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Gap Year Abroad

9 posts from November 2014

11/30/2014

Weekend Activities-Nov. 22

This post was from last weekend, and yes, I only got around to typing it now. :)

Last Saturday I went my friend, Lauren, to Ronda, a small town relatively close to Sevilla. One of the most well-known of all of the white towns (the white towns are a series of small towns in the southern region of Spain), Ronda had some unique attractions. First off, Ronda was literally built right on a cliff! Pretty much the whole town has an amazing view of the countryside, especially now when all the leaves are changing color.

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Since Ronda is situated on a cliff, it has this fantastic bridge that connects the old city to the new one. It's named the Puente Nuevo, or the New Bridge, obviously because it was the most recent bridge built in the town. It was built in the 1700s. From the bottom to the top, the bridge is about the same height as the Giralda Tower in Sevilla.


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The other main sight in Ronda is the bullring. As one of the oldest bullrings in Spain, I found it really cool to walk inside and be in a building with so much history.


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On Sunday I went with CIEE to a Real Betis soccer match. Real Betis is a local team in Sevilla, specifically in the Triana neighborhood. To be honest, the teams didn't play very well, but the atmosphere was electrifying! All the fans were so excited to cheer for their team.


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11/27/2014

Fútbol, Madrid, etc

Hellooo.

Got home yesterday from Madrid, where I went to an Ed Sheeran concert with some friends!! Soo much fun, pretty crazy. In the morning before we left, we took a walk and went to El Parque del Retiro, which was beauuutiful. So fall-ish.

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Although we didn't get to see much of the city, what struck me most about Madrid was how it seemed like it was so similar to many of the large cities throughout the world. It was clearly much more modernized than Sevilla, and just didn't have the same charm. It's also HUGE, so that was a shock to the system after being in Sevilla where you can walk pretty much everywhere.

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Madrid's solution to not having white Christmases

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Cool picsss

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There's that fall foliage.

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Sassy little vespa

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El Parque del Retiro

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A kind of little lake for rowin' around n what not

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La Puerta de Alcalá

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Some birds snackin' on a bowl of chips??

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Yay Madriiid

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 There was a kind of outdoor gym in the middle of the park and this guy was really enjoying his work out in minimal clothing despite not all that balmy temps. I guess if you got it, flaunt it.

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Crew love

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Maddy girl ft. baby head??? Does this not remind you of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers though..

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This was the train station in Madrid.. Not sure why it had a jungle in the middle of it but it was cool.

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And some turtles as well, 'cause why not.

I'm kind of working backwards here, but no pasa nada. On Sunday, we went with CIEE to a Betis (soccer) game. It was SOO cool. Not only was it a great cultural experience, but it was also awesome just to be back in the atmosphere of sports and crazy fans and competition, which I've definitely missed. Elvira and Lucia aren't huge soccer fans, but they told me a little bit about Betis before I went to the game. Apparently, Betis fans (Béticos, they're called) are known for being a little loco. The slogan of the team is "Viva Betis, manque pierda," which means "Long live/go Betis, even if they lose" (manque isn't actually a word in Spanish, it should be aunque, but sometimes people just decide to make things up I guess?). And it's true; the fans at the game were really crazy. Elvira told me a story about how her brother-in-law's father loved Betis so much that when he died, he wanted his ashes to be spread on the field. And they did it!! And what's even crazier: this practice became so common that they had to ban it, I assume due to problems with the grass and what not. Kind of gross?? Kind of crazy?? Yeah. 

We sat next to the section of what was like the equivalent (but more intense) of the student section at my high school's sports games-- the section that's on their feet the whole time, screaming and yelling, going wild with noisemakers and confetti and flags. 

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Eli was really excited about it.

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Reppin'

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And everyone with their scarves

HOWEVER, I was really shocked when this section, along with another section like it that was across the field, didn't come back to watch the second half. Betis was losing 2-1 at the end of the first half, and honestly, though I promise I don't claim to know all that much about soccer, they didn't look too good. But they weren't getting killed, ya know? So I couldn't understand why those fans had left, especially if they were supposed to be die-hard fans. But I asked Sarah, our guide from CIEE who came with us, and she told us that it was almost a form of protest for them; they were unhappy with how badly Betis was playing, so they left. So weird. Fair-weather fans, if you ask me, but don't tell them I said so.

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The field

The other weird thing about the game was that it was basically all men. In all seriousness, aside from the maybe 10 women that I saw in the crowd (obviously there were more, but the vast majority of people that I saw were men), we definitely had the most girls in our group. It was so weird. I talked to Elvira about this and she said that wasn't surprising. In the past, the slogan for soccer in Spain was basically "Football is the game for men." Super weird for me.

So this is kind of old news now in Sevilla, but recently the Duchess of Alba (otherwise known as just La Duchesa) passed away and it was a HUGE deal in Sevilla. I didn't really understand why at first, but she's just a really beloved figure in the city because although she's not from here, she was always very involved in the culture and life of the city. People literally filled the streets to go to her wake and funeral. It was crazy.

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This was the day after she died when her body was being moved into the ayuntamiento (town hall), the building on the left. This was not an organized thing at all, but people just took to the streets for what became a kind of procession.

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And the line wrapped all the way around the building.

On another note, the Christmas decorations have been up in the streets of Sevilla for probably three or four weeks now, which is super weird.

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Like why is it so sunny and warm and yet there are those lights up in the street.. It's not right.

Another random thought: We found an absolutely amazing cupcake place the other day and almost died. The flavors were unbelievable: red velvet, apple cider, pumpkin, carrot, chocolate with caramel, lemon.. The list goes on.

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AND finally, some little Elvira stories. She put these flowers in my room, which are apparently really typical in Spain this time of year, and they smell SO good.

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And she also made pie.

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And then finally, if you still don't get what a tortilla is, here's a picture of one. Also a great example of how everything Elvira makes is really aesthetically pleasing, as well as delicious.

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 Last thing: a couple things to add to lists.

Things I miss:

- The cold and the snow. It's not supposed to be 80 at the end of November. Come on.

Things that are different:

- The lottery here is kind of different, but what surprised me most is what Elvira told me about the "Christmas Lottery". This is the most popular one of the year and it's tradition to have the winning numbers announced (singing) by kids who go to this specific singing school in Spain. Pretty cool. So Elvira said this is like one of the sounds of Christmas for Spaniards-- like bells or Jingle Bell Rock or JC Penney sale commercials.

- There are the most creative strollers here. I don't know why everyone doesn't use them around the world because they're awesome. For example, a lot of them are convertible into beds, and a lot of them have little seats behind the main part of the stroller where a second kid can sit and chill. I wish I had a picture, but I figured it might get a little weird if I tried to snap a pic of someone's baby, no??

Finally, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Hope everyone has a great day and for those of you in Maine, I hope you have power. XO

11/24/2014

Morocco

S-salam u alaykum! (Peace be upon you) Welcome back to my blog! This Arabic phrase is frequently used as a greeting in Morocco. The tail end of last week and over the weekend I visited with CIEE this fascinating country. 

The first adventure my friends and I had was crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. This narrow passageway is the only thing that is separating Spain/Europe from a whole new country, Morocco. Actually, a whole new continent-Africa. It´s amazing to think about that. 

While in Morocco, I learned that it is so easy for Americans to cross this body of water with their American passport. Basically all you had to do was show your passport at the border and you could walk right into Morocco (ok there were are a few more steps than that, but you get the idea). The case is not so simple for Moroccans.

It´s very difficult for Moroccans to travel out of their own country. There are a number of reasons that contribute to this sad fact, and I won´t list all of them here, but one is that many countries in Europe and North America, including the United States, do not want Moroccans coming to their country, in fear than they might not return to Morocco. Moreover, the process to get a visa is extensive and costly, with no guarantee that they will be granted the opportunity to travel. These unfortunate truths inhibit many  talented Moroccans from sharing their talents and expanding their world. Thus, the Strait of Gibraltar has become more than a body of water to me, but serves as a reminder of how fortunate I am to be able to travel easily to almost any country and continent in the world. 

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Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, looking at the African coast

Once setting foot in Morocco, the first city we went to was Tangier. The first place we walked through was the market. Boy, was this a bustling place!  Everyone seemed to be selling something, from colorful spices, to herbs, to fresh chicken, to even a goat´s head-yes, gross. I also saw some of the freshest fish and vegetables that you can get. *Interesting experience: At the market, our group leader bought about 30 clementines from one of the fruit stands, and paid 60 dirham for them. 10 dirham roughly converts into 1 euro, so 30 clementines only cost around 6 euros!

