After spending one day at Feria, Zoë, Mia, and I headed out for our final trip of the semester. We started in Prague, then made a quick stop in Vienna before finishing up in Budapest.
The trip started off a little rocky when I hit the ATM in the airport to withdraw some Czech Crowns (the local currency). I accidentally withdrew 11,000 Crowns (approx. $500 USD) instead of 1,000 Crowns (approx. $50 USD) as I had intended. Oh well, I was able to exchange what I had left to dollars which will be useful as I am returning home in less than a week (!!!). After the ATM trouble, we went to a traditional Czech restaurant for dinner and ate some trdelníks which are the traditional Czech chimney cakes. The next day, a friend of Mia’s came into town to show us around. We hit all of the must-see sights in Prague and finished at a beer garden to taste some more famous Czech beer.
The next day, we headed to Vienna for less than twenty-four hours. We saw the cathedral and the Belvedere Museum, which houses Gustav Klimt’s indisputable masterpiece, The Kiss. That afternoon, I tried some traditional potato dumplings for lunch before we hit the contemporary art museum, which was a little too “contemporary” for my tastes. The next day, we explored the Schönbrunn Palace before heading to Budapest as our last stop. We also stopped for some famous Viennese pastries which definitely did not disappoint!
In Budapest, we visited the Szcheni Baths and did a boat cruse along the river. We grabbed dinner in a food truck court and then explored some “ruin bars” which are eclectic bars placed in recycled / run-down spaces. They had a very cool vibe!
Overall, we visited three beautiful cities and had a great time in the journey along the way. I can’t believe that I am currently studying for final exams and that I will be home in just three short days. This semester has flown by – I have no idea where it went!
Feria is a spring fair that occurs every year in April (except this year when it was in May- HA!). Most of the students in Sevilla get the entire week off of school for the celebration which occurs on the opposite side of the river.
It is a festival filled with horses, lights, drinking, flamenco dresses, and traditional Sevillana flair. The majority of the women wear flamenco dresses while the men wear suits. There are thousands of casetas (drinking tents), set up around the fair grounds. The majority of the casetas are private, meaning that you have to know the family who is paying for / running the caseta to get in. However, once you get into the caseta, there is endless rebujito (sherry and sprite), which is the traditional drink of Feria.
As I only got to see the Feria for one day before heading out on another week-long trip, I did not invest in a flamenco dress. I guess it gives me an excuse to come back for the full week in the future!
I spent the past five days traveling throughout Morocco with a group of study abroad students from all over the world. I was initially skeptical about traveling with tour agency, but the trip proved to be nothing short of amazing.
As the trip was called the “Sahara Desert Adventure,” we had to eventually make it to the Sahara. This required some long days of travel. On the first day, we left Sevilla around 5AM and took a ferry to Morocco. After we arrived in Africa, we drove pretty much all day until we arrived in Fes. The trip was incredibly long and we were all exhausted. I was just hoping that the time spent on the bus would eventually be worth it! Things started to pick up a bit on the second day with a tour of Fes. We walked through the Medina (the city center) of Fes, as well as the Zoco (the marketplace). The city was like something I’ve never seen before. There were donkeys carting carrying trash throughout the city, goat heads waiting to be purchased in the market, and a million stray cats. There were a million street vendors all selling mainly the same food, fabric, and leather goods.
We got to visit a leather tannery in the city center which was interesting. When we neared the area, there was an awful smell. When we entered the building, however, a man gave us each a piece of fresh mint to hold to our noses to distract from the smell. As you can see in the picture, there are various different types of animal skins being dyed various colors. In the tubs of dye is a mix of water, limestone, and pigeon droppings (!!!) to help soften the skin and remove the hair. I guess that seeing this process is supposed to make you want to purchase the leather goods that they are selling, but I can’t say that it had that effect on me.
