I would just like to preface this post by describing my last couple weeks of class. I had really started struggling to keep up with some of the coursework and worried I might be falling behind, so I spent three straight weeks dedicated to a consistent 9-5 style work schedule. I had a phonetics exam two weeks ago that I did really well on, then I planned to devote this past week to studying for my comp exam on Thursday. I was then informed that our next online lit exam was scheduled for Friday, the day we were to leave for Amsterdam. I spoke with my professor and she agreed to let me do it Thursday, which was fantastic, but it made last week a blur of studying and staying on top of all my other assignments. I left my comp test feeling pretty good, confidently handed in my phonetics assignment, then sat down to work on my lit exam after I finished class. I’m so glad she let me do it early, because it took a solid five hours or so, which would have really dampened our first day abroad. I think I did well enough on it, but when I emailed it to her around 11 Thursday night, I felt like my incessant dedication had come to fruition and it was time for a well-deserved break. Really, to not take a break would contribute to burn out and make me a less effective student overall, so I guess you could say my sanity, as well as my future academic success, depended on this trip. With that in mind, I joyously packed my bag and collapsed into bed around midnight, though I was too excited to fall asleep right away.

Our flight was scheduled for 6 am, and since the metro doesn’t start running until then, Helena, Nola, and I decided to meet in a mutually convenient location and split a cab. We planned to meet at 4, so before going to bed I set my alarm for 3:30…and 3:32…and 3:34 because I was so worried about not waking up in time. I was too excited to sleep very soundly though and ended waking up multiple times throughout the night to check the time. When my first alarm finally went off I felt surprisingly refreshed and eager to get the holiday underway. Everything went well and we made it to our gate without incident. By the time we boarded I was pretty hungry, but I hoped I would be able to catch up on some sleep as the flight was almost three hours. Of course, that didn’t happen though. I was however, quite surprised when, not long into the flight, the attendants brought out a food cart! We weren’t even served drinks on our last couple of flights, but not only did they give us a beverage, we were also served a sandwich! Now I know I always say that hunger is the best spice, and that the best sandwich is a free sandwich, but I was blown away at how delicious it was. It was literally just two pieces of bread with two pieces of cheese, but it was seriously amazing. I’m not sure what kind of bread it was, but it was so light and airy and flavorful and it had seeds or something in it. The cheese was called “Boomer Cheese” which is native to Holland and somewhat sharp. I also tasted a hint of what I think was some kind of mustard, which I usually don’t like, but the flavors married marvelously. I was feeling very content when I finished the meal, and considered trying for sleep again, but before too long the attendants came around another time! I almost didn’t know how to react when she asked if I wanted a tea or coffee because two in-flight beverages is practically unheard of. When she pleasantly handed me my steaming cup of tea it was accompanied by a small packet. This thing was called StroopWaffle (perhaps spelled that way, I never got good at Dutch) and its like two waffle crisps with caramel or syrup in the middle. It was heavenly. Although the food was incredible, I was also amazed at the greenery which started to come into view in the predawn light. Upon landing, I was beyond excited to explore this new territory

As soon as we had deplaned and met up outside of the gate, the first thing Nola said to me was, “did you try that sandwich?!” We raved about it for some time to Helena, who had been in too deep a sleep to care about food. The airport was bustling and quite a scene. One of the first things we came to was this electronic charging station where you sat on a stool and pedaled a stationary bike to power it! When we got to the main part of the airport it opened up into what could have passed for an indoor village, and everything was ornately decorated for Christmas. Its hard to describe the exact atmosphere, but it just felt so…I don’t know, traditional I guess. We had a hard time buying our train tickets at the kiosk, and I think we may have gotten to hear some of our first cuss words in Dutch from the boy behind us, but we eventually got them. We were trying to get to Amsterdam Centraal, so when we asked the man on the platform if we were in the right place for the central station, he said yes. We rode for about 40 minutes or so, then at the station looked for the ferry we were supposed to take. When we couldn’t find it, we asked information, who gave us a very confused look, and proceeded to tell us that we were not in Amsterdam. We just sort of returned her confused look until she pointed us in the direction of the right platform. I guess we had to gone to the central station in a neighboring city. We eventually boarded the correct train, and arrived in Amsterdam Centraal after about 20 minutes or so. We found our way to the ferry, which was free, to take us across the channel to where we would be staying. When the ferry dropped us of on the other side, we actually did a really good job following the directions through the small village to our place. Again, I was fascinated with the architecture and the whole feel of the area. It really reminded me of being back in a small town. Oh and another thing we noticed rather quickly was that literally everyone seems to ride a bike!

Anyway, for this trip we decided to go through AirBnB, which is pretty cool. Basically, people register their empty rooms with the company, then travelers can search for them on the sight and ask to stay there. We were staying with a man named Milton. The place seemed like an average townhouse, but it was also kind of different. The front door opened directly to a steep and narrow staircase, which led to the main floor. To the right was the living room being used as the guest room. There was also a tiny bathroom and kitchen, and another small room. Up the second flight of stairs were two bedrooms and the shower. We quickly ascertained that Milton was from Kenya and shared the small house with his seemingly teen-aged daughter. The other students were still in the room because checkout wasn’t technically until noon, but we had arranged to drop off our stuff early. He couldn’t give us the key yet though, so we agreed to be back around three. With that, we found our way back to the ferry, walked back through the train station, and emerged in the heart of Amsterdam. I immediately fell further in love with the architecture and feel of the city. We wanted to find some traditional Dutch food, but everything seemed to be more geared towards tourists, so we had to settle with a regular cafe. The food was decent. Afterwords, we kind of just wondered around taking in the sights and smells of the city. The sun was out, but it was quite a bit colder than Madrid. The temperature wasn’t even that low, but the wind made it seem much worse. We eventually made our way back to Milton’s at three and got a proper view of our room. There was a sectional couch with a full sized air mattress in the middle. We couldn’t decide who would get the couch, so we decided to all just cuddle on the mattress. The apartment seemed almost as cold as outside, so we burrowed under the blankets and enjoyed a much needed nap. As soon as we began to doze off, we could hear it start to downpour outside.

We kind of freaked out for a second when we woke up in darkness, but it turned out to only be about 6:00. We spent a long time searching Yelp for authentic Dutch food, and we were shocked at how difficult it was. We eventually settled on a small restaurant that wasn’t too expensive and was only about a two mile walk from our house. As we walked out the front door, we were more than relieved to see that the rain had passed. We probably made it there by around 8:30 or so, and we immediately fell in love with the atmosphere. It was small, cozy, and oddly sort of homey. The best part was when I asked how much tap water cost, and the waiter gave me sort funny look and said, “its tap water…its free.” I know this sound obvious, but it was literally one of the first times I’ve encountered free tap water in Europe. They usually don’t even offer it and instead make you buy a bottle of mineral water, which is usually one of the more expensive beverages on the menu. Anyway, the waiter then suggested a Dutch beer for us and Helena and I ordered Boerenkool Stamppot, while Nola order Hutspot. So this beer had a relatively high alcohol content at 8%, but it was surprisingly light and refreshing. The stamppot, was basically cabbage hash with some other vegetables that you pour some beef stew over. Again, I had quite the appetite by this point, but it was amazing! The whole meal was completely satisfying. We didn’t really have a good idea of where to go next, so we eventually ended up in a bar. We showed the bartender a picture of the brand of beer from the restaurant, and she said they didn’t have it but that she could give us something similar. As she sat them down on our table, she gave us a smile, winked, and said “good luck”. I guess she was saying that because the alcohol content on this beer was even higher, but otherwise it was nothing like the other one. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, but it was not very good. We sat at the bar and talked for a long while, and around 11:30 or so we decided to succumb to our curiosity and head to the Red Light District.

Our only problem was that we had no idea how to get there, so after we paid our tab we asked the bartender. We weren’t far, and she gave us pretty concise directions. As we turned to leave, without a hint of a smile the bartender told us to be careful. Her sincerity was touching and slightly concerning. We really had no idea what to expect. We took a couple of turns, and before long we knew we had made it. The first few things we came upon were large strip clubs and various establishments offering seemingly every type of service one might desire, but soon we got to the heart of it. Again, I had no idea what it would be like, but I was rather surprised. So along the whole street, there are literally like storefronts with full length glass doors that have women standing behind them in a very small room. If a man is interested, he gestures or something, she lets him in, they very briefly discuss pricing, then she closes the curtain; we later learned that the average visit lasts between 6 and 15 minutes, but rarely longer than 10. Oh and there are actually red light bulbs (though some were purple) hanging just inside the window. I guess its a fitting name and all, I just didn’t think there would actually be red lights on all the windows. That Police song makes so much sense now! Anyway, the main strip seemed to go on for a quite a while, and there were even more windows down the side streets. I was also surprised at their attire; though I wouldn’t say they were modestly dressed, there was technically nothing more than PG-13 nudity. Most of the women wore pretty blank expressions, some looking demure and others somewhat bored. Then there were those, especially on the side streets, that were very actively trying to attract attention. I tried to imagine what it could possibly feel like to be in that position. It was overall quite a fascinating experience. It also didn’t feel the least bit dangerous. There was a sort of energy on the whole street, and it was pretty obvious that most of the people there were tourists. We walked away reflecting on the situation, until we came upon a burger place that smelled delicious.

