Hello from Scotland! I am currently writing you from a Starbucks on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh as I’m on suitcase watching duty! I know, my life is so hard right now :D Though I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks coffee, it’s kind of fun to drink an “American coffee” (which means it’s sweeter and bigger to the Europeans). I’m also trying to listen to Spanish music in order to drown out all the loud Scottish accents! Too bad they are so cool… Well, I would encourage you to find a nice, comfy chair and maybe make yourself a hot drink to sip on before you read this.. because it’s going to take you a while! It will probably take me four hours of writing to get you caught up!
Gains: Stamps on my passport! However, when you travel within the EU, they don’t give you a stamp. When we travelled to Rome from Spain, this was the case, and so we ran around the airport asking different people for an Italy stamp. Sadly, all they had to offer was a stamp that said “visa checked” that didn’t even say Italy on it! Hannah had them stamp her passport with it and let out a squeal of excitement when the guy did. Yep, we got the “stupid Americans” look after that one. She realized after that it didn’t even say Italy on it, so she is going to draw and arrow to the stamp and write Italy in it. We did get a stamp when we flew out of Spain to Scotland though! It was Hannah’s first official stamp on her passport :)
Pains: Goodbyes. I HATE them. Hayden left this week, which was a wake up call to us all. Unfortunately, this dream world that we live in is not going to last forever. Hayden only did a three-month program, and quite honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be as hard to say goodbye as it was! Hannah and I grabbed shawarma (a pita like sandwich with shaved meat and veggies) with him and his mom, and then later that night went out to out to tapas with some of our friends from the program. When we had to say goodbye, Hannah, Hayden and I walked out into the alley and said our last goodbyes… and then Hannah and I walked home and both cried a little. Such girls. However, chances are our whole group will never all be in the same place again. EVER. That is what makes it the hardest.
Strawberry Pie: I think those two words pretty much explain themselves. If you haven’t already, you need to try Grandma Betty’s cold strawberry pie. They don’t have pie in Spain, and we are thinking of starting up pie shops all around Andalucia! Nuff said.
Trains: Well, as you may have guessed from the post title, I’ve been doing some traveling! A few weekends ago, I went to Salobreña, which is the “beach town” of Granada. Last week, I went to Rome. Currently I am in Scotland.. and this evening I fly to Dublin. Any guesses as to which country I am heading to next Friday?
Let’s back up… about a month. Remember how I told you that Trini broke her hip? Well, she has been doing so well and is recuperating! We have had different family members coming in and out of the house for the past month. My mom’s brother Javier lives with us during the week, so now I have an uncle! Also, we have had three sets of French girls and one set of Italian girls stay with us in the meantime. Our house has been busy!
About three weeks ago, Joaquín invited Hannah, Hayden and I to his family’s flat in Salobreña for the weekend. The whole reason we decided to go was because the three of us were telling Joaquín about pie, and he said he had never eaten it before! Unbelievable, right? Since we needed a kitchen to make it in, Joaquín suggested we just go to the beach for the weekend! Funny thing was it was actually pi day (3/14), and we had no clue until Hayden realized the date! Salobreña is about an hour away from Granada, so it was a quick trip. When we got there, we went grocery shopping and bought food to make meals that we haven’t gotten to eat since we left the U.S.! It was a really lazy weekend, and the apartment is literally right on the beach. It had a huge terrace that we could lounge on and look out at the ocean. We would just eat, sleep and repeat. In the evenings, we played Spanish board games (that I had never heard of before) and sipped on the homemade sangria that Joaquín taught us how to make. Saturday morning, we made pancakes with imitation maple syrup! Though we weren’t thrilled about the syrup, Joaquín LOVED it. He had never had maple syrup before either, since they don’t have it in Spain! He asked if he could keep the leftovers to share it with the world. Before lunch, we went down to the beach to hang out for a while. The beach of Granada doesn’t have sand, just rocks. It was still pretty though (but a little chilly)! Hannah and I spent our time searching for seashells and sea glass. For lunch, we made beef to put in our pasta. BEEF!!! Ah, I missed beef. It was so delicious. Then, of course, the pie. It was a heavenly experience for us all. We each ate a slice and agreed to save half of the pie for later. That was a struggle! Throughout the rest of the day, we all mentioned how badly we wanted to eat it! As the sun started to set on Saturday evening, we decided to run to the top of this rock and watch it. So the four of us ran down the street, kicking a soccer ball in between one another and trying to make it in time. Well, we didn’t make it. It was still pretty though! Then, we just stood around on the beach trying to kick a soccer ball in between one another without letting it touch the ground until it got too dark out. After, we returned back home to make dinner, which basically meant trying to eat all the extra meat that the boys bought at the store! Never send boys to a supermarket do a woman’s job ;) However, I still crave the sausage sandwiches we made that evening. Then, we played another new card game while Joaquín tried to convince us that the winner should be able to eat all the pie (I won by the way. And I shared.). After cleaning the following day, we went home to Granada to begin studying for our midterms the upcoming week!
