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How lucky I am…

It’s pretty hard to believe that today is my last day in this beautiful city. I’ve made some amazing memories and even better friends this semester and it’s genuinely painful to think about leaving. Last night a group of us got together for our last evening of tapas and drinks. It was so difficult to squeeze out an “hasta pronto” when we all knew full and well that it won’t be as soon as we would like.

It’s difficult to come to terms with, really. I almost didn’t say goodbye to one of my closest friends because I forgot that this would be the last time I saw her for awhile. I said “See ya later” like I do every day and we both turned to walk away and then stopped at the same time, turned around, and jumped into each other’s arms in a goodbye hug. I keep forgetting that there is no “later” here anymore. I won’t be able to put things off until the next day (like the Spaniards always do) and that any goodbyes or last minute tasks must be completed today.

I did a lot of growing this semester. I learned a lot more about the Spanish culture, improved my language skills, learned adaptability, and centered on my creativity more than critical thinking skills. But most importantly, I learned how to be confident in myself. I learned that it’s okay to do things wrong,, and to simply accept the fact that I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. I learned how to be on my own and how to ask for help (in another language, mind you). This semester has taught me a lot about myself and about the human spirit.

A huge thank you to all three of my parents for making this journey possible for me. I really couldn’t have done it without you.

Well, folks. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be on American soil! 🙂

Un abrazo fuerte :-*

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Cádiz

Last weekend I took my final excursion with API (my study abroad program).
Cádiz is located on the south western coast of Spain. That said, it takes about 4 hours to get there from Granada. Because of that, we made a pit stop at “El Torcal” in Antequera, Málaga. This place reminded me a lot of the Flintstones. We went for an hour long hike- just enough to get off the bus and move around for a bit. It was really a beautiful place and I wish we could have hiked the trail a second and third time. I also would have loved to climb the rocks, but we were given specific instructions: “No queremos ver ni una cabra hoy, chicos”. Our program coordinators did not want us being “goats” up in the rocks, climbing and jumping. This was tempting because..well..just LOOK at this place.

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A bit later, we finally arrived to our location. Cádiz is known for its beautiful beaches and rich history in trading goods before the discovery of America. We were able to stay in a beautiful hotel that was RIGHT on the water. Like the shore line was a 45 second walk from the doors. It was so beautiful, I wish we could have spent just one more day in the beautiful city.

We spent a ton of time at this beach, but we also did some sight seeing and touring. One of my favorite things that we did was go to the Torre Tavira (The Tavira Tower). It is one of 130 towers in Cádiz. There are so many because they used these towers to look out over the water to see if ships were coming to the shore. From the top of the tower, I could see so much. I know I am going to miss seeing spectacular views every single place I go. I hope to be able to find beautiful views like this one at home.

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The weather was perfect! It was super hot and the beach sand was soft and white. The water was cool, but refreshing and comfortable enough to swim. We spent the majority of one of our days jumping in the waves because they were huge! It reminded me of my childhood when my dad took my sister and I to Cape Cod. We would ride the waves toward shore on our bellies! The majority of API students were doing this exact thing all day–only we’re all in our twenties.

It was a beautiful weekend, a perfect way to relax right before finals begin.

Día de la Cruz

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This is a photo of my roommate, Emily, and I at the Mirador de San Nicolás in the Albayzín (a neighborhood in Granada). It was taken on The Day of the Cross (click this link for more info: http://www.pbase.com/dav4184/day_of_the_cross). Behind us is the Alhambra- the Moorish palace that I have written about many times in my blog. This day was 80ºF, the coolest day of the week, so naturally the climb up to the mirador was quite warm. However, it´s always worth the view!

