December Travels! :)

December 11th, 2011

Buongiorno!

Sorry, I’m still in my Italian frame of mind. I don’t even know where to begin with this blog post. I have been traveling for the past week and have been to three different cities! What a whirlwind!!

Last Friday, my friend Molly and I left for Amsterdam! I never expected that I’d be going to Amsterdam this semester, but she really wanted to go and I had heard from a lot of other people what a beautiful city it was! It was beautiful all right! Just a tad bit cold for my liking. We were there for about two and a half days and saw quite a bit, including the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Royal Palace, and the Tulip Market. Even though I’m not always a huge fan of museums, the Van Gogh was actually pretty cool. You could really see his development as an artist and we got to see most of his famous paintings (except Starry Night, which was a bummer). The Anne Frank house was awesome. It was such a tiny, average looking house from the outside, but it was so cool/ eerie when you stepped inside. When we went up to the actual annex where the family was in hiding for more than 2 years, I kind of felt like an intruder—like I shouldn’t have been there. The whole thing was just a little surreal!

The next day we went to the Royal Palace which was interesting and the tulip markets, which was really cool too. The market was basically just a row of tents with every type of tulip and flower imaginable!! It was so beautiful to walk through and just browse. There were also tons of cats. One just sat on our table while we had coffee at a bar, two kittens were just roaming around a Mexican restaurant, and one cat followed us around our hostel! They were all adorable! Speaking of our hostel, our hostel was not your typical hostel. It was a boat, and I’m not talking about a cruise ship here. Our room was about the size of a walk in closet and I could barely stand up in the bathrooms. It was definitely not spacious, but it was manageable. On the bright side, there was a great breakfast and it was still pretty cool to look out onto the water.

On Monday, we left to go to Rome! I have been so excited to go to Rome this whole semester! When I was little, my Grandmom used to have a little trinket from Rome that I always used to look at. In the back of my mind, it’s always been somewhere I’ve wanted to go. It was everything I expected and more!! On Monday night, we walked around and saw the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and some of the other ruins. We stopped in a small restaurant and had some amazing pasta and a great typically Italian waiter! On Tuesday, we woke up and went to the Vatican. We saw St. Peter’s Basilica and the museums. The Basilica was absolutely awe-inspiring. We went into one of the prayer rooms there, and for some reason, I started to cry. I’m not sure if that happens to a lot of people, but there is just something about being there that is so moving. Later, we went to the museums, which have a lot of typically Roman art, as well as Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel. His paintings are amazing and make one marvel at all the detail that had to go into it.     

In the afternoon, we saw the inside of the Coliseum, which was awesome! We took lots of pictures and learned a little bit about the battles that were fought there. Next, we got some delicious gelato and sat back by the Trevi fountain just enjoying and taking in everything around us. Then later that night we caught an overnight train to Venice. It definitely wasn’t ideal, but it saved us money on a hostel so we went for it.

We arrived in Venice at 5:30 AM on Wednesday—quite an early start to the day. We couldn’t really check-in until 11, so we spent our morning hopping from café to café getting coffee and pastries. When we finally met up with the other girls (6 now in total) we checked into our very own apartment along one of the canals. The apartment was so cute on the inside, with its own kitchen, terrace, and washer machine!!! That afternoon, we did some shopping (my fav) and just roamed around the narrow “streets” of Venice. When I say streets, I just mean walkways. There are basically no cars and the primary way of getting around is by boat! It’s crazy, but so normal for them.

Here comes the most embarrassing/ most hilarious part of our entire trip! As we were wondering down a long, very narrow street, we came to the end only to find a dead end and a canal. My friend Emily thought it was funny that we had walked all that way to find water, so decided to take a picture to remember. I thought it would be a good idea to get a little closer and peek around the corner of the building next to us to snap a pretty picture of the canal. As my friend Molly hollered at me to be careful, I slipped and fell right into the canal! Yes, it was freezing in case you were wondering, and I didn’t know what to do except scream. My friend Cathy came to my rescue but I didn’t want her to fall in, so I quickly pushed myself out of the water, and immediately started cracking up. My clothes were soaked and I was shivering, but the situation was just too funny to do anything but laugh. Thank goodness there were not many people around, except two guys cleaning their boat. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking as they saw a girl falling into the canal out of the corner of their eye! I can’t wait to tell this story in person…it is just that much funnier!

After making our way back to our apartment and taking a nice hot shower, we went out for a nice Italian dinner and then came home to celebrate our friend’s birthday with wine and pastries! It was a perfectly relaxing way to end a slightly dramatic day of falling into canals haha! The next day we went on a taxi boat to different islands around Venice. We went to Murano, the island famous for all of its blown glass. We watched a demonstration on how it is made! It is so cool to see the process and the finished product! Later, we made our way to the island of Burano, which had lots of bright colored houses and, of course, more shopping (just what my wallet needed HA)! Later that night, we cooked ourselves a homemade Italian dinner with pasta, pizza, and bruchetta, and it was delicious! We went out afterwards to Plaza de San Marco, which was so cool to see all decorated for Christmas!!

The next morning, we were sad to have to leave! We had a long day of traveling, so it felt good to finally arrive back home in Bilbao! We had a great mini vacation within a vacation, as we like to think of it! Now, it is back to reality a bit, as we have finals this week and final papers due. However, it is nothing like it is back in the US, so I sympathize with my friends back home right now. I can’t even fathom the fact that I will be home in exactly 1 week. 1 week is nothing here. I know I will blink and be home before I know it! I am so excited to come home! I have been having a lot of dreams at night about home and waking up a little disoriented. At the same time, I know I will miss it here in Spain and I will miss my host parents and my friends. It is one of the most contradictory feelings I have ever felt, and it is hard to put into words.

Alright, I must go get to work now and get out of my vacation frame of mind! I cannot wait to see each and every one of you when I get home! Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a great week! See you VERY soon!

Love, Jen

Sevilla and Granada :)

November 25th, 2011

Hi everyone!

Happy Black Friday! Hope everyone found some amazing deals this morning. The stores definitely lost some business without me being there haha! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I certainly missed my family yesterday, and of course, the food too! We had a dinner here with our program, but I have to say the so called “turkey” and “pumpkin soup” just didn’t cut it.

I know I have not written in a while, so now I finally have the opportunity to tell you about my weekend in Sevilla and Granada! Thursday after my last class, we ran to the bus station, caught a shuttle to the airport, and were off to the beautiful Sevilla! We arrived that night and immediately started exploring the city. The cathedral and the river looked so pretty lit up at night. Although the city was pretty quiet on that Thursday night, we ended up at a discoteca called “Buddha,” which was an Arabian-inspired nightclub with four floors and tons of young people. It was definitely a fun way to start out our first night in Sevilla!

Friday morning, we went on a free walking tour which was offered by our hostel. Although our tour guide was kind of corny, it was a good way to get to know the city and see all of the major landmarks like the Cathedral, the old seaport, Maria Luisa parks, and the gorgeous Plaza de Espana. I have seen a lot of plazas in Spain so far, and I have to say that the one in Sevilla wins the most beautiful plaza award in my book. We spent a lot of time just walking around and modeling for pictures, as it provided the most perfect backgrounds for our photo shoots! After grabbing lunch and sangria, we went to see the Alcazar, a palace commissioned by Muslim kings in the 10th century that represents Europe’s oldest active royal residence. With all its unique architecture and beautiful gardens, the Alcazar was truly inspiring (not to mention another great picture spot)! That night we stayed in and took the Paella-making class offered by our hostel! I’m not sure how much we actually “learned,” but it was delicious and a great way to meet students there from around the world.

Early Saturday morning, we had to go to the bus station to catch our 7:45 bus to Granada! It was about a 3 ½ hour ride so we got in, checked in our hostel, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and were off to make it to our 2:30 ticket reservations to see the world famous Alhambra! We had a minor issue at first when the ticket lady tried to tell me that my reservation was invalid because I didn’t have the proper identification for my student discount, while my friend 2 people ahead of me in line had used the exact same ID card. She told me I could not be refunded and would have to buy new tickets on top of what I already bought. She was unnecessarily rude, but after putting my foot down and asking to talk to her manager, she gave us our tickets. As we walked away with the tickets fuming, she said “De nada, mal-educadas” which basically means “You’re welcome, rude girls.” I told her there was no reason to say thank you after the way she had treated us. No doubt, it was because we were American.

Although the visit got off to a rocky start, the ticket incident could not possibly overshadow the beauty and the awesomeness of the Alhambra. Everywhere you turned there were intricate architectural designs, beautiful gardens, and outstanding views of the entire city. There were also lots of kitties lingering around looking for food! They were so cute (not as cute as Sweet Pea though )! In total, we spent about 3 whole hours just wandering around the palace grounds, and believe it or not, there was probably still more to see.
Later on that night we had planned on going on one of our hostel’s excursions to the natural hot springs in the caves of Granada; however, the weather wasn’t too great and some girls informed us that the “hot springs” were not as relaxing and glamorous as we had imagined. Luckily this plan fell through, and we spontaneously decided to make 3 appointments for the Spa treatment at the Arabian Baths. Everything happens for a reason! This spa treatment was the most relaxing experience I’ve ever had! We got to spend about an hour and a half in the baths and saunas, alternating temperatures and pools. The floor was warm, the towels were warm, there was hot tea waiting for us…it was heaven! We also got about a 20 minute massage, which felt great after a long day of walking. And to top everything off, my masseuse was very handsome haha. Our time at the Arab Baths was literally the most perfect way to end a perfect weekend!

I can’t believe there is only one month until Christmas, and it is even more mindboggling that there is only 22 more days until I come home. I just can’t seem to get over the way time has flown!

Love, Jen

Salamanca!!!

November 14th, 2011

Hi everyone!

So, late Wednesday night, my friends Cathy and Molly and I booked a trip to Salamanca for the weekend! Talk about last minute, but that is Spain for you! You can just pick up and go anywhere for the weekend at a pretty reasonable price. Salamanca is known as a “college town” around Spain, as it is home to the University of Salamanca and is always full of students. It’s also a quaint town, with lots of culture and charm. We left early Friday morning, and it was about a 5 hour ride. When we got here, we settled into our hostel and started exploring the area. Although there aren’t any huge attractions in Salamanca, the best parts of our weekend were just relaxing, walking around the cute little streets, and taking in all our surroundings!

On Friday night, we tried to go out, but when we got to the club, they told us it wasn’t starting until 4AM!?!! We couldn’t believe it! We decided we were going to go back to our hostel and then go back out later that night, but by the time we got back to our hostel, we laid down and starting falling asleep. I guess we can’t keep up with these Spaniards! We also had a little issue getting into our hostel that night. Someone had locked the door from the inside and we had to call the owner at 1:15 in the morning to get back in. Needless to say, he was not a happy camper. He was yelling at us in Spanish and threw a set of keys down to us. He thought we were using the wrong key, until he came down and realized it had not been our fault. Also needless to say, I was not very happy about the way he treated us and I answered right back by giving him a piece of my mine and telling him we were paying customers!

We slept in and woke up with a fresh start on Saturday. We walked around the University buildings, went inside the beautiful cathedral, and crossed the famous bridge to get a good view of the city. We had lunch in Plaza Mayor and did a little shopping in the old part of town in the afternoon. Overall, it was a perfect day, and we found ourselves having to pinch ourselves to make sure it was all real. That night we meant up with some of Molly’s friends who happened to be in Salamanca as well. She did not even know they were there until we ran into them on the streets. What a small world! We hung out in the plaza for a little while (because that’s what everyone does in Spain) and then we found a place that offered a 5 euro open bar (only in a college town haha!).

Our time in Salamanca was short but sweet, and I was exhausted when I got home last night! This week I have a normal week of classes and this weekend I am off to travel again! This time to Sevilla and Granada! I am so excited to go to South of Spain, as I hear it is beautiful and very different from the North. It should be another great trip!

November is flying by! This Thursday is the 17th, which will be the one month mark until I am home. Thinking about leaving to go home is such a bittersweet thing for me. I dread the thought of leaving this beautiful country, my host family, and all my friends here, but at the same time I am so anxious to see my family, friends, and, of course, Sweet Pea (and to eat American food too)! However, one thing is for sure. It is definitely going to be “back to reality” for me when I get home. No more Spanish fiestas or weekend vacations around Europe haha! It will be quite an adjustment, but being able to spend Christmas with my family and friends makes it totally worth it J

I hope everyone has a wonderful week! I’ll write again next week to tell you all about South of Spain!

Love, Jen <3

Thanks for a great 4 days, Mom and Dad! <3

November 7th, 2011

Hi again everyone!

As promised, I will now take a few minutes to tell you about the time that I spent with my parents these past few days! When I first talked to my parents about the possibility of them coming to Spain, I thought it might be a long shot. My dad hasn’t done business here for a couple of years now, and the flights for my mom were bound to be outrageously priced. So, the fact that they were actually able to come was awesome, and I’m so thankful that they did!

