Lisbon, Portugal

Greta, Lindsay and I had a fantastic time in Lisbon, Portugal the last weekend of November. It was great having a girl’s weekend and just traveling with two other people. The three of us always have so much fun together and I hadn’t taken a trip with them yet! Plus I prefer traveling in smaller groups.

We arrived on Friday evening and checked into our hostel. Now, let me mention that Yes! Hostel in Lisbon is one of the BEST I have ever stayed at. It’s clean, friendly, and just plain FUN. There is a cozy common room attached to the lobby with tons of space and comfy couches. I was so impressed with the décor and layout! The staff was great also. Even the bathrooms and showers were decent and super nice for hostel standards. The hostel offers dinner and a pub crawl every night for 20 euros. We signed up for both and all of us were really impressed with the delicious dinner that the amazing cook, Isabel, made for us. We started off with delish apps of fresh bread, cheese, and sausage. Then she served us an amazing and very flavorful pumpkin soup. For the entry we had a Portuguese dish called Bacalhau, which is cod fish and very popular in Lisbon, along with salad. It was the best meal I’ve eaten in a while! Dessert was the highlight: a chocolate brownie with melted chocolate inside and vanilla ice cream! I ate so much and could barely walk after. I guess I could have counted this meal as a belated Thanksgiving dinner.

The next day was grey and rainy, but we asked the man at the desk and he gave us a few suggestions of things to see around Lisbon. We walked over to Castelo de S. Jorge and saw some great views of the city. We looked at the really cool elevator called Elevador St. Justa which takes you up to give you a good view. We stopped into a wine tasting shop to taste some of the famous Port Wine. It was a little too sweet for me, but Portugal is famous for it.

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In the afternoon we went to Belém, and visited the Torre de Belém, Padrio dos Descobrimientos (monument of discoveries) and a really flamboyant monastery called Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. It was terrible weather and raining cats and dogs so everything was a little rushed but after seeing the three sites we went into Belém’s famous pastry shop (Pasteis de Belem) which is a Portuguese egg tart pastry. They served them to us warm with cinnamon sugar on top. There is a really interesting history about the origin of these specific pastries: (http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/en.html)

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Me and Lindsay in front of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos in Belem

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Pasteis de Belem, egg tart pastry

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We indulged in great Indian food that night at a restaurant nearby. The next afternoon we went to Sintra, a town that was classified as a World Heritage site. It has royal retreats, estates, and castles from the 8th-9th century.

The city was absolutely amazing and I wish we had spent more time there. All the castles and palaces made it feel like a romantic fairytale land! In the main square we went to a pastry shop and tried the famous Sintra ‘queijadas’ (cheese pastries) and ‘travesseiros’ (egg and almond pastries). We also went into a little wine shop with homemade cheeses, jams, and chocolate and tried lots of samples.

Next we visited Quinta da Regaleira, an enormous royal estate with many owners through time. It includes all types of architectural styles (Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Manueline). I can’t even begin to describe the estate. Trickling streams and fountains, underground caves and tunnels, lush vegetation and gardens, towers, a chapel, and a giant palace with five floors! I felt like a princess just being there.

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After we finished exploring the magical estate, our guide Louis (who works at the hostel and who is basically the coolest guy ever) drove us to the most western part of Europe called Cape Roca or Cabo da Roca on the Westernmost coast of mainland Portugal!

The 16th century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões described Cabo da Roca as the place “where the land ends and the sea begins” In Portuguese: Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa.

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Milan, Italy

Thanksgiving weekend I flew to Milan, Italy to meet up with the fabulous Noa Rose Gutterman! I was alone in the hostel Thursday night, which was a little depressing and lonely considering it was Thanksgiving. This was the first Thanksgiving I had spent away from home! I ate an orange for my Thanksgiving feast and went to bed early. The next morning I woke up with just a little time before Noa arrived. I walked around near our hostel and tried to find somewhere to get breakfast…I ended up going to a bar behind our hostel but I had trouble communicating what I wanted! I got a pastry and cappuccino. It was uncomfortable not knowing ANY of the Italian language.

