Brussels (pt. II)

Helllooooooo internet world. I hope you’re having a lovely week and a great Wednesday so far. I’m a bit bummed today — it’s snowing here in the DC area, meaning that the public schools are delayed, meaning that it was for some reason a lot harder to find a substitute teaching job this morning, so I’ve been stranded at home — there’s $100 down the drain. I’ve been stressing a lot about money lately, which has made me stress a lot about being an adult one day — like a real, financially-independent adult. Lord help us all when that day actually comes.

But my bad luck is your good luck — you get a blog post today! With a lot of photos, which I know you illiterate swine crave! 🙂

On my penultimate weekend in Europe I traveled to Belgium — again. Remember this blog post? When I said that I’d be seeing Belgium again? Well, I wasn’t kidding.

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For some reason I really connected with Belgium while I was there and absolutely fell in love with it. I couldn’t wait to go back and knew that I had to seize my chance while I was still in Europe — who knew when I could visit again after returning to the US?

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So I made plans to meet my friend Lauren in Brussels for a long weekend.

I left on Wednesday night after classes and flew there by myself (using RyanAir, which was a nightmare, ugh). I was really nervous about traveling there by myself because I was arriving in the middle of the night (~1:30am) and I’m a young girl with no French or Dutch skills whatsoever (besides the broken French I’ve learned with Duolingo). However, besides the fact that it was about 2 degrees out, the arrival to the hostel went smoothly.

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I woke up the next morning ecstatic — I was in Brussels again! I absolutely couldn’t wait to start my day and visit all the places I hadn’t been able to last time (we were only in Brussels for a day).

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I started by walking into the center, and was immediately surprised by how well I remembered the city — I hardly needed my map! I strolled through the center, went through a couple of book shops, and headed to the Museum of Musical Instruments.

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Unfortunately most of the signs for the instruments and history were in French/Dutch, but I had a lot of fun listening to all the music on the audio guide and checking out their amazing exhibit on the Saxophone.

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I then made my way to Grand Sablon (all from memory, thank you very much!), did a bit of window shopping, then hit up Moeder Lambic, the really cool beer bar that I went to last time. Update on Moeder Lambic: the bartenders as still just as cute, friendly, and helpful. I had a couple beers whilst writing and staying warm, and then headed out to catch my second look of Manneken Pis, which did not get any less ridiculous the second time. Oh, I also had some frites. But, I mean, that’s a given — I thought you’d just assume that.

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I did a bit of souvenir shopping and spent way too much money (but what else is new, let’s be real) and then walked over to Grand Place, where there was a light show going on for Christmas! Now, if there are two things I love in this world, they’re colored lights and Christmas. I stood amongst the equally-excited tourists and watched for quite a while and then walked back to the hostel to read and wait for Lauren to arrive. We got dinner and then went to bed pretty early as she was tired from traveling.

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We started the next day with a walking tour of the city — which was super helpful and really fun. We learned a lot about the history, culture, and layout of the city, all of which helped us get around a lot better (although, I was already a pro). We then headed to the Manneken Pis area to get some waffles.

Now, let me tell you something about Lauren. She loves waffles.

We had a plan to try as many waffles as we could in a row to be compare the different shops and decide which one had the best (look, when waffles are one euro, YOU CANNOT SAY NO).

Unfortunately, we got full after 2. So. That was a bust.

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the weirdest looking tree I’ve ever seen. what’s with the weird trees, Brussels?

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We then walked around the Christmas markets a bit and the rest of the city (unfortunately, this is where the photos start dwindling — I get distracted around friends!). Then we headed over to our Air BnB, where 3 of Lauren’s friends from Prague were to meet us. When they did arrive we all cleaned up and went out to get some frites, walk around the markets some more, and get beer. Went went to an Irish bar called Celtica (where we saw a woman pass out from drunkenness as 6pm) and then went to Delerium, the world-record holding bar with over 3000 beers on tap. To be honest, it didn’t really live up to the hype … everything was expensive and there were FAR too many people there. 0/10 would not do again.

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The next day we went to Bruges, a little village about an hour outside of Brussels. Bruges was absolutely beautiful — it reminded me of Hogsmeade from Harry Potter — but ridiculously crowded. EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER decided to take a trip to Bruges that day — which, looking back, made a lot of sense seeing as it was a Saturday and 3 weeks form Christmas. Regardless, we had a fun time watching people fall on the ice skating rink, buying useless stuff at the Christmas markets, eating good food, and riding the Ferris wheel. That night we bought some groceries and made pasta for dinner. And the next day we headed to the airport.

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Boom. Done. 5 days gone.

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ha! this kid fell down! ha ! ha ha !

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I honestly don’t know what it is about that country (Brussels specifically), but for some reason it’s really got a hold on me.

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here’s a creepy picture of a child and her dad. does anyone else ever think about all the random pictures of YOU that may be floating around out there in the world?

Rating (out of 10): 10, of course!

Would I go again? Yes. Duh. All the duh.

Best part: The vibe. I don’t know man, I love it.

Worst part: The cold. Especially after having come from Sevilla. And don’t expect people to be super nice to you. Especially after having come from Sevilla.