Both my parents arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and I made my way to the airport to anxiously await their arrivals. Although my mom was supposed to get in first, her flight was delayed, and my dad was the first one through the gate. As we ate lunch in the airport, we made a sign for my mom thinking that she would be frustrated with her delay. I think she forgot all about the delay when she saw us though! It was so nice to be able to hug my parents and be with them in person, instead of talking to them over a computer screen!

That night, we did some wine tasting and went to dinner at the Guggenheim with some people from my dad’s work. The setting was great, but the food was not so hott. The portion sizes were mini, and my steak was practically raw haha. We also had some curd type thing that tasted like sour milk! Nonetheless, the company was great and it’s still pretty cool to be able to say I ate at the Guggenheim.

On Thursday, I was able to show my Mom around my university and around Bilbao. Later that night, we went to get pitchers of Sangria with my friends Cathy and Molly. We went to one of our favorite spots, and I think both my parents enjoyed the recipe! After Sangria, we had dinner with my host parents. Rosi and Jon were thrilled to meet my parents. We had a very traditional dinner of tortilla de patata, croquetas, and muscles—all my favorite things! I was acting as the translator for most of the night, which was a little exhausting, but we were all able to communicate fine and we had some good laughs. After dinner, my parents came out to a local bar to meet some of my friends and get a taste of the Spanish nightlife. Some of my dad’s work buddies joined us too. We had a lot of fun, and the free drinks were a plus J.    

On Friday, the weather held up and we were able to take a day trip to San Sebastian. San Sebastian is known as one of the nicest surrounding towns in Pais Vasco. There isn’t much to really see or do. It’s just a cute town to walk around in, admire the views, and eat some pintxos. In the afternoon, we climbed what seemed like thousands of steps to reach an old war bunker and a statue of Jesus that overlooked the whole city and the Conch Beach. Although we were exhausted and our legs felt like rubber later, we made it to the top and the view was breathtaking! When we got back to the bottom, we rewarded ourselves with some delicious pintxos, some brownie gelato, and a little bit of shopping J. After getting back from San Sebastian, we found a restaurant with American food in Bilbao. Although the bacon on our burgers was not cooked, it still felt good to be eating a burger and fries! Even though I do like Spanish food, I’ve had a slight craving for some more American food ever since!   

Although Saturday was a pretty miserable day outside, weather-wise, we were still able to make the best of it! We spent the afternoon with my host parents again. We had another fabulous meal, and they drove us around so I could show them a little bit of Getxo and the town where I live. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the beach day, so I wasn’t able to show them some of the other beautiful beaches. But we made our way to Rosi and Jon’s house in the mountains, and we had dinner with them and seven of their close friends. All of them were so nice and some even spoke English, but I still ended up translating most of the night!

That night, I had to say goodbye to my parents because their flight was at 6:50 the next morning. Although it was so hard to see my parents go, I kept telling myself that my 40 days left here are going to fly by, and before I know it, I will be at home getting ready for Christmas. It really is scary to think about how fast time goes.

Luckily, on Sunday, I had tickets for the Athletic Bilbao vs. Barca game to take my mind of missing my family. The game was absolutely incredible. I’ve never seen so much spirit for a team in my life. Of course, it was pouring, but the rain couldn’t ruin that game. Bilbao scored in the final minutes of the game to make the score 2-1. Everyone went wild! But Barcelona answered back with a goal in the final seconds of the game to tie the score 2-2. Although we were so mad that we didn’t win, it’s still pretty cool to say we tied! Here’s a link to some of the highlights of the game:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxLAT7doh_A

Alright, better get back to work (I’m reminding you that I do actually do some work, haha). Have a good week! Miss you all!

Love, Jen

Ireland and London!

November 6th, 2011

Hello everyone!

Wow! I don’t even know where to begin! First thing I guess I should say is that I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have been given with this study abroad experience. I feel so blessed!

Last weekend I got to travel to two amazing cities—Dublin and London—with some amazing friends! We arrived in Dublin on Thursday night and immediately started exploring the city. We found our way to a cute little traditional Irish pub with an awesome acoustic singer and the best fish and chips I’ve had in my life (I am not exaggerating)! On Friday, we had a busy yet fun day of touring. We saw Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, and the Dublin Castle. We also went to the Guinness factory in the afternoon, where we learned all about the process in which Guinness is made. The best part of the tour is that there is a bar at the top floor that overlooks the entire city of Dublin, and everyone receives a complimentary Guinness. I’m not a big beer person, but I must say that Guinness was the best beer I’ve tasted!   

