A Bittersweet Farewell

Today is my last day in Sevilla – Tomorrow I leave to go home!

This has been one of the most amazing periods of my life. I have had countless adventures, met incredible people, spoken Spanish with natives, and lived abroad for nearly four months. I am incredibly proud and thankful for this once in a lifetime experience. I know that I will miss Sevilla, and that there will probably be moments next semester where I think “OMG I wish I was back in Spain where everything is perfect and easy!!!” But, I am ready to come home, it is time. I can’t wait to see my family and friends, and I know that I will carry all of my experiences with me for the rest of my life. Right now, I’m experiencing a battle of emotions – relief from finishing finals, stress about packing, excitement to get home, sadness to leave my city and new friends, and then an overwhelming confusion about how to feel. The winning emotion is definitely excitement to be back home with my family and to get ready for Christmas, but all of the feelings are still inside of me.

There is a lot that I will miss – my host family, friends, food, traveling, and the thrill of seeing and doing news things all of the time. It’s a beautiful city and the hardest thing to come to terms with is the fact that I am really leaving, and that I can’t just come back whenever I want. This whole experience seems to have been a whirlwind, a dream, it doesn’t feel real that I could possibly be coming home. At the same time, it feels like I am ending a vacation, and I have to return to the real world of school, work, planning for my future (it was a nice break from reality while it lasted!).

While abroad, I have explored, dreamed, and discovered. I have explored Europe, which only makes me want to explore it more. I have dreamed of my future, my goals, and my return to traveling. And, I have discovered a lot about myself and the world around me. I wouldn’t change a thing about my time abroad (except maybe losing my cellphone). I hope that I can remember it clearly, think of it often, and continue to learn from my time here after I return home.

See you soon, America!

Sara

The City of Lights and Other Adventures with Sam

I have been incredibly busy up until this week…and I only have about two and a half weeks left here, so I am sure I will just keep getting busier as my return home approaches. However, two weeks ago, I returned from one of the best trips of my life. Sam and I went to Barcelona and Paris and spent the middle of the week in Sevilla. Just seeing each other after two months apart was amazing, and on top of that, we got to travel through Europe together – an opportunity that most couples, let alone twenty-something year old couples get to do. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent the memorable ten days with him, so I thought I would share some of my best/funniest memories!

In each city, we saw all of the most important landmarks and museums, but we also spent time walking around and trying delicious foods!

In Barcelona, we went to this massive food market along Las Ramblas to grab a snack. At the market, I bought Sam a cone of Iberian ham (which he loves as much as I do – I knew we were perfect for each other). Then, I bought myself some grapes from a fruit stand, but since I have no idea about the metric system (thanks America!), I asked for way too many grapes and ended up carrying around a massive bag. Unfortunately, as much as I tried, I could not finish even half the bag. Eventually, Sam made me throw them away before I made myself sick. Also in Barcelona, we saw the Sagrada Familia (my favorite cathedral in Europe), Parc Guell, Casa Batllo, the Picasso Museum, and many cool neighborhoods. One of our best meals was tapas in this little bar that the guidebook recommended. We sat at the bar and picked the tapas from display cases in front of us. The octopus, which Barcelona is known, was surprisingly delicious and I felt like a true Spaniard sitting in the crowded bar on a Friday night.

Once in Sevilla, I had to go to my classes in the morning, but once I finished, I spent my time showing Sam around my Spanish hometown. He met my new study abroad friends and my host family – my host mom made us dinner one night and we all spoke a jumble of Spanish and English for Sam’s benefit, we had many laughs throughout the night! I also took Sam to a famous bar called El Rinconcillo, which was established in 1670 (aka before the US was a twinkle in England’s eye). At the bar, we ordered some drinks and tapas and while we were waiting, this really old man pulled a chair over near our table (where we were standing) and set his drink on our table. He then sat down and began writing. Before I knew it, he tapped my shoulder and hands me a napkin with a written note in Spanish. Essentially, his ‘love letter’ said that my hair was the color of chestnuts and I was more beautiful than the blue sky (as if I didn’t already know that!). It was pretty hilarious and the man seemed pretty harmless – I think he does that a lot. Before we left, he handed me a small leafy stem. Luckily, Sam didn’t get jealous.

