What Study Abroad Taught Me

I have now been back in the U.S.A. for a week, and have thus theoretically had some time to reflect on what I learned while abroad. Instead of writing a super long, boring, intellectual article, I am just going to give you a list of 20 things that I learned while abroad, in no particular order.

1) Not speaking for fear of messing up is stupid and pointless. The only way to improve your foreign language skills is to try.

2) Even if you try and fail, like maybe you tell the pharmacist that you have been sick for two years instead of two days, and in that moment you feel as if the humiliation will never fade, it eventually will. And you might even get a free aloe vera body wash with your purchase because he feels sorry for you.

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3) You can’t be afraid to try new things, especially new food. You may discover you like foods you never thought you would. You also can’t be too worried about gaining weight. You probably will gain weight, but tapas are definitely worth those extra pounds.

4) Realizing that everyone else can speak English as well if not better than you can speak Spanish is both motivational and disheartening in your pursuit of perfecting Spanish. It is easy to just rely on their English skills, especially when people automatically start speaking English to you even when you try to speak Spanish to them.

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5) The name Shelly is impossible for Spanish speakers. The closest the baristas at Starbucks will get is “Chelli”. Your host mom will probably take a good month to get it right, and only after you have repeated it a million times, spelled it out a million times, and written it up on the white board in the kitchen for further inspection.

6) Sometimes it’s okay to just walk around the city by yourself. There is no better way to enjoy the scenery and learn to navigate a new place than by simply wandering.

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7) You are not going to get along with everyone in life, and that’s okay. Imagine how exhausting it would be if every single person you met became your best friend.

8) Sometimes the conflicts you have with above non-friends will lead to the sharpening of your argument skills, and will ultimately leave you feeling more confident in yourself and your relationships with the people that actually are your friends.

9) No matter how much you think you are bad at adjusting to new situations, everyone is in fact capable of adjusting. By the end of my four months it felt weird to be leaving my host home, whereas in the beginning it felt weird being there.

10) If you can’t learn to go with the flow and accept that things aren’t always going to go as planned, studying abroad is probably not for you. From your card refusing to let you withdraw money from an ATM, to being forced to take a ridiculously expensive cab ride from the airport, to all the stores being closed when you need to get your boarding passes printed, the universe will thoroughly enjoy throwing wrenches into your carefully thought-out plans. Don’t let it ruin your day.

11) Don’t have too many expectations for where you should go or what you should do while abroad. Some of your best memories may come from plans that were last minute or unexpected, like deciding to go on a trip to Morocco, a place I never considered traveling to before I arrived in Spain.

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12) Currency conversion matters. 50 euros is not equal to 50 dollars. Remember this when you go on shopping sprees.

13) People around the world will either love or hate the fact that you are American. It will be obvious which within a few seconds of talking to them.

14) Things that seem normal about our culture will seem hilarious, weird, or just plain stupid to people from another culture. For example, you will get very strange looks and comments from your Spanish host mom if you try to explain the concept of eggs for breakfast.

15) Switching between English and Spanish is extremely difficult. You will talk in English to your host mom without realizing it. More strange looks and comments will ensue.

16) Levels of PDA vary greatly around the world. Spanish couples seem to think it is appropriate to show their love for each other by kissing passionately in public places such as on a bridge, in a cafe, or on the metro. Americans will appear to be the only people who find this awkward.

17) You will be unable to escape the popular American songs that you kind of wanted a break from. Your host sister will probably blast them at top volume from her room.

18) Though America is a great country, it doesn’t have things like old cathedrals and castles in the middle of cities. You will definitely miss being able to visit historical places like this when you return home.

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19) There is no right or wrong way to do something or think about something. It is amazing how many different opinions, stories and ideas there are in the world. It’s easy to forget that the American culture is not the only culture.

20) Most importantly: I learned never to take anything for granted. My semester abroad might have been the first and last chance I get in life to travel and see the world. Hopefully I will be able to travel like that again, but if not, I will cherish the memories I made and the lessons I learned.

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

 

Adventures in the UK

My last hurrah of the semester was a trip to the UK. My trip included London and three different cities in Scotland. I stayed in each country for about three days and four nights, and was lucky enough to have friends to stay with in both places.

I stayed with Tara and Katherine in London. They are both in my sorority and were studying abroad in London for the semester. Katherine was actually only there for one of the nights I was there, so she let me take her bedroom while she was gone. Because I haven’t had a room to myself this entire semester, it felt as if I was staying in a luxury hotel. I even got my own bathroom!

My first full day there, Friday, I went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is just outside of London. For any of you who know me well, you know that this was an absolute dream come true. My Harry Potter love knows no bounds. I’ve also always been a bit of a nerd with discovering behind-the-scenes secrets about movies, and the making of movies really fascinates me. So basically this tour was two of my absolute favorite things in life wrapped into one amazing experience.

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Outside the Harry Potter Studios!

The tour was almost completely self-guided, starting out by walking into the Great Hall. It was set up exactly how they used it when filming. The only thing missing was the magical star-lit ceiling, which they explained had to be added in with special effects (of course I knew that must have been the case, but even so, it is crazy how different it looks without the ceiling). The rest of the tour consisted in walking up to different sets like the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s Office, Hagrid’s Hut and The Burrow, all of which were decorated exactly as they had been in the movies, complete with dummies of each character positioned as if they were performing a scene.

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At the entrance to Dumbledore’s office

One of my favorite parts was an un-exceptional looking cork board, that when I went closer was covered in photos of different animals. They were all of the “animal actors” that had been used in the movies, from Crookshanks (Hermione’s cat) to Hedwig (Harry’s owl) to all of the different dogs that had played Fang (Hagrid’s dog). Each animal had a notecard with a description of their personality, which films they had been featured in, and funny facts about them. There was also a TV with a video (videos were playing next to a lot of the sets), explaining the process of training the animals. It’s crazy to think about how much time and effort must have gone in just to get Hedwig to fly and land on Harry’s shoulder.

