Mi Ciudad

02/26/16

Greetings from Granada! These past days were full of highs and lows. Highs included being accepted into a lovely choir that happens to be singing some of my favorite pieces ever. Lows, I got a horrible stomach flu and was bed-ridden for a week. In case it was ever unclear, being sick in a foreign country is incredibly difficult. But, I am well now! Having been in Granada for a while now, I suppose it is high time I share all about this gorgeous city.

The basic facts of Granada: situated in the province of Andalusia, GranadaPlaza Nueva has a population of approximately 472,638. The city is ensconced in the Sierra Nevada Mountains but is also only an hour from the coast in Málaga. Granada was once a Moorish fortress with its main palace, the Alhambra; therefore, the city is a magical conglomeration of ancient Moorish architecture, Catholic influence after the Inquisition, and modern Spanish architecture. These contrasts are best seen right here, where I go to class: Plaza Nueva. The plaza is sleep and modern with pretty colored buildings. However just passed the plaza you can see cobblestone streets and old reddish stone. This is the district of Granada called el Albayzín. Here is a picture of the famous Alhambra from a little plaza in el Albayzín. Check out the different types of roofs and materials; definitely an older style. I happen to love this area of the city.

Alhambra

In general, Granada is gorgeous. All of the sidewalks are tiled and decorative, there are palm trees and Cyprus trees, white mountains can be seen in the distance, there are dozens of quaint plazas and gardens with fountains, landscaping, and vendors.

Another fun fact is that Granada literally translates to “pomegranate”! The builders of Granada certainly knew this because pomegranate designs are EVERYWHERE. It makes for a fun walk through the city trying to spot as many pomegranates as possible. They are on street signs, manholes, cobblestone streets, parking barriers, bowls, buildings and more. Here are just a few I have found throughout the city.

Pomegranates1Pomegranates2

Daily life in Granada is surprisingly relaxed though at first glance the streets are in constant motion. Here is a sound byte of Granada’s main street, Calle de los Reyes Católicos.

Every day I walk this street from my host mother’s apartment to school. It takes about 20 minutes, and that is considered a short walk! Here is the enormous statue commemorating Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America that I pass on the daily. When at last I arrive to the IES center, I usually have classes from 9:00AM until 2:00PM. StatueThen I walk back home for lunch. Lunch is an enormous meal in Spain. Today for example, we had huge bowls of garbanzo, potato, and carrot soup, chicken and pork, salmon and avocado salad wedges, bread, and grapes. This was a milder-sized lunch! Once you have become with food child, the siesta hours set in. From about 3:00-6:00PM all of the stores and businesses close, and people rest, or in our case, nap. It is a treasured time I must say. After siesta time I usually have an evening class, then around 9:00PM it’s tapas time! For anyone who does not know what tapas are, tapas is a general term to describe a style of eating appetizer-sized portions of any type of food. That is to say there isn’t a tapas recipe because tapas describes the amount and style of food, not the type. One of the most favored aspects of Granada is that with any drink you order (be it soda, water, or alcohol), you get a free tapa! Depending upon which tapas bar you go to, dinner can cost you two drinks aka a couple euro. Tapas can range from sandwiches to seafood, stew to paella, and anything else in between.  Thus, nightlife is vivacious and delicious.

Granada was home to famous writer Gabriel Garcia Lorca. According to Lorca, “Granada es una ciudad de ocio, una ciudad para la contemplación y la fantasía, una ciudad donde el enamorado escribe mejor que en ninguna otra parte el nombre de su amor en el sueño. Las horas son allí más largas y sabrosas que en ninguna otra ciudad de España. Tiene crepusculos complicados de luces constantemente ineditas que parece no terminarán nunca.”

Granada is a city of leisure, a city for contemplation and fantasy, a city where a lover writes better here than anywhere else about the love of his dreams. The hours here are longer and tastier than any other city in Spain. It has complicated twilights and constant lights that seem like they will never ever end.

I love this quote by Lorca because I think he absolutely captured the essence of the Granada I have experienced thus far. It is leisurely, beautiful, romantic, meandering, and full of the softest and somewhat magical lights bouncing off the mountain peaks. I like my home across the sea.

