Marrakech

After I spent a night in the city of Casablanca, we got in a car and drove to Marrakech, which took about three and a half hours. I enjoyed Marrakech more than I enjoyed Casablanca because it was significantly smaller, cleaner, and there was more to do. The traffic, however, was a mess. There were motorcycles everywhere, horns could be heard 24/7, and I saw numerous individuals almost get into accidents or hit pedestrians. It was quite hectic.

DSC01748.jpg

While making sure I didn’t get hit by a car, I spent time around the city, seeing mosques, and visiting huge street markets with thousands of vendors that had everything from fake Gucci shirts to silk carpets. I spent a lot of time trying local street foods along the way, which was incredibly cheap and very tasty.

DSC01893.jpg

The following day, we ventured out into the Agafay desert, which is about an hour drive away from Marrakech. There, we spent time exploring a natural oasis and climbing rocky hills. We also took Camels out into the isolated desert for a few hours with the assistance of 2 guides who worked at a near by camp. I did not get a chance to go to the Sahara dessert during my time in Morocco, but the Agafay was still really beautiful

Overall, Morocco was a great experience. It was perhaps the biggest culture shock that i have ever personally experienced. It is a very intersting country with a lot of things to see. I only got to see two major cities, but I plan on returning and visiting Tangier and Fez. If you ever get the chance to travel to Morocco, do it.DSC01876.jpg

Advertisements

Dinner in Casablanca

This past weekend I traveled to the country of Morocco in Northern Africa. It was one of the most intersting places I have ever been. I started my trip in the city of Casablanca, which is a huge city with 6,000,000 individuals that drives the economy of Morocco. We visited the Hassan II Mosque (which is seen in the featured photo of this post), which is the 3rd largest mosque in the entire world. It holds 25,000 people at once and is regularly used for large group prayers.DSC01699 (1).jpg

We only stayed in Casablanca for one night, but it was quite interesting. Our taxi driver, Hamid, spoke a very small amount of English, which created a firm language barrier due to the fact that we didn’t understand Arabic. On our way back to the hotel we were staying at, Hamid told us that we should go to his house for dinner with his family that night. We awkwardly laughed as we were unsure if he was joking since we had only known him for an hour or so. He told us that he would pick us up at 7:30 from our hotel to take us to dinner since we had made reservations at a local restaurant.

At 7:30, he picked us up and we told him where to take us. In his broken English, he seemed to understand us. However, we ended up in an unfamiliar alley where he parked the car. I asked awkwardly, “Hamid, where are we?” “My house” he answered.  My friend

IMG_4154.jpg
My family, friend Ryan, an Hamid (in orange)

and I looked at each other contemplating what to do, so we just followed him. Sure enough, we go upstairs and his wife had cooked up a classic Moroccan three course meal for us. The food was delicious, his home was beautiful, and he was incredibly hospitable. It was a very strange experience, but one that I will never forget.

Catalonia vs. Spain

For the 2 months that I have lived in Alicante, Spain all I have heard about on the local news channels is Catalonia. For those who may not know, Catalonia is a northeastern area of Spain that is known for being the most prosperous region and it’s Capital is Barcelona. Catalonia has motioned for independence from Spain, and has been fighting hard for that independence.

DSC01446.jpg
Catalonian Citizens Protesting at the Police Station

On the 1st of October, Catalonians went out to vote for their Independence, but Spain deemed it illegal. In an effort to inhibit Catalonian citizens, Spanish police forces, known as Guardia Civil, became violent and were handing the situation very brutally. Citizens of Catalonia were beaten and billy clubbed solely for trying to vote.

From this situation, things escalated greatly, and the media continues discussing how violent Barcelona and Catalonia is. This past weekend, I was visiting Barcelona. The Catalonian government officials voted for independence, and the vote passed. However, once again, Spain deemed this action illegal and discredited it.

DSC01611.jpgBeing in Barcelona, I thought that things were going to become quite unsafe and riots would ensue due to the media’s portrayal of the events. However, things were surprisingly peaceful; there were massive protests in favor of remaining a part of Spain.

I ventured into the heart of these protests due to a growing curiosity of what they were truly like. I found that there were some violent and irrational people, but the majority of individuals were friendly, passionate, and peaceful. However, if you watch the news, it shows pictures and videos of the few violent individuals, making the protesters seem out of hand.

DSC01546.jpg
Individuals Obnoxiously Blocking Vehicles

Yes, there were hostile individuals who seemed as if they might get into fights, and a group of extremist protestors were blocking cars and yelling at other citizens. However, I never felt unsafe at any point and saw more collective passion of a community than I did violence.

It was an eye opening experience to see one of these rallies firsthand rather than on the news channel of my household television in Alicante. Catalonia is in a torn state of individuals who seemingly cannot agree. They have a lot of things to figure out before moving forward seeing as many individuals are still fighting for separation. Perhaps the main streams of media in Spain and America should focus on the collective groups as a whole rather than the small groups of extremists who are acting violent and irrational.

Barcelona

I spent this past weekend exploring the capitalof Catalonia, and one of the most famous cities in Spain. Barcelona was very large with an abundance of famous art, beautiful architecture, and delicious food. To me, Barcelona felt similar to other big cities that we have in America with the exception of high rise towers.

DSC01347.jpg

I found that almost every individual that I encountered spoke English quite well, which was important because a surprising number of citizens in Barcelona do not speak Spanish. They all seemed to speak Catalan, a language similar to Spanish but spoken mostly in Catalonia.

I spent the majority of my time exploring the numerous architectural phonemes around the city that were created by the famous Antoni Gaudí. As seen in the featured image of this article, we first went to the Sagrada Familia. It began construction in 1882 and will not be finished until the year 2026. It was truly the most magnificent cathedral I have ever laid eyes on.

DSC01266.jpg

Unlike many cathedrals in Europe, the outside of the Familia is astonishingly intricate, compiled of beautiful works of art and sculptures. The inside, however, is quite simple. It is simple but beautiful. It is said to resemble an enchanted forest due to the long columns and colorful glass.

 

DSC01342.jpg

I then spent my time roaming Park Güell, which is a 45 acre park that was also designed by Gaudí. The park was full of beautiful architectural works that are quite famous around the world. There were many basic works such as pillars and benches, and more intricate areas where there are colorful sculptures made out of recycled tiles.

There are many things to do and see in Barcelona, it is a huge city. I did not limit myself to the works of Gaudí during my weekend, but his works were definitely the most interesting things to see. I would love to return and do more in this city, but I really enjoyed the short amount of time that I was there.

DSC01390.jpg

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.

IMG_1401.JPG
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.

IMG_1404 2.JPG
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.

DSC00946.jpg

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.

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

DSC00834.jpg
Santiago de Compostela

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.

DSC00633.jpg

 

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.

 

DSC00667.jpg

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

Blog - 1.jpg

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.