Overall impressions: One of my favorite cities ever. Very easy to navigate. A lot to do. Cool, alternative people. Good beer. Pretty buildings. I’ve lost my ability to construct sentences because I love this place so much. I think I like Brussels so much because you can really get a sense of the people and see how people live and work there — unlike other cities like Granada or Lisbon, where the city is much more of a travel destination rather than a … well … a home.

Barcelona.

Holaaaaaa a todos!

I hope your weekend has been lovely and your Monday isn’t too depressing. Luckily I’m not back at school yet, so I can laugh at all of you “adults” who have to work for a living! Ha! Ha ha! Ha!

Thought I’d tell you another traveling story today, this time about my trip to Barcelona.

This trip was a little different as, like Morocco, it was planned out completely by my study abroad program. So, I didn’t have to plan anything. Flight? Check. Hostel? Check. Food? Check. Museums? Check. The easiest!

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sleepy at the airport.

After our hour and half flight and checking into the hostel, we walked through the center of the city a bit, checked out some markets, learned a whole lot about the history of Catalonia, and then got some lunch.

*warning* this post will not have a lot of pictures because the day before we left to go, my phone was stolen. and I was not about to bring my camera to Barcelona and have that stolen too! all the pictures that you’ll see are from friends!

That afternoon our guide took us through the gothic and medieval neighborhoods of Barcelona, and we finished off by visiting Parc de la ciutadella at sunset. The park was absolutely stunning — it was like an oasis in the city! Also there was a giant mammoth replica sitting under some trees … so that was strange.

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Parc de la ciutadella

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Parc de la ciutadella

That night we also walked through the more modern parts of the city and checked out el Arco de triunfo, which I sadly don’t have a picture of.

The next day we went to La Pedrera, which is a modern art building designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. It was very odd because it was like an apartment building turned into a museum. And to be honest, I still don’t really understand why it was built, other than that it looks really cool.

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the roof of La Pedrera

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view of Barcelona from top of La Pedrera

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Next we metro’d over to the other side of the city to check out La Sagrada Familia, a (HUGE) church designed by  Gaudí (the same guy that designed La Pedrera — his influences are all over Barcelona). The construction of the church started in 1882 and it’s STILL not completed because of lack of funds. The expected end date is 2026, although things are looking pretty shifty. However, even though it’s still not completed, it’s already a UNESCO world heritage site, which I thought was pretty impressive for a half-done church.

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La Sagrada Familia was, to me, just another example of how strange Barcelona is. The city is such a mixture of modern and medieval architecture — and that’s exactly how La Sagrada Familia is. If you walk around the church, you’ll see a different architectural style on each side. It really is quite strange.

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me and roomie!

And the inside is … well, breath-taking, to say the least. Sky-high domed ceilings, columns that look like trees in a forest, rainbow stained glass windows. I was expecting another old cathedral-ish church, but the inside is so modern and …. trippy. I don’t know, guys. You should know by now I’m not good at descriptions!

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So, after feeling like we were on acid for a couple of hours at the church, we took a too-long bus ride on a too-crowded bus to get to Parque Güell,  which I was most excited about.

The public park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and was designed by none-other than, WHO WOULD’VE GUESSED, Gaudí. The architectural elements of the park are very reminiscent of La Pedrera and la Sagrada Familia (ie. the bright colors and the mosaic-like decorations).

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The park is absolutely beautiful — I imagine it would take a very long time to hike the whole thing, but we walked around it for about half an hour and made it to the top of a lookout, which would’ve been a lot more peaceful had there not been a crazed man in a cheetah outfit strumming his guitar and screaming curse words at the top of his lungs.

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in the park — looking over Barcelona

Let me be clear and say that most of what I knew about Barcelona beforehand was from The Cheetah Girls 2, a crowned jewel from my childhood. And in the movie, the Cheetah Girls sing the iconic (to me) song Strut, where they (you guessed it) strut around Barcelona with all the sass in the world.

And in said song, they strut around  Parque Güell — so it was only right that we took some pictures to re-create the music video.

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Raven and Angel from the movie.

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Pat and I, re-creating the movie PERFECTLY

p.s. ^^ the above picture took about 10 minutes to capture, as there was a HUGE line for pictures in this particular area. My thoughts? 1000% worth it.

And I’m afraid this is where the pictures stop, folks. After the park we went back to the hostel and we had free time for the night. My friend Steph and I were CLEARLY the only fun ones in the group (uh, just kidding guys!) so we ended up going to a discoteca on the river that night while everyone else stayed in.

The next morning we also had free time to wander around the city before we left for Sevilla again. Some friends and I went down to the water and stared at seagulls for about an hour, and OH! I just remembered! I do have pictures!

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having trouble getting on the lion

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We found some lions near the water, so naturally we had to climb them.

The rest of the morning was quite boring, to be honest. We wandered around some  shops, got some lunch, and then slowly made our way back to our bus for the airport. Hour and a half later, we’re in Sevilla, and the weekend is over already.

Rating (out of 10 stars): 7

Would I go again? Sure! I feel like I didn’t get to experience everything that I could’ve had I not been so constrained by the program.

Best part: Parque Güell

Worst part: A lot of restaurants have menus/signs only in Catalan — just because you know Spanish, does NOT mean you know Catalan (although many words are similar)

Overall impressions: A really beautiful and different city. More metropolitan than I was used to with the cities of Andalusia. The architecture is really beautiful and the city is easy to navigate. I would absolutely love to go again one day and figure out more of the city for myself.

