Month: February 2014

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¡Feliz día de Andalucía!
In 1980 on February 28th, Andalucía officially became an Autonomous Community of Spain! I celebrated by spending the day wandering the miles of gardens behind the Alhambra, exploring the Sacramonte, and wandering the streets behind Plaza Nueva. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Most importantly, I spent time just alone today and because of that, I got to talk to many Spaniards and meet new people! 🙂

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly…

…In Granada.
Though I’ll be the last person to complain about ANYTHING having to do with this beautiful country, especially my home city of Granada, it’s always always raining here. I hardly should be talking about bad weather, considering it’s snowing and freezing at home, but the rain and the sub 40 degree weather is not what I expected when I thought about going to the South of Spain. Although my afternoons have been spent wandering in the wet and cold, I have had amazing luck with the weather while I’m traveling. Two weekends ago in Rome it was in the high sixties! Equally, I had amazing sixty degree weather last weekend in Sevilla!

HostelWorld, you’re my hero
Last weekend, my roommate and I packed our backpacks and headed to the beautiful city of Sevilla which happens to be the capital of Andalucía, the autonomous community in which I’m staying. Here’s a map for reference:

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We chose our hostel using a website called Hostel World which ended up being the best resource I have probably ever used. Hostel World allows travelers to read reviews of other travelers who have stayed in certain hostels. What I like the most about this website is that it doesn’t allow anyone to post to it unless the person made a reservation in a hostel through that site. For example, I booked the hostel (The Garden Backpacker) in Seville using my information, so only I can write a review fit. This hostel had amazing reviews and my own review of it is no different.

We elected to stay in a 12 person room which was the cheapest option for us- only 14 dollars a night (two total nights). The hostel offered very large, sturdy lockers, free wifi, friendly staff, down-to-earth guests, and the best part: free sangria each night made with lemons picked THAT DAY from a lemon tree in the garden! The hostel was located in a very central part of the city, making it easy for us to get around (with a map, that is. The streets of Sevilla are narrow, winding, and lead to many different plazas that all looked the same to me). I’m so glad we used hostel world to choose such a nice, safe, friendly place!

Just for Sleeping
As nice as the hostel was, it was really only for sleeping! We spent every possible moment that we could out exploring the city. When we arrived Friday afternoon (around one o’clock. The bus took 3 hours from Granada, not bad! There was amazing scenery to look at on the way–so many olive trees!), we simply explored. We walked around the streets that surrounded the bus station and ended up in a little park. We decided to eat our picnic lunches that our host mom kindly made for us in the sun and then explored some more. By pure chance, we ended up walking right into…

Plaza de España!
Three years ago I posted a picture of this plaza on Facebook and told the world that someday I would go to Spain. Not knowing it then, I would end up in that very place!

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The Plaza is beautiful and the warm sun was definitely enjoyed! Bordering the large, arched building (THAT LOOKS LIKE A CRESCENT MOON FOR ANY SISTERS READING THIS) are little blocked areas that represent each city in Spain. Of course, I took a picture with my roommate next to Granada!

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There were so many beautiful scenes and colors to look at, it was almost overwhelming! But we took our time and viewed each little detail and soaked it all in. It’s probably the most beautiful man-made thing I have seen thus far in Spain. I enjoyed most the colors of the plaza.

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It took us about three hours of wandering the streets of Sevilla to realize that we should probably find a map to use (considering the sun was starting to go down). We walked back to the bus station, clumsily choosing the wrong roads, and found maps on the sides of the bus stops. Once we finally found our hostel, we locked up our backpacks and hit the town!

Bar Alfalfa
After asking Sofie, the receptionist, for recommendations for two vegetarians, we received a small chuckle. Who comes to Spain a vegetarian? You have to try the jamón before you leave, blahblahblah. We’ve gotten it all…

Anyway, she suggested Bar Alfalfa. In a rather care-free way, we wandered out again without a map until we came across the bar. My roommate is a good guesser at the game of “let’s pick a street”, because we got there in very short time. The menu clearly labeled both vegan and vegetarian options, so we really loved that! We both enjoyed a tapa and a beverage and then shared a second tapa! I chose an eggplant bruschetta and it was delicious!

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Alcazar
The next day we explored all the touristy places, but that’s okay because we learned and saw so much! We started our day with tostadas with olive oil and tomato and of course, cafe con leche. We then visited the Real Alcazar which is very similar to the Alhambra in Granada, but the gardens are far more beautiful in my opinion. We liked getting lost in the hallways of the palace and the mazes of garden walls.

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Cathedral
After that, we went to the cathedral (which we realized that we haven’t even done yet in Granada)! It was super cheap for us because we are students. The normal price was 10 euro and we got in for two!

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From there, we were able to climb the Giralda Tower and at the top we saw all of Sevilla! The bells were huge and really loud, but it was worth the view! Don’t you think?…

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Perhaps My Favorite Thing..
Was the Flamenco show that we saw on Saturday night! It was incredible! We got to look around the only flamenco museum in Spain. It was really nice to see the way the such a beautiful art has transformed. Flamenco isn’t solely dance. Its guitar, rhythm, song. Its incredible. The guirar player was so incredibly talented and was very entertaining to listen to.

