Photodiary #1: 5 months of traveling

8 Jun

During my ~5 month stay in Granada, Spain, I managed to do quite a bit of traveling– in total, I visited 9 countries (plus one overseas British territory–Gibraltar)!

I also got a generous dose of Spain:

I’ve written well over 15,000 words on the places I’ve visited–but oftentimes, a photo can tell you more than words can. And also, I can’t blame you for not wanting to read every one of my travel entries (the one on Italy alone is over 5,000 words!)– so putting the past 5 months into pictures is a win-win for ‘errybody. I wish I had a better camera, but I guess my Panasonic Lumix and access to Photoshop CS4 will have to suffice for now. So without further ado: a favorite (while representative) photo I took in each city I visited during my semester abroad, more or less presented in chronological order. Enjoy!

London, England

Málaga, Spain

Granada, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Segovia, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Geneva, Switzerland

Annecy, France

British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar

Sevilla, Spain

Córdoba, Spain

Tangier, Morocco

Tetouan, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Asilah, Morocco

Marseille, France

Nice, France

Menton, France

Ventimiglia, Italy

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Cannes, France

Cinque Terre, Italy (village of Riomaggiore)

Florence, Italy

Pisa, Italy

Rome, Italy

Vatican City

Ronda, Spain

Nerja, Spain

Lagos, Portugal

Cabo de São Vicente, Portugal

Almería, Spain

Granada, Spain (one last time for good measure)

Coming next time: my top 10 favorite photos from study abroad. Maybe.

Sseeeeeya.

A little R&R (Reflection&Recapping): the last 5 months abroad

2 Jun

Ah yes, the quintessential reflection post on my study abroad experience. But before you run for cover in fear of reading something painstakingly dragged out and about as exciting as Wuthering Heights (no offense, Emily Brontë), stay for a minute and at least look at the pictures and skim for my terrible jokes.

In any case, the past 5 months in Granada, Spain were one hell of a trip. I remember saying goodbye to my mom in Boston, sending that final (mass) text message to my friends before taking off, and deliriously roaming through Heathrow Airport mere hours later. I remember the whirlwind that was our two-day London stopover, the blip in time that was our early-morning flight to Málaga, and the initial thoughts of “sooo…this is my home for the next 5 months” and “what the hell have I gotten myself into?!” as we cruised through the olive tree-covered mountains of Eastern Andalusia.

But there was little opportunity to let those panicked thoughts get the best of me. After placement exams and initial tours of the city, I was already in a set routine before I even realized it. Breakfast, grammar intensive, lunch, siesta, free time, dinner, more free time, bed. Then an excursion to Madrid and Barcelona. Then actual classes beginning in February, carrying over to my last real day abroad. And in between it all, speaking Spanish on a daily basis, traveling around Spain and Europe (and Morocco!),  and meeting new people and developing friendships. Some days presented the new and exciting, which would later become the now-familiar. Some days left me feeling happy, proud, or excited, while other days I was frustrated, upset, or believe it or not, bored.

But if there’s one thing I did learn, it’s that you can never be close-minded. You must be willing to step outside your comfort zone, assimilate to customs that may be unfamiliar to you, and learn to be flexible. Yeah, ordering a pizza on the phone in Spanish was nerve-wracking–NO, I don’t know what kind of cheese I want on my pizza, just give me cheese! Sure, greeting everyone with a kiss on both cheeks is certainly more time-consuming and intimate than a simple handshake. Oh, you mean RyanAir won’t give me a refund for the tickets I bought the day of the labor strike?!  But after initial feelings of nervousness, confusion, or frustration, you eventually adjust, and suddenly everything doesn’t seem as scary, foreign, or cumbersome anymore.

I remember one “moment” I had about 2 weeks before leaving Spain. It was sundress weather. I had been walking around the area before meeting up with my intercambio and I bumped into one of my favorite conservatory students in the street. After a quick conversation and farewell-please-email-me-someday, I met up with Rosa (my intercambio). We walked through the Albaicin, got wine and sandwiches (our tapa), and ran into some friends from my program and another professor from the conservatory. Running into this many people in one outing was a fairly uncommon occurrence for me, but was one that made me realize how far I had come from the first week walking around the city and not knowing anyone. Simultaneously occurring throughout the exchange with Rosa, I realized the amount of effort I had to put into formulating Spanish conversation was exponentially diminishing. Suddenly I was dropping my “s”s at the end of certain words, just like a Granadino would. I was genuinely understanding everything Rosa was saying, and more importantly, genuinely having a great time talking with her. And when I got back to dinner at the residencia that night, I was still on a high. After chatting with some of the Spanish students, Jesus even made note of how fast I was speaking and how fluent I sounded. And that was when I realized I left the plateau and finally was going somewhere. That realization carried over to every aspect of my experience abroad–I finally found a comfortable place in Granadino life. I was familiar with the language, the culture, and the layout of Granada. I had built some strong friendships. I established a productive routine in my classes. Little lessons, small strides, peaks and valleys, and the contingency of time finally culminated into this epiphany, this moment of clarity I had been seeking since the beginning of the semester.

Sorry, I had to break up the cheesiness somehow.

Aaaanywayyy, I leave behind many things that have become near and dear to me, including:

  • The views of the Sierra Nevada
  • Free tapas with every drink
  • The Alhambra all lit up at night
  • Kebabs every Sunday
  • All of the plazas, so pretty in the springtime
  • The super delicious ice cream at Heladeria Tiggiani
  • My intercambio, Rosa
  • Churros
  • Moroccan teahouses
  • Impromptu performances of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet Part 1” with my roommate, Gina
  • The music conservatory
  • The view of the city, the Alhambra, and the mountains from Mirador San Nicolas (and the people selling jewelry and playing music up there)
  • The Albaicin in general
  • The wonderful and hilarious friends I’ve made
  • The AIFS staff; Paula, Inma, Edu, and Carmen

…aaaand, I also leave behind some of the things I wasn’t so fond of:

  • The couple that’s always sucking face up against the residencia door (none of whom actually live at the residencia)
  • My speaking and writing skills professor, Carmen
  • The creepy old men who call us “guapa” or shout “OH MY GOD!” at us
  • The gross tinto de verano at El Camborio discoteca
  • National labor strikes

Through the ups and downs, I leave this experience feeling fulfilled, and overall, grateful.

Grateful to have met the people and made the friends I did.

Grateful to have gotten to visit the places I did.

Grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad.

Grateful for Granada.

I know I’ll be back…someday. It’s never “adios,” always “hasta luego.” So hasta luego, Granada, ya te echo de menos.

As for the future of this blog, I created it not only for my study abroad experience, but also any future trips I may (and will) take. So even though there may be some exceptionally long hiatuses, you can bet I’ll still check in here every once and awhile. This blog was a lot more successful than I thought it would be– over 1300 views and 18 followers– and I can’t thank those of you who have followed the experience with me enough. It means a lot to me!

Sooner than later, I intend to post a few photo diaries highlighting where I’ve been the past 5 months. I may even force myself to pick my top 10 favorite photos from this entire experience. Which knowing my highly indecisive nature will force me to make it 15 pictures. But what else is new?

Hasta prontoooo.

My last week in Granada

29 May

This past Friday, May 25th, I made my way home to America after nearly 5 months of studying abroad in Granada, Spain. But before I get to discussing my homecoming or reflecting upon my experiences abroad (to be done in the next entry I publish!), I wanted to recap all that has happened since I last updated. But because I’m going to be writing another entry shortly after I publish this one (in theory…), I’ll try my best to not be exceedingly long-winded for all of our sakes.

I guess the last few days of being in Granada can be described as a whirlwind of sorts. There was a sense of urgency in the air, an urgent need to aprovechar (to take advantage of) the city and have at least one more crazy night out, a few more glasses of white wine or tinto de verano at our favorite tapas places, one more walk through the Albaicin, and of course, be sure to have at least one last hurrah with everyone we had grown close to on the program. And in the midst of aprovechando, a different sense of urgency took face: final exams. Which in my case entailed extensive studying for my Franco exam and well over 10 pages of Spanish essays for my Civ/Culture and POE (speaking/writing skills) classes and my internship at the music conservatory. But not to worry… I think I succeeded in achieving the tasks at hand.

*crickets chirping*

Aaaaanyway, I can say that I did something every day this past week and a half or so, but some nights managed to be crazier than others. I’ll start with last Friday night. After having a dance party with Katy Perry and Rebecca Black After a tour of the Sacromonte district during the day, that night my program had its farewell dinner and Flamenco show up in the Albaicin. The pleasant weather granted us cute-dress-wearing privileges and I have to say, the 43 of us cleaned up quite nicely. Dinner was awesome– lots of small courses, ranging from mushroom croquetas to calamari to Iberian ham (which I finally tried!) and other Spanish classics, PLUS a dessert platter including chocolate lava cake, which will forever be immortal in the world of desserts.  In the middle of dinner, the flamenco show began, and lemme tell ya, it was pretty flippin’ sweet. There were 4 members of the group: a guitarist, a singer, and two dancers, a man and a woman, who also served as human percussion instruments. The first part was just music, and then the man did a solo, then the woman, and then they did a duet. All I can say is that these dancers must have calves of steel and permanently furrowed brows after doing these lengthy stomping combinations with such passion and intensity. Also, if there is ever a Flamenco class offered in Boston or Pittsburgh, sign me up please, or make him or her come to Pitt Dance Ensemble and teach us some things.

The Flamenco singer getting very into it

Gettin’ their groove on!

After the show, a bunch of us went up to the Mirador for some pictures and a prime time view of the city, which was so nice. Afterward, we went to Hannigans to pregame the night ahead of us. At this point it was around midnight, and the only people there besides ourselves and the nice British bartender were two families WITH THEIR TODDLERS AND INFANTS AND STROLLERS. Sitting in booths by the stripper pole certainly didn’t help their case, either.  Some children go to Chuck E. Cheeses, but some kids are already ready for the big leagues. Kids these days…anyway. They left soon enough, leaving our party alone to order flaming tequila shots that came in an orange peel (seriously!). Then really out-classed ourselves and played on the stripper pole like the sophisticates we are. Let’s just say you won’t see any of us working the pole for a living anytime soon, but I guess that’s a good thing. Soon after Hannigans, we cruised around a bit more and eventually made our way to Vogue (a discoteca) around 2:15 AM or so. Funny how in the states, this would be about the time I’d be heading home for the night, not out for it! When we arrived, I honestly expected tumbleweed to blow through the place, it was that empty–it wasn’t ’till 3:30ish it got more crowded with people, mainly Spaniards. The bottom floor played indie, rock, and pop music, and the top floor played techno. Admittedly, I wasn’t feeling the music at first since I didn’t know many of the songs, but as the night went on, they played more dance-able stuff (that wasn’t boring like the techno upstairs) and we had a blast! We left around 5:30 that morning, less than an hour before the break of dawn. Talk about a crazy night!

Some fabulous people

Women of class

Another night, some of us went to Chupiteria (the shots bar) to redeem our points (one point per shot) for prizes– in our case, tote bags– and then we went to a karaoke bar! The place was definitely intended for a slightly older (and native Spaniard) crowd, but we had a fabulous time singing along to the random Spanish songs we had never heard before, after requesting some songs we were more familiar with, like JT’s “Señorita” and Gaga’s “Alejandro,” among others. It was a blast! You’d just request a song and once it was your turn, they’d give you a microphone– but there was no stage or anything, just lots of screens everywhere with the words. goOd t1meZ.

Redeeming our points at Chup!

Helloooo American Idol.

Another night, I went to Granada Diez (the discoteca we went to the first week), which was fun. I also met up with my intercambio, Rosa, for tapas a few times. Speaking of tapas, I got them frequently: ranging from my favorite fried eggplant with honey at D’Cuadro’s, to new things like pasta in pumpkin cream sauce and risotto and other fun things. And lots of tinto de verano (red wine and lemon fanta, or what I like to call poor man’s sangria). Our last night, a bunch of us went to some of our favorite tapas places (like D’Cuadro’s and Babel) and kind of just walked around with a subdued look in our eyes–no, not because of the wine we had been drinking–but because this was it. This was our last night in Granada. The next day, I wouldn’t be eating chips in my bed or dancing around to “Buttons” with my roommate Gina or walking through the gorgeously green Plaza de Trinidad en route to class or pondering what Rosa would be cooking for lunch that day– nope, I’d be sitting in a Boeing 40,000 feet in the air over the Atlantic, back to America. I didn’t like the feeling, so I suppressed any sadness and tried to just take everything in as the person I’ve become after these past 5 months…and know that while no situation is ever permanent, the memories–and Granada–will always be there. And that some day, I will return to Granada.

More reflection to come in the next entry–but hopefully nothing you’ve already heard before. Carrying on.

Exams were exam-y. And fine, overall. I don’t get my grades until July, but I definitely at least passed everything, I’m sure– which is all that really matters, since none of my grades are transferring. I’m just so happy to be done with studying and writing papers and other general schoolwork; this semester was nearly a month longer than a typical semester at Pitt and there comes a point when one gets restless and just wants the work to stop. Though I have to say, academically, this was one of the most relaxing semesters I’ve ever had, and teaching at the music conservatory was easily one of my favorite “classes” I’ve ever completed–ever.

Packing was a bitch, I’m not going to lie. The max weight for a suitcase is 23 kg (about 50 pounds), and since I didn’t really want a 60-dollar fee, I had to throw away and donate a lot of things. It was kind of liberating though, getting rid of things that I could do without and wouldn’t have to deal with unpacking later. I took a bus with some of the people on my program to the Granada airport around 7:30 AM, managed to get through check-in without fees for my 23.5 kg suitcase, schlepped myself and my 10 kg duffel bag and however-the-hell much backpack onto my flight to Madrid, loafed around Madrid-Barajas airport, and finally made my way back to Boston. The hour-long flight to Madrid was unmemorable, which I guess is a good thing because that must’ve meant it went smoothly. The walk from where we landed to where we needed to go was close to 25 minutes–oh, you didn’t know? Rome’s not the only city with another principality inside it, Madrid’s home to the city of Madrid-Barajas International Airport. So needless to say, we were winded by the time we reached Terminal 4S, the international departures area. Ryann was on my flight back, and our gate was literally the LAST one in this nearly 1 km long terminal. For some reason, several of the gates (including ours) were past additional security, which consisted of several officers inspecting our passports and boarding passes. The additional security was unproblematic until it came time to buy a snack– on the other side of our roped off area– and the guard insisted on holding on to my boarding pass until I returned, and once I did make it back, I was escorted into this private room for additional screening! I was given a pat down and my purse was searched. I guess buying those mentos wasn’t worth it after all. Luckily, we boarded our Iberia Air flight soon enough, and the ride proved itself pleasant. We got in an hour earlier than anticipated and my seatmate, a woman who couldn’t have been more than 30, was nice to chat with. Unlike British Airways, we didn’t have our own TVs, but I made do by sleeping, doing sudoku, and enjoying our pesto gnocchi lunch. I finally landed around 3 PM, cleared customs, and was met with quite the surprise when I saw not only my mom, but two of my best friends, Em and Tali, in the arrivals hall! They had been in Boston all day and contacted my mom and decided to come surprise me. It didn’t take long to feel right at home, especially with the mocha iced latte I bought at Dunkin Donuts (and of course, accidentally told the guy “gracias” upon receiving my drink).

So now I’m home, and while everything is still pretty surreal to me, I’m slowly adjusting to the time difference and enjoying life at home. And eating bagels, finally, for the first time in 5 months. And seeing some of my best friends. The past 5 months haven’t totally hit me yet, which is why I’m waiting to reflect on everything in my next entry.  But for now…I’ll just try my best to let everything settle and get back into the swing of life in America. They warned us about reverse culture shock–shock upon returning to the US– which I can’t say I’ve felt all that extensively, but then again, there wasn’t a huge amount of culture shock upon first coming to Granada. It’s certainly different being home, but it’s nice to be around familiarity and all the things I missed again.

Coming next time:

  • Reflecting…too much reflecting
  • Maps that took so long to create, you’d wonder if I had a life
  • More poorly edited pictures with MS Paint
  • Cliches, lame puns, and more cheesiness than a box of mac and cheese (there I go again)

Fasten your seatbelts.

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Playas gon’ play: the beaches of Southern Iberia

17 May

I couldn’t resist making a 3LW reference. Who doesn’t love that song?

For the record, “playa” (pronounced “ply-uh”) means “beach” in Spanish. And Iberia refers to the Iberian peninsula, which contains Spain and Portugal (and technically Andorra too). So with that in mind, I’ll be telling you all about my past two weekends soaking up the sun in Lagos, Portugal and Almería, Spain! The water finally warmed up a little bit and I was able to take a dip in both the Atlantic (the other side of it!) and the Mediterranean…winning.

LAGOS

So a bunch of us booked this trip through DiscoverGranada, along with well over 70 students studying abroad in both Granada and Sevilla. Traveling with such a large group of both familiar and unfamiliar faces was a nice change of pace from being with only the familiar faces of my AIFS program. We boarded the bus at 6 AM, lulled back to sleep with our tour guide’s “chill music” playlist–which was comparable to my own “chill music” playlist, so me having a non-functioning iPod for the 7+ hour ride wasn’t a problem after all. After several required rest stops (a half hour one every 3 hours) and a one-hour time change, we finally made it to Lagos. Could there BE a more gorgeous place? This adorable little town (albeit adorable and touristy little town) is right on the Atlantic, set aside reddish brown cliffs and rocky formations that abut from the perfectly clear teal water. </being poetic> We ate our bocadillos for lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon loafing on the beach near our hotel, Praia da Dona Ana.