Speaking of midterms, what a challenge! Um, what the heck does the word “study” mean? Not that I don’t study, but I don’t have the mental capacity or concentration to study here like I do in the States! In the States, I study like it’s my job! Here, studying is like a cruel form of torture! Especially when the sun is shining. I ended up passing all my midterms, though (and getting high grades, for the record), just in case you thought I winged it.
A few of my friends were talking about visiting the Arab baths in Granada because we get a student discount. I was told that I needed to go once, and I figured it would be nice after my tough week of studying (ha!). I really didn’t know what to expect, but they were wonderful! Hannah, her roommates Aileen and Theresa, and I went. Since we went during lunchtime, we had the whole place to ourselves. Inside, there are three different sets of baths: a hot tub-like one, a warm one and a cold one. You enter the baths and have an hour and a half inside, allowing you to switch between the baths as you choose. The inside is really pretty and relaxing, and they served the best tea I have ever had. There is also a steam room (which was like sitting inside of a cloud) and for an extra euro, we got a 15-minute massage! It was well worth the money, and I am glad I did it! Very relaxing :) I found a few pics online of the baths and am putting them below so you can get an idea!
Since midterms, life hasn’t really slowed down. That weekend, my program had a trip planned for Sevilla and Córdoba. That Friday, we took a bus to Sevilla (pronounced Sev-ee-ya), which is about three hours or so away from Granada. Actually, before I committed to studying in Granada, I was trying to decide between Sevilla and Granada! Sevilla was a really fun city. The day we got there, we had free time to roam around the city until the next morning, which was really nice. The girls from my intensive month and I did some exploring. We walked down the river for a while, went to see the government building and ended up in the Plaza de España. This plaza is REALLY pretty. Around the edge of it, it has names of many of the major cities of Spain with painted tiles representing the city. Also, there is an area filled with water (that kind of looks like a moat) running the length of it. For only 5€, Nancy, Hannah, Alexa and I rented a paddleboat and rowed 35 minutes. The whole time, we were preoccupied with the idea of getting back on time, because for every minute after 35 minutes, we would be charged an extra euro (and as you know, we are poor and couldn’t afford that). Luckily, we made it with time to spare (with some sore rowing arms). It was really fun! After, we met up with some other friends from our group and walked through the Maria Luisa Park and another plaza. Hayden thought it would be a good idea to stick a flower in my bun, and after, we all were on the lookout for different flowers to stick in it! By the time I got back to the hotel, I had a swarm of bees following me! At least it looked pretty!