¨Do You Ever Go To Class?¨

Recently, I´ve been posting more pictures on social media platforms so that my friends and family can see what I´m up to. Since I get texts and emails daily asking ¨what are you doing?¨or ¨how is Spain?¨, I figured I was doing the right thing by allowing them to actually see pictures with brief details about how it is and what I´m doing. Well, the responses are mixed, but the general consensus is ¨Do you ever go to class?¨. I was so confused when I started getting this question as a response to my photos. Of course I go to class…I´m STUDYING abroad. But then I gave it some more thought. Do I? I have 5 classes I attend four days a week and I do get homework and projects and and papers and have to study just like any other semester. Granted, it is a lot less stressful than American university. But perhaps that is because the professors at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas – UGR know that sometimes learning isn´t always about sitting in a classroom pouring over a text book and scribbling down notes. Sometimes it´s about being present, talking with natives, exploring new cities, trying new food, cooking, making friends with Spaniards, evesdropping on natural conversations on the street. They realize that the classroom is only part of our learning experience, while other fascets, like our host homes and the street (where life really is lived in Spain) are just as important. So the answer to your question, folks, is yes. I do go to class. But I have been blessed with the unique opportunity to constantly be in class, to constantly view each moment of my day as a learning experience. 

 

Albufeira and Lagos, Portugal

That said, I spent one of the last weekends in April in Albufeira and Lagos, Portugal. Now, although my Spanish did not improve there, I was able to draw connections between their language, and mine (still learning, take that).  This weekend was extrordinarily fun and relaxing for me. We were able to spend time on the beach, met new people, and spend prescious time with eachother. A group of 7 of us from API (my program for studying abroad) decided to go together. On our first night in Albufeira, we enjoyed the last few hours of sun on the beach and watched the sunset. When we returned to the hotel where we were staying, we all cooked a dinner in the kitchenette. We made pasta, mixed veggies, and pesto and had olives and cheese and crackers as aps. I think it turned out pretty delicious.

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The following day, we went to Lagos, one of the most touristy parts of Portugal..but also one of the most beautiful. We first made a stop at the ¨end of the world¨. At Europe´s most western point, we stopped to feel what it was like to be at the end of the world. Before the age of discovery, Europeans believed there was nothing beyond the point below (behind me in the photo). It was kind of weird to think about being there for many reasons. How many people had stood in that spot years ago, contemplating what lay ahead of them in the roaring ocean? And also, that that was the closest I had been to home since January, and was the closest I will be until May 24 when I depart from Madrid to begin my journey back to America. I yelled ¨I miss you¨ nice and loudly to my mom and dad and Jay. They didn´t answer. You all have some explaining to do, ignoring your daughter like that ;). 

 

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Later that day we spent time at the beach enjoying relaxing, reading, and chatting. It was a beautiful beach with places to explore. Although some people think that maybe I don´t go to class as often as one would think while studying, I really enjoyed a weekend deticated to really relaxing. It was a nice change of pace from the usual running around, sight seeing that I have been doing on weekends away. I didn´t have to worry about bus times, museum opening hours, how long it would take to walk somewhere..I just enjoyed the beautiful beaches of Portugal. The sand was soft and orange, while the water was crystal clear and blue-green. How is it possible that the Atlantic Ocean looks this stunning here, but at home it looks like dirt?

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I really enjoyed time in this new country and I would definitely return one day!
I hope that everyone reading has the opportunity to explore and relax at a beautiful place this week, whether it be the sunny beaches of Lagos or your armchair with a good book. Remember to take some time to reset and unwind!

 

La Semana Santa

¨Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” -Ibn Battuta

I’ve seen so many things over the past two weeks that have actually left me speechless at the moment of viewing them, but now all I want to do is share about my adventures with everyone.

In the middle of April, the week leading up to Easter is called “La Semana Santa” (or, Holy Week) in Spain. This week is a week filled with processions, parades, and celebration in major cities in Spain, including in Granada. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to see any of these processions because I was traveling during this week.

I had the amazing opportunity to stay in Gau-Algesheim, Germany for 10 beautiful days with extended family during this week of vacation from school. This trip was important to me because the majority of my family comes from Germany and although I was not able to see exactly where they were all from, I was able to stay with a Germany family and see different parts of the country.

The Thursday before Holy Week, I took a bus to Málaga, a city in southern Spain where there is an international airport. Because my flight was so early on Friday morning, I stayed in a hostel nearby overnight. My last two experiences with hostels had been great and although the reviews were not perfect, my expectations were clearly set far too high for this night. When I arrived, the man at check-in was condescending and rude and didn’t bother to show me the facilities or even give me bed sheets, I had to find them and my room on my own. When I made my bed and wandered down to get the wifi password to tell my family I had made it safe to the hostel, I discovered the wifi only functioned in a small spot in the hostel in the common area where the other guests were smoking, drinking, and yelling. I shared a room with 11 other women, all of whom must have had the Black Plague because they were all coughing up their lungs the entire night and getting up and leaving every 10 minutes. Needless to say, sleep was minimal that night.

