hostels are the opposite of what I had ever thought before coming to Europe—they are clean, safe, and a great way to meet people from all over the world. The owners are also not people who want to cut you up and keep your eyeballs (thank you to the horror film Hostel.) The amount of traveling our fellow Hostel-ites had done made my list feel pretty inadequate, but it was inspiring at the same time. I now know that after conquering my first hostel, it will be far from my last. Let’s just say it was such a success that I left asking the owner if they’ll be hiring in Summer 2011.

2. Learning how to surf! And I stood up…3 times!! (picture proof below if you don’t believe me.)

Sunday afternoon, Chantel and I, along with 3 surfboards, wetsuits, and our new surf-instructor friends, crammed into a tiny station wagon, and set off on our surfing adventure. After a short road trip, we arrived in the most southern-west corner of Europe, and piled out of the car to see one of the most gorgeous views I’ve ever seen—the brilliantly blue Atlantic waves crashed up onto the cliffs, and where the sky ended, the ocean began. We practiced on the beach for awhile before even getting into the water, and after getting made fun of to no end for my insistence on keeping my hands out and pointed surfer-style (I guess that’s only in the movies…), we headed out. After my fair share of wipeouts and swallowing far too much saltwater, I finally got myself up. My last time was a record high of 5 whole seconds standing! (I know, I couldn’t believe it either.) I decided I didn’t want to curse my good luck, so I quit after that.

We reluctantly left Lagos, with big plans to return in May. Luckily, I left one adventure and continued right onto the next, as my family arrived in Sevilla the day I got back. We leave for Barcelona today and if you know my family at all, you know Campbell family vacations are sure to bring good (or at the very least, awkward) stories. Stay tuned for an update.