Poland (Auschwitz)

Last weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Poland and visit both Auschwitz concentration camps. Before I start, I want to make sure you prepare yourself for some of the pictures that follow some of my thoughts.

Throughout the course of the semester I have been learning about everything involving the Nazis during World War II, form their rise to power, to their fall of power.  But, more importantly I have been learning about what they did to Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and many others.  The rise of the labor camps, and then the death camps were also mentioned in class.  But, even though I was learning about these camps in the classroom, nothing really made sense to me until I visited Auschwitz I and II.  After studying the Nazi power, their leaders, their ideals, and more, I thought I had a full grasp as to what they did during this time.  But, I was wrong.  It wasn’t until this trip to Poland that I was able to truly see what went on during the War.

The Jewish Quarter in Krakow, Kazimierz, was the first thing (related to the War) I got to witness.  It housed Jews for over 500 years and is filled with synagogues and a cemetery.  The Remuh cemetery was named after a rabbi, Moses Isserles.  Today, Jews still come to this cemetery to pray at his grave and the several other graves of the Jews buried there.  At times, people will come and leave notes or prayers, hoping the Rabbi will answer their wishes and prayers.  Moreover, there are several synagogues that make up this Jewish Quarter.  The Old Synagogue was one of the synagogues that I had the privilege to enter.  Its old façade and delicate interior really gives it this old feel—especially since it is one of the oldest synagogues standing in Poland.

the Remuh cemetery

the Remuh cemetery

the Old Synagogue

the Old Synagogue

In March of 1941, the Nazis forced all the Krakow Jews to move to a new ghetto a little bit north of Kazimierz.  Then, the ghetto was liquidated two years later in March 1943.  I had the opportunity to see the area where the Jews were told to report before deportation.  An open area of land, with one small building that housed Nazi officers.  The Jews were told to wait there, and because they would be waiting there for hours and hours on end, many brought chairs with them to sit on.  Today, there is not just one monument that sits in this area to commemorate what went on in this area.  Rather, the monument consists of big and small cement chairs scattered throughout this area.  Many of the Jews that were told to wait in this area were taken to concentration camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Plaszow.

original buildings in the ghetto

original buildings in the ghetto

waiting area for Jews before deportation

waiting area for Jews before deportation

where the Nazis would wait, watching the Jews, making sure nobody escaped

where the Nazis would wait, watching the Jews, making sure nobody escaped

A couple blocks away from this waiting area, was Oskar Schindler’s factory.  Oskar Schindler was a businessman from Czechoslovakia who opened up this enamelware factory with a man named Itzhak Stern (a Jewish accountant).  Schindler employed Jews, and used bribes to do so.  He was arrested several times, trying to save these Jews, but by the end of the war, he ended up saving about 1,100 Jews.  After reading Schindler’s Ark, for the term paper, I had a pretty good understanding of his story and the story of those he saved.  But then, I was able to walk the same streets he did, and see the location of the factory where he worked.  These small experiences made everything so surreal, that it is just something that I can never forget.

Schindler's factory

Schindler’s factory

The next day, I was able to take a tour of Auschwitz I and II.   The Auschwitz camps were the largest of the Nazi camps.  At the time, the SS declared an area of 40 square kilometers around Auschwitz and Birkenau a “special interest zone.”  Most of the polish people living in this area during 1940 were forced out.  The houses were then used by the SS and their families.  Others were used to house certain services for the SS—the rest were torn down.  Between 1940 and 1944 the camp authorities used this are to set up farms, factories and workshops using prisoners to do so.

Between the years 1940-1945 the Nazis deported at least 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz.  Among these people, about 1,100,000 were Jews, 140,000 were Poles , 23,000 were Gpysies, 15,000 Soviet prisonders of war and 25,000 were prisoners from other ethnic groups. On the drive over, all I could think about was how these Jews were transported.  Being that the drive, on a bus, took a little over an hour, I can only imagine how long it took for the Jews to arrive at the camp back in the 40s.  The Jews were transported in these wooden cars, by railway.  Back then, it took days to be transported from Krakow to the labor and death camps.  I arrived at the first camp, Auschwitz I and the first thing I saw was the entrance to the camp.  Above the entrance were there words “Arbeit Macht Frei.”  These words translate to mean, “labor makes you free.”  Auschwitz I was a camp, that used to be the Polish military base.  This camp housed Polish prisoners, and was the location of medical experiments.  When the Jews got out of the cars, that they were transported in, all of their belonings were confiscated.  They were then separated into two lines.  The doctor would come over and inspect them and if they were fit enough to work, they would be sent to the right and the people who weren’t were sent to the left—the side of death.  Pregnant women, disabled, and the elderly were among those sentenced to death.

entrance to Auschwitz I (labor camp)

entrance to Auschwitz I (labor camp)

view from the outside of Auschwitz I

view from the outside of Auschwitz I

a sign warning prisoners of the high voltage

a sign warning prisoners of the high voltage

In Auschwitz I, there was an exhibit that contained all the belongings, to the Jews, that the Nazis confiscated.  Among those were piles and piles of suitcases, glasses, dishware, brushes (hair and toothbrushes), Talits, and shoes. Also, there was an entire room filled with crutches, back splints, and prosthetic legs—confiscated from the disabled before they were sentenced to death.  What struck me most was the piles and piles of hair that the Nazis confiscated from these innocent human beings.  In the exhibit, there is aroom filled with piles and piles of people’s hair.  The Nazis planned to ship the hair back to Germany to be used to make other resources for the war.

confiscated glasses

confiscated glasses

confiscated Talits

confiscated Talits

all the suitcases that the Jews brought with them to the camps, thinking they were there for better work

all the suitcases that the Jews brought with them to the camps, thinking they were there for better work

all the confiscated dishes

all the confiscated dishes

confiscated elements from the disabled before they were sentenced to immediate death

confiscated elements from the disabled before they were sentenced to immediate death

the hundreds of thousands confiscated shoes that people wore to the camps

the hundreds of thousands confiscated shoes that people wore to the camps

After going through a couple of rooms and looking at all these confiscated belongings, I came across a glass window of the uniforms that prisoners had to wear.  Upon arrival at the concentration camps, the prisoners were told to strip, their clothing taken away, and they were replaced with a striped uniform.  Men would wear pants a long sleeve type, cotton shirt.  Women would wear a smock type dress.   On their feet, the prisoners wore wooden or leather clogs.  Socks were not supplied, so prisoners would often suffer from blisters, and other foot sores.  This became extremely dangerous because the conditions in the barracks were so unsanitary that prisonders would catch infections, some of which led to death.  The clothes would be changed about every six weeks.  To most prisoners, this felt like forever because they would have to work and sleep in the same clothes—which also didn’t help the sanitary problems.  All the prisoners were identified by numbers—numbers branded on the arms of adults, and sometimes the legs on smaller children.  This number would also be printed on their uniforms.  Along with these numbers, different types of triangles were placed on the uniforms to signify the different reasons for imprisonment (criminals with a green triangle, political prisoners with a red, homosexuals with pink, Jehovah’s Witnesses wore a purple triangle, Gypsies wore a black triangle).  And of course, the Jews wore a yellow triangle over a red triangle to form the Star of David.

example of the uniforms worn by those in Auschwitz

example of the uniforms worn by those in Auschwitz

As I continued to walk down a dirt road, in between block  numbers 10 and 11, I came across an open courtyard.  From 1941-1943 this was the courtyard where the SS shot thousands of people along the wall—most of whom were Polish political prisoners, people who helped others escape or facilitated contacts with the outside world.  The Polish people who were sentenced to death outside of the camp, in nearby towns, were also brought to this area—where they were shot.  Men, women, children had been taken during operations of the Polish resistance against the Germans.  Some of the punishments that went on in this courtyard included, hanging from the “post.”  Here, prisoners’ hands were tied behind their backs and they were hung from the wrists.  This often led to dislocation of limbs and was a torturous way to die.  The gas chambers and crematoria (at Auschwitz II) were among the other places where the SS carried out these torturous killings.

the wall where SS officers would shoot prisoners

the wall where SS officers would shoot prisoners

the place where Polish prisoners were hung from their wrists, with their hands tied behind their backs

the place where Polish prisoners were hung from their wrists, with their hands tied behind their backs

Then there was block 11.  Block 11 was referred to as the “death block.”  This was where the camp jail was located.  Most of the people that were housed in these jails were male and females who the SS thought were attempting to escape, or they were maintaining contacts with the outside world.  Also, for some time, the Sonderkommando (the special unit of prisoners employed to burn bodies) were held here.  In the basement, there were “punishment cells” where the SS confined the prisoners.  There were standing cells, where the SS would place about 4 prisoners (into this tiny square foot cell) and would make them stand there for days at a time.  These were the prisoners accused of violating camp regulations, some prisoners were also sentenced to starve to death, in this block, in 1941.

inside block 11

inside block 11

As I was walking towards the exit in Auschwitz I, I noticed a couple of wooden poles with a hook.  By this point, I knew it was meant for hanging.  It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized that this was the place where the camp Gestapo was located.  This pole was where the Polish Supreme National Tribunal sentenced the first commandment of Auschwitz, SS Rudolf Hoss, to death after the war.  He was hung in this location on April 16th, 1947.