Fortunately, it was only for a night and I had a nice 3 hour flight to rest on the next morning. I met a really nice young girl (about my age) from France on my way to the bus station to get to the airport. We chatted and kept each other company in the airport while waiting for our flights. I was happy to have met her, I have discovered that I really like meeting new people!

On the flight I rested and read and before I knew it, I was landing in Frankfurt. While I was in Germany, I did some amazing things that even I can’t believe sometimes. As I was there for ten days and did many amazing things, I will just briefly describe a few of the major things that I did, and if you would like to know more about something, you can comment to this post and I will reply with any information you may want about my trip 🙂

The first day I was there, the family I stayed with took me to the Marksburg castle in Braubach, which was about an hour away from where they live. I really enjoyed the ride there because we drove onto a car ferry boat, crossed the Rhine River, and then drove alongside it for the whole hour. By doing this, I had the opportunity to see many beautiful castles perched on hilltops, the never-ending pains, rolling hills, and endless vineyards. The views I saw on this car ride are a memory I am determined to keep permanently in my mind.

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Photo from: http://dreabobea.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/marksburg-castle.jpg

Not only did I get to see the entire outside of the castle, but we also were able to go on an English tour of the inside. Below is one of my favorite pictures that I took because I really liked that they recreated the way the kitchen of the castle used to look.

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I thought it was interesting that when I saw the bedroom of the castle, the following room was the dining room, with an attached bathroom (a small area in the room in which had a hole in a bench and waste was deposited outside the castle, and then the following room was the chapel. I thought it was interesting that they connected in this way because they only way to get from the main areas of the building to the dining area were through the bedroom or the chapel. I wondered why this was.

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I got a kick out of seeing this there. My grandparents always told me that Herzog means duke in German but this was validation enough for me. Where’s my tiara? 😉

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Small businesses, including this castle, had their own little mailboxes outside them. I liked the way this one looked.

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This is a photo from half inside, half outside the castle.

I also got to go to a really beautiful city called Oppenheim. Though, I’m not sure if city is the right word to use. It’s more like a cute little town square. There, I saw a beautiful church called St. Catherine’s. I was truly blown away by the ornate external architecture while the inside remained modest, boasting beautiful stained glass, but no other ornamentation.

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We were able to enjoy a short walk and a coffee in the square before going on one of my favorite adventures.

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After, we went on a tour of the Oppenheimer Kellerlabyrinth (Oppenheim Celler Labyrinth) under the old town. This was a maze of underground tunnels and passageways of multiple levels, stiarways, and rooms that linked houses and businesses together. They were built in order to store goods (like wine and potatoes) at a cooler temperature. They could not simply expand the city because of cities on each side, the Rhein, and of course the vineyards that produced the wines. So to solve this problem, they expanded downward. The city forgot about these catacombs until a car fell through the ground. Altogether there are about 650m of passageways open for public viewing, but the rest is protected. This is only about 2% of the passageways that exist in the city and they still believe that 20% no one has discovered yet. Although the tour was completely in German, I enjoyed viewing and picking up small things from words that sound similar to Spanish or from my family members who translated when they could!
Unfortunately, photos were not allowed.

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in Rüdesheim, I went to a wine museum (above) and learned a lot about the history of wine. The tour was audio-visual and I was able to select English. There is so much to say about what I learned so if you have specific questions, please comment below. I will say that I climbed a never ending tower to the top and was able to get some beautiful views of the Rhine River. I also went to an organ museum and got to see and learn about the history of musical instruments, specifically organs. That tour was in French, but luckily they gave me the English script to read!

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After this, Margaret and I did my absolute favorite, most memorable thing in Germany. We took a cable car up to the top of a giant hill to see the Germania monument. The views were spectacular. Everywhere I looked were vineyards, river, castles, beauty. I will never forget this beautiful ten minute trip in the sky.

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I had the opportunity to see many other castles while in Germany. One of my favorites (because it was still so well preserved) was the Burg Klopp in Bingen. Although I couldn’t go inside, it was remarkable from the outside!