One of our first views of Lagos

Praia da Dona Ana

We went in, but didn’t stay for long–the water was colder than New Hampshire beach water, which is saying something! But it was very nice to see the good ‘ole Atlantic again. Sure, the Mediterranean will be infinitely more beautiful…but as a native of the East Coast, the Atlantic’s got a special place in my heart.

ANYWAY, after loafing a bit in the hotel, we all set out to the town center for some dinner and partying. We ended up at this place (per recommendation of our tour guides) called Nah Nah Bah, a chill restaurant known for its ginormous hamburgers. Of course that’s why I got grilled chicken and not a hamburger. But let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS. Yes, I know it’s only grilled chicken, but you don’t understand how juicy and flavorful and substantial (compared to the limp slabs of chicken Rosa sometimes cooks for us at the residencia) this meal was. After dinner, it started raining outside, so we made our way quickly to the club where our welcome party was being held (after awkwardly hanging around a few bars and not buying anything). Admission and a free drink were included upon us signing up for the trip, so we enjoyed our screwdrivers and danced the night away!

The next morning was the sangria cruise we had paid additional money to sign up for. The description? “A 2 hour boat ride around Lagos and its grottos with unlimited sangria.” We were sold. Or so we thought. Apparently our tour guides overbooked the two boats, so they shoved 8 of us (including myself, Krissy, Jaime, and Katie) in a motorboat sans sangria or any clue as to what was going to happen in the next 2 hours. So as our boat began to pull away from the fun and laughter of all of our friends on the big ships enjoying their sangrias, the 4 of us were initially very huffy. But as it turns out, out motor boat-ist (aka the driver/sailor) was taking us on a cool little tour of all the grottos! Which were STUNNING and very otherworldly…kind of like being on Mars, if Mars had any major bodies of water, that is. And after the tour, they took us back to the ship so we could join in on the rest of the sangria fun and other people could get to see the grottos. So everything worked out and it ended up being a great time! At one point they stopped the boat, allowing people to jump off the side into the water…and after some coaxing from Jaime (who I swear, you could throw her in the ocean near Antarctica and she wouldn’t be cold), the three of us jumped in too! Yes, it was cold, but in a good, invigorating kind of way. And considering only like 6 people jumped out of the 25+ people on the boat, it felt good to be ballsy.

The grotto tour

Post-jump victory shot!

After the cruise, we headed over to Praia Meia, one of the biggest beaches in Lagos. Unlike the sand at the beach near our hotel, this sand was soo soft and fine…it felt great on the feet! We spent the day tossing around a football (an American football!), drinking more sangria, and running around like the hooligans that we are. Oh, and I also ate delicious chicken nuggets for lunch. I accept the fact that I’m actually about 5 years old on the inside.

After the beach, we went back to our hotel briefly before heading over as a tour group to Cabo de São Vicente, otherwise known as The End of the World– it’s the southwestern most point in Europe! So naturally, the geography nerd in me was pumped, but disappointed I couldn’t find a sign to verify the geographical significance. 😦 The reason for coming was to watch the sunset– because you’re on the corner of Portugal, your view of the ocean extends past your peripheral vision, which was especially awesome when paired with the kick-ass sunset that Saturday had in store for us.

It’s not the end of the world if we miss the sunset…oh wait…maybe it is.

The bus ride back to Lagos from Sagres (the town where The End of the World is) was hilarious, with students coming up to the microphone and telling their best jokes and riddles. One of my personal favorites made absolutely no sense, but that’s why it was so great– I forget the actual question, but the answer was “purple, because ice cream doesn’t have any bones.” Gina and I died a little. I even contributed with one of my favorite Chuck Norris jokes: “Chuck Norris challenged Lance Armstrong to a ‘who has more testicles’ contest. Chuck Norris won by five.” Except I almost said Lance BASS (the former N*Sync popstar), which would’ve been a hilarious fail on my part. Admittedly, I’ve mixed the two up on multiple occasions…

Well THAT can’t be right…

After getting back to Lagos, 8 of us made our way to a quiet Indian restaurant. This restaurant completely OWNED any other Indian place I’ve been to–I wish this restaurant were in Concord or Pittsburgh! Seriously, everything just looked so GOOD. Attempting to save some cash, I had chicken tandoori and nan with butter, which were both drool-worthy…although in retrospect, getting a more exciting chicken dish would’ve been a better idea. I certainly ate a lot of chicken this vacation, to say the least, so it would’ve been more fun if I got something less plain. But after dinner, we made our way to a bar/club (I forget the name of it, but it had “garage” in it) and had a repeat of the night before.

Sunday, some people went for pre-paid surfing lessons, but I opted to stay in Lagos and soak up the sun. The past two days had been partly cloudy, but not Sunday– the sky was as clear as anything and the sun was deceptively strong. Needless to say, I left the beach that day about 5 shades darker than what I came as–with a nasty sunburn as a free gift. Oh, and a cut on my knee from attempting to climb on a rock (covered with shell sediments that were very sharp, mind you) and jump into the water. Hot mess right here. Literally– it must’ve been 90 degrees F at least! But a great day nonetheless, despite the rude awakening on the strength of the sun here and how re-application of sunscreen is essential.

Geronimoooo!

We finally left Lagos in the late afternoon, and after several obnoxious mandated rest stops, we got back to Granada past 2 AM and trudged our sunburned selves back to the residencia. But what a great weekend we had!! I can honestly say Lagos was one of my favorite weekends abroad so far. Granted, it wasn’t very culturally enriching and it was definitely touristy– but at the same time, it was socarefree. I would’ve loved to see Lisbon or other parts of Portugal and have a good basis of comparison between the western third of the Iberian peninsula and the rest of it (aka Spain), but this wasn’t that kind of vacation. And for a vacation meant to be fun, relaxing, and somewhat reminiscent of your classic spring break, this trip to Lagos fully served its purpose.

ALMERÍA

This trip was just a one-night shindig with my program, but because a good chunk of people opted to go to Ibiza instead, our group was rather small. The projected experience was very similar to Lagos–a relaxing getaway and an opportunity to catch some rays– and this past weekend too ended up being very similar to Lagos. Almería is a lot closer to Granada than Lagos, luckily, so we made it there in under 2 hours. Upon checking into our nice hotel, we made our way over to the main beach and basically were just loving life for the next 24 hours. This time, I was vigilant about re-applying sunscreen, so by some miracle, I didn’t get a sunburn. The water here was so much warmer than in Lagos! So we spent all day swimming, right? WRONG. There has to be a catch: jellyfish. Everywhere. This first came to our attention when an adorable three year old girl with her big brother came up to us asking if we wanted to see what they caught in the ocean. Thinking it would be a fish or something, we were all shocked to see the pinkish-clear jelly belly floating around in their pail…and then everywhere in the water. Eek! I don’t think the little guys were deadly or anything (otherwise I’d hope we wouldn’t have gone to Almería in the first place), but a sting is a sting and I’m sure it would’ve been unpleasant to experience. And it would definitely be unpleasant to pee on or be peed on by someone in order to alleviate the sting. Luckily, none of us had to succumb to that– and I still managed to get in the water for a little while 🙂

We had a lovely buffet dinner at the hotel, and then spent the rest of the night loafing and talking. Being at the beach is tiring!

The next day was similar– we went to the beach first, got too hot, and then opted to hang out at the super large and fancy hotel pool the rest of the day. I forgot how much I miss swimming pools! The day was nice and chill, with me spending much of the day reading in a lounge chair underneath a cabana. Here’s a picture of us from the beach!

Who run the world? Girls!

We left the city around 5 and got back to Granada before our traditional Sunday-night kebab dinner. After getting all the sand out of my purse, I called it a night early.

* * * * *

In other news, today is Friday, which means I have exactly 1 week left here before coming back to America. Pretty crazy, huh? I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by. Amidst writing papers, doing presentations, studying for exams, packing, and attempting to soak in as much of Granada as I can, I want to write a few more blog entries: one on Spanish culture 101 (aka, one I should’ve done 3 months ago), a quintessential reflection piece, and a few photo-diary entries highlighting where I’ve been this semester and maybe doing one featuring my 10 favorite photos I’ve taken. We’ll have to see how much of this actually gets done while I’m here, because my laptop charger kicked the bucket and I now have to rely on the computers at school or Drea’s charger. Mnyehh. But I’ll try!

Until then…hasta pronto!

Playing catch up

11 May

…since I’ve updated my blog! Also…disappointed I couldn’t find a funny gif for this godforsaken song. I find it impossible to say the words “It’s been awhile” without singing them like an angsty hotbed of emotion a la Staind. No judgment, please.

Buuuut seriously. It has been awhile since I’ve written. Time to play catch up! Since returning from spring break in France and Italy, a lot has happened. As to not drone on in a highly disorganized manner, I’ll organize everything into neat little sections so you can skip around as you please (all two of you who actually read this blog)–and of course, you can expect some pretty silly pictures and MS Paint edits, too.

