Friday, November 30, 2012

Northern Spain, I love you.

I feel like I have to dedicate some words to the incredible beauty of Northern Spain.  I think it might have a little to do with the constant rain, it has rained every day this week, including some serious thunder, hail, and even a small power outage.  Last week I was able to travel throughout even more of the amazing Spanish countryside.  Donald & Susie rented a car for their week here and it allowed for several interesting adventures.  We were able to visit a gorgeous church built along the Northern coast, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (gas-tell-oo-ga-chay) (I can never remember how to say/spell it), drive through La Rioja region for a winery tour and view the gorgeous mountainous area of Álava region, and through the winding coastal roads to San Sebastian.  On each of these trips I found myself in even more and more awe of the pure beauty of Northern Spain.  I have traveled these paths before, but I think they get more beautiful with time as many of the colors have changed and greens have deepened.  My eyes have been spoiled with gorgeous rolling lush green hills nestled in front of tall mountains with deep evergreen trees and pockets of golden and red trees as well.  The real treats are the valleys full of red, orange, yellow, and the most beautiful mix of fall trees filling your eyes with warmth and an unforgettable sight.  Every time I look I see something more beautiful than the sheep grazing on the side of a bright green mountainside, even more beautiful than an old Basque stone house jutting out of the mountain contrasted by lush green trees, if it's even possible, it gets better every time.  Maybe I'm growing a deeper appreciation for the beauty each time I see it, it's definitely not a sight I get at home, or maybe it's because I've been able to share it with some of the people I love most in this world, or maybe the weather changing is really making it more beautiful.  Either way, I needed to dedicate some words to this beautiful place, even though my words could never paint a picture to do it justice.  That's also the problem with trying to take a picture of this place, every time I take one the picture just doesn't seem good enough, doesn't do it justice.  I look at the picture and you can't come close to seeing all the different colors of leaves in the trees or the details in the towns.  Maybe it's also because the picture doesn't capture the feeling that seeing it with you own eyes gives you.  You can feel the beauty of this creation in your heart when you see it when it with your own eyes.  You can't capture this place with a lens, I merely hope that I can capture it enough with my eyes and hold the picture of this place, the feeling of this beautiful Northern Spain that I love, forever in my heart.

Kasey & I in front of the church, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
So many colors along the Northern coast, I love nature!

Callie & I with the fallen leaves in San Sebastian.
This is a picture from my first trip in September to La Rioja, the wine region of Spain. It's even prettier now with the changing leaves!

 I <3 Northern Spain.

Here's an article I found about the undiscovered gem that is Northern Spain.

Agur!! And I hope someday, you get to experience Northern Spain too!

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I got a glimpse of Sevilla the day before we left for Morocco and was able to spend a day there upon returning from Morocco.  I loved this city!  It does not take long to realize how different North of Spain is from South of Spain, and I was so glad I was able to experience this other side of Spain.  Sevilla was historic and fun.  It is more what I expected Spain to be like, rather than what I've experienced in Northern Basque Country of Spain.  I had a great experience in Sevilla and am glad I was able to visit it!

Love the cathedral of Sevilla! Gorgeous inside & out.

We went to a Flamenco show, however, I have already seen a show in Bilbao by Sara Baras, who is PHENOMENAL at Flamenco, so this show was less as impressive, but still very fun!

The Sangria in the South of Spain is the BEST!

We went to the top of the tower in the cathedral, it was a gorgeous view!

I'm obviously an expert Matador.

We had a great visit to the Plaza de Toros, the Bull Ring of Sevilla.

Huge, gorgeous, fantastic, awesome:all of the above.

Couldn't fit it into a picture!

The Palace, such gorgeous architecture!

Finding a Piece of Home in Morocco

Well it seems as though my Moroccan adventures may be close to coming to an end, (knock on wood).  I have finished my antibiotics and have been able to eat at normal meal times with only minimal pain and troubles. So that is what I would call an accomplishment.  It feels so good to finally eat real food again, but has been crazy how long this has gone on.  It has been 2.5 weeks since I returned from Morocco and am still feeling the effects of the "Moroccan hangover."  I have to say time has flown by quite quickly, I spent probably a solid week laying in bed, and this past week my sister and boyfriend came to visit (save) me.  Even though these troubles have really tested my strength and have made me extremely homesick, I would not change my experience in Morocco for anything.  Maybe I would try to not eat any food, but I think this whole experience has taught me a lot and I really enjoyed my experiences in Morocco.  To be honest, there were many things that made me feel at home in Morocco, which is something I would have never expected.