After the tour of Fes, we had another few hours (more like seven) of travel before we arrived in Rissani. We arrived around midnight and ate dinner before heading straight to bed. Day three was when things really got interesting. First thing in the morning, we toured the city of Rissani and saw the market, a Mausoleum, a handmade pottery factory, and a fabric factory / store that produced handmade Moroccan rugs, tapestries, etc. I bought a lovely little black tapestry that I am excited to put on my wall. In Morocco, bargaining with the shop keepers is the thing to do. He originally quoted me at 55 EU and I got him down to 20 EU. SIDE NOTE: Truthfully, this was all I had in my wallet after my debit card nearly got eaten by an ATM. Thankfully I was able to get the card back after nearly causing a scene inside the bank, but I was still unable to withdraw any money. That was an adventure.
After the tour of Rissani, we had a 4×4 tour of the desert. We whipped through the dunes in an old Mitsubishi and made several stops along the way. The first was at the home of a Berber nomad. She served us Moroccan mint tea (this quickly became one of my favorite drinks) and told us about her life in the desert. We also stopped at an archeological site which, at one point, was the bottom of the ocean. That is just insane to think about. You could see all the little fossilized critters in the sheets of rock – insane.
After the 4×4 tour, we mounted our camels and headed straight into the Sahara. We were told that we would ride two hours before arriving at our campsite (Berber tents). After about fifteen minutes, we were all in pain. Turns out that riding a camel isn’t the most comfortable experience out there! To make things even more interesting, a giant sand / wind / thunderstorm rolled in. The dark clouds were looming above, rain was coming down, sand was crashing against my face, and I was on a camel… in the Sahara Desert!! It was a memorable experience, to say the least! Eventually, we arrived at our campsite where we had dinner, a bonfire, and were joined by nomad musicians. The storm clouds cleared up and we were able to have great views of the stars.
The next morning, we woke up (in the Sahara desert!!), and rode our camels back to where we began. Luckily, there were no storms this time. Once we made it back, we had the chance to shower before beginning the long drive back to Fes. We stopped at the Ziz Valley, which is an oasis. That was cool to see.
On the final day, we stopped in Asilah for some free time. We grabbed a traditional Moroccan lunch, did some shopping, and got to see the ocean. I won’t bore you with the rest of the details of our final day because, as you might imagine, it was a long day of traveling. By my calculations, we had spent thirty-five hours on our bus by the end of the trip. Somehow, every minute of it was worth it. This was one of the most incredible experiences and I am thankful to have it in my heart forever.
After my Semana Santa travels, I decided that I needed a chill weekend. I did some research and found some pretty nice-looking beach hotel / resorts in Cádiz that were price extremely reasonably. I booked two of my friends and I a triple-bed room from Saturday-Sunday and let me tell you, this was no hostel! Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised with how nice the room and resort was. There was a huge pool, a snack bar, a restaurant, all with just a five minute walk to the beach! We also had a massive room with three beds and a huge bathroom all to ourselves. Our room even had a balcony that was big enough to house a small table, chairs, and a couch. Again, not exactly a hostel! We had the most lovely two days just relaxing on the beach and by the pool. We spent Saturday evening sitting on our balcony (which overlooked the resort’s golf course) and chatting, reading, and listening to music. We ate dinner at a Spanish tapas restaurant that was nearby, which was delicious. On the train back to Sevilla, there was the most beautiful sunset I have seen since being here – it almost rivaled an Oklahoma sunset!
This weekend, I also had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Sevilla. The cool part about this museum is that most of it was painted in Sevilla. There are lots of works that depict many of the famous landmarks that are still here today.
Overall, a relaxing weekend that left me ready to tackle the next adventure!
As mentioned previously, I had the entire week off for Semana Santa. After seeing two whole days of the processions in Sevilla, my friends and I left early on Tuesday morning for Berlin. Ever since my European History class in high school, I have wanted to go to Berlin, so I was very excited leading up to this trip. I was sure to refresh my WW2 / Cold War knowledge before heading that way, just so I could fully understand and appreciate what I was going to see.
When we first got to Berlin, we decided to do a walking tour of the city and all of the important historical landmarks. Although it was advertised to be a three hour tour, it ended up being four! Our guide was an American who “never came home from study abroad,” and is now getting a Masters in history from the most prestigious university in Berlin. I won’t even list all of the landmarks that we visited on this tour, because we saw pretty much everything there is to see in Berlin.
