Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

My journey home to the United States was anything but easy and stress free.  All I had to do was catch 2 planes and I’d be home in no time.  So simple yet so impossible to complete.  My journey started at 9:00 P.M. Friday December 17th Spanish time, and finally ended 11:00 A.M. Monday December 20th Arizona time.  63 hours I think is what it finally all added up to.  Not that getting from Spain to Arizona shouldn’t take some time, but in this day and age I must complain.  Yes, it used to take months to get from Europe to America, but back then all they had was wind power…the original version.  None of these cruise ship things, trains, or high speed million horse power airplanes.  And yet somehow I have a feeling that a little bit of snow never stopped them.  Oh how far our technology has come…

It all started Friday night on the bus from Sevilla to Madrid.  Our study abroad group bussed all the kids up to the Madrid airport so we could catch all of our planes to start our adventures home.  The 6 hour bus ride wasn’t very bad and since we started it so late at night, most everyone was asleep within the first 2 hours of travel.  We got to the airport around 2:30 or 3:00 A.M. that is and had to wait for the airport to open up for regular business.  The kiosks at the airport where you check your bags didn’t even open till 5:00 so we had a few more hours to be together as a group for one last time.  However, as 5:00 rolled around the tearful goodbyes began.  I suck at goodbyes in general so saying bye to at least 20 people all one right after another is just not cool.  I wasn’t exactly bawling when I was saying goodbye, but yes, yes I was crying and so were the others I was saying goodbye to.  When I finally got through all the goodbyes a few other friends and I headed off to our terminal to check in for our flights. 

Before we even checked in, I knew my one checked bag would be overweight. I had already accepted the fact that I would never get it in the 50 pound limit.  Not that I bought a whole lot in Spain, I just came with too much stuff to be honest.  But regardless I headed up to the counter credit card ready.  Ready to pay any extra fee they felt like charging me.  They weigh my bag…28 kilos, about 61 pounds.  Not bad considering I was certain it weighed at least 65…the lady looked at me and then proceeded to tell me that 23 kilos was the limit for the free checked bag.  I then continued to tell her that yes, I did know that and yes, I am willing to pay whatever it took to get my fricken bag on that plane home.  I just wanted to go home. 

                        Lady:  “Try taking some stuff out of the bag to make it weigh less.”

Oh please…lady….have you glanced over the counter to take a look at my two very over stuffed carryons??  There is no way anything is going to fit in there.  Like seriously, my bags were bursting at the seams.  I had to get my roommate to sit on one of them for it to close. 

Me:  “Oh, no, that’s ok.  I really don’t have any room for more stuff in my carryons.  Can I just pay for the extra weight?”

Lady:  “No, no!  Just try and take some stuff out.  It will make it lighter.”

As if I didn’t know taking stuff out of my bag would make it lighter…I looked at her to see if she was actually serious or just playing me.  Nope…she was serious.  For the enjoyment of the counter lady and others all around me, I unzipped my 61 pound bag and took out some books and folders which I knew would weigh a good amount.  I shoved the folders into my backpack with my laptop and began violently shoving a notebook into my back pack as well.  I looked at the weight on the scale and it read 25.8 kilos, about 56 pounds now. 

                        Lady:  “That’s fine that’s fine…I’ll just send it through.”

SCORE!!!  Free overweight bag!!  I think the lady just felt sorry for me.  She probably just saw the desperation in my eyes to get the hell out of here and go home.  Something that would take longer than expected. 

With my bag checked and the few friends that had accompanied me to the same terminal gone and on their own ways now, I walked to my gate and waited impatiently for my flight to begin.  Madrid to London…then London to Phoenix.  Perfect.  After some time of waiting our flight finally took off and we were on our way to London.

A short 2 hours later we landed on the snowy runway of Heathrow International Airport.  “Yay!  It’s snowing!”  Became my first reaction…then as I looked around at the snow covered plane and ground my feeling of delight slowly faded and became one of worry.  “Crap…it’s snowing.”  However, with a 3½ hour layover, I was positive the snow would stop and I would be on my way.  Delayed maybe, but on my way none the less.  We get off the plane and I head for my next terminal where I would board my plane home.  It was then that all the problems started…

Problem number one…the bus that was to bring all passengers to the terminals was snowed in and not currently running.  Okayy…well…I guess I walk to the terminal.  However, as I began to walk I began to hear mumblings of canceled flights.  I refused to believe that my flight would be canceled.  I remained optimistic, since my flight was not for a few hours…the snow would stop and the runways would be cleared.

I passed through customs and proceeded to follow the signs for an underground shuttle system that would also take you to the terminals.  I made it to the platform and met some other kids who were also going to Phoenix on the same flight I was.  We discussed the rumors going about and tried to remain optimistic about our chances of getting out.  We then made it to the terminal where our worst fears were confirmed. 

Above our heads was a giant Departures sign…every single flight was accompanied with one simple word.  Canceled.  Every. Single. Flight.  I stood in shock at the sight before me and tried as hard as I could to not cry.  For the last month I had thought of home and my arrival in Phoenix.  I was instantly at a loss for words.  My mind went blank and the whole hustle and bustle of the world’s business airport went silent.  I stared at the board for what seemed like a good while until I was literally called back to Earth by the kids I had met on the shuttle.  They had written down the rebooking number and were going to call and try and get new flights out.  I took down the number as well, but when I reached the payphone and typed in all my credit card info, I automatically called another number.  I called the only place I knew would comfort me.  I called my house, more specifically, I called my mom.  For some reason no matter how old you are I’ve come to realize that calling Mom is the only thing that can truly keep you from falling apart.  I planned on telling my mom that my flight had been canceled and that I would need her to call the travel agent and have her book me a new flight, but instead the second I heard my mother’s voice answer the phone I broke down.  Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hear that voice in person as soon as I thought absolutely crushed me inside.  My need to just go home had never been stronger than at that moment.  I just wanted to go home, I didn’t care how. 

After my mini break down on the payphone in Heathrow airport, my mom and I talked about my options and how we were going to get me outta there.  I got off the phone with her and walked over to the phone store located in the terminal and bought myself a phone with 100 international minutes.  I needed to be able to talk to my parents whenever I needed without having to wait in line for a payphone. 

As I was walking out of the phone store trying to figure out this new phone and looking for an outlet to charge it at, I ran into one of my friends from my study abroad program!  “KATHERINE!”  I heard a voice say.  I turned around to see my friend Josh standing there looking just as dazed and confused as I was.  At that instant I felt a bit calmer and knew I was no longer alone.  This sense of familiarity made me sooooo happy.  With Josh by my side I knew I would get through this. 

