Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bittersweet Goodbyes

Well, today was the start to the end for my time here abroad.  I grabbed a coffee with Leah, who was the first person that I met in Pamplona.  (Complete angel!  I met her by reading her blog! We exchanged emails, and the saint met me at the bus station and helped me get to my host family's house. Then, showed me the bus station to get to my university and let me use her internet! I would not have survived the first day without her!)  Seeing as that she was my first hello here, it was really surreal to say goodbye.  We reminisced about my first day and how overwhelmed I was.  Looking back now, I cannot believe how I felt those first days.  As much as I hate to admit it, I had a hard time adjusting the first few days.  Even though I never would have actually done it, I really did think about getting on the next flight back to the states.  Needless to say, I'm glad that thought never became an action!

I also packed up most of things today and did little odds and ends that needed to be finished.  I never ever ever ever thought packing my bags would be so depressing!  I had been dreading it for weeks, and now that time is finally here.  I honestly almost cried when I pulled down the maps and pictures from my walls.

As sad as today was for me, it also has been filled with excitement.  I am actually leaving in one short hour to travel to Barcelona to pick up my dad and his friend from the airport.  We will spend one day in Barcelona, then head back to Pamplona for SAN FERMIN!  ahhhhhhh!  I feel like my whole semester abroad has been preparing me for this week, and I just can't believe that it is here already!  

The goodbyes are just starting.  And I'm sure that there will be PLENTY of tears shed in this next week (along with WONDERFUL times from San Fermin, of course!)  I am definitely not looking forward to my final goodbye to Spain; however, I am looking forward to many things from back home.  But there is a top ten that has stuck in my head these last few days:

1. Family and friends.  This just goes without saying.  I am absolutely ready to see everyone I love!
2. My wonderful, amazing, fantastic, comfy, super, perfect, QUEEN SIZED bed.  I am pretty much over this tiny, flat, single mattress on a wire platform.
3. carpet (This is not a joke.)
4. air conditioner
5. Dr. Pepper
6. Grilling and bbq
7. Runza and Chinese and corn on the cob and sour cream
8. Seeing the stars every night.  The sounds of the country.
9. Doors that are not confusing and people can actually open them without making a fool of themselves. Seriously, can't even count the number of times that I've walked into the doors here.
10. My car and being able to drive!

Looking forward to these 10 things are making the final days to my dreadful final goodbye a little more bearable.  But even as I look towards the end, I can't help but think about all the amazing things that I am going to miss about Spain, especially about Pamplona.  We're just not gonna even think about that quite yet.  I still have 8 more days!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reunions, Sangria, Hikes, and Moorish Influence

For my final big trip of the semester, I decided what would be more perfect than experiencing another part of the country that I have grown to love.  Marina, my friend from Australia, and I decided to take a trip to the south of Spain and explore the cities of Alicante, Granada, and Malaga.

I chose to go to Alicante because my best friend  from back home in NE is currently studying there for 6 weeks this summer.  After 5 months of being on separate continents, I couldn't handle the thought of not traveling to visit Mallory when we were in the same country!  A short bus and plane ride later, we were finally reunited!  Mallory, Marina, Taryn (one of my other friends from back home), and I enjoyed the short 2 days that we had in Alicante.  We explored the night life and spent a day at San Juan beach.  Taryn, Mallory, and I were all fascinated with the clear blue water.  It was seriously the clearest water that I had ever seen!  Marina, being from Australia, had seen clearer water, but even she admited it was a beautiful beach. After being separated for 5 months, it was wierd to only see each other for a mere 24 hours.  Luckily, it won't be long before we are reunited yet again for San Fermin in Pamplona!
 Marina and I exploring the marina in Alicante.

 Mallory, Taryn, and I at the beach on my first night in Alicante. 

On our last day, Marina and I hiked up to the top of a mountain to a lookout of the ocean and Alicante.

The next part of our trip was Granada.  Marina had been to Granada a couple months earlier, and was absolutely in love with the town.  I soon understood this love.  In Granada, we stayed with two friends of Marina's from Australia.  The girls were amazing!  The took us out to their favorite nightclubs, took us to a bbq at another foreign exchange student's house, showed us around Granada, and took us to our very first bull fight!  Granada quickly become one of my favorite places that I have ever been too!
 Jen (a student from England), Marina, and I on our first night in Granada.  This was seriously the best Sangria that I have had since coming to Spain!  Granada is also famous for its free tappas with drink purchases.  Tappas are like the Spanish version of appetizers.  Tappas were basically what we had for every meal in Granada, and they were always so delicious!

