Across the pond

Time Limbo

A wise friend of mine once coined the term “time limbo” referring to the time you gain or lose when you switch time zones. Currently it is 11 am here at home in Kansas City, while it’s 6 pm Madrid time, a whole 7 hours ahead of us. I thought my jet lag was bad when I landed in Spain and slept for about three days straight. Let me tell you though, this backwards jet lag and reverse culture shock is even worse. After traveling for over 24 hours to finally arrive back in the states last Saturday, I am happy to say that  Madison and I arrived home safely but are struggling to get back into the routine here. It’s going to take awhile to get back to normal but it’s going to take even longer to drop the abroad lifestyle that I have grown to love so much. I’ve been putting off this final travel blog/summary/commencement post because I won’t accept the fact that I’m no longer there. It is the most mixed emotions I have ever felt in my entire life and its tougher than ever to accept that it’s really over. With that being said @DUfriends I’ll see you guys on new year’s for Decadence! To everyone I met, whether it was in Madrid or Dublin, whether you’re from London or Morocco, it’s not goodbye it’s see you later! I will truly never forget you all and every beautiful thing that has happened in the past few months. Thanks for making it so damn spectacular.

I’m going to start off with a rather jumbled up mess of my thoughts on everything there and coming home, my likes and dislikes, those things I missed and others not so much. I’ll miss the convenience of the metro, but I have also really really missed driving. Pulling up to the door in the driveway of a home. HOMES! I have missed big, old houses, people’s homes, so much. Madrid is full of apartment complexes, it’s a big city and thats the way they live along with most of the places I visited. I missed American food so much but I’m already missing croissants, churros and Milka chocolate. It is so different going back to full English being spoken around me. Random people walking by and not staring at me blankly for no apparent reason. I am desperately missing the cheap wine and I mistakenly only packed two bottles in my suitcase. I have missed American outlets and not having to use my oversized portable charger in order to plug something in. It is truly the little things in life that we take most for granted.

I will never forget that kid in Morocco who walked out to the dunes with a toilet paper roll (we had perfectly normal toilets at our campsite) and when asked what he was doing replied “I want to be able to say I took a shit in the Sahara.”Or the old lady on the side of the road in Lisbon who we watched pull down her pants, see that five people were staring at her, and proceed to relieve herself in the middle of the street. The infamous hamburgesa in Salamanca that may or may not have turned out to be rat meat (never trusted a hamburger in Spain after that.) That one Wednesday at Goya where we found ourselves dancing with African royalty and surrounded by his body guards. Monday nights in general, Wednesday’s too and of course, Kapital, the excessive 7 floor nightclub that was equivalent to a Vegas nightclub. When Brittany and I danced with Star Wars characters at Gabana and ended up in way too many of the club’s featured Facebook photos. When Audrey saved me from being pick-pocketed in Florence and I yanked my wallet from what looked like a 12-14 year old girl. The BlaBla car we took to Rome with a man named Frederico and his girlfriend. Madison, Audrey and I were crammed into the backseat but still managed to receive a great review for “being so quiet during the trip!” aka sleeping the entire time. My first hostel experience in Rome when all three of us got put into separate mixed dorms and all ended up being the only girls in our rooms. Then going on a pub crawl with our hostel and managing to make great friends with our questionable bunkmates @Madison never forget Ross. In Paris when me and Ethan were running late to our Eiffel Tower tour and got caught in the middle of a marathon and literally ran with the runners to make it there on time (I was in a dress and heels I might add.) Playing soccer with the sweetest little boy on the beach in Portugal, probably top 3 happiest days of my life. Spending a full day at a bar in Dublin playing Monopoly. The list goes on and on…

Next semester I will return to the University of Arkansas where I’ll finish up my last semester and graduate in May. I promise to take more advantage of the beautiful hikes and scenery the natural state has to offer, because I know I’ll be craving more adventure. Writing this particular blog post has definitely been my toughest. Looking back on the past 3 and  a half months, I am in denial that this amazing journey has come to an end. BUT I know that it won’t be my last so here’s to tomorrow and every day after that. On that note, I am elated to be home for the holidays with my family and friends and I want to thank everyone for following along on this incredible journey! It’s been “dumb lit” as Colby would say.

