Saturday, May 2, 2009

Checking five more countries off the list!

It has obviously been awhile since I've last written. I think that just goes to show that I'm having a great time and unable to sit down to write these. A lot has happened since my last post. Again, to go in chronological order. I went to Cádiz on a program trip. I walked by my old school and home-stay again. It was a nice little visit. There's not really too much to do there and I had done virtually everything we did, but I still enjoyed myself. That night we went out for a friend's birthday back in Sevilla. When I was standing in line for the bathroom I thought I saw the program director from when I was in Cádiz. I went up to his table and it was indeed him! What a small world. He even had my mom's email address and he emailed her the next day.

The next weekend I was off to Paris and London with my friends. I absolutely loved Paris. It's such a charming city. When we got there we met up with my friend Meghan from IU. She was a doll and waited for us for an hour since getting back from the airport took longer than planned. We met up at Notre Dame and stopped by one of Meghan's favorite bookstores, Shakespeare and Co. From there we walked along the Seine to the Lourve. I knew the Lourve was big, but I did not expect it to be quite as big as it is! An entire army, or two, could live in it. I was in awe. We decided to buy a two day museum pass which gave us access to about 40 different museums for only 30 or so euros. After purchasing those at the Lourve, we walked through the Tuillery Gardens and had our first very important stop--crepes! (I really miss those.) From there we continued through the gardens on to Champs Elysses and then the Eiffel tower!

Allison, Briana and me at the Eiffel Tower!

Day 2: We met up bright and early at the Lourve to avoid the lines. We saw the highlights like Mona, Venus Di Milo, etc.

Meg and me in the Lourve

Our next museum was the Orsay. I think it was my favorite one of the entire trip. It's all pre-impressionist through post-impressionist art, which I've realized is the time period I enjoy most. The museum itself is also really neat, because the building is an old train station. I wouldn't call it a very efficient space, but it definitely works. After the Orsay we headed back to the Latin Corner for lunch. I might have had the best panini of my life. Thank goodness for french bread. Let's just say it was amazing. We ordered our paninis to go and then ate outside looking up at Notre Dame. It was a nice little view :P

Outside of Notre Dame

I have been startled by how aggressive beggars are here. Meg had warned us of some of the schemes they have. One is when these ladies come up to you saying they're from Somalia and that their family needs money, etc. Turns out they're not even from Somalia. They come up to you and ask if you speak English. Luckily, as I mentioned, Meg has warned us about this, so we said no. After lunch we walked through Notre Dame and the crypt. From there we headed to San Chappelle. The stained glass there is absolutely beautiful! A lot of the tourists spots in Paris are centrally located, so we never needed to walk far to our next destination. We walked about 2 steps to the Concierge, the jail where Maria Antoinette was jailed and executed. It was pretty cool to see her old cell.

At this point in time it was later in the day, so we were hoping the line to climb the tower at Notre Dame would have calmed down. We were in luck. Next to the line there's a man that imitates the hunchback of Notre Dame by wearing a mask. He walks around and scares tourists and then asks for money. I had seen him earlier in the day, but was still fooled. I was walking with two of my friends when I felt something suddenly around my arm. I heard my friend say, "Oh my god!" I looked down and yelled like there was no tomorrow. Needless to say, the tourists watching this in line got quite a kick out of it. I, however, didn't find it so funny. I wasn't the only one. He continued his routine while we were standing in line, but he scared one girl really badly. The girl's sister started yelling at him in French and that was all that we saw of the impersonator that day!

The view from the top was really cool. I'm glad we climbed it. One could definitely call Paris the city of steps--my goodness, they're everywhere! I've come to realize how spoiled and lazy we are in the States. After our decent, we headed over to the Pompidou museum. It's modern and contemporary art and I can't really say I was feeling it. The building, however, is great! All of the pipes are on the outside because they wanted to have more space for art on the inside. If you're headed to Paris soon, my personal recommendation would to be to check out the building, but skip the museum.

We made it to the top!

