Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Year in Review 2015 – Personal Reflections

I’ve learned so much this year, both about the world and about myself. Since 2015 is coming to an end I thought this would be a great way to try and wrap some stuff up. This year has been pretty crazy for me, I’ve been all over the place doing all sorts of things and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While I’ve experienced a lot, I think the single most defining moment of this year has been Sweet Briar announcing its closure. The months that followed the March 3rd announcement were the most difficult in my life. I realize that from the outside it might seem like there was a lot of overreacting going on, I mean it’s not like anyone died right? You can’t compare losses or decide when people have the right to be upset. Our entire futures were suspended and we were brutally betrayed and lied to by those in charge. That does a lot to a person, physically and emotionally. I spent an entire semester applying to new schools that I didn’t want to go to (which is expensive by the way) while taking on more than a full course load and my honors project. I was depressed, upset, and unmotivated which is a dangerous combination for a perfectionist who expects nothing less than the best from herself. Now add several hundred other young women in the exact same situation, not exactly a stress-free environment. Thank God (and our beautiful alumnae, faculty, staff, and fellow students) that Sweet Briar is now to remain open. I remember being at camp this summer and finally being able to check my phone after all my girls were in bed and seeing tons and tons of text messages and being really confused only to realize that they were from friends (SBC or otherwise) saying that we had won the court case and I’d be going back (well, kind of…as a study abroad student) in the fall. Surrounded by the beautiful North Carolina mountains, I cried. Of course not everything is perfect (like the fact that my beautiful wonderful roommate can’t come back…) and the anger and general distrust I have for “executive” anything is going to be around for a long, long time.

It’s kind of a little thing, but one of my favorite accomplishments this year has been getting over my fear of heights. As you’ve probably picked up by now, I worked at a fantastic summer camp this year. I went into the experience expecting to teach dance. During orientation I was put in a group that was going to learn to instruct high ropes course and rock climbing. High ropes course and rock climbing? Did I mention I was petrified of heights? I was nervous, upset, and frustrated. The first time I had to do the high ropes course it took me over a half an hour. By the end of the summer it took me around three minutes and was my favorite activity. That course teaches you a lot, but mostly trust. Trust in your equipment, trust in your partners, and trust in yourself. I find myself actively seeking out new heights now though literally that isn’t exactly easy in Sevilla. Figuratively, however, I have no problem finding ways to test myself.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is just how little we actually need. My friends and family thought I was crazy to come to Spain with just a checked suitcase and a backpack. Now that I’ve been here 3.5 months, I can say that I packed too much. In fact I’m super excited to travel for a month with just my carry on suitcase. My revelation about our materialism started with my trip to Burkina Faso this January. I meticulously researched and packed for my two week trip-a smaller suitcase and a backpack. I packed way too much. I got there and was embarrassed at how much stuff I brought and was mortified when I returned home and realized just how much stuff I had. I’m not exactly classifiable as high maintenance, I rarely wear makeup, heck I don’t even use shampoo, but I felt so “first world” I could barely stand it. I’ve made an effort to donate lots of things and compress my wardrobe, nearly everything matches everything else now (if it doesn’t go with black, I don’t want it!), but I still have a long way to go. In this process I’ve also become more aware of where my clothing comes from and try (when I can) to buy fair trade. I bought a new pair of boots (to replace the two falling apart pairs that I had) in Granada that are stylish, durable, and comercio justo (fair trade) from Colombia. I think back to May, driving home from school with my car stuffed and am mortified, we really do have a problem. For me, this issue wasn’t solved this year, it was started.

I learned a lot about managing my expectations and being true to me this year. I had a lot of trouble at the beginning of this semester because I would get upset at myself if I didn’t go out. I don’t really enjoy going out, I prefer chatting over coffee or pre-dinner drinks but it seemed like the only way to get to know other people in the program was to stay out until dawn. I will say, that’s fun sometimes, but I was making myself go out when I didn’t want to or stressing about not going out when I decided to stay in. Wasn’t I wasting my time abroad? Not usually one to fall into the trap of stereotypes, that’s exactly what I did. Isn’t study abroad supposed to be partying with a bunch of loud Americans? I realized that I had to be true to me and that I simply had different expectations. If I only made friends with other Americans, what was going to happen in December when they all left? I had some doubts about my decision to generally stay separate from the JYS group, especially on our program trips, but in general it was the right thing to do. If I stayed out until 5am every weekend, what was I going to miss out on? I can say that I’m very happy with the Spanish friends that I’ve made and that spending my mornings at a café have been much more rewarding than staying out all night. I’ve also had some great nights staying in and watching movies with my host family. Now, this is not to say I never go out, because I do love it, as long as I am a bit selfish and do it on my schedule. The same rule applies with traveling, I got frustrated when I traveled with other people in the program because we just didn’t have the same expectations. Compromise is important but you have to remember that you have every right to do what you want to do, even if it means doing it alone.

On that note, I have become a super morning person. I’ve always loved mornings. At SBC I always got up and spent close to an hour sitting at breakfast, at home I was usually up before my sisters left for school, and in Sevilla my favorite part of the day is having breakfast or a coffee at a café, either alone or with someone else. In the past few weeks this has become a tad bit of a problem. For one, I’m actually sad every day when I finish breakfast and two, I’m literally so unproductive after lunch/siesta (granted, lunch is at like three). But hey, at least right now I don’t actually have anything pressing to do!

Though I was acutely aware of this before, I hate technology. Ok, this is a slight exaggeration, because it’s pretty cool, but I really just want to experience life without being connected. I’ve tried and I continue to try to disconnect but it’s a huge problem. I’ve gone out with people plenty of times only to have them on their phone the entire time. I’m lucky that I can only use mine with wifi so I’m never tempted, but it’s so frustrating. My host siblings always have their phones as well. I hate how programed I am to open my laptop the second I get up/home. I really just want to delete all my social media. And the internet. Maybe my upcoming trip will provide another opportunity to attempt to fully cut myself off again. Ugh.

The biggest thing that I’ve been working on this year has been “do what makes you happy”. In reality, if something doesn’t make you happy, why do it? I know this is way harder in practice, but I’ve been trying really hard to apply this to every aspect of my life. I still have a long way to go but baby steps…

There you have it, I’m probably forgetting something, but hey…you try summing up everything you’ve done in a year!