Happy Holidays everyone!!

Tori

 

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Dublin, Ireland

Cheers, blokes!

You would think after three and half months, 15 flights and seven different countries that we would have the whole traveling thing down right? But even after sleeping two hours past our alarm to leave for Dublin last Friday, Madison and I met our friend Taylor at the airport just in time. Definitely the closest we’ve come to missing a flight, just ended up forgetting a few essentials (toothpaste, phone charger, etc.). Oh well, details. After getting settled into our hostel we went to the oldest pub in Dublin, Brazen Head. I was surprised to find out how cheap and especially friendly taxis were around there, our adorable old Irish driver practically gave us a tour on the way. We each ordered a Guinness which became the move (@Gabby stealing your phrases) for the weekend since the famous beer comes from there. Then we went on to visit the Guinness Brewery where we took a tour of the original storehouse. It was more of a shrine to Guinness and museum of the famous beer’s history, which I didn’t mind one bit. We spent an ample amount of time in the gift shop and I made sure to hit the third floor, dedicated to the advertising of Guinness mostly so that I could see one of my favorite quotes. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” @RyleeDawson truly understands the significance #wisdom. We drank our complimentary pints at the Gravity Bar which gave a lovely view of the city. After the tour we went back to Brazen Head to eat and I ordered a traditional Irish meal of Bangers & Mash aka sausage and mashed potatoes, so so good. That night we went on a pub crawl with our hostel and they took us to a number of different bars mostly around Temple Bar district. Before going, they warned us that Temple Bar is a tourist trap and drinks go up in price as the night goes on. I had heard this before “oh you HAVE to go to Temple Bar but keep in mind its super expensive!” and I now understand the reasons behind “having” to go. It’s an extremely lively place with live music everywhere and home to the coziest pubs filled with tons of Christmas decorations this time of year. We didn’t visit the actual ‘Temple Bar’ until our last night in town, but it was also packed even on a Sunday evening. If you like beer and super cheery people, Ireland is truly the place to be. Of all of the places I’ve visited these last few months, the people in Dublin are hands down my favorite. It might as well have been Christmas Eve with the way people were celebrating (one bar was handing out Santa hats and we even ran into a guy wearing one at the airport the following morning).

The next day we went to the Beanhive for a traditional Irish breakfast consisting of eggs, sausage, ham, hash browns, mushroom, tomato, beans and lots of toast. Now that’s my kind of breakfast. Quite a difference between the small portioned breakfasts they eat in Spain (their biggest meal of the day is typically lunch so they eat VERY little for breakfast) and it got me more than ready for big brunches back in the states. We spent the rest of that day at a bar we stumbled upon that I’m kicking myself for not remembering the name to…mostly because we spent a solid six hours there. When we first got there we were the first customers probably because it was only noon. As the day went on we saw people come and go but didn’t hesitate to move. It was a rainy day and we had a full day bus tour the following day so spending the afternoon at a pub only made sense, and we particularly liked this one. We found a number of board games next to a big booth so we set up camp there and began playing, determined to finish the game all the way through. We bought pitchers and a kilo of chicken wings, basically it was Super Bowl Sunday. Then our friend we met the night before at the pub crawl, Nicko from the Netherlands, came to join us and introduced us to a fun card game. We kept ourselves entertained for hours and left our awesome bartender a tip (tipping is again not customary in Ireland) for putting up with us for so long.