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The animal actors

On Saturday morning, Tara took me to Portebello Market which is located in Notting Hill, where a lot of famous people have lived, and where a lot of movies take place. The market was huge, complete with everything from clothes to ceramics to every type of food imaginable. We ended up eating kebabs, and delicious pastries for dessert.

After the market I headed to my walking tour. My tour guide was Australian, but moved to London a few years ago and loves giving tours. He was eager to point out all of the Australian things in the city like the Australia House, which coincidentally was used as Gringotts Bank in the Harry Potter movies.

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Australia House aka Gringotts Bank

The rest of the tour covered a lot of the oldest parts of London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about all of the history behind each sight, and I definitely feel like I learned a lot about the city. On Staurday Tara took me to all of the major places that I hadn’t seen on my tour, including London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and St. James Park. One of the the things I liked best about London was that although it is a huge city and has that big city feel, it is also very beautiful, with plenty of parks and antique architecture.

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Tower Bridge
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London Eye

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see a musical while I was there. I really wanted to see Once, but I guess that just gives me an excuse to go back to London some day! Monday morning I headed out fairly early to the airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh, followed by a few hours on a train to get to Aberdeen, where Rowan goes to school. Even just from looking out of the window of the train, I was taken by how beautiful and green Scotland is, and couldn’t wait to explore.

Rowan met me at the train station, and we headed to her apartment for a little while before going to meet some of her friends at a restaurant for dinner. It was great to finally meet her friends. She had told me so many stories about them that I already felt like I knew them all! The next day Rowan had class, so I decided to explore a bit on my own. I went to the Botanical Gardens, which were gorgeous! People gave me some strange looks for taking so many pictures, but I didn’t even care.

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Botanical Gardens

After walking around the gardens for a bit and enjoying the sunny weather (which would soon disappear), I headed to St. Machar’s Cathedral. At this point I have lost track of the number of cathedrals I have seen while traveling, but it’s a lot. I still enjoy visiting them though, because I feel like I should appreciate them before I head back to the United States.

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St. Machar’s Cathedral

That night Rowan’s friends came over to her apartment for “Mexican Food Night.” Because we are both missing the taste of Mexican food, and because  her friends weren’t really familiar with Mexican food as they are not from the U.S., we decided it would be fun to cook some food to educate them on how delicious it is, and to satisfy our cravings. We made chicken enchiladas and tortilla soup, which turned out great! And when I say we, I really mean Rowan, she deserves all the credit for cooking. It was definitely nice to taste my favorite cuisine after months of living without it.

Wednesday we began exploring. We took a train to Edinburgh for the day, which was a really cool city. We began our day at a coffee shop to eat a bit of lunch and drink some coffee. The cafe had a very Austin-y feel, so we both felt very at home there. We then headed up to the castle, but ended up just taking pictures as far as we could go without paying, since you had to pay an arm and a leg to go inside. We then stumbled upon a kilt factory, which led to many laughs. There was a little photography station set up where you could pay to dress up in an ancient Scottish costume and get your pictures taken. Though we were extremely tempted to experience it, we settled for just looking at all of the pictures they had displayed, which were priceless.

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Me and Rowan at the Edinburgh Castle
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Some of the classy photos

We ended the day at the Scottish National Gallery, the national art museum, which includes Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the start of the 20th century. After the gallery we had a little bit of extra time before our train back to Aberdeen, so we actually went bad to the same coffee shop for “Luxury Hot Chocolate” and a piece of cake. And yes, it was just as delicious as it sounds. 

The next day, Thursday, was when the real adventure happened. We took a short train ride to Stonehaven, a tiny town whose two big claims to fame are the castle and deep fried mars bars. They also have a great ice cream shop, which we went to. You can either get ice cream with or without “the toppings.” Instead of choosing one or two toppings, they put a whole bunch of things on your ice cream if you ask for the toppings, including marshmallows, a piece of waffle cone, and assorted hard candies. It was amazing to say the least.

We then made the long hike up to the castle, which starts out completely up hill but gets easier as you go. We again wimped out and decided not to pay to go all the way inside, because we figured the inside basically looks the same as the outside. After looking around a bit, we decided to take an adventure and walk down to the beach area. We found a few caves, and at one point we paved our own path down the mountainside, to get down to the water, later seeing that there was a clear path that we had missed. I only slipped and fell three times, which sadly is pretty good for me. Anyone who saw us probably laughed. We must have looked pretty ridiculous galavanting through the Scottish countryside.

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Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven
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One of the caves we found

Unfortunately Friday rolled around too soon, and I had to begin my journey back to Spain in the early afternoon. I went back the way I came, which was longer because I had to go back to Edinburgh by train, fly to London, then fly to Seville. By the time I arrived back in Seville I was exhausted, but I would do it all over again if I got the chance. I absolutely loved London and Aberdeen/Edinburgh/Stonehaven. London was the perfect blend of historical and fun, and Scotland was just as I had imagined it would be, from the beautiful green countryside to the kilt factory.

Although I am sad that my travels have come to an end, I am glad I ended my semester there. It was a great end to a wonderful semester filled with travel adventures. This is normally when I preview where I will be heading next for my next blog post, so it is really weird to not have another trip! I can’t believe I only have one week left in Spain. The semester really did fly by! I will probably write a wrap-up blog filled with feelings and stuff at some point this week, so keep your eyes pealed for that. But right now I need to study for finals, so I don’t have time for emotions.

Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience as much as I enjoyed living it! And for those of you considering studying abroad: do it! It will be challenging at times, but completely worth it.

Bye for now,

Shelly

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Spring Break ’14: A Week in Italy

¡Hola amigos! Happy belated Easter! Though I may have been slightly jealous when the rest of you were on Spring Break a month ago, this past week definitely made all of the waiting worthwhile. In Spain, and most of the rest of Europe, they don’t really have a “Spring Break” like we do in the U.S. Instead, they have Easter Break, which falls, you guessed it, around Easter time. As I mentioned in my last post, I got a week off from class for our break, and Rowan and I decided to spend it together in Italy! We went to Venice for 4 days, and Florence for 4 days.