Lisbon.

Helllooooo all you lovely blog readers! I hope your afternoon is going well!

I’m back for part two of my Madrid/Lisbon trip and to give you illiterate plebeians the photos that you crave!

So we left Madrid on Saturday afternoon and arrived in Lisbon in about an hour by plane, which was really nice (easyjet was a surprisingly nice airline for the price). There’s a metro line runs directly from the airport into the city, which was absolutely wonderful and easy to use. However, the ease of navigation in the city ended there. Dear God, Lisbon is a strange city. The streets run diagonal and in circles and the street signs are not posted clearly at all. What’s more, there are hills EVERYWHERE. Coming from Sevilla, which is practically the flattest city in Europe, I was not prepared for this. By the time we made it to our hostel (which took far too long), I was sweating. SWEATING. Carly was not happy.

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But things got better once we were inside. The guy running the hostel helpful, fun, and cute, and our room, albeit it had 10 beds, was really nice. Emily and I were starving, so after putting our stuff up, wiping the sweat off our bodies, and putting on deoderant, we went to a local fish restaurant that was highly recommended to us (that was oddly named Casa da India).

restaurante-lisboa-casa-da-indiaYEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH BUDDY. Maybe it was just because I was starving, but that was honestly one of the best meals that I had while being abroad. We also had a fun experience with our waiter, who didn’t speak any English or Spanish. There was a lot of pointing and smiling and terrible Portuguese accents.

Emily wasn’t in the mood to go out, but I reminded her that we were only going to be in Lisbon for one night, so we hit this set of streets in the city with a lot of bars and music and young people. The night was …. eventful….to say the least. Amongst the fun characters were met was an Italian man that was far too old, two Dutch guys that had some pretty skewed views of the U.S., and a couple American girls that bought us drinks. But I’ll spare you the *boring*  details of the night and fast forward to the next day.

We went to Belém the next day, a historicallly religious area of Lisbon (the name Belém is actually derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem). There we browsed around some markets,

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walked along the river (or the reever, as the cute hostel guy called it with his Portuguese accent),

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and toured the chapel in Jerónimos Monastery.

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My Grandma was just visiting my family this week for Christmas, and while I was showing her pictures of my time abroad, she pointed to the picture of Jerónimos Monastery and said that she remembered going there when she was in Lisbon over 30 years ago! I thought that was pretty cool. Synchronicity, man!

We also tried the world-famous Belém pastry, the “pastel de nata”. Unfortunately we ate it so fast that we forgot to take photos — it was that good, people! Imagine plasma french toast wrapped up in a crispy crust and sprinkled with cinnamon. Here’s a random photo I found on google, but please understand that this does not do it justice:

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We went to the most famous pastry shop, Pastéis de Belém, where the line was hella long, but the pastries are sold pretty much all over the city, and I’m sure they’re just as good at the other places.

After a nice lunch (which Emily kindly paid for, seeing as my wallet was *still* stolen), we made our way back into the center of the city and walked around for a bit, and then made our way to this lookout point that we had heard good things about.

It took us forever to find it. We had to stop and ask several people along the way, and the language barrier didn’t help. We ended up walking through the culturally Indian neighborhood of the city and stopped seeing women on the street, so it was a little disconcerting to be surrounded ONLY by men.

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on the way to the top

But, after climbing some of the biggest hills since Granada, we made it to the top of the lookout!

I honestly have no words.

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That terrible quality pictures does not even compare to the view. Seriously. Emily and I sat down and just stared over the city for a good half hour (maybe longer … we lost track).We didn’t talk. We were in a trance, mesmerized by the lights and the shapes of the curvy city. When we left to walk back down into the center, we were still completely silent. I’ve meditated before, but never to that extent. I literally felt like I was on drugs, people. It was just …. peaceful? But more than that. I don’t know. I feel like I’m Siddhartha, trying to describe his epiphany. Just know that it was awesome. It was incredible. And I’d definitely go back to Lisbon just to experience that again.

We spent the rest of the night just wandering around the center of the city. We watched some street performers (with amazing voices!) for a while, and walked down to the water for a bit. Then we made our way to the bus station to catch our 6 hour bus back to Sevilla, which was NOT fun. Ummm, guys, I thought it was an unspoken rule that when there’s someone behind you, you don’t recline your seat on public transportation. WHAT GIVES? Everyone had their seat reclined. And I’m 5’10”, people. I’ve got some long legs. The bus was tiny and smelled strange. I didn’t sleep at all. Just stared miserably up on the ceiling and prayed for it to be over. An unfortunate end to a wonderful trip.

**sorry for the lack of pictures in this post, guys. Lisbon was absolutely beautiful and I honestly just forgot to take photos when I saw pretty things!!**

Lisbon rating (out of 10 stars): 9

Would I go again? Absolutely! I’d pay for it!

Best part: The look of the city — everything is stone, the buildings are  old and rustic-looking. It has a cool vibe!

Worst part: The hills, although I will admit that the city wouldn’t be the same without them.

