The last two days have flown by here in Paris! Our second day here was Sunday and we filled it with activities all day. First we went to mass at Notre Dame cathedral. It was all in French, but I loved listening to the hymns and seeing what happens during Mass. That lasted for about an hour, and after we walked around the cathedral both inside and outside. Notre Dame is about to celebrate its 850th birthday, which blows my mind. Everything here in Europe is so much older than anything in our country! And this building is not only still standing but it functions on a daily basis. 

After mass we were quite hungry, and grabbed some food at the very touristy stands outside the cathedral. We then decided to look for Sainte Chapelle which was supposed to be very close by. I was looking forward to this the most since it had caught my attention during Arts and Ideas class last year. I have to say that it wasn't like I expected! Usually when I see cathedrals or other buildings that I learned about in class, they seem much bigger than I imagine. However, the Sainte Chapelle seemed smaller. Regardless of size, the stained glass was amazing and I think we all enjoyed taking some time to relax a little inside. Since we used our Paris Museum Passes, we didn't have to wait in the winding line and were able to jump directly to the front. It's like a fastpass at Disney but even better. 

There's one place that our pass did not allow us to jump to the front of the line, and that was to climb the towers of Notre Dame. After Sainte Chapelle, we decided to see if the line had gotten shorter for the towers since we were still very close by. It wasn't, but after discussing we decided to wait anyway. I noticed some ladies speaking English behind us, clearly from the states. We started chatting with them and found out that they were visiting Paris for a week, two sisters and a friend, for one of the sister's 60th birthdays. They were so sweet and asked us what we were doing here, and we explained that we go to school in Spain. They asked what we were taking and were very excited to find out that Rachel and I were English majors, since two of them had taken English as well. The time passed very quickly as we chatted and soon we were at the front of the line. Then a small confusion surfaced. Our new friends thought they were waiting in line for Sainte Chapelle, and we had to break it to them that the destination they were looking for was actually a few blocks away. They laughed and headed off in the right direction. 

Soon we were at the top of around 380 stairs, looking down on Paris. The view was spectacular. The view from the Eiffel Tower was higher, but I've decided that I enjoy looking AT the tower more than being on it looking off. We walked around the winding path around the top of the cathedral and eventually descended, tired and ready to find our way back to Thomas and Christina's apartment. After some difficulty with the metro system, we finally got on the right track and made it home, where our hosts were so kind as to cook us a french meal! We enjoyed potatoes with cheese and veggies with hummus, which was delicious.

Here's a few photos from our day. Enjoy! 
Yesterday was another full day. When we planned out this trip, we scheduled activities for each day, knowing that we wouldn't possibly be able to get everything done. Our top two priorities for yesterday were the Lourve and the Arc de Triomphe. We made it to both and still made it home in time to cook dinner! 

The museum passI don't even know where to start with the Lourve. It's huge. So huge that it has multiple food courts and a shopping mall (with an Apple store!) underneath. We started out in an area of Egyptian artifacts. Well, sort of. It was hard to know exactly where we were and we stopped to ask lots of people for help. We had several things we all wanted to see: the Mona Lisa, the Code of Hammurabi, the Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory. We also saw in passing some paintings that I recognized from class. 

By two we were starving and more than ready for some over priced museum food. During our search, we ran into our friends from the line at Notre Dame! They were sitting in Starbucks and waved at us, so we stopped to chat again. The ladies were spending a day shopping before heading home. We discussed the storm and they said that they hoped their flight back to Atlanta wasn't canceled. We said goodbye and wished them safe travels, and headed to the caf.

The cafeteria reminded me a bit of how IKEA has a place for it's shoppers to just stop for lunch, because they know it's just so huge that you could spend all day there. We found a novel item: Pasta Boxes. For only 7 euros, you can microwave your own personal box of pasta and enjoy it in the large, crowded, dining area. Surprisingly, it was quite tasty and we enjoyed some down time to sit and chat. After that, we broke up, letting everyone do their own thing until 4:30. Rachel and I went in search of crepes and bought some postcards, then took advantage of the free wifi from the Apple store. Soon we were all gathered and ready to go. 

Our next and last stop for the day was the Arc de Triomphe, which we reached right at dusk. Our museum pass allowed us to jump to the front and soon we were at the top. The sunset last night was very pretty and the lights of the city were just coming on. We stayed just long enough to see the lights of the Eiffel tower turn on, and then we headed down to find a grocery store for dinner. 

