Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My family's visit to Spain - (Part 2 of 2)

Hanging out in Park Guell!
On our second day in Barcelona, we spent our entire morning at the U.S. Consulate getting new, temporary passports for my mom, Paige, and Kaicer. Three hours later, after my family finally got their new passports, we decided to actually get out and do something that day. We spent almost the whole afternoon at Park Guell, a famous park in Barcelona that was designed by Antoni Gaudi. It's on top of a big hill so there were about 4 - 5 escalators going up to the park... plus some intense uphill walking. Park Guell was awesome. We walked around for about 3 hours and during that time, Kaicer found a dead, flattened lizard, showed off his dance moves while a band played, and constantly asked me to take pictures of him next to cacti. (Remember, this was the first day without his medicine...)

 Kaicer without his ADHD medicine in picture/video form:
(PS it is not the same in real-life.)

His dead lizard...

The old bullring and now shopping mall
After we spent the whole afternoon at Park Guell, we went to Plaza Espanya where the old bullring is. Since bullfighting is prohibited in Catalonia (where Barcelona is), they turned the old bullring into a shopping mall! My mom thought this was the coolest thing ever. I honestly think it was her favorite part about Barcelona (she just went on and on about how impressed she was with it), but if you ask her, she'll say differently. Just take my word for it.

 We ate dinner in the old bullring, shopped around a little, then went to the top where there was a look-out area. On our way back down, we stopped on the movie theater level to get some popcorn, and took that with us down the street where we watched the Magic Fountain music show. Not sure what that is? Here's a video clip!

On Saturday, we woke up early to get in line to see the Sagrada Familia, the famous church in Barcelona, also designed by Gaudi. They began constructing this church in 1882 and it is still not finished! It is estimated to be completed in 2026. We waited in line for about an hour, and Kaicer slept the entire time we were in line so Mom and I were lucky enough to hold him until we finally reached the ticket booth. This church was incredible. Neither words or pictures will do it justice. As my mom said, "there is just SO much to take in." So you'll just have to see it for yourself one day. :)

After touring the most beautiful church in the world, we made our way to the Boqueria! The daily market in Barcelona. This was one of my favorite things that we saw. All of the fresh fish, colorful smoothies, fruit, and candies, and assorted chocolates all looked so wonderful! As we tried to make our way through this crowded place, we picked up some chocolates, fresh fruit, and some weird organic wrap things that looked good so we decided to try them for lunch!

After we ate our lunch on the curb and Kaicer had 2 of his favorite coconut smoothies, we took the metro to the bottom of Montjuic, a funicular up the hill, and a cable car up to the very top. Montjuic is a famous mountain in Barcelona that has a castle on top and some pretty great views of the city, as well as the Mediterranean. We walked around this area for a while, did some souvenir shopping, and decided to walk down the hill instead of taking the cable car back down. When we got to the bottom, we took the metro to the beach, ate some seafood, and walked along the beach before we headed back to our apartment.

In the cable car up to Montjuic!

The Costa Brava
Sunday was our drive to southern France! We had planned to go on Friday... but that's a little hard to do without passports. We went to the Barcelona airport to rent a small car, and after driving around the parking lot and restarting the car about 5 times, my mom finally got used to the stick shift and we were France-bound! We surprisingly didn't get lost (even though the driver got mad at the navigator a couple of times) and we took the highway straight to Perpignan, France. We walked around this cute town for a little bit, ate some lunch, and realized that is was Sunday so no stores were open! We probably spent and hour and a half in this town before we got back in the car. We decided to take a different way home this time - along the coast. The Costa Brava to be exact. This drive was probably the most beautiful drive I've ever been on in my entire life. It was a little scary at times, but Mom did a pretty good job driving (especially when we came to a one lane tunnel without any warning signs and a big truck was headed our way.) We pulled over at several small towns and sightseeing stops along the coast where we took some pictures, skipped little rocks, and climbed big ones! After we got back to Spain, dropped off the rental car, and took the train and metro back to our neighborhood, it was nearly 11pm. We still hadn't eaten dinner, so we stopped at a delicious pizzeria near our apartment.

Monday was our last day in Barcelona, and our flight left at 5:30, so we decided to spend the morning and some of the afternoon at the beach. Kaicer had a great time in the water while the rest of us sat and watched his crazy self. When it was almost time to leave, Kaicer met a little Spanish girl and they looked for seashells together. It was one of the most adorable things I've ever witnessed in my life.