The following day we went on a Paddywagon bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher which started at 8 a.m. lasting all day until 8 p.m. Our tour guide and driver was a full-blown Irishman, red hair, thick accent and all, who took us to a number of cool spots before and after the main attraction. Dunguaire Castle and a precursor to the Cliffs of Moher that he referred to as “the mini cliffs” at Fanore Beach in Crumlin, Dublin were among the sights we stopped at. Once we arrived at the cliffs we were given an hour and a half to walk around and you’d think that is plenty of time, but I would’ve gone for about double that time it was such an amazing spot. The highest point of the Cliffs of Moher stands at 700 feet high and takes a full 9 seconds to hit the water if one were to fall. We had perfect weather for seeing the cliffs which have a chance of being so foggy you can barely see anything beyond the edge on a bad day. It wasn’t even all that chilly up there so I stood way too close to the edge (scaring the crap out of Taylor and Madison) and took it all in. On our way back we stopped at another castle, Bunratty, located near an adorable, quaint shopping district with a beautiful garden called “Buds”. Overall the bus ride was great, but I must say the twisted roads were even worse than the route we took in Morocco on the way to the Sahara. I would trade that 8 hour bus ride over this 6 hour one any day, I think the whole driving on the left side of the road thing makes me uncomfortable as well. Overall Ireland was absolutely incredible with its beautiful countryside, cozy pubs, live music and friendly locals… I will 110% be back. Cheers!!!

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Amsterdam, Netherlands, Granada, Spain

An Unusual Thanksgiving

As the semester wraps up, two weekends ago we were taken on the last of our program sponsored trips to Granada, a city in southern Spain. We were able to see a clear view of the Sierra Nevada mountains as our bus drove into town five hours later. You could faintly see patches of snow at the very top and  I was told that the ski resorts opened up the following week. Granada has easily been my favorite city that I’ve seen in Spain thus far and I’ve previously visited Segovia, Salamanca, Barcelona and of course Madrid where I live. We visited the Alhambra Palace which contained the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen before. I could’t help but think that my Mom would’ve absolutely loved it, so I took an overwhelming amount of pictures of all the trees and flowers. The flowers seemed to never end and we finally made it to the Alhambra Palace after hours of walking through the lush gardens. The palace designs reminded me so much of the buildings in Morocco since it was built in Arabic form. Every detail was so intricate and detailed, it was absolutely breathtaking. I loved everything about Granada from the mountains to the giant tapas!

This past weekend Madison and I spent our Thanksgiving in Amsterdam. By far the most unique Thanksgiving of my life spent flying and eating a subpar meal around midnight when we finally arrived. It was pretty tough being away from home for the first time on a major holiday, but at least I got to spend it with my best friend in yet another very cool city. The following day, once all of the t-giving posts had subsided and we had made it through the jealousy of seeing everyone’s food snapchats, we visited the Anne Frank House. It is the original house built on top of a warehouse that her family and others spent in hiding during the Holocaust. Most of the house had been preserved and it held mostly scripts from her original writings and not very much original furniture from that time, but it was still extremely interesting nonetheless. Later that afternoon we walked to the A’Dam Lookout point where we had to Ferry just to get to the opposite side of the biggest dam in the world. It seemed like a huge waste to have multiple ferry’s transporting bikers, walkers and even a few drivers from side to side all day everyday, but it was a rather efficient process. To get to the top of the lookout, you ride in an elevator that takes 22 seconds to transport you up to the top. We were told to look up at the ceiling during the ride because they had these intense lights and music similar to an EDM concert (I also received quite a few snapchats asking where the hell I was and I may have confused a few people when I said it was just an elevator.) Once we were at the top, we got in line to swing on the highest swing in Europe. I am not someone who is particularly afraid of heights, but this was a little unnerving. When I posted a picture of us in the swing to my family photo album, my grandma commented “No thanks” so in case she’s reading this, I’m sorry if I made you or anyone else a bit nervous! The view on that swing was entirely worth it and despite the windchill, 10/10 recommend to a friend.

The next day we went on the Heineken Experience which was a big tour of the original brewery. It was by far the coolest brewery tour I have been on because it featured free games, photo booths and finished off with a canal boat tour. The boat tour was absolutely amazing and our tour guides were funny and knowledgeable giving us facts about the houses bordering the canals, the giant houseboats and the sites nearby. They served Heineken’s on the boat as well so that was a major plus. I loved Amsterdam because everyone spoke English and their native language is Dutch, which is such a beautiful language, I thoroughly enjoyed all the accents. I enjoyed the fact that we could walk everywhere and it was surprisingly easy to get around. The city center resembled something out of a movie set, with all of its hanging lights and lit up buildings. Walking through town and buying way too many souvenirs was how we spent the remainder of our trip. I also very much enjoyed the fact that there were cats in a bunch of the stores and restaurants.  Makes me miss my cat, Fatty, that much more!! Amsterdam is definitely something you need to see for yourself. This weekend will be my last trip to Dublin, Ireland, where I’ll go on the Guiness Tour as well as take a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher. Looking forward to this trip and my last weekend in Madrid, and very much so looking forward to heading back home to the states. See you all soon enough!!