I sat in the second row. I was so close that I could feel the wind of her dress when she spun and felt the sweat of the dancers fly off their face. I will definitely go back to another flamenco show while here.

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Intercambio
This week I participated in an intercambio which is where a bunch of English speaking students get together with Spanish speakers and practice both languages. I had an awesome time chatting with new people! I love getting the practice. I speak a lot with my host mom, but these were new people to share new ideas with!

Future Educator
I am also volunteering to host workshops teaching English to beginning level Spaniards. I will be practicing teaching and am so happy about it! Tuesday I taught parts of the body and phrases that go with it like doctor vocab or how to express pain and next Tuesday I will be teaching directions (per request of my pupils). It’s not a grammar class, it’s more for conversation and vocab (which is great because no one likes grammar).

That’s basically it. Just exploring the city in the rain every day after school and every day finding a new street or new store 🙂 Thanks for your interest!

When in Rome…

I didn’t think it was possible for a weekend to fly by so quickly, especially when my weekends in Spain are one day longer than in the USA (I don’t have Friday classes). But it happened. On Friday morning all 50 of us API students boarded a bus and drove to Malaga (South West of Granada where the international airport is) and crowded the airport lines.

We boarded the plane from the outside, something I’ve never done before. That is to say, we were outside and climbed stairs to enter the plane. I thought that was really cool because it was beautiful out and I felt like a movie star. Once I took my seat, something scary happened. Why didn’t I understand the flight attendant when she spoke to me? Why did the announcement from the pilot make zero sense? It sounded like Spanish to me, so why was I drawing a blank? Well, it sounded like Spanish–but it wasn’t. Since we were going to Italy, the plane was filled with Italians! I should have expected this, probably, but I was so excited that I was going to ROME that I hardly thought about anything except for how beautiful of a place I was going to.
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When we arrived, we were all hungry, and wanted to get some dinner (it was past 9 at that point and we really didn’t have lunch) so we explored until we found an inexpensive place that would accommodate our large group (there were 10 of us-whoops). I had a really delicious pesto pasta that night! After dinner, we wandered until we found exactly what all of us wanted to see, but none of us really said it- the Trevi Fountain. All of us wanted our Lizzy McGuire moment and our chance to throw a coin into the crystal clear water while making a wish. Though I didn’t wish or toss a coin, I sat staring at the beautiful monument for quite awhile. Its really a beautiful fountain and in my opinion, it’s impossible to get bored of.

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Over the weekend, I saw many things that I have only learned about by reading books or in school.

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The Colosseum

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The Pantheon

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The Spanish Steps

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The Vatican City

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The Pope

It’s hard to believe it was even real life. I had delicious gelato (hazelnut and pistachio) and pizza and pasta (because, when in Rome…right?) and genuinely enjoyed every moment (except the last hours of the day when my feet grew about 3 sizes from being so swollen–we spent more than 15 hours walking around each day!).

Although I really enjoyed my time in Rome, I don’t think I will be going back soon. There were a few things that left me a little upset or disappointed. For example, obviously when one goes to Rome, they (should) realize that they’re going to a giant city. I realized this, but I don’t think it hit me until I got there. The whole city smelled like smoke and car exhaust and, although it was sunny and gorgeous outside (almost 20 degrees C [for you grandpa, a reminder of your Celsius days… I’m making everyone else do the math!]), the city had a smoggy haze to it. It also irked me that when I went out to lunch or dinner (my only option while there was going out to restaurants) the servers gave you bottled water and bread- both of which they charged you for even though you didn’t ask for it or even touch it. I don’t have an extra 5 euro hanging around, people.

I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t have a good time. I really did! It’s just that nothing compares to how I feel about Granada. Being in Rome made me appreciate my city so much more and I am already dreading leaving it in May.

Over this weekend I really and truly learned how to enjoy travel (and enjoy life, too). Things in life are going to be expensive, different than you imagined, better or worse than you hoped for, easy, difficult, happy, sad, ANYTHING. The important thing to keep in mind is to aprovechar (I think that word is much stronger in Spanish, so I’ll use it instead of take advantage of) everything that comes your way. Enjoy the things you commit to and be present in every moment. Even a simple flower on the side of the street can be the highlight of your day if you let it. If you live each day with the cliche (SUPER CLICHE UGH) philosophy “when in Rome…” you may have the opportunity to experience far more than you ever imagined, or at least appreciate more than you normally would.

On another note, I appreciate Spanish far more after hearing Italian all weekend. Spanish was music to my ears when I came home (..home…where is home?)…that is, Granada, I didn’t shut up the entire night because Spanish is much easier and more enjoyable than fighting my way through Italian (and i mean fighting…That was not a pretty sight, folks).

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Photos Page

I’d like to take a minute to direct your attention to a new page I added to my blog. If you look under my blog’s title, there is a tab entitled “photos”. By clicking this tab, you will have access to some of my favorite photographs from my trip thusfar. If you have any questions about them, just send me a comment or an email and I would be happy to elaborate!

I will be writing short titles or thoughts under each picture slowly but surely so that they can have some more context! Thanks for checking in 🙂

What Do I Do With It?

