Life in a Backpack – Traveling the World

I can’t believe it’s been a few weeks since my last post – I’m so sorry!  At the end of February we had our winter break, so my friends and I backpacked through Spain for ten days.  We went to Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Granada, roughly spending two days in each city.  It is amazing how different Spain is from France, and how different each city is from another!  One of my friends from home is studying in Madrid, so we met up with her for a tour.  We went to El Mercado del San Miguel, an amazing indoors market with all kinds of food imaginable.  I had the best paella there, as well as crabmeat salad on a roll.  Delicious.  We also went to Plaza del Sol, right in the middle of Spain.  There is always a ton of people there, gathering, meeting up, shopping, and selling.  I also loved El Parque Ratiro, right near our hostel.  It is an amazingly beautiful and huge park right near our hostel.  We had great weather for the weekend, so we brought picnics to the park and watched people row boats in a little manmade lake while little pick-up games of soccer formed around us.  Even though our friends got mugged outside of our hostel (scary but everyone was okay – all they took was her purse with a cheap camera in it, fortunately!) we had a great time in Madrid.

We then took a quick flight to Barcelona (cheaper than taking the bus), which was already so different than Madrid.  They speak Catalan in Barcelona, a hybrid of French and Spanish.  Throughout our trip in Spain my Spanish started coming back to me, but it always came out mixed with French words here and there.  Catalan made things a bit confusing, but the city made up for it.  I am obsessed with all the Gaudi architecture around the city.  We spent hours at Parc Guell, where Gaudi lived for a brief period of time.  We also saw La Sagrada Familia, one of my favorite sites in Spain.  Then we hiked up Parc Montjuic to a castle with an amazing view of the city and the harbor.  Even though we took the back routes up the mountain, it was so worth it!  The next day before heading to Sevilla we were able to hang on the beach and explore the tide pools.  It wasn’t warm enough to swim, but the sunshine felt so wonderful!

We flew to Sevilla that afternoon and stayed in the coolest hostel ever.  The building itself is over 500 years old, so it is small and winding just like the city.  We met some awesome people there and had so much fun getting lost in the narrow streets of town.  I could definitely get used to the tapas and siesta lifestyle!  We went to the cathedral and then to Real Alcazar, easily my favorite site in all of Spain.  It is an old palace with a lot of Moorish influence, and it honestly looks like you just walked into paradise.  Palm trees, intricate details, mosaics tiles, even wild peacocks – breathtaking.  We also headed to Plaza de la Espana, which was also beautiful.  We were pretty tired from all the traveling, so we were able to catch a little snooze in a nearby park and absorb the great sunshine.  Honestly I am so in love with Sevilla that I am inspired to keep practicing my Spanish and someday to back to work or live for a little.  I just love the laid-back attitude, warm people, beautiful landscape, and culture everywhere.

The next afternoon we took a bus from Sevilla to Granada – fortunately during the only rainy day of the entire trip!  My friend from UW is doing a direct exchange in Granada for the year, so she was nice enough to let us stay in her apartment she shares with three other Spanish students.  It was so great seeing another Husky abroad!  We had so much fun catching up and going on crazy adventures together.  We went to La Alhambra, a giant castle with Moorish roots that overlooks the city.  We spent hours there wandering around, eating lunch, and admiring the view.  After that we wandered around the Moorish quarter of the city, looking in little shops and winding streets.  After a day and a half in Granada we had to take a bus to Malaga and fly back to Paris. The bus ride was beautiful, and it’s hard to complain that break was over when I just go back to Paris!

Seeing Spain gave me such a travel itch, and now I want to go everywhere.  I was fortunate enough this past weekend to go on a trip to Morocco with some friends from my program!  We met the program in Sevilla, so I was pumped to go back to my favorite city in Spain again.  The company Discover Excursions, based out of Sevilla, took us on a bus to Tarifa, where we caught the ferry across the Mediterranean to Tangiers.  We arrived around 9 or 10 pm and had dinner at the hotel – couscous, of course!  The next day we woke up early to take a day trip to Tetouan, about an hour or so drive from Tangiers.  It was unlike anything I have seen before.  We had a tour of the old city Medina, where the streets were teeny and packed with people selling everything you could imagine, from fresh fruit to TVs to clothes to live animals!  We even walked through a tannery, which smelled awful but was really interesting to see.  After lunch we visited the Cave of Hercules, a cave that opens up to the water with the sun shining so bright through that it was even too bright to take good pictures!  Then we went to the beach, which was absolutely amazing.  My friends and I ran around like little kids and played in the water.  Then we got to ride camels!  It was really fun but kind of scary since the camels were getting a little angry at the end – just in time for my ride.  Looking over the Atlantic Ocean while on a camel is seriously a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I can’t believe I actually experienced it.

The next day we drove to Chefchaoen, a small city about two and a half hours from Tangiers.  Everything in the city, from buildings to the landscape to the markets, was completely saturated in color.  I’ve never seen such brilliant colors.  The buildings were usually white and bright blue, with tiny doors and winding streets.  We were given some free time to shop in the markets and barter with the shop owners.  There were so many things to look at that it was almost too overwhelming!  Even though I didn’t buy much I loved looking at all the little details, from tiny bracelets to kids running through the streets trying to sell us things.  We then got on the bus and drove back to Sevilla, and then my friends and I stayed in a hostel for a few hours before flying back to Paris.  Even though I’m exhausted, I could not be happier.  Never in my life would I have thought I could spend a weekend in Morocco and have the time of my life, and unless I had studied abroad, I doubt I ever would have went there.  There is just so much of the world out there to see, and now I want to see more!  I love that I can impulsively decide to travel somewhere totally different and see a society and culture that is so different than what I am used to.  I also realized I am at the exact halfway point of my semester abroad.  I can’t believe it’s halfway done!  While it seems like I just got here yesterday, it also feels like I’ve been here forever.  I feel like I’ve gone through the hardest part of adjusting to the culture here, and now I can sink in and really be part of the city.  I’ve found my favorite parts of the city, bars, cafes, restaurants.  While I still am going to explore every day, it’s nice being comfortable and having a routine.  It makes it feel more like daily life than an extended vacation.