What hit home most was seeing the inside of the gas chamber.  This was where the prisoners were told that they were going to be taking showers.  They were taken into a front room, where they were told to strip.  The Nazi officers would often tell the people, “remember the numbers [above the hooks where the clothes were placed], because you will need your towel after.”  This sickened me most.  They were fooling these innocent people, and nobody had any idea what was really going on.  These people truly thought they were going to get a shower—most people excited to just be near water, to drink.  They were so deprived of food and water that they were desperate and couldn’t wait to take this so-called “shower.”  The Nazis used cans of a specific poison, called Zyklon B.  They would drop these cans through small holes in the ceilings of the gas chambers.  Inside the gas chamber, you could still see the scratch marks on the walls from people trying to escape.  The gas chamber held up to 700 people at one time.  This was shocking to me because my tour group, of 20 people, took up most of the space in the first half of the room.  I cannot even fathom the idea of 700 that cement room fitting that many people.

the outside of the gas chamber

the outside of the gas chamber

inside the gas chamber (remember 700 people)

inside the gas chamber (remember 700 people)

Then I went to Auschwitz II, which was about a five-minute drive from the first labor camp.  You could tell from the start that this camp was built specifically to house millions and millions of people.  It was huge! I never really imagined how big this camp could have been until I saw it.  It went on for miles, and the forest in the distance seemed to be hours away.  The very first thing I noticed was the train tracks running through the middle of the camp.  Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz Birkenau, was the death camp.  It was in an area of open land, and all you could see are these long wooden barracks, in rows, that went on for miles and miles.  We started walking down this dirt road and came across the spot where people were separated into the different lines, as mentioned before.  During this time, the SS doctor would divide the Jews who had just arrived, into two lines.  One line for the pople fit for work (to become prisoners) and the other line was for those who were to be sentenced to immediate death in the gas chambers and crematoria.  Most of the barracks and building were demolished in this camp.  As I started walking down this dirt path, towards the back of the camp, I realized that I was taking the same steps the Jews took.  I was taking the walk to my death, and boy did that walk feel like an eternity.  I cannot even imagine taking that walk and not knowing where I was going, or what was going to happen to me.  When I arrived at the back of the camp, where the crematoria were, I noticed that there was nothing left but ruins.  But, even though only ruins remained, you could still see the outlines of the crematoria—the three separate rooms.  As I walked around one, you were able to see these two huge large holes in the ground.  These were the holes where the ashes were dumped after they bodies were cremated.

some of the demolished barracks (the only thing left are the chimneys)

some of the demolished barracks (the only thing left are the chimneys)

Auschwitz-Birkenau (death camp)

Auschwitz-Birkenau (death camp)

what the Jews were transported in (this was the point in the camp where the people were separated into 2 lines)

what the Jews were transported in (this was the point in the camp where the people were separated into 2 lines)

the long walk to the end of the camp/to the crematorium (this is the beginning)

the long walk to the end of the camp/to the crematorium (this is the beginning)

the end of the long walk...the crematorium are behind me (look how big this place is)

the end of the long walk…the crematorium are behind me (look how big this place is)

 

The gas chamber and Crematorium was the place where hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were murdered.  They were gassed and their bodies were burned.  The crematorium was used for other people other than the Jews, other people who had died from other causes—it was the place to dispose of bodies.  On October 23rd, 1943, there was a revolt by some Jews, who resisted being taken into the gas chambers.  Nazi officials quickly placed the resistance under control.  But, towards the end of the war, the SS began to remove and dispose of the evidence of the atrocities at Auschwitz.  In 1945 they used dynamite to destroy what remained.  This is why most of the camp seemed to be demolished.

the demolished crematorium (blown up from dynamite by the Nazis in order to cover up)

the demolished crematorium (blown up from dynamite by the Nazis in order to cover up)

But, for the barracks that did remain, I was able to have a look inside.  The first one I went into was the “bathhouse” barrack.  I walked in and all I could see were these two long concrete benches with hundreds of holes, one after the next.  This was the place where the people would go to the bathroom.  But, the prisoners were only allowed to go the bathroom twice a day—once before they went to work, and once when they came back from work.  Many of the prisoners preferred to work in this barrack as supposed to another job in the outdoors.  Although the smell in this room was so foul during the times of war, filled with feces and diseases, people still hoped to get a job in this barrack.  The main reason for this was that they wanted to be sheltered from the weather.

the bathrooms

the bathrooms

Then, I got to witness and see the living conditions of the barracks.  The cold, eerie, wooden looking barrack was filled with 3 layered bunk beds on both sides of the room.  Each bed, on each layer, supposedly housed between 5 to 8 people.  This just gives you an idea of how many people were cramped into these barracks.  Wearing only cotton, thin uniforms, people often suffered from diseases, hypothermia, and more.  Many people died in these barracks due to these harsh living conditions.  This was the last thing I saw in Auschwitz II and it was definitely a picture in my mind that will never be forgotten.  On January 27, 1945 those that were not dead or evacuated were liberated by the Soviets.

a look inside one of the barracks (the hundreds of others looked exactly the same and had the same layout)

a look inside one of the barracks (the hundreds of others looked exactly the same and had the same layout)

You often see pictures on the Internet, or see documentaries of what happened at these camps.  But nothing of the matter does enough to truly portray what it was really like in these camps, and what the suffering was like during this time.  Auschwitz is a place that has become a symbol of evil and terror, and most importantly is the symbol of the holocaust.

By reading books (Schindler’s List, The Nazi Germany Sourcebook, Hitler and Nazi Germany and others), traveling to such historical places and understanding class lectures, I have a full grasp on world war II and the Nazi party—what they did, how they did it, why they did it, and everything else that goes along with the party.  If there’s one thing I learned in traveling to Auschwitz, is that everyone has a story. No matter if you were Jewish, a homosexual, a gypsy, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or anything else, everyone endured such extreme suffering during this time.  Taking this trip, has imprinted an understanding that is indescribable—an understanding of the Jewish people and the terror that people endured in these frightening years.  I cannot believe I am so blessed to have had an opportunity like this.  I have been learning about the Nazis in class, and now I can feel for those who have died, risked their lives, or even survived during this time.  I was able to truly witness, first hand, what happened during the holocaust.  We can never forget what happened.

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Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam & Paris (Spring Break 2013)

Spring break! I just want to forewarn you guys that 4 countries in 10 days means a lot of adventures…which means a long blog ahead. Prepare yourselves!

PRAGUE:

Our first stop on spring break was Prague!! Myself along with 5 of my friends (Taylor, Kat, Melissa, Rossano and Melissa) flew into Prague last Thursday afternoon (March 21st), got off the plane and headed straight for the hostel.  We checked into the hostel, and had some free time to explore.  We walked down one of the side streets looking for a place to have some dinner.  We ended up stumbling upon this hole-in-the-wall café.  Of course we were looking at menus outside these restaurants, but there were two problems.  1. We couldn’t read Czech and 2. We had no idea what the currency (the Czech crown) converted to in Euros or Dollars.  So, we had no clue what we were about to eat or how much it would cost.  But, with our sense of adventure, we decided to enter this little café, hoping someone spoke English.  Well, we were in luck.  The bartender spoke a little English and explained to us that we had three options of food—beef, duck, or rabbit, with a side of dumplings.  We sat down and all ordered the beef meal with dumplings on the side.  When we got our meal, we noticed that the dumplings weren’t dumplings that you would get served in the states.  Rather, they were similar to pieces of bread on the side of a beef stew.  Well, it turns out that we ordered a typical Czech meal called Goulash.  It was amazing!!! We got some beers with our meal and got the check.  The check came out to 900 Czech crowns.  When we saw that number, our hearts dropped a little, until we figured out that it was actually super cheap when converted back to Euros.  After dinner, we headed back for the hostel, hoping to get ready to go out.  But, once we all sat in our beds, we were overcome with exhaustion.  My friend Audrey, from Chapman, is studying abroad in Prague. So, she came over to our hostel and brought a bottle of wine with her.  So, we sat in the hostel, enjoying some wine and catching up.

Goulash

Goulash

The next day, we woke up early to grab some free breakfast and we were off to join a walking tour.  We started walking, and good lord was it cold!! I wasn’t used to there being snow on the ground, nor I was used to 20 and 30-degree weather (it has been 40s and 50s in Madrid).   The walking tour took us to some incredible monuments and areas of Prague—some of which included Old Town Prague, the famous astronomical clock, the Jewish ghetto, and more! The walking tour lasted about three hours, and at this point I couldn’t feel any of my limbs.  I was actually frozen, along with the rest of my friends.  But, after walking through the Jewish ghetto and seeing the oldest synagogue left from the Second World War, I really wanted to go into the Jewish museum.  The rest of my friends weren’t interested and wanted to find a café to get some hot tea and defrost.  So, while my friends went to grab some tea, I went into the Jewish museum in the old Jewish quarter in Prague.  It was a museum that Hitler had built for people to remember an exterminated race.  The first part of the museum was an empty room with the walls filled with last names (in alphabetical order) of Jews that were killed.  After that, I came across an exhibit with children’s’ drawings during the evacuation of the ghetto and from the concentration camps. These kids drew pictures of skeletons, the bunkers in the concentration camps, and even the Nazis whipping other kids.  It was an unimaginable sight, and I was overcome with emotion.  There were dolls, found, that once belonged to these kids.  There were also the “Jude” patches that the Jews had to wear during the war.  Continuing on, I stumbled upon a cemetery—a cemetery with 11 layers of bodies, everywhere.  Another powerful sight to see, I walked through the cemetery taking in the sight and thinking about the people whose lives were taken at such a horrific time in the world.  After walking through the cemetery, the last exhibit was in front of me.  This was an exhibit with old silver and gold, old Torah covers, and old clothing that were once used in the ghetto.  After seeing this, I took a casual walk around the block to gather my thoughts and then met back up with my friends.

oldest working astronomical clock in the world!

oldest working astronomical clock in the world!

oldest synagogue

oldest synagogue

old Jewish quarter

old Jewish quarter

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11 layers of Jewish bodies. RIP

11 layers of Jewish bodies. RIP

After sitting in the café for a little while, defrosting, we decided to go to the fair in Old Town.  Because we were traveling during Easter week, each country had their own cute little fairs with food, souvenirs, deserts, and entertainment.  So we headed for the fair and got some hot wine and fresh beef and ham.  We walked through the fair looking around at the little stands with cute things to buy until we came across a stand with wooden stick whips.  We were so confused.  We asked the guy what they were used for.  He then proceeded to explain that in the Czech Republic there is a tradition, that on Easter Sunday the men get to lightly whip the women with these sticks (while singing a song).  In return, the women hand the men Easter eggs.  To me, it was funny and unfortunately I never got to see anyone get whipped because we left Prague before Easter Sunday.  So, we walked around for a couple of hours, got some hot wine, and some typical Czech pastries and enjoyed the atmosphere.  After that, we headed back to the hostel to get ready for an organized Clock Tower Prague pub-crawl.