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Market in Tangier

 

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After the market, we went to DARNA, a women´s center in Tangier. DARNA equips less fortunate women with the skills to read/write in Arabic, make amazing blankets/rugs, and use their creativity to create stuffed animals or dolls. We got to talk with some local Moroccans while visiting the center. It was really interesting to see their views on the United States and their own country.  During our conversation we talked a lot about women´s rights. From what I gathered from the converation, women´s rights are not as important right now as other problems within the country. For instance the economy, and the high unemployment rate. For me, this was a different concept to grasp, coming from a country that has taken great strides to have equality for all.

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¨Kate¨ in Arabic

 

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A blanket in the making

Tangier was an interesting city, but ther was more to Morocco to discover. The next town we visited was Asilah. This was a quick stop, but we were able to walk through the Medina (old town) and see the rocky coastline that borders part of the city. It was a very pretty area.

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Finally we made it to our final destination for the day, Rabat. (Yes, all of this happened in one day) In Rabat we met our host families that we would be staying with for 2 nights. My Moroccan host mom, Fatima, is such a sweet lady with an awesome laugh. She was so welcoming and kind, as well as the other ladies who were visiting for the night. I understood nothing of what they were saying, since they spoke in French and Arabic, yet I felt at home all the same. Later that evening, Fatima showed us (2 other American students were in the same homestay as me) around the Medina in Rabat, and after she let us try on traditional Moroccan dresses. They had beautiful beaded embroidery and bright colors. I loved them. After our Moroccan fashion show, we all ate dinner together. Eating dinner is different in Morocco. There is usually one huge bowl of food (this time, pasta with chicken and mixed vegetables) right in the middle of the table. Everyone eats from the same bowl, starting from the outside and working your way to the middle. This was a totally new way of eating. 

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Moroccan fashion show with Addie, Emily, Anna, and Eli

 

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Yummy!

The following day, we started exploring Rabat bright and early. The first stop was the Hassan Tower and mosque right in the middle of the city. It was huge and had some intricate architecture. Later we visited an NGO in Sal, a city across from Rabat. The the NGO, we talked with more young Moroccans about their country and ours. During the conversation, the question came up, ¨What would be one thing you would change about Morocco?¨ I found it intriguing that all three of them said education. They explained that the government has made some changes to the education system to improve it, but the teacherss don´t change along with the system. So overall nothing is different. 

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Lunch was with our host families, and since it was Friday, it was cuscus day! Soooo...good! 

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In the evening with small groups of American and Moroccan students, we walked along Rabat´s Kasbah (old fort), experiencing the street life. Probably the highlight of the evening, besides making new Moroccan friends, was the Hammam (public baths). This was a brand new experience. In ancient times, the Hammam was where everyone went to take a bath. Not only did people get clean there, but it was also another social gathering place. Today, many people have their own showers/baths in their house, but most people go the public baths once a week. I can personally say that I never felt so clean as when I came out of the baths! :)

The following day was our last day in Rabat, and even though I only spent maximum 2 days there with my host family, I still hated to leave them. But there was more of Morocco to see. On our way to Chefchaouen, we had lunch in a rural village high up in the Rif Mountains. The host family was so welcoming and eager to share their lifestyle with us. I enjoyed listening to them and how they go about their daily lives.

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Rural village
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The school of the town
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Classroom

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In the evening, we reached Chefchaouen, a city tinted with gorgous blue buildings/walls. The painted buildings created such a unique atmosphere as we wandered throughout the twisted streets. 

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Chefchauoen

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As quickly as the trip started, it was time for it to end. Our last day in Morocco was spent driving back to Tangier to cross the border. Entering back into Spain served as another reminder of how the country of Morocco is still developing. The main aspect that stuck out to me was that the infrastructure of the buildings immediately improved.  Such a basic thing, but when you think about it, it is a major staple for the quality of life of a society.

Overall, visiting Morocco opened my eyes to how deceiving the media can be. From my experience with Muslim people and culture in Morocco, I saw that the people are some of the most hospitable  people I have ever met, just simply wanting to share their traditions with others. What the media shows is just a tiny fraction of the negative aspects of this culture, and it´s important to be aware that what they show does not represent the society as a whole. Finally, Morocco was AWESOME!!!!

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Lauren, Emily, Eliza, and Eli enjoying the boat ride
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Tangier
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Camel ride!!!

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David lovin´ it.
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Hello there

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Moroccan flag

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Roman ruins in Rabat (say that 3 times fast!)

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Cuscus!
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Making friends in the rain. :)

 

 

11/20/2014

Morocco!!!

Helloo!!

This post is Morocco central. This past weekend, I went to Morocco (so casual, right) with the group from Thursday to Sunday. All around, it was an incredible experience that can't really be described in any other way. I feel like I learned so much about a new culture, my own culture, and had the opportunity to meet some really awesome people. 

I apologize if some of the photos are a little blurry.. A lot of times we were moving at a brisk pace that wasn't all that ideal for pics.

So here we go!

DAY 1

We left Sevilla around 7:30 on Thursday morning and headed to Tarifa where we got on the ferry and headed across the Strait of Gibraltar for AFRICAA!!

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Looking back into the ferry's wake

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Straits of Gibraltar views

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EXCITED

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:))

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Square in Tangier

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Same square, and here you can see the mosque that calls everyone to prayer 5 times a day (the 5am one is really disorienting and terrifying when you're sleeping and wake up and forget where you are)

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SOO much meat in the market.. There was an actual full goat's head on a table that we walked by, and a guy was about to chop it up. I was too shocked to take a picture but wow.

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Such neatly stacked veggies. This guy had it together.

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And some fishes.

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Lots of dates.. So yum.

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Sooo many stray cats in Morocco.. It was crazy.

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So this was our first stop after changing money and walking through the market. It was a place called DARNA that's essentially a resource center for women who are single or in an otherwise disadvantageous situation and are looking to learn a marketable skill (weaving, sewing) or learn how to read and write or a new language. Here, we had lunch and got to talk to a couple young Moroccans. We talked about everything from pop culture (Unfortunately, the most American pop culture that reaches Morocco is stuff like MTV and Cribs and stuff like that... So that's embarrassing), to women's rights, to religion. I'll talk more later about what I ultimately got out of these types of conversations, just so I'm not repeating myself a million times.

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Arabic.. It's so pretty, right?!

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One of the looms used by the women to weave things that are then sold in the shop downstairs to help them make money

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Tangier views from the roof of DARNA

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Group pic!!

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Don't jump!!!!

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Some creations from the DARNA women

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More crafts for sale

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Weird Moroccan license plate

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So in the center of city, it was obviously pretty densely packed with buildings and what not, but once you got a little bit outside the center, it was strange. There was a weird looking combination of really new buildings, really (really) old buildings that looked like they were about to fall down, and stretches of abandonded-looking land like this that was just muddy and grassy or maybe had some sheep or goats grazing on it.

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We drove from Tangier to this beach where we rode...

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CAMELS!

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It was really exciting.

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Just look at him.

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We then headed to Assilah, a smallish beach town known for its street art festival in the summer. This is outside a mosque in Assilah.

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This is a good view of the speakers that are on every mosque, used to call people to prayer.

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Some of that street art

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:))

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And some more

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And the beach!!

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Loves

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!!

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That night, we drove to Rabat, which is the capital of Morocco. We stayed with host families for the next two nights. This was SO cool. The families were incredibly hospitable. This is a picture of me, Emily, Maddy, and our host mom, Hen, in all of Hen's dresses (not really sure what they're called) before they took us out on a walk through the market and down to the beach. The family consisted of Hen, the mom, her husband, and three daughters (6, 10, and 12). None of the spoke English very well but we ended up beging able to communicate with Hen in Spanish, so that worked out well. A couple interesting things about staying with the host family:

- Different shoe rules than both Spain and the US-- you wear your shoes into the house, but take them off when you go into a room with carpet in it. Maybe because people usually pray in those rooms? Not sure. You also always wore your shoes in the bathroom-- I think because there isn't really a shower so with the "bucket shower", the water just goes on the floor and then gets drained/mopped up.