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On one of my last days in Germany, I was able to go for a small hike and climb a never-ending tower called Bismark. It was one of the scariest things I’ve done because you can see all the way down in the middle, but the view was so rewarding.

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We also went to a medieval festival there. I thought it was going to be a little weird but it was actually really cool! We watched and listened to a bird show, looked at all the cool venders hand making their products (baskets, wood carvings, stone pieces). I enjoyed a delicious banana crepe and a cherry beer. There were no plates or plastic cups or silverware.

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The festival was in a town called Lorelei (click here for more info on the myth) which has a really cool myth behind it!

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Going to Germany was an incredible experience for me. I had a wonderful time, learned how to cook German food, learned more about the country from which my whole family came, and really enjoyed myself. I filled 15 pages of my personal travel journal just on information, sights I saw, and things I learned while there. I hope that if you have questions about my experiences in Germany you will comment and ask them below.

Soon to come: stories of my adventures in Portugal 🙂

Independence

Happiness cannot thrive within the prison of obligation.
Live wild, life free, live as master of your own fate.
– Jonathan Lockwood Huie

 

My Independent Adventure

This weekend I decided to do something completely on my own. Although both of my parents explicitly told me they would prefer I don’t travel alone, I decided to make the decision to do it anyway (sorry mom and dad). This adventure was only for the day and in the nearby city of Córdoba, I had a cell phone in case of emergency, and it’s a place I really wanted to go. So I did. Many of my friends had already visited this old city or had other plans for the weekend so I decided to spend the day with myself and go explore Córdoba myself.

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Without a plan, a bus ticket, nor an itinerary, I hopped on a city bus to the bus station to see if I could indeed go to the beautiful city I had been dying to go to since I got here. There was room on the bus, so I purchased a ticket to and return (the first and last busses of the day) Córdoba for the day and I was on my way!

When I arrived in the middle of the city, I had no map and no plan. I knew that the city was famous for it’s old beautiful Mosque and had an Alcázar that was supposed to be beautiful, so I figured that since these two places were popular among tourists, that they would be in the city center and there would be signs pointing them out. I was right. I walked past the train station and into a lovely park. Something I noticed right away about this city was that it smelled completely different from Granada. The city smelled so much more humid. Maybe it was just the day I chose to go, but the air was thicker. And it smelled like flowers. everywhere. It was a strong floral smell even in the middle of the city center where there were none. It was so amazing.

I found the Alcázar and it was so incredibly beautiful. The old chapel inside had intricate mozaic walls but the mozaic was made of stone. The stones were arranged on the walls to create images of Jesus, or Adam and Eve, or even just beautiful geometric patterns that filled an entire wall. What perplexed me the most was that they were able to obtain stones that looked similar enough to create symmetry for the images that they wanted to create. Think about it. If you want to make Jesus’s body, you need a ton of similar looking stones to accomplish that. Let alone the whole background of the image. I wonder if they wore down the stones somehow to create this sameness or if they just scavenged really hard.

The Alcázar had a beautiful section of Arab Baths and a collection of origional furniture. One of the most beautiful things I saw was the tower inside the building. I climbed a never ending spiral staircase (that we all know mom would never be able to climb without passing out from the height) and finally made it to the top where I could see all of Córdoba. It was incredibly beautiful. From the top I was able to head back down a set of stairs to the Gardens of the Alcázar. The smell of flowers was overwhelming. There were fountains and statues of Christopher Columbus and the King and Queen everywhere.  I could have passed hours in these gardens. I sat on a rock and just admired the beauty that was before me. The Alcázar and its gardens are so incredibly old–far older than what I could ever find in America. I still can’t believe I was there.

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Next, I went to the Mesquita (Mosque) that was so huge it was impossible to miss. On the outside it was adorned with blue and red and gold that clearly boasts its Islamic history. The Islamic Mosque was converted into a Christian Cathedral and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful creations of Moorish architecture constructed in Southern Spain.  The Mosque has 900 thick (marble?) columns that hold beautiful arches of white and red. The whole interior was decorated with white and gold, but especially beautiful was the altar. The whole altar was white and gold and incredibly detailed. The bright white and gold was contrasted by the dark black mahogany altar piece and the two red and gold organs that flanked the altar on each side. I spent almost two hours in this beautiful monument and if I had the time, I probably would have spent more, just standing and admiring the beauty of it.

