Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Time Flies When You're Having A Spanish Adventure...

Wow. I have been in Spain for over TWO MONTHS now. It’s strange, because the day I got here seems sooo long ago, but the time has gone by really quickly. It’s crazy to think that 7 weeks from this moment, I will be flying somewhere over the Atlantic on my journey back to Iowa. I wonder what I will be feeling in that moment?

I have noticed quite a few changes I’ve gone through since being here (subtle things- some in my actions and others in the way I think) and have learned things about myself that I hadn’t known before. If things keep going as they are, I truly believe that 50 years from now I will still look back on this short period of my life as being one of the most important and influential. The impact it has had has made me wish I had studied abroad sooner- but then I think… maybe if I would have done it any other time, even just last semester, it wouldn’t have turned out the same.

In various ways, this has been an adventure for me… I can’t wait to see what the next 7 weeks of this amazing experience have in store for me. Some adventures that I DO know about are upcoming trips…

On April 9th I’m leaving for Amsterdam. From what I hear from people who have been there before, it should be a fantastic weekend. But in my more immediate future: TOMORROW my family is coming! Yay! My Spring Break officially starts on Friday and it’s the perfect opportunity to hang with the fam, and also do some more traveling.

My Mom, Dad, Sister, Aunt Cheryl and Cousin Tim are all coming. It’s going to be great to see everyone. Even though I haven’t been homesick, I’m really excited for them to be here (hopefully when they leave me it won’t trigger it!). We’ll spend a few days in Madrid, but then are going to Italy and Switzerland. I’ve never been to Switzerland before and am pumped to go, and I can’t wait to get back to Italy. I was there 5 years ago and absolutely adored it… We’ll be in Rome (my first time) and Venice. Venice ranked #1 on my “Place I’ve Been” list for quite some time, and I look forward to seeing if after this trip it will reclaim the top spot! There is soooo much art in Rome that I have learned about in my Art History class and it will be nice to see it in person. BUT, my main interest in Italy: Gelato ; )

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Big Two-Two

This is my first blog as a moldy oldie 22 year old. I realize that it’s not, but that sounds sooo old to me! I feel especially old after I realize that my favorite birthday ever, my 11th, was HALF of my life ago. Depressing! (I'm not sure what's more depressing... that I'm already 22 or that my favorite birthday was when I was in 5th grade)

However, I was distracted from my depression on my birthday because of the exciting weekend that was ahead of me. I have celebrated my birthday/bday weekend in places cooler than Dubuque a few times before: Orlando FL, the Dells, NYC and Waverly, IA (just kidding about that one- haha). BUT, the location I was heading off to right after my 22nd birthday puts the other places to shame: Morocco!

My birthday was Thursday (the 11th), and it started off amazingly. I woke up that morning to a wonderful birthday surprise!

The table in our living room was full of birthday stuff. My roommates Chloe and Danielle got me a delicious cake that Chloe made. It was topped with fruit and a perfect “FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS” candle (which is now on display on my desk). The bananas even said “22”! There were also some notes (that I will save forever!) and my cards/package that had arrived throughout the week. Plus, the sea shells and rose that are randomly on our bookshelf were thrown on for a nice touch.

I went off to class, and when I arrived home that evening there were MORE surprises! My birthday card from my grandparents had arrived and there was MORE stuff on the table. My Señora made me ANOTHER cake, there was a card from Danielle and some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Yummm. After packing for our trip, we were off for a birthday dinner at a really great Mexican place right around the corner from our apartment. It was soooo good. Going out to eat was a treat this year especially since I NEVER go to restaurants here. We are officially addicted to their Guacamole.

Since our flight to Morocco was so early in the morning (6:30) and we had to get there a few hours before, we decided we would just go to the airport before the metro closed, so we wouldn’t have to pay for a taxi in the morning. Soooo, at about midnight we left for the airport and were able to “sleep” there for a couple hours. Just like at the Gerona airport (winter break), it was difficult to actually sleep! It was freezing, loud and uncomfortable. But, I guess it was worth saving the money.