Since I was tiny, I remember my Uncle Jesse making what he called "farmer's breakfast," a combination of scrambled eggs, potatoes, Morning Star veggie meat, and various veggies. Since I was such a picky child, I didn't try it till I was 17. It is delicious! So last night Justin decided to make his own version of his dad's famous dish. We bought eggs, peppers, onions, and tomatoes and then wrapped our meal in tortillas and enjoyed it over the second LOTR movie. Logan and Mikey are going to be so proud. 

After two days of busy touring, we are pretty tired, but looking forward to another full day today! I'll try to post again as soon as possible. Hope everyone back in the states has a great day and stays safe in the coming storms!
 
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Autumn vacation has officially begun, and I'm off to Paris! We left yesterday on a 7 AM flight that required us to be at the airport by about 5:30. Justin found some guys to drive us and we left ESDES in the dark. We had booked tickets through Ryanair since they are notoriously cheap. Inside the plane looks like a big ad for IKEA. Everything is bright blue and yellow. We were pretty exhausted so all five of us napped during the two-hour flight.

We landed outside of Paris and had to take a bus into the city which took almost an hour. Our host, Thomas, met us at the bus station to help us get our bearings. We are staying with some of Rachel's friends, Thomas and Christina, who have kindly opened their home and helped us find our way around. 

After dropping off our luggage at some storage lockers, Thomas took us to a good area for food that was near the Lourve and let us free. I was a little nervous about navigating the confusing subway system but it turned out to be quite doable. The subways here are much nicer than the ones in NYC and we found our way easily to the Eiffel Tower after a nice lunch at Pizza Hut (which was actually super classy). 

Before our trip we had pre-determined that we all wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, so after looking at it from a distance, taking photos, and feeling awesome, we approached the bottom and waited in a line to get a stairs ticket to climb to floor two. The climb wasn't too bad, and the view was pretty amazing. Still, we wanted to go higher and decided to purchase lift tickets to the top. Here's where the waiting began. Apparently the top was too crowded and they weren't allowing more people up until more left the top. So we ended up waiting in line for about 45 minutes to get the tickets, and then even longer to get on the elevator. This wouldn't have been so bad, but the temp outside was very very chilly and the wind on level two was picking up. We huddled together and had a good time, talking and shivering. 

Once we got to the top, the view was fantastic. Paris is so, so huge. We walked around and took some pictures as the sun was setting. It took awhile to get down to the bottom, but right as we exited the elevator, they turned the lights on and the tower lit up. It was so pretty! As we walked away, they began flashing other lights that made the whole thing look like it was sparkling. I loved it!

We made our way back to the train station, got our luggage, and met Thomas and Christina who showed us the way to their home. We warmed up with hot tea and cupcakes from Christina's work (she works at a cupcake shop here in Paris!) and went to bed exhausted. Today, lots of cathedrals and mass!

Day 7/8

10/26/2012

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Day 7

Sunday morning I woke up feeling slightly better than the day before. I wasn't in pain but I had absolutely no energy, and by the time I got to the hotel breakfast I was so tired I had to sit down and didn't have any appetite. Rachel and I managed to pack up our stuff and drag our bags down to the bus, and somehow by the time we got to the next tour site, my energy had shot up. Still not very high, but I was able to walk around and enjoy the tour. 

We stopped at the Real Alcázares, which had very similar stylings of the Alhambra but it was smaller. The gardens were very impressive though, and the grounds were still huge. Justin and I shared a little talking tour guide box that you plug earbuds into and it guides you on your tour. Neither of us were feeling super fantastic but we enjoyed seeing the palace and chatting.

The Real Alcázares was originally a moorish fort and looks almost identical in style to the Alhambra. I don't know a lot about it's history but the intricacies were beautiful and the grounds and gardens were very impressive. There was a labyrinth of shrubs on our map which Justin thought would be cool so we hunted it down. It was fun to walk through and we talked about how both Austin and Logan would enjoy it, and how we always miss them when we're off at school. It's a funny thing about siblings. You go through the time when you just have had enough, but we miss them so much when we're away from home. 

After walking around for about an hour, we decided to find the rest of our group and eat something before leaving. I was starting to feel better and was starving after two days without much food. We found everyone at Starbucks and some of us headed to get, yes, more Kebabs. Before long we were back on the bus headed to Córdoba, our last stop before we made the long drive home.

