This is the Time of Our Lives

(Written 10/13/2013 — Edited 11/26/2013)

Wow, I cannot believe it has been 4 months since I posted here. I meant to post here many times over the summer in Boston, both to keep friends and family informed of the goings-ons in my life, while also leaving a journal of a sort to come back and read when I’m older. So without further ado, I’ll start at the beginning; it is as good a place as any.

After my return from Spain, I stayed at home on Cape Cod for a few weeks until my internship started. I worked at a ferry parking lot which was a short but vivid experience. I learned a lot from my supervisor in that time about business and different perspectives to view the business world.

Mid-June, I made the move up to 161 Endicott St. to begin my internship with PwC. I knew the two guys I was living with, Matt and Pete. Matt had been my RA the fall I was rooming with Dave and Pete I had met before a couple times that same semester. While in Spain and looking for housing for the summer, I was talking to Matt about his summer plans and he mentioned living in Boston with Pete and another guy, as they all had internships in the city. I expressed my disappointment at the situation because if the three of us could have been together for the summer, things would be crazy.

Turns out, hours later, the third guy dropped out, which left me the opportunity to swoop in and claim the third spot, thus cementing the upcoming summer as one insane roller coaster ride before it even began. Within weeks, Pete and I became best friends and it was as if we had known each other all of our lives.

There were two main things about this summer that stand out above everything. The first is Coogan’s. Coogan’s is a dream bar for the broke college student trying to get drunk on a budget. Hell, it was the perfect place for anyone to get wasted on a budget. They had Bud Light or Bud Heavy drafts for only $1. It had a great scene most nights of the week, and especially on the weekend. We got to know most of the bartenders there and made ourselves quite comfortable and at home there. It felt like the ending of an era when we had to leave, regardless of how short it was.

The second defining thing about this past summer is my internship. The thought of my internship deciding so much for me and being the REAL first job I had was daunting. In the end, the internship was fun, there were times I had to work and there were times we were given rewards, such as Olympic Day and Casino Night.

The experiences I had with the interns I met and became friends with were memorable. Many times, we would head out to the bar after work to get a beer or two; sometimes even meeting up later that night to go out on the city together. The way people are connected can be really strange sometimes. Turns out, one of my friends in the internship process knew my roommate from junior year fall at UMass Amherst, and that’s just one example. The internship was definitely a growing experience, and now that I have accepted my offer of employment, it will continue to be into the future.

(Back to today..)

I am going to need a whole post to detail my current semester with all the craziness that has gone on. Crazy to think it’s almost the end of my first semester of my final year here at UMass. It’s a weird feeling for this part of my life to be almost over, but I don’t think that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Returning Home and Looking Back

In the days immediately following my return…

As I lay in bed at home early this morning, it still feels like I’m back in Spain. The jet lag is a killer, I just wasn’t expecting it to hit me this hard. Living in heaven Granada has hands down been the best experience of my life. I have learned so much and grown enormously as a person, not to mention seen so much more of the world that’s just waiting to be discovered by new eyes.

Even though I’m home in the US now, I will always hold a little piece of Granada with me wherever I go. The trials and tribulations I experienced, coupled with the amount of love I received from everybody I met, have really helped shape me over these past four months.

Before I even arrived in Granada, I was worried I had made the wrong choice to study abroad. Go back even a few months before leaving, and I didn’t even know that I wanted to study abroad. My buddy/RA Matt had studied abroad in Argentina the previous spring, while my roommate Dave was going to study abroad this past spring in Costa Rica. They both pushed me to go, and for that I will be forever grateful.

So much has changed within me since leaving 4 months ago, yet everything back home has remained relatively unchanged. It has made me realize two things: 1. You need to get out and LIVE to discover who you are. While I’m not there yet, I did more living in the past 4 months than I had done in my entire life thus far, and that has absolutely had an impact on who I am right now. 2. People are complacent with mediocrity. Unless pushed out of their comfort zone by force, the average American will sit around and waste their lives away while life goes on around them without them.

I realized after my grandfather passed away a few years ago that I should never take anything for granted, and never put off for tomorrow what I can do today. This is how I chose to live my life while abroad and it was a completely new perspective on how to live life. It’s one, however, that I worry is fragile and will slowly fade away as I become re-accustomed to my old habits and routines back here at home.

Now, a quick rundown of my time in Spain. Spain is a tough place to live if you don’t speak English. Sure, most places you could get by with English, but not in Granada. Very few people in Granada speak enough English to even communicate on a basic level. This means that for even something as simple as toothpaste or deodorant, I needed to figure out how I was going to communicate my needs, first to my madre, then to the employee of the store. It might not sound that bad, but when tasks like this encompass every part of your day, it becomes daunting.

As amazing and eye-opening as my journey abroad was, it was my no means easy. There were days when I wanted nothing more than to say “Fuck Spanish,” lock myself in my room and watch English shows all day and just talk to friends back home. I learned that the times when you feel most upset and stressed are the times that you are actually growing and changing the most. The happy and proud feelings associated with such change don’t come until much later.