Definitive list of Christmas activities

It’s the 23rd of December, or what I have referred to as “Christmas Eve Eve” in past years. Memories of being bundled up in cozy pajamas watching the snow fall from my bedroom window or watching the Polar Express at school (or maybe having a math test last period, but let’s not ruin it). This year is my fist Christmas away from home and I’ve gone through a rollercoaster of wanting to skip it and wanting to relish in all its European glory. In honor of my favorite holiday, I’ve made a list of all the ways I’ve celebrated to date:

Watching Christmas Movies: Four Christmases, A Very Murray Christmas, Elf, The Royal Opera House Nutcracker (I saw this as a live broadcast at a movie theater in Sevilla, it was good, “Clara” was AMAZING and I loved the costumes but I’ve seen better choreography), The Santa Clause (1,2, and 3), The Grinch (In Spanish with Ester and Mario)

Still to watch: Love Actually, The Polar Express, Rudolph

Listening to Christmas Music: A variety but especially Lady Antebellum’s Christmas Album <3

Eating Christmas Sweets: St. Lucia’s torta (in honor of my confirmation Saint), mantecados, turrónes, an array of candied nuts I bought from a street vendor, chocolates from the dulce tray in the kitchen, drinking Anís de la Castellana

Da una vuelta to see the Christmas Lights: Madrid, Athens, Sevilla

Christmas Markets: Madrid, Sevilla (both traditional (3) and the Belén market)

Cooking Christmas Things: Ester and I tried to make chocolate chip cookies. Yeah it didn’t work out very well and we ended up with a pudding/brownie type thing. Good, but not cookies.

Miscellaneous Christmas Activities: Buying/wrapping/sending gifts, ice skating and checking out the Christmas village at the Prado de San Sebastian, going to mass, seeing Belens set up all over the city, seeing the Alumbra show

Regardless, I can't wait to celebrate Christmas with my host family over the next two days before setting off!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Day Happy Day :)

Today is a very very very exciting day J When I was in Burkina Faso this January I met a beautiful little girl named Wendinda. Winny had a rather difficult life up to coming to the Sheltering Wings orphanage and suffers from various disabilities, due to some very sad accidents. This being said she is a beautiful and sweet little girl who loves to love. One of the first times I met her, she sat in my lap continuously stroking my arm. Coral, the woman I lived with, explained to me that she was set to be adopted in May and that her family had been sending her pictures and such, so perhaps she thought I was her mom. Throughout the rest of my time there I had lots of opportunities to play with Winny, help Coral with her speech and occupational therapy and I even got her to dance around a bit. I brought home a craft that she made to send to her soon-to-be family. I have kept up with them on Facebook ever since.

Unfortunately, the Burkinabe government isn’t the most functional. Though she was set to come “home” in May, various things have come up and Winny has remained indefinitely in Burkina, much to the dismay of all who have been hoping and praying for her safe arrival in the states. Winny has received lovely care at the orphanage, but the fact of the matter is that those with disabilities, physical or mental, are simply not accepted there. They also don’t have access to the type of care they would receive in the US. I am a huge supporter of community development and creating a place where kids are not separated from their life and culture, but in certain cases, like Winny's, international adoption is essential.

Now time for the good news- as we speak, Winny is on her way to the United States! An escort went to pick her and another little girl from a different orphanage up, take care of the paper work and bring them to meet their new families! (What an amazing job) I’m sure the journey has been stressful for her and that her transition into her new life won’t be easy, but from what I can tell her family (who has been working on this for, I believe, over two years) seems to be amazing! I actually had a dream last night about her meeting her family, my heart is so full and I am so excited for all involved!

Year in Review 2015: Travel By The Numbers

2015 isn’t quite over yet, and I’m not quite done traveling but in my last few days of blogging this year I thought it would be nice to do a bit of a “round-up” of all of my traveling. This morning I found a nifty website that allows me to put pins into a digital map. After playing around a bit I was amazed at just how many places I have been to, both in and outside of the United States.

United States- I always say that I need to travel more within my own country, it’s so big and there’s so much to see. I did better this year, though my time was exclusively spent on the East coast. I need to get out west man! Montana is on my bucket list for 2016, we’ll see how that goes.


Home- aka Berkshire County, though I spend less and less time here every year, I still love coming home and really appreciate it the longer I’m away. I spent time in January, March (the worst spring break ever-not because I was home but because my school closed…), May, and August in the Berks. I was usually working but I still had time to enjoy the area.

New York/Boston- While I’ve loved visiting these cities in the past, in 2015 they were used exclusively for their airports.

Misquamicut- Spent a day at the beach with mom and Hannah the day after I got home from camp and I didn’t get sunburned (YAY…considering last time).

Hartford- I’ve become very familiar with Trinity College in Hartford over the past couple of years thanks to my frequent-as-possible visits to Jess.


Sweet Briar/Lynchburg- I of course spent plenty of time at SBC this spring as that is where I go to school.

Charlottesville- I always say I should go to C-ville more, but this spring I was there for Foxfield and a few Sunday drives

Farmville- Because…yeah.

Washington DC- I know this isn’t technically Virginia but I didn’t want to make a whole separate category. I drove 10 hours each way to DC to hand in paperwork for my visa in July. I stayed overnight with a friend but was in the consulate FOR FOUR MINUTES.

The rest of the Southeast-

Hendersonville, NC (and surrounding small towns) - I spent ten glorious weeks working at Camp Ton-A-Wandah this summer (minus the part where I had to drive up to DC). It was amazing to say the least.

Asheville, NC- I love Asheville. I first went there in March to run a half-marathon at the Biltmore estate and then spent several nights off there during the summer. It’s what I like to call “hippietown USA” and I LOVE it.

Charleston, SC- I got to spend about a week with my friends down in Charleston after finals, before graduation. It was a blast and can be summarized by “sunburns and Kraminsky’s”. I can’t wait to go back, the city was beautiful!

International- So obviously I’m abroad now and this past semester has been a whirlwind of European traveling though I do consider myself to “live” in Sevilla right now as opposed to visiting, which is super cool. Actually, Sevilla is the place I’ve lived the longest this year being here over 15 weeks already.

