Friday, March 30, 2012

The Waiting Game

The past two weekends in Alicante have been pretty laid back and the only trip I took was a day trip with CIEE to Valencia for Las Fallas festival.  We went as a group and got to see the painted "ninots" or dolls which are basically giant statues that are hand-painted each year.  At the end of the festival on Monday, all of the ninots are burned and it is a large gathering in the streets.  To me the best part of Las Fallas was the Mascleta, a loud fire-cracker show that is done every day at 2PM.  The sound resonated throughout the whole square it was incredible!

Alice in Wonderland Ninot

Last weekend a group of friends and I went to a nearby vineyard in a city outside of Alicante called Benidorm.  The vineyard was called Enrique Mendoza Bodega and it was a really interesting tour.  We got to see where the grapes were grown and go through all of the processes they went through.  After the tour we went into the city and ate lunch by the beach before our short train ride back to Alicante. 

Lara, Colette, me, and Giulia at the Bodega

This past week was MIDTERM week!  So we all had to hit the books (and study some at the beach) to get all our work done.  I have also been working on a lot of other essays and projects that are due right after Spring Break.  I am starting my travels for Spring Break on this MONDAY April 2nd!! The past few weekends I've been finishing up travel plans and school work in preparation for my 3 week long Spain and Europe tour.  I've definitely been playing the waiting game this week because tomorrow Saturday Chuck and his dad arrive in Alicante!!! I can not wait we plan to stay in Alicante for the weekend then head to Granada, Sevilla, and Madrid for Semana Santa Processions.  I am so excited, they are actually already on the plan headed over!  The following week my mom will be visiting me too! 

So I can't wait to see some familiar faces from across the pond and I am definitely looking forward to my 3-week travel excursion!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lara and Kirsten Take Brussels

This weekend Lara and I went to Brussels, Belgium!  It was our first trip out of the country without an organized group and the first time I've travelled with just another person on a large trip.  We had an amazing time!!  We lucked out and found a deal on a hotel right in the center of the city so we were within walking distance to Grand Place and many other sites.  We left for our trip on Wednesday night and had an overnight layover in Barcelona (not enjoyable sleeping in the airport) ha but it was definitely an experience.  Thursday we were ready to see the city but our most favorite part of the trip was not really making a set itinerary or plans. 

We were able to wander into Grand Place and visit a variety of chocolate shops (including Godiva), antiques stores, try varieties of cheese and belgian beers, as well as bump into some of the most beautiful monuments and churches I've ever seen.  I truly fell in love with Brussels, possibly since it was more of a northern europe city, or maybe just because of the wonderful chocolate and waffles. 

Lara and I in Grand Place

So many chocolates... so little time

We also managed to see the oh-so-famous statue Mannekin Pis on our first day.  It's a statue of a little boy using the restroom... we still couldn't figure out why it was built but we did learn that the statue gets dressed up for various holidays and events.  Unfortunately when we saw it he was without clothing. 

Me with Mannekin Pis

On Friday we took the metro out to see the Atomium, one of the larger monuments in Brussels, built for its world fair. 

After Atomium we toured the business district where we were able to see the European Union commission buildings.  We walked around the rest of the day, touring through a History of War Museum and seeing the Basilica on the other side of town.  We ate mussels for dinner- another great tradition in Belgium!  On Saturday we headed out to the town of Waterloo, about a 30 minute train ride outside the city to visit the Battle of Waterloo site.  I loved this it was so neat seeing the preserved battlefield and we were able to watch a few videos on some additional history about the battle. 

Lion Mount- built after the battle to symbolize peace restored to Europe

We were able to climb the Lion Mount (quite a hike uphill) and even though our legs were burning after, we could see the entire area where the battle took place.  After our visit to Waterloo we visited the Royal Quarter where the former palace of brussels is located. 

Lara and I at the former palace of Brussels

For me the best part of the trip was not having a plan.  We were able to stroll the streets and bump into amazing monuments, great chocolate stores, and beautiful lace shops.  Brussels was a great city, and the people in it were one of the best parts.  We ran into people from every culture, from Morocco, to Italy, to France, even from a man from Alicante!  We had to translate one of our tours to this man from Alicante because the tour was not available in Spanish.  Everyone we met along the way was helpful and also insightful.  We picked up a few Italian phrases and French greetings, and head a handful of other languages as we walked the streets.  I learned that Europe's central city holds a true variety of culture and language.  I am now inspired to learn more languages, especially after meeting a man from Sweden who casually spoke 8 different languages!!  I want to try to learn more (if I can find room in my schedule!) and would definitely love to visit Brussels again.  Throughout our trip we used plane, train, navigated the metro, used the city bus, and walked. 

