Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Home Sweet Home

It was the strangest and best feeling when we first touched down in Chicago. Even though I was still another plane ride from being home in Pennsylvania, it felt so good to be back in America. Everything was in English, I had 4G again, and the first thing I ate (and drank) was an order of buffalo wings with a Blue Moon. I was overcome with too many feelings of happiness and excitement to be sad at the same time. When I finally landed in Harrisburg, I was so happy to see my mom and Aunt Mindy who were waiting for me. Strangely enough, whenever I got home, it almost did feel as if I had never left. I never knew that four months could go so fast. Anyway, my first weekend home and the past few weeks have been really great because I’ve been able to see so many family members and friends that have been so excited to finally see me, too. Everyone has been really interested in hearing about my life in Spain along with my travels throughout Europe, and I love sharing my stories and pictures with them. It’s been wonderful to catch up with old friends, start making money again at my summer job, and enjoy some of my mom’s delicious cooking. Today was the first day since I've been home that I haven't been busy, so I was looking through all of my pictures from my time in Spain. When I was reminiscing about all of the great memories I had made this past semester, it did make me really sad. However, I uplifted my own spirits a little when I reminded myself that I was so lucky to have this opportunity and that there are so many people who would have loved to have been in my shoes. I cannot wait to go back to Europe again someday... but then I got to thinking that I’m really excited for bonfires, picnics, lifeguarding, family vacations, beach weekends with friends, and everything else that my summer has in store, in my favorite country of them all, the good old USA :)

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Final Goodbye :(

During my last week abroad, I did everything I could to enjoy every last moment of my experience. The Friday before we were scheduled to leave, Katie, Dan, and I took a train to the beach in Cadíz and stayed overnight, to have a nice relaxing weekend before the rest of our finals. Cadíz is a coastal town about an hour and a half outside of Sevilla, and this was our second visit because we had gone to Carnival in Cadíz (the big Spanish fiesta) back in February. All day on Friday we laid on the beach, relaxed, and soaked up a few too many rays (we were all fried later). The three of us cooked dinner that night in the kitchen of our huge apartment suite that I had booked for us. We made grilled chicken penne pasta with a delicious red sauce made with fresh roasted red peppers and tomatoes. Dan and I split a bottle of wine, Katie had her water (typical), and we enjoyed a nice meal altogether.

The next day, we took our time getting up in the morning since we were still pretty crispy and headed down to the beach for a few hours, before taking the train back to Sevilla at 5. Katie and I showered once we got back, got ready, and went to visit one of our favorite cervecerías near our house. (We’re popular with most of the restaurants on our block... I think you know why.) We said goodbyes to the employees there and later went over to visit our amigos at Tradevo. After they got off work, they came out with Katie, Dan, and I to hang out with us before we left. I was happy we were able to make so many Spanish friends!

On Sunday, the three of us had a very touristic day. Dan and I finally made it inside the beautiful cathedral, La Giralda, in Sevilla (Katie had gone in before with her parents during Semana Santa). We went all the way up to the top of the tower to view the lookout over the city, and we finally got to see Christopher Columbus’s tomb which is located on the ground level. In fact, all of the documents from his voyage are located in the building right next to the cathedral, in the Archivo de los Indios (the Indies Archive). Afterwards, we went inside the Alcazar, remnants of the city walls. Inside the Alcazar, there were so many beautiful gardens and pieces of Spanish history. It was so gorgeous!

Later that night, we reluctantly went to see the “corrida de toros”... a bullfight. Part of me wanted to go because I wanted to experience one of Spain’s oldest living traditions, but the other part of me wanted to stay as far away as possible from the “spectacle” that we were about to partake in. I’ve learned a lot about bullfighting throughout the semester, so going into it, I knew that it was usually an unfair fight. For example, many times, they will put vaseline on the bulls’ eyes so it makes it nearly impossible to see, and they will try to weaken the bull before facing off with the matador. One of the worst parts of the bullfight was seeing the bull charging at the poor horses because the person who was in charge of lancing it always rode on horseback through the ring. It really pained me to watch the bull being tormented; it was definitely one of the worst acts of animal cruelty that I have ever seen. We stayed for the first couple bullfights out of six, which was still too many for me. I couldn’t believe how many people think that bullfighting is such an “art”, when in reality, it’s a horrific crime! Needless to say, I won’t ever be returning to a bullfight anytime soon.