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Italy

This is What Dreams are Made of

Traveling to Pisa, Florence and Rome in a matter of four days is surprisingly a fairly easy process. In honor of visiting Rome, ‘The Lizzie McGuire Movie’ was a theme of the weekend, we even watched it while in Florence (hence the title of this post). Audrey, Madison and I decided to do it this way because flying into Pisa was extremely cheap (just 30 euros!) and there isn’t an international airport in Florence. We stayed in Pisa for a night so that we could see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, of course, and the following day we took a train to Florence. While boarding the train, we came across two girls that looked a bit younger than us and they were distracting because they wouldn’t walk up the steps to the seats on the train and I was very confused what the issue was. All of a sudden one was standing in front of me with the other behind me and they were blocking me in on the steps. They must not have noticed that Audrey was with me and standing right behind them because I looked down at my purse to find it unzipped and my wallet missing. I immediately said something and Audrey pointed to the girl behind me and goes “she has your wallet I saw her grab it”, after which I proceeded to grab the girls arm and yank it from her while she dropped my wallet onto the floor and ran off with her little friend. Clearly they were trying to distract me for a reason, I’ve been told to watch out for that but I was very caught off guard in the situation. Thank God Audrey had been there to see it go down because they could’ve easily gotten away with it otherwise. This was the closest I’ve come to getting pick-pocketed (knock on wood) and I am even more cautious and paranoid about it now…

I easily ate pizza from six different restaurants while in Italy, specifically margarita pizza. Safe to say I probably gained a few pounds this weekend but the incredible wine, pasta, pizza and gelato was too good to pass up. Right outside where we were staying there was an outdoor marketplace set up with all kinds of trinkets, leather goods and clothes. I bought way too many things and knocked out a good number of presents. Our last day in Florence was rainy but that didn’t stop us from climbing over 400 steps to the top of the Duomo for an amazing view of the entire city. The next day we took a BlaBla car, which is a carpool service where you can ride with people that are going to the same places as you, to Rome with a nice man named Federico and his girlfriend. The three of us squeezed in the tiny back seat and were asleep for the majority of the three hour car ride. Since we only had a day in Rome, we tried our best to fit in as much sight-seeing as we could. We saw the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the Vatican all in a matter of one afternoon. We ate the best calzone of my life at Sepori e Delizie and made a few more gelato stops. That night, we stayed in my first ever hostel which was a good experience because we are staying in hotels in Amsterdam as well as Dublin. All three of us were in separate rooms and mine was a “mixed dorm” but ended up being me and seven other guys. We went out with our hostel group along with three other hostels that night and they took us to a couple of bars and a club. This was nice because I was able to get to know all of my roommates a little more. The hostel is a great experience if you’re trying to meet people, but next time I’ll be sure to invest in some earplugs to block out everyone’s snoring.

I love how small Florence is, it was a nice change of pace to be able to walk everywhere and not rely on the metro like I do so much in Madrid. I would’ve liked to spend more time in Rome because there is so much more to see. The food was by far the best I’ve had so far, but I’m thankful I don’t study there because I would easily come home 20 pounds heavier. Once again it’s always nice settling back into Madrid after a long weekend away and I did have time to go on my second run of the semester through Retiro Park the other day. That place still seizes to amaze me and it is even more beautiful now as the leaves are starting to change colors and Madrid is finally starting to get chilly. It is crazy to me that it’s already halfway through November and I’ll be coming home in about a month’s time now. It’ll be bittersweet leaving here to head back home but I can’t help but look forward to my king-sized bed, Dad’s cooking, Mom’s back rubs and just hanging out on the back porch with my family. This weekend we go to Grenada with our program so I’m excited to explore a little more of Spain!