Just a couple hours after we boarded our flight, we were in Morocco! We flew into the Marrakesh airport but were staying in Taghazhut (by Agadir). The place we were staying at arranged for a driver to come pick us up at the airport. After going through customs, we saw the guy holding a sign saying “Hines, Dove, Rust”. RUST. This has been like the 4th time here that people have had my last name down as “Rust”. It’s funny because I rarely get that at home. And, “Kelsey” has also been really difficult for professors and other Spanish people to pronounce. Anyway, we got in with this crazy driver and made the 3 hr drive to Taghazhut, a quaint beach town. It was exactly as I imagined Morocco to be (which is good… because I had high hopes!). We stayed in a surf house through Stoke Travel that was only about a 5 minute walk to the beach. The house is run by some surfer guys, and we joined a small group of people from all over the world. There were two Italian guys, a guy from Germany and a girl originally from Las Vegas, working as an Au Pair in Paris. This experience was quite different than any of our stays in hostels. There was less independence, but I liked it. We all traveled around as a group (for the most part) and it was great having real live Moroccans with us who knew the area and who I felt safe with.

When we first got there on Friday, the three of us explored the town for a while and made our way down to the beach. I knew that riding a camel was a MUST DO thing for me while in Morocco- so when I saw people walking them along the beach I got so excited! We all took a turn riding one and it was sooo scary. They are VERY high up off of the ground. They are laying down when you first get onto them, and don’t stand up smoothly at all. I thought I was going to fall off of it! We walked along the beach for a while and it was a bumpy ride… and getting down was just as scary as getting up. My heart was racing the whole time (and even for a while after) but I’m so happy that I did it. It was SUCH a fun experience. I can now cross “ride a camel in Africa” off of my bucket list (not that it was ever actually on it). Haha. Now, when I go to another part the continent someday, I want to ride an Elephant! :)

The weather was so beautiful on the beach that we decided to run back to the house to put our swimsuits on. Of course, about 5 minutes after we got situated on the rocks the clouds rolled it. And it was freeeeeezing! So, we got some mint tea and coffee, and walked around the town some more. There were many vendors selling the most beautiful Moroccan things. Danielle, Chloe and I all got similar bracelets with Fatima’s hand on them, as a sort of roommate friendship bracelet to remember this trip, and all of our other adventures together.

We ate dinner on our rooftop terrace with everyone else from the house, and then I went to be before midnight since I was so tired and I would need all the energy I could get for surfing the next day!

On Saturday we woke but bright and early due to the rooster that lived next door. At the time I was hating it, but now I think it’s hilarious that I have actually been woken up by a rooster. It has never happened to me before! We ate breakfast than got our wetsuits on. We carried our boards down to the beach and after about a 30 second “lesson” got right into the water. It was cold at first but I got used to it right away- the sun was shining and it was really warm out. Such an upgrade from dreary Madrid!

It turns out, I am not a surfer. At all! It took me forever to “catch” a wave, and I couldn’t even ever get up onto my knees on the board. I was completely fine with it though… I had just as much fun riding them out on my stomach. I loved just being in the water, enjoying the sun and taking in Morocco. After over an hour or more of “surfing” I decided to go in and lay on the beach. I have never had a beach experience like It before. I opened up my eyes and there would be camels walking around and dogs laying around me… I got a kick out of the camels- the dogs, not so much! We laid out for a while and then went back to the house for lunch. I’m happy we didn’t stay any longer because I was completely unaware of how burnt I was getting! I was a little crispy, but not bad enough to interfere with my fun. (yes mom, I was wearing sunscreen… just obviously not enough)

After lunch, one of the guys who works at the surf house drove us to Agadir, the biggest town by Taghazhut. We went to the market which was full of so many spices, nuts, dried fruits, lanterns, jewelry and everything else Moroccan that you can think of and then went to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for that night. We were going to go to a Moroccan bath, but didn’t have enough time. Maybe on my next trip :)

After we had our traditional Moroccan dinner (on the roof top terrace, of course) we all just sat around visiting and listening to music. After a while, we decided to get some henna tattoos. One of the guys said that the Cook, Fatima, knew how to do it and we could go with her to get it done. Sooo, we walked up the street to her house and she and a friend gave them to us. They kind of cheated (they used a stencil) but the ink was freshly made, and it was such neat experience to be in a random house in Morocco, sitting on the floor getting tatted by these random ladies who we couldn’t communicate with. I got mine on my foot, and I’m happy I got it in a place I could cover up since it didn’t really work out. The ink smeared and it looks disgusting!

We went back to the house, smoked a little hookah and played some card games. Later in the night I was surprised with my THIRD birthday cake! The guys at the beach house bought me one when we were at the grocery store. It was SUCH a surprise and just like the others, delicious.

Our flight back to Madrid was leaving around 8:00am on Sunday and we needed to get to the airport at 6ish. And with the 3hr+ drive to Marrakesh from Taghazhut, we left the house at 2am! I tried to take a ½ hr nap before we left, but that didn’t work out. We all said our goodbyes and were on our way. We got back to Madrid around noon, and naps were definitely in order!

