Made it to Marrakech!

I have always had a strong desire to go to Morocco. After missing the chance the first time I lived in Spain, I told myself I could not leave again without visiting. With only a few weekends in Europe remainly, I grabbed a couple of tickets to Marrakech and me and Gabe were off last Friday afternoon.

Welcome to Marrakech!

Thankfully I have a couple of friends who just went and  gave me great tips regarding where to stay and what to do. One recommended theRiad Maison Belbaraka for lodging. Riads are old houses that have since been converted into places to stay, undoubtedly beating out any hostel or hotel. Ours conveniently provided transportation to and from the airport, a gorgeous room and an amazing dinner on their terrace the first night.

And I have to mention the breakfast every morning. Freshly baked breads, chocolate cake, cheese, fig and strawberry jam, honey and freshly squeezed orange juice to our hearts content.They also helped us arrange our excursion for Saturday. We headed to the High Atlas Mountains to see waterfalls, safely in the hands of a friendly Berber guide. We left in the morning and made many stops along the way including a Berber house where we were treated to bubbling mint tea, a very common drink here that is delicious and refreshing despite the fact it is boiling hot outside.Then, we pulled off onto the side of the road for a camel ride.Walked back and forth across a rather scary bridge (still not sure why).And eventually arrived in Siti Fatima, a Berber village at the foot of the mountain. We were passed off to a younger guide who led us into the mountains towards the waterfalls. Along the way we saw many restaurants and spaces for people to hangout mid-hike.

Then we made it to one of the many waterfalls that was gorgeous.I must say that this was no easy, trail-blazed hike. Instead, we were scaling rocks and sliding down dusty hills. Word to the wise: Don’t wear Toms. Although I do think I was managing a bit better than those I saw in flip-flops.

Afterwards, we relaxed at a restaurant by the river where we had some traditional Moroccan food. On the way back to Marrakech, we had our driver drop us off at the Majorelle Gardens. It was not big but definitely pretty with more kinds of cactus than I have ever seen before.

We rested up a bit before heading back to the Djemaa El-Fna, the big plaza which comes alive at night with food stalls and plenty of people swearing that theirs is the absolute best. Well, we actually did find a pretty good one (which we picked based on all the locals eating at it) and walked away full on only 8 Euros for the both of us.

We also managed to do some haggling in the souks. I walked away with a pair of brown flats and a small purse which I talked down to half the price! If I did not have to worry about luggage space, I think I would have bought a lot more. From the lamps to bags to tagines, the amount of things for sale (and cheap) is absolutely mind-blowing. Regardless, I’m happy to say I made it out with a little bit!

Once we got back to our riad, we relaxed with a wine made in Morocco. But not just any wine- gray wine.

Although Muslims do not drink, I read that they have a rather good wine industry going on. This bottle definitely a unique flavor with a bit of citrusy tang to it. I would happily drink it again.

Sunday we woke up with not much planned but since we did not explore all of Marrakech yet, we took to the streets and checked out the Saadian tombs, spice market, El Bahia Palace and got a closer look at the Koutoubia mosque.

That night we headed to Cafe Arabe, a restaurant that kept seeming to pop up in every article I read about Marrakech. It is a three-story space with, again, a beautiful terrace, and also one of the few restaurants that serves alcohol, making it very popular with tourists. We found ourselves amongst many but that did not bother me. The food was pretty good and cheap considering all that we ate and the setting was perfect.

We had Monday morning and early afternoon to relax before flying back to Madrid. Overwhelmed with the crazy city by this point (and all out of Dirhams), we had some tea and pastries at our hostel and a quick walk around.