After somehow managing to find a seat and an outlet for the new phone, I called my mom again.  I composed myself fairly well at first until she told me my new flight out of Heathrow was on Tuesday the 21st.  Not cool..It was currently Saturday the 18th.  However my mother reassured me that this was only a temporary flight booking and if any seats opened up on any other plane headed to any part of the USA I was to get on it.  My new goal…just get to the USA.  50 states. Pick one, I’ll go.  JUST GET ME OUTTA HERE! 

After another long conversation with my parents, it was time for Josh and I to somehow make ourselves comfortable in Heathrow Airport.  Luckily we had also managed to meet some other students about our age looking to go to America as well so we all formed a mini tribe and took turns watching luggage while others went on the prowl for food.  Quite frankly I wasn’t sure if Heathrow would be ready for this amount of people and I was certain they would run out of food.  Airports aren’t meant to feed hundreds of people constantly for days on end.  The airport had provided the stranded passengers with some free sandwiches earlier, but with so many people to feed if you weren’t there in the first 3 minutes of that food cart showing up, you didn’t get a sandwich.  They would bring out more food carts, but you can only wait so long when you haven’t eaten in a while.  For a moment I think I understood what it was like to be homeless!  If you saw someone with bread you instantly RAN towards the source of such gold.  Despite that little voice of worry in the back of my head that we would be here forever we tried to make the best of it.  We got some food, ate, talked, played cards, made plans for our attempt to get out the next day, and then when it seemed we had covered every possible plan and every little detail, Josh and I decided it was time to get some sleep.  It was only 9 or so at night, however we both hadn’t truly slept well since Wednesday night.  We tried to catch some shut eye for our big adventure the next day.  Plan for Sunday:  Wake up at 3:30 A.M…Stand in line for rebooking…get put on every standby list for every flight going out to America that day…and finally survive this nightmare.

My night in Heathrow Airport was horrible.  Although we did receive some blankets from British Airways, it was still very cold on the hard wooden floor of the little café we had chosen to sleep in.  I managed to squeeze under a table where it looked more like a tent than an overcrowded café area.  I would pretend all night long that this was just like the camping trips we used to take when I was little.  I slept in my puff jacket, my hat, my gloves, my scarf, and my blanket from British Airways.  I would have traded anything just to be in the stupid cold room in Spain.  At least there I had 6 blankets and somewhere soft to lie.  Every 30 min or so I would wake up with a pain in some part of my body and once I finally found a comfortable spot again, then pain in my heart would take over.  A sleepless, tearful night was the one I spent there.  Thoughts of my family and friends, and how I would miss my OWN coming home party circled in my head all night long.

Luckily I was not allowed to dwell on these thoughts for too long seeing as how 3:30 A.M. comes just as early as you think it does.  Josh and I gathered our things and headed to find the rebooking line.  Of course the airport was a mad house and no one can tell us which line to get into for a rebooking…thanks British Air…very helpful as always…We finally plant ourselves in one line that claims to be the rebooking line.  We wait until 6 when the kiosks open and begin another waiting process.  We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited….from 3:30 A.M. until 12:00 when we finally reached the counter.  9 hours later we approach the desk. 

“How can I help you?” were the words we heard.  “We need to go to the States.”  Was all we managed to get out.  “Which one?”  she asked…Josh and I exchanged looks and without thinking blurted out, “Anyone.”  Whatever flight you have lady…I want to be on that flight, those were the exact thoughts inside my head.  At first she seemed a little hesitant to help us since apparently they were not supposed to be rebooking anyone anymore at this station even though many of us had just spent 9 hours in one line.  At first she said she wouldn’t be able to rebook us since they weren’t doing that anymore, but Josh and I were not about to give up.  We just kept asking her questions about what flights were going out, what flights might be going out, when, and how we could go about getting on the standby list.  After looking at flight after flight, I think she finally saw how desperate we were to get home and proceeded to put us on the standby list for a flight to New York that was to leave that night.  And best news of all, Josh and I were the first ones on that list.  For the first time in the past 24 hours a glimmer of hope began to grow inside me.  My mind began to race…No flights are coming into Heathrow…people who have this flight as connection won’t be able to even get into Heathrow…there’s gotta be at least 2 people on this huge flight that were coming from another place…they won’t be there…omg…we have a shot at this. 

Josh and I could not sit still for we knew the next 6 hours would be the most intense 6 hours of our lives so far.  6 hours of waiting to see who would all show up for the flight, 6 hours of thinking you might be going home, and 6 hours of waiting PRAYING that this flight would not be canceled like some before it and that it would actually be allowed to leave this purgatory.  As we walked around the terminal looking for some food another amazing event occurred.  We found another person from my study abroad group!  Katie was sitting on the floor eating one the free sandwiches when we saw her.  We instantly called out her name and I watched her face light up with joy as she recognized our faces.  We chatted briefly about our horrible arrivals here in Heathrow and then decided the day called for a drink.

We talked for a while about random things and also shared with her Josh and mine’s plans to leave for New York that same night…assuming our plane was allowed to leave.  After some food and drinks we headed back with Katie to our hold out in the little airport café.  Now that my spirits were lifted a little with the thought of escaping London I was able to sleep.  The instant I sat down in one of the couch chairs I managed to find in the crowded café, I was out like a light.  But not before I set my alarm to wake me up to stand in line for my standby ticket.

3 hours later I was awoken by the sound of a beeping alarm from my new British cell telly.  5:00 it read.  Alright.  Let’s do this.  Josh and I gathered our things and walked with racing hearts to the stand by counter and joined the growing group of hopeful individuals.  We were only waiting 5 minutes or so when the young lady who helped us get on the list for standby came walking towards us.  “Didn’t I help you two not too long ago?  You’re trying to go to New York right?”  My voice cracked a little as I tried to respond, afraid of her answer.  All I managed to get out was a meek “yes.  She smiled and then said, “Good!  Give me your tickets!  I think I can get you on!”  The pain in my stomach returned when she said those words…I wasn’t quite on the flight yet, but my escape seemed closer than ever.  We surrendered our tickets and watched her walk over to a different desk and start typing on the computer.  Seconds seemed like hours until I heard the sweet sound of the printer…printing off boarding passes, our boarding passes, our tickets outta here, my salvation from this awful place.  “Here you go!  You’re going to New York!” she said.  My knees buckled and I wanted to cry right then and there, but there was no time for that.  We had to get going through security and get to our gate before I would take any major emotional action.  Josh and I hugged her and thanked her for her compassion and headed off to our plane. 

Of course there were no major lines anywhere so security was a breeze and we walked right to our gate.  It was then that I decided to call my parents and let them know of the good news.  I didn’t want to call them too soon though and then have my flight be canceled and all of our hopes be crushed again.  But seeing as how we were at the gate about to board, I figured my chances were pretty good.  Just before we were about to board, we saw Katie once again running towards us!  She had made the flight as well!  With nothing to do she had decided to stand in the standby line for the New York flight as well and managed to get herself a seat.  By some twist of fate we were all able to leave on that flight. 