I wasn’t very hungry, so I examined the beer list, still trying to chase the dragon of that first one. I settled on a French-sounding ale, that was not the same but was also quite delicious. We also ended up eating some of the burger, and it was amazing! I know these descriptions of food are beginning to sound redundant, but it was seriously soo good. It was juicy and cooked perfectly, the cheese was great, and there was some sort of special sauce that just made the whole thing. We went to another bar or two after, then decided to make the journey back to Milton’s. By the time we crossed the channel, the wind was roaring and it was pretty cold, but we all agreed that it had been a fantastic day.

We took our time getting up the next morning and eventually took showers. It was actually quite different. You basically open the door into this small tiled room, with a sink on one wall and the shower head on the other. I regretted forgetting my flip flops, but it was a nice shower nonetheless. Now that we had a taste for burgers, we found a burger bar downtown that we decided to try. As soon as we left, we realized today was a bit different than yesterday; it was completely overcast, the wind was stronger, and the temperature was lower. It wasn’t all that bad though. Once again, the restaurant did not disappoint! This time we tried Irish beef burgers with Amsterdam cheese, and it was amazing. It also had that special sauce on it that was unidentifiable yet delicious.

Our next objective was to go back to the area of the red light district because along the way we had some seen some very pretty channels that we wanted to see again in the daylight. We never did find it though. I guess we walked in the wrong direction, but that was alright. We found ourselves in a cheese shop where we could sample several different kinds, and they were great! We also found a free “cheese museum” but it really just seemed like another store with more samples. We then walked through some sort of flower market that was pretty interesting. We eventually procured a tourist map and located the Anne Frank House. It was quite a walk from where we were, but we were already numb from the cold anyway so it didn’t matter. When we got there, the line stretched all the way around the corner of the building! I suppose we expected that, but it didn’t make it easier. We made up our minds to stick it out, and those two hours really seemed to fly by (not exactly, especially after it started raining!). We finally made it in the door right around dusk. Though we were damp and freezing, it turned out to be entirely worth it. It was surreal to actually be inside a house with so much history. Somehow, I’ve never actually read the Diary of Anne Frank, but its definitely on my list now. It was fascinating to actually go behind the bookcase and see were several people had to hide out. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have to “speak softly and step lightly” all the time with blackout curtains constantly drawn. Though I suppose those conditions weren’t as bad as where they all eventually ended up. I didn’t realize it, but apparently she died in Auschwitz very shortly before the liberation. It was all pretty sad.

When we left the museum it was still cold and raining, and we didn’t really have anywhere to go. We just sort of started walking until we realized we didn’t know where we were. We decided to get a warm beverage and regroup. We got some tea, and tried to soak in the warmth of our small corner. We exchanged pleasantries with some local boys seated next to us, and we eventually asked them for food recommendations. They told us we wouldn’t really have any luck finding traditional dutch food in the city center, but when we told them about our meal the night before, they conceded that it was probably the only authentically dutch dish. One of the boys suggested a Thai place, which we all agreed to rather quickly. They then pointed it out to us on our map and showed where we were currently located. The shop had a nice atmosphere, and we were in no hurry to venture back out into the elements, so we ordered another drink. Eventually, an English business man sat down on the other side of us, and he was quite an interesting conversationalist. He gave us some other suggestions on places to go, and we talked to him for quite a while. We finally ventured back out, and it didn’t even seem that cold anymore. We expertly navigated our way to the restaurant and were less than surprised to be greeted by a long wait. It didn’t matter though, because we really  had nowhere else to be. It turns out the British man was correct in that the food was mediocre; don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it just wasn’t the best Thai I’d ever had.

After the restaurant we ventured back to the red light district. We wanted to see a show or something, but everything was way out of our price range, so we decided to go to the Red Light Secret’s Museum of Prostitution instead. It was actually really interesting. It started out with a short documentary about a typical day in the neighborhood. I was somewhat surprised at how involved the community is; the sheets are taken to a local laundromat, a man from a nearby cafe regularly brings coffee to the working girls, and a local restaurant caters their food. It showed one of the girls going about her daily business cleaning her work station, then going to a hardware store to buy a new red light bulb. It was interesting to watch them just go through their usual routine. We then got to walk through some small galleries depicting different aspects of the trade throughout history. It was interesting to read about the origins of the district, which is the oldest area in the city. It was originally a popular port, so naturally the sailors attracted that type of commerce. There have been multiple religious movements over the years to abolish it, but it always ended up flourishing because authorities mostly just turned a blind eye to it. It was officially made legal in 2000. I learned that prostitution is actually the world’s oldest profession, and we saw several famous works of art dedicated to the subject. Then we ended up standing behind two red-lit windows on the street front. We were on the second floor, right above the museum sign, so obviously no one paid us any attention, but it was still interesting to see it from that perspective. After, we passed through to what a typical work station looks like. Its pretty much just a small room with a bed and and a sink that the girl can decorate however she chooses. Then we walked into an upscale brothel room, complete with a bathtub and a television. So the main difference is that on the street, people settle on a set price and pay up front, so the girl tries to get the client in and out as quickly as possible, whereas in a brothel clients pay for time, so they try to prolong the process as much as they can. One sign said it was a minimum of 75 euros, but that people could end up paying several thousand for one visit. We then entered into a room that was designed like one where clients could explore some of their more unconventional interests; turns out older prostitutes enjoy entering into this type of work because it tends to be less taxing on them. In the next room was a simulator where you could sit in front a screen and watch a recording of random people on the street to get an even better idea of what it would feel like to be behind the glass.

Probably the most interesting thing were the different stories they had posted on the walls throughout the museum in which women of all different backgrounds shared some of their experiences. Many seem to view it as just a job, but some, especially some of the older ones working in the special interest department, actually enjoy it. Then there were the tragic stories. One young woman was lured from her home in Poland by a man who had promised her a job working at a hotel. When she arrived in Amsterdam however, he withheld her passport, forced her into prostitution, and kept her wages. He was arrested after two years for trafficking, but she continued to work because she didn’t see any other option. She is currently saving her money and hopes to one day have enough to return to Poland. It seems pretty difficult though. If I remember correctly, the girls have to a pay a landlord 150 euros to rent out their space for just half a day. Although things are monitored, the literature still conceded that there are some underage or non-legal citizens workings, some against their wills. There is however, a growing amount of activist groups that advocate for worker’s rights, and I even read somewhere that they were unionized. I think it started during the Napoleon occupation in the early 19th century that women were required to get a medical exam twice a week; if they are clear, they are given a red card, but if not, they get a white card labeled with whatever disease they have. They are then not allowed to work and receive free medical care. Also prostitution is considered a legitimate and taxable profession. At the very end of the tour was a wall of visitor’s confessions, which were entertaining to read. Then there was actually a confessional that you could go into and write your own if you so desired. We left the museum with a fresh perspective on the whole situation, and it was an enlightening experience.

We didn’t really have time to do much on Sunday as we wanted to budget enough time for the train. We ended up getting there pretty early though, so we enjoyed a nice meal in the airport and shopped around for a while. One the flight back, we did not get the cheese sandwiches, but we had chicken instead and it was almost as good. When she asked what I wanted to drink, I asked her how much the red wine costs, but I don’t think she heard the first part because she just smiled, handed me the bottle, and asked if I wanted a glass of water too. Then they once again came around with hot beverages and stroopwaffles. I could really get used to the service in Holland! It was nice to be back in the warmth of Madrid, and by the time I reached my apartment, I was pretty wore out. I was completely satisfied with the trip though. Between the friendly people, the architecture, and the food, I think I could seriously see myself living around there.

When I was finally back, I had a better opportunity to connect to the internet and read more about current events. Of course we had heard about the attack in Paris, but there honestly was not much talk about it. I mean everyone was expressing their sympathies and “today we are all French” could bee seen in various locations written in many different languages. Reading some reactions to the event caused me to reflect on my time in Morocco. I would like to think that I would never have had the tendency to discriminate against an entire group of people based on one terrorist group, but being exposed to true Islamic ideals and real-life Muslims have definitely allowed me to be more open minded today. I honestly feel pretty bad for all the Muslims who are open about their religion due to the discrimination they will have to face. I read that one lady in London, who was wearing a hijab, was actually pushed in front of an underground train. I mean someone made a good point that no one believes the KKK was representative of all Christians, just like ISIS isn’t a relevant sample of Muslims. Anyway, I feel like most people will be able to discern the difference between the two, and that line of thinking will prevail. We’ll see how events continue to transpire in the future, but hopefully things will end up in the best interest of humanity. Imagine that!


This weekend has no doubt been an incredible adventure, and it honestly feels like I’ve been out of Madrid for much more than five days! I suppose it all began on Wednesday with the train ride to Algeciras on the southern coast of Spain. We ended up taking the regular-speed train, which took about six hours, but our group basically had the whole car to ourselves, so it was pretty fun. We arrived around 9 pm more than ready for a good meal. As we walked through the streets to our hostel though, we were surprised to see that everything seemed to be closed. Furthermore, the whole city hardly even felt like Spain; many signs were written in Arabic and the vibe of it was just very different. We found our hostel, which turned out to be pretty nice (each room even had its own shower!), then set off in different directions looking for something to eat. I was walking with two other students, and it was probably the first time since I’ve been here that I felt uncomfortable. Though we tried to walk to the most well-lit area, the majority of the streets were dark, the only pedestrians were men, and we seemed to be drawing quite a bit of attention. We thankfully came across two other students from our group and decided to band together. We went to the first open restaurant we found and got a table on the patio. There were men sporadically seated at other tables nearby, and they for real seemed to all be silently staring at us. The waiter soon came over to inform us that at the moment they were only serving a couple of items, so we decided to go to a different restaurant next door. The waiter there seemed much friendlier, and the only other party seated nearby jovially carried on their own conversation without paying the slightest attention to  us. The waiter spoke Spanish, but there were a lot of Arabic words on the menu, so we kind of just picked something without knowing exactly what to expect. We were all more than pleasantly surprised with our food though because the seasoning was much more exquisite than one would usually find in Madrid; it kind of reminded me of Indian food. After a very satisfying meal we found our way back to the hostel without incident and retired soon after. I made sure to take a thorough shower and try to sleep as well as I could because I had no idea what to expect for the next couple of days.

We woke up before dawn, then all walked together to the shore where we were split into two groups of 15 and assigned a guide; ours was named Mark, a man in his mid 40’s or so who had recently finished serving in the Peace Corps for about two years. He was pretty quirky, but very knowledgeable about Morocco. We eventually boarded some buses, then rode for about an hour to the port in Tarifa where we caught a ferry. We were on the Mediterranean for about an hour, during which time Mark gave us some food and general information about the Morocco. Some of the things I read were quite interesting. For instance, I learned that it is pretty taboo to speak out against the king, and certain topics, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should generally not be mentioned; the booklet said that most media sources were regulated and that even some of the more liberal newspapers steer clear of insulting the royal family. Mark eventually collected our passports and customs forms so we would be cleared to enter the country when we docked; I can now officially say that within the last three months I have crossed international boards by air, land, and sea :) The ride was pretty rough, but nobody got really sick so that was good.

We finally arrived in Tangier, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually not that hot; it was probably around 78 or so. We walk around the city and Mark shared some interesting facts with us along the way. Though I had been surprised by the government regulation I’d read about on the boat, Morocco is quite progressive compared to other Islamic countries in the Middle East. For this reason, it’s really common for people from Hollywood to shoot movies there when they are trying to depict one of those countries; for instance, it is easy to portray Afghanistan in the southern part of Morocco. He told us that works like Gladiator, Game and Thrones, and the Sex and the City movie where they supposedly go to Saudi Arabia had been filmed there instead. He explained that the government was pretty relaxed with those types of things as long as they didn’t disrespect the people or royal family of Morocco, whereas other countries would need to first thoroughly examine the script.

We then walked to a market. There were standard fruit and vegetable displays, as well as some booths that sold common household items, and it all reminded me of the markets in Central America. When we got to the meat section, however, things were a little different. That’s not to say that other markets didn’t have raw meats on display, but this place was on a whole other level! There were of course whole chickens hanging everywhere, but there were also some pretty massive cow parts as well. We passed one stand that literally had an entire cow skull (with meat) just sitting there. Our pace definitely quickened as we walked through this part, but when we reached the end it just opened up into this huge fish market. Now, again, I don’t really like seafood, so maybe if you do it wouldn’t seem that bad, but it was this huge warehouse looking room stuffed to the gills with every type of fish you could imagine; the smell was less than appetizing. We walked through pretty quickly, and when we stepped outside, there was a man unloading a truck, and, after seeing our fascination, he proceeded to hold up a whole eel for people to take pictures of.

From the market we walked to a local women’s center called DARNA. This organization helps women build marketable skills, such as sewing, and gain a basic education. We toured some of the work and classrooms, then sat down for tea with some of the girls there. First of all, let me just take a second to comment on the Moroccan tea; its apparently green tea, and I don’t know what they do to it, but it’s very sweet and super delicious. I typically don’t even like my tea that sweet, but I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. Anyway, we sat down to chat with three young adults who had either finished college or where in the final stages. We discussed things like the education system in Morocco, which seems very complicated but apparently is directly modeled after the system in France. We also talked about dating and marriage. They told us that dating in Morocco is pretty typical and modern, and, while arranged marriages do happen, the bride and groom definitely have a say in whether or not they go through with it. The family structure in modern Morocco is also pretty similar to that of the Western world; people in cities usually have one or two children, and it recently passed that women could initiate the process of filing for a divorce. I don’t exactly remember how it ended up, but I think it was recently changed so that now the husband doesn’t have to approve the divorce for it to be official like he did in the past. Also, polygamy is not unheard of, particularly in the countryside, but it’s not all that common anymore. One topic that I found particularly interesting was their style of dress. Around the city we saw people, both men and women, which were wearing either traditional clothing or casual western-style apparel. Even the two young women who were talking to us were different; one wore the traditional head covering while the other did not. They explained that style of dress was one’s individual choice and had to do with how people interpreted the Koran, some thought it was more important while others did not. They added that, either way, people were not likely to be discriminated against or judged too harshly. One of the girls talked about how just because someone chose to dress traditionally did not necessarily mean they were devout practitioners of Islam, and alternatively, one could wear modern clothing and be just as pure. After tea we ate a delicious lunch of chicken tagine, which was served with some sort of sweetened fruit that no one could identify. We shared stereotypes about each others cultures, and it turns out that most young people in Morocco base their notion of US university culture on the American Pie movies.

When we finished lunch, we walked back to the bus and set out along the Atlantic coast to the city of Asilah. Most people fell asleep pretty quickly, and we were all surprised when, after about an hour or so, we woke up on the side of the road. We got off the bus and found ourselves on a beach where Mark announced we would be riding camels! They were pretty interesting I guess, as I’ve never really been in a close proximity to one. One of them kept making this deep growling noise that kind of freaked everybody out, but I think that might just be the sound they make. Getting up on them was probably the most interesting part; they basically lay on the ground so you can climb on the saddle, then they sort of go up in stages. It’s kind of hard to explain, but first they put their hind legs up, so you lurch forwards, then they bring their front legs up and repeat the process on both ends. I’m honestly surprised nobody fell off. I realize we were just casually strolling, but the ride was very calm and smooth, perhaps even more so than riding a horse. It was such a cool experience though, and I could definitely understand why that was a prime source of transportation back in the day. When everyone had gotten a turn riding, we got back on the bus and continued our journey.

We arrived in the old town of Asilah after about another hour, and spent some time wandering through the streets. They kind of reminded me of the typical European style city, but most walls were painted blue. If I understand correctly, blue was originally used to show that the area was inhabited by Jewish people back in the day. This city was pretty interesting, and much of the white space on the walls was available for local artist to do with as they pleased. The city had a pretty cool feel to it, but there were not many people out. We found our way to a lookout spot on the coast and took some time to soak in the splendor of the ocean. As we made our way out of the city, the sounds of the “call to prayer” emanated from the local mosque. We had also heard that twice over the course of our time at the women’s center, and I think it generally happens five times a day.

We got back to the bus and began our three hour journey to the city of Rabat where we would be staying with our host families. By that time we had realized that apparently only the very newly college educated people in Morocco speak English; everyone else speaks a Moroccan variation of Arabic, and the educated people also speak French. With that in mind, Mark gave us a very basic crash course in Arabic (though it turned out all we really needed to say was “thank you” and “I’m full”), and some other general tips. He told us that it was likely our homes would not have toilets, and would instead have a “Turkish toilet”. If, like me, you’d never seen one, it’s basically a hole in the ground that you pour water over to “flush”. I was less than excited for this variation, but I supposed anything was better than the Nicaraguan latrines. Another interesting thing we learned about Islam is that Allah often takes the form of a stranger or foreigner, so people will do everything in their power to accommodate such people. Mark assured us that we did need to continue eating after we were full because if we did, they would feed until we were sick, which happened to him when he first moved there. Also, it is apparently taboo to ever deny someone a drink of water if they ask.