Unfortunately, ISA doesn’t pay for any of our meals when we go on trips with them (yet we stay at five star hotels…. curious). Since Hannah and I are cheap, we got a loaf of bread, some aioli, chips and dried fruit.. and called it dinner. Not to mention that Hayden ate half of our loaf while we were still in the supermarket (and didn’t pay for it.. typical boy..). When we got to the hotel, we ate our “dinner” on the edge of our bed. Let me just tell you, this is a recipe for constipation. I mean, if you were wondering (too much information?) Yeah, we didn’t feel so hot the next morning! However, the breakfasts at the hotel were amazing! All of us cheap students stole bread and meat to make sandwiches to last us through the day and tried to sneak them out of the dining area. On Saturday, our program took us on tours of the gardens and of the cathedral. The cathedral in Sevilla is actually the third largest in the world! Though all the information is really interesting and the tours are nice, they get exhausting. When they were over for the day, I was pretty happy. That afternoon, we decided to go find the giant wooden mushrooms. It is a fairly new attraction in Sevilla, and it is the world’s largest wooden structure that looks like mushrooms from the aerial view (see below). Even though we won’t pay to eat, we all decided that it would be fun to watch the sunset from the top of the mushrooms, so we paid to ride the elevator up and explore a little (not to mention it came with a free drink in a dirty cup – worth it, right?)! The elevator ride was pretty great too and made for some great group selfies! After, we all got shawarma for dinner and went to sit at the river to hang out for the night. The spot on the river was really nice except for the groups of loud drunk people around us and the occasional whiff of pee! A while later after exploring the other side of the river a little, we turned in for the night and got ready to head to Córdoba the next day.
Córdoba was a nice city, but there wasn’t a ton to see. We had a about an hour to roam around the city before our tour, and then we took a tour of the city and the mosque-turned-cathedral. The city is known for all the flowers that decorate the buildings. I guess that they have a festival called la Feria de Mayo, during which all the buildings are covered with flowers. It’s supposed to be really beautiful. I put a picture of a house below so you can have an idea of what that would look like! The mosque in Córdoba is pretty incredible. The inside is very interesting, and pictures don’t really do it justice. Córdoba was just a short day trip, so that afternoon, we went back to Granada to get ready for the next week!
Alright, this is intermission. I say this because I am stuck here guarding three sets of luggage and finished drinking my coffee… so you know what that means… Unfortunately, I can’t leave my post (Get it? That was a play on words there.. Hopefully someone appreciated it.). I hope my friends come back soon, or else we are going to have problems.. I only have one pair of pants! (Again, too much information?).
Well, after we got back from Sevilla, we had three days to recuperate before heading to Rome. (P.S. I got my intermission – just in case you were concerned. Now sitting in the airport :) Joaquín’s birthday was on Wednesday, so on Tuesday, Hannah and I threw him a birthday picnic -American style. We went to the grocery store the day before to search for peanut butter in order to make sandwiches (he had never tried peanut butter either!). Then, we all walked to the park, put down blankets and set up camp! We had a TON of food and made peanut butter & jelly and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. We surprised him with a strawberry pie, which I made that morning at the crack of dawn (it was only 7:30 am.. but that’s early for me anymore!) I had to prepare some sort of makeshift crust out of these cookies I found, and I ended up giving myself a huge blister from crumbling the cookies so finely between my fingers! Joaquín was a happy little camper when he found out we made him pie! We tried to light candles for him to blow out, but it was too windy. So after Hannah and I butchered “Happy Birthday,” he fake blew out his candles and pretended to be super excited! We let him take the leftover pie home to his family so they could try pie as well.
The day after, on Wednesday, we took a Blablacar to Málaga (which by the way, she was the best driver yet with the nicest car) and caught a flight to Rome! It was the first time I had ever flown using Ryanair, which was quite the experience. You definitely get what you pay for and nothing more. I have never had a flight like it. We didn’t start boarding until the time we were scheduled to take off, and they don’t call you up in an organized fashion to board – it’s a free-for-all. People on the flight talked so loud that I couldn’t even hear the flight attendant explain the safety instructions (How was I supposed to know how to inflate my safety vest if something were to go wrong? Or buckle and un buckle seat belt? Out of all the flights I have been on, this was the one time I felt I needed to know the safety information!) Also, half of the people on the flight were probably in the isle during a good portion of the flight, and the flight attendants did absolutely nothing about it! Unbelievable right? Thank goodness the plane didn’t fall out of the sky! We arranged to stay at another apartment with Airbnb, and the lady we rented from told us that for 5€ a piece, her mother’s husband would pick us up from the airport and drive us to the place. We met him at the airport holding a sign saying Hannah’s name, which she was pretty thrilled about. He could speak very little English or Spanish, and we knew no Italian. When we got in the car, he tossed Kay a dictionary, which he used to look up necessary words like “bathroom,” “garbage” and how to tell a girl she is beautiful (His goal was to find an Italian girlfriend in the three days we were there. He was unsuccessful.). The little apartment was, like I said, little. It was super comfortable, near to the subway and perfect for the four of us!