The walking tour that night of Córdoba was optional since many more had fallen the victim of Morocco salad. I felt ok so I joined in. We walked around the town which was very old and very different than Sevilla and Granada. All the cities here feel so different from one another, and it's so interesting to me. If you put me on a random street in NYC or Chicago, I don't think I would have any clue with one I was in. But if you dropped me down in Granada I think I would know it. It's hard to describe, especially since all the cities here are old and all of them have cathedrals and windy little streets. 

Anyway, as we walked we saw a plaza with a horse that has significance in Don Quixote, as well as many gift shops and little allies with flowers. We had some time to find places to eat but the only place close by was . . . big shocker . . . A KEBAB SHOP. They are very tasty but enough is enough, so I ordered a large plate of fries for two euros and treated myself to a Coke. I don't usually drink Coke in the states but here I have been craving it since Dr. Pepper is nonexistent. Maybe they'll have it in Paris next week! The funny thing is that here it's made with real cane sugar and I just can't get used to the taste! Everyone tells me it's so much better for me but I guess I like my good old fashioned high fructose corn syrup. Like at Union, I drink a lot of juice here and almost no soda so I'm sure it's all better for me anyway.
Day 8

By the time the last day of our trip rolled around, it felt like we'd been gone for a month. Everything we did and saw was incredible, but of course we were all tired from so much traveling with so many people. They plan was to drive back to Sagunto, about a 6 hour bus ride, but first we stopped at the Mezquita, the famous mosque of Córdoba. Its primary feature is the candyland-like arches striped in red and white.

Like the other cathedrals and mosques we've seen, this also has a central courtyard with trees. Of course, it's not just a mosque. Since all major cities change hands throughout history, the Mezquita has a catholic church right in the middle, the result of the reconquista in the 1200s. The styles do not match at all, and it's funny to me now that they actually thought this would be a good idea, just to drop a frilly church down in the center. 

We went on a speed tour of the Mezquita and then stood in line for the bathrooms for a good half our. They use a phrase here "todo el mundo" which is basically "all of the world" but they use it for all of us. So before we left Ana said that "todo el mundo" had to use the bathroom before we left. That took a while. 

The bus ride back went surprisingly quickly. I tried to sleep but didn't succeed. The last two hours Christian put in The Proposal dubbed in Spanish and the whole bus watched. It was so great because I understood everything they were saying, and it was very well dubbed with no super-annoying voices.

We got back to school around 8 tired and ready to eat and sleep. I've spent the last four days recovering and trying to get ready for our next adventure which starts tomorrow! I wish Fall Break could be put off one more week to spread out the trips we take. This is a close call. Anyway, hopefully my next post will be from a mystery location that I'm SO excited to visit!!
 
After our busy day in Morocco, Ana let us sleep in a little before we had to check out of our hotel. We stayed in a total of 4 hotels on the trip, all four-star and all nice. However, I do have a few things to say about hotels here in Europe: Enjoy a night of tossing and turning on the hardest bed ever, but at least the pillow is ultra-puff and gives you a neck ache. Tired of shower curtains? Why not toss them out? Tiny glass shower doors keep some of the water in the tub and off the floor. Need to use the toilet or the bidet AND order take-out? Worry no more, we've got a phone right there so all your bases are covered. Oh, the joys of travel. We laughed so hard when we first discovered the phone in the bathroom. Perhaps they anticipate food poisoning here and realize that the location makes the most sense if you need to call 911. Or whatever the emergency number is. 

Anyway, that morning we checked out and enjoyed a short bus ride to Sevilla, the capital of Andalucia and one of the oldest cities in Europe. It was very pretty and had three Starbucks, much to the joy of our wifi-hungry group. Before finding our next hotel, Ana took us to see the Catedral de Sevilla, which is very famous. Here is the location of the tomb of Christopher Columbus, and Ana assured us that this was the real deal. 

The torre (tower) was my favorite part of the cathedral although it was al very impressive. From the top you could look down on the courtyard and the rest of the building. The courtyard part once was a Moorish building which was taken over by the Christians and the cathedral was built. The view of it was was spectacular. We could see the city of Sevilla all the way around and took a few moments to enjoy it. Before long, we realized that we were rather tired and felt like we should head down and find something to eat. I had no appetite so settled for chips and salsa, which Ryan, Shannon, Justin and Josh split a large pizza. 

