Neerja en España #8: Enjoying Life in Spain

Originally written December 2019

Wow, so much has been happening, that it’s been hard to keep up with regular emails. So here are some highlights from the end of October to November:

My parents visited! I guess they are coping with now being empty nesters by traveling more? The timing worked out nicely because I got to spend my birthday with them, the weather was nice, and it wasn’t too touristy.

Our first stop was Barcelona. They did all the touristy stuff, and on my birthday we went to Montserrat and then the Sagrada Familia which are both absolutely stunning, so we basically went to the prettiest places in the world that day. That night, we had some amazing paella and vino for dinner, and then after a little too much wine I ran to the train station and thought I was going to miss my train, but turns out the train station was shut down due to protests (from the Catalan independence movement), so that was a bit of an adventure.

Some photos from our time in Catalunya:

We loved this Catalonian wine that is made out of volcanic ash (my parents and I have a shared love of wine)
Exploring the nearby city of Girona
Montserrat is beautiful

Next, we went to Zaragoza. Zaragoza isn’t that big so I already felt like I knew at least the center of the city really well, and it was so fun to be able to show them around. Apparently my dad was at first very skeptical of Zaragoza, but after seeing it and doing the few touristy things you can do here, he “was very impressed”. Both of my parents ended up loving the city. (Wow, I miss Zaragoza.)

Finally, we went to Madrid, which was so much fun. We had a nice dinner with the host families me and Nitya had when we did a Spanish exchange program in high school, and overall had a great time in the city! One highlight was going to a Thai restaurant - I had been craving good Thai for a while, since most Spanish cities really lack Asian food of any type. I love discovering more cool spots and delicious new restaurants every time I visit Madrid and Barcelona, which has ended up being quite a bit already. (And it would just be more and more - I really miss both of those cities now, but I’m also really happy with how well I know them now.) Also, we went to Toledo, which is absolutely breathtaking - I would highly recommend going there.

Me outside the Palacio Real de Madrid

Once my parents left, a lot of other events and new friendships made Zaragoza really start to feel like home, and led to a lot of fun memories being made!

I went to Logroño, the capital of La Rioja, the region of Spain where rioja wine is made. Aiko and I roadtripped with Miguel, one of my lab friends. We all bonded a lot singing along to random songs and going to a bodega tour/wine tasting together, tried pinchos typical to La Rioja, and overall had a very lovely day.

Aiko and I touring the bodega with Miguel thankfully there to translate the half of the Spanish tour I didn’t pick up

I met a new friend from Florida through mutual friends and we immediately hit it off. She’s here through the auxiliares program, which is similar to the english teaching branch of the Fulbright program. As much as I have appreciated and enjoyed primarily spending my time with Spanish people and other non-Americans, it’s nice to have other people who better understand what you’re going through. She also knows a lot of people through the auxiliares and erasmus programs, so I’ve met a lot of new people through her. One highlight of this was eating pizza that Italian erasmus students made…it was very good pizza.

I started to get closer to people in Zaragoza. Aiko’s Spanish class hangs out a lot and we started doing frequent Sunday potluck lunches. I started going to juepincho (extra cheap pinchos (tapas) hopping on Thursday, 1-2 euros for a drink and food!) almost every week. My favorite vegetarian pinchos are croquetas de boletus or queso de cabra, champinones (grilled mushrooms with garlic and salt on bread), and any of the selections of cheese at a bar entirely dedicated to different kinds of cheese.

Thanksgiving made me feel a bit homesick (now it seems weird that I felt homesick, when now I’ve been home for much more than I thought I ever would), since that’s normally the one time I’m always home, but knowing that I was going home for the holidays just 3 weeks later made it better. On Thanksgiving day I had dinner with some friends at a Mexican restaurant in Zaragoza - that describes the absurdity and magic of this year and I love it. I also had a lovely friendsgiving with my new American friend and some other auxiliares that weekend where we cooked an amazing meal!

Our friendsgiving spread

Finally, I started taking Spanish lessons at a language school here, which has been extremely helpful for grammatical concepts I had forgotten. It’s truly a throwback to high school with all of the worksheets and conversation/listening activities, and has helped me noticeably improve my Spanish!

Neerja Thakkar
Neerja Thakkar
EECS PhD Student @ Berkeley
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