Finally, in Paris, we stayed at a really neat hotel with old fashion decor and an over-the-top French style with (creepy) portraits hanging in the rooms. It was in a great location near the old Jewish Quarter and a short walk from Notre Dame and the Louvre. We visited a lot of sites – Mussee Pompidou (one of my favorites), the Louvre, Notre Dame, the lock bridge, the Catacombs, Eiffel tower (Obviously), among other places. We also ate great food – chocolate croissants, crepes, cafe, felafel, escargot, and the last night we went to this cool restaurant that grilled steaks in a fire right inside the restaurant. They served it up on a massive wooden platter with potatoes and salad for us to both share. It was delicious. We did more than eat in Paris – we also ate in Versailles! There’s a funny story about our train to Versailles – we were struggling to figure out the metro and how to buy the right tickets. Someone noticed our struggle and came over to help us, which is when he saw that we were trying to make a train that was currently arriving. I’m assuming that this man worked at the station, because he starting speaking rapidly in French and opened a gate for us to go run for the train without paying. It was a really nice gesture and a free ride, but unfortunately we didn’t make that train and had to wait for a different train a half hour later. Overall, we had an amazing time in Paris, especially when we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night time (it doesn’t get much more romantic – or cold – than that!). While in Paris, I realized that there really is so much to do there – it is a lively, beautiful, historical city with more than a lifetime’s worth of cultural experiences. I truly understand how people fall in love with Paris…I definitely have a crush (and want to go back to see more).

Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, my study abroad program is hosting a big American style (or as close as they can get it) dinner for us at a nice hotel. I’m looking forward to celebrating the holiday with all of my closest friends here, but I know it will feel weird to be apart from my family as they are all gathering together. Luckily, I have so much to be thankful for, so tomorrow I will surely be thinking of all of these things. Some of the many include my family, Sam, friends from home, new study abroad friends, my host family, Crosby and Bella, my education, my home, my new home in Sevilla, this once in a lifetime opportunity to travel the world, my family’s and my health, and the opportunities I have in the future to have a meaningful and happy life.

Happy Thanksgiving! I’ll be thinking of all of you!

Sara

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sam's cone of ham

Sam’s cone of ham

The Alcazar in Sevilla

The Alcazar in Sevilla

On top of the Eiffel Tower!

On top of the Eiffel Tower!

Versailles gardens

Versailles gardens

 

 

Sands of Time: Morocco

This has been a crazy past week.Two nights ago, I returned to Sevilla after five days traveling in Morocco. Before that, I had midterms, so I was just studying until the day I left. And, early tomorrow morning, I fly Barcelona to meet Sam!!!! So, really, my only time to write this post is right now…or it will never be written.

Morocco is definitely a trip that I will remember forever. It flew by. One second we were on the ferry to Morocco and the next we were on the ferry home. We were in morocco for about five days, but a lot of those days were mostly just traveling from place to place. First, we took the ferry across the strait of Gibraltar and drove to Fes. While in Fes, we visited the famous Medina of Fes. This medina, which is basically a really big market, has remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. It is a UNESCO world heritage spot, so they have to keep it in it’s original form. In the Medina, we visited various stores – a jewlery store, carpet store, fabric store, pharmacy, and leather store. Each store was very interesting. The pharmacy sold natural products like argan oil and rose perfume. At the leather store, we saw how they still naturally make all the leather. It is one of the few tanneries left that still produces leather the way it was produced centuries ago…and to be honest, it was pretty disgusting…but still interesting. They soak the leather in pigeon poop to soften it. Yeah…it really stunk. But all of the products were really nice. Despite assurances that everything would be cheap there…it really wasn’t. When you’re moving around with a big group of tourists, all of the vendors jack up the prices. Even after bartering with them, I didn’t get any great deals, but I did okay. The Medina was really cool…definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Later that night, we went to a show, where there was bands that played traditional Moroccan music and belly-dancers.

