The home stretch…

My days left in Sevilla are numbered.  I seriously can’t believe that I’m leaving this Sunday.  Wait…what?  I feel like I just got here.  Remember this?

airport

How the time flies…I know I will be leaving on Sunday with mixed emotions.  As most of you are aware, I’m definitely ready to come home.  I can’t wait to see my friends/family (aka, everyone that reads this) and really get into the holiday spirit.  No surprise there, right?

But, on the other hand, I’m starting to get sad.  I know Sunday is a day for goodbyes, which are nobody’s favorite.  Although I know I will see my friends from UNC when I head back to school in January, I don’t know the next time I will see my Cristina, Meri, Agu, or Dunja.  I was sitting at lunch today with Cristina and we started talking about how this is a week of lasts: the last time she will do our laundry, our last Tuesday dinner together, etc.  Out of nowhere, I got so emotional and almost started crying!  I know for a fact that she is the best host mom out there, but I’ll leave all my love for my mamacita in a future post dedicated to just her. 🙂

Saying goodbye to the Uruguayans (including Dunja, because let’s face it, she can be considered an Uruguayan after living with Meri and Agu) will not be fun either, but we promised each other that a 2013 reunion is a must!

Photo on 2012-11-28 at 14.16 #3

This past week has been filled with studying for finals.  Last week, I had my dreadful art class final exam.  Unlike classes in the United States, grades of  university classes in Spain (and other parts of Europe as well) are generally based off of the final exam.  Although it is nice not to have to do much work throughout the semester, it puts a LOT of pressure on the final exam.  For my 19th century art history class, the final was indeed worth 100% of my grade.  The format of the exam was SUPPOSED to consist of a few essays, along with a section in which we would have to identify the title, artist, date, corresponding movement, and general characteristics of a variety of works of art we studied.  Given that we covered so much material, I started studying far in advance to ensure that I would be able to recognize all the images and associated information on the exam.  When I entered my professor’s office on Friday, he had us (me and two other American students) sit on his sofa and he told us that we had an hour to write everything we knew about Rodin.  For those of you that don’t know, Rodin is a famous French sculptor and his works are some of the best representations of realist art.  However, my professor pronounced Rodin’s name according to its French pronunciation instead of the Spanish pronunciation.  As a result, I interpreted what he said as “Redon,” one of the most famous symbolist artists we studied.  So, I started scribbling down all the information crammed into my brain about Redon.  After about 25 minutes, I figured out that my friend, Ned, was writing about Rodin, not Redon.  In a moment of pure panic, I went up and asked my professor to clarify which artist he wanted us to write about.  After he answered, I thought: CRAP. I’ve been writing about the wrong guy the entire time!  I quickly went back to my seat and used the remaining time to write about the CORRECT artist.  Luckily, I had sufficient time to do so!  Crisis averted.  After the allotted hour was up, my professor told us that he didn’t have enough time to show us the slides in order to complete the identification portion of the exam because he had to go to a meeting.  WHAT?!  I couldn’t believe he was so relaxed about the test and that I had memorized all those image for basically nothing.  Oh well, I think I did well enough on the essay to pass, which is all that matters in the grand scheme of things.  But, I have never had ONE question determine my ENTIRE grade. Crazy, huh?

Projects, presentations, and finals since my art final have thankfully been less dramatic.  Only have one more left on Friday and then, I’m done!

Since I’ve last blogged, I’ve been doing my best to relax and enjoy spending time in Sevilla.  I want to do some retrospective blog posts once I get home, but I’ll share some photos with you all so you can see what I’ve been up to:

Spending time with Cristina, per usual.

Spending time with Cristina, per usual.

Christmas party at Dunja, Meri, and Agu's apartment!

Christmas party at Dunja, Meri, and Agu’s apartment!

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Meri made us a traditional Uruguayan "slider" and french fries. Delicious!

Meri made us a traditional Uruguayan “slider” and french fries. Delicious!

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Carly and I made Cristina a traditional American breakfast for dinner one night. Of course, gluten-free pancakes for Carly :)

Carly and I made Cristina a traditional American breakfast for dinner one night. Of course, gluten-free pancakes for Carly 🙂

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Enjoying the spectacular Christmas lights in Sevilla!

Enjoying the spectacular Christmas lights in Sevilla!

