Ireland

This past weekend, the day after returning from the Camino de Santiago, I boarded a plane and flew 3 hours to the city of Dublin, Ireland, and met up with some of my friends from the University of Denver. Coming from Alicante, a warm city along the coast, it was a wonderful change of pace to experience some cold weather.

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Roasted Barley for Guinness

Dublin is a large, spread out city with a wide variety of interesting experiences and a lot of intriguing graffiti murals. On the first day of our Dublin trip, my friends and I walked around and went to some art galleries and shops before taking a tour of the Guinness factory; which has a rich history that is very important to the country of Ireland. We got to see how the famous beer is brewed and everything that goes into the brewing process. On top of the Guinness factory, there is a circular room made out of glass                                                                                       panels that offer a beautiful 360° view of Dublin.

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View from Rooftop Bar

The following day, one of my friends and I awoke at 6:00am for a bus tour that we had scheduled. The bus would leave from the center of the city at 7:45 and take us to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. Dublin is located on the very East coast of Ireland, and the Cliffs are located on the very West coast of Ireland. Interestingly, it only took three and a half hours on a bus to travel across the entire country of Ireland. That is less time than it would take me to get from Kansas City to St. Louis.

After a very sleepy three and a half hour bus ride, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher, and they were even bigger than we had expected. The cliffs stand at 700 feet tall, and had a somewhat eerie feel to them due to dark storm clouds and stories we had heard about individuals falling off due to large gusts of wind. That being said, they are one of the more beautiful spectacles I have ever witnessed in person. Viewing the white-capped waves crashing into the rigid, mossy cliffs from 700 feet above was truly aw-inspiring. We explored the cliffs for a little less than two hours before boarding our bus to return to civilization.

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On our way home from the cliffs, we stopped in a small town called Doolin to try some local food and experience a rural farm town in Ireland. There, we learned that sheep outnumber humans four to one in the country of Ireland. It was really nice to travel from East to South coast by bus, because we got to see a lot of Ireland and what it looks like in the center.

Sadly, on day three, right before touring the Jameson factory, our trip was cut short due to hurricane Ophelia. Many of my friends flights got cancelled, so we had to go back to our Airbnb and book new flights. Mine happened to be in 2 hours from when we found out about the hurricane, so I raced to the airport and made it to my plane with 2 minutes to spare. Although our trip was cut short by a day, I am very happy I visited Ireland and hope to return someday.

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Camino de Santiago

This past week, I walked the infamous Camino de Santiago. Throughout the Camino, we walked 104 kilometers all the way across Northern Spain; with nothing but a backpack containing: 1 change of clothes, my camera, a sweatshirt, a towel, and a blanket. On Wednesday, October 11th, we took a 3 hour train to madrid from Alicante, and then a 5 hour train through the night to Ourense where we arrived early in the morning and began our journey.

On day one of walking, we discovered a small house with food inside. We stopped in and introduced ourselves to the man inside, whose name was Caesar, and offered to buy some of his food. He insisted that we eat for free and try his homemade wine. It turns out that Caesar’s house is infamous for Camino travelers, and he had photographs with nearly 6,000 people who had walked the same path. He was so friendly, and provided us with some much needed food and water.

DSC00797After leaving Caesar’s we continued walking to our destination for the day: Dozón, which was roughly 28 kilometers of walking for day one. In Dozón, we stayed in a small hostel where we met many other individuals from around the world who were also walking the Camino. We hand washed our one change of clothes, hung them up to dry outside, ate some dinner, and passed out in our room of bunk beds.

The next morning, we awoke at 7:00am, grabbed our clothes of the drying rack, laced up our shoes, and headed out onto the trail once more. We walked an average of 25.5 kilometers a day, which is about 16 miles. We stayed in a variety of small towns such as Río Ulla, Silleda, and Estrada. In these towns, we stayed in remote hostels along the trail and tried many local foods and Galicia wines.

Along the trail, we picked fresh apples and grapes for snacks when we got hungry, and swam in rivers when we got too hot and sweaty. As each day passed, it became harder to continue walking at such a fast pace due to soreness, blistering feet, and all around exhaustion, but we persevered as a group and finally made it to the renowned city of Santiago de Compostela.

In Santiago, we stayed at a ministry where they provided us with a room full of beds, because, after all, the Camino de Santiago was originally a religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Santiago. In the city, we toured cathedrals and got our certificates proving we

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Santiago de Compostel

walked the entire Camino. 