   We spent a lot of time on a bus, and I mean a lot.  I think in total, it was about four days of our trip sitting in a bus.  I really didn't mind the bus rides though, I got plenty of sleep, did some journaling, and I really enjoyed watching the landscape as we went through Morocco.  I think that riding for so long gives you a really unique look at parts of a country that normal travelers may not get to have.  I love wide open spaces.  The empty fields were a welcomed sight for it has been a while since I have seen somewhere so flat and empty. 

The Medina of Fes: What an experience this place was.  It is hard to put into few words what the entire experience included.  From the confusing, winding, narrow, a bit dirty & smelly, streets to the overwhelming, frustrating, did I mention overwhelming?, business tactics, to the numerous animals, interesting people, and beautiful sights, it was an overload for all senses I would say.  I hardly know where to start or how to describe it.  Pictures say it best, but you will never be able to fully understand it unless you go experience it for yourself. 

Well, I can try to deny it, but there is no sense in avoiding the cold hard truth, I got worked over by the Moroccan salesmen and bought a rug, or two. I am not proud of this, but let me tell ya, I am not even really sure what happened.  This beautiful rug shop was huge and the first stop on our tour.  I was pulled into a room with a friend who bought several rugs and left, and sat alone sipping on this "mint tea," which I have concluded may be the source of my stomach pains and hallucinations while purchasing anything in Morocco.  Anyways, they showed many beautiful rugs, I smiled and nodded, oh sure they were pretty, but kept insisting, "No, I can't afford it," "No, I don't want any," "No thank you," "No," "No," "No," "No."  I guess they weren't getting the message.  All alone, surrounded by four insisting salesmen, speaking very fast and very aggressively, I guess I didn't see any other way out, and gave in.  Needless to say, I'm not made for this kind of sales or bargaining.  So I left, feeling quite sick, overwhelmed a bit, and really wanting to cry.  I wasn't really sure what just happened.  But anyways, I now have two lovely Moroccan rugs, even though I don't really remember what they look like.  I'm in for a surprise when I get home I guess.  But, if anyone is reading this and planning on going shopping in Morocco, don't drink the tea, don't go alone, and just don't say anything.  They don't take no for an answer, you just have to leave.  Lessons learned.

Our tour also included a tannery to see how Moroccan leather is made.  Just be glad this picture does not include Smell-o-vision, whew, it is something unique.  The leathers are made all natural though, no chemicals included, just the natural mixtures and some pigeon poop helps as well. 

Next we went to a spice shop, or pharmacy I think someone referred to it as.  They had spices, lipsticks, oils, balms, whatever you could think of.  I was not in the best mood after the rug store and was getting really tired of people always in my face trying to sell me stuff.  It was cool, but I didn't buy anything.

We also went to a beautiful dress and scarf shop.  These places are huge by the way, like four or five stories of different things to look at.  I was able to try one of these dresses on, probably because they thought I was going to buy it.  They will do anything they can to get you to buy it.  Luckily, my other friend was interested in the purchase and I was able to slip mine off and disappear before the sales pitch started. 

My favorite part of the Medina were the cats and donkeys in the streets.  I really wanted to feed them, but didn't have anything to give them.  So cute, I'd love to keep one.

We left the Medina to visit a ceramic shop outside of the city and stopped at some different places for views of Fes.  I got in trouble taking this picture because you shouldn't stand so close to the edge.  Apparently what I am standing on is a cliff made merely of piled up trash and can collapse if you're not careful.  Don't worry I am fine, and didn't know of this until after this picture was snapped.  But it did make me realize that there is a lot of trash everywhere we went.  They don't really have one designated place to put it, so it is literally everywhere.

    My favorite things in Morocco, cats and kids.

The ceramic place was impressive, as have all ceramic places I have visited overseas have been.  A man spun a vase in less than two minutes, spinning the wheel with his foot, and flawless shaping and design.  Several other men painted intricate designs on plates, while others cut small tiles piece by piece for another to place them piece by piece onto a bigger design that would turn into a fountain.  The amount of time and work is incredible.  However, my favorite part was watching the game of soccer being played by several guys in front of the ceramic shop.  It was a very intense game. 

They got a little upset if the other one made a bad call.  Also, some of them had the biggest calves I have ever seen, probably from all of the walking and soccer they do.  It was impressive.  There were some younger boys playing a game on the side as well.  I love all of the little boys we saw because they were so friendly.  One of them kicked the soccer ball over to me and insisted that I kick it back.  I'm not very good at soccer but gave it my best effort.  His thumbs up, nod, and sweet smile insured me that I didn't do too bad.