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After walking around to the other side of the Mosque, I found an incredibly long bridge that was reserved for foot traffic. On the bridge (that allowed persons to cross the Guadaquivir River) there was a little old man playing the accordion. Coupled with the sound of the rushing water below and the birds chirping above me, it really hit me in that moment that I’m in Spain. I’m in Europe. I’m in Córdoba traveling and exploring the world on my own. I’m independent and liberated and free and happy.

On one side of the bridge was a large stone gate, on the other was a museum called “Living Al-Andalus” (in Spanish of course) with the Calahorra tower attached to it. I paid the entrance fee (2 Euro for students to visit both places. I love Spain) and listened to the audio-visual tour and learned about the history of Andalucía. When I climbed to the top of the tower the weather was even more beautiful than when I had climbed the other towers earlier and I could see even farther. The cool thing about this tower was that I could see the mosque and the Alcázar from the top, giving me a completely different perspective from before.

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My bus leaving Córdoba was at 7:30 pm and I really enjoyed the bus ride home! I got to watch the sun set over the rolling hills and empty fields of Córdoba. When the sun had set but it was still just barely light enough to see, I enjoyed the views of the mountains and valleys and little villages that we drove past. I finally arrived home around 11pm (after taking the city bus back to my host family’s home) and spontaneously decided that the next morning I wanted to go to the beach. It was going to be another early morning for me!

Nerja

The beach I went to was in a little village outside of Granada called Nerja. The bus ride there took 2 hours and 15 minutes, which may seem like a lot–but it wasn’t. The bus rides alone are just as much a part of the adventure of the day as the destination. The towering snow-capped mountains, the crystal blue rivers that flow beneath us, the gigantic bridges that connect the roads from one mountain to the next, the little cities that scale down into the valleys below, the warm sun toasting your face…it is a part of the experience. The views are so beautiful, and coupled with good music or good friends (or strangers) to talk to (I know…don’t talk to strangers), the bus ride becomes a part of the journey just as memorable as the destination.

The whole little pueblo was adorable. The winding streets created intricate patterns that linked little shops and terrace restaurants. There were potted plants decorating the walls and the air smelled like salt water and seafood. There were little fountains everywhere with agua potable (drinkable water) that I could fill up my bottle with. It was chilled and refreshing on such a hot and sunny day.

Before heading down to the sand, I stood at the edge of the Balcón de Europa (balcony of Europe) where, if you squinted really hard, you were supposed to be able to see Africa on the horizon. Maybe I didn’t eat enough carrots as a child, but I couldn’t see it. So I enjoyed the warm breeze a moment more before heading down to the sand.

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The beach was small and crowded with many different types of people. There were Spaniards, Americans, Germans, French people, and others in between. There were toddlers running around naked and splashing in the sand, women sunbathing (topless..which I later learned is also the spanish term for “without a shirt”. interesting), kids making sand castles, adolescents playing paddle ball or volleyball, girls soaking up the sun or enjoying the waves. It was beautiful.

What I liked the most about Nerja were the caves that I could explore. I had to wade my way through the frigid water to get there but I made my way between giant rocks to these really interesting caves that I enjoyed spending my time in. At the end of the day, only one side of me got burned and I was sleepy from the sun and exploring.

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AND! I can now say that I swam in the Mediterranean Sea!

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Overall, I think this was probably one of my favorite weekends that I have spent in Spain so far! I was independent and I explored new places and really took advantage of the whole weekend!

Just a quick little something I wanted to note:

Sometimes I forget I’m in Europe. Sometimes IIII forget I’m in Spain. I forget what language needs to come out of my mouth and start blending the languages and throwing in wrong words.. “It was really fun porque when we went here…”.

But something, so small, that pulls me back to reality and really grounds me and helps me remember I’m not home is the way the shopkeepers act. Every morning on my walk to school every store owner is mopping the sidewalk or the street in front of their shop. It’s still dirty. There’s 15 year old dried, black gum, the stains of dog urine, the cigarette butts that end up right where they just mopped ten minutes after they’ve finished. It’s something small, but they all do it, and it reminds me that I’m not home.