A few weeks later…

Things are starting to return to normal. I’ve caught up with most of my friends, though there are still some that I need to see. It’s funny, before I left Spain, I couldn’t remember who I had been before I left. I assumed that was because I had changed so much. And while that is true, it also had to do with the fact that I was living a life so amazing and unbelievably different than the one I had been living at home. I will never forget the people I met who were there for me through tough situations, who were there with me through some scary situations and everyone who I can call a close friend. I hope I know you guys for a long time to come.

I don’t know when I’ll be back to visit Spain, but with this travel bug I’ve seem to have caught, I know it’ll happen eventually, although it’ll be bittersweet. I will be able to return home to the city I lived in for 4 months of my life, but it won’t be the same. It’ll feel empty in a way. I know that if I want to buy a ticket to the Alhambra or go relax in Parque García Lorca I can do so easily. But I can’t just call up my roommate to see what he’s up to, chill on the roof, or meet a couple friends at Bulder for some coffee (read: beer) to perk us up mid-day. The city will always be there but the people that really made this adventure so special and life-changing for me will all be going about their lives in the U.S. or scattered elsewhere.

Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Spain comes the end of our fellowship in Granada. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.

J.R.R. Tolkien (Modified)

How Time Flies

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Currently, I’m sitting in my room in the Residencia thinking about my study abroad experience. I only have 2 days left before I leave early in the morning on Wednesday. Initially, I didn’t want to leave and was getting really sad that my day is approaching. However, today I was with the kids of the family that I hang out with. While with them, I realized I was ready to go home.

I remember when I had been with them a little more than a month ago, and I was telling them about how I was leaving next month and couldn’t believe I only had 40 days left. Now I’m sitting here mere hours before my departure and thinking back on the last month. SO MUCH has happened in even a short of a time as that, that I can’t even begin to explain it all. I would trade nothing in the world for the experience I have had these past 4 months. I kept thinking there’s no way for this trip to get better, for me to change even more than I have, but I’m always left surprised.

Life is ever-changing; the only constant is you. In 30 years, I have no idea where I will be or who I will be with. All I know is that I will be there, for better or worse. Through all the joy and pain we experience in our day to day lives, most of it will pass. All we will have left are our memories and the impact we’ve had on others. I love everyone I met here and everyone who had an impact on my life. One day, t
his will be something I tell my kids about.

You Only Lagos Once

I know this is very late, but I’ve been getting lazy with my blog recently. For the weekend of April 12-14, I went with Discover Excursions to Lagos, Portugal for a weekend of surf, sun and relaxation. It was an incredible weekend to say the least. I went with a bunch of friends from API and having them there made the experience so much more enjoyable.

After a 7 hour bus ride, we got to the hotel and unpacked. Discover then took us straight to the beach nearby to soak up some sun. I have to say, the view was incredible and the beach was amazing. This was the first beach day for me in about a year so I was loving every minute of it.IMG_7494

After the first day, we headed back to the hotel, where Jamie, Carleigh, Rachel and I did an Insanity workout. Insanity is one of those 60-day workout programs that kick your ass every step of the way, and let me tell you… it works. Jamie and I had been doing it for about 40 or so days at this point, so we weren’t going to take a break for anything.

That night, we had a family dinner filled with white pasta, wine and good people; it was amazing. The sauce reminded me of Spagettio’s, which you would think would be a good thing, but it wasn’t. We even had some new friends we just met over to eat with us. That night we had a blast and danced our heads off.

The next morning, I woke up to Jamie’s beautiful face smiling down at me, and I could only grumble and roll over to pretend that I wasn’t about to get up and kill my body on 3 hours of sleep. Back to Insanity it was, but that was okay, because the suit I was wearing required that I work out haha.

Jamie and my euroswag swimsuit

Jamie and my euroswag swimsuit

Discover took us to another beach which was just as beautiful as the last, where we lounged around for a few hours. Around midday, we went on a Sangria Sailboat cruise that took us out onto the water as well as into the small cave-like grottos that are only accessible by watercraft. My entire adventure in Lagos was amazing and I had the time of my life. I got to meet so many new people again and just relax for a weekend away from all the stresses of my life here in Spain. Just kidding, what stresses? Hah.

Spring Break and Semana Santa in Spain

Quite a tongue twister for the title this time, but it’ll make sense in a second. Each year,  the week leading up to Easter is a holy time. Most people have time off of their jobs and students consider it their spring break. For my spring break, I travelled with my buddy Norm. First to Krakow, Poland, then to Paris and finally we ended our travels in Sevilla to experience Semana Santa in Spain.

I’m going to keep the account of my travels rather brief, or this article would become a novel. Before I left on my journey, I had only travelled with a program to visit other countries. This was my first international trip having to plan everything out and to coordinate everything myself. I was excited yet trepidatious, but there was no turning back now.

We made it to Poland without a hitch. It was a bit of an adventure finding our way to the hostel. We had to look at maps, talk to locals who spoke English and take a tram, but I loved every minute of it. It challenged me to stay on my toes and think critically. We got to our hostel (imagine our confusion when the sign was above a restaurant with only the door to the restaurant to enter the building) and checked into our 10 person room. I had never stayed in a hostel before this, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone in our room was really nice, and most were a group together. They didn’t speak English very well, but when we asked if they spoke Spanish their faces lit up and we communicated much easier.