Ana took everyone to the hotel and assigned us rooms where we had about 45 minutes before another gran sorpresa (great surprise). She said that we had to be to the buses by five punto or we would miss it. I have decided that I love Ana's surprises. The Moroccan restaurant was a very cool experience and when she announces that she has a surprise, she is so excited that it makes us excited for whatever it is. We got on the buses which took us back to the cathedral area where a vast amount of horses and carriages were waiting. Ana grinned as she told us that we all (ALL 90!) got carriage rides around the city of Sevilla. I really don't know how she does it, but somehow Ana can arrange anything and everything for these study tours. 

People probably thought we were crazy, 90 college student in sets of five as a part of a huge parade of horses and carriages. We rode through the park which I enjoyed, and through the Plaza de España. After it was over, Shannon and I decided to buy postcards and sit in Starbucks and write them out. We enjoyed some quiet time writing and chatting, and then the rest of our group came and we all talked and used as much wifi as possible. The best part of my night was getting to talk to Mikey on Justin's calling app on his iPod. As the night wore on, however, I began feeling rather weak and nauseous, so when we got back to the hotel I went straight to bed. 

In short, I spent the entire day of Saturday in bed with food poisoning and an achy body. It was some of the worst I've felt but now that it's over I'm just glad I made it through. Christian took great care of all of us By the end of our trip there were only a few veggie eaters with no side effects of the meal. That day though, there were 6 or 7 in bed all day and by night there were 10 or more. I don't think we could have made it without Christian, Clara, and Toni. They bought everyone special sport drinks and medicine and food and kept telling us that everything would be ok. When I was little I used to wonder how grown-ups could be sick without their moms there to take care of them. Turns out we can. It's not easy and it's not preferable but it is doable. I did cry for my mom, but in the hands of the caring ESDES staff we were back on our feet before we knew it. 
 
Day 4 of our tour started VERY early in the morning. We had to be on the bus by 7:45 because we were catching a ferry across the straight of Gibraltar to Africa. We left in the dark and by the time we got to the dock the sun was just rising. The ferry ride across the straight was smooth sailing and only about 45 minutes. The boat was very fancy with comfortable seats, a large viewing deck, and lots of overpriced snacks for sail. I went out on the dock to watch Spain disappear and to see Morocco to the south.

We docked in Tangier and grouped together to exit. Morocco doesn't exactly have a customs office, so since we filled out a slip on the ferry we basically just had to scan our bags through something that may or may not have done anything at all. Once again, traveling with 90 people isn't easy, and since Morocco isn't the safest place on earth, we had to stay in the large group the whole morning. Ana arranged for a guided bus tour and guides that would spend the whole day with us. She also told us she had a special surprise! A few weeks ago they took tabs on who was V (vegetarian) and who was C (carne) I decided to stay safe and go with V since I don't really like meat anyway (if only someone would have told me otherwise!) Anyway, she told us that we were all going to enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal, compliments of ESDES! We all cheered, happy to know that we wouldn't be wandering the streets looking for safe, pre-packaged food. 

Our guide, Rasheed, was dressed in Moroccan garb and told us he was the best guide in the city, please. He was indeed a good guide and the most polite arab man I have ever met, please. We drove through the city while Rasheed and his helpers pointed out various points of interest including lots of palaces of people I didn't know. I was also fighting off extreme drowsiness as the bus rocked along the coastline, so some details of the tour are a little hazy.

The two buses stopped at an overlook of the sea where men with camels gave rides for one euro. Like the tourists that we are at heart, I and many others partook in this ceremonial 30-second ride to join thousands of others who can now say "I rode a camel in Morocco!" Later we also were able to join millions of others who were able to claim food poisoning from Morocco, lucky us! But that's a later story.

A few minutes later we arrived at the cave of Hercules where he ripped the continents apart (remember, from Gibraltar?). The cave was actually really cool; it looked out onto the ocean where the waves crashed into the giant opening. 

We were then dropped off in the city center and began a long tour on food winding through the narrowest roads I have ever seen. The entire time, men with items to sell pushed them in our faces and promised us anything and everything for only a few euros. This was the most exhausting part of the day for me. Any time we were not in the bus or in the restaurant, these men pushed items on us all day. Ryan and I succeeded with our "stoic german person" faces and seemed to be left alone. 