Overall, I am very happy I finally made it to Morocco and was even more thankful to have a French-speaking travel companion. While most locals are used to tourists and can speak almost every language, French is their second language (after Arab), so the fact that Gabe could fully communicate with just about everyone made it a lot easier. Lots of people said it would be dangerous, but I never felt threatened (especially when you see so many other tourists walking around). People sure are pushy when it comes to trying to get you to check out their souk and buy something, but once you learn to embrace (or just ignore) that, it is not bad. From the prayers five times a day that are heard all around the city (it’s broadcasted over huge speakers from the main mosque) to snake charmers and thousands of motorcycles buzzing around the streets, it is definitely unlike any place I have ever been but enlightening, nevertheless.

Plus, now I can say I have stepped foot in Africa!

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Barcelona: Round Two

The last time I went to Barcelona I left a bit disenchanted. I did not feel any sort of spark or special connection with the city like a lot of my friends who constantly sing its praises. Regardless, when my boyfriend wanted to treat me to a celebratory hot air balloon ride there, I could not say no and we packed our bags and were off on Friday.

We got in early afternoon and I could not help but make our first stop La Boqueria, my absolute favorite market that I knew I needed to show him. We grabbed fresh juices while perusing all the stalls before settling down at a bar in the midst of it all for some arroz negro and the first patatas bravas of many this trip.Afterwards, it was prime beach weather so we took a stroll down to the water to check out the beach. It was packed but still a relaxing stop for some sun and sand.On our way back to our hostel, we wandered through Parc de la Ciutadella. It was a lot less touristy than Park Guell and had some interesting statues scattered throughout. I have never heard a lot about it but would happily return for a relaxing afternoon.  That night, we spent more time by the water at restaurant Bestial where I had a delicious seared tuna. We cashed in early because we had to be up at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday for our hot air balloon ride. We were picked up in the city center and driven about an hour to the town of Vic where our balloon was going to take off. Once everything was set up, we floated away with four other people plus our conductor for an hour.It was definitely scary at first but after the conductor told his about his years of experience, I could relax a bit. At the end, they treated us to champagne and grilled cheese sandwiches that they prepared using the fire from the hot air balloon. It was a bit of a surreal morning as I have wanted to go on a hot air balloon for the longest time. Now, I just want to fly around in one all over the world!

We got back to the city around 11 already feeling like we had done a lot that day. Even so, Gabe indulged my desire to go see the artwork of one of my favorite artists, Joan Miró, at his museum on the hill of Montjuic. After a delicious lunch of montaditos at Quimet & Quimet, we were in need of a rest before meeting his sister and her boyfriend for dinner at La Paradeta.

I knew I wanted seafood this weekend and this was the prime spot. After waiting in line for almost an hour, we made our way to the front where there is a huge selection of fresh fish (the lobster was still moving). You pick what you want and how you want it, sit down, and wait for it to be prepared. Thankfully, I was with a local who had been there before so left him to order and it was perfect. We had fresh oysters, shrimp, grilled octopus, razor clams, mussels in amazing tomato sauce, and grilled lobster. You can imagine I was in heaven.The next morning we made our way to La Sagrada Familia to ensure they were making some progress on building it (they are), and then had a delicious lunch at Cervecería Catalana. We wandered around the city a little bit more before beginning our journey back to Madrid late that afternoon.

The takeaway? I certainly enjoyed my time in Barcelona more than before and I think the warm weather had something to do with it. I still do not think I would ever live there but for vacations (and hot air balloon rides), it fits the bill. This trip marked the beginning of the end of my time here in Spain. Thankfully, these next few weeks are sure to be filled with fun.

Trip Back in Time

If we are keeping score, one area where Europe scores a point over the United States is the ease in which one can travel back in time with just a simple drive outside of the city. Two women Anna works with at school invited us to visit the town of Pedreza located in the province of Segovia. Yesterday, they picked us up and we made the hour-long trip to this medieval town which was unlike any other I have seen.

We began our tour at a stone castle made back in the thirteenth century. Next, we visited an old jail and then came my favorite part: an amazing lunch of the town’s specialty, roasted lamb, which was the juiciest and most savory dish I have had in a good while.

