Tuesday, May 7, 2013

This Time for Africa! (Morocco)

Sorry it has been so long since my last post, this last month was insane! I’ll pick up with the weekend trip to Morocco with the program. We all got up early and got on the bus headed to the tip of Spain. We spent a rainy hour waiting for our ferry that would take us into Morocco. Once the ferry arrived and I got on I knew it was going to be a rough trip. The waters were so choppy from the weather the boat was lurching up and down. I was able to distract myself from the onslaught of motion sickness by the gorgeous view from the top of the ferry. The wind was crisp, the waves were crashing, and the beautiful outline of Africa was visible in the distance. Upon our arrival in Tangiers, Morocco we were met by a bus and our own Moroccan tour guide. She narrated while we took a short loop around the port city of Tangiers, then we hopped off to do a little exploring on foot. The center of the city is a web of streets and interesting architecture. We also stopped into a museum in the center to see archaeological remains. At this point we were starving so we went to a lively restaurant for lunch where we were serenaded by local music and entertained by a belly dancer! The food was just as good as the entertainment and all had a very sweet flavor. I still have dreams about that couscous. After we were so full we could hardly move we visited a Moroccan pharmacy. The pharmacist explained to us all of the natural herbs they sell that can cure everything from dried lips to sinus problems. It was so interesting to learn how Moroccans deal with elements in a natural way. The remainder of the afternoon was spent doing some shopping and heading back to the hotel. We were in our hotel by six every night for safety reasons, but luckily our hotel had an amazing view of the coast and a delicious dinner menu. We all dined together at the hotel and enjoyed more delicious Moroccan couscous and soup.
The next morning we took a two hour bus ride to the mountain town Chefchaouen. The town was completely white washed with blue trim to keep away the mosquitoes and help with the heat of the summer. The affect was very striking and unique. We spent the day walking around and learning about how the blankets and scarves sold are made. We were also given some free time in the afternoon to shop in the central market and I bought a handmade leather backpack as well as a handmade quilt for my bed.
The next morning we had a few hours before we needed to leave so we took a bus ride to the coast! On the way we had to stop and ride a few camels. The ride was short but riding a camel in Morocco was definitely on my bucket list. We also walked down into the Hercules Cave, a part man made part natural made cave. The intriguing part of the cave is there is a natural cutout in the rock shaped like Africa that water comes rushing in through. We spent the afternoon in Marrakesh  a fortified city with lively streets lined with shop owners and artisans. This was by far my favorite trip, mostly because the culture change was so severe. We traveled into a completely different way of life and rhythm of living. The poverty level was visible but it serves as a reminder of how blessed we are. Also, that richness of culture does not depend on wealth. I can’t wait to come back one day!
Walking the streets of Tangiers...

Our amazing Moroccan tour guide in Chefchaouen

Lunch :)

Learning how the blankets are made

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Semana Santa

           A week long break from classes woohoo!! The weekend after Portugal began Holy Week in Seville. Several of the students families were in town and it was a lot of fun to watch them experience Seville through our eyes. Sunday is the official start of Holy Week and everyone in the city was dressed to the nines. I met up with Kyle in our Sunday best and we met Stuart Chipres (the directer of SAIIE), Kyle's mom and Aunt, and a few other students at a restaurant for tapas and wine. We had the perfect view of one of the parade routes right by our table. When the procession started thousands of "nazarenos", people from the brotherhood of the church, walked by in elaborate robes holding candles. The nazarenos walk all day, sometimes without shoes and sometimes for 14 hours! After a few minutes we could hear drums in the distance and around the corner came the first float. Each procession has two floats, one of Christ and one of Mary, dating back to the 15th century. Also, 40 men from the brotherhood carry the float on their back and train all year to perfect the motions. Overall it is a grueling experience,  but it was unlike anything I've ever seen. The floats were absolutely beautiful covered in real gold and silver and accompanied by haunting drums. Unfortunately it started raining and the floats cannot be out in the rain so the processions were called for the day. Our group headed to an Irish pub for some drinks and watched the coverage on a tv indoors :) Monday night we met up with Stuart again to watch a night procession. The processions at night are much more serious and the nazarenos wear all black. We were standing right on the edge of one and it was dead silent as it walked by. All of the nazarenos were holding candles and the overall affect was very intense.
 First Sunday of Semana Santa!
 Christ float
 Another brotherhood of Nazarenos
The Virgin Mary Float
        The rest of the week was a little hectic with the crowds, but it was still an amazing experience. There would be times when I would head towards the city center to go to a cafe and wouldn't be able to move because of a procession passing by. The streets were absolutely packed and every float was more beautiful than the one before.

