Czeching out Eastern Europe

12 Dec

Feeling quite burnt out and completely exhausted, a group of 6 other girls and I took a grand finale weekend trip to Prague. Though it was freezing cold, compared to Madrid at least, and we were all feeling fairly drained from months of travel, study, and trying to keep up with our foreign surroundings, Prague was one of the most uniquely beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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In its own creepy, gothic way, Prague packs a ton of history into a tiny little area. From the famous Prague Castle (adorned with ancient looking gargoyles and notorious for being the landmark for the beginning of many European tragedies) to the more recent controversial Lennon Wall (began during Czechoslovakia’s communist era, as a symbol of peaceful youth resistance), the people of the Czech Republic are hardened, yet proud, of their history.

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Though an excellent place to visit, I was extremely happy to return to Madrid home on Sunday morning to my familiar settings. With each new place I see, I realize why it is that I’m so enamored by the unusual kindness and openness of Spanish culture, and I am SO thankful to be living and learning all about it first-hand.

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Italia!

5 Dec

Over the weekend, Kate, Patrick, and I took a little adventure to Italy to view the ancient sights, visit friends from our freshman dorm high school, and EAT!

We began our adventure late Thursday night in the Eternal City, where we viewed the Trevi Fountain by moonlight. The next day we were able to cover the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, and tons and tons of pizza and pasta all within about 10 hours, thanks to Matina–our awesome friend and tour guide!

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A quick and comfortable train ride north to Florence, and we were enjoying the “world’s best pizza” right at dinner time. Florence was just as beautiful as the rumors claim it to be. Only complaint is I wish I could’ve stayed longer and seen more.

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I prepared for my Italian adventures by watching Under the Tuscan Sun, and I literally cannot wait until I have the money and bravery to make Diane Lane’s life my own. Should probably pick up a good work out routine somewhere along the way, so all that pizza, pasta, gelato, and wine has somewhere to go!

A Spanish Thanksgiving?

27 Nov

My final weekend in Madrid was very fun and successful! Kicked it off by going to the Real Madrid football game! The opponent didn’t provide us with a very exciting match, but the stadium and environment still made it special.

This Thanksgiving  Dia de Accion de Gracias was the most unusual, yet surely one of the most memorable that I have ever experienced. The day began with a 45 minute discussion with my Spanish professor (a native Spaniard) about traditional Thanksgiving customs and traditions in America. He was completely understanding of the turkey and cranberries, but definitely lost it when we tried to explain how American football–both watching AND playing–was a big part of the day for most families.

“Don’t the children end up getting really hurt?”

“Do you have family sets of pads and helmets?”

…keep in mind this is entire conversation was in Spanish.

After classes finished up for the week, we headed over to the apartment of a few girls in our program for a communal feast with fellow USAC-ers, and helped our Spaniard and Brazilian friends celebrate their first (though nontraditional) Thanksgiving! We kept some things standard: we dressed up, held hands and went around the table saying what we’re most thankful for, and everyone brought a dish to share. These food dishes though, included a bucket of KFC, chorizo sausages, a bag salad, sangria, and a 1-euro bottle of champagne. All delicious, but very different from the norm. I wrapped up my weekend by seeing the movie “El Gato con Botas” (Puss in Boots) with a few friends from my program. HILARIOUS movie, and I’m very proud of myself for being able to understand about 90% of it!

The Christmas lights were lit up in Madrid this weekend, but it’s still looking a lot like fall to me.

Lisbon & Sintra

22 Nov

Arriving in the middle of a thunder & lightening storm DOWNPOUR after the sun had already set by 5pm, I wansn’t so sure I was digging Portugal too much, and thought it would probably be for the best that it was only a two night trip.  But, as the hostel’s name itself should have implied, we finally found our Oasis in the storm, and were soon cuddled up in the cozy hostel, chatting over the free “welcome drink” with 20-somethings from around the globe.

Following the recommendation from our new friends at the hostel, we headed down the street to the “Mustache Restaurant” (or so the locals call it…) for a traditional Portuguese dinner. Since, clearly, we don’t speak a work of Portuguese, we asked our waiter for some suggestions from the menu. Instead of the standard answer (recommending the priciest option on the menu), he brought us over to talk with the Head Chef himself, who in turn, prepared the best meal I’ve had while in Europe.

Over dinner, we made friends with a few locals who gave us some GREAT tips on Portuguese wines, attractions, and nightlife. Later on, we got a little taste of the Lisbon nightlife and tried some traditional Portuguese liquors, for example: “Ginja” which tastes like liquid gingerbread with a hint of cherry extract.

The next day began with an early and extremely jerky bus ride through the hills to the town of Sintra. The only way to describe this little town is that it is straight from a fairytale. With colorful palaces sprinkled all over the hills and overlooking a beautiful coastline (the most western point in continental Europe–SO CLOSE America!!), I could easily have spent an entire week exploring here.

Our tour made it back to Lisbon just in time for the BEAUTIFUL sunset overlooking the river. We were too late to tour the famous tower, but were able to make it into the Monastery and to taste some famous Portuguese pastries, made by the nuns in order to bribe people to come to church.

We also spotted the Golden Gate’s little sister…

Overall, my trip to Portugal was a little taste of fantasy…the food, the people, the sights were all better than I ever could have imagined!

Drawing Madrid

13 Nov

Midterm critiques just finished up in my drawing class. Here are a few of mine:

Though I’ve never taken a drawing class before this one, I’m really liking this whole art thing these days!

BRB….Europe?

9 Nov

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, Marrakech destroys every preconceived notion about 21st century societies.

My most important take-aways from Morocco include:

  • You know you’ve been away from home for a long time when the sight & sound of Spanish bring you comfort in a plaza full of Arabic
  • Have blue eyes or blonde hair? Prices are about to triple.
  • It is legal–and quite possible–to be slapped with a snake
  • Arabic is a complicated language (and Berber is even crazier)
  • Brushing your teeth counts as drinking the water (thought after El Salvador I’d have that down…)
  • Not all dark tunnel-like alleys are creepy…
  • Camels actually can will spit. They also have exceptionally large tongues.
  • Never underestimate the power of a grilled pepper
  • Cats are squirrels and monkeys are dogs
  • Always walk away.

And most importantly, this whirlwind, dream vacation made me SO excited for my graduation trip to Kenya & Tanzania next year!

Oh, what a night.

Amsterdam!

7 Nov

If it is culture shock to live in Madrid, going to Amsterdam is basically flying to the moon. Maybe it’s because I got to see some of my lifelong best friends, or maybe the place really is magical, but Amsterdam is really a fantasyland. Disneyland for adults? Not sure what it is, but I’m legitimately at a loss for words.

I guess the beauty, insanity, and culture are best expressed through photos: