Viajes, verano, and vino

Trips, summer and wine. Can it get any better than that?

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This summer I’ve been crossing things off my bucket list a lot more than I ever imagined possible in such a short period of time. One of the things that I have yet to accomplish, however, is to take a road trip around the U.S. to visit different vineyards. And somehow, by some amazing chance, yesterday I visited my first bodega (winery) in the breathtaking country of España, home to only the best wine. I guess I can “settle” for that for now (until my feet are tingling with the desire to keep traveling – which will most likely be the day I’m back in Alabama). I’m definitely no wine connoisseur but after half a day spent at Finca Venta de Don Quijote, a bodega in Castilla La Mancha, I found a new interest that is soon to grow in my life. I’m a lover of sampling wines, and a newfound lover of the beauty of the vineyard itself, and I would ultimately love to learn all the details about the different types of wines and how they’re made.

Our day began with a trip to Belmonte Castle, a castle that was beginning to be built during the 1300s and had a touch of gothic style and towers centered around a triangle in the middle. Courtney and I ventured off to another tower around the outside of the castle for one of the prettiest views of the land, houses and wall in front of us.

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After, we continued our journey through La Mancha to the Don Quijote winery, where we learned how the wine was made, saw where the grapes were grown, saw where the wine was stored, and sampled three types of vinos jovenes (young wines), tinto, rosado and blanco. It was difficult to choose, but blanco was my favorite. Tinto and rosado were close seconds – both having very original tastes. Maybe one day I’ll have a lot more knowledge on wine and be able to create a post solely dedicated to that…

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For lunch, the UCLM students surprised us with vino tinto from the winery to go with our amazing food – sopa (soup), ensalada (salad), calamar (calamari), cordero (lamb) and, of course, pan (bread).

Who knows, maybe the next thing on my bucket list will be to visit bodegas all over Spain. That gives me another reason to come back, right?20140716-232740-84460991.jpg

10 reasons I should have been born in Spain

After a month in Spain I’ve come to realize that it’s where my heart lies and it’s what I’ve been missing my whole life. My heart and my soul are so happy here and I feel like this is somewhere I really belong. So, here is my list of ten reasons why I really honestly should have been born in Spain.

1. There is ALWAYS something to do. Fiestas, kayaking, hiking, dancing, eating, siestas, museums, painting, concerts, shopping, and so much more. Always.

2. Because siestas. Literally, everything shuts down for a few hours in the afternoon so you can sleep. You eat lunch and then you sleep and then you’re back at it until way after the sun goes down.

3. The music and dancing. Seriously I can dance in public here and love it. Flamenco, Sardana, etc., it’s all for me.
*Side note: I got to dance flamenco yesterday and actually learned some steps, so obviously I fell in love with it even more. One of my teachers:

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4. The comida. Bread for every meal, the best cookies in the world for breakfast (Chocolate Rebuenas), jamón and queso everywhere, every type of fruit and only the best of it, croquetas (imagine the mozzarella stick breading but better, with the best cheese and ham inside), and so much more. On top of it just being good, it’s so much more fresh here.

5. Madrid. Simply because it’s enough to make me miss my flight back at the end of the month and stay here forever. It’s my New York abroad.

6. The art. There are art museums of every type, everywhere, in every city. And my absolute favorite artist (Salvador Dali) is from Spain, so obviously that makes me love it even more.

7. In my favorite cities here, you can easily live without a car. It’s a much healthier lifestyle being able to walk everywhere and you get so much more time outside.

8. The style. Everyone dresses so different and it doesn’t matter. The clothes here are awesome, much more my style than what’s in the US, and I’d replace my whole closet if I could. Vans are also extremely popular here, and those are my go-to shoes.

9. You can spend more time with your cats here. Even they siesta too. (Look close enough and you’ll see a sweet cat sleeping in the shade.)

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10. Because the moment I stepped foot in Spain I just knew. The way someone knows they’ve found their true love, or the way someone knows they found the perfect wedding dress, I knew. There’s no stopping falling in love and Spain really did it for me.