Enjoying hot wine and ham!

Enjoying hot wine and ham!

Making traditional Czech pastries

Making traditional Czech pastries

The next day, we woke up early again for breakfast and soon after we were off for another adventure.  It was now Saturday, and we were headed to the Prague Castle and several other sights.  We walked up this huge hill until we reached the castle walls and walked in.  We got to see and walk through this beautiful cathedral and walk through the Castle.  Afterwards, we walked back down the hill and headed towards the John Lennon Wall.  This was a wall that was used for people to express themselves freely.  Although the communist government painted over the wall, every night, it now remains a place for people to express themselves freely.  Being that there are hundreds of layers of paint, we were not able to see any of the original art, so instead we proceeded to make our own art and express ourselves freely.  I wrote a quote on the wall, along with my name and the date.  After taking some pictures in front of the wall and reading what other people had wrote, we headed for lunch.

Signing the John Lennon Wall

Signing the John Lennon Wall

The John Lennon Wall

The John Lennon Wall

On the way to lunch we crossed the Charles Bridge, which is fairly new.  On the bridge is a statue that if you touch, you supposedly get good luck from it. So after a touching the monument, and hoping for some good luck, we went to lunch.  We went to a famous restaurant, known for its Czech food.  We enjoyed a great meal, and then headed back to the hostel.  We took some siestas and started to pack.  That night we had a low-key night, and got some drinks from the bar in the hostel.

Getting some good luck!

Getting some good luck!

Charle's Bridge!

Charle’s Bridge!

BERLIN:

The next morning we were off to the second stop on our trip, BERLIN! We woke up early and got on the bus at 9am and took about a 5-hour bus ride to Berlin.  We arrived in Berlin and I was so surprised by how much snow was on the ground! Being a typical Californian, I often get crap for being excited when I see snow.  And of course, my friends laughed at me when I got excited to see all the snow.  Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize that snow means cold, and I WAS FROZEN…again! Pulling into the city on the bus, we passed another cute outdoor fair with food, entertainment and souvenirs.  So, after checking into the hostel and getting settled, we headed straight for the German food.  We walked through, got fried dough balls, and potatoes pancakes (LATKES IN GERMANY)!  After grabbing some snacks at the fair we headed straight for the East Side Gallery—the East side of the Berlin Wall.  This is the only side, that in the 90s, people were allowed to paint huge murals.  So, after getting lost a couple of times, and walking in the freezing cold for about 45 minutes, we arrived at the wall.  Let me just say, what an incredible thing to experience.  We got to see people express themselves with these paintings. (see pics below)  After walking and looking at all the murals, we went back to the fair to eat some dinner.  We ended up getting Goulash (beef stew) with potatoes and corn! IT WAS INCREDIBLE! I definitely think Germany had the best food on out of all the countries I visited over break.  That night, we grabbed some drinks at a bar and just enjoyed each other’s company.

snow!

snow!

Found the Latkes!

Found the Latkes!

East Side of the Berlin Wall

East Side of the Berlin Wall

Dinner at the Fair (Goulash and Potatoes)

Dinner at the Fair (Goulash and Potatoes)

The next day we woke up early for a walking tour of Berlin.  The tour started at the Brandenburg Gate.  This was the original city gate.  We walked through the gate and we then got to see the Reichstag.  This was basically the Nazi Party’s government building during World War II.  Now, it stands as a typical government building.  Right in front of the gate and in front the Reichstag, there was a line of bricks going through the middle of the road.  Our tour guide explained to us that those were the remains of the Berlin Wall, and where the Berlin Wall used to be.  It was pretty incredible to see the remains of the wall in the middle of the street.  To think that you could be on one side of the street and be in East Berlin, and then cross the street and be on the other side of the wall, and be in West Berlin.  Our tour, for the most part, stayed in East Berlin simply because there was more to see and more history to cover in this territory.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

We then walked down the street and came across an incredible and intricate memorial.  This was the memorial of the murdered Jews of Europe.  It was interesting to see a memorial in the middle of Berlin because to me it is rare to find a memorial in the same city of the people who committed the murders.  There is so much symbolism in this memorial.  From afar it looks like blocks, short and tall, big and small.  Some argue that it is supposed to represent coffins of those killed.  Others say, the blocks start off small to symbolize the small number of deaths, and then as you get deeper and deeper into the memorial, the blocks become bigger—symbolizing the increase in murders and eventual genocide.  I agree with this one.  As you walk through this memorial you become engulfed and lost—making it difficult to find your way out of this maze, you begin to realize to complexity of the blocks, illustrating the individual stories of those who were murdered.

Memorial of murdered Jews of Europe!

Memorial of murdered Jews of Europe!

After walking trough this maze of a memorial, we continued walking and ended up in an empty parking lot.  This was where Hitler committed suicide in his bunker.  They do not have any remains of the bunker, rather instead they made it an empty and old car lot.  This is so people do not have a place to worship Hitler and the Nazi ideology.  After that we got to see the oldest and only Nazi building left standing from the war. (see pics below) Afterwards, we got to see the place where the Nazi book burning took place, and the library where all the books came from.  Then of course, the tour ended at the Berlin Wall.  It was pretty crazy to be standing in front of this wall that looks like a typical wall, but actually has so much meaning into it.  It was built over night.  So if you were at a friend’s house on one side of the street, and your family lived on the other side of the street, the next morning you would have no contact with your family.  Once the wall was up, you lost all contact with your friends and family who lived on the other side.  There were so many contraptions and ways to prevent people from getting over the wall.  The tour guide mentioned some crazy number that only about 12 people were able to actually get over the wall.  It was an incredible sight to see.

Where the Nazi book burning took place!

Where the Nazi book burning took place!

Last Nazi Building in existence

Last Nazi Building in existence

After the tour, about three hours later, we headed to lunch.  We had asked the tour guide to recommend a place for us to get a typical German meal.  We followed his instructions, busted out the map, and were on our next mission.  We found the restaurant and it was definitely the best meal of the week!  After lunch, we headed back towards the Berlin Wall, to go to the free museum.  This museum was all about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.  It was crazy to be reading about some of this stuff, all while standing the in the very same city where it all began.  Now, Berlin was not my favorite city in terms of beauty—but this is because it was extremely modern (everything was destroyed from the war).  Berlin may not have been a city of beauty, but it was definitely a city rich in its history.  To walk through the same streets as Nazis and see the actual buildings and places where these historic things took place is something that I will never forget.

Lunch!

Lunch!

In front of the Berlin Wall

In front of the Berlin Wall

AMSTERDAM:

That night, we were off to our third country, AMSTERDAM! We took an overnight bus, Monday night from Berlin, and arrived early Tuesday morning in Amsterdam. We got off the bus around 6am, checked into the hostel and took a quick nap until about 9am.  We got up, ate breakfast, and were off on our Amsterdam walking tour.  At this point, you are probably asking why I took so many walking tours? Well, we found hostels with free included breakfast and free included walking tours! So, of course being as broke as we are, we took every advantage of the free food and tours.  So, back to Amsterdam…we were off on the walking tour! It was still freezing in Amsterdam! I was ready to be back in the Madrid 40 degree heat. Haha. Well, honestly I didn’t expect Amsterdam to be as pretty as it was.  The entire city is filled with the beautiful canals, and slanted buildings.  I still couldn’t believe that I was in Holland.  Holland? I went to Holland?!? This all still feels like a dream! Anyways, the walked tour took us through the town.  We got to see the canals, the architecture, the red light district, the “coffee shops” and of course the most important—the Anne Frank House.  The walking tour lasted about three hours and ended near the Anne Frank House.  So what better way to start your day in Amsterdam than with a tour of the House you have been reading about in books since you were a child.  I had read the Anne Frank Diary and I was about to enter the place where everything was not only written, but where everything happened.  The line was extremely long and we were cold.  So we all took turns going inside this café to get warm, then coming back out and taking turns standing in line.  Well, me and Kat were so cold, that we went to go buy beanies and on the way back to the line we passed this little Holland cheese store.  We walked in, of course to get some free samples of cheese.  But the cheese was so good, that I actually bought 2 whole things of cheese!

Amsterdam in its beauty!

Amsterdam in its beauty!