One of the things that I admire so much about Berlin is its openness to its dark and complicated history. Berlin is full of thoughtful and artfully designed acknowledgements of its history. Here are some examples that particularly stood out to me:
On the tour we saw The Bebelplatz, which is a famous site where the Nazis burned books. The site is marked by a subtle, yet harrowing, memorial.
The entire line where the Berlin Wall once stood is marked with red brick. Obviously, this line now passes through busy streets, malls, etc, but it is still there as a reminder of the once-divided city.
There are memorials all over the city dedicated to the persecuted Jews, Homosexuals, and Roma people.
Hitler’s bunker is now covered by a parking lot with a metal sign that reads “Hitler’s Bunker” indicating that this site is not celebrated, it is simply acknowledged.
On the second day in Berlin, I decided to peel off from my group and visit the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, which was a Nazi concentration camp used primarily for political prisoners. The majority of the original buildings are still standing and the curators have woven “museum content” into the existing structures. The result is an unparalleled experience that is equal parts educational and emotional. This was truly an experience that I will never forget. After my visit to Sachsenhausen, visited the Topography of Terror, which is a museum located in the former Gestapo headquarters. Again, very interesting and I am grateful to have visited it.
On Thursday, we flew to Amsterdam – another place I’ve always wanted to visit. We ate breakfast in a cute little (this place was literally so tiny) cafe. By some amazing stroke of luck, we miraculously got tickets to the Van Gogh museum, which was previously sold out for that week and the following. We purchased the tickets at 2:00 PM for the 2:30 PM times-slot that same day, so we dashed to the museum rather quickly. After the museum, we explored for a bit and ended up at a nice restaurant for dinner. I had pasta with pesto and it was delish.
Ever since seeing “The Fault in Our Stars” (not a fan of the movie, just FYI), I have wanted to visit the Anne Frank House. I was majorly disappointed when I realized (about a month ago) that they were already sold out for the rest of April and beginning of May. I did read online, however, that they release 20% of the day’s ticket allocation on the morning of at 9:00 AM….CHALLENGE. ACCEPTED. After not being able to get tickets for Thursday morning, we woke up with a strategy on Friday morning. By another amazing stroke of luck – we got tickets for Friday evening at 8:00 PM.
We decided to have ourselves a day full of museums, starting with The Moco Museum and ending with the Anne Frank House. The Moco museum is a fabulous modern art museum that has lots of Banksy’s work. This museum was definitely a highlight of my week.
After The Moco Museum, we did some exploring and eventually ended up at the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House was every bit as touching, jarring, and thought provoking as I had imagined. It is insane to me that the Third Reich fell in 1945 – that’s not even that long ago. It is absolutely crazy to think that such horrible and barbaric events happened in the twentieth century. One of the things that stood out to me most was a video at the end of the Anne Frank House tour. The video showed celebrities and tourists reacting to their visit to the Anne Frank House. One of the people interviewed said “all of Anne’s ‘would-haves’ are our opportunities and possibilities.” I’d like to start living every day thinking about Anne Frank, her unfulfilled aspirations, and the encouraging optimism that she maintained even when facing the darkest of situations.
With the Anne Frank House still sitting heavy on our hearts, we decided to go for an “easy” bike ride on Saturday morning. Amsterdam is known as the “city of bikes” and that could not be more accurate. There are literally so many bikes all over the place. It seems like there might be more bikes in the city than people – there are literally tons. So anyways, my friends and I rented bikes for the full day with plans to just ride around the city. Easy enough, right? Within twenty minutes I had already hit the back of the tire of a biker riding perpendicular to me at an intersection….. Shortly after, I realized that I had no idea who had the right-of-way at 99% of the intersections I encountered. I quickly decided that I wanted to get the heck off of that bike ASAP. Eventually, my friends and I stopped for Dutch pancakes at a lovely little pancake restaurant (Hallalujah!). After that, we just wandered around the river and visited the tulip garden at the Rijksmuseum. I then took a pretty hefty nap at the hostel – I needed it!
Sunday morning, my friends and I got up early and came straight home to Sevilla. What an adventure. I am so grateful to have seen, learned, mourned, and cherished all that I did this weekend.
