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Gap Year Abroad

25 posts categorized "Kate Mobley"

05/01/2015

Wrap Up

“It’s so brown here.”

 

That was my first thought when I first set foot in Spain this past September. During the eight months to follow, I grew to love the country, its culture, and all that it has to offer.

 

I cannot believe that my gap year is coming to a close. I feel as if I am waking up from a dream.  It has been an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I was immersed in a new culture rich with history, learned to write/read/speak a language, and made life-long friendships with both young and old.

 

I learned how to cook delicious Spanish dishes, can give directions to tourists, and became a professional at packing a week’s worth of clothing in a backpack. :)  But more importantly, I became a more independent, cultured, global citizen. This is something that I will have for the rest of my life.  I have a new appreciation now for other cultures and want to go discover more of them in the future.

 

I’m now counting down the days until I come back to my second home!

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04/24/2015

Feria de Abril

 ¡Ha empezado la Feria!  The Feria has started! The second most well known festival in Seville is underway and so far a huge success. Many years ago, the Feria was a different gathering - people from surrounding cities and towns came to Seville to buy and sell livestock. Over the years, it has conformed into more of a festival than a business gathering. Now, people gather to dance, eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company. 

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The Feria grounds are situated right behind the neighborhoods of Triana and Los Remedios, fortunately very close to where my friends and I live.   The grounds are bare all year long, except for this one week. The streets are lined up with public or private tents, called “casetas”.  Friends and family spend the whole day here-until the wee hours of the night, enjoying the lively atmosphere of dancing and laughing.

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There are public casetas and private ones. Obviously for the private ones you need an invitation or know someone to enter. Usually families, clubs, and even political groups have private casetas. In the back of the normally small space, there is a bar with typical food and drink for the Feria (pescado, jamón, rebujito….) In the front, there are areas to sit and dance.

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The horses are a big part of the Feria as well. The popular thing to do is ride to the Feria in a carriage. The horses are nicely groomed and decked out with fancy harnesses while pulling their passengers.  

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One of my favorite aspects of the Feria were the paper lanterns. They enhanced the color and uniqueness to the grounds, plus added an extra beauty at night, when they were all lit up.

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I also loved admiring all the women’s dresses. In Spanish, they are called “trajes de flamenca” All of them were stunning.  I never saw two of the same one.

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I had a great time partaking in the Feria festivities - eating, spending time with friends, intermingling with Spanish locals, and attempting to dance. ;) Hopefully I will be able to come back to Seville during Feria in the future.

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04/23/2015

Lisbon, Portugal

Berlin, London, Paris, Madrid-all are well known cities in Europe and major tourist destinations; however, I think one more city should be added to the list: Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon is like the “San Francisco” of Europe.  Situated where the River Tejo meets the Atlantic Ocean, cobblestone streets climb up steep hills and trolley cars wind their way through the city. The city has a really unique feel to it.

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This excursion with CIEE was full of culture and interesting things to see. While touring the city, I found out that Lisbon suffered one of the biggest earthquakes in history. Practically the whole city was destroyed. But the people bounced back quickly from this casualty. From the remains of the crumbled buildings, they created the sidewalks of the new Lisbon-the same sidewalks that are in the city today. Pretty resourceful if I say so myself.

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While in the city we visited the neighborhood of Belén, the monastery, and the castle…

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After a quick 2 days in Lisbon, we started our journey back to Seville, but on the way we had one stop to make: Sintra.

Sintra is a town right outside of Lisbon, and it held a hidden gem that everyone should see when visiting Portugal.  Sintra’s castle was the most colorful, creative, and fun castle I have ever seen.  Just its bright colors never ceased to amaze me, then you add to that the gorgeous views of the valley and ocean below...

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Great trip!

 

 

04/16/2015

Spanish Cuisine

Come one, come all to the land of paella, ham, olive oil, and much more! Spain is rich with delicious food in all forms-appetizers, main courses, and desserts. You will not go hungry here! In this post, I decided to share with you some of the most famous dishes in Spain/Andalusia region. I hope that you will enjoy and maybe try your hand at one of them in the future. (You bet I will!)

**I chose these recipes off of the Internet, and put the website where I got them at the very end. Feel free to look around for other recipes that you might like….these are just starting blocks!**

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Spanish class selfe! We're making torrijas-read on to learn how to make them!