This blog’s micro-bio is about one of my orientation leadeAlex Broxrs who is plans fun activities for us throughout the entire semester. His name is Alex (Alejandro) Brox and he is from Granada (far left with the blue backpack and grey scarf). He is a translations major, studying multiple languages in hopes of becoming a professional translator. He is 23 years old, loves to play basketball, has an affinity for man scarves, and enjoys hip-hop music. Next year he will be teaching in a university in Iowa! He is a definite mix of nerves and excitement about living in the United States for a year. My favorite quote from him is such only because it initially seemed very out-of-character for him, but then suddenly added a new dimension to his personality. We were in Ronda, a small town surrounded by rolling his and orchards. Dressed in preppy, athletic clothes with a matching personality, he suddenly let out a sigh and said “A mi me encanta la ciudad de Ronda. Es preciosa y mágica. Mira…Qué bonita.”—> “I love the city of Ronda. It is precious and magical. Just look…How pretty.”

The Many Sites of Spain

2/8/16

Hello again from Spain! I cannot believe that I have only been here for two weeks. To justify my shock somewhat, I have been to a total of 8 cities in 13 days. Two such places are La Alpujarra and Ronda.

In the region of Spain where I am living, called Andalusia, there is an impressive mountain range named the Sierra Nevada mountains. These beautiful peaks are enormous and unlike mountains I’ve experienced before, namely because they are shrouded in stubby shrubs and thin trees. Here is a comparison of the mountains I know and love in New England (top) with the Sierra Nevadas (bottom).Vermont Mountains

Sierra Nevada

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I love hiking, so trekking around with new people in some crisp mountain air was a perfect Saturday. One particular aspect of Spain with which I am falling in love is the fact that its history is ever visible. The face of Spain proudly displays its wrinkles from times gone by. So, even in these remote mountaiMountain Housens there are reminders of the past. Here is an abandoned, traditional mountain home made of mud and stone.

Speaking of traditional, after our hike we visited a quaint mountain village that is quietly thriving. It’s nestled in theAlpujarra mountains at quite an altitude! Most of the buildings were white-washed, and in the middle of some cobblestone streets were these aqueducts of sorts. I think they are designed to transport fresh mountain water from the peaks down througScarfhout the village. La Alpujarra is known for jarapas: funky-looking blankets and mats made of scraps of cloth on traditional looms. There were also beautiful poncho/enormous scarves that I believe are also handmade from the area. I couldn’t resist this one and am so glad because it is so warm!
Later this week we went to Ronda, a beautiful place with some seriously rich history. What is so fascinating about Ronda is that its main city center sits atop El Tajo, a deep gorge; on one side of the gorge is the newer, modern city, and the other side is 15th century Moorish architecture from ancient times.

Ronda

We got to explore both sides. We took a tour of ancient Moorish bath houses. I think they had the right idea about taking ridiculously long and hot showers. Each chamber of the houses has what are basically pretty,Bath Houses2 ancient skyligBath Houses1hts.    The arch is a very common indication of Moorish architecture, as you can see in these photos and will continue to see later on throughout Granada!

Another feature of not just Ronda, but most Spanish cities in general are impressive, loud bells that ring throughout the day. They do not just sway back and forth, they actually make full revolutions, creating a crazy double clang for each spin. Here is a sound bite to hear for yourself!

Ronda was a dream. I am so glad that I chose to study abroad in southern Spain where there is such a unique and tangible mix of cultures all around me.

This week’s micro-bio is: my housemate, Margaret! Margaret is from New Jersey and attends Colorado College. Her school is one of the very few with a block Margaretsystem for classes! Also, her school, she says, is basically a mountain resort for hippies. This sounds excellent. She is studying Bioethics as a composite major (like me!) with a minor in classical piano. In her free time loves to ski, hike, surf, climb things, and basically defy gravity and nature itself. Her personality is as funky as her curly hair. We have enjoyed getting to know our host mom, Angelines, and experiencing the wonders of Granada, Spain together. My favorite quote of hers:

“My ultimate life goal is to be able to surf and ski in the same day.”

