¡Tal luego, Espana!

I came home from Spain 77 days ago. It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been home for two and a half months because at times, it feels like I was just in Alcala taking the bus to school, watching futbol matches with my family, and going to the Green with my friends for Wednesday night karaoke.

My last two weeks in Spain seemed to fly by. Once I returned home from Semana Santa I immediately began preparing for the end of the semester and getting ready to return home. After Semana Santa was over, we had one week of regular classes and then two days of exams before our semester was over. That last week of classes was spent giving final presentations and reviewing for final exams. On the Thursday of the final week of classes we had a mini graduation ceremony where all of the program directions spoke and we were given diplomas for our completion of the semester.IMG_4711

Graduation!

Graduation!

For my Spain and the Medias class, we prepared a short video about our time in Spain and the different experiences we had. The video was divided into two parts: the first part talking about all of our different experiences in Alcala and our semester and the second part was a remake of the music video “Happy” by Pharell Williams. Even though the first part of the video is in Spanish, y’all should watch it just to see our music video. Here’s the link! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8Q6-K9ptKQ&feature=youtu.be

Even though we spent our last two weeks in Alcala studying and preparing for the end of the semester, we still made sure to enjoy our remaining time. My CIEE group had grown so close since the beginning of the semester so with our time left, we made sure to spend as much time possible with each other and other students we’d grown close to at the Institute. I don’t know if I mentioned this in a previous blog, but Nancy was the only one of my friends to stay at the dorms. The dorms were like the senior apartments at Wofford, big apartments, so Nancy had a big kitchen that we could use anytime. One afternoon before we left, all my CIEE people met up at Nancy’s to cook together and have a big picnic.

Group lunch at Nancy's!

Group lunch at Nancy’s!

We talked about our favorite memories from our semester, as well as our not so favorite ones. There was even a little bit of studying that went on. Also, on our last Wednesday all together in Spain, we met up at The Green for the weekly karaoke. Since “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen was constantly being sung amongst my friends, we obviously had to sing this song on our last night. We also sang a One Direction song because Megan is obsessed with the band. It was such a great night.

Our favorite man in Spain.

Our favorite man in Spain.

Almost everyone from the Institute was out and we all sang together and talked and walked home together. Also, when we were all walking home together, we took a group picture at the Don Quixote statue. That Friday, The Green threw a goodbye party for their favorite Americans (us) and yet again, almost the whole institute showed up. Some of our Spanish friends came too, so it was the best way for all of us to a have a final night, all together.group pic

In addition to my friends, I also spent a lot of time with my host family. I’d grown so close to them over my four months in Spain and they were the closest thing I could have asked for to my family at home. I loved my host siblings, Silvia and Alfonso. They made me feel so at home. Alfonso and I went to the same gym so we’d run into each other at the gym all the time and since we were very close in age, he met a lot of my friends. Like I mentioned in previous blogs, Silvia was an English teacher so if I ever needed help, she helped me out, and vice versa. Silvia would tell me about cool restaurants in Alcala and Madrid, as well as parties and new bars/discotecas.

Silvia, Carlos, and I

Silvia, Carlos, and I

Alfonso and I would talk about music, my friends, and of course, futbol. I grew to be very close with both of my host parents, Cristina and Alfonso as well. Since Cristina didn’t have a job outside of the house, she was usually home so we had a lot of time to talk. We could talk forever and about almost anything from my friends to boys to my classes to life in America to problems in Spain. I usually ate dinner with Cristina and on the days I came home late from school, Cristina would always sit with me at lunch, so we really had a chance to bond. When I was sick she took me to the doctor and she was always made sure I liked the food she was preparing and that I had enough to eat, sometimes a little too much to eat.

My host mom, Cristina!

My host mom, Cristina!

I also grew close to my host father, Alfonso. He was from South America so his accent was different from the rest of my family and sometimes harder to understand, but we still talked all the time. He worked so I didn’t have as much time to talk to him as I did with Cristina, but we still grew to be close. Every night when he got home from work he’d peak his head in my door and say hello or make a joke. He was really funny and was always trying to make his family laugh, sometimes it worked better than others. I loved my host family and we’re trying to still stay in touch since I’ve left.

But first, let me take a selfie.

But first, let me take a selfie. (Host family minus Alfonso)

My last day in Spain was so busy. I had two finals in the morning and that afternoon was spent buying last minute gifts, packing, and meeting Victoria at the bus stop so we could all say goodbye. She was going backpacking throughout Europe with one of her best friends so she had to leave a day before the rest of us. I packed all afternoon and that night, my host mom made me the same meal she made for me the first day I arrived, which seemed fitting. It was a sandwich with a fried egg, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. After dinner, all my friends and I met up at Whelan’s Irish Pub to watch the Real Madrid v. Bayern Munich game and for one last trivia night. One of my favorite professors, Carlos, was also at Whelan’s watching the game, which was great fun because Carlos is a big Atletico Madrid fan and despises Real Madrid and of course Real Madrid won the game, so he was super upset.

We all stayed to play trivia for one last time and when it was over, we all said our final goodbyes. On the first day of the trip, Laura, Diana, Megan and I took a selfie, so on our last night together, we recreated that same picture.

First and last selfie.

First and last selfie.

There were many tears and many hugs, but I know I’ll see my friends again. Even though we’re all spread out over the country, there are planes, trains, and buses, and we’ve already started planning countless reunions together.

After trivia, I went home to spend a little bit of time with my family on our last night all-together. I gave them a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, and a framed picture of our family as a thank you a goodbye gift and they gave me a halter top dress and a bangle bracelet. Alfonse Padre had already gone to bed by the time I got home, so I said my last goodbyes to Cristina, Alfonso Hijo, and Silvia before I went to bed one last time in my room upstairs.

Nancy and I both had flights that left around the same time the next morning so we decided to go to the airport together. The plan was to take a taxi from her dorm to my house and then get the taxi to take us to the bus stop. We would then take the bus to the airport. We still had our monthly bus passes so this was the cheapest method of getting to the airport. I woke up early to carry all of my stuff downstairs and to wait for Nancy and to my surprise, Alfonso Padre had woken up early as well to help me carry all of my stuff downstairs and to say goodbye since I didn’t’ get the chance to the night before. Alfonso waited with me downstairs and when the taxi arrived at the house, he helped me put all of my things inside the taxi. He gave me a big hug goodbye and stayed outside until the taxi drove away.

Once Nancy and I arrived at the bus stop and caught the bus to the airport, we spent the 45-minute bus ride talking about our time in Spain and the things we were most looking forward to once we got home. Our flights departed from different terminals so our bus ride was our last time together before we headed back to the States.

After I checked in at the airport (had to pay excess weight fees on all of my bags) and arrived at my gate, I had about a two hour wait before my flight. I bought one last bocadillo with Iberian ham and cheese and flipped through a magazine while I waited for my flight. Once I finally boarded I spent my eight hour plane ride watching movies and napping, and finally, we arrived in Atlanta. I was exhausted and somewhat nauseas but it was so great to finally be home. The moment we landed I turned on my phone and was able to use it, for the first time in four months, without having to be connected to Wifi or placing it on airplane mode. I was the first of my friends to arrive home so I promised I would mass Snap Chat them as soon as I landed, which I did.

One of my favorite things about going through customs after arriving home from a trip out of the country is how the TSA agents always say Welcome home, and when I walked into customs, I was sure enough greeted by TSA agent welcoming me home. Even though she was kind of scary, it was still nice to hear it. After going through customs and picking up all of my bags, I walked out of customs and was greeted by my parents who had a huge “Welcome home” sign for me! I loved Spain, but it was so great being home. After they picked me up, we drove back to Blythewood where I was finally able to take a shower in my own shower, walk around the house without shoes, and pick clothes out of my full closet. My first meal home was filet mignon with a big tossed salad, food that I had been craving during my time in Spain. To top the night off, I got to sleep in my wonderful, big bed. Best. Night. Ever.

Well here I am, 77 days later. Some days it feels like I was just in Alcala, and others, it feels so long ago. So far, I haven’t experienced culture shock. Almost immediately upon arriving home, I was thrown in things so I was super busy from the get go. My first weekend home I went up to Wofford to visit friends and went up again for graduation, I have two internships as well as a part time job at my dad’s firm. I’m been going to many family events such as graduations and weddings as well as catching up with friends. Also, after spending my semester away from Wofford and hearing about all of my friends’ schools, I am even more confident that Wofford is the best school ever and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

Life since returning home.

Life since returning home.

collage 1

Going abroad has definitely made a change in my life. Before I left, I felt that I always needed to be texting someone or checking Facebook to see what was going on. I think after going abroad I’ve become much more independent that I was before. Honestly, I think you kind of have to become somewhat independent while living in a foreign country. Now, if I go a few hours without texting someone or sending a Snap Chat, it’s okay. If I don’t check Facebook, the world isn’t going to end. I like putting my phone down and walking away.

So, when I left for Spain I told you all that I planned to experience everything I could during my four months abroad and I told y’all the story about my dad. While I never slept on a bench, I definitely came back with many memories and stories of my own. I rode a llama in Morocco, met a big time American CEO in the Belgian equivalent of Hardees in Bruges, I (accidentally) ate pigs feet at my house, frolicked throughout Paris with my best friend, took overnight buses, attended a Real Madrid futbol match, made lifelong friends, and most importantly, had the time of my life.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sales. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I heard this quote at my summer orientation before I started Wofford and has been one of my favorite quotes ever since. I think that Mark Twain had it spot on. The only regret I have from my trip is not being there longer in order to experience even more things. I loved my time in Spain and yes, I had my moments where I was homesick and missed certain things, I never thought to myself, “Damn, you’ve made a huge mistake coming here.” No, I woke up ready to try new things every day because in the grand scheme of things, no matter how much I may have missed my family, my friends, and My Wofford, it was just one semester abroad. It was only 116 days, 16 weeks, or 4 months, and in the long run, that’s barely any time. So, I listened to my father’s advice, I listened to Mark Twain, and I tried to experience everything that I could.

So if you have a chance to go abroad and travel, I highly encourage you to do so. You may think that four months is a long time, but it’s just 16 weeks. You will get homesick, you will miss you friends and family, but at least to me, it was worth it. And hey, there’s always Skype and FaceTime.

¡Hasta pronto! Or as my friends and I said it, ¡Tal luego!

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Semana Santa! An Italian Getaway

Okay….so my last month in Spain was amazing but so busy, which is why my blogging has been kind of slack lately.

I remember riding in the car with my mom on the way to the Atlanta airport to catch my plane to Spain. I was so nervous. I was worried that my host family wouldn’t like me, that I’d struggle in classes since they were all in Spanish, that I’d be really homesick, and that I’d have a hard time making friends. Looking back, I can’t believe how nervous I was. I love my host family, I have made life long friends, my classes have been great, and Skype/Facetime/What’s App has really reduced any homesickness I may have had.

Since my last month here in Spain was so busy, time seemed to fly by. April started off with a visit from my best friend, Paulie Howell! Back before I left for Spain, Paulie told Lizzie and me that she would come to visit us during Wofford’s Spring Break. The three of us have lived together for the past two years so the thought of us going four months without seeing each other was out of the question. As soon as Paulie found out when Wofford’s Spring Break was, she booked her tickets to come visit. Unfortunately, the three of us weren’t able to be together because of travel conflicts, so Paulie spent the first part of Spring Break with me in Alcala and the second half with Lizzie is Barcelona.

Like when my parents came to visit, I woke up early to take the bus to the airport where I was waiting when Paulie came through arrivals. I immediately ran to hug her. We’ve been best friends since freshman year and have lived together since sophomore year and even though we What’s Apped all the time and had Skype dates, I had missed my best friend so much. The first day that Paulie was in Spain was a relatively lax day. I remembered how tired I was after I first got over here so I knew she wouldn’t be up for too much. We took the metro to the main train station in order to drop of Paulie’s luggage before we set off to explore in Madrid. Paulie and I were planning on coming back into Madrid the next day, so for her first day in the city I decided to show her Puerta del Sol. I showed her all of the street performers and we of course took a picture on the plaque marks not only the center of Madrid but the center of Spain as well.

After walking around this for a bit and taking pictures, we then went to Plaza Mayor, another popular spot. It’s lined with old government buildings and like Puerta del Sol, there’s a bunch of street performers. There was also a brass band playing in the center of the Plaza. I’d visited Plaza Mayor my first weekend in Spain, and it was so funny how the change in weather can completely change the vibe of a place. When I visited there the first time, it was so cold and not too many people were out in the pit was like visiting a completely different site. Restaurants lined the plaza and everyone was sitting at small tables drinking sangria and nibbling on tapas. We then went to the Mercado de San Miguel, the huge market one street down from the plaza. This was Paulie’s first real experience seeing Spanish food; the market is filled with vendors selling all kinds of  tapas, paella, desserts, and other amazing food. I bought Paulie a croquette to try and she of course loved it. I mean who wouldn’t love fried rolls of yumminess filled with mashed potatoes, meat, and cheese. After exploring the market for a little bit longer, we decided to head to head back to Alcala so Paulie could rest up for a bit.

Once we got to Alcala we checked into our hostel, Hostel Complutalense. Okay, so in Spain there’s a difference between a “hostal” and what we generally think of as hostals. A “hostel” is more in line with what we might consider to be a Day’s Inn. In Spain, alberque de joventudes are what we generally think of as hostels. Those are your dingy, 8-bed room places, where you always wanna take an extra long shower once you get back home. So, if you’re in Spain and you see a “hostal” check it out; they’re actually pretty nice.

After checking in, Paulie took a long nap to recover from her jet lag while I went home to pack and overnight bag and grab my stuff for school the next day.  After a few hours, I went back to the hostal to wake up Paulie so we could head out to dinner. I first took her to La Media Pinta, the first bar that my friends and I went to in Alcala. We both got sangrias and caught up on things going on at Wofford and everything going on here in Spain. After our drink, we went to a tapas bar that Ian recommended: Qunito Tapon. It was so delicious. I got my favorite Spanish tapas for Paulie to try, like patatas bravas, tortilla española, croquettes, and a fried egg dish. After dinner, we were both tired so we put on a movie and went to bed. The next morning, I let Paulie sleep in while I went to my grammar class. Luckily, I’d saved  my absences so I was able to skip my afternoon class, and Paulie and I went back into Madrid. We started the day off by going to the Prado. I’d been there before when I’d visited Spain with my parents a few years ago, but I hadn’t been back during my semester in Spain. Paulie really loves art so I knew that we had to go. We got there around 1pm and didn’t leave the museum until at least 4pm. I had forgotten how big the museum is. Every time we walked into a room, there would be a hallway leading to six other rooms.  In the beginning, we started off looking at each piece, reading the description and commenting on the things we liked about it. Then, we began just looking at the pictures and occasionally pointing out things we liked, but after about the 4oth room, we’d walk to the center of the room, do a 180 degree turn. If there was a piece we really liked we’d point it out, but if not, we’d keep walking to the next room.  It’s a great museum and there’s so much incredible art like La Menina by Velazquez; it’s just a lot to take in. Luckily, since I was studying in Spain and had both a student visa and an ID card from the University of Alcala, I was able to get into all the museums for free. After the Prado, Paulie and I got a light lunch at a café close to the museum. We split a plate of hummus with crackers and veal. It was so delicious and satisfying. The weather was also perfect; it was warm outside, but wasn’t unbearably hot like in South Carolina, so it was nice to just sit outside for a while. I love Spain so much better in the spring than in the winter.

After lunch, I took Paulie to Parque de Buen Retiro, the same park that my friends and I went to on our first trip to Madrid. Again, the difference in the park from back in December to then in April was incredible. So many people were out roller-skating and sun bathing, and the little pond was filled with paddle boats.

Parque de Buen Retiro

Since it was so nice outside, Paulie and I rented a boat for an hour. Our paddling skills were a little rough in the beginning, but we eventually got the hang out if.  The little lake was full of people out in boats and it was really interesting to watch the interactions between the boats. Some of the boats were of couples, so were just guys, and some were just girls. A lot of the guys kept going up to the girls’ boats and pretending to run into them to they could flirt and try and pick up girls. They were all so obvious. There was one boat of two guys that kept following our boat and taking our picture; they weren’t even trying to hide it. We’d be looking directly at them and they’d start snapping away.  It was the weirdest thing.  Finally, we were able to get far enough away but after we got out of our boat and started walking around the boat, we saw that the two guys had found a new boat of girls to follow and take pictures of. So strange.

We kept walking around for a while and at around 7, we left the park and went to a restaurant that some of my friends had told me about, El Tigre.

It’s a tapas bar, and for 7 euros, you order a drink and they bring you out a huge plate of all kinds of tapas and the biggest cup of sangria that I had ever seen. The plates were full of Iberian ham, stuffed mushrooms, cheese, tortilla española, and amazing bread. Some more people around were given croquettes and patatas bravas in their tapas plates. It was so delicious and so cheap for the amount of food we got. It was also a true tapas bar because there were no seats, you just stood around a little bar and threw your napkins on the floor when you were done with them. It was a great atmosphere. After we finished,  we headed back to Alcala and were going to meet up with Ian, but it was getting a late so we all decided to just stay in and watch a movie before going to sleep. In the morning, I went to school. I had to stay at school all day because that afternoon Jess, Megan and I had a presentation for our Spanish cinema class, but luckily my teacher late me leave after we presented. I met up with Paulie for lunch at La Surena, where we ordered way too many tapas since we were starving. We split a flat bread, chicken fingers, and patatas bravas.  We wrapped up the rest of our food in napkins and brought it back to the hostal to munch on later. Yes, I am a poor college student so I do things like wrap food up in napkins to take home. I’m not really sure if Spain does the whole “doggie bag” thing.

After lunch I took her to the convent so she could buy the special almonds for her mom. The nuts are amazing, but even if they weren’t I’d still go there to buy them because the element of secrecy during the transaction is so cool. I don’t remember if I explained this in my first blog, but at the covenant, you never see the nuns faces. When you walk in, there’s a wall that shows the different box sizes and prices and when you decide what you want, you ring a little bell and there’s a little revolving shelf where there’s a nun on the other side who takes your order.

The Nutty Nuns!

After you place your order, she spins the shelf and you put your money inside and spin it around and once the nun takes your money, she spins the shelf again and your nuts are inside. It’s such a cool process. After that, we kept walking around the city and I showed her all of my favorite little restaurants and shops, as well as many historic sites like Cervantes’s House. It was closed when we got there so we just took the typical picture with the Don Quixote and Sancho statues.