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Margarita Pizza

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

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Vatican

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Trevi Fountain

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Paris, France

In louvre with Paris

There were a number of things and places I wanted to see while visiting Paris, France, for the first time. I spent the week prior to my trip blowing up my Aunt Diane’s phone for advice because I knew she had visited before and it was one of her absolute favorite places. She gave me a list of things I needed to see and I was sure I wouldn’t make it to everything in just one weekend. But low and behold, thanks to a rainy Friday and our Nebrija student ID’s which got us in free almost everywhere, we had no trouble making it to all of the museums, Cathedrals and landmarks with little to no lines.

Our airbnb was located in Saint-Germain which made it very easy to get around the city. Our first stop was the Notre-Dame Cathedral which was somewhat of an emotional experience for me. I was born and raised a Catholic and attended private school up until my college career. I wore a uniform everyday, attended church at school and the occasional Sunday, and prayed before every meal. I haven’t really thought about my religion in awhile, as good of an idea as it is to send your kids to Catholic school, it lots of times steers them away from religion in the long-run. After having Catholicism sort of shoved down my throat with the constant religion classes and retreats, I’ve definitely grown away from it since I’ve gotten older. I wouldn’t say that I’ve grown away from God because I believe that relationship is on a far more personal level, but as I stood in this beautiful French Gothic style Cathedral, I was immediately taken back to grade school and what church used to really mean to me. It made me think just how lucky I am to have grown up Catholic and learned about morals at a young age. I understand why my parents raised me this way and I will likely do the same with my children. The sculpture of the life of Jesus from birth to agony stood out to me the most. It reminded me of the Stations of the Cross and it was so interesting to see it all laid out in sculptures on a wall. I recognized every step of it and it was very moving. The Cathedral was quiet and beautiful. It made me feel like a little kid again, interested in my faith and eager to learn more.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral: The Life of Jesus from birth to agony

The next stop was Sainte-Chapelle which is famous for its spectacular stained glass windows. Around 70% of the windows are original which is amazing because they were created in the 13th century. I’ve always loved stained glass and very much respect the time and effort put into the creation of this place. I enjoyed the high arch ceilings that were filled with stars and the large number of chandeliers that hung up above.

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Mosaics at Sainte-Chapelle

The next museum stop was the Louvre, which is most famous for containing the original painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. We saved Mona for last, and chose two other sections of the museum to hit because it would take almost an entire day to go through the entire place. I always knew it was a big glass triangle shape from the outside, but I did not realize that when you went into it, everything is underground and takes you to the outside buildings which stretch all the way around the center. I found myself enthralled in this museum which I did not expect because I have never been a huge art fan myself. One painting that I recognized right away was ‘The Wedding at Cana’ based on the bible story. I had no idea that it was going to be there, let alone located directly across from the Mona Lisa. I was warned that the Mona Lisa is much smaller in person compared to what you’d expect, but since it was not a super busy day, I was able to see it front and center. I learned all about da Vinci back in grade school art class and I never thought I’d get to see the original painting in person. Next time I visit Paris I’ll have to go back to the Louvre and catch everything I missed!

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Mona Lisa

Our second day in Paris was absolutely beautiful, clear blue skies and the sun was shining. It made for the perfect day to visit the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The Arc was so much bigger than I expected and you could see the Eiffel Tower nearby in the distance. We stopped by a store to pick up wine, cheese, meat, bread and snacks to have a little picnic on the Eiffel Tower lawn. It was a bit chilly but we were able to see it as it lit up for the first hour that night. I was mostly intrigued by the architecture of the Tower, I knew it would be cool but the intricacy of the design was truly something special. That night we visited the Catacombs of Paris which holds the remains of over 6 million people. We walked down 20 meters of 132 steps to get to the underground and we had an audio tour that lead us to the bones. It was extremely creepy to see piles and piles of bones and skulls stacked endlessly on top of one another. And only a small chunk of it is even open to the public, so we barely saw the half of it. We went down in one entrance and when we finally got out on the other side, we were nowhere near where we had started. It is known to be the largest underground necropolis in the world, holding bodies from the cemetery ‘Les Innocents’. It took the city 12 years to move all of the remains underground. This was one of my favorite parts of our trip because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and it was very eery.