Overall impressions: My second favorite city while traveling (after Brussels). I really don’t think I spent enough time there and am looking forward to going back some day! It’s a city, but has more of a “town” vibe. There aren’t tons of cars everywhere, and everything seems sort of … quaint. And there are so many different sections of the city, like Belém, the waterfront, the area where the lookout was. Walking through Lisbon for 30 minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve just walked through 3 or 4 different cities.  The look of the town also reminded me of San Francisco, with the hills and the trams.

The Capital: Madrid.

Hey ya’ll–

I do apologize for being absent for such a long time. I have to admit that I’m not the most reliable person in the world. I’m not even going to make excuses for my absence. Like, I won’t say that I did a lot of traveling within the last of my weeks and Spain and so didn’t have free time to write. I won’t say that I had finals and papers that took up most of the time that I wasn’t traveling. I won’t say that I was trying to spend each waking moment in the city or with my friends, soaking up the last moments of my time abroad. I won’t say any of that. I’m NOT going to make excuses!

And with all those non-excuses behind me, I owe ya’ll some pretty pictures.

My friend Emily and I took a long weekend to travel to Madrid and Lisbon, two of the cities I had been most excited about visiting. Lisbon was supposed to be beautiful and quirky and Madrid was supposed to be sophisticated and metropolitan.

We took a 6 hour bus ride to Madrid, which wasn’t as unbearable as I thought it would be. We walked 45 minutes to our hostel, with a Chinese food break. We made it to our hostel and were met with far too many drunk young men that were celebrating a birthday. We made it to bed and passed out, despite having done nothing of real importance that day.

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Emily, eating the wontons with fury.

We didn’t have any set-in-stone plans, so we spent our first day wandering around the city, taking our time and walking through the prettiest parts. We walked through the shopping district, took a stop in a park, climbed a jungle gym, went in the “royal cathedral”, touched a metal man’s butt and saw the royal palace.

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Then I had my wallet stolen, which was not fun at all. We traced back our steps. I cried a lot. It was, I’ll repeat, not. fun. at. all.

But then my amazing friend Emily bought us a calamari sandwich (which was a bit dry, but hey, I’m not complaining) and some tea and everything was better.

And instead of staying within the hostel that night, I decided to say FUCK IT to the 80 euros, 3 IDs and 2 credit cards that I lost, and go out to the 2 art museums I was looking forward to! We went to Prado, a medieval art museum, and Reina Sofia, the modern art museum. I preferred Prado, although Reina Sofia was very abstract and new-agey. The museums are free after the sun goes down, so that was helpful (since I had absolutely no money).

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We finished the night with way too many tapas and a little too much wine.

(no photos on account of the tapas and wine)

We started the next day with churros, which is the only real way to start a day.

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Then we checked out Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Sol. Plaza Mayor had a lot of construction and was not as pretty as I thought it was going to be. Plaza de Sol had a lot of people and was very touristy — it actually kind of reminded me of times square, with all the random advertisements, and Disney world, with all the people in costumes. We found Kilometer 0 (which is the very center of Spain) and took a picture of our feet on it, like the good tourists that we are.

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This bear eating the tree is apparently the symbol of Madrid, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why. There was no information on the plaque. WHY is there no information on the plaque?!!

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On our way to the bus stop for the airport we saw a protest, which was really cool. They were protesting against the Bank of Spain — I still have the protest chant stuck in my head! ¡El banco de españa nos roba y nos engaña!

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Then we flew to Lisbon, which I’ll get into in a later post because a) if I spearate my trip in two parts I get more blog posts and b) I’m lazy and I’m starting to get the feeling you’re tired of me rambling on about all the fun I’ve been having.

Madrid rating (out of 10 stars): 6

Would I go again? Only if it was free

Best part: The museums, the food (a lot of choices)

Worst part: The tourists and senseless advertisements

Overall impressions: Quite touristy, but I’d say worth hitting — it is the capital after all. A very different vibe from Andalusia, which I wasn’t quite prepared for. Public transportation is very easy to use, which was a huge plus! A lot of hostels and good tapas. The Spanish accent was VERY easy to understand, compared to the Andalusian accent that I was used to.  I’d recommend 2 or 3 days for the city — it’s really big and there are a lot of spots to hit.

Being thankful.

I’ve always walked through life with this skewed idea that I’m untouchable. I’ve been hurt before, yes, by many people and in many different ways. I’ve never thought of myself as immune to emotional heartache or physical pain. But in certain ways, I viewed myself outside the scope of normal human-human interaction in such a way that traditionally “bad” things couldn’t happen to me. When I was a kid I’d easily shake off the warnings that my mom gave me about talking to strangers, being kidnapped and, when I got older, being raped. Even as the DC sniper attacks were in full swing back in 2002 and several people were killed within 30 minutes of my house, my 8-year-old egocentric mind decided that I simply would not be one of the victims. And that was that.

As I’ve grown older, the shield I thought once surrounded me has slowly melted off. I started to hear more and more stories about friends being sexually assaulted, neighbors being robbed, and peers committing suicide. These tragedies tiptoed closer and closer into my protective bubble until, one day, it popped.

I have to assume that everyone goes through this transition. The evolution from the individualistic mind of a child into the vigilant, self-conscious mind of an “adult”. I don’t think I’ve officially crossed the line into adulthood, and I honestly don’t know if I ever will.