The next few days went so fast, and looking back, they were all a blur of final exams, goodbyes, and tears. I had three finals that week, along with lots of packing and last minute souvenir shopping. We took breaks in between packing and shopping to eat at two of our favorite restaurants, Tradevo and Iguanas Ranas, before we left. I welcomed the breaks, because packing my bags was such a chore. It took forever to get all of my suitcases to be within in the weight limit; in fact, I had to leave quite a few things behind in order to do so. By Thursday afternoon, we were FINALLY all packed up, and our room was so empty! We went to the city center one last time and walked through the streets for old times sake. We even went up on top of “Las Setas” to get a better view of the entire Sevilla skyline one last time. On Thursday night, we went to say goodbyes at Long Island, a favorite bar amongst our group of friends. It was so hard saying goodbye to all of my friends that I had grown so close to throughout the semester. That night might have been the first time I cried all semester. We all made promises to visit one another sometime in the near future; so hopefully I’ll be seeing my friends from Texas, Maine, and Ohio sometime soon! We took a taxi back that night and said goodbye to our favorite waiters at Tradevo who turned out to be some of our best Spanish friends. By that time it was almost 2am, and we had to leave at 7am for the airport so we headed back to our house to get a few hours of sleep before leaving. It felt like I had merely just shut my eyes when my alarm started going off... it was already time to get up. We loaded all of our bags up in the taxi and said goodbye to Encarna. Even though we didn’t always see eye to eye, it was still sad leaving her house, too. It was a sad ride to the airport, seeing the city I had fallen in love with in my rearview mirror. The past four months were hands down the best four months of my life, and although I was so excited to go home and see all of my friends and family, I was starting to miss my new home already. Sevilla will always feel like home to me, and I’m already counting down the days until I get to return. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Finals Week

“Final exams start tomorrow at W&J - how did or how will your final exams compare to those you’ve had at W&J? Will they be cumulative, multiple choice, or will a paper replace an exam? What classes were most enjoyable or useful and why?” 

My final exams at UPO were much less challenging than my final exams at W&J. My Intercultural Communications exam was last week, and it was a combination of short answer and multiple choice questions on material that we’ve covered since the midterm. This was probably the hardest test compared to my other finals, because there were a lot of tricky questions. I love my Communications major, but I was so happy to be finished with this class. I thought that the structure, or lack there of one, made the class very confusing. I’m the type of person who likes to be organized and have an exact schedule, which made this class my least favorite of all because it was the complete opposite.

My oral exam on Tuesday for my Spanish conversation class went very well! I studied by looking over the topics that I would be discussing with my professor the following day. Fortunately, I only had to prepare for the material that we covered after the midterm for this class as well. The worst part of that morning was the fact that the metro stopped working on my way to school, so I was stuck in a standstill for 15 minutes which made me almost miss my time slot. As soon as I arrived at school, I sprinted to the classroom, turning what is normally a 12-15 minute walk into 6-8 minute run. When I finally arrived, I was three minutes late and sweating profusely, but luckily the oral exams were running behind schedule anyway. I really enjoyed this class throughout the semester; my teacher was really sweet, and I could tell that my Spanish really improved.

I had my Historical Ties between the U.S. and Spain exam on Wednesday, and it could not have gone any better. To prepare, I spent a few hours writing out a detailed study guide of what I would write in my essay. For the exam, I had the choice of writing a four page paper about everything that I learned in the first half of the semester from Spain’s colonial rule in North America up until the U.S. gained independence in the 19th century or a detailed summary of the Spanish American War in 1898, throughout Franco’s dictatorship, up until the present day. I chose the first option and nailed it. I only missed three small bullet points from my entire study guide. It definitely helped that this class was taught in English (my only one), because I learned so much more about the history of Spain from this class than any other class I’ve ever taken in the past. 

My last exam at UPO was on Thursday for my Pragmatics class. This exam was also cumulative so I prepared by making a study guide and looking over my notes from the entire semester. This exam was composed of 20 short answer questions, and it wasn’t too bad either. My professor for this class is the same one that I had for my history class as well; I couldn’t have gotten more lucky! He was a great teacher and really made sure that we were understanding the information, by reviewing often. I’ll definitely miss him upon my return to W&J.