By the time we arrived in Rabat it was after dark, and I still could not get over how well developed everything was! I seriously felt like I could have been driving in Florida or southern California. We unloaded into what seemed to be a random alley, but it opened up into a pretty cool part of the city. It was the traditional narrow alley style of roads, and we navigated them as a group until people were dropped off at their houses. I was fortunate enough to be able to room with my two good friends on the trip Helena and Daniela. The surprise I had experienced along the main road of the city paled in comparison to what I experienced inside of the home; it was actually pretty fancy. I think the décor made it seem more regal or something, but I felt like we could have been staying in part of a palace. It of course wasn’t that big, but it was extremely comfortable. The host lady, her name slips my mind, showed us to our room. Apparently bedrooms in Morocco are typically much different than what you would normally imagine; it’s more like parlor with couches along the walls, and that’s where they sleep. Anyway, it was a really cool room and it was super cozy. She soon brought us out some traditional dresses from her closet and let us try them on and take pictures with them! She didn’t speak any English or Spanish, but we were basically able to communicate with gestures. Daniela was able to offer a couple of words in French, so that helped a little. After the fashion show, she beckoned us to the table where we were served more tea, rolls of bread, these crepe sort of things, and this cake like thing that was kind of like sweat corn bread. We had cheese, honey, and jam to put on them and, I don’t know exactly what it was, but the cheese stuff with those crepe things were a revelation. We enjoyed this little meal around 8:30 or so, then the host mom next door, who spoke a little English, came to fetch us. My roommates and I debated on whether or not what we had eaten was dinner because I didn’t see how it couldn’t have been. Anyway, we set out with the other host mom and the three students staying with her to explore the city. We walked through the narrow streets which were bustling with different vendors, some selling food and others random products. We emerged into what I guess is the main part of the city, which was comparable to Florida. We kind of just walked up and down the main strip taking in all the lights and sounds. The people on the streets really just seemed sort of normal. Again, some were dressed traditionally and others were not, but they engaged in usual activities.

When we returned to our home, I had to admit defeat as the table was set with an elaborate meal. We ate large pieces of chicken on a bed of thin and very delicious pasta, along with more bread, fruit, and tea. Perhaps the best part of the night came when Helena excused herself to use the bathroom and soon after we heard the sweet sound of a toilet flushing! I suppose I had been anticipating staying in homes along the rural countryside, so as I helped myself to another mandarin and cup of tea, I could not have felt more content with the situation; we even had Wi-Fi! When we were nearly finished eating, her son came home. He seemed to be in his mid to late twenties, and spoke English fairly well. He had apparently graduated pretty recently and was now working at a bank. Turns out he was also a martial artist! We had a good time comparing different styles and what not, and we all talked about what we study in school. After a lengthy conversation, we retired to our room where our host mom had covered the couches in sheets and blankets. I don’t think I’d ever been more ready to sleep, and it didn’t take long at all.

We got up bright and early Friday morning and we were greeted with a breakfast consisting of our favorite foods from last night’s pre dinner meal. Once we’d eaten our fill, we navigated our way to the bus where we met with the rest of the group. From there we went to a sort of community school that was established in order to offer classes to people from the impoverished parts of the city. Speaking of which, we happened to pass a very large shanty town on our way, and it looked pretty similar to those in Central America I guess, but the government had actually built a wall in front of part of it so it can’t be seen from the road. I guess that’s one way to go about fixing the problem. We met with some young students from the school and discussed these types of issues. It turns out that it’s quite difficult to leave the shanties because in order to lease a legitimate residence you have to prove your past address or something like that. They also mentioned that some people actually prefer to stay there because they are not required to pay taxes, and the homes are extremely affordable. Obviously they also entail the risks associated with poor public hygiene, lack of clean water, and the electoral dangers that come with people haphazardly wiring their own homes. We talked a little bit about other economic problems in the country, which mostly included lack of jobs.

The conversation eventually moved to more social and religious topics. I really had no knowledge of Islam going into the experience, and I learned so much about it. First of all, I suppose I had no idea of the range of beliefs. On the one hand you have the Islamic countries in the Middle East which tend to me much more extreme in their beliefs. I mean obviously you have those few on the highest end of the scale, the couple of radical extremists that many people seem to equate to Islam in general, but besides that Middle Eastern countries tend to put much more importance in enforcing religious law. Those practices are the reasons why women are generally not allowed to drive, must always be covered, and homosexuals are actively hunted down, and sometimes publicly executed, by the government. Then there’s Morocco, which is apparently considered the sort of Las Vegas of the Islamic world. In Morocco, things like homosexuality, prostitution, and eating during Ramadan are technically considered illegal, but it is common knowledge that they occur. The students explained to us that people are generally even okay with these things as long as they remain private and out of the public eye. He noted that one’s friends and family will most likely be aware if someone is gay, but those types of activities are never spoken of and must only take place behind closed doors. If the unspoken rules are followed, there will generally be no issues. Things like a pride parade, however, would never be permitted. In fact, there was some footage of an underground same sex wedding that got posted to YouTube a couple of years ago, and the participants were promptly arrested to prove that point. Alternatively, when a transvestite was beaten by a group on the street, both parties were prosecuted as a means of discouraging vigilantism. They also said it’s kind of understood that people sometimes drink alcohol, or like I mentioned before, eat during Ramadan, but such things must only be done in the privacy of one’s own home. Authorities also turn a blind eye to prostitution, and it seems that men actually come from the Middle East to experience it for themselves, but if a brothel becomes too well known the police will come in and arrest everyone. The conversation returned to Ramadan and other religious practices, and they were pretty fascinating to hear. It basically seems like the range in which one practices the religion is very similar to that of Christianity. Like the Koran, there’s much variation in the interpretations of the bible, which leads to different denominations of the one religion, and within those subsects there is a range of devotion from fundamentalists to Chreasters. I mean I guess some Muslims chose to cover their heads just like some Christians chose not dance or gamble. Then one student mentioned that Morocco was actually pretty diverse, and he would go as far as to speculate that perhaps 3% of the country was not Muslim and were Jewish, Christian, or Atheist (though Mark later told us that on the national census it was more like 1%).

Another interesting part of the talk revolved around political issues. We briefly talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but not extensively. I learned that one of the most controversial topics in the country is that of the Western Sahara. Apparently when France left the country and established political boarders, they failed to make the Sahara part of any country because they figured it was just a desolate waste land. Well, that decision has caused quite a bit of conflict between Morocco and surrounding countries, especially after they discovered oil there. The students were very open to discussing these issues with us, and they asked us a little bit about the US as well. Most of it had to do with how we usually pay for college and the lifestyle depicted in American Pie, but we also talked about the different political parties and beliefs within the country. We were of course served tea during the meeting, and once we had all finished we thanked them for their time and got back on the bus.

We took a short ride to see some Roman ruins. I’m still a bit confused as to why we went to Morocco to see artifacts of Rome, but it was interesting nonetheless. We had a good time walking the grounds and exploring what was left of the structures. There was this one pool thing that had eels in the alcoves of it. Legend has it that if a women throws a boiled egg into the pool and an eel comes out and eats it, she is fertile, though the significance of it being an egg did not occur to me until later. Anyway, there was a woman there selling them, and a few girls tried it. No eels came out and they were all, except for one, rather disappointed. We pondered the parameters of the myth though. After all, Helena pointed out that eels are more likely to come out after dark, so it’s possible that the eggs could have been eaten later and the participants would never know the difference. We left the ruins, some happier than others, and drove to the tomb of Muhammad…I believe the VI, who Mark kept saying was like the George Washington of Morocco. The tomb is located next to a mosque, and we quickly learned that in Islam, Friday is the holy day, so there was a constant stream people coming to pray. Also, from the speakers of the mosque we could hear three or four men singing the words of the Koran in unison. It was pretty cool to see, but it felt a little intrusive.

Afterwards, we returned to our host families for the traditional Friday meal of couscous. The girls from the house next door joined us, and we were served a huge tagine of chicken and beef on a bed of couscous and vegetables, then given fruit for dessert. We had a great time drinking tea and getting to know each other, and before we knew it, it was time to reunite with the group. Our next activity was to split into small groups and band together with a couple of Moroccan students from the local university. Five of us got paired with two girls, and we mostly walked around different parts of the city comparing and contrasting what our university cultures were like. We walked along a coast then made our way through a market. We ended up at a café where three young men joined our party. I’m not sure who they were, as the two girls didn’t know them either, but the more the merrier I guess. We talked about pop culture in terms of our favorite music and TV shows. They asked us if college really was like the American Pie movies and told us how things operate in their schools. It was awesome getting to know them because, once again, it just went to show that regardless of race, religion, or nationality, college students are basically the same wherever you go. We bade the students farewell, then the whole group went to one of the other host homes where we heard presentations from a student currently doing a Fulbright and volunteer from the Peace Corps (Mark). It was definitely interesting learning about some of the different options for living abroad.

After the meeting, it was time for our bath. We were introduced to our guide, a young Moroccan women that we think may have been the girl from the school earlier that day. We were all given a packet of soap and this glove scrubber thing that was supposed to be really good for exfoliating. The Haman wasn’t too far from our house, so we were there before we knew it. We entered into this large room that was sort of split in half; one side had a huge mirror and a counter where you could check your bags, and then there was area with some benches along the wall. We were herded into this area, and sort of stood around awkwardly waiting to see who would be the first to get undressed. Apparently the custom there is to wear underwear and nothing else. It was definitely a bit uncomfortable at first, but I have to say, after a while it was actually pretty liberating! We all gave our clothes to the lady behind the counter and in return she gave us each a large bucket. Our guide then led us into the bathing rooms. Basically there were three connected rooms that got progressively hotter. I don’t really have much experience with saunas, so I guess I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to that because I had to stick to the first room, which was also the least crowded. The other two were full of women sitting on the ground, or small stool/mat, and essentially taking bucket showers. Each room has a couple of spigots for you to fill your big bucket, then you use a smaller container to scoop water and dump in on yourself. Somehow, we misplaced the little scoop that our host mom had given us, so we were using one from a student in the other group. Soon they had to leave though, so she came in and asked for it back. Then, this random lady sitting nearby, who happened to see the whole thing, gave us her scoop to use! She even insisted we keep it until the three of us were completely finished. We couldn’t really communicate with her, but her act of generosity was extremely moving. Overall it was an interesting experience. Most students seemed to feel quite strongly about it; some loved it while others said it was literally the most uncomfortable experience of their lives. I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal either way, but it did feel amazing to be clean again!