- There was a strange contrast between a pretty humble home (main room, kitchen, room off to the side, 2 bathrooms, and upstairs with a couple of bedrooms) and the flatscreen TV with satellite and smart phones and tablets in the house. The TV was CONSTANTLY on, which was also strange, and many of the channels had shows that were in other languages and had Arabic subtitles.

- Breakfast was essentially different types of bread with different types of toppings. I can't imagine eating that every day, but it was SO good.

- Fridays are holy days for Islam (like Sundays in Christianity), and everyone eats cous cous for lunch on Fridays. It was REALLY good. (Lol food) 

- All of the family was incredibly hospitable-- from lending us clothes for fun, to making sure we were comfortable, to giving us more food than anyone in their life could ever eat. However, it was also interesting to hear from another American girl who is studying abroad in Morocco this year and staying with that family. She told us that the family had acted this way for the first couple weeks of her stay, and after that had kind of returned to normalcy. Of course, this is very normal, because after all, hospitality is inherently a little bit of a show, but it was just interesting to see her mild surprise at the completely different way her host family was acting in front of us.

- The kids were very independent. They would often run to the market to get something for their mom, and they always walked to school by themselves. 

- The showers are called "bucket showers"-- you basically sit on a stool and fill a bucket up with a hose and dump it over yourself repeatedly. 

- The dad didn't speak any English or Spanish, so it wasn't surprising that he didn't talk to us much, but it would always surprise me when he would all of a sudden get up and leave the house without really saying anything to anyone. It was completely normal-- no one batted an eye-- but every time I was a little taken aback.

- We watched news coverage of the king's brother getting married and it was a HUGE deal. The news segment came on and everyone got shushed and watched it with seriously rapt attention. We obviously had no idea what was going on, but it was really crazy to see how much they adore their royal family. It was like when William and Kate got married, except Moroccan style!!

- There were a bunch of sofas in the main room, and a bedroom upstairs, and people just kind of slept wherever they wanted. It was super weird. No one had their own bed or even their own designated couch, it just changed every night.

- Everyone eats from the same big plate with a spoon and uses their hands. They also didn't really have drinks during meals, just a community cup with a pitcher of water.

- The mom didn't work and I'm not really sure what she did during the day. Everyone else said their it was the same way with the host moms in their families.

 

DAY 2

On Saturday morning, we visited a mausoleum in Rabat and learned some about Moroccan history. Our guide, Melissa, told us a little bit about what happened (or, more appropriately, what didn't happen) in Morocco during the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring didn't happen as dramatically in Morocco as in other countries as a direct result of the strategy of the king. When this rebellion started throughout the Arab world, the Moroccan king decided to be proactive and use his political power instead of physical power to put down the potential rebellion. When Moroccans began protesting, he made a speech that promised many things, among them reduced power for himself and increased power for a democratically-elected president. Although very little of what he said was actually executed in the months and years to come, it was still enough to satisfy the people in that moment. Essentially, the king successfully stifled the beginning of the movement by making false promises, and therefore was able to completely put down future rumblings. The king's power comes from lineage-- it is believed that he is a descendent of the Prophet (I think that's supposed to be capitalized??)-- and because the people, at least on the surface, seem to adore him. What many said was that they think he's a good person who's doing the best that he can, while they don't like the government and say that they are doing a bad job. This, honestly, doesn't make much sense to me because the king has ultimate power over everything, but there are other factors at play, as well. For example, his father (the former king) was an incredibly brutal ruler, and because he (the current king) has made an effort to show how he does not share his father's cruelty, the people are very grateful for him.

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The remains of what was meant to be a huge mosque that never got finished outside the mausoleum

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 The mausoleum

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Inside the mausoleum.. It was hard to get good pictures, but this was the best.

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The almost-finished tower of the mosque (it has a more official name that I really can't remember right now)

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 We then went to some Roman ruins.

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Just dancin'

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Warrior kitty

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Storks!

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More storks :))

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Sleepy kitty

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This is a pool that has a cool story behind it. When couples are trying to have kids, they go here and throw hard boiled eggs into the water and there are eels that eat them. Supposedly, this is supposed to be good luck for conception. When we did it, no eels came out because two groups had come before us to feed them. Oops. No babies for us.

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Crazy cat lady

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Pretty kitty

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Everyone looking really skeptical of Addie's weirdness

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Fat kitty

We then went to a nearby city and got to talk to another group of young Moroccans. The question I thought was most interesting that they answered was this: If you could sit down with the king and ask for one thing, what would it be? Each one of them had different answers. 

There was one guy who was really into football (American football, not soccer) and wanted to bring it to Morocco, but was having a lot of trouble doing so. This was really interesting to talk about just because stuff like sports aren't usually the first thing that come to mind in places like Morocco-- you're more likely to think of religion, or gender equality, or unemployment. But sports are still a part of their society, and this guy was trying to augment that role. His story really demonstrated how often it happens in Morocco that people with a lot of passion and talent and drive get very little support from their country. He told us that unless you have a lot of money and connections, its virtually impossible to get anything done. He also told us how he had been planning on going to Canada to a training camp to learn more about football, learning skills that he could then bring back to Morocco and teach his teammates and what not. However, his visa was denied by the Canadian government because although he had all the correct paperwork, the government believed he wouldn't return to Morocco after being in Canada. 

Another girl talked about education reform. She told us that school is taught like a textbook: kids are told to learn the material and regurgitate the information to the teacher, whether or not they agree with it. This information might be factual, or it might be the opinion of the teacher. She went on to say that in college, this type of teaching changes, but when kids are then asked to actually use their own critical thinking skills, they don't really have any. Furthermore, the government has been making changes to the education system over the past few years, but because the teachers refuse to change their way of teaching, nothing has really changed. As she talked, you could see how frustrated she was, saying that if education was better, there would be drastic improvements in Morocco as a whole.

Other interesting stuff from the discussion:

- The girl's mom married at 14 a man who was 29 as a result of an arranged marriage. People married so young as a result of a combination of tradition and religion; religion mandates that sex before marriage is a grave sin, and because of that, tradition developed into marrying people young before they could commit such sins. However, this is changing, and she said she doesn't plan on marrying until 24 or 25 and feels no pressure from her family to do so earlier.

- All of them were of the opinion that religion is something personal that you can pretty much do with what you want. If you're unreligious or otherwise break the norms of Islam, it's not accepted, but it's not actively persecuted as long as you don't advertise it. All of the kids agreed that they would probably become more religious as they got older but that their teenage years and early twenties were for "turning up" (Literally one of the guys said this. It was the best thing ever).

- Racism in Morocco exists more in the form of prejudice based on where you live, rather than what you look like. For example, there are stereotypes for major cities in Morocco.

- There a lot of gender double standards. If guys can afford to live outside the home before marriage, they can do so. However, if a girl lives outside her home but in the same city as her parents before marriage, there will be a general assumption that something went wrong in their relationship and she consequently had to move out. Also, boys can bring their girlfriends home to meet their families if they wish, and the fact that they are dating will generally be accepted, but girls cannot. Finally, although this has changed gradually and is not as common now, women are often blamed for divorce.

After the discussion, we headed back to our host families and had some Friday cous cous!

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YUM.

After lunch, we got another chance to talk to young Moroccans, this time in smaller groups. That was really cool, and we also got to walk around and see some more of the city. I also tried avocado juice and it was AMAZING.

We then met up and talked with a Peace Corps volunteer who gave us some background information on the Peace Corps in general, and on what he has been doing in Morocco for the past three years. This discussion was really interesting for me because I hadn't realized how completely on your own you are with the Peace Corps-- you essentially get a three month training period with intensive language courses and learn strategies for working with locals and what not, and then you just get plopped down in your site and you have to figure out what to do. I was floored. I didn't have that image of the Peace Corps at all. Very cool, just different from what I thought. This was what stuck with me the most after the discussion: someone asked him if he felt like his work had been rewarding, and he was kind of speechless. He just said, "The people are so amazing that you want to give everything you have for and to them, to help them as much as you can, but I have gotten back way more than I have ever given. You always want to do more, but because they're so giving, you always get more than you can give."

We then headed to the Hammam, which is the Arab bath. It's like a cross between a steam room and a sauna-- not as steamy as a steam room, but not dry heat like a sauna. Everyone goes in and you just scrub yourself down and it is amazing. Especially after having not showered in a couple (more than I'd like to say) days. It was a lot of fun.