What I WON'T Miss

I know that I’m always raving about European food and how beautiful everything is, but there are definitely some things that I won’t miss. These reasons are why it makes coming home a little bit easier; so here they are, my least favorite things about Spain.
  1. First and foremost, our host mom’s food, among other things at the house. I cannot even begin to describe how ecstatic I am to leave my host mom’s dog food and go back to my mom’s fantastic cooking. I know I sound like a snot, but please, let me explain. Our host mom doesn’t like to spend a lot of money on quality food, and it shows at mealtime. Katie and I thought that by living with a 62 year old woman, we would experience some of the best, most authentic Spanish cuisine, but were we ever wrong about that. I had three meals at my host mom’s house that I actually enjoyed, and everything else was a struggle for me to even eat half the plate (which is so unlike me). My three favorite meals were paella (a rice based dish with meat, because she actually cooked it), lentil soup (beans in a heavy broth cooked over the stove), and plain pasta with oil and vinegar, usually complemented by a salad. Those weren’t bad, but it was the hamburger patties cooked in the microwave, the “mashed potato soup” as Katie and I called it, the mystery meats, and the godforsaken store-bought, 1.17 euro tortilla de patata (basically a disgusting potato/egg pancake) that, you guessed it, was also prepared in the microwave... and in reality, the list goes on and on of downright terrible food, but I’ll spare you the details. I’m not kidding you, Katie and I could never plan to do anything for about 45 minutes to an hour after mealtime at our señora’s house, because that time was solely devoted to laying in our beds in the fetal position and making lists of our first ten homemade meals once we were back in America... I really wish I was kidding about that. We often used this time to contemplate sabotaging the microwave so she would have to actually cook something on the stove. Another thing that really bothered me was the lack of knowledge for health food regulations. Many times, Katie and I would get home from a weekend trip and find that Encarna wasn’t home but that she had left dinner on the table; and I mean literally, sitting out on the table. We’ve come home countless times to hamburger patties, mystery meat, and other nasty foods that were just sitting out on the table to be heated up for dinner; let me reiterate that... “meat”, not in the fridge, just sitting out, for hours. Usually we estimated our meals to have been sitting out anywhere from six to eight hours; now if that doesn’t make you want to just dig right in, I don’t know what does! On nights like these, Katie and I would actually take the food and throw it out in a nearby trash can outside our house, then go out and get tapas at our favorite restaurant, Tradevo. It was a godsend that we had Tradevo in our plaza where we lived (it is seriously about 10 steps outside our door). This restaurant saved us from beginning forms of starvation... Anyway, I think you can understand why Katie and I traveled so much during the past four months and why I’m always raving about delicious food I have at restaurants. Let me just add in a few things before I end this rant... Katie and I did indeed ask our host mom countless times for things that we liked! We even went to the store and wrote a list of things that we would love that are not too hard nor expensive to prepare: broccoli, asparagus, other veggies, pineapple, strawberries, nice looking chicken breasts, ground beef, etc., but do you think we ever got any of that?? She bought me nice strawberries one time, but only because I had went out and finally bought them for myself before her. Now to end, I have to add in two quick stories for you to really understand our pain... One night Katie and I got home to find lukewarm tortilla de patatas that had been sitting out for God only knows how long, and we decided, enough was enough. The infernos of Hell would have to freeze over before we were going to eat that, and we were not going out for tapas for the third time that week, so we decided just to cook ourselves. We went to the store and got pasta, chicken breasts, lettuce, broccoli, and strawberries. When we got home, we put the tortilla de patatas aside and started cooking a delicious meal for ourselves; I grilled the chicken while Katie made the pasta and steamed the broccoli. Our final product consisted of grilled chicken pasta with some oregano, grilled chicken caesar salads, and fresh strawberries for dessert; a meal that in reality cost maximum 10 euro to prepare that fully fed both of us with leftovers! We were just sitting down to eat our meal, when we heard the door handle cranking to unlock... Encarna was home... We were not prepared for this, as we were hoping to have cleaned everything up and hide the evidence before she got home. Normally, when she leaves for the day with her grandkids, she doesn’t get home until 1am so returning at 9:30pm was extremely early. Well, this one was going to be fun to explain... She walked in the kitchen and quickly addressed the situation, “What’s going on? What are you all doing? Cooking???” to which I very sheepishly responded, “Sí.” She asked why we weren’t eating the tortilla, and in my head I wanted to say because it’s DISGUSTING, and I wouldn’t even feed that to my dog, but I quickly averted the situation by explaining to her that it would have been the second time in three days that we would have been having it, and we simply just wanted something else. I’m pretty sure she was very offended because she went off on a Spanish rant to which she called herself a “bad cook”, when in my head, I’m thinking, how can someone be a bad cook when THEY DON’T COOK ANYTHING. Microwaving food is not cooking. So again, I tried to prevent a bad situation and simply explained that she wasn’t a bad cook (lie) and that we just wanted a little more variety, to which she, surprisingly, accepted my response and moved on. The real kicker was that the next day she asked me what the bag of green veggies was in the fridge, to which I was very confused and explained that it was indeed broccoli, and she replied “ahhh broccoli”. WHAT?! How