Posts Tagged With: study abroad

Málaga

Welcome to Sunny Florida Málaga! When we stepped off the plane, that’s what it felt like. Mlike”: 1) 1 in every 4 people actually IMG_20140507_110948_563lives there 2) most tourists and inhabitants are over the age of 60  3) palm trees and gorgeous weather. OK, folks, we have a winner. We got off the plane and magically ended up in Florida! As we looked for the exit signs, we saw that they were in Spanish, English and German. German?!Yes, German. The most tropical tourist destinations in Spain [Málaga, Canary Islands & Balearic Islands] are actually most frequented by Germans, Brits and Americans. Once again, not a lot of people we met actually live there.

So let’s see. What did we do in Málaga?! We lived the LIFE! There isn’t a whole lot to do in the city center, except see the Alcazaba. Which, of course, we did. At night. And it was beautiful. Without Paco though, there was no tour inside. But it was still pretty. We also went to a mall and shopped. Well, Miso shopped and I ate candy. This mall could have been its own town though because it had everything inside – a movie theater, a supermarket/Wal-Mart-esque facility and so many stores. We went to the grocery store and loaded up on snacks and water. Miso will never let me live it down but I bought a 5 Liter jug of water for the 3 days. But it was only 75 eurocents, how could I not have!? [Water is super cheap here! See my post about Cultural Differences]

For the next 2 days, we paid €3 to lie on the beach with beach chairs and a tiki umbrella for 10 hours per day. That is literally all we did. We laid out and tanned, reading, talking, playing games on our phones, sleeping etc. I mean we really needed a vacation from our vacation. Chips for lunch, sandwiches for dinner. What a life.

I know, it’s not an exciting post but that’s all we did. We laid on the beach and got our tan on. And thank God because I am not cute when I’m pale.  IMG_20140507_111041_433

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Hamburg – I’M BAAAAAAACCCCKKKK

From May 2-5, I went back to Hamburg, Germany. “Back?”, you may be asking. Yes. Back. When I was a senior in High School, I did an exchange program where I lived with a German family for 3 weeks and then my host sister came and lived with my family for 3 weeks. That was in October 2010. I haven’t seen my German family in 3 1/2 years. I was so excited to see them! My German dad, brother and his girlfriend came to get me at the airport. My brother’s girlfriend had flowers and everything for me!

When they drove me home, I told my dad in my God-awful German that we passed our apartment building. And my dad just smiled and kept driving. We pulled into a neighborhood and saw a cluster of row houses. My German family got their own house! I was so excited for them because my host mom always talked about having a house of her own. When I got there, I felt like the Prodigal Son returning. My entire family was excited to see me and it was like I never left! My host mom almost cried — she’s so cute. Crazy but Facebook-20140510-101838so cute. Mom told me to put my stuff in my sister’s room, but Niki wasn’t there. She was working at ReWe, the local supermarket. So we devised a plan to surprise her. My parents drove me to the store with my hair hidden under a baseball hat and gave me money and shopper rewards cards to buy chocolate. I hid my face in books until it was my turn to pay. She rang me up and after I paid, I took the hat off and showed my face and she was so surprised and excited to see me. But we couldn’t make a scene until after she got off her shift.

When she got home, she told me to get ready because we were going to a party. Niki, Eleni [my brother’s girlfriend] and I crammed into the bathroom and all got ready together. Eleni and I got along instantly, even though I had only met her for a few hours and tried communicating in broken English and broken German. Niki translated for us most of the time. Kosta [my brother] and our parents got ready and we all left for the party. Yes, my parents came with us. This is probably where I should mention that my German family has dual citizenship — they’re not actually German. They are 100% Greek. So when Greeks party, EVERYONE comes. And its not weird. We show up to a full blown club that was bought out for the night by the Greek community and stayed out until 530 am! I cannot dance to traditional Greek dances; it’s so difficult. But my mom joked that I had to learn for when Kosta and Eleni get married in a few years and I have to go to Greece for the wedding. Oh boy. We had a great time but I was so exhausted after dancing and wearing Eleni’s 4 1/2 inch heels that all I wanted to do was sleep.