Burkina Faso- Let’s not forget why I stated this blog! At the very beginning of this year I spent about two weeks in Yako, Burkina Faso. Though it was sometimes very hard, I loved it and it has been calling my name ever since. Look for a super exciting post about a beautiful little girl I worked with there very soon!


Sevilla- My beautiful home. I have absolutely fallen in love with Sevilla. Though I’d never call myself a city girl, Sevilla really is the perfect size for me. It’s taken a bit of adjusting but I’ve really come to love the Spanish way of life.

Madrid- I’ve been up to Madrid several times this year, usually I’m just passing through but I’ve also had time to enjoy the city and it’s slowly growing on me. La Latina is my favorite neighborhood by far including this marvelous vintage store called “Remember”. It also has its fair share of free museums and exhibitions including a printing press museum. Oh, and the coolest feminist bookshop.

Cádiz- At the end of orientation we spent a day in this historical and beach-y city. It was cool but not overwhelmingly so.

Córdoba- My favorite part of Cordoba was walking around the old Jewish Quarter. It was beautiful and had some amazing artisan shops.

Ronda- A geographically cool city, Ronda is built on the side of cliffs and is surrounded by mountains. I probably would have like it more if it didn’t rain the entire time we had free time.

Granada- Granada was beautiful and though I had seen it before, the Alhambra was amazing. This time I was really taken by the mountains, we had an amazing view from the top of a fortress. I could have stared at them all day. I also bought a pair of fair trade boots from Colombia and have worn them pretty much every day since.

The rest of Europe- I have written extensive posts on all of these so I’ll keep them short and sweet.

Lisbon/Sintra, Portugal (Trip Post)- This was my first trip outside of Spain and I fell in love with Lisbon. Oh and Sintra was a magical fairytale land.

Amsterdam (Trip Post)- I still have mixed feelings about this trip, but in general I learned a lot, ate yummy food, and took some amazing pictures

Dublin (Trip Post)- I could see myself living/working in Dublin. The energy of the city is great and I felt so at home. Also visiting friends is a plus.

Athens/Aegina (Trip Post)- I spent my birthday in Greece and it was magical. The food was great, the landscape was breathtaking, I met new people, and had a blast in general.

Travel by the numbers
Countries: 7
States (not counting ones I’ve driven through): 7
Cities (“home” is one): 27
Planes (not counting layovers): 9
Trains: 9
Boats/Ferries (not counting return trips): 2
Buses: Too many
Budget Breakdown

You might not know this, or maybe you do, but I’m really cheap. I hate spending money and save in every way I can. Since I’ve been abroad I’ve kept an extremely detailed weekly budget. One of the things that has always been frustrating to me is that people who travel extensively seem to have unlimited, or at least very flexible budgets. Studying abroad hasn’t been cheap (well actually it’s much cheaper than me being at school) and neither has traveling, but I’m pretty proud of how much I’ve spent compared to how much I’ve done. I thought it might be helpful to share what my budget looked like this semester as far as traveling.

The total I spent from my travel budget was 1,078 euros (~$1,170). I had a weekly budget and on occasion I used any left over money from the week to supplement my trip budget. This totaled about 40 or so euros over the course of the entire semester. How does this look broken down?

Lisbon- 200 euros – this payed for a bus, a two night stay in an amazing hostel, food, transportation within the city, a walking tour, admission into several sites including castles and museums, postcards, and a few souvenirs.

Amsterdam – 317 euros – this included a (pricey-er) direct from Sevilla flight, transportation to and from the various airports, food, bike rentals, left luggage, and a few gifts. I did couchsurfing to avoid paying for accommodation and stocked up on bread, peanut butter, and fruit at a grocery store to cut down on costs. I also skipped the big (expensive) museums in favor of smaller (free) ones that were more off the beaten path.

Dublin – 211 euros (with a bit extra from my weekly budget) – this covered a bus to/from Madrid, my flight Madrid to Dublin, to/from airport transportation in Dublin, food, entrance to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a CD from a band on the street, and beer. I stayed with a friend (Hey Chris!) to avoid paying for accommodation and we walked everywhere, even though it was a solid three mile hike into the center of the city. 

Greece – 350 euros – I’m not going to lie, I got a solid amount of free stuff because it was my birthday, but the 350 euros covered the bus to Madrid, my flight to/from Athens, the AVE (having to buy this at 65 euros made me cringe but I was not waiting 12 hours to take the bus home, plus I love the AVE) from Madrid to Sevilla, food, gifts, the ferry to/from Aegina, and to/from airport/train station transportation. I again stayed with a friend (Thanks Matt!) to cut down on accommodation, are you seeing a trend in my traveling strategy? I also got in free to every historical site which was awesome.

As you can see, weekend trips don’t need to cost more than a few hundred euros. Like I said, I don’t like spending money so I found ways to cut costs, like staying with friends (which is more fun anyways) or taking a 6 hour night bus to Madrid. My travel style helps; for the most part I’m not interested in big tourist attractions. I usually skip them in favor of smaller more off the beaten path ones. For example, I skipped out on the Rijiksmuseum in Amsterdam (about 20 euros) and instead went to the Collier’s Diamond Museum, Royal Delft Experience, sampled cheese at a cheese store and Bloemenmarkt, all for free. Sure they don’t have world famous art, but I’ve been to numerous art museums for free, like the Gulbenkianin in Lisbon and ones paid for by my program like the Prado and Reina Sofia. Also, important to note: I like to drink as much as the next college student, and tend to have a bit of an expensive taste. When I’m traveling, I rarely drink and this cuts down significantly on costs. When I do go out, of course I have a glass of wine or beer with a meal but since I’m not into partying/clubbing/any of that I save a lot. I’ve seen people spend on one night out what I spend in a whole day. Also, do yourself a favor and bring your own food to the airport. A breakfast that costs 6 euros at the airport costs 2,1 here in Sevilla. At the same Café.

I’ve been extremely lucky that my program pays for various trips around Spain. Now, I know that technically we are paying for the trips ahead of time, but because JYS is a Sweet Briar program I had most of my scholarships applied no problem in addition to an extra JYS scholarship, so I personally am not actually paying much at all to be here (again, blessed, one hundred million times blessed). I have had the opportunity to travel all over Andalucía- Cádiz, Córdoba, Ronda, and Granada as well as Madrid.

Looking back at the year, my trip to Burkina was 100% funded by the honors program at my school.

All of that being said, studying abroad is a financial commitment and I spent a lot of time working over the past couple of years to be able to enjoy it, including two jobs at SBC this spring in addition to babysitting in Amherst, working all summer at camp and then at both the Brien Center (a mental health organization) and the restaurant at Jacob’s Pillow when I was home in May/August (usually double days and a few overnight shifts). I have also recently started tutoring here in Sevilla. I have found it super helpful to keep a detailed record of everything that I buy and also interesting. For example I’ve bought 74 cups of coffee here in Sevilla so far. You can also see the dramatic increase in coffee between my first week and this week.

I can tell you that my January trip involves a much bigger budget, but I’m also traveling for a full month, not just a weekend. I know that I’ll be taking advantage of markets/supermarkets, which are actually super fun in foreign countries. I’m also staying in hostels, and even one hotel room but I’ve saved for this trip all summer so I’m beyond excited.

Well there you have it, a pretty comprehensive (I think) breakdown of my travel both over the past year and this semester. I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Free at last!

My professor walked by while I was studying this
morning at a cafe, 'animo' he said as I cried silently
 (in Spanish, claro)
I’m done!!!!!!! With finals that is…after three hours of pouring (almost) everything that I learned in my history class on to (unlined) paper, I’m done! I was really nervous about this final because I didn’t know what to expect. In reality it ended up being like most of my other finals, a broad statement or question to comment on or develop aka write down everything you know. Since I’m used to psychology finals with extremely specific questions this format has been a bit troubling. How much is enough? Is this relevant? When you say comment, do you mean include my opinion? When you say develop and give me a broad statement, can I pick some aspect to focus on? It’s a struggle. I’ve found that the best method is to just start writing a soliloquy, explaining whatever it is to the “audience”, as if the topic came up in conversation and they have no idea what the other person meant by it. It usually ends up turning into a bit of a rant (here’s to hoping that my professors have a sense of humor and can handle to sass!) but I just assume that makes it a bit more interesting to read. I feel really good about this one because I really went at it and didn’t really stop to think about anything. I had no idea how much time had passed and when my professor came in after 3 hours I was a bit surprised.

This final was for my regular class which meant it was a class with a bunch of other Spanish students as opposed to my other classes which were in Spanish, with Spanish professors but with other Americans. I preferred this class 100x over my cursos concertados. It was way harder to understand the professor but he was just so much more interesting than my other ones and somehow, even though it had 90 students it felt way more like an SBC class.

The class was on “Modern European History” (basically the 16th century with a little bit on each side). It was quite interesting and in light of being done I’ve decided to give you a basic summery because sharing is caring:

In defense of the ‘verdadera’* religion

*right, legitimate, truthful-but I’ve heard ‘verdadera’ so many times everything else sounds wrong.

Yupp. That’s pretty much it. If I wanted to be more specific I could put in something about the ‘power of the monarchy’ but let’s be honest that falls under the theme above and I don’t want to be redundant or overwhelming or anything. I’ll just let that sink in.

I’m also pretty much an expert in European geography now, but only in Spanish. It didn’t occur to me until literally two seconds ago that Borgoña, a super important area that we studied, was “Spanish”. Yeah, apparently it’s Burgundy. That’s why my friend looked at me like I was crazy when I was talking about Felipe I. Oops.

ANYWAY, now I get to enjoy Christmas in Sevilla and prepare for more traveling adventures! I always forget what it feels like to "be free" from responsibilities at the end of the semester. It's great. Amazing. Beautiful. I’d tell you where I’m going but one time before I went to Burkina I had a nightmare about someone stalking me because of what I posted so you’ll just have to wait to hear about the trip until I get back. I can tell you that I’ll be traveling for about a month and both solo and with friends. I’m not bringing my laptop so I’ll have a lot of writing to do when I get back! I also have a lot of writing to do before I leave to 1. Hold you over until the end of January 2. I don’t want to be behind when I leave. Okay, I’m off to organize all my travel information and put it on my handy dandy memory stick so I can print everything out in the morning!

Stay tuned as my posts will be coming at you rapid fire over the next 9 days!! (omg 9 days until I leave…what?)

Peace, love, and Christmas cookies,


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Swanky title about Greece

I decided to write about my trip to Greece first because frankly it was so much more fun/interesting/I think you’ll enjoy it more. It’s also going to take forever to write so I might as well get started. Also also, on my trip to Granada I thought of an idea for the book I want to write so I thought I might try that form out today. It’s pretty similar to what I’ve been doing but with a few changes, I’m thinking along the lines of a collection of short stories starting with a recommendation on what they should be enjoyed with. Let me know what y’all think! I’m always open to comments / criticism / suggestions.

 Note: “tomar un café” means to have a coffee, usually at a café. “Tomar algo” means to have something, in the same way. Also, please accept this as a draft, I’m all out of creative titles.

Tomar algo: Cappuccino with brown sugar and a bite sized chocolate chip cookie or two

My birthday trip got off to a somewhat rough start, about an hour before we got to Madrid, the lady I was sitting next to on the autobus got sick and threw up everywhere, I’m pretty sure she even passed out for a second. Luckily, my counselor/college student skills jumped into action to prevent her from 1. throwing up on me and 2. choking. It was a great way to wake up and get my blood pumping for the day. The bus got to the airport hours before my flight so I spent quite a while getting familiar with the floor in Terminal 2 before I could check in. A budget traveler’s life is rarely glamorous, so my breakfast matched my look.

Two vending machine cafes con leche (extra sugar) and a grocery store baguette with mermelada de frambuesa y mantequilla (raspberry jam and butter)

I spent my early morning hours contemplating the complexity of Don Quijote, a topic brought upon either by my deliriousness (I probably slept for a maximum of 15 minutes on the bus) or my impending final on the book and its author. For those who haven’t read at least part of the book (I certainly haven’t read it in its entirety yet), Quijote is surprisingly relevant today, especially to twentysomethings who aren’t content with the ideals of our demanding society and sitting still.

