As the fall lingered on, I realized just how homesick I really was. I worked such long hours this summer, and I left the states for Europe in such a hurry, I felt I hadn’t properly said goodbye or even packed. So a Christmas present, my parents decided to fly me back home for the holidays! So on December 17th at one in the morning I started the 30+ hour journey home from Spain. Well almost home since I flew into NYC for the weekend before heading down to Virginia, DC and Maryland for some family time on Monday. I was dead tired by the time I got to NYC and was welcomed in the airport by the guy 🙂 I spent that weekend freezing my ass off and really getting into the Christmas spirit. Since it barely gets to be freezing here, I was most definitely underpacked in terms of warm clothes, but qué será, será! It was the perfect excuse for warm socks and cozy sweaters, cuddling, and lots of cocoa and hot apple cider! Perfect!
Spain does not go all crazy for the holidays like they do in the States. It is still not a huge commercial holiday, which is very refreshing. They put up pretty lights in the orange trees and string lighted holiday scenes between buildings, along with tons of Nativity scenes, but not too overdone. But man, walking down Fifth Avenue the weekend before Christmas, holy crap, can you say sensory overload?! I think my eyes still hurt from it. Everyone was in a hurry, doing their last-minute shopping and sipping from their to-go coffee, basically the complete opposite of Spain. It was good to be back America!
We spent that weekend relaxing in the city. We walked around mid-town and Fifth Avenue looking at all the decorations. We went to the Rockefeller Center to see the big Christmas tree and see the ice-skating before heading to Bryant Park to see all of the little stands selling local crafts for the holidays. It made me really nostalgic for Germany. Why would crazy, busy, loud NYC remind me of small-town, old world Deutschland you may ask? Three years ago I spent the week before Christmas traveling through western Germany, which is so idyllic and fairy-tale-like, it will blow your mind. Germany is famous for its Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) that they have leading up to the holiday, where rows and rows of street stands and stalls in the town square sell homemade, local things, like soap, candles, clocks, handmade toys and Christmas decorations, and FOOD!
They also sell one of my favorite drinks called Glühwein. It is a hot mulled wine (red), flavored with brandy and spices, and it is so incredibly delicious, and the best way to warm up in the cold weather! Also, I swear I ate the best sausage of my life there that winter! It was in the Munich train station on my way to Bavaria to mad-King Ludwig’s fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein (a total must see if you’re ever in Germany!) Anyway, this sausage came in a roll, almost like a hot dog bun, but what made it stand out from the rest was the fact that there was cheese inside it! Melted cheese inside the sausage!!! Best. Idea. Ever!!!
I have yet to find a Würste that compares. It was absolutely the most incredible sausage I have ever eaten and I STILL remember it! (No that’s what she said jokes PLEASE! Let’s keep it classy people.) So hanging out in Bryant Park was probably the closest I could get to a European Christmas market in the States! (No cheesy sausage, but meh, what can you do?) We walked around to many of the merchant stalls, drank hot apple cider, and watched more ice-skating as the sunset over the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
We even found a grocery store on the Upper East Side that sells Spanish ham! (Jamón Ibérico!) Now, if Spain is famous for one type of food, it is its ham. Jamón Ibérico is cured ham, made from free-range, acorn-fed Iberian pigs, and it is incredibly tasty. Every where you go in Spain, you see ham legs hanging from the ceiling or sitting on a counter-top. It is the quintessential, traditional food here, usually served as an appetizer or tapa.
It is salted meat, so it is served at room temperature, cut into thin long slices, it almost looks like bacon. It is also damn near impossible to find outside of Spain. It is completely illegal to bring it into the States via mail or plane. US customs will kick your ass if you try to smuggle it in; you can’t even bring a ham sandwich over on the plane from Spain. There is only one company in Spain that is allowed to export ham legs to the US, making it incredibly expensive. In this high-end specialty grocery store, it costs $130 per pound! Worth it? Try for yourself and let me know 🙂
A few days later I took the Amtrak train down to DC and Virginia to meet up with my family! Now, I couldn’t drive my fabulous yellow jeep Pepe when I was home this time because I no longer have car insurance. Epic fail! But this meant I had the chance to try out America’s public transportation system. And let me just tell you, it SUCKED! Overpriced and super sketch doesn’t even begin to describe it. Also, the NYC to DC line has to be the ugliest train ride I have taken in my life.