When we finished with the baths, we returned to our homes for yet another delicious meal. We shared the meal with the host group next door again, this time eating at their house. Afterwards, some of the lady’s friends and family came over and before we knew it, there was basically a full blown party. The women were drumming and singing, and the whole mood was quite jovial. One of the ladies started giving Henna tattoos, so I got one just because everyone else was, but it was cool. We eventually returned home and went to bed with our only regret being that we had to leave so early the next morning.

It was kind of sad getting on the bus, partially because it was before dawn, but mostly because I knew I would really miss our temporary home in Rabat. There was some debate over what we were doing in the afternoon. The itinerary said a hike in the mountains and a visit to a rural home, but the extent of the hike was unclear. After a couple of hours on the bus, we realized what Mark had meant. So we really were just going to visit a family, but it turned out that walking to their home from the bus was quite a feat. Seriously, the terrain was rocky and steep and it seemed to take us forever to get there. The thing is that we were basically just walking through this village, which means that the people living there have to endure that jaunt every single day! We finally arrived at the house of a young women and her mother, where we would eat lunch and share a discussion. Mark warned us ahead of time that the setting was quite different, so we should focus on more micro stuff and steer clear of controversial political issues. They told us about traditional wedding ceremonies and shared some of their experiences. They explained that the closest school was about a 30 minute walk along the main road (if you didn’t break your neck climbing the mountain first). Overall it was just really cool to get off the beaten path and interact with some locals who held a different perspective of life.

Afterwards, we had to hike back up the mountain to the bus. As everyone climbed aboard huffing and puffing, Mark handed out Dramamine to those prone to motion sickness because apparently the drive was going to be quite rough. I didn’t really think it was so bad though, and soon enough we had arrived at our final destination of Chefchaouen. This city is colloquially referred to as the “blue city”, which again may a more not have indicated a historically Jewish population. It was also quite similar to some of the other older cities in Spain and Italy. We made our way to our hostel, then were set free to do as we pleased for about three hours. The city was extremely touristy, so everyone mostly used the time to shop for souvenirs. More people here spoke Spanish, and it wasn’t entirely uncommon for them to speak English. It was pretty and all, but it all just seemed so marketed towards tourists. Also, the young men there were kind of rude. They would not leave us alone and kept trying to engage us conversation or would catcall as we walked by. I mean that stuff happens in Spain too, but they were ruthless. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we felt threatened or harassed or anything, it just got old very quickly. We met for dinner in the central square and shared one last savory meal. By the time we finished eating we were all struggling to keep our eyes open, but everyone seemed to be very content and satisfied with the trip as a whole.

We retired to our hostel and got a pretty good night’s sleep. Turns out we got pretty lucky because a girl from the other group said she killed two cockroaches in their hostel. We had to get up ridiculously early, but as usual we were still running behind schedule, so it was a pretty stressful morning. We did things a little differently on the way back; we took the bus to the city of Ceuta, which is technically Spanish, so we actually crossed the international boarder while still in Africa. I’m not sure what happened, but we had to stand there for what seemed like forever, then when they finally started to let us through, several people got questioned pretty extensively. By then we were really running behind, so we split into small groups to take taxis the port. From there we caught the ferry back to Spain. As we prepared to board, we bade farewell to Mark and promised to keep in touch. The ferry ride was even rougher this time, but a lot people ended up sleeping anyway. We eventually made it back to that town in Spain, and in the afternoon we got back on the train to Madrid.

Overall it was an incredible experience, and I’m so glad I did it. I really was not sure what to expect going in, but it well exceeded anything I had in mind. It’s kind of weird now to be walking around campus and randomly see someone from the trip. On the first day, I was talking to this one girl about how nice it felt to take a shower once I got back, and out of nowhere this other girl from the trip came up and eagerly joined in our revelry. I always said the best way to bond with someone is to travel with them to a developing country, but I would now add that taking a public bath with someone creates a much more unique bond. Anyway, everyone seems to be almost caught back up on school work and settling back into life in Madrid. It felt good to be back, but I’m so looking forward to the next trip!

La Cita de la Tarjeta

Well it’s been quite the eventful day so far and it’s not even noon (rare for me, I know). I had my appointment at the police station today to apply for my residency card. The original plan was that we were all supposed to meet at the university at 10, then travel there together and go through the whole process as a group. Apparently it had been worked out with the director that because we were all together, we could go as a group regardless of our actual appointment times. Of course, nothing can ever be easy though; today is the day we leave for Morocco, so I need to be all the way on the other side of the city by 2:00. On Monday, Paula, our representative from student life, informed me that it could be cutting it extremely close, and there would a decent chance that I wouldn´t be processed in time to make it. She recommended that I go alone to the police station at 8am when they open, explain my situation, and hope they let me go through even earlier. I was honestly pretty nervous about the whole ordeal because a) I was worried that I would be missing one of the many official documents required for the application and b) my Spanish would not be sufficient to explain this extenuating circumstance to the government officials. Here´s the thing though, if I couldn’t do the appointment today, I would have to reschedule for late November, by which time my temporary visa would be expired, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to leave the country from November until January (maybe not the worst thing if I hadn’t already purchased three separate plane tickets to go to other countries); in other words, this all had to work out today.

It turns out the police station was pretty far from my apartment, so I woke up before 7, grabbed my bag for Morocco and set out into the darkness. I was actually surprised at how long it takes the sun to rise around here, it didn’t start to come up until around 8! Anyway, I made the long journey on the metro, then exited the station into the freezing cold. I exaggerate, it was probably around 40, but I was pretty under dressed nonetheless. I was very proud of myself that I managed to make it straight to the police station from the metro without getting lost! I had a pretty detailed map, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting lost in the past. I got there right around 8 to find people already lined up in front, and I soon learned that they didn’t actually open until 9. So there we stood, in the darkness and the cold, everyone seemingly just as worried that they were in the wrong spot, that they didn’t have the right paper, or that something was bound to go wrong. The gate finally opened, and we were herded to another line, also outside, where we continued to wait. When they started letting people in, there was man standing at the front of the line checking appointments. I got to him, he checked my form, then promptly said my appointment wasn’t until the afternoon so I would have to come back. I got out of line because I didn’t really know what else to, like at all. It finally occurred to me that the university´s phone number was on the one of the sheets, so I called Paula in student life. She then told me to explain to the man that I was with the university and we had talked to the director, and that I had to catch a train. If that failed, she told me to have her talk to him on the phone. I got back in line less than hopeful. He came around again checking appointments and, in the best Spanish I could muster, I tried to explain the situation to him. He again said it didn’t matter and I couldn’t get in until 4; he also refused to talk to Paula on the phone.

I called her again and she said she was going to try to get ahold of the director, Marivell (or something like that), and she started to give me instructions on what to do, but that´s the time when my cell phone randomly decided that the minutes on my SIM card were expired and it cut off mid conversation. By this point I couldn’t really feel my fingers or my nose, so I decided to just take a gamble and go for it. I went back to the doorman and asked for Marivell. He let me past with vague directions on where to go, so I asked another random person inside and I eventually made it to her! I did my best to articulate the situation, be she seemed unaware of the arrangements. She tried to make some phone calls to a person I had never heard of, but she couldn’t get ahold of them or something. I pleaded with her to just call the university so Paula could get it straightened out, but she explained that wasn’t protocol. She said that what I could do was call Paula myself, then have Paula call Marivell, to which I replied that my phone wasn’t working and asked if I could use her phone to make the call. It was right about at that moment that her phone rang; I´m not sure who it was or what they talked about, but she seemed to make a connection. She pointed me towards a waiting area and said she had to go talk to someone. These benches were thankfully inside, so I sat there for a while until she came for me. She then led me past the line, straight to one of the clerks, explained that my appointment time was basically irrelevant, and to attend to me next. Within a few minutes, I was seated in front of the young man, who went through my paper work without issue, took my finger prints, and then sent me on my way. That´s all it took.

