Yep, it's clear that fall has arrived in the Basque Lands. Today we have the day off from classes, and good thing, since all morning there has been a fine misty rain falling from the heavens (in Basque: Txirimiri, pronounced Chidimidy). Definately one of those days where you feel like crawling up on the couch and whipping out your reader on Derecho Internacional accompanied by your Spanish-English Glossary on International Law terms (Ha! what the heck is Derecho Consuetudinario, anyway?).
Anyway, I thought I'd take a moment to update the blog and put in some information from the last few weeks of our lives.
I arrived in Bilbao on July 30th, and for the month of August, Gaizka and I spend a good majority of the time watching the Olympics all day and all night. WOW! That was great, but afterward we really needed to get some time away from the television and experience some fresh air. We decided to take a week-long trip in the van to the Spanish Pyrinees and to southern France and where Gaizka's brother, Josu, was working in a "camping."
Now in Europe, a "camping" has little to nothing to do with the camping trips and camp grounds we are used to in the US. Campings in Europe generally consist of neat sqare plots of ground occupied by a series of motorhomes, moblie homes with porches, and/or tents attatched. The walkways in between are paved, and most "campings" are even equipped with a combination of such luxuries as hot water showers, toilets that flush with sinks and mirrors and electrical outlets for hairdriers, swimming pools with waterslides, expensive restaurants that usually have a bar that offers a variety of expensive tropical drinks, a dance floor, a ping-pong table, a not-so-mini-mart, gift shops, coordinated excursiones for young ones, and much more. Usually the "campings" are located just minutes away from a town or small city. Though they are wildly popular in Europe during the summer season, I still have not figured out the phenomena of these"campings", their purpose, or their appeal.
Anyway, after a couple nights sleeping in the van in the parking lot of the "camping," visiting the beaches and small resort towns of the French Atlantic Coast, we left sand and headed towards mountains. As we approached the Pyrinees (my first time coming from the French side) we stopped at various French villages, appreciating the local scenery and beauty. If I had had a fridge and a small fortune, I would have purchased all the cheeses produced at all the local cheese farms along the way!
The higher we climed, the more lush and green it got. We spotted several small waterfalls along the way...Georgeous! At the peak of the pass, the climate suddenly became chilly and misty, with the forrests turning into high mountain grass lands. There were several small stone huts where locals take their sheep to graze during the summer.
We spent the following three nights in the Mentxaka family apartment in the Spanish Pyrinees where we went skiing last winter. This side of the mountain range is much less densly packed with trees, but is still green and beautiful with many rivers and waterfalls. During these few days, we slept a lot, took short hikes all around the small mountain towns, and enjoyed the beauty.
After this we went back into France to swap vehicles with Josu, and on the way we decided on a whim to pass into the city of Lourdes. I had never done any research on this place, and therefore didn't know what to expect , but as we arrived, it became clear that this city was not only a historical catholic strong-hold, but is today a thriving spiritual center. Over 5,000,000 pilgrams visit this city every year!
The story goes that in 1858 a poor young peasant girl, known as Bernadette began seeing visions of a beautiful woman dressed in white, near a river in the town of Lourdes. In total, 18 visions were recorded, and during these visions, Bernadette reported that the woman (who in the final vision revealed herself as the Virgin) requested that a chapel be built in that very location. The church authorities didn't believe young Bernadette, and told her that the woman in the vision should show them a sign proving the validity of the visions. Making a long story short, Bernadette supposedly uncovered a spring in the very spot where the visions were recieved, whose water is now considered sacred. According to the legends, 67 cures have been "varified" in the last 150 years (we unknowingly visited the site on it's sesquicentennial year) , and of course, the request for the chapel to be built did indeed come to fruition. Today many pilgrams visit the vast church grounds, praying for cures to their illnesses, drink water from the spring, and light candles nearby.
Though the church grounds are lovely, surrounded by the river and beautiful parks, he actual city of Lourdes is much less sacred-feeling. On the streets there are dozens of souvenir shops with flourecent lights where you can buy a myriad of plastic trinkets of the virgin or Bernadette. Lourdes has the highest number of hotels in France, outside of Paris, but most have a 1970's resort feel to them, are very outdated, and seem generally vacant. The people watching is amazing, however, because it's clear that people from all walks of life visit Lourdes.
After this brief and very interesting stop, we went on to change cars and head back into Bizkaia. We only had a few days to prepare for the beginning of our master's program and the intensive program in Warsaw.
We left home for the Intensive program (IP) on September 2nd, and after a long day involving a metro, a bus, 2 airplanes, another bus and an unpredicted midnight walking adventure, we arrived at the student hall in Warsaw. The next day we met most of our fellow students from Desuto, as well as the other NOHA Master's students from all over the world attending the 6 other universities. During the 10 days of the IP, we were at the University of Warsaw, located in the beautiful old part of the Polish capital city. Our general schedule involved morning lectures, coffee break, more lectures, lunch break, more lectures, and then dinner at the student hall. LONG AND INTENSE INDEED! For the most part, we really enjoyed learning about the challenges and issues of Humanitarian Action, and meeting new people from all over.
Now we're back in Bilbao, getting into the routine. The classes are entirely in Spanish, and it's been a challenge for me to study and participate at this level, but I'm hanging in there, and also, considering we are from 12 different countries, I'm not the only non-native speaker in the group. It's been great to start studying again, and we have a great group of students with us here.
In short, things are great and we're lovin' life!
Thanks for reading, we'll be in touch again soon :)