Yes, she is that adventurous and capable. Glad we met! Well, readers, thanks for keeping up with me. More from Spain to come!

First Impressions

Wow the time has finally come; I’ve made it to Deutschland! It’s Friday and I arrived in Berlin on Monday and it has been quite a week to say the least.

plane
My good friend from Hope and I getting ready for take off!

train

Studying abroad is crazy because everything is new; the country, the school, the language, my luggage (thank you Macy’s Black Friday sale), my roommate (she’s great), the food and even water! (99% of Germany’s drinking water is carbonated for some reason.) All the new can be overwhelming if you don’t have the right mindset, but it should make you excited! It is the most amazing feeling to know you have so many new experiences ahead of you, especially in such a great city. Berlin is bursting with character; there are so many quirky little cafes, shops and anything else you can think of all around you. There is so much street art and of course Germany is filled with a rich history. For instance, CIEE set up a city tour for us around Berlin during which I learned that Germany is a country that truly acknowledges and embraces its past, despite its dark history.

wall
One of the last remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall; this is where the most people died attempting to escape East Berlin.

We’ve been going nonstop between orientation and trying to soak up the city. One thing that I truly love about Berlin already is the vast array of restaurants from all over the world (it’s all delicious). I’ve been doing more than eating though. For example, I’ve visited the mall of Berlin in all its beauty, started some really interesting classes and have been meeting so many new people; American and German. All while trying to learn some basic German to better navigate the city which has been challenging but I’m loving every second of it.

Kreuzberg
food
Berlin has so many great restaurants! This Thai place was delicious and so close to my program center.

Even though I have only been in here for a couple of days, I can already tell Berlin is a very unique city. I feel that anyone and anything is accepted here. You can be who you are. My program center, where I will be living and taking classes, is in the up and coming neighborhood of Kreuzberg. It’s great to be close to the heart of the city; only 3 train stops away from the Brandenburg gate, but also far enough to really experience Berlin away from all the touristy sites.

best window
The view from some of my friends window.

I can’t wait to explore and truly know Berlin and share my experiences with you all. From what I can tell, it’s going to be an amazing semester in a one of a kind city.

Until next time,

Tschüs!

 

The Adventure to Spain Begins

1/26/16

Well, folks, after many delays and some time travel-I am in the future now-I am at my final destination of Spain! Air France worker strikes and record-breaking winter storm Jonas certainly called for some traveling gymnastics. Thank you, Jonas. That’s two strikes against yFlightour name: excessive snow and the Jonas Brothers. (Apologies to anyone with Jonas-named loved ones.)

Speaking of loved ones, thank you all for taking the time to read my rants! I hope to keep them interesting. Specifically, I really want to bring the sounds of Spain to you. As a musician, sound is the key to happiness…or distress. A charming tune floating up from a nearby street musician is sometimes joy at its finest. Likewise, Justin Bieber singing the quadratic formula might lead to my premature death…Most importantly, I think lovers of music would agree with me that the most beautiful sound this world can contain is the voice of the closest, deepest person you know and love. Okay, end tangent. Needless to say, sound is very important in my life and I intend to share that experience with you! So, hopefully each week I will have a sound bite or two to bring Spain to your ears.

For this blog post, I want to talk about pre-Spain, because I’m still digesting the place and only just arrived! One of the most challenging aspVisa Documentsects about preparing for this trip─besides deciding what precious few items of clothing I could bring─was obtaining a student visa. My dad and I had to go to Boston on a bus that left at 3:00AM to make it for my 9:15 appointment with the consulate. Here is a picture of everything one needs to get a visa! So many documents! Ironically I did not have to show anyone my visa when entering Spain. We spent a few hours wandering the pretty city of Boston, MA. Get this, on December 23rd, the trees were flowering. Anyone who thinks climate change is not real might considBoston Visa Triper visiting the trees in Boston.