After several hours of both reveling in one of the greatest novels ever written and cursing the sloppiness and inconsistency of Cervantes it was finally time to board the plane. The flight was mostly uneventful due to the wonderful service (and food…a whole actual meal…for free!) of Aegean Airlines. But life wouldn’t be interesting if it was uneventful. While I have thus far been lucky with seating on planes, I got to spend three and a half hours listening to a Chinese/Spanish family yelling in both Chinese and Spanish AND I got to listen to three and a half hours of an Asian soap opera because apparently headphones are now optional. Maybe I should have played my country playlist out loud as well?

We flew into Greece as the sun was setting and it was magical. I didn’t realize how mountainous the country was and flying into the sunset over snowcapped mountains was amazing. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, Athens appeared from under the wing of the plane. The entire city was lit up against a purple sky and the deep blue sea. Simply breathtaking. I didn’t (couldn’t) even attempt to capture it in a picture. I think that’s when I fell in love with Greece.

I was staying with a friend, Matt, and he met me at the airport which was ideal because, as you may know, they speak Greek in Greece and I’m not sure that my exhausted, romance language filled mind could have navigated the (Greek) public transportation system. On our journey into Athens proper I got my first glimpse of Greek life: worry beads, Greek singing and dancing, riot police, and Christmas lights. After putting my stuff away in the apartment I was staying in, we set out for a mini night time tour of Athens. Since Matt is a classics major, I got the Spark Notes version of the several thousand year history of Greece as we walked by monuments like the Temple of Zeus. While it was all interesting, my favorite part was climbing up the huge hill that the Acropolis is on (not easy in a skirt) and having a panoramic view of Athens at night. It was amazing seeing the dark, imposing mountains turn into the sprawling, brightly lit city, turn into the equally dark sea. I’ve often been asked “mountains or sea?” and if I could give you an answer before, I certainly can’t now. Both are far too inspiring.

We met up with a friend of Matt’s for dinner at a taberna called “The Black Cat”. It was traditionally Greek, or so I was told, though it had a somewhat American feel to it but that might have just been the red and white checked table cloths and Christmas decorations. In enrich my first experience of Greek food we ordered a variety of appetizers to go with our meals.

A traditional Greek salad with possibly the best feta cheese I have ever had, saganaki (a fried cheese square), tzatziki (a spread), fresh bread, and a jar of Rosé complemented by my main dish-a piece of flaky, melt-in-your-mouth spinach pie

I think you could call dinner a success. As you might imagine, it was so nice to spend time with someone I knew. While one of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting new people, it can be exhausting. It’s nice to just slip into conversation without having to explain things or people or ways of thinking. After dinner we went out to a terrace bar for drinks. We ordered Rakomelo which is a traditional drink made from raki, a grape based bourbon, mixed with honey and spices, served warm. I was absolutely in heaven because it can only be explained in American terms as warm Jack Honey which is my favorite drink in the whole world. I’m a bit disappointed in myself because I never thought of trying it warm before. While we were out, sipping on our drinks, overlooking Poco Poco (a 24 hour eatery), midnight struck and it was my birthday. It was understandably uneventful, but then again was it? How many people get to celebrate their birthday in Athens?

Greece Part Two

A cappuccino, because café con leche isn’t a thing in Greece; toast with cheese, aka a grilled cheese; potato chips; free cookies

After breakfast we hit the ground running “seeing the sights”/“doing the sites” (I’m still not positive which one it was). We saw pretty much every historical site in the center of the city including the theater of Dionysus, the Parthenon, various temples and monuments, several parks and the Agora. My history lesson continued and I was impressed with how much I remembered from my Dance History class (note: Mark isn’t entirely crazy!). Photographing the monuments was equally fun and frustrating, as there’s always something that doesn’t belong. Maybe I’ll write a book on that, History or His-story? Failed attempts a photographing monuments and landmarks due to man’s need to be in the way. We did a lot of walking. I always forget how much of traveling is just being on your feet. After strolling through an outdoor market, Matt and I got lunch. The atmosphere was cool, the host was hilarious and the food was good, what else could you ask for?

Pasta with olive oil, tomato sauce, eggplant and a variety of other veggies that tasted like magic and summer and some of the most dense, flavorful bread that I’ve ever had

We stopped at Di Vinci’s for gelato after and I went out of my mint chocolate/ stracciatella comfort zone for caramel and chocolate strawberry, it was divine. After a bit of shopping (Greece is so cheap!) we went out to the sketchy/hipster part of town where we saw the remains of a protest and a really beat up university building. I think that it’s really important to see the “other side” of town when you are traveling. I had also wanted to see the refugees, but it was getting dark and Matt suggested that we not, I was a bit disappointed but completely agreed.  As magical as almost all of my travel experiences are, you can’t look at the world through rose-colored lenses, you have to take in everything. You have to be swept away by the beauty of the land, sea, and sky, you have to be amazed by ancient buildings and temples, and you have to be disturbed by human crisis. You should take inspiration, hope, and motivation, respectively, from your travels.

My afternoon concluded with a glorious pre-dinner nap. We were meeting up with a few of Matt’s other friends for dinner. Occasionally I have moments when I realize just how European I’m becoming, and my rejoicing at the message I got saying that we were not going to meet for dinner until nine was one of them. I loved meeting Matt’s friends, one, Rocío, was studying with him in Greece and the other was her friend, Jackie, who is spending the year in Copenhagen, which is exciting because now I have someone else to visit this spring! She also goes to Smith College, small world isn’t it? We had a great conversation about K-Pop and weird Korean movies. Dinner was good, though there was a bit of a mix up, as they brought my dinner out before the appetizer so we all ate that before realizing that it was my meal, but it was good nonetheless.

A salad with feta, balsamic vinaigrette, greens, and sundried tomatoes on crispy thin pita, grilled veggies topped with fried cheese, and a cool, refreshing white wine to wash it down

After we ate, we took a night paseo around the center of Athens and saw what can only be described as “Greek”; Christmas decorations lighting the riot police, the absolutely ridiculous presidential guards marching against a backdrop of orange trees and twinkling lights, stray but well fed and vaccinated cats and dogs being loved on by citizens, old men with their worry beads and crowds of young, H&M clad students bounding around the city center. We ended up at this hole in the wall bar that Matt had been to with a professor and it was great. I’m not one for clubs or crazy nights out so this was perfect. It was an old Turkish villa that had been transformed into a bar/art gallery. I’m not exactly sure what I got to drink because they kind of mixed up our order, but it was lemon-lime tasting and very good. The atmosphere was both hipster and upscale academic but then again, is there really a difference? With new friends and a drink in my hand, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my birthday.    