The first day, we planned to see some of the big sights of Rome but remembered that Obama was in town and half the attractions were shut down! Seriously… he had to shut down the coliseum! This day was really cold and rainy, and we started it by visiting the Trevi Fountain and contributing our 2 cents (one to fall in love, and one to return to Rome). There, we tried our first Italian gelato. So. Good. After, we just wandered around with our map, which had the must-see monuments numbered 1-10 on it. The fact that these monuments were numbered was bad for us.. One would ask, “where are we going next,” and another would answer “to number 8.” You know it’s bad when you refer to the Vatican as “number 4.” We got a pretty good laugh from that! For lunch that day, we were persuaded into eating pizza at a restaurant by its owner. Let’s just say that after everyone built up the anticipation by telling us how great Italian pizza was, we were pretty let down. It wasn’t much different than the States (actually, it was worse)! We continued walking around and happened to see a giant important looking building, which turned out to be St. Peter’s Basilica! It was beautiful! I have seen a lot of churches in the past three months, and that was definitely in the top three. Since we were going to the Vatican the next day, we wandered around after trying to figure out where it was (funny thing is the basilica basically is the Vatican). After, we checked out the Spanish Steps and Popolo Plaza (I think.. it was number 1 on the map). All over Rome, there are TONS of street vendors, and they follow you around. Kay made the mistake of showing interest and asking to try this “super laser” that one of the guys was selling. So, for the next 15 minutes, the guy followed us around trying to convince Kay to buy it! It was a pretty impressive laser. By that time, it was cold and rainy, and we were hungry. Our transportation home consisted of using the metro, which was a stressful experience. We cheated the system a little by buying only one tourist pass and passing it back to one another sneakily. Well, the pass sometimes wouldn’t work right away, so the people on the other side of the gate would have to walk in between the different gates trying the pass at each one, acting as if it was the gates fault the pass wouldn’t work and not our own (which of course didn’t look suspicious). I was really nervous about getting caught by the Italian security guards and getting yelled at in Italian! Luckily, we didn’t get caught the whole time we were there (I’m also not sure if we technically broke the rules or not). Anyways, Thursday evening we cooked pasta in the apartment and ate like kings and queens, and then rested up to go to “number 4” the next day.
We got up early Friday to head the Vatican so we could stand in line for tickets. None of us had wifi or cell phone service, and we didn’t plan well enough to buy our tickets ahead of time. The Vatican was very interesting, but I had no clue it was basically a museum! There is SO much art there. The Sistine Chapel was also breathtaking, but different than I expected! I pictured it much bigger. Before leaving, we took a break to eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches in the garden area (we received a few funny looks). That afternoon, we wandered around a bit more, discovering the Pantheon as well. Rome is so fascinating in the way it is built. You just happen to walk around a corner, or almost every corner, and stumble upon a giant ancient building or ruin! Hannah’s thing to say was “I wonder how old those ruins are!” After the Pantheon, we decided that we should try Italian pizza one more time (just to make sure we got the full experience). Since we are cheap, we ordered the pizza to “take away” (so we didn’t have to leave a tip) and ate it on a street corner in front of some ruins. Well, eating on the street isn’t really socially acceptable in that part of Europe, and usually only homeless people do it. In fact, we were sitting on top of a cardboard box, which served as someone’s bed from the night before! Yep, we received some pretty funny looks from passersby. Almost everyone who passed us stared! Not to mention that we ate our pizza by picking it up with our hands, folding it in half and talking a large bite (also definitely not socially acceptable). Oh well, call us homeless (we practically are). I don’t know if it was because we were sitting on a street corner or what, but that pizza was SO good! Kay and I shared a sausage and mushroom pizza, and it was to die for. I talked about it for the rest of the trip to the point where my travel buddies were annoyed with me J Of course, to finish off the day, we had to try gelato again. Gelato number two was probably my least favorite. It was too creamy. After, we returned to the apartment to cook and rest-up for our third day.