Monday, March 25, 2013


      Sorry it’s been such a long time since my last blog, it’s been crazy here! I left off right before my trip to Portugal! The bus ride to Lisbon is about five hours so we had to be on the bus at 5:30 am, and leave our house at five am. It was rough, but our Senora packed us breakfast and fruit for the bus ride which definitely made life a little easier. We arrived in Lisbon around 1, but it took us another stressful hour and a half driving through packed streets to find our hotel. After a quick nap we all climbed back on the bus with our own personal Portuguese tour guide. Her English was excellent and she rode our bus with us for three hours telling us all about Lisbon. One of the most interesting things I learned was that Lisbon suffered from an earthquake in 1755 and the entire city was essentially destroyed. The surviving Prime Minister, Marque de Pombal, oversaw the rebuilding of the city and insisted the city be built on a grid. It is thanks to him that Lisbon is currently so beautiful and easy to navigate. 
       We hopped off the bus to walk through the Cathedral, which was designed to look like a cave inside in honor of the Saint Jerome who was known to have spent much of his life in caves while he translated the bible into Latin. Next, our tour guide took us to try a world famous Portuguese pastry, which was delicious of course. We also were able to walk around a gorgeous statue dedicated to Vasco de Gama and a fortress. It was a long day and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
 Inside the Cathedral
 High Point University with the Vasco de Gama monument!
 Cascais, Portugal
Enchanted forest in Sintra :)
        Saturday we were on the bus headed to a mountain city called Sintra. We spent the afternoon hiking up the hillside and looking out on a breathtaking view of Portugal. The entire hike we were surrounded by green lush foliage and fortifications hidden among moss. Down the hill in the city we wandered around I tried a Sintra delicacy consisting of a cherry liquor inside a chocolate shot glass. Very economic. As afternoon arrived we all hopped back on the bus and drove about 20 minutes to the coast to a city called Cascais. Once again the views were breathtaking, although the landscape was almost opposite of the mountain city we just left. We spent the late afternoon walking along the harbor and taking in the views, boats and the crashing waves (and of course eating ice cream). Sunday we traveled home and all was well until Sunday night when I was hit with food poisoning :( Thank you everyone for your prayers and good thoughts, I feel great now and my Senora is making sure I put back on the weight I lost! SAIIE and my Senora took great care of me and I was very blessed to be in such good hands. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013


     So, last thing I said was I had a long weekend coming my way and I hadn't quite decided how to spend it. Thursday my friends and I said, "Why not go to Madrid?!" Mallory, Erin, Tommy and I made our way to the bus station and bought last minute tickets on the overnight bus to Madrid, leaving at midnight. We ran home, ate as much food as we could, threw some stuff in a bag and all met at the bus station at 11:30 pm. The bus ride was a much more pleasant experience than you would think, we each had our own rows to ourselves and I was able to get a few good hours of asleep. The funny part about the overnight bus to Madrid, however, is that we pulled into the city at 6:00...am. The city was still pitch black. After stowing our luggage in our hostel (only 10 euros a night!) we headed to the city center to find the only cafe open at this hour. Ironically the cafe was named Iowa, which is Tommy's hometown. We sat in the cafe and watched the sun come up while draining the coffee we needed to take on the day. Even though I knew I would pay for my lack of sleep later seeing the city go from empty to alive is one of the coolest experiences I've ever had.
     Around 10 we met up with another friend from our program and walked the city streets. Madrid is has all the best parts of a big city from the endless architecture to every shop you can imagine. The best part, however, is that it is cleaner and much more calmer than New York and Chicago. We stopped in a Starbucks to eat sandwiches from our senora, refuel on coffee, and listen to a great band of street performers. After we had regained our energy, we visited the Prado museum, one of the most famous Baroque art museums in Europe and the most important in Spain. It was obviously stunning to see not only beautiful art but also take in the history of them art and artists as well. We spent about two hours wandering the floors. After lunch we all headed back to take naps and grab some dinner and then experience some of the night life.
     Mallory and I were up early at 9:00. Our hostel had free breakfast which was great (especially because our room was so cheap!) so we grabbed some food and headed for the royal palace. The palace had about twenty rooms open to the public and the rooms were breathtakingly lavish. Each room had been redecorated to the taste of each royal to inhabit the palace and my favorite was the royal dining room with a chair available for at least 400 hundred royal guests. I'm working on getting an invite to the next dinner :) Next we stopped into the cathedral which had a much more modern decor than we have seen yet. For a snack we visited the best tapas market in Madrid and it was so much fun! The place was packed with every type of fresh made tapa you could imagine and it was almost impossible to choose just one! Finally we decided on a pesto lasagna and a cheese and rice croquette which turned out to be even more delicious than they looked. After another round of coffee we walked to the other side of Madrid to visit the Reina Sofia, another art museum. This museum was completely different than the Prado and held several exhibitions of current day artists. One artist had several pieces dedicated to nature and the sound of running water and another happened to be an photographer from the United States. His exhibit was filled with beautiful photos of the west. The most EXCITING part of the Reina Sofia is La Guernica by Picasso, one of his most moving works. The piece takes up an entire wall and was guarded by two people. After a quick nap we went out in downtown Madrid and danced until six am.
Sunday morning we were out of the room by nine and in the streets with our luggage. We basically sat like hobos in various cafes until it was time to catch our bus at three. Overall, it was an amazing and life changing weekend!