The next day we went shopping! We had decided that we were going to go to another club with American music! Mom gave me 50 to treat myself for a new dress and heels for tonight’s party. So I did. The heels I bought are beautiful and are 4 inches high. Niki wasn’t kidding around when she said they don’t sell anything smaller because they really don’t! My sister’s shoe collection is ridiculous; Ke$ha is the girl’s mentor or something, I swear. After shopping, we had a huge dinner and all of us were so tired so we ended up not going clubbing. But of course, we did something that no one will ever be able to let go. I am famous for playing Monopoly. The first time around, I played Monopoly with my family every night for a week straight to learn German and no one lets me forget. So we played Monopoly instead and it was so fun. Kosta loses every time 😛

On Sunday, it was studying day which sucked. I had a final the next week and Niki had the Arbitur on Tuesday. The Arbitur is the German version of SAT II subject tests at SAT length. In 13th grade, each student must take 5 Arbitur tests, and these tests basically set up the rest of your life. So we studied side by side, hating everything and interrupting the peace and quiet every half an hour to talk and laugh. Like Italians and Spaniards, Greeks have huge meals on Sunday with the whole family. We were all there plus my aunt and her new beau. I was so excited to see Tante too because she is the absolute sweetest and she gave me white chocolate, which me and Niki ate immediately after lunch when we had to study more.

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Familie

I left on Monday and I was so sad but I couldn’t have asked for a better time with my second family. I miss them so much but I hope that Niki, Kosta and Eleni will be able to save enough money up to come visit me in the USA. And in 2 or 3 years, when I hopefully have a steady income and my life together, I will be able to visit them in Greece for a few weeks in the summer!

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Thur 1 May

IMG_20140326_123601_489I know it’s not May 1 anymore but I’m trying to catch you all up on my adventures so bear with me. May 1 was a very cultural day for us because we got to see a live bull fight! Bull fighting is a long-lived tradition among the Spanish people. Spaniards watch toreo like Americans watch football; I didn’t realize how big of a crowd would draw, but the place was pretty crowded. The most famous bull fighting ring in all of Spain is Las Ventas, located in Madrid, and is only 2 stops away from my house! I don’t know what I was expecting it to be like but I was definitely excited. Bull fighting is broken up into 6 fights, with 3 professional matadors and his teams. Fights 1 and 4 are fought by the amateur, 2 and 5 by the intermediary and 3 and 6 by the expert. If you have never seen a bull fight, get there 45 minutes late because never seeing a bull fight and then having to watch the bull suffer because the amateur sucks is heart wrenching.

First, when the bull comes out, the matador’s team taunts it to get it riled up. Then a guy on a horse comes out with a lance. The horse is blinded, deafened and armored so that it doesn’t get spooked and see a 2,000 pound pissed off bull charging it. And, oh yes, it does charge the horse. [During the 2nd fight we saw, the bull charged the horse so hard, it buckled. I was more concerned for the horse than the bull at that point]. Then the guy on the horse lances the bull in the back of the neck to “stabilize” it, in a way. Then the matador’s team gets these spikes and have to insert the spikes into the bull’s neck while another one taunts it. If the spikes fallIMG_20140501_185900_751 out of the bull at any point during the fight, the matador loses points. So now the bull is pissed off, with spikes in its neck and bleeding. Then the real matador comes out and taunts the bull and that was actually awesome. It’s exactly like the movies! But underneath the red cloak, he has a sword that he is supposed to stab into the back of the bull’s head and get it in deep, so on the next round he can remove it with another sword. This is supposed to signify the start of the end of the match because the bull is dying soon. What is supposed to happen is that this hit with the sword is supposed to put it out of its misery and die in the next few minutes. Then a member of the matador’s team gives it the “brain dagger”, in which they stab the bull in the brain and it dies. The end. Unless you’re the amateur. The initial stab didn’t go in right the first time, so he had to do it again. And the bull cried out and all of us had tears in our eyes. Then they had to give the brain dagger 5 times before it died. That was so rough. But the other 2 fights were great! Good thing we had to leave before the start of the 4th fight because I don’t think I would be able to stomach watching the amateur massacre another bull.

IMG_20140501_222619_948After the bull fighting, we went to the first restaurant we ever ate at for the Welcome Dinner. But this dinner had a different title and was the end of an era for the kids on the Iberian program: Farewell Dinner. We ate like kings but it was bittersweet because nearly 20 students were heading back to the USA in the upcoming days. But we had a lot of fun and gave gifts to our professors and program director. And got a gift in return: a drawstring bag with all of our favorite places in Madrid. Then, we did superlatives. We had created some of them during our Northern Spain trip and voted on them later. Every single one of them was accurate, especially mine. I won “Most Likely to Snap in Agreement”. For those of you who know me, you can only imagine how I instinctively snapped when I received my award. It was a great night but everyone in the room felt it: our days were numbered.