DAY 3

We left Rabat for the Rif Mountains early on Sunday morning to talk to a rural family. The drive was SO beautiful and the people were really nice. 

Interesting stuff from conversation with rural family:

- Schools have a Turkish toilet (squat toilet) or no bathroom at all in many rural communities. Because of the emphasis on modesty in Moroccan culture, this in and of itself is often a reason to keep girls home from school. 

- The family had running water and electricity, but this was relatively recent.

- The most educated one in the family was the father, who dropped out of school in seventh grade.

- They said that young people in their village have the opportunity to go to at least primary school.

- Although they seemed very content with the way they lived, when asked, the father said that he hoped for better education, higher living standards, and better jobs for his kids when they grow up.

- There were 360-400 people living in their village.

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Kind of a random/surprising thing in the house, considering they didn't speak English. Probably a gift from another American group that came to talk to them.

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Makin' lunch

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Some wall hangings/posters in the house

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Fooood

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More cous cous

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Moroccan tea and Henna!

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This was weird.. Satellite TV even in this rural village.

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The road reminded me of the roads in the village I worked in when I went to Guatemala a couple summers ago.

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Just some goats in the road

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This is the school in the village.

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And this was one of the two or three classrooms.

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Getting a snack

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AH so beautiful!!

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:))

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We then drove from the village to Chefchaouen, a town in the mountains that's SO beautiful I just can't even handle it. Most of the people there spoke Spanish because it was a historically Spanish town where many Muslims and Jews went for refuge during the Inquisition. We got to walk around and go to the market a little bit that night and get some cool Moroccan soveniers.

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Streets that are painted blue (including the ground) are dead ends. How cool is that. 

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Home away from home

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So much blue

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The food so nice they named it twice

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Those famous Moroccan spices

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Blankets on blankets

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Cuddles

DAY 4

We got up early on Sunday to hike/walk up to the "Spanish Mosque" that sat up on one of the mountains and had really incredible views of the city.

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Some more blue streets on the way to the trail

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The crew

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Yay for Morocco :))

OK closing thoughts, then I promise you're done!

The Arabic we learned (I have no idea if these are spelled right-- just made it up phonetically):

Shokran- Thank you

Zweena- Pretty, cool, etc

Meshimushki-- Whatever, it's fine, etc (equivalent of "no pasa nada" in Spanish)

General list of things I thought were interesting or that I learned:

- Huge difference in gender roles.. There's no touching between genders in public, a lot of gender inequality in pay (except in public institutions), women are not given the same rights (legally or societally) as men. For example, it is generally acceptable for a man to marry a foreign (not Muslim) woman, but it is almost unheard of for a woman to marry a foreign man.

- It was kind of unclear as to whether or not alcohol is actually illegal for Moroccans, or if it's just heavily looked down upon, but either way.. It's seen as something very shady and always associated with bad things. This can often be true, but richer Moroccans go out and have more similar habits in terms of drinking and what not.

- There were a lot of architectural similarities between all of the cities we went to and Sevilla.

- Sex and homosexuality are completely taboo in society.

- Morocco definitely has a much more communal-style (as opposed to individualistic) society than the US and even Spain. Contributing to society, as mandated by Islam, is very important, as is reputation.

- This was also kind of unclear because a lot of the opinions we got were from people of more progressive sectors in Moroccan society, but as a general rule, many Moroccans have the opportunity to go to school and to college. This is not true for many rural communities.

- There's a big influence from Turkey, Syria, and Korea in Moroccan pop culture.

- Apparently, toilet paper is just not a thing that people feel the need to provide in public bathrooms. Ever.

- The taxis were turquoise with yellow stripes. Kind of awesome.

- The primary languages in Morocco are standard Arabic (the Arabic that is used in business or in more formal texts and settings that is standardized across all Arab nations), Moroccan Arabic, Burbur (the language of native Moroccans), and French. There's also some Spanish in the north, given the proximity of Spain. English is taught in high school and college, and I think in primary school if you want to.

- African passports are very difficult to travel with if you're not rich because foreign governments think you won't return to your home country.

- There were a lot of police officers/military looking guys standing on the streets with big guns and what not. The people we talked to said this wasn't normal; security is on higher alert than usual because of everything that's happening with ISIS right now, and there were also extra policemen in Rabat during the weekend because of the king's brother's wedding.

- Given the emphasis on religion in society and what not, as well as the taboo of sex and homosexuality, I would have definitely thought that birth control was not used or even illegal. However, this isn't the case; it's totally normal.

- Polygamy still exists, but there have been laws passed that put restrictions and requisites on men who wish to marry more than one women. For example, they have to have permission from their first wife, and they have to prove that they can provide sufficiently for all of their wives and children. However, many of these reforms have not reached villages, and because of this, there still exists some abuse of polygamy.

All in all, I think I got two big things out of this trip. One is that I gained a greater understanding and respect for Islam as a religion and a way of life. The second is that I now feel a greater appreciation for my own culture and for how incredibly lucky I am to be an American. 

The first thing I took away from this definitely stems from the fact that there is a ton of misinformation about, or at least misunderstanding of, Islam in the US. This is somewhat understandable given the nature of US relations with many Muslim countries in the Middle East, but still, because of this, Muslims are more likely to be thought of as terroristic and violent people than peaceful or friendly or hospitable. Having the opportunity to see what average Muslims are like and how they live their life was really incredible; it confirmed what I already knew to be true-- that not all Muslims are bad people-- but that it was hard to really feel when you are constantly exposed to media publicizing only radical factions of Islam. In reality, many of the Muslims were much like us, lived their lives similarly to the way we do. While most of the ones we met had a strong faith in their religion, they were not heavily devout, and did not all follow the 5 pillars of Islam, although the general agreement was that they tried to be the best Muslims they could. It was cool for me to learn that Islam is not actually a religion that mandates Muslims to act a certain way; the 5 pillars are things that you must do if you can, but if you can't, there are other ways that you can be a good Muslim. For example, a couple of years ago, it was 135 degree or something crazy during Ramadan, the month when Muslims are supposed to fast. Because of the obvious risk to health, many did not fast and instead chose to give to the poor or do other good deeds in lieu of fasting, because it wasn't something that was safe to do at that time. It was also really interesting for me to hear from the different people we met about how they think of their religion; for them, religion is something that's very personal and shouldn't be dictated by others. Many said that they felt that their religion was something simply between them and God-- for this reason, one of the girls we met said she wears a hijab (the head cover thing) because it makes her feel closer to God, while another girl said she felt she could be close to God in other ways. I think this leniency is not always true, and that some girls are forced, either directly or indirectly, to wear a hijab, but it was interesting to hear from these girls what their opinions were. The Moroccans we met were also incredibly hospitable; everyone had a cool experience with their host families, and got to experience (more or less) normal life in a Moroccan household. But in all, what I observed and learned about Islam totally changed my perspective on the religion and that's something that I think will stay with me forever.