In Spain, as in many Catholic countries, Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week before Easter) is a huge deal. Not only do most employees and students get a week of vacation, but many cities have processions throughout the week. Sevilla, specifically, is known as “the place to be” during the festivities.
Although the processions officially began on Sunday, we decided to celebrate early by taking a quick day trip to the beach on Saturday. We went to a nearby beach (about an hour away) called Matalascañas. We spent all day soaking up the salt and sun and topped it all off with tapas and gelato.
Plam Sunday, however, is when the real fun began in Sevilla. It is hard to describe the processions to someone who has never seen it before, but I’ll give it my best try. Basically, there are massive parades where thousands of people walk and/or carry a giant pasos (statues) that depict Biblical stories.Throughout Sevilla, there are many Hermandades, or brotherhoods, that each belong to a specific church in the area. Each of these “fraternities” prepares a procession and carries a paso throughout the streets. The people (there are SO MANY) who are walking in the procession or carrying the paso are performing an act of penitence.
There are a few typical “characters” and costumes of the procession, which I think is pretty interesting. The most recognizable are the Nazarenos, who wear a somewhat controversial uniform. The Nazarenos wear capes and hats that strongly resemble those of the KKK. It is important to note that there is NO connections between the beliefs of the two groups. The Nazarenos, however, are a little scary at first sight. It is a relief when they start handing out candy to children watching the procession! In addition to the Nazarenos, there are also the Costaleros. The Costaleros are very strong men who train all year to carry the pasos. Obviously, these statues are incredibly heavy! The Costaleros have to switch places under the float every fifteen minutes or so. When they come out from under the paso, they all have welts on their necks from where the paso rests. The dedication of the Costaleros, the Nazarenos, and the entire city of Sevilla to this tradition is just incredible. Semana Santa was truly something spectacular to see. The craziest part is that this happens all day for the entire week. And it is always crowded with tons of people in the street.
This weekend, a few of my best pals and I traveled to Switzerland! After weeks of planning the trip, we realized a few days prior to our departure that the weather was supposed to be bad while we were there. Much to our surprise, the weather was great and it made for a lovely trip!
We first arrived in Geneva on Thursday. While Caroline and Mia headed straight to Interlaken, Zoë and I decided to stay one night in Geneva to explore the city a little bit. After we arrived, we dropped our bags off at our Airbnb before heading out to a traditional Swiss fondue dinner. Our Airbnb host recommend a nice restaurant away from the city center, so we thought that we would give it a shot. People always say that Switzerland is one of the most expensive European cities to visit and I would have to agree! We spent around $30 per person on a giant pot of cheese and some bread. But hey, it was a nice experience. At that point, it was already nearly 10PM. We grabbed some drinks in the bar district and headed back to the Airbnb.
The next morning, we went out for a day of exploring. It became pretty apparent by the mid-afternoon that Geneva is a city that you can visit in one day. It is a beautiful city with an incredible lake right in the center. We saw all the main “spots,” including the United Nations Office and the Red Cross Museum. After a long day of exploring, we hopped on a train to Interlaken. The train ride itself was absolutely incredible. We passed by some of Switzerland’s many huuuuuge lakes and straight through the Alps. Definitely the prettiest train ride I’ve ever been on.
Once Zoë and I arrived in Interlaken, we found our hostel and plotted the rest of the day. One of my friends, Mia, had been in Interlaken the previous night and had just returned from a long hike. We decided to all relax by hopping in the hostel’s hot tub before running to the supermarket to grab something for dinner.
Saturday morning, we woke up early to depart on our first adventure in Interlaken. Some of the friends that we had made in the hot tub the night before decided to join us as well. We decided to take a ski lift to the top of a mountain and hike our way down. We had the best time frolicking through the snow and enjoying all of the beautiful scenery. We had many snowball fights and made tons of snow angels. We were all acting as if we had never seen snow before (hey, it’s been a while!). It took us about three hours and several “wipe outs” to make it back to the bottom of the mountain. The weather was incredible and although there was snow all over the place, we kept quite warm. We finished the night by cooking some frozen pizza at the hostel to avoid dropping another $30 on dinner. Our hostel was amazingly home-y and it made it so easy to make friends. We met people from all over the United States as well as Europe. It is so cool to interact with other travelers and I love that hostels really give you that opportunity.