After exploring the city for a while, we went back to the hostal to shower and get ready for the night. We met up with my friends for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Rustys, before trivia. Paulie and I were still pretty full from lunch so we split two tapas. At trivia, Paulie and I were on a team with a guy from the US and a girl from France. To no one’s surprise, our team did not win or come even close to winning. Oh well. After trivia, Paulie and I hung out for a while before heading back to the hostel for the night.

Hanging out at The Green

The next morning, I had class and a few presentations because Thursday was the start of Spring Break or as they call it in Spain, Semana Santa! After school, I went back to the hostel to hang out with Paulie and finish up a few last minute homework things before going back to my house to pack for Semana Santa. I had to pack enough stuff for 10 days, so I was at my house for a while, figuring out what all I wanted to bring. After a few hours, I said my goodbyes to my host family and headed back to the hostal. It was pretty late, so Paulie and I went to dinner once I got back. All semester, I had been telling Paulie about my kebab obsession so we went to a local restaurant, Alli Babas for kebab. So kebab is one of the best foods ever invented. For those of whom you don’t know what kebab is or have never had it, let me just say that you’re missing out. Kebab is a big pita pocket filled with amazing shaved lamb, tomatos, lettuce, and yummy sauce. Also, it’s incredibly cheap. In Spain, there are kebab places everywhere. I think in Alcala we probably have at least four kebab places and Alcala is a small town. I think kebab may be the food I will miss the most after I leave Spain. It’s just amazing. Just thinking about kebab right now makes me hungry. I don’t think I can put into words how amazing it is. You’ll just have to go have one. After kebab, we walked around Plaza de Cervantes and grabbed some ice cream before heading back to the hostal.

Struggling to pack

The next day, I was going to Rome to start off Semana Santa with Jess and Nancy. We all found different ways to get there, so none of us had the same train or plane rides. I was taking a train at 6am to Barcelona and then catching a plane to Rome. Paulie took the train with me to Barcelona so that she could meet up with Lizzie and begin the second part of her trip. So, on Thursday morning at 3:30am, Paulie and I woke up and took a taxi to the train station in Madrid. We would have taken the train into Madrid but it doesn’t start running until 6am so we just split the cost of a taxi. We were worried about running late or missing our train so we left extra early. When we got to the train station, we were so early that the station hadn’t even opened yet so we sat on our suitcases outside while we waited for the station to open. It finally opened at 5am, so we went inside and then waiting some more to get on our train. Since we bought our tickets at different times our seats weren’t together but decided that as soon as the train took off, I’d go get Paulie and we’d go to the dining car for breakfast.  For some reason, I have never been a big fan of breakfast food, well at least in the morning. I’m usually that weirdo who will eat a sandwich or pasta for breakfast and then an omelet for dinner.  So while Paulie got toast and jam, I got a grilled chicken sandwich with honey mustard. I’m weird, I know.

After breakfast we went back to our seats and I immediately fell back asleep. Next thing I knew, our train was in Barcelona and Paulie and I met up to go find a taxi. Lizzie had class so she was unable to meet us at the train station, so I made sure that Paulie had the address of her hostal written down and I made sure she got a taxi and that her taxi driver knew where to take her before grabbing a taxi. After Paulie good to go, I grabbed a taxi to the airport and my Italian vacation.

So before I start explaining Semana Santa, I need to back track a little bit. I knew that I wanted to travel somewhere for Semana Santa. I didn’t care where; I just wanted to travel. From probably about the beginning of my semester Jess and I knew that we’d go somewhere together for Spring Break. At first we were thinking Ibiza or the Canary Islands, but they’re both pretty dead until June. After we struck that off our list we looked into Greece or maybe a small cruise, but both options were way too expensive. Nancy really wanted to go to Italy, so the three of us decided to travel throughout Italy for Semana Santa. Megan, Diana and Lindsay were also doing Italy for Semana Santa, but they’d already made their plans, so Jess, Nancy and I decided to be our own little travel group. We met up one day in mid February to start figuring out where we wanted to travel to and after a while, we decided on Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre. We hadn’t planned hostals yet so a few weeks later, Jess and I FaceTimed for over four hours looking into hostels and apartments for our trip, as well as how to get to Italy and the best way to travel around. After forever, we decided to stay in Rome for three days, Florence for two days, and Cinque Terre for five days. We were going to stay in hostels in Rome and Florence, and since we’d be in Cinque Terre for the longest, we found an apartment to rent.

So back the traveling, I was the first to arrive in Rome so I caught a shuttle that took me to my hostal and check the girls and I into our room. Jess and I made all the hostal reservations together so I couldn’t remember who’s name which hostal as in. When I got to the front desk to check in I told them my name. I had gotten an email confirmation for this hostal so I figured that it was in my name, wrong. Jess had only forwarded me a copy of the confirmation so after about 10 minutes of trying to get the guy to find my name using every combination of von Keller the reservations might be under, I pulled up the email to show him that I wasn’t crazy and did have a reservation, when I realized that the reservation was in fact under Jess’s name. Crisis averted.  After I finally got up to our room, I chilled for a bit while I waited for Nancy and Jess to arrive. Nancy got there about 45 minutes after I did, so we went grocery shopping and explored for a bit while we waited for Jess to arrive.

We made it!

After we got back from grocery shopping, we saw all the texts from Jess. Not only had her plane been delayed, but someone went through her suitcases and stole some of her things as well. Needless to say, we could already tell that this was going to be the trip of struggles. We waited in the hostel for Jess and finally, she arrived. She was mad and tired from all of her traveling and to make things worse, whoever went through her stuff stole her sneakers, which she had just bought. Some of her luggage had been lost so she only had the clothes she was wearing to make things worse. We let her hang out in the room, while Nancy and I went downstairs to make dinner. We had assumed that all hostels would have kitchens, but we were wrong. This hostel only had a microwave and a few plastic bowls, which made making pasta very difficult. We still managed to make yummy pesto pasta with blood oranges and bread and brought it up to our room so we could all eat together. This was a really nice hostel. The bathroom was separate from the actual sleeping area but was still part of our room. It was a four bed room but no one was in the fourth bed so we were able to spread our stuff out around the room and have some privacy.  After we ate dinner we all passed out; we were so exhausted from traveling all day.

The next morning, we woke up and Nancy and I showered. Jess didn’t want to leave the hostel until her luggage got there because she didn’t have a change of clothes and didn’t have her shower stuff. She didn’t want us to miss out on our time in Rome so Jess told us to go out and explore and that she would text us when her luggage arrived. Nancy and I found a free walking tour so we walked around the city exploring a bit on our own before the tour started. We went to an old church and saw a statute of Poseidon, which I obviously had to take a picture with.

Oh hey, it’s Poseidon

Roming around Rome

We made our way to the Spanish steps, which was the meeting place for our tour. We got there really early so Nancy and I got our first gelatos. I got a mix of tiramisu and a flavor called zappa ingles; both were so amazing. We walked around a bit before our tour started and found a spot to pick up free wifi so we could text Jess and see if she was going to meet up with us on the tour. Her bags hadn’t been delivered yet, so we planned on meeting up after dinner.

At 5, Nancy and I wandered back to the Spanish steps to find the free tour. We wandered all around the steps and the little square in front of them and after about 15 minutes, we finally found the tour guide. He gave us a quick history of Rome and Italy. Did you know that the United States is actually older than unified Italy? I definitely didn’t. The guide took us all around Rome, taking us into important churches, showing us little centers, we went to the Pantheon, he showed us where the designer Valentino lives and we finished the tour at the Trevi Fountain. While the tour was very informative, the tour guide was a jerk. He was rude to the people in our group, he spoke poorly of his own country, and was very disrespectful at one of the churches we visited. You’re not supposed to tour a church while mass is going on and you’re definitely not supposed to take pictures. Well we went into a church while Mass was going on and a man at the church asked us to be quiet and not take pictures. Our tour guide got an attitude with the man and told him that the state funds the churches through tax money so technically our tour guide was paying for the church so he could do whatever he wanted to inside. It was just really rude and uncomfortable. I really think this guy should reconsider professions.

When we got to the Trevi Fountain, Jess called us and told us that her bags had finally been delivered and that she’d showered and was ready to meet up with us. We headed back to the Spanish Steps because it was the easiest place to meet up at. Once we met up, we all found a small little restaurant because none of us had eaten since breakfast that morning. So for those of you who don’t know me that well, pasta is my favorite food in the world. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; actually, I have definitely eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner before, so being in Italy for a week was amazing for me. I ordered a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, and sweet baby Jesus it was amazing. I knew I was going to love Italy. Nancy got a big pizza and Jess had pasta bolognese. Yum. After dinner, we headed back to the Trevi Fountain and had more gelato. Trevi was packed with people but luckily we found a little place to sit and eat our gelato before we threw our coins into the fountain.

We all threw our coins in and took tons of pictures before heading back to the hostel.

CIEE takes the Trevi Fountain

The next morning we woke up early and grabbed breakfast before catching a metro to see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

Wofford does the Colosseum

The lines were crazy long and it was a tad expensive to actually go inside of the Colosseum so we just walked around outside of it and took pictures. We toured the Roman forum before catching a bus to the side of town where the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica are. Fact: In Italy, bus drivers don’t check to see if you have a ticket. Buses run on a type of honor policy, although I didn’t see anyone swiping a bus ticket. So, if you want to test your luck and try and get a free bus ride, Italy is the place to do so.

We spent the second half of our day at the Vatican. Luckily for us, the man at our hostel told us that the best time to tour the Vatican was after 1pm, so we only waited in line at St. Peter’s for 30 minutes and there was no line to get into the Vatican.

My new friends at St. Peter’s

We toured the Vatican Museum and saw all the art that lead to the Sistine Chapel. There kept being signs that said the Sistine Chapel was in the next room, wrong. We went through gallery after gallery after gallery before we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. Yet again, my class with Dr. Schmunk paid off because I recognized so many of the pieces of art that we saw. It was so cool to be able to see the art that I studied in person.

Oh hey, I studied this.

After we finished exploring the Vatican, we started heading back to our hostel when we almost found ourselves in the middle of protest. We took the metro back to our hostel but the stop that was supposed to take us to our hostel was closed. Since we don’t speak Italian we had no idea why, so we got off on the stop one past ours. When we began walking back to our hostel, we noticed that more police officers and police cars out than had been earlier in the day.

Getting ready for the riot

In addition, there were a few helicopters circling the area. On the walk back to the hostel, we passed a big government building, I’m not exactly sure what building it was, but there were about 20 Italian police officers surrounding the front of the building. They all had big shields out and armored trucks kept driving by. At first, we thought an important government official may be in the city or a foreign government official was in town. We waited across the street for a while in hopes of seeing what all the commotion was about, but after about 30 minutes we gave up and headed back to the hostel. Later on that night, we met up with the other girls for dinner and told them about what we had seen. They told us that there was a big riot/protest in town that day, which is why so many police officers were out and helicopters were out.  I think that fact that we were almost caught up in the middle of a big Italian riot is pretty cool, although that wasn’t the exact words my friends used to describe it, but it’s still a pretty cool story.

The next day we caught a train to Florence for the next part of our Semana Santa. Our hostel was five minutes away from the hostel so we were able to walk from the train station. It was too early to check in so we left our luggage there and set off to grab lunch before a guided tour through the city. Okay, I love tours and I love learning about stuff in a new city but oh my goodness gracious, this was the most boring tour of my entire life and to make things worse, it started raining halfway through and I was the only one without an umbrella. Although the tour was pretty boring, it did give us an idea of what was in the city and the places we should set off to the next day. Also, we stopped to get gelato after the tour and this was some of the best gelato I had ever had. Yes, I accidentally bought a six-euro cone of gelato but it was worth every cent.

The next day we set off early from our hostel to see Florence. We went to Giotto’s Campanile, which is the huge bell tower at the Santa Maria del Fiore, the oldest church in Florence. When you go to Florence, you can buy a ticket for 10 euros that allows you to go to the Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto’s Campanile and Il Duomo. You have 24 hours to tour all three, which is really helpful  because all of these places had very long lines to get into.

The long trek to the top.

We climbed to the top of the bell tower and 414 steps later, we had an amazing view of Florence. We were able to see the entire city and the surrounding Italian countryside. It was absolutely breathtaking.  

After the bell tower, we wandered around the city for a while, peeking into free museums, taking our typical pictures with all the statues we saw, and checking out the different flavors at all the gelaterias. We stopped by a small pizza shop that had pizzas lined up in rows. Rather than ordering a slice, you order your pizza by length and they then charge you by the weight of the pizza. It’s actually a really cool concept. This way everyone is happy since you can order the pizza based on the size you want.  Jess and I split a piece of sausage and mushroom pizza. It was in pizza bliss. It was the best pizza I have EVER  eaten in my entire life. Seriously, this is the type of pizza that you would slap your momma for. It was that good. I may still have dreams about this pizza. I don’t remember the name of this pizza place but it was on Via de Neri. This street is lined with little restaurants and also on the street is what is considered the best sandwich place in Florence. We weren’t able to go but there were people standing in line all the way down the street, which was definitely a good sign as to how delicious this place was. It’s called All’Antico Vinaio. It doesn’t have indoor seating but it wraps your sandwich in a brown paper so you can take it to go and eat somewhere else, like by the river or in an outdoor plaza somewhere. Definitely check it out if you have an opportunity to go to Florence and let me know how it was! After our pizza, we went to the Palazzo Pitti, which was the former palace for the Medici family. There is a big plaza in front of the palace where people can lay out and eat lunch or take a quick cat nap. We laid out on the plaza for a while and while the girls continued laying out, I explored the city for a bit to find souvenirs. After we met back up, Jess and I bought tickets to see the Boboli Gardens and the Costume Museum in the palace. The gardens were gorgeous. We could have spent all afternoon there.

Boboli Gardens

There were tons of little pools and gardens to wander around. I wish we could have bought more of that amazing pizza and brought it to the gardens and just stayed there all day.

Then, we toured the costume museum which displayed the outfits of the women in the Medici family and famous Italian women during the mid-1900s. They outfits were so exquisite, all accompanied with jewelry and hats. This was such a great afternoon. I wish we could have spent more time in the gardens, but it gives me an excuse to go back in the future. After the garden, we went to tour Il Duomo but due to the long lines, we weren’t able to get in before closing so we toured the Santa Maria del Fiore, the church of the bell tower. Of course, we got more gelato. So far, my diet has consisted of pizza, pasta, and gelato. This is the life. Another hint, if you’re ever in Florence and they have nutella gelato, its not nutella-flavored gelato. They will literally put a scoop of straight nutella into your cup or bowl. While this may seem delicious, nutella is way too thick and rich to try and eat like gelato.

That night, we met up with the girls again and went to a great restaurant downtown. We initially found this one little old restaurant on the other side of town, but we didn’t check to see if they had gluten free options for Lindsay, so we found another place that Lindsay would be able to eat at. It was fabulous. I had a nice little salad and a big bowl of pesto pasta. I could so live here forever.

The next morning, we all woke up early and strolled around Florence one last time before we caught the train to Cinque Terre. We had to catch three trains in order to get to Cinque Terre and after about three hours, we finally arrived to the last leg of our Semana Santa. For those of you who don’t know, Cinque Terre means five lands in Italian. Cinque Terre is made up of five beaches and the cool thing is that you can hike from beach to beach and all five of the beaches are connected by hiking trails. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare, the only sandy beach in Cinque Terre.

Our train to to Monterosso went through a tunnel along the side of the mountain so kept get quick views of the beach, but once we arrived in Monterosso, we were in awe. It was absolutely beautiful. The water was so blue and the buildings were brightly colored. We decided to stay in Monterosso for the longest amount of time because we wanted a relaxing few days before we returned back to Alcala and began cramming for finals. Since we were in Monterosso for four days, we decided to rent an apartment for our time there so we’d be able to spread our things out and have a kitchen.  Our apartment was so precious. It was purple with a queen sized bed and a pull out couch. There was a little kitchen and a huge bathroom. We had a TV but all of the channels except one news channel were in Italian, so we watched a lot of shows on MTV in Italian. Even in Italian, the girls on Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant were still ridiculous. It was really funny at points to watch an Italian movie or TV show and try and figure out what was going on. The apartment didn’t have WiFi, but there was a small cafe close to our apartment where you could buy a one euro cup of coffee and use their Wifi.

That first night, after settling in and going grocery shopping, it was pretty late and we were exhausted so we enjoyed big bowls of spaghetti while watching an American movie in Italian, trying to figure out what was going on. The next morning, we met up with the girls to hike one of the beaches. They came down for the day to hike with us, so we met them at the train station and after dropping off their stuff at our apartment, we set off on our hike. According to our map and a woman at the tourism office, the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, the neighboring beach, the hike was about 4 miles and would only take 2 hours.

I have no idea what trail this woman was talking about but it was definitely not the one that we took. Seven hours and 11 miles later, we made it to Vernazza but it was 100% worth it. The hike was at times flat and at other times very steep. The trail that goes along the beach was temporarily closed for maintenance so we hike up mountain and back down to Vernazza so the trail was really rocky, but at times we had great overviews of the beach. At one point, before we realized how long the hike was actually going to be, we mistakenly thought we were half way done; this was about an hour into the trail, if we only knew.

Anyways, we thought we were halfway done at this point so we made a semi dance video to Turn Down for What. It was so much fun, even though we had another 5 hours left in our hike. There was a great overlook into Vernazza right before you go down the mountain into the city, so we stopped to take pictures and take in the Pinterest worthiness of our views (pictures of this overlook are definitely on Pinterest).

Vernazza

Some people in our group wanted to go ahead down the mountain while some waited to stay up there for a bit longer so we ended up breaking off into three groups. Diana and Megan went down first, then Lindsay and I were a couple of minutes behind them and Jess and Nancy stayed up there for a bit longer. This probably wasn’t the best idea because there were two ways to get down into the city and of course we all took different ways down and we couldn’t find Wi-Fi in the city to text each other. Luckily I still had a bit of data so I was able to text Jess and tell her where Lindsay and I were waiting. When Jess and Nancy came down into the city they found Diana and Megan so we were all reunited. We all got gelato and sat by the water for a bit before taking the train to Monterosso. We were not about to hike back for another six hours. When we got back to our apartment, Megan, Diana and Lindsay went down to the water and to sit on the beach, while Nancy, Jess, and I changed real quick before we met back up to go to dinner. Our apartment didn’t have wifi so we were always looking for places on the beach to pick up a signal so we found a restaurant that had wifi. We were all exhausted and sun burned at dinner so it was a bit more quiet than usual. I ordered spaghetti Bolognese, and it was fabulous. After dinner, the girls caught the train back to Florence and we went back to the apartment. I was so tired and sunburned from the hike that I slept like a baby.