Venice was really cool and unlike any other city I’ve been to before. The city is on a group of islands, separated by canals and linked by a bunch of bridges. The streets are all really narrow because there are no cars on the island, and all of the streets kind of look the same (narrow, going along a canal with a bridge) so navigating around the city proved to be a difficult task. For example, it took us an extremely long time to get to our hostel because the map we had was tiny and the street we were supposed to turn on looked more like a sketchy alleyway to us (we actually called it “The Sketchy Alleyway” for the rest of our time there).

We decided to explore on our own for a while on Sunday, before we went on a walking tour. We stumbled across Teatro La Fenice, one of the most famous opera houses in Italy and all of Europe. We got to walk through the theatre and see all of the different rooms, and got free audio guides to hear about all of the history behind each room. We also got lucky enough to watch a few minutes of a rehearsal that was going on onstage. We think it was La Boheme. I wish I could have taken pictures or videos of the rehearsal, but that wasn’t allowed. But it was really cool to watch since I have never been to the opera before. 

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Teatro La Fenice

Later we went on our walking tour of the city, which was really nice because we got to hear a lot of things about the history of the city, including facts about how it is slowly sinking. The second part of our tour was on a boat, which was really fun, but apparently did not satisfy our urge to ride boats. We were really determined to go on a gondola ride down the canal, but when we asked for the price it was 80 euros per ride, which seemed way too expensive for just one ride. So we decided to try to get a group of people to go with us so we could all split the amount and it would be cheaper. This didn’t end up working out unfortunately, but we watched a lot of gondola rides and even got our picture taken by a random man who was going by on the boat, so I think we basically got the full experience.

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The gondola ride we should have been on

We spent our second full day there exploring some of the nearby islands. The first is called Burano, and is a really cute little town with canals like Venice. What makes it special is that all of the houses and buildings are painted really colorfully. It has become a bit touristy, and I couldn’t help wondering what the locals think of all of these people walking by and taking pictures of their brightly painted houses, which to them must just seem normal. Next we went to Torcello, which was even tinier, and only really had one church that we went inside, and a few cafes. We stopped at one cafe to have crepes, which were delicious. We then made our way back to Venice, which proved to be more difficult than it should have been because we got on the wrong water bus and had to get off and wait for the right one to take us back.

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The island of Burano

Venice was a lot of fun, and when it was time to leave on Tuesday we definitely felt that we could have stayed and seen more even though the city is fairly small. One of the highlights was definitely our hostel owner, Amran, who shared a bunch of funny stories with us about Venice and people who have stayed in the hostel, and let us sit and talk to him for hours! When two guys from New York started giving us a hard time and making fun of Texas, Amran agreed that he would rather visit Texas than New York, which kind of made our night. We were obviously not alone in our appreciation for Amran, because behind his desk the entire wall was filled with thank you notes written by people who had stayed in the hostel. We decided to make ours have a Texas theme, and poke a little fun at the New York boys.

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My thank you sign
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Rowan’s thank you sign

Tuesday afternoon we got on a train and headed to Florence, where we would stay until Friday night. The couple sitting next to us on the train were pretty friendly, and Rowan and I both agreed the husband was definitely not quite ready to leave behind his youth. He talked about his trip to Amsterdam with a bit too much enthusiasm, right before showing us pictures of his two young children.

Florence was definitely an easier city to navigate in comparison to Venice. There are a couple of big landmarks that, if you can find them, you can pretty much find anything. The first night we just wandered a bit and ended up stumbling upon a lot of the famous sights including the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Crocce. But we waited until the next day to explore them more.

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In front of Santa Maria Novella

We had a list of things we wanted to do and see in Florence, and I think we did a pretty good job accomplishing all of them. We woke up bright and early Wednesday morning to go to the Uffizi Gallery, which is one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world, and one of the top tourist attractions in the city. It took us hours to go through the whole thing, and it was definitely worth it. It has a huge collection of Renaissance art, including a lot of sculptures. Me and Rowan’s favorite part was laughing at all of the bizarre faces of the babies in paintings. Next time you go to a museum, pay special attention to the fact that all babies during the Renaissance period have the faces of adults. They don’t look like baby faces at all. It’s quite strange.

After the gallery we met up with our designated tour guide, Nathan, who I met in Barcelona and basically forced into being our tour guide for the week. He was nice enough to show us around and put up with listening to our incessant gossiping about people and places he didn’t know. First he took us to go inside the Basilica of Santa Crocce, the main church and another big tourist attraction in the city. The church happens to be the burial place of many well-known Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo and Dante. It was really beautiful inside, with a lot of stained glass windows and really detailed wall paintings. We went back inside Thursday night, because all of the churches were free at night as part of Semana Santa (Holy Week) before Easter.

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Santa Crocce
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Galileo’s tomb
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Michaelangelo’s tomb

We also visited the Bobili Gardens, a big park with a lot of Roman sculptures, and Ponte Vecchio, a bridge over the Arno River, which was built back in Roman times. It is the oldest bridge in Florence, and one of the top tourist attractions. In Medieval times, Ponte Vecchio was a top place for jewelry shopping, and today the bridge is still lined with shops selling gold and jewelry as well as tourist souvenirs. We also went to Piazza Michelangelo which is on top of a hill and has an amazing view of the entire city, as well as a very pretty rose garden. 

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Me and Rowan at Ponte Vecchio

And of course I have to mention the food we ate, since this was a week in Italy and all. Rowan and I stumbled upon a couple of little cafes, one with really good pasta, and the other with salads. We were both really craving a salad, which I know sounds stupid since we were in the land of pasta, pizza, gelato, and other carb-stuffed things. But the salads we had were amazing! Nathan also took us to two different sandwich shops, which were both delicious, as well as a gelato place that serves organic flavors such as kiwi, pistachio, cinnamon and even a wine flavor. We also went to Secret Bakery, a bakery that really is secret unless you know where to find it. It is in a random alleyway, in a tiny room that I definitely would never have noticed on my own. They bake the pastries fresh, and they were delicious!