I almost feel bad when I speak English in other countries; it’s as if I’m cheating and forcing others to speak a foreign language, while I get to speak my mother tongue easily. If we can speak a common language, I feel much better, in a way showing I’m not just an ignorant American who expects everyone to speak english.

IMG_5794My first meal in Poland was out of this world. I would put it up there with the food I had in Rome, though of a different type. I got a full plate of fried pierogies, a hearty bowl of soup and Polish draft beer for $10. The restaurant was very homey and the people were extremely nice.

The next morning, we made it in the nick of time to the bus headed towards Auschwich, with maybe 3 minutes to spare. IMG_5853     On the bus ride over, I prepared myself for the harrowing experience. It was surreal when we got there and walked under the sign that read “Arbeit Macht Frei.” I’d always heard the stories about the camps and the horrific acts that occurred, but now I was finally able to experience it for myself.

Throughout the tour, we were told facts that were unbelievable. At the end, even though I knew what had happened to the prisoners and saw the locations with my own eyes, my brain couldn’t fully grasp the scope of atrocities that had occurred to all those people. We had one man in our group whose father had been a prisoner and was forced to work in the crematorium and gas chamber. When we got outside Crematorium #1, he stopped and we gave him some space to pray with his wife. It was extremely powerful seeing his reactions to everything in a way only he could see it.

Going during the winter was a unique experience. It really gave me an idea of what it must have been like living here back during the war. The weather that day was cold, 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahreinheit), and I was freezing. However, the tour guide told us that some winters it dropped down to -25 degrees C (-13 degrees F). I felt like a wuss; I was bundled up with my gloves, scarf and coat and was freezing, while the prisoners were forced to work in the same conditions or even worse wearing only the rags they called shirts and pants. Some could wear shoes if they were lucky enough to have a semi-functioning pair, otherwise it meant working barefoot outside for 11 hours a day.I ended up putting some of the photos I took there on Facebook, but only the ones I felt comfortable with. There were many I didn’t feel it was right to display to the world like “Look where I went and check all this out!”

We didn’t have much time in Krakow, as we were leaving the next day, so the rest of our time in Krakow cram-packed with activities. We toured Warwel castle and walked around the Old City for a while. The whole place was beautiful, especially with the freshly fallen snow and beautifully blue skies.

After Poland, we jetted off to Paris for a few days. It was beautiful, but huge. Living in Granada, I can get across the city in the same amount of time it took to just walk out of the park in front of the Louvre. Our first day, went to the Louvre for a few hours. Afterwards, we walked through the park and to a fake Arc d’Triumph. We took photos with it, all the while I was thinking how I had imagined it being much more massive.

IMG_6322Behind that, there was a group of pigeons hopping up onto people. They had become so used to being fed by the people that they had lost all fear of them. A nice man gave me some bird seed and a pigeon hopped up into my hand! Afterwards, we walked Champs-Élysées, the main street in Paris that connects the Louvre to the Arc.

Along the way, we noticed some streets closed down and lines of cops dressed in full riot gear everywhere.

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Turns out we walked right into a protest. The people of Paris requested a permit to protest on Champs-Élysées, but the government denied it. They didn’t care and went out anyway, which was the reason for all the cops. At first I was thrilled to see something like this in another country, til I learned that it was anti-same-sex marriage. 

IMG_6365I met a man who spoke broken english, and asked him what was going on. I thought he was going to be an ignorant ass, but it turns out he was really intelligent and explained the whole situation to me.

Turns out the President was trying to push a bill through that would make same-sex marriage legal, but there is a part of the population opposed to it. They weren’t happy with what they saw as a an abuse of power by the president, so they requested a popular vote on the bill to let the population decide. The president said no. So, the actual reason they were protesting, wasn’t just to oppose same-sex marriage, it was to try and show the government they want a say.

At one point during the protest, we got close to the front lines where the protesters were engaging with the cops. There was a disturbance, so the cops started spraying mace and I got hit with some of it. Boy did it irritate my eyes and mouth. I couldn’t even imagine getting a full blast of it to the face. Even when we were far away, the wind carried the mace quite a distance and even the smallest amount in the air was irritating.

Being a Sunday, and with the protests going on, it was extremely difficult to find any place open to eat. After about 4 hours of walking around this immense city searching for a place to eat, we found a small Italian place which was pretty good. Afterwards, we decided to hit up the Eiffel Tower.

Once we got into the park and saw the tower, I immediately fell in love. It is so simple, steel girders placed in such a way to keep the tower stable, yet, it is so beautiful. We sat in the park for a good hour at least; I could only stare, trying to take in everything. We went up it once it got dark and the city was lit up. I cannot describe what feeling of being on the Eiffel Tower looking down at the city lights of Paris. Luckily, my phone had died earlier, so I was able to enjoy the experience without taking the compulsory 100 pictures.