Greece part three

It was a good thing we didn’t stay out too late the night before because Sunday was just as long as Saturday. Our game plan for the day was Aegina, an island about an hour ferry ride away from Athens Port. We met Rocío and Jackie at a corner café.

Another cappuccino and Praise God Halleluiah a BAGEL AND PEANUT BUTTER, also a free cookie which appears to be customary in Greece

The lady working at the café was the sweetest and she only charged be half price for the peanut butter because she “didn’t have much”…there was plenty on my bagel. We got down to the dock and had to wait for about an hour for the next ferry, which was fine because sometimes you just have to sit and think about the world. It’s so easy to forget the magnitude of where you are what you are doing. Spending my birthday weekend in Greece? What? And just when you feel on top of the world you are hit with how small you are. How many people in the thousands of years of Greek history have sat here, looking out over the sea? Surely countless soldiers and immigrants, emigrants and historians, prisoners and lovers, have looked wistfully to the sea and the mountains and back again and here I am, just one girl in 2015 waiting for a ferry. ¿Impresionante, no?

Back to the boat. The ferry ride was a lot of fun. I had a nice conversation with a man out on the upper level. He showed me some of the pictures he’s taken of birds on the ferry, he’s a regular. The first thing we did when we got off the boat was go to the pistachio vendors because that’s all Matt had been talking about all weekend. I’ve never had pistachios; they’re one of the few foods that I still haven’t tried because of some arbitrary prejudice. I think it’s because I see pistachio ice cream as a mint chocolate chip imposter. Luckily I was able to put this aside, and after a ridiculous amount of free samples of pistachios, candied pistachios, pistachio butter, and pistachio ice cream I can say that I really like them.

We spent the morning strolling around the island. We went into a Greek Orthodox Church which was cool, but jarring as usual because where are all the Marys? I’ve never been in an orthodox church though so it was really interesting to see all the Byzantine inspired art. Aside from the port, it’s a relatively residential place with lots of old, beaten up, beautiful little houses. We walked down little streets, past pistachio fields and olive groves. I only wish that they spoke Spanish and not Greek so I would have a reason to spend my summer working there.

We did not dress correctly for the weather so by midday we were sweating, though in our defense it was only forty degrees at night. From the minute we got back to the edge of the island I couldn’t stop thinking about jumping in the crystal clear water. I’ve never seen water so blue and beautiful. We played around a bit in an inlet and joked about stealing a boat that was docked there. We kept walking. We came to another inlet. I looked longingly at the sea and luckily I wasn’t the only one. We started to walk away and Jackie said it, “I want to go swimming”. After some discussion, justifying it by “we’re in Greece” and by the old man who was swimming and didn’t look very cold at all, we were stripping off our winter layers and making our way into the Aegean sea. It was cold, but not as cold as Maine and it was salty, but not quite as salty as two girls wearing the same dress at a party. Us girls hung out for a bit, forced Matt to do the necessary photoshoot (“pics or it didn’t happen”), and then got out. It was good. It was necessary. After drying off a bit we headed back towards civilization for a 4pm lunch. It was a grab-and-go bocadilla, nothing special.

We ended our island adventure at an archeological site. We whined about going, but it was free and Matt wanted to so we did. It’s probably my favorite ancient ruins that I’ve been to because we got to climb on it (Were we actually allowed to? I don’t know). We watched what was easily the most magical sunset of my entire life. I had a field day both photographing it and simply enjoying it. I am a strong believer in the power of language, but as a writer of English and Spanish I can confidently say that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe that sunset to you. I’m not going to say anything other than that “I am an entirely different person having seen the sun set on the other side of the world”.

Back in Athens we went searching for a protest before dinner, but were unsuccessful…apparently it wasn’t happening until later. In going against everything I’ve been told in Spain I tried one of the oranges off the orange trees that line the streets, both in Sevilla and Athens. I will say that the orange itself wasn’t bad, it was a bit bitter which I was expecting because they are used to make bitter marmalade, which I have tried. The juice, however, was so acidic that it made my sun burned lips feel like they were bubbling and made me hyper aware of the hundreds of teeny-tiny cuts that I apparently have all over my fingers. Good experience though, cross that one off the bucket list.
We all went back to our respective apartments and I met Megan, whose room I had been staying in, and one of her friends. They had been in Berlin for the weekend and I loved hearing about the Christmas markets they went to, the mulled wine sounded delightful and I tried some of the candied nuts that they brought back. A big group of people from Matt’s program got together and we all went out to Mystic Pizza for dinner. 

Thick crust, wood fired pizza with mozzarella, feta, peppers, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions, too many glasses of red vine, and free dark chocolate, nut filled desserts

It was a lot of fun hearing about everyone’s experience. It was interesting too because their program is so different from JYS, they don’t live with host families and their classes are taken at the program center as opposed to at an actual Greek University. After finished, I think it was close to or after midnight, a few of us bought some wine at a street kiosk and went back to Megan’s room. We sat up and chatted about everything under the sun. Eventually, around 2 or 3am responsible Holly came out and decided it was time to go to bed. I took a shower and died a bit as I set my alarm for 5:40am.

Greece part four

Trying not to think too much about the time, I rolled out of bed, followed Megan’s directions to Poco Poco (conveniently stored in the notes section of my phone) and met Matt at 6…well closer to 6:10.

Half of a double cappuccino and maybe a third of a deliciously beautiful chocolate crepe that did not sit well with my still wine-y stomach

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to enjoy my breakfast but I had to be on the metro by 6:30, so I should have gotten up earlier. After 45 minutes on the train, airport security, a marathon of postcard writing, and a 10 minute bus ride from the gate to the plane, I was comfortably strapped in to an Aegean jet once again. My onboard breakfast was delightful as was the rest of my journey. I elected to take the AVE home instead of the bus, mostly because I didn’t want to wait twelve hours for the next bus to leave.