While the 20 were frantically dashing for souvenirs and packing their suitcases the next day, I continued my streak of travelling and headed to…Germany!

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Northern Spain – Salamanca

Day 6! Woohoo! Final leg on this trip! We once again crossed the border and drove into Salamanca, one of the 9 provinces of Castilla-Leon, to the northwest of Madrid. And I loved it. It was one of my favorite places I’ve visited in Spain because of a few things but mostly because there were young people everywhere! Salamanca is a “college town” because the oldest Spanish university is la Universidad de Salamanca. [Everyone on the trip bought the T-Shirt; mine is bubble gum pink. Obviously]. But in general, I just loved the feel of Salamanca and its sand colored buildings. Literally, every single building is uniform in color, giving that old Spanish look that I love so much.

If you can guess the first thing we did, I’ll give you a euro. Did you think hard?  Because if you guessed that we saw the cathedral, you’d be correct. However, because some of the more irritating kids on our program complained about having to always see cathedrals so our professor let us off the hook. I was honestly looking forward to the cathedral because its absolutely beautiful [as most of the cathedrals are. I just really found an interest in architecture this semester ok? Don’t hate.]

After we saw the façade of the cathedral, we went to the university. Legend has it that if you find the frog on the building, you will have good luck in your studies at the university. News Flash: no one must have luck at that university because it is IMPOSSIBLE to Picture1find that stupid frog. First of all, this building is so intricate with all sorts of carvings, from the Spanish Kings, to patterns, to skulls, and of course, a frog. After 10 minutes of us standing in the hot sun, staring at the building, my professor made fun of us and showed us where the frog is. Well, I would have absolutely failed out of Salamanca because without Paco’s help, I would still be standing there. The frog is situated ON TOP of one of the skulls heads. I was not a happy camper because the frog is about the size of a miniature stapler….talk about finding a needle in the haystack, amirite?

After frog hunting, we got free time to roam around, eat and explore and what we found was the writing on the wall. No really, writing on the wall. All around Salamanca is a very specific font with the names and dates of people who have completed their PhD at the university back in the day when that was not a common goal to achieve. The random hodgepodge of letters to the left of the declaration actually spells out “Victor” to further proclaim the awesomeness of achieving the rarest and most difficult degree in higher education. Then we got back on the bus and drove back to Madrid. The End!

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“The Writing on the Wall”

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Northern Spain – Porto

I know that the title makes no sense, but I am trying to group all of the places we went to in one trip together with the same heading. Sorry for the confusion. Note: Porto is in PORTUGAL.

We left Galicia and crossed the border into Portugal during the second half of Day 4. On Day 5, we started off by going on a paseo, or walk, through the city center. We passed the statue of Prince Pedro IV, who led the rebellion against his father for Brazilian independence. The first half of the day was just a lot of free time to roam around and explore the port. The second half of the day was spent at the IMG_20140429_170821_048port….on a river boat cruise. Me and boats aren’t exactly friends but the scenic view of the waterside town allowed me to forget about that. The boat took us under bridges and gave us a short history of the historical significance of the Port. Of course, Paco, our professor, one-upped the automated voice and reminded us about things we had learned about in class such as Napoleon’s invasion to get to Porto and instead gaining power in Spain. Paco will always be smarter than river boat cruises 🙂

Porto was vey pretty but there wasn’t too much to do so I apologize for the brevity of this post, but there wasn’t a lot to write about.
But on this trip, there’s only 1 more day left! Where in the Iberian Peninsula did Maeghan go next?! Find out in the next post, very very soon! [Probably within the hour tbh]

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Northern Spain – Galicia

The second half of Day 3 we spent travelling to Galicia. If you haven’t figured it out yet, folks, we spent a lot of time in the bus, which isn’t good for our restless young heroine.