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Arc de Triomphe

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Catacombs

On our last day we had reserved tickets for a tour of the Eiffel Tower including the second floor and summit. It was a bit scary riding the elevator up to the tippy-top and it was extremely windy up there. The view from every side was spectacular and it was cool to see almost all of the attractions we had visited that weekend. It was the perfect way to wrap up our trip! As for the food I ate in Paris…so far the best I’ve had while being abroad. I ate multiple croissants and macaroons everyday which is a necessity. I tried fouie gras which is made of the liver of a duck  as well as escargot. I had the best French onion soup I’ve ever tasted and I had to try a few crepes too. I would have to say Paris is a close tie with Morocco to being my favorite place I’ve visited so far. And everyone tells me I’ll enjoy the food in Italy even more, but this is definitely a trip I will take again one day. This week I am going with Audrey and Madison to Pisa on Wednesday, taking a bus to Florence on Thursday and ending our trip in Rome for a day and a half. I cannot wait to feast on way too much pizza and pasta!

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Eiffel Tower

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Madrid, Spain

A weekend in Madrid

This weekend I decided to stay in Madrid for once! I finally made my way to Retiro Park, discovered the nightlife around my neighborhood, shopped at the most popular open air flea market in Madrid, toured the Royal Palace and attended my first Real Madrid soccer game. It was an amazing weekend, especially after feeling a bit negative towards Madrid as a whole. I think it comes down to the fact that whenever I am home, I have class and I have obligations. So whenever I get away for the weekend, I begin starting to resent the city in which I am here to study. Studying abroad is not all sunshine and rainbows, although I know I mostly talk about all the good and leave out all of the bad. It’s extremely hard and scary sometimes, especially living in a place where I can barely speak the native language. Getting around can be very tough sometimes and it’s sometimes easier to just stick to what I know and not venture out. So I took it upon myself to really explore Madrid for once, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It may seem sad that it’s taken almost 8 weeks for me to do this, but better late than never! I’ve talked to so many people that have studied abroad during the summertime and they always say that just when they start to feel completely comfortable with where they are, it’s time to pack up and go home. Luckily for me I’ve still got two more months here and I’m looking at it in the most positive light that I have since I got here.

I could not be luckier to live in the location that I’m in, and to live with the sweetest host family. An Italian girl named Kiara recently moved into our tiny apartment with us, and she is nothing short of amazing. She’s 23 and from Florence, Italy, and she majors in languages. She speaks great English, although she would tell you otherwise, perfect Spanish, Italian, Arabic and one or two more I can’t think of off the top of my head. She bakes bread, cake and other desserts all of the time and always offers them up to everyone. Sharing one bathroom between five people is really not as bad as you’d think and somehow make it work. When all five of us are in the kitchen at once, you can barely move around and there aren’t enough seats for all of us all to sit down together. Sometimes we’ll have dinner in the salon where there’s a big table so everyone has a spot. Most of the time though, we each eat at different hours of the day, and the kitchen is almost always available for Madison and I to make our signature eggs and toast in the morning.

The La Latina district where we live is so lively, we have to keep the shutters to our balcony closed at night in order to sleep soundly. Last Friday, a group of us went out to some of the bars around here because nobody felt up for another way too late night spent at a club. Don’t get me wrong, the nightclubs are awesome in Madrid, but my bank account says otherwise and it’s a nice change of pace sitting at a quaint bar actually being able to hear the people around you. Later that night we ran into Razon, the owner of a convenience store down the street where we buy water bottles and cheap vino from almost daily. He is always telling us where the party is and to come out with him, so it’s only fair that our first weekend night really sticking around our neighborhood, we happen to run into him. On Sunday, we went to the flea market in El Rastro which is down the street from our apartment. It is open every Sunday and since this was one of our two weekends that we will be in town for, we had to hit it up. It was extremely crowded, even worse than the metro after a Real Madrid game. But there is all kinds of things from jewelry to clothing to tapestries and incense. We went out for drinks at a few places nearby and extended our shopping in Gran Via. Primark, a popular outlet clothing store around here is one of the most overwhelming malls I’ve ever been to. There are 5 floors that carry everything you could possibly desire for both men and women. It’s also super cheap!