I came home to the Christmas lights in Sevilla all turned on for the first time and the traditional post-adventure tortilla and soup for dinner.  [Note: not happy with this ending yet]

It’s still amazing to me how much Sevilla has become home and how familiar Spanish is after hearing a different language all weekend. With that, my final trip of the semester is on the books and I’ll be enjoying la vida sevillana until after Christmas.  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Apologies and a general update

Hey y'all!

Sorry about not keeping up very well over the past month or so! I went on a bit of a social media/technology break and unfortunately that included blogging. I kind of regret leaving the blogging out because now I'm so far behind, but that's the way it goes. I have my last final this Thursday so I have a bit more time now to catch up with writing.

So what have I been up to since Dublin? The main things have been:

1. JYS trips to Granada and Madrid
2. My birthday and trip to Greece
3. The JYS program ending

A brief update on life in Sevilla:

The whole city is lit up for Christmas! When I got home from Greece this weekend all of the Christmas lights are finally on! During a paseo in el Centro you see the lights, chestnut vendors, tons of food trucks selling desserts and you hear all sorts of Christmas music. The store windows are decked out and there are nacimento scenes everywhere. I'm going on a paseo with some Spanish friends this evening and can't wait to see everything, there's always something new!

I've done a lot of "cafe-ing", my favorite still being Christina & Co, though La Baronesa definitely wins for atmosphere. This morning I went and had a coffee with a few friends at Hotel Alfonso XIII. It was was pretty amazing because it was Hotel Alfonso XIII but the coffee was nothing special. We did get free polvorones though.

Oh, I also cut my hair. I went one day after class and decided I needed a change. It was an interesting experience. I love it and the lady who did it was great  but the other hairdressers were pretty rude. They didn't seem to understand that I could understand what they were saying...

I'm done with my internship for the semester, I'll probably continue next semester but with less hours since I'm also tutoring for a family, both the son and his dad.

We celebrated Thanksgiving at a really nice restaurant with the program. It was pretty amazing. In addition to endless wine and bread we had 4 courses: salad, soup, the main dish (tofu and veggies for me), and dessert-and apple tart and champagne. It was really nice to go to an actual sit down restaurant as I've really only gone out for tapas here in Spain. It's not Thanksgiving without stuffing yourself so some of us went out for Mcflurries after. In general it was weird not being at home for the first time on a "big" holiday but since Thanksgiving isn't really a thing here it didn't feel like a holiday so it wasn't a big deal.

I've had my three cursos concertados exams and they've been disappointingly easy. I think I'm more frustrated over the low expectations than the easiness. I appreciate that I didn't have to try very hard but I took all advanced level classes, if people don't expect anything from you it's really had to put in any effort. I love my regular class and my professor so I'm excited to spend then next week studying for a real exam.

I LOVE traveling but it's been so nice to just chill out and do nothing this week!

Okay, well that's all for now...I'll get the rest of my posts written as soon as possible. I don't want to be behind when I leave for my post Christmas traveling!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ireland: Land of Sunshine and Vegans

[Note: Ireland is not in fact the land of sunshine and vegans, but more on that later]

I waited a bit longer to start this post because I really wanted to think about how I was going to say what I wanted to say. How you say something can be (and usually is) more important than what you say, in both “real life” and in writing. Sometimes it’s more effective to write elegantly, with sweeping sentences and whimsical descriptions and other times humor gets the point across, but occasionally there’s no other way to say it and you have to be blunt: I loved Dublin. That’s all. End of story. It was amazing. See you next week.

As tempting as it is to leave you hanging, I of course wouldn’t do that because mother (and whoever else reads this regularly) would be mad and also because I am selfish and love to write, so here goes nothing:

I’m not exactly sure how such an unplanned trip managed to go off without a hitch. With my past trips I have made detailed lists of things I wanted to do and see and eat and I usually follow them. I made a list for Dublin too but I actually only ended up doing one thing on it. I know that I realized in Amsterdam that letting the city takeover is the best way to travel, at least for me, but I wasn’t thinking about that as I was jetting off to the Emerald Isle. Also with my past trips I travelled with other people from JYS so we would talk about what we wanted to do before the trip so there was sort of a group consensus about how the trip would go, resulting in less room for movement. I stayed with a friend from home (hey Chris!) who is studying at University College Dublin (UCD) and my only “planning” with him involved me sending him a list of things I wanted to do and him saying “okay, but you are only here for a weekend…”.

My actual journey to Dublin was hella long. I was flying out of Madrid so at about 11:45 on Thursday night I trekked from Los Remedios to the bus station on the far side of Triana (it’s much worse going the other way at 6am). When I boarded the bus I was pleased to find out that not only was I in seat #1 but that there was no one sitting next to me. The ride was about 6 and a half hours and honestly wasn’t too bad. I don’t think I slept very much but I definitely floated in and out of consciousness, though I couldn’t have been certain if it weren’t for my ipod stopping at the end of my playlists. I did have a bit of a cold last week so the one stop we made was great because I really needed (sugar free) cough drops. We got to Madrid and stopped at the bus station and after a bit of confusion I was reassured that yes the bus would actually be going to the airport, but hey it was a good way to practice the Spanish. I haven’t had the best experiences with the Madrid Airport but this one went well (aka I could connect my phone to wifi AND the espresso vending matching was working).  I had to check my bag because it was a crowded flight, which was fine, but it was super weird and very nice to go through security with only a purse. The flight was good, and before I knew it I was flying over the greenest land I had seen in months.

