Ernest Hemingway was here in 1937. And hombre, he was sure right when he said the “bell tolls for thee” – it wakes me up every morning. From the window adjacent to mine is a clear view of the cathedral bell tower. Not that seeing it makes it any easier to get up that early, but it’s not a bad view.
Breakfast here is light – usually cereal or toast with coffee (which, I might add, is slightly less thick than pudding and strong enough to stand a fork in). On weekdays, classes start at 9 am. We live very close to our classroom building, but I always enjoy the short walk in the morning – the air is cooler, and the streets are quiet, save for the gentle cooing of mourning doves.
The next five hours are filled with classes. I usually bring some food to hold me over, because lunch comes much later in the day, around 2:30 or 3:00 pm, and there’s nothing worse than talking about Spanish food in your culture class while listening to your stomach rumble like the Daytona Beach Motorcycle Rally.
Lunch is typically the largest meal of the day. In Spain, most families gather together at lunchtime for several hours; students return from school, the rest from work. The official working hours in Spain respect this siesta time, and many shops close between 2-5 pm, with the exception of some restaurants. We eat with our host sister Carolina, and sometimes our other sister Beatriz, when she’s not at work. Tortilla de patatas, gazpacho, arroz a la Cubana, fideos, pescado, ensalada de garbanzos, relleno (the Spanish version), and many other dishes fill us up, always accompanied by a slice of baguette.
The siesta time continues after lunch. There are several reasons for the siesta, namely, to avoid the hottest part of the day, and to make up for insufficient sleep from the night before (from which no one is exempt!). Not everyone sleeps, but it’s a good time to rest.
Most afternoons are open-ended. I enjoy playing sports with friends…
…going for a jog in the park or along the river…
…or exploring new parts of the city.
And as I’m here to study, sometimes I’ll hit the books in the library down the street. (I mostly go there for the air conditioning.)
We eat dinner at home around 8:30 pm, which is relatively early for Spanish families. The weird hours date back to the 1940s, when the government made the time zone in Spain the same as in Germany. To this day, Spain uses Central European time instead of the Western European time zone, which it belongs to geographically. If everything were set behind by an hour, meal times and working hours would appear almost normal. Alas. It still doesn’t explain why Spaniards stay up so late.
After some time, the sun begins its descent on the horizon, and the world starts to stir. Cafes fill their patios with customers, and the streets swell with people and live music. The lights blink on in the Plaza Mayor, illuminating the golden-yellow facade against the dark backdrop of the night sky. You can see the stars here, and the music plays on well into the night.
As my time here draws to a close, I look back on all the things I have learned, not just about the language, but about Spanish culture, and about people, and about myself. Traveling changes you in a powerful way – there’s nothing quite like jumping headfirst into a new environment where unfamiliarity is the norm, and where your old perspectives and assumptions about the world are constantly challenged. You learn to make friends with great people, and to avoid others. You find joy in the unexpected. Your comfort zone nearly doubles in size because you’re outside of it so often.
It will be difficult for me to leave Salamanca – I’ve come to call it home, and the lifestyle and people here have a hold on my heart. I’ll return to the U.S., to college, to the old routine. I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends, and going back to eating Big American Breakfasts, among other things. But I will always remember the way I felt here, and I’m thankful to everyone who helped me embark on this journey – it has been an incredible experience, one that I will always remember.