After all the packing and errand-running and preparing, I set out for my first flight from Burlington, VT to the JFK airport in New York at 5:00AM. International airports can be stressful and zoo-like, but the beauty in the chaos is hearing the combination of all sorts of languages brush past your ears as you walk from terminal to terminal. Here are the sounds of the Oslo airport around 9:00AM. Try to pick out individual voices. Any guesses on the languages? Are you as jazzed as I am about that?! (Also my apologies for the sound quality being rather low. I am working on improving it!)

Having such lengthy layovers (6 hours in Oslo, and 4 in Copenhagen) gave me the chance to meet cool people. If such trends continue, as I expect they shall, I will include micro-bios in my blogs about the people I meet! Think Humans of New York meets Facebook profiles. So first up, Christian. Christian is a kind gentleman of about 30 who helped me find the correct ticket desk for the flight to Oslo. After getting our tickets, we spent the majority of our wait time in the JFK airport talking about all manner of things. He hails from Denmark and spent half a year finishing his masters in L.A. Excuse my socialist soapbox, but Denmark’s system is brilliant. Christian informed me that in addition to college being free, students receive $1000 each month as a stipend to encourage educational development. There are no homeless people, medical care is free, and Denmark has been rated the happiest country for the past 5 or 6 years.

My favorite quote from Christian was said when I mentioned that I would like to be a professor even though that sadly often translates to unemployable in the US. He wrinkled his face in surprise and said that he thought a teaching position was fairly easy to get and well-paid here. Oh no, friend. He was shocked and then said:

“In Denmark, teachers get paid very well because, you know, they are the ones who are shaping the future and you want the future to be good and well-educated.”

I might need to move to Denmark…All in all he was nice company and quite informative about Denmark and general European culture. But before I go to Denmark, I am beyond excited to be in Spain! Once the jetlag wears off (traveling for 33 hours is rough) and I am out of my state of disbelief, I will word vomit all about Spain. Until then, ¡saludos!

Barcelona: First Thoughts

IMG_0908

What’s up guys! I have finally made it to my study abroad destination, Barcelona, Spain. The time change has taken some getting used to, as well as the lifestyle of Catalonians. For instance, mornings last until 2 pm, dinner is at 9 pm, and the daily dose of tapas is a bit overwhelming. Tapas, for those that do not know, are Spanish appetizers that are a blend of culture and deliciousness. They are eaten just about every day. Below, you can observe shellfish tapas – one of the most flavorful dishes I have had since arriving in Spain.

Shellfish Tapas
Shellfish Tapas

I have also taken the pleasure of visiting Camp Nou, the compounds of Barcelona FC. Here, they have a soccer stadium, ice rink, restaurants, bars, and a three story megastore where you can buy anything and everything related to BFC. Barcelona FC has not only a professional soccer team, but also basketball and handball teams as well. Pretty cool stuff!

Camp Nou, is the sports compound for Catalonian giants, Barcelona FC. It is also only a 20 minute train ride from my homestay!
Camp Nou, is the sports compound for Catalonian giants, Barcelona FC. It is also only a 20 minute train ride from my homestay!

I have also been blessed with the most lovable homestay grandmother, Margarita. She is kind, caring, and full of smiles and joy. She is in her 13th year of hosting American study abroad students. The largest struggle we have is communicating, as she does not speak any English and I speak very little Spanish.   Below, is a picture of her.IMG_0888

There is so much to see and do in Barcelona. Looking ahead, I have a few goals set for myself for the next couple weeks.

  1. Find a soccer team (equipo de fútbol) to play on
  2. Go to a Barcelona FC game!
  3. Complete all my homework (This one is for you, Mom)

The Candle Light Walk

My time here in Sighisoara is coming to a close, and in four days, after a short visit in Bucharest, I will be flying home. The majority of my goodbye’s to friends and staff members were said last night when Veritas held its annual Candle Light Walk throughout the citadel. The Candle Light Walk is a Veritas foundation tradition where people of the city gather together to sing carols and pray for the city of Sighisoara. The evening began in the German church, where one of the RSP students led a children’s bell choir, a couple of songs were sung by the adult choir, and messages and prayers were spoken in four different languages by local pastors and influential townspeople. It was a beautiful time of thanksgiving, reflection, and preparation of hearts for the Christmas season.