On Saturday, we continued our touring with St. Patrick’s cathedral, Christ’s Church, O’Connell Street and Dame Street, streets lines with cute pubs and souvenir shops. We also went to Ryan’s Victorian Bar, a bar where Julia Roberts and past presidents have gone to! Here we got some delicious coffee with Bailey’s Irish Cream J. Saturday night, we went to Temple Bar, the most famous bar in Dublin where you can hear traditional Irish music. It was great! There was also a lot of Halloween spirit in the town, since Halloween originated in Ireland!

In the early hours of Sunday morning, we prepared to take off to London. We arrived that morning a little tired, but a Crème Brule Latte from Starbucks made everything okay! We stayed at a friend of my friends’ apartment, which was nice, because he was able to show us around the city and be a little bit of our own personal tour guide. On Sunday, we saw the London Eye, the parliament buildings, and of course, Big Ben. We also saw Buckingham Palace, the Buckingham gardens, and Kensington Palace. Later that night, we went to see the London Bridge (which is actually not that special) and the Tower Bridge (which was beautiful since it is all lit up at night time). Monday morning we paid a visit to Abbey Road and stopped traffic to take a picture in the same pose as the famous Beatles picture. Later, we did some shopping, and I was actually able to meet up with a friend from college who is now living in London! It was so great to see her and talk over lunch! Although our time in London was short, I feel like we definitely packed a lot into two days!

Another thing I’ve been blessed with is great friends and an amazing host family. Last weekend made me realize just how close I am becoming with some of the girls here. We have so much fun together, and they are always there for me when I need them. I feel like I’ve known them for years instead of just two months. When I was away last weekend, I also realized how much I missed having Rosi and Jon around. Coming home to talk to them was great! Rosi loved seeing all my pictures, and she took the time to help me with another one of my papers!

Last, but certainly not least, I feel so thankful that I was able to spend time with my wonderful parents for the past 4 days! I will write about my time with them in my next post!

Heard there’s been some now on the East Coast, so stay warm over there! I’ll write again very soon, but for now, I have to get to some homework!

Love, Jen  

Beaches, beaches, and more beaches!

October 25th, 2011

Hello everyone 🙂

Today is shaping up to be another beautiful day in Bilbao! I hope you are all experiencing nice fall weather by now. Thanks to Pais Vasco, today is a local holiday and, again, we don’t have class! However, this week is midterm week, so I will be doing at least a little bit of studying today.

I feel like I am still coming down off the high of this past weekend. I can’t even begin to describe to you in words some of the beautiful places I saw right here around Bilbao and not too far away in Southern France! On Friday, our program took a day trip to San Juan de Luz and Biarritz, France. These two places are cute coastal towns with absolutely beautiful beaches and views (my kind of places). There were little surf shops, coffee shops, and places to pick up little chocolates or croissants! Language was a little bit of an issue haha, but the people were still really happy and friendly. How could you not be when you live in a town like that?!

Biarritz, France

After we returned home from France, a couple friends and I were invited over my friend Clara’s house to celebrate her sister’s birthday. It is so cool to have friends here that are locals! We had an amazing tortilla, muscles (yes, I eat muscles now lol), and of course, no meal is complete without vino tinto or callimocho. Her friends were so nice and welcoming. We actually met a guy named David who lives in another nearby coastal town called Santander who offered to show us around! I’m starting to really appreciate the fact that I chose to come to a city located really close to the water!!

Celebrating Lucia's birthday with local friends!

We took David up on the offer, and on Sunday, we took yet another day trip. (It’s so easy to catch the bus here to take daytrips to nearby towns, I love it!!) He picked us up from the station and drove us to all the places a typical tourist would want to see. We went to a beach that also doubled as a small aquarium with penguins, sea otters, manatees, and more! However, it was not your typical aquarium with big tanks and dirty looking water. The animals enjoyed natural sea water from the ocean that flowed into these small sanctuaries created for them in between stone and rocks. At the top of the walk through the aquarium, there was a huge castle that used to be home to the royalty of the town and, of course, a breathtaking view out across the ocean. Later, we went to a site with a lighthouse where we were able to walk out along a narrow peninsula-like cliff that extended into the ocean. Although I have seen turquoise and aqua waters in the Caribbean, I have never seen an ocean so blue in my life. At times, it almost resembled a deep purple. It was literally heaven! I am so thankful that we met David, and he was nice enough to take the time to show us around 🙂

A cliff that looked out over the ocean in Santander!