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Sevilla vs. Valladolid Soccer Game

Sevilla vs. Valladolid Soccer Game

I’m leaving Sunday morning and flying from Sevilla-Madrid-London-Chicago.  It’s going to be a loooooonnnnnng day of traveling (believe me, already have warned my parents of how cranky I will be).  Before then, I’ll be studying for my lexicology final and enjoying my last few days here.  Clearly hitting up Rayas a few times is a must. 🙂

Besos,

Anna

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Mi familia me visita!

Long story short, it was SO great to spend time with family this past week.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m usually excited to see my family.  But, I don’t think I have ever been so excited to see them, especially after a small bout of homesickness the prior week.

They got to Sevilla midday last Monday and I met up with them in a Starbucks close to where I take my university classes.  They only stayed in Sevilla until Wednesday afternoon, which didn’t give us all that much time to explore.  But, given the limited time that they had here, I feel like I did an alright job of playing tour guide and showing them around (although my sense of direction may or may not have led us astray on occasion).

The first day they were here was filled with catching up, eating delicious food, and walking around the city.  Despite Deb’s protests, we tried an Arabian-Italian restaurant for lunch on Monday.  Lately, I’ve been getting sick of eating traditional Spanish food when I go out to eat, so this seemed like the perfect place to try.  The menu included a variety of Italian food (pizza, pasta, etc.), while also having a variety of Arabian/Mediterranean style food.  Amy and I ordered and split a delicious basmati rice dish and a plate that included meat, hummus, and pita bread!  Mmmm missed this kind of food!

Afterwards, to Amy’s delight, we walked around the main shopping district.  We then met Agustina at Rayas.  It was so fun for both my family to meet Agu, but it was definitely weird talking to her in English given that we only talk in Spanish.

Obligatory Rayas visit.

Aunt Sue, Agu, and me.

Enjoying the best ice cream ever!

My dinner on Monday night. Plate of grilled vegetables; nothing better!

Dinner isn’t complete in Sevilla without a little cheese platter. Bring on the manchego, por favor!

On Tuesday, we toured las Reales Alcazares.  Although, I had already toured this at the beginning of the semester, it was nice to go back.  I didn’t realize how much I hadn’t seen or explored the first time I went.  I think las Reales Alcazares definitely exceeded my family’s expectations.

Dad and me in Reales Alcazares

Reales Alcazares

My favorite part about Tuesday was definitely introducing my family to Cristina.  Cristina was sweet enough to invite my family over for coffee and sweets.  I played translator and before we knew it, we had been talking for three hours!  Cristina loved my family and continues to tell me how lucky I am to have them.  She tells me that she always knows, within a few minutes of meeting people, if they have a good heart or not.  According to Cristina, every member of my family she met has a warm heart.  Saying that my family loved Cristina would be understatement.  I was so happy that they got to meet each other and that my family got to see where I lived and the great relationship that I have with my host mom.

Both of my mamacitas.

Wednesday came too soon and before I knew it, my family was off to the next leg of their adventure: Granada.  It was really strange to not be home for Thanksgiving this year.  Fortunately, I not only got to see my family the week of Thanksgiving, but our study abroad program organized a group Thanksgiving dinner.  We started out with a variety of Spanish tapas (fried fish, bread with ham, salad, etc.) followed by the Spanish interpretation of American Thanksgiving food.  Although it wasn’t grandma’s homemade cooking, it was definitely delicious.  I was so appreciative to have the opportunity to have a special meal with my friends on the holiday.

Friends before the group Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday morning I took the AVE, a high-speed train, up to Madrid.  It was my first time taking the AVE and boy, was it nice!  Honestly, I prefer taking the train to flying.  Our time in Madrid was very laid back, which is exactly what I needed.  We visited some of the major sites (the Prado Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum, Retiro Park, Palacio Real, etc.), but what I loved most about Madrid was just hanging out and relaxing with my family.

We stayed near Plaza Mayor, where there were a bunch of people dressed up as characters. This one, decided to take her mask off until people came up to take pictures with her.

Mama and me.

In front of Palacio Real.

Aunt Sue and Amy in front of the Palacio Real.

Dad in Retiro Park.

I seriously cannot believe that I will be home in less than three weeks.  I have quite a bit of work and much studying to start/wrap up before then, but I know it will all get done!  Looking forward to my last three weeks, but I know I’ll be ready when the time comes. I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

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A glimpse of Paris

This weekend, we were in Paris for a total of less than 48 hours.  Given that we were there for such a short period of time, we really tried to fit everything in that we could!  Although, even before leaving, I realized that it would be absolutely impossible to explore all of Paris in such a short time.  So, I just went in with the hope of getting a good “glimpse” of the city, giving me a good reason to come back to see it all.