The outside of the Pompidou

Day 3: Sunday morning we took a train out to Versailles with about 10,000 of our closest friends. We tried to get out early to beat the crowds, but unfortunately didn't quite accomplish either. The palace was pretty cool. I enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antoinette's bedroom. We skipped out on the gardens because we didn't have enough time, nor did we want to pay an additional entrance fee for them. At this point in time, I spilt up with my friends to go back into the city to meet Meghan. We went to go see the Catacombs, which are amazing! My understanding of them is that it was constructed when the plague hit Paris. Hundreds upon thousands of people were dying and they had no where to bury them, so they dug up old graves and put them there. You can probably guess what the next problem was. Where to put the old bodies? They decided to arrange them in an artistic manner several floor below street level--all SIX MILLION of them. It's pretty creepy, but completely worth it. Thanks to Rick Steve's advice, we knew we couldn't steal any of the bones because someone checks your bags at the end. I can't say I was planning on stealing anything, but thank you anyway, Rick.

The very lovely catacombs

After the catacombs, I went to join up with my friends from my program at the sewer tour! Yes, you read that right, the sewer tour. We went because it was included in the museum pass. I can't say it would be high on my list of recommendations. From there we went to go climb more stairs at the Arc de Triomphe! It was a really cool view! Our tour guide told us that an accident happens once every 30 seconds there. When it was constructed they didn't plan for cars to drive around it, so there aren't any lanes. Let's just say, I was very happy I didn't have to drive there.

The view from the Arc de Triomphe

After the Arc and such a long day we were all absolutely exhausted! Our feet and entire bodies in general were killing us. After a little mistake with trying to read the map, we decided to just eat dinner close to our hotel.

Day 4: On Monday we slept in a little bit and then headed back to the Latin Quarter for the New Europe free walking tour. I don't know if anyone has ever heard of this, but I would really recommend them! There are all of these free walking tours around major european cities. At the end the guides ask for tips and they're really not pushy about it. I went on another one of their tours in London.

After the tour we headed up to an area called Monmontre (the area where Amelie was filmed). We stopped at a famous cemetery and walked around a bit. We were in search of Jim Morrison's grave, but to no avail. There's not really a map of the place, so it's hard to find specific the tombs.

Rachel street!

The Monmontre cemetary

Outside of the Moulin Rouge

From the cemetery, we walked up the hill to Sacre Cour, and of course we felt that it was necessary to stop again for crepes! At the top of the hill is the Sacre Cour cathedral. We made a quick lap through it and then headed back down to the touristy shops. Our next stop was the ever so important, Moulin Rouge! It was fun to see that, but I can't say it was anything too special. We met up with Meghan for our last dinner in Paris and then headed to Notre Dame to see it at night and say our final goodbyes to Paris.

Day 5: On our way to London! It was only my friend Allison and I that traveled to London. The other two girls we were with went to Barcelona instead. Our train from the airport let out at King's Cross, so we made sure to visit platform nine and three-quarters. (That's a Harry Potter reference, just in case you haven't read the books.) We were a little shocked when we got to the hostel. We had a lot of trouble booking it online, and just ended up settling for a 9 bed mixed gender room with bunk beds stacked 3 beds high. We got there at the same time as our five 30-year-old spanish male roommates we moving in too! There weren't anything problems or anything, but I think I'm going to stick to private hostel rooms from now on.

After settling into the hostel we took the tube to the Tower of London, with a stop for fish and chips on the way. I'm not really a fish eater, but felt it was important to try the famous English tradition and it was actually pretty good. The Tower of London was pretty neat. the crown jewels are kept there. They literally have a moving walkway going around them so you can't stop at take a good look. I went through twice, though. We also took a tour with a beefeater! Supposedly a lot of famous prisoners were kept there back in the day. Several of Henry VIII's wives were killed there, too.

After the Tower of London we went to Leicester's (pronounced Lester) square. It's the theater district and they have a lot of different booths like that one in NYC that sell discounted tickets to shows. Allison and I bought tickets for Les Misérables and Spring Awakening. Leicester's Square is really close to Trafalgar's square so we headed over there next. We had dinner in the area, headed to Picadilly Circus to check it out and then took the tube back to the hostel.