I went back to the university, and now I have about 20 minutes before I´m going to make my way to metro station where we are meeting for Morocco. I have to say, traveling internationally teaches you about culture and all that, but I think it’s taught me even more important lessons about handling very stressful situations and rolling with the punches. Seriously, anyone that spent time with me this summer can attest to the anguish that went into the process of obtaining my student visa. But I think this step might have been the last, and this time next month I will have my residency card that will allow me to stay here (and reenter) indefinitely. Now that all of that is behind me, I´m looking forward to the next leg of my adventure! I´m pretty sure we are taking the AVE to the south of Spain where we will stay in a hostel tonight. Then, bright and early tomorrow morning we will take a boat to Africa! I´m a little apprehensive of the living conditions, as all the orientation material just said it will be “interesting”, and if I understand correctly, we may only have one opportunity to bathe in the course of 5 days and it will be in a public bath house. Another thing that traveling abroad has taught me though is that no situation can really be that bad; after all, it’s like I always say, “it could be worse, you could be dead (at which point would be an end to suffering anyway)” I know it sounds morbid, but it’s true, nothing can happen in life that’s really THAT bad, except in the case of medieval torture devices!


Well things went much smoother yesterday than I thought they might. Nola and I had decided to meet at the train/bus station around 10 and decide from there the best way to get to Toledo. It didn’t take us long to agree that the AVE would be perfect; it leaves every hour, but the next train that wasn’t completely booked was at 12:20. It kind of seemed like a long time until then, but we had a nice breakfast and occupied the rest of the time engaged in very interesting political conversations. Before we knew it, it was time to find our platform and board our train. So the AVE stands for Alta Velocidad Española and cleverly, the word ave also means bird. Because we were traveling a relatively short distance (only about an hour and a half by bus), our train wasn’t one of the fastest and coasted at only slightly above 150 mph. It was ridiculous how quickly we got there. When they started to make an announcement after only about 25 minutes, I thought they were just going to remind us that smoking was prohibited or something, but it turned out we had arrived!

Like in Venice, we then had to find our way downtown from the station. It turned out to not be too bad though, and once we figured out the map, we set off on foot towards the city center. They had called for rain all day, but it was actually sunny and only slightly chilly, which was the perfect weather to do a lot of walking. So Toledo was actually the first capital of Spain, and I believe its one of the oldest cities. The architecture was very similar to that of Segovia and even Venice. The main difference was that there actually cars driving through the very narrow streets that were constantly packed with tourist. I could not imagine driving there because it seems like it would take forever to get anywhere. Seriously, every time a car came, we would basically have to stand with our backs against the wall until it passed.

I think the streets there may also have been even more difficult to navigate than those in Venice, so it didn’t take us too long to forego the map and just wander around the city. We ended up walking through a pretty quiet residential area and eventually found ourselves at a park overlooking the whole city and beyond. There were a couple of families there playing with their children, and the scene was extremely serene. Well I thought so at least; Nola, who goes to school in San Fransisco described feeling very uncomfortable and isolate in wide open spaces and explained that she felt much better in a densely populated area. We walked around for a little while and found a pretty quaint cafe to eat lunch. We tried paella, which is one of the most typical Spanish dishes, and sangria. It was good and priced reasonably well.

After lunch we continued wondering aimlessly and eventually found ourselves at an exhibition of mid evil torture devices! They had cheap rates for students, so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be just as awful as it sounds; I had actually heard of most of the instruments, but actually seeing them and reading detailed accounts about how they were used was gruesome. On the bright side, we actually learned some pretty cool things about Spanish history and the inquisition. Get this, when a person got accused of a crime, it was protocol to not tell them who accused them or with what crime they were even being charged! Men were mostly accused of practicing Judaism, drunkenness, or homosexuality, and women could be accosted for things like being a witch, a single mom, or trying to have sex with the devil.  It was pretty sickening to specifically imagine much of the things that went in this time period, and I’m grateful people are generally more enlightened these days. One of the execution devices, albeit perhaps one of the more mild ones, was actually still used until 1975! We walked out of the museum and realized that it had finally rained, so ironically, the torture devices actually spared us some discomfort! Following tradition, we got pretty lost finding our way back to the train station, but made it just in time.

Overall, it was a great day and a pretty fun weekend in general. Our school was closed today for a national holiday, but I’m not sure what it was celebrating. It didn’t really make a difference to me since I don’t have classes on Monday anyway, but I sort of used it to justify not getting much work done. We’re getting ready to eat dinner, and after that I am definitely going to focus on productivity…most likely.










Los Examines

Well it appears as though I might actually survive my first round of midterms. I still have one more next week, but I’m not all that worried. They are going well enough I suppose. As usual, I spent most of my time looking over stuff for my comp class that wasn’t on the exam, then completely blanked on the actual test when some surprise material appeared, but that’s the struggle. I think I did fine, but I definitely could have done better. My lit exam was of course online and wasn’t quite as grueling as I’d anticipated, but it still took almost all day to finish (though much of that time can be attributed to avoidance and procrastination). I guess I’ll  have to wait and see how I fared on it, but I figure its only half way through the semester, so there’s still plenty of time to undo any damage. There are a couple of concepts in my phonetics class that I’m really going to have buckle down on this coming week, but overall I’m really enjoying that class and doing pretty well in it. See that’s the thing, I’m technically in the linguistics focus, but Spanish and Latin American literature are still required components of the program. I mean I guess it makes sense I just wish they weren’t quite as prevalent. Then again I suppose the reason I dislike it so much is because its so challenging, which would imply that I stand to learn a ton. It just gets old though. I mean sometimes I literally have to take a paragraph word by word and I usually have to look up a lot of them because some are pretty obscure. Then, when I know what the most of the words of mean, I have to figure out the sentence in context, then analyze the abstract meaning of the text; in other words, it takes for freaking ever and can be quite draining…and its never ending! Oh well, at least I’m improving my nueroplasticity!

Anyway, to celebrate the end of midterms (more or less), we decided to try a new club last night. This place is supposedly famous or something, but I’d never heard of it, which is also kind of surprising because its right down the road from the Prado. Admission was almost double what it is at our usual club, but we figured we should at least experience it once, and it turned out to actually be pretty incredible. Apparently this place used to be a theater but was at some point transformed into Madrid’s most notorious night club. The best part? It has seven floors! Each one was pretty unique and played its own type of music, so it was really awesome. We thought there might have been a discount for admission before 1:30, so we got there around 1 and it was pretty empty. We used that time to scope out each level and learn the full extent of what the club had to offer, but we ended up spending most of the night in the main room. Before too long it was shoulder to shoulder and the DJ was in full swing. They generally played the same music as the other club, but there was sort of a different energy. They also do this really weird thing; every so often, a huge stream of fog is unloaded onto the crowd. Its actually super refreshing because its a really strong, cold breeze.92d4de9f89edd4395bf49832a1b099e275e5950f Its pretty cool too because its so thick that for a couple seconds you literally cannot see anything around you. The first time it happened there was also a strobe light going, and it was a little disorienting. Later in the night, the crowd was showered in confetti, and apparently balloons got passed around at some point too. I think the coolest thing was the live entertainment. There was a dude playing the electric violin! He started the intro to “Hell’s Bells” and it was pretty awesome when he suddenly transitioned into the intro of “Thunderstruck”. He was on and off the stage various times throughout the night, and he was very talented.

It was a pretty great night overall, but there were some minor incidents. The first one happened when we were coming down from one of the upper levels; I guess I wasn’t really paying attention and I’m not sure how long it took me to notice that the hair I was following in front of me wasn’t Tisha’s. By then I was completely lost. I wasn’t worried though, I honestly kind of enjoyed navigating the place alone for a minute and was more concerned with finding a bathroom than reuniting with the group right away. I figured even if we never found each other I could still easily get home without a problem. Now that I think about it though, it would have been pretty bad because I had Nola’s coat check ticket, as well as her phone and credit card, but I guess that didn’t occur to me then. Anyway, we found each other soon enough and all was well again. Just like in the other club, as the night wore on, people kept dropping their empty drinks on the floor, so it was soon littered with shards of glass. My feet were covered, but Helena took a pretty good slice on the side of her’s. We took her to the bathroom, but it was really bleeding, so we decided to tell one of the bouncers up front. They took us behind this thick black curtain, and one of them attended to her wound. Not to take away from her suffering, but it turned out to be one of my greatest moments so far! The man helping her didn’t speak any English and she doesn’t really speaks Spanish. I think I sort of offhandedly answered something he asked her, so he asked if I spoke Spanish. I said yes, then added the obligatory “well, a little”, but I actually got to translate! I mean the conversation wasn’t all that extensive, but I was able to effectively get one party’s point across to the other! It was a pretty low pressure situation because he hadn’t expected us to speak any Spanish and figured we would be highly intoxicated (not that we were), so the conversation flowed pretty easily. Overall it was very encouraging. That didn’t make it better when the exact same thing happened like 20 minutes later. Poor Helena. She was a good sport though and stuck it our for the rest of the night. The only downside to this club is that its not conveniently located next to a critically acclaimed churro place like the other one, so we had to forgo breakfast, but we were all pretty tired anyway. It was a great time, but we’ll probably stick to our usual (cheaper) haunt in the future.