The next stop was our surprise lunch at the Moroccan restaurant. This was my favorite part of the day. We finally got to sit, and although we had a very loud arab music concert of our very own, got to rest and chat a bit with friends. We divided into two rooms, veggie and carne. In my room we enjoyed soup, bread, SALAD, couscous with veggies, mint tea, and a tea cake. It was actually all quite tasty. Sadly, none of us bothered to think that the salad had probably been washed in contaminated water and dove right in. Oh, if I could go back. Now that it's four days later, no pasa nada. It's all another story in my book of experiences. 

All too soon, it was time to move on. We again followed Rasheed through the streets, winding up, down, and between buildings so close you couldn't ride a bike through (that doesn't mean people don't try). The shop owners bothered us the whole time and totally turned me off from buying anything at all. If we tried to even glance at one thing, they jumped on the opportunity to follow for several blocks before blank stares turned them away. Ana had warned us of this before and told us not to feel bad because it's just the culture, and if we act friendly we could be in trouble.

Free time was from 4 to 6 but we had to stay in larger groups. My group was so tired that we didn't do much shopping. Most students were meeting in the town square by 5:30, ready to get on the bus and head back to the quiet of the ferry and of Spain. We had an hour to relax on the boat before it actually left, and Justin, Shannon, Ryan and I sat and talked quietly, trying to recover from the exhaustion of the day. 

The ride back was very choppy and many on the boat got very sea sick. Luckily myself and most ESDES students apparently don't suffer from seasickness because all it did was rock me to sleep. Even though Morocco wasn't what I thought it would be, it was still an experience I would never give back. It was dirty, loud, and took all my energy, but it was also so real. It wasn't a bit touristic, all the people we saw were just living their lives. It did make me grateful for Spain and even more grateful for home where cleanliness is a guarantee and Target employees give you plenty of room while you pick out what kind of Trident you want.
 
This morning we got up, ate breakfast, and had to check out of our hotel by 9:30. It was sad to leave because it was a super nice hotel with great breakfast. We boarded the bus for two-hour ride south to Marabella. We arrived at lunch and had two hours to eat and visit the beach. Shannon and I hunted for a supermarket and purchased bread and snacks. The time spent in Marbella was nice but I was really looking forward to seeing The Rock. 

Finally we were on our way. Before we entered, the bus had to park so we could walk through customs and into the city. I had no idea how fascinating Gibraltar was! It's owned by Great Britain, so all the citizens are British, but since it's SO tiny and locked in by Spain, it does have Spanish culture as well. On our tour of the rock, we learned more about the area. 

Our guide was a native to Gibraltar and explained a ton of interesting facts. He grew up there, and didn't actually get to go into Spain until he was 14 years old! Everyone there learns both English (with a British accent!) and Spanish: English at school and Spanish at home and on the streets. Gibraltans originally came from descendants of people from Malta, Portugal, and British soldiers. They are technically British citizens and don't want to become a part of Spain; they are proud of their ancestry. In 1929 it was decided that they would drive on the right side of the road, unlike the UK, to avoid problems with so many cars and trucks entering and leaving the city every day. 

The monkeys on the rock were originally pets which got out of hand quickly. Now they are taken good care of and given vaccinations since they do bite and there are so many tourists taking photos with them (like us). The rock itself has 600 types of plants and flowers, and the bottom park is all built-up man-made land taken from rock within THE rock. The actual Rock of Gibraltar is so big it makes its own clouds and weather (luckily it was clear the day we were there!). In 2008 a huge storm came through (an almost-hurricane) and they told all the ships to evacuate the straight. All but one did, and by the time he decided to, it was too late. Our guide showed us photos of the waves taller than the lighthouse that smashed the boat into the rocks at the bottom. 

The city of Gibraltar has its own airport, which is very unique. The runway actually crosses the road you MUST take into the city through customs. When a plane needs to land, they have to stop traffic and pedestrians until the runway is clear. Luckily they only fly to London so flights are few and far between. 

Our guide told us all of this while we drove up the winding roads to the top of the rock. He also told us a bit about the currency. All shops accept Euros because of the high spanish and tourist population. However, those who work in Gibraltar are paid in Gibraltar Pounds. They are basically the same as a GB pound but have their own pictures on them.