That night we went to a traditional music and dance show.  It included some great entertaining dancing, some very loud drumming music, and one guy was playing an instrument that looked like a pair of scissors.  I'll be honest it was quite loud and gave me a headache, but that also could have been the hat that I had to spin on my head from an old dancing man insisting that many of us try on his hat. 

Always a donkey somewhere, waiting to have his picture taken I'm sure.
We spent the next day on the bus, headed to Erfoud to get to the desert for the night.  We made several stops along the way, three buses full of students with no bathrooms makes for some interesting travel conditions.  They encouraged us to find the nearest bush or tree to make a restroom out of.  I know some people weren't thrilled about the option, but growing up on a farm, it felt like I was back at home.  It's not every day you can say that you have personally "watered the trees" in the middle of Morocco. 

We also happened along this huge canyon that was full of lush green trees.  It looked like it was an oasis in the middle of a dry desert land.  We took the bus down and had lunch in the town in the oasis.  It was a beautiful view and a great lunch.

After lunch we finally made it to Erfoud around 6pm and were ready to get in to the 4x4 jeeps to ride to the desert.  The closer we got to the desert, the more and more I was reminded of home.  This seems pretty strange yes, but it is true.  We hopped into the jeeps and everyone else was so excited that we were hitting bumps and going off roading! I was a little less amused though.  We weren't even going that fast and it wasn't too bumpy.  I wondered why everyone else found this so exciting, then I realized they probably don't often go chasing cows in the pickup with their dad through the rough pasture or speeding through corn fields after a coyote.  So even though the ride through the desert was mild, I was reminded of all the great times at home I have spent speeding in a pickup after an antelope or something else like that.  Also, we stopped in part of the desert with several other jeeps to look at the stars.  It was so good to see the sky again, but I was shocked to hear some students say they had never seen a shooting star or remark that "We don't have stars like this back home."  It made me a little sad to realize that most people live in such busy places that they don't get to experience something so beautiful.  The stars in Morocco were the first I have seen in a while and they reminded me of the wide open sky I see from my house in Eastern Colorado.  I have spent so many nights watching meteor showers or laying under the stars just gazing.  Don't get me wrong the stars in the Moroccan desert were great, but I have to say, they have nothing on the stars in Eastern Colorado. 

And so, I felt a little bit at home when I settled in to my small mattress in our huge haimas (tents).  I love being outdoors and going camping, and even though it doesn't usually involve this much sand, I was really happy and having a lot of fun.

We woke up early the next morning to see the sunrise in the desert.  It was gorgeous and something I will always cherish.  I kept having to remind myself that I was really in the Sahara Desert, that this was really real life.  I never imagined I would be able to have an experience like this in my life.  

After a nap and breakfast, I prepared myself for what I had been waiting the entire trip to get to do.  Really the entire reason I had decided I wanted to come to Morocco and have this experience...RIDE A CAMEL! It was so exciting and so fun!! I decided to name my camel Henry, he was a very well behaved camel and took good care of me.  It was a pretty bumpy ride, but it was so much fun.  Best part of the trip, hands down!

Hugging a camel is much more difficult than you may think!
Kisses for Henry. Best camel ever!

After the camel ride we cooled off with some water and drinks in a town nearby.  We visited another rug store, this one had rugs weaved by the many Nomads and Berbers, the people of the desert.  They were beautiful as well, but most people were all out of money.  We quickly learned that the 600 dirhams, which is about 60 euros, they recommended us to bring, was not even close to enough.

We spent the rest of the day trying to stay cool in the camp waiting for dinner.  I met some great new people and had a wonderful day.  I even got some henna, which was pretty fun.

I bought this straw camel from a young boy for a few dirhams, because the kids are just too cute to say no to.  I decided to take some pictures of the camel and his adventures too.  Naturally here he is walking through the desert by our tent.  

At dinner I made another friend, this one I was able to feed some meat to, so maybe that's why he was so fond of me.  But after dinner, we had a small dance party to the music played on the drums by the band.  I managed to join in on the drums for a little bit.  However, I grew tired of the loud music and ventured out into the desert to watch the stars.  Since I couldn't convince any of my friends to come with me, I ended up practicing my Spanish with a Berber who told me about his life and culture.  It was a great learning experience and I realized we weren't so different.  He told me he loved the way of life in the desert, a slower and more peaceful life, with family at the heart of the importance, and hard work necessary for survival.  It sounded a lot like home to me.