By the time we finally got to our hotel on Friday, it was already 5pm.  Crazy how fast the day goes when you are traveling!  (I guess it doesn’t help that Ryanair only flies into a Paris airport that is an hour outside of the city).  We had heard from our friends that the Louvre is free on Friday nights for people under the age of 26.  However, we opted to only visit the outside and not go inside.  We didn’t want to have to rush through one of the most famous museums that you need, realistically, more than a day to explore in its entirety.  Instead, we wandered throughout the city and found an authentic French restaurant to eat at.  We found out pretty quickly how expensive Paris is: my cup of French onion soup was 8E.  Delicious, nonetheless.  Clearly, dinner wasn’t complete without a nutella crepe for dessert. Yum!

 

The Louvre.

In front of the Louvre.

Leigh and me in front of the Louvre.

After dinner, we walked to the Eiffel Tower.  Since it was so cloudy, we weren’t able to see the top.  But, the clouds made it kinda eerie and mysterious!  In one of the fields closest to the Eiffel Tower, there was an art exhibit with 140 different bears, each representing a country that is a part of the United Nations.  It was so neat to walk through and look at how unique each bear was.

United Nations Bears.

In front of the US Bear.

Saturday was absolute craziness.  We were out the door by 8am and didn’t get back to our hotel until close to 1am.  We started at the Sacre Ceour and worked our way around to see some of the city’s major sites.  In the early afternoon, we met up with Molly and Margaret for lunch at an authentic crepe place.  The restaurant was SO cute–just one man waited on all the tables and made crepes.  I had a ham & cheese crepe, followed by a nutella crepe for dessert.  Delicious!

Sacre Ceour.

Arc de Triomphe.

One of the pieces we studied in my art class. Marsella by Francois Rude (on Arc de Triomphe).

Ham & Cheese Crepe.

The chef made all of the crepes in front of us!

Nutella crepe.

After lunch we visited Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower again, and then went to Musee d’Orsay.  Out of these three sites, I surprisingly liked the Musee d’Orsay, an art museum, the most.  Right now, I’m taking an art history class through the university.  It was so great to see some of the art pieces that I’ve been studying in class.  I got so excited to be able to recognize some of the works without even looking at the names!

Notre Dame.

Stained glass window inside of Notre Dame.

After the museum, we divided up and went out to dinner.  I decided to branch out and tried duck (sorry, Sierra).  Yet again, the food did not disappoint.  After dinner, we went on a great one hour boat cruise.  It was a great way to get see more of and learn more about the city.

Molly and me on the boat!

Paris was absolutely beautiful!!  Given we were in such a big group (12 people in total), it was definitely hard (and often, very frustrating) to coordinate plans and try to cater to everyones’ budgets and travel goals.  I learned first hand this weekend how much easier it is so travel with a smaller group!

Happy to be back in Sevilla, but even MORE EXCITED TO SEE MY FAMILY TOMORROW!  They get in midday and will be in Sevilla until Wednesday.  They are leaving for Granada on Wednesday afternoon and then, I will meet up with them on Friday in Madrid.  SO PUMPED!

Hope you all had a great weekend and are excited for Thanksgiving this week!

Besos,

Anna

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London

Big Ben and Parliament.

Westminster Abbey.

I seriously had such a great weekend!  Not only was I in a great city, but I also got to spend time with one of my best friends, Molly.  As I mentioned earlier, she is studying abroad in London this semester.  So, I was lucky enough to have my own tour guide throughout the weekend!  After being a clueless tourist in countless cities over the past couple months, it was a relief to have someone who knew exactly where to go and how to go about getting there.  I stayed in her flat, so it was super to not have to deal with a nitty-gritty hostel.  Not to mention, I was able to speak ENGLISH.  I forgot how mindless and easy it is to communicate with everyone around you when they all speak the same native language as you!  All of these factors made the weekend a little more relaxing than some of my previous trips.

Tower Bridge.

I got to London late Friday afternoon.  Molly met me at one of the tube stations and we just walked around the city for a while.  I was surprised at how early it gets dark out there, but I had no complaints considering there were Christmas lights and decorations EVERYWHERE.  Between the cold, the Christmas lights, and the sound of British accents around me, I was convinced that I was playing a part in The Holiday or Love Actually.  Keep on dreamin…

After walking around and seeing some of the major sites in London, Molly and I went out to dinner at an amazing Thai restaurant.  Since I’ve been in Europe, I haven’t had any Asian food.  So clearly, this tasted so good to me!  Afterwards, we went back to her flat to hang out with some of her flatmates and watch a movie.  It was SO nice to just relax!