Salmorejo:

This is a cold, tomato soup, normally made in the summer when it is, of course-hot! (Especially popular in Andalusia)

 

Ingredients:

  • 6 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 day-old country-style bread rolls, about 3 ounces each, torn into pieces and soaked into 1 cup water for 10 minutes, or 2 fresh rolls, torn into pieces
  • 1 egg yolk (optional)
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 ounces Spanish ham, finely chopped

 

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and soaked bread and any remaining water (or fresh bread) and mix well.

Working in batches if necessary, add the tomato mixture to a blender or food processor and process at high speed until smooth. For an specially smooth texture, pass the pureed mixture through a food mill fitted with the medium plate, and then, if desired, return it to the blender or processor, add the egg yolk, and process until thoroughly incorporated.

Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until well chilled.

Just before serving, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt.  Ladle into chilled soup plates, garnish with the chopped eggs and ham, and serve.

From: http://www.spain-recipes.com/salmorejo.html

 

 

Tortilla de Patatas:

This is a thick, dense mix of potatoes and egg, usually eaten as a tapa or for dinner. (I personally have never been able to finish one-I’m full after eating half!)

Ingredients:

  • 6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
  • 1 whole yellow onion
  • 5-6 large eggs
  • 2-3 cups of olive oil for pan frying
  • Salt to taste

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 Servings Main Dish

Preparation:

This tortilla espanola or tortilla de patata makes 8-10 servings as an appetizer, or 6 servings as a main course.

Cut the peeled potatoes in half lengthwise. Then, with the flat side on the cutting surface, slice the potato in pieces approximately1/8" thick. If you slice them a bit thick, don’t worry – it will simply take a bit longer for them to cook.

Peel and chop the onion into 1/4" pieces. Put potatoes and onions into a bowl and mix them together. Salt the mixture.

In a large, heavy, non-stick frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Carefully place the potato and onion mixture into the frying pan, spreading them evenly over the surface. The oil should almost cover the potatoes. You may need to turn down the heat slightly, so the potatoes do not burn.

Leave in pan until the potatoes are cooked. If you can poke a piece of potato with a spatula and it easily breaks in two, your potatoes are done. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula and allow oil to drain.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat by hand with a whisk or fork. Pour in the potato onion mixture. Mix together with a large spoon.

Pour 1-2 Tbsp of olive oil into a small, non-stick frying pan (aprox. 9-10”) and heat on medium heat. Be carefulnot to get the pan too hot because the oil will burn - or the tortilla will! When hot, stir the potato onion mixture once more and “pour” into the pan and spread out evenly. Allow the egg to cook around the edges. Then you can carefully lift up one side of the omelet to check if the egg has slightly “browned.” The inside of the mixture should not be completely cooked and the egg will still be runny.

When the mixture has browned on the bottom, you are ready to turn it over to cook the other side. Take the frying pan to a sink. Place a large dinner plate (12”) upside down over the frying pan. With one hand on the frying pan handle and the other on top of the plate to hold it steady, quickly turn the frying pan over and the omelet will “fall” onto the plate. Place the frying pan back on the range and put just enough oil to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Let the pan warm for 30 seconds or so. Now slide the omelet into the frying pan. Use the spatula to shape the sides of the omelet. Let the omelet cook for 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the tortilla sit in the pan for 2 minutes.

Slide the omelet onto a plate to serve. If eating as a main course, cut the omelet into 6-8 pieces like a pie. Serve sliced French bread on the side.

If you are serving as an appetizer, slice a baguette into pieces about 1/2 inch think. Cut the tortilla into 1.5” squares and place a piece on top of each slice of bread.

From: http://spanishfood.about.com/od/tapas/r/tortilla.htm

 

Gazpacho:

This is another cold, summery, tomato soup.

Ingredients

  • 10 oz of bread
  • 21 oz. of tomato
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 onions
  • 2 red and green peppers
  • 1 cucumber (optional)
  • 7 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 tablespoons of vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of water
  • Cumin (optional)

Preparation

In a big mortar mash the cumin, the garlic and the soaked bread, in a plastic bowl mix the chopped onion, the chopped tomato, the oil, the vinegar, the salt and the contents of the mortar, mash it with the mixer and add very cold water to mix everything. Add salt and strain it. Keep it in the fridge until served.

Serve with the tomato, the cucumber, the pepper and the toasted bread cut to dices.