Kaicer with his Spanish novia <3

Taking all of the Kinder Bueno bars!
We flew back to Madrid that night, arriving in Madrid around 7:30 pm. We checked into our hotel and set out to find some tapas one last time. (Well, so we thought.) We had a great time at dinner and had a lot of good laughs. The next morning, we went our for churros and picked up a bunch of Kinder Bueno bars before our flight back to the U.S.! We weren't entirely sure of what terminal we were supposed to fly out of (since our confirmation papers were in that backpack that got stolen) but we needed to tell our hotel shuttle so I told them Terminal 4 because I was once told, when in doubt, go with Terminal 4 because that's where most of the international flights are. Wrong. We got to Terminal 4 and realized we were in the wrong spot and so I asked someone working there and she said Delta was in Terminal 1. This normally wouldn't have been a problem, but at the Madrid Barajas Airport, Terminal 4 is completely separated from Terminals 1, 2, and 3. Whoops.

We got to Terminal 1 and by the time we reached the Delta check-in desk, we had 50 minutes until our flight left. There was no one in line and I went up there and told her we were flying to New York. She said, "Oh, that gate is already closed." I started to think maybe I had our flight time wrong... but no. Apparently for all international flights, the gates close exactly an hour before take-off. They tried calling to the gate twice and both times they said it was too late and they wouldn't open the gate back up for us. Even though we still had 50 minutes! So we went over to the Delta customer service area and they almost got us on 3 other flights that were going out that day, but either there weren't 4 seats available, there wasn't enough time to make it to the gate, or the other airline that they were working with (AirFrance) just simply wouldn't allow it. The only thing they could do for us at that point was get us on a flight for the following day.

Kaicer with the man with no face
We booked a hotel for that night and after spending nearly 3-4 hours at the airport, we waited for our shuttle to pick us up. After we settled into our room, we went downstairs to eat lunch in the hotel's restaurant, then went back up to our room to make a few phone calls. Even though it was raining, we decided to go into the city and make the most of our ACTUAL last day in Spain! We did some shopping along Gran Via, then went to the Sol area to get some pastries at my favorite pastry shop! Then I showed my family Madrid's Plaza Mayor and Kaicer made friends with all the street performers including a donkey, a crying man-baby, and a tall man with no face. We went back to our hotel, ate out at an Italian restaurant where we taught Kaicer the game, Telephone (since he needed to work on his listening skills), and returned back to our hotel where Mom had problems figuring out how the shower with 6 jets worked. However, Kaicer enjoyed his shower once she did get it all figured out.

In the Plaza Mayor
Playing "Telephone" at dinner
Kaicer taking a shower with all the jets!

The next day, we took our 10 and a half hour flight to Atlanta, Georgia where I watched 4 movies that I haven't seen (I've been so out of the loop!) including, How Do You Know, The Tourist, The King's Speech, and Unstoppable. Then we flew to Minneapolis, then from MN to Sioux Falls. We arrived in Sioux Falls around 8:30 pm (3:30 am Spain time), so we were exhausted. After we picked up our bags from baggage claim, Mom realized that she couldn't find her car keys... we eventually figured out that they were in the backpack that got stolen in Barcelona! So she went down the line of car rentals until she found a car that we could rent to drive home, and then she drove back the next morning to get our car. The whole thing was never-ending!

So now we're all safely back home and have been here for almost a week already! Our vacation together throughout Spain was one of my favorite family vacations ever. Despite all of our setbacks, we still managed to have a great time together and so many wonderful memories were made!

It's great being home, but I already miss Spain. I have no doubt in my mind that I'm going to return one day. My time in Spain and Europe was the best time of my life. I've made so many great friends, I've seen so many incredible places, and I've learned so much through this experience. I currently have $1.56 in my bank account but I wouldn't change a thing about how I spent my time/money throughout Spain and other parts of Europe including my 3 trips to Portugal, the Balearic Islands, Paris, London, and let's not forget, Morocco. I'm a little sad that I won't be making any more blog posts relating to this experience, but I want to thank everyone who has kept up with reading this blog! I had a lot of fun sharing all of my experiences with you!

I'm going to end this blog with my favorite photo of my entire time in Spain:

Kaicer's new passport photo.
Okay that's probably not my favorite of the thousands of photos that I took these past 5 months, but isn't it great?!

Hasta luego!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

My family's visit to Spain! (Part 1 of 2)

Wow. Where to begin? About a week and a half ago, my mom, my sister, Paige, and my brother, Kaicer all made a trip to come visit me in Spain! So many great memories were made (along with some not so great ones) which made this one of the best family adventure's we've ever shared together.

