#tbt – Spain for the first time

2005. Age 20. I was young, skinny and drunk on both cheap beer and Europe. Ryanair flights were 1 euro plus tax to pretty much anywhere in Western Europe so I booked a puddle hopper while I was studying abroad in Ireland to go and visit a college friend studying abroad in Spain.

Being that I was still unfamiliar with Ryanair, I didn’t realize that the way they kept costs so low was by flying into airports outside of the main city (ie Brataslavia for Vienna). I landed in what I thought was my destination of Bilbao. I scanned arrivals. No friend. I waited…and waited…and waited. Now I was starting to get nervous. It didn’t help that we had forgotten to exchange foreign cell numbers. Back in 2005, smartphones, iPads and free WiFi at the airport wasn’t a thing. I didn’t speak Spanish. So I did the only thing I could think of. I called my mommy, in tears, so she could make it all better.

I don’t quite remember what happened after that, but mom managed to email my friend my cell number. She called and informed me that I was at the wrong airport. You see, all flights to Bilbao flew into the Santander airport an hour away. Since I had missed the Ryanair-provided bus to Bilbao, I would have to take a regular bus by myself. Which would be no problem if I knew some Spanish. I ran up to an airport employee, mumbled gibberish and ended up shoving my phone, with my friend on the other end, into her hand. GOOD JOB AMANDA. She talked to my friend and then directed me to the bus, where I was able to wordlessly exchange my money for a ticket and board with no further incident.

As the bus chugged along, I was taken by the beauty of Basque Country. When I arrived in Bilbao, I met up with my friend and was introduced to her host mother. That night and the next two days were filled with sightseeing, being introduced to Spanish specialties like tortilla espanol and kalimotxo and enjoying low-key hangouts with friends. Thirteen years after Ria Bilbao 2000 was launched and eight years after the Guggenheim came to the city, Bilbao still showed signs of it’s industrial past. But that was ok. I like my cities with some grittiness.

(BTW, this is a great website about the revitalization of Bilbao.)

Saturday night, we went bowling and then hit up the bars. Many beers and shots later, my friend and I stumbled to her host mother’s apartment. I woke up feeling like death but had to travel back to Cork that day. With a pounding headache and churning stomach, I boarded the bus to the airport. As the bus cruised hills, valleys and dramatic craggy vistas – different from the softer, greener vistas I was used to in Ireland – my hangover was temporarily forgotten. I could’ve sworn that the countryside was even more beautiful this journey. I vowed to return to Basque Country – a promise I fulfilled six years later.

#tbt – Spain for the first time

#traveltuesday – Grand Granada

As soon as the bus made its way to the outskirts of Granada from our landing point in Seville, I could tell I was going to like this city.

It was the outline of the Sierra Nevada against the city. I was the dizzying array of ancient buildings spread out below. It was the bright blue sky. It was just the way the city felt.

At the Alhambra Zoom hostel, we checked into a cheap and comfortable triple room, next to a impeccably clean bathroom. That was all I needed to be happy – especially since the city center was steps from the hostel.

Matt was not feeling well the first night, so we got him some peanut M&Ms and water and walked around a bit. The city by night was beautiful and the weather was still cool.

The next day, the weather had turned to broiling as I realized this was the first time I had visited Spain during the summer. Hungry, we wandered around to find a place that did not have English menus. I thought that we were too close to the city center to to find a non-touristy place but alas, we found a small cafe where Younes (a fluent Spanish speaker) ordered us sangria and two big platters of tapas.

The sangria came out in huge glasses with almost enough fruit in them to make a second meal. They were perfect – light, refreshing and just enough sweetness without being overly so.

The tapas platters were massive and delicious. I particularly liked the manchego cheese, because CHEESE.

With that, we proceeded to take our overly stuffed bodies for a walk. Up the hills of Granada we chugged, the hot sun beating down on us. The views were, however, well worth it. Finally, we made it to a small park with sweeping views of the Alhambra and the city below, with the mountains backdropped against it.

After rest and picture-taking we walked back down to the city. I was hot and had one goal on my mind – cold cerveza. On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at a shady cafe to indulge.

A cool shower and a nap at the hostel perked me up and it was time to think about our night out. We wandered and had a drink here and there before ending up at the same tapas place we had been for lunch. Hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? I indulged in a large platter of manchengo and jamon and gazpacho and of course more sangria.

The next day was our much-anticipated visit to the Alhambra. Younes and I were psyched to see the ornate palaces, the amazing intricate designs and the elegant gardens. We were not disappointed.

However, Matt was not overly thrilled with looking at a bunch of buildings, so we promised him plenty of sangria and tapas for putting up with playing tourist for hours on end – a promise we were happy to deliver on as we passed the rest of the afternoon away at a misty outdoor cafe in a lovely square.

Our time in Granada was concluded by sipping drinks – including an extra-dry glass of cava for me – in yet another square as our last night in Granada settled in on us.

#traveltuesday – Grand Granada

#sciencesunday – ZDoggmd takes on medical cannabis

Pretty much everyone with any sort of serious or chronic medical problem has been asked at some point “Have you tried cannabis?” The idea of cannabis as a cure-all being suppressed by BIG PHARMA who wants to conceal NATURAL CURES in order to MAKE MONEY is pervasive. In a way, I understand it. The United State’s zero-tolerance approach to marijuana doesn’t make sense to me. After all, alcohol and cigarettes are very destructive drugs in the wrong hands and they remain legal. And cannabis, particularly CBD, does have some medical benefit.

I have personally researched whether CBD could be an avenue for me to either treat the cancer or side effects from the treatments. I have looked into whether cannabis could help my neurological effects from my brain mets, the nausea from treatment and the anxiety from living with metastatic cancer. The information out there is confusing and often biased one way or another.

ZDogg’s show on cannabis really helped me understand the scientifically proven benefits and non-benefits on its useage. I did find out that I would not get any benefit from using it to treat seizure-related episodes. “Particular type of rare childhood seizure disorder” doesn’t apply to me so I’ll stick with my Keppra and Western-based treatments to control the brain mets that have caused these seizures in the first place.

I have suffered debilitating nausea that stopped responding to Zofran on a previous treatment and am glad cannabis would likely provide some relief from that if I were in the situation of experiencing that side effect again. HOWEVER, due to the potential for liver toxicity and interactions with my anti-seizure meds, careful consultation with my oncologist and neuro-oncologist would be needed before I could begin exploring the possibility of medical MJ usage.

Obviously I do not want to think about end-of-life pain very much but I’m also glad that cannabis might help with that. It gives me some comfort in the dark nights when my mind goes to scary places. Again, CBD is not currently recommended as first-line and if and when to incorporate it would be a decision made with my palliative/hospice team.

Bottom line, I’m really happy that the US is finally moving towards marijuana legalization both for medical usage and just because I think it’s dumb that it hasn’t been legalized before. But as with any other substance, use responsibly. If using it for medical purposes, research and be informed as to side effects and interactions with other drugs. And please watch these videos because ZDogg explains it much better than I could (and he’s funny too!)

#sciencesunday – ZDoggmd takes on medical cannabis