But something that’s helped me take another step into the right direction is having my wallet stolen. My wallet, which had 70 euros, a credit card, a debit card, and 2 IDs tucked inside. Oh, and a week later, having my phone stolen. Within a two-minute time period.

Part of me is mad at myself. For not keeping a hand on my bag every second. For not separating my credit cards or my cash. For not keeping my phone in a zippered pocket.

And part of me is just sad. Sad that we live in a world where those procedures are necessary. Where we have to lock up our belongings 24/7 because people can’t control their magnetic hands and sticky fingers. Sad that putting trust in humanity is an “irresponsible, immature” thing to do now.

Of course, I only had material possessions stolen from me, and for that I can only be thankful. For that I can only forgive. I just hope that whoever has my belongings now needed them more than I did.

I feel very Jesus-y now. And I like it.

And my faith in humanity has been sustained by the wonderful friends and mentors that I’m surrounded by.

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My study abroad program celebrated Thanksgiving this past Thursday with some actual American food (finally!). The evening was filled with turkey (fish for me), mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, patatas bravas (alright, so maybe not the most American food), corn, cranberry sauce, bread, tarta de manzana, and quite a lot of alcohol.

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I feel so lucky to be spending these 4 months with such a wonderful group of people. All of the homesickness and nostalgia I was feeling on Thanksgiving melted away as I got to sit around a table with 12 of the strangest, nicest, most welcoming people I have ever met. And I’m starting to realize that when I go home, I’m going to be feeling a different kind of nostalgia — for Sevilla, for traveling, for Spanish food, and, most of all, for all these humans that I’ve grown to love.

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Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Granada means pomegranate.

Hola a todos!

Welcome back to the blog — thanks for stopping by! I do appreciate it 🙂

Today I’ve got a fun post for you about my weekend in Granada. It’s been a couple of week since I’ve returned home, so sorry for the delay, but come on guys, I can’t revolve my life around ya’ll!

But since I know how pick you all are, I’ve made sure to pack this one full of some *pretty pretty* pictures just in case these “words” are too hard for you to read.

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Friday morning started out with a *ahem* wonderful 8am bus ride to Granada. From Sevilla it’s only about 2.5 hours — but I was cranky about getting up early nonetheless.

We arrived in Granada and (barely) managed to find our way out of the bus station and into the center of town, where we hailed a cab and got to La Alhambra.

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Ooooooooh buddy did I not know what I was in for.

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I’ve briefly learned about La Alhambra in my “Historia de Sevilla” class, where my professor compared it to the Alcazar in Sevilla. The Alcazar isn’t too interesting to me (sorry all you history buffs out there), so I actually wasn’t looking forward to La Alhambra that much. What’s more, several people had told me that La Alhambra wasn’t that incredible — that it was just “another palace”.

 

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BOY, were they wrong.

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The Alcazar ain’t got SHIT on La Alhambra.

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I remember from my history class that one of the kings of Spain (Alfonso XI or something?) had seen La Alhambra and requested to have his own built within Sevilla. Well, if that’s true, I sincerely feel bad for the builders that had to take the beating from the King when he found out how badly the Alcazar compared to La Alhambra.

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I mean, seriously guys, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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First of all, Granada has mountains, which I’m not really used to in Sevilla where it’s almost as flat as east Texas. But the mountains are so incredibly beautiful, and La Alhambra is snuggled within them!

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The Arabic architecture is so prevalent everywhere you look.

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And it’s so big! I mean, you could HOURS exploring this place! (Emily and I spent about 3.5 hours there). There are countless rooms to see, gardens to stroll through, fountains to sit around, lookouts to indulge in, and kittens to play with. KITTENS, GUYS! This is the real deal!

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Another kitten montage, because I can’t help it:

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And there was a wedding. Here’s a creepy picture I snapped:

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I often get bored by historical things. I’m not a huge proponent of visiting a historical sight just because it’s something you’re “supposed to do”. But I promise you La Alhambra isn’t just for tourists. If you’re ever in Granada, you must go! YOU MUST. YOU MUST!!

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We then headed to our hostel for a (3 hour) nap.

I was actually really surprised with the quality of our hostel. It was relatively close to the center, with a clean private room for us, and bathrooms with toilet paper (a rare commodity in Spain). The guy at the front desk was super helpful about fun spots around the city and, to top it all off, one night was only 10 euros. Hot diggggggity dang! I’m a rich woman.

In Granada, whenever you order a drink, you get a free tapa, which is GREAT. Although the tapas are significantly smaller than normal tapas. Which is not GREAT.

So Emily and I went out for drinks and “tapas” — and then finished off our night with pizza and two rounds of gelato.

That’s right people. Two rounds of gelato. In one night. We’re not ashamed. So get off your high horses! If you were in Spain, you’d be doing it too.

The next day was fun, albeit super busy. What’s more, we had to carry our backpacks around with us all day, as we were to catch the bus back that night, so our shoulders were having massive pains.

We started off by hitting up this vegan restaurant for brunch. What a gem that place was! Super trendy, with really nice staff and ACTUAL food. It’s hard to eat a real breakfast here sometimes, as Spaniards mostly just have coffee and toast. I felt like a King.