How do you like those patatas alioli, Paige?
On May 30th, I made my way to the airport to pick up my family. I was waiting outside their gate for about an hour and they still hadn't shown up even though the monitors said that their plane had landed. There were only about 3 or 4 other people waiting at that gate, so I started to get a little nervous. Not only because they hadn't shown up, but because I didn't have a phone and we didn't have a backup plan! I decided to wait a little longer and just a few minutes later, they came walking from the other end of the hallway! We took the metro to our apartment that we decided to rent and while they showered/rested a little, I went to get my bags from my hostel. Then we went to find some good tapas down the street. I had them try tortilla patata, croquettas, patatas ali-oli, and some Spanish salad. I didn't realize how many potatoes I had ordered until after we got our food.

The next day when I woke up was when I realized how much Paige had missed me. She and I slept together in one bed, and Mom and Kaicer slept together in another bed. Throughout the night, she had about 3 different sleeping positions. 1. with her arm around me. 2. with her leg wrapped around my body. 3. with her head on my stomach. We've slept together hundreds of times and not once has she slept in any of these three positions. It was weird... but cute? She also liked to hog the entire bed, but I already knew that.

That day, I walked them to the Royal Palace. While they toured that for about an hour, I set out to find a grocery store to make bocadillos for lunch. We met back up and took the metro to Retiro Park where we had a picnic with the pigeons. Kaicer played on the playground for a while and then we went to ride the rowboats. Kaicer showed us how strong he is by rowing the rowboat and Paige showed us how smart she is by playing with a water balloon that we found in the lake and having it pop and spill water all over her lap. We all had a good laugh... well, minus Paige. While I was documenting this moment with my camera, I looked at the photo I had just taken and said "Wow, Paige, it looks as if you're picking your crotch." Then Kaicer says, "what's a crush?" Then we all had a good laugh about that one... minus Kaicer.

On top of the Cibeles Tower
From there, we walked to the Palace of Communcations where we could climb the Cibeles Tower and see the entire city of Madrid. Kaicer didn't really enjoy climbing up and down the glass stairs; he also has a fear of heights. Then we took a long walk back to our apartment where we had to turn around and leave again to go see a bullfight! This was my first bullfight, along with everyone else in my family, and we didn't particularly enjoy it. It was fun sitting in the big arena and being surrounded by so much energy of the Spanish people, but I didn't like how they slowly killed the bull, all of the blood, and then stabbing a long sword down its neck/back area. Then if they didn't kill it on the first try, they would keep stabbing it 3 or 4 times until it fell over and finally died! I don't think any of us enjoyed that part, and Kaicer was the only one who wanted to stay when we decided we were going to leave early. After we left, we went to find some dinner. We ate close to Puerta del Sol (the heart of the city of Madrid) where we shared some more tapas including chorizo, chicken wings, salad, and pasta. I went to go ask for the check, and our waiter must not have been paying attention and he just gave me one of the four checks that were laying on the counter. It ended up only being about 25 euros and we knew that wasn't right so we looked closer and saw the check he had given us was for a few orders of churros with chocolate. So we paid for someone else's churros and went to go find our own dessert. We all ordered some ice cream and I had a hard time deciding what I wanted since they didn't have my favorite (hazelnut) so my mom told me to be brave and order their new one - some raspberry and chocolate yogurt with nuts. It looked delicious but it did not taste that way. It was probably the most disgusting ice cream (or yogurt?) I've ever had. That will be the last time I listen to my mom's advice.

At the bullfight!

Every last drop
The next day was one of my favorite days. We took a bus from Madrid to Caceres to visit my host mom and my host sister! We got to Caceres around noon and we had about 5-6 hours there before we had to take a bus back to Madrid. 8 hours in a bus all day, but it was definitely worth it. When we first got there, we went to the library to find out what time our flight to Barcelona left in the morning, and then we walked around the old city of Caceres for about an hour. We climbed the towers of the church, which I hadn't done before, stopped to pick up some flowers and wine for Lola and Maria, had a quick drink at a tapas bar, where Kaicer found out that he loves Batidos (Spain's version of chocolate milk) and then we made our way to Lola's!