The next morning, Jess and Nancy decided to sleep in but I woke up earlier than them so I went to a café to order a coffee and use the Wifi before heading down to the beach. When the girls woke up, we all brought our towels and mini speakers to the beach to try and soak in the sun for a bit. It was warm enough outside but it was really windy, so we got a bit chilly laying out. After laying out for a large part of the afternoon, we went to get gelato before heading back to the apartment to figure out what we wanted to do for the rest of the day. We needed to stock up on groceries so we made of list of what we wanted for dinner and went to the local grocery stores to buy food for the night. I think we went a little overboard with groceries, but it just gave us more options for what we wanted to eat. That night, Nancy made arroz con pollo and we had green beans. We watched the MTV movie awards while we ate our dinner then went to sit outside of the local café to pick up their wifi signal. The café had closed so we sat on the doorstep to pick up the signal from inside. We walked around the town for a little while before heading back to the apartment for the night. The next day, it was rainy and dreary outside so we slept in a bit and once the rain had stopped for a bit, we went to explore the city. There was a huge rock by the train station that a lot of people climbed, so after exploring the city for a while, we came back to the big rock and Nancy and I climbed it while Jess chilled on the beach. The rock was very high so we got a good view of our little city.  We also met a girl who was roommates with our friend Grace, who was studying in Sienna. Even though Europe is huge, it was crazy how the “study abroad” world was so small at times. Since we were in a foreign place, we loved running into Americans and seeing if there were similarities between us. I ran into a few people studying at Clemson and some from USC. Nancy ran into people from her hometown and other people in our group would run into people from their state and sometimes even their universities. It was so cool.

We walked around the town for a bit longer before heading back to the apartment to start packing. Also, since we went a bit overboard with grocery shopping, we had to cook all the food we had bought. There was a smorgasbord of pesto pasta, grilled chicken, proscuitto, rice, and more green beans. It was so delicious but we definitely did not finish all of it. That night we walked around the town again and ordered more gelato (see a pattern yet?). We also went ahead and bought our train tickets for the next morning so we wouldn’t be as rushed.

The next morning, it was pouring so we had to drag all of our luggage to the train station in the rain. It wasn’t super fun. A few of our friends from Wofford happened to be in Monterosso that morning so we met up with them for a bit before we caught our train.

Wofford takes on Cinque Terre

When we headed to the train station, Jess realized she had forgotten her bookbag at the café so she had to run back to get it and we ended up missing our train. There were other trains to our next spot but it would cause us to have to rush to catch the next train. We ended up making all of our trains but we had to run to catch most of them. In some instances we literally sprinted to catch the next train. Around 2pm, we arrived in Pisa and started heading towards the Leaning Tower.

I wonder if anyone knows I’m a tourist?

We took the obligatory tourist pictures before heading to the airport to catch our plane to Barcelona. So, while I love transportation in Europe because it’s so cheap, it can also be annoying at times as well. With most airlines, you can get the airline desk to print off your tickets, but with RyanAir, they charge you 15 euros to print off your ticket. The computer café was closed by the time we arrived so we had to rush around to different kiosks to beg someone to print off our tickets. Luckily, there was one very nice guy who printed off all of our tickets. Our plane to Barcelona was fine and we were able to catch the bus to the bus station, but we ran into a problem once we arrived to the bus station. Nancy hadn’t bought her ticket from Barcelona to Madrid yet because she thought there would still be open seats but when we got there, all of the tickets were sold out. Nancy had to wait at the bus station all night and wasn’t able to get a bus until 1pm the next day. I can’t even imagine how awful that was.

Finally, after a solid 24 hours of traveling, we made it back home to Alcala. Jess and I were exhausted and had so much laundry to do, but our trip in Italy was worth every minute. Every struggle we faced, every mishap that occured, it was all amazing and it made my Semana Santa the most memorable Spring Break i’ve yet to have.

Hopefully one day Ill be able to return to these beautiful places that i’ve visited and spend more time in each place. I’d love to hike more of the beaches in Cinque Terre or visit Il Duomo in Florence. I want to spend a day in the Boboli Gardens and get more of that life changing pizza. Hopefully I can have a chance to return to these places when I’m older, but if not, these 10 days in Italy were so amazing and I’ll never forget my crazy Semana Santa.

Okay, I promise my last blog post will be posted ASAP!! Sorry for getting slack on y’all.

New Words:

  1. riot- disturbio
  2. groceries- provisiones
  3. hike- caminata
  4. to struggle- esforzarse

 

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Aventuras con Mis Padres

Usually waking up early is one of my least favorite things to do in the world, but two weeks ago I happily woke up to my 6:30am alarm so I could catch the 7:30am bus to the Madrid airport. Why was I so happy to be waking up so early? Taking a cool trip? Nope. My parents were arriving and I went to surprise them at the airport!!

Before heading off to Spain, my parents and I decided that they were going to come visit once they received clearance from my dad’s surgeon that it was okay for him to travel; he’d gotten a large knee surgery right after Christmas. So about a month and a half ago, my dad’s surgeon gave him clearance and my parents booked their flight to Madrid. They decided to come mid-March because it was half way through my program and it was around the time that seasons change so they could bring me summer clothes and help to switch out my wardrobe. Initially, my parents thought that I was meeting them at their hotel because I had class in the morning, but little did they know that I had talked to my teachers and was able to get out of class so that I could come surprise them at the airport. Part of me thought they might expect me to do something like that, but after seeing their faces at the airport I knew that they had no idea about me coming to surprise them! Needless to say it was very worth waking up at 6:30am to be able to meet them at the airport.

After my parents collected their rental car (we decided to be adventurous and rent a car and drive around Spain rather than using trains or planes), we headed into Alcala so they could check into the hotel and explore my city. So, after getting lost a few times, we finally made it into Alcala! Once they checked into their hotel, the Parador (great hotel for anyone coming to visit Alcala), we set off exploring. First, I took my parents to my favorite café, Granier, to have a coffee and snack. My friends and I go to this café every Monday and Wednesday on our break in between classes and I had to take my parents there! We all got café con leches, and my mom and I split a little sandwich. After we rested in the café, we went to the Instituto Franklin so they could see my school and meet my CIEE director, Cristina Blanco. Initially, Cristina told me she wouldn’t speak to my parents in English and I ‘d have to translate for her, but when we got there, she began speaking to them in English. It was pretty cool because it was the first time I had ever heard Cristina speak in English. My parents also got to meet my friends, Jess and Lindsay. After we left school, I began showing my parents around the city. I walked them down Calle Mayor (the prominent street by my school) and took them to the Casa de Cervantes. Miguel Cervantes was born in Alcala and wrote a lot of Don Quixote here, so there are many sites honoring him, one of which was his house. It was my first time going inside the house so it was pretty cool seeing all the little rooms inside of the house and reading about his background. Out front of the house, there is a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho, which everyone takes pictures with, so I made my parents take the obligatory photo with the statues. We then continued to walk around and I showed them all the places I go to for coffee or to shop.

That night was true test of my Spanish skills. Early on, my parents decided they wanted to meet my host family and take them out to dinner, so my host father, Alfonso, book a dinner reservation for the seven of us at a restaurant across the street from my parents hotel. That night, Silvia and I, with some help from Alfonso Hijo, had to translate all of the dinner conversations. Luckily my dad speaks a little Spanish, so for a lot of the time he was able to communicate with Alfonso Padre, but there were still times in which he needed help. Silvia and I constantly had to translate from English to Spanish and Spanish to English and there were definitely times in which we forgot which language we were supposed to be speaking. For example, I’d try and tell my host mom what my mom said and accidentally say it in English, or vice versa.

My two families!

I was also on the verge of developing a cold so needless to say that night when I got back home, I had no voice and was completely exhausted. Even though it really put my Spanish skills to test, it was such a fun dinner; having my two families meet and they really, really hit it off. Cristina even invited my parents over to the house on Sunday when we got back from our trip for coffee! I knew when I first met my host family that they were the Spanish equivalent of my family.

The next morning I woke up and headed to school. As I mentioned before, I was on the verge of getting sick which sucked because my parents were here, but I was also glad to not to be in a foreign country, sick without my parents. I was glad my parents could be here to make me feel better.

Once my Thursday classes had ended, I went to my parents’ hotel and we set off on our adventure. At home, I have a Garmin GPS, but in our rental we were given at TomTom. I’ve never been a fan of TomToms but after this trip my detest of them grew even further. It kept losing a signal and making us drive in circles. It was so frustrating. It took at least 45 minutes to get out of Alcala (a town around the size of Spartanburg). Once we go out on the highway, we were good to go! I wasn’t feeling good and I was super tired, so I slept the entire car ride. After a good two hour nap, we arrived in our first little town: Excaray, a very tiny Spanish town.After my parents checked in to our hotel, which hey had WiFi!, we set off exploring this town. When I said this town was little, I meant really little. Like, smaller than Wofford’s campus.

Excaray

Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but it was small. It was a really pretty, small rural southern town. After exploring the town and stopping at a pharmacy to get me medicine (which was basically this yellow powder and tasted like VERY sour, bitter lemonade) we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Okay, so studying abroad as a young, broke college student, one of the universal things that we look forward to when our parents come is having a nice meal that isn’t paid out of our pocket. So let me tell you this, oh my goodness gracious, this meal was amazing. First of all, we started off with serano ham, a favorite of my mom, and then a goat cheese with honey drizzled on top. For dinner, I had amazing meatballs, or albondigas, with black truffles and potatoes and for dessert; we split a classic Spanish dessert, torreja, which is like a special French Toast. This was an amazing meal and one of the best parts was that I didn’t have to scramble through my wallet to pay for the meal in change. Yes, I am a typical, broke study abroad student.

That night, I slept so well because for the first time on my travels, I wasn’t sleeping in a hostel bed where I was wondering how well the sheets had been washed. After a great night’s sleep, we woke up and head amazing hotel breakfast before checking out and hitting the road towards our next destination: Haro.

Wine Country!

There’s an old winery in Haro called R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia. It’s one of the oldest wineries in Spain and still produces wine in the same manner they did in 1877.

R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia 

We took a tour of the winery, learning about their production techniques and their types of wine and finished with a wine tasting. After the tour we hit the road again and headed towards Santillano del Mar, which is the town of the three lies:

1. it is not a saint (Santo)

2. it’s not flat (llana)

3. it’s not by the sea (mar)

That being said, it was still a pretty cool town, and like Excaray, very small.

La Iglesia de Santillana del Mar

When we got there, we went to lunch at a cute little restaurant and my dad was able to get his paella fix; it’s one of his favorite foods.

Streets of Santillana del Mar

After lunch, we began to hike towards Museo del Altamira. The Altamira Caves are infamous for their indigenous cave drawings. The drawings are incredible but because of a lot of vandalism, no one is allowed inside of the caves anymore so they contrasted a museum, which has samples of all of the cave drawings. It was so cool, but it’s such a shame that you can’t actually see the caves in real life.

Museo de Altamira

So, while the museum was really interesting, we only got to be in there for 15 minutes but on our walk to the museum, we took the wrong route, and what should have been a nice little 15 minute walk turned into a 45 minute walk in the pouring rain. Not fun. Not fun at all. But, 15 minutes was better than nothing. Luckily when my dad realized how we’d taken the wrong route, he walked back to the hotel to get the car, and my mom and I continued walking to the museum, so when we had to leave to head back to the hotel and it was still raining, we had the protection of our car.

That night, we bundled up in coats and rain gear and walked around the small little town. Even though Santillana del Mar is very small, it’s known for just being a beautiful little town, unfortunately for us, it was raining and getting dark so we didn’t get to experience it’s full beauty; however, we walked around the town just to get a feel for it before we headed to dinner. I’d seen a restaurant earlier in the day, which looked really good. My parents were a little skeptical at first, I’m not entirely sure why, but after we’d finished our meals, they were definitely glad they’d went with my decision. That night back in the hotel, we watched YouTube videos and talked. It was so nice catching up with my parents because actually having a face-to-face conversation and being in the same room with each other cannot even compare to Facetiming or What’s App messages. I’d missed my parents so much, so it was so nice just being able to be with them, sitting in a Spanish hotel room watching YouTube videos like “Tiger Attacks Elephant Driver.” Wanna guess who chose this video?? Yup, my dad, but it was such a cool video.

The next morning we woke up again for another great hotel breakfast before we began exploring the city. It was still a little rainy, but nothing too bad. We just walked up and down the streets looking at all the little shops and old buildings. There was a torture museum about torture techniques during the Spanish Inquisition that caught my dad’s eye so we went inside.

Dad’s interested with the Torture Museum

At first, it was pretty cool at first, looking at all the old techniques but then, the descriptions and weapons got a little too graphic so we decided to peace out.

We all weren’t as interested as my dad was.

Once we packed up and hit the road, we headed towards San Sebastian, but we first stopped in Bilbau to see the Guggenheim Museum. This was probably the coolest museum I have ever visited. They were featuring an artist by the name of Ernesto Neto, whose exhibits were completely interactive, evoking your sense of smell, touch, sight, and sound. There was cool music playing and spices hanging from baskets and in some rooms, you were even supposed to take off you shoes and walk around. It was seriously the coolest museum I have ever been too.

The Guggenheim.

After finishing up at the museum we hit the road again and headed to San Sebastian where that night, we had a pinxto tour, which is the Basque Country’s version of tapas. With our guide Eli, we went to six different bars and had two types of pinxtos. Our pinxtos ranged from marinated steak on delicious bread to risotto with mushrooms to marinated shrimp to more new aged pinxtos that used molecular gastronomy. It was such a cool experience and the food was amazing. It was the bar crawl equivalent of pinxtos.

The food was great, we got to try different types of Basque wines and drinks, and the other couple in our tour was very cool to talk to. They were a couple from New York who are getting married this summer. Fun fact: the woman used to work at Nickelodeon for the shower Dora the Explorer.

After our tour was over, we stayed in the last bar and chatted with the couple for a bit before heading back to the hotel. When we left the bar, it started monsooning outside. It was pouring so hard and the wind was so strong that it turned all of our umbrellas inside out. Even though our hotel was only a few blocks away, we took a taxi but it was miserable outside. The wind was almost knocking us backwards it was blowing so hard.

The next morning, we walked around the beach for a little bit before we had to head back to Alcala. Yet again, it was raining and windy so we had to wait for the rain to stop in order to be able to venture out onto the beach. The wind was blowing so hard; it was literally pushing me with it. It was very entertaining to watch joggers try and run against the wind. They weren’t making much progress.

Dad and I at the beach. Windy

Even though the wind was incredibly strong, the beach was so beautiful.

San Sebastian. Finally, the sun came out.

I really want to come back one day when the weather is a little better. Once we set off back towards Alcala, we stopped in Pamplona to walk around for the bit and to grab lunch. Even though I won’t be in Spain in time for the running of the bulls, it was still cool to see where it actually happens. Let me just tell you this, those streets are really, really narrow. I can’t even imagine how jam-packed it is during San Fermino. I can definitely see why so many people are injured each year. Glad I’m missing out on that festival. After walking around the city, we stopped at a restaurant where Ernest Hemmingway was said to have come to write his novels while he lived in Spain.

After a four-hour drive, my parents and I finally got back to Alcala. We ended our trip perfectly by going to a small bar in Alcala, La Media Pinta, to watch El Classico, the soccer match against Real Madrid (my team) and FC Barcelona (my dad’s team). It was a great ending to their trip and made me super excited to watch the World Cup with my dad this summer. In the past I was never very interested in watching soccer matches; however, after living in Spain for four months in a family who loves soccer, I have definitely changed my ways. I’m looking forward to sitting with my dad after work this summer and rooting on our teams.

In three days, my parents and I have driven I don’t even know how many miles, seen some great little towns, ate great food, and had an amazing trip together; however, not to be cheesy, but my favorite part of the trip was being with my parents. I had missed them so much during my time in Spain so finally being reunited with them was great. Even though I was sick, I loved every minute of being with my parents, even when we got lost or visited gory torture museums.

Now that my parents have gone, I have to big trips to prepare for: my roommate, Paulie Howell’s visit and my Spring Break trip with Jess and Nancy through Italy!! I’m siked, so stay tuned for upcoming adventures.

Besos.

New Words:

  1. Deslumbrar- to dazzle
  2. Canoso- Grey headed
  3. Coqueteo- flirting
  4. Desagradable- displeasing

 

 

 

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Exploring Tangier!

Before studying abroad, I made a list of all the places I wanted to travel to. I picked the typical ones, like Paris and Italy, but my number one destination was Morocco. I remember telling my mom that the one place I wanted to go was to Morocco and to ride a camel. She gave me that “no way in hell” look and probably thought it was just one of my crazy ideas like the time I wanted to grow dread locks (this idea lasted for about 20 minutes). The closer my departure date came, the more adamant I was about traveling to Morocco and my mom realized that unlike the dread locks, I was serious. So, after getting a great travel book by Rick Steves and researching Tangier, I knew I had to go. Once I arrived to Madrid and met the people in my program, one of the first questions I asked was if anyone wanted to go to Morocco with me. I thought I might have to convince them it was a cool idea, but to my surprise, a lot of them were interested in going. So, a little over a month ago, we began looking at cheap RyanAir flights to Tangier and booked our tickets. This past weekend, my wish was granted and I was able to spend a weekend in Tangier, Morocco.

Like my mom, my dad wasn’t too keen on his 21-year-old daughter traveling to Morocco, but he knew that like when he was 21 back in the day, there was no stopping me because like him,  I love to travel and explore new things. My dad told me it was okay for me to go as long as a guy was traveling in our group. So, after my friend Ian told us he wanted to come, I had the complete go-ahead.  Unlike my past trips, I had to be much more conscientious when it came to the clothes I was bringing. Since Morocco is a very conservative, Muslim country, I had to pack accordingly. While my clothes aren’t provocative or “inappropriate,” I had to make sure that when I wore leggings, my shirts went well bellow my backside and that none of my shirts were too low cut. I also packed a bunch of scarves because we weren’t sure if we’d be going into any buildings where we needed to keep our heads covered.

Last Friday, after many Taken jokes, we set off for the airport on our Morocco journey. Was I nervous? Yup. Was I beyond excited to travel to Morocco? More than anything. While I was excited to explore the city, the one thing I was most excited for was the possibility of riding a camel. I was determined to make that happen. Whenever my friends and I got to together to plan our trip and they would ask what everyone wanted to do, I was always the first to pipe in and my response was always the same: ride a camel.