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We continued by walking around the center of town, and then going to the Capilla real , where Isabel and Fernando II are buried. It was really beautiful inside, but unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to use my camera, so you’ll just have to use your *imagination*. There was one wall in the chapel with such an extensive mural that Emily and I stared, analyzing it, for about 20 minutes. We’re nerds like that.
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We then explored all the shops in the center of the city. They were really amazing and had some really cool stuff for really good prices. It actually reminded me of Morocco a lot — which isn’t surprising at all, as Granada has a lot of Moorish influences.

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We saw some bubble-blower guys, which made me really happy:

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And a place called Schawarma King, which made me equally happy.

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And some amazing street art which, you guessed it, made me really happy.

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And we saw the Universidad de Granada, which was founded in 1526 — wowww!

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(of course I had to take a picture of the Health Sciences building)

Annnnnd we saw the church where Emily’s host mom was married! Ah!

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Finally, we lugged ourselves to the bus station. We were both messes — tired, smelly, with hurt shoulders and empty bellies. We hadn’t eaten in around 7 hours, so things weren’t lookin good.

 

 

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But we made it to the bus on time (after stopping for an asparagus and mayonnaise sandwich — it’s not as strange as you’re thinking, trust me) and snapping at each other a few times.

And this trip was incredible, even though it was only two days. I mean, the entire city of Granada is so beautiful — even the bus ride there and back was fun, just looking out at the countryside. It’s so incredible how different the landscape of Spain (and Europe in general) is from the U.S.

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It was also nice to travel with just one other person. Sometimes I get a little anxious traveling in large groups, having to make plans with everyone or agree with everyone on where we’re gonna go, what we’re gonna do.

But one person is jussssssst right.

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Until next time, folks! Have a lovely day! (Hi, mom).

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some much needed familiarity.

Before leaving for Spain, I binge-read as many travel/study abroad blogs as possible and read countless buzz-feed type articles with titles like “10 Things To Expect From Studying Abroad” and “The 15 Things Nobody Said Would Happen When Studying Abroad”. I did my research, I read first-hand experiences, I watched Youtube videos. I was prepared … or so I thought.

The truth is that nobody can really prepare you for what it will feel like to move 3,777 miles across an ocean away from your family, friends, and everything you considered normal.

I’ve never really been one to feel homesick … but I realized that’s because the only people I ever miss at school are my parents, who are only a 3-hour drive away. But being in Spain … I miss literally everyone and everything. I’m away from my parents, my brothers, my friends, my classes, my comedy groups, my piano, my ukulele, my cats, my campus, my DOMINOES (I can use dining dollars from my meal plan to pay for pizza back home — dear GOD how I miss that).

And I’m not putting down Spain, regretting my decision, or wishing I was home. Knowing what I know now, I still would’ve chosen to study abroad. I undoubtedly love it here and grow to love it more every single day. But there’s just something so odd about being ripped out of everything familiar and placed into a new city with new people, new buildings, a new school, and a new language.

Last week I was plagued with a serious bout of homesickness. Everything I looked at reminded me of home or of school. I cried quite a few times.

I was convinced that everyone back home was forgetting about me, that nobody wanted to skype me, that everyone was becoming better friends with each other than with me, that they were realizing they didn’t even like me.

I saw pictures of parties, read stories about homecoming (hate that I missed it), watched videos of friends. I wished desperately to be home.

And then I realized, like always, I was being irrational. Of course my friends miss me, of course they want to skype, of course they still like me! People back home have classes, extra-curriculars, lives. I’m jealous of all of them having fun at school? They’re probably jealous of me,  basking up the Sevillian sun (85 degrees and up, baby), touring around Europe (and Morocco), eating churros and helado and tapas like it’s my job — basically on vacation.

And, of course, a little present from my Mom helped to cheer me up as well.

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A surprise box with too much chocolate, just enough cheesy cracker snacks, too little peanut butter, and, Lord save us all, NUTS! NUTS! NUTS!. I haven’t had nuts since leaving the US, and let me tell you how nice it felt to have those little suckers in my mouth again (that’s what she said).

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And then, to finalize the end of my homesickness, Lauren came to visit!

One of my bestest friends ever, Lauren is studying in Prague at the moment and came all the way from the Czech republic to see me! She’s the best!

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I cried when I saw her.

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Food and sweet notes from Mom are definitely helpful, but nothing beats seeing an actual, live person that you’ve been missing. What a precious stone, that one!

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A weekend with some much-needed girly catch-up and all the helado you can imagine.

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Lauren has a blog as well! You can check it out at: www.czechoutthepragueblog.blogspot.com.

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See you cats l8r (and please enjoy the above incredibly creepy picture of a baby. I cannot be stopped.)

Dear Belgium,

Dear Mons,

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You have really fun EDM concerts. My legs were sore for days. So thanks for that.

Dear Mons hotel lady,

I know it’s strange speaking Italian to us so we can sort of understand you and reply in Spanish, but you definitely ripped me off.

Dear other Mons hotel lady,

I get that you only speak French, but you’re sassy and I don’t like your attitude. There was no cancellation policy on your website, so the error was yours. Also, the fact that you shut our power and wifi off ten minutes before check-out was not very cool.