Molly and her fried rice.

My delicious pad thai.

We got an early start on Saturday.  Molly’s professor told her that Lord Mayor’s Parade (part of Remembrance Day celebrations) started at ten, so we decided to get there at nine to stake out good spots.  But, when we got there, there was no one in sight.  We were worried that it had been canceled or that we were given the wrong date, but it turned out that it started at eleven, not ten.  Instead of standing around for an hour, we decided to go to one of London’s most famous food markets, Borough Market.  Seriously obsessed with this market.  There was so much good food and a million samples!  Even though we had just eaten breakfast and it was only ten in the morning, we decided to split a grilled cheese!  YOLO, right?!  I haven’t had a grilled cheese in the longest time!  I also bought myself some fresh apple cider and a chocolate chip cookie (another food that I didn’t realize how much I missed) bigger than my face. YUMMY!

Borough Market.

The infamous grilled cheese.

After Borough market, we made our way over to the parade.  It was so much fun!  There were so many cool floats and it was very community-oriented, which I loved.  We were standing behind the most enthusiastic parade-observer ever!  She waved and said “good morning” or “thank you” to every float and person that walked by.  What a hoot!

Lord Mayor’s Show pamphlet.

The mayor’ carriage.

After the parade, we walked around the city and did some more sight-seeing.  I was excited to recognize and name some of the buildings and their architects that I have been studying in my art class:

Ran into Laura in London! Seven other people from my study abroad program also went to London this weekend to visit friends and I ran into ALL of them at some point or another over the weekend.

After six hours of touring the city, we went to get afternoon tea/lunch.  Probably one of my favorite parts of the trip!  So picturesque and quaint.

Tea and our sandwiches.

Scone with cream and raspberry jam. Delicious!

We felt a little rejuvenated after food and relaxing, so we went ice skating near the British Natural History Museum.  I hadn’t been ice skating for almost two years, but I think I surprised myself as I didn’t fall once!  Success.

We had the morning and part of the afternoon on Sunday, so we went to Hyde Park and the Portobello Road Market, a famous antique market.  I really loved this market and it definitely reminded me of all the Ollingers 😉

Had such a great weekend and it was so nice to hang out with Molly!  Since it was so much more relaxed than my other trips, I didn’t come back to Sevilla feeling more tired than I was when I left, which is always a plus.  I leave for Paris on Friday morning and then, my family comes in just a WEEK!  CAN’T WAIT. CAN’T WAIT. CAN’T WAIT.

Love always,

Anna

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Roma!

Rome was definitely much different than I expected.  Peaceful, romantic, and quaint images came to mind when I pictured Italy prior to this trip.  Rome was indeed beautiful, but it was far more touristy than I thought it would be, which definitely was a turn-off for me.  However, given we only had a day and a half in Rome, we were quickly going from spot to spot in order to make sure that we hit up the main attractions.  If we had a little more time to explore other and all areas of the city, I think I would have left with a more positive opinion of Rome.

Despite the fact that I liked Florence much better, I still really enjoyed myself in Rome.   Enjoy the photos 🙂

On Saturday we went to a hole-in-the-wall pizza place, Alice’s Pizza, for lunch. It definitely was not a tourist hot spot given we were the only ones not speaking Italian. Seriously some of the best thin-crust pizza I’ve had! May or may not have had six slices of pizza. 

Waiting in line for St. Peter’s Basilica. Although the line to get in was enormous, it went relatively quickly.

St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican was one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have visited (a close second to La Sagrada Familia, in my opinion). While we were in the basilica, a Spanish cardinal was leading mass. It was very neat to see all the people gathered and witness a religious ceremony first-hand.

St. Peter’s Basilica: tallest dome in the world.

We climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, which was quite the trek. The stairwell to the stop was very narrow and steep. As you can see, the walls and stairs were slanted, so we were often climbing on a diagonal.

View from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Laura, Leigh, Ana, and I at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.

After touring St. Peter’s Basilica, we went to one of Rome’s most-famous gelaterias, Old Bridge Gelateria. I had a cone with three scoops of gelato: cookie, nutella, and pistachio!

