The Neutral Country

The Neutral Country

Happy April!

I spent the first weekend of April exploring the most beautiful country – Switzerland.

My friend and I flew in to Geneva on Thursday night and spent the day Friday exploring the city. Geneva is a small city with the lake and two rivers around it. We walked by the lake and through the city. We went to the meeting of the two rivers – the Rhone and Arve – where you can see the very different colors of each river mix. We got on a train to Interlaken at 7pm, which took almost 3 hours. When we arrived in Interlaken, I thought – this is what Switzerland is supposed to look like.

We went to bed Friday night with crazy plans the next day. Our alarms were set for 7:30am Saturday morning in order to be ready for our ride at 8:30am to Skydive Switzerland. Upon arrival, we were given our jump suits and met our professional tandem skydivers. Mine was a funny guy from Australia who made the dive that much more fun. My friend and I both decided to get pictures and video from our skydiving adventure via a GoPro that the professional wore on their wrist. We got suited up and went over the basics – we’d take a 15-20 minute scenic route then jump from roughly 4000 meters (13,100 feet) over the landing area (where the plane took off from) – then we went to the plane. We took off and my instructor told me we’d jump last, which was fine by me. The view was amazing up in the small plane looking over Interlaken and the Swiss countryside. After a short ride, we jumped and it was the most amazing experience I have had in my 21 years.

45 second free fall and a 4 minute parachute ride down to the ground was not long enough to take in the views and the experience. Luckily, I have an amazing video and 100+ pictures to remember it.

After our crazy Saturday morning we went and grabbed lunch and chocolate (actually, I think the chocolate came before the lunch). We then took on the challenge of hiking up a mountain in Interlaken. It took us a while to get to the top, but we made it and the views were phenomenal. We hurried back down after enjoying the view to grab dinner and more chocolate.

Sunday morning we walked to one of the two lakes to dip our feet in and enjoy our last day in the most beautiful country. We took a train back to Geneva where we hopped on our flight back to Madrid.

Switzerland is one place I will definitely return to in the future. It is gorgeous and full of adventurous things to do – and the chocolate is amazing.

Today marks 3 weeks until I land back in Minnesota! I am happy to go home, but I will be very sad to leave Toledo and my host family. My time in Spain has been amazing and I have grown so much as a person, and as a Spanish-speaker.

Tomorrow we have a group day trip to Segovia, Spain, and then I am spending the weekend in Toledo. I plan to explore Toledo more and get a lot of homework done because this coming week is the last week before finals week! As of now, I don’t have travel plans for the last 3 weeks, but I do plan on going to southern Spain.

Until I write again, thanks for reading!

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Spring Break

Spring Break

Hey all!

Where do I even begin…

Spring break (Semana Santa) was a much needed break for me. I was beyond thrilled to see my family and explore Europe with them and two of our family friends. My parents and our family friends arrived on Wednesday, March 16th (also known as my 21st birthday). I met them in Madrid in the morning and it was a reunion of hugs and a few tears. I was so happy to see them! We spent the day in Madrid, exploring the Prado Museum, Plaza Mayor, and el Mercado de San Miguel, before checking into our vacation rental by owner. When we arrived there, they were super tired (as was I) so we rested a bit before heading out for dinner. We went to bed with plans the next day of going to Toledo.

Thursday morning I went by metro to pick up my sister from the airport and told my parents and family friends how to get to the bus station where we would meet to go to Toledo. Kylie and I met them at the bus station and we took the bus to the place I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the past few months.

We arrived around 1pm and met my host family in the main plaza of Toledo. From there we went to lunch, which was quite the experience. My parents and family friends don’t speak any Spanish, and my host family doesn’t speak any English. My sister knows a tiny bit of Spanish from high school, but not enough to translate, which left me as the sole translator of the group. During lunch, my host family and my family conversed through me about my time here, etc. It was a phenomenal experience because the opportunity to translate and speak Spanish in front of my family made me realize how far I have come in my ability to speak fluently. I could tell my parents were surprised at how well I can converse in Spanish – I think they thought all I was doing was traveling and not learning anything ;). I have to say, I’m very proud of myself in my ability to speak the language I’ve been studying for so long. After lunch, I showed my family and friends around Toledo – showing them my school and the cathedral, and of course, the beautiful view of Toledo from la piedra. We stopped by my host family’s house before heading back to Madrid via train.

The next morning, Friday, we left early for Barcelona. We took a train and arrived around noon. We checked into our vacation rental by owner and planned out our day. All of us were fairly hungry so we went to Las Ramblas and found a place with pasta and extra large beers and sangria – perfect start to the weekend! We had all weekend in Barcelona and we went to various places: La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Batlló, Arc de Triomf (of Barcelona obviously), La Playa de la Barcelona, and Montserrat.