Day 4! We spent all day in Santiago del Compostela, which contains one of the most famous and significant monuments in all of Spain: the Cathedral of Santiago del Compostela. It’s so famous, in fact, that it is the engraving on the back of the Spanish 1, 2 and 5 eurocent coins. One of the most unique things about this Cathedral is that it is the final destination of a religious pilgrimage where people from all around the world start out at least 100 km (approximately 62 miles) from Santiago del Compostela and walk or bike the trail until they reach the Cathedral, collecting stamps from hostels and other checkpoints as proof of their journey. This adventure has now gone on my bucket list to one day do with my parents and my brothers when we are all a little bit older but not yet married [gulp…that could be in a few years for me…yikes] And we saw some pilgrims complete their journey as they proudly strolled in to the cathedral to endure the last ritual — the swinging incense and the burning of the clothes. Fun Fact: the original IMG_20140428_100004_306reason the gigantic incense was swung throughout the cathedral was to mask the disgusting smell of all the travelers, but is now part of the tradition [and maybe to still mask the smell]. We got to see this famous ceremony from the roof which was SO COOL. We climbed to the top and got to walk along the roof all the way around and look out onto the city. We learned about the architecture and then peered through the window to see the huge swinging incense. We also saw from the window the tomb of St. James. History Lesson: The name “James” translates into a few different names in Spanish: Diego, Jaime [like my cousin] and of course, Santiago. In the legend of St. James, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and said that he would have great success in spreading the word of Christ throughout the Iberian Peninsula. When he was executed, his executors put his bones in a little boat and pushed it into the ocean. The boat found its way to Galicia and when those who found his bones crossed a field, stars began to fall from the sky, signaling they should bury him there. Santiago del Compostela, translated from Gallego [the language spoken in Galicia], literally means “James of the Field of Stars”. When we got into cathedral, we of course explored, and got to visit the tomb of St. James from the inside. We also got to participate in a tradition in the cathedral called “El Abrazo”. In Spanish, “Abrazo” means hug. There is a g9lden bust statue of St. James that each person hugs and makes a wish and St. James will help make your wish come true. It was a cute tradition and I loved the Cathedral. If you’ve been counting on my adventures, we have seen about 10 cathedrals. This one is, by far, my favorite.

After our visit to the Cathedral, we got back on the bus and went to the Bodega Mar de Frades for wine tasting and a winery tour. This is good wine, like expensive stuff, as opposed to the stuff my friends and I have drank in Spain. The wine we tasted was from the Albariño grape and was harvested in the vineyard that stretched for miles. Unlike the Sidra farm, this bodega had very high tech equipment and huge vats to contain and ferment the grape juice. We tasted two types of wine and one champagne; the first wine Facebook-20140510-020217was sweet and almost fruity. It was very light and my favorite. The second wine was an older wine and had a smoky taste to it. Our professor, Elena, loved it but it was too sophisticated a taste for me.

After our wine tasting, we went to the shore in the tiniest little town and had a feast! Fresh tuna empanadas, salads, and homemade paella con arroz with vegetables and shrimp. I conquered a fear that day when I picked up the shrimp THAT STILL HAD EYES AND LEGS ON IT and peeled it to get to the edible meat. I was proud of myself. After that lunch, we all went  stuffed and sleepy back to the bus to cross the border and head to Portugal!

Galicia is easily one of my favorite places in all of Spain and one day, I hope to go back! 🙂
Shout out to my Aunt Jackie who is Galician and was 100% right about how much I would love Galicia!

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Cuenca & Valencia

This past weekend travelled to the east coast of Spain and visited Cuenca and Valencia. In all honesty, this was my least favorite trip around Spain. It was still fun and I still took a million pictures, but there wasn’t a whole lot to like there was in Barcelona and Andalucía.

We spent most of the first day in Cuenca. Cuenca is about the size of my high school and there are only 2 things to see there. The first thing we saw was, of course, you guessed it: a cathedral. This cathedral was much than the ones we have seen before because this cathedral was the first to be built and was the prototype for the other cathedrals to be based off of. Inside, our professor explained that the Cathedral of Cuenca was a mixture of different artistic periods, with pieces of Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic art adorning the interior. It was a very pretty church nonetheless and I answered all of the Sainthood questions correctly that Paco asked us.

Then we saw the hanging houses from this awesome bridge suspended over a massive gorge. They were very cool and the signature of Cuenca. We got to go inside one of them that had been converted into an art museum. A modern art museum. Now, as we all know, I’m not a big art person but Paco makes it interesting for me and I feel engaged in the art because he is such a good professor.

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Casa Colgada

I could not care less about modern art. Like at all. I have arts and crafts from kindergarten that look like some of this stuff. In my opinion, I just can’t put modern works and masterpieces from El Greco and Picasso on the same level. If you’re into that sort of stuff, go see it! You would love it — I just didn’t.