I was sad to say goodbye to the desert the next day.  I was looking forward to a shower and clean bathroom facilities, but not ready to let go of the peaceful feeling the desert had left me.  The only thing I wish is that I would've been able to bring all of my loved ones with me so that they could see the sunrise, the beauty of the life here, and share with them my experiences, a camel for everyone!  On our way out, I was reminded of home once again, when we had to stop and let a group of sheep cross the road, well at home it is cows, but same difference ;)

I was glad to make it to the hotel that night because I started to feel sick from some of the food we had eaten.  We stayed in Meknes and were encouraged to go explore the more modern city, but I was not feeling up to it.  Instead I rested and tried to recover from my beginning intestinal troubles.  After another day on the bus, a ferry ride to cross the Gibraltar Strait, and more bus ride, we finally arrived back in Sevilla, very tired, very wore out, and very full of memories we would not soon forget.  Sadly, I have been very brief in this blog and could never possibly share all of the details that Morocco left me with.  It was an incredible trip and one I will not soon forget.  It made me miss home very much, and appreciate home even more.  I am so blessed I was able to have this experience and hope that I never forget all that I have learned.  I am so thankful for such an opportunity!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mom, This one's for you!

What a beautiful view in San Sebastian
This post is a long overdue shout-out to the biggest reason that I am here.  The reason that I am able to go out on my own, have confidence in my decisions, be brave, have enthusiasm for life, and live life adventurously, are all thanks to my mom.  She is always supporting me, loving me, and reassuring me that things will turn out alright.  I literally have the strongest and best mom anyone could ever ask for! So I am even more blessed that she was able to come visit me here!! For two weeks in the end of October, I got to spend the most amazing time with my favorite person in the whole world! How lucky am I?! I must say, sometimes it's easy to go through life unaware of how vulnerable you are, but then a hug from your mom makes you realize, you'll always be a vulnerable little kid who could always use a big hug from no one else but your mom!!

In front of the Guggenheim.
She arrived on a Thursday after two flight delays and changes, bless her heart! Traveling can be not so enjoyable, but I have learned it's mostly unreliable! Also unreliable can be the Bilbao weather. It rained, like pouring rain almost the whole time we had free. Good thing we had our umbrellas!  Our original plan to rent a car and tour the eastern Spanish countryside was quickly changed due to the weather & flight delays. Oh well, we weren't going to let it bring us down! Off to San Sebastian we went.

Waiting for the bus!
Jellyfish! I shall call you squishy!
It was also raining in San Sebastian, but that's just a good reason to snuggle under an umbrella, as we walked through the streets of the Parte Vieja (Old part of San Sebastian).  We had crepes (YUM) and dabbled in some shopping.  The rain finally let up at night so we had a beautiful walk back to the hotel along the beach. San Sebastian is just as beautiful at night! The next morning, still raining, pretty heavy, so we decided the Aquarium was our best option.  They have a fantastic aquarium with tons of cool fish and exhibits. The star fish were fantastic, the seahorses were silly, and the sharks looked hungry! It was a great way to spend the time.  Then we returned to Bilbao, still raining, but I had class on Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday.  

The next Wednesday, we departed for an amazing weekend in Frankfurt, Germany & Paris, France. Talk about exciting!

I love Germany! It was one of my favorite places I have been so far.  The food is delicious, the landscape is gorgeous, and the people are so nice! Well, except for the taxi driver we met when we arrived at the airport.  Haha Mom had just finished telling me how people were much nicer in Germany than in Spain, and the cab we get into the driver starts cursing & hitting his steering wheel, because our hotel wasn't very far away.  Haha The next morning we weren't sure what to do, I was feeling a little sick and Mom too, but luckily we talked with the front desk and signed up for a fun filled day of the Rhine River Tour. 

The tour was so much fun! It was about an hour bus ride to get to this beautiful town where we rode a "ski lift" type thing down the side of the mountain into the town.  Our bus driver was hilarious and his constant jokes were very entertaining.  We came at the perfect time, it was cold but not too cold, and peaceful, because all of the other tourists were gone for the season.  The leaves were changing colors and it was so quiet you could hear them hit the ground as they fell.  

When we reached the bottom we had lunch, amazing roast chicken & potatoes with hot tea, and apple strudel for dessert of course.  We met two very fun couples, one from Australia and another from South Africa but are living in Australia.  It was so much fun to get to exchange stories and learn about their lives!

After lunch we boarded a large boat and began our cruise on the Rhine River. The castles were beautiful! We saw about 10 different ones I think, and some of them are hotels! I know where I'm staying next time ;) lol They were surrounded by the beautiful colors of fall.  It was a little chilly, but a bit of sun came out and it was a beautiful day.