From Barcelona we took a train to Paris. We got to Paris around 4pm and went to our vacation rental by owner, which was within walking distance to Notre Dame. We got settled into our apartment and set out to explore and find food, of course. One of the things we wanted to see the first night was the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. We walked to the metro and made it to the stop named “Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel” (self explanatory where that stop lets you off) and let me tell you, when we exited the metro and finally saw the beautiful steel structure lit up in a golden hue, I was amazed. I have seen the model Eiffle Tower in Las Vegas multiple times in the past (it’s 1/3rd the size of the real one) but it doesn’t compare in beauty to the real tower. While in Paris, we saw the Eiffel tower during the day a few times, and during the night a few times. Once at night lit up normal, and the other times lit up with the colors of the Belgian flag. Now that I’ve brought that up, I suppose I should comment on it.

Yes, it was scary being in Paris and learning about the horrible attacks in Brussels less than 200 miles away. There was a gathering in the plaza of the Hotel de Ville to show solidarity with Brussels as well as the lighting of the Eiffel Tower. Extra police (1,600) were added to make the city feel safer after the attacks. It is an odd feeling getting on the metro in a city far from home and wondering if something bad will happen to you. With that being said, terror cannot stop you from living your life, traveling, and enjoying yourself. We tried to avoid using the metro (just as a precaution) but we still did every touristy thing that we wanted to do. I mean, how many times are you going to visit Paris in your lifetime? Leaving Paris, we did have to take a train through Brussels to get to Amsterdam, which was a little scary, but we made it everywhere safely.

In Paris we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, toured Notre Dame, visited both the Museé de Louvre (where we saw the Mona Lisa) and the Museé d’Orsay, went to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, toured the Palace of Versailles, took a boat cruise on the Seine, and explored the different neighborhoods. We ate a bunch of food and, of course, had wine to go along. I think it’s safe to say, Paris is a beautiful and lively city. Unfortunately, we had to leave on Friday to go to Amsterdam. Okay, so that’s not so unfortunate because Amsterdam is an amazing city as well 🙂

On Friday the 25th we arrived in Amsterdam around noon and went to our hotel. In Amsterdam we were greeted with some chilly weather, but we made the most of our time. We did a canal tour by boat and a city tour by bus. First stop: the I amsterdam letters where we attempted multiple selfies. Later we went to the Anne Frank House, Brouwerij ‘t IJ (brewery by a windmill), Tulip Museum, Noordermarkt (cute outdoor market), and ate at various places. Sunday morning came too soon and I left for the airport as my family was waking up. I flew back to Madrid at 11am and my family flew back to Minnesota at 1pm. It was hard not just flying home with them, but I realized during spring break how much I am going to miss my host family, Toledo, and being immersed in Spanish. I am glad to have one more month here to soak it all in before returning home.

All of my pictures are on facebook, and some are in a slideshow below.

This weekend I am traveling with a friend to Switzerland! We plan on doing something crazy there – so you’ll have to read my next blog to find out what it is!

Thanks for reading and keeping up with my semester here!

Until next week,

xoxoxo

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Italia

Italia

Ciao!

This weekend I went to a place I’ve been wanting to go for so long: Italy!

I flew in on Wednesday and met my friend (and coworker), Joelle, in Florence. We both had quite the experience getting there – I almost missed my flight and she missed her connecting flight due to delays – but we both made it! We ate really good pizza the first evening and checked into our hostel. We had a private bedroom in our hostel and it was an adorable, and odd, little hostel. After we got back from eating our first real Italian pizza, we video chatted Anna, a staff member of ours at ACR, and were able to video chat with our residents! That was a huge highlight of the whole trip. I miss my residents dearly and they were too adorable over video chat! I can’t wait to go back to work.

The next morning, Thursday, we went to Cinque Terre. Five cute little towns on the coast that are each unique and beautiful. Hiking between the towns was a little challenging, especially because I can hardly walk on flat ground and not trip 🙂 The trail involved a lot of rocks and steep stairs, but it was worth it and beautiful. We spent the day there and had some amazing pesto pasta and gelato! When we returned to Florence, we were exhausted so we grabbed a pizza to go from a cute little pizzeria by our hostel. It was probable the worst pizza either of us had ever had, but we were starving.

