So we meet again

These past three days have flown by and I’m convinced it’s because our trip is coming to an end.

Sunday was a 12 hour travel day. We flew from Marrakech to Madrid and then to Barcelona. I was very sad to leave Marrakech, a reaction I didn’t expect myself I have since I was so skeptical coming into the city. I made a lot of memories there and experienced a culture that I may never get to so personally again.

We arrived around 10:30 p.m. to our hotel. Our hotel is the cutest thing; it is run by a family and in a residential building that also serves as a music school. It feels very much like a home, with a sofa and living space where we can all hang out. The rooms are bright and cheery, and I even get to finish out the trip having my own room…peaceful sleeping on my end with no roosters or cats to wake me up at the crack of dawn as the did in Marrakech.

Monday was a gorgeous, sunny day that was pretty loose schedule wise. We just had a few buildings to see and the rest of the day was ours (sadly spent working on our final essay for the class). However, Sunday night was the highlight of the day. Five of us girls went to the FC Barcelona soccer game at Camp Nou. It was a night game which made it even cooler. After playing soccer my whole life and having it occupy every spare moment, it was an awesome experience. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling I had walking up the steps and looking over the railing to see the stadium…I was speechless. Our seats were in the nosebleeds, but I’m convinced we had the best view in the house ;). They played Malaga, which was a team of a much lower caliber and won 3-0, but the atmosphere and the fans were incredible. Most of the game they were doing chants and singing songs. Though we couldn’t understand them, it was still a lot of fun. The avid fans sitting behind and in front of us also kept it entertaining.

I woke up very tired this morning, but kept reminding myself that it was worth it to get home late from the game. Today, we took the train to a small city near Barcelona called Girona. There, we were introduced to two Luther grads who are married and currently live there. Neither of them had a Spanish background (language wise) but we’re brought to Europe because Matthew was offered a contract with a professional cycling team. They showed us around the city and we walked a lot, seeing more greenery and more of a countryside than Barcelona and even Granada. However, the weather was less than spectacular. Unfortunately we left Barcelona on another gorgeous day and walked in the cold rain, thunder and lightening. I think the rain follows us…..

Though the weather was less than perfect, it was a very picturesque town and it was fun to talk to Luther grads and learn about what they’re doing with their life after Luther.

We caught the train back home and are now all working on our essays, studying for the final (which is tomorrow…eek!) or resting. We are at the point in this trip where everyone is exhausted and more than ready to be home. Sickness has also struck the group, so it is fortunate, yet heartbreaking that we are already leaving on Wednesday.

I hope everyone at home is staying warm and safe. I am not prepared for wintery weather yet…wish me luck!

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Memories of Marrakech

The past few days in Marrakech have been fun filled and jam packed with experiencing the culture and, of course, walking.

On Wednesday, we toured in smaller groups and acquainted (or at least tried to) ourselves with the city. Even using maps, finding your way in Marrakech is very difficult because hardly any of the roads have signs indicating their name and if they do, they are either in French or Arabic. My group and I were very fortunate that day. We happened upon our first site by using the directions that our professor gave us. It was the ruins of a palace and let me tell you, it was enormous. The tile work that was left was intricate and beautiful, indicating that this was a very majestic and royal living space. As we were leaving the palace, we were asked by a young man, around our age, if we wanted a taxi ride. We politely refused and got out our maps to reorient ourselves and find the next site. The taxi driver must have overheard us talking about the Mellah (the Jewish quarters) and offered to show us how to get there. Now, we were very skeptical in having someone lead the way because this happens a lot and they often time expect a monetary “donation” for their help. This young man told us up front that he did not want any money, but that he was from the area and liked to show people around. He led us to a certain point, pointing out many interesting things along the way, and bid us farewell. We weren’t quite at our destination, but there were about 3 more people who willingly pointed us in the right direction of the Synagogue. The synagogue was interesting in comparison to all the cathedrals we have been visiting, with the chairs facing one another in the congregation rather than the front of the church. After visiting the synagogue, we had more helpful people point us in the direction of another palace, one that very closely resembled the buildings in the Alhambra that we saw in Granada.