The next day, we spent driving to the Sahara. It’s a pretty long drive into Morocco, because to get there, you have to cross over the Atlas mountains. It was a really interesting drive though – the landscape constantly changed. Along the coast, we saw mostly Mediterranean landscape, similar to Southern Spain. Then we moved into the mountains, were it was cooler and more arid with forests where the trees were changing colors. While we were driving, we passed a town in the mountains that they say resembles Switzerland. It’s a really wealthy area and one of the best universities in the Arab world is there. Also, while we were driving to the Sahara, we passed the Ziz Oasis, which is this stretch of lush forest in the middle of deserted, dry lands. It was hidden away in a little cannon type area, but there was a town in the Oasis. Once we crossed the mountains and drove pass the oasis, we reached the city of Erfoud, where we had to transfer to 4×4 jeeps to drive into the Sahara.

We reached the Sahara at night and stayed in these big tents that had a bunch of mattresses and blankets in them. We woke up early to watch the sunrise over the desert. It was really beautiful and I got some good pictures (which I’ll post below). The people who ran the camp were Berbers, which is an indigenous ethnic group in Morocco. Because they worked with tourists, most of the Berbers knew multiple languages, including their native Berber, Arabic, English, French, and more. During the day at the camp, we went on a camel ride through the sand dunes. This was by far one of my favorite parts. During the camel ride, we climbed up the Big Dune and had a great view of the desert. Later that night, my friends and I laid in the dunes, under the magnificently bright sky. I probably saw about 20 or so shooting stars. The next two days were spent traveling back to Sevilla. The trip involved a lot of travel time, but it was all worth it to get to stay in the Sahara for two nights.

There was obviously a lot of cultural differences between Spain and Morocco. For one, women are not nearly as involved in social life and during the day and especially at night, there would hardly be any women out on the streets. Every cafe that we drove by had only men sitting in it. While in Fes, I went for tea with a group of girls and guys and we were the only girls in the restaurant. It was the same in the Sahara with the Berbers. Everyone that worked at the camp, people who hung around trying to sell things, or the little kids who wanted to play soccer were men. The only exception was when some women came to do henna at the camp. When they came, two little girls were at the camp, and me and my friends slowly tried to get the very shy girls to play with us. Eventually, we got them to come over and play games in the sand, but it took a lot of work. This was by far the most severe contrast for me. It was upsetting to imagine growing up there as a woman, lacking a sense of independence or personal rights. I plan on writing a paper for my Arab World history class on the topic, so maybe I will share that on here when I write it.

Overall, it was an unforgettable trip. I went to a lot of places that I may never get to go again. It’s so unbelievable to me that I was in Morocco, now I am back, and the trip is over. But, I still have many other adventures awaiting me, like Barcelona and Paris with Sam this week!!!!

Here are some pictures!

My friend Katie and I on the Big Dune!

My friend Katie and I on the Big Dune!

Me on my camel!

Me on my camel!

Laying in the dunes under the stars

Laying in the dunes under the stars

The Medina

The Medina

The tannery

The tannery

Ziz Oasis

Ziz Oasis

Sahara sunrise

Sahara sunrise

Sunrise

Sunrise

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My camel

My camel

Roma, the Eternal City

It’s still hard for me to believe that I went to Rome this past weekend. It’s crazy how fast these trips come and go. One second, I am sitting by the Trevi Fountain, and the next, I am sitting on my bed in Sevilla (which I can’t really complain about, since I am still in Europe). The adventure can’t help but take on a surreal feeling when I saw so many major historical sites within 48 hours.