 Mel (one of Marina's friends that we stayed with), Marina, and I with our new friend from the Arab markets.  These markets were one of my favorite parts of Granada.  They all had the most interesting and beautiful things in them.  Just walking through the markets was the best way to experience the Moorish influence on Spain. (Aladdin was one of my favorite movies growing up, so as much as I hate to admit it this may or may not have also played a big part in me loving the markets as well as the Moorish influence all around southern Spain haha.)
 We all enjoyed our first bull fight.  It wasn't quite what any of had expected, but it was still very interesting.  During the show we watched about 8 different bulls.  We also watched in horror as 2 of the matadors (bull fighters) were carried off to the infirmary.

 Mel took us to a bbq with other foreign exchange students in Granada.  This was the view from the girl's patio where the bbq was.  The view of the Alhambra and surrounding mountains really did take my breath away.  It was one of those "Oh, that's right.  I'm living in Spain." moments. After seeing this view, the next day Marina and I walked around the free part of the Alhambra (It is so big that it is divided into smaller parts.  Some parts you have to pay to go in.)
Marina and I with our wonderful hostesses, Mel and Tara, during dinner on our last night in Granada.  Tara, Tara's boyfriend, Brad, and Mel all cooked us dinner before we left!  We just sat around eating, drinking wine, talking, and laughing (and of course, in my case snorting) until about 4 am. It was such an amazing night! That night will forever be one of my favorite memories from my experience abroad.

The last leg of Marina and I's journey was Malaga.  We only had one full day in Malaga so we spent it touring Pablo Picasso's birthplace and museum, exploring Alcazaba (a Moorish fort where weapons were stored), and doing one of the toughest hikes I had ever done up a mountain to a castle lookout.

 Marina and I during our exploration of Alcazaba.

 All of the Moorish architecture was incredible!

   One of my favorite pictures from the trip.  Marina was the perfect travel buddy and we had sooooooo much fun together in the south!  I loved experiencing a different part of the culture that I have become so accustomed to.  It was the perfect trip to end my traveling adventures!

I guess I shouldn't really say that it's the end of my traveling adventures.  I am going to Barcelona to meet my dad and his friend in just a little over a week!  I can't even begin to say how excited I am to see my dad and to  show him Spain!  I am even more excited to experience San Fermin with him!!  Stay tuned for details on that adventure :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Motherland with my Mother

Hey all!  Ok, so with true Des fashion, this post is coming a tad late.  I mean only a month behind.  Better late than never.

At the end of May, right when I was finishing up the last of my exams and projects, my mom and her friend came to visit me!  Mom and Lori were flying in to Bilbao (a city about 2 hours away from Pamplona) and they were just going to call me from their hotel in Pamplona when they made it.  I decided to go and surprise them at the airport.  I said it was all to surprise them, but in reality I just couldn't wait any longer to see them!  I couldn't go into bag claim, but I waited behind this glass window a floor above them.  I stood their waving like an idiot, until they finally saw me.  I can't even describe my feelings when I finally got to hug my mom after 5 months.

The first night they even got to meet a majority of my friends here at a going away dinner for a few of the girls!  The next few days in Spain we visited San Sabastian, where there is a gorgeous beach, and Olite, where there is a castle.  I think that both Lori and Mom enjoyed the mini day trips.  However, I could tell that they were both shocked from the amount of walking!

After experiencing Pamplona for a while, we headed back to Bilbao.  We had a flight for 6 am the next morning to Prague, Czech Republic.  My family, as well as Lori's family, have Czech heritage so it was a trip that hit close to home for all of us.  Whether Lori and I were piecing together what Czech we did know to talk to locals or walking around the city taking in the sights,  there was barely any down time.  I absolutely fell in LOVE with Prague.  And a trip with my mom couldn't have been more perfect.  Carly, my friend from Pamplona, also came with us.  Needless to say there was NEVER a dull moment. 