Unfortunately on our way back to the hotel, it started to rain pretty heavily. This put a damper on our day because we had a guided walking tour scheduled. We still went on the tour, all 12 of us following a Berber man dressed in a suit with our umbrellas blocking the rain–it was pretty comical. Despite the miserable rain and soaked feet, the tour was very interesting and focused on the Islamic influence within the city. We visited a royal tomb where we learned that Muslims are buried 24 hours after their death, no exceptions. They are buried with nothing because they believe that, because we come into this world with nothing we should also leave with nothing. They also bury the dead so quickly because they see visitation after death as disrespectful, that people should visit their loved ones while they are alive and well–an interesting point. We also learned that they do not have headstones or any sort of markings on the graves; if they go to a cemetery to pray for their lost loved ones, they pray for everyone who is buried. When Muslims are buried, they are buried facing Mecca, just like they face Mecca to pray. We then walked by the Koutoubia mosque, one of the 3 largest in Africa. After that, we visited an old university where boys used to study the Qur’an. The day was very interesting because we had been in the city for a few days and heard the prayer calls and seen mass amounts of people praying, but it had more meaning learning the origin of it.

The religion overall here has been interesting as an outsider looking in. Muslims are required to pray five times a day with the times being designated at 6 am, 12:45 pm, 3:30 pm, 6:15 pm and 7:30 pm. The prayer calls are very distinct and I learned that people actually go up to a loudspeaker and make the call. The calls are made about 15 minutes ahead of time in order to give people time to get to the mosques. Men and women pray separately if they are at a mosque; whenever we walked by large groups, they were all men. Men and women can pray together at home, but a man must be at the front leading. They pray with their shoes off and go through motions such as standing, kneeling, and bowing.

Thursday was a pretty lax day. We took a taxi to the Majorelle Garden and explored the new city a little bit. The new city resembles any European city and highly differs from the old city, where we’re living and doing most of our exploring. It was a beautiful sunny day and we spent most of it outside and shopping around the Souks.

Today (Friday) is our last day in Marrakech and we could not have asked for better weather. We had class outside this morning and then got to spend the day as we wished. I worked on my homework on the rooftop terrace in the bright, warm sunshine then headed to the square to do some last minute gift shopping in the Souks. We all wanted to spend as much time as possible outside! In the square, I also got to hold two adorable little monkeys. We ate lunch on a rooftop terrace and soaked up some sun. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel where we finished our homework and relaxed, yet again, in the sun. Did I mention it was warm and sunny today? (Sorry friends back home, I know you’re miserable but you can imagine my excitement about this weather.)

A wonderful last day here turned into a wonderful last night. We headed back to the square (Jemma Al Fna) where I got henna. Henna is the flowery, curly designs that is traditional for women in the culture (and also a very touristy thing to do). We stopped by a juice stand where we had fresh squeezed orange juice and lemonade and made some Moroccan friends. They were very fun, and one spoke pretty good English and told us about some of his world travels. It’s nice to relate to people here because it makes me feel less of a disconnect between this culture and my own.

Though I was very skeptical about Marrakech prior to arriving, I am very sad to say goodbye. The culture here is so much different than anything I’ve experienced and I’m very appreciative of that. I gradually became more and more comfortable walking throughout the city and being in a developing country was much different than being in the fully developed tourist city of Barcelona, and even different from the less touristy Granada. I can actually say that Marrakech has been my favorite location so far and I am very thankful for all the experiences and memories I’ve made here. We leave tomorrow morning to go back to Barcelona for a few more days before coming back to the good ‘ol USA.

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Shopping, camels and mountains–My last two days in Marrakech

These past two days in Marrakech have been absolutely amazing! I was very skeptical about how I would react to the culture and form my experiences here, but this has been my favorite part of the trip by far!

Yesterday, we ventured out as a group to the central plaza, Djemma Al Fna and got acquainted with some of the streets and areas here. I was skeptical about standing out here, especially with my hair color and fair skin. I was prepared and wore a scarf around my neck in case I needed to wrap it around my head. Out professors warned us about this and that some of the locals may make fun of or harass us because we are American tourists who obviously don’t cover our heads when we go out in public. I didn’t have any problems and neither did anyone else in our group. I was actually surprised that I saw so many locals out in leggings and modern clothes considering revealing and tight clothing is usually frowned upon. Some locals were completely covered except their eyes, others just had head scarfs on. The range was incredible and I didn’t feel as uncomfortable as I presumed that I would.