Then we got back on the bus and headed for Valencia. The first thing we saw in Valencia was my favorite part of the trip! We went to the Fallas museum. Fallas is a festival dedicated to the Patron Saint Day of St. Joseph, which was on March 19. This festival is a festival of lights and illuminations…and fire! The Valencian people spend an entire year making gigantic parade floats out of wood and paper mache. And on the night of Fallas, the floats are burned. All that hard work just to go up in flames — literally! But there is a special competition for the Ninot Indultat. [“Ninot” means “doll” in Valenciano]. This means that one doll/figurine from the best float will be saved and put on display in the Fallas museum. The museum had all of the Ninots since the beginning of the 2o century! Some of the Ninots are huge and overwhelming and others are small and preserved in glasses cases and others are entire scenes with multiple characters. But of all the Ninots are very

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Ninot from 2012!

detail orientated and life-like, even the ones from back in the day. The 2014 one wasn’t on display yet but the 2013 one was a little girl sitting with her father in a chair reading a book, with a bookshelf behind them and a rocking horse by the little girl’s feet. It was so realistic! But my favorite is the Ballerina from 2012! Other than the Ninots, there are also paintings of the Falleras. The Falleras are girls who dress up in traditional costumes and put their hair in Princess Lea buns and have a beauty pageant. For little American girls, the goal is to be Miss USA. For Valencian girls, the goal is to be Fallera Mayor. These girls are so pretty and they take a lot of pride in their regional culture and competition. For those of you who are up on your Iberian Peninsula

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Fallera [left]; Dama de Elche [right]

history, the area of Valencia was controlled by the Iberians and they created Dama de Elche. Look at the similarity. It’s just a theory but it could work. I know you all see it.

 

The next day we started off by going to the Aquarium. I love aquariums and this one reminded me of Sea World. There was a shark tunnel that we got to walk through and tons of different species of fish. There was also a beluga whale and walrus exhibit and they were awesome! Beluga whales were my favorite when I was a kid and would watch the same VHS about whales with my brother over and over again. So I was very happy to see the Belugas. But the best part of the aquarium was the dolphin show! There was an outside arena and the dolphins were wonderful! I want a pet dolphin that does backflips in my pool, don’t you?!

After the aquarium, we went to….the Cathedral. But this Cathedral was no ordinary Cathedral. This Cathedral was a religious experience that I haven’t had since I went to the Vatican in Rome. In the Cathedral of Valencia, in the most sacred chapel of all the chapels, is the Holy Grail. Not like the Jay-Z song, y’all. The Holy Grail is believed by Catholics to be the Chalice that Jesus drank

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Holy Grail

out of during the Last Supper. I didn’t experience the Miracle of Tears or anything like that but I was definitely moved that I could be so lucky to stand in front of one of the most important Catholic artifacts in the world. The Chalice was guarded by glass, a velvet rope and two security guards so no one was getting past that but it was still cool to see it.

 

On the last day of the trip, we went to La Albufera. La Albufera reminded me of Sunken Meadow Park on Long Island, where I used to go on nature field trips in elementary school. La Albufera is a National Park and has many species of ducks inhabiting the area. We even went to a museum about La Albufera that was in a garage. I’m not even kidding. We went on a riverboat cruise in the park and also visited the 4 ecosystems that make up La Albufera — forest, marsh, dunes and beach. It was rainy and cold so we didn’t get to spend time on the beach, which ended up being a good thing because we learned that the beach is actually a nude beach. And we definitely didn’t need that, like at all. La Albufera  is famous for its rice paddies. Valencian rice is the best for making paella and the type of rice harvested in La Albufera is specially marked to be sold only throughout Spain — it does not go outside of the country. How authentic! I had to buy a bag so that my parents can make paella for me when I get back to the states 🙂 Even though the town was a ghost town with only 500 residents, there were 3o restaurants, all dedicated to paella. And we ate some for lunch and it was so good!

 

 

 

 

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London Bridge Is Falling Down, Falling Down

Just kidding, the bridge wasn’t collapsing. But, this past weekend I did go to London. I LOVED it! But college students, be warned: London is unreasonably expensive. The exchange rate to the dollar is even worse than the Euro. But it was still awesome. And our trip was theme songed by me singing Fergie’s London Bridge the entire time. Miso really loved me for that. This blog post features special guests, Megan and Sean. Megan and Sean are my Big and Mr. Big from home and it was so exciting to see faces I knew from home that weren’t also studying in Spain!