However, a few hours later, I hopped off the train and into the arms of my wonderful mom and stepdad! I spent the next week relaxing and trying to readjust my internal clock. I have never been jet-lagged for so long! I woke up every night at 3am like clockwork! Horrible! I also think I gained about 10 pounds on this trip from binging on all the food I can’t get in Spain. Burgers and philly cheesesteaks, Chick-fil-a and Sheetz, sweet tea, Chinese, Mexican, and sushi, sushi, sushi!! Spain just doesn’t get ethnic food. At all. It’s one of the most homogeneous countries I have ever been to.
Anyways, Christmas was small and nice with my parents, and we made a delicious roast along with my favorite sweet-potato casserole! I finally saw the 7th Harry Potter movie, which was killing me because I couldn’t see it in Spain since they dub everything here. I also changed up my hair, and got long straight bangs like my mom had in the 60’s. I wasn’t about to sit through Harry Potter with Spanish voice-overs. I think it was the first time since I was in middle school that I didn’t get to see it at midnight. After Christmas I headed back to DC and Maryland to visit my dad and sister, before heading back to la manzana grande for New Years Eve!
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So I arrived back in NYC the day before NYE, and was welcomed with tons of snow! It was right after they had a blizzard, but unfortunately I missed all the pretty white fluff and all I got was lakes of dirty water and ice, and huge piles of gray snow. Yuck! Also, they were way behind on their trash pick up because of the holidays and snow, which meant bags of trash everywhere, sometimes piling higher than the cars. GROSS! We went out to dinner at an amazing Spanish restaurant in Greenwich Village called Café Español on Bleecker Street.
Not really an original name, but the food was fabulous! We continued our elusive hunt for the best albondigas (Spanish meatballs–and only a 6 out of 10 on the JL scale) and dined on great tapas (albondigas and scallops) and even better main courses. They have several lobster dishes-I had garlic and shrimp lobster, very tasty-paired with a good red from their extensive wine list, you can’t go wrong. It was overall a delicious eatery and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to try authentic Spanish cuisine with a little twist. Check out the link here. The wine went right through me, so after hopping into some bars, we finally just chilled in a Irish pub place, drinking beer and cider until midnight. It was a great night!
We spent some time being tourists, exploring Manhattan. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to hipster city for the first time, and even went to the planetarium. I may have studied history in college, but I still love going to science museums. We saw a cool IMAX movie about the Hubble spacecraft. He also took me to arguably the best burger joint in NYC, called the Shake Shack. Even though we had to wait in line forever, it was so worth it! For sure one of the top 5 burgers in my life.
The following week I headed back up to western Mass to visit the area where I went to college and where some of my best friends are now!! (still weird to say “went” and that I am not there anymore. Sadness.) I decided to be cheap and take a bus called the Megabus. Ok, now I had my doubts about taking a bus that costs $1, but it was fine! I waited in line for it on the Lower West Side, got on and then headed up to Hartford. It wasn’t the nicest of buses but it did the job and had free wifi, and it arrived on time. There were only few people on board (and not too sketchy), so all in all it was great and cheaper. Considering how much you have to pay in gas and tolls to get to and from NYC or how expensive the Amtrak or Peter Pan bus is, I say, save your dollars and take Megabus! I spent the next few days hanging out in the Amherst, Northampton, Easthampton area with two of my closest friends and freezing my ass off. I had forgotten just how cold it is up there. I revisited all of my favorite cafes, restaurants, and bars, eating my way through the homesickness that I knew would come later (Noho and Amherst Coffees, the Haymarket, the ThirstyMind, Teapot, Bueno y Sano, the Lone Wolf, the Dirty Truth and then the usual diners, just to name a few. Man, I miss diners and eating a big brunch. I got coffee with Nieves, my adviser from Mount Holyoke, who still continues to be my adviser in life. I LOVE her! It was so nice just to hang out, cook, and relax with my friends in a part of the States that I love so much.
Afterward, I caught the cheap blue Megabus back to NYC to spend my last few days there before heading back to Spain. I went so some of my favorite museums (The Pierpont Morgan Library and the Frick) and wandered around Manhattan. I also so Black Swan, which was very good but very intense. I needed to get my fix of English books and movies before heading back to España.
On Saturday got a cab back to JFK to begin my ridiculously long trip back to Córdoba. In retrospect, I don’t know if coming back to the states was a good or bad move on my part. Now that I am back here, I am still homesick and anxious to begin my “real” life. But at the same time, it was so nice to see everyone I love and care about and to see the places and eat the food and be home and relax, and I think it will help me get through the next six months, and made me realize that I do really want to be here in beautiful, care-free, sunny southern Spain–or as my students say, Espain!