We spent most our our day yesterday in the Souks, which are the shops. There are literally hundreds of them that follow a maze pattern and sell anything from sunglasses to “designer” handbags to watches and genuine leather bags. The atmosphere of these shops was very lively and inviting. The shopkeepers are very insistent that you go into their shops; I was exhausted at the end of the day from smiling and politely saying ‘no thank you.’ However, I did get some shopping done. The thing about shopping in the souks is that you barter with the shopkeepers to get the best price. It’s interesting to see how prices range from stand to stand of identical items. For example, we asked one shopkeeper how much a watch is and he told us 700 dirhams (which is roughly $70). The next guy we went to quoted us 200 dirhams ($20). No matter the starting price, you should get it down to at least half of that, otherwise you’re being overcharged and ripped off. Nine times out of ten I got the price I stuck to. It’s hilarious because if they aren’t willing to come down to your price and you walk away, they usually come running after you and agreeing to your price so that you don’t go anywhere else to buy the product. Shopping here was definitely a unique experience, but was very fun!

We also went to a photography museum yesterday afternoon. After that we had class and ate a traditional, four course meal at our hotel. We had vegetables and bread, cous cous (a mix between rice and pasta) and chicken and the oranges with cinnamon and powdered sugar for dessert. It was delicious with so much flavor!

Today was my favorite experience by far on this trip. We took about an hour long van ride out to the Atlas Mountains. Our main goals were to ride camels and go on a hike, but along the way we stopped at a Berber house and an all-natural pharmacies that grew the herbs right in the garden. The Berbers are non-Arab Muslims and are a sort of tribe who live in the mountains. They have their own language and culture apart from the Muslims of Marrakech and they live very simply. Their house was completely made of red clay and they had impressively constructed a flour wheel that runs on water. With no electricity, they could easily spin flour to make bread and other necessities. The pharmacy was interesting as well. We saw a woman splitting seeds to make the paste for Argon oil. Everything they sold was 100% natural and made in their pharmacy.

After making these two pit stops, we finally arrived to the spot where we got on the camels. We only rode for about 30 minutes, but I don’t think I stopped laughing the whole time. It is definitely a unique experience, far different than even riding a horse.

We next ate lunch right on the river in the beautiful sunshine in the mountains. This views were spectacular and the food was even better. I had chicken kabobs with rice and everything was seasoned with curry and to perfection. After lunch, we went on a hike. This hike wasn’t what I thought it would be, but was very fun and exhilarating. For most of it, we were climbing very steep rocks and often had to use our hands to guide us along. We saw a few waterfalls and were completely enclosed by mountains, some that were even snow topped.

Pictures can’t really do justice to the things I’ve seen this trip, especially today. This has definitely been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had.

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I’m in Africa, Guys!

So the last days in Grenada were filled with plenty of exploring and trekking up mountains. On Thursday, we hiked about 4 miles through the mountainous, countryside hills. Our destination was what we thought used to be a monastery, but was actually a private school and is now where priests live. The hike was the best part, I have to say; I hadn’t realized how much I missed trees and countryside vegetation that is so accessible at home. It was nice to get away from the city and the bird’s eye views of what was below weren’t too shabby either.

Unfortunately, I spent my last day in Granada mostly focusing on homework. Sometimes I forget that the whole reason I’m here is because of school…oops! But we did I get to go for drinks with our professors and a Luther alumni who now teaches English in Cordoba, Spain, about 2 hours from Granada. It was very interesting talking to him because it got me thinking about the different types of opportunities I might encounter as a future educator with an English endorsement.

After we enjoyed tapas (appetizers…very popular here) and sangría (another very popular refreshment here) we went for dinner. Afterwards, the alumni showed us around town a little and we even met a group of students from the University of Illinois that aware studying there for entire semester; the world really is a small place sometimes!

We left early this morning and began our 12 hour day of traveling to Marrakech, Morocco, which is in Northern Africa. I can officially say I have been to two foreign continents now! We took a bus to the bus station, a bus to Málaga where we caught an hour long flight to Casablanca, Morocco. There, we waited for hours to take a 40 minute flight to Marrakech. We arrived at our hotel by way of chauffeurs from our hotel. Needless to say, I’m exhausted.