The whole ride was gorgeous and the towns we saw were fantastic. There were a lot of grapes growing in lines which made for some beautiful sights as well. There is a certain grape that is picked right after the first freeze of the season, which makes Ischwein(spelling?, sounds like Ice Wine, when you say it).  It is considered a very high quality and expensive wine. And it's pretty yummy! We were able to have a wine tasting in the restaurant where we had lunch after the boat tour.  Our last stop on the boat tour though was past the Loreley rock, which is the deepest part of the river, where many boats have been lost and sailors lost their lives.  The legend says that beautiful Loreley sits upon the rock and combs her golden hair, and her golden hair distracts the sailors & leads to their death.  However, our tour guide claimed that it's not her hair that distracts them, but the fact that she's not wearing anything. I suspected the same. ;)

Loreley Rock
We ended the day with wine tasting and had dinner in Sachenhausen (Sorry German spelling isn't my thing) a part of Frankfurt our tour guide had recommended.  I had some amazing Schnitzel in green sauce with potatoes, and Mom had the classic Frankfurter sausage.  Of course, we ended with more apple strudel!

Our last day in Germany we went to see Wiesbaden, where Mom used to live! It was so cool to see the area where she used to live, I'm sure she had many memories come back to her. I'm glad we were able to make it happen, despite the rain and cold weather.  After some souvenir shopping, we had to catch the train to Paris, which had been changed & complicated! Good news is we figured it out, despite our lack of German language, and made it safely to a very different, very hectic, Paris, France!

Paris is a great city, but didn't compare much to peaceful Germany.  Paris was colder, louder, busier, noisier, chaotic, and dirty. Haha, but that doesn't mean that we didn't have a fantastic time together.  I managed to navigate the metro system (BOOM!). We first visited number one on my list, the Paris Opera Garnier.  You may recognize it from the best movie ever, Phantom of the Opera.  I love this building, it is gorgeous inside & out! I felt like the phantom was gonna creep out from a dark shadow, if it was Gerard Butler, I wouldn't have minded! ;)

Every which way you look there is ornate gorgeous molding and detail.  The tour guide was quite hilarious too so it was a fun tour.  Luckily we got to see the gorgeous auditorium, my favorite part, in addition to the grand staircase, and well everything else.  It was such a dream to go!

After lunch, it was time to head to the 3rd happiest place on earth, Disneyland Paris!! I have officially been to every Disney in the world, which is pretty cool! Disneyland Paris is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and hey I'm 20 too! What a great year, 1992 was ;) Disney here is much smaller than in the United States so it was easy to get around.  It was very busy though, and still cold! We didn't ride too many of the rides, just Space Mountain, which is a lot more intense here, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, and a few others.  We almost missed one of our fast pass times because we got stuck in a parade! It was crazy. haha It was so fun to see Disney decorated up for Halloween, with pumpkins & decorations everywhere. 

It was a dream come true, being in Disneyland Paris with my mom!

It was a long day and our feet were so tired!! We wanted to see the Eiffel Tour at night, but didn't walk all the way in front of it.  Just made it as far as we could from our metro stop and decided that it was good enough.  It was too cold to go too far! It is really pretty when it is lit up at night!

The next day we spent the morning around Notre Dame Cathedral.  I waited several freezing hours in line to climb to the top of the bell tower.  It was a beautiful view of Paris and I loved the gargoyles.  I was disappointed that there was only one large bell we could see in the top.  That's not how it was in the Hunchback? lol But Notre Dame is gorgeous! So glad we were able to see it.  Mom was able to go inside and attend church and said it was beautiful inside as well. 


After our flight back to Bilbao, I had midterms to do the next day! Busy school days ended in quality time spent with my mom enjoying the last few nights in Bilbao.  I am so glad that she was able to visit me and I was able to share my experience with her.  Her visit came at just the right time and it gave me the strength to continue on in this crazy adventure here.  I took her to the airport and said see ya later.  I'm very excited for Christmas when I get to see her again!

Mom & I on a mountain overlooking Bilbao.

And I'm sure you're reading this Mom, or I hope you are. So thank you for everything you do for me every day.  You know I couldn't do it without you! You're the best mom and friend I could ever have, and I don't know what I would do without a light like you in my life!! I am thankful and reminded every day of how wonderful you are to me. When I count my blessings, I am especially thankful that you have a wish for me to get the best out of life, and help me do whatever possible to make it happen.  Thank you always, I LOVE YOU!! <3