Friday we spent the day walking around and exploring Florence. We went to the San Lorenzo street market where we each bought leather purses. We went to the Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo for a panoramic view of Florence, and the Duomo. Before leaving on our train to Rome at 6pm, we bought a bottle of wine and cheese with crackers and jam for dinner. Halfway to the train station we realized we didn’t have a wine bottle opener, so we ran into a little grocery store. Joelle asked the woman if she had any wine bottle openers, but she didn’t speak English. I asked her in Spanish and she understood me and showed us where to find them. Spanish and Italian are phonetically pretty similar and many people in Italy know a little Spanish, but I was still impressed with how that worked.

On the train ride we saw a lovely sunset and devoured our little cheese and wine meal. It was amazing. We got to Rome and checked into our hostel, “Funny Palace Hostel” which was the weirdest check-in ever, but we got our own room with an ensuite and a bottle of wine. We went out and got more pizza, of course, and saw a little bit of Rome.

Saturday we started the day off with a cappuccino and croissant and made our way to the Vatican Museum. After the Vatican, we ate lunch by the river and I had some amazing lasagna. From there, we went to Piazza Navona and ate gelato, then to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps for a great view of the sunset.

Sunday my flight was scheduled for 4:30pm so we had to do a quick tour of the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill. The Colosseum was huge and everything I thought it would be. We of course had to stop for one last gelato on our walk back, and then I headed to my flight.

One thing I forgot to mention: The night before I left for Italy, I had a slight fever and sore throat. All weekend I had a sore throat, cough, cold, I lost my voice, etc. Gelato definitely helped, but it was the worst timing. I am still sick but feeling better each day.

Tomorrow my parents and family friends come to visit! I am SO excited to see my mom and dad (and my sister on Thursday)! My birthday is tomorrow so that is going to be the best birthday present. On Thursday I am going to show them all Toledo and we are going to have a big lunch with my host family. I am slightly nervous for translating every conversation during lunch, but it will be a great experience.

We are going to Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, and Amsterdam, with the possibility of a few day trips during that time. I will post one big spring break blog at the end of our vacation! I can’t contain my excitement.. Tomorrow will be a great day.

Until after spring break! Wishes for a wonderful and safe vacation to everyone who’s traveling.

Xoxoxo

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Luck of the Irish

Luck of the Irish

Top of the mornin’ to you all back in the states!

I don’t believe I heard anyone say that in Dublin, but we’ll pretend it’s a very common saying.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to visit Ireland! We flew into Dublin on Thursday night and left on Sunday morning. It was an amazing weekend, with the only problem being the short amount of time spent there.

On Friday we walked around Dublin, went to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the Old Jameson Distillery, and the Guinness Storehouse.

The Old Jameson Distillery is the building where John Jameson & Sons began. It is now a museum, with the current distillery being in Milltown. They offer tours with whiskey tasting and a free Jameson ginger at the end. During the tour, we did a whiskey tasting – comparing Scottish whiskey, Jameson, and American whiskey. You’re supposed to hold the whiskey in your mouth for as many seconds as the years it was matured, i.e. 5 years maturation = 5 seconds. As you can guess, the 12 year Scottish whiskey did not sit on my tongue for 12 seconds. Overall, it was a great experience with a great group of girls!

The Guinness Storehouse was huge, first of all, and the main area is designed like a pint of beer with everything circling around the main center. They have a gravity bar on the top floor where you can enjoy your free pint of Guinness with a 360 degree view of Dublin.

On Saturday we woke up at the crack of dawn (actually, before) to make it to our tour bus by 6:50am. We took a tour to the Cliffs of Moher with an amazing bus driver. He was an older gentleman who sang songs and told little stories the entire ride. Ireland’s countryside is gorgeous, just as you would imagine. Green hills and sheep everywhere you look. We made a few stops on our journey to the majestic Cliffs. We saw a few castles, an Abbey, stopped at a chocolate factory, and explored the Cliffs. My mom is very angry with me for sitting on the edge, but it was worth it 🙂

We got back from the tour around 8pm on Saturday and our flight was at 6:25am on Sunday, so we walked around Dublin, went to a few pubs, and went to the airport around 3am. Our flight was supposed to leave at 6:25am, but good ol’ RyanAir had us sit on the plane for 2 HOURS before we finally took off at 8:20am. By the time we finally got back to Toledo it was almost 3pm. I ate lunch with my host family and then took a long siesta until dinner time.. productive Sunday, I know.

I will be in Toledo today (Monday) and tomorrow, then I have a flight at 10am on Wednesday to meet my friend in Florence, Italy! I cannot wait to hike Cinque Terre, drink cheap wine, eat copious amounts of gelato and pizza, and see all the amazing sights in Rome. I will be in Italy until Sunday evening, then I will return to Toledo for a couple days before my family comes on Wednesday the 16th!