It was so great to see Noa. She came around 2:00 and we went to a good restaurant where I got my fill of delicious Italian pasta. Once I was with her I immediately felt more comfortable. She knew what she was doing since she’s studying in Florence and speaks Italian, so I felt less insecure. After lunch we called Dan and met up with him. Although I had been out of touch, there was something so awesome about meeting up in a foreign country with two high school friends! Dan was a great guide and I think he was really happy to see us and to show us around. We went to a cute café that Dan goes to often. Dan is really close with the workers and owner there.

Dan showed us the Duomo, the Galleria (a beautiful building with fancy upscale shops) and around the main touristy square. We saw his apartment and met his roommates. They were really friendly. Milan definitely isn’t a “beautiful” city (except the Duomo which is spectacular-we only saw it from the outside) but I had fun and it was cool seeing so many classy/fashionable people! A lot of Milan is very industrial. It’s huge too.

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On Saturday Noa and I went to get haircuts at this very upscale and trendy salon! It was a really unique experience and I had so much fun. I didn’t get mine cut because it was too pricy (almost 80 euro!) so I just had the stylist wash it and blow it out. All the stylists were so fashionable and I had this super cute guy named Antonio. He didn’t speak a word of English so I tried to communicate using Spanish minus the ending vowels. The whole interaction between us was quite funny and he definitely didn’t understand me…but I got my point across and he did a FABULOUS job with my hair. He styled my hair with a round brush and blow drier into long beautiful waves…I had wished I had somewhere to go that night!

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Noa and I went across the street to a little gourmet market/restaurant and ate delicious Paninis with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and tomato. Super yummy and fresh! We met up with Dan and his friends and walked around with them, going to the fancy upscale fashion district. Then we went back to Dan’s place, and turned on the MI-OSU game while he cooked dinner for us. It was fun to be with Dan and his friends, especially in a student apartment. Dinner was delicious; Dan whipped up some type of veggie/pasta/cheese sauce thing. After dinner we just hung out and went to bed early because I had to catch a 7am plane in the morning!

Overall it was a good weekend. GREAT to see Dan and Noa. Very comforting to be with high school friends again and to see a bit of Italy.Image

 

Granada and Segovia

The weekend of November 9-11 a couple friends and I took a bus down to Granada in Andalucia, Spain. I had visited Granada a couple years ago when I was in Spain during my BBYO trip. Because of my previous visit, I didn’t feel as much of a need to see all the major sites. This made it more of a relaxing trip instead of a rushed, touristy, need-to-see-everything trip.

Despite all that we still had a great time and stayed in an awesome location, right near Las Calderias which is the area with tons of Arabic influence and Moroccan street-life. Pretty ironic since I had been in Morocco the weekend before! We were very close to the center of the city, Plaza Nueva, where there is a nice fountain and lots of cute cafes.

Granada has a great tapas culture, so we spent all day Saturday tapas-bar hopping around the city. On Sunday a group of people went to see La Alhambra, but since I had already been I skipped it and explored a little on my own. I checked out the cathedral, bought a couple souvenirs, and hiked up to the Mirador de San Nicolás in the Albayzin and saw a fantastic view of the Alhambra.

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View of Alhambra Palace

The weekend after Granada, of November 16, the Fundación sponsored a day trip to Segovia. Segovia is a city in the region of Castille y León, Spain. We visited the famous Alcázar of Segovia, which was originally built as a fortress but served as a royal palace as well. It is absolutely beautiful and was one of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. It also reminded me of the Playmobil castle we used to play with as kids! Check it out:

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The inside of the castle was a little less fantastic, but there was a great view at the top. After spending some time exploring the winding staircases and towers (and humming along to Disney princess tunes), we left the Alcazar and went to see Segovia’s famous Aqueduct. It’s pretty impressive and extremely well preserved. Apparently it transports water from the Fuente Fría river situated nearby.