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IMG_6636We saw and did a lot more in Paris, but nothing quite stands out like the Tower. Other places like Notre Dame and the Louvre were actually a bit of a letdown for me. The food was amazing. IMG_6639I tried escargot which was delicious and spent 5 euro on a cappuccino. Ate some baguettes with cheese and some wine looking up at the Eiffel Tower another night. Life couldn’t get much better for me right now.

After Paris, we travelled to Sevilla on Wednesday to see the processions for Semana Santa. Sevilla is supposed to have the biggest in the country and Thursday was the biggest day of the week.

The history of the Semana Santa in Spain can be attributed to the return of Marqués de Tarifa from the Holy Land. After his journey, he institutionalized the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) in Spain and from that moment on this holy event was celebrated with a procession. Over time, the observance of the Via Crucis eventually broke up into the various scenes of the Passion, with the incorporation of portable crosses and altars [1].

Semana Santa is characterized by processions throughout the streets in cities all across Spain. They typically contain carious religious objects as well as two floats, called pasos, as the main focal points. The first paso depicts a scene from Christ’s Passion, while the second is elegantly decorated and depicts the Virgin. In between are rows and rows of men and women, dressed in robes and pointy hats. While they appear like members of the KKK, there is no relation.

IMG_6964Actually, for the first few hours, seeing men walking through the streets casually with the uniform on was a bit unnerving, but I got used to it pretty well. The processions were interesting, especially the pasos and the accompanying music. One of the processions actually passed by our hostel. Luckily, there was a terrace and a second floor balcony, where I got to watch it from. The lady working the hostel told me that people will pay upwards of a few thousand euro to have a terrace to watch it from like we did.

It was nice to be able to relax while in Sevilla after running around for the past week trying to cram as much into our schedules as possible. Our hostel, The Garden, was really nice and I recommend it to anyone travelling to Sevilla. They have locations in other places as well.

Paso of the Virgin Mary

Paso of the Virgin Mary

Paso of Christ

Paso of Christ

As much as I loved travelling, there was no better feeling than coming home to Granada. It’s amazing how much this place has grown on me and how much it feels like home in such a short period of time. I saw some professions in Granada as well and they were amazing. It was cool to see the streets I usually see normally all spiffy and ceremonial.

The Beauty and the Beast

IMG_3943There’s such a beauty about Granada that I really can’t explain to anyone who hasn’t been here before. I’ve mentioned it in past posts, but I want to mention it again. The sky in Granada… or any place we really go really, is absurdly beautiful. It could be a bright, blue sunny day where everything is just perfect, it could be cloudy and the sun is hidden, but still creates amazing designs in the clouds, or it could even be torrential rain outside and create ominous cumulonimbus clouds in the sky.

It’s not just the sky that’s beautiful, however,  but everything around me. The distinct burrios each have their own character and beauty, this way of life is different than America, not in a bad way. Every morning during my walk to class, I feel blessed to be walking along a river to the sun rising above the mountains in a continuous, cyclical effort to reach the top of the sky. Throughout most of January and February while I’ve been here, it has been a Spring like I’ve never experienced.

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Most days have been warm and sunny. The only time it is really cold is early in the morning on my way to school, in the shadows of Granada, and at night when the sun is gone. It’s amazing how much of a difference there can be between two spots ten feet apart. In one you could be sweating like a dog and want nothing more than to rip off your clothes and run around freely, and in the other it could be windy and freezing as if it were winter back home in New England. As beautiful as Granada is, however, there is a darker side.

I realized it when I was walking home one night. It was a full moon, a tad chilly, and I was walking along the river near my house. I was just thinking about how lucky I was to be able to spend time in a place like Granada when I looked over at the small park to my left. There was a person sleeping on the bench with nothing but a thin blanket covering them. I suddenly felt a pang of sympathy for them because not everyone has the ability to enjoy the small treasures in their life when they are struggling to find their next meal, or their next place to sleep.

Granada is like any city, with homeless people on street corners and in front of supermarkets. They range from what appear to be perfectly able-bodied workers, to gypsies with their dogs, to people with a severe disfigurement. At night, many times they will congregate near banks in the small rooms with the ATMs or out front on the ledge. It is extremely saddening to see such a sight. Though I do have to admit that in the beginning it was much harder to look at then now. As bad as it sounds, the more I see them now, the more desensitized I become. However, I will never be desensitized to the plight of their dogs.

I’ve seen dogs shivering on the pavement because they are so cold they cannot stop. Many times the gypsies are the ones with the dogs. They sit on a corner and ask for money for them and their dog; they live a different lifestyle than most of the inhabitants of Granada. Working isn’t their thing; but if they do work, it’s a job of their own craft, such as painting, singing or the like. Other homeless aren’t so lucky. They would love to work, but no job is available. The unemployment rate across all age groups is around 30%. The unemployment rate for young people like me, between 40-50%.

I don’t really know if I had a point in mind for this article, maybe things aren’t always as they seem? Or it’s possible that there’s no such thing as only pure good; there has to be something beneath the surface. If something is perfectly positive, you’re not seeing it for what it really is. You need to take and accept the bad to be able to enjoy the beautiful.

The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it.

-Daniel Webster

This Time for Africa

Okay, everyone, get ready for another doozy. While this trip was a day shorter than my trip to Rome, I learned so much more in my precious few days that this post will probably be just as long. So prepare now.