As always, there are many more pictures on my Facebook page, along with a couple videos. I will write again after Italy!

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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Midterms

Midterms

Hola amigos,

Yes, I actually had midterm exams this week. Crazy, right? I had four midterm exams and one essay. I don’t know when I’ll get my grades for them, but I think they went very well. To celebrate midterms being done… I’m going to Dublin, Ireland tonight!

Last weekend I stayed in Toledo and we had another trip to the Prado Museum on Friday. Saturday I went with my host family to a birthday party. The whole family was incredibly nice, even though it was a little crazy being in a room with 15 people all speaking Spanish very fast. When we were eating lunch, there were a bunch of different appetizers on the table. A family member sitting next to me told me to try one of the appetizers and my host mom looked at me and shook her head “no” which made the family member next to me very confused. My host mom and dad both told her I wouldn’t like it and cautioned me not to try it. I asked what it was and it was a word I was unfamiliar with, so I used my translator app on my phone. It was a liver spread with pistachios on crackers. Good thing I had my host parents looking out for me 🙂

Dublin plans: We fly in this evening and go to the hostel. There are 7 of us total. On Friday we plan on going to the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery and then exploring the city. I hope to see Trinity College, the Dublin Castle, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On Saturday we’re doing a day tour to the Cliffs of Moher, which also includes stops in a couple towns and at a castle. We fly out very early Sunday morning.

On Wednesday the 9th I’m meeting a friend in Florence, Italy. We have everything booked and I am so excited!

The following Wednesday, the 16th, (my birthday) my family flies into Madrid. Words cannot describe how excited I am for my family to come and to be able to travel Europe with them! When they come, I am going to show them around Toledo and we are going to have lunch with my host family. Looks like my translating skills will be put to the test.

Right now I am charging my camera and packing for Dublin before I have lunch with my host family. I will write again after Dublin!

Hasta luego, xoxoxo

Salzburg and Munich

Salzburg and Munich

Guten Tag!

This weekend I was fortunate enough to check two new countries off my list. I visited both Germany and Austria!

I flew in to the Munich airport on Thursday and took a train to Salzburg. Unfortunately, my train ride was after sunset so I couldn’t see the scenery. When I arrived in Salzburg, I walked to my hostel and got settled. The hostel I stayed at plays The Sound of Music every night at 8pm, so I caught the last half. Definitely an amazing, bucket list experience. The next day my camera and I set out to explore Salzburg. I toured the Hohensalzburg Fortress, ate an apple strudel pretzel, wandered through the Mirabell Gardens, took a city bus to the Hellbrunn Palace, ate lunch in the cafe where Mozart and his family used to go, visited Saint Peter’s Church Cemetery, admired the Salzburg Cathedral, walked through the shopping area, and went to the Mozart Museum.

The Hohensalzburg Fortress was a very cool tour. There were museums inside and lots of information about the uses of the fortress throughout time. Also, it has a marionette museum.. a bit odd, but cool. The best part is that it gives you an amazing 360 degree view of Salzburg.

The Mirabell Gardens are known for the “Do Re Mi” scene in The Sound of Music. Of course, I went during winter so the gardens were not in full bloom, but they were beautiful nonetheless.

The Hellbrunn Palace is also famous for some scenes in the movie, such as the pavilion and . Unfortunately, the Palace is closed until mid-March, but I walked the grounds and was fascinated. To get to the Hellbrunn Palace, I hopped on a city bus and went about 15-20 minutes outside the city. I wasn’t completely sure I knew what I was doing with the language barrier and all, but it worked out. I made it safely there and back.

Saint Peter’s Church Cemetery and the Salzburg Cathedral were both beautiful. The cemetery also had catacombs in the mountain.

The Mozart Museum is the building where Mozart lived as a child. I walked through the museum, including the very room in which he was born. In the museum, I saw the original copy of one of the very first pieces of music Mozart wrote, his first violin, a glass locket that contained some of his hair (weird, I know), the original copy of a letter he wrote to his wife, and so much more.

I enjoyed walking around the city and looking in the cute shops. Salzburg is adorable and after visiting for only one day, I decided that Austria is a place I want to visit again in the future.

I took a train back to Munich on Friday night and went to my hostel. The next morning I met up with four girls from my program and we went to explore Munich. We went to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, Marienplatz (main square in Munich), Asam Church, Saint Peter’s Church, and Hofbräuhaus.

The churches were both gorgeous. Asam Church did not have lighting inside and there is a gate that you cannot pass, so I took pictures with my camera with the shutter speed over 1 second long. The window at the entrance provided a small amount of light and it was just before sunset, so it was fairly dark. Each time I took a picture and looked at it, I was shocked that that is what I was looking at. The inside was gorgeous and I wish I could have seen it in full daylight!