Kat and I in our beanies

Kat and I in our beanies

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Soon enough, we were at the ticket window and ready to start the tour.  We walked through the house and it was interesting to see what each room was used for.  It wasn’t so much as a house, rather a business on the lower levels and then in the attic where Anne Frank and others were housed to hide from the Nazis.  When you walked up to the entrance of the attic stairs, you were able to see the original bookshelf and books that covered the secret doorway.  We walked up the steep wooden steps and entered the secret annex.  The thing that struck me the most, was on the wall Otto Frank had marked the height of Anne and her sister on the wall of the living room.  The original pencil marks were still on the wall!  You then entered the kitchen and got to see the original kitchen sink and cabinets.  Afterwards, you entered Anne’s room.  In Anne’s diary she mentions how she begins decorating the walls of her room to make it look prettier.  Well, those images were still on the wall.  There were still pictures, and magazine cut outs of people she admired.  After that you walked back down the stairs and started reading more of her diary entries.  The museum had her original entries, along with original files and records of the Franks from the concentration camps.  After walking through this house, I found myself yet again overcome with emotion.  Although unfurnished, standing in the rooms of such brave people and standing in a house with such incredible history will stick with me forever.

original bookcase

original bookcase

original kitchen counter and sink in the Anne Frank house

original kitchen counter and sink in the Anne Frank house

After the Anne Frank house, we headed to this pancake house—that was recommended to us by the tour guide.  We hopped on the metro and were off to find more food! We got off the metro and realized that we were about to eat in front of the Heineken brewery!  We found the pancake house, sat down, and ordered.  When the pancakes came my jaw dropped (see pics below and you will understand why). They were HUGEE…and delicious!!! After lunch, we walked over the famous “I Amsterdam” sign.  We took a bunch of pictures and were ready to head back to the hostel. So, we ended up walking back from the “I Amsterdam” sign (about an hour walk) all the way back to the hostel.  That night, we decided to have a relaxing night.  We grabbed a couple of drinks and walked through the red light district.  For those of you that don’t know that that is, it is basically a ton of streets filled with prostitutes in windows.  It was interesting to see how the process of getting a prostitute worked.  We got to see men negotiate, prostitutes turn men down, and we even got to see a man walk out of a room with a prostitute while putting his wallet away.  We walked for a while through the red light district, and along the canals until our eyes started to close.  We headed back to the hostel and went straight to bed.

chocolate and banana pancake!

chocolate and banana pancake!

"I Amsterdam" sign

“I Amsterdam” sign

had a little fun on the walk home

had a little fun on the walk home

The next day we woke up, and headed to the Heineken experience, also known as the Heineken Brewery.  We got to see what ingredients go into the beer, how it is processed and made, how the bottles are cleaned, filled, and labeled.  It was pretty cool to see and it was an incredible interactive experience.  We even got to “taste” or just drink free beers!  After the Heineken experience, we went back to the pancake house and had lunch again.  This time, I got a pancake with apples and cinnamon (instead of chocolate and banana—which I had gotten the day before).  It was even better the second time!! After lunch we took a free canal ride in a Heineken canal boat, back to the middle of the city.

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the ingredients in Heineken beer

the ingredients in Heineken beer

attempting to brew our own beer

attempting to brew our own beer

bottle filling!

bottle filling!

We took a little time to walk around and shop until we came across a sex museum.  Of course, being in Amsterdam, we had to do something sexual.  So we paid the 4 Euros and went into this sex museum.  I wont give too much detail, but lets just say there were sights of people that dated all the way back from the 1900s.  after the sex museum, we found this cheap steak house in the middle of the Amsterdam, had some wine and steaks and then headed back to the hostel. We got dressed and were ready for a night out.

my clog slipper purchase going to good use!

my clog slipper purchase going to good use!

PARIS:

The next morning, (Thursday) we were off to PARIS! This was the last of four stops on our spring break! We arrived in Paris Thursday afternoon, checked into the hostel, and relaxed for a while.  That night, we decided to join an organized pub-crawl around the Moulin Rouge district.  After a fun night at a couple of bars and a club, we needed to get some sleep.  The next morning (Friday) we woke up to take the free walking tour of Paris.  The walking tour took us to the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the lover’s lock bridge, and the Arc de Triomphe.  After the walking tour, we grabbed some baguettes and walked closer to the Arc.  We walked under it and got to see the memorial of unknown soldiers from World War I.  After that, we headed to the Eiffel Tower.  We walked along the riverbank for about 40 minutes, just keeping the Eiffel Tower in sight.  We finally arrived at it and it was incredible.  Now, this was my second time in Paris, and I do remember being completely amazed by the Eiffel Tower.  But, it was definitely better the second time.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Not only is it a lot bigger than you think, but it is just breathtaking.  We walked under it and then farther away from it to take some pictures.  I had to keep turning back to make sure it was really behind me and I was really in Paris looking at the Eiffel Tower.  After taking some pictures, we walked back to the Notre Dame to go inside.  But because it was Easter weekend, Mass was going on and they weren’t letting people inside, unless we wanted to sit through Mass.  So, we decided to find a restaurant for dinner and then come back when Mass was over and tour the inside of the Notre Dame. So we walked down a couple of streets and found this cute little café with happy hour.  We sat down and enjoyed a nice dinner.

Paris!

Paris!

Me and Kat on the lover's lock bridge! <3

Me and Kat on the lover’s lock bridge! <3

The Louvre

The Louvre

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Ladies and gentleman, the Eiffel Tower! (it's real, I swear)

Ladies and gentleman, the Eiffel Tower! (it’s real, I swear)

my face when I realized it was real...

my face when I realized it was real…

It wasn’t until we were finishing dinner, when we heard this loud scream.  I look over to my right and my friend Melissa is standing on the chair freaking out.  Then I hear Kat say, “there’s a mouse…or rat…and it’s by your feet!!” All of a sudden, everyone lifts up their legs and a mouse comes running out from under the table.  For some reason, nobody else in the restaurant moved.  Only us Americans were scared a mouse in a food place.  Well, in the states, that restaurant would be shut down if mice were running around! So the waiter comes over, speaking not a word of English, and hands me a fork and knife and smiles.  I look at him, then my friends, confused as to what the heck I was supposed to do with that. Chop it up?! I was so grossed out, so we got the check and got out of there as fast as we could.  Keep in mind this is after we had all just tried Escargot.  After dinner, the Notre Dame was still closed so instead we decided to go see the Eiffel tower lit up at night.  We hopped on the metro and headed in that direction.  We got off just in time to not only see it lit up, but there is a light show every hour, on the hour.  So we saw the Eiffel Tower flicker with these amazing lights and afterwards we couldn’t do anything but figure out a way to get to the top.  At this point some of my friends were freezing and not really interested in waiting in line, so they headed back to the hostel.  But the cold was not going to stop me from going to the top! I had been to the Eiffel Tower before, but never the top! So Kat, Melissa, and myself, waited in line for a short 20 minutes and before we knew it, we were on the elevator going to the top! The elevator stopped and we were surprised as to how fast it was to get to the top, until we realized we were only at the first level and then we had to switch elevators to get to the top! Well, we finally made it to the top and although it was probably 10 degrees up there, it was AMAZING! The view was incredible and to be standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower with your best friends in Paris is something that I will never forget.  Then, before we knew it, the Eiffel Tower started to flicker with lights and we were on the Eiffel Tower during the light show!! We couldn’t believe it!!

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At the top of the Eiffel Tower! (Is this real life?)

At the top of the Eiffel Tower! (Is this real life?)

The next day, Saturday, was our last day of spring break.  We decided to take the train over to the Palace of Versailles.  Unfortunately, we decided to do it with a tour group, but the tour only took us through the secret gardens.  So, we didn’t actually get to walk through the palace.  I was kind of upset, but thankfully I have been inside before and I do remember what it looks like, especially the hall of mirrors.  So after walking through these beautiful gardens, for a couple of hours, we had to head back.  Melissa and I decided to stop in some stores on the way home.  Once we got home, we had to grab our luggage and head straight to the airport.  After an incredible 10-day journey to four extremely different countries, I can’t believe its over.

Versailles!

Versailles!

Palace of Versailles!

Palace of Versailles!

I am so happy to be able to travel to these countries that people only dream of.  Am I dreaming? How did I get so lucky and fortunate to travel to these incredible cities? I take in every adventure and cannot wait to come back to these places.  Out of all four cities (Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, & Paris in case you forgot), Prague was my favorite.  It was not only the most beautiful but it was just filled with this loving and lively atmosphere that I was sad to depart.  Hope you all enjoyed reading about my spring break adventures and I didn’t bore you too much! There are full albums of the trip on my facebook page.  Thanks again for reading! Next stop: Poland

Besos y abrazos

xoxo

Alli

Living my dream, one day at a time. <3

Living my dream, one day at a time. <3

Roma, Italia!