I know that my trip to Morocco will be something I’ll always remember, and the fact that it happened right after my 22nd birthday makes it all the more special :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oh, What a Weekend!

Well, I had yet another exciting weekend adventure! This past weekend Danielle, Chloe and I went to Barcelona. We decided to fly there since it costs about the same as the bus and is 7 hours shorter. If you can recall, we had to take the long ass Barcelona to Madrid bus ride after our flights got screwed up coming home from Spring Break… we weren’t going to be doing that again!

Our hostel was in a great location and was pretty nice. We’ve been having amazing luck with the places we’ve been staying at. This time we were at Equity Point-Centric. It was huge and held 400 people! Our room was a 12 person mixed dorm. We had 6 girls and 6 guys, and had a bathroom/shower in our room. I feel like this was the first “real” hostel experience we have had. In addition to the three of us, there were two French guys, two Korean girls, one Mexican guy, an American girl and three American guys. We were all students studying abroad in various locations in Europe; it was great to hear how the experience has been going for them. Luckily everyone spoke English really well, so we could all communicate. :)

I LOVE Barcelona. It’s definitely my favorite place I’ve been in Spain so far. At first, I wished that I was studying there… but then I realized that #1) if I would have gone to school there, I probably never would have left! And #2) I don’t speak their language...that would be hard! In Barcelona they speak Catalan, not Castellano (the Spanish I know).

We spent most of the day on Friday exploring the city. We got to our Hostel before noon, so we had a lot of time. One of the first things we did was go to the Chocolate museum. It doesn’t really compare to the one in Koln, but it was still pretty cool! My favorite part was that our ticket was an actual candy bar… best believe it was gone before I even got to the first exhibit.

La Pieta in chocolate! Hopefully I'll get to see the real one if I make it to rome :)

We also walked down “La Rambla” (a famous pedestrian strip with vendors), visited the port (it’s right on the Mediterranean Sea), looked at the outside of the Cathedral, and visited the huge covered market. Spanish folks really looooooove their jamón (ham)! I personally think that any food from a pig is nast, but they are all over that shiz. In Madrid, there are even a few Museos de Jamón (Ham Museums). Everywhere you turned in this giant market there were pig legs hanging, waiting for the taking. At one station, I even saw some skinned chickens with their EYEBALLS still attached. I obviously thought all of this was disgusting and crazy- but then I realized that I have never been in a butcher shop at home in my life… so maybe this nastiness happens in Dubuque too. You tell me… are chickens with eyeballs and giant pig legs normal?

We got some gelado on our journey and then headed back to our hostel to rest up. That night we were going to start celebrating Danielle’s best friend from home’s 21st birthday (which was that Sunday). She is also studying in Madrid, and was in Barcelona for the weekend with her program. After a short nap, we were on our way to dinner. We went to this amaaaaaazing Japanese restaurant. The thing that made it so amazing was how we were served. A conveyor belt ran though the restaurant and tables were set up next to it. You just grab the plates you want as they come, and it’s all you can eat. We were loving it! After words, we went down to the Olympic Port where there are a lot of bars and restaurants. We walked down the strip, and pretty much every doorman ushered us in for free drinks… it was a fun night :)

Saturday, we walked around and looked at a lot of buildings by Gaudí. I have to say, I really enjoy his style. It is just so unique and thought provoking. After seeing his designs, I am sooo excited to learn about him in my art history class. We saw La Sagrada Família and Casa Milà (which was right by our hostel), but my favorite part of the day was our visit to Park Güell. It is one of most amazing parks I’ve ever been too... actually it's probably THE most amazing. It was designed by Gaudí, and is like being in a dream land.

That night, I got subway AGAIN for dinner (I was in heaven) and had round two of gelado. Having gelado in Barcelona made me so excited to eat it in Italy over spring break. After, Chloe and I decided to go with some of our new hostel friends to the “Dow Jones” bar. It is a really cool idea: the drink prices rise and fall depending upon how popular they are, and there’s a point in the night when the market crashes and everything is dirt cheap. There are tv screens all over the place, so people can keep an eye on the prices as they change. We ended the night with free nuts at the hostel bar. The fake Irishman bartender/receptionist even gave me an apple for free.