When we arrived in Tangier, I went through customs for the first time since arriving in Spain. Whenever you travel within the European Union (which all of my previous trips have been), you don’t have to go through customs and unfortunately, you don’t get you passport stamped. After making our way through customs, we stopped in baggage claim to figure out the best way to get to the hostel. We were approached at one point who claimed he worked for the airport (still not sure about that one) and he kept asking to see the name of our hostel. Since we didn’t know if this guy was legitimate and we’ve seen one too many Euro-vacations gone wrong movies, we declined and told him we knew how to get where we were going (lie, we had no idea). We decided that since we didn’t know are way around the city we would just take taxis to our hostel. Well, when we gave our drivers the address, they couldn’t figure out how to get to our hostel, The Melting Pot. After what seemed like 15 minutes (probably only five), the drivers figured out where they were going and we were off!

The airport was about 20 minutes outside of the city so it was pretty cool to be able to see the transition from the more modern where the airport was located to the older part of Tangier, which is what I thought of when I picture Morocco. Windy cobblestone steps, open markets, and traditional Muslim clothing.

Since we were in a new continent and there’s a lot of negative stigma surrounding Morocco, we were all a little bit more nervous before our trip than on previous ones. A lot of girls read a bunch of travel blogs to learn about the city and to have a safe vacation. All the blogs talked about potential scams and how to avoid them, which shout out of Megan and Lindsay for their research, we successfully avoided. A lot of people make money in Morocco by trying to be your tour guide or “helping” you find somewhere and then demanding money. So, being broke college students, we weren’t too interested in being scammed. So, we made sure our taxi drivers tell us the price up front on how to get to our hostel. It was 150 dirham (15 euros) for each taxi, which was great because divided between four people, was a cheap taxi. When we got closer to our hostel, we drove past a large group of boys who began chasing our taxi. We after first thought it was just the taxi in front of us (Ashley, Lindsay, Megan, and Diana) but when we looked behind us, a boy was chasing our taxi as well. Our time from arriving to the airport until we got to our hostel was probably the sketchiest part of our trip. I’m still not exactly sure why those boys were chasing our taxis.

The taxi drivers had called our hostel while we were in the cars, so once the taxis parked, a man from the hostel came to meet us and walk us to the hostel because the taxis couldn’t drive up to where our hostel was. As we were walking to our hostel, the man asked us where we were from. Before going to Morocco, we had heard that Moroccan dislike Americans so we should tell them we are Canadians. So, when the man from the hostel asked my friend Laura where our group was from, she told them Canada. After she told them this, we realized that once we got to the hostel, we would have to show them all of our passports so they would realize that we definitely were not from Canada. It was pretty funny when the men at the hostel looked at our passports and said, “We thought you were from Canada?” We then had to explain why Laura told them we were from Canada. The situation had potential to be incredibly awkward but luckily everyone just laughed it off. After we checked into the hotel, we met a man named Muhammad, who works with the hostel to give walking tours to guests. For five euros (500 dirham) a person, he would walk us around the city and through the big market and show us the sites of Tangier. It sounded like a great idea to us because none of us had any clue about what to do in Tangier besides riding camels. After we settled into our rooms and put on our incredibly attractive money belts or neck straps, we headed downstairs to begin our tour. He walked us through all the windy streets explaining the door signs and basic history to the port town of Tangier. Apparently, Morocco was the first country to recognize the United State’s independence from Britain and to have an American Embassy. Interesting.

On our tour, Muhammad showed us the coastline and told us how in the upcoming years, Tangier is changing it’s coastal front to be full of restaurants and clubs to help increase its tourism.

Tangier coast!

He took us to an open-air market where locals sell fruit, vegetables, all kinds of meat, and candy bars. Oh, and you can’t forget their amazing pita bread. It’s delicious.

The market!

Muhammad kept repeating how there are three religions on Tangier: Muslim, Judaism, and Christianity and how the three religions live in harmony. Just by the sheer number of times he repeated this made me question the validity of it. He took us to the Jewish quarters and it was actually really interesting seeing the difference between this street and the rest of morocco. You could definitely see the distinctions between the two. After the market, we went to a jewelry shop that was owned by Muhammad’s uncle. Can you say kickback? The jewelry was pretty cool, and they had a large assortment of rings and bracelets, but I wasn’t looking to spend that much money on jewelry. After we got there, they brought out hot green tea for everyone. In the blogs that my friend Lindsay read about Morocco, she learned that many times when people enter shops like these, the owners will give customers hot beverages.  Apparently, when you drink a hot beverage it causes a reaction with your tongue and it allows the store owners to tell when you’re lying so they’ll know if you really don’t have enough money to pay for their initial price or not. I’m not entirely sure how it works, but if it’s true, that’s a very interesting technique. After the jewelry shop, Muhammad took us to a shop that sells spices and creams. He showed us all of these spice mixes and herbal remedies to treat stress or insomnia, in addition to different types of lotions and makeup. I bought some spices for my mom (hope she doesn’t read this yet, it’s a gift!) and a cool lipstick that is green but when you put it on turns red. The store, like most other places in Tangier, was very cheap and everything in the store was buy two, get the third free, so we all loaded up on spices and lotions to bring back home with us.

The spice shop also offered massages. Interesting.

After this store, we went to a local rug and scarf shop where all of the products were handmade and you can actually see them being made in the store. The man who worked there showed us all the different tapestries and rugs. He also showed us how to tie the scarves around our heads into headdresses. He showed me how to do it first then showed the rest of the girls in my group. It was pretty cool.

My scarf guy.

We were all starving after this shop, so Muhammad took us to a restaurant for dinner. It was a four-course meal full of authentic Moroccan food. We started off with different types of breads and dips, and then we had a Moroccan soup, which had small noodles and different vegetables. It was a Moroccan take on minestrone.

First course!

After the soup, we had a fried meat cake, which had cinnamon sugar on top. Then, half of us had chicken tagine and the other half (me) had chicken couscous with vegetables. For dessert, we were served a type of baklava and oranges. For four courses, the meal was 12 euros (120 dirham); totally worth every bite. It was so delicious and we were all stuffed afterwards. After dinner, Muhammad took us back to the hostel for the night. We all hung out on the terrace talking about our day and what we wanted to do the next day. So far, Morocco was awesome.

The next day, we woke up and took showers before eating breakfast on the roof of our hotel. It was a perfect morning. It was warm and sunny, and we had a great overlook of Tangier. Not to mention the great breakfast. We had a type of pita bread with butter and different types of jelly.

Just chilling in Morocco.

After a leisurely breakfast, we booked a two-hour taxi tour for the morning. Our driver took us to the new, more modern part of Morocco and showed us the place where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Overlooking where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet.

We saw the house of the King of Morocco in addition to the president of Morocco. Our driver also took us to a place….wait for it…TO RIDE CAMELS!!! Seriously, I was freaking out; I was so happy. I was told the name of my camel, but I couldn’t really understand it, so I changed it’s name of Pete.

Pete!

We paid 10 euros (100 dirham) to ride the camels for 15-20 minutes and it was so fun! But okay, so even though I was excited to ride the camels, it was kind of sad at the same time. The camels’ conditions aren’t the greatest and I felt bad for these poor animals. They’re like the camels of Central Park. However, offering camel rides is a large source of income for these men and obviously a large tourist spot. So I had mixed feelings after I got off Pete.

That being said, riding a camel was probably the highlight of my trip and it gave me a great new profile picture for Facebook. Only four girls in my group, Nancy, Lindsay, Ashley and I rode the camels and our other friends walked with us and took our pictures.

After the camels, our driver took us to Hercules’s Cave. I’m not entirely sure on the background of the cave but Megan said something about according to mythology, Hercules was locked in these caves for a period of time. I should probably look into that. At the back of the caves, there was an opening that looked out over the ocean. For my Harry Potter fans, think of the scene in the 6thbook when Harry and Dumbledore go back into the cave to find the locket horcrux of Lord Voldemort. The entryway to the cave is exactly what this looked like.

Group picture in Hercules’s Cave

Harry Potter cave!

After the caves, we went back into downtown Tangier and met up with Muhammad who showed us a place for lunch. It was a touristy restaurant, but the food was great. Nancy and I split the same soup we had for dinner the night before and I got chicken couscous, again.

Once we were finished with lunch we decided to explore the city on our own. Muhammad told us directions on how to get to the beach, but his directions sent us on the two-hour walk when we were probably only 20 minutes away from the beach. On the bright side, we found a great gelato place. We finally made our way down to the beach and it was amazing to finally reach the beach. There were tons of guys playing futbol on the beach, so we found a rock pier to sit on and just take in the scenery. We sat on this pier for maybe two hours and just people watched and talked.  We sat down by the beach until about sunset and then set off to find a place for dinner. We found a cheap place that was full of locals, so we knew it had to be good food. Ian, Ashley, and I had shawarma and everyone else had pizza. After dinner, we headed back to the hostel. We met some guys from Wake Forest and some other people who had been on the same plane as us who are teaching in Madrid for a year. We talked to them for most of the night. It’s so cool hearing everyone’s stories and talking to them about their experiences. Everyone has different experiences while abroad and on their travels so it’s really interesting to hear what everyone has to say.

The next morning, we all woke up a little earlier than the day before and began packing up our stuff. We had met a little boy the day before who had offered to show us around the market, so we took him up on his offer. Mainly because he was precious. He was so cute and we knew we would have to tip him, but we didn’t care. At 10am, he met us outside of our hostel and took us all around the market. We went back to the same tapestry shop that we went to the day before so Lindsay could buy a tapestry and I ended up buying a scarf. We were all able to buy last minute, cheap souvenirs to take home or give to people as gifts. The little boy, Anwar, tried to take us to his family’s restaurant but we didn’t have enough time so he took us back to the hostel.  He was so precious. We all wanted to take him home with us.

Anwar, our cute little tour guide.

After we grabbed our luggage, we began wandering to find a quick place to grab lunch before we had to go to the airport. We ran into two taxi drivers who offered to drive us to a close place for lunch and then to the airport for 100 dirham per cab (2.50 euro per person). It was a great deal. They took us to a restaurant called Alli Baba where we had pita wraps, kebabs, and hummus. A great ending to a great trip.

Great last lunch!

So, to all the people who doubted my trip to Morocco or told me it was dumb to go, I proved you wrong and had an amazing trip! Yes, at times being in Morocco was intimidating, but I never felt unsafe. Any place you travel to can be dangerous, whether it’s New York City, Paris, or Tangier, but what dictates your experience is how you behave. Although sometimes things happen that simply can’t be helped, like being pick-pocketed, there are also those that can be avoided as well. I’m going off on this tangent because a few of my friends have been pick-pocketed/robbed and it was definitely a wake up call for all of us. While in the beginning of the trip we would all walk home together at night (don’t worry Mom, it was always in groups of three or more), we now take taxis. We don’t carry large sums of money on us or carry our passports. It has taught all of us to be more observant of our surroundings. When my friends were robbed, it was at 9am in our neighborhood. That situation was something we never expected to happen because it was broad daylight in a residential area. Sure, if they’d taken a taxi or a bus from the train station it could have been prevented, but they weren’t set in the mindset. We walk around Alcala everyday, whether it’s to go to school, to the train station, or to Nancy’s apartment, so the thought of getting robbed at 9am would never have occurred to any of us. It’s very easy to think that you can only get robbed or pick-pocketed abroad or that you only need to be careful when traveling, but that’s just not that case. What makes pick pocketing appear to be more prevalent while traveling or studying abroad is that generally, tourists are the targets of these instances. Generally, we’re not in the same place for a long time so we usually don’t go to the police. Also, since we don’t live here, we aren’t as familiar with the city or the customs so it causes us to be easier targets. Pick pocketing occurs in the United States, but we don’t hear about it as much, because for people like me who live in Columbia and Spartanburg, it just doesn’t happen as frequently as say, New York, Chicago, or other large cities. We’re tourists here and as much as we try to blend in, at times it’s impossible so we definitely have more of a mark on our backs than we do at home. I think that traveling teaches us to be more aware of surroundings and safety precautions, both for overseas and for when we return home. I’m not writing this to say I am constantly suspicious of everyone or that people should be scared when traveling at all. Not at all. That’s not my intention. It’s just that as travelers, you learn to become more conscientious, especially for people like me who live in smaller cities. Okay, back to Morocco.

So, while this trip wasn’t as glamorous as Paris and I may never have a chance to go back, it was a great experience and I am so glad I went. Study abroad is a great chance to go to places you may never go back to, like Morocco. The food was good, everything was cheap, we saw interesting sites, and I RODE A CAMEL!! Morocco was at the top of my list of places to travel to and my time in Tangier will be one of my favorites memories from my adventures in Spain!

Loved Morocco!

New Words:

  1. jolín – darn
  2. mago- magician
  3. varita- wand
  4. concienzudo- conscientious
  5. gracioso- charming/amusing
  6. abrochar- to fasten/button
  7. acariciar- to caress
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Adventures with Liz Biz

These last two weeks have flown by. It’s been a blur of studying, midterms, Paris with my best friend Lizzie, exploring with my friends in Alcala, and a quick trip to Barcelona. So, if this blog post is a little long, I’m apologizing in advance.

When I last wrote, it was the week of midterms. I cannot believe I am saying this, but midterms actually made me miss going to Milliken. Yes, I know, crazy talk. But here, there are no 24/7 facilities to study and it’s more difficult to find WiFi that works on both your computer and your phone. So instead of moving into Milliken for the week with my friends, with constant trips to the Acorn Café and Starbucks for Milliken, I holed myself away in my room to study for my upcoming exams. In preparation for my Global Dimensions of European Soccer midterm, it was really awesome to talk about with my host family because they all love soccer so I could almost quiz myself while talking to them. My brother and I talked about different news programs and soccer magazines, which I needed to know about for my exam. In addition, I could talk through all the different leagues and tournaments with him. During our breaks in between class, my friends and I talked through the different voyages of Columbus, Pizarro, and Cortes often referring to the explorers as the “jerk” the “one who messed everything up,” or the “guy on the power trip.”  Although this was a completely different studying experience than I might have at Wofford, it was definitely less stressful and my new way of studying definitely paid off. To celebrate the end of our exams, we all went to McDonalds for McFlurries. Total tourist move but hey, we were happy to be done with exams!

My celebration for the end of my midterms was a 6am flight to meet up with my best friend, Lizzie Bishop, who is studying in Barcelona. Before we left for Spain, we decided we had to spend at least one weekend together traveling somewhere in Europe. We found cheap(ish) tickets to fly to Paris so we decided to book our flights and meet up in the City of Love. Since my flight was so early, I wasn’t able to take the bus or train into Madrid so I had to call a taxi at the lovely hour of 3am. I kept waking up all night with excitement and the fear of oversleeping. Once I finally got to the airport and was able to board the plane, I slept like a little baby on my flight to the Beauvais Airport. I had to wait for Lizzie in the airport so I got a map of Paris, bought WiFi for a few hours, and began looking up things for us to do that weren’t the typical tourist moves.

Obligatory waiting selfie.

Finally when Lizzie got to the airport, we took an hour and a half bus into Paris, where we then took a metro into Montmartre, which is where our hostel was. We were starving so we grabbed a quick lunch of burger and fries before checking into our hostel. So, in case y’all were wondering what goes through my mind when picking a hostel, I usually sort the hostels from low price-high price. Then, I look for the hostel with the coolest name, and then, I actually check out the reviews and location. So far, this system has proved to work pretty well. I had booked Lizzie and I a hostel for the two nights called, The Woodstock Hostel. Cool name right?

Woodstock Hostel.

Well, like you might expect, the hostel was very colorful with big hippie paintings all over the walls. Lizzie and I were the first ones to arrive in our room so we got our choice of bunk beds. We then decided to make a plan of what all we wanted to do and when. Since it was already 4pm, we decided that we would just see the Eiffel Tower on our first night.

First of many pictures with the Eiffel Tower.

We took the metro to the Eiffel Tower stop and when we got there, it had started raining. To wait out the rain, we stopped at a small café which had a great view of the Eiffel Tower  where we ordered crepes and champagne. It was fabulous.

First Parisian crepes!

As we were finishing our food, the rain was stopping, so we began walking to the Eiffel Tower. If you’ve never climbed the Eiffel Tower, get ready. You’re only allowed to climb to the second story but even after that, I was wishing I had been going to the gym more (I go at least 4 times a week and walk a bunch around Alcala). If you did the Eiffel Tower stairs every day, you would be Spring Break ready in probably under a month. Even though the stairs were quite a workout, the view was amazing. We got an aerial view of Paris and were able to see the entire city. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Eiffel Tower!

After we made the hike back down to ground level, we walked around the Champs de Mars, which is the large green area in front of the Eiffel Tower. Both Lizzie and I wished that we had baguettes so we could sword fight and recreate Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen moments from their movie, Passport to Paris. After we walked the Champs de Mars, we walked to their other side of the Eiffel Tower down by the Seine River. We walked along the Seine until it got dark outside. Once the sun went down, the Eiffel Tower lit up and the lights began twinkling on the Eiffel Tower. Throughout me and Lizzie’s travels together, we have learned that we have perfect timing. As we were walking towards the Eiffel Tower to go find a place to eat dinner, it began sparkling. It was so incredibly beautiful. And obviously, we had to take a selfie in front of the glittering Eiffel Tower.

Glittering Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower selfie.

We found a great dinner place where we split a bottle of wine and had croquet monsieur’s with French fries. It was so delicious. We then headed back to our hostel where we changed clothes for the night and wandered off to explore Parisian nightlife. Well, we kind of got lost. And by kind of got lost, we really got lost, especially because my map had a small rip right in the part of town we were in. After heading to McDonalds to try and find WiFi, and failing, we went into the Metro to just try and find our way back to our hostel, which thanks to my lovely navigational skills, we finally did. We immediately went to sleep exhausted from a long day of traveling and sight seeing.

The next day we woke up relatively early to continue our sight seeing. Our first destination was the Louvre, but before we got amazing crepes. They were chicken, bacon, and cheese crepes and were a great start to our day. The man at the restaurant gave us French fries with our crepes and when we asked for ketchup, he replied, “you Americans drink ketchup.” Interesting. After our crepes we headed to the museum, which luckily, we were able to get in for free by showing our student visas. We went to the Mona Lisa first and slid our way to the front so we could take the obligatory picture with the Mona Lisa.