Preparation time is 30 minutes. For 4 people.

From: http://www.spain-recipes.com/gazpacho.html

 

Mantecados:

Famous cookie-like dessert eaten around Christmas time, similar to shortbread. Popular kinds are almond, chocolate, coconut, cinnamon, and lemon.

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Ingredients:

  •  2 1/4 cups vegetable shortening
  •  1 cup vegetable oil
  •  1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  •  4 egg yolks
  •  2 shot glasses of anise (see note below for substitute)
  •  1 lemon peel, grated
  •  juice from 1 lemon
  •  1/2 tsp cinnamon
  •  7 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
  •  1/2 tsp baking soda
  •  1 egg white, beaten for glaze

 

Preparation:

Substitution Note: Anise-flavored liqueur can be purchased at most liquor stores and some gourmet supermarkets. If you cannot find it in your area, substitute 2 shot glasses of vodka and 1 1/2 tsp of anise extract.

In a very large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to whip the vegetable shortening with the oil. Add the sugar and mix until smooth. Add the egg yolks, anise, lemon peel, juice and cinnamonand mix together. Add flour and baking soda to mixture, a cup at a time. Be sure to mix well. Dough should be very smooth and soft.

Preheat over to 325 degrees. Using a teaspoon, scoop out a dollop of dough. Form balls about the size of walnuts, using your hands. If dough is too sticky to roll into balls, mix in additional flour (from 1/4 to 1/2 cup). Place balls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Lightly press down on each ball to flatten slightly. Using the beaten egg white, brush on the top of each cookie. Bake cookies until they begin to turn light brown on the bottom edges - about 15-20 minutes.

Let the cookies cool 5 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet, as they are very delicate.

Total time: 40 minutes             Yields: 7 dozen 2.5 inch cookies

From: http://spanishfood.about.com/od/dessertssweets/r/mantecados.htm

 

Torrijas:

Basically, French toast, Spanish style. They are covered in honey and normally eaten as a dessert during Easter.

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Ingredients:

  •  4-6 slices of stale baguette or white bread*
  •  3/4 cup milk
  •  1 egg
  •  vegetable oil for frying, such as canola or corn oil, NOT olive oil
  •  1/8 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  •  sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle (optional)
  •  honey to drizzle (optional) – From what I have seen, people put more than just a “drizzle” of honey on top of the torrijas ;)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

 

Preparation:

* TIP: If you do not have stale bread on hand, lightly toast the sliced bread so that it dries out enough to soak up the milk and not turn to mush.

Pour the milk into a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the egg and beat together. Add vanilla extract, if desired. Pour enough oil into a large frying to cover the bottom and heat on medium. Be careful that the oil does not burn.

If you are using stale white bread, place one slice in the milk-egg mixture and quickly flip it over with a fork. Make sure that the bowl is next to the frying pan, so you can quickly transfer it from the bowl to the heated pan.

If you use a stale baguette, slices should be at least 1/2 inch thick. If the bread is more than a day old, you may need to soak the bread for 2-3 minutes or more, so that it softens up. Be careful that the bread does not soften so much that it crumbles when you lift it out of the bowl.

Carefully lift the bread out of the mixture and let the excess milk drain before placing the bread in the frying pan. Repeat for each of the other slices.

After 2-3 minutes, check the bottom of the bread. As the slices turn golden, turn each one. You may wish to use a nylon spatula or tongs to turn the slices over. Make sure that you have enough room in the pan to turn the slices.

Remove each piece from the pan and place on a plate. Sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon. If you prefer, drizzle (pour) honey over the top. Garnish with fresh fruit and serve immediately.

Note: If the torrijas cool down and you wish to heat them up, place them back in the frying pan on low heat or in a toaster oven at a low temperature. Do not place them in a microwave because this will cause the bread to become rubbery.

From: http://spanishfood.about.com/od/dessertssweets/r/torrijas.htm

 

Paella:

This is a large rice dish, which you can put practically anything in. Below is just one of the many variations…

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Herb Blend:

  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced

Paella:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 3 (16-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 8 unpeeled jumbo shrimp (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 skinned, boned chicken thighs, cut in half
  • 2 links Spanish chorizo sausage (about 6 1/2 ounces) or turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 (4-ounce) slice prosciutto or 33%-less-sodium ham, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups uncooked Arborio rice or other short-grain rice
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 8 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon wedges (optional)

 

Preparation:

 To prepare the herb blend, combine the first 4 ingredients, and set aside.