The other thing that, upon reflection, I gained from this trip was a greater appreciation for US culture and the opportunities and privileges I have as an American. Hearing the story of one of the kids who wanted to explore football outside Morocco but was unable to because Canada thought he wouldn't want to return to Morocco was heartbreaking. It was easy to see how frustrated these young Moroccans were with this-- their inability to travel outside the country for whatever reason, and also the lack of support they're given within their own country. Hearing these stories showed me how truly fortunate I am to have been born in a place where I can flash my passport at borders and not be given a second glance (this literally happened going back into Spain from Morocco), and where I am given infinite support, opportunities, and resources  from family, community, and schools, among other things. Before this year in general, it was always very easy to take these things for granted because I grew up in and around it-- all of my friends were blessed with the same privileges, the same opportunities, and all of us felt like this was normal. Coming here, and especially this trip to Morocco, has been a huge wake up call as to how huge the world is and how I am incredibly lucky to have what I have. Having gained more perspective on this since coming here, and again, especially during the trip to Morocco, my desire to learn more about other cultures and to share my own culture with others has grown exponentially. I hope that I will go on to use these privileges that I have been given to better the lives of others and keep spreading awareness and keep educating myself, as well.

~~~

YOU ARE DONE! CONGRATULATIONS! This was a long one. Thanks for sticking with it. Hasta luego!!

 

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to America if I don't post until then :)) Everyone at home eat some turkey and stuffing for me! 

11/12/2014

Market with Elvira

So on Saturday morning I went on an adventure with Elvira to the market next to the bridge in Triana, which was so much fun. We made some pit stops along the way to a couple cool churches she wanted me to see, as well as a street performer kind of thing where we made huge bubbles.

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The big church on the corner of San Jacinto and Pages del Corro.. So beautiful inside. There was also a baby who had just been baptized there-- SO adorable with its little bonnet and dress on. Elvira told me this is the traditional clothes for a baptism. I wanted to so bad, but it felt too creepy to take a picture.

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This is in a different church on San Jacinto, and this one of the figures that is carried around as a "float" (sort of) during La Semana Santa. I think Elvira told me it's called La Estrella or something like that, and it's one of the most famous ones from Triana. I still don't fully understand Semana Santa, but essentially this thing will be carried down the streets by a bunch of men, who walk under it, while people follow it in costume and others watch and what not.

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And here's the Pope (not the current one, and not the one before, but the one before that). It was really scary... It looked so real.

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Basically a yard sale on the street.. Proceeds benefit the place where I volunteer!

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Elvira making some bubbles!!

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Killin' it.

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Castañas asados.. Roasted castañas (a type of nut, I think). Typical in Spain in the winter. And also some sweet potatoes, which Elvira says are also very typical in the fall in Spain.

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The sweets counter. The things in white wrapping with writing near the top of the picture are the typical Christmas sweets here.

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Meat counter (one of many)

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Fishies.

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Who knew you could eat the stuff in these..

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Some octopus and sardines.

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Snail!!!

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Langostaaa (lobstahhh)

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So much seafood.

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And some cake.

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'Shrooms

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..So many 'shrooms. 

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YUM

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Bean stand

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This was a bit shocking

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And some fully feathered birds..

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Makin' some paella

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Ahh beautiful sushi!!

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Just look at it.

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Crabz

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Oh hay.

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Jamón on jamón

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And some cheese to go with it

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17 egg tortilla!!!!

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More jamón

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And can't forget that bread..

That's it!! Good day at el mercado with Elvira. Xo

11/11/2014

2 and a Half Month Overview

Well as the title suggests, in this post I will be giving a summary of all that I have learned and how I have grown in the last two and a half months.

Boy time is flying by! I feel like I´ve lived in Sevilla forever, but I´ve only been here for a few months. As each month passes, I feel more and more at home here in Sevilla. Streets and places are more familiar, and I don´t need to use Googlemaps to look up the place somebody is describing. :)

 

And my Spanish is coming along as well. It´s exciting and frustrating at the same time. Listening to conversations has become much easier, and I am able to follow along when people speak faster. The most exciting/frustrating thing about the language though, is speaking and thinking it. It is satisfying to be able to express my opinion in another language and have people understand. The frustrating aspect is that right now, I´m thinking in a mix of Spanish and English. It takes a good amount of mental effort to switch from one language to the other. However, it´s really cool to see this transformation right before my eyes. :)

 

Looking back on when I first came here, I have grown a lot more independent over thse past two months.  This fact hit me like a brick wall  after my fall break in Madrid and Granada.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I planned my trip all by myself. This was totally new-I was in total control  of what I wanted to do, how I wanted to get to places, what I wanted to eat, etc....  This taught me to really research and learn about an area before visiting it, unlike before, I would just go to a city only knowing a few main facts. During this trip, I found that it was rewarding to fulfill the plans that I had made.

 

The October break was also my first vacation by myself...totally. Before I always went on vacations with friends or family. Honestly, before leaving, I was a little anxious. I was going out all on my own into the world. But after a few days into my trip, I realized that traveling by myself was really good for me. It forced me to meet new people. It forced me to speak the native language. It forced me to figure out problems on my own. It forced me to become more independent. By the time I came back to Sevilla, I had met people from all around the world, was more comfortable with my Spanish speaking skills, and had seen interesting places in Spain. Overall, after this trip I´ve realized that I have become a more confident individual, and I am a better person because of it.

 

Needless to say, I´m looking forward to traveling more, and maybe, just maybe, I will discover something else about myself that I didn´t know before.

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Sunset over Granada

 

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Historic Triana in Sevilla

 

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Sevilla at sunset

11/08/2014

Madrid y Granada

Whew! I´m back from a busy week of traveling to Madrid and Granada. Overall, my travels were such an eye-opening experience and full of interesting places to see. I´ve been fortunate to have traveled to many places when I was younger, but this trip was different...I planned everything by myself. Transportation, hostels, food, activities...everything. It was a big adjustment, yet looking back on it, I´m glad I had the chance to see the ¨behind the scenes¨preparation for a vacation.

 

Alright, let´s get to the more interesting information...what did I do/see on my trip?

My adventure kicked off with a train ride to the capital of Spain-Madrid. When I arrived there, the soccer teams Real Madrid vs. Barcelona were playing. Unfortunately, I couldn´t get tickets, so instead, I went to a bar in the city and watched the game with what seemed like the rest of Spain. :)  The atmosphere was spirited and lively-Madrid won 3 to 1. The next few days were jam-packed with sight to see. I visited the Royal Palace, Cathedral, botanical gardens, Reina Sofia Museum, and Retiro Park. However, in my opinion, the two highlights of Madrid were the historical Prado Museum and the Real Madrid Soccer Stadium. The Prado Museum was where all of my studies about Spanish paintings and artists came to life. I saw masterpieces done by El Greco, and Goya to just name a few. It was amazing to be around so much history. And of course, being a soccer fan, I had to visit the Real Madrid Stadium. The tour was great! I got an awesome view of the field from above, and at ground level. In addition, I visited the locker room where the players prepare for the game.

 

My next stop on my trip was Granada. This old city is situated right near the vast Sierra Nevada Mountains. While here, I went on an excellent bike tour of the city and surrounding countryside. We got some great views of the city and Sierra Nevada. Also near Granada is the unique region called Las Alpujarras. Las Alpujarras are a series of white towns nestled deep into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some are so far back that they do not see actual sun beams until 10:30am! I took a tour to see these towns as well. One interesting spot that we stopped at was a natural spring. Nothing out of the ordinary right?....Wrong! The water that flowed from the spring was naturally carbonated! Naturally carbonated water! That´s so cool!

 

I have had a great week exploring all of what Spain has to offer, yet I am happy to be back at home-base in Sevilla.

 

Until next time!  

 

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Royal Palace in Madrid

 

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Real Madrid vs. Barcelona at the bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Real Madrid soccer stadium

 

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Real Madrid locker room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inside view of the Cathedral in Madrid

 

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Retiro Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rooftops of Granada

 

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La Alambra and Sierra Nevada at sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bike tour in Granada

 

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View of the Sierra Nevada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Many of the villages in Las Alpujarras sold colorful blankets

 

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A village high up in the Sierra Nevada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The spring with carbonated water

October Break: Rome and Amsterdam