Overall my Spring Break was a week I will never forget. Italy was such a fun country to visit, and I feel like I actually learned a lot about the history from the tour in Venice (be proud mom and dad!) From the food, to the art, to the beautiful landmarks, I would definitely recommend both Venice and Florence. I hope I can go back someday and maybe explore Rome and other parts of Italy as well!

This Thursday I am traveling again, on my last trip before I return home. The semester has really flown by! I will be going to London for the weekend, then heading to Aberdeen, Scotland to visit Rowan! (Hopefully she didn’t get sick of me during our week together..)

Ciao for now,

Shelly

Madrid y Barcelona

Yes, I am aware that it has been forever since my last post. But in my defense, I’ve been really busy traveling for the past two weekends. Isn’t it ironic that when I actually have interesting material to write about, I’m too busy to write about it? Anyway, in this post I am going to quickly fill you in on my recent travels to two awesome cities in Spain: Madrid and Barcelona.

The Madrid Trip

Ever since I randomly chose to do a speech about it for a speech class class year, Madrid has been on the top of my must-see list. I didn’t really know much about it before I went, except that it was Spain’s capital and there are three of the most famous museums there. So my list of things to do/see consisted of:

1) Museums

2) Anything and everything else

We took a train that left at 6:10 in the morning. Yep, you read that right. For any of you who know me well, you know that I am nowhere near being a morning person. As I was walking to meet my friends, I saw people walking home from going out the night before. That’s how early it was. On the upside, leaving early meant that we had the whole day to spend in the city on Friday.

Since the weather was nice and we knew it would rain Saturday, we decided to do all of the outdoor activities (aka the “anything and everything else” category), and save the museums for Saturday. We ended up doing our own little walking tour of the city. We walked through the huge park called El Parque Retiro. It has a beautiful river where lots of people were on boats, a bunch of gardens and fountains, and a building made completely of glass, called the Palacio de Cristal.

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El Parque Retiro
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El Palacio Cristal

Saturday it was raining and freezing, my favorite weather (*heavy sarcasm*). So like I said, we decided to do indoor activities. We first went to El Palacio Real, which is the royal palace where the king used to live. You get to walk through and look at all of the rooms, which are exquisite! Seriously so beautiful. Unfortunately they were very strict about no pictures inside the castle, so I was only able to take pictures of the outside, which sadly looks way less impressive in comparison (the gloomy weather certainly didn’t help).

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El Palacio Real
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Courtyard of El Palacio Real

Afterwards we went to El Museo Nacional del Prado, the museum I had been looking forward to. It holds works of art from all of the most famous Spanish painters. It was really interesting, but a little overwhelming. There were way too many different rooms and paintings to possibly see everything, but it was worth it to just see what I could.

On Sunday we just woke up and went to catch our train, which was at 9 AM. 9 seemed late compared to 6! Overall it was a great trip. Madrid is a much more crowded and bustling city than Seville, and I found I felt a lot more comfortable when I got back to Sevilla. I think Madrid can be compared to lots of big cities in the U.S.: they’re fun to visit, but not everybody would want to live there full-time. I definitely enjoyed visiting, and would go back again if I got the chance. But if I had to choose a city to live in, I would have to pick good ol’ Sevilla.

The Barcelona Trip

The weekend after Madrid, aka this past weekend, I headed to another city that had been on my top must-see cities in Spain: Barcelona! I had always heard that it was a really fun and exciting city, and also very beautiful. I was not disappointed.

Like Madrid, I was forced to wake up ridiculously early in order to catch the bus to the airport and make it to my 8:30 AM flight on time. This is apparently becoming a trend, because my flight to Venice this weekend (yep, finally time for ITALY) is at 8AM. But again, it is totally worth it. The flight to Barcelona was pretty short and painless (mostly because I slept the entire way there) and before I knew it I was in Barcelona! Luckily they have a bus that shuttles people to the city, and the bus stop happened to be only a few blocks away from my hostel, which was in a great location in the city center.

I decided to explore a bit before checking into my hostel. I walked down Las Ramblas, which is one of the main streets in the city for shopping and restaurants. There is also a market there called La Boqueria, which I walked through. It had all of the different types of food and drinks you could imagine. I tried a strawberry and coconut smoothie which was to die for.

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La Boqueria

Later that day I met up with Masha, who I know from high school, and her friend Kim. The three of us went to el Museo Picasso, which was really cool, and then just walked around the city for a while. They showed me Parc de la Ciutadella, and the beach which is beautiful. It made me a little jealous that Seville doesn’t have a beach to walk to!

On Saturday I had a jam-packed day of sight-seeing. I first went to La Sagrada Familia, a large Roman Catholic church designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí. It is still unfinished, though Gaudí has already passed away. I have to admit all of the construction on the outside took away from the beauty a bit, but it was still an amazing piece of architecture. And the inside was just as breathtaking, with extremely intricate ceilings and colorful stained glass windows.

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La Sagrada Familia
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Inside la Sagrada Familia

I wanted to get some pictures of me inside the church, and the woman that I asked turned out to have quite a creative streak, and decided to take one at an interesting angle. It was actually a good idea, because she was able to capture the beautiful ceilings. And the color of my sweater matched the stained glass, which was a nice added touch.

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Getting artsy in La Sagrada Familia

I then headed to the other place I was excited to see, Parque Güell, a huge garden complex which was also designed by Antoni Gaudí. One of the most famous parts is a large terrace overlooking a beautiful view of the Barcelona skyline, with a bunch of colorful mosaic benches. My sweater matched nicely with the tile there as well. My outfit choice was just on point that day! The park also includes Gaudí’s home which they have turned into a museum. It contains original works by Gaudí and several of his collaborators, and was declared a historical artistic monument of national interest in 1969.