In the evening we went to Hofbräuhaus, which is a royal brewery, beer hall, and restaurant. Definitely a must-do if you are ever in Munich! It was a great environment with live German music and people dressing the part. We drank 1 liter mugs of beer which tasted delicious (even you would like it, Mom) and goulash for dinner. For dessert we had apple strudel and a homemade steamed dumpling with apple crisp and vanilla sauce… sounds weird but it was amazing.

The Dachau Concentration Camp was the first and longest running concentration camp. It was used as a concentration camp from 1933-1945. It became the “model” concentration camp; the place where Nazi guards went for training. It is estimated that over 188,000 prisoners passed through Dachau, and 50,000 died at the camp. If you are interested in learning more about Dachau, there is so much information online and in pictures that I will post on Facebook. It was an eerie, haunting experience that I am so grateful I was able to have. There are no words to describe the feeling of touching the beds of the prisoners, standing where they stood, and reading their stories. Walking through the crematorium and gas chamber still sends shivers down my spine. It didn’t feel real while I was there because I just could not, and cannot, wrap my head around the fact that this happened less than 100 years ago. It was an experience that I will never forget; the feeling is forever embedded in my bones.

In my hostel room there was a girl from Brazil (who spoke English and Spanish) and two girls from Argentina. We went back and forth mixing English and Spanish. It’s crazy – it felt like a relief to speak in Spanish with people in Germany. They were incredibly nice and it made for an amazing stay at the hostel.

The weather was cold (30’s) and rainy in both cities I visited, but that did not take away from the beauty of Germany and Austria. My only regret is not having enough time in each place.

I attached some of my photos below in a slideshow. I have all the photos I took posted on Facebook if you’re interested.

This weekend I will stay in Toledo and study for my midterms that are the following week. No new travel plans to share as of now.

I will post again soon. Thanks for reading!

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Sevilla, España

Sevilla, España

Hello everyone,

I spent the weekend in Seville, Spain (Sevilla in Spanish) with another girl from my program. We took a train from Madrid to Seville on Friday and spent two nights there! Before our train left, we had a class trip to the Museo del Prado in Madrid for our Master Painters of Spain class. The professor guided us around the museum to see the works of art of two painters we have studied so far: El Greco and Diego Velazquez. The artwork at the museum is huge and incredible to see in person. For this class, there is one more trip to the Museo del Prado and one trip to the Reina Sofia Art Museum which is a contemporary museum in Madrid.

Seville is a city in southern Spain and has many gorgeous features.

First of all, there are so many horse drawn carriages in Seville so I had to snap a picture of the pretty guy.

The Plaza de España was my favorite part of Seville, and all of Spain (so far) for that matter. The tiles and colors are phenomenal. In the Plaza de España there are tiled alcoves that each represent a different province in Spain. Pictured below is the one of Toledo!

The Cathedral in Seville is also very gorgeous. We made it just in time to be able to do the cultural tour (it closed at 3pm and we got in at 2:30pm!) which involved going up the bell tower, or La Giralda. The 360 degree view from the bell tower is amazing along with the view from inside the Cathedral. The inside is huge and the details are breathtaking. In the courtyard there are a bunch of orange trees, just like anywhere else in Seville.

We also walked to the Metropol which is a large wooden structure. We didn’t know much about it but we had a glass of wine and enjoyed the view.

Before we went to the train station to head home on Sunday, we toured the Alcazar. The Alcazar in Seville was built by Muslim kings and has beautiful architecture and designs. My neck was so sore from constantly looking up at the ceilings and looking like an idiot trying to get the right picture.

Another thing I liked about Seville was the atmosphere. There were people outside at bars and cafes at all hours of the day. The street our hostel was located on (which was a 2 minute walk from the Cathedral) had a bunch of cute tapas bars that were always packed.

Overall, Seville was beyond gorgeous and I am so glad I was able to do a last minute weekend trip there, and that I had a friend to enjoy it with. I took many more photos than are shown here, and I will post them on Facebook ASAP.

Oh, and one more thing: When I got back to Toledo I had dinner with my host family. After dinner, they brought out chocolates that they made AGAIN. Some had strawberry inside and some had peanut butter. The best part is that my host dad tried to recreate Reese’s by putting chocolate and peanut butter in little paper cups and it was fantastic. Those pictures are also on Facebook.

Thanks for reading! I’ll post again after my adventures this weekend to Salzburg and Munich!

Xoxoxo