Trevi fountain.

Making our wishes!

The Pantheon.

Leigh, Ana, Laura, and Amelia in front of some ruins.

The Coloseum.

Overall, had a GREAT weekend in Italy.  I loved the sites we visited, the food we ate, and most importantly, the friends I traveled with.  I can’t believe I leave for London in just four short days and that my family will be in Sevilla in TWO WEEKS! YAYAY!

Hope you all had a great weekend as well!

Anna

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Florence

Thursday was All Saint’s Day, so we didn’t have university or EUSA classes. WIN!  Added bonus of not having class: getting to leave for Italy a day early.  I guess, sometimes, you can have your cake AND eat it too 😉

So, our group of nine left bright and early on Thursday morning.  And when I say early, I mean early.  As I was leaving my apartment, there were still people out and about celebrating Halloween.  But, I was definitely glad we had an early start because after flying into Rome, we had to take a bus and then a train to get to Florence.  By the time we finally got to our hostel in Florence, it was mid-afternoon.

Although Amsterdam is still my favorite (in terms of cities I have visited thus far), I loved Florence as well.  When I thought of Italy before visiting, a picture of a place similar to Florence always popped up in my head.  There were definitely quite a few touristy hot spots throughout the city, but I felt that it was easy to escape the crowds and get a feel for the “real” Italy when we wanted to.  Florence is beautiful and it is a great size, since we were basically able to walk any and everywhere.

I feel like it may be easier to show you what we did in Florence with pictures and captions, so enjoy  🙂

Right after getting to Florence, we went to Galleria dell Academia to see Michelangelo’s famous “David.” We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of the museum, but “David” was seriously amazing! The statue was much bigger than I had initially expected.

We heard from a couple of our friends that Gusta Pizza has the best pizza in Florence, so we went there our first night! Definitely a great pizza, but I don’t know if it can live up to Pizano’s deep dish 😉

My gusta pizza–ate it all!

First out of four gelatos: one scoop of white chocolate pistachio and one scoop of cookies!

Michelangelo’s tomb.

There were SO many statues in Florence, so Mary Morgan and I decided to imitate them.

The group in front of the “David” replica.

More statue imitation…

The Duomo.

On Friday afternoon, we walked through Florence’s famous leather markets. So many vendors!

More markets! Dried fruit: my favorite!

Inside the Duomo.

An(n)a squared.

Gelato number two: hazelnut and pistachio.

Mary Morgan, Ana, Amelia, and I

We saw the sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo on Friday. Such beautiful views! We even got to listen to some live music in the plaza after!

On Friday night, I got to meet up with my friend, Katie, who is studying abroad in Florence! It was great to see her!

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Time to breathe

Molly visited this week!  She is studying abroad in London this semester.  She and her three friends had a week-long fall break during which they traveled through Italy and Spain.  So, all four of them were in Sevilla from Tuesday through Thursday.  It was so great to see Molly!  I couldn’t believe that it had been four months since I had last seen her.  Although it rarely rains in Sevilla, mother nature decided to bring on the clouds and showers during her visit.  Despite the gross weather, everyone had a great time!  Seeing her was definitely the sense of home I needed after so much travel craziness.

Molly and me in front of Plaza de España

Yes, we did ride this around Parque María Luisa.

After Molly left on Thursday, I realized just how tired I was.  I don’t think I can remember another time that I felt SO exhausted, which makes total sense given I haven’t stopped going since I got here.  I decided that it was time to listen to my body and have a low-key weekend.  I caught up on work (felt great to cross things off of my to-do list), did a little shopping (dangerous, I know), and just relaxed.

Last night, my señora and I had a little date night.  She first taught me how to make tortilla de patata (Spanish omelette) and then, we went out to ice cream together.  After she saw me eying some of the cakes in the pastry section, she insisted on buying me a slice of cake for today.  Always amazed by how sweet she is!

My beautiful señora.

Dinner!

…and dessert!

Our ice cream date 🙂

My bed is calling my name, so I think it’s time to listen 🙂  Besides, I have a busy week coming up!  Leaving for Italia on Thursday morning!

Hope you all had a relaxing weekend as well!