DAY TRIP TO RONDA/ “Let it Rain Over Me” brought to real life

Ronda is a small city in the neighboring province of Málaga, about two hours away from Granada. It’s known for having this big bridge and the oldest bull-ring in Spain…and for also being a popular destination for tourists who want to go somewhere a little more off-the-map. Ronda was beautiful, don’t get me wrong…but after walking and standing around in <40 degree F torrential downpour with a cold for hour-long periods of time, I admittedly kind of regretted not staying in my bed all day instead. I’m sure it’s gorgeous in the summer, though. Here’s a few pictures:

Puente Romano and the old city of Ronda

Pretty views, at least!

A slow and painful death

Oldest bullring in Spain!

 

CLASS / Carmen is a soulless bitch

Decent as usual, except things with Carmen got wayyy worse. I’ll spare the long-winded explanation, but Carmen (my POE/speaking and writing skills teacher I griped about last month) had continued to make me feel like I wasn’t improving in class and that my contributions were silly…and I had finally reached my limit with her after this conversation in class a few weeks ago:

Me: (talking about football) Pues, para ser honesta, apoyo Real Madrid porque (“well to be honest, I support Real Madrid because”) —

Carmen: (translated to English) “Para ser honesta” isn’t a real phrase.

Me: Really? I learned it in a textbook! And I’ve used it many times before and you never corrected me before.

Carmen: (smugly shaking her head) Nope, it is incorrect.

Me: Pues, no voy a arguar, pero (“well, I’m not going to argue, but”) —

Carmen: (still looking smug) That’s not right either. You mean “discutir.”

Me: (seething) Vale. (fine)

So after class, I confronted her and told her since our chat a month earlier, I didn’t feel as comfortable speaking in class. I also explained how I felt she had humiliated me in front of my classmates and how I felt she was a bit condescending. I had looked up the word “condescending” in my dictionary and she actually had the nerve to tell me that in Level 7, we shouldn’t be using dictionaries (and yes, she was still wearing the same smug expression from earlier). My nervousness subsiding and my blood beginning to boil, I shot back in perfect Spanish (using the subjunctive, even!) that one wouldn’t use the word “condescending” in typical day-to-day conversation, and therefore I would hope she could understand why I needed to look it up. Not to mention there are 2 more levels above me and we’re obviously not fluent speakers.

Needless to say, we had a 10-minute discussion where I was basically in tears and Carmen proved herself a cold heartless bitch. I made it clear I was not intending to be disrespectful, but felt that my respect was not reciprocated by her and that the manner in which she gave me so-called “constructive criticism” was highly detrimental. I also felt she made fun of me in class a lot, but in a more malicious manner than to other students. Her response? “It’s not my fault you misinterpreted my advice or jokes.” No “I’m sorry for embarrassing you,” “I guess I should’ve told you you weren’t improving in a nicer way,” or something along those lines. She truly believed she had done nothing wrong. Your student is crying right in front of you and you can’t even muster up one ounce of empathy to think about how harmful your words are. You’re too conceited to even think back on your actions and ponder if you could’ve said something differently. I’ve tried my best to assimilate to the blunt nature of Spanish speech, Carmen, you should at least try your best to assimilate to the more sensitive nature of American students, especially considering that’s the primary demographic you teach.

Luckily, Paula (my director) was behind me 100% and told me she would talk to Carmen. I’m devising a letter to give to Paula to relay to Carmen once my grades are in, just so Paula has this information on file and I can leave POE with my head up high. But enough drama for now!

TEACHING / I want to take the conservatory home with me

I just finished teaching at the music conservatory…I was so sad to leave!  Teaching there really made my experience abroad extra-special. 45 hours later, I taught over 10 different lesson plans and got to know over 50 different students while teaching with Pilar, Hernan, and Jeronimo. The three of them and all of my students are just such great people and I feel very privileged to have gotten the chance to work with them. And while I still have no clue what I want to do after college, this experience has made me realize how much I love working with the college-age demographic– some worthy insight, since I always thought I’d only ever want to work with elementary-age kids.

I’m gonna miss this

MY PARENTS’ VISIT /Harold and the Purple…wife?

In case you were wondering, Harold is my dad, but never once did my mother turn purple on this trip. I just like Harold and the Purple Crayon a lot, that’s all.

About two weeks ago, my mom and dad came to Granada to visit me for the week! Despite the shitty weather, we managed to cover a lot of ground and overall had a fabulous time. They stayed in an apartment in the Albaicin (with a view of the Alhambra!), so I stayed with them for a couple of nights for a mini-vacation. We went up to the Mirador (for the view of the Alhambra, Sierra Nevadas, and the rest of Granada), walked through Sacromonte (the gypsy barrio), went to a Moroccan tea house, went to Nerja for a day at the beach, walked around during Dia de las Cruces (an Andalusian holiday where they mount numerous flower-covered crosses around the city and all the women dress up in Flamenco dresses–very cool!), and even went out for a cafe con leche with my music teacher, Pilar! And of course they did the Alhambra and other touristy things I’d already done while I was in class. Everything we did was fun, but the highlight for me was meeting with Pilar– she and my parents really hit it off and we just had a wonderful time together. We also went out for some great meals at restaurants I don’t normally frequent (three cheers for being a broke college student), my favorite being a traditional Moroccan restaurant in the Albaicin. Couscous, why are you so GOOD? They also took Gina and me out for a Mexican dinner, which was fun, even though we were the only ones there.

It was great to see my parents again! But simultaneously very surreal to be in Granada with them and speaking lots of Spanish (and watching my dad try to speak Spanish– keep workin’ on it, pops). Too bad they couldn’t bring my dog Jasper with them, though. I miss him. Everything was fun though, especially cruising around in the new BMW the car rental place gave them (at no extra cost)– no keys, just a button you push to start! I felt like Wiz Khalifa in his Black and Yellow music video (Fun fact: every time I go to Target at the Waterfront in Pittsburgh, I pass where Wiz was dancing in front of those smoke stacks. Holla to that.). I’m not normally the super homesick type, but it’ll be nice to see them in less than a month again.

The rents and me at Mirador San Nicolas

The view from their apartment– yes, that’s a rainbow behind the Alhambra!

Nerja: mountains and beach in one place, finally!

Flamenco dancers on Dia de las Cruces

GENERAL TOMFOOLERY /When words fail, poorly edited pictures with MS Paint speak volume 3

Declared my support for Real Madrid (because I arbitrarily rooted for them in the Madrid-Barça match a few weeks ago and they won– so now I guess I’m a fan?)

Read The Hunger Games and then saw the movie…in Spanish! Reading the book beforehand definitely helped, but I was proud of myself for understanding 70% of the dialogue (no subtitles, except in the scenes where Katniss sings in English)

Lost internet in the residencia for over a week

Got an intercambio, Rosa…she’s awesome! I don’t have a real picture of her, unfortunately. Sorry in advance for the weirdness of this picture. We meet up once a week and spend half the time talking in Spanish and the other half in English. I wish I had done this earlier in the semester!

Drank lots of sangria and ate lots of tapas– everything from Chinese vegetable lo mein to grilled cheese sandwiches and more!

 

Spent lots of time aprovechando (taking advantage of) these last two weeks I have here

 

I also went to Lagos, Portugal last weekend, which was a blast, but I’ll cover it in my next entry. Tomorrow I go to Costa del Sol for a day at the beach with my program, and after that, I have one last week of classes before finals week. Ahead of me is a 1500 word paper (todo en Español, claro) with a presentation for my internship at the conservatory, a final on Franco, and essays in POE and Civilization & Culture. In exactly 2 weeks from today, I will be on a plane somewhere near the Canada-Maine border on my way home (provided a. my flight isn’t delayed, and b. I actually have a flight with possible Iberia Air strikes that day). It’s totally crazy how fast time has flown by. But more on final Granada thoughts later…it’s time to get out and live la vida loca! Ricky Martin would be so proud. Hasta luego, amores!

Spring Break part 2: One boot fits all

19 Apr

Nope, this boot isn’t anything you could find at DSW. You’d have better luck if you pulled out a map instead! Too lazy to pull up Google Maps? No worries, I’ve already done the work for you!

And here commences part 2 of spring break, good ‘ole Italia. We went to Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome, and did a day trip to Pisa while chillin’ in Florence. 6 nights well-spent, that’s for sure!

Oh and disclaimer: I apologize in advance for the absurdly long length of this entry. What can I say, I’m not known for cutting corners when telling stories or being exceptionally concise. I guess in retrospect, I should’ve split this into three entries, but I suppose it’s better to bite the bullet and just write it all down at once. Skim and skip around as you wish, and for your convenience, I’ve organized the entry into neat little sections. Enjoy!