Too excited to be on American soil I didn’t sleep much on the plane.  And when we landed in New York I had never felt happier to be in the wrong state then right then and there.  We searched for our checked baggage, but of course none of ours made it so we proceeded to walk to the rebooking counter for British Airways.  The line was huge, but since I had booked though a travel agent I knew they would be able to rebook me in minutes rather than the hours it would take to get through that line.  I called my parents once again and also said hello to some people at my Christmas/Coming Home party…it was an odd feeling having people at your party when you’re not even there, but at least I was on my way.  My mom then called the travel agent and got me rebooked for the first flight out to Phoenix from New York.  It was a 6:30 A.M. flight.  Usually I would be opposed to such a flight time, but at that moment I would have taken a flight at 4:30 A.M.  Anytime just to get home at last. 

With only 4 hours until I would be able to check in for my flight home Josh, Katie, and I decided to all take some cat naps and set every single alarm we could to make sure we didn’t miss our early morning flights.  We had all been running off of a mere 4 or 5 hours of sleep since Saturday…it was now Monday so you can imagine how exhausted we all were.  After a good nap, I woke with a start as 5 different alarms started going off at once.  We gathered our things, said our sleepy sad goodbyes, and then headed for our different gates and terminals. 

I checked into my US Airways flight and got in the HUGE line for security.  For a little while I was very scared I wouldn’t make it to my gate in time!  I had never seen a security line so long before in my life!  But I had it all figured out.  If I wasn’t close to the front of the line by 6:00, almost 2 hours from that point, I would find the nearest security guard and bawl my eyes out.  I knew I would be capable of it too.  There was no way I was missing my flight home.  I would cry and cry until they felt sorry, or just got sick of me and let me cut to the front of the line.  :)  Fortunately I didn’t have to do that because they got smart and opened up a second line at security.  I went through the scanner wearing 3 pants, 2 shirts, and 2 jackets since they had complained about the size of my carryon while I was in line.  I’ll admit it was waaayyy over the weight and size limit, but I hadn’t had a problem with it until now.  They told me it was kinda big and I would need to make it smaller to fit in the overhead compartment.  There was no way I was gonna pay for this bag to be checked after all this…so I just did it RyanAir style and wore my suitcase.  I probably looked like an idiot taking out all my clothes and dressing myself in line, but at this point I didn’t care.  I would have worn my undies on my head and walked around the airport.  I just wanted to go home.

I finally made it through and sat down at a gate…then realized I had just sat down at the first gate I saw.  This plane was definitely not going to Phoenix.  San Francisco I think was its destination…close…but not where I wanted to be.  I got up slowly and then left the gate head held high with curious eyes upon me.  Oh well…I’m tired, I thought to myself.  Once I finally got to the correct gate I sat down and waited for the boarding process to begin.  It finally started a few moments later and once again I found myself on a plane looking for a place to put my overstuffed luggage.  Unfortunately this time there was no room for my luggage in the over head compartment.  :(  Luckily they checked it below for free and I was able to go about my flight hassle free.  Can’t say I really remember take off…I think I passed out while taxing to the runway, and then woke up to the captains 20 mins to arrival announcement. 

Those last 20 min were even longer than the hours I spent in Heathrow.  Just the pure joy I felt inside my heart to finally be around my friends and family made me want to jump from the plane.  I restrained myself however, and landed safely with the plane in good ol’ P….H….X, Phoenix.  Of course my seat was in the very back of the plane, but the de-boarding process went by fast.  I sped walked to the security check point and saw 3 of the most important people standing there waiting for me.  My mom, my dad, and Mitch, my amazing boyfriend who manages to put up with me.  :)  I launched myself into a full on sprint and became an awkwardly running, crying, stumbling mass.  I pretty much fell into the awaiting arms of my mother, my dad, and Mitch and had to recheck with myself numerous times to make sure this wasn’t a dream.  After I was certain I was alive and well in Phoenix, AZ I finally allowed myself to smile.  Happiness in its smallest form…no gifts, no pizzazz, just family.  I finally found what I had been looking for during the last month of my trip. 

After experiencing this whole fiasco in London I have had time to reflect on my journey. Why I thought flying out of London during the WINTER would be a good idea, I have no idea.  At the time I suppose I wasn’t thinking of the weather conditions, but I guess it would have been a good thing to consider beforehand.  However, I feel like this problem could have been avoided without any interaction on my part if Heathrow had just gotten its act together before I ever got there.  They had been canceling flights out of Heathrow since that Friday, December 16th.  A good 24 hours plus before my plane was to even land in Heathrow.  They knew about this snow “storm” for days.  Honestly they shouldn’t have allowed my plane to leave from Madrid to even go into Heathrow.  The airport should have told all the airlines to not fly there and they should have  redirected all their flights from the get go.  I suppose in a perfect world that would have worked…but I think as we all know we are light years away from a perfect world.  And for being the world’s busiest airport, I feel Heathrow should have been able to clear the runways in like an hour max.  Seriously, I bet little airports in Maine could handle your snow flurry better.  THAT’S ANOTHER THING!  It snowed for 20 min and then never snowed again the entire time I was at Heathrow.  Yes I was inside, but I had windows all around me.  There was maybe 6 inches of snow on the ground at Heathrow.  S.I.X.  I.N.C.H.E.S.  Yet somehow that was enough to cancel all flights in and out of Heathrow for days.  I would like to include this quote from the London Mayor Boris Johnson…

"It can't be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowplows or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going."
Thank you.  At least someone in London knows what they’re doing. 

Despite my missed party and my sleepless nights upon my return home, I must say this adventure was one I’ll never forget.  Good memories?  Some…more funny and ironic than anything, but I am very thankful for being able to share these memories with Katie and Josh.  If it wasn’t for Josh, I’d probably still be in London.  We were able to bounce ideas off of each other and keep one another from going completely insane. 

I suppose everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it’s better not to try and figure it out.  I’ll never know why I was meant to miss my party or why I had to be one of the few who had plane issues, but I do know I was destined to return home safe and sound.  And that is all I could have asked for.  :)        

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Bittersweet End

It’s bittersweet this trip.  Life is bittersweet for that matter.  I’ve had so many good memories here, but I never really stopped to think that they would actually end one day.  I knew I would have to come home and face reality at some point, but having to do it by myself without all the people I’ve spent the last 105 days with??  Never thought about that.  How could I possibly imagine myself not seeing those same people every day?  Well I guess I have to now.

A few of my good friends from other study abroad programs are starting to leave and so we’ve had some “last night” celebrations to commemorate their time here in Sevilla.  We had a blast and took a lot of pictures, but it also marked the end of an experience.  I’ve become so used to seeing these people every day and going on adventures with them that to not have them here is a very weird feeling. 