“So, you see, my heart is held forever by this place,” she said. “I cannot leave.”
― Susanna Kearsley, The Winter Sea

New York has finally met its match in my heart

Yesterday I had the life-changing opportunity to travel to Madrid, Spain for the first time. What an absolute blessing and reminder that all the world can be mine to see if I try hard enough.

Previously this year, I made a trip to New York and have had a constant longing and aching in my heart and soul to travel back. As I think about these feelings, I can’t help but to now feel the same for Madrid. With that said, I believe that I have grown and my mind has expanded since that trip to New York only six months ago, and now deep in my heart, I have a sense of comfort within and know that I will return to both places one day.

In my eyes, both of these cities could not have better words to describe them other than accepting, incomparable, individualistic, and enlivening. A sense of self-worth encompasses you as you walk through each – even with people surrounding you everywhere you go. Here, you mean something more. You have the power to do whatever you put your mind to as long as you keep trying. You can be an individual and express yourself and you will still fit in. No one is judged in these cities full of differences on every corner. This feeling of appreciation, acknowledgement of self-worth, and love, both given and received, is indescribable. Once your heart and soul have devoted themselves to something they truly love, you will never be the same without that person, place, or thing again. As many people have said “When you know, you know,” about soul mates, or wedding dresses, I constantly say the same about cities. I find the quote below applicable to Madrid just as much as New York:

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” - Tom Wolfe

A true Catalan experience

Wandering down all of the popular, and, most of all, less ventured paths of the world is my never-ending desire in life and my beautiful journey abroad continued expanding this past weekend as I traveled from Cuenca to Barcelona. After some planning, booking Renfe train tickets and finding a hostel, I finally made it to the breathtaking art and culture filled city of Barcelona. With only a couple days to spend there, we packed our weekend full of sightseeing and the trip turned out to be absolutely amazing and worth every single step along the way.

While our hostel wasn’t the best, or the cleanest, it was extremely cheap and in the perfect location – only steps away from La Sagrada Familia.

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*A word of advice to those choosing to stay in hostels when traveling: if you’re going for the cheapest, you pay for what you get, so be prepared. I plan to write another blog post at a later date with advice for topics such as this.

After arriving, our Friday consisted of visiting La Sagrada Familia, which was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.I was in complete awe and absolutely amazed at the detail throughout the entire church and I have never felt such peace as I did then.

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We ate dinner around the corner (with yet another beautiful view of La Sagrada Familia) and had the best tapas, pizza and red wine. Saturday began extremely early for us and ended really late, but our exhaustion was more than worth it. By buying the Barcelona Bus Turistic day pass, we saw the entire city and got to visit almost everything we wanted to. From Park Güell, La Rambla, Park Cituadella, and much more, we couldn’t have chosen a better option for our limited time.

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After wandering around we happened across a festival for the beginning of summer, called Giants of Mercé, as well as a gay pride parade. We not only were fortunate enough to see the work and architecture of many popular artists, but also true cultural events, unique to Barcelona.

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Sunday was a day for relaxing, window shopping, exploring and trying new food. We saw the beautiful Gaudí Cathedral and happened to walk up as the locals were performing a Catalan folk dance. 20140630-143945-52785113.jpg

After more wandering, we ran across the Castellers of Barcelona, who create human towers. Seeing these festivals and events made our trip so much better because we were able to experience the real culture of Barcelona, aside from the museums and touristy locations.

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We could not have chosen a better weekend to spend in Barcelona, and we could not have had more perfect timing while exploring the streets. I truly fulfilled another one of my dreams throughout this weekend experience and my heart is already longing to go back.

One week down, five to go

Week one of studying abroad in Spain is over and I now officially only have five weeks left. It feels like we still have all the time in the world but all I’ve heard is that it will fly by. We have packed so much in to this week alone that it’s been completely non-stop, but so worth it. I can’t imagine leaving this place and going back to the U.S. because I love it so much here.