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Mosaic Terrace at Parque Güell
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Gaudí House Museum

Overall it was another great weekend! Barcelona is definitely my second favorite city in Spain, after Sevilla. Not only does it have a really unique culture, but it has beautiful parks, museums, and a beach. I didn’t want to leave!

Saturday I will be leaving early in the morning (of course) to fly to Venice! One of my oldest friends, Rowan, and I will be spending a few days in Venice, then heading to Florence for a few days. It’s sure to be an extremely blog-worthy week, so stay tuned for my next post!

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Masha and I, throwing up our Westlake High School chaps sign!

La vida sin un iPhone

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For those of you who haven’t heard, I have now been iPhone-free for three weeks. And no, I am not “like totally dying” without it. But there are definitely things that I miss.

Things I miss:

1) Snapchat. Yes, I do realize how pathetic it is that this is #1. Don’t judge me.

2) Pretending to text in awkward situations. Flip phones just don’t have the same effect, somehow.

3) Viber. I miss texting and calling my friends and family. And I miss the funny stickers. Sorry Facebook messaging, but you just don’t compare.

4) Instagram. The ironic thing is that I barely ever even posted pictures to Instagram, but now that I can’t, I have a strong urge to capture every meal that I eat and every pretty sunset that I see.

5) Completely unrelated, but since this is a list of things I miss, I’m gonna go ahead and put it out there that I miss Mexican food like crazy. Spanish food is delicious, but I would give anything for some chips and queso right now.

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Taking photos would have knocked Snapchat out of first place if I hadn’t bought myself a camera today. I was really smart and didn’t bring an actual camera to Spain, thinking I would just use my iPhone. Flawless plan right? Well, as it turns out, getting my phone stolen threw a wrench into my whole not-having-a-camera plan. Luckily I haven’t taken any trips out of Seville in the last few weeks so I haven’t really needed to take pictures, but the next month and a half will be travel-filled so I definitely needed a camera.

So today I journeyed to my local Fnac (Spain’s version of Best Buy. Still not sure if it’s pronounced phonetically or F-N-A-C). The man who helped me was very nice and helpful, and answered all of my questions (which basically consisted of me asking which was the best camera for under 100 euros). He pointed out three that he thought were the best, and I settled on a purple Canon because A) Go frogs! and B) The price was usually a lot higher, and it includes WiFi so you can upload photos to your computer or phone (for those of you who still have a phone) when connected to WiFi.

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Tomorrow I am going on a day trip to Itálica, a little town about 20 minutes away from Seville, so I will get to test it out there. Wish me luck! I’m hoping I will be satisfied with the camera and can continue using it when I go home, even after I get a new phone.

Though losing my iPhone was obviously not an ideal situation, I always like to look on the bright side of situations in life. So here is a list of good things that have come from losing my phone:

1) Instead of looking like that dumb American who can’t take her eyes off of her phone, I just look like that dumb American

2) My people-watching has been on point. I wouldn’t get to see all of the adorable Spanish children, the hilarious street performers, or the couple awkwardly making out on the metro if my face was barried in my phone

3) When my alarm goes off to wake me up in the morning, I actually get out of bed and start my day instead of wasting 10 minutes laying there checking all of my social media sights

4) I am not constantly searching for a cafe with a WiFi zone so that I can see if I have any new Snapchats. I can go to that random cafe that I’ve always wanted to try without feeling like it’s a waste because they don’t have free WiFi

5) I have one last thing to worry about losing. I have enough trouble keeping track of my metro card, my wallet, the key to my apartment, and my oh-so-snazzy black flip phone without adding an expensive iPhone to the mix

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Anyway, for those of you who have also lost your phone or had it stolen, or for those of you who may be thinking about taking a break from your phone (if any of you exist) I am a success story to prove it can be done. I, Shelly Crossland, am living without an iPhone. And I’m doing just fine.

Well, I’m off to go eat a meal without taking a picture of it, wonder what funny faces I’m missing on Snapchat, and make cute Spanish families feel uncomfortable by staring a little too long.

Until next time,

-Phone-free Shelly

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Lost in Translation: One Week, Six Girls, Three Languages

“Are you hungry for dinner or did you already eat?”

“I ate a really late lunch, so I don’t need any dinner.”

“She says she ate a really….oh wait….dice que almorzó muy tarde, entonces no quiere cenar.”

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Since I left off last, my living situation has changed significantly. Kristina and I went from being the only students living in the apartment, to having four other roommates for the past week. Rachel left a less-than-desirable living situation and moved in with us, and will be here for the rest of the semester. Next, two high schoolers from Norway moved in for the week. And last (but not least), Carrie moved in with us and will be here for the rest of the semester as well. So basically there are four of us for the rest of the semester, and six for this week.

But like most things in life, there is a catch. The two girls from Norway obviously speak Norwegian, and their English is actually very good. Their Spanish is not as proficient, but it’s not bad. Even so, there have been a few instances this week when Puri (my host mom) said something to them in Spanish, they looked at her with blank stares, I translated it to English, and they talked to each other in Norwegian for a second before answering in broken Spanish. Does your head hurt yet?

To make things more confusing, Carrie is here in Spain to learn Spanish, and is a complete beginner. The quotes at the beginning of this post were from when Carrie first got here and Puri asked me to help translate. I quickly realized my brain has a hard time switching that quickly between Spanish and English, and I kept accidentally speaking to Puri in English or Carrie in Spanish. And the worst part was that my brain was so confused that it would take me way longer than necessary to realize I was speaking in the wrong language, and by the time I realized, my dignity was already long gone.

Basically, this week has been a huge mess of failed conversations and lots of hand gestures. Talk about language barriers. On the upside, I think this new situation will actually help improve my Spanish. Translating may be difficult, but it forces you to think about the languages and really focus on what you’re saying. I think having Carrie here will be nice, because it will give me a chance to help someone learn Spanish, which will in turn help improve my own Spanish.