Retiro Park is somewhere I’ve been meaning to go since I got here. I had heard wonderful things about it, so on Saturday I met my friend Audrey there. It is huge and filled with so many different pathways and bodies of water. There’s a big pond in the center where you can paddle boat and there was a violist playing on the steps surrounded by people enjoying a relaxing night at the park. I went back a few days later to go on a run (my first effort to workout since I’ve been abroad) and after getting way too distracted by the beautiful trees and peacocks wandering around, I came out a different entrance and got lost making it back to the metro. This place isn’t your average Loose Park (which I miss dearly don’t get me wrong), it’s about four times the size and filled with statues, fountains, water and birds. It reminded me a little of Hyde Park in London with all the bike stations and wide roads. I will definitely be frequenting there from now on.

Last night I attended my first Real Madrid soccer game and I could not have had a better experience. Matt, Madison and I ended up buying tickets from a scalper named Freddy. What seemed to be a little sketch at first (mostly due to the language barrier) ended up working out perfectly. Freddy is a season ticket holder and has a good system when it comes to lending out his incredible seats. He befriended me on Facebook and gave me all of his contact information in case we ran into any problems. Our tickets placed us in the eighth row on the Real Madrid side and I still cannot believe how good the seats were for only 70 euros. I of course had to buy a real Ronaldo jersey that day and I proudly wore it to the game. We played Legia Warsaw and had possession over the ball probably 80% of the game. Ronaldo and Bale started and stayed in the remainder of the game. We won 5-1! I absolutely loved the excitement of the stadium and waving my scarf in the air every time we scored a goal. Looking at the schedule I am not sure that I’ll be able to make another game while I’m here (sadly we will be in Granada with the ISA program during the Atletico game), but I can promise that will not be the last game I attend.

Overall, I am feeling much more excited and happy to be here. I think it takes a lot to admit when something doesn’t turn out quite like you expected. But there is so much truth in the fact that time heals everything. I think the negatives while studying abroad are half of what makes this experience so incredible. It gives you time to really discover what it is that makes you happy, and to appreciate the little things in life. This place has already taught me so much, but most of all it has showed me just how blessed I am to be here today and I feel so so thankful for the people that helped get me here. More of you have than you think. I am headed to Salamanca this weekend and it’s Audrey’s 21st birthday tomorrow, so there is plenty more to come. Sending hugs, kisses and smiles to everyone that means the world to me back home (you know who you are!) Thank you, just thank you.

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Ronaldo ily

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Royal Palace – unfortunately wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside

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Morocco

Come closer to the heart

Fes

I spent the past week in Morocco with students from Madrid, Barcelona, Salamanca, Valencia and Bilboa where we toured the Medina in Fes, slept under the stars in the Sahara desert, and visited the city of Meknes. The Medina, which is a marketplace unlike any I’ve ever seen before, was the primary reason for staying in Fes. Our program leaders had to make sure our big group stuck together after every stop because it is so easy to get lost between the extremely narrow alleys and busy-ness of the shops. Medina stands for “old fortified city” and it is the oldest walled part of Fes, having been around since the ninth century. From the stray cats roaming around every corner to the dead camel head hanging from a rod in the midst of all of the people walking around, it was quite the sight to see.