Are those eyes?!
Lola and Maria were preparing paella, tortilla patata, and salad for us when we arrived. It was so great to see them both! When we sat down to eat, Lola served Kaicer some of the shrimp from the paella, and his face was priceless when he saw that it still had eyes. After a few minutes, he was playing with the shrimp by holding it up by its antennae and saying, "ewwww! look at it's eyes!" Maria and Lola were loving it. Kaicer watched Spongebob in Spanish the rest of the time, while Paige practiced her Spanish by reciting her speech for Lola and Maria. We were having such a great time that we didn't even realize that nearly 3 hours had gone by and it was time for us to leave already! After another 4 hour bus ride, we arrived in Madrid exhausted. We went to bed for a few hours before we had to get up at 5 am to catch our plane to Barcelona.

Early the next morning, we took a taxi to the airport and then flew to Barcelona. We took the "aerobus" from the airport to Plaza Catalunya, where we decided to hang out for a couple hours until our apartment was ready. Since we had all of our baggage with us, we decided to go over to the McDonald's to get something to drink, sit down, and use their WiFi. This is where everything went wrong. We were all running on a few hours of sleep, Mom went downstairs to order, I was on my computer, Paige was zoning in and out, and Kaicer was tuned into his DS. Mom came back up and was going to take Paige and walk around the Plaza for a little bit when she noticed that her small backpack was missing. We searched and searched and realized that it wasn't with the rest of our things. She thought maybe she left it on the bus, but then knew that she didn't because she took Kaicer's DS out of it so we were sure that it was with us in McDonald's. Other things that were in that backpack included the following: Mom's, Paige's, and Kaicer's passports, my mom's digital camera, one of her credit cards, her car keys (which we didn't know until we got to the Sioux Falls airport), all of our flight confirmation papers, and Kaicer's ADHD medicine and his DS games. We grabbed all of our things, made our way to the police station where we cancelled the credit card and filed a report. While mom was at the police station with Kaicer, Paige and I went to our apartment where we were supposed to meet the key-holder at a certain time and check in. Paige and I came back to the police station and Mom said that we had an appointment at the U.S. Consulate at 9 am the next day to get new passports. We spent the rest of this day at our apartment where we all took a much-needed nap and then went out for dinner.

We ate at a tapas restaurant/pizzeria where we all shared some pizza, salad, and gazpacho (which nobody liked except for me!) We also had a pretty wide variety of conversations here; we found out that Kaicer had always thought that the word "boobs" meant your butt and this is also when Kaicer randomly asked Mom if she was Santa. She told him the truth, he took it pretty well, and then threw in a few things that he would like for next Christmas. Now that Kaicer knows about Santa, this next Christmas will be the first Christmas in my whole life where we won't be getting presents from "Santa"! This is a little upsetting.

After dinner, we came back to our apartment and played one of the board games that was in our cabinet. After a very long and exhausting day, we finally went to bed. The following 4 days were spent in Barcelona, which I will write about in my next post. There are so many more great stories to come including Kaicer finding dead lizards and live cockroaches, Mom trying to drive a stick-shift for the first time in a few years, Kaicer finding a Spanish girlfriend, Mom not knowing how to turn off a shower, and us all missing our flight back to the U.S.!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Madrid: Big City, Small World!

My time in Madrid this week has been wonderful! Well, except maybe the past two days, but I'll get to that later. First of all, there is SO much more to do in Madrid than there is in Malaga. After being in Madrid, I can't believe I survived in Malaga for a whole week! The only thing that Malaga has going for it is the beach. Madrid is a much more happening place with so much more to do and see. It's a great place to meet new people... and run into people that you already know!

After getting 2 hours of sleep on my 7 hour overnight bus ride, I arrived in Madrid completely exhausted. I found my hostel without any problems and luckily, there was a bed ready for me that early in the morning! I grabbed some breakfast, quickly emailed my mom to tell her that I made it, and went up to my room. I fell asleep instantly and slept literally all afternoon. When I woke up at 5pm, there was one more person in the 5 person room. His name was Brian, originally from San Francisco, and he had studied abroad this semester as well... in Berlin, Germany. We talked for a while about the plaes we've seen in Europe and our plans for Madrid, and I mentioned that a girl from my last hoste (Tatiyanna) had studied abroad in Madrid and gave me a list of her favorite places to eat and neat things to see. I shared the list with Brian and then we decided to go try one of the tapas bars together for dinner. The name of the place: El Tigre. The tapas: unbelievably cheap AND delicious. It was this little hole-in-the-wall place that was packed full of locals. It had no seats... just counters where you could stand and eat your free tapas. Each drink we got was under 2 euro and with each drink, we received a huge plate of various tapas!

