This morning we had to meet in the lobby of Helmantica by 6:30am so that we could make our trek to Madrid to catch our flight to Rome, Italy, which is the next stop in our rotation. I’m currently running on about 3 hours of sleep which now don’t even matter because I’ve been up for so long. The general thought of the day is “Wow, those five weeks went fast.” Seriously, though. Last time I checked, it was January 13th and we were getting on the plane in New York to fly to Madrid, Spain. Never have I ever expected the time in Spain to go so quickly, especially because it definitely felt like we were there for much longer. However, when last night and today happened (the packing and leaving part of the journey), that is when we all realized that our time in Salamanca had come to an end. Some people were sadder than others. But overall, everyone in the group is excited to get to Rome.
Elena made sure we knew where we were going once we got through security and all that fun stuff and then she was off, back to Salamanca with a new group of DTW-ers. It’s weird thinking that a whole new group of St. John’s students are taking over Salamanca for the next five weeks. That was our stomping ground for a little over a month and we kind of made it our own. And now they’re coming in and taking over! However, I guess that’s how those in Rome and Paris feel too. It’s always going to happen, no matter where you go and what you do – it doesn’t just apply to St. John’s University Discover the World Program. Weird.
We had about an hour to wait after we received boarding passes and got through security so we all explored and got some food. Then we attempted to play cards, but with so many people, that’s a little difficult. Eventually we were able to board. Our journey was taking us to Paris first for a brief layover. On both flights I was able to take decent naps, considering we were on an airplane.
We left Madrid sometime after noon and we didn’t arrive in Rome until 7 or 8pm. Of course it was dark, so we couldn’t see much of anything. But already it seemed like it was going to be better than Spain. The bus the school picked us up at the airport with was nicer than the one from Spain and despite the darkness we saw more around the city than we did on the trip from Madrid to Salamanca.
The next morning our plan was to head to the aquarium. It was in the same part of town that we were in the day before. This walk seemed to be more enjoyable because Kevin started getting us to play the picnic game. You’ve probably played it. You say, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing….” You list what you’re bringing and everything that you or the other guests must fit a certain theme that you make up in your head and the goal is for the other people playing to guess what the pattern is. Anyway, we played that game the entire walk to the aquarium. Along the way we also walked through a nice park, so that helped to switch things up a bit.
The aquarium was, you know, the same as every other aquarium. We did get to touch a sea urchin though! Once we were done there, we walked out toward the beach and had lunch. We got to sit outside in the sun and it was really warm, too. It was probably almost 60 degrees. The only problem with this was that after that time spent out in the hot sun, after not being used to the heat or the sun, I got a major headache – similar to the one I had in Morocco. On our walk home, we came across a pier and a great place to take a picture because of how the waves splashed up near it. Photo shoot time!
The walk back felt like the longest one ever in my entire life because of how I was feeling. We had dinner, which I could hardly get down because aside from the headache, I started to feel nauseous. We got back to the hostel and I was just so exhausted that I got right into bed. Kevin made me watch Glee though.
The next morning we had to get up really early to catch our bus back to Salamanca. It was pouring, so we had the woman at the hostel call us a cab to the bus station, which was where we were dropped off the first morning.
Overall, Portugal was not what I expected it to be. It probably would have been nicer if it was warmer and we probably should have gone to Lisbon instead of Porto. However, it was a fun weekend spent with my three friends
Morocco: The Journey to Africa, Pt. 3
We arrived in Spain with plenty of time to catch the bus that was included with the ferry ticket which brought us to Algeciras, which is where we would catch our bus to Madrid. When we arrived at the port in Algeciras, the creepy guy was there again and I think he remembered us! At one point, it seemed like he was following us so we tried our best to ignore him and just get away to safety. Again, we used the bathroom and then went to the convenient store to buy snacks for the bus ride.
When we were outside waiting for the bus, Corynna freaked out and ran back into the building. Bri and I were slightly confused but then when she came back she explained everything. She ran back inside because she had taken off her rings when she was washing her hands in the bathroom and she left them on the sink in the bathroom. These were the rings that she had just found at the store we were at in Morocco. Two turquoise rings – gone.