For the second time this trip I’ve felt somewhat alone.  It’s a feeling I don’t usually get, but I definitely know what it feels like.  The first time I felt alone in this experience was when my mom and I parted ways in Madrid.  For the first time since my arrival in Spain I was truly on my own.  Yes I had my roommate to keep me company, but I still hadn’t made any great friends yet.  I had only been in Madrid one night so far and had only been with our ISA group a couple of times for meetings and sightseeing.  At last, the one thing that held any connection to my home in AZ, to my friends and family, and even to my country walked out the door.  I had nothing familiar to make me feel better when I needed a pick me up.  Small pictures from home and trinkets can only do so much…

Eventually when I started to make friends it didn’t hurt as much.  We were all in the same boat and all experiencing the same scared/excited feelings inside us.  We bonded over a pain of leaving home and everything you know, and over a sense of adventure that brought us all together in the first place.  The hole I felt inside was patched and slowly began to heal.  I wouldn’t say it’s completely healed even now, just because I have always kept the loved ones I have at home in my mind and in my heart.  Band-Aids can only do so much when you need stitches to truly heal.  Now don’t worry I’m not some depressed kid who only thinks about coming home and how much they miss their family.  No.  The hole I have inside is not a hole of emptiness or regret, it’s just the part of me that I left in AZ with the ones I love so they wouldn’t forget me.  Slowly as my friends and family start to come back to me, my missing pieces will return and my “normal” life will slowly start to stitch itself back together.

But now as some friends begin to leave, I see that a part of me has also left with them.  This time it’s not a part of my hole that they’ve taken with them, but emotions.  The experiences we shared here are all captured through photos and memories, but the thing you remember most when you look back at these photos and videos are the emotions you felt in that instant.  You may not remember the day or the time, but the feeling you felt inside is what triggers all the memories of that day.  They come to you in a rush…like a river that finally breaks free of the dam.  You lose control of your mind and give in to the sensation of time.  A time where you never forget and a time that brings a smile of recollection to you face.  You may not have seen those people for many years, but in that small instant, you remember just who they were and the laughs that you shared together.

For the second time here I am beginning to feel left again.  But this time when my friends leave I don’t feel abandoned or left to fend for myself miles and miles away…no this time when they leave I feel a type of happiness if you will.  I’m not happy that they’ve left, but I feel happy to have met them in my lifetime and happy to know that our memories will be forever linked in the photos we share and the experiences we’ve had.  It’s a bittersweet goodbye.  I know they have left Sevilla and many will probably never return in their lifetime, but I hold onto the hope that we will see each other again.     

As my adventures come to a close here on my study abroad experience I know I’ve made the best of the time that I’ve spent here and hope all the people I know can say the same.  I will keep these memories close to my heart forever, for the one thing that connects us is Sevilla.  Most of my friends are American and we live in the same country, but it took a leap of courage and an amazing city like Sevilla to bring us all together in one place at one time.  I had to travel 6000 miles to meet people from the same country as me, the same southwest region, and even the same state, but I’m glad I did.  To Sevilla I owe a great many thanks. 

Thank you Sevilla for bringing new friends into my life, for a new understanding of what it means to live, and for showing me that anything is possible.  Thank you Sevilla…for everything.          