Today, I got back from yet another incredible adventure—ROME!! This past Friday my friend Melissa and myself headed to the romantic country of Italia.  We had an early flight Friday morning, with a cheap European airline—Ryanair.  What a mistake! I was always told, you get what you pay for, and this couldn’t have been more prevalent.  After about 2 hours on the flight, the plane decided to land in the wrong airport in Rome.  And, because that airport wasn’t expecting the arrival of our flight, there was no gate in the airport for us to go.  So the crew and captain made us sit on the plane, parked in the wrong airport, for about two hours.  Well, I can officially say I know what Italians look like when they are mad.  People started yelling at the flight attendants in either Italian or Spanish.  Everyone was frustrated.  After about 2 hours, we departed for the correct airport.  The flight was literally 10 minutes (including take off and landing).  I was pretty mad, because I was wasting my entire day, especially because I knew I had limited time in Rome!  Then, we got off the plan and had pre-paid for a bus to take us to the middle of the city, because this airport was a little bit outside of the city.  Well, the bus didn’t arrive for yet another hour or so.  So, by that point I was pretty mad.  It was nearing 4pm and we were supposed to be in Rome by noon that day.  So, Melissa and I got on some random bus, paid for another ticket and we were finally on our way to the city.  We got off the bus about 30 minutes later, and went and bought a map.  We knew our hotel was somewhere near this metro station, we just didn’t know where.  After going the wrong way a couple of times, we finally found our cute little hotel—Hotel Dolomitti.  We checked in as quickly as possible and we were ready to put the day behind us and start exploring the city.

our cute hotel!

our cute hotel!

At this point it was about 4:30 or 5pm, so we decided to take the metro the Vatican City.  WOW!  That is really all that I can say about the Vatican.  It is hugeeee!! These old brick walls surround the city, and inside there is a half circle of pillars.  In the middle of the half circle is the Vatican.  We went into this city and were amazed at how many camera crews were still around—because of the new Pope being announced just a couple days earlier.  Being in Vatican City, during such a historic time for the Catholic Church is something that I will never forget.  To see the chairs still lined up, and camera crews still set up, and the curtains still hung where the new Pope gave his speech, was amazing.  I knew that I was not only standing in a historic place, but also living through such a historic time for the Catholic Church.  After exploring the outside of the city, we decided to head inside the Vatican.  We went through security, and walked into nothing but beauty and perfection! Just to give some perspective as to how big this thing is, the written letters that line the ceiling are each at least 6 feet tall!! (see the pics below)  People walking through this building look microscopic! What a site to see, definitely yet another unforgettable moment!

vatican city at night!

vatican city at night!

inside The Vatican

inside The Vatican

After exploring the Vatican, we were ready to get some Italian food for dinner!  We walked out of Vatican City and found this cute little café.  All the restaraunts and cafes in Italy are filled with incredible murals, pieces of art, and are just cute in the layouts and furniture.  We sat down, ordered some Italian wine along with Gnocchi and Ravioli.  After a delicious meal, we had to try some Italian gelato.  So we walked some more and came across another café that had an abundance of gelato choices.  Let me just say, I definitely fed myself like a queen on this trip!  That night, we were exhausted from the traumatic day, dealing with Ryanair, so we ended up going to sleep early.

dinner time!

dinner time!

The next day (Saturday), we woke up really early and were ready for our Colosseum tour.  We had pre-booked a walking tour of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill.  Although it was expensive, it was worth every penny!! We had a cute Italian breakfast at the hotel, took the metro to the Colosseum and met up with the tour group.  We had an English-speaking tour guide who was an archeologist.  We knew we were lucky.  We were about to be guided through Roman ruins by a professional archeologist.  We got individual head sets, to hear the tour guide speaking.  You could be about 5 meters away from the guide, and still hear her perfectly.  We started our tour in the Colosseum.  There are absolutely no words that can explain how incredible this monument is.  To think about how old it is, and to see how far our world has come is mind-boggling.  We walked the perimeter, learning about they wear-and-tear.  Some of the holes that you see in pictures are from wear-and-tear and others used be the placeholders for doors or gates.  We also learned that the reason that reason the south side of the top of the colosseum is missing is because people used to come and steal the stone and use it for building other things.  After walking the perimeter, we entered the colosseum.  What an experience.  The overwhelming history that floods the walkways and arches in this place is unbelievable.  We walked up original roman stairs and walked down the original roman roads.  Even the slightest of details, like the steepness of the stairs, has a purpose.  They were steep, so people could walk up them slowly—to better enjoy the atmosphere—and walk down them faster—as a safety issue to get everyone out of there as quickly as possible.  We walked passed original stonewalls, that were once filled graffiti and now we they are key in determining what really went on in the colosseum.  Historians use these pieces of graffiti to determine the outfits worn by the Romans, the animals involved in the shows, the people who watched, etc.  Inside the colosseum historians also found things in between the seats—which helped determine what the Romans used to eat and do during these gatherings.  Chicken bones, nuts, and berries were found, along with a vase-like bottle for drinks and a board game, similar to backgammon.

the colosseum!

the colosseum!

inside the colosseum

inside the colosseum

original roman stairs inside the colosseum

original roman stairs inside the colosseum

After the Colosseum, our tour walked over to the old Roman Forum.  Here, we got to see ruins of old temples, arches, government buildings and even the pathway that was used by the romans upon returning from conquering other lands.  The Roman Forum was filled with ruins, and it was often hard to picture what it looked like beforehand.  After the tour guide showed us pictures, of what these buildings once were, and what they were once used for, it was incredible.   To be standing in an area with, again, incredible history and once beautiful buildings used by the Romans was a wild feeling.  After walking through the Forum, we walked up towards Palatine Hill.  This was a hill that housed the old royal palace.  Although there was not much left of this palace, we walked through areas that were once the dining room, bedroom, and courtyard of the royal Romans.  There were random slabs of marble still left on the ground.  Our tour guide decided to pour water on the old marble to give us an idea of the colors, shapes and designs that were used in this royal palace.  After walking through ruins of the palace, and trying to picture what it once was, the tour ended and we headed to lunch.

the old Roman Forum

the old Roman Forum

We found this cute little café right outside the colosseum, had some Gnocchi and white wine.  After lunch we looked at the map to see what our next move was.  We walked away from the colosseum and stumbled upon this GIGANTIC memorial building. (see pics below)  It was a memorial for unknown soldiers.  After taking a few pictures in front of this huge white memorial, we headed towards the Pantheon and Fontana di Trevi.  We walked into this little courtyard, and found the Pantheon.  It was an incredible sight to see, but it was nothing more than a quick walk through.  The Pantheon is the oldest standing unreinforced concrete dome in all of Europe—it was great to see.  After viewing the Pantheon we walked down this cute street (with some shopping on the way) and finally found the Trevi Fountain.  I was a little surprised at first to see the size.  I guess I was so used to seeing it in moves, which portray it to be larger, that I was caught offgaurd.  But, this wasn’t going to stop me from making my wishes.  We ended up grabbing gelato on the way to the fountain and had not finished our desert yet.  So we sat on the steps in front of the fountain, thinking about what wishes we were about to make.  After that we walked down a couple of stairs to the fountain.  One after the other, Melissa and I, made our wishes.  I made three wishes by myself, and then afterwards Melissa and I made a wish together and threw the coins over our shoulders.  It was amazing to be standing in a place filled with peoeple’s wishes…and money.

Memorial!

Memorial!

In front of the Pantheon

In front of the Pantheon

Making my wishes at the Trevi Fountain

Making my wishes at the Trevi Fountain

After making our wishes, we decided to shop some more (shopping is dangerous in Italy).  After a couple hours, we were ready to eat some more food and get some more wine.  We stumbled upon the Spanish Steps, which are the widest staircase in all of Europe.  We took a couple of pictures and had dinner right outside the Spanish steps.  After dinner, we decided to head home—we had walked over half of the city in one day, and we were exhausted.

In front of the Spanish Steps

In front of the Spanish Steps

The next morning, we woke up and decided to walk to the south of Rome and find other monuments.  The Rome marathon was going on at the time (on Sunday) and so we walked along some of the runners cheering them on.  Afterwards we came across an open flea market, and decided to walk through and look at some of the junk.  At the end of the flea market, we looked at the map and we knew we were lost.  So, we walked for a while, thinking we were going in the right direction—luckily we were.  We came across another beautiful fountain on the top of this hill with an incredible.  We sat on a bench overlooking the city, on the top of this mountain, and took it all in.  We pondered the idea of all the incredible ruins and monuments we had seen before, and sat enjoying the view.  After that, we were on a mission to find another famous statue.  We started walked, and again we were lost.  For some reason, our map didn’t really have the small streets written so we had no idea where we were going.  We came across this huge park, but we knew that we would definitely be lost if we tried to walk through it.  So, instead we walked this small side street, hoping we would run into a street name that was on our map.  After about an hour of being lost, we finally saw the dome of the Vatican.  We were heading in the right direction!! The sun was setting, and we just made sure that the Vatican was in sight at all times.  Soon enough we bumped into the Vatican walls.  We decided to try to go into the Museum (which was closed the day before), but instead we decided to try to go to a Mass inside the church.  I have never been to a Catholic Mass before and I knew that my first time couldn’t have been in a better place.  We went through security and entered the Vatican for a second time.  Everything always seems to be better the second time because you kind of realize that what you saw before wasn’t a dream—everything started to become surreal.  We walked through and grabbed a seat at the main altar.  I was about to sit through my first Mass.  It was not only in another language (Italian), but there were prayers, kneeling, standing, sitting, and reciting.  So, I decided to just sit through the entire thing and take in the culture and atmosphere that I was in.  After about an hour, Mass ended and we walked down some cute side streets to find a place to eat.  We decided to walk back to the Trevi Fountain, to not only see it at night, but also eat in that cute area.  We found a restaurant with incredible art on the walls.  After yet another delicious dinner, we decided to find a pub and celebrate St. Patty’s Day.  It started to rain, but this wasn’t going to stop us.  We had heard of a huge pub crawl going on and we were determined to find at least one of the pubs.  We couldn’t find it but stumbled upon another pub.  This was a tiny pub on a side street that was filled with Irish natives.  It turns out, that this was the last pub on the pub crawl.  The bar was owned by the young Irish guy, and was filled with Irish people.  We got a taste of the Irish culture, in Rome.  Irish was music was playing all night, Guinness drinks were being passed around, Karaoke even broke out at one point in the night.  It was definitely a night for the books, or the blog. J Early morning was approaching (3am) and we had a 6am flight.  We had to leave for the airport at around 4am, so we decided to just stay awake and go straight to the aiport—and boy was that an adventure.  We stayed at this pub until about 3:30 in the morning, then took a taxi back to the hotel to grab our stuff and take a taxi to the airport.  We arrived at the airport, a little after 4am and were exhausted—but it was all worth it.  We got on the plane safely, and made it back home to Madrid with no problems.