I told myself that I was going to utilize today to get a leg up on this week’s lit homework, but I never really could force myself to focus. Oh well, I’ll get to it eventually. On a more exciting note, I got a job! I mean its not a lot, but its a start. I’m tutoring English to two children! It was actually kind of funny because I had been talking to a girl in one of my classes about needing to find some work, and the very next day someone came into one of her other classes looking for tutors! The girls are 7 and 9, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it turns out their mom wants us to mainly focus on conversation, which means that I literally get paid to sit and talk to each of them in English for 45 minutes. It was a bit of challenge though because they aren’t quite at that level but it was fun trying to communicate. I actually feel like I’m getting to practice my psychology skills along with teaching, so it’ll be pretty good experience. It was also a good test of my Spanish trying to get it all arranged with the mom! She seems super nice though, and I’m so happy I finally found a little source of income. Other than that, things have been pretty regular around here. Nola and I are going to try to take a bus to Toledo tomorrow, so hopefully that goes well!


La Adventura Italiana

So this weekend I fulfilled one of my lifetime goals and finally made it to Italy! The experience was incredible, albeit extremely confusing; I went with two of my classmates, Helena and Nola. Our flight from Madrid got delayed Thursday night, so we ended up arriving in Milan shortly before midnight. On the plane they said we could take a bus downtown that was pretty cheap, but when we got to the airport, the lady behind the counter said we’d be better off taking a train from terminal 1; she was not very courteous though. To get the train we had to go another terminal, which entailed taking a bus. The airport was pretty deserted and the shuttle ride took a very long time, so it was relief when it actually took us where we thought it would. From there we had to take a train, but again, everything was deserted so there was no one around to help us out. We kind of just followed the crowd, I use that term loosely, and ended up on a platform. From there we asked a random man where to catch our train, and he was so nice! It turned out we were on the wrong platform, so he led us to the right one. The train eventually came, and after about 30 minutes we made it to the central station downtown. We had originally planned to attempt navigating the subway system to our hotel, which was another 30 minutes outside of the city, but everything was pretty much shut down at that point.

As we left the train station, I couldn’t help but be enamored by the architecture, and I guess I was just so fascinated by actually being in Italy! I honestly didn’t even mind the fact that we were stranded in downtown Milan after midnight and it was cold and rainy. We eventually walked to what looked like a main street and hailed a taxi with relative ease. Even though we knew the fare was going to somewhat hefty, I really enjoyed getting my first look around the city. The streets were made of cobblestone and there was a lot graffiti on the buildings, but the area had a really classy feel to it. Maybe it was the pedestrians we passed; everyone, particularly the young males, were dressed to the nines! I mean everyone just looked so well put together and fashionable, but not in a pretentious way. By this point I was starting to feel like Italy would fulfill all of my expectations of it and I could not be more excited.Our hotel ended up being pretty far out from the city, and our surroundings got surprisingly rural rather quickly. We were so relieved when we finally made it our hotel that we didn’t really even mind paying for the taxi. But even after we got into the hotel it was feat to find our room! Our number was 2105, so we first headed to the second floor, but that wasn’t right. It turned out we were actually on the 11th floor, but the system still doesn’t make sense to me.

Our room was incredible! It had a little kitchen/lounge area with like a full stove, sink, and a refrigerator! There was also a kitchen table, a television, a desk, and a little day bed/couch thing. We even had a balcony! Then in the bedroom there was a bunch of closet space and a king bed. Oh and the bathroom actually had a working bidet. Anyway, I thought it was great. We got settled in and it was pretty comfortable. Helena and I had plans to go Venice in the morning, and our train left from the central station at 7:30. It seemed like a reasonable enough time, but we had to take the hotel shuttle to a different station, then take the metro the right station, and it turned out that shuttle we had to take left at 5:45! As we climbed into bed after 2, Helena proposed that just thinking of it as nap instead of a night’s sleep might make it easier to get up in the morning; it didn’t. We ended up sprinting to the shuttle and boarding just in time! We weren’t entirely sure were to even get off, but the driver was pretty helpful and we made it without a problem. We asked around at that station how to get to other station, and the service people were helpful, but again, not that friendly. Anyway, we made it there so that’s all that matters. At the other station we found our platform with only minimal issues. Maybe we are just spoiled from living in Madrid, but the public transit system in Italy, at least in Milan, is super confusing!

The train ride took about 2 and a half hours, but of course for whatever reason I couldn’t fall asleep. It was actually a good thing though, because we had assumed it was a direct trip, when really Venice was a just another stop. Our seats were in separate cars, so as we got closer Our train to Venice!to the time our train was supposed to arrive I started to worry about missing the stop. Or worse, one of us getting off and the other staying on because we literally had no way to communicate. When we eventually pulled in, I triple checked we were at the right station, Venice has two, then got off. Within a minute or two, the crowd on the platform started to disperse and Helena was not there. I started to get just a tad anxious at this point, so I walked along the outside of the train to try finding her car. I figured worst case scenario I should just jump back on, so at least we would be lost in Italy together. She happened to look out the window and see me as I passed by and was able to run off in time; it turns out she had enjoyed a very sound nap. So now we were in Venice without a clear idea of what to do next. I suggested that we just explore the surrounding area and that there would surely be tourist information or something, so we ventured out. We found ourselves in a quaint little town with very small shops and residences. It was honestly a cool little area, but it was nothing like I had pictured Venice. A nearby hotel said Best Western Bologne, and we began to wonder if we were even Venice after all, I mean there wasn’t even any water anywhere. I don’t know why, but I really enjoyed it there, I guess because it was pretty off the beaten path. We decided to circle back to the train station and figure something out from there. We purchased a tourist map of the city and learned that we weren’t actually there yet. The customer service people were a little bit nicer and sold us train tickets to get to the downtown station, which is where would be leaving from that evening. Per usual, it was pretty confusing finding the train, and the platform we thought we were supposed to go to seemed to be out of service. After a minute, we asked a random man if he knew where to go. He looked at our ticket and told us to follow him, then led us to the right place.

Before too long, we arrived at a large, bustling station, and we knew we were in the right place. As soon as we walked outside it was breathtaking. We were right on the grand canal, and I don’t know, the whole feel of the city was amazing. We didn’t really have a plan or anything, so we just decided to navigate to the the top five “must see” places on the map. This city was truly unique. So there aren’t any roads, just canals, most of which were relatively narrow. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBesides that was a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. We did our best to follow the map, but the streets (alleys) were super confusing and hard to follow, but we a had a good time trying. It didn’t really matter anyway since we had nowhere to be, so we just soaked in the sights as we walked. We came across some pretty cool looking buildings, but I’m not sure what they were. The surprising thing was that the city seemed pretty deserted, I mean it looked like the onBest pizza ever!!ly other people walking around were tourists. Obviously the people operating the shops and stuff had to live there, but it almost felt a little eerie. We stopped for lunch at a random cafe and ordered spaghetti and pizza. The spaghetti was honestly pretty normal, I mean it was good and all, but it wasn’t very different that what I’d normally eat. The pizza though was incredible! Maybe I was just really hungry and going through withdrawals because Madrid’s pizza is nothing special, but I can’t even begin to describe how delicious it was. It was a mixture of cheeses, and it was amazingly awesome. The only other thing that compared in deliciousness was the gelato we had later. I don’t know what it is, but I think it just richer and creamier and awesomer than regular ice cream.

We found our way to all of the places on the map which included a large bridge on the main canal, a cathedral, a central square,SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES and one that was on another that island that we never made it to. By this point, we had walked pretty far, so we decided to take the bus for fun, which was really a double decker boat, back to the northern part. It felt great out on the water, and it was really cool getting to see the city from that vantage point. We pondered what it would be like for that to be part of your daily commute. When we got off the boat, we still had a couple of hours before the train left, so we decided to just meander around and check out the random shops and whatnot.  A lot of the air smelled like leather, and there were some seriously high end shops. I happened to see at least a couple coats that were priced at over 400 euros! The day was sort of dreary with intermittent rain and a cool breeze, which I know doesn’t sound that great, but as we wondered back through the alleyways it just seemed sort of fitting and relatively perfect. We were kind of losing steam at this point, and we figured we should probably eat before making the trek back to Milan, so we grabbed a slice of pizza at a small shop; it was good, but not as great as that first one.

Our train was scheduled to leave at 7:50, so right around 7 we decided to head out. Surprisingly, it had gotten very dark while we ate, which made reading the map nearly impossible. We were soon hopelessly lost, and the alleys were now pretty sparsely populated and the darkness gave them a sort of mid evil feel. It wasn’t exactly scary, but I just keep feeling like we were bound to see a rat or something. Once again, we stopped another random man and he told us to follow him to the right alley, which was very nice of him, but by the next turn or two we were lost again. We stopped a young couple and asked them for advice (I guess there were some locals out SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESafter all). They pointed out on our map where we were, and it turned out we were all the way on the other end of a different island from where we needed to be. They suggested we just take the water bus, but we weren’t about to pay another fare. They said it was at least a solid 20 minute walk, which was nothing compared to what had already walked throughout the day. They then gave us the most helpful piece of advice; the Italian word for train station is ferrovia, and there were signs in most of plazas leading right to it! We set out with more determination than I’ve experienced in a while. We weaved in and out of people and were practically running. Every time we turned another corner we’d have to scan the dimly lit brick building to find the ferrovia sign, then we’d take off in that direction. Alas, we emerged from a narrow alley and found ourselves at the grand canal directly opposite from the train station. Helena checked her watch again, and it had taken us under seven minutes, which had to be some sort of record. We made it safely onto the train and settled in for the ride back to Milan, which turned out to be last stop so we wouldn’t have to worry about missing it. But of course, I still couldn’t sleep.