On Tuesday, I spent most of the day shopping. Souvenir shopping, that is. I bought so many souvenirs and gifts for friends and family, that by the end of the day, I had a huge shopping bag full of just souvenirs that I carried around with me separately. The sad part about this... this morning I put all of my stuff (except for my purse) in the luggage storage room in my hostel while I went to the market. During the two hours which I was gone, somebody had taken my big bag of souvenirs and my tennis shoes? Don't ask me why they would take my tennis shoes... they smell. And why would they choose my bag of souvenirs over my laptop? Not to mention my book! I had about two or three chapters left of this amazing book that my friend let me borrow, and they took that, too. It's a little upsetting knowing that I won't get to bring back gifts for friends and family though. I hope everyone is happy with Spanish pennies and Kinder Bueno bars. Sorry, guys. I also realized that I lost my iTouch yesterday. I'm not doing so hot lately.

Our tour guide talking about the protests
On Wednesday, Brian and I took a free walking tour that he found online. The walking tour also included a bunch of other hostels in the area so there were a lot of people there. As we were standing around waiting for it to begin, I looked over and saw a girl with blond hair who looked extremely familiar. Then I thought, she kind of looks like Annika (from Malaga) and then when I saw Zach standing next to her, I knew it was them. I told Brian I'd be back and I made my way around 50 other tourists to say hi. We had no idea that we were both going to be in Madrid at the same time, and to see somewhat of a familiar face was exciting!

Our Argentinian tour guide walked us around the city of Madrid for three hours. We saw famous sites such as the palace, Cibeles, Plaza Mayor, Retiro Park, Gran Via, the museums, and Puerta del Sol where all of the protests are. Brian and I went back to our hostel where he went to take a siesta and I was going to check my email/facebook.

Signs from the protests in Puerta del Sol

Maren spilling the Tinto in the boat!
Earlier that morning, I had seen another girl who looked really familiar at breakfast. I thought she looked like someone who goes to ISU, a friend of a friend that I met about a year ago. Her name is Maren and we've hung out a couple of times before, but aren't really close and I hadn't talked to her in a while so I didn't say anything. Plus I thought there's no way it was her... how crazy would it be for us to be in the same city, let alone the same hostel? There are hundreds of hostels in Madrid. So instead, I sent her a message on Facebook earlier and when I went to check my email/facebook when Brian went to take a siesta, she responded and said that she WAS in Madrid. To make a long story short, she was in Spain with another friend from ISU (Kristen) and they were visiting one of her childhood friends who is studying in Barcelona. They were leaving the next day, but they kindly invited me to go rowboating with them at Retiro Park. Maren had also done the same Caceres program two years ago and had recommended it to me. We had a fun time rowing on the lake while drinking some Tinto de Verano. It was great seeing some Iowa Staters!

Retiro Park with the rowboats!

Cutting the sandwiches with a pocket knife?
Later that night, Brian and I went to Euromania at 100 Montaditos (another place that Tatiyanna recommended.) Everything on Wednesdays is only a euro! It was so busy inside, that the doorman wouldn't let anyone else in for another 20 minutes or so. We finally got our turn and got the 6 sandwich platter. We both wanted to try them all, so we were going to split all the sandwiches in half. This didn't work too well because either the ham was tough to break, the sandwiches were too messy, etc. So Brian asked me if I thought it would be weird if he were to split them in half with his pocket knife. At first I thougth he was joking, so I just laughed... but nope, he was serious. He took out his pocked knife and started cutting the rest of the sandwiches. That's not sketchy, right?

When we got back to the hostel, we were going to watch a movie on Brian's computer, but there were people sleeping in his room so we were going to try my room. When we walked into my room, we found 75ish year old man asleep in his bed wearing nothing but his underwear. It wouldn't have been so weird if he wasn't sprawled out everwhere and was at least wearing boxers or something. Brian and I looked at each other and tried not to laugh as we shut the door and left. I kind of wanted to take a picture... you know, to spice up my blog or something, but I couldn't bring myself to do it... it felt wrong on so many levels.

On Friday, it rained all day so I read a good chunk of my book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (yeah, the same one that got stolen.) Then I spent time with a couple of new roommates from Germany. They had a rule that since they were in Spain, they would talk in Spanish, even though they knew like 5 other languages, including English. (Jealous!) I liked this rule so we sat and talked for a couple hours all in Spanish! It was weird since I hadn't spoken Spanish that much since I've left Caceres, so it was a little difficult to get back into the swing of it.