St Patty's Festivities

St Patty’s Festivities

Rome definitely has a place in my heart, and it was a trip that was filled with rich history and memories.  I cannot believe how blessed I am to be able to travel to such an incredible city.  I am only home for 2 days before I head off the spring break.  Next stops: Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, & Paris

Thanks for reading!!

Xoxoxo

Besos y abrazos

Alli

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Barcelona!

I’m back! Sorry I haven’t been updating as often as I had hoped. I have been busy traveling the world…no big deal.  Well, two weeks ago myself, along with three of my friends, ventured over to Barcelona for a couple days! What an adventure!! We took an overnight bus (two Thursdays ago) and got there early Friday morning.  After a rough night on the bus, we walked (still basically asleep) to grab a cab and take it to the hostel.  We arrived at the hostel and dropped off our luggage.  Even though we were running on no sleep, we were determined to start exploring the city.  We walked for a little while and came across this gorgeous art museum.  We then decided to hop on the metro and head over to La Sagrada Familia—which is Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece.  After you come up from the stairs of the metro, you turn around and see nothing but perfection.  Gaudi’s masterpiece not only takes your breath away, but the amount of detail that went into every little inch of this really tall cathedral is incredible.  Gaudi was a pure genius.  We paid an entry fee, and headed inside.  My mind was blown.  There are still no words to describe the feeling when you are inside the Sagrada Familia, looking up at the ceiling.  I stood in the church for about an hour in utter shock and amazement that such a man could create perfection.  Just thinking about it gives me Goosebumps!! (see pics below).  After walking through the inside of the church we went to the underground museum that gives the history of how it was built, why it was built, and gives background about Gaudi himself.  It amazes me how much thought and perfection went into this building.  It is not only an incredible sight to see, but understanding the history behind it is something that has changed my life.  After that we headed back out to the front, just to make sure it was real.  We spent some time in front of this incredible cathedral taking picture after picture.  Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel for a quick nap.  We got back to the hostel, napped, and woke up just in time for dinner (about 9pm). 

ready for the overnight bus

ready for the overnight bus

beautiful art museum!

beautiful art museum!

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Inside La Sagrada Familia

We woke up and walked down the street to treat ourselves to a nice restaurant.  We finally decided on a place to eat and sat down for a great meal.  Of course, the first thing we did was order some drinks.  My friend Melissa and I got sangrias and my other two friends got some blended drinks.  Well, the waiter for some reason loved us Americans.  After having some drinks and ordering food, the waiter appears with a bottle of champagne.  Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get free champagne.  Then once that bottle was finished, the waiter decided to bring us some free shots—and of course we couldn’t pass that opportunity up either.  Well, dinner ended and we headed back to the hostel to get ready for the night out.  We got dressed, did our makeup, had some more drinks, and we were ready to go.  We had heard of this really fun club on the beach in Barcelona called Opium, so we decided to try it out.  We arrived at the front door, and the bouncer asks us if we have VIP reservations.  Uh oh, obviously we didn’t.  I had remembered one of my friends from back home told me that someone had used to be a promoter at this club.  So, I casually say (in my half Spanish/Catalonian accent) his name.  IT WORKED! The bouncer basically escorted us down the stairs of this really expensive club, and we walked in like we owned the place.  It turned out to be a great night clubbing on the beach!

The next morning we woke up really early and decided to take a FREE bike tour!! The hostel we were staying in, was promoting this bike tour and we decided to try it out.  We walked along the harbor, and headed over to the meeting spot.  A man speaking perfect English approached us and brought us over to the back of someone’s bar to get bikes.  It turns out that this guy (around 28 years old) had moved to Barcelona from New Zealand and was giving free bike tours—working off tips—to fund his local bar on the beach.  The bike tour lasted about three and a half hours, and we rode throughout the entire city.  We got to see La Sagrada Familia again, the park (with a beautiful fountain), Gaudi’s two masterpieces, and the old bull-fighting stadium.  It was a blast! The bike lanes in Barcelona are also great!  There is a space between the sidewalk and parked cars for bikers.  During the bike tour we met these girls who were from Ohio, studying abroad in Luxemburg, and we all decided to hang out after the tour.  We all had lunch together in the tour guide’s bar.  We ordered fish ‘n chips and of course tons of sangria. 

bike tour!

bike tour!

stop number 1: the beach

stop number 1: the beach

one of Gaudi's masterpieces we saw on the bike tour

one of Gaudi’s masterpieces we saw on the bike tour

stop number 3: the Barcelona fountain!

stop number 3: the Barcelona fountain!

 

 

 

After lunch, we decided to split up and try to meet up later that evening.   My friends and myself decided to take the hike up the Park Guell.  Park Guell is this beautiful park that houses Gaudi’s park bench tiled masterpiece.  Everyone of course trusted my to find the way, but we were definitely lost.  Trying to read a map that is bigger than my wingspan is actually extremely difficult.  But, one street led to another and we found some escalators.  We weren’t sure where it would lead to, but we made our way up the mountain and finally stumbled upon the park.  We hiked up some of the parts in the park to get incredible views of the city.  After that we stumbled upon the famous bench.  This is the longest park bench in the world!! (see pics below).  Its intricate tiled patterns and curves make Gaudi’s masterpieces unique and unforgettable.  After seeing the famous bench, we also found Gaudi’s famous tiled lizard!  The sun started to set and we were getting tired.  We headed back to the hostel and took another siesta.  Let me just say, I have taken full advantage of siesta hour here in Spain!  We woke up at around 11pm and started getting ready for another great night out in Barcelona!  In Spain, people do not start going out until about 1 or 2am.  So we were right on schedule.  We ended up getting ready, and leaving for another club at around 1:30am.  It was another great night with my friends in a great city, filled with dancing and laughing. 

they trusted me to read the map...bad idea

they trusted me to read the map…bad idea

Gaudi's park bench!

Gaudi’s park bench!

Gaudi's famous tiled lizard!

Gaudi’s famous tiled lizard!

The next morning, Sunday, we woke up and took a walk down Las Ramblas.  This is a huge street in Barcelona, filled with shopping and restaurants.  We walked for a while and ended up in this square to have lunch.  I ordered some Paella, and it was amazing!! It was, however, my first time seeing an animal with eyes in my food—crawfish.  But, I got over it quickly and enjoyed my lunch.  After lunch we only had a couple hours until we had to head over to the airport.  We decided to walk along the harbor, and sit down next to water.  We sat for about an hour just taking in the scenery and reflecting on the incredible weekend we had just had!

paella with crawfish!

paella with crawfish!

perfect end to an amazing trip!

perfect end to an amazing trip!

 

With so much history and incredible site, Barcelona is definitely a city that has a piece of my heart.  The more I travel, the more realize how fortunate I am to be living the life I live.  I know I have said this before, but my appreciation for culture and life continues to grow!! Thanks for reading and here about my newest adventure, Rome, in the post above!!

Xoxo

Muchos besos y abrazos

Alli   

Lisbon, Portugal

This past weekend was yet another incredible adventure. We ventured to Lisbon, Portugal! Thursday night, we took an overnight bus (about 8 hours) to Lisbon. The bus ride wasn’t too bad. I slept for the first couple of hours and then we stopped at this gas station for everyone to grab a snack and use the bathrooms. Throughout the second four hours, many of us were wide-awake from stopping, so of course I was prepared. I packed the Benadryl. So, I passed around a couple of Benadryl pills and we were all out cold in about 20 minutes.  We arrived at the hotel in Lisbon around 7:30 Portugal time (8:30 Madrid time) and went straight to breakfast in the hotel. We checked into our rooms afterwards and of course the first thing we did was test out the beds. THEY WERE AMAZINGGG! I roomed with my best friend, Kat, and the two of us laid on the bed and just fell asleep for about 30 minutes.

After our quick power nap, we woke up and took a 2-hour walking tour around the city. The sidewalks in Lisbon are not only cobblestone, but they are beautifully painted with these intricate shapes and murals.  At the end of the walking tour we ended up by the ocean in this beautiful open plaza.  We found a cute little restaurant overlooking the water and had lunch (sandwiches and beers).  After lunch we took the metro over to this place called Belém.  This is where we saw the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos—an open grass courtyard that connects to this huge Church.  We sat on the grass for about an hour in this courtyard and just gazed up at the sky.  I started to ponder about the fact that I am not only in Portugal, but I am living my dream!  After that, we headed over to the Torre de Belém. This was a similar to a fortress on the water (see pics below). We had to walk up this extremely small spiral staircase, go through small doors, and walk through tiny walkways. It was so interesting to see how small these things were and think about how tiny the people were that used to occupy the Torre.  After that we visited a little Pasteleria at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. Here we got to taste the typical Portuguese pastries—fried circular things filled with custard. Of course, me being one who loves sweets, I was stoked to be there. THEY WERE DELICIOUS!  By this point in the day, we were struggling. We were exhausted from the overnight bus, and walking around for about 10 hours. But it was all worth it!