do you not know what broccoli is?! (Ok, now you’ll need to remember this part of the story... it’ll be important later.) So after that weekend, things pretty much went back to normal, Encarna kept giving us less than mediocre food, and Katie and I kept fighting over who got to go to the bathroom first after mealtime (just kidding, we didn’t fight, we took turns... ha!) Anyway, so last weekend, Encarna’s family came over to spend a few days at the house: her sons, little grandsons, everyone. Katie and I came home from school one afternoon last week, and when opened the door, to our surprise, we smelled a heavenly smell coming from the kitchen. Did we walk into the wrong house?! This couldn’t be real. I peeked into the living room and saw one of her sons eating some nice steamed broccoli, and I walked out in the kitchen for a minute, to find chicken breasts roasting on the stove and what looked like homemade chicken noodle soup; I was so happy!! I couldn’t wait for lunch that day. Katie and I went into our rooms to study a little and about an hour later, Encarna called us out for lunch. We practically skipped to the dining room to find......... rice. A clump of rice that was so overcooked that it was practically melted together and hardly edible, with some cold tomato sauce on the side. Our second course consisted of a cheap hamburger patty that was indeed cooked in the microwave because it was so disgustingly pink in the middle. We had no steamed broccoli and no homemade chicken noodle soup. I wanted to strangle her. I hardly ate any of it that day and went straight to my room. It pissed me off so much that she can cook a quality meal (with broccoli that she didn’t even “know what it was” when she asked me a few weeks before) for her sons and grandsons, but we get crap... Let’s just say that I’m ecstatic that I’ll never have to live there again, and solely based on what we were served. Encarna is actually a decently nice person most of the time, and our house was always spotless! She did all of our laundry, folded all of our clothes, and made sure everything was clean. I just hated the food and the fact that we rarely had sufficient hot water in the shower, even after I complained to our program director (to which she was really mad at me that day, and I’ll never forget her walking through the door screaming “alguien?!? alguien?!?” meaning “is someone here?!?” and then going off for 20 minutes on Spanish rants that I didn't understand anything besides I should have “just asked her if there was a problem”). Well, asking her after that didn’t really solve the issue either because our problem with the shower just went from having cold water to lukewarm water; I can count the times on one hand that it was actually hot. Great for shaving. One last thing that really made us mad was the day in April that Katie finally worked up the courage to ask if the vent looking thing near our ceiling was for air conditioning, as it was starting to get really warm outside. Encarna replied by telling us that it was only for “calor”, meaning heat. So I’m so glad we suffered for three months getting out of cold showers and walking into a cold room (60 degrees to be exact) AND spent 30 extra euros for the thickest blankets we could find for our beds when I already had five blankets on my bed AND wore flannel pajamas, a sweatshirt, gloves, socks, and winter beanie to bed... because we could never get warm, when in reality, we had heat all along. Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe the emotions I’ve experienced at our house this semester. I will say that it could have been a lot worse (because some of my friends didn’t even get meals at times), but it could have been a lot better. I also have countless friends that did not have one complaint about their host families because everything was so great; for example, my friend Tony’s family had their own personal chef and our friends Dan and Stephen practically had Rachel Ray herself for their mom. It really is the luck of the draw. My advice to anyone studying abroad in the future is to communicate with your host families early and often about any of your issues, because you can always be moved into a different place. Katie and I didn’t want to move because we were gone a lot of weekends anyway, but we actually liked our location (being one block from Dan and Stephen), speaking Spanish everyday, our room, and how clean everything was; and surprisingly, most days, we actually got along with Encarna and had good conversations with her... So all in all, there were ups and downs at our house, but the most important thing is that we made it through alive :)
  2. The post office. The postal service in Spain is downright terrible. The word efficiency is not in their vocabulary at all. There were several times where they tried to deliver a package to me when I was AT HOME, and if I didn’t have exact change, I had to watch the postman walk away with my package, to which I would have to go pick up at the post office the following day. I couldn’t even pay with a card. What kind of system is that?! Then, when I would finally go to pick up the package or try to take care of any other sort of business at the post office, it was necessary to devote at least 30-45 minutes standing in line because everyone is so relaxed all the time, and everyone just likes to stand around and look at each other. 
  3. The Spanish stare. I will NOT miss this at all. God forbid you wake up late one day and have to throw on some yogas, a sweatshirt, and your sneakers to run to the metro. Most mornings, I would have thought I had three heads the way some Spanish people looked at me. I still don’t understand why what I’m wearing matters so much to anyone else. Even when I wasn’t dressed down, so many people (women especially) would stare at my backpack, at my shoes, or at me, in general, to which I would reciprocate by staring (more or less, glaring) directly back at them until they looked away. I think they got the point after awhile.
So those are my top three things that I won’t miss about Spain! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved living here, especially since the city of Sevilla was so amazing, but like anywhere you live, there’s always going to be a few things that aren’t so peachy.