Anna

xoxo

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Chocolate, Waffles, and Beer: Bruges & Brussels, Belgium

We spent the last three and a half days of our trip in Bruges & Brussels.  We quickly learned upon arriving that Belgium is known for five things: 1) chocolate 2) waffles 3) french fries (not invented in France!) 4) beer 5) lace.  Never in my life have I seen so many chocolate shops!  When walking through the streets of both of these cities, literally every other shop was a chocolate shop and if it wasn’t a chocolate shop, it was a pub or a waffle shop.  I definitely took advantage of this as I ate plenty of chocolate and a couple of waffles (both drench in chocolate).  While we were in Belgium, I couldn’t pass up the chocolate-covered apple that a street vendor was selling (although it still couldn’t live up to Rocky Mountain’s infamous caramel apples).  Don’t worry though, I bought plenty of chocolate to bring back to the states to share with you all!

Says it all.

 

I found a Christmas store in Bruges. What else could you need in life when you have Christmas and chocolate?!

Mary and me.

Out of the two cities we visited in Belgium, I definitely liked Bruges more (despite the fact that it was a pain in the ass to get to: two train cancellations due to mechanical issues followed by three train rides).  Bruges was just so quaint.  The entire city is walk-able and between the small canals, the cobblestone streets, and the falling leaves, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Bruges.  On Saturday night, our hostel sponsored a free, two-hour walking tour of the city.  Again, I was astounded by how small the world is because our tour guide was from Wheaton! She recommended we go to a bar located in the narrowest street in all of Belgium.  There, they sell beer with 12.5% alcohol content.  The beer at this bar is so strong that they only sell a maximum of three to each customer!  Agu and Mary tried the famous beer while I tried a peach beer.  I’m proud to say that this beer was the first beer that I’ve actually liked the taste of!

Before our canal tour in Bruges.

Most famous view of Bruges.

Cheers!

We got to Brussels in the early afternoon on Saturday and all of us immediately agreed that we didn’t like it as much as Bruges.  It is obviously much bigger, but also very dirty.  We really didn’t have enough time to explore everything Brussels had to offer given how little time we had there.  I guess what surprised me the most was just how giant it was.  I know that it is the capital and all, but woah!  When w were walking through the center of the city and the main shopping drag, it was difficult to stay together.

Agu and Mary with their waffle.

My first Belgian waffle.

Chocolate-covered apple.

Well, I can’t believe the five days have come and gone already.  It sort of feels like a dream still—as if I was watching my life through a movie.  What an adventure!  ¡Qué divino viaje!  Now, only one day until Molly arrives! Woohoo!

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Amsterdam

I guess I didn’t have any expectations for what Amsterdam would be like since I really didn’t know anything about it before we left (bad, I know.  I really should have done some research).  But, even if I had high expectations, they would have been exceeded because I fell in love with Amsterdam.  You are all lucky I love you so much, otherwise I’d consider moving to Amsterdam.

Like every other city I have visited, Amsterdam has so much character and charm.  One of the first things I noticed upon arriving late Thursday afternoon was the prevalence of bikes (Dad, this is YOUR city).  Literally everywhere you go, there are stands upon stands filled with bikes.  The bikers don’t joke around there as they have their own bike lanes that function more like roads than our bike lines in Sevilla.  These lanes even have their own stoplights!  Biking is definitely the preferred manner of transit throughout the city.

So many bikes!

In addition to biking, there were tons of runners.  On Thursday afternoon, we walked through one of Amsterdam’s most famous parks, Vondel Park.  There were runners everywhere!  We also saw a GIANT running group all wearing matching Nike shirts with “WE RUN AMS” across the chest.  Totally wish I could have found one of those.  The Amsterdam marathon was on Sunday, so that could have been one of the reasons why we saw as many runners as we did.

Vondel Park.

            Thursday evening, we did a safe, guided tour of some of the historic districts in Amsterdam, including the Red Light District.  It is so easy to judge the prostitution industry, which is legal in the Netherlands.  But during the tour, I did my best to keep an open mind and respect that people make different decisions than I do.  It was so interesting to learn more about the industry and the women’s work since I had absolutely no knowledge beforehand.  Our tour was in both English and Spanish. This was great because I got to practice my Spanish, but still had the option to listen to the English translation in case I didn’t understand the vocabulary.  I’m really glad we did the tour because I don’t think I would have felt comfortable walking through this area alone.  Some facts we learned about the Red Light District, which you may find interesting include:

-There are only two requirements to become a prostitute:

1) At least 18 years old

2) Citizen of an EU country

-The women rent windows from a landlord.  However, the landlord is not a boss.  Thus, the women are their own bosses.  They rent the space on a weekly basis and the cost of the window depends on the location and time they wish to work.