Back to Saturday for a minute, forgot to mention that I went to lunch with my entire host family—there were 22 people there in all, including all of Rosi’s brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, etc. They were all so warm and welcoming, and again, it makes me realize what a great decision I made in choosing to live with a family here. Not to mention, the food was absolutely delicious!! On Saturday evening, I volunteered at the school in San Francisco again. The girls from last weekend were anxiously awaiting my arrival. I did some arts and crafts with them, and they showed me a fashion game they like to play on the computer. I am continually amazed by their positive energy, despite their family situations. They love asking me how to say certain things in English. One of them told me she wants to be a lawyer when she gets older so she can help other families like her own. Although they are sometimes not the most disciplined or well-behaved kids, they still really want to learn and help others, which I find inspiring.

Alright, well I better get my mind off the beaches in Santander and get to work now. The weekend coming up is a long weekend, and my friends and I are going to Ireland and London. We booked the trip way back in early September, so I can’t believe it is already here! I am ecstatic!!!

Enjoy the rest of your week, and talk to you soon!

Love, Jen

A Weekend in Bilbao :)

October 19th, 2011

Hello all!

Happy hump day! Today is kind of a dreary here day, but we haven’t had any rain yet, so I can’t complain. Plus, it is supposed to clear up just in time for our weekend! It is definitely getting a little chillier here, so fall is definitely in the air. I do miss all the fall/ Halloween decorations we have in the US, as they do not really make a big fuss over Halloween here. Oh well, my friends and I will surely celebrate in our own way!

We didn’t do any traveling this past weekend, but it was nice to spend some time in Bilbao. On Friday, two of my friends and I went to the part of town which is just on the other side of the river called Portugalete and Santurtzi. In order to get there we had to cross the Puente Colgante in a cart that hangs like a pendulum below the bridge. It was pretty neat! Both towns were quaint, with parks and lots of little cafes. During the afternoon, we went to Casco Viejo to share a pitcher of Sangria. Life couldn’t get any better!! J

Saturday was my first day of volunteering for my Service Learning class. The class combines lecture about human rights and solidarity with an outside volunteer experience. We are doing our service project at a type of “after school” program in a poorer part of town called San Francisco. There are a lot of immigrants that live in this area, and there is also a high rate of crime, drugs, etc. The program we are participating in is designed to keep kids of the streets, where they could potentially get involved with the wrong crowd and be exposed to bad influences. Although I was a little unsure of what to expect at first, the kids were absolutely adorable! The girls loved all my jewelry and loved playing with my hair, especially because it “es rubia!” (blonde) and this is less common for them. One little girl asked me if I was famous in the United States, and another little boy asked me if I would be his girlfriend. All the kids truly did make me feel like a celebrity that day! They loved the fact that I was from “América,” and they were anxious to have me help them with their English. I cannot wait to volunteer again this weekend. The girls want me to paint their nails this time!    

Sunday was a “homework day” for me (yes, I do actually have homework over here, contrary to the popular belief that I only go out and travel all the time haha). I had to write two essays, and Rosi was sweet enough to help me edit some of the small grammar aspects in each paper. She was such a big help, and I am so thankful to have her as a host mom here. At the same time, I also love having Jon around. It cracks me up when he mocks Rosi or bickers with her just to push her buttons. He’ll look over at me and start laughing, so I can’t help but smile too. Interestingly enough, most of the time they remind me a lot of my own parents!!  

Speaking of my parents, I am so excited to be able to say that are officially coming to Bilbao to visit me November 2 to November 6! I am so excited and so thankful that they pulled strings and made sacrifices in order to come. I literally cannot wait to see them! 14 days!!! J

This Friday, my program is hosting an excursion to the border of Spain and southern France! We’ll be going to the towns of Saint Jean de Luz, Biarritz, and Loyola. I’ve heard these regions of Spain/France are absolutely beautiful, so I’m excited to see what’s in store!

I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of the week!
Love, Jen

Barcelona!!!!!

October 11th, 2011

Hola everyone!

I’m sorry I haven’t written in over a week now! I’ve certainly been keeping busy over here!

On Sunday, my friends and I got back from a weekend in Barcelona! I absolutely LOVED this city! I must also say that I definitely liked Barcelona more than Madrid. I can’t exactly pinpoint why…It just seemed cleaner, more beautiful, and in general I just loved what it had to offer in its art, scenery, and nightlife.

We arrived in Barcelona on Thursday night and that very same night, my friend Cathy and I had tickets to go to a DJ concert at a club located right on the beach. It was by far the coolest and prettiest club I’ve been in thus far. Before we were ready to go home, we actually walked down to put our feet in the Mediterranean Sea since neither of us had ever seen it before!