CINQUE TERRE (aka living in a postcard)

Our first stop in Italy was Cinque Terre, where we spent 1 night in the village of Riomaggiore. Getting there from Nice wasn’t exceedingly difficult, although we did have to take three different trains and some of our transfers allotted us 15 minutes or less. We made it though! Our first leg of the trip was a 50ish minute ride to Ventimiglia, directly across the border from Menton and where I picnicked with Thea (see my last entry :D). From Ventimiglia, we took a 2ish hour train ride to Genoa, got off, and boarded our final train to Riomaggiore. With our AM departure and short transfers, we made it to Riomaggiore a little before lunchtime (European lunchtime, so a few hours later than American lunchtime)– not too shabby! And overall, the train was a pleasant experience, with no creepy Italian men cramping our style (and comfort zones…) a la Eurotrip:

We checked into our “hostel,” which was actually more like a series of individual apartments scattered all around the village. The 5 of us were split into two apartments, with Ruth, Jen, and me staying in an apartment at the top of 4-story building– not fun to climb up those narrow stairwells with our luggage, but it was well worth the view from our own private balcony!

Casual, right? And this was only a HOSTEL! In case you’re wondering, we stayed at the Affittacamere Patrizia hostel. It worked out well for us and they didn’t charge us for the night we missed due to the Northern Italian strike, so as far as I’m concerned, there wouldn’t be a reason to give them a bad review!

After checking in, we had our first Italian lunch (or my second, if you count the picnic I had earlier in Ventimiglia with Thea)– pizza! Except this pizza was actually just foccacia bread with toppings. Still good though!

The main reason people come to Cinque Terre is to gawk at the gorgeous views while traversing the 5 villages– either on foot or by train– which is exactly what we did. We ended up visiting 4 of the 5 villages, and each one was jaw-droppingly incredible every corner we turned. Most of the villages were set atop jagged cliffs, but some of them provided access to the shore and we were able to sit right on the beach for a bit. Imaginably, our day in Cinque Terre was nothing short of delightful…and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll give you about 10,000 words to conjure right now, since Cinque Terre is the kind of place best described through images.

Convenient sea access in Riomaggiore (and convenient beauty access)

The look down as we walked to Manarola via the Via Dell'Amore (the walk of love)

Leaving our mark on the Via Dell'Amore

Approaching Manarola

Manarola

Monterosso del Mare

Vernazza

Vernazza

The incredible view on our way back to Riomaggiore

After our beyond beautiful tour of the villages, we got dinner at a nice little restaurant. I had pesto and chocolate cake, two of my favorite things that’ve now been raised onto higher pedestals after my first formal Italian dining experience. Spoiler alert for the rest of this entry: I will be talking about food a lot. Because Italian food, actual Italian food coming from Italy, is unparalleled. I kid you not. Granted, I’m a picky eater and semi-vegetarian and my palate is admittedly somewhat unadventurous, but amidst my sampling of traditional Spanish, Moroccan, and Swiss/French food, Italy trumps them all with a garlic-and-olive-oil-scented fist.

The rest of the evening was perfect, with the 5 of us splitting a bottle of 4 euro wine on our private balcony. Another one of those moments where I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Sure, you’ve gotta have your crazy nights out at the bars or a discoteca, but personally, I don’t think anything’s nicer than a relaxing night sipping wine in good company– with the bonus of an unbeatable view! We slept well that night, after a long day of train rides, exploring the villages, and indulging our palates.

FLORENCE/ PISA (aka, tourist central, but for a good reason)

The next morning (Tuesday), we got ourselves up and out for an 8 AM train to Pisa, where we got off and took another train to Florence. Working those Italian trains like a CHAMP. We got to our hostel in Florence a little after 1:00 PM, but had to wait outside in the dark hallway (curse you automatic light switches) until the lady running the place returned from her lunch break. We stayed at the Promenade hostel, which was more like an upscale hostel or lower-scale hotel…and while the location was great (30m from the Ponte Vecchio bridge), the place definitely catered to a much older crowd than a group of college students like ourselves. The vibe of the place was stuffy and froo-froo and a longshot from youthful or fun.

The biggest problem we had with the hostel was the lady in charge of the place. She was actually certifiably insane. Talking with her was like doing tango with three people– exhausting and unproductive. And circular. Her trying to convey how much we owed for our stay at the hostel literally took 15 minutes– and she kept on trying to tack on extra charges! Not to mention she charged us 10 euros for wifi, claiming the network was private and even giving us a name and “password” for the network, but it was all a scam– the network was totally open and unsecured and the “password” she gave us was just part of the network’s name. Could’ve strangled her for that alone, but over the course of our three-night stay, she just made everything so much more complicated than it needed to be. She passive-aggressively accused us of being loud past 10 PM when in fact all that happened was me WALKING SILENTLY through the lobby on my way to let Gina back in (oh yeah, she only gave us 1 key, and it was the one of those old ones like twice the length of a pointer finger– ooh, how convenient). She’d also overreact to everything you said, then subsequently contradict what she just said. Example:

Me: “So I have a few travelers checks…do you know a good place to exchange them?”

Crazy Lady: (shaking her head) “Travelers checks? Troublesome things they are. You’ll never have luck with those.”

Me: “Well, I’m a bit short on cash at the moment and was planning on exchanging these for Euros that I would pay you with…isn’t there like, a bank or something nearby?”

Crazy Lady: “No. No banks here. None nearby.”

Me: (disappointed while simultaneously skeptical) “No banks? Really?”

Crazy Lady: “Of course there’re banks! There’s one 10 meters from here!”

Me: “But you just said…”

Crazy Lady: “Go to the one across the street. They’re great. They’ll get you your money. You won’t have any problems.”

Me: “But you just said I’d have no luck–”

Crazy Lady: “You do not need to worry, you are worrying too much! You must not stress yourself out here. Now be sure to get the money in time to pay me!”

Me: (bewildered) “Thanks…I guess…”

Oh, another fun snippet: she also told Ruth and me not to wear shorts because the cold would be bad for our ovaries. Nope, I’m not kidding. Nutcase, aisle 7.

So after Nice and neglecting to check my bank account as often as I should’ve been, I got to Florence with 13 USD in my account, about 40 euros, and 100 dollars in travelers checks. Commence panic mode, immediately followed by a tsunami of guilt, embarrassment, and frustration. Normally I’m decent with money (thus far on break, I hadn’t been spending excessively or eating out every meal or going crazy buying souvenirs or whatever), but combined with the strikes and ATM charges and all the tickets and meals I had to buy, I was inevitably strapped for cash. VERY important thing to remember is that 1 dollar DOES NOT equal 1 euro– although I knew very well beforehand the exchange rate is something like 1.4 USD : 1 Euro, it’s easy to forget this when looking at your account balance. Rude awakening much? It would’ve been smart to have better-monitored my bank account before spring break, as to not have to deal with the after-effects on vacation in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

Once everything worked out with the checks, I had enough to pay Crazy Lady, but I only had 15 euros left over to last me in Florence and Rome. I can honestly say there’re few worse feelings in the world than being absolutely broke while traveling. I was really stressed and worked up/embarrassed/guilty/hated-feeling-irresponsible about having to rely on friends to cover me for tickets and stuff, but everyone was so great and understanding. I luckily managed to get in contact with my parents, and had them send some money to my account by the time I got to Rome (thankyouthankyouthankyou I promise I’ll help weed the garden and clean the upstairs bathroom and change the litterbox at your discretion when I’m home). I guess me mentioning my financial dilemma is a bit uncalled for in the place of a public travel blog, but I feel like I kind of have to mention it because I won’t ever remember Florence without being totally broke– which sounds extremely pessimistic, but I can certainly say that money plays a big role in what you do while traveling and being short on it definitely limited what I could do.

ANYWAY. The last 500 words of this blog have been far too melodramatic for my liking, so let’s change that, shall we?

After my mini-money-meltdown, we grabbed a quick lunch (tortilla sandwich for me, the cheapest thing there) and explored the city. So many people out and about! Maybe I should correct that to so many tourists— I guess I had assumed Florence would be more touristy than Granada, but I was shocked to see just how much more touristy. It didn’t bug me that much since I was coming as a tourist myself, but of anywhere I’ve ever been in Europe, Florence wins first place for greatest density of tourists. Even more than Rome had!

But tourist-infested for a reason, because the city was absolutely gorgeous! We walked around for over 2 hours, passing by Il Duomo and a boatload of different museums. The weather was kinda gray and stinky but it was nice to walk around and meander through the streets without our luggage. Here’re some pictures!

Ponte Vecchio bridge-- lined with tons of fine jewelery stores and other magical things

A full-size replica of Michelangelo's David-- but it looks much smaller outside because of the large building behind it

Anyone know anything about this mysterious arch? Other than the fact that it's insanely cool-looking?

A typical street in Firenze

Il Duomo!!