The group consisted of the two couples, us, and  the combined five kids who are all under the age of five. They actually behaved quite well and seemed to enjoy themselves. Not to mention, one of the perks of being with kids is finding the excuse to hang out in parks and we took advantage of that at one located at the bottom of the Alcazar, Segovia’s huge castle that I have visited a couple times in the past. It’s the one they say inspired the iconic Disney castle.

Eventually we made it home absolutely exhausted but thankful for the chance to see a place we would have never found on our own. It was also a great chance to practice our Spanish as these people didn’t know a lick of English. Apparently, they enjoyed our company too and offered to take us somewhere else we want to go which we aren’t reluctant to do soon!

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Grand Voyage to Ikea.

La Mallorquina is a Madrid staple located in the heart of Sol. It serves the best chocolate napolitana’s in the country and is always bustling with people. When I heard that my British friend James had never tried one of these amazing pastries, I immediately forced him to go with me after our class last Tuesday. More than pleased with his purchase (it is literally the best way to spend 1 Euro in Madrid) he decided that, in return,  he would take me to Ikea the next week for lunch. Yes, that Ikea.

I have always heard of Ikea but never been to an actual store since they are not around in Miami or Colorado. I was actually talking about the store earlier this month with my friend from Duke who was appalled that I had never had their meatballs.

So me and James made a trek to the nearest Ikea that took a little over an hour to get to after we left class today. The mall it is located in was well worth the trip, less alone the chance to experience my very first Ikea store. It was pretty much located in the middle of no where in what looks like to be a developing area. But the mall, called La Gavia, was amazing and had just about every single store imaginable and felt both clean and modern. We only spent time in the Ikea store but whenever I get the shopping bug, I am definitely going back here!

I was starving by the time we got there, so we bought a very cheap but delicious lunch that was accompanied with Lingonberry juice which is apparently a Swedish specialty. Although Ikea is apparently famous for it’s meatballs (I learned that it serves 40,319,365 individual meatballs a year!), I was not intrigued and instead got some sort of salmon wrap and a drink for only 2.50! What a deal.

James referred to Ikea as “Sweden’s best import” and informed me that his entire house, as well as every other house located in England, is outfitted in items solely from Ikea. I loved wandering the store and could not help but wish that I had an Ikea near me to outfit my future room and home!

I am now proud to say that I have experienced Ikea and now have a catalog placed by my bedside, just like James said everyone in Britain does!

 

Day by Day

It seems like at the beginning of every week my friends and me have hopes of having a “Cultural Week” where we get out and explore new places. I tend to do that a lot on my own anyways, but they are starting to get motivation to do the same. Although I had tentative plans to head north to Galicia this weekend with Taylor, once we realized lots of people would be in town, we decided to save the trip for another time and stick around in Madrid. I was excited because although I absolutely love getting out and traveling, it is nice just to lay low in Madrid and not be so exhausted come Sunday. But seeing as we were staying here, I also wanted to make sure that we made the most of it, and overall, it was a very successful week!

For starters, on Tuesday night a group of us went to a hole-in-the wall bar called Cuevas de Sesamo. Walking along the street you would never know it was there, but I read online that it had really good sangria and was a favorite spot for locals. So I convinced people to go and see what it’s all about, and it ended up being so cool! It’s a darker bar and from what I can tell, mainly just serves sangria (or that is all that I saw on people’s tables). They have famous quotes on the walls and a piano player who just plays nice music while you hang out. I really loved this place and will definitely go back.

Piano man providing some nice background music

Piano man providing some nice background music

Wednesday afternoon, I met up with a friend to go to el Museo de Traje, or Clothing Museum. Students get in free which was a pleasant surprise and we just walked around for about an hour. It was arranged from oldest to newest and was more or less a survey of the fashion from Spain. It was definitely interesting and from what I hear, changes frequently so I will probably return at some point or another! After, I decided to go exploring in the district Malasana, which I read had great boutique shopping. I went and ended up finding some of the cutest stores with tons of great handmade jewelry, clothing, and shoes. I even found three vintage stores that had some really cool clothes, as well. My big buy of the day? Hummus! It is virtually non-existent here but I found it at a prepared food place and just could not resist. I immediately went out and got some vegetables to go with it and lemme tell you, I am a happy camper!