From what I can tell of Morocco thus far is that it will be quite the culture shock. I noticed this in the airport, especially. Though we knew coming here of the Muslim heritage and were warned of women completely covering their bodies; we were even encouraged to bring scarves to wear over our head so as not to draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves. I’m highly considering wearing this scarf…you don’t see many redheads around this part. Women are also very oppressed in this culture, required by the religion to cover as much of their body as possible; only the eyes of some women are visible. We are also encouraged to desexualize ourselves as much as possible by not wearing tight or revealing clothing, not even showing much of our arms. Though I am excited to see what this part of our journey will offer, I am also highly conscious of the cultural differences.

We have five days here in Marrakech and I can’t wait to start this journey in the morning! Sweet dreams!

Exploring Granada

Sorry I’ve been absent lately, the wifi here is a little spotty and hard to connect to.

The past two days have been rainy and chilly here in Granada, but we’ve still managed get out and see the sites. Something I didn’t mention in my previous post is the Islamic influence throughout the city, especially evident in the architecture and also in the shops.

The Muslims were prevalent here in the 8th century until 1492 when they were conquered and forced to either practice Christianity, stop practicing Islam or leave the country. Though many left, their influence is still around today. However, something that you don’t see much are mosques, which were burned down and replaced with Christian churches.

Lately, we’ve visited the Royal Palace, the Granada Cathedral, Arab Baths, and Palacio de la Madrasa which was an all boys Muslim school in the 14th century, then a town hall in the 16th century, and now belongs to the University of Granada. It is interesting that some of these buildings are still in tact, considering most we’re destroyed.

Today we spent our day on the Alhambra mountain. This is where all the buildings were that made up the empire with the King and Queen. We walked around the defense fortress and walked up to the bell tower to see a spectacular view of the city below and the snow topped Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. We also went into a Muslim palace that still existed that was very beautiful, full of subtle tones, contrasting bright colors and intricate designs on the walls and ceilings with some phrases in Arabic. We also visited the summer homes and gardens of the royalty and the Charles V building.

The contrast between the Muslim palace and the Charles V building was very prominent. Islamic architecture is popular for their rounded arches and intricate designs, whereas the Charles V building was very Roman with its large columns and marble floors.

Tomorrow we are off on another trek up the mountains, even higher than we were today.

Stay tuned for more pictures and info!

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Granada: First Impressions

Today we left the bustling city of Barcelona and took a short flight to Granada, where we will be spending the next week. I was sad to say goodbye to Barcelona, but I am very excited to return and end our trip there. The sites and experiences I had in Barcelona are very unique, and will highly differ from the experiences awaiting me in Granada.

Granada is a world apart from Barcelona it feels like. Immediately getting off the plane, there was a huge difference in landscape. Granada is only about 200,000 people (only?!) and is a smaller city in comparison to Barcelona. I noticed that our flight and the airport were filled with elderly people, giving me the impression that we were now in the “old country.” After taking about a 30 minute bus ride to our hotel, it is very evident that the buildings are more traditional and the city has an overall more aged feel to it.

We quickly grabbed sandwiches after unloading at the hotel and I became alarmingly aware of the traditional Spanish heritage here; the employee couldn’t understand hardly anything I was saying in English. I think the language barrier will prove a much more significant problem here than it did in Barcelona.

Though Granada is still quite a tourist city, I feel even more of a disconnect between locals and myself, making me feel out of my comfort level. Barcelona was always alive and it was very tourist-y and inviting that I didn’t feel so conscious about being a foreigner. I am, however, very excited about the change of pace here in Granada. I think that the more laid back, more country-esque feel of the city will allow for more ease and less tension, as Barcelona always had so much going on that I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out on anything.

The scenery here is beautiful. Like I mentioned before, it feels more like the country. Though we are higher up altitude wise than we were in Barcelona, the mountains that surround us are bigger and much more prominent. While we were climbing up to go to dinner, we stopped on top of a church to capture the incredible view of the Alhambra. The Alhambra is the old palace that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella lived in while they were ruling. This enormous palace is beautiful and the view we saw it from also captured the city from below. We will be visiting the Alhambra later in the week.