yayyy
Pictured on the bottom right is a glimpse of the inside of the German church and the choir that opened our evening of caroling and praying over the city; the other three photos were taken on my walk into the citadel that night – for the last 3.5 months I have (practically daily) walked up that hill, through those gates, and have had that view of the clock-tower! These are memories that will be hard to forget! =)

After the short service in the church, the group of candle-holders, led by a large star, walked to various different buildings and churches located in the citadel to sing and pray. Although it was freezing, it was a beautiful time of fellowship and prayer. After four or five stops were made, and prayers were spoken over the town hall, a local high school, and a couple of churches, we ended our night by drinking hot tea and eating cognac bread in the Veritas owned, House on the Rock and International Cafe. The building was packed, but we were thankful for the body heat!

citadel at night
Here are more pictures from the Candle Light Walk! My friend, Ronja, and I are pictured in the top middle photo sharing a candle =)

Saying “goodbye” to the staff members and friends that I have worked alongside all semester was a little difficult and awkward for me, so we chose to say, “see you later” instead. Thankfully, social media will enable us to remain in contact, and I am looking forward to hearing and seeing pictures of how the Veritas organization grows over time. These friendships that I have made over the last semester have encouraged me and helped me to grow in numerous areas in my life. I am so thankful for the staff members and friends that I was able to meet along this incredible journey. They are great. =)

Until next time,

Marga =)

 

 

 

Welcome Winter

The snow has finally started to fall here in Sighisoara! And I love it! Unlike Holland, Michigan, Sighisoara is not a windy city, and this makes the 25 minute walk into town every morning enjoyable. It is cold, but the beautiful snow, to me, makes the cold worth it. I now find myself humming Christmas carols on my walks in between buildings and activities – ’tis the season! =) The city is somehow even more beautiful with the snow-covered houses and trees, and it makes me cheerful. However, the beauty of the snow does not cover the poverty that is now, even more so during the cold times, evident. This poverty is seen predominately among the Roma population, and it has been a struggle for me, this whole semester, of how I should respond or act towards this poverty.The contrast of beauty and pain here in Sighisoara is dramatic, and it has made it difficult to know how to cope. I am still learning more (I recommend reading “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert), but the one thing that I know for certain that I should and can do, is pray. God has shown himself faithful throughout my journey here, and one of the best things I can do for the people here is pray for them. Before, I simply saw the snow as part of God’s beautiful creation; now, I look and see the beauty of the snow as a reminder to pray for his people who are hurting, cold, and in need.

YEs
We were all so excited to see the snow. And yes, on the bottom left picture, this is Jill’s happy face ;]

Enjoy that snow =)

Marga

Thanksgiving Festivities

Thanksgiving weekend was a beautiful time here in Sighisoara. On Friday evening, Veritas hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for all of the RSP students, their host families, and the staff members that they worked with throughout the semester. It was a great opportunity for my host parents to meet my program supervisors, and for them to hear more about the programs that I was involved in all semester. The dinner this year was special because for the first time it was held at and catered by the four-star Central Park Hotel. The hotel owners have ties to Veritas, and they graciously offered their conference room for our special occasion. Events for the evening included a short video and a PowerPoint presentation on the American holiday tradition. For dinner, we enjoyed a creamy potato soup and type of coleslaw salad for starters, and then the traditional food was served – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, and mashed potatoes! There was so much food, but it did not stop there. Pumpkin pie – my all-time favorite – was served for dessert! I was very pleased with the Thanksgiving meal, and thought that the chefs did an excellent job of preparing the dinner according to the “American Thanksgiving tradition”.

Jill and I with our host parents at the Thanksgiving dinner
Jill and I with our host parents at the Thanksgiving dinner Friday night!