What is better than Grease in English? GREASE IN SPANISH. And yes, we are talking Summer Nights, We Go Together, Hand Jive mania. My friends had an extra ticket for Thursday night that I eagerly accepted. It was one of the most entertaining things I have seen here and just made me laugh how they did all that they could to emulate the movie from outfits, hair, to dance moves. The cast was definitely talented and it was a very well put together production, just very very funny. I am happy I got to see at least one musical while I was here, and Grease was definitely interesting to see and compare the translations from English to Spanish. One glaring difference between their musical theater and ours is how they do not feel the need to be as conservative. For instance, there was one song where the boys were dancing in a towel only, and then the angels in Beauty School Dropout were basically wearing bikinis.

Also, after seeing three different shows here I have caught on to the trend that curtain calls are much longer than I am used to. It seems as if each person bows at least 5 times and you are expected to clap the ENTIRE time. This curtain call contained an encore and I almost felt like I was watching the entire show again. Regardless, it was so much fun!

I’m in a class here called Art in the Prado for which we have five visits to the Prado that count as class. We had our first one Friday and I was excited to finally get to the Prado. We have been studying El Greco so spent the two hours focusing on his paintings and it was definitely rewarding to see the paintings in real life that we have been analyzing in class. Next time, I definitely want to stick around the Prado after our class and see more but after I went and met up with Taylor for a picnic in Retiro that has been on our to-do list. The weather is still amazing here and it was so nice to relax and read in the outdoors. The trees are also all changing colors and it really made me feel like fall was coming! We also walked around the park because she had never been to it and this time, the Crystal Palace was open which was awesome because it was under renovation the last time I went. It was gorgeous inside and just a really cool structure.DSC00834

We also ran into the Fallen Angel statue, which is said to be the only statue of Lucifer in the world. It when he fell from heaven and just one of the many statues around the park!DSC00840

After, we went to the American Store that sells over-priced American goods like Peter Pan peanut butter and Funfetti frosting. Although I was not intrigued by any of the offerings, Pat was happy to see they had Ramen so picked up some of that. That night, Taylor and me went back to Malasana to go to a restaurant that I read had the best burgers in Madrid called Home. Even though it’s essentially a small burger bar where the menus come printed on brown paper bags, you have to make reservations but it is so worth it and definitely one of the best meals I have had here!

Salamanca is a city in Spain that is most famous for it’s Plaza Mayor and University of Salamanca. They also have two cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and New Cathedral that are gorgeous. It is a train ride away that takes two and a half hours so it is an easy day trip, although I hear that it is a lot of fun at night too since it is such a student-town. Taylor and me decided to go for Saturday afternoon since we had it free and both wanted to go while we were living here. We got in and began our sightseeing with the cathedrals, which were so large and pretty. After, we headed to the Plaza Mayor for lunch and to people watch. I absolutely loved their Plaza Mayor. It’s bigger than the one in Madrid and is infested with people, but unlike tourists that flood the one in Madrid, here, it is all locals just relaxing during the afternoon. We then went to the University for a quick tour and it was so cool! I cannot believe students actually attend the school because it just seems too historic and beautiful to be used for actual class. We walked around a little bit more, and ended up back at la Plaza Mayor where there were lots of parades going on. Overall, I loved Salamanca and could totally see why people would go there to study.