The dome-y part of the Duomo

We got back to the hostel a little before dinner time, and soon after, we hit up Il Gatto e La Volpe (“the cat and the wolf”), a favorite restaurant among university students, for our first Florentine dinner. In addition to it being delightfully scrumptious, the experience was delightfully scrumptious (questionable word choice, I’ll admit…) because I got to see Em and Katie!! It was my third time seeing Em since coming to Europe, but my first seeing Katie (my pal from Pitt), so it was great to see her again. Therefore, eating fettucine alfredo in their company was all the more better. We finished the night with gelato (Ferrero Rocher/nutella kind for me) on the steps of the Duomo. Perfection!

The next morning, we slept in a bit and I set out on an epic 2-hour quest to cash my travelers checks. I must’ve walked over 5 miles (and collectively ran at least a mile and a half), but I ultimately had to settle on cashing them at a change agency instead of a bank or the post office since none of those places would take them. Note to self/reader: travelers checks ARE a pain, Crazy Lady was right. And yes, change agencies will rip you off, but be vigilant in checking the rates at multiple places and you won’t get as ripped off. Currently, 100 dollars converts to 76.18 euros, but don’t expect any change agency to give you exactly that– they all charge commission. One guy was very persistent with me, telling me the maximum he could legally give me would be 61 euros, but I ended up getting 65 euros from one guy– HAH. So I cashed my checks with him and it all worked out in the end after my struggles. In the process of everything, I also made friends with a nice Brazilian woman at the post office and our Spanish and Portuguese conversation was surprisingly advanced and mutually understood on both ends. Patting myself on the back right now because I’m a tool. I ended up losing track of time though, hence me getting lost and sprinting to meet Katie and Jen at the Duomo at noon.

The three of us got sandwiches for lunch (turkey and fontina for me– so yummy!) and perused the market afterwards. Damn, nutella muffins are tasty. We walked around for a bit and ended up loafing at Katie’s apartment for a bit before heading back out to go to the Academia museum. Home of the David, it was quite a sight to see the monster of a statue up close and inside. They have the life-sized replica of him outside in one of the piazzas, but inside, he seems so much bigger and incriminating! And his hands are absurdly huge too. Apparently, he was supposed to be on top of the Duomo, which was why they made his hands so big. The rest of the museum was cool too, with an interesting musical instrument exhibit and lots of religious artwork carved into bronze. The artistry was exceptional, although I can’t say I was a fan of the style of the people and scenarios portrayed– every single person was giving the stink eye. Can’t people paint pictures (or should I say, carve people into bronze) where NOT all the subjects look like they have a stick up their ass? In any case, I was glad to get to visit the museum. I didn’t make it to the Uffizi unfortunately (thanks to my $$$ situation), but it was nice to be able to at least get a taste of some of Florence’s artwork.

We split off with Jen (who was going to meet up with her friend and travel with her to Croatia), and then went back to the hostel and got dinner. This time, I had my first REAL Italian pizza, dripping with cheese and cheese alone. Just like in France, the pie came uncut, and every slice I cut immediately lost its shape the moment I picked it up. But damn, was that pizza GOOD. So cheesy and gooey and oily and hot. NOM.

We had decided tonight would be our big n’ crazy ‘ole night out in the city, so we got ready quickly and headed over to Katie’s apartment to pregame. A few glasses of wine later, our entourage (which included all of Katie’s roommates, some of their friends, Em and her roommate Risa, and of course the rest of us) headed out. We ended up going to 21, a discotheque nearby Katie’s apartment (nearby downtown Florence). So many people there for a Wednesday night! But luckily, it was free entry for girls. I had a blast, but the place was so packed to the brim it was kind of hard to dance…or really do anything, for that matter. That didn’t stop the notoriously forward Italian men from laying down the moves on us though 😉 oy vey. At one point, Ruth and I got really excited because we heard the beginning of “Black and Yellow” (we do go to Pitt), but the feeling quickly disappeared when we realized the song was a remix– called “GREEN and Yellow,” in reference to the Packers playing the Steelers last year at the Superbowl. Lame. Boo. Who am I kidding, I hardly ever watch football. And I’m from Boston. But anyway.

We ended up leaving the club about an hour later. I don’t remember who told us exactly, but we had heard about these “secret bakeries–” bakeries or baking factories that bake all the goods for the city of Florence in the middle of the night but will sell these fresh-baked goodies at low low prices to nearby patrons if they stay quiet. Of course we had to check it out! The only way to find these bakeries is through a good sense of smell, luck, or connections. Luckily, we had all three, but most importantly, the connections– Katie’s friend Kaila often goes to this one bakery, so much that one of the bakers there has her phone number. We found the bakery and were waiting outside for awhile (among tons of other students eager for a post-party snack) and got disheartened when the baker put a “closed” sign on the door. By some miracle, because the bakers knew Kaila, they let her INSIDE the bakery, and 15 minutes later, she emerged with two bags STUFFED with treats– FOR FREE!! My delight at that moment was unparalleled. I had a piping hot croissant filled with this cream, and it was DIVINE. And then Gina and I split this strawberry tart thingy which was equally fabulous. I was just so glad to actually get to go to one of these bakeries– everyone who’s gone to Florence has told me I had to go to one, so I’m so pumped I made it to one– let alone one that was allegedly closed– after all. 🙂

Outside the bakery! Notice the "be quiet please" and "CLOSED" signs

Success!!

So all in all, probably the most memorable night of our trip. Love it.

The next day, we decided to take a day trip to Pisa. We got off to a later start than anticipated, but we made it to Pisa in time for lunch, which was good. We had brought a sheet from the hostel (suck on that, Crazy Lady! You can use the money you charged us for your “locked wifi” for a new sheet) and some food for a picnic to have right next to the Leaning Tower. Getting to the Leaning Tower wasn’t the easiest thing in the world though. The train station in Pisa was nowhere near the tower, and many of the streets we walked to get there were eerily quiet. We made it, though! And of course took some classic pictures with the tower and enjoyed our nutella sandwiches on the lawn next to the tower. It was a beautiful day!

The gorgeous river we crossed to get to the Tower

There it is!

I mean...you can't NOT...

Yay Pisaaaaa. The tower was actually a lot shorter than I had expected. It was weird finally seeing it in person– one of those monuments you always hear about and see pictures of, but it’s kind of underwhelming seeing it in the flesh…or stone, for that matter. But definitely worth the trip!

We got back to Florence and hit up Gusta Pizza for dinner. I died and went to heaven. Well, I pretty much did that at every meal, but that’s beside the point. Afterwards, Katie and Em walked us up to Piazza de Michelangelo, which looks over the entire city. It was beautiful and was a nice way to remember the city by on our last night.

ROME (aka, where dreams are made of a la Lizzie McGuire)

We left the hostel that Friday morning (immediately followed with cries of “good riddance!” and flashing of the middle finger at the hostel building on my end on the way out) and waited at the train station for a train to Rome. Most of the trains leaving Florence were absurdly expensive but we were able to find a 15 euro ride (albeit a 3 hour ride, when the distance between the two cities is normally under 2 hours). Despite the constant stopping and slowing, the ride to Rome was gorgeous and full of hilarity– Ruth had this absurd personality test book she got from the AIFS office and we were cracking up at the book’s numerous grammatical errors and lack of scientific and psychological validity. Good timez. We finally made it to Roma Termini station in the middle of the afternoon, and eventually made our way over to Piazza de Bologna (via the metro), where our hostel was. We stayed at the Youth Station Backpacker’s Hostel, which was nothing special but had basic amenities and wasn’t ran by a crazy lady–always a bonus. The location wasn’t stellar, admittedly– kind of on the outskirts of the main city center– but Rome is giant, so in terms of the metro, the hostel was only a few stops from the city center so it really wasn’t bad.

After settling in and opting to change into springier clothing (the weather was in the 70’s!), we decided to take the metro to the Colosseum. Unlike Pisa, when we got off at the Colosseo stop, we were smacked in the face with the main attraction. It was so cool to finally see the Colosseum in person! It was a similar experience to Pisa, as far as surreality goes– and as with Pisa, the Colosseum was much smaller than expected. We didn’t go inside because it was closed (apparently the Pope was hanging out there…casual), but it was fun to see it and walk around the area and feel like Lizzie McGuire. Feeling like Lizzie McGuire was definitely a major theme of our Rome visit, a la The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Hey now, hey now…[what can I say,] this is what dreams are made of.

Oh, and in reference to me just providing two Lizzie McGuire-related links:

In any case, here are some pics from the Colosseum:

There it is!

Nearby the Colosseum

My current Facebook profile picture 🙂

We went back to the hostel and readied ourselves up for Passover! Ruth had done some prior research and found out that the Chabad of Rome was holding a seder for the first night of Passover. I’m not very partial to Chabad, admittedly, since they told me as a patrilineal half-Jew, I shouldn’t attend any of their services. Cool, thanks. Not gonna go into my long spiel on patrilineal half-Judaism right now, but let’s just say it’s a topic I’m sensitive about and would rather you not lecture me about what I can and cannot be. Aaaanyway, so with that in mind, I was a little wary about attending their seder, but at the same time, really excited to celebrate and see how this seder would compare to other seders I’ve attended at home and at school. Gina and Ruth are Jewish too, but this would be Jaime’s first seder, so I was excited for her too!