I was surprised that I did not feel very home-sick during this holiday time, but perhaps that was because the week leading up to the Thanksgiving dinner was one of the busiest weeks for me so far this semester. I was able to Skype for an hour with my parents, younger sister, and two dogs on Thanksgiving day, so that was a nice way for me to celebrate with them. =)

All of the the RSP students with our Romanian teacher, Elena, and our program director, Dorothy
All of the RSP students at the Thanksgiving dinner with our Romanian teacher, Elena (far left), and our program director, Dorothy

I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend and were reminded that in all circumstances, no matter how difficult the situations may appear to be at the time, we have so much to be thankful for. =)

~ Marga

Heidelberg & the Rhine

After Carsten was done with class on Thursday, we borrowed his sister’s car and drove north to visit his grandparents who live just outside of Munich. On the way up to their house, we stopped at Heidelberg to look at the castle and eat dinner. We arrived in Heidelberg somewhat later in the evening, and we ended up practically jogging through the city so that we could reach it to the castle before the sun set! We barely made it! The view from the castle was awesome, and I could not stop taking pictures. After touring the castle and its ruins, we walked back down to the town square to have a “traditional German” dinner before finishing our road-trip.

Heidelberg
Heidelberg!!

The next day was one of my favorite days so far this semester. Carsten’s grandparents wanted to take us on a tour of the castles along the Rhine River. So in his grandparents’ car, we crossed over a bridge, drove up one side of the river, took a ferry back across to the other side, and drove back down along the other side. It was amazing! Every few minutes we could see ruins of a castle. There were so many, and they were fantastic! Along the way, Carsten’s grandparents would tell us (in German – Carsten translated) historical facts and legends about the castles on the Rhine. They were excellent tour-guides! His grandma loves to talk, and I was amazed with how much she knew about the Rhine. Carsten’s grandparents are two of the nicest people I have ever met, and they insisted on taking us out to lunch in a castle overlooking the Rhine. The food and view were incredible, and I was overwhelmed by their generosity. On our way back down the other side of the river, we stopped to walk through the woods to look at more historical monuments, and we also stopped for coffee and cake in a different city along the river. It had a terrific view of the Rhine and the surrounding vineyards! Have I mentioned before that I love vineyards?! Of course, I could not stop taking pictures.

What a fantastic day!
What a fantastic day!

The day felt like I was living in a fairy-tale. I enjoyed every minute of the busy day, and am so thankful that Carsten’s grandparents wanted to take us on a tour of the Rhine. It was a fantastic weekend, and thinking back on it, I am still amazed how God blessed me throughout that trip. I am so thankful that I was given the opportunity to visit Germany for my week of vacation – it was an unbelievable experience!!

 Until next time,

Marga

 

Stuttgart

My first few days in Germany were spent in the city of Stuttgart. I loved the atmosphere of this city, and there was so much to do! During the mornings and afternoons while my friend, Carsten, was still in class, I spent the majority of my time just walking around the central downtown area, and admiring how the autumn colors enhanced the beauty of the historical buildings. Also, Doro, Carsten’s sister, took the time to show me around the city and take me to some of her favorite cafes. We went shopping together (which I normally do not like to do), but it was actually a lot of fun! The majority of our time was spent visiting sports-gear stores, bookstores, and shoe stores (which are my favorite stores to shop at). And I had a lot of fun helping her choose which snowboarding coat to buy. During the evenings, Carsten, Doro, and I would enjoy the city lights and night-life. And on the one afternoon that it rained, I was able to spend that time in the Stuttgart Art Museum!

Some of my favorite pictures
Some of my favorite pictures from the city

In my opinion, one of the best views of Stuttgart was from the Sepulchral Chapel on Württemberg Hill. The chapel overlooks hills of vineyards, and the colorful autumn leaves were a perfect touch to the picturesque view. The climb up the hill was also a highlight. With permission from the grape harvesters, we walked straight up the hill through the vineyards, and were instructed to eat as many grapes as we desired! I love fresh grapes, and am convinced that one day I will have my own vines in my backyard.

Fantastic view! Clouds and all! :)
Fantastic view! Clouds and all! =)

Stuttgart was fantastic, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to spend part of my vacation in this city!

More to come on my German adventures!

Auf Wiedersehen! 😉

~Marga