-In the center of the Red Light District, there is the oldest church of Amsterdam, along with a kindergarten.

Friday, we continued with our tours.  Agustina found out about a free, guided tour throughout the city that was in both Spanish and English.  Somehow, we ended up on a three-hour private tour with a bunch of Romanian high school students.  The tour guide noticed pretty sound after we started that we were out of place, but he didn’t mind.  The tour was fantastic!  We saw so much of the city and really learned more about it—Did you know that Amsterdam is the city with the most canals?  Also, at the bottom of the canals, experts estimate that there are 20,000 bikes.  Our tour guide joked that a bike in Amsterdam has one of two fates: it will either be stolen (50,000 bikes are stolen in Amsterdam each year) OR it will be thrown into a canal.

Leaning houses.

Facing my fear of birds.

Reppin’ the initials.

Flower markets.

Centraal Station.

After our tour, we grabbed lunch in a local café and then went to the Anne Frank House/Museum.  For those of you that know me well, I was obsessed with Anne Frank when I was little.  So, it was beyond exciting to finally see where she lived.  When I was younger, I never thought that I would end up touring her house.  It was, by far, the coolest museum I had ever been in, probably because I find her story and the Holocaust so interesting.

Anne Frank House.

Afterwards, I definitely felt emotionally drained and sort of down-in-the-dumps, but understandably so.  We cheered ourselves up by getting a little sweet afterwards.  We bought a whole apple pie the previous day (Amsterdam is known for its apple pies), so I decided to try a “hot chocolate waffle.”  Although it was good, it didn’t live up to my expectations.  Luckily, I had two more waffles in Belgium that were MUCH better.

Agu with the apple pie box 🙂

I LOVED traveling with Mary and Agu.  Upon leaving Amsterdam for Brugge, I could tell my Spanish had improved tremendously because we only talked in Spanish (with the exception of our outbursts into obnoxious English songs, like “Call Me Maybe”).  I even started thinking in Spanish!  It was funny because everyone in Amsterdam speaks Dutch and English and so, for the first time since coming to Europe, my English was super useful.  While we were in Amsterdam, however, I kept responding to locals in Spanish…woops! Not in Spain in anymore!

Amsterdam is beautiful and I know it’s a place I that I would come back to.  I don’t think I will forget how nice the people are there, the way Vondel parks looked with the colorful leaves falling to the ground, the feelings evoked when touring the Anne Frank house, or the delicious taste of Amsterdam’s very own apple pie.  So many good memories from our trip to Amsterdam!

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Barcelona

Amelia, Maggie, Elisabeth, Emily, and I got to Barcelona late Thursday night and we didn’t check into our hostel until after 1am. Although that is considered early in the night for Spaniards, it was late for my old grandma soul. The hostel was only 12E a night/person (most hostels in Barcelona are at least 25E), so I was a little nervous that it was going to be disgusting or sketchy, despite the good reviews. But, it turned out to be nice, clean, and in a good location. The owner was helpful, which was great to have throughout the weekend. This was my first time staying in a hostel and it was definitely different than I expected (though I don’t really know what I expected). I think what surprised me the most was the sense of community between all the boarders. People came from all over the world and just hung out together (made dinner in the basement of the hostel, explored the city, went out, etc). Although we really didn’t spend time with the other boarders since we were on the go the ENTIRE time, I think it’d be a cool experience to have at least once.
We spend the majority of Friday aimlessly wandering throughout the city and getting a feel for what it was like. Although it rained on and off throughout the day, it could have been a lot worse. Honestly, we lucked out! As we walked through the different districts of the city, I realized just how big Barcelona is. Some parts of the city reminded me of Chicago (especially the main shopping drag), giving me a taste of home!

One of Gaudí’s famous works.

The port.

Friday was a national holiday, el Día de Hispanidad. As we roamed through the streets, we saw people wearing both Spanish and Cataluñan flags around their shoulders. They were all walking in the same direction, so we followed them and ended up in la Plaze de Cataluña. In this central plaza, there was a big demonstration going on with crowds of people, music, and police monitoring all the activity. For those of you that don’t know, Barcelona is part of the autonomous community of Cataluña. There are many independence movements in Cataluña and the population is split over the question of whether Cataluña should remain part of Spain or not. This divide was clear at the demonstration. About half of the people there were were Spanish flags and holding signs promoting the unity of all of Spain, while those wearing either Cataluña or Barcelona flags obviously wished otherwise.