Friday, December 10, 2010

Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg

These three countries I just had the luxury of visiting were really really neat.  :)  Completely different than Spain in every aspect.  Different languages, different yet AMAZING FOOD, and just a very different way of life in general.  It was really cool to see how even though these countries aren’t that far apart, their cultures are extremely different.  It was weird to be in a country where I didn’t know the language for once.  I don’t know any German or French that I could use to communicate with the people of Germany, Belgium, or Luxembourg.  I was out of my element for a few days, but lucky for me my wonderful cousin Sally was able to translate all the German to me.  :)  We weren’t so lucky with the French, since neither one of us speaks French, but we managed alright. 
My adventure to Germany of course started out in Sevilla.  I took a train from Sevilla to Malaga and then took a plane from Malaga to the Frankfurt-Hahn airport in Germany.  All those connections of buses, trains, metros, and finally airports was a little stressful, but luckily I was able to meet a girl who was taking the exact same train from Sevilla to Malaga and even the same flight from Malaga to Germany!  She was even coming back on the same flight that I was!  With someone else by my side I felt a lot better and not as scared to be traveling by myself. 
As we entered the Malaga airport, after catching the metro from the train station, I was instantly amazed by the size of this airport!!  Not that I haven’t been in big airports before, but I definitely wasn’t expecting an airport of this size in Malaga!  We walk down to the Ryanair passport check thing, get our passports checked and then leave to go through the security line…that is if we can FIND the security check point!  We walked around for seriously like 15 minutes trying to find the stupid security point!  Finally out of fear that we might not find our flight in time we finally asked someone where the security check point was.  “Oh it’s waaayyyy on the other side of this building.  There is only one security check for the whole airport…that’s probably why you’re confused.  Of course Ryanair is conveniently located at the complete opposite end of where we need to be.  Lovely.  Thankfully there wasn’t a long line at security and we were able to get through fairly fast.  We finally get on the plane and take off on our night flight to Germany.
After about 3 hours of flight time we finally land in a very foggy, snowing Germany.  :)  I haven’t seen snow in a really long time.  It was a nice change from all this rain that Spain has been having lately!!  Yes I know snow is pretty much the same thing as rain, but it’s prettier.  :) As we were loading off the plane I noticed we weren’t going to be walking through a nice warm tunnel from the plane to the gate.  No no..this is Ryanair…the cheap airline.  No warm tunnel for you!   You walk on ground to the gate!  At first I didn’t think it would be that bad, as I was admiring the beauty of all the snow through the airplane windows.  It’s not all wet and gloomy as’s dry and fluffy and WOAHHH COLD!!!  Oh god.  I forgot just how cold snow and mountains could be, but I definitely got my wakeup call then!!  I began shivering about 5 seconds in.  But I survived and my friend and I walked in to the airport.  As I walked through the doors into the main part of the airport I saw my cousin Sally there waiting for my arrival.  :)  My friend Katie and I parted ways and I went off to start my German adventure with Sally.  We drove to her house in Salmtal and I went straight to bed after eating some midnight snacks.  After a long day of travel there is no better thing in the world than some chips and salsa and a nice warm bed WITH A HEATER IN THE ROOM!!!  Anyone have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve even SEEN a heater here in Spain??!!  104 days to be exact.  I have 6 blankets on my bed now and sleep with wool socks, long pj pants, and a jacket.  I’m doomed to live in the southwest of the US forever!!!  I seriously can’t handle cold weather!  Even Spain has been too cold for me lately!  My first impression of Germany was definitely a good one.  :) 
Now here is where I decide to break this little story up into sections..I saw a lot of little towns and countries during my vacation and each has their own story and purpose.  Read them all, read by town, read whatever you want!  Aaaaannndd go!
The next day we were going to take a group of middle schoolers to a little town called Trier, (fun fact) the oldest known town in Germany, for a good old fashioned Christmas market.  We met up with all the middle schoolers and then drove to Trier.  I had never been to a Christmas market before and I must say it was SO COOL!!  There were all these little booths all decked out Christmas style with amazing food and other random things you could buy.  I was on a mission to enjoy some good ol’ German food so my cousin and I got an order of Reibekuchen, otherwise known as Potato Pancakes!  OH…MY..GOD.  It was to die for.  Especially with the apple sauce on top!!  I’d never had them in my life, but now it looks like I’ll be making these at least once a week when I get home!  Still hungry after the reibekuchen, I went straight to the brats stand…no better place to eat a Bratwurst than the birth place of brats themselves.  It was fantastic as well.  :) 
After that we walked around for some time and went into a really neat cathedral.  Apparently this cathedral is world renowned!  Who knew?  Lol well not me…many people come from all over the world come to this church to see one thing and one thing only.  You’ll never guess what’s there…supposedly locate inside the church behind loads of barricades and bullet proof class lie robes the Jesus Christ himself wore.  Pretty impressive I thought!  Of course you can’t see the robes because they are inside a pressurized box of some sorts, but they do have a picture of them outside the room where they are located!  Lol soooo yes I kinda got to see them, but not really.  But as I’ve realized on this trip many people will never get the opportunity to even come within 4000 miles of this so I’ve learned to appreciate whatever you can get. 
When we were done looking at the cathedral it was off to eat some more and walk around the Christmas market.  I stopped and got a Crepe with Nutella as my third snack for the day because I was absolutely FREEZING!  I know it wasn’t German food but it smelled and looked delicious.  And it was.  :)  Even though my body was now warm from all the food inside my body my feet would not cooperate.  They refused to warm up..not to mention I didn’t have warm socks or snow boots on.  I just don’t have those kinds of things from living in AZ all my life!  Lol  But thankfully my dear cousin was amazing and bought me a pair of handmade wool socks from a little stand at the market.  :)  Problem solved.  We then walked down to another famous sight called the Porta Nigra.  Literally Black Wall.  It was a wall from the Roman days, but only part of it still exists today.  Man, I never realized how big the Roman Empire was before I came to Europe…I know everyone learns about it in textbooks and all, but to actually see the expanse they had from the edge of Spain to Germany, Italy and beyond is just mind blowing.  While standing next to the ancient wall I once again saw just how small I was compared to the world.  Just a tiny grain of sand in this ocean of life.
We stayed all day in Trier and I definitely enjoyed my fist Christmas market.  We dropped all the middle schoolers back off at the base and then decided to go out for a German dinner.  Sally knew of a great Schnitzel place with over 27 kinds of schnitzel dishes close to her town, so we went.  I was told Schnitzel was a delicious fried pork dish and a very typical German food.  I’m not a huge pork person, but I decided to give it a try.  I ordered the Jägerschnitzel.  Once again German food melted in my mouth.  It was sooo good!!!  It was two pieces of delicious breaded and fried pork with a mushroom sauce over it.  My limited pork menu of things that I will eat grew from only pulled pork sandwiches to pulled pork and schnitzel.  :)  Someone tell me why I went to Spain to study again??!!  German food is soooooooooooo much better!!!  Man if only I took German in school…
We ended the day with a rented movie and then I went to bed…with the heater on of course.  :)
My Saturday in Germany consisted of going to another Christmas market in the town of Burnkastel with Sally and her friends.  Before we entered the Christmas market we of course had to see the castle that was located on the top of the hill.  The hike almost killed me since I’m NOT a very enthusiastic hiking person, but the views at the top of the hill were amazing.  We looked down at the town below us and all the beautiful landscape that Germany had to offer.  After some time exploring the castle we went back down and met up with her friends to explore the Burnkastel market. 
In my opinion, this one was even better than the Trier market.  As I walked into the town I instantly felt like I was in the North Pole.  Everything was decorated and the small winding streets smelled of homemade food.  The main square even had a life size advent calendar!  A real house with 25 windows each with a number or a picture depending on whether the day had passed or not.  I felt like this is what you see in the movies.  This definitely couldn’t be real..this is what people dream of seeing during Christmas.  Germany definitely knows how to celebrate Christmas. 
And of course I had to try some more German food.  :)  This time I tried Flammkuchen and Apfelsaftshorle.  Flammkuchen is a German version of pizza I guess you could say, but better.  Instead of red marinara sauce they use a white sauce and different bread to make the dough.  Amazing.  And the apfelsaftshorle is apple juice with carbonation!  Really good as well!!!  Definitely making that when I get back too!  Germans also really know how to enjoy the art of food as well.  :)
The final event for the day, night technically, was the torch swimmers.  They have this tradition in Burnkastel where about 100 people or so go floating down the freezing cold river at night carrying fire torches with them.  Interesting…and then behind all the torch bearers is the one and only SANTA CLAUS in a boat!!  I guess this is their way of welcoming him into their town.  And when Santa gets to the town he gives out chocolates to all the girls and boys.  We of course watched the spectacle from the warmth of our heated car, but we had a great view none the less.  One thing’s for sure you would not find me in that river at this time of the year!!     
After spending the day exploring yet another cute town we went to a German grocery store to buy some German dessert.  :)  I picked out an Apple Strudel and for dinner, a good ol pepperoni pizza.  Haha!  We baked all of our goodies and eat til our little heart’s content.  An amazing second day in Germany.
The next day Sally and I decided to drive up to Belgium to see some sights up there.  On our way to Belgium, we stopped at another castle.  Lol Who knew Germany had so many castles??  This castle had a special purpose however…it wasn’t just a castle, but also a wolf and wild bird refuge.  The castle was of course on top of another giant hill, but this time we drove.  :)  We paid for our entrance tickets and walked around outside to see all the owls, hawks, wolves, sheep, and goats that this place had to offer.  Yes I know it was a wolf and bird refuge, but they had some livestock there too!  They were sooo cute with their big fluffy woolyness!  Then I realized what the livestock might be there for… for the wolves…suddenly not so cute.  Circle of life I suppose! 
We looked at the animals and climbed to the top tower of the castle.  Got some great pictures then headed off to Belgium.  It was snowing really badly on our way there so it took us FOREVER to get to Belgium, but we finally made it.  :) 
We then met up with one of Sally’s friends and she gave us a tour of Brussels.  I absolutely LOVED Brussels!  We got a personal tour of the amazing city and I got to see some famous sights.  We saw the non-centered church, some EU government buildings, a light show, the famous Manneken Pis, the palace where the king lives, and a structure that was made special for the World’s Fair that was held in Brussels in I forget what year lol.  All very cool and all very worth seeing.  While walking around Belgium I of course had to have a Belgian Waffle with some amazing Belgian Chocolate.  :) yummy.  And then we ate Frits as well!  They are seriously almost like American french fries, but way better.  The look a lot alike, but they are cooked in different oil and seasoned a bit differently as well, but they are soooo good!!  I can’t wait to go back to Belgium and eat waffles and frits all over again. 
We also went to a famous touristy bar in Brussels called Delirium.  They hold the world record for most amount of beers served in one place.  27 beers on tap and over 240 to chose from not on tap!!  CRAZY AMOUNT!  It was a really cute bar where we got to sit and relax after a long day of travel.  Then it was back to Sally’s friend’s house to crash for the night.  :)
The next day we woke up early and decided to drive to Luxembourg.  Why not?  We figured.  It’s right there so we might as well.  I love Europe.  You can seriously be in 3 different countries in a 24 hour period. 
We arrived in Luxembourg and did some sightseeing there as well.  We saw more castles, an old cathedral, a palace, and some amazing picturesque views of the city.  I don’t want to make Luxembourg seem boring, but ehh…there wasn’t really much to do there.  We spent some time exploring the city but all in all, and stopped at another Christmas market, but after 2 or 3 hours we were good.  Luxembourg was a beautiful city but very small.  At least now I can put a little check mark next to Luxembourg’s name on my list of countries I’ve been too.  I guess not many people can say they’ve done that.  :)
                                      And now back to Germany…   
For my final night in Germany, we decided to make enchiladas for dinner.  In order to do so however, we needed to go to a grocery store that sold Mexican food products, consequently a hard thing to do if you’re in Europe…seriously these people have no idea what they’re missin by not eatin some Mexican food!  Luckily for me my cousin works on a military base for the US of A and there they have an all American grocery store.  :)  In order to get me onto the military base I had to have my passport and a special pass that we picked up in the office when I first arrived in Germany.  Why did I need my passport you may ask??  Well because I WENT TO AMERICA!!!  Yep!!  If you’re on a military base overseas once you enter the base you are automatically in America!  So technically I went to America at least 10 times during my stay in Germany.  :)  They use US dollars on the base, have fast food restaurants, a grocery store, a gas station, American cars, and pretty much everything that is in America!  It was like a little America in the middle of nowhere.  It was heaven.
As we entered into the Commissary as they call it, I was overcome by the sight in front of me.  I never realized until then how much I’ve missed seeing American food in a store.  Everything was there!!!  I even got to hold a box of Kraft Mac’n’Cheese for the first time I like 4 months.  I walked up and down every isle just looking at all the comforts of home right there in front of me.  It was horrible to tease myself like that, but it was a much needed “welcome home” feeling.  I noticed all the food I hadn’t seen in a while and suddenly had a craving for everything.  For example, while walking down an isle I passed by a lovely box of “Cheez-Its”.  I’ve never been a huge fan of cheez-it’s before, but in that moment I could have eaten a whole box.  I found myself in an “OMG.  Cheez-its!  Yes I don’t really like cheez-it’s, but I would like to have some now please” situation.  Funny how the smallest things bring the greatest pleasure when you’re away from home. 
We made some bomb enchiladas that night and watched movies all night long.  I was very sad to leave the next day, but I suppose everything must come to an end at some point.  I had an amazing time in Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg and hopefully will get the chance to visit there again.  I made it home safely to Seville Tuesday night even though my flight was late (thank you Ryanair).  Katie (friend from waaay earlier in the story) and I missed the last train out of Malaga to Sevilla, but we ended up taking a bus back which in the long run was cheaper and got there around the same time since the bus made no stops while the train made quite a few. 
It was definitely an adventure running through airports and all over Europe, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  Thank you to all who made this journey possible for me.  :)  You know who you are and for that, I owe you the world.                   