We did a sightseeing bus tour one day.  I really enjoyed this, because we also got to do a tour of the Prague castle, which is the biggest castle complex in the world!  We also took a day trip to the Moser Czech Crystal factory.  It was so neat to see how crystal objects were made!  The pieces were so beautiful, and I never imagined that so much work would go into every single piece!  We also did a day trip to Terezin to the concentration camp.  It was very interesting, but so sad.  Actually being inside a concentration camp goes beyond what any book or movie can portray.  We also did a dinner night cruise to see Prague at night.  Our days were filled with so many activities, that the trip went by far too quickly.

 The famous "Flower Puppy" at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  This was just the beginning to our trip!

 The Prague castle during our bus tour.

 Lori, Mom, and Naile, our favorite Irishman.  He was the manager/owner of the bus tour company.  When we ran into him later that night, he proceeded to buy round after round for us :)  Between our night with Naile and a night with Absinthe shots, Prague's nightlife was definitely an experience!

 Part of the view during our dinner boat cruise.

 Camp Terezin
 Carly and I on St. Charles Bridge

Mom and I in the center of the Old Town.

Being in Prague was like being back home.  I am from Prague, Nebraska.  Mom and Lori never failed to give a stranger one of our hometown's postcards to prove that we were really from Prague, too. haha.  Between the food, language, and just the familiar last names really was like a taste of home for me.  It made me realize that I will actually be home in Prague (the one in NE, of course)  in just a few short weeks.  It's such a bittersweet feeling. 

Thanks for reading! :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spring Break Eurotrip Style

So why break my style now with waiting forever to update this blog?  Already a month has passed, but I decided that it was about time that I shared my Spring break adventures :)

Semana Santa in Spain is the holy week (Easter).  My university had no classes for 10 days, so it was a lot like our Spring break back home.  Knowing that we had that many days free from classes and obligations, Caroline, Kirsten, and I decided to travel the entire break.  We decided to travel to England and Italy, two places that all of us had been dying to go to.

The week started off with London.  We went 3 days before the Royal Wedding, so you can only imagine the security.  The passport/visa check in the airport was super strict!  I adored London.  There was so much to do that even after 4 days, we still felt like there was a lot we didn't see!  We saw Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, The London Eye, The London Tower, Tower Bridge, Harry Potter tour, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, the real London Bridge, and Westminister Abbey just to name the highlights :)

My favorite part of the trip was definitely the double decker bus tour.  I had ALWAYS wanted to do one in London.  It was definitely one thing to check off the bucket list.  Our pass was valid for a full 24 hours, and I took full advantage.  Caroline, Kirsten, and I went one afternoon and did half of the tour and the next day I decided to go back on for the full tour by myself.  It was wierd doing it by myself, but so worth it!

The three of us also went to not only 1, but 2 broadway shows!  We saw Dirty Dancing (my favorite movie!) and Mamma Mia.  Both shows were amazing!  We even found ourselves singing along at times.  And Kirsten and I introduced Caroline to our love for musicals. 

The people of London were all so nice, and super eager to help us if we needed it.  And I hate to admit it, but it was quite nice to be in an English-speaking country for a few days.  Although, I don't know if the English was any easier to understand than Spanish at times.  In fact, while in line for a bathroom an older lady came up behind me and asked "is that the cue?" (Cue in England is line in America.)  Well being the idiot that I am, I thought that she had said "isn't that cute?" Of course, referring to the dress that I was wearing.  I smiled and replied, "Ohhhh thank you so much!"  Needless to say, I made a complete fool of myself.  Everyone looked at me like I was insane.  The woman shook her head and walked away.  Even with little mishaps like this along the way, London was a great beginning to our Eurotrip.

 Westminister Abbey
 Big Ben and Parliament
 The red telephone booths really are everywhere!
Of course, we had to find Platform 9 3/4!

Next on the list was Rome.  I absolutely fell in love with Rome from the minute I stepped off the plane.  Rome had definitely been my favorite place so far.  We went to Easter Mass at the Vatican (another check off the Bucket List), went to the Pope's blessing, saw the Vatican museum and St. Peter's Basilica, walked through St. Angels Castle,  threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, explored the Roman Forum and the Colleseum, and enjoyed the AMAZING food and gelato!  Here are some pics from our Roman Adventure:

 Making my wish and throwing coins into the Trevi fountain.

 Caroline, Kirsten, and I at our favorite plaza. 
The Pope before his blessing.  We were seriously in the 4th row!