 El Palacio

Inside the Cathedral
In front the the Palace

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Rain In Spain

     This week was our first week of exams :( We spent the majority of the week studying indoors. Luckily this was made much easier by the rain! Tuesday we did have a small break from studying and visited the Casa de Pilatos in Arts and Monuments class. Once again I was amazed that another expansive palace hides among the modern shops in the city. The palace has some of the most beautiful gardens I've seen yet. The gardens also  are a museum of Roman busts, Spanish emperors, and stunning sculptures gathered from Roman Italica. The palace is a perfect representation of the beginning of the beautiful Andalusian architecture.
Gardens at Casa de Pilatos

     Thursday night we celebrated the end of exams as well as Kyle's 21st birthday by getting tapas at a restaurant called Las Coloniales, which was delicious. I ordered a plate of their famous chicken in almond sauce as well as two croquettes filled with cheese and spinach and topped with a red sauce. By far the best tapas I've had yet. And of course the birthday celebrations would not have been complete without a visit to Las Rayas for gelato. Las Rayas is just around the corner from our school and has about 24 different flavors of rich gelato, it's a good thing I have two months left to try them all :)
     Friday morning we were up early and on the bus to Ronda! It was another breathtaking drive through the countryside and up a steep hillside. When we arrived in Ronda, however, the rain was relentless. We took cover in a Chocolate shop and all had cups of steaming hot chocolate caliente. I ordered a cup of white chocolate and it was literally so thick I finished it off with a spoon! After we warmed up slightly we started our tour in the rain. The city itself is located on a cliff. The old part of the city (only 800 rich inhabitants) is located on one cliff and the new part of the city is connected by  a beautiful bridge. The view from the bridge was absolutely amazing, especially with the river raging below. We trooped all around the city in the rain and even made it to the bull ring. Our tour guide explained to us a lot of the culture that is behind bull fighting, such as the respect for the bull. This ring in particular only has three days of fights a year and the tickets are extremely pricey. The bull ring is also one where the bull fighters do not fight on horseback, but rather on foot making it dangerous not only for the bull but for the fighter as well. Although I am still on the fence about whether or not I want to witness the slaughter of an animal our guide really opened my eyes to the significance the fighting has for the Spaniards, both historical and cultural. At the end of the tour I was completely soaked and freezing and made my way to a coffee shop for some sandwiches and cafe con leche. Although it was one of the coldest rainiest days yet, we still were able to have fun in the city of Ronda.
 Only a little delirious from the rain...
 The bridge connecting the old and new city
 The cliffs
      The rest of the weekend was spent recovering from the long week of exams. Today we visited the Archivo de Indios which houses all of the documents and archives related to the "Nuevo Mundo" or the modern day Americas. I am actually taking history of Latin America and we have been studying the conquest of the new world so it was a little unreal to be able to see this documents and artifacts in the flesh after learning about their significance in class. I don't think I will ever get used to the history in this city.
The archives!

This week we only have three days of class! I will be sure to share the adventures I have when I get back :)
Love from Sevilla!