From the water bus!





We ended up back at the central station in Milan and were then faced with the challenge of getting back to our hotel. The last shuttle left at 10:20, and it was almost 11 so that was out. We found a route that would involve a metro, a tram, then a bus, but we were pretty sure it would take pretty close our hotel. The problem was finding the right place to go! We asked the man working at the station, and he pointed and told us go “that way”. We did and we couldn’t find anything that closely resembled what we needed. We walked around for probably at least 30 minutes trying to find where to go with no luck. Not even any of the locals knew this time. We asked the man again, but he wasn’t much more help. It was almost midnight at this point, and I was exhausted, so we decide to cut our losses and get a cab. Although paying another fare wasn’t ideal, we concluded that of all the things that could have potentially went wrong that day, this was a very minor issue. The cab driver wasn’t very friendly either, but the coolest thing happened! Unlike everyone else we encountered that day, he couldn’t speak English. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I tried speaking to him in Spanish, to which he replied in Italian, and we actually understood each other! It was really awesome. We finally reunited with Nola at the hotel and were relieved to have made it back safely. The three of had a really good time hanging out in the room and recounting our days. Overall, I could not have asked for a better experience.

We ended up staying up pretty late, but since the hotel breakfast ended at 10, we dragged ourselves downstairs around 9:40. We were definitely looking pretty rough, but we didn’t care. It was so great to actually have a full breakfast again! They had eggs and sausage, cereal, fruit, toast, and a bunch of different croissants, which were amazing! After a very satisfying meal we ended up going back to bed and sleeping into the afternoon, but it was totally worth it. We eventually got ready and caught the next shuttle downtown. Because Nola had been there they day before, we easily navigated the metro system to the central square.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe two coolest things there were this huge cathedral and mall thing. All of the stores there were Prada or Louis Baton, and basically any other super expensive designer you can think of. We ate lunch/dinner in a nice cafe and I got lasagna. It was pretty different than normal lasagna; it was kind of creamier and made it veal, and, again maybe I was just hungry, but it was amazing.

We spent most of the evening wondering in and out different shops and cafes around the central square. It was pretty crowded, but the atmosphere was cool. It continued to rain on and off, but it wasn’t too cold so I didn’t really mind. I tried grape gelato, and it was probably one of my favorite things. We eventually asked one of the locals where the night life happened and he told us we had to take the metro. We found our way to this pretty cool area that was a basically a square lined with bars and clubs. They were pretty expensive, but I think Europe might be the only place where soda typically cost more than beer. After a while, we took the metro back to where the shuttle could pick us up and made it back to the hotel without incident around 1:30 or so.

Sunday morning was a little rough though. Our flight was supposed to leave at 11, but the only shuttle we could take didn’t leave until 7:30. It took us a little over 30 minutes to make it to the metro, then we had to take that to a different station, and from there we had to take another 45 minute train to the airport. We got to the airport right before 10 and had wait for the shuttle to take us to the right gate. We were making decent time, but, of course, the line at security was ridiculously long. It moved quickly though and none of us were accosted, so we made it to our gate in time. We shouldn’t have been worried though because once again our flight was delayed anyway.

I was sad to leave to Italy because it had been a pretty exciting experience. Here are some of the main points I took away from the trip: The food in Italy is everything you would expect and pretty much worth the trip in itself; the people in the service will tell you want you need to know, but don’t always seem happy about it; most youngish looking people seem to speak English and are more than willing to help you find your way around; the public transportation sucks and nothing ever runs on time! Overall, I would absolutely go back anytime, and I really want to explore some either cities there now. It was kind of nice leaving the airport in Madrid though and knowing exactly where I was headed and how to get there. I am not, however, looking forward to another week classes, but again, I guess its all a compromise!

One of the metro stations actually had a book vending machine!

One of the metro stations actually had a book vending machine!





The view from our balcony!

La Rutina


Well, so begins another week! I don’t have any wild and crazy adventures to report from this weekend, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I got to spend some time getting to know my fellow classmates better and exploring local shops and cafes, so that was great. Other than that, I spent a ton of time working on my literature homework! On the bright side, I think I might actually be starting to get a handle on it, but that doesn’t mean its any less of a time commitment!  I’m getting into a pretty good routine though, so that’s nice.

Last week was actually pretty busy. We had our first human rights club meeting, and it was cool because there are people in there from a bunch of different places so they had some pretty unique perspectives. We might organize some volunteer events with the refugees here, which would be nice. Then we had a meeting about the upcoming Morocco trip and I’m super excited about it. Its not until the end of October, but it sounds like its going to be a great experience. I’m not really sure about the living conditions there, but the people just told us, “it will be different than we’re used to” and to make sure we get a good night’s rest before we go because we might not sleep very well…whatever that means. While we’re there our guide is going to be a dude from the Peace Corps, so that should be fun.

We also had a “Master’s Reception,” which was a little awkward but turned out to be pretty fun. It was a combination of the English and Spanish programs, and I think there are less than 15 students combined. So at first it was just me and like four professors, but they’re all really nice so it wasn’t that weird. They even served champagne! The dean and some other administrators stopped by too, but I don’t really remember much about them. It was cool finally getting to meet some of the other students though, but there were only like a total of 5 there including me. I have to admit, it felt pretty awesome being engaged in a conversation with some of my cohorts and profs then to so effortlessly switch to English when two of the English profs came over. Oh and I actually had a really exciting thing happen! I was talking to some administrator lady and she said I had an accent! I was kind of surprised and asked her what kind of accent it sounded like; she said she didn’t know, but that I didn’t sound like most of the students that come from the US. I told her that I had spent a little time studying in Costa Rica, and she seemed to think that was it. Come to think of it, that actually happened to me a lot in Nicaragua too. I guess I will forever speak Spanish like a Tica :)

The Spanish here is actually not as different as I thought it would be. Sure there are some slight variations in that they use other colloquial terms and an extra verb tense, but nothing that really hinders communication. Although there is one word that I had always been taught was an expletive that is completely acceptable here. In Spain you would use it as “take the bus/train/etc” or perhaps “ride the bus” might be more accurate, but in Latin American the verb is pretty much equivalent to the F word. I had to stifle a giggle when I saw it on a quiz in my composition class. The professor actually ended up giving a little lecture about it and how its different here. Other than that its mostly uniform. The accents are of course a little different, but they’re not too bad. I guess people here talk a little fast, but I’m definitely noticing improvements in my listening comprehension. I can pretty much understand everything on a given TV station, and I’m following my lectures with relative ease. Speaking can be hit or miss, but so far I’ve managed to get around and I don’t think I’ve made any seriously offensive errors or anything.

I’m still enamored with this city. I’ve always said I wanted to live in a big city for a little while and I love it. Again, it seems pretty calm for a big city, but there is always something going on and people are always out and about. I guess there’s a bar or something nearby because I can always hear commotion outside my window. Sometimes it might be a crowd drunkenly singing and other times it could be a person playing classical violin. I think what I love most though is the public transport! I haven’t completely mastered the bus system yet, but the metros are great and it so easy to get around. On top of that, I love being able to actually walk places, which I could never really do where I’m from. Seriously I can be like anywhere around the city in like an hour or so on foot. I also like how there always seems to be something to do. I was going to go to an exhibit from a French artist today, but I ended up getting lost and not being able to find the place. I ended up going back to the Prado and getting lost in there because that place is seriously amazing.

The food here on the other hand, well its alright. Most of it is pretty typical stuff that I would normally eat in the US I guess. They definitely don’t seem to cook meat as extensively as we do though. Most times people have ordered burgers, they’ve been super pink in the middle, so I have to remember to add “well done” to my vocabulary. What I don’t like, though I anticipated it, is all the sea food! I mean it’s cool if you like fish, but sometimes I wish we’d have pepperoni or something on our pizzas instead of tuna; pizza here in general has been sub par, which is why I can’t wait to go to Italy. The Spanish tortillas are super delicious though. They are very different than what you’d use to make a burrito; its more like an egg-potato pie thing. I also really like the croquetas here, which are like little fried things stuffed with what I imagine are pureed potatoes and chicken or ham. Oh and Spain for sure has the market cornered on pastries! They have fast food here too (I’ve seen McDonald’s, Burger Kind, Taco Bell, and KFC), but it’s a little different. I haven’t been to one, but apparently it doesn’t have the same stigma as in the US and its not considered as bad. In fact all of the McDonald’s I’ve seen are solely referred to as McCafe’s and the interiors look much classier than the usual one’s in the US. The main thing I’ve noticed is the Taco Bell posters that advertise a quesadilla and three beers for 3 euros! So yeah, I’ll have to try that some time.

Well, I suppose I should get some sleep…

Hasta la proxima!