Let me preface this story by describing what I expected to see on my trip to Africa. I honestly expected African tribesmen living in huts in a semi-arid environment with little shrubbery, or at the very least, dark-skinned Africans.; It’s the stereotype given to Africa by the western world. The reality of it was something completely different. Everything around me was green and luscious countryside,  mixed in with it was an occasional house that looked like it was dated from at least 30 years ago. The people were in fact, not black, but lighter-skinned Arabs, and actually I don’t believe I saw one black African during my trip.

Being just hours into the trip, this was already eye-opening for me; it showed me how completely wrong stereotypes can be. I realized that from this point on in my life, I need to shrug off old, existing stereotypes that have been ingrained in me for so long by society and go off onto any new adventures with an open mind, ready for anything. Another common stereotype I had held is that it would always be easy to get water.

It’s amazing how much we are reliant on water. I know that sounds extremely obvious, but many times we take it for granted simply because of its accessibility. At home in the U.S. and here in Spain, there’s no second thoughts when we need some water. All we have to do is go over to the faucet and fill up a glass. In Morocco, it’s not so simple.

The tap water is safe for local residents and other people who have built up an immunity, however we are not those people. As tourists, just drinking a glass of water from the sink could have us keeling over for days, if not weeks, begging for mercy from our stomach and bowels alike. To be safe, we had to drink our water out of bottles, which wasn’t too difficult, but it made me more aware of each time I needed a drink. “Where is my next bottle coming from? Should I bring some on the bus or just drink before I leave, so I don’t have to carry an enormous bottle around?” These were just some of the issues I wasn’t used to dealing with.

Chaouen

Our first stop on our trip around Morocco was to the city of Chaouen. If there’s one word that I can use to describe Chaouen, it’s this: blue. Most of the walls around the city have been blue-rinsed, leaving a very interestingly and calming effect on the city. When the Muslims and Jews were first kicked out of Spain during the Inquisition, many fled to Morocco. Originally, all the houses were painted white with doors of either blue or white; with blue for the Jews and white for the Muslims.

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How the color evolved from there to be painted all over the city, I’m not quite sure. Our guide told us that blue is good for keeping the bugs away, so that could be one reason. (And now that I think of it, I didn’t get bit once by a mosquito). All I know is that I felt calmer, more relaxed after walking through this mystical city.

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Free community bread!

Our tourguide

Our tour guide

A couple images that stuck me were from the kids of Chaouen. First, I saw a kid walking home from school, as any kid would, with his backpack on. It struck me just how much he looked like any normal kid in the world. Likewise, I saw a bunch of kids running around playing Hide and Seek. I dont know why, but it never occurred to me that kids in other countries, around the world, played the exact same games we did growing up.

Not just playing the same games we did, but loving every minute of their lives. I saw kids running around laughing, others playing fútbol, while still others were jumping from one side of the river to the other. They all were having a blast and were just as happy, if not more so, than any kid I’ve seen in America. Even with how much less these kids had, or living in a place with so few of the luxuries we deem “necessities”; these kids had no idea about them and just kept living, and loving, their lives.

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The final shock I experienced in Chaouen was the independence afforded to the children.  I saw a girl, no older than 10, carrying her infant brother on her back with no sign of an adult anywhere nearby. Many kids who didn’t look older than 11 or so had free range of the city or were working to try and sell the little trinkets they had to tourists. These kids were so independent and grown-up, that it makes me feel like children are too babied in America.

Even in Spain, kids are allowed to run ahead of, or fall behind, their parents, much more so than the U.S. In America, we seem to have this idea that the world is an evil, scary place and that if we let our children out of our sight for a second we will lose them forever. While, the availability heuristic makes this notion appear much more prevalent than it actually is, it is doing nothing but hurting our kids in the long run. Always telling our kids to be careful and to not talk to people they don’t know helps to make the child doubt his abilities when he faces the world, and also to distrust everyone around him as he gets older.

On to the next topic. Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve never been a good shopper. I’m one of those people who runs away from associates in stores who try to come up to you and help you shop. Partially, because I’m a person who takes forever to decide what I want to buy. Haggling in Morocco has completely flipped this mentality for me.

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One such shop owner

After our guided tour, we were given some free time to wander the city and haggle at any one of the many shops that lined the streets. I learned pretty quickly on how to handle this place. You can’t look at any article in a shop with more than a passing glance. If you look for a split second too long, they jump on this as you are interested and hound you to guy their goods…even if you’re in the street simply walking by their shop.

After being hounded for what felt like ages, most of the time for items I wasn’t even interested in, I learned to haggle with the best of them. Now, if a man tries to sell me something 200 times I can still say no and walk away. At some of the shops on the street, shop-owners were dropping their prices like flies and pushing their items on me simply because I said no. I didn’t want to buy what they were selling, but this little fact meant nothing to them. Sometimes I had to just stop talking to them and walk out of their shop while they badgered me some more to get them to stop. I was exhausted after haggling so much, but I managed to buy a lot for a little, so I was happy. I considered myself a battle-hardened veteran of the Moroccan streets.