Day 6: We walked around Hyde Park for a little while before going on the New Europe free tour of London. Our tour guide had actually just graduated for University of Wisconsin, was from the Chicago suburbs and knew someone I went to high school with. All of this traveling has really made the world seem small! I really admired what this girl did. She didn't have a job coming out of college, so she just booked a one-way ticket to London and said she'd figure it out when she got there! I hope I have the chutzpah to do something similar, but hopefully I'll have a job before leaving (fingers crossed.) The tour took started at the Wellington Arch and from there we went to the following places: Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, St. James Place, 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar's Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the houses of Parliament.

Allison and me outside of Buckingham Palace

Posing as a guard

Oh yes, this cheesy touristy photo was completely necessary!

Later that afternoon we headed to Harrod's. My friend Allison had never heard of it, but I made us stop by. I even got a famous Harrod's cupcake and then wait, get ready...ate it on Abbey Road! That evening we went to go see Les Misérables. When we bought the tickets the guy said it was restricted viewing, which he defined as not being able to see the back of the set. In reality, it meant we couldn't see the entire left side of the stage! All in all it wasn't that bad considering this was my third time seeing it. It was great to just listen to the music.

Eating my delicious Harrod's cupcake on Abbey Road

Walking across Abbey Road, I'm a few Beatles member's short though

Day 7: We headed to the British Museum bright and early. The one thing I was really interested in seeing was the Rosetta Stone, so that was our first stop. After that we walked all the way to St. Paul. When we got there it was closed. Oops. At least I got to see the outside. In the afternoon we went to the National Gallery. It's a really great museum and even better because it's free--as are most museums in London. To complicate matters a bit, I needed to register for fall classes in London. Of course the journalism department didn't have anything together, so the process was a tinsy bit stressful, but I ended up getting into all of the classes I wanted. (It's good to have senior status.)

We had heard that if you go to St. Paul's or Westminster for evensong it's free, so we figured that would be a good way to avoid the steep entry costs. We ran to Westminster and just made it in time for the evensong. I was expecting a choir, boy was I wrong. It was a full blown service, communion and everything included. I might have feel asleep for a little bit...After about an hour, we decided we would peace out a little early.

Me and my buddy, Big Ben

We were cutting it a bit close to Spring Awakening. I really enjoyed the musical. A friend had recommended it, but we went into it a little blindly, not knowing the story of anything. It's actually a play from the end of the 19th century that has been converted into a musical.

Day 8: For our last full day in England, we went on a tour of Hamden Court Palace, Stonehenge and Bath. We were supposed to go to Windsor Castle, the queen's residence, instead of Hamden Court Palace, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. Hamden Court Palace was still nice. King Henry XIII and William and Mary lived there back in the day. Stonehenge is pretty self-explanatory. We just stopped there briefly considering there's not actually too much to do there.

In Bath we went on a tour of the ancient Roman Bathes and then briefly walked around town. When we got back into London, we made our way to the first pub in a pub crawl we had heard about. It was fun, but neither Allison nor I had a problem with leaving early.

The Roman Bathes

Day 9: We headed to Portobello Market in Notting Hill. It's a cute area and the market was nice. I was expecting everything to be cheaper, though. We walked around the market for awhile. On our way back my dreams came true when we found a bagel store! It was fabulous. If I had to make a list about the things I miss, bagels would be number 1, and then free soda refills and Walgreens would be right behind that.

Perhaps one of the most important stops of the trip

The next weekend I went to Lisbon, Portugal with my communications interest group. The drive there is a bit on the longer side, about 6 hours. An hour and fifteen minute into the ride we stopped for breakfast. I don't know what it is with Spaniards and their breakfasts! Unfortunately, the weather while we were in Lisbon was on the verge of terrible. It rained the entire time we were there. Despite the rain, the beauty of the city still came through. I guess I'm just going to have to go back some day! When we got there we had a little bit of free time and then went to visit a Portuguese newspaper. Me and about 6 other kids got into the elevator to go up to the meeting room. We didn't realize it was just on the second floor, so the rest of the group walked up the stairs. Our guide didn't give us directions for where to go after we got out of the elevator so we just waited in the foyer thinking he would come and get us. After about 10 minutes of waiting, we went back downstairs and told the security guard we didn't know where our group was. He escorted us to the meeting room, where our guide had pretty much finished his presentation. Woops! The other kids in the group said it was kind of boring, so I guess we didn't really miss too much. After that we went on a small little tour. We got to see the famous monastery, a famous sculpture and some other things. Perhaps you can tell that none of the information really set in. That night my friends and I just stayed in the area for dinner.

On top of the large nautical statue (from left to right Julie, Me, Lauren and Molly)

On Saturday morning we drove out to Sintra. It's turned into a little touristy town and it's known for it's amazing old palaces. I really enjoyed going there. After Sintra we drove back into Lisbon and went up this sight seeing tower. It's wasn't closed in and it was still raining. Needless to say the rain won and we headed back to the hotel. That night we went out for dinner in the one of Lisbon's "trendy" areas. It was a nice little dinner. Overall, we didn't actually do too much in Portugal. I would definitely like to go back though!

Posing in Sintra (from left to right: Julie, Me, Molly and Lauren)

The following weekend I left for Italy and Prague! There's a week long festival called Feria, so I had another week off of school. This is certainly the life over here. One thing I've learned is that traveling is all about being flexible. My first "setback" was when my friends I was supposed to go to Venice told me they couldn't go anymore. I had already booked my plane ticket, which couldn't be cancelled, so I decided I would just go by myself. Venice was always a city I really wanted to see. When I got there I took the waterbus to the hotel. I seriously think Venice should consider renaming it to the water-slug considering it took well over an hour for me to get to my stop. After finding the hotel, I crashed for a few minutes. My flight was at 6:30 that morning and I had only gotten about 2 hours of sleep. After convincing myself that I had to get out of the hotel room because I was in VENICE, I wandered around for a little and then went to lunch. After lunch I went to Murano, the glass blowing island. That was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I got to see several steps of the process. I think my favorite was seeing one guy mold glass into a bird. Murano also has tons of little shops with artwork made on the island. I couldn't resist walking around for awhile.

Glass blown art in Murano

Softening the glass

The bird sculptor himself!

When I got back from Murano, I decided it would be best to go and buy my train ticket to Milan for the next day. After having some more waterbus/slug trouble, I finally landed on the main island to start my search for the train station. I figured it made sense to make a gelato stop in an attempt to calm my nerves. The gelato was long gone before I even got close to the train station. I used several navigating techniques that would have landed Columbus in the Central Africa Republic, an African nation that does not border general navigation technique was called, well, I can't find myself on the map, so I'm just going to keep walking until I can. After at least an hour of searching I found the train station! Unfortunately, coming back was just as much of a problem. It might have taken me even longer to find the hotel. After wandering for awhile I decided to have dinner on the grand canal. That was pretty cool. After my exhausting day and being so tired from not really sleeping the night before, I called it quits at like 9:30pm. I headed back to the hotel and passed out. It might have been the earliest I've gone to bed in years.

On the grand canal

The next moring I was nervous about getting to the train station so I literally gave myself three hours to get there. I'm glad I did too! It was some sort of national holiday so not only were the tourist flooding the streets, the locals were too. It's didn't quite take me the three hours to get there, so I sat outside and took in the sun for awhile. While it's always good to plan in advance, I really don't think I needed to go the day before to buy my train ticket. In my car of 105 seat, there were 5 people. But hey, better safe than sorry!

When I arrived in Milan I took the metro to Anna's house. Anna was my cousin's babysitter when they were young. They've stayed in touch with her and she was very generous to lend me her couch for the night--on top of being my tour guide! When I got to her house she put out a "little" lunch spread. We had 3 different types of ham, melon, salad, fresh buffalo mozzarella, wine, etc, etc. I was in heaven! After our "little" lunch we set out to explore Milano. The area that Anna lives in is a popular night club district. During the day it was relatively quiet, but when we got back it was bouncing. On my tour, Anna took me to the duomo and many other sights. The weekend I was visiting there was a furniture and design expo. There were exhibits throughout the city. Some were just on the street and others were in stores. We stopped in this temporary store where we got some free martinis. There was an open showroom at Missoni, so we stopped in there too.

Anna's apartment building

This was a water fountain and it was part of the furniture and design expo

Well, in an effort to keep my sanity and also keep this blog from being obnoxiously long, I will carry on with my other adventures in another post. As your can probably tell, I wasn't able to keep up with my writing too well. Much of this post was written while I was still in España. I am still interesting in blogging despite the fact that I'm home, because this has served as my journal and I wouldn't want to leave that unfinished.