Chillin’ with the Mona Lisa.

After that, we wandered through the museum where I strangely could recognize and explain a ton of the pieces that I had learned about in my Western Art class from freshman year. Go Dr. Schmunk! We did have to sit down after an hour in the museum. All the art kind of wore us out.

Resting in the Louvre.

Even though we were in the Louvre for a good two hours, we probably still only saw one to two thirds of the whole museum. It’s huge! After the Louvre, we went to the infamous Love Lock Bridge which was across the street. I had brought a lock with me from Alcala so Lizzie and I etched our initials into the lock and locked in onto the bridge. Then, we sneakily dropped our keys into the Seine because apparently it may be slightly frowned upon to drop your keys into the river.

Love Lock Bridge!

We then began our trek to the Champs-Elysees, which is the famous shopping street in Paris. We walked through a large park on our way, where they were tons of statues and fountains. It was so pretty. Then we began our walk down the Champs-Elysees in search of Laduree, a well-known macaroon bakery. We started down one side of the street and walked down to the Arc de Triomphe, which yet again with our student visas, we got to climb to the top of for free. We hiked up the stairs to the top and saw another great aerial view of Paris. We also got to see the French’s equivalent of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Next, we walked down the opposite side of the street where we found Laduree. We had to stand in a long line to get into the shop but it was so worth it. The macaroons were so delicious. We each got six packs of them. In my box, I had Marie Antoinette (still unsure of what flavor it was), salted caramel, rose, raspberry, chocolate, and pistachio. Literally, the best macaroons in the world.

Macaroons!

After Laduree, we journeyed to find a street I had read about in tour blogs called Rue de Cler. The street isn’t significant for anything big but was full of small outdoor markets and old shops. One thing the blog had mentioned was a great crepe place, so obviously Lizzie and I had to take advantage of that. It took us a while to find this street and our feet were throbbing by the time we made it there, but once we found the crepe place, it was totally worth it. We split a nutella and strawberry crepe, and oh my goodness, it was delicious. It’s a very good thing I was only in Paris for a weekend because I don’t think my wallet or my clothing could afford it. We then walked to the Notre Dame. The line was super long to get inside so we just admired it from outside and wandered along the Seine. After that, we found Chipotle where we found great pleasure in this small taste of home. It was so fabulous. I’d missed burrito bowls. After dinner we headed back to the hostel to change for the night and recharge our phones. When we got back to the hostel there was a ton of people in our room from all over Europe. There was a guy from London, a couple from Germany, a woman from Turkey, and a couple from Mexico. Everyone spoke English so we went down to the lobby to talk for a while. I love how in hostels it’s so easy to meet cool people from all over the world. Lizzie and I realized how tired we were so we went to the area where Moulin Rouge was so that we could say we’d been there before heading back to the hostel to call it a night. In the morning we woke up early and went to a breakfast place I had found online. For the first time in two months, I had scrambled eggs and bacon.

Bacon (kind of) and eggs!

Also, I ordered a bowl of coffee, which was literally, a bowl full of coffee.

Literal bowl of coffee.

Needless to say I was ready for the day. Our planes were at awkward times so we couldn’t do too much on Sunday, so we just wandered through the city before we had to head back to the airport. Lizzie’s plan was a few hours later than mine so I had a long time to chill in the airport, so I bought WiFi again and read a magazine until it was time to head back to Alcala.

When I got back to school on Monday, it was so great being reunited with all my friends. Even though I’ve only been here a short time, they’ve become my family and I know my experience here would not be the same without them. We’re constantly together and referred to as the CIEE kids. I didn’t know any of these people, except Jess but we barely knew each other, two months ago, and now they are they people I text, go to lunch with, and share all my experiences with. I couldn’t imagine spending my four months in Spain with anyone else.

Love my group!

This past week has flown by. I love my little routine here. Everyone Monday and Wednesday I go to Granier, a small café, during a break from class with Ian, Nancy, and Laura for a coffee and sometimes a bocadilla. We have trivia on Tuesday nights (my team usually loses) and karaoke is Wednesday night. I lunch with my whole family and dinner with my host mom. On Friday, we had a field trip to El Escorial and Valle de los Caidos. El Escorial is a town that has a palace where all the kings of Spain are buried. We toured the palace and got to the see the room with all the tombs of the kings, which was fascinating and eerie at the same time. Valle de los Caidos is where Francisco Franco is buried and is on a large hill, which has a large cross on the top of it. It was cool but the view was the best part. It looked over the mountains and was beautiful.

Valle de los Caidos.

Once we got back to Alcala, my friends and I went to a shop to get frozen yogurt and sit outside. The weather is changing here and feels amazing outside. I love just being outside when the weather is great like this. I know I didn’t go to the biggest or most cosmopolitan city, but that’s why I love it. It’s such an old, small city. Since the weather is getting warmer, I love to walk to and from school, or anywhere I’m going. The neighborhood by my house is so nice and since it’s getting warmer, local teenagers all park their cars out to listen to music and hang out. There’s so many small parks that I’m looking forward to bringing a book out or a blanket to lay and tan with my friends.

After our trip to Escorial and Valle de los Caidos, I packed my bags to take an overnight bus to Barcelona to see Lizzie again. On Saturday morning at 1am I took an eight-hour bus to get to Barcelona. I slept the whole bus ride there, so it wasn’t bad! When I got to Barcelona, Lizzie met me at the bus station we headed to a small restaurant for breakfast.  Holy moly this breakfast was so good. I had a bagel with mashed potatoes, ham, and arugula that came with a bowl of eggs and mushrooms. I wish I had this in Blythewood or Spartanburg. Literally, so good. Oh, and they had fresh squeezed orange juice. Perfection.

After breakfast we dropped my bag off at the hostel and headed to Las Ramblas. This is a big street in downtown Barcelona where everyone comes to walk. It’s the time to see and be seen. It’s also a big site for pickpocketing. It was so great to people watch on the street. One big difference about Barcelona and Alcala is the number of English speakers. My friends and I always are surprised to hear people speaking English on the streets because unless we already know them from the Institute, its’ rare to find other Americans. In Barcelona, walking down the street it was a fairly even mix of English and Spanish.

Off of Las Ramblas, there’s this huge market called La Boqueria. This market was huge and full of fresh fruit, tapas, fish and meat, and candy. It was huge. I bought an amazing fruit cup which was full of strawberries, mellon, kiwi, and pineapple.

La Boqueria.

After we finished walking down Las Ramblas we made our way to Parque Guell, which was designed by Antoni Gaudi. When we got there we wandered around and took pictures of the great overlook of Barcelona. I love Gaudi’s architecture and had visited the park when I went to Barcelona with my parents in the past, so it was cool to have to have the opportunity to go back with Lizzie!

Parque Guell

Unlike the time I went with my parents, it wasn’t blistering hot so the great weather was a definite plus this time. After the park we headed to the beach to have lunch. We found this restaurant that was oceanfront where we got to sit outside. We both had wine and I had an awesome chicken cous cous full of veggies, nuts, and raisins. Whenever I eat with Lizzie, our food is always on point. After lunch we walked around the beach and sat on a pier for a while.

Always a rebel.

There was a Jimi Hendrix like guy sitting by us playing the guitar. We then went to another bar on the oceanfront and split a jar of some of the best sangria I have ever had in my life. It was infused with melon and pineapple. So good. After that Lizzie took me to the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. There was also a “magic fountain” that did a cool light show to music once it got dark.

So after the magic fountain, I went back to my hostel to rest for a bit before Lizzie and I went out that night. Since I was staying in a hostel by myself, I thought it would be a good idea to book an all girls room. So, when I get to my hostel they gave me my room key and told me how to get to my room. When I got to my room I was the only one in there, but when I started looking around at the all the people’s stuff that was laying on their beds, I quickly realized it was not an all girls room. In fact, in my six person room, I was the only girl. Not exactly sure how that happened. Also, all the guys in my hostel didn’t speak English, or Spanish, or French. I’m still unsure about what language they spoke. Even though I was slightly sketched out at first about being the only girl in the midst of 5 unidentifiable guys, it all turned out well. Except for the fact that at 7am the next morning they blared music for a good 45 minutes and then talked loudly for another 30 minutes in their unidentifiable language. Annoying. Except for the mix up with rooms, this was probably the best hostel I have ever stayed at! I would definitely go back there again.

The next day, Lizzie and I met up and headed to see the Sagrada Familia. This is another building designed by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi died before the Sagrada Familia was finished, which is still being constructed. It’s projected the construction will take at least 12 more years to finish. The architecture is so fascinating in the church. I really do love Gaudi and his many pieces of work.

La Sagrada Familia. Still under construction.

After the Sagrada Familia, Lizzie and I went to an Asian noodle shop for lunch before I had to head back to Alcala. It was sad saying goodbye to her because we won’t see each other until May. It’s weird being separated from her since we’ve been roommate since freshman year. I’m so used to being able to knock on my wall and have conversations with her and my other best friend/roommate, Paulie Howell. Now, if we want to talk, it’s not like we can walk into each other’s cubes or shout to each other through the wall, we have to plan Skype and Facetime dates. Even though it’s harder to talk to my friends and family back at home, we may due through What’s App, Skype, Facetime, Snap Chat and Facebook Messaging. I usually have to plan Skype and Facetime dates, but I love getting random Facetime calls from my cousin Travis. Those are probably some of my favorites.

I have been waiting to go abroad since I was 13 years old. In the weeks leading up for studying abroad, okay I’ll admit it, I was freaking out about going abroad. I was nervous to be in a foreign country, living with a host family, where they didn’t speak my first language. I was nervous I would have a hard time making friends or that I would desperately miss home and miss out on all the things that were happening at Wofford. I was completely freaking out. And then I got here and I forgot about all the things I was worried about. I was looking through some pictures on Facebook from the beginning of my trip. Even on the very first day of being here in Alcala, the pics of my friends and I look as if we had known each other for a very long time. While it is definitely hard to communicate at times and wish I could just speak in English, I always find a way around the language barrier. While I do miss my friends from home, my mom was right, it’s only four months here. 112 days. Even though I miss them, I know I’m coming back. Studying abroad was the best choice of my life and I would not change my decision for all of the money abroad. Okay, end of sappy part.

Until next time, hasta luego!

New words:

  1. amarga- bitter
  2. espalda- back
  3. cantuator- songwriter
  4. veda- closed season (in terms of hunting or fishing)
  5. lacrimógenos- weepy/tear jerker
  6. gilipolla- a really big jerk

 

 

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See ya, Seville!

You know you’re officially halfway done with study abroad when midterms have started. If I was at Wofford, my weekend would have consisted of long nights in Milliken studying for my upcoming government and Spanish exams; however, here in Spain, things are a little different.

Since I am traveling through a third party study abroad program, CIEE, we have many more excursions and opportunities than students are directly enrolled in the Benjamin Franklin Institute. We have two CIEE sponsored trips and our first one was this past weekend. Bright and early on Friday morning my group gathered together at the train station to spend three days in Seville, which is in southern Spain.

Even though I showed up to the train station with my small suitcase and an even heavier book bag full of notes and books, I was super excited for the weekend getaway.

I’ve been to Seville with my parents a few years ago and loved the city, so I was really happy to be going back. After we took the train into Madrid, we caught a long distance train from Atocha, the Madrid train station, into Seville. Whenever Jess and I overly stress or study for a class, we call it pulling a Wofford. So while most of my friends were sleeping on the train or watching the movie that was playing on the TV, I was unfortunately pulling a Wofford and studying for my upcoming film and Latin American/Spanish relations’ exams.

Once we got to Seville and checked into our hotel, we were given two hours to free time to relax and eat our picnics that our host families had packed us. There was a big park, Parque Murillos, across the street from our hotel so we all took our picnics and ate in the park. The weather in Seville is amazing. It was mid to upper 60s and I was in total bliss.

Parque Murillos

While we were eating lunch, we started talking to a guy in our group, Ryan, about parkour. For those of you who don’t know what parkour is, I’ll let the handy Urban Dictionary explain:

 Parkour is a way of moving from one place to another as

quickly and as efficiently as possible by means of jumping,

vaulting, climbing and other such things.

Also, he’s a short YouTube link that shows what parkour is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pFyFOW1vvE

Interesting…right? Ryan started explaining to us what parkour is, how to do it, and he even gave us a demonstration. He didn’t do anything as extreme as what’s in the YouTube video, but it was still super impressive. I want to be able to do that. It’s so cool. He was casually walking towards us and then used his body weight hoist himself over a bench and just walked right out of his landing.

Our take on parkour.

After our lunch in the park, we met Angel, a professor at the Universidad de Seville. Angel showed us around the city and helped to get us familiar with our surroundings. He took us to the town center where we saw part of a movie being filmed.  It was set in the 50s so there was a small band of about six people dressed in period clothing. They started playing music and a couple began shagging. I love randomly running across neat things like this while I’m traveling. After we left the city square, Angel took us to some museums and churches that are important to Seville. Today was more about getting to know the city rather than really getting into the history or culture of Seville. After our tour, we headed back to the hotel where we celebrated Ryan’s birthday. He failed to tell us that his birthday was three weeks ago, so we did a late birthday celebration of ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream. Ryan has a gluten allergy so we had to improvise with his dessert. Some people went out for dinner, but my host family packed me so much food that I still had some left for dinner, so Jess, Victoria and I stayed in the hotel and watched movies. We were exhausted, so we didn’t go out, and instead took our books downstairs to study for our midterms.

Saturday was long day with lots of walking. Here’s a hint for the girls planning on studying abroad: People may say beauty is pain, and they are 100% correct. Seville is a lot warmer than Alcala so I didn’t want to bring my boots. Instead, I brought a pair of flats and a pair of Converses, circa 8th grade. I had a nicer blouse and skinny jeans so I decided to wear my flats instead of my more practical Converses. Big. Mistake. By the end of the day, I had blisters all over my feet and could barely walk. As punishment, that night when we went out to the bars, instead of wearing my cute, sparkly flats that matched perfectly with my outfit, I had to wear Converses. So, when traveling and on days where you have to walk a lot, COMFORT OVER BEAUTY, or you’ll pay for it later.

Even though my feet were throbbing by the end of the day, it was a great day! We started off by visiting a local, modern art museum. Needless to say, some of the exhibits in the gallery were quite out there, like a looping video of a cartoon woman running down a road, or a white board that looked like someone had taken a sledge hammer too it.

Running Woman.

Construction site? Art?

But hey, who am I to judge art? After the museum we walked around some more and Cristina took us to a big park. At the center of the park, there were about 100 birds. There was a stand where you could buy bird food to feed them, which we obviously did. There were so many birds that they were literally flocking at us and perching all over our arms, shoulders, hands, and heads trying to eat the food.

Attack of the birds.

Having the birds flock towards me filled me with a mix of excitement and fear. Luckily, only one of us got pooped on (btw, it wasn’t me!). After this park we went to Plaza de España, which is a big open building that has a little lake/lagoon/canal thing out front that you can paddle boat through. The most important part of Plaza de España is that on the walls of the exterior of the building, there are signs for each major city in Spain.

CIEE Group at the Madrid sign.

They have mosaic designs that are representative of the city and a map, which shows the community the city belongs to and where it is in the community. My friends and I saw a big balcony that you can climb up, so we did and recited the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. After my four months are up in Spain, I’ll be making a video about my many adventures here, so be on the lookout for this scene!

Rome, Rome, where for art thou Romeo

After Plaza de España we went back to the hotel to change clothes, use the restrooms, and regroup. We went to a restaurant that serves gluten free pizza and pasta because neither Lindsay nor Ryan can eat gluten. Victoria and I shared an amazing salad (oh, I’ve missed salad so much) and delicious pesto pasta. After our great lunch, we walked to the famous Catedral de Seville, which largest cathedral in Spain and third largest cathedral in the world. We toured the cathedral and then hiked to the top of the Giralda, the big tower of the cathedral. It was 34 flights and had an amazing aerial view of the city. As a reward for a long day of touring, we went to an ice cream place and then sat down by the river for most of the afternoon. First, this was some of the best ice cream ever. I had two kinds of chocolate-based ice cream, both amazing. Second, after constantly have to wear heavy coats, scarves, boots, and sometimes mittens, this was the best weather a girl could ask for. It was mid 60s and it was the first time I haven’t had to wear my big coat since I got here. We sat by the river eating ice cream and listening to throw back songs on Jess’s iPhone. All of us were together, hanging out, and enjoying our new city. We didn’t have a plan or an agenda, but were simply taking advantage of our time off.

Hanging out by Guadalquivir.

That night, we all went out to dinner, where we had typical Spanish food: paella, tortilla Española, chorizo, and flan. It was great dinner and it was paid for by CIEE. After dinner, some people went home and the rest of us hit the town. We’re really starting to adapt to this new lifestyle. Since you can’t go to each other’s houses and partying starts late, most people drink on the streets. So we all went down to the river to pass time before it was an acceptable hour to go to the bars. Helpful hint to Americans studying abroad: a tell tale sign that you’re a foreigner is by when you go out and how you act. If you even step foot in a discoteca before midnight, everyone knows you aren’t from Spain. Timing is more flexible with the bars but if you show up to a bar at around 10:30 and start taking shots and drinking liquor, yup, you’re a foreigner. It’s just not how things are done here. Spaniards may take a shot, they may have a liquor drink, but the key word here is A. One. When you go out in Spain, get ready for a long, long night so you have to pace yourself or else you’ll never make it until 6am. It’s just physically impossible.

On Sunday, we had a busy morning. We toured the old Jewish quarters before going to the Alcazar of Seville. This Alcazar was kind of similar to the Alhambra in Granada, but it wasn’t as big. It was still pretty cool though. There were so many mosaics and interior courtyards.

Gardens at the Alcazar de Seville

Also, there were a bunch of gardens and small ponds. The Alcazar of Seville has 17 pavo reales, or peacocks. After touring the Alcazar, we spilt up. I went with some of my friends to buy gifts and eat a quick lunch before going to the train station.