That night back at the hotel we played a game of musical chairs. I had no idea what was going on, I only knew that I wanted to play musical chairs, so I hopped in on the game. My only motivation for winning was to rep API, my study abroad program, with the win. In the end, I won the game, and with it, a trip to Lagos, Portugal! I was so surprised. The reason I’m telling this story is this: I believe that if I had realized from the beginning what I was playing for, I would’ve tried harder, had less fun, and been more worried about the winning, and there’s a good chance I would’ve lost the game. However, since I was able to just relax and have a blast and not take the game seriously it all worked out for the best. 😀

IMG_5197The next day we bussed it to ride some camels and to check out the beach city of Asilah. On our way to the camels, the countryside dropped off to reveal an awe-inspiring view of the ocean; the beach was probably 40 feet below us. It wasn’t until this point, the sight of this beach, that made me finally feel like I was in Africa. There was something so majestic about it, an untamed beauty I don’t even want to try to describe. Luckily, we stopped at a place right above the beach to ride some camels. Which was INSANELY FUN. IMG_5196Just the fact that it was a camel made it hilarious haha. There was one camel, with a cage on its mouth because it was a little special and tried to bite people. I made sure to avoid that one. Once mounted, the trainers had them walk, trot, and gallop, if those are even the terms I should use. After a break to check out the beach as well, we continued on our way.

On the way to Asilah, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant and the food was delicious. Afterwards, a bunch of us were chilling on the balcony above the restaurant looking at the ocean. In front and to the side of us, there was another building that also had a balcony, where many of the people who sat downstairs were going to check out the view. As person after person climbed the stairs, we began to notice a pattern. People appeared to constantly trip on the stairs around the same place. After looking closely at the stairs, I noticed the issue.

They weren’t all equal. I guess it is kind of silly to assume that stairs everywhere should uniform, just because that’s the standard in the US However, I figured that having stairs that were all the same size was the norm and was common sense. In Morocoo, this wasn’t the case. Each of the steps were a slightly different size, be it wider, depther (even a word?) or higher. All the steps were still manageable to climb except for one that was slightly higher than the rest. People who picked up their feet were fine, but those who dragged their feet were stumbling on the step. As humans, we operate so much of our daily lives off of simple habits that we’ve picked up. We don’t even realize this until something steps in to jar our reality. Just an interesting side note to my adventure.

Once we got to Asilah, it was beautiful. We got to hangout in a beach town and experience life there for a couple hours. I bought a stone elephant for cheap with my pro haggling skills. After, some of us beaded over to the beach and had a nice time just watching the sky. IMG_5363(Being here in Europe/Africa, I have noticed is that the sky is always beautiful, whether it’s sunny or rainy and cloudy, and that I’m extremely lucky for every day I get to live here in paradise). After our time was up, we headed to the ferry to begin our long journey home.

I got home about 5:30am Monday morning with class at 9am. While I only got to spend a short amount of time in Africa, I am extremely grateful for every minute I had. I met so many new and amazing people, including a new birthday buddy! This was a trip that exposed me to new experiences and new revelations. How often is is that someone can say “I got to ride a camel on a beach in Africa?”

“The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say ‘Africa’. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.”

― Ryszard Kapuściński, The Cobra’s Heart

Roaming Rome

Hey everybody, I apologize I haven’t posted sooner, but I just couldn’t waste the precious little time I had in Rome. What started as an aweful journey turned out to be one of the best of my life. I don’t know how well I’m going to do explaining all of that happened, or if that’s even possible, but I’ll try by darndest. Prepare ourself, grab a refreshment and maybe a light snap because this is going to be a long one, folks. Where to begin… At the beginning, I guess.

So, we were supposed to fly out of Granada to Madrid, then off to Rome. Well, as it turns out, life had other plans. Recently, Ibera has been experiencing a worker’s strike due to the recent job cuts they made. Because of this, our flight out of Granada was cancelled, so we had to take a bus. Not that big of a deal, except this meant we now had to get up and be at the bus stop by 7:15 instead of 11:15. Ouch.

IMG_3998As it turns out, sometimes these “problems” turn out to be blessings in disguise. That was the case with this one, as had we taken a plane into Madrid, we never would’ve seen or heard the hundreds of people chanting and blowing horns telling the British to go home.

To be honest, it was a bit scary because at one point I had to go to the bathroom alone, and I wasn’t sure how a mob would react to a tall, blonde, clearly NOT Spanish person alone among them.

After we arrived in Rome and checked into the hotel, we were free to roam the city on our own. I went with a group of friends to a pizza place near the hotel. I was definitely worried that the food would be overhyped and it would  be a bit of a letdown, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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One of the best pizzas of my life

I got a pizza that had tomato sauce, mozzarella, hot salami and chili flakes– hands down one of the best pizzas of my life.