It was getting close to the time our bus to Madrid was supposed to depart so I was freaking out a little bit. The goal for today was to be back in Salamanca before midnight, which was when the Superbowl would be on in America (6pm EST). We were standing by a group of people who were also going to Madrid but they only spoke Spanish and French and they were yelling at Corynna in Spanish. Ok, they weren’t actually yelling, but the way they spoke made them sound quite angry. Anyway, they were trying to ask us what time the bus was leaving for Madrid because I think they were having the same concerns as I was. Eventually, we all figured out that our bus was already in the parking lot and we also learned that the seats were actually assigned, which was different than any of our bus trips prior to this. This also sucked a lot because Bri was stuck sitting next to some weird guy who kept speaking to her in Spanish. (Awkward.)
On our bus trip to Madrid, we stopped at a nice rest stop for a half hour where we got snacks for the rest of our ride. It was so nice outside! I didn’t have to wear a coat – only a long sleeved shirt. It was beautiful!
We finally arrived back in Madrid between 7 and 8pm and the plan was to get on the 8:30 bus from Madrid to Salamanca, however, that bus was sold out and we hadn’t purchased our tickets prior because we didn’t want to miss the bus in case the prior bus from Algeciras didn’t make it to Madrid on time. So we bought tickets for the next bus which I believe was going to leave Madrid at 9pm and we went to the restaurant to have dinner. Corynna and I got burgers and fries!
We arrived back in Salamanca after 11 and we pretty much ran from the bus station to Helmantica since I wanted to get back with enough time to freshen up at the room and still get to a bar to watch the game!
We got to the Irish Rover (Spain’s version of Trads) and it was pretty dead and the game hadn’t started yet so we ran to another bar where we heard the game would be played in English. That was a lie. It wasn’t in English and in Europe, they don’t even get the commercials! However, no matter what language you hear the game it, the sport is still played the same so we were able to watch and enjoy the game. And the halftime show was in English! I was loving that, since it was the Black Eyed Peas. All I kept saying was, “Of course, the year I’m not in the country, the Packers make it to the Superbowl and the Black Eyed Peas play the halftime show. Just my luck.” Anyway, after a semi-rough game seeing as I was the only one rooting for the Pack it seemed, the Green and Gold pulled it out to win! I was soooo happy but I was sad because I didn’t get to witness the win with my dad who is an avid Cheesehead. When we left the bar to get home, a few tears came to my eye since the Packers in the Superbowl brought me to realize how much I missed my dad and the fact that I didn’t get to see the Packers in the Superbowl with him. I think I wound up going to sleep that night about 6am Monday morning. Since college, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have time to sleep. Ever. Despite this fact, Bri, Corynna and I went to Morocco for the weekend, with seven different steps in the process of transportation and we still got back in time for me to see the Packers win the Superbowl. The trip to Morocco was a success!
Morocco: The Journey to Africa, Pt. 2
In Moroccan restaurants, their napkins are like our version of simple pieces of paper. I’m not sure how they do much good for cleaning up messes. They certainly didn’t clean my hands that well. Sharif ordered our food for us at the little café we went to, since we don’t speak Arabic or French (which is another language they speak in Morocco) and they don’t speak English! Aside from that, even if we knew how to speak those languages, I highly doubt we would know what we were attempting to order.
The markets that Sharif walked us through were narrow and crowded with people, especially the part that sold the fresh produce, meat, dairy, fish, and so on. Before we went into that section, Sharif asked us if we had a problem with meat and we said no, because we didn’t. The only issue that might come up is that Bri is a vegetarian, but we weren’t going to be eating it. When Sharif asked us that, we thought we would see like, filets of steak or chicken breasts, I don’t know…something you’d see in your local grocery store’s deli section. Boy, were we wrong! We walked by dead fish (which was expected), chickens hanging by their neck, and the worst thing I think I saw while in that market was the head of a goat about to be chopped in half, right down the middle between its eyes. Bri, Corynna and I all groaned as we walked by and Sharif said, “That’s why I asked.” Yeah, you could have told us we would see that!