The next 3 days we did both Florence and Venice.  It was jam-packed, but we enjoyed our time in both cities.  In Florence we explored the leather stores, enjoyed gorgeous artwork, ate lunch overlooking Tuscany, and even saw the graves of Michaelangelo and Galileo, and more!   In Venice we marveled over the gorgeous Murano glass in the glass blowing shops, rode a Gondola, and even tested my fear of birds.

 Famous strip of expensive Jewelry stores along the river.
 The famous bridge over the river in Florence.
 The view of Tuscany during our lunch in the mountains.
 Caroline and I during our Gondola ride.
Its a working progess.  Baby steps to overcome my fear of birds :)

With only 10 days to tackle 4 major cities, we obviously got little sleep and were on the go constantly.  I got to do and see a lot of things that I had always dreamed about.  It was definitely the best Spring Break of my college career yet! :)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Ultimate 36 Hours.

Soooo I guess later is better than never right?

April 8-10 (I know.)  Exactly a month ago today, I left one of the most amazing cities that I have ever been too.  Carly, Katelyn, Travis, Travis's friend Jake whose studying in Madrid, and I all had one heck of a 36 hours that I think all of us will remember as the best and the worst trip of our lives.  Barcelona has been my favorite trip since I've been in Spain, even if there were a few obstacles in the journey. 

We decided to gamble a bit and went to Barcelona without any hotel/hostel/pension/couch surfing reservations.  I mean, whats the worse that could happen?  Well, I'll tell you.  We end up at least 20 miles outside of Barcelona in the mountains in a secluded hostel with only one night open for all of us.  That's what happens.  We spent most of the first day trying to find the hostel.

This picture pretty much sums up our first day in Barcelona.

After FINALLY finding the hostel, we ditched our luggage and mad our way to the beach.  It was the first time that I had ever really been to an actual beach and have been in the ocean.  The lazy afternoon at the beach pretty much made up for the day.

That night we met up with Jake and went to a nightclub.  It was one of the best nights that I had out in Spain.  It was soooo much fun!  The five of us danced the entire night, mostly on the stage, until the club closed.  We had to split up in cabs so Katelyn, Carly, and Travis took one while Jake and I took the other.  Well, our hostel was seriously in the middle of nowhere. Even our cab driver couldn't find it (even though he had a GPS, a map, and directions).  Eventually he decided to just drop Jake and I off in a random location.  He kept saying that our hostel was "right there" and more or less forced us to get out.  Well, with a map in hand we decided to just start making the hike back.  When a car drove by, Jake quickly flagged them down.  Sorry Mom and Dad, buuuuut I may or may not have hitchhiked.  But no worries, apparently its very common in Europe.  The three kids in the car were super nice and drove us the 15 minutes back to our hostel! 
Travis, Jake, and I at the club.

The next morning we went to eat at McDonalds, where every traveler's worst fear happened.  We all set our luggage next to the table and when we went to leave Travis noticed his backpack was gone.  It was seriously right next to us and then the next moment was pickpocketed.  Inside the bag was his ipod, laptop, passport, camera, and clothes.  Needless to say it put quite a damper on our morning.  But, I am very surprised at how well Travis took it.  He stayed pretty upbeat regardless and encouraged us not to let it ruin the rest of our trip.  So, the quest for a hostel for that night started.  Katelyn and I spent about 3 hours on the phone, with no success.  Literally every single hostel and hotel were booked solid for the night.  We decided to finish our plans for the day and then catch the night bus home a day early.

We all started off going to Sagrada Familia Cathedral, where Katelyn was almost victim to yet another disaster  She signed a petition and then was begged for money.  She said no and walked away, but as a watched I noticed three other women begin to come towards her and a man with a headset in the background watching her and making signals to the woman talking to her.  Needless to say, Katelyn and I didn't stay around much longer. 

Katelyn, Carly, and I in front of Sagrada Familia.

After the cathedral we decided to go our separate ways so that we could each do what we really wanted to do before we had to leave.  Carly went to the Barcelona soccer game, Jake and Travis hit up the beach and Katelyn and I went to Guell Park.  Which was another hike and a half, but soooo worth it.

Me at Guell Park with Barcelona in the background.

The 36 hours spent in Barcelona had quite a few challenges that we had to overcome along the way, but I think that all of us would agree that it was a weekend none of us will ever forget.  And I have to say, Barcelona stole my heart in that miniscule 36 hours!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A weekend in Sevilla!