We got to Chabad a little after 7. The room was huge, with seating for well over 100 people. And the people hailed from all corners of the Jewish diaspora– sitting with us at our table were three Israeli women! Two of them were kind of stand-offish but the other one, Liron, was so cool and fun to talk to. She finished her army service several years ago, so she had tons of interesting stories to share. The seder itself was very different from any other seder I’ve had– it started with them giving us a plate of food (salmon, guacamole, and carrots– interesting combo…) and we were expected to eat it the moment they put it down. Weird. And then the haggadah was entirely in Hebrew without English transliteration for the songs (I can pronounce Hebrew words but I can’t actually read Hebrew), so I kind of just BSed my way through the songs (except Dayenu, of course). Because the man leading the seder didn’t have a microphone, it kind of ended up falling apart after the second glass of wine. Whoopsies. But the dinner itself was good– chicken and vegetables, and the cake for dessert was tasty as well. And they even had homemade matzoh! So that was good too.

We ended up staying there past midnight– not because of the seder, but because we were chatting with a big group of Israelis! We hit it off with them so well that they (including our new table friend Liron) ended up inviting us to go out with them to a bar. We got wine and talked and laughed and the mix of English, Hebrew, Italian, and Spanish around us was pretty awesome, even though I knew how to say about three or four substantial things in Hebrew and Italian combined. The whole night really made me miss our Israeli soldiers from Birthright and the rest of my fabulous tour group from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon and Hillel. But l’chaim to a good night out!

The next morning was our combined walking tour and cooking class we had previously signed up for. I guess we got off to a later start than intended because we were supposed to be there at 10:45 AM and ended up being 20 minutes late. Blame it on us underestimating the length of the bus ride from hostel. We sprinted to the meeting point in Piazza Navona, and by some Passover/Easter miracle, the tour group we were meeting up with were running late– someone got lost in the Vatican gift shop, apparently– so we didn’t miss anything! We were so relieved. We walked all around Rome’s city center, seeing the Trevi Fountain (restraining myself from making another Lizzie McGuire reference here…), the Pantheon, and more. Pittttchurrrs, comin’ uppp.

Piazza Navona

The Pantheon

The Trevi Fountain

After our tour, we made our way over to the restaurant for our Fabiolous Cooking Day with Chef Fabio. The website lies about the location, but we were at this cute little restaurant about 10 minutes on foot from the Trevi Fountain. The class was just the 4 of us plus Chef Fabio– and what a phenomenal class it was! We made two different kinds of pasta– cavatelli and ravioli filled with ricotta and artichoke. Nope, not observing Passover here. But it was so much fun! And not as hard as I thought it’d be. The cooking process is extensively detailed in my Facebook photo album, but basically, we just mixed the flour with water (or egg, for the ravioli), formed the dough, rolled it and formed it into the distinctive hotdog bun shape with our fingers for the cavatelli, and rolled, filled, and cut the ravioli. The chefs then cooked our pasta and served us two courses: cavatelli with vegetable cream sauce, and then the ravioli with a cheesy cream sauce…and tiramisu for dessert! I kid you not– this was the best meal I’ve had on study abroad, easily. Or maybe my life. Yeah. Probably my life.

Forming the cavatelli

Making the ravioli

The first course: cavatelli with vegetables!

And the second course: ravioli filled with ricotta and artichoke in cream sauce!

Still drooling right now just thinking about everything!

After our incredible lunch, we made our way over to Vatican City to check out the pre-Easter craziness. Unfortunately, the Sistine Chapel was closed for the afternoon, but it was still cool to be inside the basilica. And hey, a new country to say I’ve been to! There were tons and tons of people everywhere and there were thousands of chairs set out for the following day’s Easter services. It was cool to feel a part of something important for so many people– including the Catholic side of my family. Appeasing all of my relatives in under 24 hours, what could be better?

After perusing the highly-overwhelming Vatican gift shop, we made our way back into Rome and visited the Spanish Steps. They were crowded and admittedly, highly-underwhelming, but supposedly they’re the widest set of stairs in Europe so I guess that’s kind of cool. And the view from the top of the stairs was gorgeous!

The Steps!

The view

We got back to the hostel, where I checked my computer and found out I finally had money in my account. Nothing could’ve felt better!! So I celebrated by paying everyone back on time and treating each friend to a pastry after our pizza dinner at the Trevi Fountain. It was a great last night, but wasn’t particularly long or uber-adventurous, since we had to wake up at 5 AM the next morning for our flight back to Spain!

So imaginably, the next morning was tiresome. We left the hostel before 6 AM, took the metro and a 45 minute train ride to the airport, and made it on time for our Iberia/Vueling flight at 9:40 AM. The first part of the flight was fine, but after our layover in Barcelona, the second flight to Málaga was turbulent and painful on the ears. And it sucked because my friends were all together but I was separated 15 rows ahead–surrounded by children, seated next to a PDA-ing couple who closed the window, and across the aisle from a woman who wouldn’t turn her iPod down even though I asked her politely and it could be heard 4 rows back. Oy vey. But we made it into Málaga on time at least! We had a quick lunch, boarded our bus back to Granada, took another city bus back to the city center, and finally made our way back to the residencia on foot around 7 PM. What a long day!

So I’m exhausted after writing this entry and I commend anyone (besides my mother) who made it through this entry in full. Therefore, I’m not feeling very reflective at this point. All I can say is that I absolutely LOVED Italy and will undoubtedly be returning some time in my life. I want to give Florence another visit when I’m not broke, and I’d also love to check out Venice and maybe head south towards the Amalfi coast. In any case, I’ll have to succumb to the sirens cries eventually– in this case, the sirens here are pasta and gelato– and come back to Italy again.

Ciao!

Spring Break part 1: Why the Côte d’Azur should be renamed the Côte d’Awesome

13 Apr

So from the end of March to April 8th was our spring break, so I guess now would be a good time to blog about everything before I lose motivation. We (and by we, I mean myself, Gina, Ruth, Jaime, and Jen) visited France and Italy, but because blogging about my entire trip in one post would be rather cumbersome, I’m gonna stick to writing about France for now and write about my Italian adventures in another blog post.

In any case, here’s a map of where we went around France!

France...Y U so big?!?

We had meant to fly out of Málaga to Marseille on Thursday March 29th, but due to nation-wide strikes from labor unions, the vast majority of transportation services in Spain would not be running…which meant we had to change our flight last minute to be for Wednesday the 28th. Paying the extra fees on Ryanair to change our flight to a different one out of Madrid-Barajas (a 5 hour bus ride away from Granada, compared to the <2 hour ride to Málaga) was not particularly good for our spirits nor bank accounts. I’m glad we knew about the strike in advance and were able to get out of the country beforehand, though! We left Granada that Wednesday morning for our early evening flight to Marseille. Both the bus ride and flight were pretty uneventful but entertaining, as Date Night played on the bus (in Spanish with Spanish subtitles that didn’t match the dialogue, however) and I had pre-printed Sudoku puzzles and a cheesy book I had borrowed from the AIFS office to keep me sane without my deceased iPod.

We got into Marseille around 9 and finally to the city itself around 10 that night. Admittedly, we didn’t get the best first impression of the city– the only people out at that hour on a Wednesday night were groups of men and our little hostel was on a deserted side street. We hadn’t planned on spending a night in Marseille before we knew about the strike, so our hostel booking was kind of last-minute. The place (the London Connection) was small and the guy running it seemed to be surprised of our group size– but hello, we had made a reservation for 5 people beforehand!– so our arrival was not received warmly. Whatevs, haters ‘gon hate. Luckily we only stayed there a night. After settling in, Gina, Jen, and me set out to find some dinner, eventually stumbling upon a kebab place. The kebabs were pretty sub par in comparison to Granada kebabs, but hey, food is food and we were hungry.

Truthfully, I can’t say much about Marseille because we were there about 15 hours before leaving for Nice. I’m sure the city has its good parts and interesting attractions, but given what I saw, I wasn’t a huge fan of Marseille. I did see a cool giraffe statue on our walk back though! I’ve always loved giraffes– not only because they’re adorable, but because they’re tall and awkward. Kind of like myself. So I guess that statue served as the highlight of our Marseille experience.

We left our hostel the next morning and ate McDonald’s at the train station before our 12:30 train to Nice. Coming from the girl who did a fast food crawl before leaving the US , I was thrilled to have chicken McNuggets for the first time in 3 months. Yes, feel free to judge. After lunch, we boarded the train with no problems, embarking on 3ish hour train ride to Nice. The ride was pretty and countryside-y for the first hour and a half or so until we got near Cannes and got our first views of the Mediterranean. All I can say is whoaaa. Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I” sums up exactly how we felt while riding along the sea. As we listened on Ruth’s iPod, right where she says “let’s get rich and buy our parents’ homes in the South of France” timed up perfectly with the first view of the coast. Nothing better than feeling like you’re in a movie! And if you too, my dear reader, want to feel like a part of my movie cast, listen and look.