This morning, I went to the big market which was really neat to see. It was really crowded though and then it started to rain, so I headed back to my hostel. I spent probably an hour going through the luggage room making sure my stuff wasn't there, and now here I am writiing one of my last blogs! My family leaves Iowa in just a few hours and hopefully by this time tomorrow, I will be with my mom, Paige, and Kaicer!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I survived my first week alone!

Rushing through security
On Friday (May 14th?), Dad and Jeanne left Malaga. They had decided to drop the rental car off at the train station instead of the airport since they would be taking a train back to Madrid. We spent about 2 hours that morning driving all over Malaga to find the train station and once we found it, we couldn’t find where to drop the car off! It was about 10:50 and their train left at 11:05. We were in some parking garage beneath the train station, but not where we were supposed to drop the car off. Jeanne went up to the station to find out where to take the car and they told her that we could just leave it down there and I would have to turn in the key and get the inspection done while they ran to catch their train. We quickly said our goodbyes and I watched them run through security and down to the train platform just in time to catch their train.

After everything with the rental car was taken care of, I walked around the train station (which was also a mall) and did a little summer shopping. Then I walked back to my hostel and took a much needed nap. The next day, the weather was gorgeous (little did I know that this would only be one of the few days that it would be sunny) so I went to the beach with another woman who was staying in my room. She is a yoga teacher from Australia and flew to Italy 3 weeks ago to visit her boyfriend of 5 years... only to find out that he had an affair with another woman and wanted to break up. Since she was planning on spending 7 months with her boyfriend in Italy, she decided to visit Spain and a few other countries in Europe instead of going all the way back to Australia so soon. We shared of a few stories with each other and she left for Granada a couple days later. 

Until Wednesday, I spent most of my time just hanging out on the beach, getting used to this whole ´being by myself´thing which I wasn´t a huge fan of. On Wednesday, I walked an hour to the city to buy my bus ticket to Madrid, found a place to buy stamps so I could send all of my post cards, and walked an hour back to my hostel. Later that night (this is where things got better), I met another girl, Tatiyanna, who had studied abroad this semester in Madrid this past semester and was travelling alone like I was. She and I shared stories and compared our semesters in Spain and she gave me a lot of good tips on where to go for when I go to Madrid. Then we went outside to hang out with a woman from Copenhagen, a man from Russia who spoke no English, and a woman from England who was singing and playing guitar. Her voice reminded me so much of Ingrid Michaelson’s (one of my all time favorite singers) so we sat there and listened to her until she stopped singing. 

SO much food!
Then Tatyanna and I met another couple who was eating the dinner that the hostel provided for just 6 euro. We decided to sit down and have this dinner as well, which was so huge that I think I only ate a third of everything! The girl, Annika, had just studied abroad in Norway this semester and her boyfriend, Zach, had just flown from the States to come visit her and they are going to travel Europe together this summer. We had all been talking for a couple of hours when another man, Marek, just arrived to the hostel and he joined us for dinner as well. Marek had actually planned on going to South America with a friend, but his friend bailed last minute so he decided to travel Europe alone instead. We all sat outside talking for while and then decided that it would be fun to take a day trip together the next day. Marek really wanted to go to Gibraltar; however, Zach and Annika were too tired from traveling, Tatiyanna had to leave the next day, and I had already been there with my dad. But I told him if he wanted some company, I’d go along since I had nothing else to do. 

Marek, Tatiyanna, me, Annika, & Zach

So the next day, Marek and I decided to take the 11:00 bus to La Linea, which is right next to the Gibraltar border. We left the hostel a little later than expected; we took a bus to the transfer point where we were supposed to take another bus to the station, but we decided to take a taxi since we were pressed for time. We arrived at the bus station at exactly 11:00 (which was too late.) So I asked the ticket person if there was another bus going to La Linea soon and she said there was one at 11:30 and then one a few hours later. We bought the 11:30 tickets and took the 3 hour bus ride to Gibraltar!

Me and my new friend!
When we got to Gibraltar, we rode the cable car up to the top of the rock, and when we got to the top we couldn’t see anything since we were in the clouds (which was a little disappointing, but also kind of cool.) We walked around a little bit and then saw the "van guided tours" come by and one of the guides was allowing the monkeys to climb on top of tourists´shoulders and take pictures. When Marek and I saw this, we both looked at each other and you could tell we were both thinking the same thing. So we, too, got our turn with the monkeys on our shoulders and Marek even had a monkey hanging from his arm, swinging back and forth! It was the highlight of our day! And no, Dad... they did not bite our faces.