We finally reached the top where we enjoyed a view of the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, Europe, Africa, Spain, Gibraltar, and Morocco (while holding a monkey). Despite being touristy, the experience was incredible and the history was fastinating. I
 
Breakfast this morning was amazing. There were SO many pastries filled with chocolate! We had a meeting about our day and our trip to the Alhambra while we were still at the hotel, and then had to break into three groups of 30 and some people got to request English tours. 

Before the Alhambra, we went to see the Cartuja de la Ascunción, a huge monastery. It had a central courtyard and then lots of separate rooms full of paintings, and a chapel with the most intricate ceiling I have ever seen. Sadly, NO FOTOS was the rule.

After the monestary we had more free time for lunch and then we had to get back to the hotel to leave for the big Alhambra tour. Justin, Shannon, Ryan and I stopped for a quick sandwhich and then found a candy shop for dessert. 

We met up at 1:00 and drove to the Alhambra. Luckily, I got into the only English tour group. Since this was my most anticipated even of the trip, I wanted to catch every bit of history I could. Here's a short video about the Alhambra that we watched in my class at Union that got me so interested in the whole thing to start with.
Our tour began with the palace of Charles V. It was never finished, which shows in the columns and lack of dome or ceiling at all. There are two rows of columns, doric and ionic, but the third row should have been corinthian and was never completed. The architect for this building studied with Michelangelo in Italy. Other than being on the grounds of the Alhambra where he demanded it, Charles' palace has nothing to do with the famous arab site. He just decided he liked it and wanted to settle down in the middle of it.

Once we got into the Alhambra, the tour guide practically had to drag us from place to place since we couldn't stop slowing down to gawk and take photos. No amount of photos will ever be able to show how perfect and geometric everything is. At some point you actually wish for a blank wall without tiny inscriptions to rest your eyes. The tilework was beautiful and only in green, blue, gold, and white. There are no humans or animals represented in any of the art or architecture except for one fountain with lions which was a gift from the Jews. Apparently they didn't get the memo. 

Water is a really big deal in the Alhambra, since the Moors came from the middle east where water is scarce. Apparently, the bigger and deeper your pool is, the richer you are. There were small fountrains trickling into each other all over the place, and according to our tourguide it is all from the Sierra-Nevadas, not pumped at all.

We also got to see one room with the only original stained glass left intact. In this room was much more stained glass, and here is where the sultan sat. He was backlit so that everyone who came in could only see his silhouette and not his face, but he could see theirs. Later this is the room where Columbus asked Ferdinand and Isabel about sailing around the world in 1492. That's the funny thing, even though this was an arab structure, once the Moors were pushed out of Spain, all the monarchs just kept using it and changing it for their own purposes.

We continued winding through the rooms and corridors, and the last stop was the gardens and summer home. At the end of the tour we were very tired and ready for free time. After a quick falafel dinner we decided to hit up the shops we had seen the day before. They were so pretty and exotic and it felt like I was stepping into another place and another time (at the time that was how I imagined Morocco-- how wrong was I!). Leather purses, brightly colored moroccan lamps, and harem pants (not as bad as they sound) hung for sale in all the stores. The shop owners were helpful but not pushy, which I took for granted but appreciated after the next day in Maureccos. We spent several hours shopping and looking and enjoyed every minute. Well, the boys might not have. But we girls sure did! Somehow I ended up with a pair of hippie pants, but now that I have them I'm so glad! They are so comfy and I feel just like Gennie (as in... I dream of. yes.). 
 
Here's my first post about our trip to Andalucia! At the end of these posts, (when I'm done, so the most recent part of the blog) I will do a quick summary of where we went and how everything was! Enjoy!

Andalucia trip, Day 1

Today was the first day of our first school trip! Breakfast becan at 6:45 and the plan was to board the buses and leave by 7:45. As it goes in Spain, we were a little late getting started, but no pasa nada. The total driving time was to be six hours and within the first half hour the bus fell silent as we all drifted to sleep and the sun peaked over the montañas. We arrived in GRANADA (which means pomegranate in Spanish), our first stop, at 3:00 PM and had only an hour to check into our rooms and find something to eat. At four we met up for a first walking tour led my Ana and Christian. Ana is our Folklore teacher at ESDES and she is basically in charge of the trip. She's amazing, considering she made arrangements for 90 students for 8 days. Christian is our conversation teacher. He's only a tad older than some of us and he's always pushing us to speak more Spanish than we do. 