Beach Weekend to Lagos, Portugal

Two weekends ago, Katie, Dan, and I, along with many of our new friends embarked on our last weekend trip to Lagos, Portugal with a student tour group called Discover Sevilla, the same group we went with to Morocco. We were so excited to hit the beach for the weekend with our amigos and live it up before finals. It was only about a two and a half hour bus ride to the beautiful coastline of Portugal, and before we knew it, we were checked into our hotel and boarding the boat for our sangria cruise that afternoon. The boat took us along the coastline, and at one point, we transitioned into little boats to view some of the pretty grottos in Portugal. Our boat was anchored along the coast for about an hour or two afterwards, and everyone took their turn jumping off the boat; meanwhile enjoying the bottomless sangria and having the time of our lives! I even worked up the courage to not only jump off the boat, but dive into the deep blue sea. It was such a fun afternoon.

After we got back to the port, we headed back to the Doña Ana Beach right near our coastal hotel to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The beach was gorgeous! Eventually we went back to the hotel and got ready for the evening. Some friends and I went out for dinner to a nice seafood restaurant near the harbor and later went out to experience some Portuguese nightlife.

The next day, we woke up and met the group to go to a different beach for the afternoon. We packed sandwiches and lots of snacks and soaked up the sun on yet another beautiful beach in Portugal. Our trip leaders really wanted to make sure we didn’t go thirsty, so they made sure to bring lots and lots of sangria ha! Everyone had a great time swimming and playing beach volleyball; I didn’t move from the same spot unless it was to flip over (I needed to make sure I didn’t come home from Spain without a tan!!) Later that afternoon, Katie and I took a walk up the beach to see a pretty pink sailboat that we had spotted earlier in the day, and around 5:00, we headed back to the hotel so we could have enough time to get ready and go watch “the end of the world sunset”!

Now I’m sure you’re wondering, what was so special about this particular sunset? The reason it’s called “the end of the world” is because it’s the westernmost point in all of Europe, and back before the earliest explorations took place to North America, the Europeans thought the world was flat. After viewing the sunset and the ocean from the cliffs that we stood on, I can totally understand why they would have thought that. I truly felt like I was on the end of the world; I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it was. We all took SO many pictures and just loved spending time together in one of the most gorgeous places in the world.

After the sun officially set, we went back to the hotel to change and get ready for dinner. Dan, Stephen, Patrick, Katie, and I all went to an American restaurant called Rockefeller’s, and might I add that it was delicious!! For us Discover Sevilla travelers, they had an awesome deal that included a meal and two drinks for 10 euro; we couldn’t pass it up! I ordered the loaded nachos with pulled pork that was literally the best nachos I’ve ever had in my life, and the others all ordered the biggest hamburgers I’ver ever seen. Our waiter who was the owner of the restaurant was Irish and really friendly. He talked to us for awhile after dinner and pointed us in the right direction to meet up with the rest of our group at a nearby bar. We stayed at the bar for about an hour or so to get our free drinks and hang out with friends, but everyone was so drained after all day in the sun that we headed back pretty early. We had big plans for the following day so we needed as much rest as we could get; Katie, Patrick, and I were going surfing at the West beach!!