Hasta pronto,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm going to leave kicking and screaming!

The past few weeks have been a blast. Minus 4 midterms, I've really been enjoying myself. I just finished my last one on Wednesday. Let's see here, to start where I left off. Two sundays ago I had a day trip to Aracena. It's a tiny town a few hours Northwest of Sevilla. On our way we stopped at some mines. The adjacent lake has a reddish tint, which is very pretty. The guide was telling us it has something to do with the copper or the other minerals. The area by the mines is used by NASA to simulate Mars. Needless to say, the area was slightly creepy.

The Riotinto

Here you can see the red tint better

Me and some friends. Clockwise from left: Colleen, Allison, Briana, Me, Julie, Danielle and Claire

Guess who?

The pretty Aracena sky

From the mines we headed to Aracena. We had too much free time (considering there's not too much to do there) and then met to see the caves. These caves were much larger than the ones we had seen in Gibraltar the day before. (It was a cave filled weekend...) The tour was about 45 minutes long, to give you an idea of how vast they really are. Sadly, they didn't allow pictures because the caves are living organisms. I guess you'll just have to visit it for yourself.

The week after Aracena was a bit of a stressful one with three of my four midterms. I've already gotten two of the grades back and they didn't go half-bad. The grading system here is very different. Everything is on a scale of ten points. A nine doesn't transfer back as an A-, they give us a bit of extra room so it's something like an 8.75 is an A-. I'm not sure if Spanish students are just lazy or if Spanish Professor grade harder, but the true average grade here is a 5. Even having a 5 average supposedly would get you into a good grad school. In our program handbook it explains that grades are not inflated here, like they are at home. I was talking about it at dinner last night with Antonio and Antonia and they said their kids never get above 8 and that they're good students. I know José Alberto has a scholarship, too. There was an information session for the kids interested in taking university classes and I heard that they told them if they do any work at all they'd be ahead of the Spanish students. That leads me to believe the grades are a combination of laziness and tough grading.

Every week seems to pass by so quickly here. Last weekend I went to MOROCCO! It was absolutely amazing. I had such a great time. We met at 5:45am on Friday at the Toro del Oro (a famous landmark) in Sevilla. From there we drove about 2 hours to a town called Tarifa. There's a boat called the fast ferry that goes between Spain and Morocco. The boat ride there was a breeze. It was super easy to go through customs (I'm starting to think the US is the only country that's crazy.) The night before I left my señora asked if I wanted a bocadillo (sandwich) and I said yes, but that I was concerned about bringing it through customs. Her response was, "Raquel, you're not going to the US." I got a kick out of that. I guess when they went to NY in January they had some minor issues getting through customs. Antonia had packed lunches for everyone and then when they got to Newark and were asked if they had any food Alvaro told them they had a lot. The customs agent also asked how old he was and he said he was in the institute. They called high school here el instituto, which obviously doesn't translate so well. José Alberto then corrected him and explained to that guy that he was actually in high school. It sounded like a funny exchange. I can only imagine how funny some of the things I say must be.

Back to Morocco, getting in was easy. Then we all got on the bus and they asked if anyone needed to exchange euros to dirham. Of course everyone did, so then we all got off the bus to go to the exchange places. It was kind of difficult to have to calculate multiple exchange rates. For instance, 10 dirham=1 euro=$1.30...more or less. I was expecting everything in Morocco to be really cheap, sadly that wasn't the case. The few meals that we had were cheap, but all of the chotzkes I wanted to buy weren't so cheap. So, after getting settled on the bus for a second time we started our journey to Chefchaouen, leaving Tangier. We made a random stop in this town which lined the side of the highway. There were maybe 10 buildings total, most of them restaurants. We wanted to try the food. One guy spoke spanish so we told him we wanted chicken. He said they didn't have a lot of chicken so he would give us beef. We decided it was best to just leave it, so we were served beef.

The carcasses on the side of the road aka lunch

The beef that we ended up with

After lunch we continued the never ending drive to Chefchaouen. The drive was on this tiny two-land highway that went through the mountains. I don't think the actually distance from Tangier to Chefchaouen is that far, but it takes a long time to get there considering it's on a very windy road.