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving in Spain

So this year I was lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving twice.  One Spanish style and one the old fashioned American way.  Needless to say I definitely had a favorite dinner, but was appreciative of them both.  :)  

On Thursday, the actual date of Thanksgiving, our study abroad program threw us a very nice Thanksgiving Day dinner.  It was a dressy affair held in the banquet room of Hotel Bécquer.  It looked like a reception dinner for a wedding!  Minus the dance floor of course.  :)  We sat down at our table and waited for our food.  We were served a large helping of turkey, mashed potatoes, and some veggies as well.  And to drink we had coke, water, and even some wine!  I was very impressed by the amount of food that was there and there was no limit to how much food you could have!  They definitely nailed that aspect of Thanksgiving.  The food on the other hand was decent, but just not the same as a home cooked meal.  The turkey was…turkey, and the veggies just weren’t as buttery.  Not that I didn’t like the food, oh no I DEFINITELY ate it all, but I miss the huge golden turkey on the table with the slight crisp as you cut into the skin.  My mom’s turkey is always sooo buttery and juicy and will melt in your mouth the second you take your first bite.  AND STUFFING…oh I miss the stuffing with turkey.  My great grandpa’s stuffing is to DIE for.  Man I can almost smell it as I sit here writing this.  To be honest I can’t even really remember what’s in it..I just know that it’s amazing.  SOOOOOOOOOO good.  I can’t wait to eat 5 pounds of that when I get home.  :)  Back to the dinner…after we finished with the dinner it was on to dessert.  I was definitely hoping for some pumpkin, apple, cherry, or pecan pie…any of those would have sufficed.  But no.  We got some lemony cream thing…ok so I know for you Spanish people this isn’t your holiday or anything, but LEMON?!  In what American movie have you seen a lemon tart thing being served as a dessert!?  FAIL.  I was a bit disappointed…the dinner was very very close, but the dessert was off by a mile.  I didn’t really like it that much, but they tried.  I suppose you can’t expect 100% American when you’re 6,000 miles away.  Overall it was really fun and I’m really glad I got to spend my Thanksgiving with some friends and some good non typical Spanish food.  :)

Now on to Friday.  :)  Jesse has some friends from church who happen to be American and wanted to share Thanksgiving with their Spanish friends.  Show them how good American food can be.  We went over to their apartment late afternoon to start making an apple pie.  Although we decided to celebrate an American holiday we still had to keep the Spanish dinner time.  No one was gonna show up until 9 or so.  9:00 P.M. in America on Thanksgiving, most people would be in a sleep coma due to all the food they had just consumed.  But no not here in Spain.  It was kinda neat to eat a late Thanksgiving dinner, something I bet not too many Americans get the chance to experience.  :)  