The first stop was the Cathedral of Granada. The interior was extremely elaborate and Baroque with frills and gold on EVERYTHING. They have us a good amount of time to wander through the pillars and naves. It was huge and truly incredible.

The next stop was Capilla Real. This is where the tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella is. We had to move past quickly and were forbidden to take pictures here, which was sad because it was also huge and ornate. While we waited for everyone to gather (moving in a group of 90 isn't exactly speed racing) Rachel and I found something exciting! A euro-pincher! In the states penny-pinchers (smashed pennies) are my favorite souvenir since they are small, inexpensive, and unique. Here you can smash 5 cent euros! 

Finally everyone was ready and we walked through a market area full of fun-looking shops (which we ventured into the next night). Everything in Granada is very Moroccan-looking and arab, following after the Alhambra. Ana gave us free time for dinner so my group found a Kebab shop and ordered before it was time for night activities. Kebabs are so delicious. Basically it's pita bread, falafel, lettuce, tomato (or sin tomate as I ordered), and kebab sauce which is also excellent on fries. I'm surprised at the new food I'm trying and enjoying! 

At 7:30 we met up with ESDES again to board the buses for a flamenco dance show! We drove up a huge hill where we got to see the Alhambra by night, which was very awesome. The location of the flamenco dance place was a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant (literally carved INTO the mountain). It was SO Spanish feeling and the show was extremely impressive. The women (and man) who danced where very talented and put on a great performance for us while we enjoyed cold drinks with ice! After it was over we walked back to the buses through the winding neighborhood streets overlooking the Alhabmra. I've been fascinated by this structure ever since I took West and the World. I can't wait to see it tomorrow!
 
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Train station in Valencia.
Since the festival on Tuesday, we had two more days of school and then had a political holiday (no class!) on Friday. On Thursday I got to teach English for the first time which was really fun! We teach in pairs, two of us to about 6 or 8 kids. I am working with a girl named Brianna and we had a great start. The topic of the day was simply to learn "left" and "right" and then a few other directions including "forward" and "backward." We were missing two kids so we ended up with 5 first graders, all 5 or 6 years old. They were so cute! They only spoke spanish so it gave us a good opportunity to practice while we explained the words in English. It was so funny how most of them said "right" with a huge rolling of the R at the beginning while trying to remember how to say the rest of the word. We played games and sang songs that had to do with "right" and "left" and then traced their hands and let them color while asking about which direction was which (derecho and izguierta in Spanish). Before we knew it, the hours was over and it was time for their parents to pick them up. I think it will be a fun hour spent every week. 

Since we didn't have school on Friday, Justin, Shannon, Ryan and I decided to take the train into Valencia! Most stores were closed for the holiday but we decided that we would stop for lunch at a Thai restaurant close to the train station and then walk over to the big park that runs the length of the city. We took about 50 minutes walking to the Sagunto train station from ESDES and then waited about an hour for the next train. Luckily Shannon brought her sewing supplies so Justin could fix the strap on his backpack that's been broken for a few weeks. I was very excited because I had never been on a train before! It wasn't terribly thrilling, since it was just a commuter train between Valencia and the small towns surrounding, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. After we got off the train we enjoyed our food at Lemon Grass. It has been recommended to us by other ACA students and it was quite tasty and not very pricey. . . around five euros for a good-sized dish. I think we'll be going back there the next time we are in Valencia.

After our meal we headed to the park, where we took a nice walk and got to see the giant man playground again. We got there just as a few raindrops started to fall and they shut it down. We spent a small amount of time under a bridge waiting for the rain to stop, and then braved the weather and kept on. It had been several hours since we ate so a quick stop at the kebab shop next to the train station was our next priority. I had never heard of kebabs until I came here, but I now realize that I've had similar food under a different name. Basically it's pita or wrap with falafel, lettuce, tomato, and a delicious cream-cucumber sauce. My mom made it once this summer and this was just as good. Shannon and I weren't hunger enough for a whole sandwich so we got patatas fritas (french fries) with the sauce and it was delicious. Ryan and Justin got the actual kebabs and enjoyed them on the train on the way home. 