We stayed at Astor Hyde Park Hostel in South Kensington and it was a good location. Only a few blocks away from the metro station and connected to three of the lines on the tube. The tube is a pretty solid metro system, although nothing will ever beat the simplicity of Madrid, I have to say that this was a good one. And there was cushioned seats! Although, as I was warned almost immediately, people don’t talk to each other on the tube, so that was an interesting cultural difference.

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Me and Sean!

On Friday, I met up with Sean at Gloucester Road and he took me around all day, as he had been there for the week visiting Megan on his spring break. Sean does not like tourist attractions at all so we did not go near them. Instead, he took me to a bunch of local things. First, we went to the Victoria and Albert Musem to have tea and scones. How British of us! But the tea was so good and we got our own teapots. I was a happy camper because I love tea! Then we went to the Borough Market, which has everything under the sun. Sean took me for my first cider, which is also very popular to drink in London and we bought a chorizo sandwich so I could show him a little bit of Spain. Right across the street from the Cider place was the Exotic Meat market. I was kind of panicking at the idea but Sean said the camel was so good. Right. Camel. From this moment on, we did not stop eating. We wandered the market some more, pausing for samples of cheeses, stuffed macaroni [which was AMAZING] and cookies the size of our faces. We then found this grilled cheese place which was so good and it’s big in London. The cheese was literally dripping off, it was so perfectly melted. Then we went to the Thames River and saw the London Bridge. What a let down! It looks like a regular bridge that I drive over when I’m travelling from New York to DC. But the Thames was nice and we just took time to sit there and relax. After that, we went to have another iconic meal: fish and chips. For those of you who are thinking Lays, those are crisps. Chips are french fries! It was delicious. Then we went to Sean’s favorite place in London: Covent Garden. Covent Garden has a lot of high-end shopping but we were there for the street performers. These performers aren’t just dancers but some are also magicians. And they’re so funny with their dry, British humor. The tricks are extensive but we had a great time watching them! Then we got more cider at a bar with a balcony that overlooked the main square and watched more performances below.

Afterwards, Sean took me to the train station where we going to meet Megan after her internship but before she left for Dublin. I was looking for her by the exit she told us she would be at but she came from the side and attack hugged me! I was so excited to see her! We got cookies and then all sat down and talked. She and I caught up on a bunch of stuff and we all laughed and it was like we were back at home, except, you know, in Europe. We said goodbye and then her and Sean said goodbye and it was sad because Sean was leaving for America the next day and he wouldn’t see Megan [and me!] for another few months but he toughed it out. Even though I like giving the two of them a hard time just because I can, they’re actually really cute together.

Day 2! Miso and I headed out on an excursion to see all of the touristy things in one day…and we did! Like champs! We 10003153_10152330935019314_1089096941_nstarted off by going to the Buckingham Palace and it was so pretty. The whole plaza with its statues of lions and fountains was just so peaceful. And to think that only a few years ago, Kate Middleton got married to Prince William. She’s perfect; Miso and I girl crush on her like all the time. Then we went around the area and saw the creek and cherry blossoms and reminded of us of the DC Cherry Blossom festival — it was like we were there! After the palace, we walked to Westminster and saw St. Margaret’s Church, Big Ben and an iconic telephone booth! And nearby was the London Eye!

After that, Miso and I took the tube to King’s Cross station. Who knows what famous series was filmed at King’s Cross? If you said “Harry Potter”, you would be correct!!! We got to take a picture with the luggage trolley as if we were going to Platform 9 3/4. Such a great experience for a fan! We even got to pick what house scarf we wanted. I, of course, chose my own house and wore Slytherin. Gryffindors are overrated, tbh. And yes, of course, I bought this picture. Then we went into the official Harry Potter store where I could’ve easily spent my entire life’s savings on Slytherin apparel and Harry Potter memorabilia. They even had the Bertie Bott’s beans that my brothers and I used to get as kids and squirm when we had to eat the gross flavors like earwax, vomit or sardines.

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My Little Paddington Bear!

Then we got back on the train and went to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is the bridge everyone thinks of when they think of London and what a sight it is! And the tower was beautiful too! There was just casually a castle in the middle of the lawn. I wish we could’ve gone in and seen it from the inside but there just wasn’t enough time. After the bridge, we travelled to Paddington to see the Paddington Bear store. I bought a little Paddington bear and the original chapter book of Paddington’s adventures and will one day pass those on to my first born. Deep, right?