Dear Mons train station lady,

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You were my savior. Thank you for speaking English and thank you for being kind when I looked like I was about to cry. I work in customer service for a company with corporate policies, so I get there wasn’t anything you could do about our tickets, but thanks for being nice about it and helping us buy other tickets.

Dear Mons trains station,

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Thank you for having croissants. But why do I have to pay to use the bathroom?

Dear Brussels train station…

Thank you for being fairly easy to navigate and being close to the bus station.

Dear Brussels bus system,

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You are unnecessarily expensive. And your advertisements are questionable.

Dear Brussels AirBnB guy,

Thanks for being awesome and giving us sushi keychains. They make up for the fact that there were strange posters in your room.

Dear Brussels Dooner place…

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Thank you for having delicious falafel, and thank you to the man who gave me my food for half price. You made my really crappy day into a very good night.

Dear Kriek…

2014-10-13 12.15.42  You are very cherry and very sweet. I don’t think you are actually alcohol.

Dear Belgian waffles,

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You are everything you’re cracked up to be. You did not disappoint.

Dear Belgian forks,

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You are not real forks.

Dear Brussels flea market,

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You are very cute with lots of stalls and street performers. I enjoyed walking through you, even though it was cold.

Dear Belgian chocolate,

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You are amazing.

Dear Belgian beer,2014-10-13 11.43.13 

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You taste very nice and make me feel like an adult for drinking you instead of PBR. (Honey beer was my favorite).

Dear Manneken Pis,

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You are actually ridiculous and I don’t understand why you’re such a spectacle. There were so many people standing around to see you.

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Also, why was there a grown man changing you into a doll’s equestrian outfit?

Dear Statue,

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I very much enjoyed climbing you.

Dear Frites,

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You are the most delicious thing I ever did eat. I wasn’t into mayonnaise with french fries before. Now I am. Thank you for such a wonderful gift.

Dear Brussels,

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You’re pretty beautiful and that made all the stress of this trip worth it.

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Dear Belgium,

I’ll be seeing you soon.

a cinderella story…

Today I bring you a story. A story about strength. Courage. Tenacity. And most of all….spirit.

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He started as a janitor. A custodian, if you will. A man with nothing but the dreams in his head, the crocs on his feet, and the vomit in the women’s bathroom. But he was a fighter. And the dreams in his head would come true. The crocs in his feet would walk on. And the vomit in the women’s bathroom would be covered with saw dust!


He put in the effort. Day by dreadful day he mopped the floors, he waxed the fountain, and he polished the gates that held him in like a prisoner! Each day he wanted to give up, but each day he grew stronger from his pain. He would not succumb to the monotony! He would prevail!


At last, one day, the boy, no, the MAN, did indeed just that. The grueling hours, the sweaty locker rooms, the vomit – filled bathrooms. All worth it. This man was a janitor no more. This man. This man was an Equestrian.

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More about my actual Belgium trip in a couple of days. But for now, enjoy the rebellion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCy5461BtTg

Carly

New country, New continent: Morocco

Hey ya’ll! Another long one here, but don’t worry, lots of pictures!

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This past weekend my study abroad group went to Morocco.

Let’s be real. How pretentious does it sound to say “Oh yeah, I’m going to Morocco for the weekend.” Casual.

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I really had no expectations for this trip. Other than the fact that it’s in Africa and is largely Muslim, I seriously didn’t know anything about Morocco.

We left Friday afternoon via bus, drove down to the coast of Spain, and took the ferry across the Mediterranean to land in the Spanish city of Ceuta. At that point, we were on another continent, but not another country …. Which was pretty strange. The whole trip across (from Sevilla to Ceuta) took about 4 hours, which I thought was pretty impressive.

We drove through Ceuta and went through the border….which I have to say was not very secure. I’m not really sure how the US/Mexican border works, but I really don’t think it’s as relaxed as this one. Our guide took all of our passports and customs forms, got off the bus, handed them to a guard, got back on, and we were on our way.

Seriously.

I’m not saying we did, but we DEFINITELY could have smuggled some drugs and/or people across the border.

But we definitely didn’t.

So then it was off to M’Diq, a city about 35 minutes from the border where we were to spend the night. By this point I was pretty tired from traveling and a little bit ill from the ferry ride (it ain’t like Harper’s Ferry ladies and gentlemen), but I was still absolutely floored by the scenery in Morocco. Everywhere you look there are mountains. Real, tall, beautiful, green mountains. Within the mountains there are houses. Little villages resting comfortably between peaks. It’s amazing!

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So we spent the night in M’Diq and then headed to Chefchaouen. Like I said, I had no knowledge of Morocco before this trip, and so didn’t know what to expect from these cities.

Holy crap.

Chefchaouen is amazing! It’s really unlike any city I’ve ever seen. It’s a labyrinth of bricked walk-ways and quaint buildings that slither across a mountain. There are  houses, restaurants, shops, and little markets for fun purchases. The coolest part? Everything is blue! All of the buildings are painted robin-egg blue or bright white, making the city feel like something out of a fairytale (or Tim Burton movie, lezbereal). Apparently the blue helps repel mosquitos and the white helps with the heat. But the buildings have to be re-painted 3 times a year because the sun wears it down so much!

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glass as make-shift barbed wire.