During our tour, we stopped into this store that tried to sell us hand-made rugs. However, being college students, we not only don’t have money to purchase rugs, but we also don’t have anywhere to put any handmade rugs. However, we had to sit through the shop keeper’s spiel. They let us sit down and enjoy some mint tea though, which was nice. After the rugs, we went down to look at the jewelry. This is where we practiced our bargaining and negotiating techniques! I wanted to buy a bracelet for my mom but it was €85. When we all said no to the things we thought we wanted to buy, the employees at the store asked us how much we wanted to pay – the usual question that street vendors and people selling their wares ask you. They don’t want to lose a sale. Long story short, we got our jewelry for a price that we were comfortable paying and we were on our way. The shop keepers were so desperate that they even accepted Corynna’s American cash and in addition, one of the guys wanted Corynna to marry his son.
That pretty much concluded our tour and we were delivered back to our hotel. We decided to rest for a few hours since we were pretty tired out from traveling and going all day. And personally, I still wasn’t feeling great. We took naps until we had to be downstairs for Said to come pick us up for dinner.
When it was time to go downstairs, Said’s friend picked us up from the hotel and walked us down to the restaurant where Said was waiting for us. We thought that he would sit and have dinner with us but instead, he ordered for us and then left. We had cous cous and chicken, and for dessert we had baklava and more mint tea. (By the end of the weekend, I was so over that crap.)
When we got back from dinner, Said sat down with us at the bar in our hotel and figured out our money situation a.k.a. how much we owed him. The prices for everything were quite reasonable and he even gave us €10-€15 back because Sharif asked us for money from lunch and apparently we weren’t supposed to pay him for that and then Said gave us money back that was supposed to be used for a cab because it was likely we would miss the bus in the morning. He was so sweet and took very good care of us. He told us he would treat us like his daughters since we were their ages and he even asked us after we paid him if we needed more money! How cute!
After Said left, we decided to walk around outside because there were a lot of little touristy stores we could go to and we needed to get postcards and some other souvenirs. We didn’t stay out long though because Said told us not to, for one, and two, we were tired and had to get up really early the next morning. Day two of our Moroccan adventure was complete!
Morocco: The Journey to Africa, Pt. 1
Bri, Corynna and I woke up bright and early and pretty well rested Saturday morning. We checked out of Hostel Facundo and headed towards the ferry dock. Our passports were stamped since we were leaving the country (and continent!) We got on the ferry and off we went. We learned that European security is not at all as thorough or intense as America’s. We were not only going to another country, but to another continent, as I mentioned before, and we didn’t even go through any sort of security screening like they made us go through in America. (I am not complaining about America’s system at all!)
The ferry was pretty cool. It was like, a step down from a cruise ship almost. They had a bar, cushioned seats, televisions, a duty free shop, and probably more things that I just didn’t see since we were only on the boat for about forty minutes.
On the ferry ride, we could see the mountains of Africa. That was pretty cool. All we kept saying to each other was, “Hey guys, that’s Africa over there.” It was quite the experience!
The only down side to the day was that I had a headache and I was just not feeling up to par at all. In addition, I was freaking out a little bit from the entire weekend because the whole process of making sure we got to each port of transportation on time and making sure we were where we needed to be was stressful! I personally would like to say that I was a trooper for the weekend though and I stuck it out. Even though I wasn’t in the best of shape mentally, emotionally, or physically, I made it through Morocco.
When the ferry pulled in and we walked off onto land, we found our guide, Said (pronounced sigh-eed), waiting there with a sign that had Bri’s name on it! He told us that would happen but I think we were kind of surprised when we actually saw it in person. So Said walked us from the ferry port to the parking lot, where he loaded us and our things into his company van. Not only did we have a private tour guide, but we had a private driver and a private mode of transportation.
First things first, Said had the driver bring us to our hotel to check in and drop our luggage off. When we got to our room, we did a little “We’re in Morocco” dance because we were so happy we finally and successfully arrived! Also, the song of our trip was “(Waka Waka) This Time For Africa” by Shakira.
From the hotel, Said and the private tour guide who was a member of his staff took us to a local café for a genuine Moroccan breakfast. None of the food actually looked appetizing to me, not only because I didn’t feel well, but because it wasn’t food that I normally eat – for any of my meals. They served us bread which I think was to be used to fill with these scrambled eggs mixed with onions. To drink, they gave us freshly squeezed orange juice – which was DELICIOUS – and Moroccan mint tea, which wasn’t too bad. I think the reason why I wasn’t feeling well was because I was dehydrated and the climates we were being exposed to were changing so fast (from 30 degree weather in Salamanca to high 50s and sunny in Morocco in the course of a day). Because of this, once I finished my orange juice, I just wanted more because I was soooo thirsty. Sadly, I never got more….