I was briefly interrogated by a customs officer who actually ended up being hilarious. He asked (after a series of question that made me feel like I was on the stand for murder) where I was from and when I said Western Mass he immediately asked, “So you must be a hick then?” I was impressed not only had that he known there was a western side of Massachusetts but also that he knew who lived there. Thinking back, I wish I asked why he knew that! Then I hopped on a bus and got my first glimpses of Dublin before being dumped at a bus station outside of UCD. I knew where I was supposed to be meeting Chris but I realized after I got off the bus (which had wifi) that I of course had no idea how to get there. I got really excited because there was this one kid who looked EXACTLY like Chris at the bus stop and was like “Yay he realized I don’t know where I’m going!” I proceeded to stand there for at least 30 seconds before realizing that no, this was not Chris and that this kid must think I am crazy for standing here staring at him. I walked in what I thought was the right direction and then asked 3 different groups of people how to get to the elusive “Centra”. After a nice mini-tour of campus I got where I was going. It was legitimately so nice so see someone I knew after two months of new people.
After changing and eating a peanut butter sandwich my game plan was the Old Library at Trinity College and the Book of Kells. We headed into the city, about a 3 mile walk (because buses are for quitters), and the weather was surprisingly nice (unseasonably nice, because Mother Nature knew I was coming) even as the sun was starting to set. We walked through St. Stephen’s Green before getting to Trinity. The library was closed. I was disappointed but not as much as I thought I would be, there’s always tomorrow right? We walked around a bit and ended up getting dinner at The Teller Room. It was yummy, as was my first Guinness. I was very pleasantly surprised because as a general rule, I don’t drink beer (frat parties have ruined me).

The rest of the evening was very much the classic “Irish pub experience”. 
[Note: everything after this was written after the Paris terrorist attacks, I’m trying to keep the parts cohesive but you just don’t see things in the same light after something like this]

We spent time listening to music both in pubs and on the street. I absolutely loved the mix of traditional Irish music, modern popular music, country music, and “the classics”. The atmosphere was so much fun, a change from the intense flamenco that I’m used to hearing. One band that was playing in the street was really good and we actually ended up buying CDs. Apparently they’re really popular in Ireland. I will say that I think they were better live. The pub we went to was full of dancing and singing and it was also international redhead day and a bunch of peoples’ birthdays so it was extra festive.

I joked before the trip that I was going to find my husband in Dublin, but forgot that when you travel with a guy it makes you appear to be “off limits”. At one point Chris went to the bar and I was immediately descended upon by a decently intoxicated and kind of attractive Irish man. The result was lots of hand kissing, being spun around, and questions about why I didn’t have an Irish accent. My story of course was that I was from America but that I had family here and was tracing my roots. That’s basically true, right? It’s also nice not to stand out! After we were done at the pub, Chris and I went into a few shops (ugh, I should have bought candy at the candy shop) and then started the trek home. Three miles, a housing development, and a random field later I got into bed and passed out.

The first place we went on Saturday morning was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I liked it except that the gift shop was set up right in the entrance. It was cool to see a completely gothic style church, it seemed to be right out of the palace in Sleeping Beauty with the stained glass and flags. I faced the usual struggle of trying to take pictures that don’t include random people or objects that don’t belong. The green behind the church was pretty as well. After that I wanted to go see the Book of Kells at Trinity but on our way there it started pouring. We ducked into the cutest little café called “Peacock Green” for lunch. Our main priority was hot chocolate and it was phenomenal there. I actually could go for some right now. I got a veggie frittata for lunch and it was pretty horrible so I got a berry scone as well. It was amazing. The café was really adorable, it had books and a loft and quotes and lots of pretty little things. I could have spent the rest of the day watching the rain from in there. I decided then that I didn’t really want to go to Trinity and that I didn’t want to do anymore touristy things. After we finished eating the rest of the day was spent exploring and window shopping sans map. We went into woolen stores, looked at Christmas decorations, found food, books, and map markets, went into a photo gallery put on by the National Library, and found the coolest book stores including “The Library Project” and “The Winding Stair”. I would have spent all day there. Oh, we also briefly considered crashing a wedding, but were not dressed properly for the occasion.

One of the more interesting things we saw was various animal rights activists. I signed a petition banning the use of furs and talked to some people promoting veganism. I really did like being a vegan and want to continue when I get back home and am cooking my own food. Interesting note, my friend Lily who is studying abroad in Buenos Aires also saw a huge vegan promotion that day, International Day of the Vegan?
We walked a bit along the river and ran into several monuments including the potato famine one which was really amazing. We also took in the harp bridge, a tall ship, a sideways building and a pretty remarkable sunset.

Saturday night we went out to another pub to eat, we had been looking for a specific one but couldn’t find it so we ended up at another place which ended up being great. I had spring rolls and fries and opted for dessert instead of a craft beer because I didn’t want to take more money out of the ATM. I’m not sure if it was the right choice but that warm brownie with ice cream was on point. I was tired after so we trekked back and had a relaxing night…so necessary because my feet were dead. I don’t think heeled boots were the right shoe choice but they looked good, so it worked out. Also sometimes it’s good to just eat chocolate, drink wine, and talk about life.

Sunday morning was rainy. It rained on the way to breakfast, it rained on the way to the bus station, it rained at the airport. My trip back to Madrid was uneventful as was my bus ride home to Sevilla. I did have a nice conversation with a guy from Madrid while I was waiting for the bus. I didn’t sleep much on the bus, I was in that awkward hallucinating, in between sleep and awake stage, during which I convinced myself about five times I was on the wrong bus and also came up with nifty catch phrases like “You can’t start without art”. Luckily I did get on the right bus and we got to Sevilla around 6:15am. I dragged my suitcase back to my house and crawled into bed around 7. I didn’t go to sleep because I had to be up at 8. Monday was filled with my internship and falling asleep/hallucinating in class. It was worth it though.

Writing this now, I wonder how the attacks in Paris will change my future trips. I have never been a crowd person, even so, maybe it’s a good thing that I’ve discovered that my favorite way to travel is to keep off the beaten path, not that that guarantees anything. I’ll still use public transportation and eat in restaurants and see landmarks. Will I continue to be as excited and at home at the airport? What will I be too afraid to do? Will I have a streak of rebellious courage when it comes to traveling? I guess only time will tell.

To finish: a memory and a quote

Coming home and sitting in my bed and finding the un-opened map I got at a tourist center, the feeling of both things missed and things I never would have found if I had used it

“Let’s not travel to tick things off lists or collect half-hearted semi treasures to be placed in dusty drawers in empty rooms. Rather, we’ll travel to find grounds and rooftops and tiny hidden parks, where we’ll sit and dismiss the passing time, spun in the city’s web ’til we’ve surrendered, content to be spent and consumed. I need to feel a place while I’m in it.”

Le Grá (With Love),