Within those hours, I managed to check off a number of must-see’s from my bucket list:

  • The Colosseum
  • Palatine Hill
  • Roman Forum
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Spanish Steps
  • Piazza Navona
  • The Pantheon
  • St.Peter’s Basilica
  • The Sistine Chapel
  • The Vatican
  • The POPE

Yes, we saw the Pope, which is something most people don’t believe me when I tell them. We were extremely lucky, for the Pope happened to be holding mass on Saturday outside the Basilica, so after touring, we waited around and grabbed a seat to listen to the Pope (who obviously we couldn’t understand because he spoke in either Italian or Latin). It’s a rare opportunity to see the Pope no matter which Pope it is, but I am especially happy that I was able to see this Pope, who seems particularly “cool,” being from Latin America and openly commenting (fairly positively) about homosexuality. The funniest part about Vatican City is that vendors sell tons of souvenirs with the Pope’s face on it (I bought a Pope postcard). I don’t know why, but its funny how he is basically a celebrity – we sat near some very excited nuns and Italian grandmas who awaited his appearance anxiously.

I have learned about the importance of Rome in all ancient history classes, but I really never connected all of the famous sites to the events. Also, considering that the movie I best connect with all the landmarks was The Lizzie McGuire Movie (soundtrack stuck in my head all weekend), I was happily surprised with how the history all seemed to fall into place. It really is true that going to a place, experiencing it, and learning about it in the moment can really clarify history. Also, interestingly, when you walk everywhere (only paid for metro once), Rome really seems a little smaller – it doesn’t feel as unmanageably large as you might imagine. My favorite visits were definitely to the Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon, but all of it was incredible.

When in Rome, eat like the Romans. This was surprisingly harder to do than you might imagine. Mostly because everywhere we went was swamped by tourists, so the restaurants mostly fed tourists, and we were tourists, so we didn’t know where to eat. I didn’t eat any amazing pizza (where was it???), but I had some tasty bruschetta and pasta. Also, we did our Roman duty and ate gelato multiple times a day. The espresso was delicious and so were the pastries, bread, and cheese.

I loved Rome, but if going once taught me anything, it’s that I need to go back again (I threw a coin in the Trevi fountain, so this is practically a sure thing). I got the chance to see everything that I really wanted to, but I would love to go back and see everything else, which would probably take multiple weeks or years – it really is the eternal city.

Even though my trip was short and I wanted to stay longer, I left feeling happy to return to Sevilla. Being in Rome showed me what living in a massive international city would feel like – like being surrounded by toursits all the time, being able to speak English everywhere you go, and never really having to adapt to the culture. Whereas in Sevilla, I must converse in Spanish if I want a cafe or dinner or to talk to my host family; I walk around and don’t see masses of tourists; and I can’t go shopping from 3 to 7 because everyone is siesta-ing. I really prefer it that way (especially with the siestas).

This weekend I am going to Cordoba and Granada with my study abroad program. I am looking forward to a more relaxing trip where everything is already planned and I just have to follow along. I’ll include some photos below to document the trip!

Thanks for reading!

Sara

The Pope

The Pope

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Now I HAVE to come back.

Now I HAVE to come back.

Vatican City

Vatican City

My friend and I were sitting at the Trevi Fountain and this group of Chinese tourists motioned that they wanted a photo with us, so a swarm of Chinese women crowded around us for a photo shoot. I think they thought we were Italian...

My friend and I were sitting at the Trevi Fountain and this group of Chinese tourists motioned that they wanted a photo with us, so a swarm of Chinese women crowded around us for a photo shoot. I think they thought we were Italian…

The Pantheon and Me!

The Pantheon and Me!

Going New Places on Trains

The past two weekends, I’ve gone to two new places via train. The Spanish passenger train system is really convenient; it’s something I really wish was more common/convenient in the States.