From breakfast, we met Sharif, who would be our tour guide for the day and we were off touring the city of Tanger. (We learned that they spell it Tanger, not Tangier, as we were spelling it the whole week before arriving.) The first monument we drove by was the one that they have a replica of in Disney’s representation of Morocco, so of course that made me feel better.
We were able to get out and take a picture in front of it and then we were off seeing the rest of the sights. We drove by California Street, from which the view looks like that of one from Beverly Hills in California, USA. We drove by the King’s home. We stopped to see the point where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea meet. We went into the Caves of Hercules, where the rock is cut out and makes the shape of the African continent backwards.
We rode camels by the beach!
Then we headed back to the center of the city to have lunch and walk through the markets.
Seville: Day 2
Saturday morning we went down to have our free breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Afterwards, the whole group met up to go sight-seeing. We took a bus to the first spot, which was a nice change of pace, since all we do is walk wherever we go. We visited Plaza de España, Jardines Reales Alcazares (Gardens of Alcazar), and the Cathedral of Seville.
The Plaza de España has been used for some on-location scenes for movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
The Gardens of Alcazar make you feel like you’re on a vacation in Florida. It’s beautiful there! Also, it’s pronounced Alcazar, not Alcatraz. Don’t make the same mistake I did and risk getting laughed at by Christian Schwoyer.
The Cathedral of Seville is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and is the third largest church in the world. It also serves as the burial site for Christopher Columbus.
Later on, we got lunch and gelato and we headed back to the hotel after a long morning of touring. Funny story – when we were in Madrid, we met up with this girl, Alex, who goes to St. John’s and is studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. We found out Alex was going to be in Seville the same weekend as us. We were going to meet up with her, but things didn’t work out as planned. However, when we went to get lunch after the touring, we bumped into her and her friends at a restaurant! What are the odds?
The plan for the evening was to go to a place that Fernando’s “friend” had told us about called La Carboneria. From what we were told, it was a bar that had flamenco dancers and it was free of charge – you only had to pay for your food and drinks.
After dinner, the “cuatro comensales” headed out to find La Carboneria. After walking through numerous creepy alley ways – which we should not have been walking down in the first place – we found our destination. It was almost like a hole in the wall speak-easy. You walked in and there was just a room with some benches and tables. But then, you walked into the back room and that’s where the bar was with the stage and more benches and tables. It was a little bit dingy but it looked like a place the locals would hang out. It reminded me of one of those places where they have like fresh seafood and you can just totally make a mess when eating it. One of those places.
The flamenco dancing was a lot of fun to watch. Although, it was a lot more fun watching Kevin and Christian watch the dancers. They basically fell in love. *flamenco dancing picture*
When we got back to the hotel, we did our usual nightly routine and then climbed into bed. It was so nice to sleep in a comfortable bed again for the weekend! (Not that Helmantica is incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s not incredibly comfortable either.) Good night, Seville!
Seville: Day 1
Last week, Fernando mentioned something to us about getting a trip together to go to Seville, Spain, which is about six hours south of Salamanca. A lot of people were interested in going, so within the week, we had a trip to Seville planned for only €90, which included the hotel, breakfast, dinner, and transportation.
We stayed at Hotel America, which was such a nice change of pace from Helmantica and the hostels we’ve been staying in. Corynna and I roomed together and we mostly hung out with Kevin and Christian the whole weekend, who also roomed together. When we first got there, we had about six hours of free time before dinner so the four of us went to get lunch around the corner from our hotel. It was the best meal I had eaten since I’ve been in Europe. Our meals consisted of oxtail, grilled tuna, chicken and steak and I think total, with drinks and everything, it came to about €15 per person, which for what we ate, was a great deal! And the food was so delicious.