Lunch by the ocean!

Lunch by the ocean!

Torre de Belem

 

COURTYARD

COURTYARD

Portuguese Pastries

That night, we went to a nice restaurant called Clube de Fado. Here, we got to eat a typical Portuguese meal while listening to Fado. Fado is basically a type of opera sung by a single Portuguese woman, accompanied with a man playing a guitar and a man playing a violin (see pics below).  After dinner we went back to the hotel and got the ready for the night out.

On Saturday, we woke up early and took a bus to the Sintra.  This is where we got to visit the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.  This was another huge and beautiful castle-like building.  We not only got to walk through the castle, but also got some of the best views of the city! (see pics) Next, we went over to another palace called the Palacio de Pena. This one wasn’t as exciting, but it was really cool to see the old-fashioned kitchen that was used in these huge palaces! After that we had some time to go shop. During this time, I found a small little market that sold Portuguese ice cream! How could I not try it?! So, I spent a Euro and bought this amazing ice cream bar. I was stoked! After that we walked to a restaurant for lunch.  The restaurant was called Travessa. We walked in and the first thing that caught my eye were the open bottles of wine on the table.  The restaurant had their own house wine—both white and red.  Here we ate lunch with everyone and fine dined—but actually dined. We sat drinking our wine, had good conversations, good meat, vegetables and potatoes. I was loving every second of it!

Palacio de Sintra

Palacio de Sintra

kitchen!

kitchen!

my first Portuguese ice cream!

me and kat at lunch with our wine

After lunch, we departed for Cabo da Roca. This was my favorite part of the entire trip! Cabo da Roca is the farthest point west on continental Europe. It is the place where, back in the day, people thought the world ended. Well, being there and looking out over the cliff into the ocean, I could totally see how they would think the world ended at this very point where I was standing.  I was not only absolutely breathtaking, but to think about the history in that spot was incredible. You looked out over the ocean and couldn’t help but think about the discovery of America and Christopher Columbus sailing that very ocean you were looking at. It is definitely an experience that cannot be explained in any amount of words, but was just amazing to experience.

"here where the earth ends and the sea begins.."

“here where the earth ends and the sea begins..”

THE END OF THE WORLD!

THE END OF THE WORLD!

That night, I met up with one of my sister’s friends who lives in Lisbon. We had been texting to meet up and for him to show me around the town and nightlife in Lisbon. A couple of my friends, and myself met up with him (Arto) in this area filled with bars called El Barrio.  It was literally just about 10 streets in a row filled with bars, where thousands of people hung out in the streets, drinking, chatting, and going in and out of bars meeting knew people. When the natives would hear my friends and myself speaking English, they would swarm. They loved meeting Americans. So, I not only met a ton of natives but also learned a ton about the culture.  I met a girl who was studying in Lisbon, originally from Ireland, a guy from Peru, another guy from Spain and tons more. It was lots and lots of fun!

Sunday morning, we woke up around 10 and went to the Barrio de Alfama and the Cathedral in the city.  The Alfama was another castle, where we could not only walk the grounds of the castle but also go all the way to the top lookout spots and see another aerial view of the city.  Here, we saw tons of peacocks (a popular bird in Portugal) and just took in the beautiful view. Afterwards, we had lunch at a restaurant in the town and ate cod. Cod is what Portugal is most famous for and it was delicious!

CASTLE LOOKOUT

CASTLE LOOKOUT

PERFECT VIEW

PERFECT VIEW

There were two things that struck me while I was in Lisbon.  Everything we saw was made of cork—shoes, purses, wallets, backpacks, and more.  About 80% of the world’s cork comes from Portugal (a statistic I learned in one of the stores). This amazed me and the stuff made out of cork was actually cool!  Also, I learned Portuguese! Well, not as much as you would think but the basics—“hello” “goodbye” “thank you” “where is” “can I have” “please” “excuse me” and more!! I am getting more and more cultured and multilingual by the day and loving every second of it!!! Well, the weekend (as you can see) was amazing!! Definitely another weekend I will never forget!!! Thanks for reading and keep reading!! Next stop: Barcelona!

xoxoxxoxo

Besos y Abrazos

Alli

CORK!

CORK!

“Firsts” in Madrid

So, this week was a lot of “firsts” for me.  At the beginning of the weak, I was walking to the supermercado in between classes to grab some lunch with my friend Alyssa. As we were walking I started to see white stuff falling from the sky. At first I thought it was dust falling form the building, and then I thought it was just light rain. After Alyssa assured me that it wasn’t rain, I looked even closer and IT WAS SNOWING!! Yup, my first time seeing snow fall from the sky!! I stopped walking and took it all in. Although it was like barely snowing, I was still so excited!! I know I will never forget that moment–the FIRST time I saw snow fall from the sky.

Also this week was my FIRST time being sick in a foreign country! Yes, I am excited about this.   I have started to look at everything I do as an experience.  Whether it be a fun experience, learning experience, or miserable experience, each one contributes to shaping me throughout this incredible journey. Well, I got sick and went into one of the Farmacias to get some medicine. They are like doctors in there. They ask about your symptoms and basically prescribe you what you need on the spot! Also, the medicine here is super cheap. I got a bottle of Ibuprofino for 1 euro and an antibiotic for my eye for only 2 euros! Nothing can beat that.

I also got my first manicure in a foreign country for the FIRST time! Yes, they are still vietnamese women running the nail salons, but they still don’t speak English. So, my friend Caprice and I went into the salon and tried to explain in our spanglish that we wanted “Gel” manicures. In spain, they are called manicura permanente.  When she tried to explain to us, in spanish, that this is what we were talking about we still didn’t believe her because we heard the word permanent and kind of got freaked out. Anyways, we gave in and just went along with it–I mean how wrong can you go with manicures. Well, she was right and it was exactly what we had wanted!

Tomorrow will be my FIRST Valentine’s Day away from home. Our entire residence is doing a “secret valentine” gift exchange tomorrow at dinner before we all head off to our FIRST trip out of Spain–to Lisbon, Portugal. Valentines Day is celebrated here in Spain, but definitely not to the extent like the States. No decorations are sold in the supermercados but you can definitely find some flowers!!

All of these FIRSTS in Madrid have helped me appreciate the small things on this journey. I am taking nothing for granite. Rather I am taking every little detail (even being sick) as an opportunity to be appreciative for what I am experiencing. Nothing can beat these FIRSTS and I know that if I were to be experiencing these firsts somewhere else, my experience would be nothing like it is today. Thanks to my family and friends again for their everlasting support (emotionally and financially) on this amazing adventure. I AM THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD!!

besos y abrazos

xoxoxoxo

Alli

Toledo, Spain!

This past weekend three of my friends, and myself, took a day trip to Toledo. We had heard before that it was a cute little town that I had to visit while I was staying in Madrid. It is a small town about an hour south of Madrid, with a rich history. A girl from one of my classes had mentioned that you can get there by a bus that is super cheap. She told me what metro stop to buy the tickets at, so on Friday, Kat, Melissa, and myself ventured over to that metro stop. We got off and were completely lost. We were definitely in a bus station but had no clue where to buy tickets for the trip or what bus to do buy it for. But eventually we saw a window that said taquilla (ticket window) with a sign on it that said “toledo.” So, we bought our tickets there and were ready for the next adventure.

Saturday morning, we got to the bus station early enough before the departing time, 9am. My friend John, the night before, had decided he wanted to come, so he had bought a ticket late and barely made the bus. We all made it on the bus and the drive was a little over 45 minutes. An hour later, we pull into what seems to be Toledo and we all look out the window and see nothing but land and a couple of buildings. We all looked at each other and thought, “what the f*** did we get ourselves into.” But, we had faith in this trip and we wanted an adventure. We knew this was surely going to be another exciting adventure (especially because we had no idea where the hell we were). We got off the bus, and started walking. We chose to not buy a map. We thought it would be more fun to get lost and explore than follow a map the entire day. We did know that we wanted to see the Alcazar, which is the famous castle at the top of the hill. So, we start a trek up this huge hill and come across what seems to be a stone archway. It looked like an entrance to a castle (see pic below).

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Well, it turns out the entire city is encased with these huge stone walls. It was extremely medieval looking, with buildings that looked like castles. We felt like we were walking through an old medieval city. Clueless as to where we were going, we stumbled upon this doorway that led to a little courtyard with a garden. We start walking through the courtyard and come across these beautiful (FREE) art galleries. So we spent a couple hours walking through these galleries with art from Goya and other famous spanish artists. After we looked at these paintings, we continued on with our clueless journey. We walked and found a little town with some shopping, restaurants, and souvenir shops.  I bought this really cute quilted jacket at one of the shops. As we were walking, we found the city’s beautiful cathedral. But before we could tour the cathedral, we needed to eat. We stopped at this spanish cafe and all got burgers (typical american meal). After lunch we went back to the cathedral and walked in. We sat inside for a couple minutes taking it all in.