On Sunday morning, we left our hotel after breakfast around 10:30 to head straight to the west beach which was about 45 minutes away and somewhat close to the “end of the world sunset”. We finally arrived to the beach, and we didn’t waste any time getting up to the surf shop to gear up. For 35 euro, we were provided with a wetsuit, a board, and a two hour surf lesson. Getting into the wetsuits were probably my least favorite part (and probably Patrick’s least favorite too, considering it took him three tries to get his on, haha!) After about ten minutes of struggle, we were finally all geared up and ready to hit the beach. We received our surf boards (I was beyond excited to get the pink one... it doesn’t take much to please me), and we had a mini photo shoot on the beach, courtesy of Dan. We made a deal with him that we would pay for him to come to the West beach with us that day if he would take some pictures of us surfing or for better words, “attempting to surf”. He caught so many great pictures throughout the whole process! First, we took the time to stretch out and get warmed up. What I didn’t like was when our surfing instructor made us run up and down the beach; I wasn’t prepared for cardio. All in all, it was for the best because the water was so cold; I couldn’t have imagined not having a wetsuit. Anyway, we just got used to riding the waves by bodysurfing for about fifteen minutes, then we came back on shore and learned the next step. He instructed us to hold the board in the middle, and when the wave was coming, push up with our arms and slide up (we kind of looked like cobras...) So, we went out in the water and tried that a few times. After we had mastered that step, we came back onto shore to learn the hardest part... standing up. Our teacher went through each step of placing your one foot on the back of board and bringing your dominant foot through to the middle of the board, then standing up into the typical crouched surfing position... easier said than done. We practiced several times on land, but once we hit the water, it was 1000x harder, and the waves weren’t even the big! Surfers make it look SO easy, and let me tell you, surfing is a workout! We were out on the water for over an hour; some people were able to stand, others were not. I was so close, so many times, but it was hard for me to stand all the way up, and most of the time, I rode the waves in on my knees. For being a dancer all my life, my balance was very poor that day! It wasn’t until my very last attempt that I stood up for a second before falling off. We all agreed that if we would have had another hour, we probably could have gotten the hang of it, but those types of skills take a long time to master. I’ll absolutely try surfing again someday though.

For the rest of the afternoon, we relaxed for a few hours, and around 4:00, we left to meet up with the rest of the group to head back to Sevilla. It was the best weekend to end our travels outside of Spain, and we have plenty of pictures to prove it!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I've Caught the Bug.

“Often when students travel abroad, they get “the bug” or find themselves itching to go somewhere else, because they enjoy taking international journeys so much. While you are probably excited to go back home and see your family and friends, is there more international travel on the horizon for you? If so, where, and in what capacity?”

I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve caught a bad case of the travel bug. Well, good for me as far as cultural experiences go but very bad for my bank account. Anyway, this semester, I’ve had the privilege of visiting eight different countries and exploring so much of Europe that I may never have seen without having the wonderful opportunity to study abroad. I’m already planning out more countries that I want to visit when I come back someday. In fact, the next time I’ll be back to Europe will be this upcoming January when I go to Italy for three weeks for my intersession class at W&J. I’ll be traveling with my advisor, along with other students, and studying Italian culture and cuisine. I’m so excited because I’ll be able to see more of Italy and revisit some of the cities I saw this semester. 

After Italy, I’m not sure when exactly my next international travel experience will be. There’s been talk within my family about taking another trip to Europe after I graduate next spring (as a graduation gift for me and my sister, since she’ll be graduating high school the same time I’ll be finishing undergrad). The European places that are still on my bucket list are Prague, Amsterdam, Switzerland, and Germany for sure; although I would absolutely love to revisit any of the countries I saw this semester and I'm always open to new suggestions, too! Plus I've already decided that I’m definitely coming back to Sevilla someday very soon as well. It’s my home away from home!