The demonstration.

The divide between Cataluña and the rest of Spain was obvious in other aspects of Barcelona as well. Although Spanish is one of the official languages of of Cataluña, the primary tongue of the people in Cataluña is Catáan. As a result, all of the advertisements, store names, and menus are listed first in Catalán. Only sometimes are they then translated into Spanish. The fact that the primary tongue of most people in Cataluña is not Spanish further contributes to this great divide.
Other highlights from Friday included walking through the street markets on one of the main drags, las Ramblas. I love looking at what all the vendors are selling, but it’s definitely hard to resist buying everything in sight. I treated myself to a cute scarf and bought my mom a pair of earrings 🙂

Amelia and I at the markets.

La Plaza Real.

Friday night, we went out for tapas at a place near our hostel. The portions were small and the prices were quite high, so we all were a little disappointed. But, we ended up at a cool bar after called, Dow Jones. Basically, this bar is a simulation of the stock market and Wall Street. The drink prices fluctuate depending on demand and every half hour or so, the “stock market” crashes. During this time, the drink prices drop 40-50% and everyone rushes to the bar to order drinks. It was super fun and a neat concept. Somehow, we ended up surrounded by about 30 Duke (ick!) students–what a small world!

Maggie, Emily, Amelia, and I at Dow Jones.

We started off on Saturday with touring la Sagrada Familia. The line to get tickets wrapped around the block, but luckily, we heard of a nearby ATM where you can buy tickets and skip the two hour line. This trick definitely saved us quite a bit of time! I know I rave about the buildings we tour every weekend, but I don’t think any of the ones I have seen can trump la Sagrada Familia. I don’t think any description of this monument can accurately describe just how AMAZING this building is. Gaudi is seriously a genius. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t finished yet and it isn’t expected to be finished until at least 2050. I can’t imagine what it will look like once all of the windows are filled with stained glass. If you ever go to Barcelona, make sure you go inside of la Sagrada Familia. A must see!

The outside of La Sagrada Familia.

Beautiful stained glass.

We continued our day by going to la Boquería, the famous food markets in Barcelona. Clearly, this was one of my favorite places to stop. There were hundreds of vendors selling everything from candy and dried fruit to the most exotic meats. We ate lunch at a stand called “Organic is Orgasmic.” I had stuffed eggplant, paella, and salad–which was out-of-this-world! We then all had smoothies for dessert–let me just say, the food at the market did not disappoint!

La Boqueríá

Maggie, Emily, Elisabeth, and I with our smoothies.

Lunch at “Organic is Orgasmic.”

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city and visiting different “touristy” monuments. Our stops included the olympic stadium, the national art museum, and a giant water fountain show at dusk. The fountain show occurs every night from 7-9pm at the fountain is located in front of the art museum. Basically, there was music (including selections from Titanic, E.T., and Starwars) that played as the water in the fountain “danced” and different colored lights illuminated the city. So beautiful!

In front of one of Barcelona’s art museums.

UNC represent!

In front of the Olympic Stadium.

Evening fountain show.

After a late night out at the discoteca, we were all exhausted on Sunday morning. How could we tell? We were all dead silent (including me…I know, surprising!) as we were walking through the city. We first went to el Parque Güell, one of Gaudi’s works in Barcelonas. This park had some amazing views of Barcelona, but I was honestly underwhelmed (which can probably be attributed to la Sagrada Familia blowing away any other building or monument).

Parque Guell.

After lunch near the pier, we headed over to el Museo de Picasso (bonus, free entry on Sunday afternoons) and then, for a little gelato at one of the city’s most famous heladerías (believe me, we do our research on this stuff).

Helado.

Overall, it was a great weekend! We literally did not stop and I know, I definitely paid for that yesterday since I absolutely exhausted in my classes. Studying abroad has made me realize that traveling is awesome, but also very emotionally and physically draining. At the end of every weekend that I travel, I’m always ready to get back home to Sevilla!
I spent last night packing up everything for Amsterdam, Brugge, and Brussels.  I’m sleeping over at Mari and Agustina’s apartment tonight and we’re leaving for the airport bright and early tomorrow.  Very excited, but also can’t believe I’m leaving already!  Should be an adventure!  I get back Sunday night and then, Molly comes to Sevilla on Tuesday! BUSY BUSY BUSY!  
Hope you all had a fabulous weekend!  
With love,
Anna
xoxo
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