The last stop on our list was Bond Street, which has all of the best shopping and eateries. We got Ben’s Cookies, which are super famous in London and it was the first time I had tasted peanut butter since I left the USA. Note: Europeans do not have peanut butter. And when they do, it is so expensive. So treasure peanut butter where you are. Then we went to the London Disney store and I was falling in love. Mickey was dressed as a guard — SO CUTE! We had a great time in there just trolling around and playing with the toys. They had a little cavern that was playing Frozen’s “Let it Go” in 25 languages. For those of you who know me, I was having a blast! [As I do whenever I enter a Disney store!]

London was definitely one of my favorite places we’ve travelled so far and I can’t wait for my next European adventure. It isn’t until May but stay tuned for when I head to….Germany!

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Palacio Real

This past Tuesday for class we went on a field trip! You may be wondering if I actually go to school. The answer is yes: I suffer on Thursdays through a 4 hour block class. So the field trip helps counter act the torture. So we went to the Royal Palace of Madrid, because every princess should see their royal home in every city.

The Royal Palace is huge and is very ornate. Of course, we were warned numerous times to not take pictures but I managed to snap a few, but not as many as I would’ve liked. The huge corridor in the front showcases a statue of Felipe II, the great-grandson of the Catholic Kings, Fernando and Isabel. He is the one who ordered the construction of the palace and is commemorated for doing so. Up the extensive marble staircase is the coat of arms and the many grand ballrooms, dining rooms and sitting rooms. Each room has a theme or specific reason to it, similar to the Blue Room in the White House. [There is a Yellow Room in the Palace]. Fun Fact: when Franco died, his body was put on display in the royal palace when Juan Carlos I took over again as a sign of thanks for choosing him to be the newest King. Apparently the line to see Franco’s body was more than a mile long! There is also a huge collection of clocks in the Royal Palace and at least 3 in every room. These clocks were collected by King Felipe II and are grandiose and very old — in fact, these clocks are so old and so important that the Palace has its own team of clock cleaners and repairers. Felipe II was a bit of a strange king because he ordered some interesting features to be added to the palace. For example, during the time of the construction, Asian fashion and designs resembled social status and how up to date you were. So there is an entire room that is overwhelming with depictions of trees, Asian faces and designs and is filled with zen. It was very calming. He also had 3 eating rooms, one for each meal of the day. And he always ate alone without his family. Very weird, but still interesting.

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Felipe IV

Outside the palace, there is an entire plaza just to itself with gardens and statues representing saints and other noble people. In the center is a statue of Felipe IV, the grandson of Felipe II who constructed the Palace. This statue is very unique because it is made of bronze, which was uncommon for the time. It is also unique because in order to construct it, the statue took 4 masters in the world to help create. One of which was Velazquéz, who painted a portrait for Felipe IV on horseback and his painting was the model for the statue. [The painting is currently hanging in the Prado museum].  Interestingly, one of the other masters to help with this scultpure was Galileo Galilei, whose mathematics and calculations allowed for the horse to be able to stand on its hind legs without falling over. Stay tuned for more field trips! Love, Meg

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Barcelona!

Last weekend we travelled to the northeast of Spain to BARCELONA! I loved it! But let me be clear: I loved the city, not the soccer team. I really hate the soccer team, like a lot. BUT the city was wonderful! We were in Barcelona for 3 days and each day was dedicated to a famous Catalán artist.