Chefchaouen is an absolutely gorgeous little town. The population is only around 35,000, so it's on the smaller size. All of the buildings are painted blue and white. The blue is to keep the flies away and the white is to keep the house cool. An added benefit is how beautiful it makes the town look. This was our first "labyrinth". They warned us that the town of Chefchaouen doesn't even compare to Fez's labyrinth. We had a local guide who led us around, but we weren't actually there for too long.

Welcome to the picturesque town of Chefchaouen

When the ground is painted blue it means that it's a dead end.

This is the public bathhouse. If you look to the right you can see three cathedral ceiling. They each have a different water temperature.

More blue!

This is the community oven. If you want to use it you either need to pay them or bake an extra loaf of bread to give to them.

I want to live here!

Lots of dye!

Perhaps you get the idea by now. I just couldn't stop taking pictures. It was absolutely beautiful.

After leaving Chefchaouen we continued for another 3 plus hours to Fez. Friday we did a lot of driving. Probably the most I've ever done in a day, and I would like to keep it like that. When we got to Fez we were all exhausted so we ate dinner at the hotel and went right to bed. We were warned about several things before going to Morocco. Two of them being be careful with the food and do not under any circumstance drink the water. You even need to use bottled water to brush your teeth!

We were very lucky with the hotel we ended up staying at! We were supposed to stay at another hotel and I had made the mistake of looking it up online. It got terrible reviews so the whole day I was freaking out about it. That hotel was overbooked because the king was in town, so all of us were bumped up to another hotel. It was actually a Ramada, but it was super nice, 5 stars. (Which mind you is not the same rating as the US or even Europe, but still very nice.)

Saturday morning we had to wake up early again to meet to get on the bus at 8:30. Our first stop was the King's Palace. We didn't actually go inside, but it was cool to be there, especially considering that the king was in town. The entire front of the palace is mosaic. It's absolutely gorgeous and it reaffirmed my dream of hiring a Moroccan architecture to build my future house.

The King's Palace

Up close and personal

I believe this was the exact moment I decided I was going to hire a Moroccan architect

From the palace we went to this mountain which has a good view of the entire city, especially the Medina. Medina means city, but it refers to the old part of the city or the labyrinth, which our guide only repeated about 10,000 times. Half a million people live in this small area. There are between 9,000 and 15,000 tiny streets. Cars and motorcycles aren't allowed in, only donkeys are permitted. No joke. They use the donkeys to help transport stuff.

The view of the Medina from the mountain

Since the streets are so small you'll hear "watch out" in either french or arabic and then you need to hug the wall so the donkey loaded with various things can get through. It's really funny. They had warned us that it is imperative to stay together as a group because you can easily get lost. I thought they might be exaggerating a little to make us worry, but they definitely were not. If you get 5 paces behind the group you could easily lose them. It was funny though because the locals would see everyone pass and then point you in the right direction. I can't even explain how cool the medina was. It was full of twists and turns. The streets are lined with vendors. The food all looked so amazing, but I was too afraid to try any of it. Additionally, the swarms of flies on the veggies didn't look all that appealing. The colors were beautiful, though. There were also a ton of other different vendors, from clothing, to chotzkes to fabrics, etc.

Donkey crossing--watch out!

Our first in the Medina was at a University. Our guide claimed it was the oldest in the world. Not quite sure about that, but either way, it is very old. It's a really pretty building and I would be happy to study there. It puts IU in the dust.

Two different views of the University

After the university we wondered around some more and went to a leather tannery. It smelled really bad so they gave us mint leaves to hold to our noses. A gentleman explained the entire process, but I'm afraid I don't remember it. A very vague outline is that they bring the hides straight from the slaughter house and then the first step is to clean them and get all of the blood off. From there they need to sit out and dry and then I think they dye then. I could be making all of that up, but that's what I remember. On the bottom floor of the tannery there was a store where we were all pressured into buying things. It was appealing since we were all told, "for you, special price." I didn't succumb to the pressure, partially because I thought we would have more time to shop. Sadly, we didn't. I guess that just means I'll need to go back!