Ok SO sad story: I wrote this blog post once and the entire thing deleted. Very sad story: It took be almost 5 hours to write that post. Crying a little bit right now.

Must soldier on...

So, as you already know, I went to Italy and the Netherlands last week on vacation. The entire experience was incredible: not only were both cities, obviously, amazing, but it was also a new experience to plan my own trip, figure out what we were going to do each day, and all that fun stuff. All my other vacations have been planned for me up until this one, and I enjoyed the experience.

ITALY

Going to preface this with a couple thoughts on Italy. Rome is amazing. Really and truly, everyone should go there, and go there in late October/November because there were not as many tourists. To be honest, I was not as excited for Rome as I was for Amsterdam before I went there. I hopped on to the plan for this trip a little late with the three other girls I went with, and they had already planned on Rome as being their destination in Italy. Obviously, I couldn't complain: Rome is Rome. But it just wouldn't have been my first choice. HOWEVER, my expections were completely destroyed. Obliterated, I would say. I absolutely LOVED it. Sure, it was touristy, but that wasn't too bad. The city was so, so cool, the history incredible, the architechture and fountains and buildings and monuments amazingly beautiful, and the food was, of course, to die for. Pizza and pasta? I probably ate a ton of it in three days. Oh, and gelato. Can't forget that gelato. 

Another great thing about going to Rome was that I got to see a friend from back home who has been in Italy on a gap year, which was awesome. 

While I was there, I made a little list of things that stood out to me about Rome.. Here they are.

- Rome definitely had a faster pace of life than Sevilla. I guess this isn't all that surprising given the fact that it's a huge tourist destination, but I definitely still noticed it just because Rome reminded me of Sevilla in a lot of other ways: the numerous little bars and restaurants, the occasional cobblestone streets, the buildings and rich history. All of that was reminiscent of Sevilla, but the pace of life definitely had a bit more urgency to it.

- It seemed like everyone on the street was a tourist.. It must be really weird to actually BE from Rome.

- A lot of the restaurants have "service fees", which I think basically amounts to the equivalent of a mandatory and fixed tip. These fees are only charged when you sit down-- for example, if you want to go get a coffee at a cafe, the coffee will cost you 1.50, but if you want to also sit down, it's another 3 euros. This was shocking the first time we learned this, but I guess it makes sense in a place like Rome where people are liable to sit at a table for hours at a time and only buy a coffee. At least, that's probably what we would have done.

- It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between Italian and Spanish. A lot of words are very similar. For example, the word "hour" is "hora" in Spanish, and "ora" in Italian. Reading signs and what not, a lot of times we could make out what it was saying based on our knowledge of Spanish.

- Everything in Rome is so beautiful that it seems like a lot of it goes unnoticed, or unappreciated, especially when only in the city for three days. A lot of places that are really interesting get overshadowed, obviously, by things like the Colosseum and Vatican. For example, we stumbled across this really beautiful church when we were just walking down the street on the first day. It was called the Basilica dei SS Ambrogio E Carlo.

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So pretty, right? And it was totally unmarked and seemed so unimportant. But look at it..

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 ... Just a casual random church in Rome. No big deal. ???

- Sevilla was definitely good training for this trip: we walked a TON. We didn't really want to spend money on public transportation when we could see the city more and save money by walking, so one day we walked 26 miles, according to the pedometer on Addie's phone. A marathon. We walked a marathon.

- Sometimes I would just stand and look at something amazing and feel like, who am I why am I in Rome this is INSANE. And it was. I'm so lucky to have had this opportunity.

- I didn't have a phone while there, which was inconvenient in terms of trying to communicate with my parents and friends, but it was actually really nice to not have it. Whenever we did have WiFi, which wasn't all that often, I didn't feel the need to be checking social media or whatever. I just sat and hung out or read a book, which was refreshing.

- There was actually less English than I thought there would be in Italy-- I found myself trying first to speak Spanish, then remembering I was in Italy, then trying to speak English, then giving up and just using wild hand gestures. The people definitely thought I was a little crazy.

- There were SO many street vendors. It was kind of funny at first, because almost all of them were selling either scarves or "selfie sticks" (the stick you put your phone/camera on to take a selfie from far away.. it's basically an arm extension), but then it got really annoying when every 5 seconds another guy would come up to you and try to sell you something.

OK on to pictures and what not..

Day 1: Settling in, Colosseum attempt #1, Piazza di Spagna

After a long day of travel (3:30 wake up call, anyone?), we got into Rome around 9:30 and found our hostel (which was AWESOME) and settled in a little bit before starting the day. 

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Hostel room ft. Emily. The hostel was really nice, as you can see, and the people who worked there were so, so helpful. Great experience with that (Hostel Legends RG, if you're ever in Rome and lookin' for a great place to stay).

After settling in, we went to get lunch, obviously for pizza and pasta, which was faaabulous.

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Best friend forever.

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Other best friend forever :)))

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Happy happy!!! (This is Addie and the other Emily)

And then we went for coffee for a little boost... I can't drink coffee because I think it's disgusting, but I tried drinking it one morning in Rome and my teeth were chattering from the jitters for 3 hours after. Not trying that again.

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I rebelliously snapped this after the guy told me I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the food. All food deserves to have its picture taken, especially when it's this beautiful (see cannolis bottom left??).

After this, we went to the Colosseum for attempt #1... Couldn't get in because SOMEONE (me)(oops) was in charge of bringing the vouchers and forgot them and the guy was quite adamant that we needed a hard copy, not a .pdf on a phone. Ugh. Oh well.

So we headed to Piazza di Spagna, which is named after Spain because the Spanish Embassy is there. 

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We took the metro, given it would be an hour walk back to the Piazza, and it was crazy how many people were in there. Addie got caught in the doors trying to slip out after us, which was terrifying in the moment, but hilarious in hindsight (clearly, she made it out unharmed). The street art in the metro was also very cool.

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Thanks to this random girl for posing in Piazza di Spagna for me.

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The Spanish Steps

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Piazza di Spagna

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A cute little street off of the Piazza that we all agreed felt very authentic and Italian. Who knows, we're just tourists, but it just had that ambience: lots of little bars and cafes, shops for beautiful men's suits and artisan chocolates, the lighting just right as dusk was falling, etc.

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So. Much. Chocolate...

Afterward, we headed back for some free pizza provided by the hostel (didn't I say it was amazing?), and encountered this weird shop/display thing of statues along the way. 

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I did not know that man was there when I was taking the picture, but he kind of adds to the intrigue, no??

Day 2: Colosseum take 2, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon

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Just some ruins on the walk to the Colosseum..

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Most expensive pic of the trip... They look so unimpressed because a second later, they asked us to pay them for taking a picture. Oops.

So we actually got in to the Colosseum this time, and it was absolutely amazing. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. Not only was the building, in and of itself, absolutely stunning in its size, beauty, and intricacy, but the history was equally interesting. With the help of Kris (my friend from home) and his phone that has data, as well as the information signs around the building, we were able to piece together some of the history (we were obviously to cheap to buy a tour). The Colosseum was essentially used to entertainment: fights between men, fights between animals, a combination of the two, demonstrations, stonings, you name it. Great fun, right? Who knows. Those Romans, man, they had a strange sense of entertainment. In all of the shows, crazy animals-- lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)-- would pop out from the maze thing that was under the floor (you'll see in the picture) and join in the fun. Dinner was served during the show (of course), and, yeah, there you have it. A Roman Friday night at the Colosseum circa 70 AD. Turn up.

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A Google search kindly told me that this is the Arch of Constantine, erected in 312 to commemorate the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius at the Battle of Malvian Bridge.

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YAA COLOSSEUM!!

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There's the maze thing I was talking about, which used to be covered by a wooden floor.

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Chick pic, photo credits to Kris.

OH also, super weird, while we were in the Colosseum, Kris ran into one of his from home!! It was so strange because neither of them had any idea they were going to be in Rome, let alone the Colosseum, at the same time.. Small world, am I right?

After the Colosseum, we headed to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, all three of which are right next to each other.

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Roman Shenanigans

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Shoutout to this woman for eating her apple and looking cool in some Roman ruins so I could take a pic of her.

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Ruinz!! SO COOL.

After that, we began a quest to find the best gelato place in Rome, according to some girl Kris met. It was a HAUL, but so worth it once we got there. We also passed the Pantheon on our walk, so that was cool.

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Pantheon!!

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And the gelato was truly worth it... Legendary. You can see Emily, stage right, enjoying hers already.

And the walk home was, of course, scenic and picture-worthy...

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:))

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!!!!!

Finished off the day with a meal we got to make in the hostel kitchen, which was awesome.

Day 3: The Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica

So the Vatican was also crazy cool. Getting there was a bit of a task, what with a million people trying to sell us ticket and tours and selfie sticks and scarves, but we eventually got there. It was a little disorienting because you didn't actually see the building you were going into; the Vatican has that big wall all around it, so you just walk in the walls and you're miraculously in the museum already. We were so lost as to where to begin, because it's so huge and has so much to see, but Kris got one of the listening guides so we followed that.