Whereas in the first few days, or even weeks, of studying here, whenever we mentioned home it was our home in America. Now, when we talk about our homes or about how we can’t wait to get in our own beds or showers after a long day of school or traveling, we’re talking about our new homes. Our homes in Alcala, not in America. My host family is my new family. My host mom calls me hija (daughter) and I’m treated like a member of the family. The other night while I was getting ready to go out to karaoke, my host mom came in my room to ask me a question and I asked her if my hair looked okay. I’d done a bun, so I needed her to check the back. Rather than just telling me if it was okay or not, she asked for some bobby pins and fixed my hair and grabbed a bottle of hair spray to give it a finishing touch. It was probably one of the sweetest moments of my time here and I will definitely always remember it. It was a small gesture, but it’s something a mom does. While my mom will always be my number one mom, it’s nice to know that I have a mom here looking out for me and filling in for my real mom since she can’t be here. I’m getting accustomed to my life here. I have a schedule. I have patterns and habits. For example, on Mondays and Wednesdays, Nancy, Ian, Laura and I have a long break in between classes so we go to a local café, Granier, which we affectionately refer to as our café. I come home and do homework, I go out to karaoke or trivia, I have group text messages with my friends here, and I chat with my host mom about everything from ex boyfriends, guys in Alcala, people in my program, the news, our favorite foods, anything. Nothing can replace my life in the US. I definitely miss being able to get ready with the Suite (my two roommates, Lizzie and Paulie) and having our OC marathons, going home to eat my mom’s amazing homemade food, and I’ll admit it, at times, I even miss Milliken. Now, I may not have my girls to get ready with, but we send What’s App messages to see what each other is wearing, I have my favorite foods that I hope my host mom will make, I’ve replaced my table in Miliken for my desk in my bedroom, and rather than running to class which I’m usually late for, I put in my iPod as I walk to the bus stop before school. I’m still getting adjusted to some things here, but after 47 days here, I have a new style of life.

Cheers to Spain!

Tal luego, Seville!

This coming up week is definitely going to be rough. I have exams, so I know a lot of cramming and late nights are coming my way. However, the reward for my long week of studying will be reuniting with my best friend, Lizzie Bishop, for a weekend in Paris! Lizzie is studying in Barcelona and even though she’s six hours away by bus, it’s great knowing that I have my best friend here and we’re going through some of the same stuff. I will arrive in Paris two hours before Lizzie on Friday, so I’ll have time to get some breakfast, get fully caffeinated, and tackle by best friend as soon as I see her! Hopefully there’s no rule against that in the airport. I guess we’ll find out Friday morning!

Until next time, salud!

New Words:

  1. pavo real- peacock
  2. amarga- bitter
  3. quejar- to complain
  4. suegra- mother in law
  5. dueña- land lady
  6. espalda- back

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s day! Sorry I haven’t written in a while. Things over here are so busy. It’s a weird feeling. At times I feel like I’ve been here forever, but it also feels like I just go here. Last Saturday marked my one-month of living in Alcala, which completely freaks me out. While four months initially seemed like forever, it now seems so short! I’m a fourth of the way done here. Aghh.

So, since I last wrote I’ve done so many things! I went to Brussels and Bruges with my girlfriends Laura, Ashley, Megan, and Lindsay! While we were there we visited a chocolate museum (tons of a free samples, pretty much my heaven on earth!), we saw the place where Karl Marx wrote his communist manifesto, we got to see the Mannequin Pis while enjoying nutella covered waffles, and gorged ourselves with delicious French fries!

A Real Belgian Waffle.

When we first arrived in Brussels we were all in foul moods because what we thought would initially be a three hour plane ride to start off our weekend getaway, ended up being eight hours of transit, full of bus rides, planes, metro and taxi. We didn’t get to downtown Brussels which is where our hostel was until 4:00pm and had to wait an hour to check into our hotel. While we waited we went to a Middle Eastern restaurant where I FINALLY got to eat falafel. Even though I was tired of traveling and just wanted to start exploring the city, the falafel made it all worth it.

Fabulous Falafel.

Once we checked into our hostel most of the things we wanted to do had closed so after talking to the amazing people working at our hostel, we decided to explore the city for the night. For what started off as a disappointing trip, turned into an amazing night. On our walk, we found the Manequin Pis and waffles, the things we most wanted to see/do on our trip! In addition, we found this cool ride that lifts you up above the skyline so you have a great aerial view of the city. There was also a bar on the ride. I got to enjoying seeing the city while sipping on champagne. It was so fun! After we got off this overlook, we walked around the Palace Parque before returning to our hostel. After we went back to the hostel we decided to go get the famous Beligian French fries and go to a bar, Delirium, which is famous for their beer selections.

Belgian Fries!

A guy from our hostel, Christian, who was working in Brussels tagged along with us! We found the French fry place, completely amazing before heading to the bar. This bar only served beer and had probably over 100 different selections of beer. I opted for a honey beer, which note to self, I won’t be trying again. Honey and beer is an odd combination. We didn’t stay out too long because the next day we wanted to see and do as much as we could so we wanted to start the day early.

Our second day in Brussels was packed with activities. We had to stay in two different hostels since Megan and Lindsay booked their trip after ours, so we met up in a cute little café while we decided to make a game plan for the day. First, we went to a chocolate museum.

Chocolate Museum. Aka Heaven on Earth

Throughout the museum there was chocolate samples and after our tour we go to watch a chocolate making demonstration, followed with more samples. This was probably the highlight of my trip since I love chocolate. It was fabulous.

Chocolate Demonstration.

After the museum, we went to the main center of Brussels where we stumbled across a peace march! Everyone was standing in a circle holding hands and dancing and there was a small drum circle. Lindsay and I joined it and it was awesome. Initially we had no idea what was going on and after we joined in we asked the woman standing next to us what everyone was gathering for, which is when she told us it was peace celebration. I think the best part of traveling is when you stumble across random things, like our peace march. It makes for the best memories because they’re random and unplanned. After the peace march we caught the metro to go see Atomium. Atomium is a big metal statue, which is apparently Instagram famous. Who knew??

The Atomium

After we came back from Atomium we took a train to Bruges, a small town about an hour outside of Brussels. I’d only ever heard of Bruges from the movie In Bruges, if you haven’t seen it, watch it! It’s hilarious and has most of the cast from the Harry Potter movies. My friends had heard that Bruges is one of the prettiest parts of Belgium so we took an afternoon trip to explore the city.

Chilling in Bruges.

When we got there we found a chocolate shop where we loaded up on goodies before finding a restaurant that someone in our hostel had recommended. When we got to the restaurant we found out it was reservation only so we went a few blocks down to get burgers. The burgers were amazing and so were the fries. At our restaurant, we met Bob. A New Yorker who’d moved to Bruges after he’d married his wife, a native Belgian. It was so cool talking to him. He spoke four languages and we could tell he was an important businessman based on where he’d lived in both New York and California. He gave us all of his information and told us to contact him if we ever needed anything, personally or professionally. After creeping on his Linked in page, I could definitely tell this was an important guy! He even walked us to a bar that our hostel had recommended and paid for our first round of beers. It was so cool running into him and talking to him.

Great beer courtesy of Bob!

I’m glad I went to Brussels and Bruges. In our first few hours, I thought it was going to be a miserable trip and that I had wasted a bunch of money; however, it turned around to be a fabulous weekend!

After we got home from Brussels, it was Super Bowl Sunday! We went to a local bar that was playing the game. For me, the reason I watch the Super Bowl is the good food that’s always served and the commercials. I knew that I wouldn’t get my roommate Paulie’s fabulous buffalo chicken dip this year, but I figured I’d still get to watch the commercials. Wrong. The bar played the game on a station that did commentary during breaks instead of showing commercials.  Oh well, at least I got to say I watch the Super Bowl at 1:30am in Spain.

One thing that I had really wanted to do in Spain was go see a Real Madrid game at Santiago Bernabeu, the team’s home stadium. Last week, one of my friends Lindsay posted a link on our group Facebook page with the dates and prices for Real Madrid games! We last minute decided to go see a game, which was amazing. It was Real Madrid v. Villarreal. We had nose bleed seats directly over one of the goals. When the ball game towards our side of the field, we had to stand up to watch so we could get a clear view of the goal. I loved every minute of the game. The atmosphere, the stadium, being there with my friends, everything. It was amazing. My host brother, Alfonso, let me borrow one of his Real Madrid jerseys to wear to the game and I bought a Real Madrid scarf before the game, so I was decked out in support of my team.

Cheering on my team!

Unfortunately Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t playing because he’d been red carded at the previous game, but I didn’t even care. Going to a Real Madrid game was at the top of my Spain bucket list and I hadn’t thought I would be able to because tickets were so expensive, so I am so thankful I got to go!

Real Madrid game!

My classes here are completely different than the ones at Wofford. They way they’re taught, the workload, the professors. It’s all so different. We don’t have nightly homework or reading, except for my grammar and medias class. We’re supposed to be studying at our own pace, which is the same at Wofford, but we don’t have as much homework. I think my favorite class is my Spain through the Medias class. I really like my professor and the information we are learning about is really interesting. We’re also writing a newspaper for the Instituto.  WE each chose topics and are writing articles. There’s a big talent show at the end of the semester and our class newspaper will be submitted. My topic is travel, so I’ve been writing about how to travel cheaply and different experiences that students have had on their travels. My least favorite class is my Spanish Cinema class. We have a three-hour class one day a week. For the first hour of class we learn about the context of the movie, so far it’s been revolving around the Spanish Civil War and the events following the war. What’s really difficult with this class is that none of the movies have subtitles. I don’t need English subtitles, but Spanish subtitles would be very helpful because the actors speak so quickly and sometimes with heavy accents so it’s hard to understand them and fully comprehend what’s going on. Hopefully I can find these movies on Netflix or iTunes before our exam comes!

Everyone says that when you study abroad you learn about yourself and who you are. I completely agree with this. My short time here so far I’ve already learned so much about myself and I definitely think I’m starting to grow. Don’t worry, I’m not about to get all sappy on you, but I just want to share the most important thing I have learned so far: I HATE THE COLD.

Help. It’s so cold.

I turn into a huge baby when I’m cold. Even though South Carolina gets cold and it’s actually colder there right now than it is here, for some reason, this cold just seems way more intense. I’ve grown accustomed to putting mittens in my purse and if you haven’t noticed from my pictures, I’m always wearing my big green jacket. I’ve even worn my big knit hat a few times, my mom would be proud. It’s been raining a lot here so I think the combination of the rain and the cold is what’s making it seem more intense. Also the fact that it’s now snowed twice in South Carolina is incredible to me. The one time I leave our state decides to actually act like it’s winter. I remember one Christmas where I was wearing shorts during the day. Oh how things have changed.

I haven’t been too homesick here, which I wasn’t expecting. I thought the adjustment would be a lot harder. I’ve never been away from my family and friends so long so I thought it was be hard being away, especially because I knew I’d be seeing all their pictures on Facebook. Even though I do miss everyone, I’ve almost build my own little family here. My host family is the best alternative I could have to my own family and my new group of friends here are so amazing. I miss my friends at home, but my new group is almost like my own little family. Last week we went to cook at Nancy’s apartment and had a relaxing night just hanging out and talking.

I kinda love them. A lot.

I thought it would be difficult making new friends and that these people would just be space fillers until I came home. I was so wrong. My friends and I are already talking about how we’re going to make road trips to see each other and how we’re going to each other’s weddings. These girls and Ian are amazing and I know they have my back. When you’re all thrown into a new situation in a new country with a different language, you become close a lot quicker. I hang out with my friends every day and I already love them so much! If it wasn’t for all of them, I know my experience here would be completely different. We all look out for each other and have each other’s backs. I know that if I’m feeling homesick or need help with a class, I can WhatsApp them and they’ll be here for me.

Karaoke night!

I’ve only been here a month but I know that I have picked the best program for me! I love all my friends I’ve made, I have an amazing host family, my city is the perfect size, and in the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve already made so many great memories. Even though Alcala is smaller than Madrid or Barcelona, there are always fun things to do. Every day I find new things to do here, which is one of the best parts of living in a new place. It’s full of new adventures! While some may thing that Alcala may be dull since it’s a smaller city, they are very wrong. Last weekend, I went to a huge flea market in Madrid, where I bought legwarmers and feather earrings. Last Wednesday, I took a field trip into Madrid to tour the Atletico Madrid stadium, Vicente Calderon. That night, we went to Karaoke at Green, a local bar. Nancy and I sang 23 by Miley Cyrus, which was definitely the best song of the night! There was also a beer pong tournament. Last night, we went to trivia at the same bar we watched the Super Bowl at.

Trivia night!

This morning, I went to get a hair cut. Even though this is nothing new or European, it was pretty cool. It definitely made me feel like more of a local. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to translate to the woman what I wanted for my hair so I brought pictures of how I wanted my hair to look and Jess found a special dictionary online just for salons. We were prepared! I got a corte de pelo (haircut) with capas (layers). Tonight for Valentine’s Day my friends and I are going to Nancy’s apartment to eat heart shaped pizza, candy, and cake before hitting the town. I’m constantly doing things, which is definitely my favorite part of my semester. I need to go to the gym so I can take a nap before embarking on the night’s festivities! I’ll post again soon! For those of you in South Carolina, stay warm in the snow and make a snowman for me!

New Words

  1. Gambo- butterface
  2. Frambuesa- raspberry
  3. Calcetin- sock
  4. Marshmellow- malvavisco
  5. Nasty- asqueroso
  6. Chongo- bun (for your hair)
  7. Decolorar- bleach
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

First Weekend Getaway: Granada y Cordoba

So this past weekend was my first weekend that I traveled outside of Alcala and Madrid. We didn’t have school Monday because it was Festividad de Sto Tomas de Aquino, which gave us a five day weekend instead of the usual four days. I’m not really sure what exactly this holiday was for, except for the fact that it gave me an extra day to travel. My friends and I took advantage of our long week and decided to go to Granada and Cordoba. On Thursday night my group took a bus from Madrid to Granada. We left Alcala at 11pm and arrived in Madrid at around 11:45pm, then hung out in the Atocha train station until it was time for our bus to leave, which was 1:30am.  When we arrived in Granada, we were sleep deprived and groggy. In order to get ready for our long day ahead of us, we stayed at the station for a bit eating breakfast and gulping down cafe con leches, while we planned our upcoming day.  At around 8am we all took taxis to Oasis Backpacker’s Hostel. This was my first hostel experience and I was very impressed. In Granada, we rented a 10-bed room, which we all shared. There were five sets of bunk beds and one bathroom. Needless to say it was interesting when we were all trying to get ready that night. Luckily there was a shower downstairs which Ian, our only guy, used to give the girls space as we all frantically tried to get ready; all trying to blow-dry our hair, apply make, and shower in a very small space at the same time.

When we first arrived at our hostel, we weren’t able to check in, so we put our luggage in a storage room and hiked to the top of Granada to check our the scenery. I traveled to Granada three years ago with my parents and I was surprised at how much of the city I actually remembered. The hike up to the top of Granada was great. There was a bunch of graffiti along the walls and we stopped many times to take pictures.

Photo break during our hike!

Wofford Takes Granada!

After our hike to the top of the mountain, we walked back down to the center of town. We stopped at a little café where we all got more café con leche and either pan con tomate (my favorite) or pan con marmalade. After this we walked around Granada some more. Jess, Nancy, Laura, Ashley and I found this awesome little shop that sold different kinds of herbs, spices and dried fruit. We were all hungry, so we bought big bags of dried fruit. I had dried coconut (my favorite), papaya, pineapple, kiwi (not so good), and banana chips. It was great. I spent 7 euros on my bag, but it lasted all weekend, so it was worth every euro.

Colorful spices in a booth on the street of Granada!

After we walked around some we were able to go back to our hostel and check in. I was surprised with how much I liked our room. Yes, the sheets were kind of sketchy and I slept with my pea coat on top of my pillow, but the condition of the hostel was much higher than I had been expecting. Once we checked into to the hostel, some of us decided to go the center in Granada and find a tapas place for lunch. For 20 euros, we were able to get 15 different types of tapas and a free pitcher of sangria. It was a fabulous deal. We had different types of bocadillas (sandwiches), a beef stew, gazpacho, a strange type of hamburger, and meatballs. It was a great lunch and we sat out in the sun, which was a major bonus. It’s usually freezing in Spain so it was great to be able to sit out in the warm sun. After lunch, we went to a café and split churos y chocolate. In Spain, their version of hot chocolate is very different from the United States. Rather than being a drink, their hot chocolate is very thick, almost like melting a chocolate bar. You can’t really drink the chocolate because it is so thick and sweet; typically you either eat it with a spoon or use for dipping, like with the churros.

Churos y chocolate

After lunch, we met up with some of Laura’s friends who are studying in Granada for the semester. They took us to the very top of Granada, even higher than we’d walked that morning, to see the sunset. The hike was miserable; it was straight up hill and after only a few hours of sleep, we were all struggling. My boots also paid a major price for the hike. All the streets in Granada are cobblestone, which wore holes into the bottoms of my boots. Good thing the rebajas/sales are still going on in Alcala!

After trekking to the top of Alcala, we realized how worth that hike was. We saw one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was amazing. We had a great aerial view of Alcala, even better than the one we’d seen that morning and the sunset was beautiful.

I’m on top of the world! Jk, it’s only Granada.

After the sunset, we walked back down to the center of Granada to go to our hostel. We showered and put on clean clothes, which was pretty great since we’d been traveling in the same clothes for 24 hours. We met up with the other part of our group and went down to the lobby of the hostel for welcome drinks and met some guys from France and women traveling from Germany. Hostels really are a good place to meet new, interesting people. There was definitely an eclectic mix of people staying at our hostel. Young backpackers, old hippies, even a group of Muslim women from Asia.

That night we went out to get paella and we met up with Laura’s friends again for a night on the town. It’s really interesting being in a town with lots of foreign students because the bars and discotecas have a lot of items that cater to Americans. For example, we went to a chupiteria, which is a bar that had a menu of 300 different kinds of shots for 1 euro each. One of the shots was called the USA, which they used three different types of liquor so that it was a layered shot and was red, white, and blue.

Go USA!

It’s so weird how so many stores market American products. In Madrid, there’s a TGI Fridays that my sister’s boyfriend was telling me about. In the states, you could probably buy a burger, fries, and a drink for less than $10, but in Madrid, a small burger and a fry are 15 euros, which is almost $20. That’s crazy! TGI Friday’s is able to increase their prices because not only do they sell American food but they create an “American atmosphere,” which is definitely included in the price. I find that so crazy!