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the cathedral

the cathedral

After seeing the cathedral, we continued on and came across another museum (hoping it would take us to the Alcazar). We were on a mission to find this castle thing. It didn’t look like we were in the right place, so I walked up the lady at the ticket window and asked, in spanish, where the Alcazar was. There was a map of the city behind her and she turns around points to the furthest point left and then points to the furthest point to the right on the map. She didn’t need to speak a word to me, but I turned around to all my friends and we just started laughing. We were at the complete opposite end of the city. So, the nice lady gave me directions in spanish and we continued on. As we were walking to other end of the city, I stumpled upon a Menorah and a couple of other words in Hebrew written on the floor. I had seen a sign that said “sinagogas” and knew that I was near the Jewish part of Toledo. I was so excited! So, I followed the signs and found the Jewish part!

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After getting in my Jewish spanish culture for the day, we continued on to find the Alcazar. We finally came up to a Museo de Ejercito (an army museum). We walked in and asked where we could tour the Alcazar, but there was one problem. The Alcazar was not a thing you could tour, it was just something to look at, and we had passed it several times already. After we realized that this museum was free for students, we decided to walk through the museum (because it was free). We walked in and it had remains of the Alcazar (the famous castle) with watchtowers and windows still in tact.

Alcazar remains

Alcazar remains

After the museum it was about 4 in the afternoon, and we were all exhausted. We walked back to the bus station and got on the next bus that was leaving back to Madrid. Toledo, was definitely a beautiful medieval city, that had so much history and culture. I was so happy to be able to spend a day in such a city.

Yesterday, Sunday, was superbowl Sunday. The game didn’t start until about 1am Madrid time. But of course, we were determined to stay up for the game. We had gone to a couple bars but ended back at home, where we saw the spaniards hanging out. We began watching a live stream of the game around 1am, in the living room, and the spaniards really wanted an explanation as to what the superbowl was and what football was.  It is a lot harder to explain than I had thought but it was cute to see that they were so interested in one of the biggest things the American culture watches on TV. The game ended around 5am Madrid time and of course I fell asleep before the end of it. But, it was definitely a superbowl to remember. So far, I have no regrets on this adventure and am beyond thankful to do all the things that I have done.  Next stop: Granada, Portugal and Barcelona! Thanks for reading!!

besos y abrazos

Alli

Fútbol en Madrid

HALA MADRID!

   Last night, was my first ever professional fútbol game! On Tuesday, my friend Kat and I ventured over to the stadium to see if there were any tickets on sale for Wednesday’s game against Barcelona. As soon as I got to the ticket counter, I knew my spanish would be put the test. After formulating enough spanish sentences for the man to understand, he finally pointed out seats that were available and they seemed to be okay seats for a decent price, so we bought them. Little did we know these seats would be literally on the field!!! Before the game yesterday, about 10 of us headed over to the stadium to tailgate and drink a couple hours before the game. As we started walking we hear this crowd of people yelling, “puto barca! puto barca!” So, we walked toward the crowd. While we were standing there, chanting along and taking pictures, a bus appears. It was the bus with all the Real Madrid players!!! (video on facebook) Everyone freaked out! We were literally three feet from the entire team. All of the players on the bus looked so casual and relaxed. Us fans on the other hand were ready to go! After my friend Kat shed some tears, from seeing Ronaldo (the best player on the team), we decided to head over to our seats. Kat, my friend Melissa, and I were separated from the rest of the group because we had bought tickets later. But, it turned out in our favor because we got the better seats. We enter the stadium and walked to our seats. It turned out that our seats were 18 rows from the field!! We went down to the field before the game, took some pictures, and took it all in. I still cannot believe that I was able to sit that close!

Kat and I on the field!! (dyingg)

Kat and I on the field!! (dyingg)

Me thinking, "is this real life?"

Me thinking, “is this real life?”

The game started and we began to realize what an incredible atmosphere these games are. This sport is HUGEEE in Europe, specifically Spain. If one person started a chant, the entire crowd would chime in and eventually the entire stadium would be singing a song, or chanting a chant. It was interesting to see that there was no announcer (announcing things to the crowd), and there was no big screen to watch the game (you only watched what was going on in front of you). This puts so much emphasis on the game itself, no distractions. The famous chant, especially because it was against Madrid’s rival, Barcelona, was “puto barcaaa…putooo barcaaa!” (Cant really tell you what it means, but let’s just say it is not very nice). Also, being able to watch Messi, the best player to ever play this sport, was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I know I will never forget. The calmness and footwork in his game is spectacular, and to see it up close, and literally see his sweat, was beyond amazing. As the game went on, Barca scored first (see pic below) and as the celebrated you could tell the fans were getting anxious. But in the 38th or so minute, Madird came back and scored!!! The game ended in a tie, but I was glad I could see both these teams score.

After the game, we met back up with the group and headed over to an irish pub to celebrate the experience. The night was a night that will definitely go down in the books. It was an unforgettable experience. I am so thankful I am able to have this experience. I learn more and more about myself everyday and am in love with every second of it. I have made the best of friends and this experience is probably the best decision I have ever made in my entire life! Love you all, thanks for reading! Keep checking for more updates!!

Besos y abrazos,

Alli

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Colegio y Cultura en Madrid

Well, it is the second week of classes and so far I am loving it. I am taking an international business class, a business communication class, an intercultural class and a spanish culture class.  Some of these are in spanish and others are not. The first time I walked into my spanish culture class, I was late (I got lost getting off the metro, perusual) and walked in only to be drilled with questions in spanish in front of the entire, fluent, class. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, or what he was asking me. But, I gladly made a fool of my terrible spanglish and answered what I thought he was asking me and moved on. The professors here talk SOOOOO fast and their lisps are really thick. But, I know that these challenges (with the lisps and fast talkers) will only further me in immersing myself into this incredible culture and aid my attempt to become fluent.  Usually in between my classes I stay on campus or walk around the area (where other spanish universities are) and explore. Most of us don’t leave in between classes because 1. it is a waste of a metro ride and 2. there is not enough time. Seeing all the spanish students go to class on the metro every morning is quiete interesting. You can catch glances as to what book they are reading, what they are studying, or where they are studying. The spanish university system is much different than the American one. The campuses are not as big as you would think (nothing like a UC or Cal State) but are still beautiful. None of the spaniards use binders or notebooks rather you will see each one of them carrying an accordion folder with them to class and cute purse or satchel. Well,  I am done with classes for today, and will soon be on my way to book my Barcelona trip!!!

So far, I AM OBSESSED with Madrid. The city literally never sleeps. Every single person on the street is dressed to perfection, clean cut, and skinny! The men here, young old, ancient, are so put together and handsome. The spaniards are fit to perfection. Who knows, maybe I will find my spanish soulmate! HAHA. Anyways, I wake up every morning to this incredible view of the city and cannot believe that I am living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The thought of leaving here already makes me upset. I have made some of the best of friends (who all go to school in Boston) so the thought of leaving them also makes me upset. But, there is no time to waste dreading the end.

For my latest culture update, I have noticed that spaniards eat very little at meals. The portion sizes here are tiny! Typically there is no breakfast here. You get either a small muffin or some fruit for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are the bigger meals. On the weeknights dinner is the biggest meal and people eat a lighter lunch, and then on the weekends, lunch is the biggest meal and dinner is lighter. Sometimes at a bar if you order drinks it comes with free tapas, so us broke Americans will sometimes eat free tapas for dinner and just order drinks.  American food here is really expensive.  A small jar of peanut butter is about 6 euros which is about $8! So none of us really eat or use the american products (even though we would love to).  The spaniards I live with get one extra meal than the Americans (usually they get served lunch on weekdays and dinners on weekends, and we dont get those meals). So, about two days ago, the Americans were not getting served dinner, but the spaniards were. I walked into the dining area to grab a glass of water and Diego (one of the spaniards) says, “Alli, venga! Quieres?” And sitting in front of him was this delicious looking, AMERICANIZED, pizza. So, I took a bite (because I was starving because we didn’t get dinner) and made the face. You know, the face when you eat something so tasty! Anyways, about five minutes later, each spaniard had eaten about two slices of their pizzas and handed the rest out to each American. IT WAS TOO SWEET! My roommate, Laura, came in with hers and said in her English accent, “we want to feed you americans!” HAHA. Later it turned out that they were still hungry but went to a burger king to clench their hunger, because they wanted to share their dinner with us Americans.  These are the type of people spaniards are. Gracious, kind, and outgoing. We all love each other and get along really well and I can’t imagine my experience without them. Now, I am heading out to a travel agency to go book my Barcelona trip and then tonight, I know some festivities will occur. Thanks for reading!!

Muchos besos y abrazos!!

Culture Update

Being here for about a week and a half I have picked up on things that are specific to the spanish culture. First, everything is done about two hours later here than in America.  People do not wake up early (plus it stays dark outside until about 8:30 am everyday). Spaniards eat lunch between about 2pm and 4pm and then the stores close from 2pm-5pm for a “siesta” or nap period.  Dinner is served at around 9 or 10, earliest, every night. Because dinner is served so late, you do not go out to the bars or clubs until about 1 or 2 am.  Happy hour here is from 10pm to midnight, whereas happy hour in the states is probably around 5pm.  So, the other night when us Americans were leaving a club at 2 am, the spaniards were just arriving–something we are starting to get used to.  So, my culture update for now is that I am starting to realize how late this city is. Madrid is somewhat kicking my butt in the sleep department.  Spaniards never sleep.  Everything involves drinking or staying up super late for some odd reason. But I can officially say, I AM IN LOVE!!!  Anyways, I write this as I get ready for un siesta.  Son las cinco aqui en madrid y necesito una siesta pronto!  Gracias ustedes para leyendo mi blog!

besos y abrazos

xoxoxo