Looking down on the tannery

Up close of the dyes

The hides air drying

Smelling the mint to escape the nasty smell of the leather

Pretty shoes at the tannery that I'm regretting not purchasing

From the tannery we went to a loom factory. That's not the name, however I can't seem to think of it. There were several men working on looms and then they sold their products there. I couldn't resist and got two scarves. They're absolutely gorgeous and I can even say I saw the place that they were made. They made things as small as scarves to larger items like table cloths. They even showed us how to wear the traditional headscarf. It was definitely a tourist trap, but I still really enjoyed it. The only slightly sketchy thing was that I think our guide got a commission from most of the places he visited. They use bargaining for purchases, so our guide would say, "very, very good price," but I think he was lying. Other than that though, it was great.

Some of the pretty table cloths!

Getting some help with the head scarf tied

The final product :)

All of the girls. Clockwise from the left: Jen, Briana, Allison, Kelly, Andrea, Kathleen and Me.

An example of the busy medina streets

Getting geared up with some soft drinks

Right after I took this picture one of the men was getting ready to kill a chicken. Needless to say, I ran screaming.

After the scarf shop we went back to the hotel for lunch. After lunch we had the option of going on a tour of the ceramic and mosaic school and to the mosque or free time. Another warning we received prior to arriving was to spend as little time as possible away from the group. Needless to say, we went on the tour. The ceramic and mosaic school was really cool. They showed us all of the different steps and then of course there was a store. We saw two guys building stuff on the pottery wheels and I thought it was really interesting that it was completely manual. All of the wheels I've ever used have been electric and I've still had a hard time keeping the same speed. It's important to keep the same speed so that your work will be even on all side. These guys were controlling it just with the force of their feet. This time I caved into the pressure and bought a few souvenirs in the shop.

Example of the manually controlled wheel

Ceramics at the store

Our next stop was one of the mosques. Our guide told us that this is the only one that allows non-muslims to come inside, but that it can't be turning pray time. It was a pretty building, but there wasn't really too much to it. It's just kind of a large, open room.

The Mosque

Pretty mosaic. (Ps when I got home I told Antonio that I had taken a ton of pictures of tiles and mosaics to show to him. Have I mentioned he owns a ceramic store? I can't tell you if this is true, but he said the best ceramics are made in Sevilla and that people come here from all over to purchase it because the ceramics made in Morocco aren't durable. Please see note in previous blog about me not being able to believe what he says...)

After our tour of the mosque we headed back to the main gate of the medina. My friends and I decided we wanted to stay, while the rest of the group took the bus back to the hotel. Prior to splitting with the group we asked our guide where we could get some henna. He led us to the most obscure place. We only made a few turns, but we were all slightly worried about finding our way out. The first floor of this place looked like a house. We all commented that we felt that this was against our better judgement. The second floor was a rug store and then the third floor was like an apothecary. It was quite bizarre. Our guide set things up with the people working there and told them that we wanted henna. Right before he left we realized that the 7 of us there just spoke english and spanish and that the guys working there probably only spoke french and arabic. We all had minor panic attacks, but the one of the guys started speaking english, so we were relieved. They were all really nice and we couldn't stop laughing the entire time we were there. The henna was a really cool design, but sadly it never got really dark. It was really nice and one the guys walked us back to the main gate so we could catch cabs back to the hotel. My friend Andrea and I were trying to explain facebook to him. He only spoke a little english. He gave us his blog, but seeing that I don't know french, I'm unable to read it. We wrote down the link to facebook, but I don't know if he understood what we were trying to say, nor have I received a friend request yet.

Me and my new friend who's name is written on my hand and means hearts. What a souvenir!

When we got back to the hotel my friend described the day perfectly by saying, "my heart is smiling." I couldn't have agreed with her more. There was just something magical about Fez. That night we were on our own for dinner. We asked at the front desk if it would be safe for a group of 6 of us (all girls) to go out and they said yes. After the sun goes down you do not see women on the street. It was really weird. We walked around the corner to a japanese/moroccan/some other ethnicity that I'm forgetting restaurant. Our table was outside all of these people kept coming up to us trying to sell things. The waiter had to come out a few times to shoe them away. The menu was in french, so it was fun trying to decipher what we were ordering. There was a lot of charades going on. After dinner we went straight back to the hotel to sleep.