Back to Italy: Amalfi Coast

I never anticipated going to Italy two different times during the semester, but I wasn’t complaining that I was able to return. Katie and I had booked our trip to the Amalfi Coast with Bus2Alps at the very beginning of the semester, and in the meantime, we had decided to see Rome and Florence when we realized we had the entire week off for Feria. Anyway, I was so happy to see more of Italy, and of course, eat more Italian food!

Katie and I flew back into Rome after class on Wednesday evening to meet the bus we were taking with the rest of the group to Amalfi. Traffic outside of the city was so bad that night, and we were very afraid that we were going to miss the bus, but luckily for us they waited, and we made it! It was a long three hour trip on a mini bus, after our two hour flight, but it could have been worse, because there were a lot more students coming from Florence which is a 6-7 hour trip on a bus! When we finally got to our hotel in Sorrento that night, it was almost midnight, so we showered and went straight to bed.

The next morning, we saw that we had two other roommates that had come in during the middle of the night, because both of them had come with the Florence group. Just before our meeting time at noon, Katie and I went out to meet the bus to go into Naples, but there was no one to be found... the bus had left without us. I went into the reception area, and the clerk at the desk had confirmed that the bus had indeed left about 15 minutes prior. Katie and I looked at each other and had no idea what to do; the last thing we wanted to do was stay at the hotel all day. At that point the clerk offered to call our group leader, Monika, and see if they could possibly turn around. He handed me the phone, and it was actually her that apologized, because they had decided to leave 15 minutes early. Apparently they didn’t have a chance to tell everyone (Katie and myself), but she was very sweet and told me that it wasn’t our fault at all and that they weren’t very far away, so they would turn around to come get us. I quickly agreed, but we still felt bad because this is the second time in less than 24 hours that we had delayed the bus; in reality though, neither time was our fault... surprisingly. The bus showed up within 10 minutes, and we quickly got on and took our walk of shame to the back of the bus, as everyone stared at us. However, in no time at all, we were back on the road and almost to Naples. Once we arrived, we first went to get something to eat at a restaurant recommended by one of our leaders. I ordered the traditional margarita pizza, which was SO delicious, considering that we were in the birthplace where the first margarita pizza was invented. :) After lunch, we walked around to see some of the sights and met the group to head back into Sorrento later that afternoon.

That night, there was a barbecue and pool party at our hotel. It was nice to sit outside, enjoy some food from the grill, and sip some piña coladas by the pool. We hung out some of our new friends and got to know everyone a little better. After a couple hours, we called it a night and went to bed since we had to get up decently early the next day... and because we were determined not to make the bus wait again.

6:30am came pretty early, so we quickly got ready, ate some breakfast, and headed to meet the bus, which I’m proud to say that we were actually early. We had to be up so early, because our ferry to Capri was leaving at 8:30am, and it would definitely not be waiting around for anyone. We made it to the ferry with no problems, and I was getting so excited to see what the rest of the day had in store for us. Katie and I quickly found seats on the ferry, and as I was looking around, I thought I saw two familiar faces; and it turned out that our friends Shelby and Chelsea that we had met in Paris were on this trip too! I was even more excited for the rest of the weekend at that point. :) We talked the entire way over to the island and caught up about the rest of our travels since February. It was a pretty quick trip to the island, and in no time at all, we were boarding another boat to go on a cruise around the island. I absolutely loved every second of it! The scenery was so beautiful, the water, the landscape; it truly was paradise. We reached a certain point in the boat tour where we all boarded into other really tiny boats so we could go into the blue grotto. The four of us girls all fit into one boat perfectly, along with our guide for the grotto. He started rowing toward the smallest little hole in the cliffs; it was seriously the size of a basketball backboard. He made us all duck down, and he himself hunched down just enough to pull us into the grotto. I’m not kidding when I say that it was probably the extraordinary sight I have ever seen in my whole entire life. The water inside the dark cave was glowing the most beautiful color of blue that I’ve ever seen. The reason that it glows so well inside the grotto is because the sun from the outside reflects down to the bottom of the ocean, and as a result, it has a “glowing” effect. I could have stayed in there for hours, and I would have loved to have swam inside, but unfortunately we only had about 5-7 minutes to enjoy it. Once we were back outside, we loaded back onto our bigger boat to continue our tour. We viewed some other smaller grottos, the three most famous rocks in Capri used in the Dolce & Gabbana commercials, the mansion on top of the cliffs that the president of Gerber baby products owns, looked for Mariah Carey’s vacation home, and eventually finished our tour. It was such a beautiful day for a boat ride; I didn’t want it to end!