The Camino de Santiago was a tough, week long journey, for the body and the mind. That being said, it was an incredible experience that taught me a lot about the beautiful region that is Northern Spain, and a lot about myself. I would absolutely do it again, and recommend it to anyone who is considering it.

Living with a Host Family

I have now been studying in Alicante, Spain for a month. During this month, I have completed classes, gone on numerous trips around Europe and Spain, and learned a lot of new things. Perhaps the most interesting experience I have had, however, is simply living with a host mother. Now that the awkwardness of living with a complete stranger has passed, I have been thoroughly enjoying the experience.

My host mother’s name is Cristina. She was born and raised in Alicante, Spain. Her first language is Spanish and her second language is French; she does not speak a word of english, making it somewhat difficult to communicate sometimes.

Although sometimes it can be difficult to communicate my exact thoughts to her, my Spanish language skills have drastically increased and things are getting a lot easier. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, so I am being forced to speak a lot of Spanish in order to maintain fluent conversations.

I have found that I learn much more quickly and effectively here than I do in classes in the United States. I believe this is because I actually need to use it here and rather than filling out worksheets or taking quizzes, I am breaking a language barrier one day at a time.

In addition to my increased language skills, I am getting to experience authentic Spanish cuisine on a regular basis. Cristina is a wonderful cook, and she cooks for both of us everyday. She solely cooks Spanish foods that she would eat on a regular basis which is really nice, plus it is saving me a lot of money.

Staying with a host mom has really allowed me to immerse myself in the culture of Alicante much more rapidly than some of my peers who are staying in apartments with other American students. Although it can be awkward and confusing at times I am loving everything about the experience and would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity in the future.

 

Granada, Spain

The first official weekend trip of my study abroad experience was to Granada, Spain. I went with the other students in my program, and we took a four-hour bus ride to get to the city.

When asked what the most visited city in Spain is, most individuals would respond with “Madrid” or “Barcelona,” but the correct answer is Granada. Granada is a pretty small city with an estimated 235,000 people living there year round. However, it has quite a large feel and is full of street vendors, art, culture, historic sites, and tapas restaurants.

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The first stop upon arriving to Granada was the Christopher Columbus Museum. Full of historical information and artifacts (such as the hand-written diary of Christopher Columbus), it was incredibly interesting and I would highly recommend visiting.

 

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The second stop was at Granada Cathedral. A massive Cathedral that was finished in 1561 has a very impressive, intricate interior design as seen in these photos. It was built over the cities main mosque after the city was conquered and deemed a Roman Catholic area.

The last historical site that we visited is the most well-known attraction in the city of Granada. We visited El Alhambra. It was originally built as a small fortress in AD 889, but after Christian Reconquista (reconquest) in 1492, it became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella.

DSC00748.jpgThe fortress is absolutely enormous and full of buildings with elegant architecture, amazing views of the city, and impressive museums. If you only have time to see one thing while in the city of Granada, it should be El Alhambra.

Overall, Granada was one of the cooler cities I have ever experienced. There was so much to do and so much to see, that I cannot imagine anyone getting bored in this city. If you are ever in Spain, or even Europe, Granada is undoubtedly worth going to.

 

Arriving In Alicante

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Upon Arriving in Alicante there was a strange sensation of fear mixed with excitement to start my journey. The excitement overshadowed the fear, but the fears of being in a foreign city are quite rational.

For someone like me, who has only taken basic Spanish classes, the most difficult part of being in Spain is communication. It is difficult when no one speaks your primary language, and you suddenly find yourself being a minority. Spanish communication skills take time to develop, but after spending 3 days in Alicante, my language skills have already improved as I continue having basic conversations with individuals around the city.

The other most prominent fear is consistently DSC00565.jpgbeing out of your comfort zone. Everything you are accustomed to seemingly no longer exists. You find yourself in a foreign environment surrounded by an entirely new culture, political system, and overall way of life. It can be overwhelming and sometimes frightening, but the best way to learn and grow as an individual is to put yourself in these situations where nothing is familiar.

The city of Alicante is a beautiful city with very friendly people, delicious food, and a very rich history. On the second day in Alicante, we climbed to the top of El Castilla de Santa Bárbara (which is where I took these photographs). The castle is over one thousand years old and has the best views in Alicante.

In addition to the Castle, I have spent a lot of time at la Playa de Postiguet (or Postiguet Beach). The city is full of possible adventures and sights to see. As I improve my Spanish and become more comfortable, things will hopefully become easier and more familiar. I have a lot of things that I want to do in the next three months, and I will continue writing about them on this blog. The next big step is moving in with my host family that speaks exclusively Spanish.