To prepare paella, combine water, saffron, and broth in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat. Peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails intact; set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large paella pan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; saute 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Add sausage and prosciutto; saute 2 minutes. Remove from pan. Add shrimp, and saute 2 minutes. Remove from pan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion and bell pepper; saute 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, paprika, and 3 garlic cloves; cook 5 minutes. Add rice; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in herb blend, broth mixture, chicken, sausage mixture, and peas. Bring to a low boil; cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add mussels to pan, nestling them into rice mixture. Cook 5 minutes or until shells open; discard any unopened shells. Arrange shrimp, heads down, in rice mixture, and cook 5 minutes or until shrimp are done. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup lemon juice. Remove from heat; cover with a towel, and let stand 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Serves: 8

From: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/traditional-spanish-paella-0

 

Other foods that you can’t cook but are popular in Spain:

Ham:

What would we do if I forgot to add ham to this list? Almost everywhere you look in Spain you will see ham hanging from store windows.  To eat it, you cut very thin slices off of the leg and put it on bread or eat it alone. (Fun fact: it takes 2-4 years MINIMUM for the ham to be dried.)

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Chorizo:

This is another popular meat in Spain. Many people use it as an appetizer or put it on a bocadillo for lunch.

04/05/2015

La Semana Santa

Feliz Pascua! Happy Easter! There was hardly any time to rest after coming back from Gran Canaria this past week. When we arrived in Sevilla, Semana Santa was in full swing. At first, I wasn’t totally excited to return to a city packed with tourists, but I was wrong. Now I did miss my personal space when I was in the crowds, but overall I really enjoyed watching the processions.

Semana Santa is the week before Easter, starting at Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) until Easter Sunday (La Pascua). During the entire week, brotherhoods (hermandades) from churches throughout Sevilla had processions. At the focal point of each procession, there was either a Virgin Mary or a demonstration of different parts of Christ’s path to his resurrection. (The Last Supper, Judas’s kiss, the Trial, Jesus carrying the cross, Jesus on the cross, and the Resurrection are some examples) Historically, the brotherhoods did this to teach the non-Christian community of the city about Jesus Christ. It was a form of evangelism. Now it is a famous event known all around the world.

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The processions consist of Nazarenos, the people who hold the candles and wear the pointed hats to hide their identity, and the paso, or float, featuring the Virgin Mary or Christ. The paso is not pulled by a truck or SUV though, instead about 40 men called costaleros are underneath the paso, carrying it down the street. It is a form of art to carry this, and these men practice all year for this walk.

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Nazarenos in one of the processions.

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Costaleros waiting to carry the paso
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Costaleros changing positions under the pasos.





The goal for the processions is to walk from their church all the way to the Cathedral, and back. Depending on how far away the church is from the Cathedral, the processions could be walking in the street for 6 to 14 hours. 14 hours straight walking to the Cathedral and back, plus carrying a paso-not an easy task if I say so myself. I saw a fair amount of pasos-all were unique in their own way. I even went out during the Madrugá (Thursday night-early Friday morning-the most intense part of the week) to watch two of the most famous processions: La Esperanza de La Macarena and La Esperanza de Triana.

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The long walk to the Cathedral
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Pasos heading to the Cathedral

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La Esperanza de Triana

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A paso squeezing its way through the tight streets

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The candle is taller than this young Nazareno.

 

It. Was. Crazy. It seemed like the whole world came to see these two virgins. I was insane enough to actually make my way to the front of the Macarena’s church to watch the Virgin leave. Packed like sardines in the street, the crowd went crazy when she came out. People would yell, “Macareeeeeena!” and others would respond, “Guapa! Guapa! Guapa!” (meaning ‘beautiful’ in Spanish) After a few meters of walking, the paso would stop in front of an open window and someone would sing to the Virgin from the balcony. It was like nothing I have ever seen before in my life.

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Church of the Macarena
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La Macareeeena!

 

I watched the Esperanza de Triana march over what else? – The Triana Bridge. ☺ This paso was stunning as well. Under the natural light from the moon, the paso swayed at a slow, steady pace over the bridge. Candlelight from huge candles flickered warmly on the Virgin’s face, and the white flowers created a stunning touch.