Monday, February 18, 2013


     Another busy busy week :) Monday started off with a night at the Real Betis soccer game only about five rows away from the field, it was awesome. One of the best parts is the pride the Seviallnos have in their team and the nonstop cheering coming from the rows of fans! The game was a tie 0-0 (Betis is not known for their wins...) but we still had a great time trying to cheer in Spanish and supporting the local team.
     Tuesday we went to the Cathedral in Sevilla in my Arts and Monuments class, literally around the corner from the school. I knew this was a beautiful Cathedral but I had no idea it is actually the largest Gothic Cathedral in the WORLD and the 3rd largest Cathedral overall. The culture and the history that exists in this city never ceases to amaze me. The inside of the Cathedral shows a blend of Muslim and Christian styles and there is still evidence that the Cathedral once was a mosque. The Cathedral also contains an amazing view of the city from the top of the Giralda (once the Muslim minuret), that is also an unmistakable landmark in the Sevilla skyline. The trip to the top took walking up 35 ramps but the view was remarkable.
     Tuesday afternoon all the SAIIE students all went ice skating in Parque Maria Luisa. I LOVE ice skating especially when it's on an outdoor rink and it's only 55 degrees outside. Wednesday I had my second day of my internship and I can tell I am going to learn so much from Paula, the woman who works with me. I worked on helping them with a database and she also gave me a number of free political seminars to attend around the city (definitely going to add to the holistic experience). Thursday my intercambio, Mamen, invited Mallory and I to see her house (right around the corner from the school) and eat dessert (of course). We talked with her and her boyfriend for two hours and it's amazing how much I was able to improve my daily conversation in such a short period. I can feel free to speak freely and Mamen will correct me when needed which I have learned is the best way to gain fluency! She and her boyfriend are both extremely sweet and have promised to take us to a real local flamenco show!
     I woke up early Friday morning and we all got on the bus to drive to Cordoba! We walked over a bridge to get into the old city and it was the most stunning skyline I've seen thus far. The mosque of Cordoba, converted to a Cathedral, sits right on the river. We toured the mosque in the morning and later in the afternoon we were free to wander the sunny streets, eat gelato, and drink sangria. The city still has a very historic feel with the small cobblestone streets and flower boxes on the walls and it is definitely my favorite place we have visited thus far.
       Mallory and I were up again early on Saturday to meet up with Megan and take the bus to wine country, Jerez! We took a wine tour of Tio Pepe, a massive winery in the middle of Jerez and it lasted three hours. We were able to see the Sherry bodegas, brandy distilleries, and of course try four different kinds of Sherry. It was an awesome tour and we learned so much about the process behind making Sherry.

 Trying the wines at Tio Pepe
 One of the Sherry bodegas at Tio Pepe
 Walking into beautiful Cordoba
 Inside the Mosque/Cathedral in Cordoba
 View of Sevilla from the Cathedral :)
Overall, it was an EXCELLENT week. And now I have to go study for exams...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nunca Jamas

Tuesday in my Arts and Monuments class we explored the Alcazar palace, right in the middle of Seville. The expansive gardens and rooms of the palace are seemingly endless, I literally had no idea I had been walking past the palace unknowingly. The palace is a great example of Muslim mudejar architecture as well as Christian influences. The palace is so large, in fact, that our teacher informed us he has visited the palace more than 100 times and has yet to see it all. I can't wait to go back in the spring and picnic in the gardens.
Tuesday afternoon I went with SAIIE to take a tour of the Real Betis stadium. We were able to see the press room, see their trophies first hand, stand in the "rich seats" (here you have to wear formal wear, restrain from cheering, and eat your tapas and wine calmly), stand in the locker room, and (my favorite!) run out on the field through the tunnel the players use! It was a really awesome experience and we were invited back to watch the Real Betis players train and get our posters signed. We also learned the loyal Betis fan slogan, "Viva er Betis manque pierda!" which basically means Betis will always be your team, even if they lose (the fans are clearly very loyal, reminds me of a Kentucky rivalry...)
Wednesday evening I returned to the school for the first day of my internship with the program at SAIIE. I'm really excited to see how study abroad programs work and to help out in any way I can. I'm going to be helping them update their website, and with their faculty led programs, as well as speaking more Spanish.
After a few hours I had my first meeting with my intercambio, Mamen! The intercambio program is designed to allow students to speak Spanish with a local Seviallanos once a week to help them with their English and us with our Spanish. She is so sweet and I am so excited to improve my Spanish with her help and also see the city from the eyes of a true Sevillana!
A few people have been asking what I have been eating here and I have no problem talking about the amazing meals my Senora makes. She cooks for us lunch and dinner, except on the weekends, and we have yet to have a repeat meal, I'm obsessed. She makes a soup with every dinner, usually beans and potatoes, and a main dish of vegetables, fish, or chicken. A very popular meal here is a Spanish tortilla which is basically a thick omelette with eggs, potatoes, and sometimes vegetables (my Senora makes the best tortilla I've tried so far!). Another one of my favorites so far has been a sticky rice, seasoned chicken dish with a red sauce filled with peppers. And, of course, a meal is not complete without fresh pan bought earlier that day. Mallory and I are pretty spoiled...
Finally, Friday we had Friday classes and I went on a walk of the beautiful barrio Santa Cruz (the Jewish quarter during Muslim rule) for class. That afternoon Mallory and I ate packed sandwiches from our Senora on the sunny steps of the Ceta, tough life, while we waited to meet up for a walk to a local art gallery. The gallery tour was free a free walk through a modern art exhibit called Nunca Jamas, Historias de Ninos para Adultos. It featured a collection of art playing with the idea of childhood stories from an adult perspective. I loved the experience because it was a good sense of the rich local culture present in Seville.
HPU on the Real Betis field!
Tortilla Espanola

One of the Gardens in the Alcazar

SAIIE students as close to the field as possible

Nunca Jamas