For my first train trip, I learned a hard lesson. When you take a train, you need to make sure that you know where to find the train station. There are two train stations in Sevilla. I live right next to one of them and the other is about a twenty minute walk away. All of my friends chose to leave from the train station that was further away. Since I hadn’t been on a train here yet, I decided I would leave from the same one as them, although it wasn’t as convenient for me. That morning, I left with plenty of time to reach the station. I was following my Google Maps directions (they hadn’t to let me down yet!!) and Google Maps declared that I had reached my destination, where, in fact, there was no train station. I walked around and asked a Spanish man. He looked at my ticket and pointed me in the direction of a bus station. I walked over there, there were no trains. My friends were calling and texting to see where I was. I started to panic. I walked a little further, asked another couple who pointed me down the road. I walked a little further, and turned like they had instructed. I still didn’t see anything, so I asked another couple, but they didn’t speak Spanish (all of the asking was in Spanish) and seemed to be tourists. However, a man running by heard my question and stopped to point me in the right direction. I literally had minutes until my train was scheduled to arrive. So, of course, like any panicked young woman who DID NOT want to buy another ticket , I started running (in a long maxi dress by the way!). The train station was in my sights and one of my friends was standing outside looking for me. We ran down to the underground station, and luckily the train arrived within just a few minutes of me. It was extremely stressful at the time, but looking back at it now, it’s pretty hilarious.

So, after my exciting morning, I enjoyed a tour of the famous Tío Pepe winery (famous for Sherry) in Jerez, which was just an hour away from Sevilla. We learned about the Sherry triangle and the process of storing and making the wine. The tour included wine tasting and tapas. The winery was interesting and beautiful and the wine was delicious (Sorry Dad!). Overall, it ended up being a great trip, despite the exciting morning sprint to the station.

Then, this weekend, I took a train with a group of girls to Cadiz, which is a beach city on the coast. For this trip, I left from the train station literally right next to my house, so I had no problem finding it. We spent one night in Cadiz, so we spent our days at the beach and exploring. The beaches were nice – luckily the weather was sunny and warm, so I got a nice tan. We stayed in a hostel called Casa Caracol, which means Snail House. The bed was comfy, it was clean, and they made us pancakes in the morning (what else could you want from a 15 euro hostel?).

So, as you can see, I really enjoyed getting to see two new places in Spain via train these past two weekends. Also, this coming weekend I get to explore ROMA! I really can’t wait to see it and experience so much history!

Sara

Tío Pepe winery

Tío Pepe winery

Cadiz

Cadiz

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When in Spain, Do as the Spanish Do…

Well, I’ve officially lived in Spain for three weeks! It’s hard to believe it has already been that long. This week, I started my classes at the University of Sevilla. I’m taking two Spanish classes, a class on the contemporary history of the Arab world, and one on 20th century Spanish art. So far, they are going well. I’ve had a fair amount of free time this week, but I don’t think that will last long. Most of my weekends for the rest of the semester are pretty much booked solid. In October and November, I will be going to Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Barcelona (all in Spain), and then, Rome, Paris, Morocco, and Lisbon. I should be a busy little jet-setter. I’ll be sure to find time to write about my visits!

Now, I want to share a few things about Spain. In no way am I trying to make generalizations about every single Spaniard. I am simply sharing some observations about what I see in my day to day life.

1. The dogs are (almost) all ridiculously well behaved.

At least half walk around without leashes – they loyally follow behind their masters. In Madrid, I saw a bulldog that was trotting along freely about five feet behind his skateboarding owners. They don’t walk into the busy streets or cross roads without their owner. At restaurants, they quietly sit or lay down, never whining or begging for food. Those that are on leashes hardly bark or go looking for attention from other people (like Bella). I don’t know how they train them, but I think I need to look into it (although I think it’s too late for Crosby and Bella).