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First gelato– one flavor is nutella 🙂

After dinner, a bunch of us met back at the hotel and set up plans to go to the Trevi Fountain. All of the girls in my program were excited to go because of the role it played in the Lizzie McGuire movie, but I honestly had no idea what it was until we got there. On the way we made a couple pitstops, one to visit the historic Spanish Steps, and the other to eat some historic Italian gelati. I’m only going to post this picture of it, but you can rest safely knowing that I tried it many, many more times. Like, aout 5 more to be exact. Some of the flavors I tried included black cherry, coffee twice, chocolate mousse, milk cream, snickers, lemon, nutella twice, and possibly one more. It’s hard to keep track of such goodness.

After the gelato stop, we arrived at the Trevi, and it was beautiful. I’m glad we ended up seeing it the first night, because Saturday was rainy all day and torrential downpour at night and Sunday I was just exhausted. Supposedly if you throw in a coin you will one day return, so here’s to hoping that will happen. Trevi

That was pretty much the end of Friday night, so far so good, but Saturday would take a turn for the worse. We wake up Saturday to rain. A steady drizzle with substantial wind. Luckily, we had been scheduled to take a bus tour around the city… Unfortunately, the bus dropped us off at the Colosseum, about an hour from our hotel. In Europe there seems to be a trend of men in the streets pushing whatever product they can get their hands on. Be it CDs, iPhone cases, sunglasses, or in the case of rain, umbrellas. These guys were extremely obnoxious and persistant and EVERYWHERE. Luckily for me, I managed to haggle one standing outside the bus down to 3€. It worked really well keeping me dry, until the wind picked up and pretty much destroyed it. Most of us decided to pay the 12€ for entry because how often are you in Rome to even have this chance? Inside was surreal for two reasons: first, I was actually seeing this historic landmark that is famous around the world, and the thought that men fought to the death here for the entertainment of other men is hard to grasp.

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After we were all set with the colosseum, there was a metro station right outside of it, and as any sensible person would think in the torrential rain and wind, I suggested we take the metro back to the hotel and get lunch at a place nearby. The girls, being much more adventurous [read: not sensible], decided it would be more fun to walk and find a place on the way. Well, two hours and a lot of wind and rain later, we managed to find the hotel and sat down for lunch at a place nearby.

Wet and tired after 2 hours in the rain and wind.

Wet and tired after 2 hours in the rain and wind.

The place we went to was just as delicious as the first place, if not more so. My friend Lindsey and I split a dish of pizza and a plate of pasta. I’m only going to post one picture of each type of food, to spare y’all the trouble of looking at so much delicious food.

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That pretty much sums up Saturday, and to say the least I was not very happy with my time so far in Rome. The wind and rain were really taking their tole and I was not looking forward to the rest of the weekend. Turns out Sunday would be one of the best days of my life so far.

Sunday morning, I woke up early and met some friends in the lobby so we could get a jumpstart on everyone to get a good place in line to see the Vatican Museum. We managed to get in within half an hour of the Museum opening, so I’d say we did pretty good. Once inside, I was really excited to see the Sistine chapel. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but I was able to sneak this beauty :). When we finally got there, I felt a bit underwhelmed, to be honest.

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After seeing so many grand cathedrals that could easily hold jumbo jets, that was what I was expecting for the Sistine Chapel. Not so. Because it’s a chapel, not a cathedral, it was much smaller than expected. Once I was able to sit down and actually look at the ceiling, it started to blow my mind.

First, the people and objects in the painting all appeared 3D, sticking out towards me on the ground. How could a man using a tiny paintbrush make such details appear so vivid from 50 feet away. How did he know what it would look like? Also, how could he start in one corner, and work for years across the ceiling and know how to proportion everything so that it all fit? It really was impressive and awe-inspiring to see.

We left the Museum about 11 so we could get a good place in the crowd for the Pope’s last Angelus. We were among a crowd of over 100,000 strong who came out for the Pope. Somehow, we managed to just casually walk through the crowd and get much closer than I expected. My friend Carlene was able to snap an amazing picture of the Pope giving his speech.

popeAgain this was a very surreal moment for me. Here was a man who I had heard about for years. He was the leader of 1.2 billion people and I was seeing, no experiencing and receiving  him giving his final Papal blessing. Not only that, but this was the first Pope to retire in over 600 years; I was part of history in the making!

After the Angelus was over, we headed to the Pantheon. What I mean by headed is meandered through this amazing city of Rome, popping in many a souvenir shop, stopping for more gelato, trying hot wine for the first time (btw, it’s absolutely delicious), admiring the life-like painting by the many artists set up in various plazas throughout Rome. Eventually we accidentally stumbled on the Pantheon, and it is massive, both inside and out. Inside, there is the body of the famous painter Raphael, who I took a picture of, but didn’t realize who it was until a friend told me hours later.

By this point, we were pretty much ready to go back to the hotel, but we decided to make one more stop on the way. I wanted to see the Trevi fountain, so beautiful at night, during the day, and so did some of the others.

trevidayI cannot stress enough how happy I am that I went the first night, because when we showed up at the fountain it was hard to see through all the tourists. We did manage to take this photo of all of us which I was really happy about.

We had been walking or standing for about 8 hours by now, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a well deserved rest.

SInce water is so expensive here in Europe, we have to take very quick showers. The only time we can splurge is when were at hotels. So I splurged. It was the best, well, only really, bath I have taken in years and it felt good to just soak all the weariness from my bones.