The next day we all woke up early to go visit the Alhambra, which is an old Moorish palace on the top of the hill in Granada. This is one of the biggest historic sites in Spain and brings in many tourists. Since the Alhambra is such a popular tourist site, you have a to buy tickets in advance to visit it. In addition to a general admission ticket, you select a time in which you want to visit the Palacio Nazarie, which was the main house of the royals.  In order to see this palace, you must be at the entrance spot for the palace at your assigned time. If you’re late, the guards may not let you in. Like typical students, my entire group woke up late and had a miscommunication in meeting time. This caused some of us to literally run up the mountain and through the Alhambra in order to make it on time. The first half of our group was 20 minutes late. After talking to the guards, we learned that if you’re within an hour of your meeting time, they still let you in. I guess they just tell people they’re very strict with times in order to scare people into being on time. The other half of our group was over an hour late to their meeting time so they had to repurchase tickets in order to tour the palace. The reason they were so late is because when we purchased our tickets, we had to put our first, middle, and last name on the form. Jess doesn’t have a middle name because that’s not typical in Indonesia, so when she had to put down her middle name on the form, she made up a fake name. This caused her passport and ticket to not match up, which must have caused a red flag, so when she tried to get into the Alhambra, they made her go talk to some people who work there in order to explain that she wasn’t an impersonator, she just didn’t have a middle name. Even though she explained the situation, they still made her buy a new ticket. Que raro.

I visited the Alhambra a few years ago when I visited Spain with my parents, but this experience was completely different. There are many gardens throughout the Alhambra, which is one of the biggest attractions due to the large variety of gorgeous flowers. When I visited with my parents, it was summer so all of the flowers were in full blooms and it was warm outside.

This time, there were no flowers and it was freezing within the Alhambra since it is the middle of winter. Regardless, it was still gorgeous to tour the palace again.

Chillin’ at the Alhambra.

There were so many rooms with decorated tiles and many interior courtyards with pools and fountains. When we left the palace we walked outside in the many different gardens and it was actually warm outside because the sun had finally come out. Since it’s freezing in Spain this time of year, we take advantage of being outside when the sun is out. We just sat in the courtyard of the garden in the sun for an hour people watching and taking in the beautiful Alhambra. It’s so crazy to think that this palace was built 1333, almost 100 years before the Americas were even discovered and almost 400 years before the formation of the United States. Spain has so much history that you cant find in the United States. Our country really is a baby in comparison.

Beautiful interior courtyards and open air hallways.

When we finished touring the Alhambra we walked back down to the center of town and looked for a place to eat. For some reason, I’ve been craving falafel on this trip, which all my friends knew about, so we searched for a place that had it on the menu. We found a cheap restaurant that had un menu del dia, which consists of bread, a drink, an appetizer, main course, and dessert for a cheap price. This place also had falafel on one of its menus del dias and had open tables outside in the sun. It was perfect. We ordered and while we were eating our first courses, the waitress came out to tell me that they had run out of falafel… Que mala suerte. The one food I wanted! She told me a popular choice on the menu was a chicken and vegetable kabob that came with salad and French fries. I’d seen them bringing out that dish earlier and it looked good so I ordered it. When they brought out my food, it looked and smelled amazing, but the only problem was that instead of French fries, they gave me mushrooms, a food I’m not crazy about.

After they brought out my plate, they brought the same plate to other tables and they all were served French fries. If you can’t tell, I’m still slightly bitter. Even though the kabob was great, I really wanted falafel, or at least the fries my meal was supposed to come with.

After lunch we split up again and walked around the town. Earlier in the day, I’d seen a shop that sold lots of colorful tapestries. I found one that was teal with a hand woven pattern of a big tree with different types of animals underneath. For a large, hand-woven tapestry, it was pretty cheap so I bought it to hang up in my cube at Wofford next year.  I also bought a pretty turquoise fashion ring! We shopped around a bit and each bought a bunch of post cards. If you gave me your address, be on the look out for a postcard in the next few weeks! After we shopped for a bit, we went back to the hostel to collect all of our luggage and head to the bus station.

Once we got to the bus station, we had a 2.5 hour drive to Cordoba. One great thing about Spanish transportation is how prompt they are. Our tickets said that we were leaving at 7:00pm and that we’d arrive in Cordoba at 9:30pm. We left the station at exactly 7:00pm and arrived in Cordoba at exactly 9:30pm. After we arrived in Cordoba we all got taxis and headed to our hostel, Funky Cordoba. Whereas the hostel in Granada exceeded my expectations for hostels, Funky Cordoba was the exact opposite. While they had a nice little restaurant attached to the hostel and a hookah room, the actual bedrooms were awful. In Granada, our room had 10 beds for 10 people and we still felt like we had a good amount of space. In Cordoba, we were in a four-person room and we felt like we were on top of each other the entire time. We were packed in like sardines. Also, in the bathroom, the toilet was inside of the shower. I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of the bathroom, but imagine a very small shower, which is then cut in half because the toilet takes up the other half of the floor. The toilet seat was constantly wet and if you tried to use the toilet, your feet would get wet because the toilet was on the shower floor. Also, there was only hot water at night. If you tried to take a shower in the morning, you were out of luck. The water was freezing. Even though I showered twice in Cordoba, I still felt so gross when I got back to Alcala because our room in general was just dirty.

Once we checked into the hostel, most of us were famished so we set out in search of a restaurant. There was a large bridge close to our hostel that connects to the other side of the river. We saw a bunch of tents and lights on the other side of the river so we crossed over to see what was going on. We stumbled across an old Roman festival. It was so cool! They had tons of food stands with smoke chorizo, whole hogs, sausages, and crepes.

Home of the best chorizo sandwiches. Ever.

The festival probably stretched over a half mile at least. I found a stand that sold falafel, and hey guess what? They were out. I don’t think I’m meant to get falafel while I’m over here. We found a cute little food stand that sold pinchas de pollo (chicken skewers) and chorizo sandwiches. I order a red chorizo sandwich and it was amazing. I think there was about three pieces of chorizo on a big baguette. Even though I’d been craving falafel, this was amazing!

So. Much. Meat.

After the festival, we went to a club on the other side of the river close to our hostel that the consierge told us about. It was called Soho and was on the terrace of a tall building. The club itself was super cool and would have been perfect during the summer, but was definitely meant for an older crowd. First, drinks were around 7 euros. No way college students can afford this to be a regular party location. Second, the median age of the club was about 35-40 years old. I saw women my mom’s age wearing dresses tighter and shorter than anything I own. It’s one thing to see a 21 year old dress in skimpy clothes, but for a much older women who seriously needs to go to the gym is completely different.

After Soho we wandered around the city and checked out a few local places. A lot of my friends were tired so they went home early, but Nancy and I both stayed out late. On our walk home, we really wanted churos y chocolate, so we stopped a few guys to ask where we could buy them. It was 6am, so the guys laughed at us and told us nothing was open. We started talking to them and they asked us if were Yankees. Nancy told them she was, but I told them I most definitely wasn’t; I’m from South Carolina. After I told them this, they asked me if I own slaves and if I’m in favor of slavery. Do people actually still think that about people in the South???? I was definitely taken aback by these questions.

The next morning, we all slept in late. The room with six people slept until 10am and then began exploring the city. My room slept until 12 and we all took our time getting ready. It was super nice having free time and not rushing to be anywhere. At around 1pm we left our hostel in search of lunch. We found a place close by to our hostel that seemed promising. Yeah, we were wrong. While the food was mediocre, we were totally ripped off price wise. Jess and I split a mixed salad because we were in need of vegetables. We didn’t look at the price because we figured a mixed salad would be super cheap, boy were we wrong. It was 9 euros!

This cursed salad!

That was more expensive than the pasta she split with Victoria and almost as expensive as the paella I split with Nancy! The salad itself wasn’t even that good! End of rant.

After lunch, we started our search for ice cream. It’s been over three weeks since any of us have had ice cream so we were in desperate search to find a heladeria. It was Sunday so a lot of places were closed, so it made it difficult to find any. After searching for a while we found a pasteleria (pastry shop). They didn’t have ice cream but they had a large variety of pastries, which we all bought. I had a Spanish version of a chocolate éclair, which was delicious.

That night, we all went out to dinner to one of the most fun meals I’ve had so far. So earlier, I talked about the European obsession with American culture and this night was a perfect example. We had wanted to go back to a square that we’d seen earlier in the day to find a tapas place for dinner, but since Cordoba is such a small town many places were closed. When we were walking back to the hostel, we came across a comic book themed American diner.

Awesome American diner!

The walls were filled with comic book strips and they their menu was filled with classic American diner food: hamburgers, chicken fingers, French fries, onion rings, Caesar salad, and chicken wings. I know, we’re not supposed to be going to these places because it screams that we’re lame American tourists, but I think it’s okay to once in a while (emphasis on the once) to seek the familiar.

Fingers de Pollo y patatas fritas

Unlike the jacked up prices at TGI Friday’s in Madrid that Carlos told me about, this diner was reasonably priced, delicious, and very generous with portions. We played charades on Ian’s iPhone.

I wonder if anyone knows we’re Americans?

While I’m slightly embarrassed to have caved so soon, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally seeking the familiar while studying abroad. Although we’re in Spain to learn about the country and culture  and immerse ourselves into the Spanish way of life, at the end of the day, we’re still tourists. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally going to an American dinner to eat foods you miss from home or getting excited when you hear an American song playing in a discoteca, as long as it doesn’t prevent you from opening yourself to new experiences. In the same way that a Japanese student studying in America may occasionally go to a sushi place because it reminds them of home, as Americans, we like to occasionally find something that reminds us of home, which in our case was a diner. We’ve spent the last three weeks immersing ourselves into our new lives and it’s hard at times, so sometimes something as simple as a cheeseburger and onion rings or watching the Simpsons with your family can be a great comfort.

The next day we wandered around Cordoba and toured the Mezquita, one of the biggest tourist spots in Cordoba. It was an old Mosque that after the Spanish inquisition was turned into a Catholic Church.

La Mezquita!

It’s so interesting being in there because it’s designed like a typical mosque, with the Moorish arches, but the decorations are obviously Catholic. It’s like you’re in a religiously confused building: half Islamic, half Christian. After we toured La Mezquita, we asked the guard when the next mass was and if we could go to it. He told us that one was about to start and that we were welcome to attend. I’d wanted to attend a church service in Spain at some point in my semester, so this was a perfect opportunity. I’ve never been to Mass so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was really interesting. I think that part of the service was in Latin and the other part was in Spanish. I’m not really sure, they were really hard to understand. This was definitely an experience. Some of my friends are Catholic so it was a really big deal for them to attend this service, especially due to the importance of La Mezquita.

Interior courtyard of La Mezquita

After wandering around Cordoba for a while, it was finally time for us to go to the bus station and head home. It’s so weird calling my house in Alcala my home and being excited to return here. At the end of our day, I was so tired and felt gross from the hostel and all I wanted was to return home. At first, my idea of home was my home in Blythewood, but now my house in Alcala is also my home. It has all my clothes, my books, and my new family. While I loved my trip this weekend, it was refreshing to know that I would soon be heading to my Spanish home. My first few days I thought my house was going to be a place a slept in and kept my stuff, just a place to stay at, but now, it’s truly my new home away from home. My host mom was excited to see me when I got home and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Also, during the weekend she made me text her when I got to a new city and before I took my train home to Madrid. She really is my Spanish mother. In the same way my mom gets me to check up with her so she’ll know I’m safe, my host mom does the same. It’s comforting knowing I have a family who looks out for me and cares about me. I don’t think my transition to my new Spanish life would have been the same if I didn’t have my family here.

So for those of you who’ve never stayed in a hostel, let me just say, it’s an experience. I was a hostel virgin before this weekend so I didn’t know what all I should bring, but now after my two different hostel experiences, I thought I’d share a list of must haves to make future hostel experiences enjoyable.

  1. Bring shower shoes. You don’t know how well these showers have been cleaned. Also, whether you’re sharing a room with all people you know or it’s a mix of people you don’t know, that’s a lot of feet sharing one shower. So bring shower shoes. Our shower in the Funky Cordoba was gross so there’s no way I would have gone in barefoot. Also, not all hostels provide bathmats, so it’s not super pleasant walking around your room on a dirty floor with wet feet.
  2. Bring a towel. Most hostels don’t provide towels. You usually have to pay to use them, and even though it’s only 1 or 2 euros per towel, the overall cleanliness of hostels isn’t the same as when you stay at a Marriott or Hampton Inn. One of the towels in Granada had an odd brownish stain on it. Oh, and European towels are more the size of bathmats than the typical towel size that we’re accustomed to in the US. So if you want full coverage, definitely bring your own towel.
  3. Bring your own pillow or pillowcase. The same way you’re not sure about how clean your towel actually is, the same can be said for your pillowcase. While not all hostels are disgusting, I wouldn’t want to risk getting bed bugs in my hair. I would suggest bringing a pillowcase rather than an entire pillow because it takes up less space. I didn’t have a pillowcase so I slept with my pea coat on top of my pillow. While the sheets were probably fine since they’re washed after check out, I didn’t want to risk it.
  4. Talk to the people in your hostel! Really cool people stay in hostels, so take advantage of it! Most hostels have age limits, usually 18-30, so you don’t have to worry about any super old creepy men, or even women being there. Yes, you have to be careful when you’re traveling, but the people in hostels usually have pretty cool stories. If I hadn’t been traveling with such a large group, bonding with my fellow residents would have been a great way to find out about cool things to do in the city and to find potential friends to go out with. But again, be smart about it! We don’t want Taken 3 to occur. Just kidding about that part, just keep your wits about you! 

My trip was a lot of fun. While I was happy to get home and shower and sleep in my own bed, I loved my experience. After hearing about my dad’s many stories about his time abroad, it’s cool to be able to share by stories with him. While staying at a four star would have been more ideal, I would have never had the same experience as a  I did in the hostel, which definitely makes a person more appreciative of nicer travels.

Today marks my third week in Spain, and so far, I’m absolutely loving it! I went grocery shopping the other day and bought the Spanish equivalent of Twix and peanut butter, which is very difficult to find and very expensive.

Perfect snacks!

It’s funny how Spaniards strongly dislike peanut butter! They actually really hate it. My host mom and I talked about peanut butter for probably 20 minutes last night. The don’t like it’s smell or texture and the concept of a peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and nutella sandwich is so foreign and strange to them. I guess it’s the same way I find putting ketchup on rice to be weird.

Well, it’s postcard and Netflix time, so until next time, ¡salud y besos!

New Words

  1. sunflower seeds- pipas
  2. cranberry- arándano
  3. omen- augurio
  4. chaos- caos
  5. anxiety- ansiedades
  6. flip-flop – las chanclas
  7. sunset- la puesta del sol
  8. bacon- el tocino
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Getting into the swing of things, the Spanish way of life

So I’ve officially finished my first normal week in Alcala. Monday was our first day of class and I’m already into the typical work grind of nightly homework and reading. So far, the homework is at the minimal, but it’s more than I was expecting. I thought that the classes here would be more independent, meaning we had notes from class lectures and a book to accompany our course, but our outside learning and studying would be on our own. I thought that our only grades would be reflected in our mid terms and final. I, however, was incorrect. For all of my classes, we have assignments each week and nightly homework. For my grammar class, I’ve already had to find a Spanish newspaper article and present it to the class as well as translating some Spanish verbs. In comparison to Wofford’s normal workload, this is nothing. So I am definitely not complaining, it’s just different from what I expected.

Instituto Benjamin Franklin

Like classes at Wofford or any other university, I already have my favorite classes and of course, the ones I can tell I’m going to hate. So far, I love my class on fútbol. It’s with the same professor as my Spain/Latin American relations class, which is boring so far. I love my professor and his favorite fútbol team is Atletico Madrid, so we talk a lot about fútbol outside of class and how our favorite teams are major rivals. My team is Real Madrid! Since Carlos (my professor) is a big fan of Atletico Madrid, our class is going to take a tour of their stadium later on in the stadium. Even though they’re my rival team, I’m excited to go tour their pitch! One difference about classes in Alcala is how students refer to their teachers. When talking to Carlos, I don’t call him Dr. or Professor Herero, but simply Carlos. It’s typical for students to refer to their professors by their first names. Back at Wofford, it would be so weird calling my professors by their first names. I’d feel like I wasn’t being respectful, but here, it’s customary. In addition to my fútbol class, I really like my Spain Through the Media class, so far. We’re learning about the media in Spain and we had to research different television stations, radio channels, and newspapers and their different ideologies. Later on in the semester, we’re touring a local newspaper, which I’m pretty excited for. I’ve always found the different media outlets to be really interesting. The classes I’m not so fond of are my Latin American/Spanish relation’s class and my class on Spanish Cinema.I’m indifferent towards my grammar class; I think it will be very helpful and definitely help to improve my Spanish, but unlike my fútbol or Spanish media class, I don’t necessarily look forward to it on Mondays and Wednesdays. I think in the long run my classes will be good and I will learn a lot from them.

Obligatory first day of school picture.

In addition to class, I have a new job, which I start Wednesday. Once I week, I will go to a neighboring town to meet with a family, who is friends with Cristina Blanco. The mother, Begoña, wants for her children to practice their English, so for an hour each week I’ll talk to the kids in English and help them improve their conversational skills. It’s 20 euros a week, which I very happy to be receiving.

This week once my friends and I all got our schedules for the semester, we began booking our trips. I am BEYOND excited. So far, my whole group planned a trip to Granada and Cordoba next weekend because we don’t have school on the 27th. The weekend after that I am going to Brussels with my friends Laura and Ashley. The weekend after that, I’m going to Barcelona to visit my best friend Lizzie. At the end of February, Lizzie and I are taking a trip just the two of us to Paris! My friends and I are also in the works of planning a trip to Morocco (don’t worry Mom and other concerned parents, it’ll be in a big group and we’re bringing one of the guys in our CIEE group with us!). Also, we’re planning our Spring Break. Three of the people in my group are seniors this year so our Spring Break, or Semana Santa, is their last college spring break experience, so they want to do something big. As of now, our plan is to either go to Las Islas Canarias or Ibiza for the week. We want to rent an apartment close to the beach, so we’ll be able to save money on food since we can buy groceries and cook. Also, there will probably be about eight of us so we can split the cost of the apartment. Traveling on a poor college kid budget has definitely taught me how to search for the best price. I’ve researched buses, trains, and airplanes to find the cheapest routes to my various destinations. I’ve also been using many websites like Hostelworld.com and Hostelbookers.com to find cheap places to stay on my trips. When traveling with my parents, I knew that our trips were more on the expensive end and I was very grateful for the opportunity to travel with them, but I didn’t realize how expensive stuff is until I’m actually living over here and having to book and pay for my own travels. So far, we’ve been able to find pretty good deals. For my trip to Brussels, my friends and I found round-trip plane tickets for around 80 euros and a hostel, which is about 15 euros a night. To some, that may not seem like a lot, but for a broke college student living off Christmas money and money saved from many Christmas and summer breaks working at my dad’s law firm, that’s pricey. Don’t even get me started on my trip to Paris. Thankfully, unlike at Wofford where we go out to eat a lot, my food is completely covered for with my tuition, which will definitely help me to save money for travels.We do however spend some money on snack foods, which we keep in our rooms.