2. Rollerblading is still a thing here.

It’s not just a few people stuck in the nineties or trying to be “retro.” There are a lot of people who use roller-blades (and bikes) as actual transportation. The other day, I saw a few people rollerblading and wearing fanny-packs…

3. Sometimes, it’s hard to get people to speak in Spanish.

At times, you just can’t hide your foreignness, and someone will automatically address you in English – this happened a lot more in Madrid. However, in Sevilla, more often or not, the person wants to practice their English with you. This is especially true of younger people. I’m lucky enough to have ‘host sisters’ (the daughters of the couple that we live with). Both girls are around my age, so we hang out with them. One night, we were with them and met a lot of their friends. Those who had studied English always wanted to practice their English with us. So, typically we would speak Spanish to them and they would respond in English. After spending most of my days here struggling to improve my Spanish, it’s nice to have the tables turned and to help others understand English.

4. A lot of people smoke.

I hate smoking, so not a huge fan of this one, but oh well, I guess it’s a European thing.

5. Compared to the average Spaniard, the average American dresses like a bum.

It’s true…they are definitely more fashionable than us. Typical Spaniards dress nicer on average when they are out and about. They don’t wear work out clothes unless their working out. They take everything a step up – more heels, more dress clothes, men hardly wear shorts etc.

6. But they love American flags and English words on their clothes.

Literally, everyday I see Spaniards wearing American flags and English words on their clothing. And trust me, it’s Spaniards who wear them for the most part, not tourists. I haven’t really figured out why. It might be a pop cultural thing? or a political statement? or maybe they just like the design? I’m not sure why, but maybe I will ask around. In general though, I have not faced any negative criticism of the U.S. Usually, a lot of young people just want to know if I prefer Spain or the United States.

That’s all of my observations for now, but I will be sure to write about others as I experience them. Feel free to ask about life here! So far, it has been an amazing experience, and I’ve had little difficulty adapting to it.

Adiós

Sara

A Visit to Malaga

Hello all!

So far, everything is great in Sevilla! Today marks one week living here with my host family. It has been a fast week, but it feels like I’ve been here forever at the same time. Right now, I am halfway through a two week intensive Spanish course. It’s basically a quick refresher class on Spanish grammar and conversation. I’m thankful that I get to review everything before I start classes at the University of Sevilla.

Yesterday, I visited Malaga on an excursion planned by ISA. Malaga is along the Costa del Sol of Spain. It is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. While I was there, I visited the Museo de Picasso. It is one of the largest collections of Picasso’s works. Most of the art was donated by Picasso’s family. Many of his most famous works are kept here permanently. The tour guide was great because she helped to explain Picasso’s process and helped us understand the importance of his art. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour – also, it was good practice because she gave most of it in Spanish. After the museum, we walked around Malaga. We saw the ruins of a roman theater. They have discovered a lot ancient ruins beneath Malaga during construction projects – no one really knows what all is buried beneath the city. I love this about Spain and Europe in general. There is just so much history that you can’t do construction or renovate without running into the city’s past.

After walking around the city some, we visited the cathedral in Malaga. The cathedral was beautiful – but seeing cathedrals in Spain is like seeing a bridge in Pittsburgh. They are literally all over the place. And unfortunately, they kind of all blend together. However,this one has an interesting connection with the United States. Apparently, Bernardo de Galvez, a Spaniard (from Malaga), helped the U.S. win the war of independence by defeating the British in the Siege of Pensacola. While he was aiding the Americans strategically, Malaga lent funds to the U.S. to help fight the war. Some of these funds were those meant to build the cathedral. As a result, the cathedral was never finished – it’s missing one of it’s two towers. Locals fondly nicknamed it “manquita,” which means a woman with only one arm. Apparently, there has been talk about finishing the tower, but many locals are against it,  they have grown accustomed to their manquita. One reason that I wanted to have this blog is so that I can document these little details of cities I visit. These tidbits are what makes the visits truly memorable.

After the tour, we used our free time to go to the beach. The view was beautiful with mountains in the distance and a clear Mediterranean sea. The waves were rough, which made it all the more fun to swim in the surprisingly warm water. I’ll include some pictures below (but there are more on facebook!)

Muchos Besos!

Sara

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