We ate a nice dinner and watched a Flamenco show. Flamenco is a type of dance that is very popular in Spain and is a sort of combination of tap dance, salsa dance, and tango but in a very intense way. However, they tap their feet so hard that my feet hurt just watching…I’m also surprised their little heels didn’t just break right off they were pounding the ground so hard.

The food here has been quite an experience. Before arriving, I was expecting the food to be spicy and full of lots of rich flavors. I was surprised by how much sea food is eaten here, though it makes sense with these cities being right on the Mediterranean Sea. Most of my readers will know that I am an extremely picky eater…like, I don’t even eat cheese. So you may be wondering how I’ve been faring food wise over here. I can’t say that I’ve really gone out of my comfort zone a whole lot, but I did try lamb tonight and it compares to venison with a strong flavor. For the most part I’ve been eating things that I would normally eat at home, but they are spiced up or more decorated in dressing and taste, and it has been very delicious. So no, I haven’t been starving.

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t even been gone a week. I can’t decide whether or not the time has gone slow or fast. I feel like it’s going slow, but our days are so jam packed that I often feel like I don’t even have time to sleep. I’m looking forward to all Granada and the rest of the trip have to offer; stay tuned for more updates!

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Farewell Barcelona

After just 4 short days in the vivacious Barcelona, it it already time for me to say goodbye. Luckily, we are ending our trip with four more days in Barcelona so there is still much to look forward to. Looking back on what I’ve learned, the experience I’ve encountered, the sites I’ve seen and the culture I’m still adjusting to, it’s easy to say that I’m in love with the hustle and bustle of this city and its multifaceted personality.

These past two days have been full of incredible sites that no pictures can do justice and lots of memories made. I started my day off yesterday by visiting the Museu Maritim. Also on our list of things to accomplish yesterday was the Picasso museum. Going into the day, I wasn’t overly thrilled–I’m not much of a museum person and find myself getting easily bored with them. I was, however, pleasantly surprised after visiting Museu Maritim. It was full of old boats and an enormous war ship inside of an absolutely beautiful building. My reasoning for enjoying this museum is that it had the history of the sea and of ships and boats, which is not something that I’ve ever experienced living in the Midwest. After visiting the museum, we also got to go on a reconstructed ship in Port Vell. After seeing the living conditions of the ship boy am I glad I didn’t choose the sailing trip like I had originally planned.

After visiting both museums, my group and I wandered around and reveled in the streets of the city. It was my friend, Brooke’s, birthday so we started planning what we could do to celebrate. We got Mexican food at an intimate cafe by our hotel where we ordered our first “legal” drinks. Here in Barcelona, they eat dinner late and go out even later. So we were finished eating dinner and killed a little time; our plan was to go to the Icebar.

You’ve probably never heard of an Icebar, but let me tell you it’s probably one of the coolest things. Ever. The one here in Barcelona is the first one in the world to ever be created on the beach. The setting of the Icebar is exactly like it sounds…made of ice! Everything from the walls, the couch, the mugs, it was all ice. I don’t know why a bunch of Midwest girls would choose to go get drinks in an igloo when we could just go sit in the snow at home and it’d be basically the same thing, but the experience was one of a lifetime. My friends and I were all given big, puffy, metallic silver fur parkas and gloves to wear inside. Then, we got our drinks and enjoyed the technicolor atmosphere and music. Yes, it was cold. No, I don’t know why these don’t exist everywhere, but all I can say is that it is one of the best memories I have so far.

Today, we started off together as an entire group with our professors. We rode the metro to a different part of the city, what some would call the “new city” in comparison to where we’re staying in the “old city.” We walked up the steps after getting off the metro and when I turned around, I got that sort of eerie feeling…ya know the one when something is just so immense and huge that it makes you feel so small? Yeah that one. It is called Sagrada Familia, meaning “holy family” and is designed by Goudí. This building has been under construction for the last 105 years and is estimated to be complete in 2035. Yes, this building will take 140 years to complete and if you could see it, you would understand why.