I feel so blessed to be able to be studying in Spain this semester. I am learning so much here every single moment and it makes me feel wonderful. Learning is one of my top five Strengths Quest strengths. Basically what that means is that learning, collecting and storing information, and absorbing facts about people, places, and things around me is one of my strengths. When I am learning, I feel my best. Every moment I am learning something new in Spain, whether it be a new vocabulary word, a new fact about the city, a new and interesting place that exists, I am learning constantly. So that should mean that I am feeling my best, right? Yes. But there is another emotion tying me up somehow- and I don’t know what it is, so I’ll try to describe it.

I am constantly learning. That’s the point of travel. To take with you so much information about culture, civilization, important monuments, people, artworks, everything. But I feel tied up–like I can’t truly basque in enjoyment of learning because, well…what do I do with it? Of course, this is all for me, so even if I just feel amazing after learning a TON here, that’s wonderful for me. But what greater good can I do with this information? How can I contribute to the community around me? To the community at home? How can I take all that I’ve learned and implement it to become a positive, changing action to improve the world?

I really am looking for an answer. I know many friends and family read my words when I post something new, so I’m looking for your help before it’s too late. What do I do with all of this brand new, learned information?

Granada

As I’m sure some of you know (and I’m sure others don’t) Granada is Spanish for pomegranate. I loved finding this out before I left because I realized as soon as I arrived how much the city is passionate about its origins- right down to its name.

There are pomegranates everywhere in the city. Every sidewalk is lined with little posts that indicate where the sidewalk ends and the road begins. They’re in the shape of pomegranates. The fountains have pomegranates carved into the sides, the shops often feature images of the fruit in their signs or their windows, and even the street decorations look like pomegranates. It may take a creative eye to see it (and you may need to squint- or even pretend to see it), but the street light decorations below are actually (supposed to look like) pomegranates. These decorations are attached to every light post on Gran Via and illuminate the way all the way down the road to the beautiful statue of Queen Isabel and Christopher Columbus in the Plaza de Los Reyes Catolicos.

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Photo: http://www.karieandscott.com/blog/myth-busting-in-granada-spain?att=yes

I love that the city has so much passion for its history and its name- so much so that they adorned the plazas, streets, sidewalks, and homes with the fruit for which it’s named. It makes me feel just as (if not more) passionate about it, too!

Beware of the Rosemary

Though I’m sure most of you reading my blog will not be touring Granada anytime soon, I know at least one of you is. So this post is both for you and for everyone else just to learn about because I find it interesting and so maybe you will too.

My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
You see (or maybe I just see because TLC is a staple among my friend circles and therefore is always playing in the background) these Gypsy shows on television all the time. Crazy, scandalous, flashy women and cat-calling, macho, sex-addicted men who marry into their community and have gypsy children who become duplicates of their parents. It’s so easy to get an image in your head of what a gypsy is because of how the media portrays them that you could be staring an actual gypsy in the face and not even have a clue. Well, it happened to me and luckily I was able to shed the image of what the media tells me a “gypsy” is and develop my own.

The Cathedral
My favorite places to explore in Granada are the streets and shops surrounding the cathedral. Not only is the building magnificent in its architecture and it’s stature, but the streets surrounding it are filled with a blend of different cultures, with a particularly heavy Arab influence. The people sing and play music, vendors have very unique shops, the tea shops smell incredible, and there is something colorful and interesting to look at in every direction. For that reason, I like spending time on the streets surrounding the cathedral.

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The Gypsies
Today, like usual, I was wandering the streets around the cathedral and paused to listen to a gentleman who was playing a steel drum just for a moment. Out of the corner of my eye among the many other people crowding the streets a woman dressed in a colorful top, grey sweater, and long braided hair approached me faster than I would have liked. She was carrying a basket filled with dried herbs and was clutching a handful of rosemary sprigs.She shoved the sprigs in my face telling me that they were a gift and that I should take one. Luckily I remembered back to my first day in Spain the advice of one of my API coordinators, Lydia. The “gitanos” (gypsies), she told me, will try to give you free rosemary sprigs, trying to convince you that it will bring you health. They seek tourists and once a person reaches to grab a sprig, the gypsy will grab your wrist and won’t let go until you let her read your palm, she told me. Then, because she provided you with tales of your future, she will inform you that you owe her an obscure amount of money- sometimes up to 50 Euro. Beware of the rosemary.

Luckily, I immediately remembered that these women were up to no good, trying to con non-Spaniards out of money, and I simply replied “no, gracias” and quickly moved away. These women aren’t dangerous, scandalous, or flashy like the media would have you believe. They are simply women looking for money. Sure, it’s not really just- conning unsuspecting visitors out of money by giving them a palm reading that the didn’t even ask for…but they’re not nearly as crazy as what I’ve seen on TV. At least not the gypsy women in the south of Spain.

I’m glad that I was able to at least form a new opinion about what an Andalusian gypsy is and also that I wasn’t scammed out of money. But my purpose for writing this post is to inform unsuspecting visitors of the same advice I was given in my first days in this beautiful country: Beware of the Rosemary.

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