And even though the Norwegian girls leave Friday, it has been nice having them here and learning a few Norwegian words (which I’m sure I will promptly forget). In accordance with the last high schoolers who stayed here (hint: British), I also took my chance to play cards with the girls. Apparently card games are still a thing among high schoolers. I was beginning to think they didn’t do anything besides play on their phones. (Wow, how old am I?)

Other than the new roomies I don’t have much to report, except my envy that everyone is on Spring Break right now while I’m in the middle of midterms. Although, I get the equivalent of two Spring Breaks later in the semester. And I live in Spain. So yeah never mind, I really have nothing to be envious of.

Your translator friend,

Tu amiga traductora,

Din overs venn,

Shelly

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French Fries are not French, and Belgium is not boring!

As promised, I am making a second post this week to try to catch up since I missed a week. I couldn’t let down my viewers! (Hi mom and dad). This post will be all about my trip to Belgium last weekend, where I stayed in Brussels and visited Bruges for a day.

Similar to what I said in my last post about Morocco, going to Belgium was never something I necessarily planned on doing. But when some of my friends said they were planning a trip there, I thought, “why not?” And like Morocco, I am definitely glad I decided to go. Traveling there took a pretty long time, because we had to first take a train to Malaga, and fly out of Malaga to Brussels, where we then took a bus from the airport into the city. By the time we finally got to our hostel it was around 11 or 12 at night, and we were all pretty exhausted. We got a quick look at the city as we walked to our hostel. The Grand Place at nighttime was breathtaking, and got me really excited to explore more the next day.

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The Grand Place
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The Grand Place

Friday morning Megan and I went to a restaurant to try some waffles, and they definitely did not disappoint. Afterwards we headed to a free walking tour of the city. As I have mentioned before, I have yet to experience a boring tour guide. The guide for this tour had the most complicated name I’ve ever heard, so he told us to just call him P.J. He was hilarious, and extremely passionate about the history of Belgium. He majored in Biology but ended up doing tours because he loves it, and his passion for it really showed. He also kind of looked like Ed Sheeran, so overall no complaints.

He showed us around the city, and we went into St. Michael’s Cathedral which was beautiful. He also showed us the Manneken Pis statue, and explained some theories and history behind it. For those of you who have no idea what that is, it is literally a tiny statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain. It is considered a landmark in Brussels, and the people of the city take it very seriously. Mini versions of the statue are sold all around the town, many wearing weird costumes (I saw one dressed as Santa Clause). I may not fully understand it, but hey, I give Brussels props for being different and owning it.

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Manneken Pis
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St. Michael’s Cathedral

P.J. told us many interesting facts, some that he was very adamant about us passing on. He made sure we realized that French Fries were not actually invented by the French, but by Belgians. He also made sure we promise to tell everyone that Brussels is a beautiful city (which it is), full of fun sights to see and things to do. He seemed to be under the impression that most people don’t visit Belgium by choice, but rather as a way to kill some time before going to a more “desirable” location like France or Germany. So for all of you reading this, I would honestly recommend visiting Belgium! (And I swear I am not just saying that to fulfill a promise to an Ed Sheeran look-alike).

After the tour Megan and I explored the city on our own a little bit. We stopped at a restaurant that is famous for fries, and I have to say, if I was doubting whether or not fries originated in Belgium, eating those fries convinced me. They were fuller and tasted more potatoe-y than American fries. Absolutely delicious! We ended up taking a metro ride to something called the Atonium, which is a big structure with a bunch of different spheres, and the top sphere provides a panoramic view of Brussels. Unfortunately, we got there after it had closed so we didn’t get to go up but it was still cool seeing it from the ground. We also walked around a park that was nearby which was really pretty.

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The Atonium
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Sunset picture at the park

Saturday we went on another walking tour, again with P.J., this time in the city of Bruges. Unfortunately my phone died, which is my only form of taking pictures, so I didn’t personally take any pictures of our day there. The pictures below were taken by my friends.

Bruges was very pretty, and a lot smaller than Brussels. It had a very old-towny-feel and all of the architecture was beautiful. We walked around the city for a few hours, and go to go inside a few cathedrals which were just as breathtaking as St. Michael’s. We also went to Lover’s Lake, where there are swans and many tourists riding in canoes on the water. It was indeed very lovely and romantic. Overall I really enjoyed my day in Bruges, and would recommend taking a trip there if you are ever in the area.

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The group in Bruges
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Lover’s Lake

Sunday morning Lauren and I went to the Museum of the City of Brussels, which is located in the Grand Place. It had a lot of photographs of what Brussels looked like in the old days, which was really interesting to see. It also had an entire section devoted to Manneken Pis, of course. I told you they take him seriously there. After the museum we made our way back to the airport for the long journey back home. The flight was about 3 hours, but felt much longer because I couldn’t fall asleep due to a crying baby. Gotta love when that happens.

Regardless of the less-than-desireable flight, the weekend in Belgium was a definite success, and I would recommend everyone visit! From the delicious food to the beautiful architecture, Belgium really does have a lot to offer and shouldn’t be overlooked. Paris may have the Eiffel Tower, but Brussels has a statue of a baby peeing. You be the judge of which landmark is cooler.

Until next time,

Shelly

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Monkeys and Camels and Donkeys, Oh My!

Monkeys and Camels and Donkeys, Oh My!

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not posting last week. My goal was to post once a week, but last week I only had three days in between getting home from Morocco and leaving for Belgium, and I do in fact go to classes (I know, shocker), so I really didn’t have much time to write. So to make up for it, I will be posting TWICE this week! Yeah, try to contain your excitement. This post will be about my trip to Morocco, and the next post will be about my weekend in Belgium.

