Friday, January 31, 2014


The irony in staying busy is that it means I have less time to blog about all the things I'm doing. When I'm not doing much, I have plenty of time to write but not much to write about... But I'm happy that I don't see the latter happening much :)

I'm starting to develop a routine for Mondays: Class 9-11, 12-2, and 3-5. Soccer 6-8:30 and then dinner, blogging about the weekend, and finally bed.

This week we had Tuesday off school because of some sort of saint festival. As I don't have class on Wednesdays, I jumped at the opportunity to travel a bit. I convinced Brooke to skip her Wednesday class and we took a bus to check out the northern Basque city of Bilbao. Our friend Gaby joined us on Tuesday afternoon, as the bus ride is less than two hours long, but she didn't stay the night.

In Bilbao, we:

saw a to-scale model of el país vasco (Basque country) in the Basque museum
posed in front of a giant puppy made of flowers
visited the Guggenheim  
saw cool graffiti under a bridge
walked along the river 
walked on this iconic pedestrian bridge
walked along the river some more 
took a train the the top of a nearby hill
admired the Guggenheim and the river and the pedestrian bridges from above
aaaand rode the train back down
We also visited an archeology museum and another art museum. Bilbao didn't charm me the way some cities have, but it's always fun seeing new parts of Spain!

After class on Thursday I rushed back to my room, scrambling to finish my Daily Tar Heel column before going to hang out with a group of friends at Brooke's apartment. We all went to juevintxos together, which is a combination of the words "jueves" (Thursday) and "pintxos" (tapas). On Thursday nights, a bunch of bars in Casco Viejo (Old Town) offer deals where you can get one pintxo and a caña (tap beer) or copa de vino (glass of wine) for €2. The vegetarian options are limited, but I had one with scrambled egg and mushroom, and one with a huge pile of goat cheese. The base is always a slice of French bread.

Today is a designated chill day for me, as I need to write yet another article (this time for a campus magazine) and run some errands. The new camera charger I ordered in the mail arrived today, just in time for my day trip to Biarritz, France, tomorrow!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Pyrenees Adventuring

Yesterday I snowshoed to France.

The Club Montaña hosted an excursion to the famous Pyrenees Mountains on the border between Spain and France, about two hours north of Pamplona. A group of 37 adventurers —ages ranging from maybe 10 to maybe 60 —strapped on raquetas (snowshoes) and plunged into the spectacular, barren landscape that is found in the Pyrenees.

I don't know at what point we crossed over into France, but I found out once we reached the mountain peak (after 3 or so hours of climbing) and was very excited.

Photos from the expedition:

I'm not sure about the rest, but this part is definitely in France

Saturday, January 25, 2014


According to my Lonely Planet guide book — and confirmed by my experience — the Roman-founded town of Olite is "bursting off the pages of a fairy tale."

Once home to the royal families of Navarra, the main attraction of Olite is a classic and huge castle open for visitors to explore. The tiny town itself was a delight, too, as every person we talked was exceedingly friendly. I kept wondering how often they saw tourists — a status we made no effort to hide. We had the feeling that in this town of 3,000 we'd stand out even if we were native Spaniards.

But we were three American girls — me, Brooke, and Emily — talking and laughing loudly as we wandered freely through the tiny, quiet streets of a charming pueblo 37km south of Pamplona.

Brooke poses in front of the Iglesia de Santa María la Real
a window inside the castle
view from the tallest turret
bein artsy 
we spent a lot of the day eating 
and drinking — we loved the complimentary glass of wine that came with entrance to the wine museum!

DTH life

I don't have class on Wednesdays, and this week I spent the day eating steadily in my apartment while I worked on a DTH story, my Valencia blog post and Spanish homework. I ran a few errands — but not enough to fight off a suffocating feeling of stir-craziness that tells me I need to figure out a more active way to spend my Wednesdays.

Thursday I had class until 2 p.m. After a quick run I met up with my friend Emily to find a cute cafe to hang out in Old Town. Brooke found us there and then we walked back with our friend Massi, who had been in that part of town for tutoring. He casually displayed his native Italian cooking skills with a delectable pasta dish we ate at my apartment. Just as we were about to head out to meet other friends at a bar (it's about half past midnight at this point) I got a text from my DTH editor, Amanda:

"Hey are you awake?"

I indulged myself in a long, drawn-out groan of a curse word.

"What?" Massi asked, concerned.

I showed him the text.

"What this means is the frontpack, which is what we call the most important story in the paper, has fallen through for tomorrow and they want to use my story instead," I explained, resisting the urge to bang my head — or the phone — against the table. My story was far from ready. I needed more sources and I had just been talking to Massi about reworking the angle.

I quickly got online and saw that the newspaper's editor-in-chief and director of enterprise were both active on the Google doc I had shared with Amanda when I sent her my rough (very rough) first draft of the story.

This kind of newsroom drama is standard for The Daily Tar Heel, but like nearly everyone who works there, I've sold my soul and can't even really get mad about it. You just do what you can to help make the paper as strong as it can be, every day. Skipping over to the other side of the Atlantic doesn't free me from this obsession — and obligation.

So I sat for another hour and a half in my kitchen, trying to make my story adequate while the edit staff in that familiar office 4,019.593 miles away (or 6,468.908 km, if you're into that kind of thing) scrambled for an alternative story to occupy that most prominent position on the front page of the next day's paper. Finally I got an email from the director of enterprise at 2:38 a.m.

"we're going to hold your story for Monday's paper"

Thanking the news gods that our City Desk editor always seems prepared with awesome back-up feature stories, I went to bed more relieved that I was getting a couple more days to improve my story, than upset that I had missed a night out on the town. Dat DTH lyfe yo

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Yesterday I told a girl who's lived here for three years that I had spent the weekend in Valencia.

"Why?" she asked. "That seems kind of random."

I was taken aback. Why would I go (or not go) anywhere in Spain? Valencia isn't as popular as bigger cities like Barcelona and Madrid, sure, but that doesn't mean it's not worth visiting.

Things that make Valencia worth visiting:
  • largest aquarium in Europe
  • 600-year-old towers that you can climb
  • a beautiful green riverbed-turned-park that winds throughout the whole city
  • bike day rentals for less than €10 (plus bike paths on every road)
  • a wide beach and bright blue water (the Mediterranean sea!!!)
  • sunny plazas and artistic fountains
  • lots of mosaics
  • lots of really cool graffiti
  • and more! (sorry cant help it ive been reading too many guide books)
A weekend in pictures:
pre-dinner sangría and cheese the night we arrived
this is a very old and important building (I'm assuming)
Brooke is an amazing photographer
oh, the irony
I think I'm going to stop eating seafood... after I get home from Spain
the three-course meal plus drinks cost €10.90 or USD$14.78
so above all this
El Mercado Central, the largest active market in Europe
my kind of display
to anyone who can't eat gluten, I am so so sorry

riding bikes with our new Mexican friend Gabino, whom we met at the hostel
riding through the riverbed-turned-park
admiring graffiti 
posing with grafitti
my favorite graffiti in the city
more graffiti
more grafitti 
this building is famous
so is this one (but I overexposed the picture, sadface)
there were a lot of weird modern structures
our maps were terribly unhelpful
but we found the beach!
the source of my happiness 
cool fountain
We found a store called A Taste of America: The Original American Supermarket. A box of Kraft mac & cheese went for €6 (which is USD$8) and here's the cost of Aunt Jemima's syrup...

photocredit Brooke Eller
casually posing on top of a 600-year-old tower
no one stopped me from walking along the ledge #daredevil
in front of the towers
the Valencian flag