The city was also rolling with cats. Actually, cats are everywhere throughout Morocco! It’s rare to turn a corner and not see an adorable pile of kittens slumbering in the sun. DAWWWWWWWWWW

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Leading us around Chefcaouen was his adorable, hilarious, incredibly wise man named Achmed.

Oh Achmed.

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our group in Chefchaouen. Achmed bottom right., throwin up deuces.

He was five feet tall with the voice of a frog. He spoke Arabic, English, Spanish, and French. He claimed to know Barack Obama, Rita Marley, and the Queen.

Achmed Quotes:

“Peace, love, and couscous.”

“If you believe, drink the water. If you don’t believe, don’t drink the water.”

“If you came to Morocco and did not take a picture with Achmed, you did not come to Morocco.”

A truly wonderful person to have met!

The next day we spent a lot of time in Tetouan, touring through the city and the surrounding countryside.

I’m still floored by how absolutely beautiful Morocco is. I’m from a pretty condensed, flat-ish area of Virginia, so it’s so different to be surrounded by mountains, and wide, open spaces (without shopping centers or developments) on each side. The closest I can compare the terrain to is Honduras. Within the U.S.? Maybe West Virginia. Maybe.

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the clouds whisper and give kisses to the mountains.

We went through the center of Tetouan and visited the markets. Tetouan is a lot bigger than Chefchaouen, but the center is just as confusing, if not more so. It’s a fun house of venders and mopeds and restaurants. I had to hold on to the person in front of me for fear of losing the group. There were so many people in the street that I seriously had to keep my head down or else risk a panic attack. Ah!

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I bought some pretty cool stuff in the markets. A sick-@$$ rug/tapestry for my room at home, a fanny-pack because I’m awesome like that, a hat because I lost my favorite one, and some *surprise* presents from a little apothecary-pharmacy that we went to (Christmas will be fun for you Mom). The whole haggling thing is huge in Morocco. I ended up buying my rug, that was originally 175 euros, for 40 euros. Go me! (Although I would like to never haggle again. It’s very intimidating.)

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aforementioned sick-@$$ rug.

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aforementioned fanny-pack and hat.

We drove to Tanger and spent the night there.

Tanger is a very different city from Chefchaouen and Tetouan. It’s more of a “proper” city. It has big buildings and double/triple-lane streets, real cars, street lights. It was also a lot more intimidating. Our guide warned us not to go out that night without a male escort, as Moroccan men in the city can be pretty aggressive.

A bit of a culture shock: in every city we went to, even the smaller ones, men were very heavy on the whole staring and eye-contact thing. My (female) friend and I took a walk one night (in M’Diq) and every single person that we passed turned to stare at us. Even men that were sitting down, facing away from us, turned their bodies to look at us as we walked. There definitely weren’t any bad intentions behind these stares – no one cat-called or made any comments. I think we just stood out as (very) white Americans…speaking English…taking a walk….alone….at night.

That being said, the men in Morocco are very attractive. Very. Attractive. So there’s that.

And in the morning we rode camels.

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That’s right, folks. This girl rode a camel on the beach in Morocco.

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such grace.

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I can officially add camel to my list of favorite animals, where it will claim the 8th spot. THEY ARE ADORABLE! They’re so goofy-looking and soft! The noise they make reminds me of my brother! I love them!

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4 month old baby!

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We also took a small bus tour around Tanger to see more of the country-side, and the point where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic ocean. Hot diggity-dang! I feel cultured!

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We then hit Tetuoan for a spot of lunch (pictured below, try not to drool).

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All the shops were closed this day (Sunday) because of the religious celebration Eid. Commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, Eid celebrations involve the sacrifice and consumption of a lamb by every Islam-practicing family. Part of the lamb is ultimately given to the poor that cannot afford their own lamb.

Our guide tried to steer us around the areas of the city in which lamb-sacrificing would be prevalent, but I still got my fair share of gore.

I’m on the track to become a nurse; I watch surgeries for fun and have been in the operating room for observation. I do well with vomit and blood and urine and every single bodily fluid or function you can think of.

But I do not do well with dead animals. Or blood. Or men standing in the street with aprons covered in blood. Or lambs being skin whilst suspended by their feet between a doorway. Or dead lamb heads roasting on a fire.

I’m also a vegetarian, so there’s that. (Sorry I didn’t take any pictures for you guys — how will you ever forgive me?)

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The Mediterranean, to take our mind off lamb sacrificing.

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think water. not dead lambs.

And then it was through the border once more (and crossing into Spain was a bit more difficult – they actually checked the storage space under our bus this time) and onto the ferry.

The whole weekend passed so quickly – and time flew so fast because we were on a bus 6 hours a day! But what a wonderful experience, so experience a different culture, a different country, a different continent! I feel like this post is so long, but I could honestly go on for days about Morocco — and to think, I was only there for 2.5 days. Lord knows what a, oh I don’t know, STUDY ABROAD experience would do for me. 🙂

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Moroccan gas station, in case you were wondering what it looks like.

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Arabic has now been added onto the list of languages I want to learn. Along with French, German, and Russian. Ya know. Easy. 

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Sorry for the abrupt ending, but this is a blog post, not a novel! I don’t have time to draw out the exposition and all that crap. Go read a book ya goon.

Until next time,

Carly