Ok, so I guess I'm really am all talk.  I keep saying that I am going to start blogging more, but surprise surprise, I am once again falling behind.  Lucky for you guys it's been so long since I've blogged that I now have 2 different trips to share!

During the first weekend in April, Kirsten and I ventured to Sevilla, Spain.  There we met our friend from back home, Kelsie.  It was such a great weekend!  And for the first time, I felt like I was actually in Spain.  Sevilla was so rich in culture that it was impossible not to appreciate every moment.

We did soooo much walking that weekend.  Kirsten, Kelsie, and I all left Sevilla with our feet covered in blisters!  Kirsten even had to buy a new pair of shoes during the trip.  Even though we all did not appreciate the walking, we definitely appreciated the experience!  We were only there for one full dayy (Saturday), but we got to do everything that was on our list!!

Friday night when we arrived we walked around and got dinner.  We ended up walking past the cathedral, Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, which was an amazing sight!  We decided right then and there that we HAD to go back during the day.  The next day when we went, we waited in line for about 15 minutes, but it was well worth the wait.  The inside of the church was gorgeous.  The tomb of Christopher Columbus was also inside.  My birthday is October 12th, the day Columbus discovered America, so I was overly excited to see it.  However, once I saw it Kirsten and Kelsie decided to crush my dreams.  I always thought that he was such a hero, an icon in American history.  Well the girls decided to inform me that he was actually one of the most malicious men in our history and that he was a very cruel person, especially to the Native Americans.  I felt like someone had just told me Santa Clause wasn't real.  It was a low-point in the day, but the lookout from the bell tower, the Giralda, quickly took me out of my saddened state of mind.  We could see all of Sevilla from the bell tower!  It was so neat.

Throughout the day we also visited the Torre de Oro, Alcázar, and the Plaza de España.  The Torre de Oro was built by the Moors to close access to the harbor.  Alcázar was palace in Sevilla, with an amazing garden!!  And the Plaza de España was one of the major squares in the the city, which is the icon for the city.  We ended our night with an authentic Flamenco show.  It was fascinating!  I still am in disbelief that they can move their feet that fast!

Overall, it was an amazing weekend for just a short weekend trip.  It was great seeing Kelsie again.  Both Kirsten and I really are thankful that we got to spend so much time with her, even if it was just for a day basically.  Our Sevilla trip was a great stepping stone for my trip to Barcelona!

 The Cathedral at night
 Tomb of Christopher Columbus
 Kirsten, Kelsie, and I representing Nebraska Wesleyan University
 One of the gardens of Alcazar

The Flamenco show

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bailar! Bailar!

I have learned so much from my time here in Spain.  One of those things is learning to leave my comfort zone.  Anyone who knows me knows one important factor about me, I absolutely can't dance.  I am the awkward girl in the corner that just bobs her head and hopes that nobody notices.  I love going to dances and formals though, just not the whole dancing myself part.  This is one thing that is SLOWLY changing here in Spain.

This is largely in part due to my friends, especially a few of the students from Brazil that I am friends with.  They are constantly telling me  "ahora aprender" or learn now!  One night at the bars my roommate, who is also from Brazil, was trying to get me to "dance like girls from Brazil" and to "move my hips like this!"  Well.......ummmm.  Doesn't work like that for Desirae.  Nonetheless, they kept persisting and kept attempting to teach me.  I tried.  Let's just say there's plenty of room for improvement.  My friend, Travis, bluntly told me that it was obvious to everyone that I can't dance that night at the bar. 

I can handle line dances and the good ole' pretzel (swing dancing), but the dancing here in Spain is much different.  The dancing here is not like dancing in Nebraska, to say the least.  It's kind've more like salsa dancing.  I guess it could be described as more "sensual".

But again, anyone who knows me knows that that is not me at all!  But this is one of the many reasons that I came to Spain.  I wanted to leave my comfort zone and try new things.  I wanted experiences and adventure.  I am learning so much and doing so many things here that I would normally not do, especially back home in Nebraska!  And dancing is just one of them.  Just wait,  when it's time for me to leave in July I'll be the best dancer ever :)

 My friends Lina (Lithuania), Carly (New Orleans), and I ready for a night at the discoteca, Morengo.
Some of my friends and I at the popular shots bar, Chupiteria.