IMG_4591That night, I went to dinner at a small, family-owned Italian restaurant with many of the same people. After we ordered our drinks, the waiter brought us out a free plate of pasta to share, which we passed around. I ordered the lasagna, which completed the trifecta of Italian foods I wanted to try in Rome: pizza, pasta, lasagna. It was soo good, I didn’t even care what was in it, I know, what a shocker.

For dessert, the brought us free tiramisu and another type of cake. Considering here in Rome, everything costs money, even the bread they put on the table for you, the service we were receiving was out of this world. We made sure to tip them nicely before we left, even though you’re not supposed to tip, they deserved every penny of it.

We managed to persuade them to take a picture with us. I know-- tourists, right?

We managed to persuade them to take a picture with us. I know– tourists, right?

To finish off the night, we went back to the hotel and just hung out in one of the rooms. We drank some vino, played a card game called kemps/kempz, and rocked out to country music. It’s such a rarity that everyone in a room likes country, there’s usually that one person who hates it (and I’ll admit that used to be me haha). It was the perfect ending to the perfect day. Hopefully, this will be a day I never forget.

(Okay folks, hold on to your seat belts, only half a day left to go and you’re free to stop reading.)

St. Peter's tomb

St. Peter’s tomb

Monday morning, I went with a couple friends to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. Remember me talking about massive cathedrals? This one took the take BY FAR. It was enormous and just struck me with a sense of awe from the second I walked in until the second I stepped off of those hallowed steps.

I got to see St. Peter’s tomb, and while I’m not religious, it’s still crazy to think about the fact that this man who is known around the world, who lived close to 2,000 years ago, is right here in this very building in front of me.

We went down into the grottos beneath the Basilica,which housed all the tombs of past Popes. Again, the thought that these men lived hundreds of years ago and commanded so much power over so many, much more so than today, made my head spin slightly.

We headed out to get gelato one last time before we had to leave. I have to say, for how  our trip to Rome started, I couldn’t be happier with the way it has turned out. I’ve seen so much and been part of history in a way that could never have been predicted in… over 600 years? Haha.

Let me know what you guys think about the increased use of pictures; too many? would you like to see more? Or is it just right? Let me know! I’m trying to constantly improve each post as I go along, so any and all feedback, both positive and critical, is welcomed and appreciated.

I’m going to end this one here, seeing as I’ve already bored y’all to tears, it’s 1am, and I’m leaving for Morocco, Africa tomorrow morning. Studying abroad has been one of the best decisions of my life and I’m so glad I have had the opportunity to see all I’ve seen and lived all I have been able to. I will forever be grateful to those who helped push me to go and those who made it possible in the first place.

Rome – the city of visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in funeral procession with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar.

-George Eliot

1 month!!

I’m writing this from my hotel room in Rome. I’m now in my third country in under a month and I love it. Happy 1 month; I can’t believe it. We’re meeting up to go out soon, so I need to hop in the shower right now, as after a day of traveling from 7am til 8:30pm, I smell like ass. I’ll write a nice article tomorrow, but I needed to commemorate this day.

Adios.

Wait, they don’t say that here… Hah.

Beas de Granada

This past Saturday I went on a hike to that started in a small village up in the mountains surrounding Granada called Beas de Granada. It was about 16 kilometers long, which equals 10 miles, and meandered around, up and over various mountains in the Sierra Nevada.

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After waking up and eating breakfast, my madre packed me a lunch while I packed a bag for my hike. I had to stop at the super market to pick up some water on my way to the bus stop, which made me fall behind schedule, so I had to hustle, and eventually run, to reach the correct street where the busses departed from by 10:30am. Of course, this being Spain, there really was no need to run as the bus didn’t actually leave until around 10:45 or so.

About 200 meters before I got on the bus, one of the straps of Chris’ gypsy backpack I was using broke while I was just wearing it. I managed to macgyver a fix for a while using a hair clip lent to me by one of my friends, however the hair clip only held for so long. Once we were bouncing around on the trail it wouldn’t hold for more than a few minutes, so to tie the strap in such a way as to hold some of the weight of the bag, and I was up and running, well… hiking, again.

Granada will forever be able to surprise me with unexpected beauty. Even the bus ride up to Beas was beautiful. As we ascended the mountain there was a birds-eye view of our city on one side and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains on the other. These mountains were to be our view for the entire hike.

IMG_3887Once we disembarked the bus, we had to walk around a bit to find the trail, and on the way we saw a cat sitting in a tree like a boss. Animals here are so much cooler than back home, not exactly sure why, but they are.

Once on the trail, it got hot pretty quickly, so I went shirtless for about half the hike (3 hours give or take). I completely forgot about sunscreen, so once I started to feel the burn, I put my shirt back on and avoided the worst of a sunburn, though my left shoulder and arm were not so lucky. It was quite a fun experience and rewarding, too. I love being able to experience the amazing beauty of Spain while I’m here, and get some exercise while I’m at it. In the future I definitely want to go on more hikes like this one, and I’m potentially going to repeat this same hike with some other friends who want to experience the beauty of it.