Gibraltar in the clouds

Hanging out on the beach!
Then we walked around the big rock for a while, turning whichever direction looked more adventurous. We did a lot of unexpected hiking, found some very neat trails, hidden caves, and even a jungle-type-looking-area. We hiked up and down for quite a bit and then finally made our way down the mountain which took a good two hours. When we got to the bottom of the rock, we were exhausted and hungry so we stopped for some fish and chips, and then took our 3 hour bus ride back to Malaga, arriving at our hostel that night around 10:30. We met back up with Zach and Annika that night, borrowed the hostel’s guitar and walked over to the beach to play guitar and sing some songs. Annika actually wants to be a professional singer so it was a lot of fun listening to sing! (I later found out that she made it to top 11 of Canadian Idol!)

The next morning, Zach and Annika left for Sevilla and Marek and I grabbed some lunch down the street before he left for Granada. Then I went downtown to find a quieter place with WiFi because I had an interview via Skype with Iowa State University for a summer job. I found a McDonald’s which was very loud and crowded, but luckily there was an outdoor seating area just outside of the McDonald’s where I could still receive good internet connection. I ended up getting the job (yay!) and then took the bus back to my hostel. 

That night was rather interesting… I came back to my room to find 5 or 6 drunken Irishmen wearing jerseys and skirts (with their legs shaved, by the way.) They said they were a women’s netball team from Ireland. I had never heard of netball before and when I asked what it was, they were in shock. They asked where I was from and I usually respond with, “the States” and sometimes that’s good enough but sometimes I just get stared at blankly as if I need to say which state I’m from. (This was one of those times.) I said I was from Iowa and one of the drunken Irishmen said very loudly, “YOU OWE WHAT?!” After nobody laughed, he said, “ha ha don’t you get it? I…O…WA …man, sometimes I just crack myself up.” It was fun talking to them for a while until they decided that they wanted to go skinny dipping. When I declined their offer of coming along, I got the response, “YOUR LOSS!” I found that a little hard to believe...

The last two days were sunny so I took advantage of that and spent the majority of those two days out on the beach. It was wonderful! It was pretty entertaining watching some middle school and high school boys doing flips off of their little trampoline. 

Later that night, I walked to the bus station and read for three hours while waiting for my bus to come. I took a 7 hour overnight bus to Madrid, arriving in Madrid on Monday. I´ve been in Madrid since then and will blog about my week here (I´ve got some great stories!) later this weekend before MY FAMILY COMES ON MONDAY! Yeah, you could say I´m a little excited. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"I don't want it to bite my face off!"

Ok this will be the last post from my dad and Jeanne’s visit to Spain. On our last day, we decided to take yet another day trip. This time to Gibraltar! Gibraltar is a small city within Spain, but it is actually UK territory. It’s basically just a big rock known for the apes at the top of the rock. We drove to Gibraltar without any problems getting out of Malaga this time. It was weird driving to Gibraltar though because there literally weren’t any signs that said we were approaching Gibraltar since the Spanish has hated Gibraltar ever since the UK has owned it. We took “La Linea” exit because that is the town right next to the Gibraltar border. We parked at La Linea and walked across the border, only having to hold up our passports as we passed the guards. I was a little bummed that they didn't stamp our passports.

The cable car
We had decided earlier that all we wanted to do was take the cable car up the mountain, look around, and take the cable car back down. We also wanted to take a city bus into the center city since it was quite a walk from the border. We went into the first city bus we saw and asked him if it would take us to the cable car and he said it didn’t but the one in front of him did. He gave us tickets for that one and we ran up to catch it and as we approached the door, the driver was about to pull out. He turned his head and saw us, but shook his head “no” and didn’t let us on! We waited another 15 minutes, took THAT bus to the cable car stop, and headed up the big rock. When we approached the top of the rock, we saw our first ape! Everyone saw it and excitedly said, “Look! An ape!” except for… my dad. His face only showed pure terror. The ape then jumped from the railing ONTO the cable car (which had open windows) and Dad let out a little scream to say the least. 

I’ll give you some background on why my dad is so scared of apes that might make you understand better. Remember that story a couple of years ago about the lady whose face was bitten (more like completely eaten off) by an ape?  Well, ever since then, my Dad has been afraid that if he goes anywhere near an ape, it will do the same to him. Make sense? Maybe a little? Yeah, I don’t get it either. (Just kidding, Dad! I completely understand.)