Ingrid Michaelson wants to get rich and buy that house.

We got to Nice mid-afternoon and were all on a high. Compared to Marseille, Nice was far more welcoming (I’m sure the daytime arrival had something to do with this) and the weather was so nice and everything we saw on our walk to the hostel was so pretty. The hostel, the Victoria Meuble, was fabulous– we had our own private room with a bathroom and kitchen! And we were right near the city center, which was great. Definitely an upgrade from the dingy 10-person bedroom in our Marseille hostel. After settling in, we walked around and met up with Gina’s friend Ally and went to a grocery store and bought some sustenance for the next couple of mornings. For dinner, we went to a nice French-Italian restaurant. My white pizza was delicious, but like most pizza in the region (and in Italy too), the pie came uncut. You’re not supposed to cut it into slices either, just bite-sized pieces. My skills with a fork and knife aren’t particularly exceptional, so at one point as I was attempting to cut a square out of my pie, the waiter noticed my epic struggle-fest and grabbed my knife and fork and cut the rest of the pie into slices for me. At the time I was embarrassed but looking back I guess the whole experience was pretty comical. And I guess more incentive to hone my utensil-using skills for future fine dining experiences! And to impress a guy on the first date too, I guess. It was a NICE night though! Pun wholly intended.

Our walk back from the restaurant-- why can't every street be this beautiful?!

The plaza near our hostel, Place Massena-- so pretty at night too!

The next day, we ate breakfast at the hostel and got an early start exploring Nice. The old part of Nice was close by, so we wandered around there first. It reminded me a lot of the entanglement of streets near the residencia in Granada but more…French…whoo, profundity. Lots of narrow cobblestone streets with cute little storefronts and tons of restaurants and bars and specialty shops and all that good stuff. We eventually made our way over to the Promenade des Anglais, adjacent to the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean. They don’t call it the Côte d’Azur for nothing! We made our way up Chateau Hill and got breathtaking views of the city and the water…aaaaand I fell in love. Something about the combination of 70 degree weather and the calm teal-blue water made me never want to leave…but then again, you’d have to be dead to not find Nice beautiful in at least some capacity. We eventually made our way down and walked out to a lighthouse and then settled ourselves on the beach for some sitting and wading. Cue Ingrid Michelson yet again, and cue me pinching myself to verify this dreamland being a reality.

In the old part of Nice, close to the Promenade des Anglais

AFGAHHHAH so pretty. The view from Chateau Hill!

So blue!

Being a dweeb on the beach

The lighthouse

For lunch, we went to Pinocchio’s, a creperie and dessert chain. I had the Indian chicken crepe, which had chicken, curry, cream, and cheese, and it was nothing short of fantastically delicious. I didn’t have enough room in my stomach for a dessert crepe, unfortunately, but the raspberry macaron for dessert was a nice substitute! After lunch, we walked a ways to the Marc Chagall museum to get our art fix for the day. He’s so talented! I love the surreal and abstract style of his work. Most of the work in this museum was religious by nature, but at least it was Jewish-oriented– a nice change from the portraits of crucifixion and biblical stories we’ve been accustomed to viewing in predominantly Catholic Spain. After the museum, we walked to a park and laid down and sunbathed for a bit. Dee-lite-ful. The rest of the day was chill, with dinner at another nice restaurant (whoop whoop pasta) and Strongbow beer with caramel at a bar with live music afterward. YUM.

The next morning, I woke up early to catch a 30-minute train ride to the border-city of Menton, where Thea is studying abroad! The ride was gorggg and the train stopped in Monaco on the way there, which was pretty cool. Menton was so cute! And it was great to see Thea-bea again. We walked around the town, stopping for nutella crepes at a bakery and getting some honey and a fresh baguette from a market. Menton reminded me a lot of Nice (I mean…it is only 30 minutes away) but much smaller scale and with friendlier people and lots of lemon trees and more orange buildings. And unlike Nice, Menton is walking distance from the Italian border. So after stopping at Thea’s villa to get some goat cheese and pear and plates, we packed a bag for a picnic on the beach in Italy. Casual. Apparently French guys take girls to Italy on first dates to impress them. But who wouldn’t be impressed? We just walked along the promenade and casually strolled through what looked like a highway toll booth and then saw the huge blue “ITALIE” sign. And kept on walking. And that was it, no passport or identification needed. My first time in Italy could not have been better!

A glimpse of paradise in Menton

FUN FACT: Sean Connery rode down these steps on a motorcycle in the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again. So of course it had to be recreated.

Such a pretty place!

The Italian border up ahead!

Casual.

The view as we ate our lunch of bread, goat cheese, pear, and honey-- I could get used to this!

It was great getting to catch up with Thea again. After Italy, we walked back to Menton and I made a mad dash to catch the 4 PM train to Monaco to meet up with the rest of my friends. 2 new countries in 1 day? A geography nerd’s dream come true! Monaco was like Nice but more compact and ritzier with lots of fancy stores and of course, the famous Monte Carlo casino. Of course we had to go in! I gambled away 5 euros and won 20 cents that I later lost to the slot machine. Classic. But it was cool to go inside! We weren’t allowed nor dressed properly for the grand hall where people play poker in tuxedos and ballgowns and stuff, but the area we were in was still really fancy and it was fun to feel like a part of such a spectacle.

Monaco from the train

The Monte Carlo casino! Selena Gomez would be so proud. Too bad we couldn't take pictures inside, though 😦

Another view of the casino

After Monaco, we took a bus back to Nice and bought ingredients to make dinner. Despite the stove’s less-than-competent capabilities, we somehow managed to whip up a delicious dinner of pasta with vegetables. Mmm mmm. After, Thea came back to Nice and the two of us went out to a few bars and got ice cream and wandered around and did some more catching up on life. A fantastic night indeedy!

The next morning, we had awoken at some ungodly hour, packed up and ready to go for our train ride and next leg of our spring break to Cinque Terre, Italy. But surprise!!  Knowing our luck with strikes, all of transportation in Northern Italy was shut down that Sunday due to labor strikes. It didn’t help that the people at the train station and the tourist office knew next to nothing about the strikes (other than the fact that there were strikes and no trains would be running to Ventimiglia, Italy that day)…and that the officials there were so damn rude. When we went to the tourism office and told the lady our situation about needing to get to Italy and if she knew anything about the strikes, the lady rolled her eyes at us, stared at us down her nose, and snidely told us she wasn’t Italy, so how would she know? Between our quips, she coolly told us to go to the train station because she didn’t want to deal with us– when of course, the people at the train station had told us to go to the tourism office because they didn’t want to deal with us! I had tried to push the stereotype of French people being rude and disliking Americans/not-French people out of my head during my stay in Nice, but after that experience at the tourism office and train station, the stereotype couldn’t have been further justified. People these days!

But in any case, we managed to book another night at our hostel and got the skinny on the strike. Luckily, operations were to resume at 5 PM that day, so we were good to go to catch a train to Cinque Terre the next morning. After settling back into our hostel and attempting to contact our other hostel in Cinque Terre (where we were supposed to stay 2 nights), we decided to take a day trip to the city of Cannes. The bus ride was only a euro! But took nearly 2 1/2 hours, which seemed especially long given its close proximity to Nice. Cannes was beautiful though! A lot of stuff was closed (Sunday funday…) but the city is right on the water and the harbor was beautiful. We all got paninis for lunch and enjoyed them on the dock. We also perused some nearby markets, which sold everything from artwork and prints to jewelry to food and other random knickknacks. I ended up buying a small canvas painting of the Cannes skyline and the Mediterranean at night. It’s purple-toned so it’ll match my newly-painted yellow walls in my bedroom at home perfectly! After lunch and shopping, we walked around some more and ended up hanging out at the beach for awhile. WHY did I pick that day to wear skinny jeans and boots? It was delightful getting to put our feet in the water, so delightful that Jaime decided to take a dip sans her dress! Jealous. I don’t feel like I got the real feel for Cannes since it was a Sunday, but it was a great place to visit for the day.

Our lunchtime view

The beach!

Jaime, Jen, me, Ruth, and Gina!

We got back to Nice 3 hours later (thanks traffic…) and were pooped upon arrival. We somehow mustered the energy to leave the hostel for dinner, eventually settling on a Chinese restaurant. Pineapple chicken is TASTY. But not as tasty as the nutella crepe I had for dessert!

After our meal, we made our way back to the hostel, packed our stuff up, and prepared for a very early wake-up call for the second part of spring break…Italy! Stay tuned for the Part 2 blog post…