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 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