My dad avoiding eye contact
So anyways, we had to walk up these spiral stairs to get to the café and other lookout areas at the top, and guess who was waiting on top of the post at the top of the spiral staircase? Yep, another ape! Watching my dad walk up those stairs was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever witnessed in my life. He hung on tightly to the railing on the opposite side of where the ape was sitting, avoided eye contact with the cute creature, and did a little jog the rest of the way to where Jeanne and I were laughing. The ape had his eye on my dad the whole time. It was hysterical!

We did a little more walking around on top of the rock, took some pictures, and saw some amazing views of Gibraltar, Spain, the Mediterranean, and even the tip of Africa. After we safely made it down the rock without getting our faces bitten off, we went to find some fish and chips since we were in the UK! After lunch, we walked back to the border since we had no idea which bus stop to go to (they didn’t have any maps or bus schedules at any of the stops) and headed back to Malaga.

A view from the top of the rock

We made it back to our hotel after another long day. We went to the center of the city for dinner where we had some pretty delicious food and white wine that had “Caceres” in its name! We walked around the old part of town (which was really neat to see at night), where we all shared a dessert at a local bakery. It was a great way to end Dad and Jeanne’s trip!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Curvy roads and narrow streets

Last Wednesday (May 11th), Dad, Jeannie and I wanted a more “relaxing” day after what had happened the day before in Morocco. So we decided to go see the Chorro Gorge in the mountains and stop by one of the “white hill towns” that Rick Steves suggested in his guidebook. We chose to visit a town called “Ronda” which was an amazing choice. 

Trying to get out of Malaga!
We slept in a little, ate breakfast, and then headed out to find the Chorro Gorge. However, we had some trouble finding our way out of Malaga. Don’t ask me how this happened, but we somehow ended up driving on a large sidewalk. It was late morning so the sidewalks were packed with all of the locals that were heading to work. There were so many people and not so many cars… we were driving slower than people were walking! Jeannie and I got out of the car and asked some construction workers where to go and he told us we could go straight ahead towards a busier road. We drove away as the construction workers laughed at us, found the road with cars on it instead of people, and finally got out of Malaga.

After we took the exit towards “El Chorro”, we drove up and down the edge of mountains (which I found out isn’t my dad’s favorite thing to do) for a couple hours, found the El Chorro Gorge, saw a lot of other beautiful sights, and had a pretty good laugh about bikers’ caps. Or was it calves? I’m still not sure.

El Chorro Gorge

After we got down away from those mountains (and Dad was a lot more relaxed), we went to find Ronda. As we approached the small town, we decided to have lunch right away. We all shared a big salad and we each ordered our own soup. After our late lunch, we drove into the town. As we drove in circles trying to find the town square, we approached the end of a road that became narrower as we continued to drive to the end of it! It was so narrow that my dad had to turn the side view mirrors in (which he unintentionally learned how to do earlier.) There was maybe an inch between each side of the car and the brick buildings. It was hilarious; I was completely silent, holding my breath, while Jeannie was screaming "watch out!", and Dad was owning it. It was like he had done this a million times before... he just pushed the button to fold in the side view mirrors like it was nothing as he continued to drive. We finally came across some older women and I asked them where their town center was. They were confused and one woman said, “I think it’s over there…” while another woman would disagree and say, “no, it’s that way!” This was when we discovered we weren’t even in Ronda! We were in some small little dinky town outside of it.

When we had actually arrived in RONDA, we parked the car and wandered around the city for a while. We toured the bullring, which is supposedly the first bullring in Spain and then we went to find the gorge. (Yes, another gorge.) The views from Ronda were absolutely incredible. I can’t believe I had never heard of this town before! The gorge, which separated the old city from the new city, was fascinating!

The bullring in Ronda

On the drive back to Malaga
We decided to take a different way home, which had its ups and downs. The good thing was that we got to drive through more mountains, which meant more incredible views. The bad thing was that we drove through more mountains, which meant Dad was more freaked out. We were driving on the edge of mountains over bridges about the time when the big earthquake happened just a couple hours away from us in Lorca. Fortunately, we didn’t feel it where we were! Once we reached Malaga, we had a couple more scary driving experiences with a bus, a motorcycle, and those darn roundabouts. 

More paella!
For dinner, we went to a seafood restaurant on the boardwalk where we had more paella. It was better than the overcooked paella that we had in Madrid, but still not as good as Lola’s or Valencia’s. We called it a night after a long day of driving and another long day of driving that we knew was to come the next day. We weren’t going to Spanish or Moroccan territory though… we were going to UK territory!