Friday morning, we woke up early to make our way to the Sagrada Familia, a famous cathedral designed by Gaudi. From the outside, it is magnificent, and the line to go inside wraps all the way around the building. We decided to get some coffee and wait it out, and as soon as we got inside, we knew it had been well worth the wait! We also had a ticket to go up one of the towers. This was my favorite part, since you really got a good view of the city and a good look at all the details of the architecture.

That afternoon we went to another building designed by Gaudi called Casa Mila. It’s basically just an apartment building, but the architecture is so distinct and unique that it’s worth it to pay a visit. I can’t imagine actually living in one of the flats there! Afterwards, we took the metro to Parque Guell, a famous park known for Guadi’s artwork and sculptures there. This was my favorite part of the day because the park was just gorgeous and so perfect for taking pictures! Also, in the midst of all the beauty, we spotted a rainbow hanging right over the city and the Mediterranean. What a great ending to our day of sightseeing! 

On Saturday, we woke up early again to make our way to Las Ramblas! We didn’t have to walk very far because our hostel was literally located on the same street. It was such a great location (and a Starbucks right below too!). For all of us, it was our first time staying in a hostel, and I’m happy to say that we had a good experience and no complaints at all. It was clean, the staff was really helpful, and it was nice to meet some of the other students who were staying there for the weekend too! It’s amazing how many people you meet and what a small world we live in. I met a girl from Connecticut who knew a girl who lived in my Freshman dorm…how wild is that?!

Anyways, we spent most of Saturday morning shopping and touring around Las Ramblas. Around lunch time, we met up at the Mercat de la Boqueria, a huge market that sells meats, fish, pastas, desserts, chocolates, etc. You name it, they have it! Did not exactly enjoy looking at all the dead fish and animals lying around, but we bought some tiny sandwiches and fruit and walked down toward the sea for a picnic. Without a cloud in the sky and a light breeze coming off the water, everything about the afternoon was perfect!

Later that night, we went to a club event called Sensation. It is a world famous event that is held in major cities around the world. Almost all the students we met that weekend had tickets to go. It was held in the Olympic stadium, and the dress code requirement was to war all white. It was cool to look down at the stadium and just see a sea of white. It was definitely something cool to experience while we were in Barcelona!

Sunday morning was a bit of a struggle to catch our 9:20 flight, but we all made it without any issues. When I got back, I had a day full of rest and homework, but I didn’t mind since it was kind of gloomy outside here in Bilbao. This week should be another quick one. Wednesday is a national holiday, so no school here! May be a beach day, as it’s still in the 70s and 80s here!

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Love, Jen <3         

Birthday Celebrations!

September 30th, 2011

Hi everyone!

TGIF! Hope everyone has a great weekend in store! I just got off Skype with my Granny. It was so good to talk to her, and I can’t wait until we skype at a time when my Pop-Pop is there too J  

First and foremost, I want to say thank you to everyone for making me feel so special on my birthday! Thank you for the cards, packages, Facebook messages, etc. It all means so much to me! Even though I am on the other side of the ocean, you have still found ways to spoil me and shower me with love!

I had such a wonderful “birthday week” this week! On Tuesday (my actual birthday), I was surprised with a gift on the breakfast table from my host family. Rosi is so cute because she put so much thought into it! The packaging was pink and the card had kittens on it. She picked out two scarves for me– a purple one with flowers on it and a black leopard print one! She also got me a Basque flag as a memento and a pair of earrings. She knows me so well already! At school, I was able to Skype with my family and open yet another birthday present! My friends also brought me a platter of delicious “postres” from a famous bakery in downtown Bilbao. Then, after class I went out for Sangria with some of my closest friends here! It was seriously one of the best birthdays I’ve had yet, and definitely one that I will never forget!

On Wednesday afternoon, my tandem partner Clara invited me and my friends to the Oktoberfest—and no, not the one in Germany haha. It was a week-long festival located right in the center of Bilbao, with a huge white tent, picnic tables, and people dressed in traditional German clothes! It was so cool to be able to hang out with Clara and some of her friends who are also Bilbao locals.

We celebrated yet again on Thursday night! My host dad, Jon, arrived home from Mallorca on Wednesday so Rosi wanted to wait until he was home to have a special dinner. I was able to invite to friends over too! Rosi made me all my favorite things—Sangria, tortilla de patatas, croquetas, and some delicious desserts (I have eaten way too many desserts this week)!! The dinner was so cute. I literally have the best host family ever! After dinner, my friends and I went to a favorite bar of ours and hung out there for a bit as another belated celebration. A few of us then made our way to Loft, a club in Bilbao with lots of international students. It was a good time, as usual!