Day number three (Saturday) we woke up early to stand in line for the coliseum. We stood in line for over an hour, but it was definitely worth it. The coliseum was incredible! It’s amazing that the Romans had the means to build a structure like that way back in the day. After the coliseum, we checked out Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Then we walked over to Trastevere, a hipster neighborhood of Rome, for lunch. We found a menu that included a drink, appetizer, main course and dessert for under 15€. This was supposed to be our pasta experience, but honestly I wasn’t overly impressed by it either! I will have to go back and try Italian food in the future. It was food, though, so I can’t complain. We wandered the streets of Trastevere, where many locals had set up stands displaying their homemade jewelry or art that they had for sale. Hannah and Lauren both found Italian leather purses for reasonable prices, which they were pretty thrilled about. We also tried gelato one more time. Okay, that was maybe the best ice cream I have ever had. What’s the trick to finding the best Italian gelato shops you ask? If the shop has a name, it’s not legit. Make sure all it says outside is “gelato.” If they “pretty up” the ice cream that you get to choose from, it means they are trying to hard to catch your attention and are covering up for the lack of flavor in the ice cream. Basically, buy your Italian ice cream from a hole-in-the-wall shop. We are all still talking about that ice cream! We ended up getting lost in Trastevere and having to ask for directions but eventually made it back to the apartment after a bit of walking. Our only regret about our trip to Rome was not spending more time in the neighborhood – it was all of our favorite part!
The next morning we had to catch a flight back to Spain. We didn’t have any problems until this day. That morning, Europe recognized daylight savings and turned their clocks ahead… and we woke up late. We all jumped out of bed and each took a job (some cooking breakfast and others cleaning) in order to get out of the house in time. Since we didn’t have a wifi, we couldn’t look for a recipe for crepes but since we were all craving them we decided to wing it. Yeah, that didn’t work. We ended up having no breakfast. Our Italian driver showed up to take us back to the airport, and we weren’t ready. Somehow, we communicated that we needed more time, so he left for a while. However, when we were ready to leave, we couldn’t find him! He disappeared! We searched the cars out front and the apartment building for him but had no luck. Finally, Hannah found him down the street sipping on a coffee! Thank goodness. He dropped us at the airport, and before we said goodbye, he asked to get a photo with us. What a cute, typical Italian man! Our flight back to Málaga was worse than the flight to Rome! I think it may have been the worst flight I have ever been on in my entire life. Similar to before, every person on the plane was walking down the aisles to talk to other people. However, the landing was the worst. We hit the ground so fast! When everyone started to clap, I thought to myself, “Why are you clapping? We aren’t going to stop!” We had to hit the brakes pretty hard in order to stop. I was SO glad to get off that plane. To complete the dysfunction for the day, we couldn’t find the Blablacar driver to take us back to Granada. It took us a half hour to 45 minutes of trying to communicate with him before we finally found him. Alex, the driver, was an interesting character. He drove incredibly fast (my friends made fun of me because I was so on edge due to this) and smoked in the car. I could have kissed the sidewalk when we finally got dropped off in Granada! Though I was exhausted when I made it home, I had such a great time!
I should stop writing. Currently, I am flying back to Spain from Ireland on Ryainair. If this post gets submitted online, it means I survived another Ryanair flight. I am also writing this in a Word document that is telling me I have written 10 pages so far. That is ridiculous! I am going to take a little snooze, but I would advise you to read this fast… my goal is to get part two of this post up by Friday! Stay updated for the Ireland and Scotland trip post (unless you were bored reading about my Rome trip :D).