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By the end MY night (there were still processions going on throughout the city) it was 5am. Semana Santa in Sevilla is truly a beautiful, unique, one-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget.

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Incense saturated the air for the whole week.
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Crossing the Triana Bridge

04/03/2015

Gran Canaria-Spring Break

Where do you go for spring break in Europe? Well as you might have guessed, you can go to many different places. I got the opportunity to spend the break in Gran Canaria, one of seven oases in the Canary Islands.

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No gap year is complete without a trip on Ryanair.

I soon figured out that Gran Canaria is much more than a beach destination, although it does have some the best beaches in Europe. It is like a mini continent-beaches, mountains, volcanoes (dormant), craters, it even can snow in some areas. My traveling buddies, Emma, Riley, Erin, and I had a bunch of fun on this island. Strap in and get ready to read about an action-packed, wild adventure!

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Las Palmas

We stayed in the Northern part of the island, Las Palmas. The city has a great boardwalk and beach for sunbathers and surfers alike. I wish I could tell you more about the city, but we really didn’t spend too much time there.

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View from the hostel
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so cool

Our first day we took the guagua (meaning ‘bus’ in Gran Canaria-we invested a lot into this transportation system) to San Mateo to do some hiking. The trail led us up through the mountains and small towns. All along the way were gorgeous wildflowers with red, orange, and yellow petals. Waiting for us at the top were spectacular views of the rest of the island, soaking up the last rays of sunlight before the clouds blanketed themselves around the mountains.

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Wooo! Hiking!
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Emma taking in the view
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Beautiful flowers

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I'm the little orange spec in the distance

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That evening we had some delicious crepes at the hostel and hit the sack early for an early start the next morning.

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yumm

Day two of our adventure began at 6:15am to catch the guagua at 8am to the southern part of the island. Our destination was Maspalomas beach. The beach is famous for its natural sand dunes right along the coast. Walking over the dunes makes you feel like you are in a desert. After the small hike through the dunes, we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon on the beach.

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Hey Erin
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Photoshoot!
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Getting artsy with Emma and her hat

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At dusk, we went on a stargazing tour. Gauthier, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the stars, planets, and constellations. He shared an awesome presentation to us about space and where we were in relation to other stars in our universe. After the presentation, we looked through his gigantic telescope at nebulas, planets, stars, moons (ours and Jupiter’s), and even another galaxy!

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Sunset from the mountains
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Almost time to see some stars!!!!
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There is no messing around with this telescope!

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The third day was another beach day. This time we went to Puerto de Mogán. I got to try out my snorkeling skills in the small pools surrounded by rocks and was not disappointed. Colorful fish of all shapes and sizes swam a foot away from my face. Honestly, it was exciting and frightening at the same time. We stayed at the beach until nightfall, watching the sunset over the ocean from the jagged cliffs of the island.

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For our final day in Gran Canaria, all of us did different things. Erin and I went to the center of the island to do some more hiking. We picked a trail that led us around a crater to Roque Nublo, a famous rock formation on the island. Roque Nublo is actually left over rock from an ancient volcano. As we circled the crater, we were gifted with stunning views of the densely forested valleys and far away ocean.

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Finally we reached Roque Nublo; our rewards were more gorgeous views and lunch.

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For our last night on the island, all four of us dressed up and went out for dinner.

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We came to Gran Canaria with high expectations, and the island exceeded them. Tired, but happy and satisfied, we headed back to Sevilla, our second home. I’d call it a successful spring break.

03/21/2015

Gooaaallll!

Happy Spring everyone!  Lots of things have been going on here in Spain. For instance, the election for the President of Andalusia is tomorrow, March 22 (Andalusia is the southern region of Spain); Seville is preparing for it’s busiest week of the year – Semana Santa; and we are experiencing some rain after about a month of sunshine - crazy.

This past week I completed a personal goal of mine: to go to a FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Sevilla FC soccer match before I return home. Last weekend I was in Madrid and got to see Real Madrid play, and this past Thursday I went to a Sevilla FC match. Both games were great! Soccer is one of the most popular Spanish pastimes, similar to how popular baseball, basketball, and football are in the United States. Fans are passionate about their respective teams and know every little detail about what’s happening in the program.

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Real Madrid Stadium

 

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Goal!
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There he is
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Marcelo and Isco
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Chicharitooo!!!