This breathtaking Bastille (Cathedral-like) is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. It’s grandeur display makes it seem castle-esque with large bell towers reaching towards the sky, only 4 completed out of the 12 that will be part of the design. Gaudí is famous here for his modern/Gothic style and this monument is a perfect display of it. The first half that is done is made of stone with ornate and highly complex figures and designs sketched and sculpted on the buildings, all depicting scenes of Jesus’ life. The other half is made of concrete, what they switched to recently to complete the building. The concrete has more straight-edged, simple character sculptures, but none the less less fascinating. The inside was very surprising, as it had a very modern design with winding spiral staircases and immense columns. It’s layout inside is actually in the shape of a Roman cross, on purpose; long in the middle and shorter going from side to side. Built to hold 8,000 people, I hope to return someday to see the finished product and attend a service.

After visiting Sagrada Familia, we went to Park Güell which is up in one of the mountains. We climbed very steep streets, reminding me of San Francisco. While there, we saw the most incredible view of the city. I tried so hard to capture a picture of this view, but it will never look as good in a photograph as it did in person. We also saw from a distance two more buildings of Gaudí and could easily distinguish them by their funky shapes and colors.

We left the mountain and headed for flatter ground and continued our concentration of Gaudí. We went semi close to where we’re staying, though highly separated by the high fashion shops on this street such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabanna, and Jimmy Choo. In the middle of this district were two more sites, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló. La Pedrera was less exciting; it was an apartment complex with some cool figures and pieces of art on top. Casa Battló was the opposite. It was very colorful and intricate, both inside and out and was Goudí’s home at one point.

After not getting much sleep last night and being extremely busy and active today, exhaustion of my body is setting in. Let me just tell you people, jet lag is real. Really real. It’s not even that I want to sleep according to normal sleeping hours in the states, it’s just that traveling definitely took its toll on me. I think tomorrow’s change of pace and scenery will be good for all of us and give us a chance to recharge before a full week in Granada. I’m excited to discover and learn a whole new city and to see what it has in store for me! Stay tuned.

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Officially an international traveler

After traveling through three states, three airports, and three countries it is an understatement that I am exhausted. Because the time difference is seven hours ahead here, I’m getting ready to head to bed after being awake for 40 hours with no sleep. It’s about 9:30 p.m. and I’ve never been more tired in my life.

Around 2:30 p.m. this afternoon, we arrived in Barcelona, Spain, my first destination of three throughout the three and a half week long J-Term. The goals of our course are to explore and discover walking in a deeper meaning than simply getting yourself from one place to another. We have looked at and will continue to look and literature that suggests walking as a much bigger role in human contemplation and emotional stability than one might think. Most importantly, we will be walking and admiring historical and pertinent sights throughout Barcelona, and later. Grenada and Morocco, and how walking relates to how we learn about these topics and how we learn in general.

I’ve never traveled out of the country before, so God forbid we had the most turbulent ride from Chicago to London, all while flying over the dead center of the Atlantic Ocean for about five hours. This flight was roughly 8 hours and my body refused to let me sleep a wink of it, or on the two and a half hour flight from London to Barcelona. Needless to say, my bedtime was hours ago.

What a pleasant surprise it was to get off the plane and feel warmth from the sun shining above. Yeah, I said WARMTH! After suffering through -20 degree temperatures in Iowa the past few days, temperatures in the 40s/50s and shining sun feels pretty darn good.

I feel blessed to be sharing this experience with nine other girls and two professors, and let me tell you what a site it was to see us 10 girls hauling our luggage around Spain trying to get to our hotel. Our professor lead us on an extended route and us girls had a hard time wheeling and pulling our suitcases. Okay, it was probably just me who was struggling because for those of you who know me, know I couldn’t possibly have packed “light.” It is an art that I have not, nor will ever, master.

After getting to the hotel, the 10 of us girls showered and went exploring in the city. Barcelona is a beautiful mix of Roman architecture, gothic influence, and modern architecture. We wandered through alleys and shops and eventually ended up in the harbor of the Mediterranean Sea. You may say I was a deprived child, but I’ve never seen the ocean or any large body of water, save Lake

Michigan. Witnessing this massive body of water from the plane was both alarming and amazing. However, my favorite view from the plane was when we were just getting into northern Barcelona and the mountains rose high to the sky! some of their peaks reaching past the clouds. The snow covered peaks were beautiful and I’m hoping I can make it up there before my time here is finished.

I’m hoping to post every other day or so along with pictures, so stay tuned!image

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