On Sunday, the weather was kind of bad. We went to St. Beatus Caves, which is a popular cave system with lit pathways. It was super cool and a great “rainy day activity,” as the caves are “inside….” More or less. After that, we went back to the hostel and played fooseball, ping pong, and pool with our new friends. We had such a blast meeting new people all weekend! I think that our new friends were such a big part of what made this weekend so special.
On Monday morning, we traveled back to Sevilla. I am tired, sore after all the hiking (!!!!), and forever thankful to get to experience Switzerland! This weekend was definitely one of my favorites – we had just the best time being silly and meeting new people – I would not trade it for the world!
This weekend, I went to Lisbon for the weekend. My group left super early Friday morning and took a six-hour bus ride to Portugal. We stopped in Évora, which is a town with preserved medieval walls and many other monuments. While we were only in Évora for a few short hours, we got to see the Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones. The Chapel gets its name because the inside is “decorated” with human bones and skulls. I don’t have any pictures of this because….seems weird. But picture the Catacombs of Paris but much smaller and less…underground. In the same building, there was also a beautiful Cathedral. It had some of the most colorful stained glass that projected bright colors onto the wood floor. It almost made it look like there were some kind of disco lights on in the Cathedral. I’m a big fan.
After our visit to Évora, we continued on the bus to Lisbon. Once we arrived, we had a guided walking tour of the city. Lisbon is a beautiful city with pastel-colored buildings and buildings covered in decorative tile. We also walked near the river; Lisbon lies on the River Tagus, which honestly is so large, it looks like the ocean. I was shocked to find out that it was only a river. After the walking tour, we decided to find a good place for dinner. We went to a little restaurant at the top of a huge hill. Portugal is known for their dried and salted cod. Before it is prepared, it is soaked in water overnight to soften it. For dinner, I had Bacalhau à Brás, which is a traditional dish that is basically a mix of scrambled eggs, potatoes, the salted cod, and olives. It was interesting – I’d give it a 7/10.
Saturday morning, we gave ourselves the privilege of sleeping in. After that, we headed to the city to see if we could catch Tram 28. Lisbon is full of archaic-looking tram lines. Tram 28 is the most “famous” of these lines and provides a good tour of the city. We rode Tram 28 for about forty-five minutes then hopped off to grab some lunch. We found a huge market with different food stalls with all kinds of food. I went for a stall offering Portuguese cuisine and got some more of the traditional salted cod. My friend, Mia, got pumpkin risotto from the same restaurant and we shared. After lunch, I headed to the Museu Coleção Berardo, a modern art museum and the most visited museum in Portugal! To be honest, it was a little underwhelming for me, but that’s besides the point. The outside of the museum was incredible and it offered some good views as well. After the museum, we went back to the hotel for a *too* long nap. We went out for dinner around 10:30 PM (waaaay too late by Portugal standards), so out pickings were slim. We ended up at a classy burger joint and, honestly, I was kind of glad. I don’t think I’ve had a burger since being here (okay..except for one or two Micky D’s stops while in airports, etc) and WOW was this a good one!
Saturday morning, we had another walking tour that included the Castelo de S. Jorge, which is the *casual* local castle of Lisbon. My favorite part of the tour were all the peacocks that were around the fortress of the castle. They were so incredibly beautiful – I’ve never seen one up close before! After the tour, we made a stop for one last pastel de nata (Portuguese cream tart) before we headed back to Sevilla. I think I had five pasteles de nata over the course of the weekend, and this one was definitely my favorite!
Overall, Lisbon was great! I came home with a bunch of memories and even a *small* vocabulary of Portuguese! I can say “milk,” “thank you,” “good day,” “coffee,” and….that’s it! All the essentials, right?
This past Thursday, four of my friends and I left for one of our more intensive trips. My friend Zoë’s mom has a friend (Brenda) who lives in Vicenza, Italy, which is about an hour train ride outside of Venice. We decided a while back to go stay with her and hit a few cities while we were at it!