Pre-gym snack run: Pringles, cookies, chips, mandarin oranges

One thing I’m still getting used to over here is the amount of food. Oh my goodness, the portions my host mother gives me are HUGE. The other night we had seafood paella, which was fabulous. When I finished, she asked me if I wanted more. I told her no, but I guess she thought I was embarrassed to ask for more so she took my plate and refilled it with her delicious paella. Even though I loved it, I was slightly dying from food coma afterwards. It’s rude to not eat what you’re given over here and our parents overfeed us so much, which is something my friends and I are all getting used to. We’re constantly being given delicious food, which I am definitely not complaining about, it’s just so much. Today at lunch for example, my host mom made pollo asado (pretty much a cooked chicken with a yummy sauce) and homemade French fries. When I’d finished, she asked if I wanted more and I told her it was delicious but that I was full. She then started whispering to my brother, Alfonso Hijo, that she thought I was embarrassed to ask for more so he needed to get more so I would be comfortable getting more. Reluctantly, he got out of his seat and refilled his plate. Once he got seconds, my host mom then took a new plate out of the pantry and completely refilled with chicken and fries, and handed it to me. I was being honest when I told her I was full, but so that I wouldn’t offend her, I had to do my best to eat as much of it as I could. All I can say is that I am thankful for siesta. All this food puts me right to sleep, or allows me to have a great date with my Netflix account while I digest my fabulous food. Even though my friends and I have all been eating way more than usual, none of us have really noticed that we’re gaining weight. Unlike in the US, we’re not eating so much processed food. All the food our families make us is super fresh and natural. Even though we have French fries almost every night, my mom makes them so they’re all fresh and natural. Although we haven’t noticed a weight gain, Jess and I joined a gym yesterday to prevent any potential future weight gain. Have I mentioned they eat baguettes with every meal??

Fabulous daily baguettes.

For anyone wondering about nightlife in Spain, this part is for you. Spaniards stay out so late! The whole partying until 6am thing is 100% true. Last weekend, my friends and I went out to watch a fútbol game at probably around 8pm. We went around 7pm because we were worried we wouldn’t be able to find seats. First rookie mistake. We were the first ones in the bar, La Media Pinta. We pretty much had tourists written across our foreheads and it didn’t help that we were all sitting at a big table together.

Rookies waiting for the game to start

When the game started, more and more Spaniards began coming into the bar. Another weird thing was that almost no one was drinking liquor. Actually, very few were drinking alcohol at all. Jess and I met a group of guys and almost all of them were drinking sodas. It was so weird, but when we began talking to them and asked why they weren’t drinking, they just looked at us like we were crazy. Rookie mistake number two. At 8pm, very few people are drinking because their nights haven’t even started yet. 8pm is even too early for dinner. At my house, we eat dinner every night at around 9/9:30pm. After the game was over our night was starting to wind down. My friends all headed to a local bar, La Surena, where we had beer and tapas before going home. Jess and I had gotten the number of the Spaniards we met at La Media Pinta, so we were using What’s App to talk to them (don’t worry mom, there was free Wifi). The guys were asking us what our plans were for the night and they, again, were shocked when we told them we were going to bed soon. For them, their nights had not even begun yet as our’s were winding down. My friends and I probably left to go to our homes at around midnight and when I got home, Silvia and Alfonso Hijo were in the living room. I talked to them for a bit before going to bed. Oh, and they also looked at me weird when I told them I was headed to bed. When I saw Alfonso Hijo in the living room, I assumed he was in for the night as well, but in the morning I learned that he was actually just dropping by the house to change quickly before going out and actually starting his night. He didn’t come home until at least 5am. So yes, the staying out super late is completely true.

Pre-discoteca picture of the girls

This past weekend, my friends and I started learning and slowly transitioning to becoming real Spaniards. On Thursday, we didn’t all meet up until 11pm and didn’t leave my friend Nancy’s apartment until at least midnight. We met up with the friend I had met at La Media Pinta, Luis, and he took us to more of the local bars and discotecas that weren’t overrun by other American students. Last night, there was a big opening party at a new discoteca, Sky Lounge, that Silvia had told me about. Jess and I met up with her there and it was so fun. This discoteca was also full of Spanairds and not other students, which was great.

Bonding with Silvia at Sky Lounge

Thursday night we met up with Luis in a pub called Greene, which is a popular spot for Americans studying at the Instituto Benjamin Franklin (my institute), and it was so crowded. We could barely walk from the door to the back of the bar, so it’s definitely nice having local friends to point us in the right direction. On Friday, my friends and I were so exhausted from our first real Spanish night, so we decided to take the train into Madrid and go to a tapas drink to share tapas and sangria. We had delicious patatas bravas, which are fried potatoes with a smoky and spicy tomato sauce, and tortilla Española, which is an egg and potato dish. Both were fabulous and super cheap, even though we had to pay for our meal in coins. Yet again, the life of broke college students.

There are more coins than bills in this pile

I love my Spanish family. While no one can even come close to topping my real family, the Sierra-Azanedos are the best substitutes. My host mom is so sweet. I Skyped with my parents the other night and my host parents Skyped with me because they wanted to meet my parents! I translated the conversation between them, but it was awesome for them to meet. I think I am closest with my host mom. While I really like Silivia and Alfonso Hijo, I am the closest to my mom. We talk about everything from different Broadway plays to sororities to our favorite foods and the places we like to travel to. We still definitely have language gaps at time, but I’ve become a pro at pointing to things I’m talking about or explaining stuff in the most elementary of terms. So far, there haven’t been any more large miscommunications, like with the constipado, but there are definitely times in which I miss things my host parents say and I’m become confused. On Friday, I was talking to my host parents and they told me Silvia was at a funeral. To my benefit, I hadn’t been awake that long and I have a hard enough time processing things in English when I haven’t been awake for a while, so it’s definitely a struggle with the Spanish. I didn’t catch all of what my host mom said and I thought she said Carlos, Silivia’s boyfriend, had died the night before in his sleep. I was about to freak out because Carlos is so young and I’d just talked to him the night before when he was over for dinner, but then my host mom kept talking and I realized she had said Carlos’s grandma had died. While it’s still sad that his grandma had died, I was much less panicked than when I thought she had said Carlos was dead. I try and keep morning conversations with my host family at a minimum to prevent miscommunications like that.

One thing I’ve noticed about families in Alcala and probably all of Spain is how they treat their homes. So far, the only house guests have been my host mom’s father and Carlos. Other than that, it’s just the five of us. None of Silvia or Alfonso Hijo’s friends ever come over. I was talking about it with Jess today and she told me that this is a very common thing and it’s the same way in Indonesia, her native country. To Spaniards, their home is a private place for family. It’s personal and it’s meant for the family, so when Silvia and Alfonso want to hang out with their friends, they go out. They meet up with them in public places. This is such a foreign concept to me. Growing up, I constantly had friends over. My mom encouraged it because she wanted to get to know my friends. I can remember senior year of high school, I’d have all my friends over for parties and to swim after every home football game. My friends would always come to my house to hang out or I’d go to theirs. It’s weird to see these different customs. It’s definitely and adjustment to not be able to call Jess or Nancy or any of my other friends and get them to come and hang out.

Well, it’s about midnight and I’m still tired from last night. Snaps to us for staying out until at least 5am. We haven’t mastered the 6am thing yet, but we’re working on it. So until next time, salud!

Oh, and as promised, here’s some of the new words I learned this week:

  1. muelas de juicio- Wisdom Teeth
  2. Los tirantes- braces
  3. La hermandad de mujeres- sorority
  4. Uñas- fingernails
  5. Laca- hairspray
  6. Trastero- storage unit
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Mis Primeras Dias

I’m officially settled in in Alcala de Henares. These last three days have both flown by and seemed like forever as well. It’s a combination of excitement and nerves. On my flight to Madrid, there were so many students who are also studying in Alcala. They were all from Georgia and Alabama and the majority of them were studying at Auburn.  I also met the first girl from my program, Laura. I was shocked to learn that her school is even smaller than Wofford, which is definitely a first. She attends Soka University of America, a small private liberal arts school in California that only has 400 students. And to think Wofford feels small sometimes.

The more important thing I have learned here is to be adaptable. When you’re thrown into a new situation, you have to be open to everything. Here, everything is different. The customs, the dress, the food, the eating hours. All of it. Different can sometimes mean bad, but in this case it simply means different. When living in Spain, the first thing you have to get used to is the meal schedule. So far, breakfast time seems to be about the same, but lunch and dinner occur at much later times. Here, lunch is usually around 2:30/3pm and dinner can range between 8:30-10pm. Also, just because meals are later here, do not assume that that is the only time you eat. Spaniards eat ALL THE TIME. On my second day of orientation, we woke up at 9am and had breakfast. We had a midmorning snack around 12, which consisted of sandwiches and pastries. Then, around 2:30 we had lunch. Also, when you go to restaurants in Spain, their courses are different too. In America, your first course or appetizers may consist of a small salad or cup of soup, yeah not the case here. First, baguettes are always served at meals in restaurants. These baguettes are so delicious. Meals are broken down into two courses. For the first course, you might be served a big bowl of hearty soup or a bowl of pasta with sauce and cheese. Your second course consists of a type of meat and usually a starch, sometimes a small vegetable. I think so far I have had French Fries with at least 4 of my 7 meals here. And then, if you’re not full enough, there’s always dessert. ¡Aye dios mio! They eat a lot. 

Luckily, my host mother and sister took me to a local gym yesterday to join a gym. I will definitely need that membership while I am here

My family is amazing. My host mother’s name is Cristina and my host father’s name is Alfonso. I have a brother, also named Alfonso, who turns 21 in February, and a sister, Silvia. Our house is three stories and we have a basement where Alfonso Sr. has an office. He’s a lawyer! My host father explained to me that in America the houses are very wide because they have more living space, like my house. Homes in Alcala and many other parts of Spain thinner but much taller because all the houses are very close together. I live on the second story with the rest of the family. I have my own cute, little room with a bed, desk, dresser, and shelves. Cristina gave me a bag to put my dirty clothes and sheets in, which she will wash once a week.

Silvia and I share a bathroom. I assume that Cristina and Alfonso Sr. have a private bathroom and I’m not really sure about Alfonso Jr., or as Cristina calls him, Alfonso hijo. Maybe he has his own bathroom? I haven’t seen him much, so we haven’t had a chance to bond. We will be going to the same gym and both love soccer, so maybe we can bond over that. My family doesn’t seem to eat meals together. Breakfast is on your own time and you eat in the kitchen. I haven’t eaten lunch in my house yet so I’m not sure what their routine is yet, but I will find out today. Dinner is eaten separately. The third story of the house is what we’d call a man cave at home. There’s a big TV where both Alfonsos watch soccer matches or movies. On the first floor, there’s a sala or living room, where Cristina and Silvia eat. My first night here there was a soccer game between Real Madrid and Pamplona so Cristina, both Alfonsos, and I all ate together to watch it, but last night, Silvia, Cristina, and I ate in the sala together and watched a show that seemed a lot like Dr. Phil. The family seems to do things based on gender lines. But I haven’t been here long enough to fully understand their routine. One thing that is very different from home is that unlike my family, dinner isn’t eaten together, and it isn’t eaten a kitchen or dining room table. We eat on TV trays on the couches and watch TV.

I’ve been able to communicate with my family pretty well so far, but there’s definitely a language barrier. I may not be able to understand all the words they are saying and sometimes I have to ask them to repeat what they said but for the most part, I understand them. Silvia is an English teacher and Alfonso hijo learned some English in school so they can help me if I’m struggling. The good thing about Spanish is that many words are very similar to their English counterpart. For example, fruit is fruta. However, even though many words sound the same, they don’t all mean the same thing. Two examples of this are embarazada y constipado. Embarazada doesn’t mean you’re embarrassed, it means you’re pregnant. Constipado doesn’t mean what it refers to the United States, it refers to your nose. When you’re congested, then you’re constipado. The other morning at breakfast I was talking to Cristina and she asked me if I was constipado. ¿Elisabet, estas constipado? For a minute, I kind of just sat there. I’m sure my mouth slightly opened in shock and my face definitely showed my dismay. I think Cristina realized I was confused because she began pointing to her nose. Then, I remembered that constipado has a different meaning in Spanish. When you’re speaking to people who speak a different language, mutual participation is key. My family wants to help me improve my Spanish, so if I say the wrong thing or need help with a word, they’re more than willing to help. At first when I was corrected, it made me nervous. It almost made me feel kind of dumb, but now I really like it when they correct me because it is helping me to improve.

I haven’t seen much of Alcala yet because on our first day here we stayed by the hotel for orientation and yesterday we went into Madrid for the day. It was awesome walking around the city because everything was so familiar from when I visited Madrid the summer before I started Wofford. When I visited Madrid with my parents, I took a picture under a tree in Parque del Retiro, the Spanish equivalent of Central Park, and made a typical EVK face in the picture. When my friends and I went to the park yesterday, I remembered the spot where I had taken the picture and got my friend to take my picture under the same tree, making the same face.

To start off our time in Madrid, Cristina Blanco, the director of CIEE in Alcala, walked us around the city to see the major sites. We saw the Museo de Reina Sofia, the Prado, the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and the Royal Gardens. Cristina also took us to one of the most popular clubs in Spain that has 20€ drinks, which is about $27. It would be awesome to go to this club just to say I’d been, but it will definitely be a one-time thing. Es muy caro. After we all ate lunch together, we had free time and began exploring the city. We walked around and went to the Puerta del Sol, a very popular place in Madrid for la ramblas, this is when you walk around during the day, usually toward dusk. It’s a time to see and be seen by everyone. In Puerta del Sol there are many street performers. There was a woman who was about to start doing the tango, men in Spongebob and Smurf costumes, and people dressed as statues. Also in Puerta del Sol is a spot that marks not only the center of Madrid, but the center of Spain as well.

When I visited Madrid with my parents, Puerta del Sol was packed. So many people were there, both Spaniards and tourists, but yesterday there weren’t as many people. It was probably because we are in the middle of winter and children are still in school. After Puerta del Sol we took the metro back to Parque del Retiro and walked around for a while. We saw a glass castle and we all took pictures imitating statues. We then went to a small pub and had drinks together.

One thing that seems to be pretty common throughout Europe is a dislike of Romanians. Personally, I know some lovely Romanians at home, but in Europe, they’re not very well liked. When Cristina Blanco was teaching us about pickpockets and telling us to be careful, she spoke very distastefully of Romanians. Yesterday when we were walking around Madrid, there were three women that kept coming up to us and offering us flyers. Cristina told them to leave us alone. Some people in our group were straggling behind so the girls assumed they weren’t with our group and approached them. Cristina told them to get away and then, they called her a witch. Rude. After that altercation, Cristina explained that those girls were Romanians and it was a typical scam to rob us. They were ladrones, or pickpockets. I’m kind of worried about getting robed so it makes me super suspicious and careful when I am walking around, which is probably a good thing in the long run. All the girls carry cross body bags so we always make sure our bags are in front of our bodies and when we are in large groups, its usually a good idea to put our hand on our bag so that no one can try and pickpocket us. We also learned that when we go to the clubs we should bring very small bags and only carry a few euros, our bus passes, a house key, and our Spanish phones. My bag is on the small scale, but I needed an even smaller bag so on Thursday, we all went to Corte Ingles. Corte Ingles is probably one of the coolest stores ever. It’s like Walmart but on a classy scale, almost like Bloomingdales. They have everything. Food, furniture, make up, clothes, electronics, books, alcohol. If you want something, go to Corte Ingles. They have it. I bought a cute red wristlet, which will be perfect on the nights we go out. I can hold it while I’m dancing rather than it being at my waist.

Tonight is the first night we are all going out. Yesterday, before we caught the train back to Alcala, some of us went to a small bar and had a drink to celebrate the beginning of our trip. I split a pitch of sangria with three other girls and everyone the rest of our group had beer. We only have two guys on our trip and only one of them came with us to the bar, so he looked super cool surrounded by six girls. So, as most people know, soccer, or futbol, is very popular here. I’ve already watched one match with my family and tonight my friends and I are all meeting at Plaza de Cervantes, which is very close to our school, to walk around and explore the city before a huge soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. These teams are huge rivals. We’re going to a local bar, Sorena, to watch the match. Silvia told me it’s a great spot to watch sporting events. I’m really excited to go out tonight with all my new friends and experience Alcala nightlife.

So, what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Be adaptable. No everywhere is like your home and you can’t expect for the whole world to be the same. It’s not your country or your home, so be open to their customs and traditions. If dinner is a 10pm, you’re going to eat at 10.
  2. You’re only in Spain once, hence YOSO, so break out of your shell. Talking to your family can be intimidating. There’s definitely a language gap, even if you speak their language. However, talk to your family. Sit in the kitchen with your mom while she cooks dinner. Watch a game show with them. Don’t just sit in your room. Really try to integrate with your family. It’s definitely intimidating because you don’t know their customs. But as Cristina Blanco told us, it’s sentido común, which means common sense. I still feel awkward and like I’m a guest, but hey, it’s only my second day. If I just sit in my room in my room and talk to people on my phone I will never truly experience my life here.
  3. Ask questions, a lot. Remember, YOSO. Take everyone moment to learn and experience as much as you can. If you’re not sure of a word, ask. If you want to know what a certain place is, ask. The language gap exists so you can’t be afraid to use hand gestures or very simple phrases to explain things. I couldn’t remember the word for Valentines Day so I spoke like a five year old and called it the day of love. My mom knew what I was talking about and told me the right word.
  4. Keep a small journal to write down new words. I am constantly learning new words. It’s hard to remember so when I learn a new word, I write it in my phone and at the end of the day, I write all my new words in a notebook. This is personally the best way to try and remember all that I am learning.

With each blog post, I am going to share 5 new words that I have learned. The more I write and use these new words, the better I will remember them and be able to apply them.

New Words:

  1. Genial= brilliant
  2. Anadir= to add
  3. Incomodo= awkward
  4. Ciervo= deer
  5. Camuflaje= camoflauge

 

Well, it’s time to meet up with my friends and go explore our new town. Until next time, salud!

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