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We spent time taking pictures and climbing up and around the Aqueduct. Although we were only there for about half a day, Segovia is a great Medieval city and actually reminds me a lot of Toledo!

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Moroccan Adventures

At last! The moment you all have been waiting for…

On November 1-4, I traveled to Morocco through a program called “Morocco Exchange.” Even though we were only there for four days, I learned so much and enjoyed every second of it, even the squat toilets and lack of hot water. I had missed those. They brought back memories of the good times this summer in Uganda…

We left Wednesday night (Halloween) and returned Sunday. It was nice to go with an organized group, because everything was planned and transportation/hostels/restaurants were all set up for us. This was a nice bonus! The particular organization I traveled with is great because instead of being a typical tourist trip, the purpose of the Morocco Exchange program is to encourage an exchange between Moroccans and Americans in order to share perspectives and learn about what we have in common as well as what can learn from each other. I was very impressed with the four day trip and HIGHLY recommend this organization to anyone looking for a short-time meaningful and educational experience in Morocco. More info on this website: http://moroccoexchange.org/

Day one began with a boat journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. In Tangier we visited the women’s center, DARNA, which is a community center that serves as a career training center and adult education school. We ate lunch at the center and the food was amazing. They served us Chicken Tagine, green tea, and pastries. In Morocco, green tea with mint leaves isn’t just a drink. It’s a sign of hospitality, friendship, and tradition. It is not only served at meals but all through the day, which I’m a fan of! Shout out to my Moroccan friend Simo who has lived in Morocco his whole life and says “tea is like a hug in a cup.” I couldn’t agree more.
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After lunch at Darna we rode camels on the beach on the way to Asilah! I tried to kiss the camel and he licked my face.
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ImageWe drove to Asilah, a town on the northwest tip of the Atlantic coast of Morocco. We walked through the Medina (old town) of Asilah, saw a great view of the ocean, and then drove to Rabat.
In Rabat we met with our home stay families and walked through the Medina of Rabat in small groups. The host family I stayed with was great. There was a young girl, about my age, who hung out with us and showed us around. She lived with her parents and brother. Their house was AMAZING and so well decorated. It looked like a palace. The girl’s sister was visiting for the weekend with her adorable kids, about 2 and 5 years old. We ate dinner with our home stay families and settled in. They were very hospitable.
The next day we visited an NGO in Salé, across the river from Rabat. On the way to the NGO we drove through a Shanty Town (a slum settlement of impoverished people). It was pretty disturbing, but important for us to see and open our eyes to the way some people live. The Shanty Towns don’t have proper sanitation or electricity, and there is a large amount of crime.
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The NGO we visited is called “Hope For Salé” and was began by five men who wanted to do something for their community. The organization provides classes and tutoring for people living in poverty-stricken areas of the city, and it has been extremely successful. We had open conversations with these men about current events, social issues, and the relationship between Morocco and the US.
We visited the Roman Ruins (Chellah) on the outskirts of Rabat. It is the most ancient human settlement in the area and dates back to 2 BC! The gardens were very beautiful and we even visited a sacred eel pond. At the pond women sell hard boiled eggs to throw into the water which is meant to lure eels out as a good luck sign of fertility for women.
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The rest of the weekend was filled with more delicious meals (fresh couscous!), trying on traditional dresses with my Moroccan host sister, exploring the markets of Rabat, bathing in a Hammam (public bath), eating lunch and engaging in a conversation with a family in a rural village, and visiting the tourist city of Chefchaouen where my hands were decorated in beautiful henna!
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Overall, it was an incredible weekend. I engaged in SO many fascinating conversations with young Moroccans about politics, religion, the palestinian-israeli conflict, pre-marital sex (it’s forbidden there), homosexuals (they are also technically “forbidden” there), and life in general. I am dying to go back and spend more time in these cities. Morocco is such a beautiful country with an incredibly rich culture and amazing people. I only saw a glimpse!