We flew into Venice on late on Thursday and stayed in a lovely little bed and breakfast that Brenda had set up for us. It was the most precious place and had an absolutely wonderful breakfast. Breakfast is hardly a thing in Spain, so anytime I get more than a banana, it’s kind of a big deal! After gorging ourselves on breakfast, we met Brenda at the train station. From there, we went to Venice by train. We had the most lovely day just exploring and walking around the city. It is beautiful and canals are just insane. It is crazy to think that everything that comes in or out of the city does so through those tiny canals! The highlight of the day was definitely our gondola ride. That is something that I have always dreamed of doing! We ate lunch in a little cafe by the canal; I had pesto pasta. It was delicious – I had forgotten how much I enjoyed real Italian food! That night, we went back to Brenda’s house in Vicenza and ate some delicious Indian food. It was the first truly spicy thing I’ve had to eat in 2+ months!
On Saturday, we slept in a little but were *again* treated to the most lovely breakfast by our hosts. They made us cinnamon roll french toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, and all the works. Again, finding breakfast is a big deal because we never get it in Spain. It’s funny because I don’t really like breakfast foods when I am in the states, but here it’s almost something that I crave (???). After breakfast, we decided to head to Verona. We had originally intended to go to Florence for the day (about three hours away by train), but that would involve an early manning, a late night, and lots of running around. Even then, we would hardly be able to do the city justice. We decided to stick a little closer to Vicenza and check our Verona instead.
“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny. Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Sound familiar? Yes, Verona is the setting of Romeo and Juliet! The city was beautiful and we had a lovely afternoon exploring. We popped in lots of shops and, of course, saw Juliet’s balcony. We found a “International Food Festival” online and decided to stop in to find some dinner. We ended up stopping at every stand and trying a bunch of different foods. Some interesting highlights were the caciocavallo spread on bread as well as the three different cannolis. We also had a calzone, a burger, some curry, these little meat skewers, etc. After that, we headed back to Vicenza for the night. Brenda had bought us some Oreos, which were definitely a treat! They have access to the army base commissary which has many American foods, so they found us some treats that are harder to find in Spain (yay!).
Flights out of Milan were much cheaper than those our of Venice, so three of us decided to take the opportunity to spend Sunday in Milan as well. We got up at 6:30 and made our way to the train station for a three hour ride. As soon as we got there, we hit the town! We first went to the Starbucks Reserve for some coffee and breakfast. This Starbucks is incredibly opulent and impressive. You should Google it, it is definitely a sight to see! We then did some shopping (as is customary in the “Fashion Capital of the World”), saw the Duomo, and played with the birds outside of the cathedral. My friends are really into getting the birds to jump on them (as our most tourists, haha) but I can’t stand them! I’m not the biggest bird fan, I must say! After a lovely day exploring Milan, we headed to the airport and returned to Sevilla.
Overall, this weekend was absolutely lovely. I especially enjoyed getting to know our hosts for the weekend, Brenda and Craig. The US Army has taken them all over the world. They have lived in Vicenza for almost four years and they love hosting guests. Brenda keeps count on how many people come stay in their house – I was #115! They are truly the most incredible hosts ever and I cannot thank them enough or begin to repay them for the hospitality that they displayed for our group this weekend. I went to Vicenza thinking we would have a free place to stay, but they offered us so much more than that! I hope to run into them in the future.
Although I consider myself a generally flexible person, I do not like uncertainty. In fact, when there is uncertainty in my life, I tend to obsess over it. However, my life was thrown into a cloud of uncertainty when I began my semester abroad.
Even after seven years of studying the Spanish language, I can only completely understand someone speaking to me about 80% of the time. Even when I feel as though I can properly translate the sentence, I doubt myself and even question the cultural differences that may be in play during the exchange. When I speak to others, even when I am sure I am saying the correct thing, I worry that I may mistake a word or conjugate incorrectly. I am never completely confident or certain in my speaking abilities.
The uncertainty that I have faced everyday has made me uncomfortable, but it has also challenged me to become comfortable with the unknown. This is because, frankly, I have no choice. I could ask “Que?” after every time someone speaks to me to ensure that I had heard them correctly the first time, but that would get old very quickly. I could quickly Google Translate everything I want to say before I say it, but that would not help me improve my Spanish. For now, I am “winging it” and choosing to live with uncertainty, to a certain extent.