I have to admit, going to Morocco was never something that I thought I would do while studying abroad. Not that I didn’t want to, it just wasn’t the first location that popped into my head when I thought about the must-see places. But I sure am glad I decided to go! For those of you who are a little geographically challenged (guilty), Morocco is right below Spain, at the very top of Africa. Here is a map if you are still confused:

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We got on a bus Friday morning, and our first stop was Gibraltar, which you can see on the map at the very bottom of Spain. Gibraltar is a British territory, and walking around the town I definitely felt like I was in London (or how I imagine London is, since I have never been there). There were red phone booths and everything!

We only stayed for the afternoon, but it was a lot of fun! We walked through a cave, looked at the beautiful views, and most importantly, got to meet some monkeys! Monkeys just hang out on the side of the street there, and we were able to walk up to them, take pictures, and even touch them (though I opted out of that part).

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The beautiful view of Gibraltar
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Me with my new monkey friend

After Gibraltar we started our very long journey to Morocco, which consisted of long hours on a bus, an hour-long ferry ride, and the worst traffic I’ve ever seen at the border of Morocco. It was exhausting, but definitely worth it. When we arrived at our hotel, we basically just ate dinner and went straight to sleep.

In the morning we got back on the bus (oh joy) and headed to the town of Tangier where we got spend time by the ocean, and, drumroll please, RIDE CAMELS! The ride itself was very short, but just the experience of riding a camel on a beach in Africa is something I will never forget.

The guy who was in charge of the camel rides had obviously just learned a few key English phrases that he liked to repeat, so while we were riding he kept shouting “OH MY GOD!” over and over again, to try to get us pumped up. (The image below is me and my friends with our arms up, per his request, as he shouted his signature phrase).

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Enjoying the ride of a lifetime

Begrudgingly leaving the camels behind, we got back on the bus and headed to Chefchauen (known as the Blue City) where we ate lunch in a restaurant, followed by a tour of the city. I swear, I don’t know what it is about our study abroad program, but I have yet to experience a dull tour guide. Our guide through the city was this tiny old man who we quickly named “Moroccan Yoda” because of his unique voice and tiny stature. One of our guides for the trip told us that this man was very popular in the town, and we soon saw this to be true. Everywhere we went he seemed to see someone he knew. It was an entertaining tour to say the least, and the city itself was beautiful.

After our tour we were given free time to roam around and shop. The only thing I really wanted to buy in Morocco was a purse, so I decided to hold off until Sunday to buy it when we were in the leather market. So I just stuck with getting a henna tattoo, which has stayed pretty well and has been a good conversation starter.

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Chefchauen
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Me and my henna!

We then headed to Tetuan, checked into our hotel, and went to a restaurant for dinner and “entertainment.” Now, the way they described the entertainment to us, I have to admit, made me expect something very different from what we got. They mentioned there would be belly dancers, so I (and I’m sure all of the guys especially) expected a bunch of beautiful women dancing around. What we got was one middle aged woman showing a little too much skin, and dancing about as well as any of the rest of us could if we tried. In fact, two guys from my program got up and let her teach them a few moves, which was hilarious to say the least.

There was also supposed to be music and other forms of entertainment. This consisted of a group of about five men playing various instruments a little too loudly, and coming over to our table to play the instruments in our faces. It was….lovely? There was also a man who danced around with a tray of candles on his head, which was strange to say the least.

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Music to our ears
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The captivating entertainment

The next day we headed to our last stop of the trip, the town of Tetuan. We walked around the town a bit, seeing everything from donkeys to baby kittens to chickens. We then stopped in a Moroccan spice shop, where one of the men who worked there gave us an entire run-down of all of the different products we could buy, from moisturizers, Moroccan oils and lipstick to spices and teas. I bought a rose-scented moisturizer and called it quits, despite the enormous pressure to buy everything in sight.

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Donkeys in Tetuan
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Spices galore!

We then headed to the market area where most of the girls went wild looking at all of the different purses, wallets and jewelry. In all of the shops you are expected to bargain for the prices. My tactic was just to act really unsure and indecisive (which is extremely easy for me) and the man lowered the price to convince me to buy. The end result was a really nice leather purse for 15 euros. Not too shabby!

The trip home was uneventful, so I won’t bore you with the details. Overall it was an amazing experience! It was really nice being somewhere that is so culturally different from what I am used to in the U.S. and Spain. I learned a lot about the Moroccan culture, and witnessed first-hand what it is like to live in a 3rd world country. Here are a few of the facts and take-aways from my trip:

1) Children in Morocco are taught three languages in school: Arabic (their native language), English, and a third language of their choice (either Spanish or French)

2) Though the vast majority of people in Morocco practice Islam, there are Jews and Christians as well, and all three religions coexist in harmony together, with little religious conflict

3) Water is something that we absolutely take fore granted in America and most places in Europe. While in Morocco it was not safe for us to drink any tap water, so I was forced to buy bottled water everywhere I went. As a person that drinks a lot of water, this made me very grateful to live in a place where free, drinkable water is easy to come by.

Hope you enjoyed my post, and maybe even learned a little something about Morocco. Expect another post very soon!

Your favorite world traveler,

Shelly

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My Life in Sevilla

My Life in Sevilla

When I sat down to write this blog, my first thought was “oh no, what will I even write about? This week was so boring!” But then I thought about it and realized that this wasn’t really true. Sure, I didn’t travel to a different country or visit another city this week, but why should that make it any less exciting? I’m living in SPAIN for God’s sake, every week is more exciting than the average person’s dull week (no offense).

So if you are expecting to hear of adventures and new experiences in this post, you may be disappointed. But I spent this week in Sevilla, a beautiful city in Spain, so I should probably not be complaining.

This past week marked my first full week of classes at UPO (Universidad de Pablo Olavide). I haven’t written much about the university yet, so let me just give you a quick mental image:  the campus is bigger than I expected, but still pretty small compared to most universities in the U.S. There are no flower patches that change every week like at TCU, nor are there statues of the mascot (what even is the mascot here?) or fountains around the campus. It is basically just a grouping of buildings, that vaguely look like either a prison, insane asylum or rehab center (though at the orientation they tried very hard to convince us otherwise).