The Vatican was also a perfect example of an overwhelming amount of beautiful things in a compact area, seen in a finite amount of time; you really had to make an effort to appreciate everything you were seeing because it would have been relatively easy to be numbed by the sheer volume of art and history there.

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Hercules doin' his thing.

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Faces of the Vatican..

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This dog was just not having it.

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All of the ceilings were SO COOL. It was crazy because you actually couldn't tell what was real and what was painted (in terms of stuff like the molding around the edges and what not). We would stare at it for five minutes, going back and forth, making bets on whether or not it was real. The only way you could truly tell if it was painted was by looking at the shadows and seeing if they were going the right way based on the lights in the room.

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More cool ceilings, with fish eye effect.

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Raphael's School of Athens

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Cool contrast between old and new walking through the modern art museum part of the Vatican.

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 Stolen pic of the Sistine Chapel.. Not really sure why we weren't allowed to take pictures, but Emily snagged this one.

After the Vatican, we headed to St. Peter's Basilica. The line looked crazy long, and it was, but it moved really fast and we were able to get in in probably 45 minutes. It was completely worth it, too. The building was awesome in the AWE sense of the word. You walk in and just stand there, awestruck-- "te quedas de piedra", is the phrase in Spanish. 

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Crazy line.

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But soo worth it.

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!!

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There were also really cool crypts under the Basilica that we got to see. It held lots of tombs of past popes, as well as tombs of people who were important to the church in other ways.

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!!

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Michelangelo's Pietá

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:))

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Lol.

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So impressive.

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The whole crew

OK that's a wrap for Italy.. All in all, an awesome visit.

AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam was uh-mazing. It felt like home. Addie said this when we got home, and I totally agree: Rome is a place I would visit again, and it's a great place to vacation and what not, and Amsterdam is somewhere I would want to live. It's such an amazing city: beautiful, really interesting history, clean (SO clean), and all the people had really cool style (plain colors, comfortable-- my kinda clothes). And so progressive. When I say that, everyone thinks of weed and prostitution, which, yeah, that's progressive, BUT there's so much more. There seemed to be a big attitutde of tolerance, lots of awarenes of the environment (so clean, soo many bikes, lots of public transportation, etc). It just FELT like a really modern and cool city. Also, I think this is a Netherlands thing in general, but everyone speaks like 86 languages fluently and thinks it's totally normal and is surprised when we are so impressed with them. Our tour guide, a guy from Ireland, and a guy we met in Rome, who was from Canada and lived in Amsterdam, told us you could easily live in Amsterdam and not learn Dutch. It was just so unlike any other city I have been to and/or have imagined in Europe; it doesn't have that romantic ambience, lots of monuments and as many historical touristy things, which is essentially everything that I've seen in Spain and Italy.

One of the best parts about being in Amsterdam was that it was REALLY fall. There were LEAVES on the ground!! And that smell of fall air that just doesn't happen in Sevilla. And AH I don't know, it just was authentic fall and I looooved it. We also got really lucky with the weather, because I think usually this time of year it's a lot colder and cloudier and rainier, but it was sunny every day we were there except for the last. It was chilly, but I actually really liked it-- kind of over shorts and tshirts and 85 degree weather in October.

Amsterdam also reminded me a lot of Boston in some ways; there were streets that looked just like the those in Boston, with town houses, trees lining the streets, and those leaves on the ground, and brick sidewalks.. It was magical :)) And, even better, there were a couple streets that also reminded me of the Old Port-- ones with artsy little restaurants, so tastefully decorated and with beautiful food and so so cool. 

Weirdly enough, the houses in Amsterdam were a huge point of interest for me. We learned a lot about them in a free walking tour we took, which was really cool. First of all, the houses that were "water front" (on the canals) were usually really small because the taxes are really high on those streets-- but people found ways to get around that by making the front of their houses really small, and then the back sides are really big, so they don't get taxed as much for their canal-frontage and still have a regular sized house. For example, this red strip is a house. It's the smallest house in Amsterdam. It's on a canal, but it gets bigger as it goes back, so it's not actually as small as it looks.

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Also because of the small size of the houses, the stairs are often too small to use for moving furniture and what not. For this reason, all the houses have hooks on the outside of the building, near the top, that they put ropes through and use pulleys when moving in/out. We actually saw this in action one day.

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Because they use these hooks to move in, the houses sometimes lean forward a little bit (on purpose) so that the objects wont bump against the building and get damaged or break windows on their way up. You can see that in the picture of them moving above.

And because Amsterdam is essentially built on a swamp, sometimes the buildings sink... This house was definitely a little tipsy.

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Ok enough with the houses. Moving on...

Day 1: Drive from Eindhoven airport to Amsterdam, Halloween

So the drive from the airport was really cool because we got to see some of the countryside in Holland. The sunset was also beautiful.

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Our hostel was, again, so awesome. It was basically a hotel except there were bunk beds in the rooms. Who wouldn't want that, anyway? It also had breakfast every morning, which was SO GOOD. There was real bacon, which does not exist in Spain-- if you order something that says bacon on the menu, its just a different kind of ham. Really disappointing the first time that happened. And yeah it was delicious. 

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Then we walked around and explored a little.. Got dinner at this WONDERFUL place called Wok to Walk. So delicious.

That night was Halloween, so we did our best to dress up (we were trying to be soccer players.. kind of failed but that's ok) and hung out with friends of Addie's and Emily's for the night. I was a little surprised; everyone said Amsterdam would be so so crazy for Halloween, but it just kind of felt like a normal night there with a little extra something. Obviously, a normal night there is still pretty crazy, but I kind of expected more people dressed up. But in any case, it was a lot of fun!

Day 2: Walking around, Van Gogh Museum

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There was a store entirely dedicated to Mini Coopers.. You could buy anything with the Mini logo, as well as the actual car itself. I thought it was funny/weird/cool.

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Little hand-made bike figurines.. So appropriate for Amsterdam, where the bikers actually rule the city.

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Obligatory canal pics. But so beautiful, right?

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Soooo much candy.

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Not sure what these guys were up to, but guy-on-right liked getting his picture taken at least.

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:))

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So. Many. Bikes.

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Some Van Gogh souveniers..

I didn't get any good pictures of stuff in the Van Gogh museum, but it was really cool to see a bunch of his works, as well as learn more about the man himself, who was a pretty interesting guy.

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Post-Van Gogh snacks. Yum..?

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This was amazing.

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Didn't know this, but cheese is pretty big in Amsterdam (maybe in Holland in general?) and the free samples here were SO GOOD. 

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All the streets already seemed to be decorated for Christmas.. Not sure if this is a year round thing, but it was really pretty all the same.

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Timberland..?

Day 3: Walking tour

The walking tour was really interesting just because I had no knowledge of the history of Amsterdam, or the Netherlands in general, before this.

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This is the guild where Rembrandt was a member when his art was very popular in Europe.. He later went bankrupt because I guess he wasn't a really nice guy, so all of his clients stopped buying from him because he chased them away, and he was kicked out of the guild. 

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Market with a huge variety of stuff near the guild

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This is a community for women that used to be a kind of non-religious version of a convent-- women who volunteered and cared for the poor and sick, but they didn't take vows and weren't religious. Now it's still a community for women, but they don't do the same things anymore.

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A statue of Goliath from an old amusement park.. His eyes and head actually moved, which was creepy and cool at the same time.

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And this is how Goliath works.. This was really advanced technology for this time period, and the tour guide said people were often shocked by the fact that it was moving.

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There's a Saab here, so it must be home.

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Bike parking lot

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Annddd more bikes.

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Ha. More.

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This was the Gestapo headquarters during WWII.. Doesn't it look kind of fitting? Like a big scary imposing building? Ahh so crazy.

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FALL. Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind??

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And of course, wrapping it up with a pic of chocolate ft. me in the window.

On our last day, our flight didn't leave until late afternoon, so we went to the Anne Frank Museum in the morning. It was really amazing. Words can't really describe how it felt, but it was just really sobering. I already knew the story of Anne Frank from school and reading her diary, but it was equally interesting to learn about the stories of the "helpers" that brought the family food and what not while they were hiding, and the other people in the house, and the story of her father after Auschwitz was liberated.