On Sunday we did a little more exploring (and cheered on some marathon runners), but then it was time to part ways with the city I had fallen in love with :( I made my way back to Madrid, and as I was on the metro between the airport and my apartment, I got QUITE the surprise…

…So, I was sitting there all alone (Danielle and Chloe were on a flight 1hr before mine), and I got a picture message from my sister. It was a picture of a left hand, with what looked like an engagement ring on the ring finger. The text said, “Guess who this is?!”. It was definitely her hand! I didn’t know if she was joking with me or what. I only had a few stops left and couldn’t wait to get back to my room to skype! After what seemed like forever, I was finally face to face with my family (for the first time since being here). It turns out that it was no joke. My sister and her boyfriend Jeremy are engaged and I am so excited for them. It was/still is so hard not to be home right now! But, I’m happy that in the Skype session I was able to see and talk so many people. A lot of my family members were over at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, so when the laptop was getting passed around and traveling in and out of rooms, I kind of felt like I was there :)

So, that was quite the exciting weekend. And this weekend will be another adventure! Tomorrow is my 22nd birthday, and on Friday we’re leaving for Morocco! We’re staying at a surf/beach house, and lessons are included... So I’m crossing my fingers for amazing weather!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let the Sunshine in...

Today is a good day. First and foremost, it is my Grandparents' 60th anniversary! Yay! I'm so happy to be a part of the family they started :) I wish I could celebrate with them and the rest of the fam this weekend... I'll be thinking of them!

And, the cherry on top of this special day was that the weather was wonderful here! It was in the high 50’s when I made my first trip to/from school, which doesn’t sound very warm when I type it out. But the sun was shining and my winter coat was finally unnecessary (later in the day I needed it, though). Well, I considered it warm enough not to wear a heavy coat, but the Spaniards did not. On my walk to and from school today I passed many people still bundled up in long winter coats and scarves. While I was leisurely walking home during my break, perfectly warm in just a sweater (holding my coat), an old lady told me it wasn’t spring time yet. She said that the sun was just fooling us to make us think that it was warm and that it is still winter time. She warned me that if I didn’t put my coat on I would get sick. She was really funny! I slowed down to her glacial pace and walked with her for a little bit… I explained that where I’m from, “winter” means feet of snow and way below freezing temperatures. Sooooo, this weather feels exactly like spring to me. She laughed at me, told me I was crazy, and said that I would hate how high she keeps her heater in her apartment. As we parted ways, she gave me a slap on the arm and said, “Next time I see you, you’ll have pneumonia.” Then she called me guapa… so obviously I love her. Haha.

I am very surprised that it has taken so long for it to warm up here. I thought the weather would be like it is now when I arrived in January. Even though it wasn’t as warm as I thought (I was greeted with snow) it was still always significantly warmer than Dubuque. According to my iPod (which often gets the current and future weather completely wrong) the next few days here are supposed to be rainy and in the 40’s (lowish 40’s)… And it’s supposed to be mid to high 40’s at home! How does that happen? You’re passing me up! Luckily I am escaping to Barcelona for the weekend, where apparently it will still rain, but will be much warmer. I’ll take it.

With the weather warming up some, my walk back from school has become much more enjoyable. Only my walk FROM school because TO school is pretty much all up hill. Walking home, I am usually happy since I’m finally out of class and to top it off, it’s a little bit of “me” time when I’m all by myself (besides the hundreds of people I pass along the way…) and I can just listen to some music. What’s on my iPod during this walk? You guessed it, show tunes :) I have noticed that my speed, expressions and style of walking is different depending upon the song I’m listening to. So I’ve found which shows work best for me (Spring Awakening, for example, has too many slow songs). My go-to soundtrack is Hair. I’ll put the album on shuffle and let the iPod gods decide my mood and pace for me. The only problem is that these songs make me TOO happy. Haha.

Madrileños, the people who live in Madrid, are the not the most pleasant folks (in my opinion). So, when “Aquarius” or “Hair” is pumping into my ears and I’m smiling, bopping along, and loving the world and everyone in it, people think I’m nuts. Here, you don’t make eye contact with people, and you don’t smile at them. Coming from a place where you hold the door open for strangers, say sorry if you bump into someone and smiling is not considered weird, that has been one of the hardest things for me to get used to… it just seems that, in general, there is a lack of friendliness here. Obviously it’s not EVERYONE, but even the workers in restaurants and stores usually don’t ask you how you are or if you need help. Even if the waiter or worker doesn’t truly care how we’re doing, it’s still nice to hear.
I’m not trying to hate on Spain. I love seeing the differences between countries, and think that the diversity of our societies is one of the best things about our world … but spending time living in another culture has made me realize things I love about my own that I didn’t even notice before :)