Games are usually scheduled at 8 or 9pm, right around dinnertime for the Spanish population; so many fans bring bocadillos (a packed lunch/dinner) to eat during halftime. At every game I went to there was a lively section of fans leading the rest of the stadium in cheers to support their team…or distract the opposing team.

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Animated fans in Barcelona

Something really interesting about the soccer culture here is the whistling. When the crowd is angry for whatever reason (bad call by the ref, a foul, bad play), they make an ear-piercing whistle that vibrates throughout the stadium. I think that someone should measure the change in decibel level in the stadium when they whistle – it’s that loud.

I mentioned earlier that Semana Santa (the week before Easter) is coming up soon. Sevilla is one of the most well known destinations to watch the processions of Semana Santa. People from all over the world come during this week to see them. Another tasty aspect of Semana Santa are the sweets. One typical treat is la torrija (a.k.a. Spanish French toast). Torrijas are made with bread, eggs, milk or white wine, oil, honey and cinnamon. They are easy to make. First you dip the bread in the milk or white wine, and directly after into the eggs. Then you fry the bread in the oil. When it is cooked (or has buena pinta), you take the torrija out of the oil and put it in a dish. For the finishing touch, pour a warm mixture of honey and cinnamon overtop of the torrija. Yummmm…..

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Jin hard at work. (Photo credits to friends Anina and Eli)

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The final product
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Great food with great friends. :)

 

 

03/13/2015

Granada-Spring Trip

Spring has sprung in Granada. The almond trees are in bloom and the remaining traces of winter can be seen on the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

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Last time I visited Granada, I saw some pretty cool things, except I did not visit the main attraction of the city: La Alhambra. This time, I got the chance to see the ancient castle. “Alhambra” means the red castle, and it’s called that for a good reason. When the sun sets on the building, it turns a deep, burnt red. Inside the Alhambra it is like a whole other world. During the early days of Spain and Granada, the Alhambra was the castle of the Moorish Kings. They had a long reign until 1492 (does that year ring a bell?), when Christian rulers King Ferdinand and Isabel II re-conquered Spain and Granada. 

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The Alhambra was a mini city in itself. There were places to live for the servants, architects, and designers of the castle, and outside there were vegetable gardens and shallow reflection pools to relax and enjoy the surrounding nature.

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Detail, detail, detail

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Did you know that there is a famous book about the Alhambra?  It’s called, Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving. He wrote the book during his stay in the castle while traveling throughout Spain. If you are looking for a good book to read, I recommend this one.

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We also went to the Albayzin, or the old Moorish quarter of Granada. Typical characteristics of this neighborhood are the narrow, winding streets and white houses. You can easily get lost if you are not paying attention to where you are going. Fun fact: the buildings are white so that they don’t attract the heat from the Spanish sun.

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Granada is a must-see for those who are planning to go to Spain. It is a melting pot of cultures sprinkled with rich history for everyone to enjoy.

02/28/2015

An Eventful Weekend in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those cities where every time you visit, you can do something new. This past weekend I visited this Catalonia city for the second time with four of my friends: Emma, Eliza, Erin, and Riley. We had a great trip.

The weekend kicked off (literally) with all of us attending a FC Barcelona soccer match. Even though Barca lost, we enjoyed watching some of the big-name players like Messi, Neymar, Piqué, and Luis Suarez play. Personally, as an avid soccer fan, going to the game was a dream come true. :)

 

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Barcelona vs. Málaga
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The Spanish version of "The Sons of Ben" at PPL Park in Philly

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Piqué
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Messi
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Neymar

Barcelona is also home to some of the famous architecture and artwork created Antoni Gaudí. Two of his most well known masterpieces in the city are the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. We got to visit them both.

Gaudí took over the Sagrada Familia project in 1883, but died in 1926 before it was finished. Actually the church is still in construction, and will not be finished until 2026. (100 years after Gaudí’s death). However, today it looks totally different from when he last saw it. Four towering steeples stand high above the city rooftops, and two gigantic facades on each side of the building tell the story of Christ’s life (The Nativity and Christ dying on the cross).