After lunch, we walked through the little market in the square where our hotel was located and then we decided to go on a hunt for some flamenco dancing shows for either that night or the next. We found both places that we had heard had flamenco, but one was closed until February and the other was pretty expensive but if we couldn’t find anything else that was going to be our choice. While walking all over Seville looking for flamenco, we came across some rain. And when I say some, I mean a lot. And of course, our luck, there was no shelter to be found anywhere. So here we were, four drowned rats trying to find our way back to our hotel. It was a ridiculous sight. Oh and another thing – the pants Kevin was wearing were the only ones he had for the whole weekend. And of course, they were soaking wet.
We found our way back to the hotel in time for dinner and it was amazing! The first course was pasta with meat sauce and the second was chicken with two different sauces. They also served us a dessert that tasted like it had some sort of coffee or amaretto sauce drizzled on it. Overall, the meal was fabulous and definitely a step up from Helmantica.
ASL at YMCA
For our Ethics class, we are required to do Academic Service Learning, or community service. The school has set up a couple of places where different people do their service. I do my service at the local YMCA every Thursday from 6-7:30pm. The disadvantage of having it at this time on this day is that on Thursdays, instead of having Ethics from 1-3, we have it from 3:30-5:30. So as soon as we get out of class, those in my group have to make our way straight to the YMCA. This has caused problems for me because I usually don’t have anything packed for my weekend trips prior to Thursday, but Thursday night is so booked up for me that I have to do it between like, 9:45pm and whenever I’m finished. Even if that means Friday at 3am.
I did not like our first day of service. We walked in and the whole speaking Spanish thing was one problem I had with it. How was I supposed to talk to these kids or do anything with them if I couldn’t even understand what they were saying when I asked them “¿Que pasa?” Once we were done filling out papers and signing contracts that apparently said that we were not to take pictures of the children or talk about the children outside of the YMCA (I don’t know, something like that. I couldn’t read it, since it was in Spanish and all), the five of us who had service at that time just kind of stood in the corner and observed. The first day of service, the children were learning about trees. We were all given fake flowers to put in our hair, which was a nice touch. The “teachers” read a story to the kids about trees, or at least that’s what I made of it with my slight knowledge of Spanish. After the story, we all pretended to BE trees. We were all handed some leaves and pinecones and we had to do certain arm and hand motions and then when everyone dropped their leaves and pine cones, us Americans did so as well. We couldn’t understand the words coming out of their mouths, but we understood body language and if everyone else’s leaves and pine cones are falling, then we knew that ours should be doing so also.
The Second Week
This was our second full week in Salamanca and it was nice to start having a routine to follow. Monday through Thursday I have Spanish from 11-1pm and then Ethics from 1-3pm. Spanish, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, is a great class to take and I love that I can already “get by” in Spain with what I’ve learned in such a short amount of time. Ethics, however, is not as great. It’s almost two hours worth of power point presentations and lecturing. I understand I need to take the class, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.
During our Spanish class we get a break or “descanso.” The first day, we all just left the classroom and stood in the hallway and chatted. In America if we get breaks during classes, they usually last about 5-10 minutes and there’s nowhere close enough that you’d be able to get coffee or anything. Little did we know, we had a good 20 minute break during which, once we caught on, we went around the corner to the café for café con leche and other things of our choosing. El Ave (The Bird) is one of the cafes right around the corner from our Spanish class. The first day, the waiter told us one of the girls with us was “bonita” and he wanted to know if she had a boyfriend. Men are very forward here. If they think you’re beautiful, they will tell you. They usually don’t mean it creepily either, which is strange.
Anyway, we have made visiting El Ave a regular routine during our break in Spanish class. It’s a good way to practice our Spanish, too! There are some kids who have become pretty close with the waiters at El Ave. It’s kind of like our local hangout and I might be wrong but I’m pretty sure they know when we’re coming everyday cause as soon as we walk in they ask us how many café con leches we want. (Note: café con leche is Spanish for coffee with milk)
Back to Salamanca!
We arrived back in Salamanca late Saturday night after two full days of touring Madrid. Somehow while we were gone though, it got to be so cold in Salamanca. It was freezing, so the walk back from the bus station was brutal. The next day, which was Sunday, consisted of the usual “Siesta Sunday” and we basically laid around and got ready for the upcoming week of classes.