Over the last couple days, through one of our students living in the Cuenca dorms, we’ve met two wonderful, hilarious new friends that live in Cuenca. They’ve taken us to all the local, underground places that most tourists don’t usually see and have been letting us try all the typical Spanish things. Last night we went to old Cuenca to see an amazing view of the city, try a sangria at an underground bar and eat pipas (like sunflower seeds in the U.S.) and the best gummies in the world. Tonight, they’re taking us to get tapas for more of a typical local experience.

Today, the USA students went kayaking on the Jucar river and it was my first time going. Even though everyone made a big deal about the chance of falling in, it was hardly possible. It was one of the coolest experiences for me and so wonderful kayaking down the river with friends and seeing the breathtaking views of the mountains around us. After kayaking we tried canned water with lemon (basically lemonade) called Aquarius and it was delicious.

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This first week has been a roller coaster consisting of dealing with jet lag and culture shock, becoming more comfortable with our families, beginning to be able to joke with them (and working towards being able to understand what they’re saying), learning new words and slang, hiking a mountain, kayaking, studying and doing homework in my free time, eating a lot of food (but feeling healthier than ever), and so much more. It has been such a memorable week and I cannot wait to see how the rest of the trip will unfold.

Our adventure to the top of the world

Yesterday afternoon a few of the students from USA went on quite the adventure when we decided to hike up a mountain that ended up being about five miles on the way up. From a distance, you could see the Sagrada Corazon de Jesus statue, our final destination.

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After making our way back down the road in front of the mountain (pictured above) to find a good starting trail, we finally began our trek up to the top. It was quite possibly the most difficult “trail” we could have chosen.Through sliding rocks, briar patches, multiple resting points and very quick flashes of a decision to stop and turn around, we knew we had to keep going. Each one of us were great support systems for each other and encouraged everyone to keep going and it turned out to be an amazing group to hike with.

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Our last stretch (shown above) was the hardest but we all finally made it to the top and were in complete awe at the beauty of Cuenca. We were all incredibly happy to have gone on this amazing adventure together, help and encourage each other on the way, and finish our hike, maybe hurting a little, but completely amazed. It was such a rewarding feeling to have made it all the way up to see the huge statue and beautiful city of Cuenca, but most of all, to have just spent an afternoon hiking a mountain in Spain.

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The whole adventure seemed to feel like a dream and, honestly, it still feels unreal every time we’re walking in the city and see the statue from a distance. As we began a different path down the mountain, we realized there was basically a road leading all the way up to the top. No sliding rocks, no grass, no briars, nothing except smooth dirt. However, even after this find, we wouldn’t have chosen any other way. I mean, as Robert Frost said in his famous poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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Lost in the language and culture in Cuenca, Espana

Hola a todos!

It’s day two of my study abroad travels in Cuenca and I will say that even though I’m so happy and excited to be here, getting past the language barrier isn’t so easy. After a delayed flight, almost 13 hours of traveling, and a two hour bus ride from Madrid to Cuenca, we were pushed off the bus to meet our families right away. Initially meeting them was a little culture shock for us, especially right after our long travels. However, right away, mi madre Pepa made us a delicious comida, followed by a much needed siesta (a short nap taken in Spain after your midday meal). There are four sweet dogs in our house, our rooms are wonderful and they have the most beautiful views, and every single meal is amazing. I already know that coming home from this will be difficult.

The locals speak very quickly, which I believe is the most difficult part. I just have to keep telling myself that it will get better after some practice and that it’s only the beginning. I’ve heard from many people that it just takes adjusting to and practicing since this is the first time we’ve been forced to speak Spanish all day. We’ve met a few of Pepa’s friends and one of them actually speaks English, so he was helping us say things that we didn’t know how to, which was really helpful. Walking around Cuenca is absolutely breathtaking and so different than any place in Alabama. Everyone is so active and always out doing something, whether it’s walking dogs, swimming, kayaking, having a cerveza with friends, anything at all. I’m leaving y’all with a couple pictures of the city and will write again soon, once I’ve started classes and seen more in the area! Wish me luck with my first day of classes tomorrow and also with my struggle of speaking the language at the moment!ImageImage