The weekend before CIEE as a group traveled to Granada and I loved visiting the Alhambra.  The trip was short but it made me excited to visit Granada again.  This weekend I had the time of my life in Brussels, but now I'm going to take it easy the next few weekends in preparation for Spring Break!!  Over Spring Break I will visit southern spain (Alicante, Granada, Sevilla, then up to Madrid) with Chuck and his dad, then one week in Paris and Rome with my mom, followed by a week with friends (visiting one of my best friends in Siena, Italy, then traveling through hopefully finishing in Vienna and Prague)!  I can't wait for Spring Break but the time here has been flying by.  On Friday of this week our CIEE group will go to Valencia just for the day for Las Fallas, a local festival.  Until then I will be trying to get ahead on lots of papers and projects and enjoying the Alicante sun at the beach.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Whole New World

This past weekend was definitely one of my favorites during my time studying abroad!!  A large group of us went to Morocco with a student organization called Discover Alicante.  The organization planned all of our activities, gave us tours of the cities we visited, and in general made sure we were safe and aware of our surroundings.  It was a LONG weekend of travel... first our plane left from Alicante to Sevilla, Spain at 6AM.  My host dad insisted on driving me and two of my friends to the airport even when I told him over and over that we did not mind taking a cab at all.  We left for the airport bright and early and arrived in Sevilla that morning.  We first had to make a stop in Starbucks, but after that we toured around the city because our bus did not leave untill later that afternoon.  We saw a few landmarks, Real Alcazar and the Catedral, but the best part was taking a horse drawn carriage around the whole city.  After our ride we laid by the Guadalquivir river and enjoyed the sun (it was so warm!) 
Right after our carriage ride.  Reminded me of Charleston!!

View across the Rio Guadalquivir

Sights around Sevilla

Finally we met our excursion group and our bus took us from Sevilla to Tarifa, the port city at the southernmost tip of Spain.  We were all so excited to step foot in Africa (for the first time!).  I was picturing the ferry being an outdoor boat and cold, I'm not sure why, but it was actually really nice and had a cafe and everything you could need (including a shop that sold pretzel m&ms yum!)  After the ferry we arrived in Tangers, Morocco and headed to our hotel.  Dinner at the hotel was a typical meal of cous-cous and many other courses.  I enjoyed the vegetables but I have to admit I am not a cous-cous fan.  The next morning started early and we headed to Tetouan to tour the city.  I enjoyed this city a lot, but it was a poorer region than Tangers and seeing the people here reminded me how blessed I truly am.  We toured a tannery, where they make animal fur and hides usable.  Here we saw pretty bad work conditions and it smelled awful.  Seeing the men in the tannery showed me how hard they were working just to receive a very minimal salary. 

Tetouan, Morocco

After the city tour we headed towards the coast to see the beach and ride camels!!  I loved the camel ride and the coastline was gorgeous- the waves were huge!
Quite the nature girl....

The next day we toured Chefchaouen, Morocco.  On our way to the city we realized that a man had been hanging on to the bottom of our bus because he thought we were headed straight for the ferry at the border.  However, I guess he was in for a surprise when we ended up driving about 2 hours in the opposite direction.  He banged on the bottom of the bus until people in the back could hear it through the floor.  We pulled over and immediately after the man hopped down and ran away.  Although the occurence was very strange, it again showed me how some people are desparate to improve their living conditions by going to Spain, for example.  Chefchaouen was a beautiful Mediterranean-styled city with all the buildings being white and blue.  The city was also safer and after our tour we were able to divide up and shop in the market.  We got to bargain with the vendors and that was really fun.  I ended up getting some great items, but many are souveneirs so I will not go into too much detail!  Later that night we returned to Tangiers to cross back to Spain, then drove back to Sevilla.  We headed to the airport and ended up flying early Monday morning back to Alicante.  We arrived about 20 minutes before our 9AM class and hopped in a cab and headed to class!

Chefchaouen, Morocco

After the long weekend I was definitely glad to come back to Alicante.  I also felt like I saw the world in a whole new way because I feel so blessed.  I live in an amazing country (Spain's great too) with numerous opportunities,  a place of equal opportunities for men and women, and am surrounded by family and friends that love me.  This weekend my best friend from home Becca got engaged!! I was sad that I could not be there to celebrate with her but could not be happier for her!  The weekend was a wonderful experience... not to mention the Moroccan tea was DELICIOUS!  This week I found out that two of my classes have 10-15 page papers (in Spanish) due right around spring break... so I will definitely have a busy few weeks ahead of me.  Tomorrow morning our whole CIEE group is headed to Granada.  Can't wait for another fun trip!