We stopped first at a metal shop where we were bombarded by all of the workers trying to sell you anything you glanced at for longer than three seconds. It was intense, there were so many of them and they would drag you by the arm and practically force you to buy something off of them. I quickly learned the bargain game though, and the idea that there is no such thing as a fixed price. The next stop was a fabric shop where they demonstrated how to make and put on a turban to block the desert sand. Most of the fabric was made out of agave and silk. I picked out a two-sided scarf that worked as a turban as well, it is a beautiful purple and cream color with intricate designs…only 200 dirhams! Side note: going from the Dollar, to the Euro, to the Pound and to the Dirham gets extremely complicated, but to make it simple 200 dirhams is about 20 euros. Next we went to a rug shop which was one of the more overwhelming places I’ve come across. It had never-ending stairs and more rugs than I’ll see in a lifetime. We stopped for lunch and feasted on couscous, squash, carrots, potatoes, olives and bread, which turned out to be the exact same meal we ate every other day in Morocco. It definitely got old after awhile but I know I’ll start to miss it here eventually. After lunch we visited the pharmacy where they let us try out some of their more popular products. I purchased one too many things but I’m mostly excited to try their Moroccan oil because its far more legit than anything I’ll get in the states. We then visited a leather factory which smelled disgusting due to the fact that they use pidgin poop to keep the leather soft and fresh. I did my best to bargain a $16 belt out of them! The last stop we made was outside of the Medina and it was a ceramic workshop where we were able to see the painters at work on the intricate detail that go into the ceramic art. It was fascinating and the shop was so cute I would’ve bought a full dish set if I could. I ended up with a little bowl and lid that I plan to keep some jewelry in.

Sahara Desert

After an eight hour bus drive, we hopped into four-wheelers and were driven into the Sahara Desert for two nights. Once we arrived at camp I couldn’t believe how cute the whole set up was. There was a U-shape tent to accompany everyone with little mattresses, two sets of sheets and a big thermal blanket on top for the super cold desert nights. We set up camp and proceeded to eat another couscous platter. I can’t complain though because the people working at the camp were so sweet and catered to us far more than they needed to, most of whom spoke a little English after having worked around Americans so much. A band played in the dinner tent and I swear everyone from Morocco is born talented at the drums and they all have the best rhythm. We all went to bed fairly early that night so that we could wake up at 4:30 a.m. and look up at the stars in the sky at their brightest hour. That was a sight to see along with watching the sunrise at 7 a.m. the following morning. I hope one day I’ll get the chance to see something like that again, but nothing will ever compare. The second day in the desert we spent riding camels for hours. I picked my camel, Stanley Yelnats (the movie Holes really struck a cord in me this past week) and he was so sweet we immediately connected, at least I like to think so! I let a few camels smell me and pet them before picking Stanley, but really he was a no-brainer. We rode up to a tall dune where we got off, let the camels rest, and hiked up the dune for an amazing view of the desert. Some locals and even a few kids on the trip did somersaults and flips down the dune and I let one of the workers drag my legs down at the end to get back to Stanley. He asked me “do you like skiing and sledding?” and when I answered yes, he grabbed my legs and started running down the dune with me in hand. It was a blast and I was very thankful I had sweatpants on. After saying goodbye to Stanley, we all dove quickly into a nearby pool and hung out there for a few hours where I let my sunburn sink in. Then we ventured to a shop in a nearby town where I talked a man down from 1700 dirhams to 570 for a rug that I just couldn’t go without. What it really came down to is me showing him that that was all the money I had in my wallet and he shook my hand and gave me one hell of a deal. That night we played soccer on a rocky surface of the desert with the locals who didn’t even seem slightly phased by the treacherous ground. A few of us spent a chunk of the night gathered in a little circle with some of the Berbers we had met that day and they played guitar and drums for us while we all clapped and danced along. They told us jokes and said that Americans care way too much about “wifi and cervesas” which I can’t deny. At this point I hadn’t touched my phone in a number of days and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. We finished our desert trip watching the sunrise that morning and eating one last meal before another lengthy bus ride.

Meknes 

Our last night in Morocco was spent in Meknes at a hotel called Rif which might as well have been a Ritz Carleton in my book, they served beer, pizza and fries for dinner which we had all been craving all week. The wifi even worked fairly decently! We visited the bar that night where the band played a mixture of American songs and Moroccan music and a man twirled fire on pitons and lit his mouth on fire with an aerosol can. We took our first showers after two days in the desert and I’ve never felt cleaner. When I got back to Madrid this afternoon I felt unbelievably at home and couldn’t have been happier to head home to Cata and Mateo, a warm bed and a laundry machine. It truly is the little things in life. Thinking about Stanley and all of the camels tonight. I hope they are being treated well and that many others will enjoy them as much as I did. Morocco, you’ve got a big chunk of my heart.

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