The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca

The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca

Today we went to a bullfight! It is the last one of the season so made sure that we got to it because I know I would have regretted studying abroad in Spain and never seeing a bullfight. I am not too sure I actually wrapped my head around what actually takes place during a bullfight, however. There are six bulls and three matadors that are the main players. They go one by one and each bull takes about 25 minutes to kill. They begin with men getting the bull riled up, then two men on horses take the first jabs at it with a spear, and then finally the matador comes to finish the job. Each round is different, depending on how upset the bull gets and how good the matador is at stabbing it. For instance, one bull died after only one stabbing, while another one took about three. All of it depends on the skill of the matador. One of the scariest moments of the fight was when one bull escaped the ring right in front of us. The man in front of me spilt his drink everywhere, and people started running for the door, scared that the bull was going to come to our section. I grabbed onto Taylor for dear life, and prayed that I would escape unscathed seeing as I am not quite sure I could avoid its horns as well as the matador. The whole idea of bullfighting is definitely disheartening when you think about the fact that so many bulls are killed weekly all around Spain for recreation. It is definitely hard to watch the first one, but by the end you get used to the blood and grunting coming from the bulls (whether or not that is a good thing, I’m not quite sure). However, tonight at dinner I talked with one of my senoras son-in-laws about the art and value of bullfights. To them, it is a symbol of life and truly an art form. There are very famous matadors (that can make 120,000 Euro per fight!) that are very skilled at the artistry of the fight to the point where spectators are moved to tears. Although we did not see any of that tonight, we definitely got a taste of an ancient tradition unlike anything I have ever seen.

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So when I sat down to write this blog, I did not intend to describe each and every day but now that I have, I realized that it was a very productive week and I am absolutely exhausted! This week should be a lot calmer as I anxiously wait for my family to get here

Lovin’ on Lisbon

Just got home from Portugal! It’s weird how I can say that so nonchalantly seeing as I was in a completely different country and it only took 50 minutes to get there. Anyways, a group of 8 of us went to Lisbon for the weekend. I got there bright and early on Friday and we left Sunday morning. Although it was a quick trip, it was definitely enough time to see what we needed to see.

I got there at seven in the morning (Travel Tip: Do NOT book flights that leave at before seven in the morning). Although I am glad that I got to spend the day exploring the city, the whole leave the house at 3:45am to take a taxi to the airport because the metro isn’t running is not ideal. In return, I ran the whole day on an hour of sleep but thankfully, the excitement of being in a new place kept me going!

So the night before I did lots of Lisbon research to decide how I wanted to spend my day since the rest of the group was not arriving until four in the afternoon. When I first got there, I grabbed a map and set foot for the bus that would take me into the heart of the city. I decided to go as far south as possible and work my way up. I first saw the Se Cathedral.

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Then while wondering I ran into Castelo de Sao Tome. I knew that this was something I needed to see so waited for it to open and then waltzed around the castle for about an hour. It was so neat and had the best view of the city from the top.

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After, I proceeded to get lost on some side streets but knew I just needed to keep walking north. It was pretty hot so an escape to a museum sounded nice. I went to Gulbekian Museum which was a private art collection. Turns out it was free that day which was a pleasant surprise and I walked around looking at all the different art. It was a pretty standard museum but it also had a garden outside that was really pretty.

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After, I was hungry so sat down at a café and tried to prolong my break as long as possible but that can be hard to do while traveling alone. By this point, I was exhausted and so decided to just go to the airport and wait there for my travel companions. I ended up waiting a couple hours and it was nice just to relax but I was definitely anxious for them to get there! Once they did, we made our way to our hostel. It was definitely so much nicer than I imagined hostels to be. She greeted us with Toblerone, they had breakfast everyday, a lounge with a big screen, movies and videogames, free Internet and the beds were rather comfy! We also had a 10-person room and since there were 8 of us, we all stayed together and it was like a giant sleepover. We all took time to refresh ourselves and get ready for dinner. We went to a place recommended by the hostel with Portuguese food that was AMAZING. I had read that Portuguese bread is really good, and it really was. I got a fish and rice dish that was so flavorful and spicy, I could have ate it all day!