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Sagrada Familia
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An overhead view



 

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The Nativity facade

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The inside of the church is just as stunning as the outside. When Gaudí was designing the church, he intended to incorporate nature into the structure. He accomplished this in a number of ways. As the sun shown through the glass-stained windows, it filled the church with colorful light and a peaceful presence. Plus, all of the columns inside the church did not just go straight up, the architect made supports to attach to them which resemble trees.

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This door has the "Lord's Prayer" written on it

Park Güell is the other famous piece of architecture that Gaudí designed. Originally made as a place for the rich to live, it has now changed into a park. Situated on Carmel Hill, there is a beautiful view of the city and the Mediterranean Sea below.

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Enjoying the park :)
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Rock it lady!

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All of these places and activities were really cool, but I think the most enjoyable and memorable thing that the five of us did last weekend was waking up early, and going to the beach to see the sun rise over the Mediterranean. It was gorgeous to see the sun come up over the horizon and shine over the water, sand, and the tops of the buildings.

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Almost there...
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Good Morning Barcelona!

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Rise and shine! :)

02/13/2015

"If at first you don't succeed, try again"

Hey guys! Welcome back.

Everyone has heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again”, right?  This phrase can apply to almost any obstacle you encounter. It has come in handy for me a couple of times while I’ve been over here in Spain. For instance, earlier this year, I planned a day trip to Doñana National Park with some friends, bought a ticket to where I needed to go, hopped on the bus, and was off. Not until I got to the beach town of Matalascañas did I realize that I was not in the right spot at all to go into the park. (Matalascañas is totally surrounded by the park, but you cannot get in it) It turned out to be a great day at the beach though. :)

Well, as the saying goes, I tried again to go to Doñana this past weekend, and was much more successful, thankfully. :)  I had the awesome company of Eli, Emma, Riley, Erin, and Eliza with me to explore the park. I did my homework, and this time we went to El Rocío, which is where one of the entrances to the park is. The town reminded me of an old Western movie-there were no paved roads, more horses live there than people, and there are extra high tables at the restaurants for the customers who want to have a drink while sitting on their horse. El Rocío is also known for the brotherhoods that travel from long distances to have religious ceremonies there.   The brotherhoods, or “hermandades” in Spanish, are similar to a fraternity, but have more of a religious significance.

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The church steeple in El Rocío

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Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Doñana.  Since the park is so heavily protected, there are not many routes to go hiking, so we took a “safari” tour instead. It was not a bad exchange if I say so myself. All 6 of us, plus our guide Javier piled into a jeep, and took off into the wilderness.

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Eli's ready :)

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Doñana is made up of a variety of different landscapes. Some of them are el bosque (forest), la marisma (salt marshes), and las dunas de arena (sand dunes). On this trip we visited the forest and salt marshes.

Our trip was during the middle of the day, not the best time to see animals, but we were lucky to see a fair number of birds, deer, and wild horses.  We even came across a few flocks of flamingos! Flamingos in Europe? Who would have known?

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Fun Facts about Flamingos:

-       Flamingos make Doñana their home for almost the whole year.

-        Many people have heard that flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp. This is true; there is a chemical in the shrimp that makes the birds pink. The same chemical that makes carrots orange.

-       To catch their food, flamingos shuffle their feet in the water to loosen up the mud in hopes of finding a tasty treat.

 

Other waterfowl that we saw were storks, (Spanish-Cigüeña), herons (Garza), and different wading birds.

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Look at those bright feet!

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Eliza and Eli scoping out the field

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The forest portion of Doñana was such a unique place as well. We encountered a fair number of deer. The forest had a peaceful, quiet ambiance to it. The stillness and beauty was very refreshing from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Right now the park is in its wet season, therefore the forest is lush and green. In the summer there is very little rain, so everything is dusty and dry.

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A number of land birds and birds of prey were in the park too. Vultures (Buitre), Red Kites (Milano Real), Red Partridges (Perdiz Roja), and Kestrel Falcons (Cernícalo Común) make their home there.

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Kestrel Falcon
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Red Partridge

Doñana is home to many more types of animals, for instance foxes, badgers, wild boars, and Iberian lynxes (these cats are critically endangered-there are only 80 in all of Spain). We didn't see any of these animals, but saw some wild horses.

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Doñana was definitely worth visiting. It was a good change of pace from the daily life of Sevilla and a wonderful opportunity to learn about some of the wildlife in Spain. If anyone is planning a trip to Spain in the near future, put Doñana National Park on your list!

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Gap Bloggers

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