When the late hours finally rolled around my stomach could no longer handle all the wonderful smells without growling every 2 minutes, we finally began to eat.  There was a long row of food lining the table and the buffet table.  We had enough food for 20 people.  Good thing too!  Because that about how many people showed up to this dinner!  Mostly Spanish people, but there were also some other European countries in attendance as well.  It was beautiful.  At the head of the table were the mashed potatoes, gravy, soda drinks, and…chicken?  Apparently turkey is very expensive in Spain..(no wonder I haven’t seen it around very much.  Lol)  Well I suppose chicken is the next closest thing to turkey in the bird family.  As we move down the line we had two HUGE bowls of homemade mac and cheese.  :D :D :D :D :D :D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I LOVE MAC AND CHEESE!!!!!  I almost cried when I saw that.  I haven’t had mac and cheese in sooo long either!!  Mac and cheese is my ultimate comfort food.  It wasn’t Kraft mac and cheese, obviously, but it was still mouthwatering none the less.  Then next to that were the sweet potatoes.  OMG…SWEET POTATOES.  My other favorite Thanksgiving dish along with stuffing.  I definitely ate most of that dish.  Oops.  They weren’t the caramelized version my mom makes with the marshmallows on top, but this was still pretty good!  They were mashed I guess you would say, with pecans on top.  Amazing.  Next came the green bean casserole.  Yum..And finally my favorite part..Dessert.  :)  There was the apple pie that Jesse and I made, pecan pie, and peanut butter cookies.  I had at least 2 helpings of every one of those dishes.  The pies were heaven to my taste buds.  How I’ve longed for a proper dessert ever since I got here.  They just don’t know how to do sugary, unhealthy desserts here.  They have ice cream and that’s about it.  

This dinner was definitely my favorite one out here in Spain.  Even though there was STILL no stuffing or pumpkin pie, it was waaay better than the one on Thursday.  Maybe it was just because American people cooked it or because I helped in making something this time.  It was such a fun party.  Made me feel closer to home than I’ve felt in a while.  I guess I never really knew the definition of “American” food until now.  It’s not hot dogs and hamburgers, it’s Thanksgiving.  A truly all American meal.

On a side note away from the dinners that I had while in Spain, I realized a lot on this holiday.  Being away from home this Thanksgiving definitely put things in perspective this year.  It’s the little things I’m thankful for, but I also learned to be thankful for all these wonderful experiences I get to have in this 4 month period.  

I’m thankful for how lucky of a person I am.  I truly live a charmed life.  So many people will never have the opportunity that I’ve had to live and breathe another culture.  Be it financial wise or due to other causes.  But by some luck of the draw I have been chosen by fate to have the life I have.      

I’m thankful for all the things that have happened to me out here.  Good or bad.  Either way they have impacted my life in some way shape or form, and now because of them I have a new perspective.  I’m not 100% different, no.  I’m still me, just with a better understanding of myself, my life and what I want the future to be. 

I’m thankful for all the wonderful friends I’ve made out here who have made this adventure even more special.  With them I have shared so many experiences and memories that will never be forgotten.  Hopefully we will all keep in touch over the years.  These people have touched my life and left their handprints on my heart.

And last but not least, I’m thankful for my family and friends who have been so supportive of me and encouraging me to keep going even when times are hard.  Without all the encouragement and support I probably would have quit this program and never finished what I started.  It takes a lot to leave everything you ever had and venture out into the unknown.  I know many people who have done that and I feel I can finally relate with them on a new level.  We no longer just share a friendship of interests, but now of similar experiences as well.  :)    

“Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”-Clarence (It’s A Wonderful Life)     

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Córdoba and Granada

Once again after returning from another excursion in Spain, I am left speechless.  Not because I am tired after two very jam packed days or that I have had minimal amounts of sleep lately.  No, I’m speechless because of the very sights I saw and things I experienced while in Córdoba and Granada.  Every place I go just keeps getting better and better.  It’s like they save the best for last or something like that.  As our trip has been winding down, already into the last few weekends left, I was sure these two cities would be impressive…little did I know that not only would these two cities impress the hell out of me, but that I would leave a different person.  I know I’ve mentioned change throughout my study abroad experience, however I feel like these two cities have shown me sights and histories I never thought possible.  I have experienced beauty beyond words where only my memory holds the true image.  Through photos I’ve tried to capture everything I possibly could with a little lens and a slightly old camera, but I fear they will never be good enough.  It’s ironic to think that something so beautiful can never be described in a still image, whether it be in a picture, a painting or even in writing for that matter.  But I suppose it’s meant to be that way. 

We left bright and early Friday morning as usual and headed out for Córdoba.  Didn’t get to see many sights on the way to Córdoba, since I slept most the way, but when we arrived it was gorgeous.  We walked over an old bridge into the city and into one of the coolest “cathedrals” ever.  Why the “” for many reasons…one because it does not have the design of a normal cathedral and two because originally it wasn’t even a cathedral!  Way back in the olden days it was  a Christian church called San Vicente, then in 785 the Muslims tore it all down (except for the foundation) and started to build a mosque.  It was finally finished around the 10th century.  200 years to build a mosque…that’s some serious dedication!  And it definitely shows!  Interesting little fact about the mosque/cathedral thing is that a lot of the material used to build it is even older than the year 1. Yep…that’s right.  700 YEARS BEFORE YEAR ONE THAT IS!  We’re talkin Roman pillars.  Instead of wasting their time making new pillars for the mosque, the Muslims used ancient Roman ones that were already there in the city!  They took them from Roman buildings and used them in the mosque to create the amazing archways.  Needless to say there are no more Roman ruins in Cordoba, but every column in the mosque is unique because of this little borrowing of materials.  No pillar is exactly the same style or size so to make up for that they made different size crownings?? (I guess you would call them) so that they would all make the same size archway.  Go look at the pictures…you’ll see what I’m talking about. 
They enjoyed the mosque for a few more centuries until the year 1236 when the city was conquered by the king, later saint, Fernando III.  Not wanting anything to do with the Muslims they kicked them out and turned the mosque into a cathedral by knocking down some pillars, adding some stained glass, adding capillas (chapels), and overall adding crosses and catholic things all over the place.  But because of this little rearranging of the architecture, the used to be mosque was saved from the Spanish Inquisition.  Now for those of you who don’t know what that is…shame on you.  For those that do, let’s recap.  Only Catholicism was allowed in Spain during the 15th century so every mosque or non catholic church was destroyed.  But since the mosque was “converted” they didn’t tear it down and to this day we can still enjoy the ancient Islamic art. 

Our Spanish tour guide was amazing and he kept calling us his “little family.”  I love when Spanish people try and pronounce English words.  THEY ARE JUST SO DANG CUTE!  Not sure if I sound the same way or not in Spanish, although I’ve been told I don’t have the typical “American” accent and some even think I’m from Spain.  :’)  So proud of myself.  :)  ANYWAYS…on to the rest of the day.