After we were back on dry land, we took a cable car up to another part of Capri. I drank one of the most refreshing drinks of my life; it was called a granita, and it was like a lemon slushy, but so much better! I’m still dreaming about how good it was. Anyway, we walked around that part of the island for a little while, took some pictures, and later, we rode up to a different little town. While we were there, we grabbed lunch, sampled some limoncello, and I even bought some customized sandals made just for me! The older man that was making them was so sweet, not to mention he had a booming business. He even made sandals for Jackie Kennedy! After we visited the sandal shop, we bought tickets for the chair lift to go to the highest point of the island to enjoy some of the best views. Although our friend Chelsea was too scared to go up, Shelby, Katie, and I had the best time. It was basically like a 45 minute photo-shoot for the three of us once we reached the top, but we couldn’t help but take so many pictures because the views were astounding! It was totally worth it to go to the top (even though I was a little scared myself when going up the chairlift). We had perfect timing too because on the way back down, it was just starting to sprinkle and later turned into a heavy rain.

Once we rode back down to the port, we did a little souvenir shopping and boarded the ferry once more to head back to the mainland. It had been a fantastic day! Once we got back to the hotel, we got ready and headed into Sorrento to eat dinner and enjoy the night life. We went to a bar with all of the other students on our trip called the English Tavern and danced the night away. After several hours, a large group of us walked back to the hotel, in order to get some rest for the next day!

Luckily we didn’t have to get up quite as early on Saturday as we did the day before. We quickly got ready and met the bus headed toward Positano for the day. I was pretty bummed out because it was supposed to be our beach day, and the weather wasn’t cooperating at all. It was pretty chilly and drizzling on and off all day, but we were determined to make the most of our last full day in Italy. It was around a 45 minute bus ride there and another 45 minute trek down all the steps on the cliff to reach the city; I only fell about three times walking down all the wet steps in flip flops. When we finally got to the bottom, we walked out onto the black sand beach and took some great pictures of the town. Even in the rain, it was still so beautiful. We decided that our next move would be to get some lunch, because we were all cold, tired, and hungry. I have to say that I ordered one of the best meals I’ve had during my whole time in Europe for lunch that day. The homemade gnocchi was heavenly; I probably could have eaten three more plates.

After lunch, we wandered in and out of some of the little shops for a little while, and our group ended up leaving a few hours sooner than we had expected since the weather was so bad. On our way out, Katie and I stopped at a little sandwich shop that our leaders recommended called Vini and Panini. I bought some ruby red fresh picked strawberries, and we decided to split a panini since we’ve heard everyone rave about how good they were. We ordered ours with chicken, tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto, and a little basil... absolutely scrumptious! I wasn’t even hungry, but I ate every last bite; it put Panera Bread to shame. If it wasn’t for the food in Positano, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the dreary day near as much, but I was so happy we went. I do really want to go back someday though, so I can enjoy the beach with some better weather!

Later that night, we had basically the same game plan as the night before. Katie and I enjoyed another wonderful Italian dinner; I couldn’t help but order the gnocchi again, but it was still so good the second time around, especially when complemented by some tasty red wine. After dinner we went to the same bar and hung out with all of our new friends for the rest of the night.

Unfortunately, the next day was Sunday, which meant that it was our last day. We checked out of our hotel and stopped at our final destination of the trip before heading back to Rome. We spent the afternoon at Pompeii, the ancient city that was covered by an explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D. and wasn’t uncovered until the 1700s. There have been intensive excavations since the 18th century, and now it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Italy. It was incredible to see the remains of the ancient city and to see how advanced this society really was, even in the 1st century. They had irrigation systems, running water, and the fundamental means for plumbing; it was amazing. We walked throughout all of the grounds and saw just how these people lived in the year 79, but one of the most astounding things for me was to see the people who had literally been mummified in the volcanic ash. We saw the body casts of how many people looked in their last moments before they were petrified... so crazy!

After our tour of the ancient city, I enjoyed some delicious margarita pizza for lunch and one last round of gelato before heading back to Rome to catch our flight back to Spain. What an unforgettable weekend it was! I will absolutely visit the Amalfi Coast again someday; it’s too beautiful not to go back!