Today, I went to the beach all day! I felt like I hadn’t been in so long. The weather was absolutely PERFECT! Warm, but not too hot, with a great breeze. I even went in the water! My friends and I went to get pintxos at a nearby bar and then I went back to the beach for another hour or so. It was such a perfect end to the week!

I’ll write again soon to let you know how the rest of my weekend went!

Thanks again for all the birthday wishes!

Miss you all!

Love, Jen <3  

PS- Exactly a month ago today, I was boarding my plane to Spain! Hard to beleive I’ve already been here a month! Time flies, and I know it will only continue to fly faster!

Madrid and Toledo!

September 26th, 2011

Hello again everyone!

Wow, there has been so many activities and excitement packed into one weekend, I don’t even know where to begin!

First off, our VIP night at Pacha was amazing. We were given our own private leather couch, and the employees at the club treated us like royalty. We definitely got a lot of jealous looks from the people around us!

Even though Thursday was a late night, we still managed to make it to the bus on time on Friday, thank goodness. We rested up on the bus, and within 5 hours, we had arrived in Madrid! That same afternoon, we had an excursion to el “Palacio Real,” or the Royal Palace. It was beautiful from the outside, and even fancier and more elaborate on the inside. Apparently there are over 3,000 rooms in the palace, and we only saw about 10-15 of them. Each room had “wallpaper” that was actually embroidered silk and furniture/decorations made entirely from gold. Let me tell you, it is definitely one expensive palace!

Later that afternoon, we saw a few different plazas, including Plaza Mayor and la Puerta del Sol. I couldn’t get over how many people were gathered in one place. It was a pretty amazing site to see! It was in these plazas where we also saw so many of the strange things people do to try to get tourists to give them money. People would paint their body completely in different colored mud or body makeup and stand/sit completely still to resemble a statue. There was another man who was suspended completely off the ground, and I, for the life of me, could not figure out what his trick was. Finally, the most bizarre thing had to be when we were approached by some college aged guy holding an egg. He told us that, “For one euro, we could crack the egg on his head!” Obviously, we passed on that offer!

On Saturday, we took a day trip to Toledo, which was only about an hour away by bus. I have to say that Toledo is my favorite city in Spain, thus far. It is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! During our bus tour around the city, we stopped on top of a hill just to get out and take pictures of the amazing view of the city. There’s just something about the architecture and the buildings there that was so stunning. In the morning, we had a guided tour of the city’s biggest gothic cathedral. It was gigantic, and the amount of detail that went into making the altar, the statues, murals, etc. is unbelievable. It was definitely awe inspiring! Although I wish we could have had more time in Toledo, our time there was well-spent!   

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then made our way downtown to the Museo del Prado. Here, we got to see lots of famous paintings like “Las Meninas” by Velázquez, “El jardin de las delicias” by El Bosco, and many of famous works by Goya. Our tour guide was an art professor who really knew her stuff, so it was cool to listen to her input and learn a lot about the different art styles and art periods. After the museum, some friends and I walked over to a nearby park called Parque del Retiro. It was an absolutely perfect day, and we enjoyed taking pictures next to the many trees, benches, and fountains.

Oh yeah, I should also mention that the nightlife in Madrid was fabulous! On Friday night, a lot of my friends and I went to Kapital, a club made up of 7 different floors and 7different kinds of music. The setting was awesome, and everyone was dressed to impress. You’re definitely not getting in if you’re wearing a t-shirt or flip-flops. Since I LOVE getting dressed up, this certainly was not an issue for me. Then on Saturday night, we walked around Puerta del Sol, which has a lot of bars, cafes, and just people in general. It was really cool to see the plaza at night with all the lights and to be surrounded by all the locals! 

We arrived back in Bilbao yesterday around 7:15 at night. I was pretty exhausted, but still managed to get my homework done. Getting up for my 9AM class this morning was definitely a little rough. Tomorrow, I will Skype with my family and my friends and I are planning to go out after class for my birthday (I can’t believe it is already my birthday. I also can’t believe I am turning 20….sounds so old!!).

As always, thanks for reading! There are so many details in between that I just don’t have the space or time to write, unfortunately! I can’t wait to tell you all everything in person! Miss everyone!

Love, Jen