Basically, going to TCU for the past two and a half years has severely altered my perception of what a “normal” campus should look like. As it turns out, not all campuses around the world look like TCU’s. So those of you that are there right now, take a second to get out of bed/off the couch, close your computer, and go look out your window at the beautiful campus that we call home. We definitely take it for granted.

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UPO Campus
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TCU Campus

Now that you are back from admiring the 8th Wonder of the World that is our beautiful campus, I’ll continue. I signed up for 5 classes, but I ended up dropping one so that A) I wouldn’t be too overwhelmed since all of my classes are taught IN SPANISH and B) So that I will not have any classes on Thursdays, which makes traveling a lot more convenient.

My four classes are: Spanish Civilization and Culture, Intercultural Communication, Tapas, History of Spanish Cinema. So far, I like all of them a lot! My tapas class is literally a cooking class, where each week we learn to make a different tapa, and we get to eat everything we make! I’m just slightly excited for this class. And for those of you who don’t know what tapas are, it’s a traditional Spanish food, basically like an appetizer in the U.S. Spaniards go to a tapas bar to try different small plates of food, and to socialize with friends. I have already promised my friends at TCU I will cook tapas for them when I get back, so hopefully I’ll remember what I learn in this class!

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Tapas for days!

For about the last two weeks I’ve been sick, so this weekend I stayed in every night trying to get some rest. My host mom had two 15-year-old boys staying with her this week. They were from England and on a high school trip (wish I got to travel in high school!) Because they had a curfew and I didn’t feel up for going out, I spent Thursday AND Friday nights playing various card games with them. Yeah, be jealous of my oh-so-exciting life. They taught me British slang words like “safe” (apparently it means “cool”), and I taught them them how to say “y’all”. Basically it was a friendship made in Heaven.

Unfortunately, my new besties had to leave early Saturday morning. On the bright side, I am now feeling almost completely well again. Maybe card games cure colds? This weekend I will be going to Morocco! So excited! And as of yesterday, I am officially going to Belgium the weekend after! So expect more exciting blog posts in the future.

Your travel-happy friend,

Shelly

Spanish Girls Take Ireland

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Dublin skyline

¡Hola amigos! Ever wondered what happens when four Spaniards go to Ireland for the weekend? Keep reading to find out!

In case you are confused as to why am I referring to myself as a Spaniard, let me explain. This weekend I traveled to Dublin with three of my friends who are studying abroad with me in Sevilla (Lauren, Kristina and Maggie). We arrived in Dublin around 8PM Thursday night, and checked into the hostel we were staying in. This was my first time staying in a hostel, and I have to say it wasn’t as bad as I expected! Besides the lack of towels, the mandatory bunk beds, and questionable robot wall paper, our room wasn’t much different from a small, cheap hotel room. And we had the room all to ourselves which was really nice. After settling in a bit we headed to a pub that had live music. Suddenly we heard one of the singers ask if anyone was from Spain, and the four of us started cheering like crazy. The singer didn’t seem to believe we were from Spain because we are all blonde (according to him). Despite his comments, we continued to say we were from Spain for most of the trip.

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The band that doubted our Spanish heritage

On Friday morning we headed to a free walking tour of Dublin, which was so much fun. The tour guide was probably the best tour guide I’ve ever had. He was fairly young and had graduated from Trinity College, so when we went to the campus he had a lot of funny personal experiences to share. Throughout the tour he added in hilarious comments and stories that made 3+ hours of walking much more enjoyable than they would have been with a bland tour guide. He showed us all of the main architecture and famous sights around Dublin, as well as some of the lesser-known sights such as the staircase that was used to film a scene in P.S. I Love You (us girls got way too excited about standing on those stairs).

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The staircase from P.S. I Love You

Our day didn’t end with the tour, however. After saying goodbye to the best tour guide ever we headed straight to the Guinness Storehouse and took a tour of the building. It was actually really interesting to see how they make Guinness and all of the steps that go into creating the drink. You could really tell how passionate all of the employees are and how well they are treated by the company which is nice to see. All of the employees were also very friendly, which seemed to be a trend everywhere we went in Dublin.

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The Guinness Storehouse

In comparison to Spain where employees are sometimes a bit rude to foreigners, everyone we met in Ireland was incredibly friendly and really wanted to know more about us and where we come from. As Americans, I think we are always curious about other cultures and we forget that people from other cultures are probably curious about America as well. It was fun telling people we met about our home and sharing different phrases and words that we say in America that are not used in other countries, and vice versa.

Saturday morning we woke up waaaay too early, but it was definitely worth it. We had to be at a bus at 6:30AM to go on a tour of parts of Ireland outside of Dublin, with the main event being the Cliffs of Moher. There was a fairly large group of people with us on the tour, and we met a few of them and spent the bus ride talking and making fun of our bus driver who we nicknamed Darth Vader because every time he spoke into the microphone he would breathe really heavily which made the whole bus crack up, though I don’t think he noticed at all.

The Cliffs of Moher was an experience I will never forget. Saturday happened to be a very cold, rainy and windy day, and after looking it up later we found out that the winds were probably blowing at almost 50 mph while we were there. Never in my life have I felt that strong of a wind pushing me, to the point of literally blowing me away a few times. The view was incredible, and luckily we were able to take pictures without our cameras blowing out of our hands. Unfortunately Lauren and I didn’t make it across to O’Brien’s Tower, which is the highest point at the cliffs. The wind was so strong that we physically couldn’t fight it, so I definitely want to go back sometime to go all the way across. Maybe I will have to bring a few big strong men with me to help me walk across without blowing away!

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The Cliffs of Moher
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O’Brien’s Tower from afar

Overall, the trip to Dublin was a huge success and we were all really sad to leave on Sunday. There is something contagious about the city. I don’t know if it’s the beautiful green grass, delicious food, friendly people or the live music everywhere. Whatever it is, Dublin is definitely a city I would recommend everyone visit at least once. I hope to return there soon!

Your favorite Spaniard,

-Shelly