We woke up early again on Sunday morning. After we ate breakfast we started our trek back to the coast. Luckily, the drive wasn't so bad this time because we took a real highway and it didn't go through the mountains. On our way there we stopped in a small town called Asilah. It's know as the pearl of the ocean. Frankly, I'm not quite sure how it got that name. I guess it was pretty, but I wouldn't say it was jaw dropping...especially after spending time in Fez. We didn't actually do too much there, just walked around and got a quick tour from the guide. Then we got back on the bus to head to Tangier. On the way there the guide made a comment about the winds and that we were unlucky. I thought he was implying something, but at the time I didn't think too much about it. On the way to Tangier we stopped literally on the side of the highway so people could ride some camels. I opted out of it because they camels looked like they were in so much pain. Every time they stood up and got down they would cry out in pain. It was hard to watch. I figure I'll go on a camel ride somewhere else, and hopefully it won't be quite as much of a spectacle/tourist trap. Besides, I've been on them at fairs and stuff. Also, when I said camel ride, I meant walking in a 5-foot circle, not extremely appealing.

The coastline of Asilah

After the camels we drove to the port where we had some free time for lunch. Unfortunately there weren't a lot of dining options. We stopped at a few places and the most normal sandwich they had was shark, which meant I grabbed a piece of bread and some potato chips at a C-store. I believe it was listed as the lunch of champions. After lunch we traded our money back to euros and went through customs. Again, one of the most lax things I've ever seen. The fast ferry was supposed to leave at 4pm. We kept looking at our watches and couldn't figure out why we weren't leaving and it was after 4:30. As soon as the boat started to move we realized why our departure was later than planned, and also why our guide said we were unlucky. Within moments after we started to move a voice came over the loud speaker telling everyone to stay in their seats due to the rough seas. They also warned us about the sea-sickness bags in the seat pocket in front of us. It didn't take me long to realize that the conditions we were experiencing were not normal. The fast ferry was a pretty large boat, I would say it could hold about 800 passengers. We were literally doing nose dives into the waves. At one point in time if I looked to the right I could only see water and then only see sky if I looked to the left. We continued to rock back and forth. Unfortunately, these conditions were making everyone sick. It was disgusting. I'll spare you the details and just tell you that I had my fingers in my ears and was humming to myself with my eyes closed. What tipped me off about the conditions being worse than normal was the fact that the staff didn't look used to it. Additionally, the snack bar wasn't equipped for waves of this size. Huge coffee machines were flying all over the place. They needed to close everything up because it was falling off the shelves. It was really scary and I was really happy when I got off the boat.

Let's see here, I'm just trying to think of some other things to report. Last week I finally met with an intercambio (speaking partner). Her name is Carmen and she's also 20-years-old. I think we're going to try and meet again next week. Funny enough, the day after I met her I got a text message from intercambio number 4! I think I might try and meet up with her too. The more the merrier.

From Monday to Thursday morning we had 2 french boys staying here. They were 14 and 15-years-old and didn't really speak Spanish. I would talk to them in English (which was also a struggle for them) and my señora would talk to them in French. Let's just say I couldn't keep a straight face during dinner. We couldn't even figure out what town they're from. I think we have 2 more Frenchies next week. At first I was really upset about it, but it wasn't bad. They were only here for dinner and I didn't even have to share my bathroom. (I do feel a little guilty about that...)

The other night after dinner we played a game to see who needed to wash the dishes. It was me, Antonia and Antonio. It was Antonio's idea since he's always the one to wash them. Each person gets 3 coins. You put an undisclosed number in one hand and place your closed fist on the table. Then you have to guess how many coins you think there are all together. There's a maximum of 9 and a minimum of 0. The first one to guess right 5 times wins and then it continues with the 2 remaining people. They were saying that this game is typically played at bars between friends to see who is going to pay for everyone's beer. Antonia was the first to win so the final, intense, sweat-dripping round was between me and Antonio. I won so he needed to wash the dishes. We got a lot of laughs out of the game.

There's not too much else to report. I'm about to go out for the night to celebrate a friend's birthday!

Hasta luego,