Yes, we have started referring to ESDES/Sagunto as home. It's funny how quickly a place can go from completely strange, foreign, and confusing to comfortable and reliable once you leave it. I never thought of Rees Hall or Lincoln as much of a home, but I miss it more than I ever thought.  I'm sure at the end of this year I'll miss sleeping with the doors open and the Mediterranean air drifting with the voices of other dorm girls as they skype their friends and families or shriek at foreign bug invaders. I think that once a place is home, it's always home. I think of my friend Kayla in Ukraine, Rachel in Thailand, and the other ACA students in France, Italy, and Germany. I think of my cousin Megan who is about to make her first  home in Florida with her soon-to-be new husband (within just a few hours time!). Everywhere we go we take our memories, our lives, our worlds, and our loved ones in our hearts, and that's what makes a place home. And so, from my new home to yours, good night, good morning, and good afternoon, to all the homes around the world.

 
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Ayer no tenemos clase porque era la Dia de la Comunidad Valenciana. Yesterday we didn't have class because it was the Day of Valencia festival. You can read about it in Spanish here or translated into English here on wikipedia. The main attraction of the holiday is the Mercado Medieval (Medieval Market... sort of like a Renaissance festival). Starting in the city center and moving back towards the hill and the Castillo de Sagunto, the streets were lined with booths and tables. People sold anything and everything you can think of from cheese to candles to giant deserts to wood carvings to candy to homemade soap to giant chunks of carne (meat). 


Since we didn't have class, most of us enjoyed a lazy morning of skyping and studying for the test we had today. I met up with Justin, Shannon, Rachel and Ryan at lunch and we decided to go to the beach and then the market with Eloise, Hannah, and Josh. Yesterday was very warm so the cool Mediterranean felt great, although our shrieks as we entered the water implied otherwise. We stayed at the beach for a while, enjoying gelato and stopping in the Chino store for a few minutes. Chino stores are everywhere here in Spain. They are one of the cheapest places to buy nicknacks that you need but that don't demand high quality. They are basically a European version of dollar stores, and almost all of them are run by chinese families. Anyway, they are the perfect place to buy random items, just like Deals or Dollar Tree.

We caught the six o'clock bus to Sagunto so we could enjoy the festival. For those of you who don't know, here's a geography lesson about this area. There are two parts of town: Sagunto, right below the school, and Puerto de Sagunto, a somewhat separate town on the ocean. They are just far enough away that walking is NOT a good option as we found out my first day here. Carrefour, the Spanish version of Walmart, is right between the two towns. So it's not a good plan to walk there from the school or the beach. Anyway, we took the bus, which is less than 3€ roundtrip and saves your feet in the long run.

We got to the festival just a bit before dusk and were greeted by bustling streets, pony rides, and the smell of meat cooking. The town center had various food booths, but my favorite was a giant table of carbs and chocolate. I got a huge bread thing that looked like a doughnut that was bigger than my face. They also had a pizza booth and huge amounts of cooking meat. Also in the center was a stage set up for later shows and games for children, a tiny rickety-looking ferris wheel, pony rides, and a boat ride that swung while a man dressed in medieval clothing literally pushed it back and forth. 

We got some food and then dove into the crowds that pushed back to the small, winding streets of Sagunto. Booths lined the already narrow roads and people pushed in from every direction. We tried to stay together in a line but we had to stop every 30 feet or so to let everyone catch up. 

I had two favorite booths of the entire night. The first was strictly for looking since the contents where much to caro for my budget. It was a little stall full of lamps with all different colors of glass. The had candles burning in them and the colors were so pretty. I took plenty of pictures but I'll only share a few. As we meandered up the streets, climbing higher towards the base of the castillo, we passed a Moroccan mint (tea) booth. I have a slight obsession with Morrocco since I watched Expedition Impossible a few summers ago, and I love love love mint tea. I saw that the sign advertised only 2 € and you got to keep the little moroccan tea cup! Moroccan tea cups are nothing like regular tea cups, they are more like tiny juice glasses with colored glass and gold paint. We decided that on our way down we'd check out the tea stand.

After pushing our way to the end of one street, we decided that it was getting late and our tarea (homework) was beaconing us back to ESDES. We managed to find the tea stand again and I bought a small cup. I let everyone try it and it was a hit since all the friends I was with decided to buy their own! That was my second favorite booth in the market. They also had lots of tiny and tasty-looking pastries, but it was late and we were tired, so we decided to head out.

After such a fun day, it was hard to come back and finish studying for my test. We took it this morning and it went OK, but not as well as I would have liked. Tomorrow I start teaching first graders English (one hour a week) so I'm sure I'll have stories to tell!

¡Hasta luego!