The first day we went on a tour of the city and the first place we stopped was the Olympic Stadium and Village from the 1992 Games. There is a massive sculpture outside of the stadium that held the Olympic flame during the time of the games and it can be seen everywhere in the city because it’s so tall. And the view from the stadium overlooking the city is pretty cool but the city itself is a little congested.Then we got back on the bus and drove to Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a long street lined with kiosks and buildings with cool architecture. It is very significant to the people of Barcelona because it is a very famous landmark and is big for tourism, but it also has a fountain and the legend is that if you drink the water from this fountain, you will bring Barcelona FC luck. Or something like that. For Barca fans it’s a huge deal. Then we went to the market on Las Ramblas called Mercado de la Boquería and it was the biggest farmers market I have ever seen! They had everything from fresh fruit to cheeses to chocolates to full legs of meat hanging. And fish. You IMG_20140307_132422_448would’ve thought we were at a fish market with how many fish stands there were. And all of the fish had eyes, like full heads, not cut and cleaned yet just looking at me. I don’t really love when my food looks at me but all the fish eyes were watching me as I passed the stands. Everything looked so good I just wanted to sample, and like Brussels, that is exactly what I did. I went in and out of stands sampling hams, chorizos, fruits, salsas and, of course, chocolates! After the market, we kept walking down Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas leads from the Plaza de Catalunya [Catalán spelling] all the way to the port. The Barcelona port is one of the most important in Spain and also in Europe! We went down to the port [and therefore the beach] and it was beautiful. The water was clear blue and the sun was shining. It was so picturesque! After the port, we went to the Barrio Gótico, The Gothic Neighborhood. This is a really cool feature that I would never have really appreciated but after learning a lot about architecture in class, the Gothic arches and flying buttresses I can now notice. The Neighborhood is a preserved time warp from the Gothic age with streets, churches, houses and other structures all in Gothic style, much different from the surrounding areas built in modern and contemporary styles.

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Fideua!

Afterwards, we went to the beach! We ate a very typical Catalán meal: fideua, a special type of paella known to the Catalánes, and cava, a bubbly type of champagne-wine. And then we laid on the beach and I was working on my tan! I’m so sick of this pale white look. After lunch, we went to the Picasso Museum. The museum was really interesting because everyone, including myself, associates Picasso with abstract paintings and cubism only. And although, yes, that is what made him famous, he painted normal paintings too! At the age of 13, he was better than his father who was a fine arts professor. Way to go, Picasso!

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Sala de Mae West
Weird, right?

Day 2 was my favorite day of this trip. We got on the bus and drove an hour outside of the city of Barcelona and visited the Dalí museum. This museum is by far the coolest and my favorite museum I have ever seen. Dalí’s works are in the style of surrealism. And his museum is created in the working of his mind so it’s a little crazy to get around but it’s altogether awesome. One of the most famous pieces, la Sala de Mae West, is really an amazing work. It is a life sized living room with the different pieces of furniture resembling the different parts of her face. The couch is her lips and the fireplace is her nose! Such a strange concept but so interesting up close. Dali’s other works include the usage of dimensions and imagination but also have deeper meanings, such as the adoration he had for his wife or lessons about society. In my opinion, the museum could also double as a haunted mansion for a scary movie and all the pieces could come to life and come after the protagonist. Patent pending, my idea. None of you can steal it!

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Cadaquéz

After the museum, we drove to Cadaquéz, a small town on the beach where Dali’s family had their summer house. What an adorable town! It was right on the water too and the weather was unbeatable. We had free time to just roam around and explore the town and quaint little shops and eat seafood like kings. We wandered higher up on the mountainside and got a view of the whole town with the blue water beneath. The scene was unreal. Look how blue the water is!

Day 3 was dedicated to Gaudí. We first went to see Sagrada Familia, an enormous church that has been under construction for more than 100 years! It is projected to be finished by 2025. Right, I could have a job and a family by then…weird. Anyway, the church was awesome because the stained glass windows weren’t like any other church with biblical stories in the windows. Just colors with the names of saints engraved in them and when the sun shone through, the walls and main alter were covered in a rainbow of light! Sagrada Familia, or Sacred Family, in Catalán, will have 18 towers upon completion. The tallest one, which will hold the cross, represents Jesus and the next tallest one for la Virgen María. The other 16 are for the 12 apostles and 4 evangelists. The outside of the church is very detailed with stories about the birth of Jesus and Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt after the message from the Angel. And the coolest part is that for every ticket bought, which normally we don’t love, goes to the construction of the building. So when our group paid for the tickets, we contributed to the future of Sagrada Familia!

After that we went to Park Güell which is a literal park designed by Gaudí. There are these awesome benches that are curved so as to mold to the curve of a person’s back. They were so comfortable that most of us fell asleep sitting there all in a row. Once we all awake from our trance, we went to see the houses that look like they’re straight out of Hansel and Gretel. It reminded me of my younger brother because our Parc_Güell_Dragon_Restorednicknames growing up were Hansel and Gretel. And of course we saw the icon of Park Güell and one of the most famous icons in all of Spain: the colored dragon. I have no idea what it represents or why it was important to Gaudí but it was and it’s really cool looking!

Barcelona was such an awesome trip and I loved every second of it. Obviously, I love the beach and the sun so keep on the lookout for more sunny days as the days get warmer in Spain!

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