After, we went to a hotspot in the city center with a bunch of different bars and places to pop into. We were all pretty tired so called it an early night so we could have a productive day in the morning.

We started Saturday in Belem, a little neighborhood outside of the city center that you can take a tram to. There is a famous pastry shop there called Pasteis de Belem that specializes in just that. It was a warm vanilla custard tart that you add cinnamon and sugar to and eat! I wish I could have brought some home.

DSC00724After, we walked the boardwalk and saw the famous Tower of Belem and some other cool sights. Then, we took the tram back to the city, had a delicious lunch, and the girls wanted to also go to the castle I ventured through the day before. So while they did that, I explored the flea market that they have every Saturday. Getting there was an experience. While the man at the hostel said that it was right around the castle, as I started walking there I realized that was not the case. I kept asking people for directions (thankfully, most people speak English there) but kept feeling like I was going in the wrong direction. While getting directions from the owner of a shop, an old man (probably around 70) walks out waving his arms to follow him. I then proceed to walk him for about ten minutes. All the while, he keeps trying to talk to me in Portuguese (which I clearly don’t understand), while also throwing in some Spanish words so that I could maybe understand him. I was definitely relieved when we arrived at the market because the more we walked, the more worried I was that he did not understand where I wanted to go. There were so many people there selling all sorts of knick knacks, I didn’t have any cash on me or else I could probably have spent a little of money. Then we all reunited for some ice cream before we returned to the hostel to refresh ourselves for the rest of the evening.

We had, yet again, another wonderful meal at a restaurant situated on a steep walkway towards the same area we went to the night before. I had the chef’s special of the day which was an almost scramble of fish, potato, egg, and some other stuff. After, we walked around a little bit and ended up at a karaoke bar which provided solid entertainment for a little bit! Eventually, our walking all day caught up to us and we were not able to stay out for much longer.

Today, our flight was delayed three hours and we were so excited to hear we got a free lunch in exchange. Thinking that it was going to be really good (because we ran into a friend who got placed in a 5 star hotel the night before and a 60 euro breakfast from the same company for his cancelled flight) we were not that upset. However, the lunch was not good and we were all very antsy to get back to Madrid by the end of the day.

This was also my first experience with Portuguese which is a very interesting language to listen to. I read that it is the 6th most spoken language in the world which is fascinating to me. Although I could read most signs since it is very similar to Spanish, it still sounds nothing alike. We were all so relieved to get back to Madrid and hear Spanish again. But like I said before, thankfully, Lisbon is rather touristy and caters to all languages so it really was not too hard to get by!

So that was my weekend, definitely jam-packed but I am so happy that we made this trip. On the agenda for this week is the start of actual classes, then I head to Palma de Mallorca on Friday for the weekend.

I am rather sad about Madrid not getting the Olympic bid. They were so ready and it breaks my heart thinking about all the hope that they had but I presume Rio de Janeiro will be fine as well… Madrid 2020?

From the Olympic Rally the weekend before the decision was announced!

From the Olympic Rally the weekend before the decision was announced!

Free week!

So good news is that I made it through my finals! Don’t know my grades on them but nevertheless, they are over! That also means that I have a week off before I start my normal classes on Tuesday. I have celebrated by wondering around and doing things like getting my nails done, exploring a English bookshop/cafe, eating sushi (FINALLY!), crepes, and going out!

Today we took a quick 30 minute train ride to Toledo to explore for the day. We ate lunch in the plaza then walked around for about 3 hours and saw the beautiful cathedral, museums, and other hidden treasures. They also are famous for their mazapan so of course we sampled some of that! It was sooo good. Toledo is such a beautiful little town and I love the cobblestoned alleyways.

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It was nice to get out of Madrid for the afternoon and explore a new city! I have to make this short because I have to leave for the airport in 4 hours to go to Lisbon, Portugal! I will be sure to write when I return!