Ok, quick conclusion, then you can be done with this crazy long post.

I have definitely found that traveling, not only Rome and Amsterdam, but also just in and around Sevilla, has lived up to the stereotypical expectations of personal and cultural growth. Being outside of my town and country and comfort zone in general, has given me such a better appreciation for both my own culture and that of the places I've been to (wow I sound so cliché, I apologize). It's also definitely been a good way to build the self confidence to try new things and really get outside of my comfort zone, but has also showed me that your gut can go a long way in telling you where to draw the line in that sense.

YAY YOU'RE DONE. You made it through. Thanks for sticking with it to the end. Until next time!! xo

11/04/2014

Ronda & such

SO I originally planned for this post to be all about my trip, which would be logical seeing as I got back last night, but I figured out that I have other, pre-break stuff I want to post about, and there are SO many pictures to go through that I figured I'd finish that stuff first then move on. So here we go.

I'm going to open with an Elvira story. Last week, I was sitting in my room and Elvira calls me into the kitchen (not a totally normal thing). I walk in, and what is sitting on the kitchen table other than lunch!! And this is lunch.

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She just starts laughing and telling me about how their last exchange student had been COMPLETELY horrified when she saw the entire fish as lunch. Then she wanted me to take a picture and was all "Show your friends, show your friends!!" So here I am. Showing my friends. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. (And it was, of course, delicious)

OK now short interlude about maybe-slightly-more-boring, cultural-growth stuff. But then there will be lots of pics, so don't you worry. Coming here has made me step back a little from preconceptions and take things as they come, instead of having thoughts before knowing. For example, although I know that I have made lots of generalizations in this blog, the culture here cannot be described in one way. There are lots of things that are common among many people, but every person and family is different, each with their own traditions, beliefs, and opinions. Seeing this around me has made me realize that this is true with almost everything. It is far more important to get to know a person, situation, or culture before just assuming you know what it's all about. In our cultural class today, I realized that I have really opened my eyes to the fact that "cultural norms", while obviously valid in many ways, are almost as often untrue as they are true. Today we were talking about how many Spaniards, or at the very least, sevillanos, speak loudly, touch you when they talk, interrupt each other often, fill silence effortlessly with stories and what not, etc etc. My host family is a perfect example of how this can be true, and how it can be completely untrue. Elvira is a pretty typical Andalucían woman: she can talk for days--but not in a bad way; she tells interesting stories, is engaging, brings up topics to discuss; it's never a "me me me" kind of deal--, is incredibly open with her life and feelings, etc. However, she is also very atypical in that she very much needs and enjoys order. She hates when people don't value timeliness, when organization is not a priority, and that people can throw their trash on the street without a second thought. Lucia is also a clash of validation and contradiction of "typical" Spanish cultural norms. She fits this mold in the way that she is very into dancing and both gives and takes dance classes with her friends (I think either tango or sevillano, a form of flamenco). However, in almost every other way, she is very not "normal". She has short hair that she likes to change colors pretty regularly (most girls here wear their hair as long as possible and usually in their natural colors), she's really into taekwondo (who knew that Spain is actually something like second best in the world at taekwondo?? Not me. I did not know that.), and she's very reserved and introverted. Anyway, I won't go on and on more than I already have, but just thought I'd share my lightbulb moment.

ANYWHO I went and watched the big soccer game (Madrid vs Barcelona) in a pub in Sevilla, just for the experience. I do NOT claim to know anything about soccer; this is one sport in which I have basically no knowledge or interest, and I can't pretend that I do. But it was still really fun to be in this typical Irish pub filled with a mix of Spanish people and foreigners, and just enjoy the vibe and cheer when someone scored even if you (I) didn't even know their name/team. I was that girl. But that's OK. It was still fun. I especially enjoyed the environment of watching sports again.. I definitely missed baseball playoffs this fall, and even moreso the fall sports games that I went to religiously in high school. So it was cool to get back into that scene.

Emily and I went to Ronda last weekend (wow it was last weekend.. feels like that was a year ago), which is a little town in the province of Huelva. It's pretty close to Sevilla-- about a 2 hour bus ride. It's known for having beautiful views and one of the most important bull rings in Europe. Emily and I didn't really have any idea of where we should go, so we just ended up walking around the town the whole day and it was actually really awesome. So beautiful and great to just chill in a new place.

Pics.....

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This is actually from the bus ride there.. I have no idea what these mountains are called, but they were marrrvelous.

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Am I right.

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This was a little park/outlook thing called Taho de Ronda. Straight ahead, you can see the montañas:))

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Views from the Taho

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El paisaje at its best

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Changing leaves in España!!! Tears. (of joy)

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Couldn't resist the flower pic

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Pretty Ronda streets

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This was taken from standing on this huge, beautiful bridge and looking out onto the big valley/gorge (what is the correct term?? I do not know) and the mountains and what not

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Livin' on the edge (literally)(I'm funny I know)

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:))

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The bridge I talked about

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Emily lovin' the views

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Ronda looking good.

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Beautt

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We also found this little "secret garden" thing.. Not sure if it was a restaurant or a garden or just a cool little place but no one kicked us out so we ate our packed lunches here.

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And it even had a little pool.. Not sure why, but ok.

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We walked up this (slightly dangerous) walkway that sort of bordered this little neighborhood of houses.. I think it was worth it. These walkways seemed to be all over the place and we weren't exactly sure what for. Some kind of defense?? No sé.

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Last pic of pre-sunset

The day ended in a bit of a snafu.. Who knew you had to change out your open-ended return ticket for the exact time? We definitely did not. Oh well. We got home on the next one. That's one thing about being here that has definitely been a hard, but very valuable, lesson: there's no need to blow things out of proportion that really aren't that big of a deal. You miss the bus? Huh. There's another one coming. Just wait it out, and enjoy yourself while doing so. You lost your phone? Ok, that sucks, but you're weren't hurt, and it's not something you necessarily need anyway. You're lost? Well, that's what maps and kindly locals were made for. A lot of times in the States, I think I would get more worked up about small things like this, when in reality, it's a part of life and there's really nothing we can do about that. No point crying over spilled milk.. You might as well just clean it up, pour yourself another glass, and enjoy the cookies that I KNOW are in your hand right now.

I'm really proud of that metaphor^^ Just in case you were wondering.

Now for adding to lists..

Things I miss:

- My puppy. So much. Emily and I found this dog when we went to that little garden thing in Ronda and it didn't really look like my dog, but it still made me miss her. Every time I see a Golden Retriever on the street, my heart breaks a little.

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- Doc's food. Brownies. Lemon bars. Freaking eggs and hash oh my goodness. Dad, I know you brought brownies and lemon bars to Jill and all I can say is that she's really lucky and I'm really jealous.

- Holy Donut. All day every day.

- Maple's Fresh Mint Stracciatella. And Maple's in general. Hi anyone at Maple's, if you're reading this!! Miss you guys!

- Hm were the last three things I just wrote foods? That's weird.

- Fall fires in the fireplace. The smokey smell, the crackling sound.

Things that are different..

- The pace of life. Everything here is just so much more CHILL. There's no better way to describe it. People walk slower, eat slower, and just have so much less hurry in everything they do. This is not a criticism. It's lovely. I think it shows how the people really enjoy life in a way that's much more wholesome than many in the US. Of course, there are positives and negatives to both of these cultures, and also exceptions to the idea that everyone here lives "slower" and everyone in the US lives "faster", but it's definitely something I've noticed and tried to get into while I'm here. 

- The elderly are cared for in their home by a nurse/caretaker, and almost never sent to retirement homes. Many times, the caretakers are immigrants from South America that live and work for these elderly people.

- Sports are not nearly as central in the lives of people here as they were in my hometown, professional and otherwise. There's no channel like ESPN (that I know of) that's constant sports talk; I think there's one or two shows on Monday nights, after all the soccer games happen over the weekend, and then there are regular updates in the news all the time. Also, it doesn't seem like kids play sports a ton in school. I think there's a fair amount of club sports played here, but all in all, it seems like there are more kids who don't play than those who do. Finally, I think this especially applies to girls, who seem to not play nearly as much as boys.

- They peel all of their fruit. All of them. Plums, peaches, pears, everything. The only fruits I've seen Elvira and Lucia eat with skin is apples and grapes.

- The corruption in government. I'm not trying to make a political statement because I really don't have enough background knowledge, but all I can say is that the corruption here amonst government officials is far more blatant than anything I've seen in the US. It's especially painful to see this kind of stuff in a time when a lot of Spaniards are really struggling to make ends meet. This is kind of funny, but also horrible: one guy (a banker, I believe) who was stealing government money literally spent 9,000 euros on ice cream. ICE CREAM. That's one hell of an ice cream party.

- Everyone uses those phone cases that are kind of geeky in the US-- the ones with a flip-over cover that covers the screen-- and it's cool/normal/common. Sorry if you have one of those in the US. Do not be offended. You can now claim to be stylishly European.

Ok, signing off now. I promise I'll have the Rome/Amsterdam post up soon, I'm just all blogged and photo-edited out right about now. 

ALSO thank you for my letters!! I appreciate it so much :) xoxo

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