A group of us headed out for lunch and then it was back on the bus for the next city Granada.  Another 2 hours away, but for this ride I stayed up more.  And I’m so glad I did.  As we were climbing up into the mountains which hide Granada, I saw the most beautiful colors I’ve ever seen.  The colors didn’t come from cars or flashing neon lights, but the trees and mountains.  I’ve never seen such colors in my life.  I guess growing up in Arizona, you miss out on things like fall.  Come to think of it, this might be one of my first falls ever where I have seen trees turn colors.  I’ve been to the East Coast, Midwest, and even California where trees do change, but never in the fall.  I’ve always been in school studyin my a** off like usual :) and never had a chance to travel.  Well I got my chance and was amazed by it.  Half of my pictures of Granada are not of me, or friends, or building..they’re of trees!  Orange, yellow, red, and green in a balanced mix no human mind could ever possibly imagine.  I’ve decided when I grow up and actually have a house and job…or even no house and no job, I’m moving somewhere where the leaves change colors.

We got to Granada around 7:30 P.M., checked-in to the EXTREMELY NICE hotel, and then took off for the flamenco show.  Of course our meeting point for the ISA group had to be outside in the fricken cold.  We huddled together outside all bundled up for what looked like an Antarctic adventure instead of the cold weather of Granada.  We looked like a group of penguins all trying to keep warm.  Luckily I was one of the firsts in the huddle so I was in the middle and kept very warm for a while until we finally started moving on our way to our destination. 

We stopped at a view point in Granada and got to look down at the city at night.  Simply amazing.  We took so many photos and just enjoyed the stunning views.  You just can’t find this stuff in the US.  It just doesn’t exist in my opinion.  Nothing will ever come close to the things I’ve seen here in Spain.  :)  We headed down the hill to the flamenco show and got up close and personal to the dancers and musicians.  There was no real stage per say, just a wooden area with seats all around.  The show was sooo cool!!  It’s so passionate and strong.  Flamenco has become my new favorite dance.  :) 

After the show was over we went out for drinks and tapas.  Best part about Granada, FREE TAPAS!!!! Ahhh!!!  You order any drink, free tapas!  And they are good sized ones too!  They don’t rip you off by giving you something you could finish in one bite, it’s a really well sized amount I’d say.  Good thing I decided not to study in Granada or I’d come back with another 59 pounds of body weight.  All in all a fun night with good food, good drinks, and good friends. 
The next morning I walked downstairs into the lobby for the hotel breakfast and was amazed at the sight in front of me.  HUGE BREAKFAST.  You know how long it’s been since I’ve even seen a box of cereal???!!! AND. THEY. HAD. PANCAKES.  I almost died of joy.  And there were eggs, meat, fruit, yogurt, granola, muffins…name it they had it.  I had two huge helpings of random food and about 12 pancakes.  My breakfast here in Sevilla consists of a piece of toast with jam and a glass of milk.  That’s it.  I’ve always been a large breakfast type of girl and not having that here has been a huge loss for me.  One of the first things I want to do when I get home, at least within the first 48 hours of my arrival in the states is eat an IHOP breakfast.  Endless pancakes here I come…Most people in Spain don’t even eat breakfast!  That’s the most important meal of the day people!!!  I ate till I seriously couldn’t shove anymore food into my mouth for fear it would just come right back up.  Perfect start to a perfect day.  :) 

After breakfast, we loaded back onto the bus and headed out to La Alhambra.  As always I find myself at a loss of words for how this place looked and the impact it has had on my life.  The place is just gorgeous.  The architecture is beautiful and just the way the building is…it defies every rule of gravity.  I really don’t know how people managed to build these things without cranes and machinery!!  And the patience they must have had in order to make every single thing by hand?!  Ridiculous.  They made all the millions of tiles one by one, all the wooden cut outs and designs one by one, and just the thought that every inch of marble floor you step on was made thousands of years ago blows my mind.  I found myself in complete awe at this magnificent structure the size of 12 football fields.

Not only was the building itself breath taking, but the nature surrounding it was even better.  This place/castle thing is situated in a mountain overlooking the city of Granada.  You walk outside into these huge gardens and breathe in cool mountain air.  It was cool up in the mountains, but I hardly noticed at the time.  I was too busy looking at all the views and scenery that surrounded me.  I debated if I should even take any pictures just because I know I wouldn’t be able to get everything I wanted into one shot.  Nor (like I’ve mentioned many times) would it do any justice to the ambiance I found myself in.  Why take picture of something when you will never see it the same way through a lens?  Despite my internal battle with myself, I decided to take pictures.  If it wasn’t for all you people who aren’t here with me, I would have no photos of this place.  But since I want you to see the things I see, I suppose I have to try and capture the memories in my mind.

As we were standing outside the Alhambra I felt a rush of emotion that I’ve never felt before.  I’m not sure if any of the other kids feel this way or not, but just staring down at this city made me really think…. “Wow.  I’m in Spain.  I’m in Granada.  I’m standing here in one of the most visited sites in the world right now.  This place is so old it makes me dizzy just thinking about it.  Some people will never get to see this in their lifetime and here I am right now, right in this very moment in time.”  I stared at the vast landscape for what seemed like hours.  It’s funny how beauty can take you away from the world for just a few minutes, yet within those few minutes your whole life has been changed.  All my thoughts in those moments revolved around my life and my experiences as a human being.  How could I have lived my life without seeing this?  How could I have thought my world was complete just staying in one place?  Time stopped and my world consisted of a happiness I have never felt.  My physical and emotional states became one and nothing else mattered.  I wasn’t cold.  I wasn’t thinking of home.  I wasn’t thinking about food like I usually am.  What was I thinking then?  To be honest, nothing..absolutely nothing.  I saw how minuscule I am to the world and how there is more to this trip than “studying.”  I’m not studying for school, I’m studying the world.  My way of thinking, of looking at the world, at history, at cultures, has all been changed.  I have a deeper understanding of myself now.  I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted with my life, but now…now I see that the world is more than just getting a job and growing up.  It’s about the experience.  It really is all about the journey and not the destination.  All those little sayings about how life is a journey and blah blah…man…they are beyond true.  For me, I suppose it was one of those finding yourself moments.  Some people have it through religious experiences, but not me.  Travel is my religion.  If I could have stayed there forever, that moment in time, I might just have taken that opportunity.                                         

We continued with our tour until the unwanted end.  I would pay whatever entrance fee again and again just to see it one more time.  We then broke off into groups and went for lunch and to explore the city of Granada.  After 2 short hours of free time, it was back on the bus to Sevilla.  I think it’s very obvious that this city made a lasting impression on me and I hope everyone gets to experience it someday.  I hope everyone can feel this passionate about something during their lifetime.  It’s truly an amazing feeling that forms you into a new person. 

I feel like I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of this very personal experience, even with the excessive 4 pages I’ve just written.  :)  I suppose it’s the way of the world saying, “If you wanna see this, you gotta come see it yourself.”  Well world, I have seen it myself, and yes…yes, I will come back.